The Red Knights of Iskarin – Temorath Marbane

   Temorath simply had a knack. The Mages Council of the Telgar Academy was well aware of that talents limits – of the limits of any rune mage – but it still was well worth training. The boy would never explore the depths of magic, or work mighty enchantments, but he would be a competent agent in short order, and would more than repay the effort of educating him.

   They gave him a scholarship.

   As a journeyman, Temorath opted to join a party of adventurers. Rune magic had it’s limits – but it was fast, and flexible, and a rune mage could reach a useful level of power very quickly indeed.

   Experimenting with the Rite of the Silver Key may have been a mistake. It was such a fascinating idea; it was a spell that changed everyone who participated into a creatures of another world – and then allowed their new affinity with that world to draw them there.

   Unfortunately, Temorath lacked the strength to fully control a spell so powerful; he and his party have been wandering the dimensions ever since. Unfortunately, he swiftly found that, while his focus on magic had made him a formidable mage, his lack of combat training meant that he kept getting flattened at just the wrong moment.

   That may have influenced the Rite this time. His new body possesses a great deal of raw physical power – and has actually drastically increased his magical abilities.

   Temorath Marbane

   Level One Veltine Runemaster

  • Rolled Attributes: Str 14, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 12, and Cha 13.
  • Race-Modified Attributes: Str 20 (+5), Dex 22 (+6), Con 20 (+5), Int 14 (+2), Wis 14 (+2), and Cha 11 (–).
  • Secondary Attributes: Inherent Power 5, Generic Spell Levels 7, and Mana 3.
  • Total Mana: 3 (Base) +8 (Purchased) = 11

   Available Character Points: 48 (level one base) +6 (level one Feat) +10 (three disadvantages; History, Obligations/owes a variety of magical favors, Compulsive/Meddler and magical tinkerer) +2 (Duties to his school) = 66 CP.

   Basic Purchases (16 CP):

  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • +8 Skill Points (8 CP).
    • Net Total: 12 (Int) +8 (Purchased) + 8 (Fast Learner) = 28.
  • +1 on Will Saves (3 CP).
    • Fortitude +5 (+5 Con)
    • Reflex +6 (+6 Dex)
    • Will +3 (+1 Purchased +2 Wis).
  • Hit Points: 6 (L1, 1d6, 2 CP) + 20 (Racial Bonus HD) + 60 (6 x [Con Mod + Str Mod]) = 86
  • BAB +0 (0 CP)

   Combat Notes:

  • Armor Class 10 (base) +4 (Armor, Shimmermail) +6 (Dex) +3 (Natural) = 23.
  • Initiative +6 (Dex)
  • Move 50′ (In hybrid form).
  • Ranged Attacks +6 (+6 Dex).
  • Melee Attacks +5 (+5 Str), +5 Damage (Str). Two natural 1d8 claw attacks.

   Special Abilities (50 CP):

  • Adept (6 CP): Buys Transmutation Rune Casting and Transmutation Rune Mastery, Knowledge/Arcana, and Spellcraft at half cost.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills (6 CP).
  • Magician (6 CP)/May use bonus spell slots to cast Rune Magic. Bonus Slots; 2/2/1/1/1/1.
  • Runic Ritual (6 CP).
  • Mana (8) (2d6, 12 CP). Natural Magic; Spell Enhancement.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Corrupted/Requires a ten-minute ritual (8 CP).
  • Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect/Changes only when entering a new dimension (3 CP). This provides 3 CP, which is currently being used to pay off the “formlocked” limitation.
  • Wealth Level/Well-Off, Corrupted/Depends on student stipend (2 CP). Provides four extra languages and the use of three charms and two talismans. Currently that’s Dust of Illusion, a Fireworks Pouch, a Scrying Mirror, and Shimmer Mail.
  • Spell Formula: The Rite of the Silver Key (level six, requires a full day and does 1d4 Con damage when cast. It’s barely within his reach even spending Mana. Unfortunately, he currently can’t cast it in the twilight isles).
Skills: SP Base Att Bonuses Net
Concentration 4 +4 +5   +9
Knowledge/Arcana 2 +4* +3   +7
Rune Casting (Dex)          
-Abjuration 2 +2 +6 +5R +13
-Divination 2 +2 +6 +5R +13
-Necromancy 2 +2 +6 +5R +13
-Transmutation 2 +4* +6 +5R +15
Rune Mastery (Dex)          
-Abjuration 3 +3 +6 +5R +14
-Divination 3 +3 +6 +5R +14
-Necromancy 3 +3 +6 +5R +14
-Transmutation 2 +4* +6 +5R +15
Spellcraft 2 +4* +3   +7
Survival 1 +1 +2 +4R +7

*Half cost due to adept.

   Veltine Racial Modifier Summary (+1 ECL Race):

  • -2 Cha, +2 Wis.
  • Normally in a “Hybrid” Humanoid-Dire Wolf form, in which they can speak clearly. Str +6, Dex +6, Con +4, Low-Light Vision, Scent, +20 Ground Movement, +3 natural armor, 1d8 natural weapons, +4 bonus when tracking by scent, monstrous appearance.
  • Must occasionally make will checks to avoid giving in to wolfish instincts.
  • +5d4 Hit Dice
  • Add Str Mod to Con Mod for HP for all hit dice up to level three.
  • May use Charms and Talismans according to their Wealth level.
  • May use a maximum total of 4 CP worth of Relics.
  • Add Str Mod to Dex-Based Skills while in Hybrid and Dire Wolf forms
  • Add Dex Mod to Str-Based Skills while in Hybrid and Dire Wolf forms.
  • Cannot use heavy armor.
  • May heal 2d8+10 hit points (5 + Level/3) times daily as the player wishes, although this will not work against damage caused by tissue-destroying effects, such as fire, acid, or amputation.
  • May spend one Mana to turn their natural weapons into magic weapons for up to an hour.
  • May spend one Mana to gain +4 Str, +4 Con, +2 Will, and -2 AC for (3 + Con Mod) rounds up to (1 + Level/3) times per day.
  • Immune, or at least resistant, to natural weather conditions while in furred forms.
  • +4 racial bonus to Survival (4 CP).
  • Formlocked. Must learn to actually shapeshift if they wish to do so.
  • Poor. Their effective wealth level is reduced by one.
  • Inept/-2 penalty on Charisma-linked skills.
  • Can only tolerate (Con) “points” worth of regular magic items, with the point values of items set by the game master (as a rule, low-level single-charge items are little trouble, spell storing items are only moderately troublesome, and permanently-active personal enhancement items are very troublesome). Annoyingly enough, this limit also affects temporary external spells – although their short-term nature means that the limit is increased by the user’s (Con Mod).

   Temorath, like his friends, has picked up quite a lot of physical and magical power with his new species. He is, however, having some trouble adjusting to having become a “werewolf”…

The Red Knights of Iskarin – Hilsaryn Rollyn

   Recently the Twilight Isles campaign has seen the arrival of a second party of adventurers – a group of dimension-hopping treasure-hunters.

   The Red Knights of Iskarin are a grandiosely-named group of shallow, greedy, mercenaries. They like treasure, battle glory, and popular acclaim – to which end they tend to hire bards to sing their praises and seize on any cliched heroic quest or mission which comes along. For good or ill, such missions rarely suffice to make up for their tendency towards random disasters, but they do make an effort.

   Thanks to their discovery of (and rather foolish experimentation with) the Rite of the Silver Key, they’ve been jumping the dimensions – adapting to each one as they go.

   Whether fortunately or unfortunately, they’ve now arrived in the Twilight Isles – a realm where the local races (which the Rite has changed them into) have powers far above the norm in most other worlds, but where situations are often considerably more complicated than they’re used to.

   Hilsaryn Rollyn

   Second Level Sovath Ikam Thief

   Hilsaryn was one of many almost-unwanted children in Karvoth’s slums. He grew up scrounging for food, running with the gangs, and looking for a way to get ahead. Looking for such a path, he stole, killed more than once, dealt in very questionable merchandise indeed, and even dabbled in witchcraft – despite the fearsome local laws against such practices. When he lucked into a chance to join a group of adventurers, and found that they were willing to buy him the minimal gear that he needed to get started, it was a fabulous chance. Sure, it might get him killed – but so might a knife on the streets, or a few words to the authorities.

   Before that happened, he would gamble on life as an adventurer – and take everything he could get.

  • Rolled Attributes: Str 14, Dex 18, Con 15, Int 14, Wis 13, and Cha 9.
  • Race-Modified Attributes: Str 16 (+3), Dex 22 (+6), Con 13 (+1), Int 14 (+2), Wis 15 (+2), and Cha 9 (-1).
  • Secondary Attributes: Inherent Power 4, Generic Spell Levels 4, and Mana 5.

   Total Power: 17 [Witchcraft base, (Str+Dex+Con)/3] + 4 (Inherent) +12 (4 Mana converted to Power) = 33

   Total Mana: 34 (8d6 Racial) +4 (Innate) -4 (Converted to Power) = 38.

   Available Character Points: 72 (level two base) +6 (level one Feat) +10 (three disadvantages; Compulsive/Thief, Untrustworthy, and Incompetent/Diplomacy) +2 (Restriction/cannot acquire spell or psionic progressions) = 90 CP.

   Basic Purchases (39 CP):

  • Proficient with All Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP).
  • +10 Skill Points (10 CP).
    • Net Total: 10 (Int) +10 (Purchased) + 10 (Fast Learner) = 30 + Wealth Bonuses (see below).
  • +1 on Will and +2 on Reflex Saves (9 CP).
    • Fortitude +2 (+1 Con +1 Racial)
    • Reflex +9 (+2 Purchased, +6 Dex +1 Racial)
    • Will +3 (+1 Purchased +1 Wis +1 Racial).
  • Hit Points: 10 (L1, 1d10, 6 CP) + 5 (L2, 1d6, 2 CP) +12 (Racial Bonus HD) + 4 (4 x Con Mod) = 31
  • BAB +1, Specialized in Blades (3 CP).

