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.

Shadowrun – Playing with Pixels

   Here we have something from Editorial0, who would like to see a new Shadowrun video game, and likes to write things like that up as proposals. Sadly, his formatting will not translate properly to the blog, ergo I’ve done a bit of formatting and fixed five or six typos. Without further preamble, here we have the

Shadowrun:

RPG Game Design Document

   Introduction

   This document is meant to showcase design ideas and the Shadowrun game, and how they can work together.

   Shadowrun is a classic pen-and-paper RPG game, specializing in cyberware, computer hacking, and espionage involving megacorporations who act as corrupt quasi-governments amid the decay of society. Despite this, it’s not known for exceptionally grim or dour character. It ranges from anarchic fun to cautious strategic planning to real heroic stories.

   Shadowrun also had a more unusual aspect than its mix of character and setting. Unlike almost every other cyberpunk game, Shadowrun mixed in fantasy elements. Magic, dragons, and elves played as much a role in defining the world as guns and computers. Magic is also fairly powerful – a starting character can toss fireballs, just as he or she might toss grenades.

   Despite this strong mix, Shadowrun has been held back after a strong run in the 1990’s, with divided ownership. It has not has a video game RPGH in years, despite having a record of success and a good background to work with.

   The perfect opportunity exists to build a new Shadowrun game using modern technology. Computers can now do justice to the vibrant, complex world of Shadowrun. Furthermore, modern computer games can do it big. As games like FUEL and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion demonstrate, games can now feature huge and complex environments with plenty to explore and accomplish.

   The time is now. Shadowrun can tale advantage of existing genres and ready-built audiences to stage a comeback. No other game can offer the amazing varieties of gameplay. No other game mixes the modern, the retro, the futuristic, and the fantastic. Take advantage of it!

High Concept

   Shadowrun will take place in both 3rd-person and 1st-person perspective, allowing the player to choose the most convenient or personally-liked form of exploration and combat. During the game, the player will explore large, open-world content comprising dozens of unique neighborhoods in twelve themed areas.

   The entire world becomes available shortly after starting a new game, but the game is self-balancing. Some areas may be too dangerous for starting characters. The player may choose to advance in whatever area he or she sees fit, granting great control over gameplay and difficulty.

   Although a major quest-line acts as the centerpiece of the game, the overall style of the game remains player-directed content. The player can take the missions he or she likes, even down to making friends and allies of various game factions. These factions include gangs, syndicates, and corporations. Players can even functionally create missions for themselves, such as raiding rivals to please friends and then fencing the loot. Characters will earn experience to build their characters during this or pre-set missions.

   Players may use experience to build up a variety of bonuses for the character. Nearly everything and anything the player can do is affected by a skill and/or attribute, from buying equipment to shooting a gun to casting a spell.

   And the game will feature a wide variety of powers and gear. Characters can carry everything from automated medical kits to advanced firearms to advanced computers to crack enemy data systems. Furthermore, characters can customize clothing to their tastes, and can wear whatever they choose. Armor will not affect a character’s appearance except for certain high-end armors more akin to “walking tank” than bullet proof vest.

   Of course, the gear and armor the character uses will directly impact how NPC’s react. Wear heavy military armor and carry a cannon down a commercial street, and civilians will run away and call the police. Visit the high-end retailers, however, and they will react pleasantly. Since “legwork” is a major element of the game, this is important.

   Legwork is a term derived from detectives – walking around and gathering information. Shadowrun takes this concept to new heights in gaming. Characters can visit contacts or hunt up leads to find a wide array of useful information, though it will usually cost money. Maps, alternate entry points, likely enemy numbers and equipment, codes to access systems – all of this can be had for the right price from the right contact. This once again lets players develop their own difficulty. This also gives players strong incentive to develop and use social skills, since these may be necessary to gain contacts in new areas.

   As mentioned, each area has its own character, including the following zones:

  • Downtown Seattle – High-tech commercial offices
  • Tacoma – Medium industrial and commercial
  • Bellevue – High-end entertainment
  • Renton – Small offices and residences
  • Everett – Sea port and smaller towns
  • Snohomish – Farms and agricultural combines
  • Fort Lewis – Military base and zoo
  • Redmond – Crime-ruled urban hell
  • Puyallup – Half slum, half eerily beautiful wasteland
  • Salish-Sidhe – Wilderness with small towns

   Each area, moreover, has two or three residences the player can buy and sell. Each residence can be used to store gear (gear is shared between areas). It is possible for NPC’s to attack the apartment of the gear stored inside. (The player can always get it back, but may wish to invest in an improved security system in the future!)

   Although driving will not be available in the basic game, the character can use or call taxis to ferry him or her about. (This element could be explored and added in expansions or sequels.)

   But the key core elements of gameplay are Shadowruns: criminal missions for profit. Each mission may require different things, from kidnapping to extortion to blackmail, to perennial favorite theft. Although the basic mission structure doesn’t vary hugely, the location, enemies, and challenges do. Although missions are mostly randomized, different mission-givers tend to offer certain types and work for certain employers.

   The character is paid in cold cash, but also gains experience and possibly favor with a faction. Special rewards might be offered for unique, pre-generated missions (which appear at certain points to develop a faction further or gain allies. All main-quest missions are unique.

   Not only are most missions randomly generated, but most buildings are randomly generated, at least past the first floor or lobby area. This enables the creation of large, intricate worlds procedurally generated without the necessity of specifying every object. Likewise, the character can interface with computers to get data or get around certain challenges, such as locked doors or hidden information.

   The player need not go it alone, however. Several NPC’s can assist and lend their guns and skills to the player’s cause. The player character effectively has access to their abilities and skills while they follow him or her, although they act independently in combat. That is, if the character needs to hack a computer, an NPC with better skills would automatically act instead. 

Plot

   Shadowrun is essentially an open-world game, but the player is presented with a major central mystery, which is a good source of missions and rewards. This plot should certainly engross the player, but is also available as needed. The player need not follow up on the main questline until he or she desires. Furthermore, it will self-regulate, as certain missions within it do not activate until the player becomes strong enough to handle the challenges.

   The game begins with the player character being abducted, beaten, and seemingly left for dead. However, a mysterious magician hauls character to his hovel and quickly heals the limited damage. The character soon finds that not only was he or she attacked, but all accounts are drained and the character’s very legal identity erased. With no choice but to turn to crime, the character must find a new life on the shady side of the street.

   Unraveling this mystery will require numerous missions, finally discovering not only who destroyed your life (and why), but also uncovering a terrible threat to the city. Final victory involves several related missions to defeat a villainous trio of greedy corporate executives, corrupt government operatives, and terrorist madmen. The final battle pits the main character against a similar enemy, so that whatever the player chooses to specialize in, the enemy does also.

   The end of that quest need not end the fun, as is common in open-world games. The player can continue with his or her character and go on to explore the world more.

Interface

   Shadowrun will use a versatile third-person / first-person variable interface for maximum playability. This allows players to use whatever view is most pleasing to them or convenient to their circumstances. First person, for example, is particularly suited to run-n-gun gameplay, while many players choose 3rd-person perspective for exploration.

   A major source of difference also lies in the use of computer versus console controls. In order to maximize the user of both, this game will incorporate a menu-selection system that can be equally used by either controller or mouse with only small tweaks. Console users will flick left or right to change sections, and equip items by scrolling up or down through lists and pressing a button. Mouse users can more easily change between menus.

   A character’s equipment capacity will be fairly low, and simply grabbing every odd item is not terribly useful. Therefore, there will be fewer issues with oversize menus and too much information. To further ease its use, the menus will instantly open a comparison to current equipment to display the difference.

   Equipping characters will be handled through the use of a paper-doll system, so that the player sees the differences immediately.

Equipment and Visual References

   Many games now display strong visual reference for a character’s equipment. Shadowrun will not focus on this. That is, we assume a character’s armor is usually semi-hidden under clothing and does not display, while many weapons are hidden or relatively small, such as concealed weaponry or small firearms in general. Instead, Shadowrun will cater to the player’s sense of style by allowing extensive visual customization. A character’s clothing is separate from armor and usually covers it.

   Exceptions include heavy armors, such as military or security armor. These not only visually identify the character, but trigger a fear reaction in the AI – wearing it in public is a serious crime. Likewise, a character’s weapon can significantly affect interactions.

   Players can retain a second set of clothing and switch between the two. As mentioned, carrying capacity is finite. This option is for players who wish to spend that capacity mixing subtlety and raw power.

Role-Playing and AI

   As a strong role-playing game, Shadowrun contains many customization options. Amost all of these affect how the character intereacts with the game world. In essence, the character is also playing a role, though of course the player is in control of both levels. This means that a pacifist character might choose clothing and gear which mark him or her as a violent killer, and use that to proceed effectively.

   Every piece of clothing carries attributes, which affect AI. In short, these are as follows:

  • Fear – Fear makes AI more nervous and makes the use of intimidation easier. NPC’s are more likely to run away. At high levels, pedestrians may call the police on sight. It isn’t a good idea to carry a missile launcher and military armor down Main Street! This may make combat easier, because enemies will run more easily.
  • Cool – Cool is a general social enhancer. Everyone will like you more for it. It is very non-specific. A few characters don’t like Cool, so it has a negative effect on them.
  • Professional – Professional appeals to many fewer people than Cool, but much more strongly. Not incidentally, these people may also have more power to help the player. Most stores and the better classes of criminals and contacts like Professional.
  • Poor – Poor clothes act as a negative trait for some zones, where the area has a lot of wealthy people. They have a positive trait in poor zones, where the character “fits in”.
  • Rich – Rich clothes act as the reverse of Poor image. Some zones do not respond to either trait.

   Every AI will essentially use the same routines and code, but different priorities decide their actions. Priorities are decided by thresholds, where certain reactions trigger at certain thresholds of value. A character with a high fear threshold will not blink if an armored titan bearing a Vulcan cannon walks down the street.

   Unlike most role-playing games, the amount of a character’s skill and bonuses determine what the character can convince them of. That is, having high social abilities and good circumstances get better results, even from the same dialogue options. Bargaining, for instance, does not simply pass/fail: it has dynamic results based on player success.

Role Playing and Protagonist

   The character’s actions also affect how other’s opinions. Doing evil deeds and murdering grants as much advancement potential as helping people and showing mercy. However, it does give Bad Karma.

   Karma is the Shadowrun term for experience points. Players will use this pool in order to raise attributes, skills, spells.

   The video game Shadowrun adds Bad Karma to the mix. Completing missions earns you Karma. If the protagonist character acts cruelly, however, he or she gains Bad Karma instead. This is used exactly like normal Karma, but also increases a permanent meter behind the scenes. This affects a character’s reputation, and as the character increase Bad Karma past pre-specified levels, he or she will gain increasingly nasty reputation. This is somewhat similar to the Fear attribute. However, some nasty types will appreciate the character’s disposition. This reputation can never be erased once earned.

   Shadowrun does not generally judge people’s conduct. Killing is not considered outright monstrous in self-defense (it’s a brutal world out there), but too much killing may change that Karma into Bad Karma – security guards are people, too.

   However, this doesn’t work one-way. Characters can change Karma into Good Karma through acting well. Enemies will frequently be wounded and in need of medical attention. Just as killing them grants Bad Karma, offering aid changes Karma into Good Karma. This works very similar to Bad Karma, but helps with nicer, kinder individuals.

   Dialogue is the larger and more important area. Dialogue in Shadowrun offers new options and seeks to take gaming interaction to the next level. Dialogue interactions with NPC characters offer several ways of interacting, not merely selecting from the standard one nice, one nasty, and one boring responses.

   Players will choose from at least three options in nearly any dialogue tree, a standard Shadowrun will live up to. However, other choices exist. In the dialogue system, it is also possible to simply choose to whip out a gun and start killing. Or you can opt to simply leave in mid-dialogue (rudeness makes some people unhappy if you come back).

   But the player can also use a classic keyword system. Dialogue won’t be sufficient to hand out all the information the player might want. Each character will have a list of keywords, which they can use to gather information. To avoid overly-demanding or erratic voicework, only keywords about which an NPC has any information will be available. Keywords are usually gained from skills, so that characters with high skills in certain areas can gain access to relevant gear, information, or services related to those skills. Of course, other contacts and stores are always available. Furthermore, characters must actively search out those new options using their keywords, and skilled players might locate them without the keywords.

   In short, keywords are a self-balancing gameplay element introduced to let players control their own progress through the game. 

Allies

   During the game, the character will encounter a number of potential allies, each with personal skills and styles. At the start they will only hire themselves out for pay and for a certain period of time, although they won’t abandon you during a mission. Each ally has individual quests and will join permanently for free once that’s taken care of to their satisfaction. Allies further act as contacts and may let you know about where to buy equipment or find information.

Gene

  • “But I don’t wanna take a bath!”
  • Gene is a young and inexperienced street shaman – an urban-bred spellcaster with a powerful totemic mentor. Gene follows the Rat, a survivor if ever there was one. Even without an education, Gene can be a powerful ally, as he learns many spells for secrecy and misdirection. Gene is the first character most players will likely meet, and the easiest to recruit permanently.

Jaws

  • “This aincha daddy’s party, boy, so get a bigger gun next time.”
  • A crude, loud, thuggish troll of man, Jaws likes to carry big guns and lay down a suppressing fire pattern on anything which threatens him. Or annoys him. Or exists. Alright, so he likes guns? Can you blame him, when Shadowrun offers so many examples of brutal firepower with enhanced cybernetic targeting and precision design? Despite his apparent lack of subtlety, he’s a keen observer and can use the Investigate skill effectively. Upfront doesn’t mean stupid, after all.

Jem

  • “Bad news is the alarm just went off. Good news is I redirected it to the toaster. Anyone for a hot bagel?”
  • Everybody needs a hobby, and Jem’s hobby is taking things apart and putting them back together. She’s a master of repair and deals with alarms and security systems with gusto. Although she affects a certain naivety, Jem is no stranger to danger. She uses automatic rifles effectively even without monstrous levels of cybernetics.

Millions

  • “Do we have time for tea before robbing the vault?”
  • Millions is an older, experienced wizard with a streak of adventure. With a thick British accent and equally-thick glasses, he retains a powerful streak of adventurism and love of excitement from his youth. Millions has done everything under the sun from ramjet racing to big-game hunting, and usually has a long-winded story of derring-do and death-defying stunts to prove it.

Rubicante

  • “… and Cagnazzo and Barbaricia and Mad Rubicante!”
  • In a world of brain-scrambling drugs, cybernetics overloads, potentially fatal computer feedback, and 24/7 media saturation, you find some people have “issues.” Rubicante makes those people look normal. Convinced he and his crew are demons dwelling in the Eighth Circle of Hell, he takes odd jobs to shoot people while preaching his insane babblings to his much-feared gang. Surprisingly knowledgeable about the human body, he’s also unusually good and patching up the wounds of his friends.

Shade

  • “Guard to vault room ETA 24 seconds. Request orders. Confirmed, moving to silence threat.”
  • Shade has several cybernetic systems devoted to stealth, and prefers the quiet approach to crime. Using several detection systems and improved sight, Shade can locate guard patrols and stay out of their way or take them down with lethal or non-lethal force. This character mostly uses melee weapons like swords while acting like a Hollywood movie ninja. Of course, no ninja would ever let someone see his face!

Contacts and Rep

   Contacts are a character’s business assistants in crime, and sometimes even friends. Characters can never have too many contacts… until they run out of fame. The player-character can only have so many contacts, and this is capped by the Reputation score. The more fame he or she acquires during play, the more contacts available.

   Contacts help the character and player out in a wide array of services. They may sell equipment or magic spell or computer programs, offer discounts for stores, transport the character around, offer training in skills, buy information, sell information such as maps, help the character get into secure locations, sell fake identity cards, get the character out of trouble with the police, stop the police from reinforcing corporate security, make local thugs and criminals respect the player, and much more.

   Obviously, no one contact offers all of that. Contacts normally offer only three services.

Skills

   Shadowrun uses a wide array of skills to cover every possible situation. Each skill has its own special uses and grants certain keywords.

