. 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 – Battletech – Champions – d20 – Legend of the Five Rings – Shadowrun – White Wolf – Other Games – Battling Business World – Star Wars
For today it’s some general discussion on setting games in media universes – and then a few specific answers to the question that brought it up. To start with the general theory…
There’s a subtle roadblock in the way of converting shows – whether we’re talking about Star Trek, Survivor, or My Little Pony (which this question was originally about) – into role-playing game settings. It’s simple enough that it’s often missed.
The shows are driven by marketing toys and advertising and details don’t matter, while in RPG settings the details matter a lot – and so they generally strive for internal consistency.
Why is that? Well, consider this situation.
The characters are pursuing a deadly assassin. An hour ago he slipped aboard a train that (the last few times the characters rode it) took ten hours to reach the city where the assassin’s targets live. The party frantically finds the evidence they need to identify him and readies a rocket plane that can make the trip in an hour. By dint of many heroic efforts, the party launches after seven hours. They will beat the assassin there by two hours and can get ready to capture him and/or defend the targets!
And then the game master informs the players that the train trip only took two hours. That might be because he forgot, or because his plot demands that the assassin take out at least some of his or her targets, or “because the train accidentally skipped several hundred miles of the trip thanks to quantum fluctuations”. The targets were all dead hours before the characters got their plane launched, and by the time the characters arrived the assassin had made good his escape.
Does that really sound like fun?
On a show it doesn’t matter if the setting is inconsistent because the writers are in control and things only matter when they want them to. That train travels at the speed of plot and will arrive just when it needs to to make the story work.
In a game where the players make most of the decisions consistency matters a great deal. Even games like Toon are internally consistent; the rules of cartoons may be a bit silly, but they are still rules. Otherwise… players rarely want to invest much time in a setting that they can’t make sense out of.
This can get quite awkward when you find yourself trying to come up with an in-setting reason for elements of the show that were driven by external factors. Since it was what the original question was about, I’ll take my examples from My Little Pony.
Looking at that show from an objective external point of view… major characters generally have:
- Distinctive Features. They’ve all got easily recognized color schemes and clearly symbolic cutie marks. They inhabit a familiar-looking world full of easily recognizable stand-alone items that can be readily reproduced in bright plastic. A pony family can include almost any subtype of pony, since you want your collectable sets to include as many varieties of plastic models as can be managed. After all, toy sales are a big thing for the My Little Pony franchise.
Fortunately, this one is relatively easily “explained”. We can make noises about recessive genes, about how – in a world of special talents – quick identification of the right pony to handle a threat mattered a lot more than camouflage, about the effects of personal magic on appearance and how every pony has their own specific “frequency” and color, and how cutie marks are expressions of pure personal magic (although this fails to explain why so many of them are of human symbols that shouldn’t mean anything to ponies… Trixies wand? Unicorns use horns! A Judge with a gavel? Shouldn’t that be a hoofstomp? A garden sprayer with a looped pump handle (for hands) and a sprayer wand with a thumb-switch (made for hands and thumbs)? Wouldn’t a foot-pump and a pressure-operated jaw handle make a lot more sense? A gumball machine with a twist knob instead of a button? Scissors with finger-loops?
We can probably get away with not explaining the cutie marks and the horrible ergonomics of various pony tools though. Hardly anyone pays much attention to the “why” of various symbols and tools. Similarly, unless someone is REALLY big on creating artwork for the game details like “color intensity” will never come up – and even if someone is an artist, details can just be dismissed as “artistic license” by anyone who worries about them.
- Strong – and Straightforward – Personalities. Allied characters like Big Macintosh and Shining Armor (somewhat idealized older brothers) have good and noble traits. Opponents, such as Sombra, Chrysalis, Discord, Starlight Glimmer, Trixie, and Sunset Shimmer, have ignoble traits and/or redeemable flaws (usually the opposite of the elements) – or are just big monsters, like Tirek or the Hydra. Minor characters, like the Flower Trio, tend to be defined by one or two basic reactive traits – in ponies, most often a tendency to overreact, panic, and either faint or run away (thus forcing the focus characters to fix things on their own).
This is the mental equivalent of the bright colors and distinctive features; the show doesn’t have a lot of time when it introduces characters to start with and it is primarily targeting youngsters. Ergo no complex motivations, unsolvable moral dilemmas, or really gray characters. Instead you get relatively simple, immediately apparent, and easy to distinguish motives and personality traits.
This tends to affect any production that has a limited amount of time to introduce characters in, but a twenty-two minute cartoon format tends to exaggerate things. It often passes without notice in actual play of course. After all, GM’s are rarely expert actors and also usually lack game time in which to introduce and extensively develop NPC’s since the focus is always on the PC’s – so most of the world is painted with very broad strokes indeed and the players are left to fill in the details. Still, we actually do have something more to work with in Equestria – where a set of six personality traits have been promoted to the status of cosmic forces. We actually have a good reason why a very limited, broadly defined, and easily portrayed set of personality traits will underlie all sorts of things – including a blatant link to special powers. Lets not waste it.
- Special Powers. As befits a world full of minor superpowers, all adult major characters are going to have at least minor special abilities (if only so that they can get into trouble that the rest of the cast can’t just wave a hoof and fix). Kids usually get an incredible ability to get out of potentially lethal situations essentially unscathed, the ability to pop up out of nowhere whenever a plot complication or target for some exposition is needed, and the ability to create incredible messes or assemble massive projects the moment they get offscreen – although these will not usually be counted as “powers” since they exist to complicate the focus characters lives. The same goes for “Magic Surges” in infants; they need SOME way to make trouble beyond dirty diapers or they won’t be of much interest. In any case, good guy allies mostly just get powers because they are good guys – but opponents will usually either be tapping into “dark magic” (what I labeled the Discordant Powers), by stealing power like Tirek, or will have achieved their power through self-development over lengthy periods (neatly establishing that they really worked at being evil without actually having to show very much actual evil).
In RPG’s special powers are a large part of what makes the player characters interesting, so we need not account for their presence in a setting; the game system should handle that detail – but an in-universe justification for how they work and why some characters are more powerful than others is always welcome.
In this case we can simply reverse causation. Marketing gives special powers to major, recurring, characters to help keep them interesting and make their problems dramatic. We can just turn that around, stating that individual NPC’s become major, recurring, characters because they have special powers and dramatic problems.
- Relationships. A lot of the allies – and likely some of the opponents – will either be a part of a focus characters family or at least strongly connected thereto. This makes it simple to introduce new characters, is a shorthand route to establishing connections with the focus characters, and provides a way to add some easily related to gratuitous complications (and opponents whom they won’t want to actually hurt) to the focus characters lives.
Here we’re fortunate; RPG’s usually have more time available to introduce characters – and all we really need to explain most of the existing relationships between high-powered types from the source material is to make some noises about “powerful bloodlines” or “secret rituals”, or some such. In Equestria, thanks to the Elements of Harmony, we can throw in family traits and traditions as well. Who is to say that Granny Smith’s weird rituals for growing Zap Apples don’t have effects beyond (or instead of?) growing the things? Maybe she’s actually six hundred years old and the Apple families enormous size, unity, and apparent general prosperity is the result of centuries of patient, matriarchal, earth pony rituals and witchery. Who knows?
Hm… now there’s another interesting character concept that I may or may not ever find the time to write up. I’ll see if it’s still sticking with me in the next week or so.
- Unreasonably Tight Focus: The writers don’t want risk the viewers losing track of the characters – and want to focus on the best-developed and best-known characters because that’s what much of the audience wants to see. Ergo you get ineffectual guards, politicians and nobles who are either useless or obstructive, bystanders who never do anything but panic, get in the way, and need to be rescued, powerful elder mentors who do nothing but provide obscure advice and get readily defeated to establish various threats as genuine, and many similar tropes. You wind up with a small cast of very effective characters, a few specialized allies with potent abilities in very limited fields so they can be called in without overshadowing the focus characters, a bunch of near-helpless responsibilities, and some opposition – which can be slice-of-life and pretty much ineffectual as long as it really annoys people. That’s why Diamond Tiara and Prince Blueblood – an obnoxious child and a narcissistic snob – often outrank King Sombra (the local version of Sauron) and Starlight Glimmer (a grossly overpowered “dark wizard”) on fan villain lists.
Fortunately for our purposes, this one often gets by without explanation because RPG’s tend to assume an unreasonably tight focus on a set of player characters anyway – and if you really need an explanation, you can always fall back on various versions of “you’re just on the high end of the bell curve”, “destiny”, “the chosen ones”, mentor manipulation, or even “you just happened to be the ones in the area who fit the role enough to use the plot coupons”.
- No Controversies. Shows shy away from anything that might hurt sales – especially in a series, where repeat viewers are are all-important to ratings (and thus advertising revenue) and merchandising. You aren’t, for example, going to find out much of anything about the characters sex lives, or see an episode about severe child abuse, or a school shooting, on a children’s show.