   Combat Notes:

  • Armor Class 10 (base) +4 (Armor, Shimmermail) +6 (Dex) +2 (Natural) = 22.
  • Initiative +6 (Dex)
  • Ranged Attacks +7 (+1 BAB +6 Dex).
  • Melee Attacks +3 (+1 BAB +2 Str), +2 Damage (Str). Two natural 1d6 claw attacks. 3d6 Sneak Attack with Daggers or Shortswords.

   Special Abilities (51 CP):

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (+2 SP/Level) (6 CP).
  • Adept: May buy the Slight of Hand, Climb, Hide, and Move Silently skills for half cost (6 CP).
  • Opportunist. Hilsaryn gets to make an immediate skill check if he has a relevant skill at +5 or more and an appropriate attempt to resolve a situation descriptively fails (6 CP).
  • Double damage when striking from surprise, Specialized for double effect (x4 damage)/only when striking from behind from behind (6 CP).
  • Immunity/Normal limitations on Sleight of Hand (Uncommon / Minor / Major, 3 CP). Hilsaryn can steal people’s underwear, or pick their pockets while tumbling past them. This doesn’t mean that such attempts aren’t very, very, difficult; it just makes them possible.
  • One Additional Form of Natural Magic/Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/Instant Replay only. Hilsaryn can take back a decision – editing it’s effects out of reality as long as the consequences haven’t spread too far yet and he has enough Mana – although he can’t otherwise modify reality (6 CP).
  • Witchcraft I, II, and III with two pacts (Rituals/must offer regular small sacrifices of stolen objects to the mystical patrons of thieves and Hunted/The Lords of Order) which pay for Nightforge and The Umbral Form. (18 CP): Provides access to the Adamant Will, The Hand of Shadows, Healing, Glamour, Witchfire, Shadowweave, and Witchsight. Save DC 12.
  • Initial Wealth Level/Destitute: Provides a +2 Wealth Bonus on Sleight of Hand, Hide, Search, and Sense Motive. Since he reached level two at this wealth level (thanks to the arrest and fines), he gains +2 Skill Points for use with one of those skills (for a total of 32).
  • Current Wealth Level/Common (0 CP): Thanks to his thievery, he may use three Charms and one Talisman – currently an Elfin Cloak, Flux Iron, Origami Paper, and Shimmer mail.
Skills: Base SP Att Bonuses Net
Climb 5 2* +6 +3R +14
Balance 1 1 +6 +3R +2Sy +12
Decipher Script 1 1 +2 +3
Disable Device 2 2 +6 +3R +11
Escape Artist 1 1 +6 +3R +10
Forgery 1 1 +2 +3R +6
Hide 5 2* +6 +2W +4Cl +17
Listen 1 1 +1 +3R +5
M. Art 2 2 +6 +3R +11
M. Art 5 5 +6 +3R +14
Move Silently 5 2* +6 +3R +2 Sy +16
Open Lock 3 3 +6 +3R +12
Search 5 5 +2 +2W +9
Sense Motive 1 1 +1 +2W +3R +7
Sleight of Hand 5 2* +6 +2W +13
Tumble 1 1 +6 +3R +10

   Martial Arts Abilities:

  • Spiders Fang Techniques Known (7): Strike, Synergy/Move Silently, Sneak Attack III, Ki Block and Light Foot.
  • Lightning Fist Techniques Known (6): Strike, Synergy/Balance, Instant Stand, Breaking, Combat Reflexes, and Wrath (Acid).

   Ikam Racial Summary

  • 8d6 Mana with Unskilled Magic, plus Resilience (Sovath), Spell Enhancement (Vedan), or Reality Editing (Kodan). Up to 75% of this Mana may be converted to Power at 1 Mana = 3 Power.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses.
  • +4 Dexterity, +2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 Constitution.
  • Low-Light Vision (6 CP).
  • May use Charms, Talismans, and a maximum of 4 CP worth of Relics.
  • +12 + 2x (Con Mod) HP. (Two racial d6 hit dice at maximum).
  • +1 Bonus on Saves
  • +3 to Wisdom-linked skills
  • +3 to a group of skills. Sovath get Dexterity-linked skills, Vedan get Intelligence linked skills, and Kodan get Charisma linked skills.
  • +2 Natural Armor (partial scales), d6 Claws and Fangs, animalistic appearance.
  • Inherent ability to Detect Magic.

   Ikam Disadvantages:

  • They are bound by their oaths, and may become accursed if they violate such a bond.
  • Their blood and flesh can be used for many magical purposes.
  • Their tales are mesmerizing, and can evoke their topics – or at least illusions thereof – quite accidently.
  • They find it difficult to lie (-10 penalty) without the magical distortions giving them away.
  • They can only tolerate (Con) “points” worth of regular magic items – and the “point” cost of any given item is up to the game master (as a rule, low-level single-charge items are little trouble, spell storing items are only moderately troublesome, and permanently active personal enhancement items are very troublesome). Annoyingly enough, this limit also affects temporary external spells – although their short-term nature means that the limit is increased by the user’s (Con Mod).
  • They are invariably focused on their Deza. If an Ikam is banished from or abandons their Deza (being placed on remote service, or even being assigned to serve outsiders in exchange for some benefit for the Deza is acceptable) they will become unable to gain experience. Most such exiles commit suicide by relentlessly attacking whatever they perceive as a threat to their old home, having to make a DC 15 will save each month to avoid doing so.
  • Their loyalties are always personal, to a small group at best. They are incapable of large-scale political organization.
  • Wealth, magical devices, or supplies beyond their immediate needs will be given to the Deza.
  • They suffer a -5 penalty to Swim checks due to their greater average density.
  • They invariably pick up at least 12 CP worth of Witchcraft at first level – always taking The Adamant Will

   Hilsaryn is mostly an old-style thief – and one who relies more on his wits than on his skill checks. He’s quite used to augmenting things with his Witchcraft (although he tends to save The Umbral Form for real emergencies; he finds it rather disquieting. As an Ikam, he’s picked up quite a lot of raw magical power, although he’s not at all used to that yet.

Eclipse d20 – Character Optimization and Over-Optimization

   Having looked at some of the abusive builds – and why they won’t work if the game master is paying attention – it’s time to take a look at some of the potentially over-efficient builds and how to handle them.

   The Shapeshifter. This character has invested a lot of points in the various Shapeshifting upgrades, and has purchased some extra hit dice (or an immunity to the hit die requirement for turning into things if the game master is silly enough to let him or her get away with that), and has been poring through various books looking for creatures with really useful powers to turn into.

   There are a couple of things to remember here.

   Can I – say – grab the statistics for a hawk, add “Special Attack (Ex): Spits acid up to 120′ as a ranged touch attack with a +20 racial bonus inflicting 40d6 damage” and “Special Defenses (Ex): Immunity to Acid”, call my new creature an “Acid Hawk”, leave it as an animal, and change into it?

   Obviously not. No sane GM will let that work. No sane GM will allow the player to drag creatures out of random sourcebooks either. No such creatures exist in his campaign!

   Ah. That’s the first bit. A shapeshifter can only turn into creatures which exist in the campaign. They can’t just make things up – or quote irrelevant sources, no matter how “official”. Personally, I presume that’s because shapeshifting needs an established pattern – and so shapeshifters can only turn into things which are reasonably plentiful in the setting – automatically putting unique and near-unique creatures are off limits as well, just as they are with the Shapechange spell.

   So; be careful what creatures you allow into your campaign. To be blunt, even a single Monster Manuel style book probably has more creatures than you’re going to need for a campaign – and if you want something to be unique, just make it so. If you have any doubts about a creature, don’t allow it. If you want to use it later, it may have been imported, or recently created – or just be too rare to provide a pattern for shapeshifting.

   Secondarily, the character needs to be familiar with the creature he or she wants to turn into. That’s not necessarily a firm rule if the game master feels like allowing experimentation (“I turn into the largest hawk-like bird I can!”) – but I personally suspect that trying to transform your body into something that might not exist and which you’re unfamiliar with in any case is pretty well up there on the “risky behavior” scale. “A big hawk” will exist in most settings. “An eight legged animal with poison fangs and climbing claws” very well may not – and the results of trying to turn into something that doesn’t exist are unlikely to be pleasant.

   The Stunt Double. This character has taken several instances of Action Hero/Stunts specialized in a particular type of activity and studied the rules – and thus, in any tense or puzzling situation, can always whip out some precisely-tailored special ability (that he or she never used before and never will again) to deal with it or to escape serious injury. That’s entirely legal and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just boring. You deal with that as per page 163 – assigning an equally-boring ECL penalty to the character. Of course, if you happen to be running a slow-advancement game, there may not be a problem at all; Action Points will be a scarce resource. Advanced cases will usually be Luckmasters as well.

   The Luckmaster. This character simply hates to fail – and so he has taken Luck. With lots of Bonus Uses. Often in several specialized varieties so that he can afford more of it.

   So whenever there’s a critical die roll to be made, the Luckmaster can simply have it be a twenty.

   That’s legal enough – but, in a way, it’s its own penalty; the Luckmaster is boring. Worse, if your game makes a lot of die rolls, the only way they’ll be able to buy enough luck to keep it up is to skimp on their other abilities – making them even more boring. If that’s not enough, you can invoke page 163, assign an ECL penalty, and thus make the Luckmaster even more boring than before.

   The trouble with that, is that a player who doesn’t want to risk failing probably has a fairly high tolerance for boredom already. I prefer to deal with this particular problem in the game world.

   Now there’s no downside to genuine luck, but the Luck ABILITY simply allows you to presume that your die turned up a “20” without actually having to roll it – and it only works a limited number of times per game day. Make sure that the player isn’t always sure whether to use those 20’s or save them for later on. Add some depth to your world.