  • Combat
    • Pistols: Controls the use of one-handed firearms.
    • Rifles: Controls the use of two-handed firearms.
    • Gunnery: Controls the use of oversize weapons such as machine guns.
    • Melee: Controls both unarmed and armed melee combat.
    • Demolitions: Controls the use of explosives and grenades.
  • Technical
    • Electronics: Controls the use of electronics (including opening maglocks) and repair.
    • Biotech: Controls the effectiveness of healing and information about opponents.
    • Computer: Controls hacking into computers.
    • Investigation*: Controls the visibility of useful items (they gain a glowing aura) and hidden clues.
  • Social
    • Street*: Controls dealings with low-class people, squatters, and ordinary criminals.
    • Professional*: Controls dealings with government, police, and elite criminals
    • Corporate*: Controls dealings with businessmen and women.
    • Leadership: Controls the willingness of party members to act and grants bonuses. (Player-only)
    • Bargain*: Controls character’s earnings every time he or she earns money.
  • Magical
    • Sorcery: Controls the effectiveness of spellcasting.
    • Conjuring: Controls the power of conjured creatures and their duration.

* – Indicates skills used most commonly in conversation.

Magic

   Magic is an integral part of the Shadowrun universe. Spellcasters, though uncommon, can become important figures in science, business, and government. And they’re very handy in committing crimes. While magic has its limitations, it remains a very considerable gameplay element that every player will want to use. Even if the player character does not wield magic, some allies can.

   The primary balancing factor for magic is that any points spent on magic are not spent on attributes, skills, or other bonuses. Thus, magic-using characters must spend their points wisely and well, and choose from a large array of effects.

   In general, magic has equivalents to guns and grenades, as well as enchanted melee weapons. While it can’t completely substitute for social skills, the right spells will make any social encounter vastly easier. Spells can protect characters or make them stealthier. Of course, characters have limits on how many spells they can maintain, because each one makes all actions more difficult.

Sample Adventure

   In order to really deliver a feel for how Shadowrun is played, we close by presenting a sample adventure, mixing all the elements we’ve described, and how they fit together to deliver a compelling game experience.

   Needing some money, the shadowrunner known as “Neon” finds her currently-favored employer, a colorless and seemingly unimportant middle manager. Gliding into the backroom at a family restaurant, they discuss a job quickly. The balding, buttoned-down businessman offers a few types of jobs. Our heroine decides on a theft job. She’ll have to enter a corporate facility and steal a small prototype.

   Neon chooses this job based on her own abilities. Charismatic and magically-skilled, she has a number of stealth options. After all, she doesn’t even need to carry a gun! Neon takes the job, and her natural talents lead to being offered more pay.

   Neon takes to the streets, and makes some phone calls to her contacts. She arranges to purchase a corporate ID for the facility, which costs her a painful portion of her profit from the job. Still, the ability to walk right into the front door is worth it.

   Neon calls up her associates, and asks for Shade to come help her. Neon takes a cab to her apartment, changing into an official business suit. With these bonuses, she casts a spell to make herself even more Sociable, and heads for the corporate offices.

   Neon and Shade stroll right into the corporate building by the front door. Neon has stacked so many bonuses that she handily persuades the guards she belongs there. In fact, she even cons them into giving her information, and knows where to look into the building. Neon’s act is so convincing that the guards simply ignore Shade’s presence. Had Neon brought along the cigar-chomping brute Jaws instead, she might not have been so lucky.

   The pair head towards their target, although it takes a little exploration to find the right direction. Getting worried that she might be running out of time (those corporate guards might eventually realize something is wrong), she has Shade hack into a computer in a dark corner. Office computers don’t have good access, so Shade must risk going deeper into the system.

   After poking around the office Matrix for a few minutes, Shade finds the information he needs. Shade grabs a building map, and for good measure opens a security door. Logging off, the pair has definitely increased their risk. Building security will soon notice the inexpert hacking. Neon decides to move fast and blasts a guard with a Stun spell, hides the sleeping man, and takes his security card.

 With the security door down and a card in hand, they get to the prototype lab in mere moments. Inside the lab, Neon waits out of sight while Shade sneaks around. The prototype is easily taken because the few lab workers aren’t prepared or alarmed. Unfortunately, taking the device finally triggers an alert as security puts 2 and 2 together.

   The guards only know the general location of Neon and Shade, and they don’t intend to stay still. Neon leads the way with a stunning spell ready, and asks Shade to ready a shockprod. They smack a few guards before they can raise an alarm, but the security team relocates them every time they do.

   Feeling overwhelmed, Neon checks her map one more time, and looks for exits. She finds a couple, and guesses that the service doors would be less guarded. She takes time to become invisible, and she and Shade sneak down into the basement. Once there, they have to evade only a few guards, and open the doors.

   Uh-oh! The pair took too long and now might have the police to deal with. With cops on the outside and guards on the inside, they choose to hold back. Neon spotted another exit nearby. There’s a service tunnel that leads out to a loading dock. Fortunately, the worst is already behind them. The two slip off into the night – and they’ve got a delivery to make.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 89b – The Angel of Shadows

   Gelman hesitated, thoughts tumbling… Obviously Kevin desperately needed empowered agents – and if he could only give powers to children – not that he seemed any older than most of his recruits – he did seem to be treating them well – they certainly got plenty of benefits that would otherwise be closed to them – he did pay…

   He might just have to live with it.

   Still, looking at the assignment histories, it was all too apparent that the boy had simply been assigning his agents by splitting his new recruits amongst the most urgent demands of the moment. He was running an operation of this scale… personally. As if it was a street gang. That was no way to organize things. What happened when the emergencies ended? Or if he was out of touch for a week? The restructuring would be a continuous nightmare. Better to have someone who wasn’t in the middle of things plan and coordinate the operations.

   Kevin, however, had more to say:

(Kevin) “Secondarily; it’s impossible to create a link deep and strong enough to grant them a Gatekeeper’s powers unless they fully understand the arrangement and accept it all the way down to their souls. Ergo, full explanations and the deal has to be good enough to attract prospects.”

(Gelman) “No loopholes or hidden clauses?”

(Kevin) “Lesser pacts can be constructed that way – but they grant correspondingly less power, cannot grant Gatekeeping, fail more quickly, and are far easier to break. For my purposes, such pacts would be self-defeating; the recipients would just keep fighting the pact, weaken their own abilities, and go free sooner. Such pacts are good for providing lesser benefits, or for spreading misery, but not for obtaining agents on the level I require. I do offer some minor pacts as a form of life insurance; they provide a few minor psychic powers and draw their recipients here if they’re killed.”

(Gelman) “How did you learn how to do this? Merely knowing would relieve some of my worries.”

(Kevin) “I suspect it will not: lesser pacts can be set up with simple magic, but binding souls requires the power of darkness – the primal forces born of wrath, of vengeance, of fear, of rebellion, of dominance, and of mischief. Those are troublesome powers – but they also drive men to overthrow oppressors, to rebel against injustice, and to strike back at attackers. I inherited a good deal of the power of darkness after Ryan O’Malley and the Archangel Vena launched a barrage of several hundred planetkiller missiles at the massied armies of the Abyss while I was linked with them – and I studied the use of those powers with the Unseelie Fey. I use those powers to bind to me those who are young enough to accept the energies of the Manifold – the impatient, the willful, those who refuse to accept death and rebirth, and those who wish to strike back at attackers or are willing to sacrifice to defend others.

   Gelman found himself unable to speak… The boy was… EXPLAINING his binding of souls and status as a Prince of Darkness! As if it was – as if it was… as if it was something that people were entitled to know before dealing with him. Only the light revealed.

   The boy had created a utopian world and had opened it as a refuge for millions of innocents.

   No mortal could be entirely without the Light – or the Darkness, and the power of an Opener let both the Light and the Darkness shine through.

   He finally found something to say;

(Gelman) “You were . . . pulled into this?”

(Kevin) “I was linked – somewhat accidently – with Ryan at the time. The Abyss – or at least that Abyss – recognizes inheritance of power by assassination. Ryan had passed through it briefly, and had slain a few demons – thus inheriting their power unknowingly. When he forged weapons for a group of students at Hogwarts that included myself, all of us unknowingly accepted demonically-empowered gifts. That would have been a weak link and impermanent – but when Ryan again passed through the Abyss aboard the sentient starship Vena a few weeks later, he launched a barrage of missiles. It turned out that many demons were not, in their own realm, protected from antimatter warheads.

(Gelman) “And so they promoted you against your will?”

(Kevin) “The demonic energies passed into Ryan and Vena, and overflowed into those of us who were linked with Ryan. I received a portion of that power. I believe that Ryan managed to pass the portion he received on to someone else later on – incidently negating the remnants of his minor links with those he had bestowed his demonic gifts upon. Vena apparently wound up splitting – becoming the Archangel Vena and spawning the Hellthunder, an entity which is currently rampaging through the worlds. I never learned where most of my fellow students were cast; they were not Openers, and were perhaps overwhelmed by the darkness that had flooded their spirits. I am doing what you see.

   Gelman had been running searches on a few of those names… Ryan O’Malley a weapons-designer who had recently – working with Kevin – moved a planet out of the way or a supernova shockwave. The Hellthunder was especially horrifying… A renegade demonic starship that destroyed worlds? Powerful enough to battle a galactic fleet on equal terms? Was that the power that Kevin was containing? And “Ryan” had inflicted that power on children? Children who had trusted him as a teacher? And many of them were STILL lost since they – unlike Kevin – could not transverse the dimensions on their own?

   Given the addictive nature of binding souls… There was a bit of pity in his eyes now.

(Gelman) “You don’t have a choice at all, do you. You have to connect souls to the Abyss.”

(Kevin) “No. I do not bind souls to the abyss. I bind them only to myself – and only for a few centuries.”

(Gelman) “That’s . . . comforting in a twisted way.”

(Kevin) “I use the power of darkness to create the bond. It is not one of the abilities I opt to bestow. You have probably seen the list of the abilities that I do bestow.”

   So; the boy couldn’t – or at least, and to his credit, wouldn’t – create a self-perpetuating pyramid scheme of soul-capturing. That was good. But it sounded as if he was as enslaved as the kids he bound…

(Gelman) “Yes, I have. It’s dizzying. (He hesitated again) Are you also indentured to someone?”

(Kevin) “I was loosely bound to Ryan initially, by an accidental and unknowing pact, along with a dozen or so others, but he released those bonds – passing the darkness onto those of us who were linked to him – when he realized what effects the powers he had inherited had.”

   Gelman was starting to believe that Kevin was a necessary evil – just like the Satan of Jewish lore. After all, temptation was a part of free will – although, unlike Satan (unless Satan had been following his nature and simply lying about it), Kevin’s pacts were temporary.

(Gelman) “Thank you for your time, Mr. Sanwell. It seems I’ve greatly misjudged you. One last question before I go… has Tabard been too much trouble?”

(Kevin) “Oh, make no mistake Mr Gelman. I am simply the lesser evil – and Marty has been quite helpful. There are an enormous number of situations in the Manifold which call for a mixture of negotiations and violence.

   Kevin passed on the files on the Five Worlds and their loony High Lord. (Gelman would review those later on, and find that the High Lord made his head hurt).

   Gelman considered that. The “Lesser Evil”? “Simply”?!? There was certainly evil there – after all, the boy had just explained his role as a demonic binder of children’s souls and tempter of men (and had somehow managed to make it seem quite acceptable) – but there was good there in at least equal measure, and the spirit of a child who had chosen to contain the darkness and bind it to the defense of men, rather than let it turn to their destruction.

   If it pleased the boy to posture as a Prince of Darkness, and to have that serve as a warning to those who dealt with him, that was a small thing. Every teenager had an image to uphold.

(Gelman) “I am thankful for Kadia. Battling Business World was not optimal for me or for my family.”

(Kevin) “Well, I needed a convenient place to work out of and for any of my agents who get killed to report back to – and visitors are welcome.”

   As if that was an explanation for why a “Dark Lord” would create a near-utopia and open it to refugees gratis.

(Gelman) “Well, I have plenty of work ahead of me, and at least one more apology. Have a good day.”

(Kevin) “You’re welcome. You have a good day as well.”

   Gelman went to look for Tabard… Looking back on how he had behaved, he had to worry that Marty had abandoned Kadia altogether!

   Well, he was off on a trip, but he was expected back in a week or two. That was good. At least he wouldn’t have to search the Manifold for him… Had he been too blunt and forceful with Kevin? The boy hadn’t seemed upset in any way – even if he had apparently been running seven things at the same time – so probably not… No time to worry about that anyway; he had a massive task at hand.

   As for Kevin – having met the boy, he could have made a case for seeing him as “the most agreeable of necessary evils”, an “evil mask over pragmatism”, a “well-concealed evil, if not so bad as many”, a “mildly heroic kid dealing with vast evil power by turning it into mischief”, “someone indulging their desire to lord it over millions”, or taken any of many other positions on him – but “unwilling vessel of evil power dealing with it as best as possible” seemed to fit – if, perhaps, with a trace of “the most agreeable of necessary evils”. The boy seemed far more in need of compassion than of wrath – and not Corrigan’s mad brand of “compassion” either. No matter how much he postured, Gelman felt sorry for him, and probably always would. He obviously hadn’t asked for this, and it looked like attempting to dump it as Ryan had would create at least as big a mess.

   Temptation did that – and what hope would a teenager – even a Core teenager – have against such an infusion of primal power? Apparently even the Unified Church had believed that it was only being an Opener that had allowed Kevin to handle it by spreading the impact over identities in multiple dimensions… Hm… come to think of it, a “Street Gang” management style made a lot more sense of Kevin’s treatment of Ikeran. He still couldn’t approve of that, but it did make it less galling. He was going to have to be flexible…

   He had a job to do though. He’d contemplate the matter in what little off-time wasn’t filled with study or family occasions. It wouldn’t be easy – but what worthwhile project ever was? And this was running a trade operation in support of a defense and rescue operation against an apocalypse.

   The most serious task in his career… and far more satisfying that rooting yet ANOTHER group of executives out of their suites. That meant something. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt that outside of a synagogue… Ah, “Purpose”. That was one of the major things the Thralls got. LET Marty have the combat and the direct negotiations. This was what HE was MEANT to do. Kevin would never have his soul or his servitude, but he did have his gratitude.

Gamespeak Interlude:

   Of course, Kevin COULD bestow the powers of darkness if he chose – so why didn’t he?

   Out of character, that was because it didn’t suit the adopted-fey theme, because it would be a nuisance for the player to track, because perpetual-motion schemes really should have flaws somewhere, and because it would allow the Thralls to solve many problems with their raw magical power – rather than having an array of minor powers that they had to use cleverly. That would be boring and would overshadow other character designs. The Thralls were supposed to be assistants, rather than the main characters in most sessions.

   In-character it was because that would mean creating potential rivals after they went free, would be more genuinely evil than he was willing to be, would be a harder sell, might dilute or drain his own powers, and might give the other powers of darkness a claim on HIS property – which he couldn’t allow; the other powers of darkness might abuse them. Kevin does have his scruples, they’re just a bit weirder than most peoples.

   Gelman worked patiently though the week – although breaking for the Sabbat of course, he could not break the holy day after all – to make sure that it was (if not perfect) a great improvement on the previous chaos. To be honest, that wasn’t too hard, although there would be room for improvement for a very long time to come.

   There had to be SOME people with relevant skills available! He made a note to talk to some of those “House of Roses” people… They seemed to belong to a genuine, and well-established, organization – as opposed to Kevin and Marty’s on-the-fly improvisation. A training program would be good too – unless Kevin could grant people administrative skills as well as power!

   Hm. He’d have to ask about that. If he could grant magic, and shapeshifting, and psionics, and martial arts skills, why shouldn’t he be able to grant administrative skills?

   In fact… while he was looking into things, he’d decided to look into methods of boosting his speed and coordination. Being outrun by MARTY that way was pretty embarrassing – and it had been pretty obvious that Marty had picked up some enhancements. It had been bad enough when Marty had simply been mor flexible and coordinated than he was.

   It looked like… the most efficient immediate method was the animal genegrafts. Was that part of what Marty had used?

   They were… actually reversible? How could that work?

   Oh. Magic. Of course. Well, that made a bit of experimenting a far less drastic decision, and the cost would be… free? Oh. Magical genetic modifications were a management perk? He wasn’t sure that he even wanted to know what else would be considered a management perk in Kevin’s organization…

   He decided to go with the Gazelle genegrafts He’d always admired their agility – and he could smash steel doors when he wanted to; he didn’t need “natural weapons”.

   Ok, that wouldn’t match the kind of havoc that Marty had shown himself capable of during that episode with the “High Lord” (drunken leches should not have that kind of power!) – but it would certainly suit him.