Finally, this one you really don’t have to bother with. A lack of data just means that you can fill in anything that fits the setting reasonably well in your head – and if a group doesn’t want to discuss something you just don’t spend any time on it. You can run a game set in the roman empire without going into detail on just what hideous fates Caligula is inflicting on his enemies families, or how decadent the parties get, or – for that matter – the mechanics underlying flooding the coliseum (and yes, they did that) for a “naval” event.
The writers don’t really bother with in-universe rationales for these decisions of course. Why should they? They’re focused on writing salable material and setting up for future episodes. A bit of world-building may come into that, but it’s generally not going to be the primary objective. Still, while “toy sales”, “targeting kids”, “because they’d bore the audience otherwise”, a double dose of “it makes it easy for the writers”, and “we’d lose money!” may be the actual truth, those reasons really won’t work as an “in the setting” explanation.
Ergo role playing gamers who want a consistent setting must resort to speculative theories – such as the theory from the prior article which prompted this – that, in the My Little Pony universe, strong virtues (and anti-virtues) provide characters with extra power. Of course, none of those theories will ever be explicitly stated, or even firmly supported, by the show that they’re about since they’re trying to map external marketing decisions to internal theories about the setting – but you can often come up with something that will match closely enough to pass.
Now as for the questions about this article that brought this up…
I’m not sure that I agree with regards to Cheese Sandwich. It’s true that he only got his “Cheesy Sense” after he started to emulate Pinkie, but there appears to be a key difference there: Pinkie’s “Pinkie Sense” (and, for that matter, Maud’s “Maud Sense”) is unrelated to her special talent, unlike with Cheese Sandwich.
As a party pony, Pinkie shouldn’t have any particular ability to sense incoming danger (nor Maud, with her fixation on rocks, be able to find things that have gone missing). That’s why Twilight is obsessed with explaining Pinkie’s ability in Feeling Pinkie Keen. (To my eyes, it looks like having a psionic wild talent runs in the Pie family.)
Cheese Sandwich, by contrast, is a party pony himself (even if his cutie mark is a little odd), and his Cheesy Sense lets him sense the direction of imminent parties. That seems like it’s just a (admittedly rather strong) aspect of his special talent. It may also be precognitive the way Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense is, but it’s precognitive in a way that fits with the magic of his cutie mark, and so seems like a different thing that just happens to resemble what Pinkie can do (the same way a lot of psionic powers have magical equivalents).
Also, this article references changelings as possibly being between dragons and ponies, but I have to wonder how Discord’s being a “draconequus” fits in there, even if he does seem like he’s a living inversion of Harmony (perhaps the Discordant Powers should be called the “Elements of Disharmony”?).
Well, the point there was simply that Cheese Sandwich has abilities well beyond those of a normal earth pony – and apparently acquired many of those talents after working hard to become a paragon of laughter. After all, even if you discount most of the stuff from his musical numbers (wherein he warps reality with even less restraint than Discord does – well beyond the far more common “montage scenes” you get with most equestrian musical numbers), he still produced various things (including a giant cheese wheel, a seal (although it might just be Fluttershys), a hippo, a parade float, and a huge party tank) during the actual party, animated a rubber chicken, and more. It’s not that association with an element necessarily boosts your primary talents (thus the bit about Rarity’s rather exceptional strength). It just seems to let you do more things.
As for “Cheesy Sense”… I really don’t know what it does. Cheese Sandwich stated that his Cheesy Sense told him that his next party would be in Ponyville and told him about Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense – but two one-sentence examples aren’t much to go on.
Maud is another victim of insufficient data. Perhaps she can find rocks, metals, and things in contact with the earth? Or do the equivalent of “Locate Object?”. She also shows enough (reactionless!) strength to toss large rocks over the horizon and kick up mushroom clouds much bigger than hills.
But we didn’t see any of the royal guard tossing changelings over the horizon.
Of course, Maud is… extremely loyal to her friend and relatives, tactless and blunt (the socially awkward form of honesty) and is pretty generous with her time and effort. She’s not especially exemplary when it comes to kindness and laughter, and she’s not really a paragon of any single virtue – but under this (speculative) theory she’d be getting a reasonably balanced boost.
Is there anyone else around who fits that theory?
How about Big Macintosh? He shows pretty much that same package of traits (an “idealized big brother” set) – and he can effortlessly bounce along while towing a house by flexing his ankles.
We see one more pony (a filly with a hedgehog cutie mark) with freakishly supernormal strength (as explicitly called out by Diamond Tiara on the playground) – but I can’t recall any other information about her at all. Just going by the hedgehog… perhaps another prickly introvert like Maud Pie?
And strength is a basic earth pony talent.
Then we have Shining Armor – a loyal captain of the guard who is willing to generously expend every bit of his strength on shielding others, is probably pretty honest (if only because trying to deceive Celestia is probably an even worse idea than trying to deceive the usual superior officer). He probably isn’t all that strong on kindness and laughter though. After all, you can’t afford to be unconditionally kind as a guard – and guard work is often pretty serious.
And he has an absurdly hyped up ability to generate shields that can protect entire cities. True, that’s his particular special talent, but we don’t see that unicorn with a talent for puppetry sending a swarm of giant puppets out to build roads or battle monsters.
Now in reality those talents are the result of marketing and scriptwriter decisions – which means that any in-setting theory is going to be a bit contrived in places – but it fits in well enough since it relates to several of the writers motives. (I must admit that “wild talents” also work perfectly well – especially in d20 systems – but I have a personal fondness for elaborate, generalized, theories with extensive implications. They’re such fun to come up with).
As for Discord… well, he seems to be the principle focus of chaos – or change – magic, and was the major reason for labeling the inverse elements the DISCORD-ant powers. In terms of that theory… he shows a fair chunk of the draconic powers – and the Lord of Chaos template I set up earlier is a +2 ECL template and so falls within the limits of a dragon channeling the “Discordant Powers” if he either purchased an upgrade similar to the epic level upgrade for a Bokor or found a way to dump a level of growth in favor of more power. Discord does look even stranger than the adolescent dragons do – but his basic body layout is the same and the changes are probably within the limits of draconic shapeshifting.
Who knows? Maybe Celestia hatched her own dragon as a youngster, tried to meddle with the draconic ability to channel the Discordant Powers, and wound up with Discord. After all… she kept him around and seems inclined to argue with him rather than starting in blasting – and later took the risk of him running amuck again (and possibly hiding the elements effectively first) in hopes of reforming him. That’s not exactly what I’d expect from a reasonably wise ruler who is abruptly confronting a newly-returned satanic figure. It’s a great deal closer to the parable of the prodigal son…
Now that doesn’t fit in with the “he’s Starswirl the Bearded after a badly-bungled attempt at Alicorn Ascension” theory from his writeup – but it’s not like it needs to; both theories are pure speculation. Still, speculation is what the Changeling and Dragon articles were all about.
And today it’s another offline question… “What would Spike (from “Friendship is Magic”, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer) look like in Eclipse?”
Well, the trouble with creating a racial template for Equestarian Dragons is that it’s going to be pretty speculative. Yes, we see a fair amount of Spike (although his activities are often rather repetitive since he’s mostly a foil for Twilight and personal mail system) – but we also know that he isn’t entirely typical and other draconic appearances are few and far between. To fill things out a bit, I’m going to see what I can deduce from how Ponies interact with Equestria’s Dragons.
Ponies are the masters of Equestria. They control the sun and moon, the weather, the seasons, and more. They are powerful practitioners of Harmony and Love – the two greatest forces in their universe. Tireks scholarly mentor even outright states that ponies (and Unicorns in particular) have the most powerful magic in the universe. His viewpoint is likely biased, but there’s probably something to it.
Ponies seem to become even more powerful as they attune themselves more closely to the various virtues of the Elements of Harmony. Does it really seem likely to be a coincidence that…
- Rainbow Dash, a paragon of loyalty, is the fastest (and possibly the toughest, at least judging by the “Rainbomb”) pegasus in all Equestria. What’s more, her abilities can’t be blamed on direct contact with the physical Element of Loyalty without timey-wimey shenanigans since she showed some of them many years before the Elements were reactivated.
- Applejack, a paragon of honesty, stops stampedes, faces down monsters, and does quite incredible amounts of work. After all, the farm went down the drain in days without her despite everything that Big Mac, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith could do.
- Rarity, a paragon of generosity, can carry and toss around multi-ton boulders, outperform a small factory, use far more magical effects than a normal unicorn (including remotely teleporting large objects), is a skilled fighter, and can easily manipulate small swarms of enemies into giving her their treasure.
- Fluttershy, a paragon of kindness, can stare down cockatrices, communicate with animals and make them all live together peacefully, wrestle bears, model, sing, conduct music, sew, and even reform gods of chaos.
- Twilight, the “Princess of Friendship”, may be the most powerful mage in Equestria – and certainly demonstrates the desire and ability to make the universe conform to her will that is the essence of magic.
- And then there’s Pinkie Pie, who can do almost anything.
- For that matter there’s Cheese Sandwich, who clearly demonstrates that other ponies can tap into such powers without being element-bearers.
Yet we also know that such power is a rare and special thing. How do we know that? Because Equestria has problems AND keeps coming back to the mane six to solve them instead of just letting the general population handle them. Ergo… while ponies are empowered by the forces the Elements of Harmony represent it’s rare for one of them to be enough of a paragon of virtue to get a LOT of power.