  • Don’t have many single, critical, rolls. Most important things really should depend on several actions and checks anyway.
  • Call for less-than-vital checks. Is that Spot check for a deadly ambush – or just to notice some minor detail?
  • Have important activities – with lots of chances to roll dice while doing them – other than combat.
  • Don’t give away information until after the players are done rolling. If they don’t know what that incoming spell is, they won’t find out the effects until after their saves have already succeeded or failed.
  • In extreme cases, you may want to have some rolls which the characters would prefer to fail. Perhaps the legendary blade must bond with it’s wielder in order to aid him – and so it’s prospective owner must fail his or her will save to claim the blade. Perhaps the partially-buried glyph will go off if someone notices it, but is otherwise harmless. Perhaps that locked door is holding back some terrible peril, and it would be best not to manage to pick the lock.
    • You wouldn’t want to overdo that sort of thing, but there really are times when people would be better off failing. What people want is not necessarily what is best for them.

   The MegaWitch. This character has taken Witchcraft, and a few of the most useful advanced abilities – and has purchased a LOT of power to run them with, either as Mana, by taking Rite of Chi, or by buying a Psionic Progression (often with no caster level and specialized so as to include no disciplines). He or she may be running the half-celestial template all day for a relative handful of points, continuously turning incorporeal, or granting everyone else the benefits of his or her saving throws.

   That’s possible because – while Witchcraft has relatively low upper limits in many ways – it’s very efficient about those things that it can do. That’s why there’s a note on page 121 at the end of the Witchcraft section advising the game mater to be wary of characters who combine large reserves of Power with Witchcraft.

   Well, presuming you weren’t wary, didn’t say no, and are running a low-to-mid powered campaign where this is a serious problem, it’s time to take a look at page 163 again. You could gratuitously throw in some problems with using such powers all the time – creatures that hunt individuals who do that, or entities which are jealous of mortals using their powers, or some such – but a boring ECL penalty is probably the way to go. In most cases that will neatly match those overused abilities up with their effective levels again.

   The Deity. This character really is a deity. The player has noted that you can get Dominion, Manipulation, Sphere of Influence, and Godfire – becoming a genuine god – for a mere twenty-four points. Have a fast and persuasive tongue, and you could tack that onto the human racial template (either in place of the racial bonus feat or by adding a disadvantage, such as “obligations to divine parent, -3”) and stay at a +0 ECL. You could be a GOD and have an ECL of Zero! Think of the perks!

   That does require leapfrogging right past two instances of “special circumstances and game masters permission required”, but we’ll presume that the game master is someone who can’t say “no”.

   Actually, this isn’t so bad. For that investment, you get several things.

  • You’re good at running a domain and can get dominion points – if you manage to acquire a domain.
  • You can influence events in your domain by spending dominion points.
  • You can sense events related to your sphere of influence.
  • You get a -1 modifier on the level of spells related to your sphere of influence.
  • You get one point of Godfire.
  • As side effects of having Godfire:
    • You don’t age.
    • You aren’t affected by diseases (although you can carry them).
    • You can recover from Petrification and Polymorph effects after a fight
    • You are fertile with virtually anything.

   Well now.

  • You don’t get a domain; you’ll have to acquire that normally – and unless you do, you have nothing to run and can’t acquire dominion points to spend on running a domain.
  • Age doesn’t matter much in most games.
  • Diseases are generally easy to deal with.
  • Petrification and long-term Polymorph effects are both fairly rare, since they often amount to putting the player out of the game.
  • Unwanted kids are no real bonus.

   So what you’re really buying with those twenty-four points is the ability to sense events you can do nothing about, slightly easier access to spells in a specific field, and that precious point of godfire.

   Hang onto that Godfire Point young deity; you may not get another during the duration of the campaign.

   That’s why most young gods reserve that Godfire Point for something like bringing themselves, and their friends, back to life after the parties wiped out. That – as noted in Eclipse – is a handy safety for the game master. If he or she slips up and there’s a total party kill, the players can fix it themselves.

   As one player-character deity has noted, being a god is a job in the service industry.

   The Speedster and the X-Man. The speedster has boosted their movement rate, learned to split their move around their attacks, and learned to move through threatened squares without provoking attacks of opportunity. They can dart in and through a group of enemies, attack, and retreat again beyond the point where they can be easily attacked without any real risk.

   In fact, the Speedster is simply one of the more common examples of the X-Man – a character optimized for one or two specific tricks or tactics. The classical d20 Fighter often went this way at higher levels, but – in Eclipse – you can over-specialize much more quickly and at much lower levels. Carry this too far, and you’ve got the Nova – a character who utterly dominates whenever their speciality comes up and has nothing to do otherwise.

   Now, if one or two players make X-Men, all you need to do is make sure that they have their chances to show off, but that their tactic or trick doesn’t always work – and for every power, there is a counter. For our Speedster, there are ranged attacks, reflex actions, confined places, barriers, entanglement, and many other methods.

   If everyone in the party is an X-Man, your adventures are going to resemble the adventures of a bunch of cartoon superheroes more than the usual fantasy Tolkien-style fantasy adventures – but that’s simply leaning back towards an older style of heroic adventures. Many tales of the Knights of the Round Table, the Bogotirs of Russia, the Greek Heroes, and the Doomed Warriors of the Sagas (among tales from many, many, other cultures) featured heroes who possessed marvelous and peculiar talents – albeit rarely more than one or two each.

   Overall, characters like this are unusual, but they’re actually pretty easy to work with. After all, you’ll know their strengths and weaknesses in detail very quickly indeed – which makes them easy to set up adventures for.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 116b – The Burning Earth

   As the earth settled down, Kevin and Marty looked around; they didn’t seem to be standing on anything too unstable…

(A family of squirrels, running by at high speed.) “Run! Get as far away from here as you can you dimwits!”

   Marty frowned… At least as much as he could with a beak. A research facility? Too bad he was a parrot at the moment, if he hadn’t been so easy to spot he’d have tried getting a little closer.

(Marty, calling after the squirrels) “What’s going on?”

(Squirrels) “The earth is giving off bad vibes! If we stay here, we will be destroyed! Didn’t you feel that last trembler? It’s going to happen soon!”

   Kevin was trying to remember the route, in the face of all the interesting scents, and was still oblivious. Upstream of course…

   Marty waved a wing in his face.

(Marty) “Hey, I think this place is about to be swallowed up! We should go upstream! Silly kids.”

(Kevin) “Oh yes! That was it! At the river valley, head upstream until you reach the Foul Lake. The gateway should be near the lake shore. Too many tasty-smells around here hiding under the nasty ones…”

(Marty, sighing) “Girls, could you block his nose until it’s needed? I think the wolf-senses are distracting him.”

(Kevin) “Abgh! Mgh Nobe!”

(Marty) “Now that that distraction’s gone, let’s go!”

   Hm… Upstream would take them straight through town – and heading Northwards along the river valley took them in the opposite direction of most of the current exodus. They’d have to either lose a lot of time going around the town or go through it. It wasn’t that big a community – only a few hundred people normally it looked like – but it was pretty spread out.

   It looked like all the normal inhabitants had left – or been evacuated – and had been replaced with military men and women plus some scientists. Currently it looked like 50-60 military personnel and 20-30 scientists.

   Marty clucked. Ooh, women in uniform!. Too bad he was a bird right now!

   About then a small voice spoke up from a nearby bush.

(Rat) “Psst, over here! Don’t wander too close to them right now.”

(Marty) “Who’s that?” (He had the girls do a divination.)

   It looked to be a rat wearing spectacles and a vest.

(Kevin) “Oh? What’s up with them right now?”

(Rat) “They’re busy studying the volcano up in the park right now. I’ve been able to tap some of their communications and gleam some of what is going on, but the military encryption is tough. You’re not from around here are you?”

(Kevin) “Afraid not. Want us to try decrypting things?”

(Rat) “If you’ve got any talent for it then sure. Unfortunately our resources still don’t compare with the humans.”

   Well, the Smartclothes were still working, and the Thralls could do a little divination for a translation to start with. That broke the encryption codes in short order… It looked like the local humans were carefully monitoring a volcano that was ready to erupt soon. There were frequent references to Yellowstone and evacuation proceedings. Most of the data seemed to be related to transferring data on the volcano to United States Geological Service and to the Pentagon.

   NIMH and the Supervolcano? That was a heck of a sequel jump for an old children’s book!

(Rat) “Oh dear, this is worse than I thought. Looks like the size and extent of the projected blast is considerably larger than what we anticipated.”

   Oh botheration. Always sidequests. Of course, the place was getting closer to a nearly unlivable disaster realm, or it wouldn’t have a relevant gate near here… Could Inversion be tugging nearby realms towards itself? The local magic was pretty poor, allowing second level spells at best – but psionics were much stronger than normal. Ah well. If it was the other way around, there might be something – but even amplified Witchcraft wasn’t going to do much about a volcano thirty miles across.

   The rats had a decent communications network, although they seemed to have hacked some of the satellites and human data network to set it up. Apparently laying miles of cabling was beyond their means and using radio was too likely to attract unwanted attention. Fortunately, most of their own warnings had already been passed. The local human military seemed to be warning people effectively as well – although there was considerable debate on the precise size of the area to be evacuated due to conflicting theories on the size of the projected blast – so there wasn’t much left to do along those lines.

   The current estimate was 24-48 hours before the eruption given current gps, seismic, and thermal data.

   Kevin sighed and ran a quick check on what resources were within range… There were some forty-five Thralls in the Anthropomorphic and adjacent realms that might be able to arrive in time. They’d have to use the natural gates, and – since they didn’t have a lot of time – that might not actually help much. It wasn’t like he could open enough gates to evacuate North America in twenty-four hours.

   He had them come to do what they could. Could anything be done about a supervolcano? Trying to drain the magma chamber would just set it off.

   Could you intervene on the plot level? A supervolcano might reduce the local human civilization down to the point where a unified confederation with the sapient animals became accepted. That was a possible next step in the local plot. He could attempt to start such a confederation early and see if that turned the supervolcano a near-miss. Did that even make sense?