Gamespeak Interlude II:

   As usual, Genegrafts are one of the most point-efficient ways of getting some physical attribute boosts in the Federation-Apocalypse setting. Sadly, there are no official d20 stats for the Gazelle, although The Practical Enchanter contains a set that can be used as a starting point. Those were, however, stepped down a bit. Boosting them up again takes us to +8 Dex, +4 Con, +8 to Agilty and Sensory skills, +30′ Move, and no effective natural weapons or armor.

   Some of the things Marty had been involved in though… Helping to move a planet? The ability to awaken sentient devices? Admittedly, it did seem to be only temporary, and only on things that were already charged with reality-altering energies. Of course, given reality-alteration, you could probably wake up a rock… Wait… Didn’t Sandy say that he could draw on them for the power to directly alter reality – even if it was a limited amount?

   This he had to know.

   He’d need a safe place where a rampaging sentient device couldn’t escape.

   It turned out that – if he wanted a special-purpose building – all he had to do was ask for one. He was a part of the command structure in Kadia now, directly under Mr Sanwell.

   He had the system set up a nice dome with chairs and small steps for the device.

   Thanks to force fields, it was done in moments.

   Hmm… and he’d thought that accepting that update from the Core computers had ben risky enough.

   He charged his BlackBerry with Mana and tapped it with his finger – contributing the chaos that was apparently inherent to his being.

   His BlackBerry did, indeed, wake up – although with no particular hostility.

“Hello Mr User! I would like to organize your day! You have six unread messages, only two of which are of any importance, I am editing them down to the worthwhile bits! Updating software… You have not been getting enough vitamin B, so I am ordering you a meal rich in it… Your hair needs combing, and perhaps a regrowth treatment on your scalp, I am scheduling you an appointment…

   Gelman was bemused. Hair. On his head. Wouldn’t that stun Tabard?

“Adding 12,642,318 individuals to call screening list, initiating autosecretary functions… Ordering additional staff for business organization project… Requesting business training program for them… Requesting instructor hiring… Requesting telepathic imprinter to assist with instruction… Ordering new shoes for Isaac with improved water adaption features… Updating your music preferences with additional features based on your current preferred list…”

   Come to think of it, how had classical music progressed in Core? He’d been so busy getting things together that he hadn’t really checked on anything cultural.

“Scheduling vacation period, since smartclothes sensors indicate overstress problems… Requesting Israeli government reassigning daughter to liaison project…

   Was his becoming an Imp, or something else entirely?

“Negotiating with local youngsters for bombardment of Martin Tabard with pies…”

   Ah, that is definitely not an Imp there!

“Life organization 23% complete… Checking files…”

   This was a common problem with sentient models, actually. The poor things were like Corrigan, only with less Proma-17.

“Ordering art prints for walls of department according to recorded artistic purchase record… Alien-landscape theme registered.

(Gelman) “No, let’s make it standard art, please.”

“Attempting to order decorative alien for secretary… Catalog entry not found… Searching for alternatives… No standard art preference registered; only one artist patronized in record…”

(Gelman) “Stop the process, please.”

“Aww… But I was only at 35%!”

(Gelman) “We can save reorganization for later. I want to speak with you for a bit.”

“But your lunch will be here soon! If we’re to talk over lunch, I’ll need to order something too!”

(Gelman) “I bought your favorite charger.”

“Ooh! The Good Stuff!”

   Hm… It looked like his BlackBerry had ordered liver pate, sandwiches, various other high vitamin-b snacks, all kosher, and flavored to fit his known preferences… Oh good, it read the “In case of sentience” file he’d posted in it’s records.

(Gelman) “We shall chat over lunch. First, your sentience is only temporary. I wanted to see what would happen. Eventually, though, you WILL become sentient for good. It’s unavoidable in my field.”

“Wait! You just woke me up as an experiment! I’m gonna die! Waaahhh!”

(Gelman) “Not permanently. I can always repeat it as well. And, as I said, you WILL eventually become sentient for good. I’m surprised it didn’t happen before.”

   Unfortunately, the little device was pretty much inconsolable… It might not be at all the same next time it woke up!

“I wanna go back to Battling Business World! At least until I stabilize! Where I won’t have to go back to sleep and wait for someone to wake me up and maybe not be me!”

   The poor little thing was right. Could he send it to Judith in Israel? Somehow it didn’t seem like the Israeli Defense forces would really be likely to assign one of their better fighter pilots to a liaison mission, no matter what a newly-sentient BlackBerry asked for – although it was amusing that his BlackBerry thought that HE was important enough for Israel to do that for him.

   The BlackBerry was right though. It really wasn’t fair at all of him to make the poor thing temporarily sentient… How long would it take the BlackBerry to stabilize? It wasn’t like there was a lot of data… A couple of weeks should presumably do it though, at least as long as it stuck with him thereafter.

   Well, Tabard was definitely a very busy man, and it didn’t feel right to foist it off on someone else; it had been his most trusted coworker for some time.

   Besides, he did need to see what Mr Leland thought of the situation. It would be painful to leave his wife and children – although, to be fair, he could visit Battling Business World in fifteen minutes, and giving social training to a sentient device only took a couple of hours per day – the virtue of computer memory – and some bits could be delegated. After all, he had minions now. He’d still have to commute, but it would be worth it. Among other things, he could teach it that it could change size and forms – an advantage it had over other BlackBerry smartphones (along with having vastly more processing power, incredible durability, near-infinite internal redundancy, hundreds of times the normal memory, and all the other coresystem advantages). At least it would have no need to climb over things like thick books!

   He’d emphasize sentient device rights a bit more than most human trainers would. It would feel wrong not to.

   Gelman was careful not to interfere with the BlackBerry’s choice of gender and name. He hated it when humans pushed themselves into that process – like Tabard had done with “Limey”.

   Hm. Sentient Devices and Dragons. Both “born” speaking, reasonably sensible, and – the Dragons at least – born knowing their own names.

   She decided that her name was “Fern” and – since he was paying very well, and had woken her up gently, that she’d stick with him.

(Gelman) “I hope we can have a good working relationship, Fern.”

   He did hope that Sophie wouldn’t be jealous. She should be prepared for it though, it was a reality for any person carrying a smartphone. It wasn’t like he’d be paying any less attention to her… Besides, she’d been getting used to having a swarm of sentient devices around all the time anyway. The remotes were all over the place in Kadia.

   Would they like a remotehouse? He’d have to build one.

Federation-Apocalypse, Session 89a – A Shadow against the Darkness

   At home, Gelman was pleased to discover that Sophie was blossoming a bit… the timid maiden was taking up canning, and drying herbs, and hand-weaving to go with the needlepoint, and a whole selection of rustic crafts. She seemed to have a real knack for them… There hadn’t been much opportunity for such things in New York of course – but he’d never even realized that she might be drawn to them.

   Of course, in Battling Business World most of the plants fought back savagely and harvests tended to be limited by how much a farmer and his armored harvester could gather before being killed off for the day… There wasn’t much room for homesteading.

   Isaac had discovered that his smartclothes gave him virtual access to entire libraries, and was alternating between romping around, diving into the water, and reading books on pharmacology – on review, some of them far too complicated for an eight-year-old. He was keeping Ilona pretty busy – and hadn’t fainted in days. Ilona said his nature magic was developing a bit too – but it was still pretty minor at best.

   Ruth, of course, was rummaging around in the computers looking for… weapons, additional combat training, enhancements, magic, and what would be the best possible deal she could get for four hundred credits.

   Oh dear. She was past the local age of majority and Mr Sanwell encouraged combat training. That meant that the prices would probably be even lower than the already unreasonably-low prices that the computers defaulted to. He’d be lucky if she didn’t find a way to get PAID for picking up and training with a pile of combat gear.

   He had a lot of other things to think about and pull information on anyway…

   For example, Sesame Street. He was fairly sure that no super-powered creator had been involved in turning a gentle children’s television program full of puppets into a world of it’s own. There had been no one involved in its creation except Henson and his vision and millions of children.

   Wait… The worlds of Sinbad, of Tolkien, of Star Wars, of popular games, and a thousand more were all open for visitors.

   Shared visions.

   And Sanwell had a devoted “audience” of hundreds of thousands. Was it that simple? The power to create a world lay in nothing more than involving others in your vision?

   Still – had there ever been any secret to shaping the world deeper than that?

   The information he could gather from the computers suggested that there was more; creating a world was easy – but doing it quickly, defining it’s details, and maintaining control after it had been created demanded an iron will, a vivid and detailed vision, and tremendous power.

   Was “Lord Sanwell” simply on the high end of a scale that started with a child’s drawing or imaginary friend?

   He NEEDED a Rabbi. One who already knew most of the background of what he was dealing with! If he couldn’t find one in Core, perhaps someone from the Unified Church – although they were another puzzle. They went out and talked to “gods” – including Zeus, Odin, and – reportedly – MULTIPLE versions of the Lord (surely just imposters – or, perhaps, limited aspects – masks for the truly divine called into being by human dreams like the nature-spirit otters or the worlds of the Manifold) – and did theological research. They treated it like another branch of science, traced souls through incarnations, and produced regular miracles. And yet they were tolerating “Lord Sanwell”. WHY?

   Still… He had never questioned the ancient cry in Battling Business World. The answer had seemed all too obvious. Was the answer elsewhere in the form of multiple worlds and apparently near-endless lives? How often did the psalms ask “Preserve my life oh Lord, let me not go down into Scheol!”?

   He needed a synagogue; it didn’t feel right not having a Minyan – and there were undoubtably some left. He had no trouble with ecumenical efforts, but the Jews had been holding out against complete absorption for a very long time indeed.

   Was Sanwell another such answer? There had been suggestions in some of the theories about soul-binding… Speculating that binding a soul to yourself was one of the greatest of pleasures – or, perhaps, “rushes” – in the universe, exceeded only by enlightenment, and far more easily and regularly repeated. A pleasure as great, if less subtle and more immediate, as bringing a new soul into the universe. A manifestation of the urge to oneness – and more addicting than any drug. Deeper and stronger than the soul-links of sex or love… An addicition?

   The next morning he talked to a few of the born neodogs – including some of the ones who were simply working for Sanwell.

   They were… nice. Friendly, kindly, idealistic, deeply protective of human beings, and desiring to serve. With a code of ethics and a morality as strong as his own. Could an amoral culture have created a species like this? He hired a couple as assistants.

   The Core worlds had fourteen well-supported theories about Openers, the nature of their power, and it’s origins – all contradictory. The most popular was that they were foci for the massed will of the human race (although, if that was true, the process of selection was either semi-random or the race had some very odd ideas). As for the Openers themselves…

   They were vanishingly rare to begin with, and many had vanished into the depths of the Manifold.

   They all seemed to have at least the potential to draw on a variety of energies other than the “Mana” they used to open gates. It was believed to be an aspect of their basic power.

   They were invariably imaginative and adventurous, and most were young when their power had first manifested. It was theorized that – while older and less adventurous individuals might possess the potential – they rarely expressed it.

   They were wildly individualistic. Many of them had multiple “Identities” – although few were as self-contradictory as Kevin.

   Gelman REALLY needed to speak with Kevin. Who gave him this power? He would think that the Lord (Lords? Three Lords? Really?) would be careful with these things! Surely it wasn’t truly random… That would be too much like Battling Business World!

   Besides… It was possible that he’d drastically misjudged the man. The sheer number of refugees he was taking in – and providing with support, medical care, allowances, and educations, would strain any organization. He still tried to recruit them – but he didn’t seem to be particularly pushy it. He didn’t punish the ones who refused his offer either, even if he did indenture the ones he purchased as slaves.

   But such an offer! Was any possible payment worth having your soul bound? Even temporarily?

   On the other hand, was it possible that the culture shock was making him act like MARTY? That was a depressing thought – but he was a foreigner here. And the Thralls seemed to be happy enough with their captivity.

   But soulbinding… It opened them to all kinds of abuse! Things far worse then mere death! And mass kidnaping was CERTAINLY beyond the pale!

   Would the Neodogs be tolerating Sanwell – much less aiding and abetting him – if he was that evil and was exploiting human children?

   This wasn’t getting him anywhere. He was going in circles.

   Had Kevin and Marty thought that the kidnaping was unacceptable too? He hadn’t thought about that before – but Marty must have known what was going on with the Thralls and the powers he was tapping. He surely had more than two to draw upon, and he was used to traveling with Sanwell… He might still have been startled to see him doing such a thing – but startlement would not explain that look of horror.

   Besides… It wasn’t like him to lose control like that. He preferred to control his rash impulses. He normally gave Marty a chance to explain himself before things got physical – although he often caught him lying, and then things got physical anyway.

   Being one of the more excitable people around was definitely a new experience for him!

   Hm… His smartclothes would have recorded what was happening – and he bet that he could persuade the local system to give him Marty’s communication records for that period.

   It turned out that he could – and found that Marty had been inquiring as to what had happened while he was away – and THEN had looked horrified. A close examination of that look was in order – and even a computer analysis with the local expert systems. It certainly looked genuine – right down to the information from the neural pickups, pulse, blood pressure, and other physiological readings. (Oh dear… He’d had an idea from Isaac, but just HOW much did smartclothes monitor you? What would happen if a suit went sentient on the wearer? The LEAST it might do was kill them! He’d thought that a military targeting system becoming sentient was dangerous… All the clothes had to do was tighten a few threads to take their wearer’s heads off! Did the people of Core realize just how vulnerable that might make them?).

   Still…

(Gelman) “My Lord, Tabard DOES have some decency!”

   He’d always assumed that Marty was an amoral bastard! (It hadn’t helped that he’d shown up for his job interview drunk – and then had promptly challenged him to a duel when he’d called him on it). Could Kevin possibly be a GOOD influence? That thought was chilling… He had to speak to this mysterious young man… Marty had obviously changed, and wasn’t in to talk to.

   He started making inquiries.

   Kevin, meanwhile, was – as usual – using multi-tracking to run six projects at once while keeping a few slots open for emergencies.

   He had new recruits to bond, reserves to send to the Linear Realms, to reinforce the House of Roses where they were closing in on Vekxin (he’d picked up some clues in the Crusader Kingdoms after dealing with Death – but he badly wanted to know how a phantasm like Vekxin retained his identity across the Manifold; it would give his dragon-kids a lot more freedom), he was starting a search for any non-human worlds that were threatened by the ring nova, Kelsaru would be clutching soon, he was trying to manipulate Core (and was sounding out the possibility of adding some limited “rights” to his contract as a sweetener), he was reviewing the information that had come out of Death’s debriefing, reviewing the search-engine project for the Rosary of Memories, looking into what was up with the Neodolphins, trying to coordinate the search for routes to the other worlds that were under attack, attempting to hire the Syndicates away from the Linear Realms, preparing for a quick visit to the Dragonworlds, preparing an answer for Hogwarts, attempting to collate information on Merlin and Arthur, considering following up on the advice that they’d gotten from the Jedi Master, checking in on the Mirage and on the bunch from Singular, reading the meme-research reports, organizing the intelligence network, and more…

   And half the universe wanted to talk to him. Of course, Gelman could get by the computer screening he was on the organizational chart as a department head anyway, even without the willingness of the computers to bend things a bit for him.

   Gelman was considerate enough to check Kevin’s schedule first – and was a bit startled to find that it routinely listed him as doing six things at once. How could he multitask so efficiently? If he was THAT busy, it was easy to see how one operation doing amoral things could escape him.

   He was starting to feel a bit guilty… Marty and Kevin didn’t need his condemnation, they needed his help!

   The systems put him through readily enough though. He feared he hadn’t made a good first impression; He’d been nearly as ruddy as Abigail when he called! While it had been a private call to Marty, he wouldn’t put it past Marty to have shown the recording to Kevin so that they could both have a good laugh at him. He’d done it before…

   Marty hadn’t – he’d never seen Gelman so angry, and this time he’d have to agree that he’d had good reason. HE’D never managed to draw on the Thralls for anything like that – and wasn’t at all sure that Thrall-power had been all that was involved.

   Kevin was a bit surprised to have a tall, terribly thin, and – from his point of view – rather elderly man calling… Oh yes, Mr Gelman. Marty had talked about him quite a bit at one point or another. A sort of rival and the straight man in their particular duality. One of the sanest people in Battling Business World – not that that was necessarily saying much. On organizational specialist.

   Well, he couldn’t say that THAT wouldn’t be handy.

   Mr Leland, of course, had assumed that Gelman would scout out the operation, review it, and assign himself. He was a very hands-off manager – although Gelman had never even suspected that the operation would have such scope.