And yet… dragons worry even the paragons. In a universe that primarily runs on the harmony of loyalty, honesty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and magic, and secondarily on love, dragons defy those powers. They may appear in small packs as adolescents, but the adults mostly seem to be solitary apex predators. They have a “king”, but their traditional method of choosing one seems to be based on skill in evading traps, competing with each other, raw power, and luck. On their own dragons show distinct tendencies towards…
- Treachery. Rejecting a kid the moment he disagrees about pointlessly killing something? Spike expects to be betrayed by his “mother” and get replaced by an owl?
- Deception. The adolescent dragons act accepting and then try to rig their contests? Spike getting their pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders to deceive the Mane Six?
- Greed. Spike growing into a monstrous dragon out of greed? Dragonhoards in general?
- Cruelty. Wanting to smash phoenix eggs? Spike labeling his friends “Hairity, Rainbow Crash, Spitty Pie, Apple Teeny, Flutterguy, and Twilight Flopple” when they’re poisoned and panicked?
- Wrath. Trying to hurt or kill a toddler for snagging some of your snacks? Inspiring fear the way that they do?
- Chance: Leaving your kids to roam around unsupervised? Using an obstacle course to decide the potential fate of your entire species?
Dragons still seem to be affected by Love, but it, at most, tempers their behavior. Adult dragons obviously aren’t normally filled with love or keeping a dragon egg in a school and using it to test students would have been pretty horribly offensive wouldn’t it?
When Spike, who was raised by Ponies in isolation from other dragons, gives in to Greed he grows immensely in size and power – but he is restored to normal by the power of his affection for Rarity (incidentally demonstrating that the emotion is both genuine and serious).
So the primary behavioral traits – and apparently power sources – of Dragons are the Inverse Elements. Treachery, Deception, Greed, Cruelty, Wrath, and Chance (the inverse of magic – twisting the odds perhaps, but accepting the way of the universe instead of demanding that it do what you want). I’m going to call these traits the “Discordant Powers”.
Harmony may permeate the world – but that simply means that the outbreaks of the Discordant Powers are tightly focused, and very powerful locally – as shown by Discord himself. There are hundreds of times as many ponies as dragons and their overall power is far greater than the dragons – but that’s not a lot of comfort when it’s only a few dozen ponies against a Dragon who is channeling a lot more of one of the Discordant Powers than the ponies are channeling Harmony.
That… gives us a draconic power source, a reason for Ponies to be very wary of dragons, and a set of motivations all in one. It tells us why Dragons are so individually powerful but yet ponies dominate the world.
It may also imply a relationship between Dragons and Discord and between Dragons and Changelings, but there isn’t much support for that so far.
So what do we need to buy to build an Equestrian Dragon racial template?
Are Extremely Tough. They can leap from a height into magma without being hurt, chew, swallow, and digest sharp fragments of diamond, are highly resistant to energy (especially fire, even if you can get them sooty), and can take one of Rainbow Dash’s full kicks – shown to be capable of smashing through four sizeable trees – without injury.
- Damage Reduction 5/-, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect; Only versus Physical Attacks, not versus Adamantine (12 CP).
- Berserker with Odinpower and Enduring, Powered by Mana, +15/- Universal Damage Reduction (also protects against energy) (12 CP). That’s fairly expensive – but will allow a powered-up Equestrian Dragon to shed most weapons like drops of rain.
- Energy Infusion (Fire, 6 CP). Given that ice cream can upset Spikes stomach when rocks can’t… a vulnerability to excessive amounts of Cold doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Eating gems really isn’t especially advantageous, even in Equestria where they’re absurdly common and inexpensive. After all… a modest gem does seem to have enough value to trade it for a substantially larger sandwich even there – and given that Spike sometimes gorges on them, their effective caloric value can’t be THAT high. Elsewhere… it’s just absurd. Eat that gem worth several hundred gold pieces – or use it to get a hundred gallons of ice cream and other goodies? Dragons seem to like those too… Ergo, no cost.
Are Limited Shapeshifters. They can change size and the details of their appearance – although this does not seem to be entirely under their control. In addition, they are naturally armed and armored. They can also dig well (although they don’t seem to have a burrow speed like Diamond Dogs) and seem to have little use for material possessions (or shovels).
- Accursed. A dragon’s appearance reflects it’s personality, state of development, and (at least to a limited extent) current mood. This makes them extremely distinctive, hard to fit for equipment, easy to “read” (other creatures get a +5 bonus on Sense Motive against dragons), and makes it easy for other creatures to pretend to be dragons with flimsy disguises. After all, a dragon could easily look like that… (-3 CP).
- Immunity/having to actually have mundane equipment to get it’s bonuses (mundane equipment is Very Common and not having it is a Minor problem for an adventurer. The Trivial level covers basic tools and clothing, Minor covers light and medium armor and simple weapons, Major covers heavy armor, masterwork stuff and martial weapons, and Great covers exotic weapons, materials, and alchemical gear. That’s 4, 8. 12. Or 24 CP. Dragons normally start at (12 CP).
Once again, I could speculate on a connection with Changelings here. After all… a dragon-pony hybrid might well not have a strong connection to either the Elements of Harmony OR the Discordant Powers. If so, it would be an incomplete creature, lacking a natural source of magic, drives, and emotions – and perhaps needing to take those things from others. A bit of a dragon’s natural toughness for an effectively armored insect-like hide, some fangs, spitting mere sticky goo instead of magically charging the stuff to act more like napalm, the draconic shapeshifting… I could even argue that the holes are due to their shapeshifting reflecting their inherent incompleteness. That may not be what this article is about – but I am being speculative here.
Seem to have a good Constitution, but show no other exceptional attributes save strength – which may just be due to size bonuses – and aren’t especially sociable.
- Attribute Shift: +2 Con, -2 Cha (6 CP).
Are implied to be very long-lived and easily capable of surviving in the wastelands. Spike – despite being at least ten years old – is considered a baby dragon.
- Immunity to Aging (Uncommon, Major, Major, 6 CP). Dragons can expect to live for thousands of years.
Are apparently magic-resistant when they want to be – or at least the various unicorns around Ponyville don’t seem to have much luck in dealing with Spike when he’s gotten bigger.
- Spell/Power Resistance II (12 CP).
Are Firebreathers. They can breathe enormous amounts of fire and/or smoke, possess considerable control over that ability – enough to either melt masses of snow or ice or to make toast – and can use it for at least some magical purposes.
Can, at least as adults, sprout wings and fly at considerable speeds and with fair maneuverability
- Instinctive Dragon Magic: Innate Enchantment (total value 6320 GP, net cost of 7 CP).
- Enhance Attribute: Str +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
- Enhance Attribute: Con +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
- Feathermail (a touch-range Transmutation effect targeting armor, +3 to maximum Dex, -3 to Armor Check Penalty, reduce movement penalty by 10 for 2 rounds/level, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .7 (Personal-Only) x.8 (“Armor” from Immunity Only) = 1120 GP. Dragons can generally move easily despite their scales.
- Montage Scene/Power Tool: Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Only on their internal “tools”) = 1000 GP. Dragons can get a lot more done than would normally be credited – digging like a backhoe, jack hammering through stone, and so on. In general, dragons gets a lot more done than any normal human.
- Immortal Vigor I (The Practical Enchanter): Provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) Hit Points. (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
- Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
- Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP). Dragons are born with their innate enchantments, and need not pay any extra experience for them.
- Immunity to Dispelling effects (Common/Minor/Great, Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Racial Innate Enchantments, 4 CP).
This stuff just comes with being a dragon.
Learned Dragon Magic: Inherent Spells, all powered by Mana. Unfortunately, all of these require extensive training to use. Dragons must either spend years wandering and working on self-development, seek out “appropriate” tutors and get them to teach them, or simply level up until they can control these abilities without training, before they can use these. Secondarily, inexperienced dragons fairly often have minor “accidents” with these powers. That’s Corrupted for Reduced Cost (36 CP in total).
- L2: Essence of the Dragon (SC, Costs 1 Mana)
- L3: Giant’s Wrath (the Practical Enchanter, +2 Size Levels) and Dragonskin (SC)
- L4: Flight of the Dragon (SC), Voice of the Dragon (SC)
- L5: Dragonsight (SC), Grand Earthward (L5)
- L6: Greater Invocation of Flame (SC), Aura of Terror (SC)
Grand Earthward: L5, activates once per round on it’s own, on or off action, blocking 60 points of damage from any one attack as well as any special effects – poison, energy drain, or whatever – that it might have).
A L6 Greater Invocation of Flame produces Fire effects of up to level five – ranging from making toast and baking on through near-instant alchemical transformations and a wide variety of fire blasts.
Discordant Channeling. The ability to channel the power of the Discordant Powers is advanced Dragon Magic – and, in Equestrian terms, blatant dark magic. It is obvious to unicorns when used, always runs at least a slight risk of loss of control (basically a roll of “1″ on a will save when using the stuff), can provoke reactions from Harmony Magic, and can be countered by Harmony Magic. Any dragon can use, it, but only practice and mental discipline will provide even a modicum of control. It counts as being Specialized.
