RPG Design – Spinning On The Axis Of Evil

   Does a game really need any kind of an “alignment” system?

   Evil isn’t always easy to recognize, although many gamers and game masters seem to have it confused with psychotic madness, which usually is.

   Lets say that we have a ruler, who’s chief delights lie in exterminating his enemies and destroying their countries, the tormented deaths of innocents, commanding armies of swarming peasants in drudgery, enslaving and humiliating people, and indulging his appetites with any young woman who catches his eye – and sees nothing wrong with enjoying himself by doing all of that as regularly as possible and murdering anyone who attempts to interfere.

   OK, we’re probably safe in saying that we have an evil overlord there.

   Now, that could describe a raving maniac who leads his armies of murderous fanatics in a wave of death and destruction across the land. The description is a bit overblown, but quite a few people throughout history would have found it quite recognizable indeed; they’d just have pointed at the latest or best-known example of the times.

   Of course, it could also describe people who have been hailed as some of the greatest and wisest rulers in history. COMPETENT evil wants to remain in charge – to continue indulging itself for all time to come. That means:

  • Keeping the majority of the your people happy. If you want to declare war on someplace, make it out to be a menace – whether it is or not – and share the loot with your major supporters. After all, happy people work harder, pay more taxes, and require a lot less supervision – which means more resources to devote to your harem, your further conquests, running the games arena, and building that giant temple to yourself.
  • If you want to massacre people, or enjoy the tormented screams of small children, make sure that they’re “enemies of the realm” and their offspring – and make sure that they actually have been doing something. Everyone will nod approvingly at wise self-defense; no one likes knowing that your guards might kick in the door for no reason and drag them away. If you run a large empire, there will always be plenty of criminals, traitors, and utter failures to indulge yourself with.
  • If you want to command armies of swarming peasants in drudgery, that’s not too big a problem; most of their lives are like that anyway. Just present the food that you’d have to give them anyway as “pay”, make sure that the vast majority of peasants aren’t being conscripted at any given time, and have some portion of them working on building useful stuff – canals, fortresses and walls to keep out the “foreign invaders”, and so on. If such projects are to “keep them safe”, they will never think about the fact that they are also your iron fist. If you throw in the occasional keg of beer with permission to have a party and return some small portion of the taxes you were collecting from them in the first place, they’ll love you for it.

   Keep that up long enough, and you’ll pass on a strong kingdom to your heirs and be remembered as a great, good, and wise king. From the point of view of the country, you were – and the point of view of the people you massacred doesn’t matter. They won’t be leaving descendants, or writing history books.

   Remember, Vlad the Impaler, Attilla the Hun, and many more are still cultural heroes in their own lands.

   In other words, even up close, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between competent evil and competent gray. At a distance, It may not be possible to tell the difference between “good” and “evil” at all. A well-intentioned fool can make just as big a mass as any malicious villain.

   Much of the confusion about “evil” comes from a basic problem; it’s a very abstract concept that goes back a long time. Back to the point where everyone (instead of just a portion of the population) seriously believed that the world was full of spirits and that “random chance” did not exist.

   It was comforting to believe that there were comprehensible motives for everything that happened; it meant that you had some chance of getting around the forces of nature or of buying them off – rather than simply being at the mercy of the cosmic roulette wheel.

   Thus, anything that went wrong was “evil” or came out badly – often the result of the activities of malicious spirits, but occasionally simply the rightful revenge of slighted spirits or an attempt by the powers of good to get humans to behave properly. Thus, if there was a famine due to a lack of rain, evil had come upon the nation.

   You could also find evil in the heart: if you were doing something for unpleasant motives, you were being evil – no matter if the actual outcome was good. If you cursed someone in your heart, and sent them a gift intended to embarrass them, and it saved their life, YOU were still evil, even if you weren’t very good at it.

   Finally, evil could be found in particular acts. Desecrating a shrine or relic was an act of evil, and subject to divine punishment, even if it was totally accidental and inadvertent – or even if it was meant to be helpful. For a truly classic example, go biblical. If an unsanctified individual touched the Ark of the Covenant – even inadvertently, or to try and catch it when it’s sacred bearers stumbled and it seemed about to fall – he or she would be struck down. That wasn’t a “wrong” outcome, and there was no malicious intent in it. It was just the way things had to be; the act of desecrating the sacred Ark was inherently evil and had to be punished, no matter what the motive for it was.

   Today a really clever plan can be described as “that’s just evil!” simply on the basis that it’s perceived to be so good that the opposition will have no way to stop it, and therefore the plan itself is inherently unfair. In the old days, that really wasn’t a consideration. Enemies were for disposing of, not for coddling.

   Now all of those definitions are still in play today – and mostly work tolerably well. The vague and generic concept suffices for most communications, since “evil” is generally a value judgement on something that says little more than “I really don’t like this!”.

   Things go downhill when you start trying to write actual game rules about good and evil though.

   The first approach – based on outcomes – doesn’t really work. The outcome for who? And how long after? In the real world – and in a long campaign – the consequences of events continue into the indefinite future, spawning results that are – from any particular viewpoint – both good and bad. The outcome-based approach only works in classical literature because you’re only getting one viewpoint – that of the guy who wrote whatever-it-is that you’re reading – from the point in time when he wrote it. After all, the terrible flood might be destroying your crops and fields one day, and a chronicler writing at that time would label it a dreadful evil upon the land. Next month, it might be known as the flood that swept away the overwhelming enemy army, and saved the lives of everyone in the entire kingdom that said overwhelming army had intended to massacre to the last infant.

   Motives are impossibly slippery. Most real people have multiple motives for everything they do – and their characters can have assigned their own motivations. Unless your game also grants telepathy and an analytic mind, a fast talker can spin a reasonable-sounding rationale for why virtually any action is in accord with any given ethical system. The human race has been trying to sort out ethics and motives for thousands of years; you’re not going to be able to do it in a set of rules.

   The “list of evil deeds” approach is the next fallback – but starts running into trouble when the situation gets at all complex. Sure, killing a kid is evil – but what if it’s a pair of conjoined twins, who will both soon die if not separated, despite the certainty that the separation is sure to kill one of them? What is the answer when your choice is “two kids die or one kid dies and one lives”? Aren’t there arguments in both sides?

   Is it better or worse if you know which one in advance?

   What if, what if… The list approach inevitably leads to the conclusion that Motive Does Not Matter – but many people are uncomfortable with the notion that a random storm may perform evil actions. They – with a modern understanding of “chance” – feel that accidents and random results may be bad, but they aren’t really evil.

   Worse, the list approach is inherently endless. There’s always another variant on any given action – and if a game designer falls back on the “game masters judgement” in a list situation with no clear rules, he or she is simply copping out. All that says is “use the rules and the list in your head; we couldn’t be bothered thinking about our own mental list and rules enough to come up anything workable here”. That’s very bad design.