   Marty voted for heading for the gateway; they had more urgent business than the fate of one obscure realm.

   They headed on through town along the riverside. It wasn’t as if anyone was really likely to pay attention at the moment. They were spotted a few times, and one of the scientists even recognized Kevin as a wolf – as opposed to a dog – and pulled out a camera while calling several of his buddies to watch for a bit. Many photographs were taken.

(Marty) “Sorry folks, no time for autographs!”

(Scientist) “Must be an escaped lab parrot. Heard they were doing animal intelligence studies not far from here. Strange that it is sitting on a wolf’s back.”

   Oh well. If they were getting involved anyway…

(Kevin, via telepathic broadcast) “You bunch really should be clearing out! If you want to leave for somewhere more congenial, I shall arrange it!”

(Soldier) “Alright, was I the only one to here that?”

(Marty) “I am not a lab parrot! I’m an office parrot! And my friend is right, you guys are in trouble!”

(Scientist) “If you are talking about that sudden voice in my head, then yes.”

(Kevin, broadcasting again) “Not unless you’re uniquely sensitive. (To scientist) And I think you mean “no””.”

(Another Scientist) “Alright what is going on? Has NIMH lost another batch?”

(Marty) “We’re not from NIHM! I’m a businessparrot and he’s offering you the thrill of a lifetime!”

(Soldier) “NIMH? You mean the National Institute of Mental Health? What’s going on? (pulls out radio) Uh, commander, I think I have a parrot here trying to sell us something.”

(Radio) “Tell him to go away and heed the evacuation. Wait, did you say parrot?!”

(Solider) “Uh, yes sir. I have a talking parrot and a wolf speaking directly to my mind in front of me. And no I haven’t been drinking.”

(Kevin, broadcasting onto the commander’s frequency via Smartclothes) “Yes, he said a parrot. And I’m interrupting to offer you an evacuation gateway. Best offer you’ll have all day I suspect. If you like, I’ll leave it while I get on my way. Radios are less trouble to broadcast to than minds anyway”.

(Marty, joining in on his own Smartclothes) “Yeah! He’ll take you to a place with golf, pretty dragon ladies, all the foods of the worlds, and other neat stuff!”

   The Commander came stomping out and looked at the bunch of them before smacking the soldier upside the head.

(Commander) “Look quit playing practical jokes and get back to work! We’ve got a volcanic eruption larger than anything humanity has ever seen about to take place! Find out who owns the dog and parrot and send it back to them!”

(Marty) “What are you talking about? Nobody owns us! We’re free agents! Are you taking the deal or not? We’re trying to get somewhere!”

(Kevin, back to telepathy) “You should listen to him. An unprecedented disaster is on the way; you might want to consider all possible options.”

(Marty) “And can somebody scratch between my wings? My talons won’t reach!”

   Meanwhile, Kevin had an idea… Trying to drain the magma chamber would just induce a local pressure drop and set the whole thing off early as the gases bubbled out. Moving Yellowstone would open the mantle, for a world-wrecking catastrophe. But laying a gate over the surface to shunt the gases and ash away would just leave the direct surface-level magma flows – which were only a menace in the immediate area – and the earthquakes. It would still be a disaster, but not nearly such a large one.

   He had some of the nearer Thralls to head for Yellowstone. They could control the gate easily enough. Compared to moving a world, this was nothing.

   Marty could practically hear the dinner timer ticking in the commanders head for a moment as the commander just sat there and stared at them. Suddenly he face-palmed, rubbed his eyes, and – still seeing them there – took a deep breath before speaking again.

(Commander) “Alright, as much as I want to start rattling off a list of questions about you and where you came from, what do you mean by creating a gateway. I assume the disaster you speak of is the volcano about to erupt in the nearby park?”

(Kevin, still with telepathy) “Indeed. Your communications were easy enough to read.”

(Commander) “All right, as disturbing as what you just said is, I want to know what you mean by creating a gateway.”

(Kevin) “I’ll demonstrate. What sort of world would be most suitable? Something with similar natural laws but basically empty?”

(Commander) “Huh? You mean like another planet?”

(Marty) “He means a universe.”

(Commander) “Alright, I think one of the black projects has gotten a little out of control here. Alright, let’s see it then. Something certainly sustainable for human life would work nicely.”

   Well… similar natural laws to this, mostly empty, human-compatible; any one of the thousands of empty worlds in the Nortonverse should do nicely. He opened one gateway, with the usual special effects.

(Commander) “Alright, next time I see the General, I am going to punch him for not telling us about the super dimensional dog they were sending.”

(Marty) “Look pal, I told you, we’re FREE AGENTS.”

(Commander) “And I am afraid you will have to forgive me for not taking everything I see right now at face value.”

(Kevin) “Who cares? Although I must ask that you not interfere with any local wildlife who want to leave either.”

(Commander) “At this point I am not going to ask any more questions.”

   Kevin considered… only fifteen miles to Yellowstone Park, a little over thirty to the center – but some of the scientists would certainly want to come along. No reason not to let them, he needed to give the Thralls a few minutes to get into positions around the park anyway. Six would be best; although three would probably do. He could deploy a few of the extras he had along if necessary. Compared to their usual side-excursions, a couple of hours was nothing.

   The commander – reluctantly – authorized a helicopter.

(Commander) “I really don’t want to have to explain this to my superiors if they ask.”

(Kevin, telepathically) “I wouldn’t worry; all your vehicles were going to be in use today anyway.”

   The trip was quick enough – and Kevin decided on a bit of a show. Besides… perhaps physically traversing the outline of the gate would make it easier to envision. He swapped into black eagle form and bailed out – trailing a line of dimness like smoked glass along the border of the gate he was creating and using telekinesis to accelerate himself to supersonic speeds.

   OK, that was PURELY a stunt for showing off, but the Thralls had gotten to try it in Core, and it was even easier here.

   For that matter, they’d gotten to try an orbital hop, and he’d never had a good chance at that yet.

   He did have to deploy two of the Thralls that had accompanied him to make up six controllers – but they did always seem to lose them along the way to anywhere. The others had either gotten caught up in something or had been too far from the park to make it in time.

   Marty swore to himself… For once Kevin had managed to stick him with answering all the questions while he took a high-speed circuit of Yellowstone! The scientists took a few seconds to get over their shock at Kevin’s shapeshifting and bullet-like departure – and then wanted to know EVERYTHING. RIGHT NOW.

   Well at least the pilot had apparently simply decided that they were probably Raven and Coyote, up to their usual tricks.

   Kevin dropped back into wolf-form on his return to the chopper a ten minutes later… One low-altitude gate, covering the Yellowstone caldera and a bit beyond. Destination; one of the assorted semi-livable but barren and uninhabited worlds so common in sci-fi shows so he didn’t have to worry about atmosphere exchange while running a wide-open gate. Six thralls to operate it, with instructions to fly above the gateway and to rely on smartclothes atmosphere filtration during the initial eruption period. They could be relieved later, since that would probably be tiring…

   They advised the scientists to try and get in touch with the rats via the usual telecommunications channels if they wanted more information on things like who and what they were and left for the gate.

   The “National Geographic” realms. A giant museum? A weird force that collects segments of realms? Something based on centuries worth of magazines?

   Marty had to vote for the third, but had to say that the second would be intriguing.

   The gate opened on a tropical island at the foot of a mountain. A voice that seemed to come from everywhere spoke: “Here you can see a group of tourists that have failed to heed the warnings and are now standing in the path of the volcanic lava flow heading straight for them.”

   None of the above! Documentary! It was based on National Geographic SPECIALS.

   Oh well, at least everyone who wanted to be human was back to being human. It looked like the local natural laws were flexible on whether you want to be human or animal – leaving Kevin human and Marty a parrot; he hadn’t gotten to do enough flying yet!

(Marty) “Last one down the volcano’s a rotten egg!”

   Marty made a mental note to add something to his apology to Gelman: maybe there really HAD been a narrator during those first few days at work, and Gelman hadn’t been joking about strangling the guy!

   It looked like the next gate was… Down the mountainside in the forest. There looked to be a hot spring in that area. A short trip then. Off they went, running down the mountain ahead of the lava flow!. The narrator – quite annoyingly – kept updating their actions and talking about the plants and animals that they passed as they ran. It then began a most annoying discussion on the speeds of lava flows and the sheer amount a destruction that they could cause.

(Marty) “STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

   There were a few stumbles and falls amongst the Thralls in the race down the mountain – but nothing particularly serious. Their inherent toughness, enhanced speed, and telekinetic talents could cover a lot of spills – although they did have to scramble to stay ahead of the lava flow.

   Once again, Xellos only seemed to appear at the gateways. Oh well, it didn’t really matter how he was doing that. As they approached the hot spring, they could see Xellos sitting on a rock waiting for them.

(Xellos) “My my, you have certainly taken your time getting here. Hopefully you aren’t too exhausted to open the gateway from your little run?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I don’t think so! Off we go! Set for air-filtration and enrichment if you haven’t already done so! Cue boring voiceover!”

(As they opened the portal and entered, the narrator spoke for one last time.) “And watch as the dimensional travelers open a gateway to another world fleeing to supposed safety. Little do they realize, death awaits them.”

(Marty) “Oh shut up you pompous… uh… voice!”

(Kevin) “What, another one? Still, since it presumably knows where the gate goes, but only what it’s seen, it is probably making an reasonable prediction based on available facts!”

(Marty) “That doesn’t make it any less annoying!”

(Xellos) “Oh dear, it certainly seems to not think well of our chances given where we are going! What do you think?”

(Marty) “I spit on chance!”

(Xellos) “Careful, given what I know about your home, chance may not appreciate that very much!”

(Marty, scoffingly) “I’m not afraid of the Numbers! They’re just digits!”

(Kevin) “Everywhere I go it’s “you will never survive”, or “prepare to meet your doom!”, or “Now, fool, you will learn what it means to…”. Well I Will, I Won’t, and I’ll NEVER learn!”