- Witchcraft II. Provides the use of The Adamant Will, Healing (Specialized in Self-Healing for Double Effect), and Witchsight (Specialized in Scent, for no cost), with a base Power score equal to (Sum of Physical Attributes/3), and a base Will save DC of (13 + Cha Mod) (6 CP):
- 1d6 Mana, taken as 3d6 Power. Only usable for Witchcraft (3 CP).
- Ridden by the Loa with Partial Control, Corrupted/Only to draw on the Discordant Powers (2 CP).
- Immunity/the one-point-per-hour cost of keeping Ridden by the Loa Running (Common, Minor, Major (up to 30 Power/Day equivalent, Corrupted/cannot normally be turned off to get rid of an inconvenient Discordant Power, 2 CP).
Drawing on the Discordant Powers generally provides +2 levels of Growth (96 CP) and 35 CP related to the particular power being channeled – the remaining 32 CP plus a disadvantage. It’s no coincidence that the “particular powers” match the basic structure of Mysteries. In fact, a Bokor in Equestria can also learn to channel the Discordant Powers – although they won’t get the “Growth” function. That’s another reason to regard them with fear and suspicion (as if another reason was needed). Perhaps, in Equestria, Bokor are the equivalent of basic d20 Sorcerers – ponies and zebras who just happen to have a dragon ancestor somewhere.
What about Lust? Well, you can include Lust as a perversion of Love or Harmony – but I doubt that the powers it grants require any real game rules. I may throw something in just to make sure that I cover everything – but it certainly isn’t necessary.
In any case… all of that comes out to 126 CP – a +3 ECL race. Of course, in a standard game, without the Superheroic World Template to provide a steady supply of Mana to work with, you’d probably want to invest another 32 CP or so in buying Mana and Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses to replenish the stuff.
Next time around on this topic I’ll see about the Discordant Powers.
I thought that I’d put this up long ago – but apparently I hadn’t. So here it is now.
General Notes: All characters are stellar explorers – and must be able to function as a part of a close-knit group aboard a small ship. Characters who cannot work in a group, insist on keeping piles of deadly secrets, are actually possessed by horrible alien forces, are utterly insane, are too crippled to be recruited, or are otherwise incompatible with working with a group are automatically weeded out before they ever get aboard. You can’t play one.
You can play very difficult characters if you want, but if you go overboard you probably won’t be taken on the next trip. Be sensible.
Character Advancement is being handled by direct awards of character points, at a rate of two points per session to start with. After level four this is reduced to one point per session. Logs and contributions are usually worth an extra 1 CP per session.
Skills and Equipment:
Equipment is handled through the Equipment Skills – which cover acquiring, operating, maintaining, and repairing various types of gear. You are automatically considered proficient with anything you buy through an Equipment Skill. Such skills include:
- Armory (Str): Armor, Power Armor, Shields, Life Support, and similar.
- Biotech (Con): Organ Implants, Surgeries, and Genetic Modifications.
- Gadgetry (Int): Sensors, Computers, Tools, and Utility Items.
- Logistics (Chr): Supplies, Subscriptions, Licenses, and Lifestyles.
- Vehicles (Wis, Occult): Vehicles. Note that this is an occult skill (basically, there’s a 3 CP
- Weaponry (Dex): Weapons. These are almost as popular as Armor.
Action Skills bend reality a bit to allow heroic feats. Unfortunately, each time you do something major with an Action Skill, it’s value is reduced for the rest of the session. Consider them your “Special Effects” budget. They include:
- Bullet Time (Con): Pull flashy tricks, evade damage, and take immediate actions.
- Erudite Focus (Int): Act ;ole Mr Spock or Gilligan’s Professor, get hints, and resist some mental attacks.
- Narrative (Chr, Occult): Detect narrative influences or buy Whimsy Cards.
- Sensitive (Wis): Detect psychic clues, resist mental influences, gain Power, and be a generic “Psychic”.
- Stealing the Scene (Con, Occult): Invoke cliches and tropes.
- Tough It Out (Str): Resist attribute damage/drain and various conditions through sheer grit.
Equipment and Action skills generally cannot be used unskilled.
- Idiotic Technology (Wis, Occult): Basically the Shadowed Galaxy version of “Use Magic Device” – allowing the user to fiddle with Idiotic Technology, make deductions about it, keep a few such devices ready to use, and use them. This is not especially safe, but it’s sometimes necessary.
- Faith (Wis): Measures the intensity of your religious beliefs – and how much control you can exercise over Spacefield Effects.
- Networking (Chr): Your ability to manipulate organizations. Commonly purchased with bonuses with particular groups to represent rank within them.
- Minions (Chr, Occult): Recruiting minions – and making sure that they do what you’d want them to do when you’re not there.
Special Ability Notes:
Unlike most settings, the Shadowed Galaxy doesn’t forbid many abilities. The limitations fall more under how they work. Thus it’s wise to consult the GM on your character design. Things that are generally functional within the setting can be tweaked.
For an example take Returning. Some Spacefield Template Effects can provide it. In such cases the Spacefield Effects include storing the user/victim’s mind and reconstituting a body if they’re physically killed. A few Informational Effects basically turn the “user” into a free spirit, and let them manifest a new body after they’re “slain”. Biotech can provide some impressive regeneration. Psychic Powers have (very, VERY, rarely) been known to allow for body-hopping (likely in conjunction with some additional ability), and – given the lack of success with cloned bodies and “braintaping” – only computers and androids can back themselves up microtronically.
So humans in general may…
- Employ up to 4 CP worth of Relics if they should happen to acquire any.
- Buy up to 3d6 Mana – whether as Mana, Generic Spell Levels, or Power – without it counting against the limit for various special abilities. Beyond that point, it does.
As for specific power sources…
Biotech: Humans are pretty good at medical skills, understanding their own biology, implanting synthetic organs and tissues, correcting genetic flaws, fixing up damaged bodies, and so on. They have free access to the Biotech skill and may opt to take various adaptions (even as bonuses to the equipment skills with an immunity to having them taken away) starting off – but modifying such things after an organism matures is extremely difficult. Humans simply do not seem to be able to solve the problems inherent in active adjustments, such as shapeshifting. Note that this also bans the “partial shapeshift for big attribute bonuses” trick.
Psychic Powers: Humans may develop up to 36 CP (plus Pacts) worth of Witchcraft Powers (or actual psionic abilities of up to level two) – which is actually quite a lot. Unfortunately, a fair number of the advanced Witchcraft abilities are either limited (although this does reduce their cost) or simply do not work.
- Aegis only provides the “care” function rather than destroying diseases, etcetera (3 CP).
- Apparition is possible, but will kill you without some special ability to avoid having your body shut down while you’re focusing on a temporary one (2 CP).
- Ashen Rebirth is very likely to kill you when used (2 CP).
- Birth of Flames works, but creates a purely intangible entity that cannot materialize. It’s still an effective scout though (3 CP).
- Blessing cannot bestow a permanent benefit. Given that this is very rare anyway, this does not change the cost.
- Bones of Iron mostly works, although Iron Lung doesn’t work well (No change).
- Breath of Life only lasts for a minute of concentration at most (2 CP).
- Breath of Peruza works VERY briefly (2 CP).
- Covenbond is Ritual Only, and so is only (3 CP).
- Darknsense can cause serious confusion in the user (3 CP).
- Dismissal cannot banish entities since the Shadowed Galaxy lacks true outsiders, elemental, and outer planes and it’s only options for being selective are disrupting hyperspace-related entities, subspace-related, or informationally-powered entities (3 CP).
- Divination covers low-end detections only – nothing above level two (3 CP).
- Flesh Like Mist is VERY dangerous and often fails (2 CP). If you’re taking this, a bit of Luck may be in order.
- Grounding is messy, since the energy has to go SOMEWHERE (4 CP).
- Hag-Riding works, but the victims need to have some psychic ability (4 CP).
- Leaping Fire only works in part; it cannot provide rapid healing, eliminate fatigue, or eliminate exhaustion (4 CP).
- Light of Truth has no holy-energy combat applications beyond causing flash-blindness (4 CP).
- Longevity is a bit more limited, but not enough to justify a cost change.
- Master of the Sabbat does not work.
- Master the Elements does not work,
- Mouth of the Earth works, but causes backlash (3 CP).
- Nightforge will not work.
- Possession is generally not possible without something that sustains your existence without a body (3 CP).
- Ridden by the Loa can tap some low-powered entities, but they’re more like Vestiges than anything else – and generally lack any major powers (3 CP).
- Sanctify can give areas moods and such, but not much more (2 CP).
- Seize the Wandering Soul is generally short of targets (3 CP).
- Siphon will not work.
- Sleep of Stone mostly works (being reassembled rarely does, 4 CP).
- Spirit Binding is very temporary at best (at least for humans) and the advanced command stuff won’t work (3 CP).
- Spirits of the Deep generally has no power source to use, and so does not work.