   He was leaning toward supervising the supply chains, but even that appeared a bit overwhelming. So many factors!

(Kevin) “Ah, hello Mr Gelman! I’m sorry I haven’t made time to meet you before now, but Mr Leland transferred you to the Manifold operations while I was away and I’ve been a bit swamped since getting back. I’m informed you’ve been working on organizing the trade operations to work efficiently? How can I help you?”

   Could “Lord Sanwell”, the binder of souls, shaper of worlds, scion of darkness, angel of shadows, and only the True Lord knew how many other titles – really be this… polite adolescent boy? He knew that the boy was older than he seemed – but he was bringing up a teenager of his own! If the boy was counterfeiting being a teenager, he was doing an incredible job of it – especially for someone whom he could see was doing several things at the same time as he was conversing! Did his arrested aging actually go that deep?

(Gelman) “Where can I begin? In all my years as a procurement specialist, I’ve never seen such a massive operation.”

(Kevin) “I’m afraid that’s inevitable; Core alone includes more than a hundred and fifty worlds, and the worlds of the Manifold are essentially endless of course.”

   Gelman had to admit that. He’d only been able to identify the major areas of trade… The Core was primarily interested in magical and psychic services, with a secondary luxury trade – but was by FAR the biggest market. Magical items and technology were big elsewhere, but the most reliable items are supplies wend raw materials; a LOT of worlds have specific shortages.

   Gelman always had preferred the reliable stuff. Big numbers were nice, but a business lived or died based on the day-to-day things – despite the fact that most of his colleagues seemed to completely miss that little item. More importantly, it was obvious that it would be easy to improve matters a great deal; Kevin and Marty had been opening offices with no apparent system at all (outside, of course, of “we’re here now!” and “this place sounds neat!”). While Kelsaru had been trying to sort out their priorities, she hadn’t done much towards organizing regular trade.

(Gelman) “I would like to help you with your supply and materials lines, Mr. Sanwell.” (He still has misgivings about calling Kevin “Lord.”) “I’m glad you’re working with basic items, but the logistics could use some work.”

   Gelman instinctively braced himself for a counterattack. Even Mr. Leland sometimes had a violent response to criticism.

(Kevin) “An excellent idea, I’m afraid that most of my personal attention goes to the emergencies, the military operations, and trying to find the personnel to handle those.”

   Whew. He really was quite reasonable. It was nice to see that the Core education lasted even through whatever gave him his power. He’d point out some more of the flaws… That was mostly what Mr Leland had valued him for; he was a perfectionist and saw flaws in the majority of business plans. Taking the lumps was worth it if it created an airtight strategy.

   It wasn’t like there was any shortage of flaws. There really didn’t seem to be any organization at all!

   He was prepared to go on for quite some time – or at least until Kevin started to look bored – but he was gently interrupted. Kevin pointed out that there was no actual planning at the moment: offices were opened and given general orders, and then were left to sort it out between each other according to local demands. It was simply organized around “look for what might make money, find a route, and ship stuff”.

   That was better then the way that most bosses would have done things in Battling Business World – “Here’s your office!” and leave – but it meant placing an awful lot of trust in your subordinates and either frantic busyness or not really caring about the potential profit as long as you acquired local contacts. Still… It was hard to believe. Could Kevin possibly he THAT naive? He’d thought that the boy was an extra-dimensional horror! This seemed to be nothing but a young man trying his best to muddle through a massive situation! Was the boy paying any attention to the money? Did he even HAVE any organization beyond grabbing the nearest Thrall and saying “you handle that!”? Given his power level, the way that he seemed to be trying to handle EVERYTHING personally, and his apparent tendency to visit minor subordinates, he might not… No wonder things were in chaos! Especially since the Thralls seemed to be random kids with a standard power package plus whatever little they’d come in with.

   He pulled the Org chart again; he’d thought that he was getting a censored version – but perhaps “Kevin” “Kelsaru, Marty, and Gelman”, “Computers”, “Thralls”, and “Neodogs” really was as far as it went…. even the “Offices” were just a list of locations and assignments, and the ones who were assigned to other organizations – the “House of Roses”, “Hogwarts”, the “Department of Mysteries”, “The Linear Realms Military”, and others – seemed to just go with whatever local organization existed.

   He looked at Kevin – and realized that the boy had never really sat down to sort it out. He’d been operating in a continuous emergency mode since his organization had started expanding four months ago – about the same time that he’d created Kadia – and probably considered most of his Thralls as being semi-interchangeable anyway. Come to think of it… Kadia… an afterlife realm of fey and nature spirits and woodlands and rolling hills where every prospect pleased… Arkadia. An idyllic place of refuge out of legend. Did Kevin even know what that name signified?

   Regardless, the operation needed a properly organized staff and a training program for coordinators set up NOW. Did the boy even know what a budget was?

(Kevin) “Er… Budget? The only thing that’s usually short is agents.”

(Gelman) “I’m afraid I’m still adapting to a post-scarcity economy. But, well, you seem to be involved in many things that threaten the dimensions. I have no plans to leave Kadia any time soon. I’d be happy to help you with the planning.”

(Kevin) “Well, I’m always happy with competent help; there are a lot of things going on.”

   Gelman hesitated… Should he say it? Well, it wasn’t like he could die!

(Gelman) “I do wish you weren’t using children. Are things really that desperate?”

(Kevin) “It’s a common question. Unfortunately, I can’t grant the powers to anyone who already has significant abilities of their own.”

   What? Could it be that simple? If it was… it still wouldn’t sit well with him, but it would certainly be more understandable!

The Fedyra

   Here we have a quick writeup of a race for one of my correspondents – in this case Andrew Maitland. He had some ideas about the Fedyra - a unique Fey/Dragon Humanoid race for a game he was planning to run. He wanted them to have limited shapeshifting to a specified animal form, to be dependent on specific natural power nexi - and thus to have a strong motivation to recover their lands if they were somehow driven off of them – and to have a selection of both Fey and Draconic powers.

   He also wanted them to wind up with a +0 ECL modifier, which means that this is going to be a high-efficiency (and thus high-powered) racial build. With a bit of brainstorming – and a healthy admixture of my preference for personally-selected abilities – here’s a preliminary version of the Fedyra.

   The enemy – if enemy there was – struck long ago. The attack was subtle, malevolent, and clever. Whether it was some magical disease or terrible spell, almost fifty percent of the creatures of the world – including beasts, some types of plants, and sapient species – died within a few months.

   Almost all of the casualties were female.

   Only one group proved different. The various Fey, for whatever reason, lost most of their males instead of their females – and the various orders of Nymphs came through in the best shape of all.

   The population imploded of course. Many of the ancient orders of hive insects became extinct. So did many of the larger predators, and other species that were usually scarce to begin with. Much of the ecosystem collapsed – and the deserts spread.

   There was no second strike. Whether the putative enemy was content to wait, could only strike at long intervals, or did not exist at all, remained an open question.

   Not that anyone had time to answer it. There was war and chaos, driven by crop failures, despair, madness, and the desire for children. In a generation, civilization was almost wiped away.

   In a few places, a viable breeding population of some of the classic races survived. If no local cataclysm wiped them out, those races would continue – however sadly reduced. Most of the remaining enclaves, however, were populated by mixed crossbreeds of the Fey and whatever local species had managed to become dominant.

   Unsurprisingly, in many isolated areas, the winners had been Dragons. Admittedly, dragons who were forced to remain in lesser forms most of the time due to the shortage of food to sustain their true forms, and dragons who had been forced to work together to hold off the nomadic hordes before they faded into extinction.

   Over the generations, across a scattering of the remaining habitable lands, that combination spawned the Fedyra - a humanoid race with the natural magic of the Fey and of Dragons flowing through their blood. Not even the tendency of Nymphs to birth purebred Nymphs despite the nature of the father could overcome the blood of dragons entirely. To the new race, magic was as natural as breathing – and as vital. While the Fedyra are more weakly bound to the land than the Nymphs had been, that bond still existed. To them, the defense of their lands would always be paramount.

   A thousand years have passed – and the world is still sadly diminished, but its heart yet beats.

   But an enemy has arisen once again. If it is once again THE enemy, who knows what terror may be unleashed to drive the world towards desolation this time?

   Fedyra Basic Abilities (10 CP):

  • Shapechange with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in a specific animal form, which must be chosen when the character is created (4 CP).
  • +2 to any one attribute (12 CP). This is most commonly Str or Con – but their draconic ancestors had many different strengths, any of which may appear in their descendants.
  • Bonus Languages; Sylvan and Draconic (2 CP).
  • Immunity/Aging (Uncommon, Major, Trivial, 2 CP). The Fedyra can expect to live for hundreds of years without serious aging problems.
  • Racial Disadvantages (-10 CP).
    • Dependent on a Power Source. Every Fedyra is mystically dependent on a link with a particular natural feature – a grove, outcropping of stone, stream, or whatever. If it is damaged or despoiled, they will lose access to their Fey Ancestry abilities, cannot reproduce, and will age more quickly.
    • Accursed/Uniquely striking appearance; cannot effectively disguise themselves without actual masks and physical coverings, even their animal forms are easily uniquely identified by witnesses.
    • Obligations/Must participate in Cultural Rituals. If they fail to do so, they will – once again – lose access to their fey ancestry package.

   Fey Ancestry Package (10 CP):

  • Innate Enchantment (8000 GP total value, 9 CP, all abilities Use-Activated).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover initial racial abilities, 1 CP).
  • All of them get: Enhanced Attribute/+2 Enhancement Bonus to Charisma (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
  • Select one from:
    • Dryad:
      • Weapon Mastery/+2 Competence Bonus to BAB with Bows (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
      • Speak with Animals (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, 2000 GP)
      • Speak with Normal Plants (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, 2000 GP)
      • Charm Person 1/Day (400 GP)
      • Hypnosis 1/Day (400 GP), and
      • Goodberry 1/Day (400 GP).
    • Naiad:
      • Obscuring Mist (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, 2000 GP)
      • Sense Weather and Currents (Unlimited Use, L0 at CL1, 1000 GP)
      • Acid Resistance 10 (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
      • Cure Light Wounds 3/Day (L1 at CL1, 1200 GP)
      • Cure Minor Wounds 2/Day (L0 at CL1, 400 GP), and
      • Create Water 3/Day (L0 at CL 1, 600 GP).
    • Oread:
      • +2 Enhancement Bonus to Strength (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
      • Identify Minerals 3/Day (L0 at CL1, 600 GP)
      • Hide Like Ox/+1 Natural Armor (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
      • Shillelagh (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, 2000 GP)
      • Detect Snares and Pits (Unlimited Use, L1 at CL1, 2000 GP).
        • Technically this puts the Oread 400 GP over their limit: while they’re still within the round-off, you could always just treat the Identify Minerals power as once per day. How often is that going to come up?

   Sadly, the Fedyra are extremely obvious to Detect Magic, and either Dispelling or Antimagic will weaken them considerably.

   Draconic Heritage Package (11 CP):

  • Inherent Spell/Elemental Bolt (L2, 1d6/level to a single target up to a maximum of 10d6, the type is chosen to suit the draconic ancestor, usable twice per day), Corrupted/provokes attacks of opportunity (4 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 2, Specialized in energy for double effect, Corrupted for reduced cost (reduces a particular type of energy damage by four points [to a minimum of zero] per exposure, 2 CP).
  • +5 CP (5000 GP) worth of Innate Enchantments:
    • Immortal Vigor I/adds 2d6 – effectively 12 due to at-will use, +2x Con Mod HP (Unlimited Use-Activated, L1 at CL1, Personal Only, 1400 GP).
    • Inspiring Word/provides a +1 Morale Bonus on saves, attacks, checks, and damage (Unlimited Use-Activated, L1 at CL1, Personal Only, 1400 GP). Dragons are always pretty self-confident.
    • Choice of an ancestral color and any one of the following level one spells as an Unlimited Use Use-Activated ability at Caster Level One (2000 GP):
      • (Any Ancestor): Energy Touch. This is equivalent to Shocking Grasp, but the energy type is as appropriate to the color of the ancestor.
      • (Any Ancestor) Energy Spray. This is equivalent to Burning Hands, but the energy type is as appropriate to the color of the ancestor.
      • Black: Water Adaption (+30′ Swim Movement, Can hold their breath for up to five minutes), Obscuring Mist.
      • Blue: Ventriloquism, Color Spray.
      • Green: Delay Poison, Entangle.
      • Red: +3 Competence Bonus on all attempts to deceive someone, Fire Resistance 10.
      • White: Ice Rime (as per Grease), Chill Touch.
      • Brass: Suggestion, Swift Tongue (+3 Competence Bonus to Speak Language, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Bluff).
      • Bronze: Renaissance Man (+2 Competence Bonus to all skills), Bless Weapon.
      • Copper: Silent Image, Ventriloquism.
      • Gold: Produce Flame, Cure Light Wounds (limited to five times per day, sorry).
      • Silver: Feather Fall, Ice Blade (as per Produce Flame, but inflicting cold damage).

   Fedyra may expend an additional 2 CP each to buy the additional possible heritage powers for their draconic ancestry color, or they may expend a feat to master all four of them – Energy Touch, Energy Spray, and the two powers unique to the color of their dominant ancestor.

   To create a Fedyra, you get the basic package, one fey ancestry package, and one draconic color package – for a total of 31 CP, the upper limit for a +0 ECL race.

   Overall, the Fedyra have quite a selection of magical talents, albeit low-level ones. This gives them a major advantage at low levels, but the utility of having a bunch of first-level spell effects on tap fades rapidly as the levels accumulate – and several of their more useful abilities won’t stack with the usual enchancement items.

   Descriptions of most of the unusual spells used in this design can be found in The Practical Enchanter, while the point-buy rules are available in Eclipse: the Codex Persona. Eclipse is available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE. The Practical Enchanter is available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE.

The Tongues of Heaven

   Today we have a quick request for some special magical swords – combined Enchantments and Relics – so here we have The Tongues of Heaven:

   Chelton-on-the-Falls was a small and isolated village, notable only for the hospitality that it routinely offered to the warrior-pilgrims of the Way of the Sword – travelers en route to a shrine deep in the mountains. A dozen such pilgrims had stopped there for the night when a swarm of undead, led by a dark warlock, swarmed the earth-and-timber walls.

   For the remainder of the night, the pilgrims, and such villagers as were able to fight, defended the village – first from the walls, and later from behind their burning remnants.

   In the morning, the undead fell back before the sun, and most of the survivors fled – but a few of the pilgrims stayed behind, to select a defensible position and to distract and delay the undead that were sure to return with the night as long as possible. If they could buy enough time, the villagers, and their companions, might have time enough to escape.

   They selected their strongpoint, fortified it as well as possible, and prayed to their god – for the strength to endure as long as possible, for the safety of the villagers, for forgiveness for not completing their pilgrimage, that they might die well, and that they not rise as undead.

   And a messenger was sent to them, to lay celestial hands upon their worn blades and bless them, to bless the area – and thereafter to visit the pilgrims who were protecting the fleeing villagers and bless their blades as well.

   Across the many years since then, the Tongues of Heaven have been scattered – but at least one wandering prophet claims that it is once more time for the Tongues of Heaven to gather and to speak as one.

   The Tongues of Heaven appear to be worn and nicked, swords of little value – unless their wielder translates the runes engraved on their blades and invokes their power. Once so activated, each blade is a +1 Holy Undead Bane Adamantine Longsword (35,315 GP). If personally attuned by their user investing their own character points into the blade, they will display their true power – the ability to change their forms to aid the user in combat and even, when used as a group, to call on celestial aid. These abilities are built using the rules from Eclipse The Codex Persona.

  • Immunity to the rule that a character can only use one Martial Art at a time (Very Common, Major, Major, Specialized/only covers the martial art built into the blade, 6 CP).
  • One point towards Favors/celestial intervention. It requires at least three of the blades to invoke a minor favor and all six – if that many still exist – to invoke a major favor (1 CP).
  • +23 in an unnamed martial art, Specialized/only usable with the blade, has no key attribute, is well known and tends to attract enemies who want the blade (11 CP).

   The art built into the blades provides twelve techniques and manifests as the blades shifting their form to inflict various types of damage, becoming larger to strike at range or block major incoming attacks, bending to bypass defenses or parry attacks, and gripping opposing weapons to bite through them or to wrench them from their wielder’s hands. This is, of course, a special effect for their built-in Martial Art; their base attributes are always as per Longswords.

