Legend of the Five Rings – The Timeless Wanderer Bushi School

   Next up we have a player-submitted school for Legend of the Five Rings – albeit with the usual selection of mechanical tweaks and a bit more description.

   The Path of the Timeless Wanderer is long – and perhaps truly without end. Once one has set forth upon the way, only in death will a single location truly claim the bones of the wayfarer again, and his or her spirit shall not be bound to them.

   The Timeless Wanderer school is a school for a wandering warrior-sage – focusing primarily on the “sage” part, secondarily on the “wandering”, and only in passing on the “warrior” part. While the school does include one or two offensive, and several defensive, talents, it primarily focuses on universal expertise. A Timeless Wanderer may – quite truthfully – claim on a moments notice to be an expert on “Lore/fourth century unicorn clan cake recipes”, or on any other specific lore skill that he or she cares to name.

   And any player character who takes this school will usually name a lot of them.

   The Timeless Wanderer (Bushi) School:

  • Basic Modifiers: Agility + 1, Glory 1, Status 1, Wealth 3, Honor 1.
  • School Skills: Athletics, Bow, Defense, Engineering, Etiquette, Hunting; Lore/Other Worlds, Meditation, Stealth, and any one weapon skill.

   School Techniques:

   First Technique/At the Threshold of Reality:

   One cannot travel the way of the Timeless Wanderer without becoming more aware. As the practitioner learns to sense the flow of the cosmos and the interconnections of all things, he or she begins to know without knowing. As might be expected, personal dangers along the user’s way are the easiest to learn to sense, but such things are merely a subset of the infinite knowledge of the multiverse and of the paths between worlds. The practitioner gains the ability to sense whether a path is dangerous and how dangerous it is (Sense Dangerous Paths, a second-level inherent, self-powered mystic sense, 6), +1KO on all Lore skills which counts as being skilled (8), the ability to step partially out of reality, adding the results of the user’s stealth checks to the TN of attempts to detect him or her via magic (the Undetection reflexive spell, level one, self-powered, inherent, 3), a pool of (Rank) free raises daily, usable with any one school skill (chosen when this technique is acquired), and the ability to fire missiles through the spaces between worlds – given a few moments to prepare (Innate L1 Darts of Unmaking spell, usable Void times per day; the user’s next three ranged attacks will ignore carapace, invulnerability, and abilities or techniques which would ignore or reduce damage, 3). Sadly, the nascent Timeless Wanderer will also begin experiencing the curse of this school as he or she learns the first technique; he or she will begin having difficulty finding familiar locations – such as his or her place of work and favorite teahouse as his or her studies progress (-5).

   Second Technique/The Opening of the Gate:

   The budding Timeless Wanderer increases his or her awareness of, and connections to, unfamiliar regions. He or she gains the Perception psychic power (an inherent, self-powered, second-level effect, 6), a further +2KO to all Lore skills (total +3K0, considered skilled, +8), the ability to use his or her free raise pool with all of his or her school skills, rather than only one of them (+5), and a translation psychic power that enables him or her to speak and read any language, although this takes an hour of trying to kick in (6 -5 for restriction = 1). Furthermore, being toughened by travel, the Timeless Wanderer may now add +2 wounds to each of his or her wound levels (5). Of course, at this point, the Curse of the Timeless Wanderer now extends to his or her very home (-5).

    Third Technique/Outside the Walls of Reality:

   The Timeless Wanderer is starting to come into his or her own, and will find that his or her body has begun to shed it’s mortal limitations. Continued travel continues to fortify the body; the Timeless Wanderer replaces the +2 bonus to each wound level with doubling the base wounds in each of his or her wound ranks (+10). More obviously, he or she will find that shifting between realms rejuvenates his or her body and equipment, making the Timeless Wanderer Immune to aging (5). He or she becomes Immune to the restrictions of terrain, able to run up walls, across water, and even onto clouds (5). By expending a Void point, he or she can even step briefly outside of time, gaining an extra action, completing some simple task (such as writing a long report), or avoiding the effects of a change in the past, in a mere instant (Immunity/Time, 10 – 5 = 5). Unfortunately, his or her curse also strengthens, making it impossible for him to find his home region (-5).

   Fourth Technique/Exploring the Realms Beyond:

   Having left ordinary life a long time ago, the Timeless Wanderer begins attuning himself or herself to other realities. He or she becomes immune to the ill-effects and control of malign extradimensional energies (including the ill effects of Taint, 10), and to the general hazards of realms hostile to human life (Immunity/Environmental Effects, 10, -5 for applying only to large-scale effects; the user may be protected from a forest fire or storm, but a small fire will still burn his or her hand and a lightning spell will still harm him or her – provided that he or she isn’t currently on a plane of storms). He or she also gains a final + 2KO to Lore skills, for a total of +5KO (8). Finally, as a figure rapidly becoming lost to his or her home dimension, the Timeless Wanderer adopts a certain slipperiness of identity; those trying to remember him or her suffer from a +5 TN modifier. Sadly, his or her curse will now prevent the Wanderer from returning to his or her native nation (-5).

   Fifth Technique/The Open and Barred Gate Koan:

   Dimensional boundaries, social and otherwise, are nearly negligible to the master of the Timeless Wanderer school. He or she is immune to physical dimensional boundaries, always being able to seek out a path that will allow him or her to travel between the worlds given time (10-point Immunity, -5 for time requirement = 5). By opening small gates, the Timeless Wanderer may call forth blasts of elemental material up to (school rank) times per day, using the relevant elemental ring to hit and rolling (Ring)K(Ring) damage (10). Finally, he or she has become supremely adaptable to the multiverse, doubling his or her pool of free raises on school skills (10). Ironically, however, his or her home dimension is forever closed to the Timeless Wanderer – hence the technique name (-5).

   OK, the Timeless Warrior is a superficially weak school; it’s got a few handy tricks and makes it easy to travel, but it’s biggest overt abilities are knowing a lot of obscure facts and being able to run around on blatantly insufficient surfaces. It does, however, pull at least one fast one there; it allows the user to take advantage of whatever benefits a realm may offer – say the combat boosts bestowed by the Realm of Slaughter – while remaining unaffected by it’s deleterious effects. That’s not bad, although the effective forced retirement at rank five definitely puts a damper on things. Still, if you don’t quite finish the fifth technique, the curse need never entirely take effect.

Traveller – The Wanderer

The Wanderer Orion-Class Surveyship

   Here’s a small starship that was originally assigned to a group of special agents. In that campaign the characters were all presumed to be 1) on active duty, 2) trained psionics using a notably extended psionics system, and 3) too eccentric to serve under any normal Captain, yet too valuable to be discharged. They were issued a very sophisticated – if rather small – starship, assigned the most laid-back player-character commander in history (“Your attention please… I have an announcement to make. So far there have been two armed mutinies on the bridge today. If there are any more armed mutinies on the bridge before dinner, there will be no dessert.”), and were sent on a wide variety of special missions. How to pull off said missions was entirely up to them.

   As for how the ship could make an appearance in your campaign… Who knows? Perhaps some idiot failed to check the secure part of the paperwork, and sent it off to be released under it’s cover information as a battered old scoutship. Perhaps Captain Aaron and his team have disappeared, leaving it to be salvaged. Perhaps there’s been a slipup and a few odd characters are escaping on it somehow.

   Regardless, if you do let your characters get a hold of the Wanderer without the disadvantages of the “active duty special agents” assignment, they’re going to have a good time explaining some of the stuff on board. Considering it’s history, and the crews penchant for setting up concealed storage compartments, that could be practically anything – most of it highly illegal.

   The “Wanderer”:

   Tech Level 15 (Modified) Orion-Class Military Surveyship

  • Mass: 360 Tons
  • Crew: Variable, nominally seven.
  • Dimensions: 62M Length, 42M Width, 13.5M Height
  • Acceleration: 6G sustained, normally operates at 2G
  • Jump: 3, with jump governor.
  • Primary Power Plant: Total rating-12, two 6-point fusion plants with hydrogen scavenger system (87.82% efficient).
    • Microgenerator backup of 120 pt-hrs, maximum yield of 3.
    • Fuel-Cell “Batteries”, 15 point-hour capacity, maximum yield of .25.
  • Engineering: Dual Helium-Ion reaction drives, contragravity lift system to allow nondestructive landings/liftoffs. Single jump drive.
  • Gravatics: Inertial compensators, variable floor fields of up to +/- 5 gravities.
  • Electronics:
    • Model/5 fiberoptic computer with two programmable neural interfaces (tech level d+, provides a +2 bonus on relevant operations), speech synthesizer, voiceprint analyzer, games circuitry, and minor peripherals. All weapons systems have integral fire control chips (Target, Gunner Interact, and Launch as appropriate) to reduce the load on the main system. Programs; Target (1), Multi-target 3 (2), Predict 5 (2), Gunner Interact (1), Select 3 (1), Launch (1), Maneuver-Evade 6 (3), Return Fire (1), Antimissile (2), ECM (3), Jump 1, 2, and 3 (6), Navigation (1), Generate (1), Anti-hijack (1), Library (1), Science Data (1), Translator (1), Watchdog (2), Planetary Survey (.6), Low Monitor (.2), Encrypt/Decrypt (.2), Medicaid 2 (2).
    • Geophysical and Astrophysical survey modules.
    • Passive sensors DM +2, Active DM +4.
  • Range:
    • Unlimited maneuver via bussard ramfield outsystem, insystem use cuts maneuver fuel consumption by 50%. 124 tons fuel tankage with fuel scoops and purifiers.
    • The genetically tailored hydroponic plants can support up to eight indefinitely, the galley holds one ton of supplies, enough for some 360 man-weeks.
  • Armament:
    • Two dorsal triple turrets, each with two pulse lasers and an autocannon (for use in ground-support operations and for close-in ship defense).
    • One ventral bay with particle cannon, autocannon, and subfloor missile rack (16 missile capacity, normally stocking two combination sand/window/flare, two ECM/Deception, and four each HE, nuclear, and sensor probes).
  • Screens: Langston field absorbs up to forty “Hits”, recovering four per turn until overloaded. The “Blackout” effect gives DM -4 to be detected unless the shields are currently recovering, which radiates enough to provide a +2 DM. If the screens are overloaded the energy release will do 1D6 additional hits beyond the effects of the attack. Screen Generators are taken from Expanding Universe, a series of articles on Traveler in White Dwarf magazine.
  • Configuration: Wedge, light armor, fully streamlined.
  • Capacity: Somewhat variable (see ship design), basic 36 tons cargo, 6 or 12 passengers. Concealed and shielded 6.5 ton secret stowage areas.
  • Ship Vehicles: a standard survey shuttle – basically a G-Carrier, modified with computer system, more instruments, cameras, and life support.
  • Special Features:
    • Miniature lab/shop facilities, DM +2.
    • Gravatic cargo/docking/etc grapples.
    • Psi-flux Enhancer (see notes).

Design Specifications

Tons

Cost

“Custom” Hull, 360 tons

360

36.0

Fuel, Cargo, and Ships Vehicle

   

Fuel Tankage, 124 Tons.

124

Cargo Holds (Main 36 tons, Concealed^ 6.5).

41

Ships Vehicle, Survey Shuttle Bay.

10

Drives and Engineering#

   

Jump Drive F (TL 10, Fuel -20%, Size -30%)*.

24

60.0

Dual Maneuver Drive F (TL 10, Ditto above)*.

15

48.0

Dual Power Plant F (TL 10, Size -50%)*.

19

96.0

Micro-generator (provides backup power).

5

12.0

Ramfield Generator.

2

12.0

Required Volume 65 Tons, Assigned Volume 65 including 3-ton Engineering Annex Area (Area 35).

   

Bridge, Controls, and Sensors

   

Bridge. Includes basic controls, communications, avionics, scanners, detectors, sensors, chairs, coffee maker, etcetera.

20

1.8

Ships Computer, Model/5 Fiber-optic (TL 11, Size -20%, capacity +20% for 14/30)* Two “tons” of computer represent terminals and such in staterooms, passengers may access games/library only.

4

5.0

Two neural interfaces (TL 15).

25.0

Turret controls (x3) (Located in Turrets).

3

Geophysical survey module.

1

1.0

Astrophysical Survey Module.

1

1.0

Required Volume 28 Tons, Assigned Volume 28 (Note 6)

   

Staterooms and Living Quarters

   

Staterooms and living quarters (10).

40

5.0

Low Berths (x2).

1

0.1

Other Features

   

Hardpoints (4, 2 single, one double).

0.4

Atmospheric Streamlining.

3.6

Screen Generators (.1 tons* value at TL 15).

4

4.0

2 Triple Turrets, w’ weapons and fire control.

4.0

Ventral Bay, with particle cannon and missiles.

10.0

Laboratory and Workshop facilities.

4.0

   Notes:

   *The Tech Level Change Factor rule allows certain older systems to be improved at higher tech levels. It provides a reduction of [10(TL of Item – Local TL)]% split as desired between mass, price, fuel consumption, or whatever the GM permits. No factor may be altered by more then 99%. This rule was originally found in Dragon Magazine #108.

   #The tonnage minimums for the drives, bridge, and power plant are assumed to include appropriate workshops, tool lockers, engineering spaces, and so on. Areas that help make up these volumes include the laboratory/workshop (split between engineering and unassigned volumes), the survey modules (part of the bridge sensor arrays), the hydroponics room (as “staterooms”/life support), and the mechanical life support section (as an engineering space).

   ^ The concealed hold is nominally fuel tankage, and can even be used that way. It’s heavily detection-screened though, and the access is carefully concealed behind the equipment storage cabinets. Mostly useful for smuggling.

   Ship Operations Notes:

   Fuel Usage: Jumping requires [29 x (Jump Number)] tons of fuel, the power plants use 120 tons/month or 4 tons/day to produce the maximum (12 power point) output. 2G operation takes 1 ton/day, the reserve is therefore (124-87) = 37 Days, extended to 74 days by ramfield generator.

   Power Usage: Maneuver Drives 1.5 per gravity, Weapons Systems 1.0, Lasers on Doublefire +0.5, Basic Life Support .1 (per 500 tons of ship or part thereof), Normal Operations .15.

  • Normal operations include communications, sensors, etc, and cost .15 for any size ship.
  • Firing weapons costs .25 per Hardpoint in use. Maneuver drives divide the power required by the maximum thrust to get the power required per gravity.
  • From the information under “drive failure” a ships batteries will supply basic life support for 1D6 days, implying a basic value of 15 pt-hrs and a peak output of .25 per 500 tons of ship or part thereof. The batteries are used to make up for small variations in ship power demands, avoiding constant adjustments to the fusion plant, so when called upon they will normally be (1D8*10)+20% charged.
  • The Emergency Microgenerator: A TL 15 power plant “A”. (TL 9, Size -20%, Fuel -40%) 3 tons, a month’s fuel is 6 tons, so 5 days or 120 pt-hrs worth is 1 ton. While the unit needs an overhaul after 120 pt-hours, it includes a 1-ton “overcharger” that boosts it’s output to 3 points for up to 4 hours before it must be throttled back to .1 points to cool for an equal period.

   The Psi-Flux Enhancer: This was a game-master plot device designed to give the characters a chance when they were assigned ridiculous missions and to let individual characters have a personal impact on ship-to-ship combat. It amplified psionic abilities enough to allow their use on a shipwide or even a limited orbital basis. The user could safely draw up to three psionic power points per point of his or her psionic strength rating from the system, but each power point drawn in excess of this limit would do 1d6 damage to him or her. Known applications included:

  • Teleportation: Evading attacks, by moving either the attack or the ship out of the way.
  • Warp Generation: Phasing the ship into jump-space, for a fuel savings of about 90%.
  • Telepathy: Rough evaluation-scans of planetary cultures, scanning nearby ships for life, and orbital-range communications.
  • Photon Manipulation: Making the ship briefly invisible, imposing a substantial DM against detection.
  • Perception: Expanding “passive” scans to cover a 500-Meter radius.
  • Empathy: Shipwide emergency treatments.
  • Mindscreen: Thought-shielding the ship.
  • Electrodirection: Electrifying portions of the ship or scanning it for power interruptions.
  • Psimechanical Engineering: Rapid repairs and minor alterations on a shipwide basis.

   Langston Field: This is a variant of the containment field used in fusion reactors, it absorbs all forms of energy, kinetic included. The energy is “stored” within the field and re-radiated as light and heat. Keeping the field intact takes power, as does keeping it from radiating inwards. It can re-radiate 10% of its storage capacity in “hits” each turn, but if it’s storage capacity is ever exceeded the field collapses and the energy release does 1D6 hits per 6 points of field to the main ship. Shield generators take up 4 tons and first become available at TL 15, the field can store up to 2*TL +10 Hits. The field density is limited, hence ships can only mount one set of generators per 500 tons of volume or a maximum of three sets. Any attack roll of a natural 11+ indicates a local “burn through”, doing 1-3 hits to the ship.

   Overcharger: This module can temporarily boost the output of a power plant by up to 2 points. Normally this would increase the mass by 6 tons, but due to their inherent limitations overchargers mass only one. The increased power output cannot exceed the maximum power output for the local tech level and cannot be sustained indefinitely like a normal plant. Increases of up to +1 can be sustained up to 16 hours, increases beyond that can only be sustained for 4. Afterwards the system output must be “throttled back” to 10% of normal for a similar cooling period. 4 MCr.

   Design Margin: The deck plans of a ship are considered acceptable if within 20% of the ships “real” size according to the rules. This margin exists because the design rules are highly abstracted, for example, “fuel tankage” volume assumes pumps, piping, modular tanks (QV “damage” under “starship combat”), and so on. Actual fuel is probably only 75-85% of this volume, “real” volume won’t match. Similarly, drives can share part of the listed volume, the actual drive is less then 50% of the size, the rest consists of workshops, component storage, access crawlways, and so on, some of which can be “shared”.

Glowstone Alchemy Part II – The Items

   In part II (part one is back HERE) we have a selection of the glowstone devices generally available on Shandar and their usual prices. Elsewhere, of course, the availability and price of such things is more a matter of the availability of glowstone. Off Shandar, some of these items may be considered priceless relics.

   Using Alchemy in place of Glowstone Alchemy increased the listed DC’s by +20. There is no known effective substitute for Glowstone. As a rule, a Glowstone Alchemist can be assisted by up to five aides. Slaves are preferred on Shandar since they’re more readily disposed of if they should make a mistake and contaminate themselves with too much glowstone.

   Blazegems, Lightrods, and Firelances use a core of glowstone encased in crystal, and electrum with an optional focusing gem – although most of them have an outer casing of wood and steel to provide physical protection and support for the relatively fragile core. Like all items which mix glowstone and silver, they resonate with their user’s life force, allowing them to be triggered by mental command. They normally fire simple bolts of radiant energy as a ranged touch attack, but can be fitted with focusing gems to convert them to fire various types of elemental damage – but this requires about an hours skilled work IF an appropriately-cut and alchemically-treated gem is available. While their energy reserve is limited, they normally rebuild it at rate of roughly one shot per hour. If someone channels positive energy into them directly (usually by touch) they will regain charges as listed for “Recharge”. Negative energy will deplete the same number of charges. While excess positive energy is wasted, excess negative energy can reduce the number of charges below zero, resulting in a deficient which must be overcome to add more charges. If these items are exposed to a positive or negative energy burst use the “Burst Charge” listing. Finally, since these items are linked with their user’s, their damage increases somewhat as the user’s level increases.

Weapon

Blazegem

Lightrod

Firelance

Usage

One-Handed

Two-Handed

Mounted

Type

Simple

Martial

Exotic

Damage

2d6*, 4d6 Max

3d6*, 6d6 Max

4d6*, 8d6 Max

Increment

1d6/6 levels

1d6/4 levels

1d6/3 levels

Critical

20, x2

20,x3

19-20, x3

Range Inc.

40 feet

80 feet

120 feet

Charges

12

20

40

Recharge

3d4

2d4

1d4

Burst Charge

3

2

1

Tolerance

3

5

8

Weight

2 Lb

6 Lb

160 Lb

Cost

100 GP

200 GP

1800 GP

Craft DC

18

24

30

   Bloodshaping Talismans are usually made as knives or wristlets with a sharpened edge or decoration since, to use them, the user must shed his or her own blood with them. As the blood flows onto the surface of the talisman, the user may concentrate on the talisman (a standard action) to give that blood a temporary independent life – transforming it into a bloodwrought version of a normal animal or dire animal with DR 5/-, Darksight, a telepathic link to their creator, and complete loyalty to him or her. Sadly, this costs hit points – due to blood drain – equal to one-half the hits of the creature created and such creatures will revert to an inert splatter of blood in 4d6 hours. Tolerance 3, 800 GP, Craft DC 20.

   City Walls are a combination of large quantities of glowstone (which provides the power), of ceremonial magic (massive complexes of inlaid circles, carven inscriptions, and complex talismans which channel and transform that power), and of lesser enchantments which maintain, manipulate (to open gates and trigger active defenses), direct, and defend, the various ceremonial elements. City walls can be negated on a local level temporarily – enough for a gate, or for someone or something to slip inside – without attempting the massive task of breaking them down entirely. Mere physical walls are usually present too, but – thanks to the need to block flyers, tunnelers, teleporters, and magical attacks – are a far less important element than the magical barriers. On Shandar, where negative-energy tornadoes, massive disruptions, and powerful magical attacks are all too common, barriers incorporating the equivalent of a permanent wall of force, countermagical protection, and an effect which damages anyone who attacks or attempts to interfere with the wall are considered a bare minimum for long-term survival. Larger and more powerful cities prefer the equivalent of a Prismatic Sphere or some epic-level effect. Tolerance 4 (for operators, who generally come in crowds), prices are in the hundreds of thousands of GP, and the Craft DC is at least 5x the level of the spell being duplicated.

   Creodwar are small glowstone-glass flasks designed to infuse their contents with glowstone energies. While such “potions” are unstable – the magical charge for lasts less then an hour after the contents are decanted – their effects can equate to those of spells of up to the level (I-III) of the flask used with a casting level of 2/5/10. It normally requires 1d6 hours per level of the effect being produced for the contents to fully charge. Plain water will become equivalent to holy water (or multiple doses thereof at higher levels), more complex mixtures can be charged to produce a wide variety of specific magical and alchemical effects.

   Common concoctions produced in Creodwar include magical plant-growth fertilizers, formulas which purify water when added to it, healing mixtures, flaredrops (depending on the variant employed, these may emit blinding flashes or simply provide light for hours when exposed to air), spell powders (these provide the equivalent of +1 mana for spellcasting purposes one time per level of the flask being used), stimulants, and the equivalent of a wide variety of spells. Tolerance 1/2/3, 1250, 2500, and 5000 GP. Craft DC 15, 20, and 25.

   Deathbane weapons are simply the result applying a glowstone surface – whether temporary or permanent – to a weapon. Such weapons do an extra 2d6 points of damage to undead and count as magical weapons for the purposes of penetrating undead damage reduction if they are not already enchanted.

  • Banedrops are roughly equivalent to Blade Venom, although the effect lasts for an hour or so. Unfortunately, if the user accidently injures himself or herself with a weapon to which Banedrops have been applied, he or she will need no make a DC 25 fortitude save or pick up one point of glowstone contamination.
  • Permanently alchemically tempering a weapon with concentrated glowstone can give it this property permanently, albeit with a significant tolerance cost. Applying an even greater amount can give it the equivalent of the “Disruption” power – still without affecting any existing enchantment – but exposes the user to a great deal of glowstone energy.
  • Banedrops 40 GP/Dose, Craft DC 15, Deathbane Weapon 1200 GP, Tolerance 2, Craft DC 20, Disruption Weapon, 5000 GP, Tolerance 5, Craft DC 25.