- Summoning is very limited for lack of targets and there are no sources for borrowed magic. It is normally a ritual, and is Specialized and Corrupted for (2 CP).
- Sympathetic Link is generally limited to planting bits of yourself to use (3 CP).
- Tenebrium’s coin works, but you need to do something like run a psychic hotline and “money” means very little in the Shadowed Galaxy (2 CP).
- The Sight is never controllable (3 CP)
- The Inner Fire generally does not work.
- The Secret Order does not work.
- The Umbral Form allows blending with shadows, not becoming insubstantial – although you can move within them easily (3 CP). Most psychics just use Shadowweave unless they didn’t take it.
- True Prosperity only works on a few plants or a garden patch at most (3 CP).
- Venomed Touch does not work
- Warding provides a +3 Luck Bonus to Saves and a +2 Luck Bonus to AC, but no other bonuses.
- Weathermonger only allows data-collection and steering things a bit (3 CP).
Informational (or perhaps Conceptual) Abilities are quite limited. Humans simply are not capable of handling more than 24 CP worth of active informational powers (6-: Novice, 12-: Initiate, 18:-Master, 24-: Grandmaster) with one major exception: Informational Powers built as Witchcraft may have their cost reduced by Pacts.
Spacefields are generally beyond humanities ability to sense or manipulate in any detail. The only known interface is the Faith skill. Characters may request a +1 ECL Spacefield Template, but the details are up to the game master.
And for something minor, it’s a question:
I have to ask another question: How exactly does Line of Effect work? The way I read Eclipse, they are all spread effects, but I’m not sure.
Is there an area-spell-version of “Indirect Fire”? Normally when you cast an area spell, it only affects what’s in a direct line from it’s point of origin, which would mean that, for example, you cannot cast a Boundless Acid Splash into a building and expect it to hit anyone (due to a lack of line of effect), even with Indirect Fire. Same goes for something like a Boundless Grease, which couldn’t affect every wall in the building due to the lack of a straight line.
I’d have guessed that “Indirect Fire” means line of sight and line of effect, but I’m not sure about it anymore .-.
Hm. This was posted on a segment about level 10+ spells, but seems to be at least partially about Eclipse’s Metamagic. To start with the Metamagic…
The Extension Metamagical Theorem covers manipulating how spells reach their target. Like all Metamagical Theorems it can be applied in a wide variety of ways. At it’s simplest, this just improves the range – but modifiers like Indirect Fire, Global, and Trans-Dimensional blatantly allow spells to ignore obstacles – although you still need to know where the target is.
Indirect Fire (at +2 levels) obviates the need for line-of-effect to the spells point of origin as long as you know where the target is. The game master may want to require that there be some sort of open route – even if it’s “down the chimney, through the guardroom and into the winch room” or rule that the spell goes through the ethereal plane so ethereal barriers will halt it or something – but few games go into that kind of detail anyway, so if you want to throw a fireball into the space on the other side of that closed door with indirect fire… go right ahead and give it a shot.
- Making spells with Extension that simply – say – turn a corner on the way to their target would only be about +1 level. They’re mostly only relevant in fairly contrived situations though, even if that goblin shaman with a mirror on a stick and some corner-turning spells can be a nuisance.
- Making area effect spells where the actual effect or an area spell bypasses obstacles or turn corners isn’t really a job for Extension; it’s a job for Area or Sculpting. (Personally, I rather liked it when spells (and explosives) were a bit more physical – such as when Fireball filled a certain volume, and could fill a network of corridors – but those days are long gone). You might even be able to get away with making a spell that only affected living things – and thus could have an area of effect that passed through nonliving barriers.
- Making a burst that filled a volume (and thus would go around corners or fill corridors), rather than just stopping at barriers would probably be Area +1 (If the potential backlash problems don’t persuade the game master to make it +0).
- Making an Emanation that passed through inappropriate targets (like walls and ceilings) rather than stopping at them would probably be Amplify, at +1 level for Detections and other low-energy effects, +2 levels for things like Fireball. That way you could throw it at a wall and kill creatures behind said wall anyway.
- Making a spell that simply wraps itself around corners and such so that it fills all the available unsealed open space within it’s normal radius/volume/whatever of effect is Sculpting, probably at a mere +1 level (It may be happening during the casting instead of being predetermined, but you can’t exclude areas).
I didn’t include a theorem that would allow you to directly target someone who’s location is unknown (although you could fake it by making a spell selective, barrier penetrating, and with a large enough area of effect to be sure that your target is in it at some horrendous number of added levels) because that is even more boring than scry-and-die tactics. It leads to your heroes and / or your villains suffering sudden, overwhelming, attacks from nowhere.
Leaving the metamagic behind, the level 10+ spells generally (and intentionally) leave a lot open to interpretation. They are, after all, each an astounding act of magic on the part of an incredibly powerful (and presumably unique) spellcaster – and usually are plot devices rather than regularly-cast spells. Still…
- Most of them don’t really involve questions about their lines of effect; when you steal abilities from a dying foe, crown a king, or cleanse a soul… you generally aren’t trying to do it through a keyhole or around a corner.
- Others ignore “targeting” by their nature. Spells that lead you to potential customers, or create pocket dimensions, or cause geological upheavals, aren’t really cast at particular targets.
- Yet more are obviously targeted normally; a 30d6 Frostball that animates those slain by it works a lot like a normal Fireball. It’s just nastier.
There are still a few oddities though.
For example, the twenty-first level spell Boundless Sea Of Flames lets the caster “unleash a vast flood of force from the elemental planes, dealing 3d6 damage per round for five rounds to everything in a small continent-sized area”.
It doesn’t say anything about HOW (although it pretty obviously involves a gate of some sort), so that is more or less up to the caster. Open a vast gate to the elemental plane in the center of the area to be affected and let a tidal wave of elemental power pour out? Some may have time to escape as the wave sweeps over the horizon, some areas may be sheltered by natural barriers, and so on – but you’ll probably get a greater effect in the center. Simply overlay the two dimensions so that everything – including sealed areas – is affected evenly? It will be instant and pretty much inescapable, but far less dramatic. Open thousands of lesser gates across the area? You’ll get a mix of effects – with even more variation depending on which elemental plane you tap into. A mighty flood from a central gate may leave dwellers in flying castles unharmed while making them effectively under deep water with an overlay certainly will not – but the latter would spare cities with planar barriers.
Of course once you’re throwing around spells of level twenty and up, details are usually something to discuss and then get the game master to narrate anyway.
Now that they’ve caught the troublemakers, the Shadowed Galaxy player group wanted the backstory on this particular mission – and since they currently have the resources and sources to get it pretty easily, I’m saving time by posting it rather than spending a lot of game time on a question-and-answer session.
2186: After nearly sixty years of discussion, an extremely low-priority program for the study of conditions Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and radiation belts finally gets funded. Justifications include looking for life on Jupiter, planetary science research, and looking for and analyzing exotic materials found orbiting in Jupiter’s high-energy radiation belts.
2189: Construction begins on Lima, a station designed to function indefinitely in close orbit around Jupiter. The design incorporates high-energy magnetic shielding systems to help divert high-energy charged particles from Jupiter’s radiation belts and electromagnetic coupling with Jupiter’s magnetic field to allow minor orbital adjustments to be made by running current loops through the station.
2196: Solar Minima. The Rathhan – primarily psychic entities which use bits of an exotic material which can convert electromagnetic energy into psychic energy as a power source and physical anchor – orbit near the upper limits of Jupiter’s atmosphere, feeding on the electromagnetic flux Jupiter constantly generates and slowly harvesting the elements they need to grow.
2197: Lima is completed, and begins the transit from high earth orbit to low jovian orbit.
2201: The inhabitants of Lima begin their scientific work as initial tests, experiments, and observations are made
2202: Lima is takes up it’s standard orbit near jupiter, the remaining scientific staff arrives, and the various research projects go into full operation.
2210: Solar Maxima. Several major solar flares and significant mass ejection from the sun occurs as solar activity hits a 74-year high. Jupiter’s radiation belts soak up some of the particle flux.
2211: Jupiter’s radiation belts reach their energy peaks, rich with hurtling ions, high energy nuclei, and exotic particles. The Rathhan begin their “seasonal” migration, spiraling out into the radiation belts on psychic wings to transmute their harvest into paralithic “flesh”, to feed on the belts rich reserves of other energies, and to socialize. Across the solar system a few sensitive humans have occasional strange dreams of mighty lightning-storms, strange powers, and soaring flight through near-limitless skies high above a clouded world. As it has before this leads to a few visionary tales and nothing much else.
2212: The orbits of the Rathhan approach the orbit of the Lima. The outer edge of their usual range will briefly overlap the orbit of the Lima before it begins to contract once again as the energies of the Solar Maxima fade and “winter” approaches. Among humans, the lack of any radically new results from observing Jupiter’s energy peaks leads to questions about continuing funding for the Liam.
2213a: Three Rathhan are temporarily ensnared in an incredibly intense, and utterly unexpected, “knot” of magnetic force. Before they can escape, they are isolated from most of the electromagnetic flux they feed upon and are further entrapped in solid matter, Much of their available energy reserves are expended on their initial psychic attempts to call for help. These are not successful.