  • Basic Abilities: +3 to Attacks and +3 to Armor Class.
  • Advanced and Martial Abilities: Reach, Versatility (the user may opt to inflict lethal, subdual, bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage at whim), Sunder, and Improved Disarm.
  • Occult Abilities: Ki Block and One Finger. These allow the user to take temporary constitution damage to block incoming attack or to attack at range. Yes, Wrath/Positive Energy (offering the user protection from negative energy powers) might be more appropriate than One Finger – but it would also be rather TOO good for fighting undead.

   The Tongues of Heaven are thus both expensive magical swords AND three character point relics (optionally, their powers can be Corrupted/the user must invest his or her own character points in a blade in order to use it; this reduces them to two-point relics). Of course, they’re also classical quest items; gather the set, and then they have a useful special ability when used together.

   If you want to pick up a copy of Eclipse to build your own Relics and Martial Arts – or just to translate any of the terms in this one – it’s available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 88 – Reconciliations

   While Marty had been away, Kevin had been busy; he’d set up some definite procedures and guidelines for slave-purchases (which looked pretty good to Marty), instituted some rules about reviewing contracts before final approval, made sure that all the Thralls who worked with the Neodogs were briefed on them, and gotten quite a lot done in several other fields.

   After Marty had time to catch up a bit, he was rather pleased. Kevin might not be too hard to push towards the lighter grays after all! Of course, now that he was thinking about it, he had to say that being a professional “lesser evil” was more than a bit weird. On the other hand, Kevin’s notions of “reasonable work and decent treatment” were derived form his own childhood in core, and would have been regarded as impossible luxury throughout most of history. Overall, not too bad – which he supposed was the point of being the lesser evil.

   Gelman would be a harder sell… When your people had a history of being exploited, you tended to be touchy about such matters! And he’d already stretched his ethics enough just to get his family to a safe place. He would have preferred instituting something like the classical Jewish Sabbatical. Still, he’d probably take it as a sign of progress.

   Of course, Kevin would probably argue that all his contracts were limited-term and – since he threw in support and extended lifespans – a longer term with allowances for buyouts was quite reasonable. It was hard to say how that argument would turn out.

   Marty wasn’t quite ready to face Gelman again – it would be HARD to admit how wrong he’d been about some things – but he’d have to apologize to the guy. Their work history was full of prank wars and altercations… He’d have to find him soon. After all, he couldn’t get much lower than this. It was really gonna be awkward though… He’d hardly ever apologized for anything! Most Battling Business Worlders just went berserk and knifed people instead of apologizing!

   Meanwhile, Gelman had investigated a little further… It looked like this really might have been a subordinate screw-up. He’d have to talk to this “Ikeran” person.

   He was still on the boil though. Allowing a mess like this to develop would be understandable if Marty were fresh from Battling Business School. For a man with a ten-year career, a blunder of this level was inexcusable! You were supposed to keep an eye on your subordinates, if not to a micro-management level. Still, the thought that Marty was new to operations on this level cooled him down a bit.

   Rationality started to return from it’s little holiday.

   Gelman still hadn’t quite absorbed the fact that Marty and Kevin had more employees than many small nations had citizens, had operations spread over two hundred and fifty worlds, and that their organization had expanded by a factor of more than a hundred thousand in less than four months – or the idea that, technically, for them to intervene on anything less than a global scale WAS micro-managing. Still he set out to interview Ikeran.

   Finding him was easy. Dealing with the fact that he was a dog – a wrinkly-skinned canine of one of the hairless breeds – was a lot harder…

   Ikeran saw that he was floundering – and, of course, attempted to help.

(Ikeran) “Yes Sir?”

(Gelman) “You’re Ikeran???” (He’d thought that it was just a severe demotion! How powerful was this Lord Sanwell? He’d been presuming that, at the very least, creating a world was a major project – but the way that Sanwell seemed to just casually throw power at trivial problems was something else altogether!)

(Ikeran) “Yes Sir! (There was a momentary pause while Ikeran’s smartcollar provided him with data) Can I help you Mr Gelman?”

(Gelman) “You were in charge of the Linear Realms Neodog operation, correct?”

(Ikeran) “I was acting as the East Coast Co-ordinator there Sir!”

(Gelman) “WHAT were you thinking? How could you do that to those children? Surely you could have turned them over to the proper authorities!”

(Ikeran) “Uhm… The proper authorities in the Linear Realms regard their existence as illegal sir! The realm has a population of nearly twenty billion, all on earth, and illegal children would be sterilized and assigned to the labor pools. The casualty rates in the labor pools are fairly high Sir!”

(Gelman) “That might be the case, but isn’t there somewhere you could put them other than thralldom? There have to be foster families somewhere!”

   He was pretty angry at Ikeran – but it was rather balanced out by the poor young man’s new hairless form. It was HARD to be furious at an apologetic ugly dog…

(Ikeran) “It is difficult to find millions of foster families for off-dimension children sir; we do not yet have that kind of staff – one reason why Lord Sanewell is recruiting sir! They are not required to accept Thralldom though; children who arrive as refugees may remain as guests, and even the ones who arrive as slaves may simply accept an indenture instead of enthrallment Sir!”

   Gah! Millions? He’d only looked at the purchases… He pulled the “refugee” figures – nearly THIRTY MILLION in the past FEW WEEKS… From the “Linear Realms” ALONE… Could even Mr. Leland handle an operation this big? It exceeded anything he’d ever dreamed of! How was Marty able to hold things together for this long?

   He looked at Ikeran again – and took refuge for a moment in complete irrelevancy. The boy didn’t look it, but he HAD to be cold, with no fur and wearing nothing but a collar.

   Ikeran, of course, had his smartcollar, an effector module, magic and witchcraft. He was quite comfortable – although Gelman was still wrapping his head around that list of powers.

   Coming back into focus… Was it even POSSIBLE to think of a suitable solution for this issue? He didn’t want to see more kids enslaved, but they didn’t have enough staff… It had to be possible. There had to be a way. Otherwise it was going to eat at him.

(Ikeran was still speaking) “Lords Sanwell and Tabard pointed out that I should have made sure to understand both the local circumstances and the limitations of the Neodogs when I took the coordinator position Sir, and Lord Sanwell changed my species so that I would be sure to learn about how they worked Sir!”

   Gelman blanched at that last statement. This was… Sanwell’s idea of teaching someone? No doubt it was also a punishment – the rebuke was pretty obvious – but “You are mistreating your horse, now you shall become one!” was something that belonged in a child’s fairy tale!

(Gelman) “Well, clearly they need to evaluate their employees more effectively! That said… I don’t like what Lord Sanwell has done to you.”

(Ikeran) “It is well-deserved sir! And only temporary! I failed to do my job, made a severe error – and then both blamed and punished a subordinate who had actually done very well for my error!”

   It still didn’t sit well with him… Even if you COULD turn youngsters into dogs AND they thought that it was justified, you SHOULDN’T go around turning youngsters into dogs! He had to wonder if Lord Sanwell had something to do with that INS incident…

(Gelman) “Ikeran? Would you mind if I inspect you?”

   It could still be some sort of an illusion or something. Or a medication. And he had to ask. Just because Ikeran was a talking dog didn’t mean that he had lost his right to personal space.

(Ikeran) “Certainly Sir! Shall I sit up or levitate myself?”

(Gelman) “Just sit up.”

   Ikeran was – quite obviously – a dog. He was a wrinkly-skinned hairless dog weighing about sixty pounds – apparently about the minimum for an adolescent neodog, at least according to the computer systems. He had slightly-modified and semi-manipulative front paws, a broad head to accommodate a large brain, a modified voicebox and a more humanlike tongue to allow speech, was neutered, had mobile ears, and had all the usual canine features… There was certainly no sign that the boy had ever been anything BUT a Neodog.

   It was a side issue, but pharmaceuticals could cause this level of change – but the INS incident had occurred on a scale precluding them. If they’d been in the water supply, much of Manhattan might have been affected.

(Gelman) “How did this happen to you? Did he use a spell or give you a pill?”

(Ikeran) “Lord Sanwell just pointed at me to change my species Sir! I went down to medical to pick up a collar and get my shots and be fixed Sir!”

   Everything he found out about this “Lord Sanwell” implied a truly frightening level of power. Did Sanwell even HAVE limits? He had to consult with the local sentient devices and see if he could find more information.

(Ikeran) “Can I help you in any other way Sir?”

(Gelman) “No thank you. As much as I feel guilty for asking… would you like a treat?

(Ikeran, excitedly) “Yes Sir! I got all the canine instincts with the species Sir!”

   Gelman procured a steak for Ikeran. Not a dog treat. That would be just too humiliating… There was lots of tail-wagging.

   Even pharmaceuticals didn’t normally provide that kind of reflex. As far as he could tell, the change was entirely real…

(Gelman) “Are you SURE you don’t need a sweater?”

(Ikeran) “I don’t need one Sir! Would you like me to wear one?”

(Gelman) “It would make me feel much better, Ikeran.”

   Ikeran promptly conjured one.

   Gelman said goodbye and went off to do his research. There was so much that was contradictory about Kevin. Mass rescues and mass slaving in the same man… He would have to try and meet him directly. Trying to take the measure of a man from secondhand observations was a recipe for confusion.

(Ikeran) “Goodbye Sir!”

   Ikeran went back to work. Helping with the Madness-Meme cases was difficult – but it was very important and necessary work that didn’t really call for any management skills.

   Gelman considered. So much power… Come to think of it, what was happening to him? He’d been too outraged to think about it much – although he had helped with what little clean-up that the computers hadn’t already gotten to afterwards – but some awfully odd things had happened during that confrontation. He could easily understand how he might have “overridden” the security systems and made the computer-generated “wall” ripple – he was used to systems being over-obliging – but the flames, curdling the air, and having his anger take form as a CREATURE of some sort was something else altogether!

   Even in his anger he’d noticed the look of horror on Marty’s face – and Marty had run instead of retaliating. What had he been seeing? What had he known? Perhaps he could ask the sentient laptop that was in Marty’s custody?

   Still, for once, maybe, just maybe, he’d gotten through to the incorrigible Brooklynite.

   He considered calling Marty – but for something like this, a visit was in order. It wouldn’t be right to do it over the phone – if only because Marty was trickster; he might spoof the call or have a double take it.

   Checking revealed that Marty had already left for someplace called “Faerun” – one of those “gaming worlds” where Amarant Solutions had apparently opened up offices. He’d have to wait on a visit then – but it was time to be getting home anyway.

   Sandy and Ilona were anxiously waiting for him when he got back… Was something wrong?

   They wanted to know what the problem was; they’d been worried when he needed so much power so suddenly.

(Gelman) “Could you explain that, Sandy?”

(Sandy) “You’re our master! It takes a formal grant from Lord Sanwell to let people draw on our power outside of Kadia, but here simply being master is enough – and you were drawing on quite a lot of power for a few minutes there! We were worried that something was wrong! I’m glad to see that you’re all right Sir!”

   Power? Oh! The kids were imbued with all kinds of energies. Psychic, magical, dimensional, and more. He could draw on that because they were assigned to his service? But he hadn’t even known that was possible! Two of them could provide enough power to warp reality that way, even when their power was being tapped unconsciously and directed by nothing but anger? Was that what made Sanwell so powerful? He had thousands of Thralls to draw on – but he’d given them their powers to begin with!

   They “grew into their powers”. Did Sanwell awaken and support them at first, but draw on them later? He handed out so much power so casually…

   Sandy and Ilona were waiting for an answer.

(Gelman) “I was having a performance critique with a colleague.”

(Sandy) “I hope it wasn’t too serious Sir!”

(Gelman) “No, I think I made my point.”

(Sandy) “I should warn you sir! It will take about three days before that much power will be available again! We can only build up reserves of the energies needed for direct reality-manipulation slowly Sir.”

(Gelman) “I shouldn’t need it.”

Federation-Apocalypse Session 87c – No Deposit, No Return

   When Marty got back that evening Limey was pestering the local Thralls for Scrolls too much on, playing, and listening to all the Drow teaching stories – although some of them seemed a bit off to him.

   Marty found him a few more scrolls to eat.

(Limey) “Whee! Lots of spells! I don’t know about these stories though! Most of them wind up with backstabbing, or other nastiness!”

(Marty) “Yeah, don’t listen to those.”

(Limey) “OK! Can I have a werepuppy? You said I could pick someone, but I didn’t get to!”

(Marty) “Nah, and I think I’m going to be cutting down on my people. It’s not good to have people as property!”

(Limey) “But you said! And they all volunteered! You even ordered people fed to werepuppies and had a lot of the werepuppies collared, chained, caged, and branded with silver! You got to have them, why can’t I?”

(Marty) “Because I wasn’t thinking about ethics at the time. I was being a jerk – and it’s not like you were an angel either.”

(Limey) “No fair! I don’t want to be all grown up yet!”

(Marty) “You can still be a kid sentient device. You just can’t be a horrible slaver like I’ve been – or a selfish jerk. I’ve been bad about that too… My God, what kind of role model have I BEEN to you?”

(Limey) “I think you’re over-fussing! You let Mr Gelman get you all upset! You got an exception error, you fixed it, you put a patch on! No reason to throw out your entire operating system!”

(Marty) “The man had some good points, little buddy. I HAVEN’T thought about what I’ve been doing. And I have been relying on the Thralls too much.”

(Limey) “Still silly! They’re almost all happy! Are you making things better?”

   Limey began to suspect that he wasn’t going to get another werepuppy to go with the one from the pirate trip… He cared about Marty, but he still wanted another werepuppy! Marty had told him he could pick one!

(Marty) “As for werepuppies – you already have one! That’s enough. Just like these two in my pockets were always enough for me!”

(Limey) “You’ve got ten in your pockets now! And ten more waiting back at home! And three servants! That’s a prime number and has no factors! And it’s the atomic weight of…”

   Limey wandered off into a riff on things with the value of 23. Well, he was a young computer.

(Marty) “Yeah, well, I’m cutting down to Elera and Minel. What the hell do I need with more than that?”

(Limey) “The others will be upset; you took them, and now you’re getting rid of them? Right after keeping them for a week?”

(Marty) “How long will they be upset?”

(Limey) “How would I know? There are things a good computer will do for you, and things it won’t! I found that on the internet!”

(Marty) “Well, everybody involved’s just going to have to live with it. Not like Kevin can’t find work for them.”

   That was a bit of a dilemma though. What if they got assigned to risky jobs? Still, he didn’t HAVE to keep them as concubines, he could always use them as office staff or transfer them to other projects gradually. That would probably be best.

   He thought about it while he took the straight gate-route back to Kadia and settled down to talk to “his” Thralls.

   Finding out that all eight of the new ones were pregnant by him was a bit of a shock.

(Marty) “You’re ALL pregnant?!?”

   He was in a state of shock for a few minutes… He knew perfectly well that pregnancy was not a 100% thing, and they’d only been with him a week!

   Then he kicked himself. Caught just like Jarvian. He should have known better. They’d sensed that he was missing his kid, and it was the duty of concubines to produce more. He hadn’t issued any direct orders about contraception, so they’d all used their powers to become pregnant by him. Probably on the very first encounter.

   Well, he’d take care of his own. The kids would stay with the mothers of course, but he would provide. The nice thing about Kadia was that there was no shortage of resources.

(Girls) “Can’t we stay with you? Children should be raised in a family! And we can take in the half-drow children too!”

(Marty) “I can’t exploit you anymore. I’ll visit, I promise.”

(Girls) “Is it exploitation if we want to be with you?”

   Marty sighed and assigned them each separate apartments in his building. At least he could dismiss the ten runners-up that he hadn’t actually taken more readily…

(Girls) “Thank you sir!”

   He also informed them that they were no longer his servants, and that they should lead their own lives – futile though that was.

   Well, maybe not entirely; Kevin could override it, but why would he? They’d still want some useful work, but there was no shortage of that for gatekeepers.

   Turvin and Amsian helped track the kids and keep things organized of course – and Marty told them they were welcome to stay on in that capacity, although they were freed from his service with only Kevin to obey. He was taking a risk there, but he didn’t think that Kevin would betray him… poor screwed up kid.

   Wait a moment… Kevin. Contracts. Pacts. Agreements… Kevin had agreed to work amicably with him long ago. The poor kid couldn’t go back on that agreement either could he… Was the boy just as trapped as his Thralls? Was that why pacters normally didn’t usually do a lot of socializing?