   Draconic Resonance: At least on Shandar, monetary metals and magical devices – such as are to be found in many treasures – are almost invariably contaminated with trace quantities of glowstone. Those who claim such treasures tend to be affected by them. In small quantities, and over brief periods, this has no effect. If, however, one is foolish enough to amass a great horde of treasure without breaking it up and putting it to use, it’s accumulated energies are likely to begin gradually transforming its “owner”. The first effects are usually psychological, and often include an increasing bond with the horde – and an unwillingness to even consider removing anything from it. Simple physical enhancements will appear next, then magical powers related to the contents of the horde, and – finally – the physical mutations will begin. On Shandar, monsters don’t really have treasure hordes. Treasure hordes have monsters…

   Glowstone Engines channel and transform glowstone energy into mechanical power and a sort of quasi-life force. Fitting an appropriate construct, machine, or vehicle, with a glowstone engine of the appropriate size (larger engines can be constructed if you want to create a city power plant or some such) will provide endless energy – eliminating any need for fuel, ammunition, or maintenance, replacing any conventional engine, providing a +5 bonus on any rolls required to operate the device (including it’s weapons, if any), and allowing it to heal normally with minor assistance (thus a device powered by a glowstone engine can be repaired – if slowly – by an essentially unskilled individual). If used in the creation of a golem or other animated construct the costs – in both XP and Gold – are reduced by two-thirds. A pilot who operates a glowstone-powered vehicle or machine on a daily or near-daily basis will need to make a DC 15 Fortitude save monthly to avoid picking up a point of Glowstone Contamination. Casual users need only save once per year.

Size

Cost

Craft DC

Tiny

2500

25

Small

1250

20

Medium

2500

25

Large

5000

25

Huge

10,000

25

Gargantuan

20,000

20

Colossal

40,000

20

Power Plant

100,000

20

   Glowstone Tempering infuses an item with glowstone, but directs it’s energies towards protecting and preserving it – allowing the glowstone to bear the brunt of magical effects directed at destroying or disrupting the item. In Shandar, glowstone-tempered items are impervious to the corrosive effects of Balefire and exposure to the Cinghalum. Secondarily, if more importantly in less hostile realms, glowstone tempering also prevents the magical properties of an item from being affected by Dispelling and protects the item itself from negative-energy based attacks and Disintegration. Tempered items even receive a second save against Disjunction effects if the first save fails. 1200 GP, DC 15 for mundane items, 20 for magical ones. Tolerance 1 in either case.

   An equivalent effect can be produced by binding the life-force of an outsider into an item – a preferred alternative on Shandar, where life is cheap, but glowstone is an invaluable resource.

   Hearts of Light are glowstone-infused gems in settings of ithal, markhhan, and crystal, which accumulate positive energy and release it to augment the user’s positive-energy channeling efforts. Sadly, they are not cumulative; only the strongest Heart of Light of a particular type used in an effort counts. Hearts of Light may be used three times per hour. A given Heart of Light may add to the Intensity (maximum hit die affected) and/or to the Magnitude (“turning damage”) of a positive-energy channeling effect when used. They have a base DC of 10 to make and a base cost of 2000 GP

Magnitude

DC

Cost

Tolerance

 

Intensity

DC

Cost

Tolerance

+0d6

+0

+0 GP

+0

 

+0

+0

+0 GP

+0

+2d6

+5

+1000

+1

 

+2

+5

+100

+1

+4d6

+10

+3000

+2

 

+4

+10

+300

+2

+6d6

+15

+5000

+3

 

+6

+15

+5000

+3

   Ithal, a glowstone-silver alloy, is ductile, light, and faintly luminescent. It resonates with it’s user’s life energy and thus always – at least in the hands of a living creature – feels as natural and easy to use as it’s bearers own limbs. Making Ithal has a DC of 20.

  • When used by a living creature:
    • Ithal Weapons gain a +2 circumstance on attacks and damage. +2000 GP, +1 Tolerance.
    • Ithal Tools provide a +2 circumstance bonus on relevant skills. +500 GP, +1 Tolerance
    • Ithal Armor is treated as being one category lighter, has no armor check penalty, does not limit the user’s maximum dexterity bonus, and reduces arcane spell failure percentages by 15%.
  • Ithal has 50 hit points per inch of thickness, hardness 12, is immune to the corruption of the Cinghalum, and 50% resistant to Banefire. +3000 GP, +3 Tolerance.
  • Since it resonates with the user’s life force, Ithal will transfer all touch-based effects other than those based on negative energy, which are blocked by the glowstone that infuses it, to or from the user.

   Light Crystals consist of fine strands of highly refined glowstone embedded in crystal. Not too surprisingly, they glow constantly, illuminating a radius of twenty feet per level of the crystal and disrupting darkness-based effects of lower level within that area. Unfortunately, they also become hotter as they become larger, crystals of above level seven tend to melt down and severely contaminate the entire area. Crystals of level three and above will annoy light-sensitive creatures within the area they illuminate. DC of 10 + 3x the level of the crystal, 500 GP times the level of the crystal squared (primarily due to how vital they were in food production), Tolerance 1 if carried.

   Light Crystals feed a constant trickle of life-force into every creature within the area they illuminate. Plants grow (Level x Level) times faster, and yield some three times the amount normally expected – at that accelerated scale, allowing a relatively small cavern so illuminated to yield substantial amounts of food. Other creatures exposed to the light heal twice as quickly while so exposed, but also age twice as quickly.

  • Areas exposed to the radiance of a light crystal of level three or more for a week or more are treated as being Consecrated. Undead entering such areas will suffer one point of damage and will take one more point of damage for each hour they remain. Minor undead will not usually enter such as area unless compelled. Unfortunately, such areas also annoy light-sensitive creatures.

   On Shandar, where most attempts to “farm” outside the magical barriers which protect the cities would be relatively unproductive at best and suicidal at worst, Light Crystals with the Accelerate Plant Growth property are one of the major factors that make keeping a fair-sized population alive possible. Similarly, glowstone powers the barriers that keep the monsters of the wilds out and the weapons that the people of the cities use to defend themselves. Of course, it’s also what slowly poisons them – but the occasional death from glowstone-induced illness and degeneration is of small consequence compared to a horrific and agonized massacre at the hands of a horde of undead monstrosities.

   Sadly, competition for glowstone – and the survival it makes possible – also lies at the root of the endless conflicts between the cities of Shandar and the houses within them. Whether harvested from the monster-infested wilderness, obtained in trade from the Hin, or taken from another city, if you want your children and grandchildren to live, your city and your house’s stocks of glowstone must be maintained and increased. The fact that the cities of Shandar are almost entirely inhabited by long-lived elves, who may have a dozen or more children over the course of a generation, just makes things worse.

   Mana Batteries are made of glowstone, markhhan (see below), and the imprisoned soul of a sapient being. They have a capacity of 1d4+2 points of mana, regain one point of mana per day on their own, and may be recharged from external sources of mana. Given that – on Shandar – the practice of the higher magics requires a good deal of extra mana to make up for the energy drain of the Cinghalum, there are few mages (no matter how scrupulous) who do not occasionally resort to the use of a Mana Battery. 1500 GP, Tolerance 1, DC 18.

   Markhhan, an alloy of glowstone, gold, mercury, and copper, is soft, easily worked, and quasi-living as far as simple detection magic is concerned. While it’s simple physical properties are unimpressive, Markhhan can anchor and sustain a spirit as if it was a living body. If actually linked with a living body, it can be mentally directed and moved as if it was a part of that body within the limits of it’s jointing – although doing so will feel quite unnatural unless the Markhan is at least partially plated with Ithal. Markhhan is principally useful in the construction of simple replacement parts (and, with relatively minor additional enchantments, sensory organs), in the creation of SoulWards and related devices, and in the construction of quasi-animated chain weapons (equivalent to the Chain of Ki discipline with Entangle and Third Hand from Eclipse: The Codex Persona). DC 18 to make, the prices for replacement limbs usually start at about 1200 GP (since they’re mostly made of conventional materials) and a tolerance of 2. Sensory organ replacements usually run about 4000 GP and have a Tolerance of 3. Chain Weapons usually cost about 3000 GP extra and have a Tolerance of 2.

   Rings and Talismans of Fortitude channel extra life-force into the wearer’s body. While it does not become a part of their essence, it can still reinforce them on the physical side, granting them the potential for extra hit points. Sadly, that’s potential only; if a character with no constitution bonus has 28 out of 52 hits and puts on a level II (+16) Talisman of Fortitude, he or she will still have 28 hit points at the moment – but can now heal or be healed up to a total of (52 + 16) = 68. Such Talismans provide (8 + Con Mod) hit points per level, and do stack within limits: the most potent Talisman has it’s full effect, the effective level of the second most powerful is reduced by one, the effective level of the third by three and so on. Unfortunately, their impact on the user’s glowstone tolerance rating is not so reduced. DC of 10 + 5*Level, Cost of 500 GP for L1, 3000 GP for L2, 4500 GP for L3, 7500 GP for L4, 12,000 GP for L5, and so on. Tolerance of 1/Level.

   Seardan, a glowstone-iron alloy, is usually blue-black (since polishing it enough to achieve it’s potentially silver-blue state may require years of pointless labor or a high-level spell) and emits hot sparks when struck. In Seardan the energies of the glowstone go into enhancing the bonds between iron atoms, causing the molecular structure of the alloy to compact itself, becoming somewhat denser than lead and incredibly tough and hard. In general, working Seardan requires either a blast furnace and superhuman strength or a fairly powerful (usually level 4) specifically-designed spell to soften it. Additional similar spells designed to plate it over other metals (since items made entirely of Seardan are usually unmanageably heavy), and repair it are also in order. Making Seardan is fairly easy, it’s doing something with it after it hardens that’s hard. DC 15.

  • Seardan-Plated weapons ignore hardness of 20 or less. +2000 GP, Tolerance 2.
  • Tools plated with Seardan provide a +2 circumstance bonus on relevant skills but only if where properties such as sharpness, durability, and hardness play a notable role. A seardan-plated pen tip won’t do much for calligraphy. +750 GP, Tolerance 1.
  • Light/Medium/Heavy armor plated with Seardan grants DR of 2/3/4, which stacks with any innate DR the wearer possesses. +2000/4000/8000 GP, Tolerance of 2/3/4.
  • Seardan has 250 hit points per inch of thickness and hardness 25. It is not subject to rust, chemical corrosives, or most energies, and does not conduct electricity. It can be weakened by severe cold – but the temperatures required to achieve this result do not generally occur outside of cryogenic laboratories.

   Soulwards exploit the ability of Markhhan to contain and support spirits.

  • A Type I Spirit Ward simply absorbs assaults on the wearer’s psyche; attempts to possess, charm, dominate, or otherwise use enchantment/charm or enchantment/compulsion spells simply affect the amulet – which isn’t very useful.
  • A Type II Ward also diverts to itself ranged or area-effect attacks on the wearer’s life force, protecting the user from effects such as Circle of Death, Enervation, Finger of Death, Magic Jar, Power Word Kill, Trap the Soul,and similar monster powers.
  • A Type III Ward can also host the bearer’s spirit if he or she is slain; until the user gives it up and departs, he or she will be able to mentally communicate with anyone who touches the amulet and can possess any functioning, but currently-uninhabited, body with which the amulet comes in contact. Oddly enough, mindless undead corpses work just fine – but most spirits will prefer a properly-living body or having their original one repaired and restarted (which is much easier than recalling the soul). Sadly, a spirit trapped within an amulet will suffer the effects of attacks on the current bearer’s psyche or life force and a new spirit which attempts to displace the (or a) old one must engage in an opposed contest of wills.
  • A Type IV Ward can absorb the spirit of any being which dies within thirty feet, provided that it does not resist. Perhaps fortunately, such a Ward is effectively shielded – at least from other spirits – if it is embedded within living material.
  • A Type V Ward binds spirits so strongly that they must make a will save at DC 20 to avoid being entrapped by by it if they lose their bodies (whether by death, by engaging in astral projection, by attempting to use a magic jar effect, or by the use of some similar effect. Once entrapped within such an amulet, a spirit will remain trapped until it is released by an appropriate spell, by the destruction of the amulet, or by overloading the capacity of the Ward – in which case the loser in a contest of wills will be set free to pass onwards.
  • SoulWards normally have a capacity of one spirit – but can be upgraded to handle more.
  • Powerful enchanters – and individuals who can afford the process and are mad enough to want to undergo it – occasionally build constructs with a network of Markhhan control feeds, Glowstone Engines, and minor auxiliary enchantments, in which to mount their Type-III Soulwards after their physical death – allowing them to continue on in construct-bodies (although their minds and life forces remain just as normal, and vulnerable, as ever). Sadly, they usually go mad in fairly short order, but who said quasi-unlife was easy?

Type

GP Cost

DC

Tolerance

Type I

800

15

1

Type II

1200

20

2

Type III

2000

25

3

Type IV

3000

30

4

Type V

6000

35

5

+1 Spirit

+1000

+2

+0

   Spell Talismans feed power into a specific spell but are not “used up” in doing so. They provide the equivalent of one point of many when used in casting the appropriate spell, “+2” if the user exhausts their power for 2D4 days. DC of 10 + (2x the level of the spell to be affected), 1500 GP, Tolerance 1. In Shandar, where powerful spells needed extra mana to work in the face of the drain from the Cinghalum, these were vital. In other worlds, spell talismans reduce the effective level of a particular spell, allowing it to be used more easily.

   Some of those prices may not be quite right; it’s been years since the Shander setting was all that active, and I’ve mislaid the original pricing notes. Glowstone item were relatively cheap there, however, simply because the environment was so lethal and because the limitations of glowstone tolerance and poisoning were substantial. Even relatively low-level characters could afford to use glowstone gear – and hopefully they would bring back more than enough glowstone from their adventures to make up for it. Most such items will be unique in most other settings anyway.

Amber – Advanced Trump II, Virtual Creation, Morphic Resonance, and Psychomancy

   Here we have part II of the series on advanced powers for the Amber Diceless RPG. Given that the last Amber game that I actually got to play in closed up rather a long time ago, some of the notes for research that was ongoing at that time may not be complete enough to bother with – but at the moment there are a lot more left.

   Virtual Creation is possibly the highest form of trump artistry – tapping the creative power of trump to give reality to creations of the imagination. Sadly, making such creations truly real and stable requires practice and specialization (IE, a create (x) power word), virtually limitless raw power, or an infusion of pattern energy. Keeping an object stable otherwise is a massive strain on the users personal energy. Simple energy fields are easier, and can be created quickly, but still represent a considerable drain. As a rule, the simpler the thing created, the easier it is to make and sustain.

  • Illusion Generation is the least draining approach, requiring very little of the users energies. Illusions can even be fed additional energy, allowing a static illusion to persist independently for a considerable period. The major difficulty is that the user needs to be able to fully envision his illusion, in detail, and in a 360oview. This is a major pain. In practice this usually requires that the user have a drawing or model to concentrate on, although a few users have developed the appropriate mental “trick” (a special power word). Using a trump image for a focus makes the envisionment part easy, but wastes vast amounts of energy since the card channels most of it through to whatever the image depicts. Such an approach is rather self-defeating on any large scale.
  • Energy Generation is more draining then crafting an illusion, but is far easier than creating the enormous rest-energy inherent in solid matter. It is simply the direct creation of pure energy, whether in the form of beams, spheres, walls, or whatever the user wants. As a rule the effort required to generate any substantial quantity of energy restricts things to relatively easy forms. You may manage basic AC current, but a symphony broadcast will be beyond you – unless you have special talents in the field (once again, some appropriate power words).
  • Force Fields are merely intense, structured, fields of energy. As such, they are more draining then simple energy generation, but are still relatively easy. They can be either stationary or reshaped at will. The field can be “tuned” to restrain or pass particular things, with time and effort or an appropriate power word. They can also be “charged” with various energies through Trump Tapping or related powers.
  • Matter Generation is the most power-intensive usage of trump energies, a vast drain on the user. Even with appropriate power words such objects usually fade in a few hours unless they remain in contact with the user. Maintaining any creation temporarily reduces the users Strength and/or Endurance. Living things and artifacts of power can’t be created without a link to the real item, whether in the form of having paid for it or through the use of a trump image. This limit can be bypassed in some cases, but only with the special permission of the GM.

   Morphic Resonance taps into the power of “archetypes”, the resonance fields shaped by large groups of similar creatures. Expressions of synchronicity, these fields act to bring things closer to their “ideal” (average?) form – operating through subtle guidance, coincidence, and gently molding developing creatures. In Amber terms, they are “broadcast” fields of trump energy, strongest where the creatures generating them are common, weaker in nearby shadows – and fading below background levels further out. Morphic fields are subconsciously tapped by shapeshifters to guide the millions of tiny changes involved in even a simple shift – but can be tapped on the conscious level by those sufficiently sensitive to trump energies. As they allow the user to tap into and manipulate the forms, powers, and structures of beings of shadow, this can be quite useful.

  • Animal Powers are gained by tapping the morphogenic fields associated with some type of local animal, such as a cheetah, hawk, or dolphin. Unlike a shapeshifters powers, no physical changes are involved. The effects are purely energy-based results of attunement to the field. Also unlike a shapeshifters powers, there is a significant mental impact. The thought-patterns of the creature have a strong influence on the user. Multiple attunement is possible – but requires practice, a high psyche, and considerable tolerance for confusion. This does have the useful side effect of negating the usual shapechangers need for practicing with a forms powers.
  • Formshifting is possible thru allowing the field to override your natural form. This has many limitations. The mental effects are powerful and the shift is limited to general forms, specific people are impossible. As a rule, this is an emergency tactic only. It is possible to force such links on others, Influencing their minds is fairly simple, overriding them requires a consider- able psychic advantage, and forcing a shift requires a massive one. A trump image can be used as a crutch to help single out the desired resonance, but this wastes a great deal of power, transmitting it to the creature depicted rather than using it to shift forms.
  • Adaption is a minor variant on the techniques given above, wherein the user attunes himself to the morphogenic field generated by the local intelligent species – or by the biosphere itself if no such species exists. The effect is to adapt the user to the local environment and culture (if any). This usually involves both mental and physical shifts, although rarely to any extreme degree. You may be able to grow scales, adjust to a higher gravity, and adjust the general conformation of your body – but if you want to visit a shadow with a chlorine/fluorine atmosphere, liquid oxygen seas, and crystalline, dolphin- like natives you’ll want to make other arrangements.
  • Environmental Awareness involves scanning the local fields and extracting an evaluation of what’s “normal” for the area. The flip side of this is the ability to detect things which are abnormal, such as the presence of odd creatures, or the influence of any of the major powers. While fairly crude – “Someone is using pattern power over that way” – this can locate alien creatures or powers anywhere in a shadow. In general, the amount of information gained depends on the users psyche.
  • Aura Shifting is the most subtle application of the morphogenic techniques, attuning the outer levels of the users aura to those of some type of local being. Unless penetrated by a direct active probe, this acts as an effective disguise against psychic investigation or things like pattern or logrus sight.
  • Worldshaping doesn’t actually tap into morphogenic fields, instead the user attempts to manipulate and feed power into them. While this allows the user to control the fields associated with things, as well as those of creatures, the effect tends to spread. This resembles the ability of the logrus to manipulate shadow, but is weaker on the local level while having more widespread effects. Unless the user is very careful his tinkering can affect many shadows. Even with caution it usually affects the entire local shadow. On a practical basis, using this technique normally involves “learning” some special techniques (power words) to restrict is effect to the immediate area.
  • Accelerated Healing is based on pouring trump energy into a beings personal morphogenic field – reinforcing it and him. As this greatly enhances the bodies tendency to return to its natural form, it generally allows the patient to regenerate any “missing pieces” in a week or two – or heal most ordinary injuries in an hour or so. This technique can also be used to return shapeshifted beings to their true forms or to “toughen” a creature, making it resistant to conventional injury.
  • Anchoring is setting up a resonant link between the user or target and the natural fields of the surrounding area. The net effect is to make the being affected an integral part of the area, so that any attempt to move thru shadow, trump out, teleport, etc has to transport the entire area to move the creature affected. In most cases this isn’t practical, leaving the being anchored to the one shadow. If the user anchors himself, he has the additional option of “spreading” energies directed against him across the immediate area – making himself almost immoveable and highly resistant to energy attacks
  • Ionization allows the user to channel energies into his targets (or his own) “personal” morphogenic field. The exact effects depend on what type of energy it is, as well whether the user is attempting to pour it into the targets field or through it into his body. Pouring it into the targets personal field automatically makes it a “natural” part of it, resulting in a being who is “charged” with said energy. This is dramatic and showy, but harmless to the being. Using trump energy this way gives the being a form of trump defense. Channeling it into a targets physical body is a basic energy attack, albeit one that is hard to block.

   Psychomancy deals with the amplification and projection, via local low-level trump links, of the users personal energies. While this effect resembles true psionics in a variety of ways, it is still limited by the wielders personal energies – even amplified and as considerable as these may be in an amberite. The amplification does have the side effect of boosting any psionic potential the user actually does have into operation, but unless he or she makes the effort (IE: spends the points) to develop them, such “powers” will remain minor at best. A major advantage of psychomancy lies in the fact that it can be projected “through” a trump image, to affect the subject or his immediate vicinity. “Tracing” such effects merely leads back to the image, not the user.

  • Strength Projection manifests as psychokinesis, the ability to mentally manipulate matter and energy. This isn’t a creative discipline, its basic forte is moving things around or holding them still. As a rule, whatever the user can sense can be manipulated – hence the range of possible applications is limited by the users senses, psyche, and reaction time.
  • Endurance Projection allows the user to channel and direct his own energies, manifesting them in a wide variety of ways. While personal energies are fairly weak compared to external sources, the exceptional fine control this ability offers usually makes up for the lack. This has a curious use in generating disruptive “vibrations”, a technique sometimes referred to as “exorcism”.
  • Psychic Projection normally manifests as telepathy, especially projective telepathy. This discipline lets the user generate “fast” mindlinks, psychic illusions, and emotional projections, dominate people, and “hurl mental bolts”, among other things.
  • Sympathetic Links are based on the users warfare as a measure of his reflexes and fine control of his body and nervous system. The user simply sets up a resonant link between his own body and that of his targets, using biofeedback effects to attempt to usurp control of his opponents physical processes. The major advantage here is that the user need not succeed in his attempt to be a major hindrance
  • Extended Senses are essentially just clairsentience in a variety of styles, extending and displacing the users natural physical and psychic senses. The only real additions are the ability to adjust for scale (large and small), and the ability to “feel” internal structures by projected tactile senses.
  • Sendings are trump energy constructs – animated and given “life” by an infusion of their creators personal energies. While only quasi-tangible at best, these are otherwise closely related to Creatures of Blood. These can be given more “extensive” or selective portions of the users energies, allowing him to project avatars or cast “shadows” for use as decoys or psychic weapons.

   Psionics are, as noted above, a “minor” side effect of amplifying the users personal energies. Psionic powers include a wide variety of psychic senses, apportion, and astral projection. Sadly, such abilities are usually trivial, unreliable, or take minutes of concentration. Still, they’re useful sometimes; the common application is looking for information… “Sir Kay never touched this bottle! It bears the imprint of an aura, yes – but not his”.

   Amplification is, as noted above, a basic component of psychomancy. Where relevant, such as for the first four, attribute-based, talents, this can be assumed to boost the effective level of the appropriate attribute by (Points in trump/5, maximum 24) points.

Glowstone Alchemy Part I – The Basics

   Here we have a special request from a player who’d like to have a bit more information on one of the sample “Occult Skills” listed in Eclipse: The Codex Persona – in this case, Glowstone Alchemy, one of the features of the Shandar setting.

   Glowstone Alchemyis classified as an “occult skill” not because it involves anything more arcane or deeply hidden than normal alchemy, but simply because glowstone is very rare, and – since glowstone is extremely dangerous – glowstone alchemists are even rarer and have to study their art with great caution.