2213b: The crew of the Lima pick up three major lumps and a collection of fragments of exotic material. A quick check shows the material to be Rhimvite – a fairly well known type (albeit of rare purity). It is classified as low priority and stored in the materials lab complex for detailed examination next time an appropriate specialist is available. Much more attention is given to a wave of malaise and psychological problems that is overtaking the crew, and the minor samples are quickly filed and forgotten.
Rhimvite is an exotic stone, slightly ductile, greenish-black in its normal state. It is sensitive to psionic energy; when exposed to it it turns blue-black and emits a bit of RF. Interestingly, if exposed to massive RF fields it turns white and starts leaking a little psionic energy. It’s mostly used to test for psionic potential. You give a kid a handful of little spheres, more and more impure. The more a kid can get to change color, the stronger his current potential. It’s also good as a practice material, since it shows if you’re making progress.
2214: The Rathhan, while low on energy, detect minds thinking on radically different bands impossibly close at hand. Attempts to communicate are made – but, lacking any good understanding of those minds, is mostly limited to projection emotions and basic concepts
2216: With the crew reporting an ever-increasing epidemic of hallucinations and “hauntings” (dead relatives pleading for release from hell, assorted mythical monsters, and some religious “visitations” – none very coherent) it is eventually concluded that some combination of radiation leakage and the huge magnetic field were affecting the crew. Initial testing of this idea easily demonstrated that the crew recovered when removed for a bit, and new crewmen soon started reporting similar symptoms.
The Lima acquires a reputation for being “haunted”. Combined with questions about contamination, and the ongoing doubts about the worth of the entire program, this results in the Lima being put under computer control and abandoned by the human crew.
2217: With the other minds vanished, and no immediate prospect of rescue, the three Rathhan aboard Lima enter hibernation to conserve energy, in hopes of either accumulating enough to escape with or of rescue.
2246: Citing a lack of significant results over two decades, and the expense of maintenance missions, the Lima is put into standby mode.
2278: Michar Guttvield, a prospector-scavenger, acquires a used ship, fitted out with massive amounts of radiation shielding by its paranoid prior owner. With all that extra mass making it inefficient and limiting its cargo capacity it had been almost unsaleable – and so was cheap. Looking for a profitable use that was easier than stripping the shielding away, Michar recalls the Lima, and decides to take advantage of the shielding for a quick trip to see what he could grab.
2279: Over the course of several trips Michar investigates the Lima, and finds reasonably good pickings. Some of the equipment was still saleable. There was even some Rhimvite in the materials science lab – and even minor and impure bits could be quickly turned into testing kits for kids which were worth good money.
Hauling some bits of the Rathhan’s energy-collecting physical structure out of confinement and surrounding them with other minds (even if they were alien and very hard to communicate with) soon awoke the Rathhan, who remained connected to even fairly distant bits of “themselves”.
Michar, however, was a functional, if fairly minor psychic – and proved capable of crude communication. Michar was, however, a bit paranoid about aliens – and layered “his” find in remote-controlled explosives to make sure that he had a trump card. That would destroy ANYTHING!… And his confidence in that came across to the Rathhan – although he was willing to give them more energy to work with he wanted something from THEM.
The first few station “scooters”that they brought in in the process of reclaiming their fragments made a way they could “repay” him while gradually getting back out into free space quite obvious – so Michar brought in Andrew Blake, a more mechanically-minded associate to help him run his new, powered-by-enslaved aliens, vehicle chop shop.
The profits have been good so far, even if Michar has gradually been getting quite a bit crazier – and he wasn’t all that stable to start with.
2280: With the “Chop Shop” business getting into full swing, the Rathhan have learned to communicate somewhat – and Kids in the Jovian Stations have started to report encounters with cartoons and various other popular images which the Rathhan are pulling straight out of their minds. Unfortunately, Michar has started putting booby traps all over Lima station – and Andrew is more or less encouraging him; the scam can’t last forever and blowing up Lima will cover the tracks nicely.
2281: The player-characters begin their investigation into an odd combination of reports of cartoons showing up, weird monsters that then vanish, and stolen station scooters.
Binding Mysterious Spirits IX, Epic Bokor and Epic Mysteries – The Martyred Hero, The Fallen World, The Formless Horror, and The Big Man.
Channeling Epic Mysteries calls for a slight modification of the basic Bokor package; spend 12 CP to upgrade the “Host of Mysteries / Ridden by the Loa” ability from one-third cost to triple effect and update the line stating that “Each +1 ECL represents a separate Mystery – an individual entity.” to “Each +1 ECL represents a separate Mystery – an individual entity. At epic levels the user may also channel one +2 ECL Epic Mystery (with up to two disadvantages and thus worth 64, 67, or 70 CP) and may channel additional Epic Mysteries by devoting two +1 ECL mysteries slots to each one.
Sadly, no matter how high their level, a Bokor will never have more than 10 +1 ECL Mystery “slots” and one +2 ECL Epic Mystery “slot” – but reaching that limit will take hitting level 55 anyway.
And now you’re done. That’s basically all the spirit channeling there is. While this does mean that an extremely high-level Binder will eventually be able to bind more Vestiges than an equally extremely high-level Bokor can channel Mysteries, Mysteries tend to be improvements on Vestiges and the Bokor package has a flat cost. You don’t NEED to keep taking “Bokor Levels” to expand on your channeling of Mysteries up to that point and you don’t need to take special feats to learn of epic mysteries.
Unfortunately, upon taking a look… the original epic level Vestiges aren’t all that interesting. Not too surprisingly, most of their abilities look a lot like spells such as Iron Body – and allowing an epic-level character to tap into a few very high level spells is not that big a trick. I’ll be using Channeling, since such entities tend to be a massive power source of their very own. Ergo, the basis of the standard Epic Mysteries is going to look something like this:
- 1 + (5 x Cha Mod) total uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost: Only for Conversion, only to the set of effects that comes with the Mystery, blatantly conspicuous, clearly shows the nature of the Mystery empowering the user (15 CP).
- Conversion to a set of ninth level spells (33 CP), Corrupted for Increased Effect (each basic spell effect gets an individual enhancement) / these may only be powered by the Channeling Uses belonging to the Mystery, if the user ceases to channel the Mystery, any remaining duration is forfeit, the user is blatantly channeling alien powers from beyond. Any save DC’s will be (23 + Cha Mod). Fortunately, since Conversion at this level is specifically limited to Gods and Epic Level Characters, these Mysteries are pretty much automatically restricted to actual epic level characters.
- Immunity to Dispelling effects (Common/Minor/Epic, Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Innate Enchantments, Only those that come with this Mystery, 6 CP).
Depending on what disadvantages, if any, are taken this leaves 10, 13, or 16 CP for individualized abilities. I’m going to make some suggestions here, but epic level Mysteries should probably be a bit customized.
The Martyred Hero (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP: Likely disadvantages for the Martyred Hero include an obsessive hatred of a particular menace and a compulsive desire to protect the defenseless. He, she, or it, is likely to bestow Advanced Presence; not only does their presence bestow immunity to fear, but everyone will recognize the channeler as a noble and honorable hero to be trusted – and to be obeyed in emergencies.
Throughout the ages courageous men and women have faced horrors and impossible odds in the defense of others – and have fallen in that duty. For a time such heroes are hailed, songs are sung, and libations are poured – but time erodes all such recognition, and across the ages all heroes are forgotten.
Channeling The Mystery:
- Grand Renewal: L9, basically a combination of Heal and Greater Restoration with no XP Cost. The Corruption improvement allows it to affect a 30′ radius.
- Heavenly Wild Puppet Technique, L6. Upgraded to L9 with being Subdivideable and doubling the duration of the actual effect to (2 x Con + 12) rounds. The Corruption effect doubles the available duration again.
- Body of Light: (Transmutation, L6): You may infuse yourself with positive energy for one round per level. While so infused you are immune to disease, fatigue, fear, exhaustion, paralysis, poison, sickened, ability damage and drain, energy drain, death spells, magical death effects, and negative energy effects (such as from inflict spells or chill touch), gain a +4Sacred bonus to AC, and may treat any weapon you hold as a Ghost Touch weapon. As upgraded to L9 it can be invoked as an immediate action. The Corruption allows you to extend the effect to up to (Level / 5) allies within 60 feet.
- Heavenly Radiant Soul (L9) Your inspiring presence grants all your allies within 30 feet a Combat Maneuver (Pathfinder)bonus or a bonus to all bull rush, disarm, grapple, overrun, sunder, and trip checks of (Your Cha Mod x 2). This normally lasts ten minutes per level, but the Corruption extends this to one day.
The Fallen World (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Fallen World include being Blocked against using necromancy-related abilities and occasional troublesome Flashbacks to a particular worlds fall. Likely individualized powers include Mystic Mounts or Animal Companions, a Personalized Imbued Weapon like Eurynome’s Munkattingusupia? The Augmented Bonus trick to add some nature-related skills? Shapeshifting? “Aworld” is a pretty broad theme there.