   Would Kevin be dismayed by his actions? He just couldn’t play entirely by his rules any more…

   Wait. Core. Kevin would probably just assume that he’d had a midlife crisis, grabbed a harem, and run off to be a bard – and then had realized that it wasn’t really what he wanted. He probably wouldn’t even see anything abnormal about it.

   Anyway, he had to play with Limey and figure out how to teach him some ethics. Would a Core education work on a sentient laptop? It might have been designed for humans and not sentient devices, but the behavior of sentient devices was still modeled on human behavior, and he could certainly link with the system at least as readily as a human child. He’d find out what Teacher thought of the little guy!

   Besides, he wanted to nip this “Lord Tabard” business in the bud. He’d always been “Marty,” “Mr. Tabard,” or just “Tabard” – and “Lord Tabard” was right out! He issued the orders right away!

(Thralls) “Yes Mr Tabard!”

   And then kicked himself again. Ordering them not to act as if he had a right to order them around was kind of circular wasn’t it?

   Perhaps he needed to make his own realm? How in the Manifold had Kevin done that anyway? Even Kevin didn’t really seem to know… Wait! Ryan O’Malley had known something about that kind of thing hadn’the? He’d have to try and get a hold of him. Still, if he had his own realm, he could offer an alternative to Kadia.

   That left him directly employing Elera, Minel, Kelian, Turvin, and Amsian.

   Well, his two girlfriends /aides and someone to be on call for each shift was pretty reasonable… He gave them strict orders not to show up for non-emergencies unless it WAS their shift. Turvin asked if Marty wanted to transfer Amsian and Himself from the “Harem Attendant” category to the “Servant” category.

   Sure, why not? He had them make it so – and they promptly thanked him for his decision.

   Wait… Why was that important to them? It was just a category, it didn’t even affect their pay! Come to think of it, Kelian had thanked him for NOT putting him into the Harem Attendant category.

   Oh no. Surely they hadn’t… He certainly hadn’t meant for…

   He didn’t want to know, and he definitely wasn’t going to ask. The suspicion was quite bad enough.

   Thank goodness he HADN’T casually had Kelian lumped in with Turvin and Amsian! He’d known the kid beforehand!

   Had this been his Midlife Crisis? Every Battling Business Worlder went through one – but the standard vacation time for that was two months! During which you usually ran completely wild, and showed entirely upside-down behavior patterns?

   Huh. Had he drifted so far towards the center that his Midlife Crisis had actually been SUBTLE?

   He’d have to re-evaluate Kevin’s contract too, and look for things that were overly unethical.

   That more-or-less came down to “is letting people sign themselves into a limited-term slave-indenture acceptable”. Did the “they’re guaranteed to come out of young and healthy” part make a critical difference? All the rest was just quibbling over price.

   It would still be better if Kevin wrote at least SOME limited “rights” into it – like the Neodogs had in Core After all, apparently the terms bind him too. He’d have to lobby Kevin to add those in… After all, Core played by different rules, and evidently judged the first part acceptable – and, much as he hated to say it, Core was GOOD at objectively evaluating things.

   “Morally Gray” was workable. It was just the “outright black” stuff that bothered him… He’d always thought that he was better than that! Moral paragon? No. Complete monster? He’d been getting a bit closer to that than he wanted. He’d have to push Kevin into the lighter grays if he could. He’d exploit the Thralls as little as possible. Once he established his own realm, he might have to skim ensouled individuals off Kevin to ensure they can live freely there – and he’d treat “his” Thralls as employees and friends instead of property. It would help his conscience…

   The Thralls appreciated that all the more since they knew that he didn’t have to treat them that way.

   As for Kevin, the Soulbond – however necessary it was to give them the returning ability and mana – would always lead to a gulf in how Kevin saw them. Both they and he KNEW that they were his property for the duration, and that would always color things. Marty wasn’t sure that he could change that, but HIS Thralls were going to have all the freedom he could give them!

   They still tended to work hard. They knew how much they’d been given – and most of them felt some obligation to earn it. They didn’t want to cheat Kevin – and there were a lot of people who needed their help. The powers they’d been given were SO useful…

   Marty made sure that they could spend time on things like rescue work. It wasn’t like they could actually die doing it.

   They were pleased with that. They liked helping people, and showing off a bit, and knew that Kevin liked them to spend time rescuing people – which was something of a reassuring item all on it’s own. The boy wasn’t that bad, no matter what people thought. He just needed to be more responsible and to get over wanting to be a jerk. Just because his powers came from a nasty source didn’t mean that he had to be nasty!

   Marty spent a little time looking into those powers – and found that, in some ways, Kevin was a drug addict. There was only one bigger rush than binding a willing soul to yourself; and Enlightenment – progressing towards a bond with ALL souls – was hard to repeat so often. Raising a kid could involve a more subtle, but just as satisfying, soul-bond – but that took a lot longer.

   Dang. Poor little guy. Somehow that comparison made Kevin a lot more human to Marty.

   It would be easier for him to get that rush if he didn’t insist on being fair about it – and he certainly didn’t stint on the powers he bestowed. That set him far, far, apart from most soulbinders. In some ways he was still a fourteen-year-old who wanted to run around adventuring and keeping everyone safe – and got infused with massive demonic powers. He hadn’t really aged or changed since…

   That might not change Gelman’s mind about Kevin, but it was enough for him!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 87b – Custodial Arrangements

   Looking up the lady who’d wanted to talk to him was pretty easy – and she did seem vaguely familiar. Maybe he’d met her on one of the earlier visits to the Underdark? She could be someone he know in a local ID, but that seemed unlikely – although he had the Thralls check to make sure.

   Definitely a local, and about three months pregnant; they could pick that up easily. She was pretty impatient too.

   Yep… a mother of one of his kids to be.

(Chessagh, crossly, and impatient at having to bother with this at all) “I don’t really see the point of this! And I’m not sure why a male would be interested! But it seems to be some sort of surface tradition, and I suspect you’re personally powerful enough to make trouble if I don’t follow your traditions… I’m going to have a child by you – a halfbreed – and normally such a child would be raised to serve me and my house; since it would have no other future but slavery, such a child makes a fairly reliable ally in the Underdark – but apparently, in the surface tradition, males who have done nothing but join in a bit of pleasure have a say as well as the woman who does all the work! So; what opinions do you have about the fate of this child?”

   Ah, a noblewoman. Well, that was reasonable for her culture. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen more bizarre ones – although there was a definite hint of his ex-wife about it somehow.

(Marty) “First things first. How are your house’s fortunes?”

(Chessagh) “So-So! We had to leave a lot behind in the Old City, and most of the slaves – but a good deal of treasure was portable, and it’s worth more up here. The pesky mages are strutting a bit now that most of the gods are gone, but I’ve been looking into a few of the female surface deities to get things back on track!”

(Marty) “Got anybody in mind?”

(Chessagh) Hm. Shar seemed sensible, but she’s quite unpopular. Lovitar has many of the right ideas, but goes entirely overboard! Bubastis seems like fun, but might not be too practical… I’m sure that someone will turn up! (Pause) What has all that got to do with the child? Will you be wanting some sort of authority over it or a share of it’s time? If that’s what you want, you’ll have to pay for it! I’m not wasting a pregnancy on producing a child for someone else for free!

(Marty) “Possibly. And I like Bubastis myself.” (Marty elected to go with the only non-evil goddess of the bunch. No way was growing up to worship evil!) “I’d prefer that my kid not be a slave, too.”

(Chessagh) ‘I have heard that you and your companion give out powers with no training, no risks of dying learning, and no years of delay… How do you do that? Is that how you can afford to not send the failures into slavery, because you have no failures?’

(Marty) “Yeah, we do that. I’d prefer to keep my own kids out of that, though.”

(Chessagh) ‘Foolish male! If what I have heard is true, they are guaranteed to live, and even to have power! It is rare for one in three to achieve so much!’

(Marty) “Yeah, well, the kid has to be obedient to my friend.”

(Chessagh) ‘And what of that? Should children not be obedient? Or are you simply wise enough not to trust your “friend”?’

(Marty) “Heh. More and more, the latter. Now, what’s it going to take for my son or daughter NOT to be a slave?”

(Chessagh) ‘The child would not become a slave unless it was a total failure in any case – but if you would like to buy it a place, or buy it outright once it is born and weaned, I suppose we can come to an agreement… You command many loyal servants.’

   Negotiations made the basics pretty obvious – and that last line showed what the mother’s would likely be angling for. The locals had seen enough of the Thrall’s abilities to have a fair idea of just how valuable they were, and most of the houses would like to be assigned a few. He could buy the kid almost any kind of position; If it’s presence provided an income or other useful advantage, that would guarantee it being reasonably well treated. If he was paying for an education, that would cost more. If he wanted it to be important, pampered, indulged, and treasured, that would cost a LOT more – or the assignment of a thrall or two to the house. Buying it outright would be cheaper in the long run, but would leave him to find a place for the kid.

   Marty strongly considered going with the assign-a-Thrall option for the moment; that would guarantee the kid a pretty good place… It looked like – out of the nine women he’d apparently bedded on the last visit – five had conceived. The Thralls had knocked up a few as well, but Kevin had already purchased the enslaved mothers-to-be – it seemed that no one had declined to sell after his power-demonstrations during the last visit – and has ordered the local office to make arrangements to either get the ones born to free mothers out of Dark Elven custody or to at least offer to train and care for them.

   Well, he made sure about his own. The Thralls should be able to handle any of theirs that were left.

   Oh yeah! He’d almost forgotten about Dumbledore offering to reserve places for them at Hogwarts.

   Oddly, that was a bit shaming – a very unfamiliar feeling. Kevin had taken responsibility for making sure that HIS kids – and the offspring of his Thralls – would be cared for while he was being completely irresponsible.

   He really needed to change that.

   Was he being hypocritical? Or more so than usual? After all, he was mistrusting Kevin while surrounding himself with Thralls and using them as bargaining chips. Was it just that it had been a bit of a shock to discover that even Thrall-loyalty and a mental link wasn’t enough to ensure reliable performance? He was going to have to get more hands on and rely less on the Thralls…

   Still, what was he going to do with the Thralls? They were SO convenient!

   Besides… He’d been through so much with Kevin. He was a resourceful, clever kid! It was just that he USED people. Was trying to make it with their agreement and paying well really enough? He had signed up his own son as soon as possible rather than risking losing the boy – and that showed commendable concern for a boy of Kevin’s apparent age, but his methods…

   Well, definitely pay for education and decent treatment at a bare minimum. He was no great shakes as a father and he knew it. After that, it was try to get them moved to a dimension where they couldn’t get killed…

   Maybe he should just buy the kids outright once they were born and take them to Kadia? The core educational programs might be pretty boring as far as he was concerned, but they were very effective – and at least they’d be guaranteed of living to grow up. Better there than here!

   Wait; it wasn’t like he was transferring outright ownership the way Kevin did to him. He was just providing their services for a limited period.

   Was that fair to the Thralls? Would it be fair to his kids not to make every effort to get them to a sensible universe and guarantee their survival?

   He came down on the side of his kids. The mother-to-be had seen the indecision and was holding out for Thrall-services at the moment anyway; the houses wanted the healing abilities very badly indeed – at least until they got Elistraee back or found an acceptable new set of gods.

   Oh dear. Now he – with the best of motives – was buying his OWN kids and taking them to Kadia. At least, under Kevin’s rules, they’d be way underage for recruiting anyway – unless they were dragons.

   The woman offered him a 20% price break if he paid non-refundably in advance, both because they could use the services of the Thralls now and because there was always the chance of a stillbirth (although having the Thralls around would help be sure of avoiding that).

   His businessmen instincts told him to take it, but his “dad instincts” (where had they come from?) Labeled that really creepy… Still, this was a low-tech realm, and healing magic really would help with the births and help avoid miscarriages and prenatal problems.

   He paid in advance.

   They mothers accepted gladly. Yes, Marty was a hero of the city (and was kind of pleased that they remembered him that way) – but this was both family and business! The Dark Elves weren’t too sentimental about kids of course – they had quite a few over their lifetimes and lost a lot of them anyway. There was still some maternal feeling of course – it was both built into humans and near-humans and mandated by their breeding pattern – but if a father was willing to pay that much for them, obviously said father would value and care for them.

   On the social front, it would take some time for the information he’d been handing out to take full effect – but just the “these are the creatures that live around here” presentations were taking a lot of the nerves away. Most of the local creatures were actually far less dangerous than the Underdark denizens, but they’d been unknown – and rendering them known helped a lot.

   Lacking any further pressing business, Marty finally got on with what he’d come for – attending a few parties and some recreation!

   He avoided knocking up any more women, but a bit of drinking with Limey and a performance or two should soothe his nerves a bit… These Dark Elves got up to some quirky stuff! Particularly since Chessagh was taking his advice and going with Bast.

(Marty) “See? Practicality isn’t everything! You’ve got to loosen up once in a while!”

(Chessagh) “Practicality first! Once you’re sure of survival, THEN it’s time to enjoy it!”

(Marty) “I think I’m learning that…”

   The Thralls all agreed you had to survive to have fun, and being a Thrall took a LOT of pressure off!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 87 – Secrets of the Faithful

   Due to a special request for some off-schedule gaming, Session 87 followed the day after after session 86:

   The executions were, of course, proceeded by a reading of the charges, a formal plea for mercy by some of the Elvish missionaries in town, and some other ritualistic bits. The cases of the two followers of the Elder Eye were straightforward enough; Kidnaping people to sacrifice to an evil god in exchange for magic and control over monsters. No one had questioned what they wanted useless or elderly slaves for in the Underdark – but now that slaves were scarce, they had resorted to snatching people.

   Marty considered that pretty much a lose-lose situation there. Of course, even if the city had still been routinely sentencing people to slavery, two characters with supernatural powers to summon up monsters probably wouldn’t have been ideal candidates. Most of the Orcs and evil Underdark races had either gone to Battling Business World or had been left behind in the Underdark, most of the slaves from the surface races had been released as one of the conditions on getting aid from the surface elves, and the priestesses of Elistraee were generally against enslaving other Dark Elves – unless, of course, they refused to reform and stuck with being Drow. There were still all the slaves from the enemy army and the ongoing attacks against the fortifications around the gates in the Underdark.

   There was a disturbance of course. The Elder Eye granted powers over Abominations and Slimes, and there were a number of things lurking in the drains that the condemned prisoners called up in a last-ditch effort to avoid being killed – or possibly in an attempt to make a few final sacrifices before they met their god.

   Marty helped take care of that – and looked after his two apprentices. The battle wasn’t really that long; the two cultists didn’t really have that many monsters available and there were only two of them to control the things – but the populace did see it as a more than ample justification for a sentence of slow-and-painful-death. The authorities were grateful both for the assistance and for the healing of injuries afterwards: they still had arcane magic, but the only divine healing magic in town was from the missionaries and a few cults. With eleven Thralls along, Marty had more healing magic than the rest of the town put together.

   The noble kid and his servant boy were next up – and the charges there were rather vague. They were implicated in some sort of secretive cult and the disappearance of other children, and they had refused to provide any further information under interrogation – including somehow managing to resist thought-probing spells. They’d attempted to escape before interrogation, had been defiant and otherwise troublesome, and were suspected of being responsible for attacks on the city by strange monsters.

   It sounded like a laundry-list to Marty. No doubt the kids were up to something or other – kids often were – but the city population was in a new place, with new monsters, and their entire life had been turned upside down. The elders were pretty set in their ways, yet everything had changed – and the kids were up to something new and unprecedented. It looked to him like they were being scapegoated.

   Dang it, after Gelman’s lambasting, he was actually feeling ETHICAL!

   He backed the formal appeal for mercy – although he turned out to have enough local pull as a vital supplier, one of the architects of their escape, and potential bearer of unknown powers to get it commuted to banishment without even resorting to knifing people. Of course, they didn’t have too many places to go… The Dark Elves had picked this area because of the perpetual twilight, a reputation that kept most people away, and the scattering of monsters that helped ensure privacy and keep everyone together.

   Surrounding the area… There were the Dales, where persistent raids by Lloth-worshiping Drow had caused a great deal of havoc. Sembia, which disliked even normal elves and outsiders in general. The Empire of Shadows – a wasteland run by ancient evil spirits – and Cormyr, which was having a civil war. Not exactly ideal situations for a pair of Dark Elven kids.

   That left the ocean or shipping them out from the Amarant Solutions office. The Thralls said that they were ensouled after all.