   Glowstone can be viewed as bits of the positive material plane trapped inside of atoms, as atoms that each contain a tiny portal to the positive material plane, or as matter that exists on both the positive material plane and the prime material plane at the same time. The proportions heavily favor the positive material plane part of the equation; a few specks of Glowstone occupy, embody – or perhaps “use up” – a considerable volume of the positive material plane.

   This only seems to be possible with a limited selection of heavy, and normally radioactive, elements, although their simultaneous existence in two planes stabilizes them – or at least allows them to emit both radiation and positive energy indefinitely without decaying. It is possible to create Glowstone artificially, but doing so requires both an especially researched high-level arcane spell and a massive infusion of “experience points”.

   In any case, there are a variety of subtly different glowstone ores corresponding to the various base elements and isotopes thereof. Unsurprisingly, given it’s structure, the magical properties of glowstone tend to dominate the underlying chemical and physical properties of the various base elements involved – giving rise to enormous difficulties in obtaining pure samples of the various variants. That generally doesn’t matter for glowstone alchemy however, since all the variants are similar enough magically to serve the same purposes. It does matter a bit in glowstone poisoning however, since it contributes the wide variety of symptoms observed.

   All of the subtle glowstone variants are virulently poisonous, both due to their chemical properties, due to their radioactivity, and due to their constant emission of excessive amounts of positive energy. Worse, since glowstone is difficult to affect with magic and tends to bond with the life force of the creature affected, glowstone poisoning is almost impossible to treat either magically or physically. The best that can usually be done is to compensate for the ongoing degeneration.

   On the environmental side, glowstone tends to emit heat, is mildly disruptive of existing magics and can even – in large quantities – destabilize extra-dimensional spaces. If you’re going to carry it, an airtight, reinforced container with plenty of iron, lead, and magical shielding is best.

   Why mess with something so dangerous at all? It’s because glowstone is an astoundingly powerful and versatile substance. It’s a continuous source of both physical, magical, and life energies. Alloyed with other substances and/or magical effects to channel and transmute those energies, it’s a tremendous source of power – and people have always been willing to take a lot of risks for power.

   Physically glowstone is usually found as dense, hard, blue-black or green-black ores, although a reddish variant is nearly as common. It is easily identified by it’s faint bluish-purple radiance and warmth. On Shandar – one of the few known worlds where glowstone apparently occurs “naturally” – it’s often found associated with veins of quartz crystal, which seems to amplify, refract, and soften it’s light according to it’s own color. Larger masses of glowstone produce heat as well as light; both radiations increase rapidly with the size and purity of the sample.

   When alchemically refined, glowstone is a vital component in spellpowders, magical tempering rituals, blazestones, lightrods and firelances, magical inks, spell talismans, glowstone engines, rings of fortitude, (magical) city walls, magical alloys, and many other devices. On Shandar, the extensive use of refined glowstone is widely considered a fundamental mark of a civilized people

   Glowstone Toleranceis fairly simple: living creatures can handle a limited amount of exposure to glowstone and its energies. For game purposes, this is measured by a creature’s Constitution. Simply add the tolerance ratings of whatever glowstone devices the creature is using to whatever level of contamination it may have and compare it to the creatures constitution. Check once per month, or whenever a creature is exposed to additional glowstone.

  • Con-4 or less: No symptoms.
  • Con-3 to Con: Minor symptoms appear at this level and higher. Such symptoms include occasional twitching, listlessness, and bouts of nausea, a tendency towards minor illnesses, and accelerated symptoms of age – graying hair, wrinkles, and so on. Unless the character reduces his or her level of contamination or use of glowstone energies he or she will die upon reaching Venerable age, rather than somewhat later as usual. Anyone who dies while infused with glowstone energies at this level or higher cannot rise as an undead.
  • Con+1 to Con+3: -2 to a random attribute. Roll on the glowstone damage table whenever the victims total hits this level and once per month thereafter while it remains at this level. The victim will be obviously ill.
  • Con+4 to Con+10: -2 to two random attributes. Roll on the glowstone damage table whenever the victims total hits this level and once per week thereafter while it remains at this level. The victim is obviously terribly ill.
  • Con+11 to Con+18: -4 to two random attributes. Roll on the glowstone damage table whenever the victims total hits this level and once per day thereafter while it remains at this level. The victim looks to be dying.
  • Con+19 or more: -6 to three random attributes. Roll on the glowstone damage table whenever the victims total hits this level and once per hour thereafter while it remains at this level. The victim will be visibly decaying, sloughing off flesh, and mutating as observers watch, and obviously OUGHT to be dead.

Glowstone Damage Table(roll 1d20):

  • 1) Blindness. This can be cured normally.
  • 2) Deafness. This can be cured normally.
  • 3-6) Develop a random disease. Magical cures will offer a new chance to resist, but cannot instantly cure it.
  • 7) Develop a random insanity. This can be countered with a Heal spell.
  • 8-11) Two points of drain to a random attribute. These can be restored via appropriate spells and abilities.
  • 12-13) Reduce maximum hit points by three. This can be restored as per drained attributes.
  • 14) Develop an immunity to supernatural healing for the next month.
  • 15-16) Age one year.
  • 17) Develop noxious growths. This has no immediate penalty other than social, but the victim will die sometime between the Old and Venerable age brackets unless a limited wish, wish, or miracle is used to repair the damage.
  • 18) Take +2 damage from all physical wounds for the next month. This can be countered with a Heal spell.
  • 19) Made a DC 18 Fortitude save or die. This is considered a death by natural causes.
  • 20) Become pallid, lose hair, and obviously ill. No direct game effect however, lucky you.

   Treating glowstone poisoning:

  • Treating poisoning resulting from the excessive use of devices is relatively simple: remove the excess devices and wait. The victim’s energy-infection will wane at one point per week – or 1d4 points if he or she removes all glowstone devices rather than simply reducing the number to get back to safe levels.
  • Treating glowstone contamination is far more difficult. A steady regimen of special food and drink, sweat treatments, purgatives, and medical attention can reduce the contamination by one point every 1d6 months. Throwing in the regular use of specialized magics or Heal spells can get this up to one point per month. A Wish or Miracle can reduce the contamination by 1d4 points immediately.

   Glowstone Contamination Benefits:

   As might be expected from an infusion of excess energy, glowstone contamination has it’s benefits as well. Every point of glowstone contamination provides one of the following benefits, all of which stack with themselves. If the contamination is intentional, and acquired with the assistance of a glowstone alchemist with skill 5+, the character may select his or her own benefit. If it’s accidental, a character will normally gain mana first, and thereafter it’s random, rolling 1d8:

  • 1-2) +1/2 point to Strength, Dexterity, or Charisma. If this comes up at random, the next point of contamination will automatically go towards the remaining half-point.
  • 3) +1d6 Mana with the Spell Enhancement Option.
  • 4) +2d4 Generic Spell Levels.
  • 5) +3d6 Power.
  • 6) +1/2 of a d8 Hit Die. If this comes up at random, the next point of contamination will automatically go to purchasing the hit die.
  • 7) Gain Grant of Aid or +4 Bonus Uses if already possessed of Grant of Aid.
  • 8) +4 on all saves against Negative Energy Effects.

   The next installment in this series will look at some of the devices produced by glowstone alchemy.

Amber – Advanced trump I, Tapping and Shunting

   Here are a couple of advanced trump techniques – or collections thereof – for the Amber Diceless RPG. In the original game quite a few of these were commonly accessed via a combination of (Very) Advanced Trump Powers and Power Words – allowing the user to access effects very very quickly.  

   Advanced Trump Powers were originally one of Arvon’s major research projects – not that he was all that advanced in the use of Trump himself, but because he was using his research as a lure for Jean, another player character…

   Trump Tapping is a technique for using trump energy to draw on energies, minds, and materials, out in shadow, channeling them “through” the user. While this limits the raw power available, it allows the user to control and shape the energies he taps – at least within limits. The users peak output is limited by his basic physical durability (strength or resistances), his total output is limited by his endurance, his “range” across shadow by his trump powers – and his speed and control by his psyche. The basic process is easy; the user envisions what he wants, “feeds” trump energies into the “image” to create a link, and taps the source. Psyche comes into play here as well, since it controls the users ability to visualize the pattern of what he wants. Things that can be tapped include:

  • Skills and Knowledges: These are available from a wide variety of minds out in shadow, and are gained by a slightly more “in depth” trump link then usual. This is easier if searching for common, local, information, harder if searching for something esoteric, tricky, or extremely specific. Users should be careful to specify exactly what they’re fishing for; variants abound out in shadow.
  • Physical Energies: This includes things like hard radiation, electricity, and solar energies. This kind of power is usually easy to get hold of, but difficult to handle. Most people prefer to bring this stuff through as much as possible outside of themselves. This limits their control, but allows them to pull off some fairly spectacular stunts.
  • Mystic Energies: While trump masters can tap such energies, without a sorcerer’s skills they can only use them in the crudest of fashions. Such “spells” as they can construct rely almost exclusively on raw power and are limited to the simplest of effects. If actually in a contest of magic with a mage, their effective skills are about equal to their (points in trump)/10.
  • Psychic Energies: Are easily available, but are of limited use. The problem is that it’s very very stupid to tap into the mind of anything that has more psychic power then you do – and if it has less, why bother? As a rule, tapping psychic energies is only useful if you value disguising your mental “signature” more than you mind the drastic loss in power. It is an excellent way to disguise your “aura” however.
  • Matter: Is usually actually pulled through outside of the user, and is easy to get if you just want a piece of rock or something. Blasts of water or magma, plates of food, and simple objects are fairly easy. A decent sword is harder, fitted armor is harder yet, and special items are nearly impossible without a preexisting link of some sort. Envisioning the trump image of a complex magical sword or something will probably take days and requires a psyche of at least three times an artifacts point cost. “Unique” items may also have to be “pulled away” from their owners, while anything which contains pattern or logrus energies can’t be summoned this way.
  • Spirits: While “spirits” of various sorts can be summoned via trump, the psychic link it creates allows or forces them to automatically, if temporarily, merge with the user. The resulting fusion may have a variety of useful powers or enhancements but will also display a variety of the spirits mental and physical traits. It can be a very disconcerting experience, resembling the effects of shapeshifting in many ways. The “fusion” is also vulnerable to anything that would normally affect wither of its components. This “technique” can also be used to draw on less personified spiritual forces, but the precise effects of such attempts are individual to each user.
  • Creatures: This application closely resembles the effects of a normal trump card – if you have a willing subject or a great advantage in psyche (or power), you can drag creatures through to you. Since creatures are pretty complicated “things” this takes anywhere from a few minutes to weeks.
  • Counterforces: This technique involves “inverting the pattern” of what you observe, and using that image to pull through an equal and opposite force, hopefully canceling out them both. Sadly, this takes more and more time as the complexity of the force(s) to be countered increases, is limited as usual, and can sometimes make things worse. Some forces feed on each other, nullify each other explosively, or even complement each other, such as tapping an immense positive charge to cancel a lightning bolt.
  • Psychic Backup: Like counterforces above, this is a specific, rather than a general, technique, allowing the user to draw on the minds out in shadow which have a natural resonance with his own – his shadows. While this does nothing to boost the users psychic potential or offensive powers, it does allow him to “spread” the effects of psychic attacks, drastically reducing their effects. While the user, as main focus, still carries the brunt of the assault, this will enable him to hold out a great deal longer – or even indefinitely against psyches no more than (trump/4) points above his own.
  • Reality: Is probably the most abstract thing that can be tapped via this technique. Drawing on a shadows “reality” allows the user to project a “bubble” of the shadows natural laws and forces around himself, creating a zone where the tools, implements, and powers of that shadow can operate. While this does not supersede the local natural laws, it does offer an alternative. More ambitious users should recall that any forces they tap are being channeled through themselves. This is most difficult near Amber or the Courts, but will work. It also requires a special attunement to the shadow which is tapped, usually either in the form of having bought and described it, or in the form of a unique power word.

   Trump Shunting is a technique used to transfer impinging energies, forces, and matter, out into shadow. While this can be done fairly quickly with practice, it does take time to establish the link and begin transferring whatever it is, thus its use as an emergency technique is a bit limited. It’s much more effective if the user has an appropriate set of power words. Like trump tap- ping, shunting involves the use of a one-way link, and isn’t available to characters who have not yet learned to create such links. The applications usually depend on what the link is designed to transmit.

  • Warp Screensare the most “general” class of shunt, a broad-spectrum field around the user which transfers anything and everything which attempts to enter. While this is a very effective defense, it also cuts off the users sensory input. This is a pain. Tuning the shield so the user can see offers “windows” for attack, while “damping it down” reduces it to weakening, rather than eliminating attacks. Even full-coverage shields aren’t invincible, trump-resistant effects can cause feedback effects against the user or penetrate them.
  • Energy Shunting allows the user to transfer out any impinging energies at or above the damaging level. The technique is extremely useful in evading injury. While it can be maintained, it’s most commonly used to block the effects of things like laser beams. Maintaining it is usually only necessary in exceptionally hostile environments.
  • Mass Transfer applies to incoming matter instead of energy. Unlike Energy Shunting, this effect is usually maintained over time, and can be attuned to particular types or states of matter. A field attuned to “plasma” will transfer out flames, but not rocks. This can even be used as a sort of filter, transferring away, say, the chlorine contaminating the air around the user. As useful as this can be, Mass Transfer is very difficult to maintain over a long period.
  • Auric Disguiseapplies to psychic energies. Unlike most of the previous techniques, this is a two-way, if intangible, link. It is usually used to divert psychic probes to something out in shadow, yielding false data for the prober. It’s not of much use as a defense, the psychic link is too delicate to maintain when the user is under psychic attack.
  • Kinetic Shunting is another two-way shunt – in this case, due to the relative nature of momentum and kinetic energy. Due to this same relative quality, this shunt can also be applied to the users person or to anything in his immediate environment, either removing or adding kinetic energy and momentum as the user desires. Sadly, imbuing momentum requires shunting the energy directly through the user to allow him to control it, and so is limited by the users basic strength and endurance. This effect does allow the user to fly, but this requires a good deal of practice and some attention to maintain.

Awakened and Mages (not necessarily) Monte’s Way

   There are still a couple of options left in Monte Cooks d20 version of the White Wolf – so as to finish up with that request, here are the last two conversions to Eclipse d20; the Awakened and the Magi. In this case, the Awakened are easy enough – but the original White Wolf-style magic had a lot more flavor, so I’m going to take things back that way a bit with the Magi.

   The Awakened:

  • Two Bonus d8 Hit Dice, Specialized for Double Effect/can be bypassed to do damage to constitution by critical hits and special attacks, Corrupted/are rolled rather than taken as the maximum since they’re available at level one (16 CP). That covers the basics of the wounds-and-vitality style systems, wherein a characters basic hits are considered to equal his or her constitution. You can buy that in Eclipse too, and fairly cheaply, but – in this case – it’s a world law that applies to everyone, and individual characters don’t have to.
  • Self-Development/+2 to any one attribute (12 CP)
  • +2 floating attribute bonus, purchased as per Enthusiast, Specialized for double effect/Self-Development only, can only be changed at a new level (18 CP).
  • +8 Skill Points (8 CP)
  • Action Hero/Stunts, Specialized/only gets one Action Point per level automatically, the rest are doled out when the character does especially heroic, noble, or humanitarian things (3 CP).
  • +1 Bonus Feat (6 CP).

   At a total of 63 CP, that’s a +1 ECL Race or a +2 ECL Template if applied to an existing race. Unlike the monstrous inhabitants of this system, Awakened characters are more or less normal. They have no special enemies, weaknesses, or other difficulties except for being a bit better than human.

   It’s worth nothing that d20 offers a lot more viable options for developing a character than the various White Wolf games do. In White Wolf you can develop your Werewolf’s attributes, skills, rites, and gifts – but skills and attributes only go so far and your special powers are going to be limited to rites and gifts. You won’t find any werewolves commanding legions of enhanced followers, mighty magics of other types, mountain-shattering martial arts, having mutant powers of invulnerability, flight, and heat vision, combat skills which could handily defeat a dozen other werewolves with a stick, vast political power, or weird technology and powered battle armor, for powers – yet all of those are perfectly viable options for a d20 character.

   The Magi:

  • Two Bonus d6 Hit Dice, Specialized for Double Effect/can be bypassed to do damage to constitution by critical hits and special attacks, Corrupted/are rolled rather than taken as the maximum since they’re available at level one (14 CP).
  • +2 to any one attribute (12 CP)

   That takes us to buying the “Magic” part.

   The original White Wolf mage-style magic system (as opposed to the mechanics) was fairly simple.

  1. Magic was divided into a number of schools or “spheres” – depending on your edition and inclination, either nine or ten. Between them, they were supposed to cover everything.
  2. A given effect might require elements from several different schools at varying levels. To produce it, you had to have all the relevant schools at the appropriate levels.
  3. Your maximum level in any given school was limited by your Arete (or “Level”)
  4. Spellcasting was originally limited only by backlash, rather than to a certain amount per day. Later editions greatly reduced the backlash but threw in a magic point cost on every spell – and they were a limited resource.
  5. You could use magic points to make effects easier to pull off.
  6. Well-practiced magical effects were easier to produce.
  7. Subtle magic caused less backlash.
  8. Ritual magic let you do bigger things.
  9. You could get minor bonuses for using props and mundane skills. Classical props – such as a lock of someone’s hair or some of their blood – were especially useful.
  10. Having too many active spells on you made it harder to use other magic.
  11. Mages could sense supernatural energies.
  12. Each tradition had some minor advantages within their schools.

   Now that’s not especially complicated. It’s also the same basic kind of magic system found in TORG, in Ars Magica (which was something of a precursor), and quite a few other games.

   Unfortunately, Monte kept the complicated tables for generating effects and pretty much dumped the interesting part – the sphere system. I’ll be dumping the tables and putting the Spheres back in.

   One of the big strengths of d20 is the enormous list of spells and magical effects – a ton in the SRD and – if you count the Spell Templates in The Practical Enchanter – literally tens of millions of spells in other sources. Most d20 gamers will already be familiar with hundreds of spells, so we can simply use the d20 list for benchmarks for improvised spells. Given that body of information, we won’t be needing any complicated tables; most spells are likely to be pretty similar to the existing ones.

   So; what will we need to buy?

  • We’ll want Rune Casting and Rune Magic for each school or sphere of magic a particular mage can use. Since those are skills, they’re automatically limited by the characters level. They’ll also provide the casting level and limit the levels of spells usable. They aren’t part of the racial template though; the character can buy them as needed.
    • We can, but do not have, to use the White Wolf “spheres” of Correspondence, Entropy, Forces, Life, Mind Matter, Prime, Spirit, Time, and – at least in theory – one that covered the stuff that most mages couldn’t handle – a “sphere” most often called Balance, Judgement, or Paradox.
    • There’s no reason why you couldn’t go with Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation – and perhaps Universal and Destiny.
    • How about Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Void, Life, Death, Mind, Time, and Magic? They’ll all work. Just pick a set, or make up your own, and go with it.
  • To provide the power, and allow it to be used to further boost spells in an emergency, we’ll want 4d6 Mana with the Spell Enhancement Option (16* CP). That makes the power available – but keeps it as a rather limited resource.
  • To get the power back, we’ll want Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized/only works when sleeping at a rate of 1d6/hour (6* CP).
  • To cover the use of components, rituals, and invocations, we’ll want Runic Ritual (4* CP).
  • To cover the use of minor spells without tiring the user, we’ll want Magician (4* CP).
  • To innately sense magical energies, we’ll want Occult Sense/Magical Energies (6 CP).
  • To establish a theme for each character, we’ll want Adept (select two sets of Rune Casting and Rune Mastery skills to fit the character’s primary theme. He or she can buy them at half cost, 6 CP).
  • The character can buy well-practiced bits of magic – “rotes” – as Specialities (1* CP each – in their case Corrupted for Increased Effect to provide a +5 bonus when a roll is required due to casting difficulties) – but the character can buy them later.

   Now, that leaves us with the “subtle is easier” and “backlash” parts. Since most d20 settings have no objection to blatant magic, that’s pretty obviously a Corruption. Ergo, we can count the items marked with an “*” as being Corrupted – and we can probably count the Skills as being corrupted as well, reducing their cost. The character must have appropriate secondary fields at appropriate levels to produce a given effect – instead of only being limited by the primary skill in use – and must roll 3d6 on the following chart whenever he or she casts a rune magic spell. Spells cast as “Rotes” gain a +1 bonus on the roll.

  • 3: The spell goes wildly wrong. A subtle spell backlashes in a related spell effect one level higher than the spell attempted. A questionable spell – one that could have an explanation other than magic, although it would really be pushing it – backlashes in a related spell effect two levels higher than the spell attempted. A grossly blatant spell backlashes in a related spell effect three levels higher than the spell attempted
  • 4: A subtle spell backlashes as a related spell effect of the same level as the spell attempted. A questionable spell – one that could have an explanation other than magic, although it would really be pushing it – backlashes in a related spell effect one level higher than the spell attempted. A grossly blatant spell backlashes in a related spell effect two levels higher than the spell attempted
  • 5: A subtle spell backlashes as a related spell effect of two levels below the level of the spell attempted. If this reduces the backlash below level zero, the spell simply fails. A questionable spell – one that could have an explanation other than magic, although it would really be pushing it – backlashes in a related spell effect of one level lower than the spell attempted. If this reduces the backlash level below zero, the spell simply fails. A grossly blatant spell backlashes in a related spell effect equal to the level of the spell attempted
  • 6: The spell fails.
  • 7-16: No special effect.
  • 17: The spell costs one less mana than it normally would.
  • 18: the spell is cast without mana cost. Lucky you.

   What happens on a backlash? It’s up to the game master – but often it’s simply some minor curse or bizarre effect for low-level stuff. As the levels go up, you’re more likely to get some damage, then some long-term disability, than insanity, summoned creatures which stick around to cause trouble for you until you deal with them, and then being plane-shifted to some sort of puzzle-realm. Fortunately, subtle magic is much easier.

   Optionally, you can have an alternate version of the Corruption. In the case of “Marauders” substitute “the use of your magic drives you quite mad, leaving you inhabiting your own warped delusions”.

   All that comes out to 68 CP. That’s quite a bit. Magi do suffer from a few disadvantages though – although they’re nothing like the problems that afflict Demons, Vampires, and Werewolves.

  • Blocked: A mage can only master nine of the ten fields that would make up their complete view of the world. They must select one which will remain forever beyond their reach.
  • Dependent: Magi require special talismans to use their weaker magics. They must select at least three of their Spheres to require some sort of special prop. Without such an item, those fields cannot be used.

   That reduces the net cost to 62 CP – a +1 ECL “Race” or a +2 ECL Template.

   Now, if you want to create a weird-scientist technomage, or some other form of specialist, you’ll want to take a Restriction – (can only work magic through technological devices or whatever). If you want to make an evil demon-serving dark mage, you’ll want to take Duties (to your evil masters).

   Obviously enough, a mage will usually want to invest heavily in Skill Points – and most will want to buy more Mana as quickly as possible and perhaps find some quicker way than sleep to regain part of it.

   There’s a basic problem with using White Wolf material as a background for games using more general systems. The games are good fun, they have plenty of background material, and the game statistics generally aren’t difficult to translate, it’s just that White Wolf games tend to be very focused.

   It’s not just that they’re always focused on a particular type of character. OK, if you’re playing in a Mage game, the vast majority of the player characters are going to be mages. The major routes to real accomplishment and advancement are all going to involve magic.

   But wait! Couldn’t you also get the storytellers permission to play a vampire or a werewolf or another type of character? It’s not as limited as you’re making out!