   It’s more realistic to present characters with a personality quiz – but that sort of thing only really works with the more dedicated role-players, and who has time to do one for all the NPC’s?

   In general in game design, it’s best to leave “Good” and “Evil” as abstract concepts or – at most – as labels to be attached to benign and malevolent forces. Otherwise you’re asking for the same sort of good-versus-evil arguments that are STILL going on about Dungeons and Dragons. Give your characters a motivation or two, and a couple of personality traits, and let them find out that the opposition may be more than a bunch of combat statistics and a sign saying “Appropriate Target Here!”.

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Mutants of the Eclipse Part XV – The Adept

   To continue with Mutants in Eclipse, here we have the Adepts – mutants with powers with broad themes, such as “telekinesis” or “telepathy”.

   As usual, “mutant powers” are built using Unlimited-Use Use-Activated Innate Enchantments – at an effective base “Cost” of (Spell Level x Casting Level x 2000 GP x Modifiers).

   Thematic Adepts are closely related to Element Masters. In fact, it’s quite possible – and all too common in the comic books – for an Element Master to gradually transform into an Adept. After all, if you have a Elemental Master of Fire, he or she will be able to generate and project fire, create (insubstantial) barriers of fire, resist the effects of fire, manipulate existing fire to put it out, increase it’s intensity, or crudely shape it and – almost certainly – use it to fly with.

   That’s a fine and versatile selection of powers – but ultimately it’s pretty limited.

   Of course, sooner or later, you get people who want to know if that means that our Fire-Master can – say – solidify fire, so that his fire constructs can pick things up. Can he move things around by making columns of heat? Imbue fire with intelligence to create fire elementals? Freeze things by sucking heat out of them? Catalyze specific chemical reactions through his control of molecular energy? Accelerate someone’s metabolism? Temper metals to make them incredibly tough? Selectively heat the infecting microbes in a sick individuals bloodstream to destroy them?

   Now, in a game, the usual answer is “No!”. After all, if you wanted those powers, you should have purchased them.

   In a comic book, the answer is “Yes – as long as the writer and editor think it would be cool”.

   And thus an Element Master gradually becomes a thematic Adept.

   The mechanical difference is very simple: Adepts are built exactly like Element Masters using the Greater Invocation designs – but their broader themes require higher-level Greater Invocations to produce equivalent effects. Thus our Fire-Master has probably graduated from requiring a Greater Invocation one level above the level of the effects he or she wants to produce to requiring a Greater Invocation two levels above the level of his desired effects when he or she can make semi-solid fire constructs, create elementals to serve him, suck the heat out of things, and a few similar stunts.

   If he or she starts mastering molecular energetics well enough to catalyze particular processes, alter people’s metabolisms, and destroy germs, we’ve definitely in “three levels above” territory.

   Similarly, an Advanced Telekinetic, with the ability to manipulate many items at once, generate powerful force fields, heat or cool objects via the telekinetic control of molecules, and so on, is in +2 territory. One who’s realized that “control of matter” covers all kinds of things and has the fine control to actually make use of that realization is in +3 territory. A powerful Telekinetic / Telepath with abilities which fall into the “+2” category in each theme would similarly fall into “+3” territory.

   One who’s realized that telekinesis on the atomic scale includes mass-energy of all kinds, as well as the structure of space, manipulating the brain, and so on, is in +4 territory – the range at which Greater Invocation can be used to do “anything I want”.

   A Class-I Adept simply uses:

  • Greater Invocation, Level Three at Caster Level Five, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated (30,000 GP). (from The Practical Enchanter). This will allow the Adept to produce effects of level one within a moderately narrow theme, or level zero within a broad theme or a couple of narrow themes, and still have room for some minor enhancement from any of the prior packages – typically +2 to an attribute (1400 GP) and some minor cantrip-level personal effect (700 GP).

   Class-II Adepts use:

  • Greater Invocation, Spell Level Four at Caster Level Seven, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated (56,000 GP). This allows an Adept to produce effects of level two within a moderately narrow theme, or level one within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level zero within an extremely broad one – and leaves them 8000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements.

   Class-III Adepts use:

  • Greater Invocation, Spell Level Five at Caster Level Nine, at a net cost of 90,000 GP out of the 96,000 they have available. This allows an Adept to produce effects of level three within a moderately narrow theme, or level two within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level one within an extremely broad one – and leaves them 6000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements.

   Class-IV Adepts cannot afford to upgrade their Greater Invocation, so they usually mix in a level of enhancements from another character type – often something with lots of personal enhancements such as the Paragon, Shapeshifter, or Feral.

   Class-V Adepts use:

  • Level Six Greater Invocation at Caster Level Eleven and a cost of 132,000 GP. This allows an Adept to produce effects of level four within a moderately narrow theme, or level three within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level two within an extremely broad one – and leaves them 28,000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements. Class V Adepts are probably the most common variety; that’s enough power to be quite useful and a reasonable amount of room for personal enhancements, again often drawn from the Paragon.

   Class-VI Adepts use:

  • Level Seven Greater Invocation at Caster Level Thirteen. This costs 182,000 GP out of the 192,000 GP a Class-VI Mutant has available and allows an Adept to produce effects of level five within a moderately narrow theme, or level four within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level three within an extremely broad one. That leaves them with 10,000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements.

   Class-VII Adepts use:

  • Level Eight Greater Invocation at Caster Level Fifteen. This costs 210,000 GP out of the 224,000 GP a Class-VI Mutant has available and allows an Adept to produce effects of level six within a moderately narrow theme, or level five within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level four within an extremely broad one. That leaves them with 14,000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements.

   A Class-X Mutant can afford to use a Level Nine Greater Invocation at Caster Level Seventeen – at a cost of 306,000 GP out of the 320,000 GP a Class-X Mutant has available. That allows the creation of effects of up to level seven within a moderately narrow theme, or level six within a broad theme or a couple of moderately narrow themes, or level five within an extremely broad one and leaves them with 14,000 GP with which to get a few minor enhancements.

   Now, in theory – at least in Eclipse – there’s nothing preventing this from going right on up beyond level nine Greater Invocations until you arrive at the Class-90 Adept who has Greater Invocation at Spell Level 27 and Caster Level 53, and can do pretty much anything whatsoever. (Even I didn’t come up with any magical effects of above level twenty-four). In practice, anything beyond Class-V is usually excessive – and somewhat boring; when you can do almost anything, there’s no real point in doing anything; there are no real challenges to meet except for arranging to shoot first.