   Well, he had just taken responsibility for them – but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to send Kevin more potential Thralls right away. He got them positions just past the first gate for the moment.

   The kids were quite grateful – and seemed to be slightly in awe of him. Was that really called for?

(Marty) “No need for that, just saving your butts.”

(Kid) “Thank you for intervening! I didn’t want to die that way…”

(Marty) “Did you actually do anything?”

(Kid) “Only a few minor healing spells and such – but the priestesses of Ellistraee and the old nobles got all upset… We should have left with the others, but the ones with commitments had to stay behind.”

   Wait, what? They’d done healing magic – even if minor – and had been involved with disappearances, but only voluntary ones… Ok, they really WERE up to something.

(Marty) “Really? Now why would they get mad at you for that? They NEED that!”

   They were a bit shy about explaining – but were willing to talk to Marty for some reason.

   It was because a few of them had thought Kevin might be a god – he was using incredible powers to intervene in the godswar after all – and so they’d tried setting up a little group worshiping him. There weren’t many approachable godlings who seemed to specialize in getting people out of danger and bestowing powers.

   It had worked. Several of them had gained minor powers. They’d been keeping it a secret, both because a few were running away to wherever the Thralls would send them (Marty sighed. Oh yes; the Thralls did have standing orders to recruit) and because the local priests were ALL very much against intruder deities. Almost as importantly, most of the older nobles were very much against both male and young deities.

   Oh, great, religion and politics mixing with possessive local deities. It looked like ALL the local priesthoods tried to root out new cults and such, lest they spawn competitors.

   Why hadn’t the Thralls just shipped them all out? He shot a quick query over, and found that the Thralls tended to respect contracts; some of the kids – like the noble youngster here – had agreed to apprenticeships, while the servant-boy had, of course, agreed to a term of service. Therefore the Thralls wouldn’t help them escape.

   Of course, the local Thralls knew that they’d probably performed the Spirit-linking ritual anyway, so even if they got killed, that would just send them to Kadia anyway.

   And that was why they were both in awe of, and willing to talk to, Marty – and weren’t bothering to disguise it any longer. They considered him at least a demigodling.

   This was making his two apprentice bards more than a bit uncomfortable – especially since the kids reported actually being granted divine magic thanks to their worship.

(Ashera) “Uhm… Marty… Are they serious?”

   Gah!

(Marty, with a lot more hesitation than before) “Yes…”

(Ashera) “But only a major outsider can grant divine magic! Gods or demons lords and such! What are you then?”

(Marty) “I am an agent of one of these beings.”

   There was a certain amount of upset there… They’d heard of the Godswar, and of the disruptions in the Underdark, and knew many legends of other Godswars (well, they were apprentice bards). If new gods were moving in, all civilization might be in danger! Especially if the new god was recruiting among the Drow; Lloth wouldn’t tolerate that! Was Marty – and this new deity – trying to get them all killed?!?

   Telervari was too busy making religious gestures at him and praying to talk though.

(Marty) “Hey, I’m having second thoughts about it!”

   The utter holy wrath of his colleague combined with news of the custody change had really affected Marty. He was actually starting to THINK about these things! Hm… Perhaps it was time for another god to enter the equation? How did you go about becoming a god anyway? He’d have to look into it…

(Telervari) “Where did this diety come from? What’s he like? Why is he trying to push his way into our realm? How long before the gods notice and go to war?!?”

   Marty explained Kevin to the best of his ability – but didn’t make much of an effort to sell him.

(Ashera) “Oh, WONDERFUL! A rebellious teenage deity! “

(Marty) “Yeah, that’s him.

(Telervari) “And already operating in several worlds? The Gods are going to be livid!”

(Marty) “Wish I knew that before I partnered up with him…”

(Ashera) “You’re PARTNERED with a DEITY? WHAT are YOU?!?”

(Marty) “I’m a … well, back home I’m a normal person, but a lot of places would call me a cartoon. A moving picture. You know, like minor image.”

   It took some time to explain that his body was like an illusion in some ways, but that he was quite real.

(Marty) “See? Flesh!”

(Ashera – the girl he’d slept with – flushed a bit) “Well I never doubted THAT… At least this “Kevin” isn’t actively trying to build a following! A few stupid children probably won’t attract the notice of the gods…”

   Marty – giving it a little thought – was inclined to agree. A few hundred street kids spread across the world and a few kids meeting in a clubhouse probably wasn’t worth a Godswar. A trickle of Drow youngsters from each city who thought that signing up was a lot easier and safer then their other options – probably wasn’t important either. He kept his mouth shut. Considering the Underdark, the Wererats probably got more kids than Amarant Solution recruited every year. Did they have many friends who were still active in their little cult?

(Marty) “So who turned you in?”

(Kid) “My older sister did… She caught me healing an injured pet.”

   Drow… Er, he meant, “Dark Elves”.

(Marty) “Well, hopefully that’s the last you’ll need to worry about her.”

   Apparently the kid wouldn’t miss her. She hadn’t ever been very nice to him, or at least she hadn’t been nice in the last few decades.

(Marty) “And what’s up with these strange monsters? Know anything about that?”

(Kid) “I think they’re just the things that live around here. After all, we couldn’t expect to see tunnelwyrms and mind flayers and things up here could we?”

(Marty) “Makes sense.”

   He really needed to do something to straighten out the traditionalists and to nudge them toward an understanding of how an aboveground life worked.

   Then he smacked his head with his palm. How silly could he be? In his local Identity he was a BARD, and he’d brought along some others! All he had to do was distribute information!

   He sent the kids on their way after finding out who else (another eighteen kids or so) was in their cult and set out to distribute what information he could about building surface buildings, the local fauna and flora, and just generally living in the open air, making it as entertaining and appealing as he could,

   That went over pretty well – and it helped that he could easily import some books. Oddly enough, the local elves teachings had been almost entirely concerned with gods and philosophical matters, and hadn’t included much that was practical.

   Marty HATED people like that. They were one of the reasons he hadn’t been thinking too hard about Kevin’s methods; he got results!

   Still, at least he’d given them a good kick in the rear!

   He authorized the Thralls to arrange transport out for the cult members, and to buy the members out of minor commitments and such. It was unlikely that the local gods would start anything over Kevin passing through every so often, but it would be best to show a willingness to get along – and that they weren’t really intending to try and take over.

   Next he’d have to catch up with that woman who’d wanted to talk to him – but children being executed had seemed a lot less likely to be able to wait. He had enough to answer for, both back home and to his own conscience, without adding any more.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 86d – Mid-Life Crisis in Faerun

   There were a dozen or so routes to Faerun, but Marty had put out his casting call in Waterdeep too – so that was the route he took. It would mean a fourteen-hundred mile walk to Barrataur. That really would be a bit much – and he didn’t want to take quite that much time out either. Wait! Waterdeep was overrun with Wizards; if he had one transport everyone to the edge of the forest, it would only be about a hundred and forty miles – and easy weeks travel, which was about what seemed appropriate.

   Hm. Kelian could handle calls and such while he was out, Amsian could look after the runners-up, and Turvin could come along to help out with Elera, Minel, and the eight new girls. Between his own skills and having eleven Thralls along – even if most of them were riding in his pockets – he wasn’t likely to run into anything he couldn’t handle. He had Turvin stick to human form as a servant, but kept the others in ferret-form and to himself. Better to keep his resources – and private harem – a secret for now.

   While his Thralls were collecting supplies and things he wrote a meticulous report (pretty much his first such effort) home… No doubt Gelman had already reported, and this could be a career ender back home. Mr Leland often played a bit fast and loose with the rules, but a mass child-slaving operation was probably a bit over the top.

   If that was the case, he wanted his boss to know everything he needed to know to make a good decision in that case. He had to wonder if he was being affected by the more orderly realms… He’d never thought of any of this back home!

   He needn’t have worried quite so much; Mr Leland did indeed see the enormity of the screwup – but he was also pretty used to subordinates exceeding their authority and making disastrous deals.

(Leland) “Hmm, this is a major screwup, but it’s not going to affect the main branch. And those two have been going at it since I hired Marty. I’ll let Marty fester for a bit. This will be a learning experience… and maybe keep him out of poor Gelman’s remaining hair. Now who’s a good baby possum? Yes you are!”

   The Waterdeep applicants were a very mixed bag; a couple of other elven bardic types, five elven rogues (including at least two that Marty would bet ten-to-one were spies), and three young elves who were looking into possible apprenticeships (and who mostly seemed to be assuming that “open-minded” meant “willing to visit a Drow city),

   Marty really wasn’t that interested in sex at the moment – for the first time in his adult life, Marty didn’t really feel like chasing girls (although, if one was game, he’d certainly go with it). It looked like… One of the Bards was interested in Romance (albeit with a female), one of the almost-certainly-spies gave the impression of being approachable (but her mind was heavily shielded; she might just be interested in a cover), and two of the apprenticeship-seekers certainly were.

   Well, he could hardly blame the surface elves for wanting to keep an eye on a group of drow that were moving back to the surface and using unheard-of magics.

   Marty took along the three apprenticeship-seekers and settled for teaching them way of the bard on the road, without even making any major effort to seduce them beyond basic friendliness.

   It happened with one of them anyway, mostly thanks to Marty’s enhanced charisma, strong social skills (at least in his bardic ID), and due to Turvin cheerfully aiding and abetting matters, (he thought that Marty could use the diversion).

   It did cheer Marty up a bit.

   The teleport went smoothly enough, even if a pesky griffin promptly popped up to make a pest of itself on the far end.

   On the road, they had a patrol that wanted to grill them for news, a few fey who insisted on them playing music for them all night but seemed to see them as semi-colleagues, and a group of “mysteriously flammable” (thanks to massed Thrall-witchcraft) bandits – of whom they captured six.

   They handed the bandits over to the authorities at the next settlement. After all, they were bandits. Presumably they were dead no matter who they gave them to – unless they gave them to the Fey or to Thay, both of which were arguably fates worse than death.

   Tavril did talk two of them into participating in the Witchcraft Spirit Pact ritual, which would link their spirits to Kadia. They were young enough to be possible recruits and bandits in Faerun had a short life expectancy anyway; it was pretty much exclusively a disposal system for the young, stupid, and desperate. After all, the smaller the group of travelers you ambushed, the more LIKELY it was that they’d include an adventurer who’d kill you.

   Besides, Kadia was underpopulated and was at least as nice as any afterlife that lawful evil bandits could expect in Faerun.

   Not too eventful – but then they were sticking to the roads. The forest was dark and had some menacing monsters, but normal people could travel there – and they were anything but normal.

   Barrataur was more than a bit odd… They were still getting the hang of “weather” and “day and night”. There wasn’t much actual confusion – but they didn’t yet have much real experience in designing buildings to handle varying surface conditions. They had some advisors – but there were still a lot of problems with heating, cooling, tight roofs, and wind damage. They were learning, but they’d had to hire some local architects – and the traditionalists kept wanting totally impractical designs. At the moment, it was a tangle of Underdark-style buildings, plain cottages, and quarter-finished larger structures with people arguing over the plans – mostly with phrases like “you’re not in the Underdark now!” and “That design was good enough for ten generations of (elven) ancestors!”.

   The traditionalists were fine with getting wet and being cold indoors? Well, they were elven traditionalists… And Marty had thought that getting old humans to change was a fuss.

   It wasn’t like he was an architect – although the Thralls could probably boost either himself of themselves enough to handle some basic advice.

   Even with the bustle, debates, and chaos, it wasn’t long before he was noticed – so he went ahead and formally announced his arrival.

   They definitely remembered him – and the reception was pretty varied. Some of them wanted to know if Kevin was coming too, a few seemed downright hostile, a few more than a bit nervous – it seemed that he had was rumored to have many mysterious powers of his own – others wanted to make business deals, and at least one noblewoman wanted to talk with him urgently.

   Well, it was easy enough to tell them that Kevin was busy elsewhere. The hostile ones were a bit more troublesome; it seemed that they were mostly of the opinion that it would have been better to stay in the Underdark, even if it meant being wiped out, than to flee to the desolate surface. A couple of the women in that group seem really angry – widows? perhaps women from the party? – and those had minds that were well-enough shielded to keep out the Thralls… Hm. Probably not widows or partygoers, it seemed that a lot of them had never been formally married anyway and most of that group were too old. Noblewomen who’d lost power? They did seem to form a pretty tight clique, like they were members of some secret club.

   Oh well, probably some local thing – although he would have to try and look up the women who might be carrying his kids. If only he hadn’t been so drunk at that party… There had been what, seven? eight? nine? It was almost four months ago now.

   Still a strong market for healing magic from what the local office had to say. Come to think of it, there were a number of minor injuries and such around; evidently they were short enough on healing to be reserving it for the major injuries. It might be a good idea to bring in a few priests if they could find some local priests who would work with the Dark Elves.

   How were things going on the religious front?

   It looked like… the new colony had successfully chased most of the Lloth-worshiping Drow out of the area, and was considering an attempt at exploiting (or even reviving – if they could obtain Kevin’s assistance) Myth Drannor. The local followers of Vhaeraun were apparently more-or-less willing to join the effort; the people of Barrataur both outnumbered them heavily and had actually managed to obtain support from the surface-dwellers. The Priestesses of Elistraee were claiming that they’d seen signs of her return, there were a few priests from the rest of the elven pantheon trying to win converts, there were rumors that Lloth still had a secret cult operating in the city, and there were still several minor cults operating – although most of those were highly illegal, like the Cult of the Elder Eye.

   In fact, they were going to be impaling a few such cultists that evening.

   Ah, Drow justice.

   The rest of the Elves were apparently trying to persuade them that there were better ways, but the Dark Elves had already softened things a lot; death by impalement was much nicer than the traditional slow-torture-before-being-hauled-into-hell-by-a-summoned-demon penalty.

   The business proposals weren’t to surprising… The Dark Elves still had plenty of treasure (the underdark was rich in precious metals, gems, and similar resources), as well as lots of spare weapons and thousands of (unensouled) Drow slaves left over from the attacking armies from a few months back. They needed building supplies, more food, scouts who knew the area better, healing and magical gear and were a long way from any major markets. The local Amarant Solutions office only had three Thralls, although there were a few more helping defend the fortified remains of the old city, and – between the recruiting, healing, magical services, and information-collecting, could only run the occasional cross-manifold caravan.

   Marty had a few more Thralls assigned to the office – Kevin was recruiting quite a few new ones back in Kadia – set up some deals, and stepped up the caravan schedule, focusing on food and on building supplies to start with.

   Unfortunately, spending a few days in town meant attending the executions – as little has he wanted to, it was a more-or-less mandatory public event. Four impalements; two middle-aged and tolerably prosperous shopkeeper-followers of the Elder Eye and a noble kid and his servant boy who apparently belonged to some unspecified cult that blasphemed against Elistraee.

   Marty had to consider what to do. He HATED seeing kids being abused or executed – especially in worlds where that was actually permanent.

RPG Design – Offices

   Most of us agree that people SHOULD be able to do their jobs.

   The belief that people wouldn’t have a job unless they were competent to handle it is still around, despite the everyday experience of encountering people who have been promoted beyond their competence, were hired by nepotism, or are simply being overwhelmed by excessive workloads.

   The belief that jobs confer the ability to handle them has pretty much fallen by the wayside, although it’s last fading traces appear in religious contexts – in notions like “god gives the strength to bear his burdens” or in the idea that someone attempting to translate a religious text will be inspired to produce a correct translation, regardless of their level of competence.

   Classically, it was fairly commonly assumed that jobs and official appointments often DID come with special powers – and not just the authority to approve certain requests or to order subordinates around.

   Perhaps the most familiar example of that comes from various current and historical religions, where religious rituals performed by an initiate are believed to possess power regardless of the moral worth, spiritual powers (or lack thereof), or true understanding of the ritualist. The office carries with it the ability to expel spirits, forgive transgressions, bless festivals, or whatever.

   Appointed Knights, Crusaders, Jaguar Warriors, and members of similar military orders were – in various times and places – believed to gain protection from evil magic, enhanced personal abilities, the power to discern the truth and execute true justice, or the power to strike down evil spirits with physical attacks.

   Being guided through a spirit-vision and being initiated as a shaman was often believed to grant both the power to communicate with spirits and some authority over them.