Worlds end. Entropy, nearby supernova, entropy, all-devouring monsters, negative space wedgies and more all pop up pretty regularly when it comes to the multiverse. Creatures, gods, and races may escape – but planets rarely do.
Channeling the Mystery:
- Cosmic Unity: You become one with the world about you for ten minutes/level (with Corruption, for twenty-four hours). During this time…
- You may speak with any living creature. Such creatures become Friendly unless they can make a will save..
- You gain Darkvision, penetrating both normal and magical darkness, out to your normal visual range.
- You gain Scent and may Track by Scent as if you had Tracking.
- You gain Blindsight out to 120 feet.
- You gain Tremorsense out to 60 feet.
- You gain access to Commune with Nature as a constant ability.
- You gain a +4 sacred bonus to Strength, a +6 sacred bonus to Constitution, and a +8 sacred bonus to natural armor.
Is this reasonable for a ninth level spell? Comparing Abyssal Army. Fimbulwinter, Gate, Miracle. Shapechange. And various other spells… I’d say yes.
- One with the Elements: As per Energy Immunity, but you may select four types of energy to become immune to. The Corruption extends 30-point Resistance to those energy types to everyone you wish to protect with 60 feet.
- Biosphere II: As per Monstrous Regeneration, but with a 24-hour duration and a regeneration rate of 8/Round. The Corruption allows this benefit to be a “Mass” effect.
- Nature’s Fury: You may strike down aberrations, constructs, oozes, and undead. Your spells, powers, and abilities get a +4 bonus to their DCs against such targets. You ignore such creatures immunities to sneak attacks, critical hits, and precision damage and you automatically confirm critical threats against them. Finally, you get a +4 bonus to your AC and saves against such creatures attacks. The Corruption allows this benefit to be a “Mass” effect.
The Formless Horror (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Formless Horror include Accursed (repelled by daylight or various weird symbols or materials), Blocked (powers granted by entities of the (normal) outer planes), Hunted (monster hunters), Outcast (kind of pro forma for horrors from beyond), and Unluck. Likely individualized powers include Luck for Saving Throws, Awareness, Berserker, Cloaking, summoning lesser minions, and Costly.
It is hinted at in a thousand tomes, and lurks behind words like gelid, abhorrent, squamous, aberrant, cadaverous, degenerate, effervescent, faceless, fecund, cyclopean, gibbering, glutinous, tentacled, ichorous, iridescent, leprous, liquefied, lumbering, antediluvian, malignant, bilious, membranous, mesmerizing, mortifying, moldering, mutilated, nameless, octopoid, pallid, palpitating, parasitic, phlegmatic, poisonous, perambulating, protoplasmic, protuberant, pulsating, putrid, remorseless, repellent, slithering, spectral, stagnant, tenebrous, turbid, unspeakable, unnatural, vaporous, vile, wailing, wretched, gibbous, detestable, and zymotic – but oddly enough, despite these hordes of descriptive terms, no one is ever sure what it looks like.
Never mind. It’s coming to get you and it’s DISGUSTING.
Channeling the Mystery:
- (Adjective from above) Alien Form: As per Shapechange, but limited to aberrations, constructs, oozes, and undead. In exchange, however, you may project an Aura of Madness at will; this affects a 30′ radius. Enemies within this aura are affected by Confusion for one round per five levels you possess unless they make a Will save. A creature that makes its saving throw cannot be affected by your Aura of Madness again for 24 hours. This is a mind-affecting ability. The Corruption extends the duration to 24 hours.
- Wings of Madness: You may flow through alien angles and dimensions, effectively gaining a flight speed of 150 feet with perfect maneuverability, the effects of Greater Blink, and three flight-related Feats of your choice for ten minutes per level. The Corruption extends this to a full day.
- Abhorrent Tongues of the Great Priest: A 120-foot-cone mental blast. Anyone touched by the psychic tongues must succeed on a Will save or be stunned for 12 rounds. If the user cares to ask, he or she may also find out what the victims sanity tastes like. Thanks to the strain of channeling the alien mentality, you must wait five rounds between uses of this ability.
- Sphere of Ultimate Destruction. The corruption provides the +4 spell levels needed to eliminate the Saving Throw. No more than three such spheres may be called forth at any one time.
The Big Man (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Big Man include Irreverent, Obligations (picking up dependents), and Compulsive (must always test other authority figures). Likely individualized powers include Augmented Bonus to get more skills (Survival, a Martial Art, and knowledge of nature), Presence (attracts women and children), Damage Reduction, Executive, upgraded Witchcraft, and Resist.
Long, LONG, ago, when beasts spoke and men wandered in bands, what the Big Man said was what was done – but when danger threatened it was the Big Man who stood between the lesser folk of the band and the menace. Today’s shoddy imitation “Big Men” mostly lead gangs and mobs and other impromptu groups from the rear – and the savage purity of the old way is long forgotten. Yet still the Big Man lurks, a specter of lost ages ready to be called forth.
- The Noble Savage: You gain a +6 Enhancement Bonus to each of your six basic attributes (3 x L4 Attribute Enhancement from The Practical Enchanter), +8 to Natural Armor (L4 Stone Ox from The Practical Enchanter), a +5 Competence Bonus to Fortitude Saves (L4 Sidestep, from The Practical Enchanter, L4), a BAB equal to your level and +1 HP per level (L4 Divine Power), and proficiency with all Armor, Shields, and Weapons (Grand Master’s Touch, L4 variant of Master’s Touch at L1). All of these effects last for one round per level. The Corruption doubles this, and allows the time to be subdivided, with the effect starting as an immediate action and stopping at any time – although once stopped it cannot be started again for three rounds.
Should a ninth level spell be able to duplicate the effects of seven related, but not identical, fourth level spells? Lerandor’s Rule, of course, says yes. For another approach, “Mass” – effectively generating one subspell per level of the caster – is plus three or four levels (published spells are not entirely consistent on the level change), and a Greater Invocation (ability enhancement spells) would be about +2 levels – so a spell that generated up to (Level) fourth level ability enhancing spells of choice would be level nine – although it would be one per target. Is doing seven on yourself instead reasonable? Well… once again, Shapechange. Secondarily… if you want to be combative, you probably have most of those bonuses or better already at epic levels, which makes this far less effective than it might be.
- Master of Spirits: Greater Invocation of Force. Creates any Force Effect of up to Level Seven. The Corruption makes all such effects Quickened and component-free.
- Guardian Totem: Mass Heal, the Corruption allows it to be invoked as an Immediate Action – but only to counter the effects of a particular attack, spell, or ability with “special effects” up to the user. The user might thus block a tremendous blast of toxic flames with a wall of water (or with various “other” countereffects), negating up to (10 x Level, 250 Maximum) points of damage and the save versus poison it would normally inflict.
- Master of the Mysteries: Surprising Mastery Spell Template (The Practical Enchanter); Bestows Very Complex Mental Feats (L4 Base), x4 Feats (the Amplify Metamagical Theorem and Two levels of Streamline, Specialized for Double Effect/boosts can only be applied to the seven first level effects in the Initiate of the Mysteries package, +2 Spell Levels), duration of one day (+3 Spell Levels). The Corruption allows the Big Man to share one-half the (current) benefits of his Initiate of the Mysteries package with up to (Level) companions within thirty feet.
The “Standard” Epic Mysteries are kind of hard to go wrong with. After all, each of them has a set of 13’th to 14’th level equivalent spells and enough power to spam them. Admittedly, they generally aren’t the most versatile possible spells (although some of them are close) – but that’s still a ridiculous level of power.
Of course, that fits epic levels well enough. They’re all about going absurdly over the top.
There’s an important note on Diplomacy (and, for that matter, on Intimidate), at least in 3.5;
Attitude is not everything.
How do I know this? Where are the official rules on that?
Lets take a look at the examples in the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide to see what you can get when you change an NPC’s Attitude. It will take a little searching but the Dungeon Master’s Guide tells us…
Choose the attitude of an NPC or NPCs based on circumstances. Most people met in a neutral city are indifferent. Most guards are indifferent but suspicious, because that’s what’s expected of them.
It specifically mentions “suspicious”. So there are factors other than attitude which influence behavior. That seems reasonable. A cranky museum guide and a friendly one will both tend to do what museum guides are expected to do – but there will be notable differences in how helpful and informative they are.
If the thaumaturgist’s Diplomacy check adjusts the creature’s attitude to helpful (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), the creature will work for 50% of the standard fee, as long as the task is one that is not against its nature.
So altering attitudes will not convince a creature to forgo it’s needs and desires, to act against its “nature”, or to do things for free – although it may give you a price break on helping you out if it likes you.
Floating in serene contemplation in the center of the cloud island is a noble djinn (see page 115 of the Monster Manual). If characters capture her (by defeating her without killing her or driving her away), she will grant three wishes collectively to the party. She is eager to talk to visitors from the Material Plane, where she spent more than a century trapped by an evil wizard. If characters can improve her attitude to friendly (it starts out indifferent), she’ll offer the characters a bargain. She will grant three wishes to the party if the characters will first avenge her imprisonment by capturing the evil Material Plane conjurer and returning him to this cloud island, where the djinn will arrange for “long-term detention.”