(Xellos) “That may be, but even where I come from, numbers don’t destroy cities repeatedly. That job is for monsters and crazy sorceresses!”

(Marty, flabbergasted) “Whaaa?”

(Xellos) “What, have you not heard? Lord Zero has leveled New York everyday now for some time now!”

   Marty got quiet, his eyes narrowed, and he no longer looked so jovial…

   Oh, that bastard. When I become a god, HE’S GOING TO GET IT, AND GOOD!

(Xellos, seeing the signs) “Oh does that upset you? Don’t worry it all comes back the next morning as usual. I think you are well aware of that!”

(Marty) “It’s the principle of the thing, Xellos.”

(Xellos) “Well yes, I do suppose destroying cities is rather pointless in it’s own fashion. So much better to take things slowly and have a continuous meal!”

(Marty) “The Numbers are supposed to stay in their world running things and eating pretzels. At least I think that’s what Jenkins said. I was kind of tuning her out.”

(Kevin) “I think it’s eating people Marty.”

(Marty) “Oh! Yeah, that’s right! People!”

(Xellos) “Well accountants will do that. Make people tune them out, not eat them I mean.”

(Marty) “Uh… you haven’t met her, have you.”

(Xellos) “No, I haven’t, accountants aren’t high on my list of people to meet.”

   While Marty and Xellos bantered, Kevin was checking their new environment… Surrounded by the remains of a forest. Air survivable – if not comfortably or permitting much exertion – but low in oxygen, and grossly polluted. There was far too much ultraviolet, probably no ozone layer, and assorted symptoms of environmental destruction. It was even raining a light oily substance.

(Marty, distracted by the destruction around him) “What is that, acid rain?”

(Xellos) “I believe it to be rain heavily polluted with the petrochemicals that have leeched into the oceans from decades of drilling and spills. Although it could be something else in the air that’s doing it.”

(Kevin) “I think it goes a bit beyond that… The pollution level is high enough that the upper atmospheres gone reducing and it’s generating organic molecules? I wouldn’t have expected most of the hydrocarbons that are light enough to evaporate to remain unoxidized that long… Ah well. I never did read the series!”

(Marty) “Cool! I mean, too bad for them.”

(Xellos) “Amazing the human impact on the world around them when left to their own devices!”

(Kevin) “Well, this is supposed to be a restricted area where an unusually high percentage of the biosphere has survived… Doesn’t look good does it?”

(Xellos) “I would say the reports are a bit off then. This place has been cutoff from the Manifold for sometime hasn’t it?”

(Kevin) “Well, our reports obviously aren’t up to date anyway!”

   Although there was something about that rain… Some sort of mystical or psionic component? Somebody had REALLY been fooling around with Inversion if it was mystical. Probably even if it was psionic. This wasn’t supposed to be that kind of a dimension. If it hadn’t already split, it had to be under a lot of tension.

(Xellos) “Oh dear, that isn’t good. I would say someone already knows we are here.”

(Kevin) “Either that or they’re trying to redesign the place.”

(Marty) “Neither would surprise me.”

(Xellos) “Possible, I really think we need to find shelter and get out of this rain as quickly as possible. I am not liking the vibes I am getting here.”

(Marty) “Hey, I’m with you on that.”

   Kevin sighed, and used the effector modules to erect rain shields (that shouldn’t give anything away, since it didn’t involve any odd powers), checked the local communications networks, and started breaking out the ultralights to get moving. Presuming that this wasn’t a dead realm turned into a trap, they needed the nearest shelter.

   Hm… There were some open communication networks, but there were quite a few that required special authentications, along with a very extensive orbital network.

(Kevin) “Ve hab dos Internets!”

(Marty, after a pause) “You okay Kevin?”

(Kevin) “What, don’t tell me that gag is actually younger than Battling Business World!”

(Marty) “Oh, is that that lolcats thing? Sorry, a little after my time.”

(Xellos poking at a datapad) “I believe there are the ruins of an old town to the southwest of here about 25 miles. Best to seek shelter as soon as possible. The more power we use, the more attention we are likely to draw.”

(Marty) “Then let’s move out.”

   It looked like the Core batteries were working – which meant that the plasma pistols, forceblades, screens on the ultralights, and most of the rest of the personal gadgets would be working at full power. Good; the effectors had worked, but rain wasn’t really much of a test of their power reserves.

   The Thralls had some difficulties with the wind and rain buffeting the ultralights, but nothing that a touch of telekinesis couldn’t fix, even if it did slow them down. Soon enough they wound up over a small American or European town that looked like it had been abandoned for decades. Some of the buildings looked collapsed, but there were others that looked relatively intact.

(Xellos) “Looks to be a good enough spot to me, what about you?”

(Marty) “I think so.”

(Kevin) “Looks all right. We really need some local intelligence! Either time to sift the local net a bit or – preferably – some live locals!”

(Xellos) “Agreed, it definitely looks like our information is woefully out of date here.”

(Marty) “I wonder where the nearest settled spot is.”

(Kevin) “Well, lets see what we can pull off the network then. Local if possible, satellite if necessary – although that will take a little rigging.”

   He pointed some of the Thralls with the right skills at that. It wasn’t like he, Marty, or (probably) Xellos were much on computer hacking… Well, OK, Marty did know some – but none of them were specialists in it, and Gerald WAS – although Xellos watched as well.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 116a – The Wild Kingdoms

   Kevin snarled to himself… He seemed to have four paws! That wasn’t what the “anthropomorphic” label usually meant on a universe! That was talking-animal territory! Botheration! They were on the semi-realistic FRINGES of the Anthropomorphic Realms! And all his Thralls were being either Rats or Mice, which meant that those were probably the major character types in the source material! Blast! It this meant that he had to evade dog catchers and wildlife experts, it was going to be a genuine pain!

(Kevin, growling) “I’m stuck in a MOUSE BURROW? Which way to the exit?! This will be PRETTY DAMNED CRAMPED WHEN THE SHRINKING SPELLS WEAR OFF!”

(Bloo) “Awww, he doesn’t like it here!”

(Marty) “Bah, pipe down, Kevin! Where’s the exit. kid?”

(Bloo) “Through that doorway and up the elevator to the surface! The farmer’s cat likes to prowl around outside but you’ve got a big doggy with you so that shouldn’t matter!”

(Marty) “Oh good. I’d hate to break a wing.”

   Marty tipped the kid with… MORE COFFEE!

   Bloo was quite pleased with that.

   Kevin was busy squeezing his way down through the doorway.

   The elevator looked to be a modified lamp fixture hanging from some sort of cable.

   One of the Thralls had seen that before, and said that they’d gotten into something called “NIMH”. Wasn’t that in the Linear Realms? The National Institute of Mental Health?

   There was another mouse next to the elevator.

(Mouse) “Looking to head to the surface or the city?”

   Kevin considered what would happen if he reverted to full size in a mouse city.

(Kevin) “Surface… I’m a wolf, not Godzilla!”

   Marty thought that the city might have been fun, but didn’t care much where they went as long as there was room to fly.

(Mouse) “Surface it is then. Please enter the elevator and we shall head there momentarily.” (He gestured politely for them to board the elevator).

   It creaked and swayed most alarmingly under Kevin’s weight. Once everyone was inside the lamp, the door closed with a hiss and the chamber outside the lamp began to fill with water. As the water reached the ceiling, a portal opened, allowing the lamp to ascend.

(Kevin) “So, where are we anyway?”

   The lamp rose through the dark water, the only illumination the lamp itself. Soon it breached the surface of the water, and they could see immense subterranean city of mice and rats all around them. While the area below had looked to be largely stolen human technology, on this level they could see evidence of rat and mouse manufacturing. Lights, metals, and plastics designed and built for small creatures were all in evidence.

(Mouse) “Oh this place? This is our first city, which we abandoned a long time ago to avoid the humans. But now we’ve returned and been making it our home again. It is much easier to hide ourselves from the humans now that we’ve learned how to build things independently from them. The Wookies have also been helpful there too. We don’t name our cities in the human fashion though. We just call it the City of the Rats and Mice of NIMH.”

(Marty) “I’m glad you could strike a deal with them… What’s been going on recently?”

(Mouse) “Currently, we’ve been running up against the limits of what our hydroelectric power station can provide, so there has been an effort to try to import the fusion technology of the Star Wars universe and modify it to suit our needs. The theory is that if the humans can make it work here, then we might be able to as well. The scientists and engineers are debating size limitations though. We’ve also been busily setting up colonies further and further afield to spread our culture and technology. The mice and rats not descended from the experiments sometimes join us and sometimes don’t. We haven’t really faced any real threats to our existence since the humans gave up looking for us. The only other thing that’s really been going on has been a small faction which has been pushing the idea of trying to help the local humans with what we’ve learned from the Manifold. It certainly seems like they haven’t progressed as far as the ones on the other side of the gateway. Some of the technology could really help the humans with their problems.”

(Marty) “What kind of problems?”

   Kevin sighed to himself. This was going to be a busy world… He didn’t think that any real sapient mice had ever been engineered – they’d have had to come up with some sort of miniaturized neurology to make the brain work in Core – but some mice-souls might wander over if they were used to associating with humans and there were always humans who might take up such an incarnation, if only as an experiment.

(Mouse) “Human pollution has caused considerable headaches for them. Biggest problem I am told is the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are out of control. That and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce as time goes on. So far the humans have stayed ahead of the resource curve, but no one knows how much longer that will hold.”

(Marty) “Well, good luck with that.” (Privately, to Kevin) “Hey Kevin, want to lend them a hand?”

(Kevin, also privately) “Well, we can see what the surface is like; we’ve got a fairly long trip through it anyway I think.”

   Eventually the city faded from view below them as they entered another tunnel leading upwards. Soon enough, they found themselves in the midst of a rose-bush as the elevator came to a stop and the mouse opened the door.