   Oh yes it is – it’s just far more subtle than “everyone plays a mage”. More importantly, virtually all the characters are going to be humans, and the vast majority won’t deviate much from the norm except by virtue of a supernatural power package. Can you readily play a dolphin-mage? A golem? A blind mage who uses a different set of Spheres? Would that require a bunch of house rules?

   Most importantly, they’re all earth-centric. In a normal Mage chronicle, there’s a magical view of the universe tailored around human perceptions, human meddling has distorted the entire structure of the universe, and the rest of the cosmos exists simply as a backdrop.

   The six-billion-year-old galactic civilization of GC17-R would disagree; their people use a vastly different range of senses and attributes, and their mages explored the mystic arts before the solar system formed. They find the notion that the inhabitants of one tiny planet could upset the mystic order of the entire cosmos utterly laughable. If that was possible, it would have happened billions of years ago; humans are hardly the first race to meddle with magic. A hundred billion races and more have done incredibly bizarre things with magic for eons before humans came along – they’ve seen several million such civilizations themselves – and the universe is still working just fine.

   Right there – in focusing on the Earth – you’re throwing out 99.999999999999% of the observable universe. Then you focus on minor variations on a single species during a small percentage – less than a million years – of the available timeline of Earth. It makes for a vivid and familiar setting, lets the game cover chunks of the setting in fair detail, and conveniently fills in the blank bits with common knowledge, but general it’s not.

RPG Design – Freeform Magic

   A lot of players, and somewhat fewer game masters, like a freeform magic system. After all, it seems a lot more appropriate – and “magical” – than a long list of specific spells and effects. Even the best rules systems tend to lose a lot of their allure when the charts and tables start coming out.

   Just as importantly, a freeform system makes it a lot easier for the game master to make the magic system of a particular setting work the way he or she thinks that it should.

   On the other hand, a genuinely freeform system is very difficult for the game master to run and tends to make all the mages look a lot alike – which is boring. It’s also very hard for the players to work with – and if it doesn’t have some principles and rules for them to look at, it will soon begin to look like the arbitrary hand of the game master forcing the game to follow his plot whether the game master actually is using it that way or not. Worse, without an underlying system, it’s very easy for the game master to actually start using a freeform system that way quite unintentionally. Like it or not, an off-the-wall proposal, or any solution that the game master didn’t think of, is never going to look as sensible and reasonable to the game master as whatever-it-was he or she had in mind as a solution.

   There are a few things you can do to make a freeform (or at least semi-freeform) magical system work though.

   The very first thing you’ll need to come up with is some notion of just how the magic in your system is going to work in he game reality – the physics of it and how the characters are going to approach it. This doesn’t need to be too detailed, but it will say a lot about your universe. “It draws on the power of primal chaos through intricate gestures and precise mental focus” isn’t going to resemble “shamans invoke spirits through wild dance and taking drugs” very much in the game even if the actual mechanics representing those activities are pretty much identical.

   To start off the mechanical side, the most important thing you’ll need to actually run such a system is a list of benchmarks – something to establish the upper and lower limits of magical effects and to rate the difficulty of accomplishing various feats within that range. That’s easy enough. You can squeeze a pretty good list into a page or two with no real difficulty – and keeping it short is vital. The game master will be having to judge a lot of stuff on the fly in a freeform system, so you don’t want a dozen pages of charts and tables. Ideally, the benchmark list should be simple and short enough to let the game master rate proposed effects at a glance. Less ideally, but almost as practically, a long list will work as long as everyone is throughly familiar with it – one reason why using something like the d20 SRD spells is so handy.

   Still, there’s no reason not to come up with your own list and lots of reasons to do it. Which magical feats are difficult and which ones are easy will shape an awful lot of adventures. Just remember to keep the list compact.

   For example, the Baba Yaga system has a two-page benchmark list – and under normal circumstances, only the first page comes into play. Here we have a few of it’s benchmarks for “Minor”, or perhaps better described as “Second Circle”, acts of magic:

  • Minor shapeshifting, such as sprouting claws, fangs, and fur, altering your facial features, squeezing through a space that’s just a little too tight
  • Moving an object weighing up to fifty pounds.
  • Summoning a breeze, a strong gust of wind, or a local fog
  • Curing minor diseases, bruises and strains.
  • Disguising a person with an illusion or covering up a door or small trunk.
  • Enhancing a sense so someone can see in the dark, track like a bloodhound, or listen in on a whispered conversation.

   There are plenty of games to lift a list of benchmarks from if you don’t have something in mind. That’s one of the major advantages of the d20 system and the other systems that have followed suit and released OGL system reference documents. They have a LOT of lists you can reference.

   Next up, you’ll want to limit the kinds of spells that each mage can use. After all, if you’re going to have freeform magic and not have all mages look a lot alike, you’ve got to subdivide magic into fields and – preferably – give each mage their own style. Most of the players will cooperate with that. Everyone wants their character to be unique. Are you going to go with what’s affected, what the result is, elemental magic, types of creatures, or schools of magic?

   Finally, if you don’t want magic to simply take over the entire game, there are a few ways to go.

  • You can make magic very weak, so that the characters can’t rely on it to solve their problems unless they’re very clever about applying it.
    • This will amuse some players, but it will simply frustrate a lot more. It can work if learning a “magical power” is no more difficult that learning to do things another way though. Of course, it means that there won’t be a lot of practical difference between someone with a spell that dampens sound and who can cloak themselves in silence and a character who’s just good at sneaking. You can see this approach at work in fourth edition D&D.
  • You can make major magic a lengthy, time-consuming, ritual process or have it require complex props and bits of apparatus which are more-or-less specific to each spell. You can see this kind of magic in White Wolf’s Sorcerer or Chaosium’s old Nephelium game.
    • Again, a few players will enjoy the planning, but if magic requires more than a minor investment of a character’s resources, a mage who guesses wrong will be useless – which makes for a lousy game.
  • You can have it require exact bits of knowledge, such as true names and precise formulas.
    • That’s easy enough to handle in fiction, where the characters cooperate with the writer, but it doesn’t work well in a game. Who wants to play a mage who spends all his time doing research so that he won’t be useless yet again?
  • You can restrict it so that it only operates under very limited circumstances or on a limited set of targets.
    • Once again, this works fine in fiction, but in a game it says “most of the time my abilities are useless” – so you can’t expect a character or player to actually commit much resources to powers they can’t rely on.
  • You can require special skills, or “levels”, or some other developmental hindrance to keep characters from wielding massive power too quickly.
    • This works to some extent – but eventually either the players will realize that the game system makes it impossible to develop the ability to work major magic (and any playing mages will become frustrated) or they will develop that ability, and the game will start to fall apart unless there are other limitations already in place.

   ARE there any systems that will make a good game?

   Well yes; there are two that actually seem to work in most settings – and fit in with a lot of fiction too.

  • You can limit how many powerful spells a mage can cast – whether it’s in a particular location, in a particular time period, or by the expenditure of some difficult-to-replace special resource that he or she needs to conserve. It doesn’t matter if you limit the total number of spells, or their total power – the point is that there’s a limit.
    • This works pretty well. Spell Points, “Preparing” or “Memorizing” spells, “background mana”, “seven spells per day”, “Essence”, “Psychic Potential Energy”, “Power Points”, “Spellcasting requires Dragon’s Blood”, and a hundred other variants all accomplish the goal; players have to conserve their resources a bit and make decisions about what to use their magic for.
  • Alternatively, you can make major magic perilous and unreliable – whether it’s because it involves invoking dangerous spirits, because it backlashes, because it exhausts the caster, or because it brings bad karma. There are too many games using this approach to count.
    • Again, this works pretty well. You’ve got to be more careful about your rules with this system, since even a slight mathematical edge on a table may make magic far too powerful or useful or virtually useless, but games like Shadowrun and TORG have been using this notion with great success for years.

   That’s really all you need; at this point you’ve established how magic works in the setting, it’s functions and limits, what fields are available, and how characters can use it. Hook up some sort of basic task-resolution system – dice, cards, spinners, or what-have-you – and you’re ready to go, at least as far as magic is concerned.

Eclipse – Star Wars Base Classes

   The old d20 Star Wars game is currently as out-of-print as the d6 version – so I’m going to take a quick look at building some generic Eclipse classless d20 equivalents to it’s old character classes. Given that the different editions and versions alternated between the wound-and-vitality points systems and regular hit points, these are set up with regular hit points for the maximum possible compatibility.

   Fringer; D8 HD (80 CP), 138 SP (138 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 CP), Saves +27 (81 CP). Proficient with Simple Weapons and Blasters (9 CP), Professional x2 (Survival and Repair, 12 CP), Skill Emphasis/Barter (Corrupted or increased effect (+5)/only to buy and sell equipment) (6 CP), six additional “relevant” skills (18 CP), Karma (6 CP), one Bonus Feat (6 CP), Defense VIII, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (32 CP), and Reputation (6 CP). Total: 484 out of 504 available. Just like the d20 modern classes this class is slightly – 30 CP worth – underpowered compared to most of he classic fantasy-character types. That really isn’t surprising; a somewhat less fantastic setting calls for slightly less fantastic characters. Personally, I’d probably throw in Action Hero and some special tricks and gadgets.

   Noble; D6 HD (40 CP), 138 SP (138 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 cp), Saves +27 (81 CP). Proficient with Simple Weapons and Blasters (9 CP), Karma (6 CP), Defense VIII, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (32 CP), Improved and Superior Reputation (12 CP), Executive with CEO and Tactician (18 CP), Presence/+2 morale bonus to attacks, checks, and will saves, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect/user must speak in advance for one round per ten minutes the bonus will last, only usable once per day (6 CP), Additional relevant skill (3 CP), and both Major and Enormous Favors (18 CP). Total: 453 CP out of 504 CP available. As usual for a socially-oriented class, this build lags a bit. This is a common feature in d20 systems where – if you let a socially-oriented character focus as much on social abilities as a combatant focuses on fighting – there’d be nothing else for anyone to do in a social situation. Still, as it stands, while it’s handy to have a Noble in the party, it isn’t always that much fun playing one.

   Wouldn’t you know it? The ones that are actually furthest off are – of course – the first two.

   Scoundrel; D6 HD (40 CP), 184 SP (184 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 CP), Saves +24 (72 CP), Proficient with Simple Weapons and Blasters (9 CP), Karma (6 CP), Defense XI, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (44 CP), Improved Reputation (9 CP), Skill Emphasis/Barter, Corrupted for Increased Effect (+5)/only to buy and sell illegal equipment (6 CP), Augment Attack/Sneak Attack Variant (12 CP worth), Luck (6 CP), a Bonus Feat (6 CP), and Skill Emphasis x5 (15 CP). Total: 499 CP out of 504 available. Unsurprisingly, as a skill-based character, this version of the basic Rogue has suffered little in wandering over into a loosely science-fiction universe. In fact, in the conversion, it’s even picked up some points. Of course, anyone multiclassing into a skill-based class will suffer a bit in the basic game, since they’ll lose out on some of those multiplied skill points.

   Scout; D8 HD (80 CP), 138 SP (138 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 CP), Saves +27 (81 CP). Proficient with Simple Weapons, Blasters, and Rifles (12 CP), Karma (6 CP), Defense VIII, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (32 CP), Reputation (6 CP), one Bonus Feat (6 CP), Travel with the Fast Modifier and two additional terrains (15 CP), Awareness with the Flankless Modifier (12 CP), 4x Mastery (24 CP). Total: 502 CP out of 504 available. As a basic combatant and light-duty skill-master, this built hasn’t suffered a bit in conversion.

   Soldier; D10 HD (120 CP), 92 SP (92 CP), Warcraft +20 (120) and Saves +24 (72). Proficient with Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor (15 CP), All Simple and Martial Weapons (in a technical universe these include rifles, pistols, blasters, etc, 15 CP), and Heavy Weapons (6 CP), Karma (6 CP), Defense V, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (20 CP), Reputation (6 CP), ten Bonus Feats (60 CP). Restrictions/has major incompatible abilities – armor use and defense that doesn’t work with armor, which tends to leave high-level soldiers with lower armor classes than anyone else (-20 CP). Total: 502 CP out of 504 CP. While it’s rather silly to have major abilities that don’t work together, and for the supposedly most expert combatants to wind up easier to hit than anyone else, the actual build is straightforward enough. To be fair, the role of individual combat specialists in worlds that feature orbital weapons systems is more limited than it is in most other settings anyway.

   Buying Force Powers is a little awkward: the original d6 and d20 Star Wars games present the “Force” as being relatively weak, principally useful because no one else in the universe had access to any type of supernatural ability whatsoever. Would anything in the movies really have looked like much beside the kind of things a high-level Sorcerer can do?

   On the other hand, many of the works in the expanded Star Wars universe – and some of the sourcebooks – treat the force as being a great deal more powerful. Ergo, I’ll simply provide a power base (drawn from the Starfire Adept build) and let the game master set the difficulties of various force-based skills.

   Ergo: Force Power Base.

  • Body Fuel, Versatile, and Efficient III (10 CP), Specialized/only to use HP to power Thaumaturgy and Dweomer, Corrupted/must buy very narrow Thaumaturgy and Dweomer skills. Thus Trivial effects cost 1 HP, Easy ones 4, Average ones 8, Difficult ones 12, Amazing ones 16, Grandiose ones 20, and Epic ones 24 – subject to the usual character level cost multipliers – and their abilities will only have a few applications each.
  • Immunity/lethal damage from using Body Fuel (Very Common, Major, Minor, Specialized/only converts lethal damage to nonlethal damage, 5 CP). Please note that this does NOT bypass the basic limitation of damage taken from the use of the Body Fuel power: such supernatural damage can only be recovered through natural healing, not through the use of magic, technology, psychic powers, or any other special abilities. I don’t recommend EVER allowing a force-user to buy this power up; as it stands, they can use up to level six effects without taking any real damage, but will have to wield higher-level powers sparingly, since such damage heals on a daily, rather than an hourly, basis. Partial immunity to the rules of the game is already a pretty big warning flag. After all, at level 10, this fifteen character point Body Fuel and Damage Immunity combination can fuel twenty sixth level spells per day. It’s not as bad as allowing a sorcerer to buy “Immunity to having to spend spell slots”, but it’s still extremely potent

   Force Adept; D8 HD (80 CP), 138 SP (138 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 CP), Saves +30 (90 CP), Proficient with Simple and Primitive Weapons and Blasters (12 CP), Resistance/+4 versus Force effects, Corrupted/requires a special talisman (4 CP), Defense VIII, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (32 CP), Reputation (6 CP), Imbuement, Specialized and Corrupted/only provides 2d4 bonus damage, costs energy to activate (2 CP), Mindspeech (6 CP), Force Power Base (15 CP, see below), Karma II (12 CP), Dweomer/Control, Sense, and Alter (18 CP). Total: 505 CP out of 504 CP available. Classically they’d have a Restriction – to follow some sort of code of conduct lest they go crazy – but that really isn’t relevant in settings that feature a much wider variety of supernatural powers and power sources.

   Jedi Consular; D8 HD (80 CP), 138 SP (138 CP), Warcraft +15 (90 CP), Saves +33 (99 CP), Proficient with Simple Weapons, Blasters, and Light Sabers (12 CP), Force Base (15 CP), Dweomer/Control, Sense, and Alter (18 CP), Karma II (12 CP), Defense VIII, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (32 CP), Improved Reputation (9 CP), Immunity/normal restrictions on the Heal skill (Common, Minor, Minor, Specialized/only in treating force-related difficulties, 3 CP), Two Bonus Feats (12 CP), and Restrictions; The Jedi Code (-20 CP). Total: 500 CP out of 504 available. Again, a normal enough build, and pretty well balanced.

   Jedi Guardian; D10 HD (120 CP), 92 SP (92 CP), Warcraft +20 (120 CP), Saves +33 (99 CP), Proficient with Simple Weapons, Blasters, and Light Sabers (12 CP), Force Base (15 CP), Defense XI, Corrupted/not compatible with armor (44 CP), Reputation II (9 CP), Karma (6 CP), Dweomer/Alter, Control, and Sense (18 CP), and Two Bonus Feats (12). Duties/must follow Jedi Code, defend the innocent, be heroic and so on (-40 CP). Total: 507 CP out of 504 CP available. As the paladins of the setting, these characters – of course – have numerous duties to fulfill.

   Since Star Wars d20 wasn’t and isn’t an OGL product, this article relies on “Fair Use” of the eleven – mostly generic – words used to name the original character classes. Ergo it is not technically OGL material itself – although, given that full-scale character generators with all the class information are available online, I doubt that anyone will care. If you want it to be OGL, you’ll need to slap new names on the classes.

Legend of the Five Rings – The Thunderbolt Blade Bushi School

   Today it’s the Thunderbolt Blade Bushi School (sometimes known as the “Hand of Bayushi” School) for Legend of the Five Rings.

   Darkness is everywhere. Beneath the ground, beyond the stars, hidden within the light, and lurking in the hearts of men. None can escape it.

   The blade pierces darkness. One with it, yet shining like a thunderbolt. It comes from darkness, it strikes darkness, and it passes into darkness, yet is not one with it.

   Such is the Tao of the Thunderbolt Blade.

   This particular school focuses on movement and on striking at exactly the right moment, when the forces of the universe are aligned with your effort, for optimum effect. It’s best in individual heroic combat, rather than on the battlefield, although it also puts some of it’s teachings to use in less physical combat.

   Students of the Thunderbolt Blade tend to be more than a bit brash at first; they are aware that their school’s strength lies in speed and mobility, not in patient manipulation or analysis of an opponents techniques. They know that a single strike at the right moment is worth a hundred that come too late to make a difference.

   School Bonuses:

  • Basic Modifiers: Agility +1, Glory 1, Status 1, Wealth 2, and Honor 2
  • School Skills: Athletics, Bow, Chain Weapons, Courtier, Defense, Etiquette, Fast Draw, Hunting, Sword, and any one high or low skill.

   School Techniques:

   First Technique: The Strike of Lightning

  • The first technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on timely action; neither strength, nor speed, nor even righteousness is as important as being at the right place at the right time. When the moment is at hand, it must be seized. When it is not, the enemy should not be engaged unless no other course is open to you.
  • The Student of the Thunderbolt Blase may add twice his or her Air Ring to Initiative rolls (5), gains +10 Defense against slower opponents (5), gains a daily pool of (Rank) free raises which may be used on any roll made in the direct pursuit of his or her duty (10), adds +2 to his or her water ring for movement purposes (Enhancement, 1), and inflicts +1K0 damage with all weapons (4). Sadly, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor and it’s intense focus on acting in the instant that an opportunity arises places the Student at a slight disadvantage in social situations, where he or she will suffer a -1K0 penalty (net -5).

   Second Technique: The Lashing of the Storm

  • The second technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on constant motion, leaving opponents off balance and out of position.
  • The Journeyman of the Thunderbolt Blade may add twice his or her Fire Ring to Initiative rolls (5), gains another +10 Defense against slower opponents (5), gains (Air Ring) free raises against enemies who attacked him or her and missed in the last round (10), and requires one less raise than usual to increase the damage he or she inflicts (5). Unfortunately, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor or if there is no room to maneuver freely (–5).

   Third Technique: The Penetrating Rain

  • The third technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on a multitude of approaches, combining constant motion with attacks from every angle. No matter how small the chink in an opponents defense, it is always a point of entry.
  • The Adept of the Thunderbolt Blade requires one less raise than usual to perform the Acrobatics and Disarm Maneuvers as well (+5), gains one free raise on each attack towards the Acrobatics, Disarm, and Extra Damage maneuvers with each attack (10; in combination with the last technique this amounts to an automatic +1K1 damage, a basic disarm attempt, and some minor bit of acrobatics with each attack), and now gains (2x Rank) free raises which may be used on any roll made in the direct pursuit of his or her duty per day, replacing the bonus from the first technique (+10). Unfortunately, as usual, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor or if there is no room to maneuver freely (–5).

   Fourth Technique: The Purity of Thunder

  • The fourth technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on purity of purpose. The storm must be harnessed, directed, and focused upon a task. Otherwise it’s fury is wasted – yet the storm cannot direct itself and remain pure. Such is the paradox of the Thunderbolt Blade.
  • The Master of the Thunderbolt Blade gains +1 attack with bladed melee weapons (5), may add twice his or her Void Ring to Initiative rolls (5), and gains a secondary Void pool equal to his or her Rank, which is regained monthly (10). The points from this pool may only be spent on rolls made in pursuit of missions assigned by the user’s superiors (-5), but up to half of them may be spent on a given roll (+5) and their effect is doubled (+5).
  • While the fourth technique transcends the limitations of armor which restrict the three previous techniques, it requires that the user be in active service to a greater lord. Without the instructions of a lord to provide direction, the mind of the user is necessarily divided, and his or her purpose is not pure (-5).

   Fifth Technique: The Lightning-Cast Shadow

  • With purity of purpose comes it’s shadow. With this technique the user’s shadow takes on a life of it’s own, embodying ruthless purpose without compunction or honor. While the Shadow may be unleashed into the world for a time, it is always a risk. Indeed, if the Shadow is unleashed, and sees it’s “Master” – or his friends, family, or companions – as an impediment to the mission, it will not hesitate to dispose of them in passing.
  • The fulfilled Seeker of the Thunderbolt Blade gains a shadow-companion, with XP equal to his or her own (within whatever limits the game master sets) – but it is ruthless and without honor, loyal only to assigned missions and of an independent mind (5). The creature has Shadow instead of Void, and also has a secondary Shadow Pool, equivalent to the user’s secondary Void Pool, which the Thunderbolt Blade Master may freely draw upon while his “companion” remains a simple Shadow; it is not available while the shadow is unleashed (+10). Finally, the Seeker may draw upon the light and darkness within himself or herself to temporarily awaken the spirits of bladed weapons in the vicinity, requesting their assistance (Rank+2 Favors per session, with favors based on the Seeker’s [Sword Skill/2], 5).

   The Thunderbolt Blade school is loosely based on a school proposed by one of the players: he felt that the original Bayushi Busi school wasn’t quite up to snuff at very high experience point totals, and certainly wasn’t up to schools like the Hida Bushi School and the Tsuruchi Archer School. Whatever the merits of the case there, it’s certainly true that it’s fifth technique was dull, risked nothing, and made combat rather uninteresting; you just rolled than counted up your spare raises and picked some effects. Ergo, he wanted to drop the fifth technique and make the school a bit more powerful – and noted that “the Scorpion are exactly the knd of Clan to keep their actual school technique secret while pretending to have a less effective one”.

   His initial mechanical proposal sat in the files for quite some time, until I eventually thought of some interesting flavor to give it. As usual, of course, once it got some flavor text the mechanics mutated to fit the flavor text until it no longer bore much resemblance to the original idea at higher levels – but that is how school design tends to go.

   The school itself is quite powerful, albeit mostly because of those secondary Void and Shadow pools. If the user saves those pools and throws them behind one or two rolls, they’ll get some pretty horrific bonuses. At – let us say – Rank 6, the user would have reserves of 6 Void and 6 Shadow, could spend 3 Void and 3 Shadow on any one roll, and would get a total bonus of +12K12. That translates into quite a lot of free raises. It’s a very good trick, but you can only pull that stunt twice a month. You’d best save it for when you really need it.

Demon’s Monte’s Way

   To continue with that request, here’s an Eclipse conversion of the Demon, from Monte Cooks d20 version of the White Wolf version. These “demons” are extra-dimensional energy-beings that pull a body together out of random material on arrival. Unfortunately, once they’ve created a body, they’re bound into it; if it’s destroyed, so are they.

   While they do have nasty and semi-classical personalities, these “Demons” really aren’t much like any classical depiction of them. They may be able to pull some of the same tricks if they take the appropriate powers later on – but I can’t honestly say they’re very “Demonic” to start with. Ah well, at least the conversion is pretty easy. Here’s what you need to buy to reproduce these “demons” in Eclipse.