So, while it wouldn’t really cost the Djinn anything to grant those wishes for free, she won’t do so even if you render her “friendly”. She’ll use them to ransom herself or to accomplish her own goals. Evidently her goals are important to her – and being friendly doesn’t mean giving away valuable stuff for free no matter HOW helpful that would be to the party.
Some hirelings might require hazard pay (perhaps as high as double normal pay) if placed in particularly dangerous situations. In addition to demanding hazard pay, hirelings placed in great danger might be unfriendly (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), but characters potentially can influence them to a better attitude and perhaps even talk them out of hazard pay.
So a good attitude doesn’t necessarily mean that your hirelings wont insist on price-gouging you, although “perhaps” you could talk them out of it.
And that’s about all the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us. That’s really quite enough though. It tells us that duties, beliefs, obligations, past experiences, personal desires, and the personal costs of various behaviors have a major impact on behavior – and may override attitude when it comes to any significant request.
In other words, the Dungeon Master’s Guide says to play NPC’s as people with their own goals – and that a glib tongue will only get you so far.
That’s fair enough. I know plenty of people that I like, but whom I know perfectly well are totally untrustworthy and have no intention of keeping any deals they make or repaying any money that they borrow. They’re personable, and they’re fun – but they’re incorrigible scam artists. Some of them brag about it.
Did that idea continue, or was it superseded by later sources like so many other rules? Lets look at what a much later book – the Dungeon Master’s Guide II – has for examples of Diplomacy in action
Drow Raiders: When first encountered, the initial attitude of these slave traders is hostile. Only the most charismatic of player characters (someone who makes a DC 35 Diplomacy check) can convince the dark elves not to attack. Even then, they’re likely to betray the characters at the first opportunity.
So Nature still trumps Diplomacy. The Drow are treacherous and (chaotic) evil, and no amount of diplomacy will change that one little bit.
“Dwarf Warriors: These dwarves are within a mile of the stronghold they call home. Their initial attitude is unfriendly unless one of the characters is also a dwarf, in which case their attitude is indifferent. At the very least, they want to escort the characters to their home for interrogation. The dwarves are not hostile and do not attack unless provoked. The characters can convince the dwarves to let them go on their way with a successful DC 25 Diplomacy check. A DC 40 check convinces the dwarves to give the PCs directions or invite them back to their home for a free night of dwarven hospitality and the opportunity to replenish supplies (and possibly purchase items of fine dwarf craftsmanship).”
Note that no check DC is listed for “getting free stuff” beyond a meal and a place to stay (basic hospitality), or for “abandoning your duties and coming along to help out”, or anything similar. These Dwarves have duties and a job, and will be doing it even if you DO seem like nice folks.
In the case of unusual cohorts, mounts, familiars, or animal companions, the guards call upon their commander for assistance and make sure that the suspect creature is well behaved and under the responsibility of its group. A DC 15 Diplomacy check convinces the guards of this, at which point they charge a 1-gp exotic animal tax for each unusual creature granted entrance to the city. If the Diplomacy check succeeds by 15 or more (in other words, if the travelers make a DC 30 check), the guards agree to charge the standard entry tax of 5 cp per individual instead. Obviously evil or dangerous creatures, such as undead and creatures of size Huge or larger, are flatly refused entry. If things begin to turn confrontational, four guards gather reinforcements from the watchtowers and alert the garrison.
So no amount of Diplomacy will make the guards violate their orders or admit obvious threats to their town’s well-being. More importantly, the next paragraph tells us that the guards are standard first level human warriors.
There’s a pretty obvious pattern there. It’s very easy (DC 15) to talk people into exercising what discretion they have in doing their jobs – but no amount of “diplomacy” short of mind control will talk them into doing something stupid.
Sure, there are the epic level rules for diplomacy – but even that (somewhat problematic) source says to
Treat the fanatic attitude as a mind-affecting enchantment effect for purposes of immunity, save bonuses, or being detected by the Sense Motive skill. Since it is nonmagical, it can’t be dispelled; however, any effect that suppresses or counters mind-affecting effects will affect it normally. A fanatic NPC’s attitude can’t be further adjusted by the use of skills.
Er… it’s not magic, but if I have a bonus that only works against magic, it works against it and it will be blocked by antimagic? I detect a writer who can’t make up his or her mind. Oh well.
In any case, now we know. From the beginning of 3.5 until the end “Friendly” meant that NPC’s would try to accommodate you within the limits of their jobs, duties, oaths, and responsibilities. That friendly bureaucrat would help you get the right forms, and explain them, and help you fill them out, and even try to expedite them through the system. He won’t just ignore his responsibilities though.
The d20 rules are there to help you simulate a fantasy world. Just as in reality, duties, promises, and oaths, obligations, common sense, and beliefs all play at least as large a role as whether or not they’re feeling helpful or hostile in determining what actual actions people take. Plenty of people have killed people they loved, felt personal loyalty to, and desperately wanted to help, out of duty, or because it would spare them pain, or shame, or dishonor, or out of a twisted notion of the best way to help them, because their families, or personal honor, or liege lords required it, or because their faith told them that it was their gods will. Plenty of other people have done good and helpful things for people that they detest for the same list of reasons. (You can ask any public defender about THAT). An executioner who likes you may carefully arrange the wood around your stake so that the smoke smothers you before you burn in agony – but executioners who let their personal feelings get in the way of doing their jobs quit early on. Others specifically stay because it lets them make the inevitable less painful.
Changing a non-player characters attitude may ot may not influence what they do, and is fairly likely to influence how they do it – but it certainly does not control it. At work I and many other people regularly deal, or have dealt with, with both people that we don’t much like, and with people that we do like – and very few of them know which category they’re in. They all get treated the same way because that is a part of the job. Whether or not we like the people involved is irrelevant to what we were hired to do – and we agreed to do it when we took the job. If we were not willing to do it… we would have found another job. People will go a bit further beyond what they’re supposed to do for the ones they like – but most people will do some of that just to show off how good they are. Simple professionalism places very strict limits to that in either case though.
So why does Diplomacy target NPC’s attitudes instead of – say – trying to get them to make a deal like THIS revision tries? It’s because simple skill checks generally cannot do much of anything to change an NPC’s duties, promises, oaths, obligations, presence (or lack) of common sense, beliefs, or notions of “honor”. Their attitude is about all you CAN affect.
And that is why the “Diplomancer” doesn’t actually work and why Diplomacy is not nearly as overpowered as many authors have claimed. Diplomacy can get your targets to hear you out and consider your words. It can even get them to want to help you – but you the player are still going to have to figure out how to wedge what YOU want into the targeted NPC’s web of responsibilities and social obligations in an acceptable fashion. Until you start doing mind-controlling magical skill stunts, there is no diplomacy check that will let you talk the museum guard into helping you steal the Mona Lisa just because he likes you. Talk him into letting you sneak in a camera? Very possible. Talk him into helping you steal it in exchange for a colossal bribe (enough to provide for his children, care for his ailing mother, and set up a new identity?) Maybe – if he’s somewhat corruptible already (thus not going against his nature) and you can present a good case for him being able to get away with it.
So what produced the notion that changing people’s attitude would utterly change their behavior to begin with? Admittedly, the various examples that demonstrate otherwise are a bit of a pain to find without a searchable PDF, but they’re there.
The answer lies in the way that the game is played. Players run their characters, the game master runs the world. Virtually all of the actual social interaction that the game master is trying to fit the NPC’s into is between the players, rather than between the player characters and the NPC’s.
Gaming involves a LOT of escapism. Players tend to treat their characters as being entirely free-willed, unburdened by responsibilities, lacking friends and family ties, outside of all social conventions, usually loyal only to each other (if generally only out of convenience) and their own self-image, having religious beliefs only insofar as they offer statistical bonuses, ignoring the law when it suits them, and so on. Even death is no real restraint; if a character doesn’t get brought back new ones are easy to make. Being a part of the world is seen as giving the game master free hooks with which to manipulate your character!
And so, for Player-Characters (who are almost assured of profit because that’s built into the game for them), “attitude” tends to be EVERYTHING. If they decide that they like the opposition better than the royalists, the characters are likely to start a civil war, leave the realm in rubble, get tens of thousands killed, and install a new government – and why not? Even if they recognize the hideous suffering and immense human cost… they can just plaster it over with a some vague statement about how their actions were in accord with their alignments. THEY will still get their levels and treasure, and that’s all that really matters to most player characters.
There are a LOT of problems with that (and I may get to them in another article), but given that sort of behavior template to go on, it’s no wonder that game masters – who have almost no time at all on the average to devote to their NPC’s motives – tend to slip into the same model. Their NPC’s HAVE no motives or goals outside of their attitude towards the player characters, and so changing their “attitude” is sufficient to make them do anything the player characters want.
If it would be a big change for some NPC to tell the Diplomancer that “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you today; I have to go home and take care of a sick kid” then you, as a game master, REALLY need to put a little more thought into your NPC’s. It will give your game a lot more interest and depth – and you’ll be a lot closer to what the rulebooks are telling you to do.