(Mouse) “Here we are, the surface. Take care not to antagonize the cat and be safe on your journey to wherever it is you are going.”

(Kevin) “Thank you. And I hope things work out for you.”

   Hm. The elevator guy and Bloo both seemed to be ensouled, and he’d sensed rather a lot of them as he rose through the city. Unless mouse-souls WERE wandering in, the original source material had to have been both popular and exciting in its own fashion.

(Marty) “Yeah, Thanks!”

(Kevin) “Well, let’s get out of the rose-bush and back to a reasonable size!”

   Four legs and paws. It didn’t look like many of the larger creatures had many anthropomorphic traits here.

(Marty) “Oh geez, I’m a parrot. That cat’s going to spot me fast if I’m not careful.”

(Kevin) “I think it will be upset to find a wolf coming out of the rose-bush anyway.”

(Marty) “Can I ride on your back?”

(Kevin) “Why not? The Thralls will pretty much have to anyway.”

   As they left the thorn-bush, they found themselves on a farm, next to a house and near a barn. The fields were a little ways off, and a forest with a road running along side it was off in the other direction. Typical enough… It looked like 21st or 22nd century. The mice did mention the humans having fusion technology. There was no sign of the cat, although it could just be being sneaky. On the other hand, house cats were not known for stalking wolves.

   Marty considered taunting the kitty, although he wasn’t sure how smart it would be. Meanwhile, Kevin was hoping that their upcoming trip was going to be through the woods; otherwise he could foresee an awkward time with animal control coming up.

   The records were surprisingly sparse on detail, but did indicate that it was through the woods. The next step in the directions was to journey through the woods to find the “Black Tree”. From there, they would head north until they reached the river valley. At the river valley, they’d head upstream until they reached the Foul Lake, and the gateway should be near the lake shore.

   Well, that might indicate a really serious pollution problem – as well as genuinely near-total unawareness of the Mouse and Rat civilization. The directions weren’t very precise, but they WERE in an animal world.

   They probably would have to deal with human civilization somewhere along the line. That was the obvious next step in all the local plots. Probably near the Foul Lake.

   Off to the woods It was.

   A stooping hawk tried to grab Marty off of Kevin’s back – but missed badly. Even – or perhaps especially – in parrot-form, Marty was a difficult target. It came back for another pass though…

(Marty) “Buzz off, pal!”

   It was only a few hundred feet to the forest – but Kevin wasn’t running from a bloody BIRD. As the hawk struck again he snatched it out of the air with telekinesis.

(Extremely Startled Hawk) “Aghhh! Let me go! How do you do that?”

(Marty) “Magic!”

(Kevin) “Oh stop fussing. You haven’t been eaten yet!”

(Hawk) “Fine, what do you want from me then?”

(Marty) “Were you trying to make me your lunch?”

(Hawk) “Well, yeah. What exactly were you expecting with that color?”

(Kevin) “I want a bit of your viewpoint. You should know the lay of the land about here pretty well.”

(Hawk) “I might, what do you wish to know then? If I tell you, will you let me go?”

(Marty) “Yeah, sure. I just wanted to make sure nobody had sent you.”

(Hawk) “What sent to make you a meal? Only the rats and humans really do anything like that. Most everyone else gets food for themselves. Oh and the mice too, bad thing to forget them.”

(Marty) “Okay, good to know.”

   Kevin asked about the general layout of the land, and tried to pick up as many details as possible from its mind. It wasn’t exactly the kind of map a human would have provided, but it wasn’t at all bad. .. The biggest landmark in its mind was an area to the North that the humans seemed to love to visit. It didn’t like it there because of the smell of rotting eggs and all the bad water. Human activity had been increasing there lately, with more and more of them wearing those strange skins appearing everyday. Most of the rest of the landmarks were a few human cities/towns nearby and locations of good food to catch.

   Kevin threw an incandescent glow around himself and Marty, let his eyes flame, and let the sulfurous smoke curl up as the wind howled violently and he relaxed his mental grip…

(Kevin) “YOU MAY GO”.

   Marty imitated the screams of the damned; what was the fun of being a parrot if you didn’t do imitations?

   The hawk left for the forest in a BIG hurry. It would probably think twice about parrots from now on – not that it saw very many around here.

   The forest was a dark and forbidding place. They got the distinct impression of many eyes watching them from every nook and cranny. Spider webs abounded, and Kevin could smell the territorial marking of many creatures in the area. Nothing seemed willing to confront them yet though… Of course, there weren’t all that many wolves left in the wild around this area (he couldn’t scent a single one) – but in this world, being watched in the wilds was pretty much inevitable.

   Eventually though, they did find themselves in an open field again – with what looked to be a dead tree in the center of it. The tree was blackened as if it had been burned, although that didn’t really seem to be what had happened. It certainly looked like their landmark.

   Kevin looked around for wolf hunters with machine guns in black helicopters (or for more likely perils) before heading out.

   A black helicopter flotilla did wander by heading North, and one did pause for a moment upon spotting them – but after what looks to be a human took pictures for a moment, it proceeded to head Northward again.

   Kevin reminded himself not to speculate like that, given his mana reserves calling up things like that was entirely too easy.

   Heading northward again, he could detect the faint scent of sulfur and other odd smells in the air – and found the river valley mentioned in the directions after several more miles of travel. There was a human town on the shores of the river, but it was currently filled with green and brown vehicles and a makeshift helipad had been erected on it’s outskirts.

   A major military presence? Why? The vehicles were horribly antiquated from Kevin’s perspective, and fairly standard to slightly futuristic by Marty’s. Were they have a war? Perhaps some sort of relief operations? They were having resource problems. It was kind of hard to tell at this range.

   About then, there was a substantial earthquake. Kevin managed to stay standing – for once, four legs was an advantage – but the thralls all ended up grabbing at his hair trying to hold on and Marty inadvertently dug his talons into Kevin’s hide.

(Marty) “SQUAWK!”

(Kevin) “Oh, NOW what?.. Marty, that pinches!”

(Marty) “Sorry! Let me get my talons out…”

   The human activity in the town seemed largely unaffected. occasionally another jeep would arrive or leave, as did helicopters – but there didn’t seem to any signs of fighting.

   Kevin tried sampling scents – but Marty noted that birds and other wildlife had begun to flee the area heading South.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 115 – Rough Landings

   With packs stuffed full of supplies and everyone ready to depart, they took a final look over the route again…

   First, to the New Imperium and some world called Kashyyyk. Wait; something seemed familiar there. Perhaps it wasn’t just another random bunch of letters? Oh! The wookie homeworld! Wookies… very clannish, mostly morally upright, lived in trees, world full of giant trees with ground-level swamps, loads of extremely dangerous creatures near the ground. They did have some dangerous rites of passage – and a reasonable number might be ensouled – but for their purposes it probably wasn’t going to be a very interesting place. It would probably be easiest to go to Ealor and take the Ebon Hawk; the Thrall they’d delegated at Korriban should have brought it back in – and hopefully had it fixed – by now.

   Anyway, from Kashyyyk to the Anthropomorphic Realms, from there to the Natural Geographic Realms, and from there to Inversion.

   There were once again some Storm Troopers manning customs. Fortunately, they both had local Identities – even if “Jedi Master Darth Santarous:” with his red hat and white pom-pom was inherently a bit sarcastic.

   The storm trooper looked over the paperwork

(Trooper) “Alright, everything looks to be in order. May I ask your final destination?

(Kevin) “A gate on Kashyyyk.”

(Trooper, looking at his datapad) “Transit through that area should be fine at the moment. No battle activity going on in that sector currently. Very well, you may pass. Welcome to the New Imperium.”

(Marty) “Thanks! Let’s go get the ship!”

   Hm. Battle activity? Sith Attacks, Extra-Galactics, or Revan and the Hellthunder? Kevin checked the datanets… Ah. Revan and the Hellthunder, waging war on the galaxy. Well, that was a bother. He really needed to check on what kind of help they needed.

   The Ebon Hawk was indeed back in port – although it looked somewhat the worse for wear, despite the fact that the maintenance crews had apparently been busy. The girl who’d brought it in had spent a lot of power doing it…

   Well, it had been through a lot. All those hyperspace energy surges, a high-speed atmospheric transit, light combat, scraping along inside another ship, and all kinds of stuff. Oh well. The bill would be nothing compared to the fleet.

   It was pretty bad from a the standpoint of a single ship. Against their coffers however, it was a drop in the bucket.

(Shop Owner) “Are either one of you the owner of this vessel?”

(Marty) “I am.”

(Shop Owner) “I don’t know what you put this ship through, the kid that brought it in here wasn’t real big on details. But don’t do it again.”

(Marty) “I’m not planning on it.”

(Shop Owner) “Good, as I have never seen damage that extensive since the time I saw a wreck after it had gone through an antimatter mist. We had to replace most everything electronic on board plus much of the structural and armor pieces. Whatever you put it through seriously damaged the hyperdrive as well.”

   The itemized bill came to a little over 120,000 credits – close to the price of the ship in the first place.

   The shop owner was pretty pleased when they simply paid him on the spot and thanked him – even if he did warn them not to do that again; the ship had been near total failure in midflight.

(Kevin) “I fear we crashed a few continuities in it.”

(Marty) “Yeah, I’d hate to see the bill for those!”

(Shop Owner) “Now, we still aren’t finished with all the repairs, but she should be spaceworthy – with a little luck. I STRONGLY recommend avoiding combat if that’s at all possible though!”

   Marty carefully avoided saying anything along the lines of “Wasn’t planning on it!”. This WAS a dramatic universe after all.

(Kevin) “Well, we weren’t planning on the Old Empire or anything this time around – and hopefully we won’t run into the Hellthunder.”

(Shop Owner) “Well that’s good, been hearing that thing has been chewing up fleets big time for a while now. Best to stay away if you can.”

   They loaded up and took off for Kashyyyk. After all, if they did run into the Hellthunder, it still had half a year or more to go on their contract.