   In this case I’ve actually taken off quite a few limitations; some of the original abilities were so crippled as to be nearly useless. There were also two minor variants, so I’ve simply provided the best abilities of the two in each category or a choice of where to apply the appropriate bonus.

  • Two Bonus d10 Hit Dice, Specialized for Double Effect/can be bypassed to do damage to constitution by critical hits and special attacks, Corrupted/are rolled rather than taken as the maximum since they’re available at level one (19 CP). That covers the basics of the wounds-and-vitality style systems, wherein a characters basic hits are considered to equal his or her constitution. You can buy that in Eclipse too, and fairly cheaply, but – in this case – it’s a world law that applies to everyone, and individual characters don’t have to.
  • Enthusiast, Specialized in Attributes: +4 to total attributes, these points may be shifted around each day (36 CP).
  • Self-Development: Total bonuses of +3 to it’s attributes (18 CP).
  • Improved Presence/causes fear when gazed upon, Corrupted/only while in their true forms and victims gradually develop an immunity at +1 on saves per exposure (8 CP).
  • Occult Sense/Darksight (6 CP).
  • Immunity/Bleeding (Common, Major, Trivial, 3 CP).
  • Immunity/Critical Hits (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP to reduce damage from critical hits by 30 points).
  • Immunity/normal metabolic needs (Very Common, Major, Minor, 10 CP). Demons don’t need food, water, air, warmth, and similar things.
  • Immunity/normal diseases, toxins, and things that affect the metabolism (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP).
  • Immunity/having Innate Enchantments dispelled or cancelled by antimagic (Common, Minor, Epic, 18 CP)
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP effective value, 6 CP): All abilities unlimited-use use-activated at caster level one. Personal-only (x.7 cost) where applicable. Disguise (1400 GP effective value), Charm Person 1/Day (400 GP) – and pick another 3200 “Virtual GP” worth.
  • Action Hero/Crafting, Specialized for Double Effect/only to pay the XP costs of Innate Enchantments (6 CP).
  • 4d6 Mana, Corrupted/only usable for special-purpose abilities, no inherent abilities (16 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/user must spend a good deal of time with the freshly-dead body of an intelligent creature, and even then it only works 5% of the time. (6 CP). Demons can trade Mana with each other, but not with other creatures. This could be built as a specialized immunity – probably costing about three points – but it’s more of a special effect; how often will demons be cooperating with each other to this extent?
  • Grant of Aid with the Mighty Modifier, Corrupted/powered by Mana (6 CP). A demon can recover 1d8+5+Con Mod hit points, or 1d3+1 points of ability damage (or one of drain), or two negative levels per Mana point spent.

   With a total cost of 170 CP, these are a fairly costly set of abilities. Fortunately, the entire package is – once again – Specialized. Demons:

  • Are horrific alien spirits, and must spend at least 50% of the time in their true, horrible, and unique forms. This makes them pretty obvious.
  • If slain, they revert to whatever materials they formed their bodies out of. This usually isn’t a big bother to them, but does save their killers from having to explain too much.
  • Are generally, and rightfully, considered the enemies of all other sapient races. Nobody likes Demons.
  • And are subject to either a
    • Bizarre Craving which they must indulge once per day. If they don’t they can’t regain Mana and suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to attacks, saves, and checks for every day that goes by until they do, although they can counter this penalty for one day by spending a Mana point.
      • Or a
    • Bane – some substance or situation which inflicts penalties to attacks, saves, and checks when the demon is exposed to it. A common bane imposes a -1 penalty, an uncommon one a -3 and a rare one a -6. The penalty stacks with itself and lasts for ten minutes, although any one creature can only use a bane against a demon once per minute. A demon can spend a Mana point to resist any one exposure to a bane. Banes have fairly blatant effects on demons, even if they’re currently disguised.

   That brings the total package cost down to 85 CP, well within the limit for a +2 ECL Race – or a +3 ECL Template if applied to an existing race.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 77: Memories of the Fallen

   While the reports were still coming in, it still looked like the initial estimate was holding up surprisingly well; they could account for nearly 85% of the original – rough – count of nearly three hundred Death Knights, and slightly over 5% were known to have had their swords broken and lost without a formal count during the siege engine bombardment. That left them with a likely count of less than twenty-five running around.

   Presumably most of those had simply been sensible enough to retreat. After all, they’d already been sensible enough to pull out of doomed attacks.

   On the other hand it was still possible that they were headed for the relic room under the temple; it was about the last place where a couple of them could do a lot of damage by themselves. Besides, with the wards down, it was a good time to have a look down there anyway. The Knights and Thralls now outnumbered the remaining Death Knights by better than two hundred to one – and if they couldn’t handle a straggler or two that had gotten lost under the city or who popped up at random with those odds, they were going to be wiped out by the next group of angry rats to pop up in the city…

   The group stopped by to see the Knight-Commander first; it was only courteous to let him know where they were off to now.

   Besides, he’d need to know that the Thralls would be continuing to protect the temple and bodyguard the priests – as well as scanning around with detection and clairvoyance magic. That way he could send a few with each group of straggler-hunters for support and communications.

   The Knight-Lords were all busy at the moment – either giving or receiving healing – and the Knight-Commander was suffering from positive-energy saturation at the moment as well. There were a couple of priests who wanted to come along – one of the priest-assassins that A’ikana had spoken to earlier and one of the Levites who’d been at the temple when the Silmarils had boosted the wards.

   Well, they were perfectly welcome. After all Jamie was still down at the walls fighting the last of the undead, and A’ikana was off having a private conference with some of the priests about healing techniques. She seemed to be determined to introduce something besides holy powers – and to forestall another Lichstein.

   According to the clairvoyance-surveys, the fastest available mundane route would be to enter the tunnel network underneath the Temple Complex and take a stairwell that led down towards the relic chamber – but the stairs were mostly rotted away long ago, and there were plenty of collapsed sections of stonework along the route. At least further down it was mostly just carved out of rock.

   They could bypass a lot of that time with telekinesis and rock-shaping, but – if they were going to use magic despite all the energy arcing and discharges going on down there, they might as well be a bit more direct… A gate would still be giving away too much – at least before Death arrived – but the water-shaft was large enough to get down without shapeshifting. It’d be a rough trip – they’d need protective spells and water-breathing spells, and preferably some active guidance – but it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two, and they’d left the archway to the whirlpool room open, so it wouldn’t take too long to reach that either.

   The priests were a bit taken aback at the proposed route – and at the notion of accepting a spell – but both assented, although the Assassin took his lead from the Levite.

   Kevin assigned them each a Thrall to assist and provide some extra telekinetic buffering and steering – and they set off.

   They each leaped into the whirlpool of holy water in turn, and were sucked beneath the surface and down a long shaft into the depths of the catacombs. At first, everything went dark, but soon enough they become aware of a sourceless yellow glow gently illuminating everything. It WAS a pretty rough ride; the current was swift and the walls were still in the process of being worn smooth… The first drop bottomed out in another hallway, landing each of them with a jolt – but the current swept them on down the twists and turns of the hallway – until they reached a section where the floor had collapsed into another pit, and the water cascaded down.

   Finally they were unceremoniously dropped into a giant pool through a hole in the ceiling.

   Despite Kevin’s and the Thralls attempts to cushion them, the Levite had taken a few good bumps and hard knocks on the turns – but the assassin had been holding his feet and legs out in front of him to help cushion the impacts as they occurred, and was evidently used to a bit of tumbling.

(Marty) “That was fun!”

(Kevin) “Wee! Everyone all right?”

(Levite) “Fun you say? That was a most terrifying experience. How could that have been fun?”

(Marty) “Well, you didn’t lose any limbs, did you?”

(Kevin) “Well, we were looking after you, so there wasn’t much risk of being seriously injured, it was unusual and not particularly painful I hope, it was exciting, and it may lead to discovering new things! That doesn’t guarantee fun, but it certainly helps I think!”

   Marty was considering doing it a few more times actually. Underground, fully submerged, half in the dark, full of twists, turns, and projections to bang against… Now THAT was a FUN water slide!

   The Levite frowned at that, and rubbed his wrist – and there was a slight glow from his hand for a moment.

(Kevin) “I’m sorry: We were trying to make sure you didn’t get hurt; do you need any assistance there? And where are we for that matter?”

(Levite) “I should be fine, I still have enough power left over to handle a minor sprain like this.”

   Looking around, they could see columns – looking like very old stonework – going off in all directions for some distance. The water depth was about four feet deep where they were – and hopefully the floor wasn’t full of concealed pits. The ceiling was about 15 feet above the water’s surface – and the entire place is illuminated by that same yellow glow, although it now appeared to be coming from the water itself. Very cathedral- or temple-like – although that was appropriate enough.

   Now where was that island the Thralls had reported? Kevin sent his aides out to scout a bit – just in time for them to dodge the worst of a massive electrical discharge arcing form column to column off into the far reaches of the room beyond their sight.

   It knocked most of them down, but the injuries were easily treatable. Kevin made sure to patch up the priests first; they were probably the least durable members of the party at the moment.

(Assassin) “What in the nine hells was that?”

(Priest) “I suspect it is a symptom.”

(Kevin) “Nine?… Well, it looked electrical, but it was obviously supernatural in origin or it would have grounded into the water…”

(Marty) “A trap, maybe?”

(Assassin) “Odd thing for a trap.”

(Kevin) “Clashing energies all over down here… Well, if everyone is healed, lets go on – unless you want some protective spells first? Trouble is, those might clash with something.”

(Priest) “Sadly I suspect any spells are going to cause more outbursts. We may be best off using only minor healing spells when necessary. Although the water may afford some protection.”

(Kevin) “Onwards then!”

   As they pressed onwards towards the (presumed) location of the island, the energy discharges became more frequent and varied. Blue discharges – of varying sizes and concordant durations – leapt from pillar to pillar before grounding out. Red arcs danced along stonework like sparks on a Tesla coil. Up ahead brilliant flashes of yellow light alternated with blackness. The air was filled with steam, the water was bubbling slightly, the hair on their arms and on the back of their necks was sticking out, and they all felt a little fuzzy.

(Kevin) “Hoo boy… Lot of power running loose down here. Your city here is built on a magical powderkeg I think.”

(Assassin) “Alright, I can definitely say this is mildly uncomfortable.”

   Marty was wondering if they’d somehow wandered into the city’s boiler room. He headed on ahead to see if he could find out what was going on.

(Priest) “This is not good.”

(Kevin) “Well, the foundation of all this – and of the power of Jerusalem – is it’s importance as a sacred site. We’d better see what’s going wrong and do something to fix it.”

   Marty found that they were indeed approaching the island – or at least the raised area – that the Thralls had reported. There was an altar at the center, and some sort of stone chest which was sending out arcs of energy in all directions. Judging by the way the water was steaming nearby, it was also where all the heat was coming form.

   Up above the chest there was a mass of light – glowing a pure white and surrounded by a great number of magical diagrams, all spinning around it like an orrery or a set of interlocking wheels. The scorched and broken remains of seven stone objects surrounded the entire altar-and-chest assembly.

   Definitely a weird boiler room.

   Kevin – as usual – had a quick guess when he arrived. If he hadn’t been just as ready to discard any theory that didn’t work out, he’d have been insufferable.

“I think something overloaded the focusing or warding talismans or something like that…”

   Well, the breaks and scorch-marks did look fresh, and the smell of burning stone was apparent up close.

   Sadly, the priests didn’t recognize them. Marty was just glad that they didn’t appear to be based on Accounting… The last thing they needed around here was Terry Jenkins and her naginata!

(Priest) “Interesting, but why are there seven and not six?”

(Kevin) “It’s not a seal, it’s for channeling and regulating energy. Seven is important in a lot of ways. Planetary affinities? Days of the week? I think we need to fix this before it blows the foundations of the city out. Can anyone make out any of the diagrams?”

“(Priest) Agreed, this energy buildup isn’t going to be able to ground out for long.”

   They set the Thralls to working – very carefully – on grounding out the energy surges and on trying to stabilize things while they tried to figure out what to do.

   There was some writing on the chest, although the white glow didn’t particularly seem to react to them – although it did dim from time to time, whereupon the temperature seemed to rise briefly before another major energy outburst occurred and the light returned. The stone chest did have some writing on it – while the diagrams themselves were in another form of writing.

   The writing on the chest was mostly in classical Hebrew – which their Levite could read readily enough, although – given the conditions – a complete translation would take a few minutes. It wasn’t like they could easily get close and walk around it.

   The diagrams in the air – and on the stones – seemed to be a series of magical formulae spelling out exact processes for processing energy and directing it – melding the energies from whatever was in the stone chest together and directing them into a field around the city. The script itself looked to be Tengwar – although the language wasn’t elven.

   What the hell? That might help explain why the Silmarils had responded – but this realm should long predate Tolkien and Tengwar! It could just be leakover – a popular image of an “ancient mystical script” which had overlayed itself on a bit of unexamined reality in this realm – but that didn’t seem very likely. Much, MUCH more likely that the foci were more recent – that someone who used Tengwar for a magical script had meddled within the last few centuries, or even since the Opening. Some Manifold voyager? It would have to be someone both powerful, inclined to meddle benevolently, and highly skilled. It could – perhaps – be one of the local greater fey mage-smiths. They might well have picked up on Tengwar in the place of whatever vague notion of “elvenrunes” they’d originally been imbued with.

   Too much speculation, not enough information, and no time.

   At least it looked like he stone foci had simply fractured and fallen apart, rather than exploding. All the pieces should still be there… Kevin could try just re-assembling things through raw power, but it would probably be best to try something more subtle first.

   Marty wasn’t much for fixing stuff, considering that he could wreck his car and find it undamaged in his overpriced parking space the next morning – but he didn’t see any reason not to just try putting the pieces back together. If they needed it, they could surely get some glue – and if it zapped them, it zapped them. If they’d just fractured and slumped, it might work.

   Kevin had at least a theory on how they’d worked… It looked like foci A, B and C gathered different energies, most likely Psionic, Arcane and Divine. Focus D fused Psionic and Arcane energies, focus E fused Arcane and Divine, while focus F fused Psionic and Divine energies. Focus G appeared to concentrate the energies and form the field or energy stream going to the Temple Mount.

   That was weird too. That kind of engineering left out most of the classical mage-smiths and scholars and such. That was more of an engineers approach.

   Oh well. They tried working in reverse order – repairing “G” first since it shouldn’t have any load on it until the previous ones were repaired, and so on. A, B, and C would be the really tricky ones. The last three available Thralls – it had turned out that only six at a time could work on stabilization-duty without interfering with each other – assisted with little mending-spells, telekinesis to hold bits, and molecular manipulation to fuse the bits of stone back together. There was too much energy running around loose at the moment to be sure of whether or not the foci had some independent enchantment to worry about.

   It took a good deal of fiddling with pieces and rotating them to see how they might fit together before they began to make matches on “G”… The Mending spells worked nicely at first – but as they began to get further along in the re-assembly, the pieces began to form meld together on their own as they set them into place. As the last pieces slid into place, they formed a smooth cylindrical object about four feet tall – which began to glow with Hebrew and Tengwar symbols.

   They split up to do the fusing foci. Since their Levite was busy with the chest, it was Kevin, Marty, and the Assassin. It wasn’t like they could get much more broken – or at least it didn’t look like it.

   Kevin and the Assassin had little difficulty – but Marty didn’t have much luck. Putting things back together REALLY wasn’t his thing. Fortunately, he didn’t manage to get enough of it together to do much of anything. He wound up standing proudly over a pile of loose pieces.

(Marty) “It’s supposed to look like this, right?”

(Kevin) “I dunno. I think you might have missed a spot!”

“Ok! (Marty put a rock in the hole). Hah, more practice and I’ll be a better techie than the Balrog!”

   The Assassin was holding his hand over his mouth and quietly chuckling to himself as Marty actually took a look as what he’d put together.

“Ah. Well.”

“I think your speciality lies more in taking things apart Marty… Mind if I try?”

“Go ahead.”

   It took some finagling, but they got the pieces of that one together as well. Now they had four glowing stone cylinders covered with Hebrew inscriptions with a Tengwar inscription overlaid on top of the Hebrew.

   Meanwhile, they had a summary-translation. The really relevant portion wasn’t very long:

“Here lies the Ark of the Covenant. For as long as this altar stands and the Ark remains here, Jerusalem shall not fall to the Darkness. Beware he who would gaze upon the Ark, for it will smite all but the Holiest amongst thou and consume you in your hubris.”

   The rest appeared to be incantations and prayers.

   Kevin had thought so… the Ark was about the only known relic that spontaneously affected its surroundings.

   They decided to put the last pieces in the last foci as simultaneously as possible: for that, they’d leave the last bit to the Thralls; they all have similar reflex speeds. Besides, they had to deal with Death, and they couldn’t do that if they blew themselves up or something. Kevin would have pulled back a bit, but he had to supervise. He did have everyone else retreat though; if the pulse from the system fried someone, it would be better if it was someone who wouldn’t have a problem with a vacation.

   The energy discharges began decreasing in both frequency and intensity as the last three foci started to come together – but the partially built foci started getting very warm. Kevin promptly shielded them to reduce the energy flowing into them before they were ready. That dropped the temperature, but kicked up the energy discharges again.

   Kevin invested quite a lot of power in getting the last few pieces in properly and simultaneously. The final bits went in within some small fraction of a second of each other – and the whole room suddenly went dark as foci became whole again and the energy discharges stopped.

   The inscriptions on the stone chest lit up, and the entire room suddenly exploded with a brilliant white light that seemed to shine through the very stone. Everyone had to shield their eyes – and even when the light levels had dropped back to what was probably “normal”, it took several minutes for them to see clearly again.

“You know Marty? Sometimes I feel like the sole remaining auto mechanic in New York City. Aren’t there any other repairmen out here? We never seem to meet any.”

“Gelman does repairs, but I don’t think he feels like cooperating with me right now… Other than him? Yeah, I agree.”

   Well, that seemed to be all right.

   Checking the reports, the Thralls on divination-duty had located another five straggler Death Knights in the tunnels. They’d chased down and killed two of them, and the remaining three had suddenly started showing signs of being in great pain. They expected that they’d be able to capture them shortly.

   Presumably any sensible ones had either kept track of the route and gotten out fast or hadn’t come in the first place. Still, that took them down to somewhere between 15 and 25 unaccounted for Death Knights. Not bad. If none of them made it to the relic chamber within the next couple of hours, none would make it in that far past the wards anyway.

   They stationed more Thralls on guard around the relic-chamber in the meantime – and Kevin put quite a lot more power into setting up some defensive effects around the island, including a series of feedback surge-protector spells designed to dump excess power – especially Death’s negative aura – so that the wards would just be shut down, rather than blowing up if it was overloaded. That should be good for a week or two. If and when Death got there, they didn’t want to have to fix the system all over again. It might not work again anyway.

(Kevin) “I must thank you for your willingness to dive into a whirlpool on faith. It was a great deal to ask.”

   The priests were still pretty diverted by the thought of being so near the Ark.

(Priest) “Well that explains why we couldn’t get the ward restarted after it failed.”

(Kevin) “Marty? What do you think? fix the stairs or seal it up? Oh, probably dumping more power into it was just confusing things. Oh well, live and learn.”

(Marty) “Seal it up. We don’t need everybody and their brother coming down here.”

   They settled for putting up some wards and such on what was left of the stairs on their way up. It wasn’t like they had time to map all the tunnels and stop them up, and there was no easy way to block the water without undermining the city defenses anyway. Besides, the Thralls would have to get out in a few hours and they had to go and prepare to meet Death.

   The assassin took one last look around the chamber before leaving.

(Assassin) “I never thought I would see it with my own eyes. Or, at least, the stone chest which seals it. This will be a story to tell the grandchildren I think.”

(Kevin) “And hopefully there will be many to tell.”

(Assassin) “Indeed, if we can survive the coming battles, I plan to have many to tell my stories to.”

(Marty) “Well, so far, so good!”

   Back upstairs, things upstairs were jubilant. The Knights had repulsed the besieging army and freed the city, the last of the undead had been wiped out at the walls by the common folk. The armies of the dead had suffered a great defeat and – right now – the battle for survival looked to be winnable. Rumors of Death’s approach had begun to spread however.

   They went to check with the Archmage and find out how close Death was. They suspected that – at this point – he (?) was going to be pretty upset. If he didn’t take Jerusalem, the Crusader Kingdoms were going to survive.

   Hm. Given that a bunch of Death Knights had apparently vanished, and that Marty found that some of them weren’t enamored of their boss, they had to wonder if they were escaping, going to join other forces or to try to get more troops – not that the “more troops” strategy had worked well this time – or if they were going to try to usurp command and either ignore Death, take him out, or possibly replace him.

   The Archmage was staying at the top of one of the towers outside the Temple Mount. They were led up to a high chamber that overlooked a great portion of the city. It was full of books, weird chemical equipment, samples of various forms of plants and animals, and pieces of amber. The Archmage was in the center of the room, gazing at a pool of some sort, and busily adjusting mirrors.

   Evidently the Archmage was the local equivalent of a scientist. It looked like he was doing actual experiments. Not at all typical for the period!

“Ah, come in, come in. I am afraid the place is rather a mess at the moment. I really would prefer to receive guests at my laboratory in my homeland but we must all make little sacrifices in this war. What can I do for you this fine day? A victory like this doesn’t come often. I just hope we can keep this up.”

(Kevin) “Mostly we were wondering whether that dark power was still approaching; we do need to be ready to meet it, and preferably well outside the walls.”

(Archmage) “Sadly, it is indeed still approaching the city as it was before. At it’s current rate of travel, it should arrive here tomorrow, afternoon I think. It is hard to try and gaze upon it directly I fear. And while it does appear to have a sizable contingent of undead, it is still nothing like what was besieging the city earlier.”

(Marty) “Well, with the wards back up, if we can defeat Death, Jerusalem should be able to withstand the other undead.”

(Archmage) “Indeed, although I must say that is a very big if.”

   Marty had to agree. Technically, he defeated Death every time he died, but he really didn’t think that that kind of “victory” would help much in a duel against him, though.

(Kevin) “Well, I suspect that this may require some special efforts. Tomorrow then… I had best make sure that at least a few of my agents are restocked with the better spells by tonight then.”

(Archmage) “Indeed, and I hope to have a few surprises stashed up my sleeves for the coming battle.”

(Kevin) “I suspect that a good many hidden plans will come into play for it.”

   They went to get on with preparations.

   Marty got his knife sharpened, spent some time “reaffirming life” by playing with the girls, and then spent some time with Limey.

   Kevin got some sleep, played with his own companions, recruited another sizeable batch of Thralls (it looked like a fair number of the youngsters watching from the walls had been impressed with the battle, wanted to help save the rest of their world, and knew that the Knights didn’t have the power to throw fire and conjure bears) – and spent much of the rest of the time getting about half the Thralls restocked with major spells.

   Next morning, the preparations for dealing with Death were in full swing across the city.

   Presumably Death had been gathering up every corpse along the way. They would have to see if he wanted to talk – or if the Trickster arrived first.

   They set up a pavilion, a table a selection of nice wines, and some tasty foods, to await their meeting with Death. He was still off over the horizon, so they had a few hours to kill. They set up a warding against the mindless undead to keep them from being a bother if they got sent in first.

   Marty voted for setting up a game of some sort… Perhaps a chess board or a twister setup? He was sure that they could get a twister setup somehow!

(Kevin) “Oh, Chess! Yes! It’s very classic! I think I remember how to play!”

   After all, the game-of-chess-with-death was a classic myth – which meant that even the suggestion should hold a certain amount of power over Death.