Mutants of the Eclipse Part XIV – The Duplicator

   To continue with Mutants in Eclipse, here we have the Duplicator – a Class-I mutant who can make more of himself or herself. As usual, “mutant powers” are built using Unlimited-Use Use-Activated Innate Enchantments – at an effective base “Cost” of (Spell Level x Casting Level x 2000 GP x Modifiers).

   Now, self-duplication that’s a simple enough power as long as the user is a relatively normal human being and isn’t carrying any special equipment. It’s a bit more trouble if the user happens to be high level, or is carrying the legendary Ragnarok Blade that can destroy mountains, or possesses weird superhuman powers.

   In the comic books, writers can simply skip past that kind of problem. In a game it’s going to come up over and over and over again.

   Fortunately, the mechanics of constructing the power will take care of that kind of thing for us. As it turns out, unique items, extremely dangerous materials, ultra-technology, mutant powers, and whatever-it-is that empowers a high-level character simply will not duplicate for lesser mutants. What we want here is:

   Summon Psychic Construct II (from The Practical Enchanter), +3 spell levels for lasting one hour per caster level, +2 spell levels for Replicant (the construct gets to use it’s creators skills and mental attributes, and may share it’s experiences with him or her if it gets back to him or her before it vanishes), +1 level for summoning 2-5 at a time, -1 level for not getting the usual +6 Natural Armor and Slam Attack, -2 levels for not getting the usual Construct type or traits, including Darkvision Low-Light Vision, and the wide variety of Immunities. -1 level for only being able to summon a single type of construct; a copy of the user with two options – Bonded (may be mentally commanded as a free action) and Equipped (comes with mundane copies of whatever equipment the user is carrying, although this will not extend to exotic gear such as ultra-technology, radioactives, exotic explosives, and similar items).

   That’s (Spell Level Four x Caster Level Seven x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .8 Duplicates can be knocked unconscious and interrogated just like their creator could be. This is likely to be important when so many of them can be running around, x .7 only a relatively limited number of duplicates can be in existence at any one time; even the best duplicators are normally limited to a hundred or so – despite their theoretical limit of fifteen thousand = 31,360 GP) – just shy of the 32,000 limit on a Class-I mutant. Go ahead. Add a personal-only cantrip effect that the primary character gets to use; perhaps something to help keep his or her memories straight?

   There. If you want to buy more powers, only the original gets to use them. On the other hand, if you want to buy skills, martial arts, and proficiencies with conventional weapons, your duplicates can be reasonably effective. They still won’t be able to stop a serious superhuman in a direct confrontation, but their complete disposability can still make them pretty useful if you’re ruthless enough.

   Class-I Duplicators are strong – if rather conspicuous – information-gatherers and detectives, are good at instant crowd scenes, and can be quite effective against ordinary folk or a weak enemy. Against major opponents, however, they’re often rather ineffectual – especially if the original didn’t happen to be carrying any major weapons at the time.

   Now, if the game master is willing to put up with it, it is possible to create superheroic duplicates with some share in the originals innate powers. What you need is to use a seventh-level base effect, allowing them to select the “three character levels” option – which could reasonably be stretched to cover anything up to Class-III mutant powers. Drop the “One hour per caster level” back to “one round per caster level”. Upgrade the limitation for them only getting three powers (counting the “Class Levels” one) to -2 levels, since they’d normally be entitled to quite a few more.

   That gives us (Level Six Spell x Caster Level Eleven x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Limited to three or four duplicates at a time, despite being theoretically entitled to up to eleven x .9 Duplicates can be mind-probed, intimidated, and so on, just as their creator can be = 83,160 GP).

   That’s expensive – that’s almost a Class-III power, and a +3 ECL, right there. If the user has his or her own powers, he or she is going to wind up with quite an ECL penalty. If not, he or she can summon three powerful constructs, rather than duplicates – but that’s an interesting power in itself (even if it is one that will make your near-defenseless primary character a primary target).

Mutants of the Eclipse Part XIII – Weres, Alter-Egos, Metamorphs, Power Mimics, and Shapeshifters

   To continue with Mutants in Eclipse, here are the power packages for a variety of Shapeshifters. Unfortunately, “Shapeshifters” are not nearly as well-defined as – say – Blasters or Element Masters, since the category includes a wide variety of dramatically-different characters. Ergo, this segment includes notes on Weres and Mimics, Power Mimics, Alter-Egos, Metamorphs, and True Shapeshifters at a variety of ECL modifiers.

   As usual, their powers are built using Unlimited-Use Use-Activated Innate Enchantments – at an effective base “Cost” of (Spell Level x Casting Level x 2000 GP x Modifiers). In most casts that’s either 2000 GP (for level one effects) or 12,000 GP (for level two effects).

   The most common type of Shapeshifter is probably the “Lycanthrope” – a single-alternate-form “werecreature” or (occasionally) a character who can take on a modest variety of animal forms and abilities. Characters in this category have already been covered under the Class-II and Class-III Ferals.

   Mimics – characters who can simply change their appearance to look like other people – can just take the “Face Dancer” package under the Minor Mutants listing. Mimics who can actually copy other people’s powers will need to add Greater Invocation/Any Effect (capable of duplicating any power of four levels lower or less) at about level eight – an expensive power indeed:

   Power Mimic: Greater Invocation/Any Effect of up to level four, Spell Level Eight at Caster Level Fifteen x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .25 Only to mimic other powers that are available in the immediate vicinity = 60,000 GP. That’s +2 ECL, with some 4000 GP left over to add a few minor powers. If the mimic drains or neutralizes the powers of his or her donor, that simply requires a powerful dispel magic effect, possibly coupled with a knockout touch effect – both of which can easily be covered by the Greater Invocation effect. Since there are advantages and disadvantages both ways – knocking out an opponent versus being unable to use your friends powers without rendering them unconscious – there’s no need for an additional modifier.

   Next up we have the Alter-Egos – characters who can take on a specific, powerful, alternate form – whether that’s Mr Hyde, a huge stone statue, a dragon, or a floating ball of energy. Characters in this category are usually best built as Exokinetics. A few with really exotic abilities, or exotic structures (characters who transform into an ooze or some such) are best built using a level six single-form variant on Shapechange (as per Shapechange, but allows only a specific alternate form and a maximum of one hit die per caster level). That is expensive though – to the point where the minimum is a Class-V build that looks something like this:

  • Specific Shapechange: (Spell Level Six x Caster Level Twelve x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated = 144,000 GP. While characters who cannot turn this off (x.7) can cut down the cost substantially, they’re no longer really shapechangers – and will have a very hard time fitting in to most superhero games).