   Inside the ship showed even more signs of partially completed repairs. Panels were missing, wiring was laid across the floor, and the occasional panel system was blinking away. The cockpit seemed to be in better shape, although the chair wobbled most annoyingly and had been set forward to be suitable for a Thrall.

(Marty) “Ah dammit! I hate wobbly chairs!”

   Briefly, he wished he could levitate readily.

(Kevin) “Dear me! It looks like another famous ship now!”

(Marty) “If you ask me to make the Kessel Run under 12 parsecs, I’ll ground you.”

   Marty briefly considered removing the chair in favor of a couch – perfect for time with the girls! – but settled on simply taking the ship out instead.

   In asking for clearance to take off, they could hear the flight controller talking in the background;

(Controller) “Are they really taking that ship back out after that landing it made some time ago?” (Another guy in the background) “Must be, same ship registration and everything. Hopefully it lands more gracefully where ever they are going.”

(Controller, most reluctantly) ” You are cleared for take off. Good luck out there!”

(Marty, while taking off) “I could hear everything you said you know!”

   Maybe they owed the poor ship a makeover? It might be a good idea, after all, if it was sapient it would probably be threatening to contract with somebody else!

   The ship wanted to corkscrew, but it was manageable. A combination of uneven thrust and uneven drag that got a lot easier to deal with as they left the atmosphere. It took them several jumps – and some time dropping out of hyperspace early on the longest ones to give the hyperdrive a chance to cool – but they did wind up in orbit around Kashyyyk eventually.

   Marty landed as close to the gates as possible; according to the records, it was located on the northernmost continent, deep in the bowels of one of the largest trees in a particular section of forest.

(Kevin) “Marty, I fear your ship needs a complete rebuild here.”

(Marty) “Well, at least I don’t have to PAY the thing.”

   The tendency to corkscrew returned full force once they entered the atmosphere, and Marty had to slow drastically – which was just as well. There were a great many large trees on Kashyyyk.

   They eventually narrowed it down to one of four different trees in the area.

(Kevin) “I guess we’ll have to land and have one of the Thralls take the ship back for repairs – if they can get it back without crashing.”

   Apparently there were some local shops, albeit not nearby. There was a spaceport to the south with facilities. Well, that was up to Marty. It was his ship.

   Marty decided to take it there personally, while Kevin organized the Thralls for a telekinetic assist if it became necessary. They could experiment with the local transport! That was always fun!

   Marty managed to avoid crashing, but did end up having to kill the engines several feet up in order to land flat. Fortunately, the Thralls could cushion the impact – although something still snapped – while Wookie landing guides went scattering into the trees as they watched.

(Kevin) “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

(Marty) “What a smash!”

   A wookie waving a directing light stick was yelling at the ship.

(Kevin) “Marty… I suspect that a complete rebuild might be required this time.”

(Marty) “Heh. Well, guess they’ll have to do what it takes.”

   Marty grumbled. While it was true that buying a new ship would have been far cheaper than that last bill alone, he LIKED his ship! Well he could easily afford a total rebuild, and there was always buying a new one piecemeal; he could just have them add new pieces until all the old frame and systems were gone while retaining the decor and such. He’d do that! He had the expense account! He could rebuild it!

   Off to talk to the wookies then… They might not speak Wookie, but this was Star Wars! All they had to do was act confident, use a hint of telepathy, and someone would translate if they couldn’t understand! It should work out.

   At worst, they could let a protocol droid – there were sure to be some around – or Xellos handle it, even if Xellos’s translations were sure to cause some awkwardness).

(Wookie via Protocol Droid) “What in the galaxy do you think you are doing?! Are you out of your minds?!”

(Kevin) “Probably!”

(Marty) “We were landing, give us a break!”

(Wookie via Protocol droid) “Look, you turn off the engines AFTER you are on the ground. Plus you get the ship within the landing pad zone and lower it till it touches. Not, get in close say “Good Enough” and kill the engines!”

(Marty) “Well, would you rather have me land flat or crooked?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I’m afraid that they just quit anyway.”

   Marty made the drive noises and appropriate hand gestures – as opposed to the ones he’d use in the road rage lane.

(Wookie, via Protocol Droid) “And you flew that willingly?”

(Marty) “Are you insulting my ship?”

(Kevin) “It was the ship we happened to have handy!”

(Wookie, via Protocol Droid, as a portion of the tail section fell off and hit the tarmac) “Do I need to reply to that or was that rhetorical?”

   Marty fumed.

(Kevin) “Not to worry. It brings profitable business to your local port. What more could you ask?”

(Wookie, via Protocol Droid) “Well if you are seeking repairs, I imagine it would. I just prefer not to have to dodge spacecraft.”

(Kevin) “Would a tip make you feel better?”

(Wookie, via Protocol Droid) “Potentially. I might be made to forget about this whole incident with some good luck.”

(Kevin) “Oh well. Ten thousand for you then. Who else needs a tip?”

   Marty had to laugh. Now that was more like it! Tips for everybody, and then to the repair area!

   Three more wookies came out looking for tips/bribes – for which they were glad to point them to a good repair ship, although – given that level of damage – they had to recommend scraping it and buying new.

(Wookie, via Protocol Droid) “If you really want to repair it, I suggest Kockrell’s Repair shop, as they are the only ones with the resources to handle a job that big.”

   They headed there… Kevin noted that a surprisingly large number of the Wookies seemed to have souls – well it had been a pretty popular series for a fairly long time – but while becoming a Wookie slaver had a long tradition in Star Wars, most of the Wookies traditionally preferred to take their own risks. He really wasn’t likely to find many recruits here. Still, it would be nice to find a local to keep an eye on the ship repairs.

   Marty found Kockrell’s from the smell of the oil, as opposed to the directions. The remains of several ships and repulsor craft were scattered throughout the grounds within a fence. A big hangar structure filling the center of the property was emitting all sorts of power tool sounds… Inside there was a wookie smacking something rather delicate looking with a large sledge hammer, cramming it into a hole in some plating. Shards of glass were being flung all over the shop floor and droids were rolling around and fleeing. Some sort of odd heavy metal music was playing in the background.

   Marty grinned. Knowing the way Star Wars ran, he’d trust this guy over the shop with the glossy high tech gear.

(Kevin) “Hello there! We’d like to check a ship in for some repairs! Or a complete rebuild!”

(Marty) “Looks like a complete rebuild.

   The Wookie didn’t seem to hear them over the loud music and his own smashing noises.

(Marty) “Hey Kevin, let me.”

   Marty pulled out a voice amplifier.

(Marty) “HI THERE, CAN YOU REBUILD MY SHIP FOR ME? I’LL PAY WELL.”

   The Wookie stopped to turn and look at him, slinging the sledge hammer over his shoulder and roaring something. Marty repeated himself, a bit more quietly.

   The Wookie roared and growled some more, but – seeing their blank looks – wandered over to a pile of trash, threw some of it aside, and then dragged out kicking and screaming protocol droid. He flung it to the floor and put a foot on it to keep it from fleeing, the growled and roared again while the droid translated.

(Wookie) “What? You want a ship rebuilt?”

(Marty) “Yeah. I’ll pay good for it.”

(Wookie) “Where is it? Or is that the problem?”

(Marty) “It’s at the starport. I’m not sure I want to move it again, though. Or if it CAN move again.”

(Kevin) “On the other hand, we can certainly rent the pad.”

(Wookie) “Towing charges will be extra. Is that fine?”

(Marty) “Yeah, that’ll do.”

(Wookie) “Very well, are you looking for any conversion jobs as part of this?”

(Marty) “Nah, just a rebuild.”

   Marty gave him the pad ID and the ship information.

(Wookie) “Alright, I will need you to sign these forms giving me permission to access your ship and tow it here for repairs. This form frees me from any liability if I find any illegal modifications and refuse to repair them as such. You have the option of me ignoring them or repairing them back to legal spec.”

(Marty) “Shouldn’t be any, but if there are, get them to legal spec. I don’t need the trouble.”

(Wookie) “Alright, I will send an estimate of the repairs to your contact number once I get a good look at the damage. At which point I will need your go ahead to proceeding unless you would rather just give authorization?”

(Marty) “Eh, go ahead, should have the money to cover it.”

(Kevin) “Try not to go over a million; that should suffice to buy one to cannibalize for parts, one for spares, and one for yourself anyway.”

   Both the Wookie and the Droid seemed pretty shocked at that.

(Wookie) Ah… well… ok, very well then. I will let you know when the repairs are completed.”

(Marty) “Thanks!

(Kevin) “Half in advance, half on satisfactory delivery?”

(Marty) “Sounds good to me!”

   They handed over the half-million on the spot – they were in a rush after all; the invasions weren’t going to last forever! – and ignored the blank expressions of shock. The Wookie verified the amount and authenticity twice…

(Wookie) “I will get the repairs done as quickly as possible!”

   They went to locate some local transport; they could use the ultralights, but it was a hundred and fifty miles, and there were giant birds to consider, even if most of the real dangers on this world lay beneath the trees on the ground.

   Marty went looking for transport, and for any trade-goods that would be terribly suitable for the Anthropomorphic Realms (he turned up a business that provided transport services and listed several nearby gates – including the Anthro world gate – on their price list, and steered Kevin for them). Meanwhile, Kevin was trying a for orphans, juvenile delinquents and such that wanted to get offworld, would like his deal, and wouldn’t be missed especially – but didn’t really expect a response unless, perhaps, there were some offworlders stranded here or the place was a lot bigger than he thought. As it turned out, he was right; there wasn’t one; he had to leave one of the spare Aides they’d brought along as liaison for ship-repairs. Somehow that seemed to happen every time! Interestingly, it was a mouse person running the shop.

(Mouse) “What can I do for you then? Looking for a scenic tour?”

(Kevin) “Trip through – so we basically just need a lift.”

(Marty) “Yeah, we need to get someplace in the realm beyond.”

(Mouse) “Oh, heading to another realm then? Always interesting to go see other places. Which gate were you planning on using?”