   It seemed likely that, given the disaster for him so far, Death would want to survey the situation first before launching an attack. Ergo, the lesser undead should leave them in peace until Death’s arrival. Setting up protective spells against the aura was no real problem, Kevin just made a dozen of so especially-tuned level three effects.

   Meanwhile, the Knights were busily crafting a defensive line behind their position and the Archmage could be seen directing peasants to do odd tasks behind them.

   The sky began to darken and cloud over, the air became chill, and the began to feel of winter as Death approached.

   Marty changed his clothing into setting-appropriate winter wear.

   Eventually the outriders of Death appeared on the horizon – apparently a selection of Death Knights scouting ahead of the main force. Death did not appear to be with them. Evidently he either had quite a range on that aura of his or the army extended it somehow.

   Fortunately, the knights and such were all set up inside the wards. They’d be secure enough if the party could stop Death before he hit the wards.

   One of the Death Knights approached the table:

(#5) “Am I to take this as some attempt to discuss terms? Amusing.”

(Kevin) “If you like. Will it hurt? It will give you more time to survey the field and get set up in any case.”

(#5) “I suppose not. I shall send word back that you wish to speak then. This should be interesting to watch.”

(Kevin) “Otherwise – well, we’ve already destroyed a considerably larger force than this. Death may be a problem for us, and may well win in the end, but it will certainly be hard on many of you.”

   The Death Knights leathery dry skin stretched into a smile underneath his helmet at that.

“We shall see what will come of this. I pray you are prepared to meet with the master then. His presence can be quite a burden on mortals.”

   Death Knight #5 rode off into the distance to meet with the approaching army – but it stopped at about half a mile and three riders came to meet them – the Death Knight they’d just spoken to, the Death Knight with the large axe that Marty had felt a connection to, and a small man clad in heavy blue-steel armor with only a pair of glowing green eyes visible through the helmet.

(Death) I am to understand you wish to discuss terms. Very well, I am listening.

(Kevin) “Actually I suspect that Marty wants to sell you something. I want to find out what you actually want here, and why. It’s quite possible that we can agree on something that will limit the damage to your forces. If not, well, I suppose we can talk about battle terms if you like. Would you like some wine? It’s quite good.”

(Marty) “Yeah, I already drank a couple of bottles.”

(Kevin) “The fish dishes are really too salty what with the relying on the preserved stuff, but the rest is pretty good as well.”

   Death seemed to find this a bit diverting… Whatever it had been expecting, it had apparently not included light banter. Kevin was pleased. It looked like Death did indeed have a soul. That was going to be important.

(Death) “Very well then. Let us sit and discuss. This may at the very least prove a distraction.”

   Kevin poured the drinks – and let Death pick, just in case he was afraid of poison.

   Apparently he wasn’t; he took one of the goblets somewhat absently.

(Kevin) “To whatever it is you like!”

   Kevin had some – and Death hesitated briefly and drank his goblet as well.

(Death) “So you wish to sell me something? An odd thing to wish to do I must say.”

(Marty) “Hey, I’ve got merchandise to move. Want to look at my wares when you’re done with Kevin?”

   Kevin had some brief and interesting visions – but he had his multi-tracking discipline working, so he could deal with them later.

   He had wondered what effect some water from the Rosary of Memory – laced with a massive infusion of his power to push it’s effect and make sure he got a LOT of memories – would have on Death. After all, it was quite harmless, who wouldn’t like to suddenly have a lot more life experience, and he thought that almost any change in Deaths personality might be an improvement.

   He’d been ready to employ a ridiculous amount of power to toss it into Deaths mouth if he wouldn’t drink it – but having him do it voluntarily was definitely better.

   Death suddenly froze up for a moment – which his two attending Death Knights quickly noticed.

(One with axe) “Amazing, whatever was in that drink had to have been potent to effect him. May I ask what it is?”

(Kevin) “Memories from his previous lives. You have some too of course; would you like to try some?”

(Marty) “It’s enlightening.”

(One with Axe) “No thanks, I fear such a thing would probably be even more treacherous without a soul anchoring my identity. (Turned to #5) Although I suppose you are free to try if you wish.”

(Kevin) “Ah, if you don’t have one, it probably would be messy. “

(Marty turned to the one with the Axe). “Hey, you wouldn’t have had a son when you were alive, would you?”

   #5 looked back and forth between One with Axe and Marty.

(One with Axe) “Afraid not, although I was certainly hoping to get the chance to meet you. By what name do you go by now?”

“Name’s Marty Tabard. I’m from a faraway realm. Uh . . . what happened after you touched my head?”

   Meanwhile, Kevin was speaking with death – enhancing his oratorical powers with the ability to affect undead, just in case:

“I suspect that you were very bitter, and suffered much to choose such an incarnation. The desire to strike back at those who wronged you must have been strong – but is this really bringing you any pleasure or satisfaction? Is there joy in it? I offer you a chance to enjoy yourself, rather than bringing and enduring more misery.”

(One with Axe) “Oh dear me, seems you remember some of the details, but not all of them. You see, I wasn’t the one that touched you that fateful day. I was the one touched.”

Marty was a bit confused. “So you’re saying it was . . . the other way around?”

   Kevin had caught on: “There is one of us here without a soul”. It was the New and Improved Marty (with his own marketing slogan!) versus the preserved Mind and Body of the Old Marty!. Oh well, not his problem at the moment – not with Death holding his head in his hands and looking terribly confused. Still, he was in no position to resist Kevin’s persuasion – or his offer of a really good retirement package. It looked like the Aura of Death had shut down without Death’s will to back it, so Kevin handed Death a plate and patted him on the shoulder comfortingly.

(One with Axe) “Dear me, the soul was ripped out and went off to reincarnate elsewhere. I am the body and mind that was left behind. Can you guess what happened to the soul?”

(Marty) “Sure. It’s in me. So what happened after that? The memory ended after the touch.”

(One with Axe) “Not surprising really, that was when your part in the whole ordeal ended.”

(Marty) “Must have started your transformation then.”

(One with Axe) “Quite true, although the process was slow and gradual. I guess that is the joy of playing a stereotypical role; losing the soul isn’t death unless the role has been played out to it’s conclusion. But anyway, I was taking to one of their “camps” for training. The do all sorts of “fun” things to you to break your will and bend it to their own. I must say they were never quite successful; I just got good at hiding it. I got sent off to kill villagers, spread plagues and various other evil works – you know how it goes – until they finally decided to remake me. Perhaps they thought it was some sort of achievement award.”

   Meanwhile, Kevin had Death more or less settled down. He wasn’t bad as a psychiatrist, and his oratorical talents were working fine. Offers of a pleasant life, a few servants and playmates of the opposite sex, a nice retirement package, and that sort of thing seemed to be falling on fertile soil – and Death should still have a lot of the power he’d accumulated, if not all of it – which would be lost to whoever took up the role next. More importantly – and the reason why he’d been glad to see that Death had a soul – he retained all the information he’d had. They might finally be able to get a good lead on who was behind the War of Souls and on how souls were captured and manipulated. Death, in his confusion, was quite willing to listen to any offer that sounded reassuring.

   #5 was trying to formulate an objection to this, but was rather upset that his companion – One-with-Axe – seemed more concerned with talking with Marty than with doing something about Death.

(Kevin) “Oh do stop fussing. Did you really want to have a battle? It’s not like you’re really getting much out of it.”

   Back behind the lines, a number of the more sensitive Priests, the more perceptive Knights, and the Archmage and his assistants were dealing with a considerable shock. Death’s aura was… gone? How could that possibly be? There didn’t even seem to be anything going on in the pavilion, much less some epic conflict. Were their allies somehow silently countering the full power of Death? The fey were Deathless, could Kevin somehow be forcing or tricking Death into focusing entirely on him? Even Oberon in person could not possibly endure that for long! Was he being supported by the heavens now that the Pact was no longer a factor? He had called upon the powers of light in battle and been answered with a pillar of power from above that had destroyed nearly half the besieging army…

   Which was quite a change from the state of things when the group had cut their way through to the city a mere ten and a half days ago.

   Meanwhile, Kevin was focused on finding out what the Death Knights actually wanted. Giving everyone on both sides everything they wanted had been a pretty good way to end fights so far, and it was worth another go. If they were anything like Darth Plageous, it might just be to live again and have a little fun.

   That was indeed what roughly 50% of them wanted. Another 20% wanted their souls back too – and the remainder were mostly so far gone that all they wanted was a chance to inflict death and destruction.

   It looked like, for most of them, their souls were trapped in their swords, with many dark magics wound about them to sustain their bodies and minds external to it.

   Well the bodies would be easy enough to fix – and Death knew how to let their souls out without simply breaking the swords and releasing them to reincarnate. The swords had to be forged out of the swords in a process similar baking the impurities out of iron – releasing the bindings that held it without releasing it into the Manifold. Heat, a magical forge, biophysical repairs, and probably some spells and sacred energies? No place better in this realm for that than outside Jerusalem.

   Kevin got some Thralls over to get started. They could restore the 70% – and maybe some of the rest – and deal with whatever was left. It wasn’t like they couldn’t offer them places to go deal out death and destruction. They could take the mindless ones along; it wasn’t like dealing with all of that would be anything but tedium anyway.

   Now, explaining all this to the Knights, THAT was going to be awkward. “We’re cancelling the war, sorry about all the work!”. Oh, yes, THAT would go over without an explanation.

Werewolves Monte’s Way

   To continue with a request, here’s an Eclipse conversion of the basic Werewolf, from Monte Cooks d20 version of the White Wolf version. Once again, that’s pretty roundabout. White Wolf took the various traditional and Hollywood notions about werewolves, gave them their own spin, went through three editions – with some pretty major changes in the background and abilities of the characters – and then struck a deal with Mr Cooks, who gave their material his own spin and converted it to d20. Fortunately, the Eclipse d20 conversion is pretty easy – so here’s what you need to buy to reproduce this version of the Werewolf in Eclipse.

  • Two Bonus d12 Hit Dice, Specialized for Double Effect/can be bypassed to do damage to constitution by critical hits and special attacks, Corrupted/are rolled rather than taken as the maximum since they’re available at level one (21 CP). That covers the basics of the wounds-and-vitality style systems, wherein a characters basic hits are considered to equal his or her constitution. You can buy that in Eclipse too, and fairly cheaply, but – in this case – it’s a world law that applies to everyone, and individual characters don’t have to.
  • Self-Development: +2 Strength, +2 Constitution, +2 to any one attribute, +1 to any one attribute (42 CP).
  • Occult Sense/Low-Light Vision (6 CP).
  • Immunity/natural diseases and toxins (Common, Major, Minor, 6 CP).
  • Grant of Aid, Specialized in healing physical injuries only for double effect, Corrupted/cannot heal injuries from silver or more than 5 points per round, although the user decides how much of the daily total to use within that limit (4 CP). This is somewhat improved over the original version, since this version also covers negative levels and will automatically improve as the character’s power increases – but that really shouldn’t matter much.
  • 4d6 Mana, Corrupted/only usable for special-purpose abilities, no inherent abilities (16 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/works once per night during the proper phases of the moon, occasionally at special power sites at the game masters option, and whenever the user eats the heart of a newly-slain human victim (6 CP). The heart-eating routine is unlimited-use in the original version – but any given werewolf can only have so much Mana at a time, and – if they’re eating more than eight still-twitching hearts a day – things are a bit out of control. Buy a few more bonus uses if you must.
  • Grant of Aid with the Mighty Modifier, Corrupted/powered by Mana (6 CP). A werewolf can recover 1d8+5+Con Mod hit points, or 1d3+1 points of ability damage (or one of drain), or two negative levels per Mana point spent.
  • Resistance/+12 on rolls to resist injuring or betraying a packmate (18 CP). This isn’t part of the original version, but certainly seems appropriate. Since the restrictions on who’s in a pack only serve as a power limitation – which is more appropriately applied directly to the purchased power – you won’t find them here.
  • Beast Form (30 CP total): +2 Dexterity and Constitution (24 CP), +10 Move (Celerity, 6 CP), 1d8 Natural Weapons (9 CP), +8 bonus on Listen and Spot (16 CP), Scent (Occult Sense, 6 CP). Specialized and Corrupted/user transforms to a monstrous form and consequent discarding of most equipment, the user cannot speak human languages (although he or she can communicate with other werewolves in their monstrous forms), cannot see color, and cannot use social skills except with other werewolves. Taking this form is a free action during a chosen phase of the moon, otherwise it requires either a full round, a DC 15 will check, or spending a Mana point. Returning to human form is always simply a free action and occurs automatically if the user is knocked out or killed. These bonuses cannot be stacked with the Hybrid Form modifiers.
  • Hybrid Form (25 CP): +4 Strength, +4 Dexterity, and +2 Constitution (60 CP), 1d6 Natural Weapons (6 CP), +4 to Listen and Spot (8 CP). Specialized and Corrupted/the user is basically berserk, and must make a DC 20 will check to even speak a few words, can’t use Charisma-, Dexterity- or Intelligence-based skills (save for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate and Ride), Concentration, or any abilities that require time or concentration. To do anything other than move towards an enemy or attack (inanimate objects if no enemies are available) requires a DC 20 will save. User’s can’t stay in this form for more than a minute or so, and cannot invoke it more often than once every ten minutes or so.

   That’s 180 CP – pretty expensive. Of course, the entire package is Specialized; a Werewolf is barely capable of functioning in society, is incapable of learning out-of-theme abilities, is usually seen as a ravening monster to be destroyed, only feels comfortable when working in a pack, takes extra damage from silver when in hybrid or animalistic form (double the first five points), has a variety of emotional problems (at least by human standards), has very little in the way of ethics, and generally has an assortment of more-or-less automatic enemies. That takes it down to 90 CP – a +2 ECL Race or +3 ECL Template if applied to an existing race. I could shave a few more points off that by combining some features of the two forms and a few other tricks – but why bother? It won’t make any difference in the final +2 ECL result.

Eclipse – The Narrative Powers Template

   One problem with allowing the players to manipulate the narrative and environment of the game is that not all the players are going to be interested in that. Some of them just want to explore life in a fantastic world, some just want to get into interesting set-piece battles, some want to solve puzzle-situations, and some simply aren’t interested in adding background elements and plot twists to the game. Worse, the players who aren’t interested in manipulating the narrative and the environment may well see attempts to do so as a from of cheating.

   Perhaps even worse, this sort of thing can easily get out of control. If a fast-talking player dominates all the plots and action in the game, single-handedly brings back the major villain that everyone else just barely managed to heroically bring down after mighty sacrifices, gets the other characters into gratuitous trouble, or keeps using his or her narrative privileges to neutralize or avoid the situations that other players find fun but he or she doesn’t, the other players will be – quite rightly – resentful.

   Ergo, such abilities need to have some form of limited game-mechanic implementation. To make sure that the players perceive the use of such abilities as “fair”, there needs to be some form of in-game reward for not using those mechanics. Both are a little awkward, since most such mechanics are things that work on the player-level, rather than in the game world.

   It’s manageable though. First up, the easiest cost is an opportunity cost; characters with narrative powers simply don’t get as many other abilities as the other characters do. In games with consensual or readily-manipulable realities, they may simply invested their efforts in learning to control whatever forces govern such things. In less-amenable settings, the characters are simply inherently absurdly fortunate or have some mysterious force easing their lives – and thus haven’t developed their other abilities as far as characters who have been harder-pressed.

   Since Eclipse is a point-buy system, and the special effects are more of less up to you, you can simply build a power so that it operates the way you want. The opportunity cost is built-in; if you spend your character points buying narrative abilities, you won’t have them to spend on other things.

   Lets say you want the ability to strike a blow that does a great deal of damage and throws in some special effect every so often. Call it “Devastating Blow”. The narrative approach might be to make this a “per-encounter” power. At some moment during each fight scene – as chosen by the player – the character will find himself or herself in position to strike a mighty blow. Why once per encounter? Mechanically it’s simply because that’s the way you bought the power. In terms of the game world you might have some odd mystic power that’s regained slowly, enjoy the fickle favor some god who only helps you out every so often, be able to slowly charge your weapon with energy, or perhaps you’re simply bloody lucky at unpredictable (in the game world) intervals, but always once per fight. It probably doesn’t have much of anything to do with “skill” though, and may or may not be something that the character controls. After all, the character – not knowing anything about the story – might want to use his or her Devastating Blow right away, while the player – sure that the “big boss” will appear before the end of the battle – wants to save it for then.

   Another character might impose different conditions, or – if they’re willing to spend a lot of character points – none at all. Perhaps he or she can strike a “Devastating Blow” if he or she can manage to maneuver into an opponents blind spot and can make some sort of knowledge check to see if he or she knows of an especially vulnerable spot within reach. Perhaps it works when he or she focuses on calling forth their inner rage, a difficult and exhausting thing. Perhaps the opponent must make some sort of mistake, or miss three times in a row. Perhaps they just spent a LOT of character points and simply inflict massive damage with every blow due to their incredible skill. Perhaps they must loudly announce some specific misdeed of their targets and strike while filled with righteous fury. There are a hundred approaches to this kind of thing.

   So what are some of the best powers to buy to get some narrative control in Eclipse? The biggest two are Action Hero and Mana with the Reality Editing option.

   With Action Hero you get a limited reserve of “Action Points” which you can spend to pull off incredible things. You get one option each time you buy Action Hero.

  • Heroism lets you spend them to pull off unlikely feats. In a lot of ways it’s the “soft” option.
  • Stunt lets you spend them to buy once-off abilities – manifesting a unique spell (Inherent Spell), shrugging off that mind-control effect (Immunity), automatically making that saving throw (Luck), outrunning that explosion (Celerity, Immunity, or Inherent Spell), or many other things. Want to have a flashback where the ancient master showed you how to deal with something? To pull off something so flashy that the enemies have to make will saves or fall back (Presence)? To inspire your men (Presence or Mystic Artist/Oratory)? Want to find great power in a surge of emotion (Berserker)? Then Stunt is the ability for you.
  • Crafting lets you simply announce that “you’ve been working on” some project, and it is now ready to unveil.
  • Invention lets you have brilliant insights, create new things, and spread your inventions across the world.
  • Influence lets you alter large-scale events, such as wars and politics.

   Each version of Action Hero you take costs 6 CP – so lets say have our character take two, for a total of 12 CP. That will let the player get away with the occasional piece of narrative or special stunt without having it dominate the game.

   Reality Editing lets you make direct and immediate changes in the setting. You want the local Evil Overlord’s “beautiful” (I guarantee that, under those circumstances, she’ll probably look pretty good unless she’s downright hag-like) daughter to fall in love with you and help you escape? You want to abruptly recall an old friend in who now lives in the town nearby who can help you out? You want a guard to owe you a favor? Want to “just happen to have” a vial of deadly poison in your pocket? You want a mystic conjunction to be coming up tomorrow? Just want a miraculous escape from a nasty situation? Want a brawl to break out for no real reason whatsoever? Want to arrive – or have reinforcements arrive – at the very nick of time? Feel like being mistaken for some locally-important figure? Want the situation to involve and old friend of yours, giving you a personal stake in it? Want to have to divert the confrontation into dealing with some natural disaster? You want Reality Editing.

  • So; 3d6 Mana with the Reality Editing option plus Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses. Specialized and Corrupted/both normal mana recovery and uses of the Rite of Chi are per session rather than per day, only relatively subtle changes are allowed, changes may result in backlash or other complications (for example, having a guard be an old friend who helps you escape may lead to being stuck caring for his family when he’s killed in the process, fouling up the Dark Emperors main plan with Reality Editing will probably just lead to him revealing a backup plan, and so on. It’s best to look for critical points to try to turn the plot). The Rite of Chi activates – restoring 1d6 points of mana – whenever the character a) comes up with a plot twist or change that the GM thinks is truly appropriate, b) comes up with a plot twist or change that everyone else playing thinks is really cool, c) gets railroaded by the GM without a chance to make his or her own decision (Last week you were discussing what to do next since you’d just completed your last big mission. Since then it’s been a week, and all of you have been stripped of your items and your powers neutralized, and you’re being hauled before the judge…”, or d) the character uses his or her powers to introduce complications for him or herself WITHOUT messing up the rest of the party. (10 CP).

   That’s 22 CP so far – and to keep this as a +1 ECL template, we’ll want a total of 32 CP. That only leaves us 10 CP to go. To keep this simple, I’ll take the Chinese menu approach; pick one from column A and one from column B.

   Other powers are a lot more limited, but are better for things that you want to be able to do on a regular basis. While there are an endless array of special powers you can build in Eclipse, here are a few to get you started:

   “Column A” powers:

  • You want to have some special enemies? Does your rage, or thirst for vengeance, or oath grant you extra bonuses against such foes? Take Favored Enemy or Favored Foe (6 CP).
  • You want to be able to swear a mighty oath, and have it influence events and grant special bonuses to you while you’re working on fulfilling it? Inherent Spell/Oath of Endurance (a.k.a Malediction from The Practical Enchanter), Specialized/Only usable on yourself, Corrupted/only intervenes seven times, for a level nine base effect. You may swear to complete a specified immediate task, such as holding a bridge, keeping a ship on course through a hurricane, or completing a ritual, so long as the task will take a month or less to complete. For the duration you will need no food, drink, or sleep and will be assisted by a level four or less spell effect of the GM’s choice up to seven times – possibly including turning you into an undead if that seems required. You can only be sworn to a single task at a time and renouncing an uncompleted oath will cause the remaining spell effects to cause trouble for you at the worst possible times and keep you from swearing another oath for a year and a day – or until you undergo some suitable ritual ordeal of atonement and purification.
  • You want to occasionally have some item you use acquire special powers or get an upgrade thanks to your using it in the performance of Heroic Deeds? Buy Create Relic, Specialized/only works on items you are currently performing mighty deeds with and – to start with – set aside another three CP to pay for those relics, thus arriving at a total cost of (6 CP).
  • You want the power of the fated moment and the strength of your good deeds (or your unrepentant evil) to come to your aid occasionally? Take Karma (6 CP).

   “Column B” powers:

  • You want to be able to have the action pause while you make a dramatic speech or attempt some form of negotiation? Take Reflex Training/three extra actions per day variant, specialized in Communications for Increased Effect (you get to make a full speech) and Corrupted/uses are per-game rather than per day, to avoid driving everyone nuts (4 CP).
  • You want to have some small special bonuses that only work when you’re in pursuit of some personal goal, strong motivation, or declared personal enmity? Buy Innate Enchantment and pick your own set of first-level effects which turn on to help you out under those circumstances, Corrupted/only works at times when you’re in pursuit of a powerful personal goal (4 CP).
  • You want to occasionally be given glimpses behind the scenes, at things that are going on far away? Buy a Major Privilege/the user, and possibly the group that he or she is with, occasionally gets to hear about or “see” cut scenes. Corrupted/this costs 2 Mana to activate and only works if the GM agrees to let it – although the game master may decide to have it activate spontaneously without cost (4 CP).
  • Note that, in cases where the “cut scene” is only important to the character personally – such as, say, a scene where the character’s spouse is praying for his safety or fleeing the invading army with the children – the player can simply spend a point of mana and describe what’s going on him- or her-self.

   OK; the Action Hero abilities, the Reality Editing powers, and a pair of lesser narrative abilities come out to a total of 32 CP on the nose – as noted earlier, a +1 ECL template. Characters who opt not to take such abilities, or take only part of the package, will be somewhat more powerful – while those who do want such abilities can give up some powers they might otherwise get to have them. You’d prefer something like “Devastating Blow”, or perhaps some fourth-edition style per-encounter or daily powers to some of the things on the list? Go ahead and build them. This is Eclipse; just swap some items out.

Vampires Monte’s Way

   For a minor request, here’s a quick Eclipse conversion of the basic Vampire, from Monte Cooks d20 version of the White Wolf version. Does that sound roundabout? Well, after three editions and a system conversion, it probably should. It’s not like there aren’t a thousand versions of vampires out there anyway…

   So, what do we need to buy to reproduce this version of the Vampire in Eclipse?