   That usually leaves 16,000 GP with which to buy some bonus abilities. In general:

  • Personal Knack: +3 Competence Bonus to a skill group (1400 GP).
  • Resistance: +1 Resistance Bonus on Saving Throws (Resistance, L0, 700 GP)
  • Rugged Metabolism: Fast Healing I – for 18 Rounds – 2/Day, Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 1/Day, and Lesser Restoration 1/Day. From the Hedge Wizardry list on this site and The Practical Enchanter (1400 GP).
  • Superior Attribute: +2 Enhancement Bonus to any one attribute (1400 GP).
  • Superior Attribute: +2 Enhancement Bonus to any one attribute (1400 GP).
  • Vigorous: +24 + 4 x Con Mod HP (8400 GP).
  • Well-Practiced: +4 Competence Bonus to BAB with their alternate forms primary attack (1400 GP) or – if it doesn’t require an attack check – +2 on the DC of resisting it.

   Characters wishing to assume the forms of things with more hit dice will need a higher caster level on the Shapechange effect – until it will be more efficient to just get a full “Shapechange” and limit it to a single alternate form (About x.6, since that really does limit it quite a lot). That’s 183,600 GP – calling for a minimum of a Class-VI Mutant with 8400 GP left over – enough for the secondary package above provided that the Vigorous ability is knocked down to +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP and 1400 GP.

   That isn’t actually much more expensive than the basic version – but the game master should keep a careful eye on the creatures that he or she allows. What with the doubled-up hit die limit from the full Shapechange spell there are creatures out there that can really make a mess of the game. Fortunately, in superhero games, there tend to be a lot fewer exotic monster species around, which puts a lot of classical d20 creatures off-limits; you can’t shapechange into things which do not exist in the campaign since you cannot be “familiar” with them – a limit which does not apply to the specific version.

   Metamorphs can reshape their bodies – often to the point where they resemble an animated blob of putty more than a living creature. More advanced metamorphs can give themselves functional powers by reshaping their bodies into weapons, using their elastic properties to bounce around, contain explosions, and turn themselves into parachutes, or even by mimicking complex devices.

   Of course, even then, the adventures of Rubber Man won’t much resemble those of Technonanite Man – or even those of Magmus the Lava Man.

   Still, the basic Metamorphic Package includes:

  • Alter Self (user reverts to some seriously bizarre base form if rendered unconscious or this ability is negated, x.8, 9600 GP)
  • Protean (see below, x.7 personal-only, 8400 GP).
  • And a choice of ten Minor Abilities. In general, all of these are (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
    1. (Energy) Touch: Produce Flame with appropriate special effect, no ranged attack (x.7).
    2. (Energy) Porcupine: Anyone who strikes the user with a natural weapon or unarmed strike will take 1d4 damage during each round in which they do so, regardless of the number of actual strikes. Anyone who grapples or grabs the user and hangs on will take 1d6 damage per round of such activity. (Each elemental variant is a separate spell. The game master may rule that certain weapons – such as brass knuckles, or a metal club versus electricity – do not provide protection).
    3. Augment Attack: +1d8 damage with natural weapons.
    4. Camouflage: +10 Circumstance Bonus to Hide Checks.
    5. Controlling Grasp: The user may effectively grapple up to three opponents at one time.
    6. Endure Elements: The user is immune to ordinary weather effects.
    7. Enlarge Person: The version from The Practical Enchanter, +1 Size Category when active.
    8. Ever-Flowing: +1 Competence Bonus to all Saving Throws. (Sidestep, from The Practical Enchanter).
    9. Expeditious Retreat: +30′ Movement.
    10. Feather Fall: Parachute form, can also be used to survive large masses of stuff falling on the user.
    11. Immortal Vigor I: +12 + 2 x Con Mod HP.
    12. Implement: The character may produce simple implements, such as staves, basic melee weapons, hammers, drills, etc, forming them out of his or her own body; if they’re damaged, he or she takes the damage (x.7).
    13. Innate Resistance: Warding Rune, +1 Resistance Bonus on Saving Throws.
    14. Inner Fires: The user need not breathe.
    15. Lesser Energy Resistance: Resistance-5 to all forms of energy except infernal and divine.
    16. Low-Light Vision.
    17. Mage Armor: +4 Armor Bonus to AC.
    18. Magic Fang: The user’s natural weapons gain a +1 enhancement bonus.
    19. Natural Weapons – regardless of form, 1d8 Crit 20/x2, may make a full attack using both at full BAB.
    20. Personal Knack: Skill Mastery, +3 Competence Bonus to a skill group.
    21. Reduce Person: The ability to get very small.
    22. Resilience: the first five points of damage from any source is taken as nonlethal damage.
    23. Scent.
    24. Sealing Wounds: Cure Light Wounds five times per day.
    25. Superior Attribute: +2 Enhancement Bonus to any one attribute.
    26. Tough as Nails: Convert the first five points of damage from any attack to nonlethal damage.
    27. Toxin Expulsion: Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 2/Day, and Lesser Restoration 2/Day.
    28. Tremorsense/Advanced Hearing: The user can hear extremely high and low frequency sounds, and can target unseen creatures within thirty feet without penalty with a successful listen check.
    29. Unbreakable Grasp: Gain a +10 Enhancement Bonus to Climb checks and to rolls to hang onto things.
    30. Well-Practiced: +2 Competence Bonus to BAB with a group of weapons – most often Natural Weapons.

   Metamorphs with additional powers – such as the ability to generate lava effects, transform parts of their body into various pieces of equipment, and so on – will need a Greater Invocation effect. In general, that’s (Spell Level Five x Caster Level Nine x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) = 90,000 GP). That’s an additional +3 ECL modifier, with 6000 GP left over. How powerful an effect they can generate depends on how broad their theme is. Very narrow themes, such as “elastic” or “stretching” powers will allow effects of up to level four. Very broad themes, such as “technology”, will probably only allow effects of up to level two. Intermediate themes will allow effects of up to level three.

   Full-out Shapeshifters can take on a wide variety of forms. The most common variant simply uses a Personal-Only variation of Polymorph (“Polymorph Self”) with a restriction on the types of forms that can be taken and a few additional enhancements to make up for some of the hit die restrictions. Fortunately for them, the bonus hit dice in the basic superheroic human racial package, and those from Immortal Vigor, will help them take some decent forms. They’ll still want a reasonable level though – so it’s a good thing that the package they need isn’t all that expensive.

  • Polymorph Self (Spell Level Three x Caster Level Five x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .6 for Animals, Magical Beasts, and Vermin – or any similar limited subgroup of the normally-available forms – only x .9 only heals the user once per hour no matter how often it’s “cast” = 16,200 GP.

That leaves plenty of room for some other enhancements – notably:

  • Rugged Metabolism: Fast Healing I – for 18 Rounds – 2/Day, Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 1/Day, and Lesser Restoration 1/Day. From the Hedge Wizardry list on this site and The Practical Enchanter (1400 GP).
  • Superior Attribute: +2 Enhancement Bonus to any one attribute (1400 GP).
  • Vigorous: +24 + 4 x Con Mod HP (8400 GP). That will allow the user to take the form of some fairly formidable animals, since that provides a level one total of seven hit dice.
  • +2 BAB with Natural Weapons (Weapon Mastery, from The Practical Enchanter, 1400 GP).
  • Low-Light Vision (1400 GP).
  • Scent (1400 GP).

   That’s a mere Class-I (or +1 ECL) package – and rightly so; taking animal forms is very neat, and very appealing, and fits in with a lot of stories and fantasies – but in super-hero terms, the powers and abilities of animals just aren’t really all that impressive. After all, tiger versus Castellon the Earthmaster, with his metallic body, superhuman strength, and ability to manipulate the earth, isn’t going to be much of a contest.

   A Full Shapechanger – with unlimited use of Shapechange – costs a base of 306,000 GP, and calls for a minimum of a Class-10 Mutant who will have some 14,000 GP left over – enough for most of that supplementary package (drop the Low-Light Vision and Scent, since a full Shapechange will include them where relevant). Perhaps fortunately, despite their appalling power, a Class-10 mutant is all too likely to be short on hit points.

   Protean

  • Transmutation, L2 Sorcerer/Wizard, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One standard action, Range: Touch, Target: Creature Touched, Duration: One minute per level (D), Save: Reflex Negates (Harmless), Spell Resistance: Yes
  • Protean renders it’s target – and his, her, or it’s equipment* – flexible and amorphous. While in this state the target looks very odd, gains an extra ten feet of reach, can take various simple forms and squeeze through spaces as small as two inches across, is unaffected by having parts severed, and is immune to extra damage from critical hits.
    • *Characters may restrict this if they like, but comic-book characters rarely wind up naked when they pull themselves back together. Game masters may also opt to rule that equipment must have been in the characters possession for some time in order for it to be included in the effect.

The Kadian Ritualist

   Lord Kevin, god of Transformation, Witchcraft, and Travel has committed himself to imbuing a limited number of “trainees” with the ability to ritually open interdimensional gates. Admittedly, that’s mostly as a backhanded method of inconveniencing some of his major opponents, but it’s still not his preferred mode of operation; he prefers to recruit Thralls rather than to train ritualists. Still, it’s not too big a bother to have his Thralls and facilities transform and train a few of them – and he will at least make sure that they do hear about the advantages of becoming a Thrall over those of becoming a Ritualist.

   Still, rituals can be useful; if any of the Thralls want to spend some time picking one up, the classes for that (6 CP) section will be open to them as well.

   Since the Federation-Apocalypse campaign is an Eclipse d20 game, this package is set up for Eclipse. If you’re unfamiliar with that, Eclipse is available in print HERE, in a shareware .pdf version HERE, and in a .pdf version including Eclipse II and the web expansion HERE.

   The Ritualist “Training Program” involves genetic modification and magical tinkering to modify the trainee’s species template, as well as a high-end package-deal training program to provide another +12 CP. It includes:

  • Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (+2 SP/Level, 6 CP).
  • Two Bonus Feats – one as the usual human bonus feat, one to allow them to retain at least a part of their racial/realm background abilities (12 CP).
  • Enhanced Durability: +2d0 Hit Dice (needed to qualify for the Wolverine Genegrafts, below, 8 CP).
  • Wolverine Genegrafts: Shapeshift, with Attribute Modifiers, Hybrid Form, Clear Speech, and Variants (Human Appearance), Specialized/wolverine form only and Corrupted/cannot actually Change Forms (9 CP). This replaces the user’s physical racial attribute modifiers and abilities with those of a Wolverine – Str +4, Dex +4, Con +8, +2 Natural Armor, 1d4 Natural Weapons, Scent, a +8 Racial Bonus to Climb, and Berserker (using the standard “Barbarian” bonuses).
    • Yes, that’s very cheesy, and no, it won’t normally work outside the Manifold Campaign, which allows cheap physical boosts due to the prevalence of starships and mecha.
  • Gateway Ritual: Inherent Spell: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (a level nine spell – Gate)/Requires a lengthy ritual, cannot be used for summoning, draws on the power of Kadia (where caster level requirements are not an issue), and thus requires the expenditure of magic points anywhere else (6 CP).
    • Since magic points are a very limited resource, ritualists who start with Constitutions below 12 will only be able to perform a ritual once a week or at best (and will not be able to perform off-dimension magic after using one for some days) – although a low constitution is a rare thing in students from Inversion (or in the Manifold in general) and WILL be tested for in advance.
  • One extra skill point in Knowledge/The Manifold (1 CP)
  • A +3 Speciality in Knowledge/The Manifold/The Major Realms (with a special focus on places that are good to trade with and ones that are good to stay out of).

   With a net total of 31 CP (for a +0 ECL race) and 12 CP (for a maximum-value package deal), the package replaces the students original species – and will only work for people who have spent at least a part of their time in Kadia, since they’ll need to have visited to tap into it’s energies.

   If a student wishes, he or she may opt to spend his or her personal bonus feat on either retaining more of their world-specific bonuses or on an additional advanced ritual, such as a Teleportation Gate (these last up to one minute per level and go anywhere within a dimension but not outside it, otherwise as per Gate), Improved Polymorph Any Object (+1 to Duration Factor), or some similar mighty effect.

   Developing the Faith/Kevin skill so as to mitigate the magic point expense, and thus the ability to use rituals more often, is an optional extra.

Human Variants I

   Upgraded humans, with extra abilities or feats based on region, culture, local adaptions, genetic engineering, mutations, animals, or other sources, are probably the most common of all d20 variants. That’s because humans – while adaptable and widespread – have the most generic possible bonuses.

   In Eclipse d20, it’s also because humans – unlike most of the other races – have a lot of unspent points left over in their racial template. Humans do have a notable long-term advantage since their racial template has Fast Learner in it, allowing them to take it twice – but those twenty-two left-over points beckon to us all.

   Of course, if you spend them all, humans may become a bit TOO good later on – but that leaves us plenty of wiggle-room to make some variants. Ergo, most of the following types of humans have the basic human package (One Bonus Feat, Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for half cost, 9 CP) plus another ten points worth of bonuses.

   The New Imperium and Old Empire are “Star Wars” settings. Here, the local humans (and most of the other races) get:

  • The people of Star Wars get to act as if almost all planetary atmospheres are acceptable – and as if even the vacuum of space has a non-toxic and marginally breathable (if thin) atmosphere. They can hear sounds there, have their cloaks flutter in the breeze, and survive space for a brief period unprotected – or indefinitely with little more than an oxygen mask. That’s Immunity/Atmospheric Conditions (Uncommon, Severe, Minor). Sadly, this ability is Corrupted/they cannot turn it off. They have to bank to turn their spacecraft at speed, have top speeds in space rather than thrust limitations, can be deafened by nearby explosions in a vacuum, and have poor senses of smell. None of those are really big problems of course, but they’re only saving two character points on the deal anyway (4 CP).
  • Immunity/Encounter Odds; the people of the Star Wars settings find the universe a small place indeed. They’re forever running into old acquaintances, stray relatives, and personal enemies, despite the utter absurdity of such a thing in a place the size of a galaxy. (Common, Minor, Trivial, 2 CP).
  • Luck, Corrupted/if used to attack, cause trouble, or for evil purposes, it will cause karmic backlash and drag the user into more and more evil (4 CP).

   Inversion is a futuristic realm, featuring a long-term struggle for survival against ecological catastrophe. Here the local humans get:

  • Immunity to toxins, pollutants, and disease (Common, Major, Minor, for a +4 bonus on relevant rolls, 6 CP). Like it or not, all the people who weren’t unusually resistant are long-dead.
  • +2 to Concentration (2 CP). Grim determination is the key to long-term survival in Inversion.
  • +2 Hit Points (purchased as +2 sides to their first-level hit die, 2 CP). In such a setting, minor accidents are a way of life.

   The English Fantasy Realm includes the worlds of The Dark is Rising, Harry Potter, the Changes Trilogy, and many more. In general, people in such fantasies tend to be either fanatical (and more than a bit thuggish) or bright and plucky. In either case, however, they share a willful blindness to anything they don’t want to know, and will warp the obvious facts of a situation into complete unrecognizability rather than change their minds.

  • +2 Intelligence (12 CP, Corrupted/user must make a will check to recognize something is not in accordance with their assumptions – for example, that a companion has betrayed them or that there actually is a supernatural horror out there.
  • Resist, +2 Bonus on Will Saves, Corrupted/only versus mental control (2 CP). No, this does not help them with the saving throw noted above.
  • The Thuggish Brute variant adds the bonus to Strength or Constitution rather than Intelligence and must make a will save to have any information that disagrees with his or her assumptions actually register; otherwise they simply will not really hear it.

   Singular is a world revolving around scientific advancement – a realm trapped by it’s tendency to seek the solution to EVERY problem in ever-higher technology.

  • Upgrade the basic human Fast Learner ability to +2 Skill Points/Level (3 CP).
  • Major Privilege/Characters from Singular get a Technological Aptitude attribute, which is rolled normally. Specialized/the characters Technological Aptitude Modifier is subtracted from any skill check that is related to mystical powers (3 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/Characters from Singular add their Technological Aptitude Modifier to all their technically-related skills in addition to the usual attribute modifier – whether it is positive or not. Specialized/Characters from Singular also subtract their Technological Aptitude Modifier from any skill check that is related to psionic powers (3 CP).
  • Enthusiast, Specialized in Skills Only, Corrupted for Technological Skills Only (1 CP, provides one “floating” skill point for technological skills that can be reassigned with a few days of study).
  • Later-generation Singularites have a full 30-CP racial template, having also been genetically engineered for:
    • Logical Outlook: Characters from Singular gain a natural +1 bonus on Computer Operation checks (+1).
    • Enhanced Neurology: +2 Intelligence (Normally 12 CP, reduced to 6 CP by world laws). As a note, there have been many attempts to enhance the intelligence bonus even further, but they tend to lead to psychological problems and instability. Of course, player characters may be the fortunate exceptions.
    • Rapid Healing: Grant of Aid/Specialized (requires several hours): May heal 1d8+5 damage OR 1d3 points of attribute damage OR one negative level once per three levels per day or part thereof, 3 CP), with the Regenerative option/Corrupted (requires lots of food and rest, 2 CP), allowing them to slowly regrow lost limbs and organs.

   In the Manifold setting, where players get to design their own human variants, player characters – who have left their own realms to adventure in the wider universe – get to spend the last twelve character points in the +0 ECL allotment as well. They, after all, are defining a bit of their own reality.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 120 – Going A Little Looney

   Despite their suspicions, the war council had taken Kevin up on his offer to bring in some supplies for them readily enough. After all, if the youngster could open a “gate”, and bring through whatever he wanted, and was hostile, he wouldn’t need to ask them what kind of supplies they’d like. He’d just bring through the troops or whatever.

   It occurred to a couple of them that there could be some magical reason for asking for permission – but it was a scientifically minded world, and they dismissed the passing thought soon enough. Surely the universe wasn’t THAT silly! There had to be some sort of principles underlying the powers of the Manifold and its residents! There might be something weird about the supplies, but it was hard to see how getting a bunch of raw materials in could be inherently bad either.

   They weren’t quite right. It was hard to accept that things worked simply because superstition, or some author, had come up with some bizarre idea. They didn’t understand that obtaining the agreement of the residents (whether directly through mass propaganda or by proxy through their leaders) made it a LOT easier to make changes in a reality – but there wouldn’t be anything major this time around.

   They opted to have Kevin open his “gate” at a large plaza nearby; if he really could bring through a few tons of the most vitally-needed supplies, they’d need more space than was available in the bar. Businesses on the surface tended to be small thanks to the lack of space, but the underground facilities were quite another matter.

   Besides, it was in one of the subsurface areas, and could be easily cleared, isolated, and put under a security cordon in the few minutes it would take to get there.

   Kevin had his Thralls throw up some cloaking spells and effects to prevent magical detection, as well as having them stand by to damp out any reality disturbances and to keep an eye out for spies – although, come to think of it, that mana damping spell, and whatever effect was keeping the local reality from splitting, would probably handle a lot of the disturbance-damping for them.

   He threw in some of the usual minor witchcraft-based dramatics – a bit of whipping wind, a spiral of runes spinning out, and some lighting effects – but the magical gate provided some of it’s own anyway. It would only hold for a minute or so, but that would be plenty of time to rush a few hundred tons of supplies through.

   It had taken a little scrambling for the Thralls back in Kadia to come up with several tons of antimatter (and compatible containment systems) on short notice, but it could easily be imported from any of several universes where it was easy to come by. Same went for the uranics and transuranics and other bits of technology. Dense, concentrated, fortified, and delicious food was, of course, easy; Kevin kept calling for that as a trade good anyway. It went over well pretty much everywhere.

   He had a quartet of Thralls come along as well; a few liaisons would probably be called for. They always were… it was one of the major reasons why recruiting more Thralls was something of a Red Queen’s race.

(Kevin) “Well, hopefully you’ll find that useful! Doing that sort of thing in a no-magic universe is always a bit of a strain!”

(Kilhoy, looking over the shipment – and the list of contents) “I’m impressed, is this an ability that can be taught or is it some strange Manifolder talent?”

(Kevin) “Oh, practically anything can be taught. That one does take a long time to learn without a massive natural talent though – and you do need to have a source of supply.”

(Kilhoy) “Well that stinks, a world of riches out there beyond compare that could tip the war in our favor, and it’s beyond our reach save for the charity of strangers.”

(Marty) “Better than having to live under God’s thumb.”

(Kevin) “I suspect that resources along won’t do it – but I can send some candidates through for gate-opening training if you like. There are ways to get around the training time, but the ones I have available only work on youngsters. I can cheat on a lot of things back home; my abilities are not so limited there.”

   Most of the locals were trying to hide it – but there were some rather horrified reactions to THAT line. “Not so limited”!?!? The ability to – pretty obviously – multitrack and tracelessly direct his employees (or whatever they were) across dimensions, access to sufficient resources to casually give away tons of the rarest materials in existence on a whim, and to wave his hand and instantly import enough explosive power to exterminate the human race was what this boy could do where his powers were “LIMITED”?! And he had GREATER powers elsewhere? Presumably he was at or near the top of the power scale, but what else could be done by Manifolders when they wanted to?

   Kilhoy had that reaction too, but he was doing a lot better than most of the others at hiding it.

(Kilhoy) “How young are we talking? And is there any catch?”

(Kevin) “Hm. Anyone who can accept the genegrafts to give them enough endurance to handle the energies can learn a gateway ritual and use it once every day or so. That’s useful, but it is not a power that I usually bother with running a program to teach. It wouldn’t be a big favor to set one up though… For a program that limited, I’d recommend pre-adult; genegrafts are more easily adapted to if your body is still growing. I can grant much greater powers to adolescents, but that requires a far greater commitment than a training program. Linking them to my powers requires a very deep link indeed, and it takes a long time for them to grow out of it.”

(Kilhoy) “I am going to have to consult with my superiors, but I suspect we can get some volunteers to learn the gateway ritual. The bigger stuff, I’d like to hold back on for the time being, but it isn’t my decision… If you don’t mind me asking, what do you plan on doing next?”

(Kevin) “Oh, we can stick around here for a bit in case there’s anything else you need – and to send a few people off for training if some choose to go, After that, we’d better get back to investigating “God” and Merlin. They’re being a pain elsewhere as well. Besides, you were trying to dig up a little more information on that pair, and we’d need to wait for that anyway.”

(Kilhoy) ” True enough, let me check on the progress of that.”

   Off in their own private groups, the locals had a discussion going on – but the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion; they were desperate, the potential benefit was obviously vast, and it wasn’t like the local teenagers were safe anyway. Besides, quite a few of them were already in service in one way or another, and it looked like this group of Manifolders was actually benign. How far wrong could a training program go? Even if it did involve “genegrafting” and “magic”? They eventually wound up sending a dozen young volunteers – and were pleasantly surprised to find that their visitors had no objection to them sending along a group of observers to watch the process.

   Meanwhile, Kevin and Marty were reviewing the information the locals had been able to dig up on Merlin and “God”.

   Matthias Lecturn and a group of six other Landsrecht had appeared (probably arriving from the Manifold) in Great Britain decades ago. They had initially appeared to be friendly, and had begun to battle an assortment of the more malevolent individuals and groups of the time (according to the books, the classic villains of the setting). They’d enjoyed considerable success. Matthias had been the leader of the group, and had seemed to have a power the others didn’t, although they all sported handguns that were for more effective than should have been possible – dismissed at the time as some sort of speciality psionic enhancement. They’d been fairly normal-looking guns, but they’d been able to penetrate shields and armor, detonate, block regeneration, cause debilitating pain, and produce a wide variety of other effects.

   Oh dear. THAT sounded ominously familiar to Kevin. It had been a long time since he’d handled one of those though… Ryan’s demonically-infused heavy Core pistols. Capable of bypassing a wide variety of defenses (including many spells), filled with flaming infernal energy, wounding, shocking, and any of several other items dependent on the will of he user.

   The weapon that had set his own feet upon the path of darkness. The one that had linked him to the flood of dark power pouring out of the Ayss through Ryan. There had been a fair number of other Core children in his class at Hogwarts – several openers, a few gatekeepers, and not a few normal children had spent time there in the early days of the opening. Was this where some of them had ended up?

   It took Marty a few moments – but the expression on Kevin’s face said quite a lot, and he’d made it a point to find out a fair amount about Kevin’s history. Gah! Those things!

   Wait a minute… Did that mean that this batch had shared, like Kevin, in the power of the Abyss? Were they up against six demigodlings? And perhaps a “flawed” opener…

   In any case, a bit later on – while Matthias’s group was battling one of the major villains of the era – Landrecht across the globe hand detected an incredible burst of raw psychic power from the site of the battle. A surge that surpassed anything that had ever been reported.

   Some had even described it as profoundly evil and ominous.

   In the aftermath of the battle, Matthias’s team had gone on a homicidal rampage across the globe. At some point Matthias had begun using avatars in battle rather than showing up personally – and the other six had demonstrated that – while they could each be defeated in battle individually – unless the body was either utterly destroyed or confiscated they would return even if slain. The number of avatars Matthias could support had been growing steadily, but was currently believed to be at six. Of his original companions, only two were still around – a man who seemed to have taken up the role of lead avatar for Matthias and a woman who had taken on the role of media personality for Matthias/God. There were those who said that Matthias was dead and that the woman was the one controlling everything.

   Hm. Hadn’t there been a “Matthias” – one of the Round Table Knights – in the Crusader kingdoms? Knight Lord Matthias of the Hospitaliers? Probably just a coincidence though – and not even a bit one. There were LOTS of people with similar names in the Manifold.

   Still…

   Matthias sounded like one of the students from his time at Hogwarts to Kevin – although about all he could remember about him was an insufferable cheeriness and a lust for cool powers. The others sounded like they might have been students there too – but they weren’t very memorable. Of course, he had had more important things on his mind at the time and it had been fifty years. Who could be bothered to remember every kid in the class?

   Kilhoy had been trying to figure out their expressions – but didn’t really have enough background information to tell much. Still, SOMETHING in that had meant something to this pair…

(Kilhoy) “Hopefully that was of some value to the bunch of you. It didn’t mean much to us.”

(Marty) “Oh, everything helps. Definitely more than we knew before.”

(Kevin) “It might mean a good deal. In the Manifold, names have power – and so does knowing about something’s origins.”

(Kilhoy) “Well that is good… So, how do you plan on continuing your investigation? And is there anything we can do to assist?”

(Kevin) “Hm. Well, we have identities set up; it might be best to drop back in and go for normal transport rather than teleporting. Since we don’t know where Merlin or God is at right now – unless you do? – the Trial at Berlin seems like a possible point to start looking around.”

(Kilhoy) “Well we know the Faye (the woman) is likely to be there. If she is there, then there is a high likelihood that at least one avatar is there as well. Where Matthias is, is anyone’s guess – although we are fairly certain it is on planetside.”

   Hm. Merlin and Morgan Le Faye? That might well make sense.

(Kevin) “Well, we’d better head for Berlin then. We’d better check with our engineer friend to see what he would have put on those Landsknecht identities he set up first… Now, I had a youngster who can handle liaison come through with the last shipment; if you need something desperately before the youngsters have learned to handle gates on their own, he can get in touch with me.”

(Kilhoy) “Much appreciated.”

(Kevin) “Oh, you’re welcome. He can also call if you need some emergency evacuation, or a place to stash noncombatants, or some such.”

   Kevin, Daniel, and Xellos were Landsknecht, since that was what they had asked for. Most of the Thralls were listed as trainees or servants… Ah; their last reported location was Dallas, so it would be best to go back through the city. Shoeing up in Berlin directly might trigger a red flag.

   They were listed as semi-independent, recent “converts” from some of the tiny independent fiefdoms that had recently been forced to join the major governments what with the final ecological collapse.

   Yes, there were covert Landsknecht enforcers and secret police – and the arctic regions (Alaska, Canada, northern Russia, and the Antarctic Alliance) had held out a lot longer than the rest of the planet. Landsknect were usually well-tracked, but they weren’t interfered with much save when a large number of them begin to gather in one place for indeterminate reasons. They usually wound up working for “God” in the end, but a few remained “independent” so to speak.

   Heading to Berlin, where the trial and execution of a Manifolder was likely to take place, might or may not raise red flags; that would depend on how paranoid Matthias was. There weren’t many records on internal purgings of the Landsrecht.

   OK, so they were a small group of holdouts that were considering joining up, but weren’t too sure about all this “manifold” stuff and wanted to see for themselves?

   Marty felt that that sounded good. Perhaps they were some of the ones who wanted to see what “God” was all about.

   Lets see… Their “original location” was near the Alaskan/Canadian northern border, or where it had been prior to the formation of the North American Union. The money system was a mix of each of the Federated States money systems with fixed exchange rates to a purely theoretical unit called a credit – but the gold, gems, and other valuables they’d brought along would work just fine. Besides, they could easily forge some of the local physical tokens. Kilhoy and company could spare them quite enough for samples. Bank accounts and such would be too readily traced and were rather difficult to counterfeit though; Banks tended to be at the top of the game in terms of computer security.

   Physical tokens then. After all, outsider Landsknecht could be expected to like cash.

   The locals had their dozen training-volunteers ready a few hours later (along with the observors) – so they got the locals a second, smaller, shipment of supplies while sending the volunteers off to Kadia for training.

A discreet psychic teleport back to Dallas was in order. A magical gate would    be more likely to draw Merlin’s attention, and – while they and some of the local Landsknecht could certainly shield (on the Starship or Orb level) and thrust well enough to handle an orbital re-entry, it would be conspicuous and unwise – especially given the state war between the earth and moon.

   They settled on back to the locker room; there might be a search on in the tunnels for their missing engineer and they didn’t know that many places in the city.

   They made it, even if half of them did wind up uncomfortably crammed into lockers. For Marty, that was something of a middle school flashback – even if there weren’t any spikes or knives – but for Kevin it was a whole new experience, and not one of the more interesting kind. Not that escaping a locker was really very hard, but it was certainly annoying.

   The place was still deserted though. This time they could take the train and look around!

   The dome-city was as depressing as ever… They sampled the local food along the way, and found that it was very similar to what they’d usually find in Core and in other realms based on recent Earth. It did taste a bit “cleaner” though… No pesticides, diseases, preservatives, or other chemicals. It looked to be fresh and healthy. Local hydroponics or synthesis?

   Marty – thinking about the way that this Earth was – was worried about mind control drugs in the water and food. He had the girls probe it…

   Traces of chemicals related to suppressing aggression. Compounds related to growth factors and immunity boosters. Other factors tailored to trigger an immune response to certain proteins and enzymes (tailored to elicit an immune response against a set of viral replication enzymes). It looked to be heavily engineered on the base genetic level and was unlikely to even grow in a natural environment as it would need a tightly controlled environment and chemicals.

   They quietly neutralized the annoyances; everyone had access to body-control witchcraft anyway.

   Kevin sent the scan data back to Kadia for evaluation by an actual biochemist. It probably really was designed to help maintain health, and ward off environmental contaminants, but it wouldn’t be wise to entirely trust it at the moment – not with the kind of leadership the place had right now anyway.

   Marty considered the “defuse the meal” scenario – as well as storming the kitchen to interrogate the chef – for a moment, but decided to save that sort of thing for Battling Business World where it belonged.

   Emotionally, the place appeared to be tolerably well cared for… There was a vague sense of unease regarding the war with the Lunar Rebels, and about Manifold Agents, but the biggest concerns on the local’s minds was the loss of the third Elevator and the resources it provided access to. The vague desperation of “we’re on the edge and our major source of new resources has been cut off”. No access to the materials needed to keep building the Casimir systems…

   Well, off to Berlin. They wouldn’t be able to fix much around here while “God” and Merlin were in command.

   They took a place. If their ID’s were going to break, it would probably be there – but they’d need to know. There wasn’t much they could do to warp the odds there; it was all up to whatever their engineer had decided to do.

   The ticket sale person was having problems getting the system to take the ID’s. Eventually she threw up her hands in frustration, called the manager, and the manager ended up penciling the bunch of them in on a flight after giving each of them a long hard look.

(Manager) “Alright, you are now cleared to board. Terminal is right through the security station to your left.”

(Marty) “Thank you.”

(Kevin, crossly) “Finally!”

(Marty) “You’ll have to excuse my friend, he’s young.”

   Marty steered Kevin toward the terminal. Hm. Did they even bother telling psychics who could rip the plane apart with their minds “no weapons”?

   Ah, it looked like they didn’t really try to enforce it, but even Landsknecht were SUPPOSED to check their weapons.

(Marty) “Oh, all right. Here you go.”

   Marty checked his knife and pistol, and glared at the rest until they checked THEIR guns. The locals didn’t recognize the force-blades as weapons – and the ultralights, spare power cells, and such weren’t really weapons to begin with.

   Security was much happier when they handed over the pistols. Their scanners did not pick up the force blades or any of the other bits of technology anyway.

(Kevin) “Hrmmph! Oh very well!”

(Marty) “Now now Kierroth, we’ll get them back when we land in Berlin.”