(Marty) “Anthropomorphic Realm.”

(Mouse) “Always a favorite. My home realm in fact. Well the prices are listed and those are per person. Any heavy gear you are planning to transport?”

   All they had was personal packs. The joys of Core convenience.

(Mouse) “Alright, that will be 3,000 credits for the bunch of you then. Head through the door on your right and into the hangar. Board the green hoverbus which should be leaving shortly.”

   That wasn’t a bad price for Kevin, Marty, Xellos, eleven aides, and four ferrets – although Marty hoped that he wouldn’t get a craving for crackers!

   The green hoverbus looked like it had seen better days long ago, and was missing the green paint in some places. Currently, there was a rat-person dancing on top of the bus to his own singing.

(Rat Person) “Oooooh, customers! Hey! Are you wanting to go to the Anthro Realm? Huh? Huh? Huh? It’s really fun and amazing! I was born there you know! But that was sometime ago! They say I am the fastest Rat pilot here on this world! I am also the only Rat person on this world! Isn’t that great!”

(Kevin) “I suppose it is! And how old would you be if you were human?”

(Marty) “Yeah, it is! When can we go? I want to see what I become!”

   Kevin’s question seemed to stop him for a moment as he stood there looking at his fingers and counting slowly…

(Rat Person) “Uh, if I was human, I would be 12 years old! But I am a rat person so that means I grow up faster! Did I mention I like sugar?! And coffee, don’t forget the coffee!”

(Marty) “What a coincidence, I like sugar and coffee too! If I give you some, will you take us to your realm? Kevin can give you something even better than coffee and sugar if you do!”

(Rat Person) “Oooooooh! Sounds like fun! Hurry hurry hurry! Let’s go now! (He started throwing luggage into the bus through a broken window.)

(Xellos) “Oh dear, this could get interesting.”

(Marty) “I LIVE for interesting!”

(Rat Person) “Oh, by the way, my name is Bloo!”

(Marty) “Here, have some coffee, Bloo!”

(Bloo sat in the pilot’s chair and began to rattle off a check list) “Power: check! Repulsor: check! Shields: check! Navigation: check! Sublight drive: check! Coffee IV: check! Passengers: uhhhhh check!”

   Kevin was fairly sure that a coffee IV wasn’t really good for you.

(Marty) “What? I drink Coffee IV every day, it has four times the caffeine of your average coffee!”

(Kevin) “I think he means replacing his bloodstream with it Marty.”

(Marty) “Ah. That does sound a little risky.”

(Xellos) “Wait did he just say what I think he said? Why would a bus have a”

(Bloo) “And off we go!”

   The fifteen-G acceleration slammed into them like a ton of wet cement.

   Almost everyone had made it into their seats before Bloo hit the drives – but Marty and some of the Thralls blacked out for a few moments from the intense acceleration. One of Xellos’s Thralls didn’t make it into his seat in time, and was flung into the back of the bus onto a large pack that fell out of storage. Oh well, the Thralls were tough; he’d be fine.

(Marty) “Wild last night, huh?”

   The continuing acceleration pinned them firmly to their seats.

(Bloo) “We should be there in moments! Although we can save time by hugging the tree tops. Hold on!”

   Behind them, they could see leaves being blown up in a cyclone of fury in their wake. Ahead of them, trees were coming in at a frightening speed as Bloo kept on the accelerator while steering quickly.

(Bloo) “Right! We’re here. I am taking us into the ground level to get at the gate. Do we have an opener or gatekeeper on board?”

   He didn’t really wait for an answer, although he did get an affirmative one.

(Bloo) “We can save time by not having to stop and disembark to gate then! Get ready to open it, cause I am going in hard and fast!”

   Suddenly the bus pulled a hard loop and dived down into the trees, barely dodging branches the whole way.

(Marty) “Best bus ride ever!”

   Ahead of them a huge tree loomed large – approaching at several hundred miles per hour. Bloo was pushing even harder on the accelerator.

(Bloo) “Here we go!”

   The tree loomed large for a fraction of a second, and it looked like they were about to impact with the root system before someone got the gate open in the very last moment. The bus suddenly acquired a high-pitched squealing noise and began to spin wildly. Bloo spun the wheel in the other direction and brought the bus to a stop as it barely scratched a wall of stone. He appeared to be tearing up.

(Bloo) “Three minutes and twenty one seconds! A new record! I’ve shrunk the world!”

(Marty) “Way to go! High five!”

   Bloo high fived with great enthusiasm.

(Bloo) “Right! We’re here!”

   Kevin had dropped into his wolfish ID – while Marty seemed to be a Military Macaw.

(Kevin) “Hrumph! So we are! Lets get going!”

(Marty) “Not until I get a cracker!” (He ate one)

(Kevin) “Bloo! Here’s your tip! Do you need the gate reopened to get back?”

   Outside the bus was a dark and cold stone room. The only lighting in the place appeared to be in the form of over-sized Christmas tree lights hanging from the ceiling. There were tire marks on the floor leading from one wall to the bus. On closer observation, it looked like there were several copies of those tire tracks, nearly on top of each other.

(Bloo) “Uh sure, I usually have to wait for Mr Morgan to come by and open it again for me! He says he is always happy to see me leave! He must like seeing people go off on journeys!”

   Kevin had one of the Thralls open it for him… They all seemed to have changed into semi-anthropomorphic mice and rats.

   Annoyingly, things seemed to be getting smaller and smaller for a moment, before stabilizing with the thralls at knee level. Kevin seemed to be growing quite large.

   Oh bother! A mouse-sized room! A good thing he had some shrinking spells available! The ceiling was looking awfully close!

(Marty) “Quick, somebody shrink him!”

   The Thralls started throwing shrink spells as well, and eventually overpowered the growth effect – leaving Kevin still roughly twice the height of Marty and several times the height of the mice and rats.

RPG Design – Character Advancement, d20, and Eclipse

   It’s very important to allow the characters to advance in a role-playing game; building up a character is one of the major pleasures in them. It can even be quite addictive, as demonstrated by any number of MMORPG’s. Games that don’t feature character advancement in some form tend to be niche productions – and rarely do very well.

   Whether or not it was a conscious design decision, classic d20 is set up so that a determined group of players can advance very quickly indeed. According to the rules, a party of adventurers are supposed to face roughly four equal-level challenges per day of adventuring. If they face fewer than that, characters with powerful limited-use abilities – such as most spellcasters – gain a big advantage. If they face more, rogues and defensive fighter-types gain an equally large advantage. Either way, after thirteen or fourteen such encounters, the party will go up a level – one level every four adventuring days. Two levels per week of game time – and one level per game session – is not out of reach if “leveling” is the groups sole focus or if the game master simply believes in keeping the characters busy.

   I’ve had plenty of d20 characters reach retirement levels in possession of a selection of abilities that they’ve never even used. As a player, such advancement was far too fast to be at all satisfying – and inserting downtime between adventures didn’t really help; either the game skiped right over it (which had no effect at all from the players and game masters viewpoint), things happened but didn’t advance the characters (boring some players completely and undermining one of the major pleasures of the game), or “downtime” simply turned into an adventure in a different setting (in which case it didn’t slow things up a bit).

   Stretching the timescale helps a bit. If you – say – turn all the “daily” abilities into “monthly” abilities, slow up healing and such proportionately, and turn “at will” into “once every three minutes”, you can make it three or four encounters per month without unbalancing the classes too much. Unfortunately, that makes continuous effects and charged devices enormously more valuable, makes diseases and poisons far more of a problem (can you hold on for three weeks George?), makes it hard to understand why anyone would become a spellcaster in the first place (so you can cast “Light” twice a month? Ever hear of candles?), and unbalances the setting in a lot of subtle ways. It can be interesting, but it’s awkward to set up and involves a lot of juggling to make it work.

   That’s one reason why awarding character points directly, rather than in one-level twenty-four-point blocks, is one of the options in the Eclipse Web Expansion. That allows characters to improve every session and yet still have time to experiment with all their abilities. If your game awards two or three character points a session, it will still keep character advancement moving – but it will slow things down to around ten sessions per level.

   Alternatively, you could use a base of one or two character points per session and award bonuses based on accomplishing goals – whether those are personal (“find my true love”) or external (“stop the attack of the evil overlord”). That does result in a different sort of game, but getting away from killing things for experience may suit a given setting better. After all, in normal d20, you won’t find Frodo sneaking past the enemy on his quest to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom; instead, he and his friends will be grinding their way through the armies of Mordor to build levels for the climactic battle with Sauron.

   That will require some adjustments to the usual Treasure = Power formula, but for that you can either simply limit conventional magical items – point-buy characters can get along without them anyway – or use the wealth level templates from The Practical Enchanter.

   Otherwise, in d20, it’s entirely possible for a group of adventurers to rise from obscurity to epic level, found a kingdom, see it overthrown by a demonic invasion, see another group of young adventurers rise to destroy the demon overlords in apocalyptic battle, and to see a new group of adventurers start at first level, clean out the remaining monsters, and rebuild the realm with epic magic – all in the time it takes the local peasants to plant, grow, and harvest a single crop.

   I’ll admit that’s exciting – but I prefer a world with a little more stability. A world which seems unlikely to last long enough for the next generation to grow up is kind of depressing. Worse, it means that nothing the characters can ever do will actually mean anything. Either it will be quickly wiped away, or – if it was something like destroying the world – it was inevitable that some other group of adventurers would do that within a few years anyway. Since worlds are pretty obviously short-term things in this system, another one will doubtless be created quickly enough.

   You can presume that the player characters are secretly exceptional, or that – for some reason – such things simply don’t happen, but falling back on game master fiat instead of logic to keep the world from falling apart is always unsatisfying. In the end, a world of rapid level advancement – and constant turmoil – is just as boring as one in which nothing ever changes. Chaos is entertaining for a bit, but watching the random swirl of colors will soon become just as dull as inspecting the fine details of a painting, however masterful.