  • Bonus Hit Dice: +2 Bonus d8 Hit Dice, Specialized for Double Effect (four bonus hit dice)/can be bypassed to do damage to constitution by critical hits and special attacks, Corrupted/are rolled rather than taken as the maximum since they’re available at level one (16 CP).
    • That covers the basics of the wounds-and-vitality style systems, wherein a characters basic hits are considered to equal his or her constitution. You can buy that in Eclipse too, and fairly cheaply, but – in this case – it’s a world law that applies to everyone, and individual characters don’t have to.
  • Self-development: +2 to Strength, Constitution, and Charisma, +1 to any ability score (42 CP).
  • Attribute Shift: +2 to any one attribute, -2 to any other attribute, normally depending on bloodline (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts/1d4 Natural Weapons (3 CP). Normally fangs and a bit attack, but characters who want to rip at people with their ghoulish talons – or poke them with their supernaturally sharp and pointy elbows – may do that if they like instead.
  • Leadership/May create ghouls (6 CP). Some characters may want to upgrade their ghouls with a few positive levels via the Emperors Star enhancement, but that can wait until later.
  • Occult Sense/Low-Light Vision (6 CP). No, they don’t get Darksight. That’s because there has to be enough light for the movie cameras to pick up the action. We might as well admit that this is a semi-romanticized cinematic version of the vampire.
  • Occult Sense/Blood Sense. Can detect other vampires nearby and get a rough estimate of their power level, and can obtain more details about blood – including bloodlines, who’s controlling a ghoul or thrall, and so on – by tasting it (6 CP).
  • Immunity/Bleeding (Common, Major, Trivial, 3 CP). These vampires will not lose hit points while below zero hit points – and won’t crumble away at zero hit points either.
  • Immunity/Critical Hits (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP to reduce damage from critical hits by 30 points). Critical hits won’t usually do much to these vampires. After all, their bodies are basically dead.
  • Immunity/normal metabolic needs (Very Common, Major, Minor, 10 CP). This should be enough to let them get along without food, water, air, warmth, and similar things.
  • Immunity/normal diseases, toxins, and things that affect the metabolism (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP). Technically they might be vulnerable to rotting, but that might well be why they have to spend a little power each day just to stay active. They have to make up for the daily ravages of bacteria and time.
  • Immunity/Age (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 3 CP).
  • 4d6 Mana, Corrupted/only usable for special-purpose disciplines, no normal recovery, can be drained away or stolen by draining their blood (16 CP). That covers the “Blood Pool”. Of course, in Eclipse, there’s nothing to keep them from buying this up a bit.
  • Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, Specialized/must drink blood from victims – draining their constitution – to recover Mana (12 CP). Technically the basic vampire can drink and spend without limit – but a daily recovery limit of 13d6 really ought to cover most situations and can probably be treated as “unlimited” without any real problem.
  • Inherent Spell/Curse (a limited, but fairly potent one: drinking their blood – and thus taking a Mana point from them – causes addiction and enthralment), Corrupted/powered by Mana (4 CP)
  • Grant of Aid with the Mighty Modifier, Corrupted/powered by Mana (6 CP). A vampire can recover 1d8+5+Con Mod hit points, or 1d3+1 points of attribute damage, or two negative levels per Mana point spent.
  • Hysteria (Physical Speciality) with the Great, Extended, and Mighty modifiers (24 CP). May spend one Mana to double any one physical attribute for one minute. That doesn’t quite match the original; for that you’d have to buy Immunity/stacking limits and upgrade the cost. On the other hand, allowing a character to get +60 strength for one minute – at the cost of a fairly-easily replenished reserve – will overwhelm a lot of games. Hence a compromise: Vampires can briefly double their physical attributes relatively cheaply, but can’t go higher than that. An attribute pumped up into the 30-40 range is quite supernatural enough for most games.

   The entire package is specialized, reducing it’s cost to a net 90 CP – or a +2 ECL race. Elements that help make it specialized include:

  • Must spend Mana to remain awake during the day, appear alive for a time, awake (or remain so) at nightfall, or otherwise counterfeit being alive, such as by eating food and/or drinking, showing body warmth or a pulse, etc.
  • Takes four points of constitution damage per round from full exposure to direct sunlight.
  • Do not naturally heal, and cannot benefit from conventional medical attention.
  • Being generally regarded as predatory monsters, undead, and enemies of all life.

   I may do some of the other groups as well – but this should suffice to provide the general idea: I expect that most of them will come out around the same ECL range.

   One basic problem with this sort of thing in Eclipse is that – in point-buy – characters are not obliged to stick with the “Vampire Theme”. If the game master wants to make sure they do, it’s best to tell the players that you’re going to be enforcing the genre separations in advance.

RPG Design – Practical Melee Weapons

   Long ago, in a distant movie theater, there was a really bad movie called The Sword and the Sorcerer.

   On the other hand, it was a fantasy-adventure movie that was around in the early days of fantasy role-playing – so quite a few gamers at the time promptly tried to lift things from it for their own characters.

   One of the big favorites was the triple-bladed sword. After all, with three blades on one hilt, it should do three times as much damage, right?

   Well no, that’s not right. It doesn’t even do slightly more damage.

   Damage is work – tearing apart, crushing, or splitting open flesh and bone, all takes energy. In the case of a physical weapon it takes kinetic energy.

   The kinetic energy carried by a moving object – including a weapon – is 1/2 Mass x Velocity x Velocity.

   If your weapon – whether it’s a tri-bladed sword, or just a massive four-by-four, fencepost, or iron staff instead of a normal quarterstaff – is, let us say, three times as massive as a normal one, you can only swing it at one-third the acceleration, A, since the force exerted by your muscles is fairly constant over such a short term.

   The distance, D, over which it’s being accelerated remains the same.

   The time to travel that distance is the square root of (2D/A). That is, at one-third the acceleration, the time taken to cover the distance to the target will be increased by the square root of three. This does give a heavier weapon more time to build up speed than a lighter one.

   In comparison to the original weapon, the actual impact velocity of our triple-mass weapon will thus be one-third the impact velocity of the original weapon multiplied by the square root of three.

   The total kinetic energy in comparison with the original weapon will thus be (3 x the Original Weapon’s Mass) x ([the square root of three]/ three) x ([the square root of three]/three) = the same amount.

   Unfortunately…

  • That kinetic energy will be spread out over a slightly larger area
  • It will be coming in at just under 60% of the speed of the original weapon, and so will be far easier to block, deflect, or evade.
  • The extra-massive weapon will be far less controllable and harder to swing back again than the original.
  • The kinetic energy will be less effectively transferred to the target, thanks to the conservation of momentum: more kinetic energy will be transferred into moving the target struck and more will remain in the weapon than was the case with the original weapon. It’s the same basic principle behind a bullet getting the lions share of the kinetic energy when fired but only carrying 50% of the momentum. Momentum is shared equally; kinetic energy is not.

   OK, that quick analysis suggests that our triple-mass weapon is a great deal less effective than the original – but we must be missing something, because that would suggest that the lighter the weapon, the more effective it is, and that’s not always true either. Lighter weapons are easier to maneuver, and strike more quickly, but they often do seem to do less overall damage.

   To account for that, we have to take a quick look at biomechanics.

   There are distinct limits on both how quickly a muscle can contract and on how much force it can exert. These vary from organism to organism, both within and outside of any given species – but the overall limits are pretty similar within any given species.

   Ergo, any given weapon will have an ideal mass for any given wielder – the greatest mass for which it will still reach the maximum possible velocity towards the very end of it’s average arc. Within a given species, that will usually mean that any given weapon will have a fairly narrow range of ideal masses. Using a heavier weapon is more effective until that ideal value is reached, at which point it’s effectiveness will begin falling off again.

   Yes, that’s basically another bell curve. Life is like that.

   Things get a bit more complicated when you start factoring in other factors – but the basic math doesn’t change.

  • If you bring in gravity, it’s important to remember that everything you get from gravity you have to put into potential energy in the first place. Gravity is most useful when your target is holding still, which is why executioner’s axes and digging picks are heavier than those designed for battle.
  • For thrusting weapons you’re best off with the mass concentrated towards the part you hold if you want to move it around readily. If you want to block with it as well, you’ll want a somewhat more equal distribution. If you just want to block, broad and flat is the way to go – and you’ve basically got a shield.
  • For swinging weapons, like axes, you can maximize the kinetic energy transfer by putting most of the mass at the far end, where the weapon will be moving most rapidly. To maximize it’s maneuverability, you’ll want the weight on the end closest to you. If you want to block and strike with it, you’ll want a more equal distribution.
  • For weapons designed to pierce and be twisted or pulled through flesh, kinetic energy is less important than maneuverability, since much of the damage is from yanking on them after the initial impact. They tend to be lighter and shorter, so that the user is not at such a leverage disadvantage when pulling or pushing the weapon through the target’s tissues.
  • For cutting weapons that are drawn across flesh to slice or tear it, you’ll want a slightly uneven curve so that weapon continues to be drawn across the same place as the weapon as the user turns to pull it across his or her target.
  • Swung lever-assisted weapons need to be lighter, so that the user can exert enough force to maximize their acceleration despite the extra lever length. This covers everything from slings to flails and morning stars.

   I could go on a good deal longer here, but I think that’s enough. It should be no surprise to anyone that most traditional weapons are already pretty well optimized. That’s why people use things which are especially made to be weapons rather than simply using whatever implement is ready to hand – and why most armies have always been armed with a relatively few simple weapons selected to balance effectiveness, ease of training, and costs. Fortunately, when it comes to basic melee weapons, it’s not that hard to rack up a decent “score” on all three counts.

   For some quick, practical rules?

  1. Make an improvised weapon roughly half as effective as whatever actual weapon you’re comparing it to.
  2. A bizarre low-tech weapon is very unlikely to be any better than one of the old historical standards unless the user is given a LOT of special training in some special trick – and even then it’s probably limited.
  3. If it sounds impractical, it probably is.
  4. If it could have been made long ago, but no one’s ever equipped their army with it, it’s probably not very good.
  5. If it’s simple, cheap, low-tech, nonmagical, sounds effective, and has never been in wide historical use, there’s probably something about it that you’re missing.

RPG Design – Designing for your Players

   To actually be a player in a game, your decisions have to have some impact on what happens in it. Otherwise, you’re just an audience.

   As a small child I encountered a basic magicians trick; a performer who glanced at a deck of cards, slipped it into his pocket, and claimed he could pull out a particular card of my choice. He asked me to choose between black or red. I picked red, and he promptly said “I’ll eliminate the red cards then, pick hearts or diamonds!” I picked Hearts, and he said “I’ll keep the hearts then, pick face cards or number cards!” – and I said “I want to keep the face cards”.

   He got rather cross. After all, his trick relied on pretending to allow me to make decisions without actually allowing them to mean anything.

   It didn’t fool me for more than a few such “choices” as a child, and it won’t fool your players for long either, no matter how well you disguise it. In most role-playing games a lack of meaningful choices is known as “railroading”, and it’s usually a death knell; the players will soon get annoyed and play something else.

   All games run by rules. They may be neatly written down, or they may be the rules in someone’s head – whether carefully examined and thought out or vague and inchoate – but they’re still rules. “Dramatic Necessity”, “Plot”, “Narrative”, “Physics”, “Common Sense”, “the way (whatever) works…” and a hundred other ideas on how things should work in a game are all just differing sets of rules.

   All rules sets are simulations. They may be simulations of a strange and limited reality, or even of some purely abstract set of interactions, but a rule describes the results of a particular situation or set of situations under that particular set of rules. Monopoly uses one set of rules. Physics uses another set. Chess, super hero comic books, road runner cartoons, and classic action movies all use their own sets.

   Everyone has their own taste there – but for a game, it’s best to have as many of the rules as you can out in the open. If the players don’t know what the rules are, their decisions mean less. You don’t think so? Pick a number from one to three. What does you choice mean in the game I just started? I know, do you? Was your decision essentially random and – to you – meaningless?

   That would be a “yes” pretty much by definition.

   That’s why hiding the rules is generally a poor idea. The characters may not know them beyond what they can observe and have heard about the world – but the players will need to have a pretty good idea as to the likely results of their choices to make them meaningful. A good storyteller or a colorful setting and system may be able to hold an appreciative set of gamers even if their decisions are fairly random and have very little impact on the plot – but it’s a lot harder than it needs to be.

   Problems appear when two or more different sets of rules are in play. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in our out of people’s heads, formal or informal, or whether the game has a game master. If there are multiple sets of rules in play, then there are multiple games – or possibly no game at all if no one agrees.

  • If two players are playing two different variants of chess, “the” game won’t work well.
  • If one player thinks Elves are “the fair folk” (so-called because if you called them the kind of names that the vicious, irrational, child-stealing, animal-tormenting, monsters who gave people epilepsy and strokes for “fun” really deserved they’d kill you) and another thinks of them as semi-divine “agents of the light” – and both accept their positions as being the rules of the game, rather than an opinion – then things will tend to fall apart when elves turn up.
  • If one player is playing by a mental set of rules that says that falling fifty stories onto a bed of close-set poisoned metal spikes should be fatal, and the other is playing by a set of game mechanics that says that it almost certainly isn’t, one of them is going to be severely upset whichever way that situation turns out.

   That is why the game rules should support the rules of the setting – and, ideally, should closely match the rules in the player’s heads.

   That’s where “Game Mechanics” come up. Good mechanics for a game setting provide results consistent with the implicit and explicit rules of that setting, are simple and easy to remember and use, suffice to support a wide enough variety of decisions and options to be interesting, and be sufficiently “balanced” for all the players to enjoy the game and find it challenging for a reasonably long time. There should be resources to manage and expend, trade-offs to agonize over, and goals to achieve.

   Ideally, the mechanics should support any option that a player can dream up, never require exceptions, be so quick and intuitive that the players can almost forget about them, and should reflect the rules of the world they’re supporting with absolute precision, so that no exceptions are ever needed.

   Sadly, several of those design goals are probably opposed to each other, making perfection quite impossible – but some mechanics do a better job of it than others.

   A major part of creating a good mechanic is to determine what you want to have them do in the first place. In the case of role-playing games…

   Is the game simply a social event? A reason for a group of friends to get together, reminiscence, and gossip? All games serve this purpose to some extent, but good games for this purpose tend to be light, simple, and relatively short. A consistent world or setting isn’t especially important, and humor is likely to be a primary value. There aren’t any rules recommendations to encourage this because – for these purposes – the fewer the rules, the better. Strip out any major complications so that people can get right to the playing.

   Do you want to create satisfying stories, filled with strong personalities, exciting genre-appropriate events, and unexpected plot twists? In this case the exact details of HOW things happen won’t be all that important – but you’ll want some story-based mechanics to allow the players to add their own materials, NPC’s, discriptions, and plot twists, otherwise they’ve gone from “players” to “audience”. Mechanisms like “whimsy cards”, “plot points”, “drama dice”, and “fate” all work well; it’s simply important to remember that this makes narrative an active principle of the setting, on a par with gravity. Expect the characters to notice it, to be aware of narrative conventions, and to be on the lookout for the times and places when they can twist the tale their way. Gaming is not about telling stories – but it can be about creating them.

  • Allow the players to take over or play NPC’s on occasion. You can even allow them to play out some of the prequel events for a situation that their characters will later become involved with.
  • Give them a limited supply of something – cards, points, or whatever – that they can expend on introducing plot twists and adding background elements. When they do it well, and add interest to the game, give them more. If they just use them to bypass problems, don’t give them more.
  • Give them a way – drama dice, action points, or whatever – that they can use to come out ahead in dramatic situations. Remember though, this will be taking some of the challenge out of the game; there’s far less risk of the players losing when they have points to spend. To handle this, make them reluctant to spend those points – for example, by making them the same points that they’d normally use to upgrade their characters.

   Do you want challenges? Complex puzzles, situations, and social difficulties which the players can try to resolve by using their wits to apply their characters abilities? In this case you’ll want “balance”; all the characters should have interesting things to do during most sessions, you’ll want to provide a great deal of information, there should be a serious chance of the characters losing – indeed, if they make poor decisions it should be virtually guaranteed – and you’ll want a very open system, capable of handling an immense variety of situations. Note that this doesn’t require “balanced encounters” unless the players are very inexperienced: deciding whether or not to get into a situation is also a chance to make a bad decision – and to suffer the consequences.

  • To be blunt, there are a tremendous number of games out there with perfectly good rules sets for this sort of thing – enough so that all you really need to do is pick one.

   Do you want drama, backstories, and intense character interactions? Rules to encourage this sort of thing usually pop up during character generation and as speciality rules to encourage dramatic situations, declarations of undying emotion, and personal motivations.

  • Call for detailed character backgrounds – ones with personal goals, likes and dislikes, reasons to be involved with the world and the other characters, and potential conflicts. Make sure that those elements come into play and that – at the least – they result in a little more “screen time” for the character. Provide some minor rewards for especially good bits and the players will soon be trying to come up with complications for themselves. Awarding some extra experience whenever a characters background complicates his or her life usually works pretty well.
  • Give characters bonuses when acting in accord with their motivations. Give them bigger bonuses if they swear mighty vows and/or come up with dramatic scenes, speeches, and descriptions of their environment and actions while pursuing those motivations.
  • If they play out some intensely emotional moment, or come up with some in-character “diary” entries or personal scene outside of the usual game sessions, give them credit for it: Some bit of fortune or good karma to hold in reserve for more trying times will encourage that sort of thing.

   Do you want to let the players explore and “experience” a fantasy world? Rules that encourage this sort of thing usually focus on consistency between the setting rules and the mechanics that model it and on “what would really happen if such a situation really occurred in such a setting”. This approach tends to abhor “Metagaming” – and take any form of interference based on “plot” or “narrative” or “drama” as Metagaming unless there’s some mechanism within the world being modeled that explains such interference.

   In this case, there aren’t many rules for encouraging this approach. The game master must simply make sure that there are a lot of situations – some important, some unimportant, some that the characters can do something about, some that they can’t, and some that they can with a lot of work and risk – available for the characters to become involved with. Similarly, there should be a lot of things that they don’t know about to start with. He or she had better be prepared to have them go off in odd directions.

   What is most vital, however, is to make sure that the consequences and implications of the world rules and the mechanics – if there’s a clear distinction in this style at all – are throughly considered.

   For example, in one Champions game, it was noted that normal people could learn modest magical powers (up to 10 active points in general, +5 if studying a specialized field, and +5 if they had a strong natural talent, which about 5% of the population did). That had LOT of implications. Notably, it meant that being “hospitalized for an injury” only took an hour or two to heal up any survivable physical wound and that diseases were easily cured. Any competent medical mage could heal up an accident victim before he or she woke up. Hospitals existed – to handle congenital problems, provide specialized care for premature births, and handle vicious curses – but there weren’t many long-term stays. One player had to have it explained to him (over and over again) that writing up a character history involving being hospitalized for months in New York City for broken bones and burns after an auto accident simply would not work without some really exotic explanation.

   There were lots of other effects as well – and keeping the game believable and consistent required a good deal of forethought. After all, when the players find an inconsistency in this sort of game, they’ll usually focus on it, under the assumption that it’s an indication of something going on.

   Finally, of course, there are the goals of the players.

   Some are more awkward than others.

  • Some players want to fantasize about doing impossible things, like their favorite action heroes, anime characters, or super beings. They want the game to let them be larger than life – but tend to become upset if they fail too often. Make sure that the system allows characters to be bigger, better, or at least more skilled than normal.
  • Some players just like to attack. They may be bored or frustrated in real life, feel put-upon by their boss at work, or just be looking to blow off steam – but they want to grind forward and crush their opposition in a spray of real or metaphorical blood. They’ll get upset if the game doesn’t allow this to work reasonably often or makes them do a lot of investigating or some such. Make sure that the system allows for combat without it being absurdly deadly or likely to result in long-term disabilities.
  • Some players like to tell other people what to do. For them, the game will be frustrating unless either some of the players are pliable enough to direct and manipulate or there are NPC’s they can manipulate and order about. They’ll get upset if there aren’t enough other characters who listen to them and accept their ideas and directives. To accommodate them, make sure that the system allows for leadership and influence.
  • Some players want to “win” – and in RPG’s this usually means accumulating personal power and wealth. They’ll get upset if the system doesn’t allow them to advance their character’s abilities readily, and if too much time is spent on activities which aren’t directly rewarding in terms of power and wealth. Make sure that the system allows for some form of character advancement, preferably on a regular basis.
  • Some players simply want everything to center on them. If the spotlight moves elsewhere, they’ll become impatient or cease to pay attention. This is one of the really awkward goals, and may be impossible to accommodate in a large game if taken to extremes – but it’s usually easy enough to handle. Simply make sure that the game features several different types of characters, each with their own role to play – and that all the roles come up regularly. Everyone will have a chance at the spotlight that way.
  • Some players want to have an impact on the setting, to change the world and leave a legacy. They’ll become very unhappy if their efforts never seem to have much of an impact. Make sure to keep track of large-scale events, note that the village they saved raises a memorial, and let the characters change the world a bit – whether for good or ill. If practical, add some quick and simple systems for reputation and large-scale influence. There may or may not be any karmic reward for good guys, but there should be plenty of social ones.
  • Some players want to plan, plot, investigate, and scheme – and don’t go forward unless the odds are in their favor. To accommodate them, make sure that a fair number of situations can be investigated in advance and that special preparations – such as proper clothing, special weapons designed to harm particular foes, and picking up specialized supplies – make a large difference once in a while. Make sure that the game includes a good variety of ways to allocate character resources before getting involved in something – and that those allocations really matter.
  • Some players want to focus on personal matters – making money through business, having their characters get married, and pursuing careers rather than being over-the-top rogues and heroes. They’re easy to accommodate: just make sure that such activities sometimes yield benefits for the other characters – information, goods and services, jobs, contacts that get them out of trouble, or some such – and everyone will usually be happy.
  • Some players want to get deeply “into character” – and usually take it to an extreme. If they’re being directly disruptive to the group they’ll need to be firmly discouraged – but if they’re just overacting a bit and hamming it up, the rules should give them some small bonuses for staying in character at the price of all the complications they’ll bring on themselves. They want to be Dark Lords? Chivalric Knights? Macho Men who impress everyone? Why not? Such roles aren’t subtle, but they’re certainly easy to play. Social mechanics for non-player character reactions and for reputations are probably in order. A bonus for dedication or service to a cause or philosophy of life also works well.
  • Some players simply want to do things that they’d never even consider doing in real life. This is easy to handle as long as they take that to mean taking large risks in pursuit of large rewards and exploiting their characters abilities. It even works when they want to do things like die heroically or dedicate large portions of their character’s life to working towards some mighty goal – or just want to experiment with out-of-the-box problem-solving. Simply make sure that failure, or even the loss of their character, doesn’t permanently cripple their ability to participate in the game – although it may well take several sessions for them to recoup their losses on real disaster.
    • Rule-based solutions fail to work when a player announces that their character is crazy, does absurdly silly things because the plot or the efforts of the other characters will insulate them from the obvious results, or when they say “I’ll just make up another character!”. One of the base assumptions of most games is that “you are playing a character who would plausibly exist and have survived to this point in the setting – and that the rest of the characters would be willing to associate with”. If they’re not doing that, they’re essentially announcing that “I refuse to abide by the rules of this game” – and no rule will fix that.
  • Some players like to contribute things – interesting items of equipment, odd NPC’s, new spells, descriptions of locations, in-character diaries, record keeping, or whatever. The rules should both allow and reward this. Inventions should be allowed – if difficult – and should bring the inventor some sort of reward in exchange for their efforts. If the player is contributing to the setting out of character, give the material your own twist and use it. You may provide another reward if you like – either in or out of character – but the principle reward for such players is seeing their material going into play.
  • Some players like to sneak around, get past obstacles by their wits and trickery, and put clues together to solve puzzles. To accommodate them you’ll want to make sure that your rule system has some fairly clearly-defined system for them to use for sneaking, trickery, and so on. Otherwise they won’t be able to estimate their odds – and their decisions as to what to try won’t mean much.

   It’s often been noted that not everyone wants the same thing out of a game, and thus you cannot make a game that pleases everyone.

   This is true.

   You can, however, make a game that can accommodate a wide variety of goals and playstyles – and which will work well enough for all of them to please most groups. That will leave out the people who become impatient or annoyed whenever a game veers into territory that they’re not interested in – but if they’re unwilling to accommodate the players who are interested in such things with good grace, they’re usually not contributing much to the game anyway. The other players are entitled to their own share of the playing time, and refusing to recognize that, or to pay attention when other people are taking their turns, isn’t a mark of dedication to a particular gaming philosophy. It’s a mark of immaturity – and the cure for that can’t be found in any playable set of rules.

Wild Dawn: Quick Roleplay Rules

   This particular rules system got tossed together on the fly for a freeform game evening. Like most such it’s pretty simple – but it proved popular enough to justify actually typing out the notes on how it operated. The original game was a wild-west dinosaur-hunters episode, but we’ve used the system for a few other quick between-campaigns games since. There are quite a few systems tossed together for once-off games laying about on notepads, perhaps I’ll dig some of them out.

   The Attributes:

Smarts:

Intellectual Abilities

Guts:

Physical and Spiritual Toughness

Fightin:

Combat Abilities

Talent:

Psychic/Magical/Super Abilities

Spottin:

Alertness/Sensory Acuteness

Smooth:

Social Abilities

  • “Human” attributes range from 1-6 (1 Awful, 2-3 Average, 4 Good, 5 Excellent and 6 Incredible). Each attribute represents your dice pool for actions of the appropriate type. Characters can have a 0 Talent rating if they wish.
  • “Monster” – and “Super” attributes range from 0 to 10. Superheroes may take have one, and only one, super attribute. Exotic races may vary, see below.

   Task Rolls :

  • Any action requires an expenditure of dice from an appropriate pool. Each D6 – and only D6 are used in this game – is rolled independently and the result compared to the target number. Dice pools recover each turn.
  • Resisted checks, such as most attacks, allow an opponent to roll dice from his or her pools to try and cut down the number of successes obtained. In most cases this requires expending dice – although simply resisting damage with a Guts or Talent roll does not.
  • Bonus and Penalty Dice increase or decrease the number of dice in the relevant pool(s). Bonus dice are usually the result from the use of equipment and /or special circumstances. The most common reason for penalty dice are wounds. Each wound results in two penalty dice to an appropriate pool; when a pool is reduced to zero, the character cannot take such actions any longer. When all six dice pools are reduced to zero, the character is dead. Most are totally ineffectual long before then.
  • Anyone who rolls more “1’s” then successes on a task will suffer some sort of mishap; in dangerous tasks – such as most talent-related actions – this usually results in a wound.
  • Optional Rule; Characters may ignore all wound penalties on any one die pool for a turn by taking another wound, thus allowing heroic actions before collapsing.

   Base Target Numbers :

10

Impossible.

9

With world-class expertise maybe…

8

This is VERY expensive.

7

Impossible without training, tricky with.

6

Tricky, and likely to fail. Resisting injuries comes here.

5

Difficult, but the odds are good.

4

Ordinary. Basic attacks come here.

3

Easy for virtually anyone.

2

Almost impossible to fail at.

   Skills – and the lack thereof – can increase or decrease the base target number. Characters have a limited number of superior skills, but they can be endlessly incompetent. In general characters will find skills;

Type

Modifier

Skill Level Description

Alien

+3 TN

Skills the character has never heard of.

Outre’

+2 TN

Uncommon skills which don’t fit into the character’s background.

Exotic

+1 TN

Ordinary skills which don’t fit into the character’s background.

Competent

No Mod

Everything that fits your background story or the setting.

Skillful

-1 TN

Things you’re damned good at.

Expert

-2 TN

Things hardly anybody is better then you at.

Master

-3 TN

Things NOBODY is better at.

   Skill Notes:

  • Alien Skills depend on the setting – but things like “nerve-induction flying-saucer piloting” tend to fall into this category.
  • Outre’ Skills include complex sciences, talent- related skills, communicating in unknown languages and similar tasks.

   Success Levels:

Successes Rolled

Success Level

Combat Injury Inflicted

1

Minimal

Stunned One Round

2

Ordinary

2 Penalty Dice

3

Superior

4 Penalty Dice

4

Remarkable

6 Penalty Dice

5

Extraordinary

8 Penalty Dice

6

Unbelievable

10 Penalty Dice

7

Monstrous

12 Penalty Dice

8

Divine

14 Penalty Dice

   Character Generation:

   This is normally point-based, although PC’s may opt to roll up their attributes randomly if the GM chooses to allow this. In general;

Character Type

Total Attributes

Skill Ratings

Items

Flaws

Ordinary Folks

15

2x +1

1

Trained Types

18

3x +1

1

2

Notable Heroes

21

3x +1, 1x +2

2

3

Cinematic Heroes

24

3x +1, 2x +2

3

4

Superheroes

27

3x +1, 2x +2, 1x +3

5

6

  • Items cover exotic equipment – sniping rifles, pistols with clips of silver bullets, reputations, being of a strange race, really exotic backgrounds and superpowers. Basically if it’s a distinction and useful it’s “equipment”. Equipment usually adds 1-3 dice to the relevant pools when it applies or, for things like flight harnesses, powers, and secret identities, simply permit you to do the ordinarily impossible.
  • Flaws are enemies, weaknesses, odd compulsions, phobias, dependents, being subject to orders, your personal code of honor, and anything else that makes trouble for you or restricts your options. Every character should have the minimum number of flaws, many have more.

   Combat, Initiative, and Healing:

  • Characters act in order of the players seating about the table; the GM is encouraged to alternate directions occasionally. Henchmen go when their “bosses” do, other NPC’s go when the count reaches the GM.
  • Who goes first (PC’s/NPC’s) is up to the GM.
  • Characters normally recover a number of wounds per week equal to the results of a Guts check. The use of helpful skills (First Aid, Healing Powers and Meditation [For “Wounds” resulting from backlash]) will reduce the number of penalty dice a character is subject to by one per success. Such skills may only be applied once to any given set of penalties

   Experience Points:

  • Characters who survive gaming sessions improve. Being active during a game is worth 1 EP, actually being useful/clever/lucky is worth 2. Players who advance the plot/add to the fun get a bonus point, those who disrupt/hinder things take a -1 penalty.
  • Experience points may be spent to; add a title, bit of reputation or background story element (1), to add “+1” to an attribute (Cost = new value, the usual limits apply), to increase a skill level (-3 to -2; 6, -2 to -1; 4, -1 to -0; 2, 0 to +1; 3, +1 to +2; 6, +2 to +3; 12), or to add new “equipment” to the character’s personal repertoire (8).

Eclipse – The Ancient One +2 ECL Template

   The beginning is lost. The razored edges of broken memories, shattered like a mirror in a whirlwind or the reflection of the moon upon the waters, broken by the twin transitions of life to death and of instinct to sapience, offer glimpses of a life untouched by complications. Within those glimpses roam the primal creatures of a younger world. Hunger and growth, fang and claw – blood and death.

   Shattered.

   Everyone knows that traces of the psyche can be left on objects. Bits of vision, fragments of tragedy, traces of love and hate, all the detritus of the psyche. All can soak into impressionable stone and metal, to resonate with later minds, bringing them strange feelings and occasional thoughts not their own, and to awake to the touch of those who have the gift to call them forth in great detail.

   There are objects which hold such traces extraordinarily well, where memory lingers and waits with unusual potency. Some are crafted by skill and art, others are natural talismans – and thus some are very old indeed. At the core of a cluster of crystals, in the heart of a natural nodule of metal, in an ancient stone, lies the potential of eternity – awaiting only the link of blood and an infusion of life to awaken it.

   In a violent world, this happens on occasion. A beast topples from a cliff onto the waiting stones below, freeing spirit from ruptured flesh – or a crudely hammered knife of native copper is driven deep into a heart – and a portion of the life-force so suddenly poured forth becomes trapped within inanimate matter, granting the impressions left behind upon it an unnatural force.

   Such traces are useful. Even an echo of instinctive wisdom or the primal fury of a beast at bay may aid greatly in survival in a harsh wilderness.

   Occasionally, someone will be linked with, handling, or merely be close enough to such a talisman when there is a mighty surge of magic. Whether by chance or by destiny, the memories of the talisman become theirs – and, until their lives end, they shall be bonded to the talisman, and their memories will be added to it’s store.

   Yet what is a personality but the sum of it’s memories? What becomes of a creature that now recalls many lives beyond it’s own, what it was to have many different souls, to have gone down into death many times, and to leave behind nothing but an echo of memory to imprint itself on some successor?

   Like so many other people, the current beneficiaries (or victims) of such talismans often delude themselves. They tell themselves that they are immortals, that they will return so long as their talismans – or an art-created substitute therefore – shall endure, and yet they struggle frantically to claim some form of transcendence – to this time escape death and endure beyond the fate of flesh. They tell themselves that their inability to wield ancient powers is due merely to their loss of strength in the process of taking on a new body – not a simple consequence of the difference between a having a copy of a predecessors memories and having the power that died with him or her.

   Others see the bearers of memory as being possessed by parasitic minds that prey upon mortals and steal their bodies and souls, as things to be exploited, as creatures to be feared, and as being to be envied for their “Immortality”. Others will have enemies, inherited from their forebearers. All, thanks to the mirroring of memory within whatever focus holds the accumulated memories of the past, find it near-impossible to forget – or to forgive.

   They see only their ancient quest, handed down to a new torchbearer. To pass beyond death, and endure in life – following whatever path their predecessors have been on across the centuries.

   The basic “Ancient One” has “lived” two to four “prior lives”, and – most often – “started out” as a beast or as a talisman-making shaman or some such. Since this is pretty obviously an acquired template to be stacked over an existing race, it’s been built with a total of 64 CP – making it a +2 ECL template over whatever it’s applied to.

   The Ancient One:

  • Prior “Lives”: +3 Specialities in each of three times and places where the character “previously lived”. These can usually be applied to rolls related to events during the period, cultural questions, and general knowledge of the period. Note that a single speciality could cover several lifetimes in a boring area, a nonsentient lifetime won’t require one at all, and an exciting life full of travel might require two or even all three. (3 CP).
  • The Memory of Stone: Immunity/Forgetting Things and Memory Alteration (Uncommon, Minor, Great, 6 CP): Ancient Ones are immune to effects that produce forgetfulness or alter memories of level seven or below, and get a +8 bonus both on attempts to recall specific things they’ve observed and on saving throws versus higher-level effects that produce forgetfulness or alter memories.
  • Bearer of Lost Lore: Occult Skill/Secrets (3 CP). Each skill point invested in the “Secrets” skill brings extraordinary knowledge – the names of a dozen powerful fey, the routes through the crypts beneath the sacred mountains, how to open the seven gates of the netherworld, or the summoning chant of the three winds. The game master may let a character roll against his or her Secrets skill to see if they know some bit of lost information – or simply give the user additional secrets/plot hooks when it’s convenient.
  • Rune Weaver: All Ancient Ones – for some unknown reason – have a strong affinity for Rune Magic, gaining the Magician (6 CP) and Runic Ritual (6 CP) abilities. They also gain Adept x2, although the second instance is Specialized/two skills only (9 CP). Each Ancient One may select three Rune Casting and three Rune Mastery skills which he or she may buy for half price. These are his or her core magical abilities.
  • Past Master: +8 to their primary spellcasting attribute for magical purposes (in general, for learning and casting spells and for bonuses to magical skills), Corrupted/does not increase save DC, Specialized/only affects bonus slots and skill scores for Rune Magic, not for other spellcasting and magic-related skills (8 CP). For unknown reasons, all Ancient Ones are attuned to the magic of runes – and even without any great fund of personal power have developed the skill to cast at least a few spells.
  • Long Experience: Augmented Bonus/may add their (Wis Mod) to their (Int Mod) with respect to their Knowledge Skill Scores (6 CP). Over many lifetimes, the Ancient Ones have learned many things.
  • The Deep Lore/Racial Skill Bonuses: +4 to all six of their core magical skills (12 CP), +3 to Secrets (3 CP), +3 to a Martial Art (3 CP), +3 to Speak Language (the languages of previous “lives”, 3 CP), and +3 to any two other skills (6 CP).
  • Template Disadvantages: History (this is mandatory for an Ancient One: where is your memory-talisman located? What are you doing to look after it? Who were you in your earlier lives, how did those memories wind up in a talisman, and what were those lives like? Playing an Ancient One involves coming up with a fair amount of information), Hunted (the Ancient Ones always have enemies), and Insane (Ancient Ones act pretty oddly, tend to upset people, never forget an injury or offence, and are often so weird that they’re believed possessed) (-10 CP).

   Most Ancient Ones should be familiar with a variety of weapons, and possibly with armor and a lot more skills – but they might not be. It all depends on what their previous lives were like and what was going on in their current life before they acquired the Ancient One template.

Interlude: Jacen Bloodsword – Party Leader – and Tyras the Spellbinder, newly-“awakened” Ancient One:

Now let me get this straight… “Tyras” is it? You’re fourteen and you know Lunar, Binding, and Nymic Magic?

It is the nature of my power. It is as it has been throughout the seven ages of man.

Uh-huh… Right. How did you learn that?

Two thousand years ago I studied the ways and paths in the crystal halls of Tharnasus, within the long-forgotten city of Saridan.

And what was it you’re looking for?

The helm of the eleven serpents of jade, the red essence of Malkyian, the Book Of Orthac, the crescents of Oriflyn, and the Seven Pillars of the Way.

And you want to find all this before the minions of Vencor catch up with you. I got that part, yes… Why do you want all that stuff?

Once my powers reach their peaks – unfettered by the frailty of rebirth – I shall enact my ritual, and ascend transfigured!

(Danis, Party Ranger) Jacen… He’s a runaway from two villages down. He’s barely out of childhood. Maybe he’s picked up a trick or two somehow, and claims he can guide us through the caverns, but he’s obviously moonstruck or possessed or something. You can’t possibly be seriously considering –

(Tyras) SENKORT-BA MA’AL UHHNN!

(Danis) Woof! Woof! Woof!

(Jacen) I think that’s a sufficient demonstration… Turn him back and welcome to the team.

   Since the memories that make up an Ancient One generally wind up infused into some more-or-less random individual or magical dabbler, they rarely wind up in someone with any serious magical talent – which may be why they mostly use Rune Magic, an ability almost anyone can dabble in. While they are pretty good at it to start out with, their progress is generally slow compared to other spellcasters – which is why most Ancient Ones actually develop their abilities in ranger or rogue-styled builds, where they can defend themselves adequately. In fact, most of them tend to lean heavily towards defensive abilities – a consequence of their relative fragility at lower levels.

   In the game, an Ancient One or two is principally interesting for all the baggage they bring along – obscure clues from past lives, strange bits of knowledge, long-forgotten languages, sage-like talents, a build-in bizarre quest, and enemies both current and from long centuries past. The entire character is going to be a walking plot hook. I, personally, might even let a character get away with calling that a specialization on the entire package, reducing it to +1 ECL to start with, just for that – although, in that case, I’d make very sure that all those complications are WORTH the thirty-two character point price break the character would be getting.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 76b: The Knight-Pursuivant

   Thawban bin Jalalu-d-din bin Davud Al-Ganem, Knight-Lord of the Order of the Wind of Allah, had witnessed Marty’s battle with the Death Knight Melek-Zolmat – a Champion of the Darkness – and had revised a few assumptions… Whatever-it-was that walked their streets in the guise of an overweight Shughliri was no mere merchant who had learned to defend himself. Whoever – and whatever – “Marty” might be, he was at least as formidable in his own way as the fey lord that he accompanied. About “Jamie” and the “Abbess Esther” he was not yet sure – but it seemed likely that they were no mere sinecurists.

   To accept the aid of creatures they did not understand was desperately dangerous, and perhaps not merely to the body! To rely on them so might be an immeasurable folly! What would be the price of such aid? Were the circumstances not so terrible no sane man would consider it for a moment!

   He had initially discounted the story that “Kevin” had wielded holy energies on his way into the city. The Fey were not holy men, and Kevin did not even pretend to be such.

   Then “Kevin” had revealed that he was carrying two holy artifacts of legendary power – sufficient to double the area protected by the holy men and the Temple’s aura – but why did sacred artifacts tolerate the touch of a fey? Where had they come from? Minor relics were everywhere – almost every holy man left one or two behind – but such things were symbols and foci of faith, not fonts of sacred power in their own right! Of Great Relics there were but twelve;

  • Four of Revelation: The Scrolls of Moses which instructed, The Staff of Moses which led, the Ark of the Covenant which shaped, and the Stone of Creation – later known as the Seal of Solomon – that was the foundation and binding of the world.
  • Four of Wisdom: The Sangraal which healed, the Spear of Longrinus which purified, the True Cross which defended, and the Iron Crown of Empire that had been forged of the three nails.
  • Four of Judgement: the Black Stone in the Kaaba in Mecca which purified and absorbed the sins of men, the Sword of Muhammad which brought justice, the First Koran – dictated by Gabriel to Muhammad – which brought salvation, and the Jug of Muhammad, from which flowed the mercy of Allah!

   From whence came two supernal Gems of Light, like the Star of the Magi brought to Earth? Were they perhaps artifacts from before the flood? Was he to believe that the Zoroaster had been a prophet after all? The boy had referenced “Three Silmarils” – perhaps the emblems of the Three Kings of the East? What would be the gift of such things? Sacred Power, Magic, and Life? Were those the forces the boy called upon to lend strength – as it had been reported that he’d done several times – to those who fought by his side?

   If the realms of the distant East had Great Relics of their own – which Thawban doubted; they did not follow ANY of the true Prophets – the tales had not reached the West, and surely tales of wonder would have accompanied the relics that embodied them!

   The questioning priests had recorded what Kevin had told them – but in that was naught but more confusion:

   “In another world, in another realm, in the twilight before the light was divided from the darkness, the Creator sent forth his children beneath the stars. One of those children, Feanor, a mighty craftsman and wise before he later fell to folly, bore witness with his kin to the first light of creation. He wrought mightily, and preserved a part of that light within three gems – the Silmarils. Two of them passed into my keeping some time ago – and you have need of that light here, in this world, where the darkness rises from the Quilopothic planes.”

   Kevin and his companions had served well in revealing the madness, treachery, and blasphemy of Doctor Lichstein of the Hospitiliers – but that was a small thing compared to the siege and what association with the fey might cost.

   He had consulted the sages about “Kevins” words to the Priests of the Mount and to the Round Table Conference. About the meaning of “Yesod”, of “Quilopothic Planes”, and of the “Worlds of Yetsirah”. Such things were found in Jewish mysticism, an insane tangle of worlds and higher realms. Were the gems Kevin carried perhaps indeed from other worlds? How could that be? Allah had created the Earth, and set it at the center of the cosmos.

   The fey were many things – immortal, soulless, and capricious, masters of shapeshifting, illusion, and transformation – but they were unable to directly lie, bound as they were by their names and promises. They were, or had been, restrained by the Pact – barred from the lands of men without invitation by the Decree of Augustus, forced to return to Avalon after brief periods by the Decree of Claudius, and forced to be upfront and reasonably honest about the costs of their gifts by the Decree of Justinian.

   They did not give gifts freely – and yet Kevin had set his servants to providing supplies and healing where there was need without even being asked to do so, revealing no price, and demanding no return.

   Lacking souls, they could not directly touch them, or share the deeper levels of their power with men – but Kevin did so. He even granted his “recruits” the power of Shapeshifting – an unholy mixing of men and beasts – while directly claiming that they retained their souls.

   The fey avenged the slightest insult and refused to be questioned – while Kevin and his friends seemed to take such things as amusing, and freely admitted that their explanations were incomplete, claiming only that they were “too busy to take the time to fully explain”.

   Keven had bowed to the Presence Light.

   Thawban had made sure to have a few agents in the contingent of Priests who had gone to speak with him. And their report was madness.

   Death was the fate of all men – but Kevin had claimed that he could recall the dead who perished in his service, that such service was temporary (if “for a few centuries”), that the powers and youth he granted were theirs perpetually. He claimed that he was not from Avalon, that he was from another world, and that many worlds were threatened. He claimed that he did not fit the usual classifications – rules which had gone unchallenged for millennia.

   Would even a fey lord dare to counterfeit a discussion with the Guardian of Eden? Even if Kevin would so dare, why would he want to bother or to ask him along? He could have arranged some far more public illusion – and one better-designed to build trust – if that had been his desire. It was not like what he had seen would somehow cause him to unthinkingly trust the boy – if anything, it had simply raised more questions – and what else would explain a river of holy water? That could not have been faked; it still ran beneath the city!

   It also almost eliminated the possibility that Kevin was a demon or spirit of evil in the guise of a fey. No such creature could have survived a river of holy water for so long, much less with no outside sign or disturbance in his sacred aura.

   But – if what he had seen had not been an illusion daring and strong enough to defy his Aura of Truth, his will, and his doubts, Kevin and Marty had spoken to an Angel as to an equal, had not been rebuked for it, had been using their true names in defiance of the nature of the fey, and the angel had agreed that they came from outside the world!

   What lay beyond the borders of the world?! What was “the Unified Church of the Core Worlds”? What was the “House of Roses”? What was an “Opener”? How could one of those three sources of authority – or even their combination – exceed the ancient authority of the Emperor and invalidate the Pact?

   Perhaps… Could Kevin be half-human? Such creatures – having a rightful claim to life upon the Earth – were not entirely bound by the Pact. It would explain why no fey fitting his description appeared in the ancient tales; the fey might change their appearance, but never their natures.

   If “Kevin Sanwell” was indeed his true name…

   According to the scholars he’d consulted, The name “Kevin” was from the distant west, from Ireland – an island upon the borders of the world, where the Storm and the End of the World sometimes reached (as it boiled constantly along the edges of Avalon). It was a form of “kind, honest, and handsome birth”. In may ways, Ireland lay beyond the borders of the world, and was a place of magic.

   “Sanwell” was a place in Britannia, a place of legend that, according to some accounts, predated the creation of the Garden of Eden and the World. An ancient spring, and a place of magic that had watered the land for millennia. A place, according to the scholars, which had been at the center of a strong holding since before the Empire. A place that Claudius, the Fourth Emperor, had visited briefly during a campaign and had then hurriedly returned to Rome from – to issue a decree against fey remaining in the human world for long.

   No fey lordling could appeal to men so, or lend them strength by mere words, as one born to rule. That power was the heritage of the leaders of men. Was that the source of Kevin’s power to both defy the Pact and to channel the power of the fey into them? Did he stand between both worlds, a heir to power in both?

   As for “Jamie”… She appeared to be little more than a common guardsman – skilled, tough, and with some strange abilities – but mortal enough overall, and strange abilities were not exactly unheard of.

   The “Abbess Esther” was a powerful healer, definitely wielded sacred powers in her own right, certainly did not seem to be fey – and often seemed quite disapproving of her companions! Yet she was obviously no chance acquaintance; she also seemed to know far more than she revealed – and Kevin, Marty, and Jamie sought out her advice, rather than having taken the chance to avoid her, which would have been no great feat in a city so crowded as Jerusalem.

   Why would a true holy woman accompany a fey lordling and whatever-it-was in the form of a plump merchant? Why would they allow it? Perhaps he should confront her… With the approach of Death, time had abruptly grown short.