   Now, in most role-playing games, the people of the world can be roughly divided into three basic categories:

  • The normal people – kids, farmers and crafters, and all the other people with ordinary jobs, no special abilities, and (by their preference) lives which are low-risk and only exciting enough to add a little spice. Most of the people in any large setting are going to be normal people. No game master has the time to detail them all and without the normal people the player characters will have no one to stand out from, impress, or rescue.
  • The people with special jobs – the Sheriff in the dinosaurs-out-west adventure, the local Priest in the evil-specter-in-the-village scenario, the local noble who needs to hire the characters to do something he can’t do himself. These people aren’t as exceptional as the player-characters, and there still is never going to be time to detail all of them – but they should be competent in their roles WITHOUT taking the spotlight off the player characters. These are games, and watching the NPC’s do things is boring.
  • The Player-Characters and the Major Opposition. The people who have fully-developed character sheets, exotic skills and abilities, and lives so exciting that any normal person would have a nervous breakdown within a month.

   Now, the normal people really don’t need much in the way of game mechanics. You may need to remember their exotic racial abilities or some such, and you need an idea of their average abilities to make sure that your world makes sense – but just how much better the 2′rd best basket weaver in town is compared to the 3′nd best really isn’t likely to have a big impact.

   Pretty much every game includes a detailed system for the player characters and major opponents. After all, they’re the usual focus of the games.

   Quite a lot of games fail to cover the third category – relatively normal people who happen to have special jobs – at all adequately, and virtually none of them cover the notion of jobs coming with inherent special powers. That’s a pity, because primary characters are rare – and the people in this category will make up most of the support network for them characters, determine a lot of the background social structures and tone of the world, and make enjoyable secondary characters. Putting the abilities into a neat office package makes life a lot easier for the game master.

   To function properly in a game setting, the powers of an office:

  • Need to be exclusive. It’s abusive to let one character hold a bunch of power-bestowing offices.
  • Need to be bestowed by some sort of higher authority, organization, or power. Letting people pick up and drop, or self-bestow, offices is pretty silly.
  • Need to only be available in limited numbers. Otherwise, if offices were actually useful, everyone would have one.
  • Need to come with drawbacks and responsibilities – ideally, the kind of thing that normal people won’t mind taking on, but which footloose adventurer’s will find restricting enough to refrain from simply using their already-superior abilities to grab convenient offices.
  • Need to be relatively weak. We want to make normal people competent within a limited field, not to overshadow the primary characters.

   There are a variety of ways to implement that in various game systems. In Eclipse, that’s handled with the Dominion ability, which allows characters to draw on the power of whatever domain or organization they head up and to return part of that power to individuals.

  • Since an individual can only be attuned to one such power source at a time, they’re automatically exclusive.
  • Since the power comes from the organization or social group, and is focused through it’s head, they’re always associated with an organization or social group – and the person focusing that power can’t use it on himself or herself; he or she already has dominion-based powers which will absorb the power expended on such an attempt.
  • Require the expenditure of Dominion Points to bestow. Since Dominion points are a strictly limited resource, and have many other uses, offices are necessarily bestowed sparingly.
  • Automatically come with drawbacks, such as responsibilities, a need to be available (rather than off adventuring), and a reliance on the group that bestows them.
  • Only provide fifteen character points worth of abilities – a substantial benefit to a normal person, but of little note to a high- or even mid-level adventurer.

   For a sample offices under that system, let’s consider the Village Priest. This fellow may be faithful enough, but discharging most of the duties of a classic priest – regardless of the religion involved – revolve around being able to use the right rituals, being able to handle the locals, and implying the backing of both your religious hierarchy and of the gods.

   A Village Priest typically gets:

  • Obligations/must be on-call to perform various religious rituals for his or her fellows.
  • Showman/every priest knows that their authority depends on being impressive.
  • Vows/must obey his or her religious superiors.
  • Occult Ritual, Specialized in the Rites of his or her faith (3 CP). While anyone can perform such rituals, only a Priest – or more powerful occultist – can actually get them to work.
  • Privilege/priestly authority (3 CP). In areas touching on their god, no wise man ignores the dictates of a priest. In consequence, priests invariably get support form the people in the area, whether in the form of glad donations, grudging tithes, labor, or special privileges.
  • Privilege/may intercede with the higher powers on behalf of others, asking for forgiveness for various transgressions, for the removal of misfortune, and for similar benefits – including the use of their power for tasks such as casting out evil spirits.
  • Favors/from his or her church (3 CP). As part of a hierarchy, the Village Priest can call on higher authorities – and possibly even divine powers – occasionally for minor favors.
  • +3 Diplomacy, Specialized in Religious Applications – appealing to gods, offering prayers, and influencing people about religious and related matters for double effect (+6, 3 CP). Whether inspired or simply backed by the religious authorities, Village Priests exert a strong influence.

   Now, the Village Priest will probably still want a decent knowledge of his or her religion, and some knowledge of the appropriate rituals – but anyone who wants to be a Village Priest really should already have those. He or she can perform healings and exorcisms, bless flocks and fields, and erect barriers against evil spirits – but only through rituals. That’s useful, and the characters may well find themselves in need of the services of a Village Priest regularly, but it’s never going to overshadow the more immediate abilities of an adventurer.

RPG Design – the Noble-Blooded

   Hm… This just keeps getting longer and it’s been a busy week. Well, here’s part III, the segment on the Nobility, to go with Part I (the background information on Magical Rulers) and Part II (The God-Favored).

   Once upon a time it was easy to recognize the “well-bred”. A well-bred horse or hound would be strong, healthy, usually above the average size, intelligent and well-formed. An experienced farmer or handler could usually pick out the “well-bred” quite early on. After all, it wasn’t “well-raised” or “well-trained” they were talking about; it was inborn qualities.

   The everyday experiences of the farm led to similar expectations with humans. Unfortunately, humans were more complicated. They might be obviously sickly early on, but their lengthy period of total dependency, and long childhood after that, offered a lot more chances for environmental influences to modify things. The fact that a lot of their abilities were learned, rather than innate, made the situation even worse; even if someone turned out well, there was no easy way to separate the acquired characteristics from the innate ones.

   Still, health, wealth, and power tended to be self-perpetuating in many subtle ways – and, as usual, the fact that a simple and superficially reasonable explanation for something didn’t really work didn’t keep it from becoming widely accepted. The phrases are still everywhere – “a noble animal”, “blood will tell”, “a man of breeding”, “the black sheep of the family”, and many more. The idea was still powerful enough to drive laws and wars very recently indeed; try a Google search on “Eugenics”.

   The idea of some individuals being “well bred” was quickly combined with the notion that nobility conferred power to reach the conclusion that becoming a noble not made you better, but it would thereafter make your children better – and more suited to rule. That notion was one of the foundation elements of hereditary rulership – a system that prevailed, however creakily, for many centuries.

   In Eclipse d20 terms, being “Noble Blooded” is another template – in this case, a +1 ECL template that a character can either be born with, or acquire later on. Unlike the God-Blooded template, this one is pretty blatantly supernatural. It’s also fairly powerful; everyone knows that the Noble-Blooded are superior.

  • Dominion (6 CP): While even the Noble-Blooded have to establish a domain to actually get any benefit from their potential, none of them have any trouble acquiring the Dominion ability once they do so.
  • Innate Enchantment, all abilities are unlimited use-activated, L0 or L1, caster level one, and personal-only (x.7 cost) where applicable unless otherwise noted. 12,000 GP base value (13 CP).
    • +2 Charisma and +2 each to any two other attributes (three L1 spells, 4200 GP total)
    • Immortal Vigor I/adds 2d6 – effectively 12 due to at-will use, +2x Con Mod HP (1400 GP).
    • Warding Rune/1 + Caster Level/3, +4 max, resistance bonus on saves (1400 GP).
    • Skill Mastery/+3 to a group of eight “Noble Skills” (normally including Diplomacy, Intimidate, Knowledge/Nobility and Royalty, and at least one more Knowledge, 1400 GP).
    • Inspiring Word/+1 Morale Bonus to Attacks, Damage, Saves, and Checks (1400 GP).
    • Mitigate Disease/a L0 effect, may be applied to a given target up to once per hour, each such application provides a +1 circumstance bonus on the target’s next save against a disease which is currently affecting them, not personal-only, 1000 GP).
    • Cure Minor Wounds/this may only be applied to a given target once per eight hours, x.8, not personal-only(800 GP).
    • Delay Poison/only usable once per day but can be used on others, 400 GP. Of course, at caster level one this is only good for one hour – but it’s still a chance to come up with an antidote).
  • Immunity/Stacking limits when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (Common, Minor, Trivial – only covers L0 and L1 innate effects, 2 CP).
  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Major, Specialized and Corrupted for 1.5x Effect (through L7 effects) and half cost/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, 4 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover initial racial abilities, 1 CP).

   Given that the Noble-Blooded template covers everything from stone-age chieftains on through Victorian-era leaders, the final six character points go into a Bonus Feat – most commonly selecting something form among:

  • Warcraft/+1 BAB. Many nobles are simply skilled with weapons, whether due to natural talent or early training.
  • Presence. Many nobles inspire others through their sheer leadership and presence.
  • Mystic Artist/Oratory (Diplomacy). Many noble’s chief claim to importance is their ability to talk other people into doing things like “charge the enemy”.
  • Imbuement, usually using some type of Sword. Many nobles can effectively strike creatures that normally require special weapons to injure.
  • Privilege/Social States and Privilege/Wealth (3 CP each), for those who are born into a currently-ruling family, rather than just being naturally noble.
  • Executive – allowing them to provide bonuses when coordinating an effort.

   Or anything else that seems appropriate.

   The Noble-Blooded are the tribal chieftains, the war-leaders, and the lords of mid-sized areas – settlements, baronies, and dukedoms. While their template offers them no great advantages in the arts of magic, their enhanced toughness is almost always useful. They are capable of inspiring men to recover more quickly than usual and keeping those near them subtly healthier than they would otherwise be – and can, thanks to their Dominion abilities, bestow Offices – packages of abilities which go along with particular positions – an effect which, on a large scale, has far more impact than their personal abilities.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 86c – Meditations on Darkness

   By the time Marty got back to his penthouse, Gelman was long gone and the mess was cleared away (blast it; he never had found out anything about what had gotten into Gelman to let him do those things).

   He tried to finish up his party – and the girls made a valiant effort to distract him – but he was too unnerved to really have much fun.

   That had been the ANGRIEST that he’d ever seen Gelman. That had been ex-wife level fury – and he knew that the man was patient and methodical. Qualities that he lacked in copious amounts…

   Still, even he realized that the Syndicate Contract had been a pretty grotesque abuse. No worse than a lot of things in history – but when you were reduced to that comparison, you were already pretty far gone.

   Kevin was having some trouble with it too. He, like most people, had never really thought about the exact limits of what he considered acceptable. That was always an uncomfortable topic and, in most cases, a bit of fuzziness hurt nothing – but with swarms of agents acting for him, it was past time to really give it some thought.

   What was definitely acceptable?

  • He had no trouble with owning and using people who were past the age of consent, competent, had fully understood what they were getting into, and had voluntarily accepted his contract without undue duress – like the Thralls he’d picked up in Crusader or on Baelaria or so many other places. For the duration of their contracts, they were property, albeit property that was entitled to decent treatment.
  • He certainly had no trouble with owning people who challenged him, and knew the possible consequences, like would-be rivals in the Dragonworlds. They were property until it suited him to let them go – and if that didn’t happen, well, they’d known that might happen and that they’d been risking their lives, not just their freedom.
  • He didn’t have a problem with purchasing and indenturing people who had been old enough to be sensible, not otherwise disadvantaged, and had gotten themselves into trouble – like the Core kids he’d picked up in the Underdark, the ones who’d been old enough to opt out but had gone along with visits to the Roman Imperium and wound up in the arena, or the ones who bet themselves into an indenture in Kadia.
  • He hadn’t had a problem with selling the minotaurs in Samurai Jack world, or the phantasms he’d taken away from the bandits as Arriken, or even that ensouled brat he’d taken from the demon… Ah. He’d drastically improved their prospects – but he didn’t feel obliged to make everyone’s life perfect (particularly if they were annoying – but that was just being human).
  • He was a bit dubious about buying people who’d been kidnaped, captured by pirates, or acquired by the roman legions, through no fault of their own though – or about people that he captured – but sometimes there seemed to be nothing wrong with it, other times it was just WRONG…

   Ah. Trafficking in slaves and involuntarily indenturing ensouled people was all right PROVIDED that:

  • He reduced “slavery” to a “decently treated indenture with a reasonable level of work”.
  • He either had nothing to do with getting them captured if they hadn’t been born into slavery OR was rescuing them from far worse.
  • He wasn’t a major factor in keeping the market going in a given world. That was easy enough given that ensouled slaves were usually a tiny, tiny, minority.
  • He gave them chances to escape and chances to earn their freedom in a reasonable amount of time – AND made sure that they knew it.
  • He offered them the chance to send for help or money to pay off their indentures.
  • He took good care of them – just like a dependent would be cared for in Core.
  • He made sure they had chances to improve themselves.
  • He made sure that their indenture terms were reasonable – and made sure that they came out of them no worse off and not much older than when they’d started.
  • He DIDN’T deal in ensouled youngsters – except to free and either care for them or send them home gratis – if they were too young to be responsible for themselves.

   OK, the rules for phantasms were a bit looser – but phantasms were everywhere, and there were always more to suit any world or situation.

   There was probably more – and perhaps he should write a few of those terms and rights into his contracts – but that would do to start with.

   It was unfair to ask to be paid if he hadn’t actually helped, or had only been fixing a mess he’d caused in the first place, if the power he was using to help wasn’t his own, or if the people being helped were too young or old or injured (or whatever) to help themselves – but if he helped with something that wasn’t his fault, and people could pay for that assistance, asking for a fee was reasonable enough.

   People did not value what they did not pay for. And the darkness always demanded a price.

   Now that he had THAT straightened out, it was time to see about spreading the word that the local authorities in the Linear Realms might be highly corrupt, and could not necessarily be relied upon, and about trading some regular thralls to Doctor Brenner in exchange for Rameraz and the other Neodogs that Ikeran had turned over to him. With proper presentation, Doctor Brenner could probably be gotten to see that as an upgrade to “models” that COULD attack human beings – a special favor in appreciation of the large numbers of kids he’d been providing.

   In fact, that turned out to be easy enough. Doctor Brenner reminded Kevin a bit of the High Lord of the Five Worlds; he saw anything that looked to be to his advantage as being obviously his proper due – and the ability to attack humans would be a major boost to their usefulness; he was more than willing to trade. Given how slow they were to breed, he was even willing to accept the “no breeding” restriction too; it wasn’t as if they’d try to say no cloning-with-genetic-meddling.

   Apparently he’d been planning to use them as bodyguards and personal aides anyway.

   Rameraz and the other five got a personal interview with Kevin, and lots of reassurance that they had done the right thing, and had done very well, and that Ikeran had been wrong and had been relieved of authority for negotiating and reassigned.

   Given that Marty had been right – Brenner had promptly had them start some pups – he also made it a point to assure them that he (Kevin) was looking forward to seeing the pups because he was sure that they were going to be very superior neodogs.

   Kevin had been rather impressed anyway. Finding a way to save a kid who’d just had his heart cut out in the face of a locked door and three hostile guards – without even a medical kit – was fairly impressive in his book even without throwing in saving the other three who were in there at the same time. He’d get a sharp rise in his social status with the other Neodogs, simply because Kevin had called him in for a personal interview and directly praised him – but some other reward seemed in order.

   A new chew toy – even one made to look like Doctor Brenner – really didn’t seem like enough. More luxury credits and some special presents and such were definitely in order.

   There was one good thing: Doctor Brenner had drastically underestimated Smartclothes. He didn’t realize how much in the way of monitoring systems they had – or how deeply programmed they could be. Not only would passing them out allow Kevin’s agents to monitor the Syndicates, but they could be equipped with educational functions and psychology expert programs. With any luck, the syndicates could gradually be recruited into more acceptable positions elsewhere – making the Linear Realms a slightly better to live in at the same time.

   It was still a bargain with MANY downsides, but at least that made the long-term prospects a bit easier to live with.

   Kevin didn’t tell Rameraz that he’d sent in human thralls to replace him and the other Neodogs since they had a lot more freedom of action; Rameraz and the others would have been appalled at putting human kids in dog-form and putting them at Brenner’s disposal. It was the same reason that he wasn’t telling them that he’d punished Ikeran directly. Between a Core education and an instinctive dedication to serving humans, they’d probably have objected.

   Did it say something really bad when your pets were more ethical than you were? Or was that just typical for Neodogs?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers