Marvel Super Heroes – Darkwolf

   One of the more amusing aspects of the original Marvel Super Heroes game was that pretty much everything about your character was determined at random. Random attributes, random powers, random species… In fact, there was a substantial chance that your character would wind up as a member of a previously-unknown alien species – which you would then need to come up with, along with (hopefully) some explanation of how your random powers actually made some sort of sense. That could be quite a burden for some players, but – personally – I always took it as a large part of the fun.

   Unlike Kriegspiel and Kalrith (a centauroid and his companion), or Mondorallen (a dragon), this character turned out to be a lupinoid. Given that he also got darkness powers, the label “Darkwolf” was near-inevitable (or at least it was the most tolerable of the various “-wolf” labels that people tried to attach to him).

   Ergo, in the interests of nostalgia, here we have his capsule history, species notes, basic attributes, powers, power stunts, usual equipment, and contacts.

   Darkwolf

Alien Lupinoid Hero

   Capsule History:

   Professors Telmarch and Risoung were dimensional counterparts, each reflecting the other in the warped mirror of alternative worlds. While counterpart pairs are common enough in “close” dimensions, they’re vanishingly rare on worlds so divergent as to have different dominant species. Damith is the home of the Damkian, a wolflike “demihuman” race (see background material).

   On Earth, Professor Telmarch was on sabbatical, working on a project to probe other dimensions astrally, using total memory to “record” data and a psychic amplifier to provide the necessary transdimensional boost. On Damith , Kear Risoung was on furlough from the academy. His device generated a true “gate” for instrumental probes at the price of enormous strains on the users will.

   Ready at last, Kear Risoung’s clawtip touched the switch for full power – initiating the devices trial run.

   A myriad dimensions away, a fingertip touched a switch as Professor Telmarch prepared the gate to fling his astral form into the cosmos.

   In the realm between the worlds, two forces met and mingled, similar structures reinforcing each other. Wild energy surges fed back through generators, and two chairs were abruptly empty. In a timeless instant, two beings passed through each other in an abrupt, if momentary, fusion. As the generators burned out, the wild rift healed itself, balanced by the exchange of mass. In two no longer empty chairs two researchers looked at two unfamalier worlds and two masses of burned-out gear. Two voices were raised in unison across dimensions, two languages echoing for the first time across two worlds – “Oh Shit”.

   Both Risoung and Telmarch were changed by their temporary fusion and trans-dimensional trip. The linkage supercharged their nervous systems, increasing their natural powers, as well as “imprinting” them with each others knowledge and talents. More dramatically, they remain linked to the interdimensional “void”, making them living dimensional nexi. This allows them to draw matter and energy from other dimensions or “shunt” it elsewhere. Energy is fairly easy to handle but matter is a considerable strain. Annoyingly, summoned matter is difficult to stabalize, it tends to drop out of this dimension given time. Risoung was rather shocked to discover his new powers – but not too shocked to use them and his new knowledge of Earth to get along.

   Their original attributes were:

   Risoung: FASERIP; 20/40/4/20/30/30/10, no medicine, physics, or resist domination talents, Ex iron will, Ex sense of smell, Pr claws and teeth (edged weapon damage).

   Telmarch: FASERIP; 10/20/6/20/30/20/30, no leadership, piloting, or engineering, Ex total memory, Fb astral body.

   Both professors are – or were – minor mutants with enhanced nervous systems. That boosted their reflexes and mentality a bit and gave them better control over their personal bioenergies, an effect that Telmarch developed into Total Memory while Risoung (a bit more physically-oriented) developed into Iron Will. Only their fundamental similarity and unusual neuralogical durability let them survive their temporary fusion.

   Species Notes:

   General Description:

   The Damkian are descended from basically canine stock, albeit modified for their upright, bipedal, stance. They are somewhat smaller on the average then humans, standing about 5’3 and weighing about 125 pounds. On earth-marvel, they are usually classified as “Lupinoids”. As usual for an alternate-earth species, their biochemistry, genetics, and basic structure is quite ordinary by earthly standards. While humanoid, they do retain a wide variety of canine characteristics, including a coat of short fur, bushy tail, a short muzzle, stubby claws, pointed canine ears, a penile sheath in males, and the typical canine-jointed leg.

   Physiology:

   Damkian physiology is fairly similar to a humans, but there are some notable variations. They have an excellent sense of smell and their vision is sharper, and better at picking up motion, then a humans – but is somewhat poorer at distinguishing colors. Their predatory ancestry gives them better reflexes then human, but their lighter build leaves them noticeably weaker. Their hearing extends into the supersonic range, but they are deaf to the lower end of the human range. They are almost purely carnivorous, a fact that has had a considerable impact on their culture.

   Standard Attributes:

   The average Damkian has a FASERIP of 10/10/4/6/6/10/4, can do “poor” edged weapon damage with his claws and teeth, has an “excellent” sense of smell, and enjoys a +1 CS for FEAT rolls involving running or fine manipulation. On the other hand, they suffer +1 rank effect from “scent-based” attacks, age some 25% faster then humans, and are limited to a diet consisting almost entirely of meat. Any Damkian “leader” who makes bad decisions may be challenged by one of his subordinates. If he wins, his policies will (probably) go unchallenged for a time. If he loses, his policies will be overturned, and he loses two points of popularity to said challenger. Subordinates may challenge the leader even if his decisions have been good ones – but in this case they are similarily gambling two points of popularity. Such a fight is always over once one combatant submits. Damkian popularity depends on an individuals personal confidence, charisma, and dominance rather then on “popular opinion”. Hence Damkian suffer no penalties for being accused of or being found guilty of “criminal behavior”.

   Psychology and Sociology:

   Damkian cultures, like human cultures, are built around their basic social unit. Unlike humans, this is the pack, rather then the clan. Human clans are built around blood relationships, and run on a basis of seniority and influence. Damkian packs are built around territory and similar goals, and run on a basis of charisma and dominance. Packs are far less stable then clans, as individuals vie for position and move on as their interests shift – or they think they can do better elsewhere. Packs are very terratorial, although this territory may be something as abstract as a share of the market. Individuals are not. While this tends to look like total anarchy to humans, it allows rapid adaption to changing circumstances. Pack size is generally limited to the number of Damkian that the leader can personally sway and command, or about three times his popularity. Larger- scale governments have little real control. Pack loyalty is a (or the) major force in Damkian culture. As long as a Damkian belongs to a pack he will show a fierce loyalty to it, and a strong drive to prove it superior to others, an effect which normally drives what cooperation there is in the species.

   Individual Damkian are gregarious and pack-oriented, but have an equally strong tendency to move on if and when things don’t suit them. Their loyalty is intense, but transitory in most cases. Exceptions do occur. Durable relationships usually involve siblings, close friends, or mates. They tend to be fairly direct and honest by human standards, a result of their enhanced sense of smell. As their scents clearly reveal their basic emotional state to each other, they lack the social conventions that humans conceal such information with. Similarly, clothing serves little purpose of concealment among them, and, as it pulls their fur, is usually limited to utilitarian / protective gear. Damkian are more casually violent then humans, but rarely take it to extremes, since the same sensetivity that makes mutual hostility unconcealable makes surrender both unambigious, and impossible to fake. They also tend to be more casual about “property” then humans, rarely considering anything too bulky to take along as being theirs. Major structures ordinarily belong to the pack.

   Culture:

   The Damkian are fairly homogenous culturally. Since they tend to move on, or fight, when crowded, dissatisfied, or merely bored, the cultural diffusion rate is extremely high. They have a somewhat more advanced technology then earth, including basic warp-drive capabilities, and have colonized a dozen or so nearby worlds. Despite this, their total population is roughly equal to Earths, since the acreage required to support a Damkian carnivorous diet could support 20-30 humans living by subsistence farming. Children are reared by the mother and her pack, although the father will make a special effort if he remains with the pack. Casual sexual encounters are both common and much less complex then among humans, as their sense of smell easily informs them as to who is ready, interested, and available – and simple feedback often leads to casual flings. While some such encounters will develop into long-term bondings, males will still be open to new partners. A single long-term mate is the usual pattern – a cooperative pair makes a good team – but exceptionally charasmatic and dominant males may have several.

   Gender differences vaguely resemble those of terrestrial wolves in general, although the details vary. Males are “in charge” of day to day pack operations and defense – at least in theory. In practice, the females provide the packs basic continuity and long-term policies – a result of the males tendency to drift from pack to pack. The females are far more settled, usually remaining with the same pack indefinitely. Both groups tend to believe that they’re in charge, since what they think is important differs in the same fashion. Males are more violent, authoritative, and dominating but are, like most male mammals, always receptive to sexual advances. Females are thus pretty much in control of that aspect of life, since they are the ones who can choose to start (or stay out of) the pheromonal feedback loop. Males are virtually incapable of refusing a females advances, basically allowing the females to lead them around on a pheromonal string. On the other hand, while females are free to pick, “keep”, and stay with or leave, male Damkian, as long as they do decide to “keep” one, they remain his, and will (at least superficially) accept him as the dominant “head of the household”. Females are under no obligation to settle down with a particular mate however, the pack will provide for their offspring in any case.

   Science and Technology:

   Damkian technology is somewhat more advanced then that available to earthly “civilians” – but is, in fact, quite a bit behind the items produced by human geniuses such as Tony Stark or Mr Fantastic. While Damith does boast a few such minds, their efforts are very rarely so well focused or supported. On the other hand, whatever they do invent, they share with their packs as naturally as a human might share his inventions with his family – and unlike families, members of Damkian packs come and go all the time. Hence any new invention tends to spread rapidly. Trade secrets and industrial espionage generally don’t exist on Damith.

   Personally, Darkwolf is a hyped-up Damkian. He may be incredibly brilliant and powerful, but his basic instincts haven’t changed a bit. He wants to be pack leader. He wants to have mates and children and to protect and advance both them and his pack. Wealth, a good social life, indulging his curiosity (especially about his weird companions), and associating with his friends and peers all come in second.

   After the initial shock, he’s become very happy living on Earth. He’s accepted as pack leader of the Knight-Errants (1), has found two wonderful mates (Rahne Sinclair and Amy Grant – both of whom he goes to enormous lengths to please and care for, since there aren’t many other female wolf-people on earth), is extremely popular with the general population (thanks in large part to his medical work and only incidentally to his activities as a superhero), and – for that matter – is wealthy, powerful, has a whole new world to explore, and has every prospect of this situation continuing indefinitely thanks to his ability to produce anti-aging drugs (which he shares with those in the pack who want them). Life is good.

   Of course he can be upset. If Rahne, or Amy get kidnaped, he tends to go berserk – and anyone who gets “in the way” of him going after one of them will get badly hurt. Anyone who hurts one of them is going to die unless someone manages to restrain him – and if one of them gets killed, then everyone involved in that will die. Violently. Loudly. And probably very, very, quickly.

   (1) Darkwolf is, at least nominally, in charge of the Knight-Errant “team”, which he sees as a very powerful pack. The other members understand his psychology well enough (after a few of the more powerful and brilliant ones explained it) to just work around him if they need to rather than challenging him directly. Besides… he pays the bills, makes good plans, provides what little organization is actually needed, and doesn’t push the “I am in charge!” bit enough to really be much of a bother to anyone (after all, he’d expect them to just leave if he did). What more could anyone ask for in a leader? Or, for that matter, a fantastically skilled physician… Never upset your doctor.

   Attributes:

Fighting 30 Remarkable
Agility 100 Unearthly
Strength 20 Excellent
Endurance 30 Remarkable
Reason 90 Unearthly
Intuition 75 Monstrous
Psyche 50 Amazing
Health 180  
Base Karma 215  
Resources 30 Remarkable
Popularity 112 Unearthly

 

Height 5 feet, 4 inches
Weight 126 pounds
Hair/Eyes Rust / Green
Age 36 years, no longer aging appreciably.
Real Name Kear (Professor) Zaer Risoung
Occupation Chemical Supplier, Researcher, Inventor, Hero
Identity Publicly Known.
Legal Status Citizen of the US (sort of) and Damith.
Other Aliases Professor Vargr, Professor Adrian Telmarch.
Birthplace Damith / Earth.
Marital Status Mated with Rahne Sinclair and Amy Grant
Known Relatives None.
Group Affiliation Knights-Errant.
Base Of Operations New York City.
Ethnic Origin Temperate Damith.
Education Earthly and Damithian PHD’s in physics and electronics.
Source Of In Biochemical Sales.

   Talents: Medicine, Piloting, Engineering, Languages, Leadership, Physics, Electronics, Resist Domination, Genetics, Husband (provides a +3 column shift on anticipating, pleasing, and getting along with mates and offspring, usually intuition-based. He didn’t have this to start with, but bought it as soon as he could once he was in a relationship).

   Personal Notes: The professor is still officially on sabbatical, and will be for the next year. He has another set of contacts, but only in his home dimension.

   Known Powers:

   Dimensional Shunting: Risoung is a living dimensional nexus, able to shunt matter and energy both to and from other dimensions. His ability to manipulate it afterwards is more limited, although interactions with his enhanced bioenergy fields offer him some control. This subsumes:

Power Value Rank
Berserker (1) 100 Un
Darkforce Manipulation 50 Am
Disintegration 20 Ex
Illusion Casting 40 In
Light Control 30 Rm
Light Emission (2) 100 Un
Molecular Creation 20 Ex
Pheromones (1) 100 Un

(1) Via the creation of various biochemicals internally. Limited to (medical skill-1 CS). His enhanced pheromones are generated unconsciously, he doesn’t really know he’s doing it. Since this only requires trace amounts of various chemicals, it’s no particular strain on his power reserves though.

(2) Specialized in laser light.

   Sadly, Risoungs powers are limited, and can be temporarily exhausted by overuse or pushing his limits. For game purposes his power reserve is measured in “points”. He has a reserve of (Health + Power Ranks) “points” (currently 640 (1)), can recover 2 x (Endurance + Psyche) (currently 160) “points” per day, and can expend them as follows:

Matter Creation 1 per ounce. Includes activating Berserker.
Illusion Casting Maintenance Only.
Disintegration, Darkforce, or Energy Transfer Effects Sh 0 – Pr/0, Typ – Rm/1, In – Am/2, Mn – Un/3, Shift-X/4. +9 if above normal limits.
Maintaining an effect for ten minutes. 1
Per turn of “logrus searching” 1
Boosting Resources (2) 1 per point of boost

(1) In an emergency, he’s found that he can use his Iron Will power to provide extra points, but must – as usual with Iron Will – make up for it later on.

(2) Risoung can use his powers to make money by creating rare medical compounds. While only a small percentage of what he creates is permanent, he can afford to wait a few days to sort out what is – and the price of such materials is very high.

   Enhanced Neurology: Risoung’s innate neural enhancement linked with the enormous boost to his bioenergy fields during the fusion gives him;

Hyper-Intelligence 50 Am
Iron Will 75 Mn
Total Memory Unknown

   Physical Powers: As a lupinoid he has a few innate physical powers ;

Hypersensetive Olfactory 20 Ex
Claws and Teeth (Edged att) 4 Pr

   Power Stunts:

  • Darkforce Armor: This handy darkforce construct gives the “wearer” In (40) protection from physical attacks, Am (50) protection from energy, Mn (75) protection from most magic, and Un (100) protection from lasers and light- based attacks.
  • Energy Damping: Uses the negative darkforce energies to dampen or cancel out other energies (a very generic effect, often used to weaken force fields and such).
  • Flight: -1 rank speeds, In (20 areas/round, 300 MPH)
  • Gateway/Teleport: Standard effects.
  • Hypershunt (In): Acts like True Invulneribility, save for the fact that it only works on attacks of “unearthly” strength and above – and even then only reduces them to the “monstrous” level. This is an extension of his Darkforce Armor.
  • Internal Creation: Used with Molecular Creation, and possibly with Disintegration, this handy stunt allows the user to create material inside of other things. Darkwolf commonly uses this to administer drugs to people.
  • Logrus Search“: While items are far more specific and so far harder to find then elements and compounds, they can still be drawn across the dimensions. Common items can usually be found in a turn or two – but the time required is up to the GM. Items are limited to -2 ranks ounces – and must be pulled through in one piece, they can’t be assembled piecemeal.
  • Kinetic Bolt: The ultimate refinement of the laser, a kinetic bolt is a beam of “solid light”, capable of doing impact damage as appropriate to it’s form.
  • Biochemical Enhancement: This stunt refines the usual stimulus of the “berserker” power. Rather then increasing his Iron Will, Darkwolf’s enhanced medical talents allow him to tailor his stimulants so as to increase particular attributes. In effect, he can destribute those 100 points among his FASERIP characteristics – although boosting his mental attributes is only 50% effective.
  • Tracking: Darkwolf can track by scent with (In) ability and gains a +2CS to track his mates or offspring; he’s very familiar with those scents.

Hidden Powers: Actually, due to the original GM’s tendency to hold back a few hidden powers, the professor was a bit more powerful then he realized. It was easy for him to develop the “armor”, tracking, and gateway stunts because he already had Body Resistance (Am), Gateway (Am), and Tracking (In).

During the period in which he was enhanced by the High Evolutionary (for the campaigns final battle with Brand, a cosmic menace) he also possessed Regeneration (Ex), (Am) claws and teeth, and a +1 CS each on his Endurance, Fighting, and Psyche. There were some indications that part of those enhancements would persist after the battle, but that was the end of the campaign and we never did get details.

   Equipment:

   Uniform: Having designed them, Darkwolf has been nagged into wearing one in place of his original collection of gear – although he usually adds a vest to the ensemble so as to provide more pockets for his tools. His recent adventures in space, and his biological experiments, have prompted him to add a life-support belt.

  • Systems: Optical Scan, Remote Modem, and Sensor Web.
  • Kits: First Aid Kit and Multiscanner. The vest usually contains both a “Pocket”, and an Electronics, Toolkit, as well as a Pocket Computer/Secretary.
  • Minor Devices: Binoculars, Oxygen Mask, Sewing Kit, and Translator.
    • Amy has given the Auto-medpack a supplementary load of several powerful “healing potions”. She worries about him a bit.

   Life-Support Belt: This gadget provides a personal shield-aura against N/B/C attacks and environmental extremes which is roughly equal to a “Rm” rank micro-environment power. This protection extends to sensory overloads, albeit with only Ex effect. In an emergency (about to crash into something at mach one, targeted by a nuclear cannon, etc) the field can be extended to a modest radius and/or “cranked up” to the Mn level – but this requires a green FEAT roll on the Rm column each turn to avoid burning out the system.

   Normal Equipment: Medical Kit (right vest pocket), Currycomb (upper right vest pocket), Sewing kit (upper left vest pocket), emergency Breather Mask (left interior vest pocket), Sensor Pack (right interior vest pocket), Wallet (etc) (right pants pocket), mini-binoculars (left pants pocket), Transceiver Link Watch, and Miniature tool kit Belt.

    Combat Stave(s):

   These simple telescoping tubes can be extended to five feet or collapsed to eight inches with a simple twist and button control. They are double-walled, with the internal elements between the walls. Darkwolf asked for them just in case he ever went berserk, only to find that Amy Grant and Tony Stark had anticipated him and had them ready. They are:

  • Made of class-3000 material – apparently an alchemically-enhanced adamantium variant.
  • Handy for blocking attacks in hand-to hand combat, reducing the damage from such attacks by two ranks.
  • Darkwolf can simply shunt energies through the center of the tube – making it unnecessary focus it himself. This translates into boosting such projections by two ranks, to a maximum of Shift-Z.
  • The staves respond to tiny (pinhead sized) “director” units set into the bones of his hands, allowing Darkwolf to “call” the staves to himself from up to three areas away. This is normally unimportant, but does look neat.

   Contacts:

   Thomasin Ap Hengwyr: Holder of the chair of medieval literature at the university, as well as a student of the occult and a minor sorcerer. He tends to keep this hobby quiet, but has been known to unbend at faculty parties. Usually everyone is too far gone to remember whatever he did -if he was sober enough to make it work. His advice was quite useful (ok, maybe that’s not quite the right word) in the building of the dimensional probe.

   Thomas knows relatively few spells, notably; the Eleven Lights of Luath (Gd), the Evocations of Bast (Typ), and the Protocols of Orin (Typ), as well as basic Magesight and “Utility” spells (Pr). He can perform a wide variety of magical rituals, provided that the time, materials, and sources can be found.

   F: 4/Pr, A: 10/Gd, S: 6/Typ, E: 10/Gd, R: 20/Ex, I: 6/Typ, P: 20/Ex, Health: 30, Karma: 46.

   His talents include; Occult Lore, Mystic Background, and Resist Domination, as well as Scholar and, of course, Languages, and Literature.

   Jacob Mac’Gregor: A a small-time smuggler and a skillful pilot of ships and planes. He has a wide selection of underworld contacts but likes to keep things legal or quasi-legal if at all possible. He spends lots of time knocking around the fringes of civilization and the south seas. He worked with Telmarch several times, finding him competent, intelligent, and possessed of fast reflexes. He often gets involved in weird things somehow, usually when someone needs some “no questions” transportation.

   F: 20/Ex, A: 10/Gd, S: 10/Gd, E: 10/Gd, R: 6/Typ, I: 20/Ex, P: 6/Typ, Health: 50, Karma: 32.

   Jacob’s talents include Guns, Thrown Weapons, Marksman, Law, Tinkering / Repair, Languages, and Espionage. He normally carries a pistol and wears a bulletproof vest.

   Darkwolf should have had another two contacts, but they never came into play anyway. We presumed that Professor Telmarch knew a lot of people from the six years he spent hanging around on the fringes of civilization, but that only a few of them were willing to immediately accept his “new look” – and that those few were fairly odd themselves.

   Acquired Contacts: In his original campaign, new contacts were gained by doing things – making friends, going to the rescue, and so on. Darkwolf’s acquired (if somewhat dated) contacts include:

  • The High Evolutionary. Given that the Knight-Errants took in quite a few of his creations – and cleaned up some of his messes – the High Evolutionary was willing to do them the occasional favor – and he liked having someone to talk to who understood most of what he said.
  • Rahne Sinclair / Wolvesbane. Being almost alone on Earth, Darkwolf started pursuing a relationship with Rahne almost as soon as he became aware of her existence. They eventually did settle down together.
  • Amy Grant. Amy was an alchemist of some skill, decided she liked Darkwolf – and managed to turn herself into a werewolf to pursue that attachment. For a time, this complicated Darkwolf’s social life no end, since he was already involved with Rahne.
  • Professor Xavier, the X-Men, and X-Factor. Darkwolf provided specialized medical treatment, gadgetry, and assistance on many occasions – although getting involved with Rahne put a bit of strain on things for a time.
  • The Medical Community. Darkwolf did keep on finding a cure for things – which also enhanced his popularity a great deal.
  • Darkwolf also had casual contact with quite a few other heroes, but didn’t really get close to any of them.

   Now that list probably dates this character quite a bit… Like the previous file on uniforms, this one dates back some twenty-five years – although I’ve cleaned it up a bit (and fixed a lot of typos or bits of file corruption) to allow it to be posted here.

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The Well-Dressed Hero

   With the exception of James Bond and (to some extent) Stargate SG1, most of the metahumans, star travelers, secret agents, and other high-tech heroes that you see running around in comics, movies, and television series, seem to make a habit of battling terrible foes, visiting strange planets, and strolling into unknown (but generally awful) situations in ordinary clothing, and without much in the way of equipment.

   Why do they do that when they could just as readily wear, at a minimum, some light tailored body armor, carry a few useful gadgets, and have a much better chance of coming back?

   Darkwolf concluded that it was just because they didn’t know a good tailor.

   Being a superhumanly brilliant scientist-engineer, he created an automated tailoring system for his superhero team, the Knight-Errants – and added a bunch of useful options to their costumes to help out a bit.

   Those Marvel Super Hero costumes proved so popular that versions (usually labeled “Smartclothes”) have wandered over into Champions, Rifts, d20, Aberrant, Trinity, and several other game systems over the ensuing years.

   Since I’ve recently been reminded of those long-ago games, here we have the…

   Knight-Errant Costumes:

   Standard Knight-Errant costumes are computer-tailored according to the specifications provided by the systems user and normally include three special functions, two kits, and four minor devices as chosen by the wearer / designer as well as the standard-issue Transceiver and Auto-medpack. Please note that the tailoring programs are set to conform to accepted standards of public decency; if you wish to disable this feature select “private wardrobe” on the main menu, please don’t hack the system.

Special Functions: Kits: Minor Devices:
Bio-enhancement Artists Kit Binoculars
Body Armor Chemical Testkit Blade
Chameleon Web Civilian Clothing Flechette Gun
Converter/Projector Criminology Kit Linecaster
Holographic Imager Disguise Lockpicks
Mask Electronics Tools LR Transceiver
Microcomputer Escape Kit Oxygen Mask
NBC Seal Espionage Kit Pocket Parachute
Optical Scan First Aid Kit Pocket Torch
Power Adaption Magicians Kit Penlight
Power Nullifier Multiscanner Sewing kit
Psi-screen Photographers Kit Spray Tube
Remote Modem Pocket Computer Stimpills
Repulsion Field Pocket Toolkit Super glue
Sensor Web Restraint Kit Swiss Army Knife
Skintight Survival Pack Towel
Tactical Display Thieves Kit Translator
Wrist Blasters Weapons Pack Wire Saw

   Special Functions:

  • Bioenhancement: These systems are designed to improve (really) lousy attributes. Sadly, they can only boost one attribute (Agility, Strength, or Endurance), the improvement is only two ranks (to a maximum of “excellent”), and the attribute it helps must be selected when the costume is designed. This can be taken twice – if a character is that badly off.
  • Body Armor: Offers good (10) protection from physical attacks and excellent (20) protection against energy damage, including heat and cold. This can be upgraded to the remarkable (30) level if the user doesn’t mind wearing obvious armor.
  • Chameleon Web: Lets the user alter the color(s) and/or details of the costume. While this is normally limited to a dozen or so preprogrammed selections, adding the micro-computer system lets you program “on the fly” or set it to “merge” with the background. This isn’t invisibility, but it is roughly equivalent to “good” stealth.
  • Converter/Projector: This system must be tailored to the user, since it is designed to extend the range of his or her powers. In essence, it generates a beam which acts as a “carrier” for one of the users energy-based powers with a range of about three areas. The converter function may come into play if the user lacks an appropriate power. In this case, the unit can be set to convert energy from another ability into physical form. In all cases, both the input and the output forces must be specified in advance.
  • Holographic Imager: Due to the amount of data storage and processing power required, this can project a maximum of two preset images, usually a civilian identity and the “hero in costume”. It’s often used by those with blatantly nonhuman appearances or those who want to conceal both their “heroic” and civilian identities.
  • Mask: A circuitry web that conceals the wearers paranormal abilities – within limits. Any which involve gross physical modifications (Look kid, you turn into a dragon. It can’t hide that.), “noisy” external manifestations (It will hide your ability to throw lightning bolts madam – but the attacks are kinda obvious.), or which are at or above the “unearthly” rank (Look, Galactus baby, stealth is not your thing, kapeesh?), can only be partially concealed at best. Within these restrictions, it is fairly reliable at deflecting technological scans, making the wearer “look” like a baseline human. It is less reliable against superhuman abilities and ineffective against magic.
  • Microcomputer: Acts as chronometer, calculator, mini-recorder, and pocket secretary. It is capable of running a fair selection of programs (including video games), but has relatively limited memory space. It is most useful in conjunction with additional microelectronic systems.
  • NBC Seal: This “system” requires the use of an oxygen mask to be fully effective, but can be handy without one. The costume is impervious or resistant to most chemicals, microorganisms, and moderate levels of nuclear radiation. Where relevant, this is equivalent to Rm/Ex/Gd protection, increased to In/Am/Ex with an oxygen mask.
  • Optical Scan: This straightforward visual enhancement circuit can only be used on a costume which includes some form of mask, but is otherwise simple enough. It supplies “good” IR and UV vision, as well as providing “excellent” protection from visual and sonic attacks.
  • Power Adaption: The classic “unstable molecules” bit, wherein the costume adapts to any weird powers its wearer possesses. This counts as a system since it makes it much harder to incorporate other items.
  • Power Nullifier: This is usually reserved for people with uncontrollable powers – but anyone can have it if they really want it. The circuit is individually tuned, and will have no effect on anyone else. It can be overridden by a strong, conscious, effort to use your power(s), or simply switched on and off.
  • Psiscreen: A basic electronic psiscreen, providing Ex protection from mental attacks. It cannot be expanded to protect an area, but is otherwise identical to the power.
  • Remote Modem: Unlike the version which comes with the microcomputer, this is an advanced gadget capable of high-speed data transmissions, linking into electronic systems within one area, and maintaining a simultaneous link with a remote “friendly” mainframe and local system. It’s a good way to tap computer systems, get quick readouts of public information, and get some help from your friendly “local” hacker back at home. Breaking computer security or almost any circuit override requires a reason FEAT roll, normally at -3 CS, -1 CS if using a pocket computer instead of the microcomputer listed above.
  • Repulsion Field: This circuit generates a low-powered electrostatic “force field”, channeled through the fibers of the costumes outer fabric. In practice, this makes the user extremely “slippery”, giving the user a +3 CS on any attempt to escape from being grappled or entangled. The field can be used offensively by increasing its intensity to the point of inflicting good electrical damage to anyone touching the user.
  • Sensor Web: This system includes the powers of energy detection, environmental awareness, and life detection, if in a limited form and at only “typical” rank. Analysis is possible – but the user must ask specific, and relatively simple, questions, at a rate of two per round. The system will trigger an automatic warning of dangerous conditions (high radiation levels, airborne toxins, and so on) – but otherwise must be consciously directed.
  • Skintight Another classic. “Costumes” tailored using this “system” are those minimalist, clinging, things with no visible means of support, body stockings, and so on. All of these should, by rights, get shredded in fights, offer less pocket space then swimming trunks, make their wearer look ridiculous if he/she is half a pound over- or under- weight, pinch, only look good on professional models, and take several people to get on and off – but the tailoring program manages somehow. It does, however, complicate its job enough to make it harder to incorporate other items.
  • Tactical Display: This electronic package operates as an inertial locater, map display, and monitor. It “picks up” sizable living things, major energy sources, walls, and so on, within two areas with “excellent” ability – but is generally incapable of fine discrimination. As a rule, it displays local structures (blue), “friendly” (transceiver coded) life forms (green), “threatening” (displaying major abilities, size, weaponry, or power armor), living things (red), and “other” life forms (yellow), and major machinery or energy sources (white). Sadly, all this useful data comes in the form of little colored dots on a sketchy map. The overall effect in combat is a +1CS (“amazing” maximum) on the users intuition. Outside combat, it’s mostly good for finding things.
  • Wrist Blasters: These are designed for the occasional “trained normal” hero, the people with lots of skills but no actual powers beyond decent attributes. These gadgets are tuned to the users individual bioenergy fields, which they amplify and project as electrical or concussive bolts. Such attacks have a range of two areas and inflict damage of up to the users endurance rank. Due to their link with the users personal energies, such blasters can be used to develop power stunts. The wristlets also contain some six other small compartments which may be used for additional weaponry, devices, or gear.

   Pocket Kits:

  • Artists Kit: This kit contains paper, pencils, pens, packets of paint, brushes, pastels, or whatever else the user decides to put in. The “standard” high-tech variant includes paper, a multi-pigment wand with a great variety of tips, fixative spray, a laser microscriber, an adjustable pencil, a paper processor, and various refills / minor devices. With practice, this kit can be substituted for a wide variety of other artists gear with superior results. With a few modifications this package can also be used to forge documents at (Agility + 1CS).
  • Chemical Testkit: A selection of instruments, probes, testing chemicals, analyzers, and a microcomputer, allowing the user to analyze chemical traces, run comparisons, and check for contaminants, as well as whatever else the user can talk the GM into. Sadly, this is not a mad scientists laboratory – the user is subject to a -5CS when trying to use the kit for purposes other than running tests.
  • Civilian Clothing: This is not so much a kit as it is an alternative, an especially-designed and manufactured set of clothing which can be readily packed into an extremely small space – without becoming unwearable. It’s handy to have if something nasty happens to somebody’s costume, but is more often used by those with tight schedules (or busy social lives).
  • Criminology Kit: A “pocket detectives” kit, including a selection of small items to help analyze and preserve any physical evidence. It includes specimen vials, tweezers, fingerprint powder, a magnifying glass, a DNA “analyzer”, thermometer, voice printer, ballistics analysis, jewelers loupe, spray-on plastic foam (for making casts), a simple camera and film, mini-recorder, sketching materials, stopwatch, a “sniffer” wand (detects traces of several common chemicals used in arson, explosives, gunpowder residue, and so on), a halogen flashlight, and a blood typer.
  • Disguise Kit: This is essentially a high-tech variant on the classical stage makeup chest, the major difference being that it only comes off using solvent. Other, minor, improvements include “natural” feel, adjustable color(s), improved hair dyes, a microcomputer mirror which supplies directions, colored contact lenses, and so on. Disguises applied using this kit are usually of the Ex or Rm ranks, but this can be modified by the users personal talents.
  • Electronics Toolkit: Contains a variety of miniature tools and components needed for electrical/electronic work, including a; mini-laser cutter/soldering iron, multi-meter, frequency generator, mini-oscilloscope, patchcords, wire, solder, watchmakers tools, chip puller, small pliers/wire strippers, razor, magnifier eyepiece, etcetera.
  • Escape Kit: This “kit” includes a selection of hidden devices built into the users costume as well as some more obvious items in a packet. A body search will reveal the packet, but the concealed items are likely to pass casual scrutiny. Between the lock picks, wire saw, explosive and/or corrosive pellets, electronic scrambler, and other items, the user should have a good (green reason FEAT) chance at escaping from imprisonment, even barring the use of other equipment or powers.
  • Espionage Kit: A kit sure to delight the heart of any junior spy, including a selection of tracers, bugs, wire- taps, and contact microphones, tempest monitor, telephone scrambler, mini-camera, parabolic microphone, bug detector and jammer, white noise generator, knock-out drops, tracing powder and detector, mini-laser drill/microphone, RF tracer, voice mask, needle launcher, and sodium pentothal. All of this stuff fits neatly into a small pocket kit – possible only because such gear is tiny to begin with.
  • First Aid Kit: Despite high-tech, miniaturization, and user-friendly design, this is still only a pocket kit. It is useful to a physician (+1CS), and lets almost anyone use the equivalent of the “first aid” talent, but simply does not contain the necessary supplies, tools, and drugs needed for major interventions. The “advanced” version does, but counts as a second kit. The “advanced” kit should only be employed by those with good medical skills, as the drugs, instruments, antitoxins, and implements, it contains can be quite dangerous in unskilled hands. Applied correctly, it allows an extra “recovery” each day, lets the user roll a reason FEAT roll to counter toxins and diseases, and so on. All such rolls include the +1CS from the basic kit.
  • Magicians Kit: The contents of this “kit” are usually specified by the user, but the “generic” version contains such “common” ritual items as; chalk, herbs, soft candles (usable as either candles or a supply of wax), an incense burner, tarot cards, oil, a shallow dish, a silver blade, string, a pendulum bob, some rock salt, a silk cloth, and a variety of other minor supplies. None of this stuff is of any real use in higher sorcery – but it will allow the user to work a wide variety of minor ritual magics (Fb to Typ effects) and is of minor utility (+3% on the roll) in more important ritual undertakings.
  • Multiscanner: This kit is actually a calculator-sized instrument package able, in skilled hands, to duplicate a wide variety of detection powers – notably; Energy and Life Detection, Environmental Awareness, and a limited version of Penetration Vision (only to determine internal structures of objects). These operate at three ranks below the users reason rank – reflecting the users ability to operate the unit and interpret the results. Skills will modify any required FEAT rolls but don’t alter the basic rank.
  • Photographers Kit: While this little kit does include a still camera and a tiny developing system, it’s primarily devoted to digital audiovisual recordings, suitable as-is for image enhancement and computer analysis. It includes a variety of telephoto, wide-angle, and exotic lenses, as well as a tiny color printer. It is even capable of low-light, thermal-, micro-, and underwater photography. This is all stored on non-volatile memory chips, allowing a total of about 48 hours worth of recorded material.
  • Pocket Computer: About the size of a common paperback book, this device is a high-powered personal computer and pocket secretary. It’s only real problem is that the keyboard is too small for easy manipulation. In game terms, it has Gd reason, Ex material strength, a cellular link / modem, and almost unlimited optical / holographic memory. It is often combined with the remote modem system (Q.V.) as the range and power of its internal transmitter is severely limited. It can also be linked with the usual transceiver or the microcomputer system, allowing the user to call up special functions without bothering to get it out.
  • Pocket Toolkit: Contains a selection of small tools, suitable for a wide variety of minor mechanical repairs and tinkering. The assortment includes a set of “watchmakers” tools, a laser torch, an adjustable wrench, small pliers, sonic cleanser, a mini-drill (with various attachments), a jewelers lope, files, screwdrivers, and a memory metal bar (usable as a prybar, hammer, axe, saw, wrench handle, and several other tools) as well as a small assortment of other small tools and supplies. While a poor substitute for a full-sized tool chest, this is far better than nothing.
  • Restraint Kit: This kit contains a variety of devices designed to restrain people. It includes several sets of handcuffs (Mn material), knock-out drugs (relatively slow acting, but of Am effectiveness, duration of about twelve hours), inhibitor and nullifier bands, a blindfold, some duct tape, and a gag.
  • Survival Pack: Nutrient tablets, two “space blankets” (also usable as tarps or sleeping bags), distress beacon, signal mirror, wire saw, pen-type flare launcher (and six flares), full condenser/heater flask, water purification, stimulant, salt, and pyroconcentrate tablets, fishhooks and line, lighter, compass (cover acts as a magnifying lens), penlight, cord (500 Lb test), 12 pencil-sized steel pegs, gloves, sunglasses, sewing packet, survival manual, three filter straws, monocular, a memory-metal bar (usable as a hammer, axe, small shovel, knife, saw, .22 rifle barrel and stock), 50 cartridges, and the .22 firing mechanism. The lid functions as a small, collapsible, cooking pot. This should suffice for forty-eight hours of so even under arctic conditions, for considerable periods in more benign environments.
  • Thieves Kit: This is a kit to delight the larcenous, containing a sophisticated selection of; lockpicks, alarm detectors, electronic jammers, beam diverters, safecracking gadgets, a microlaser drill, climbing gear, miniature tools, jumper lines, a small prybar, some plastique and a detonator, a powerful magnet, a penlight, a glass cutter, superglue, gloves (monogram optional), IR goggles, twelve drugged darts (In intensity knockout drug), and a variety of other small devices.
  • Weapons Pack: This “kit” includes a set of concealed weapons permits, as well as a variety of weapons. The mix includes a set of sixteen Mini-grenades (2 each; tear gas, knockout gas, smoke, flare, incendiary, concussion, fragmentation, and entangling. These affect a 20 foot radius and have “incredible” effectiveness unless otherwise specified), a set of filter noseplugs, two Knives, a Blaster Pistol (Rm (30) damage, energy/force), a Garotte Reel, a Hand Flamer (3 shots, 30 foot range, single target – otherwise as per standard flamethrower), Karatends (“Gloves” which stiffen on impact, Rm material strength, treat as blunt weapon in HTH), and seven Shuriken or Magnabolos (In entanglement). Those who don’t want to be walking arsenals need not take the entire package.

   Other pocket kits can be included on request, but must be designed and specified by the user.

   Minor Devices:

   The various “minor devices” are metal cylinders, about the size of a penlight or small flashlight. The Flechette gun is usually an exception to the rule, as a cylindrical version is a bit clumsy to handle. The list is not exhaustive, but should cover most requests.

  • Binoculars: A high-quality set of optical binoculars, with a variety of magnification settings from 20 to 200x. Variations are available for those characters with exotic visual senses. The monocular version also functions as a magnifier/microscope, with a similar magnification range.
  • Blade: Since these are made of “memory” material, the exact form is irrelevant. Great sword, scimitar, dagger, kris, spear, nunchaku, or whatever, as the costumes user/ designer desires. All have monstrous material strength and collapse into the standard metal cylinder form. Permanent versions are available. These are designed to conduct any applicable power that the user possesses.
  • Flechette Gun: This pistol fires razor-sharp, teflon-coated, “darts” rather than bullets. While these inflict no real damage, they ignore the first 20 points of armor. Drugged darts carry a remarkable intensity knockout drug, while explosive darts inflict remarkable damage. The gun has two twelve-shot magazines and a three area range. The user may switch between magazines at will. This weapon is virtually silent, although the explosive darts are noisy.
  • Linecaster: A linecaster “spins” a monofilament line from fast-polymerizing chemicals with a reaction pressure capable of hurling the resulting line a hundred feet. Due to incomplete boundary polymerization, the resulting line is extremely “sticky” for several seconds afterwards. The line has excellent material strength and is often used to tie things together, swing from, climb, snatch things, or tie people up.
  • Lockpicks: This “gadget” contains a modest selection of tools for opening locks and other small tasks. It is not a substitute for a full toolkit and isn’t very versatile, but it is a lot better than a bent paperclip.
  • Long Range Transceiver: This module is designed to be used in conjunction with the costumes standard transceiver links, but can be used alone. It extends the usual 25-mile range of the standard links to 2500 miles (or more if satellite relaying is available).
  • Oxygen Mask: A simple pull-out mask and oxygen flask, capable of supplying oxygen for 30 minutes of activity or several hours of quiet. Combined with an armored costume (Q.V.) it lets the user function under space conditions and provides excellent defenses against biological and chemical “attacks”.
  • Pocket Parachute: This one-shot gadget is the perfect present for people who are afraid of heights. While it’s far too thin and filmy to repack, it will reduce the damage from a fall to the “typical” level – or to none at all if an agility FEAT succeeds. It is normally triggered by the user, but automatic versions are available for the really worried.
  • Pocket Torch: Depending on how you adjust this handy gadget, it can serve as a; lighter (Fb), handwarmer (Pr), torch (Typ), flare (Gd), fire-blade (Ex), blowtorch (Rm), welding torch (In), or bomb (Am). Since intensities above Ex are achieved by tightening the “focus”, only the fire- blade is really suitable as a weapon. Using it as a bomb is an exception, but is obviously a once-off.
  • Penlight: A sophisticated flashlight, with adjustable intensity and dispersion. Maximum intensity is incredible, maximum range is four areas. It can also be triggered in “strobe mode”, generating a flash of amazing intensity, or set to project infra-red or ultra-violet light.
  • Sewing Kit: A small canister holding needles, thread, patches, safety pins, adhesive, velcro, and any other minor supplies needed to make basic repairs on costumes. One of those handy items which can really save embarrassment.
  • Spray Tube: These tubes project a high-pressure spray of whatever the user had them loaded with. They normally contain enough paint/extinguishing foam/lubricant/foaming paste/glue/entangling strands/whatever to coat three man-sized targets.
  • Stimpills: Are simply powerful stimulants, most often used to keep awake. A tablet every eight to twelve hours will keep the user awake and alert for anything up to six straight days – although he’s likely to sleep for sixteen hours afterwards. A three-tablet dose increases the users FASE attributes by one rank each (Un. maximum) for around half an hour, after which the user suffers the loss of an endurance rank which must be healed normally. Doses above this level are obviously possible – but their effects are determined by the GM.
  • Superglue: Fairly straightforward, this stuff can be sprayed, smeared, dripped, or otherwise applied, to stick things together with incredible strength. Fortunately for the users, this gadget also includes a supply of solvent.
  • Swiss Army Knife: The large economy size, high-tech, version, perhaps, but still the same idea. Lots of basic, simple, tools packed into a small space.
  • Towel: Equally appropriate for the character who has everything and the one who has nothing, a towel may (or may not) be the most useful thing ever invented. Why, or why not, is up to the game masters sense of humor…
  • Translator: Unlike the “universal translators” listed in the players handbook, these can only handle six preset languages. While they have a fair vocabulary, specialized terms may not be in the database, and occasional mistakes may occur. They are normally linked with the transceiver system, since otherwise you have to get out the earplug and throat-contact microphone.
  • Wire Saw: This is made of monstrous material, and is effective against materials of up to amazing strength. It may take quite a while, but it will work. It can also be used as a whip, garrote, cable, restraint, or whatever.

   All Knight-Errant costumes also included a transceiver link and an auto-medpack.

  • The Transceiver Link acts as a communications link, as an emergency beacon, and as a locater. A small module with identical functions is issued for all members to carry in “civilian” identities for emergencies on either end. The link is scrambled at the remarkable rank, mainly to avoid simple listening-in.
  • The Auto-Medpack monitors the users physical condition and vital signs, applying any necessary medication from its internal supplies. On its own, it has the equivalent of Ex medical skills and competently tracks and treats such ongoing conditions as diabetes and allergies. Other medications, such as minor stimulants, are available on demand. The auto-medpack is usually tied to the costumes transceiver link, allowing the “team leader” to track his teammates current condition. The system will sound an alarm and transmit an emergency signal if the users life signs indicate serious injuries.

   Hm… That twenty-five year old file has held up surprisingly well – although in some cases that’s because the capabilities of various electronic items are noted in game terms rather than in actual technical terms.

Epic Spell Conversions, Part VIII. Epic Repulsion, Glorious Sanctum, Mass Frog, Sphere of Transformation, Mummy Dust, Peripety and Soul Dominion.

   To continue with Alzrius’s request, here are most of the remaining epic spells converted to Eclipse high-level spells.

   Epic Repulsion

   The conversion for Epic Repulsion depends on how you read the spell; if attacking an affected creature, or intentionally moving to within five feet of an affected creature ends the spell entirely, it’s a fairly simple effect. If it only ends the effect on an individual basis, the spell is far more powerful – and fairly easily abused, since it could easily be used to render the user pretty much permanently immune to any creature that doesn’t have Spell Resistance – and creatures that did would still have to either resist, be approached, or be attacked by the user to initiate an attack. That’s probably a bit too convenient.

   The easiest place to start for either version is with Sanctuary – a level one effect.

   For the first version it needs to last a good long time – but a year is plenty; the caster will almost certainly wind up ending the spell before then. So, we’ll need +12 levels of the Persistent Metamagic to make it last a year, roughly +4 levels of Amplify to change it from “Save no Spell Resistance” to “Spell Resistance no Save” and to prevent creatures from including the target in area-effect attacks. We can take off a level for the “only affects a single, specified, creature type with each casting” (probably on the base spell… I can see “Sanctuary Versus Animals” and various other variants as quite reasonable cantrips) and one level off of the metamagical upgrades for the extended casting time, resulting in a net total of fifteen of metamagic, a three-level credit (20% off) for built-in metamagic, and a net spell level of twelve.

   The second version – if the game master feels like allowing it – needs another +4 levels of Persistent. It cannot benefit from the type restriction – since the caster will just repeat the spell until he or she is protected from every type and it only ends on an individual basis thanks to that extra +4 levels of Persistent. It also cannot benefit from the extended casting time, since that generally won’t affect its use. There might be a few times when you’d be in a rush to cast the thing, but most of the time you can do it quietly at home, so the ten-minute casting time is meaningless as well. That does upgrade the price break for built-in Metamagic to -4 spell levels – but leaves the spell with a net level of seventeen.

   Ergo we have…

  • Epic Repulsion. Abjuration, Level: Eleven, Components: V, S, Casting Time: Ten Minutes, Range: Touch, Target: Creature or Object Touched, Duration: One Year or Until Ended, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: Yes.
  • Epic Repulsion creates a long-term ward against a creature type. Creatures of he specified type cannot attack or touch the warded creature or object, whether with individual attacks or with area effects. The protection ends if the warded creature makes an attack against, or intentionally moves to within five feet of, an affected creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

   And

  • Glorious Sanctum: Abjuration, Level: Seventeen, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One Standard Action, Range: Touch, Target: Creature or Object Touched, Duration: Permanent, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: Yes.
  • Glorious Sanctum creates a permanent ward against attackers. Affected creatures cannot attack or touch the warded creature or object, whether with individual attacks or with area effects. The protection ends on an individual basis if the warded creature makes an attack against, or intentionally moves to within five feet of, an affected creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

   Mass Frog

   Mass Frog is a bit of an oddity: is it really useful to leave enemies with their mental faculties? Is this a spell designed to torment your enemies by leaving them consciously aware that they’re now frogs?

   Oh well. When you come right down to it, this is simply an area-effect version of Baleful Polymorph with an extended range. That’s +2 levels of Range (to go from Short to Long range) and +3 levels of Area (to go from Single Target to a forty-foot radius). With one level off for five levels of built-in Metamagic, this comes out to be… a level nine non-epic spell. I could add a -1 spell level modifier for restricting the transformation to frogs – but why bother? I have no objection to letting the spell be used in other ways. It’s cool anyway.

   That gives us…

  • Sphere of Transformation. Spell Level Nine, Transmutation, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One Standard Action, Range: Long, Area: 40′ Radius, Duration: Permanent, Saving Throw: Fortitude Negates, Will Partial (Caster may waive the Will save, allowing an automatic success), Spell Resistance: Yes.
  • All creatures in the area of effect are affected as if by Baleful Polymorph, although the caster may opt to allow them to automatically succeed on their Will saves to retain their mental faculties. All of the creatures’ equipment drops to the ground upon transformation.

   Mummy Dust

   This spell creates two large, eighteen-hit-die mummies, who will obediently serve the caster until he or she loses control of them – usually by attempting to control too many hit dice of undead.

   Well, that’s Create Undead at spell level six, +2 spell levels to reduce the casting time to one standard action (the Easy metamagic) , +2 spell levels to make two mummies at a time (the Multiple metamagic), eliminates the need for a reasonably whole body (the dust of some old ones will do) for +2 spell levels (the Easy metamagic again), and automatically grants control of the things – for another +2 spell levels of the Amplify metamagic. While it does have an even more expensive component than Create Undead, there’s no mention of it being restricted to being cast at night – which seems like a fair enough exchange. With eight spell levels of built-in metamagic, the spell does get a two spell level credit – resulting in a net level of twelve.

   That gives us…

  • Mummy Dust. Necromancy (Evil), Components V, S, M (10,000 GP worth of powdered mummy and onyx), CastingTime: One Standard Action, Range: Close, Target: two nearby adjacent squares into which the material component has been tossed, Duration: Instantaneous, SAVING Throw: None, and Spell Resistance: None.
  • When the caster sprinkles the dust of ground mummies in conjunction with casting this spell two Large 18-HD mummies spring up from the dust. The mummies follow the character’s every command according to their abilities until they are destroyed or the character loses control of them by attempting to control more Hit Dice of undead than he or she has caster levels.

   Peripety

   Peripety reflects ranged attacks against the caster. It’s not clear as to whether or not this is limited to physical ranged attacks, or to individually directed physical attacks – but I think I’ll read it that way since it has such a low Spellcraft DC.

   Hm… There actually isn’t much in the way of attack-reflecting spells in the SRD. Ergo, I’ll use Spell Turning. That’s a base level of seven, and doesn’t normally allow the caster to select which spells are reflected. On the other hand, designing a spell which will bounce fast-moving lumps of matter sounds a lot easier than designing one that can reflect a blasts light, hypnosis, sound, lightning, and paralysis among hundreds of other effects. Ergo, -3 spell levels for being limited to matter, +2 spell levels of the Targeting metamagic for allowing the caster to select which attacks are affected – albeit before the damage is determined. Lets see… It’s a hours-per-level duration (or until expended) instead of ten minutes per level, so that’s +1 spell level of the Persistent metamagic as well – and a casting time of one full minute, which is -1 spell level of the Compact metamagic. It reflects five attacks – which is about average for Spell Turning if we assume that physical attacks equate to spells of levels one or two.

   That doesn’t even give us enough spell levels worth of built-in metamagic to get a credit for them – and results in a net spell level of six.

   OK, fair enough. “Bounce five arrows back at your attackers” really doesn’t sound especially epic to me either. Compared to Heal, Globe of Invulnerability, and Circle of Death it isn’t all that impressive as a sixth level spell either.

   That gives us:

  • Peripety. Spell Level Six, Abjuration, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One Minute, Range: Personal, Target: You, Duration: Until expended or up to one hour per caster level.
  • Ranged attacks targeted against the character rebound on the original attacker. Any time during the duration, five attacks are automatically reflected back on the original attacker; the character decides which attacks before damage is rolled. The reflected attack rebounds on the attacker using the same attack roll. Once five attacks are so reflected, the spell ends.

   Soul Dominion

   Soul Dominion lets the caster take over someone else’s body for a time. The effect resembles Dominate Monster (at a base spell level of nine) – except that the caster has direct control and direct sensory access. The victim thus gets no new saves or chances to resist the caster’s commands, but is simply a helpless prisoner in his, her, or its own body. That’s +4 spell levels of the Amplify metamagic, +1 spell level of Persistent to raise the duration to one minute per level, +5 levels of Extension for global range, and +1 spell level to throw in a secondary scrying effect for the targeting – although flawing the effect by allowing the victim to gain information about the caster is worth -1 spell level for the flawed effect. That’s a net total of +10 spell levels worth of Metamagic, which is worth a -2 spell level credit for building it into the spell formula – resulting in a net spell level of seventeen, since a ten-minute casting time doesn’t mean a lot under the circumstances.

   That gives us:

  • Soul Dominion: Divination, Enchantment (Compulsion) (Mind-Affecting). Spell Level Seventeen, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One round, Range: Global, Target: One creature, Duration: One minute per level. Saving Throw: Will Negates (See Text), Spell Resistance: No.
  • Soul Dominion lets the caster temporarily able to take control of another sentient creature with whom the character is familiar (by meeting, observing, or successfully scrying the subject). The target receives a Will save. If successful, this prevents the caster from making the telepathic link. The target is aware of the attempted takeover as a strange, momentary tingling. If the Will save fails, the caster is able to control the target’s body as if it were his or her own, hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting everything the target senses. Once the character dismisses the spell or its duration ends, the target resumes control of its body, fully aware of all events that occurred, having been a helpless witness trapped inside its own body. The target knows the name and general nature of its possessor if it succeeds at an additional Will saving throw. A character cannot control undead or incorporeal creatures with soul dominion.

Role Playing Disadvantages – With Teeth

   First up today, it’s another question from Alzrius – whom I must thank for helpfully providing topics, since my answers so often turn into small articles like this one.

   You mention (in an article on race design, HERE) that “playing up the social prejudice a bit can easily make up for a modest boost in personal abilities,” which seems to be another way of saying that a role-playing penalty can balance a mechanical (that is, rules-based) advantage.

   Now, I’ve read opinions and statements by various game designers touting the opposite view – that a role-playing penalty doesn’t (adequately) offset a mechanical bonus – so often that it seems to have become part of the current zeitgeist of RPG design. Clearly, however, you (and Eclipse) disagree.

   Can you expand on your view regarding this? Does having something like “relates poorly to other people” as a penalty really make up for having, say, a +1 bonus to hit in RPGs in general, and the (combat-focused) d20 System in particular?

   To some extent I do disagree with the “current zeitgeist”, as illustrated by the disadvantage list in Eclipse.

   Of course, the disadvantages in Eclipse offer just enough extra character points to encourage people to take a few. A first level character can be expected to have anywhere from fifty-four (the forty-eight base plus a first level bonus feat) to ninety-five plus (throwing in a package deal worth up to ten, racial bonuses worth up to thirty-one, restrictions, duties, world law bonuses, and intelligence-based skill points) character points before disadvantages – to which disadvantages can add a maximum of ten points. Ten points are not a lot – and they’re even less in proportion when compared to the hundreds of points that a high-level character will have. Eclipse disadvantages really are more trouble than they’re worth in the long run.

   That’s because characters with a few built-in hooks and drawbacks are also usually more fun for the player in the long run, as well as being easier to run a game for – but many players are rather reluctant to add drawbacks to their character unless they get something for them in exchange. Thus Eclipse notes that – while a character with disadvantages really should have fewer character points to work with because he or she will have to invest time and effort in dealing with that disability rather than in developing other abilities – the game mechanics don’t work that way because that isn’t as much fun. Ergo, disadvantages provide a small bonus – a bribe for making running the game a little easier and complicating the characters life a bit when the player doesn’t have to.

   Eclipse keeps people from min-maxing disadvantages simply by making them not worth it; you can only get three of them, they’re worth a maximum total of ten points – and the rule is stated in the book; if it doesn’t cause you problems, then you don’t get points from it. Thus if a player takes some “disadvantages” that never cause problems for his or her character, then the points from them will disappear as well.

   If you belong to the camp that feels that “disadvantages” should reduce the effectiveness of the character while allowing the player more influence over the direction and play of the game, all you need to do in Eclipse is rule that points from disadvantages must be spent on narrative effects – a bunch of which can be found in the Narrative Powers Template.

   Now, outside of Eclipse, where I disagree is with the notion that “a role-playing penalty” doesn’t have any “mechanical impact”.

   Lets say that your combat monster really does take “doesn’t relate well to people” as a disadvantage. That’s pretty vague to start with – but that makes it all the worse for the character. He or she took that disadvantage, and will have no room for complaint when…

  • The game master reduces their starting money and equipment because they can’t get along with the people who would normally be providing that money – or with the people they bargain with when buying things.
  • The rest of the party gets good rewards or positions while they get crummy ones or none at all. If you wanted to relate well to important people, you shouldn’t have taken that disadvantage.
  • The legal system discounts their testimony, they’re held in contempt of court, or they’re unjustly convicted of a crime.
  • They don’t get paid for their services – or wind up paying more for everything they buy throughout their entire career.
  • They make political enemies and people reject their suggestions and plans for no reason at all (save for taking offense at them).
  • NPC’s opt to help other party members and NPCs who “are more worthy” instead of them.
  • At the extreme end, this can result in serious assassination attempts that won’t be in the least “balanced encounters”, helpful priestly magic failing on you or hostile priestly magic working exceptionally well on you (Gods are people too), and being a preferred target (many monsters are also people). (I wouldn’t usually recommend going that far though; the rule is that disadvantages always hurt – not to make them hurt so much that the character becomes unplayable).

   Don’t like that sort of thing? Then don’t take vague “disadvantages” and expect to be able to shrug them off. A narrow, defined, mechanical disadvantage is the soft option; you can plan for that and work around the mechanical difficulty. A vague, broad, role-playing disadvantage is an invitation for the world to kick your character in the teeth whenever the game master feels like it because it affects all the background interactions that are normally assumed rather than being played out.

   There are other methods of min-maxing disadvantages of course.

   For example, in many games you can load up a character with things like phobias, “codes of chivalry”, or “compulsions to kill”, and other personal behavioral problems – which many players will then pretty much ignore.

   The reason those things are disadvantages is because you’re giving up some control over your character. Of course, characters can behave in those fashions voluntarily, without taking a disadvantage – but in that case, they’re free to abandon those behavior patterns at any time without penalty.

   Taking such disadvantages and then ignoring them is more commonly known as “cheating”. You can deal with that in any of several different ways – revoking the disadvantage without replacing it and removing whatever benefits the bonuses from taking it were spent on, not giving the character any experience or benefits for the session (you should warn the player about this first), or even simply telling them “Well, you’re obviously not playing Orlando the Chivalrous, so he’s out of here. Write up whatever character you ARE playing under the usual rules for making a new character and I’ll see about introducing him to the party”.

      If a player isn’t willing to play such a disadvantage, he or she shouldn’t take it – and if the game master is not willing to enforce disadvantages, he or she shouldn’t allow them in the first place. Freedom to design your own characters includes taking responsibility for your choices in doing so.

   Taking a bunch of “hunted by” type disadvantages because you think the game master won’t want to be bothered having them come into play? If you’re playing a game set in equatorial Africa, you’ve put down “hunted by zombie penguins”, and you’ve rated them as “appear all the time” – and I, as the game master, have agreed to that – then they’re going to appear all the time. No matter how thin the rationale. If you didn’t want that, you shouldn’t have taken it – and if I wasn’t willing to put up with it, I shouldn’t have allowed it.

   Want a softer option? Characters don’t get benefits from self-inflicted problems. You can’t conjure up a monster, tell it to attack you, and then claim to have gained experience from your inevitable victory. If a character has a “hunted” who would interrupt your plans, build a session around them occasionally, but don’t award experience to the character they’re after for that session. He or she took them as a disadvantage – so he or she will not gain any benefits from their activities.

   Now, if the game master isn’t enforcing disadvantages that’s fine too – as long as everyone knows it. In Eclipse that simply amounts to the game master giving everyone a ten character point bonus – which is nice, but hardly overwhelming. I’ve seen a lot of campaigns which hand out a bonus feat or two just to make the character a bit more “heroic” or individualized (although individualizing characters isn’t normally a problem in Eclipse), and that amounts to the same thing.

   Now, in particular, I think that you are drastically underestimating the effects of serious social prejudices. We don’t really have much serious social prejudice today in most of the countries where RPG’s are popular – but there are plenty of places which do have it or have had it in the very recent past.

   Serious social prejudice may well involve…

  • Being unable to obtain information that you need, simply because most of the local population will have nothing to do with you.
  • Not being permitted to attend various social events or enter various areas – meaning that your character sits out of the game when the focus moves to such events and areas.
  • Not being allowed within the city walls after dark – or being subject to arrest if you are in a place that’s “off limits to your kind”.
  • Being unable to find a place to stay – with all the consequent dangers and problems of exposure.
  • Being unable to obtain medical (or priestly) care, transportation, or other services because you’re a member of the wrong group.
  • Not being permitted to carry weapons.
  • Having no real chance of escaping conviction in court – no matter how innocent you are.
  • Being charged double or triple prices for goods – if you can get anything at all.
  • Finding that many important people will not deal with you.
  • Being freely enslaveable.
  • Being a popular target of deadly accusations and mob violence – such as being lynched, hung, or burnt at the stake.
  • Being tossed out of a stronghold as a suspected spy during a siege – or not being admitted (and so being left for the enemy) in the first place.
  • Attempts at genocide.

   Does that seem extreme? Try a few searches on “Genocide”, “Darfur”, “Bosnia”, and “Rwanda” to obtain some recent examples.

   Personally, I suspect that problems like that are quite enough to make up for a “+1 to hit”.

   Finally, I can’t entirely agree that the d20 system is necessarily heavily combat-oriented. The Federation-Apocalypse game is using the d20 system, tonight will be it’s 129’th weekly session (so presumably it’s doing something right) – and the last major fight scene was several months back. Now it helps that the game is awarding character points directly for success in dealing with problems rather than for combat-based experience, and thus allows characters to advance without having to fight things – but that’s always been an option in the d20 and older edition rules anyway. It simply wasn’t often used.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu.Com), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow.Com), and a Shareware Edition (at RPGNow.Com) or in a Box.Net download Here.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 128 – Gates of Legend

   Back in the Neanderthal manifold, Kevin had a theory.

   The Neanderthals had gone extinct in Core while they were still tribal. They’d never known what the natural laws of Core were like, and their basic assumptions about how the world worked would only take them into the depths of their Manifold. The scientists of Core might still have things they didn’t understand – but they were pretty sure that Core didn’t run on shamanism and spirits, and – far more importantly – there were plenty of humans living there to act as references and anchors.

   To make matters worse, the Neanderthals probably hadn’t developed openers until long after they had been restricted to their Manifold – and if they’d even known what to reach for, they’d have been reaching for isolated spots of wilderness, inhabited by animals long since extinct – and Homo Sapiens had started eliminating places like that even before the last of the Neanderthals had fallen.

   They’d spent tens of thousands of years in unspoiled mythic worlds. It was no wonder they’d never reached Core again directly.

   Even once the Opening had begun, and routes to Core had opened, why would the Neanderthals seek to visit it? The communications problems had probably kept them from learning why one more impossibly alien and extraordinarily restrictive and inconvenient world might be important anyway. They must already have seen hundreds of those…

   There wasn’t much behind that theory of course, but Kevin could jump to quite a large conclusion from no data at all and a standing start.

   Still, that didn’t explain the soul-harvesting. How could the disaster realms have come into being if the Neanderthals didn’t – or hadn’t – understood the importance of Core? Had that been someone else once again? Perhaps whoever Shayn represented? Or some elder human with great cosmic awareness or massive powers of divination or some such? Some mythic gods?

  The trouble with that was that the “possible suspects” list of the manifold was without end.

   Oh well. Bribing people with whatever-it-was that they wanted had worked fairly well for some time. Might as well go for it again…

   Punching open a gate to Greenwald took quite a lot of power – but he had the Thralls to draw upon, and he hadn’t spent any of his own in quite some time. He hadn’t even opened a gate since Yellowstone! It was well within his reserves.

   The gateway opened with a crackle of energy, as the local substrate of reality bent in ways that it obviously hadn’t bent in a long, long, LONG time… Soon enough, the gateway opened to a view of a lake nestled in the mountains.

   Serah and “God” had – unsurprisingly – noticed the gateway opening, and had begun arguing with each other intensely.

   They were… Blaming each other for overlooking the Opener in their midst at the moment? My, they really WERE self-centered… The argument then shifted as to what to do about it, but came back around to how severely limited their varous abilities were outside the human manifold soon enough.

   The argument then continued as to their powers, the destruction of their version of Inversion, and Merlin – as well as to Kevin’s origin. They floated theories about him being a native of Inversion who’d achieved an Opener breakthrough under the stress they’d been on the place, or about him being a spy, or some agent of Merlin’s, or Ryan’s, or… The list just kept on growing and growing as the argument grew more and more heated.

   Marty had been standing by ready to distract the pair of them, but there was no need. The pair of hem were self-distracting. He’d seen more sensible arguments being carried out with molotov cocktails in Battling Business World! Well… if they needed to keep them arguing, all they’d have to do would be to point out that Kevin HAD said hello to Serah at the trial; she just hadn’t paid any attention. The ensuing recriminations would probably keep them going for hours more.

   He voted that Kevin get the elder Neanderthal shaman to Core as quickly as possible, before either “God” or Serah came up with any sensible options as to interfering.

(Kevin, to the Neanderthal Shaman) “This should be helpful, if you’d step this way? I suspect that you’ve been having a hard time envisioning any part of Core to make a gate to.”

(Shaman) “Very well then, let us visit the realm of human fertility.”

   Hm. Evidently the Neanderthals were pretty good at reading human beings… Was it just lots and lots of experience?

   Stepping through the gateway led them to the lakeshore they’d seen earlier. The grass was a bit sparser here than it had looked like through the gateway – but that might just be the prospective. Still, Kevin checked; there was a functional communications grid, although the amount of traffic is very sparse at the moment. It looked like the local computer systems had detected their presence though – and they certainly seemed to be in Core… It was always possible that they’d simply arrived in an incredible simulation – but only Core had that special resistance and they did seem to match up with the Core offices and data uplinks – even if Greenwald was still partially isolated from the grid for security’s sake.

   Odd really. Hadn’t most of the Greenwald system been shut down? Repairs and backups might account for it – but Kevin kept it to a very low grade interface for the moment. This was mostly a dead world after all, and it had been destroyed by broadcast memes.

   Marty was listening too… The computer systems were reacting fairly normally – some basic chatter about the arrival of people via a gateway. Hospitality protocols were being activated, transports were being arranged, and so on.

   Marty was pleased about that. Core didn’t have a strong security mindset, but he’d have been a lot more concerned if the local systems ignored them. He spent some time trying to explain to the shaman what to expect when the flits and other drones arrived.

   It was easy enough to confirm that there wasn’t anyone else present at the moment, at least if you didn’t count a small garrison of robots in orbit and at what used to be the capital. There seriously hadn’t been any survivors… Now that was THROUGH. In fact, it didn’t seem possible… Ah. A fair number of people had escaped in one way or another – or been removed by the robots – but the meme-effects had built gradually until the explosion, and most of the population had been affected.

(Kevin, To Shaman) “I suspect that this world is much more restrictive than you’re used to a world being”

(Shaman) “I can see why this is a realm of fertility, you have little else to do here.”

(Marty) “Tell me about it. My home realm is much more exciting than this place. No offense, Kevin.”

(Kevin, to the Shaman) “Perhaps it’s more that its the base cosmos, suitable for children; all children need limits.”

   Marty had to laugh. That was one way of looking at Core, but not a particularly flattering one!

(Shaman) “Perhaps, to know no boundaries is not know the limits of the self then?”

(Kevin, to the Shaman – a bit puzzledly; what was that supposed to mean? This translation thing was harder than he’d thought it would be) “Only outside of Core… Anyway, this particular planet is essentially empty, although some services have been set up. The two individuals you were treating back there apparently arranged to kill everyone here, since it was their homeworld.”

(Shaman) “A disturbing symptom of their malady. The tribe and family should be honored and respected, not slaughtered due to inconvenience. However, the emptiness of this world cannot go to waste. With the presence of a gate to this world we can now travel at our leisure. And surely having children again is worth a few hardships in the world not being as conducive to our needs as we are used to.”

(Kevin, to Shaman) “Fortunately, it usually isn’t necessary to stay very long – although you have been away for a very long time, which might change things. I don’t have the experience in such matters to say”

(Shaman) “We have time, it is not like we haven’t waited this long. A few more cycles of the sun mean little in that respect.”

   Kevin had to wonder… how aware of planets and other solar systems were they? Their worlds would have been created long before they knew anything about the stars except that they’re there – and once they were extinct in Core, they wouldn’t have much in the way of sources. Most of their worlds are likely to be more-or-less flat and limited; they’d just make more when the needed them – which wouldn’t be very often any more.

   Marty had to agree there – but how would they teach them if they didn’t process things symbolically?

   Kevin basically voted to leave that for later. Why worry? Their full current population – which probably wasn’t that large in comparison to Core – wasn’t going to funnel through one gate anytime soon – and even if they made more gates, a planet was a fairly big and they only wanted to visit. They’d either learn or not learn soon enough. Who knew? The computers might even find a way to turn Teacher loose on them… And then their fate would be sealed!

   Well, not really – but still it was an amusing thought.

   Meanwhile, a flit had arrived and was asking them if they needed to go anywhere or if they needed anything.

(Kevin) “Just introducing some distant cousins to the Core again… You might want to work on language-interpretation. I suspect it’s going to be difficult, although I can provide some pointers.”

(Computers) “Pointers would be most appreciated, excess computer capacity is also readily available for translation and interpretation needs.”

   Kevin still had a spare multi-tracking slot; so he can did some downloading through the smartclothes.

   Meanwhile, “God” and Serah had stopped arguing the moment that they’d realized that it was Greenwald on the other side of the gate. Both seemed to be rather lost in thought over it.

(Marty) “Well?”

(Kevin) “Are you too going to beat the rush and review some old memories?”

(Serah) “You’re one of the other students from Hogwarts aren’t you?”

(Kevin) “Well yes Serah. I DID ask how you’d been doing, but you seemed rather distracted.”

(Serah) “Excuse me if having my identity shattered and my world torn apart around me causes me to overlook attorneys.”

(Kevin) “Well, I wasn’t blaming you… How have you too been? Honestly, you didn’t seem too happy there.”

(“God”) “We don’t get very many…. “lucid” moments these days. What Ryan did to us makes life in the human manifold difficult to control. Although you seem to be handling it much better than we are.”

(Kevin) “I do have specialized advantages there… I take it they’ve (indicate the Shaman) been helping you deal with it or try to get rid of that power?”

(“God”) “Indeed, although now that I am outside the Manifold, I think we’ve been used as well. Merlin has certainly been…. filtering what we’ve been told from these guys regarding the nature of the treatment and what they’ve wanted.”

(Kevin) “From what little Marty and I have seen of him, he is the type to try to exploit any situation.”

(Marty) “Yeah. He’s a real class act.”

(Kevin) “Now, if I create an overlay here, on a currently-empty world, and try to banish the darkness from you, it will – hopefully – return to the abyss. Alternatively it might try to transfer to Marty or Myself – but it should be possible to take precautions about that. Our Shamanic friend here (he indicated the Neanderthal shaman) should be alien enough that human darkness would find no place in him anyway.”

(The wheels were turning in Marty’s head.) “Should I go to the other side of the planet? I think I’m the only human here who doesn’t have any of that power in me right now.”

(Serah) “To say the least regarding that… man. I am willing to go through the procedure if that will help me retain what is left of humanity. Although looking at what’s happened, I am not sure I want to remember.”

(Kevin to Marty) “Well, the darkness normally flows along existing links – and we don’t have one to them. Still, you can always just go back through the gate there; the stuff shouldn’t have any grip at all in that world.”

(Serah, misunderstanding) “True, however spending time there is just about tantamount to discarding our humanity anyway.”

(“God”) “I wonder how the Core Computer psychology programs would deal with genocidal mass murderers anyway?”

(Kevin) “Well, there are ways around that… Lets give it a try then… I think Core has major advantages for this: the energies will have almost no choice except to return to the Manifold if cast out of a host.”

(Marty, to “God”) “Look, kid, it’s Core. They’re not going to kill you or anything. Maybe they might deprogram you, but they won’t see you as a hopeless case if you show some regret… What’s your real name, anyway?”

   Marty knew – they’d known the name Matthias Lecturn on the moon – but asking might build a little trust.

(“God”) “Matthias Lecturn, although I haven’t used that name in years.”

(Marty) “I’m Marty. I’ve been working with Kevin this whole time. And believe me, I don’t like what Ryan did to you kids at all.”

(Serah) “You shouldn’t do that to children. Hell, even adults, and he did it to an entire classroom full of them.”

(Marty) “He was messing around with things he didn’t understand. Something bad was bound to happen… but he really should have done something about it.”

   Kevin couldn’t have argued there if he’d wanted to – and he rather liked Ryan.

(Marty) “Hey, maybe if this works, we could make a deal. You kids are real self-starters, and I know better than to fool with that stuff like Ryan did.”

(Kevin) “Well then… Let us give this a try. I cannot guarantee success, but I’m fairly sure that this cannot make matters any worse.”

   Kevin had been busy. Fortunately, he could draw on the Thralls to channel magic to him, even in Core. While Marty had talked, he’d been weaving protective spells to keep the darkness from flowing into him, throwing amplifying spells on his channeling abilities, setting focusing spells to let him channel far more power from the light – and the Silmarils – than he could normally call on at any one time, and applying his own psychic boosts and magical enhancements.

   He’d sent the Thralls back through the gate to keep them safe – and wrapped himself in the fading essence of the collapsing Inversion-realm to which they’d been banished. The powers that had been available there – even if it didn’t support magic – just felt right for this.

   He invoked the light, channeling it into Matthias and Serah and filling them with cleansing radiance

   There was a monstrous blaze of of radiant energy – and a far more truly monstrous upwelling of darkness. The computers found that well worth recording… Yet another localized violation of natural laws; this batch of travelers seemed to indulge in a lot of those.

(Marty, to the computers) “It’s okay, guys! Kevin’s just conducting a ritual! Things will be back to normal shortly!”

[In game terms, Kevin was boosting his Charisma with psychic powers and magic, boosting his effective level as a positive-energy/sacred light Channeler, using his focusing spell to spend multiple channeling attempts at the same time to boost both the intensity and the total number of “hit dice” affected, and dumping all of that into a Specialized and Corrupted – for triple effect – version of the Cleansing power to cast out the darkness which was afflicting his two targets. The resulting totals were monstrous… Of course, controlling that mess called for a Will check, as well as for checks on Witchcraft, Demonology, Theology, and Magic Theory. Fortunately, Kevin had purchased Duality some time before, so he could avoid blasting himself. He still needed the Dismissal power to force the dark power back out into the Manifold when it tried to transfer into him regardless]

(Kevin, absently, while working) “You know Marty? Moving planets is less work than this!”

(Marty) “Moving planets was a matter of physical and temporal manipulation. This is METAPHYSICS!”

   Kevin – despite the strain – had to smile. Metaphysics… Always metacrankier than regular physics!

   The dark energies were reluctant to leave their current hosts – but Kevin had been controlling the darkness for fifty years. It took a tremendous amount of power, but of power he had no lack. Some of it, of course, had been incorporated into Serah and Matthias’s essence, and could not be removed save by long self-discipline and development. As for the rest… it fought of course, and it attempted to cling to him – but his spells held most of it at bay, and dispersed almost all the rest as he forced it back into the Manifold and the Abyss.

   How normal the two would be remained to be seen.

(Marty, as Kevin completed the banishment) “How do you two feel?”

(Serah) “Hard to say, this is Core after all. A great deal of that sort of stuff is out of reach by default. I can definitely feel that I can’t push myself nearly as hard and I do feel more… remorse.”

(Matthias) “On a more quantitative level, my connection to all the avatars has been disrupted. Let me see if I can reestablish…”

(Kevin, hurriedly) “You probably shouldn’t you know. At least not right away. They may still be carrying some of the darkness – and they do have their own lives, at least in the case of the ones who once had souls.”

(Matthias, startledly) “You think that controlling avatars was a function of demonic links?”

(Kevin) “It might well be. Dominance and control is one of the aspects of Darkness. It might be safe enough – but it might not be safe at all. I’d suggest a good deal of cautions checking first.”

(Matthias) “Well that would certainly be annoying, those were handy to have. But if that’s the price to pay, then I suppose I can live with that.”

(Serah) “So what now, serve as doormen for the neanderthals?”

(Marty, privately) “You want them in Kadia, Kevin? I was thinking of taking them on my staff.”

(Kevin, privately) “Well, they can visit if they want – although I’ll make sure that there are plenty of Thralls keeping an eye on them – and if you want to offer them jobs, go ahead.”

(Marty) “That, or I can hire you.”

(Serah) “Hire?! To do what exactly?”

(Kevin) “If you like. Or you could just stay here; or go to Earth, or many other things. I suppose, you could go visit Hogwarts if you wanted – although you might want to put that off for a bit, you’d doubtless get stuck with teaching some weird course.”

(Marty) “Oh, typical business stuff. I run a trading operation in the Manifold. I could use some more agents, caravan guards, traders, recruiters, magical experts, or the like. Whatever you kids want to do.”

(Serah) “I think I am going to pass on that one. I believe I have things I need to do.”

(Matthias) “I think I may join Serah on that one.”

(Marty, shrugging) “Well, the offer still stands if you change your minds.”

(Kevin) “If you like, I can assign a gatekeeper-assistant to you. That will make travel easier – and, of course, allow me to monitor you a bit. That might be wise, but it is your decision.”

(Serah) “A gatekeeper assistant would be fine. I presume they maintain some level of contact with yourself?”

(Kevin) “Yes. It provides them with a variety of useful powers and allows me to bring them back if they’re killed.”

(Matthias) “A handy set of abilities then. Apparently you were luckier in how your powers manifested then we were.”

   Hm… neither of them were Openers – or at least they hadn’t been acting like it, and neither Kevin nor Marty had seen any evidence of it, and he couldn’t sense much of any Mana around them – maybe enough for a Gatekeeper (he vaguely remembered that one of them might be a Gatekeeper anyway) – and they had gotten that gate in the arctic open – but that could just be local psychic powers. Would that leave Merlin as the flawed Opener? That kind of frustration might explain a lot (such as the apparent interest in technological and psionic gates, since he presumably had magical ones, and the experiments with Arxus) – and if he kept trying to overcome it by gathering power and magic, it would just be ever more annoying. Anyway…

(Kevin) “I suspect that, in large part, it simply lays in being fortunate enough to be an Opener to begin with. The ability to manipulate reality offers a great many options.”

(Serah) “Heh, so the Opener gets to keep his sanity through it all. Figures.”

(Matthias) “Regardless, I think we really need to be off. We appreciate the help, but I think the only path forward for us from this point is our own. You do know how to reach us though.”

(Kevin, sighing) “Unfortunately, making the universe fair – at least in the short term – is beyond any power I know of… And here are a couple of aides; one apiece. They’re assigned to help you out.”

(Matthias) “Thank you, and I am sure we will meet each other again.”

(Kevin) “You’re welcome. I Hope things work out better for you now!”

   They waved – but once Serah and Matthias were gone, Kevin looked around…

(Kevin) “Ok, Xellos! Where are you hiding? I’m quite sure you picked up all that dark power, and – since I’ve assigned you a number of Thralls over the years, I know you can operate in core for quite awhile!”

(Xellos, materializing) “Oh dear, you’ve got me.”

(Kevin) “Oh well! It’s not like it’s going to corrupt YOU – and I’m sure that the Abyss would be quite cross to know that you got it instead of it going back home! Besides… you were far too ready to come along not to have some profit for yourself in mind!”

(Xellos) “Besides, I think such power belongs in the hands of those who would use it responsibly and not allow it to go to their heads. Definitely shouldn’t be allowed into the hands of children.”

   Xellos cocked an eyebrow at Kevin… Kevin had to admit it… Ouch! A good shot! Wounded, struck to the quick!

(Marty) “So, you going to stick around, or will you be leaving us? I gotta know how you pulled those pranks back there!”

   Oh no! Marty had become a straight man! He’d set up Xellos for his favorite line!

   Marty saw what was coming an instant in advance… Good grief! He’d fed someone a straight line! If he started wearing a yarmulke and showing self-preservation he’d have to hire someone to run a hit on himself!

(Xellos) “Well, telekinesis and great speed allow for a great deal of mischief and appropriately placed misfortune. Anything more than that I am afraid…. is a secret.”

   Kevin made a great display of staggering around and falling over dramatically.

   So did Marty, who knew when he’d walked into a setup.

(Xellos) “As for whether or not I am sticking around. Well, I am always around, it’s just a matter of whether you happen to notice or not.”

   Kevin sighed again. Oh dear. An immaterial trickster entity. Not only did that mean that Xellos – ultimately – could probably manifest as Puck, as Coyote, and as any of a dozen other entities, but he might well be able to use his own powers to travel via the Thrall-links. After all, he had close to twenty-odd Thralls bonded to him personally to help him out, and he wouldn’t put it past him to have found a way. Even if it was just the twenty-odd he had bonded to him personally and they have to spend mana to help him, it would offer him a lot of mobility in the Manifold!

   Oh well, it should be entertaining.

(Xellos) “Now friends, unless you two need anything more from me, I have other business to take care of. It’s been fun!”

(Marty) “It has. I’ll keep an eye out for you!.”

(Kevin) “Yes it has… I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again!”

   Xellos disappeared in a swirl of black darkness that faded into nothingness.

(Kevin) “I bet he picked up Witchcraft to go with the major Mazoku powers in really short order… It’s tailor-made for pranksters!”

(Marty) “There’s a thought.”

   Marty considered. Hey now! Xellos had come on request – promptly – and had said that he’d be around… What if he’d decided that he was “working for” Kevin? Or wanted to? Wouldn’t that give him a fair chunk of the powers Kevin bestowed while leaving the interpretation of what would be “helpful” up to Xellos’s own bizarre independent whimsies? That really would be fun!

   Meanwhile, the Neanderthal Shaman had attempted to hold a conversation with the Flit – without much success – and had headed home to start the influx. Would that have been not much luck or not much problem? The computers wouldn’t be worried by human problems with multi-tracking, but alien logic might defeat them.

   Marty wondered what he had wanted – so they asked the computers how it had gone. Should they stick around long enough to make sure everything went well, or should they return to Kadia and let the Core authorities know that they had a bunch of Neanderthals running around on Greenwald? Presuming that they didn’t already know?

(Flit) Communication did not go well. The language appears to be only remotely related to basic human syntax structure. Reference files related to some of the older human mental disabilities have shown to be enlightening regarding basic logical precepts.

(Kevin) “Ah well. It should improve over time. They’ll be visiting a lot.”

(Flit) “Understood, pulling archives on language learning programs.”

(Kevin) “Well, Marty… It begins to look like Merlin may be our big wheel. It’s funny… I was kind of expecting the Oracles to be sticking their noses in by this time.”

(Marty) “Maybe they’re tied up. Or maybe they have. How many players are stirring this pot? Oh well. Got any fancy plans for dealing with him?”

(Kevin) “Hey, I have endless plans! But I change them every time something new comes up, or someone calls us, or that blasted quantum weather butterfly waves it’s wings, and we always wind up playing it by ear anyway!.. Maybe we should tell the House what’s going on? And maybe go talk to Ryan…”

(Marty) “Sounds good to me! Both of them need to know what we found out.”

(Kevin) “Well, there are some existing gates out of here… And I’ve bent reality enough for one day! Lets take the scenic route, since it will only be a few hours anyway!”

   They did – although once out in the Manifold again they had a lot of options for simple magical shortcuts, and took a few. Along the way they discussed whether or not they should tell Ryan that he had (however indirectly) wiped out Greenwald and brought Inversion under a ruthless dictatorship for decades. They eventually decided that yes, they should – before he learned it from other sources. Besides… It was kind of something that he might need to know. You knew that the onion had too many layers when GOD turns out to be a pawn in the villains plans!

   OK, so Matthias wasn’t really GOD – but still.

   At least they’d drastically narrowed their pool of suspects for the next layer of puppet masters – unless there was someone behind Merlin, which they couldn’t count out. Of course, Merlin was bad enough. He didn’t seem likely to have left any gaping vulnerable points in his defenses anyway.

   They emerged back in London, and went off to see “M” and the House of Roses.

   London was – as befit the Core – pretty much like it had been a few months before. The House was pleased to see them as well – but unfortunately, M was occupied at the moment and would be unable to see them some hours.

   They left a message; they had a few other errands to run in Core and M could easily call them when he was available.

   The business offices were doing well; business was booming in the magical services industry and the travel industry. The advertising campaign was working, there weren’t any protests, the list of services was becoming well-known.

   Another bit of Core; humming along smoothly without any need for their supervision. That kind of made Marty feel a bit… superfluous. The place didn’t need him at all!

   On Kevin’s side… It looked like the campaign to get people to turn their neodogs into anthropomorphs had been quite successful – and that Core society had simply lumped the other anthropomorphs that he’d brought in to run the various offices in with the neodogs. There weren’t any protests, or questions about his ownership of them, or movements to get rights for them… Of course, they were used to anthropomorphs anyway; they’d appeared in centuries of entertainment productions and there were plenty of people with body mods and genegrafts.

   He wasn’t entirely sure if he was pleased or disappointed with the people of Core though. He’d have thought that there would be SOME call for more rights for them – unless they regarded taking those forms as a voluntary choice to be property in the first place?

   For that matter… acceptance of his contract was testing well with the various groups, even a set of parents hadn’t gotten too upset. It looked like there were no particular objections to sapient property either, so all he needed was to get the computers to amend the rules a bit – so that his recruits had the same basic status as the Neodogs (legally as well as in practice) for the duration – and to start advertising…

RPG Design – Designing Subraces and the Mothu

   Next up, we have a new Eclipse race by Joshua Troeger – the Mothu – and a general discussion on designing races.

   The Mothu, like the Spirit-Touched, fall into the “Human Subrace” category in Eclipse – races created by taking humans and spending part of the rest of the 31 CP available to a +0 ECL race.

   Of course, you can design races like that in pretty much any game or setting; simply add a few upgrades to your base species and call the result a subrace.

   Such exotic subraces are generally secretive, mysterious, or persecuted groups in other people’s societies and lands. That’s instinctive – and an entirely sensible instinct at that. It’s natural for the population at large to resent individuals who are born with special hereditary advantages and no apparent compensating drawbacks. After all, if such individuals really do have an edge, and can pass it on to their offspring, they can be expected to out-compete everyone else and – over time – to push them into extinction.

   In other words, you can either eliminate them, subjugate and interbreed with them (thus claiming their genetic advantages for your own descendants), or accept that your descendants are going to go extinct.

   Thus there should usually be drawbacks. They don’t have to be something that would affect such a character in play all that strongly – playing up the social prejudice a bit can easily make up for a modest boost in personal abilities – but they should be enough to explain why the base species is still dominating an area.

   The most common low-character-impact drawbacks that will keep an individually-superior race (or species) from dominating an area are:

  • Low fertility. Whether this is due to many offspring being normal members of the base race rather than inheriting the subraces advantages or simply due to members of the subrace just not having very many kids. If there aren’t many of them in the first place, general attrition and sheer lack of numbers will keep them under control quite nicely.
  • Extended maturation time. This means that many more offspring will die in childhood, the population cannot expand rapidly during boom times or easily recover from lean times, and it means that – in games where characters can gain great personal power – the “lesser races” will have a far greater, and more readily replaced, supply of adventurous champions.
  • Instability. If a fair number of the members of an supposedly-superior subrace break down, go mad, destroy themselves with their own power, kill each other off, or otherwise take themselves out of the gene pool before getting to reproduce, then we have a pretty good reason for them not dominating the world.
  • Exotic requirements. If a subrace needs some exotic resource to mature or survive – access to magical nexi, a rare mineral, seaside beaches, or whatever – then they’re automatically restricted to places where that resource is available – and their numbers will be severely restricted wherever that resource is sparse. This can also be expected to throw them into frantic competition against each other, rather than against other races, providing a reason why even a high-powered race will not dominate.
  • Food requirements. If a subrace needs a LOT of food compared to other species – or is purely carnivorous and competing with species that can eat other foods – then the other races in the world will tend to outnumber them. Often by quite a lot. If a member of a superior race requires as much land to support as twenty members of a lesser race, he or she had better either be a match for thirty members of that race or not be competing with them, or they will eliminate the superior individual to make room for a bunch of their own offspring. There are balance points of course – especially if the superior individual can survive in an area where the base species cannot – but this accounts for a lot of population dynamics in the real world.
  • Competitive breeding. While this is often the classic male-competition routine, any biological system which keeps most of the adult population from even attempting to reproduce (as opposed to attempting to do so without much success due to Low Fertility) will tend to hold down the numbers of a subrace to the point where other races will – or at least can – dominate the area.
  • Newness. If the subrace or new species has just appeared, but isn’t restrained otherwise (and isn’t wiped out by something while still few in numbers), it’s going to start spreading – and may dominate in the long term – but in the short term the older species will still dominate. Don’t expect that to last for too long though.
  • Nongenetic. In magical worlds, certain qualities can be passed on to offspring – even very distant offspring – by methods other than genetics or placental transfer. If only ten people at a time can bond with the legendary Orthan Powerstone, but the bond always transfers to a newly-born descendant of one of the prior Orthanites when one of the current ten dies, then you know why the Orthanites don’t dominate; there are only a few of them and that population cannot grow.

   The Mothu illustrate those design points fairly nicely – which is a pleasant surprise, since most players who want to design their own races don’t manage to pull that off.

   So here we have the slightly-edited Mothu:

   The Mothu (+0 ECL/21 CP)

   The Mothu aren’t generally recognized as a race at all, even by each other. Individuals who display the characteristics listed below are usually considered to be merely unusually magically adept humans. While this is indeed the case in most situations, there are a few individuals that have a unique and unexplainable connection to the weave due to their Mothú heritage although even they, over the centuries, have generally lost all knowledge of this. There are only a handful of scholars and mages that recognize the pattern and speculate about it’s significance.

   The roots of the Mothu “race” lie in a symbiotic relationship between a human and a sentient life form, composed of pure energy, from another plane of existence. The creature, having been conjured into the human realm, attached itself to a youthful human in order to sustain itself.

   In return, it protected her. The two became inescapably bound to each other, and as the human married and produced children, the entity’s essence was passed on as well – although it’s finite power ensured that only a limited number of those descendants would inherit the power of the Mothu at any given time. As the generations passed by, the entity’s ability to communicate dwindled until it’s touch was experienced subconsciously, if at all. It faded into the background of human culture, but its influence, while silent, remained present and inexplicable to those who experienced it.

   Characteristics: A Mothu appears to be, by all physical aspects, human. In fact, they normally truly believe that they are human. They tend to be at the top end of the human size category, due to their heartier nature, and their lifespan is just slightly longer than that of the human race – although their connection the emotional tapestry of the world often draws them into situations that shorten their lifespan (i.e. politics, advisors, cleric at the front lines of wars). They have a great fondness for life and the pleasures that it brings. Because they are very affected by the emotions of those around them, they have a tendency to prefer to surround themselves with peaceful and happy individuals; however, many members of this race feel an inescapable pull towards soothing the pains of those that they come in contact with.

   Because of their inability to accurately share this emotional connection that they have with those close to them, many members of this race, at some point in time, feel disconnected from reality – or have a hard time finding mates. The results of this distancing effect, however, vary. Traumatic life experiences have a tendency to stir up their supernatural traits, generating high amounts of emotional energy, and creating potentially volatile situations.

   Racial Modifiers:

  • Occult Sense/Emotional Sight. Specialized/the game master may request that the character make a will save to resist sincere emotional appeals, such as calls for help (3 CP).

   The Mothu have a natural affinity to the emotional state of creatures around them. They are able to recognize the presence of heightened emotional energies through sight. This works much like the functioning of a “detect magic” spell, requiring extended concentration time for the individual to learn specific effects from his/her targets. The Process goes as follows:

  •  
    • Round 1: The presence of heightened emotional states and their general nature.
    • Round 2: The general locations of the subjects suffering from these states (within vision), and the severity of the emotional states.
    • Round 3: For each additional round spent entirely focused on a specific individual, the character can make a Spellcraft or Sense Motive check (whichever is better) to determine if the subject is under the effect of an emotion-influencing effects such as Charm or Fear (as the magical energies would be In conflict with the natural force of the subject) and what emotions he or she is currently experiencing. The DC for this check is 15+ spell level, or 15 + half caster level for a non-spell effect.
  • Fast Leaner, Specialized in Skills (+1 SP/Level, 3 CP): Due to the Mothú’s direct connection to the human race, they retain the basic human qualities – including the human ability to quickly adapt to new situations.
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP): Like normal humans, Mothú can adapt to whichever profession they are placed into, showing an immediate ability to develop skills that help in the task at hand.
  • Skill Bonuses (6 CP): +2 to Diplomacy, Sense Motive, and Gather Information. Because of their ability to sense the emotional status of those around them, the Mothú have a modest innate advantage in social situations.
  • Spell Resistance: 5 + Character Level, Specialized/Only versus Enchantment effects, such as Charm (3 CP). The energies that fuel emotion are directly connected to this race, creating a subconscious defense mechanism. As a result, any magical attempts at enchanting a member of this race could potentially be deflected before reaching them. Since this is subconscious, it affects both friendly and hostile casters.

   The Mothu should be eminently acceptable in most games. They do have 12 CP – the equivalent of two Feats – worth of extra abilities, but those are both relatively specialized talents and have a definite downside; that annoying vulnerability to emotional appeals (I wouldn’t allow them to buy that weakness off though, since it seems pretty fundamental to their nature). As far as keeping them from taking over goes, they have minor problems in early life and – far more importantly – are inherently limited in numbers, since their abilities are derived from a link with a single, finite, entity. I could throw in an Accursed disadvantage (for -3 CP) to represent a vulnerability to having that link tampered with, or the entity banished, but there’s no need to save points here and it seems unlikely to come up anyway. Ergo, I’ll just assume that the link is on such a deep level that it’s pretty much impossible to meddle with.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 27

   I had taken up a patrol around the Hohenheim Research Facility while we waited for our assassin to come in. Xiang and Jacob were doing their own security tasks like I was and Ben was playing scientist with the research team – and hopefully NOT creating another superweapon. Alys was in her own ship somewhere in orbit, waiting to back up the Asrai. Handell and Shipwreck were also in orbit in the Asrai waiting for any signs of attack – and in hopes of being able to dump enough missiles to severely damage anything that came in cloaked (and thus with it’s shields down, or at least drastically weakened). 10CH was also down here, acting as yet another maintenance droid.

   The wait was dull and I quickly determined I was not cut out to do security work as a career. The biggest issue was the growing anxiety while waiting. I wasn’t really sure how I would react if it did turn out to be Valerie and she was hostile. I was fairly certain I couldn’t kill her, but what if one of the others did? I know we agreed to capture and not kill, but some of these nuts are rather blood thirsty. No choice but to once again try to manage the damage, despite Ben’s attempts at laying booby traps designed to foul up people moving in hypertime.

   Ben did come up with some sort of prophecy from himself in the future. I felt it best not to ask for details on what exactly that meant for the sake of my sanity. It did seem like soon the news would be filled with reports of a Sith attack. Kira the Kat would be implicated in the whole mess – and he had a warning from himself not to activate hyperdrives. Looking at all the hyperdrive experiments lying around the facility, I couldn’t help but sigh at that one. I figured that one of Ben’s experiments was about to backfire badly on us, interact with my Codex powers to make matters even worse, and then the locals would blame it all on me and the Sith.

   Several days passed.

   In orbit, Shipwreck had been focusing more and more on his inner perceptions, using the ships sensors – even if they were amongst the best sensors that money could buy – as a gazing-focus and the readings as prompts.

   It took Handell some time to realize that the man had settled into a deep trance, and that something VERY weird was going on. Still… it wasn’t as if he had any clear idea as to whether disturbing him would be a good idea.

   Shipwreck had (via a completely ridiculous roll) managed to achieve near-total awareness of the cosmos. He’d started feeding the piloting computer with information on local traffic – including the blatantly obvious (to him) location of the cloaked Star Destroyer in the asteroid belt – but his consciousness had kept expanding… Unfortunately, that was far, far, more than his mind could contain or process – and there was so much he wanted to keep! All of the elements that made up HIM for a start… where to find the galaxies lost fleets, the enemies plans, how the teleportation device they were up against worked, the hyperspace paths between the universes his friends were in, how the Force and the Antiforce and monotalents – including being a trouble magnet – really worked, how to travel between timelines in a controlled fashion… So much lovely information – and if he hadn’t been interested in information to start with, he never would have specialized in sensor systems…

   If he didn’t come out of his trance – and give up all that lovely information – he and Handell were almost certainly going to die… He opted for a path that would – almost certainly – allow him and his friends to gain access to all that information eventually, even if his mind couldn’t contain it at the moment.

   Down on the surface, Ban and Thelan Orr (one of the local hyperspace experts) had been working on a well-understood version of the hypertunnel effect. It had long been known that if you tuned two hyperdrive units to each other, and fed them with a sufficiently-synchronized set of inputs, you could get them to resonate with each other. If you fed them enough power, you could get one to hypertunnel to the other one – but the effect was power-hungry and almost impossible to achieve over gaps of more than a few miles. Still, it was obviously related – and a precognitive operator could drastically expand the range over which it could be made to work.

   They were setting up the next experiment when Thelan abruptly collapsed. Ben went to probe him to see what was wrong – and found that he’d been dosed with a memory-destroying drug. A dart – already dissolving into a couple of drops of water – to the neck. Enough to scramble his memory of the last – and next – few hours and leave him highly suggestible…

   Thanks mostly to 10CH running interference, Ben managed to (just barely) duck the shot meant for him – and get away from the needle-grenade that would have dosed him anyway – and then found himself confronting Valerie, who casually used the force to close the blast doors – and weld them shut – when she saw who it was. She’d apparently come in through the air systems or something.

   Oh damn. He’d been so focused on the powers that he’d forgotten that she was a stealth infiltration expert.

   Almost exactly the situation he had wanted to avoid at all costs – although having 10CH in the same room (even if he was disinclined to fight unless he had to) was a big plus.

   He didn’t manage to divert her for more than a few seconds – or to resist either her questions or her mental probe to see if he was lying. She found out what had happened to Kira, and where he’d “acquired” those strange powers, in short order – and why Kira seemed so distant still. She wasn’t at all happy about that. She’d spent a lot of time probing and planting suggestions in hyperspace experts – and eliminating the occasional ones where something went wrong – to have Kira STILL be out of reach! How could that be? She’d foreseen that setting up the hyperspace experts would lead her to Kira eventually!

   Meanwhile, out with the security patrols.

   Just as I had been about to give up the ambush as a lost cause, an alarm went out from 10CH over in laboratory three. Running down the corridor, I came to a halt as I found the blast doors to the room had already sealed and welded themselves shut. Lazlo and Jacob were already there and working on trying to cut through the door with Jacob’s lightsabers. I left them to work on that as I phased myself and walked through the door.

   On the other side I found Ben on the floor holding an unconscious scientist with 10CH standing in front of him. It took me a moment to notice that 10Ch was facing off against someone as they were heavily camouflaged with some sort of active suit. It was only possible to tell someone was there by seeing the distortion of the wall behind the person. Looked to be human or human-like and possibly female. Hazarding a guess, I would say this was our assassin then. Just then I heard a voice I haven’t heard in some months speak to me.

(Valerie) So let me get this straight, you’re Kira from an alternate dimension?

   Well it looks like Ben let the cat out of the bag. I am going to have to speak to him about that later I think. Should we survive anyway.

(Valerie) So I’ve been spending all this time hunting down hyperspace specialists trying to lure you out for nothing?

(Akira) Hunting hyperspace specialists to lure us out? Wait a minute, we were after you because we figured you were killing them to prevent us from….. DAMNED PRECOGNITIVES!

   Ben then proceeded to pick this of all times to begin talking about his latest idea on how his alternate managed to destroy Alys’s galaxy. WHAT THE HELL?! WHY NOW?! Then Valerie (I can only presume) read his mind on how that one worked.

(Valerie) Now that one has some potential.

(Akira) God damn it, would you stop designing super weapons while we are battling the Sith?

   Meanwhile, out in the corridors, the bounty hunters were making their move. There were now enough of them on “Kira’s” tail that virtually any clue or possibility would be seized on by at least a few – and several of them had been following up on the “hyperspace experts” lead. After all, Kira and company had already hired one, and they were definitely involved with Sith activities – and the assassinations were the biggest wild factor at the moment.

   A pair – one multi-armed vaguely insectile creature with LOTS of weapons and one creature in a hulking set of powered battle armor – were answering the alarm. The security guards outside had been easy enough to bypass when the alarms started going off. They were busy trying to get everyone OUT of the building.

   They were most pleased to learn from Lazlo and Jacob that the Sith Assassin might be in the lab with Kira and Ben. The rewards on that trio would be enough to buy themselves a private luxury planetoid and pay a squad of servants for the next thousand years if they wanted… They were pleased enough to offer to share a bit with Lazlo – whom there was a small bounty on (small change in relationship to the bounty on any one of their top three) – and Jacob (whom they took for another hunter) if they’d assist with the capture. There’d be plenty of money to spare, and they could use some help against three targets like that who were together.

   They had shaped charges suitable for blowing open the walls or doors too. Unfortunately, this soon led to a struggle with the bounty hunters.

   That began another argument in the lab as Ben tried to claim he couldn’t help it, I tried to tell him to focus on the assassin, and Valerie expressed her annoyance at my not being her preferred catch. What is it with people in this galaxy hunting other people? Is the overcrowding of the galaxy so ridiculous that this has become legal sport?

   In orbit, Shipwreck returned to himself – and reached out to launch a pair of antimatter missiles.

   At the research facility. He just KNEW that it was the right thing to do – and Handell couldn’t stop him in time.

   Alys had an instant of shock – and then took the Dusk Gryphon after the missiles. She couldn’t allow those warheads to hit an inhabited planet. If she could shoot them down while they were high enough, the effects on the planet wouldn’t be too bad – and there was even a chance that the Dusk Gryphon might survive.

   Just then I felt a sense of impending doom from my poorly trained Force ability. At first I figured it was Valerie about to make the kill when I noticed both Valerie and Ben reacted to it as well. Ben must have gotten more information as he suddenly announced that antimatter missiles were on their way here and would arrive in about twenty seconds. Even in hypertime, there was no way I could get to safety in time. Valerie pressed a button on her wrist that I could only presume was the call for a teleport from her ship.

(Valerie) I’ve called my ship for an evac, but they may not make it in time.

   Out in the asteroid belt, Valerie’s stealthed Star Destroyer initiated a pre-programmed microjump that would bring them out within range of the planet, reappeared near the planet seconds later, switched massive amounts of power over to the teleport system – and was hit by Shipwreck’s second missile barrage. The Star Destroyer had dropped the cloak in the interests of speed, but the shields weren’t yet up to full power.. The ship took massive damage – and the safety interlocks shut down power to the weapons systems and other major power demands on most of one side.

   The resulting power overproduction went into the teleport system – the only active system onboard with an unrestricted link to the engines. Sometimes it NEEDED vast amounts of power – and now it was serving as a dump for it.

   Down in the laboratory, the hyperdrive systems resonated with the intense field, and began pouring energy – only a tiny part of the output of a star destroyers engines, but still a vast amount – back into their own systems. The overload would destroy the entire building in a minute or two unless discharged, but that probably wouldn’t matter; by that time the missiles would hit.

   Hell, this isn’t good. I couldn’t see any way out of this save dropping out of the universe or forcing the missiles out of the universe. Dropping out of the universe was tantamount to admitting I will never get home again. Forcing the missiles out of existence was going to be impossible as I couldn’t get a lock on them with my powers anyway. That was one of the major limitations of Codex powers: you had to see something to affect it.

   I must have been thinking aloud or something as suddenly Valerie grabbed my head with a vice-like grip in one hand.

(Valerie) Open your mind to me!

   That was a voice I learned a long time ago not to say no to. Doing what Telera had taught me, I opened my mind to Valerie’s. What came down the link was the image and location of the two incoming missiles heading towards us. It was a simple matter to reach out over the link she provided and push on the missiles with my own power.

   Unfortunately, AKira was already dimensionally unstable in the primary universe, and the hyperfield of the teleport system was amplifying Codex powers in the area. The backlash toppled him out of the cosmos… Of course, he was linked with Valerie, who was drawn with him, and Valerie was linked with Kira – who desperately wanted to come home.

   Alys, meanwhile, was power diving into the atmosphere firing at the missiles as she came. Neither she nor anyone else would ever be sure if she had hit them first, or what had happened – but the fireballs faded away… harmlessly? Had Shipwreck fired duds or conventional warheads for some reason?

   Never mind, she was this close. She’d land and find out what was going on at the facility.

   There were several other ships (the bounty hunters), a near-complete evacuation, and security guards who were too rattled to question her ID – or her claims of being officially appointed to keep an eye on Kira, Ben, Lazlo, and the others. Besides… She wasn’t likely to do any more damage than was already going on. On her side, at least it was easy enough to hear the sounds of chaos and head for them. That would certainly be where everyone else was.

   Meanwhile, in an alternate galaxy

   As awareness returned, I found myself standing in the villa back home with assassin Valerie still clamped onto my face with her hand. She let go of me as she took in her surroundings. A wave of emotions washed over me: shock, frustration, and despair. I was shocked to suddenly find myself back home after all these months. I was also frustrated at the crazy nutjobs that had blown me back here with their accidents with the assassin. And despair as I realized that while I might be home now, assassin Valerie’s presence here meant my Valerie must now be back in their universe. Will I ever get this mess sorted out and return to the life I had?

   Pushing all of that from my mind, I took stock of our surroundings. It definitely looked like the villa my Valerie and I shared. The pictures on the walls and the general decor pretty much proved that. Valerie had taken her hood off and was looking at those same pictures I saw. I could see her shaking with rage, presumably over having fallen into my universe and out of her own. Just when it looked like that rage was about to boil over, she suddenly went very cold as her face went impassive. I had to admit that the hair on the back of my neck stood on end watching that.

(Valerie) Let me guess, this is your home universe, isn’t it?

(Akira) It certainly seems that way.

(Valerie) I really want to kill someone.

   She was looking at those pictures again, this time at one of the ones with my Valerie hugging me from behind at the last Festival of Masks on Alderaan.

(Valerie) It looks like you and my alternate are close. Just how close are you?

   Oh now this was a question I felt I had no right answer. Lying to a telepath of her power was asking for her to catch me. Telling the truth also had a whole host of issues. Damn it, Kira never left notes on what his relationship was with her. All I was ever able to piece together was that she was chasing him since he left the Sith. I don’t know if they hated each other, liked each other, or had only just met. I decided the best course of action was to test the waters a bit.

(Akira) Before I answer your question, let me ask you another: how fast can you run?

(Valerie) Quite fast, why?

(Akira) Just trying to ascertain my likelihood of surviving this should you not like the answer I give you.

(Valerie) I need you to help me to get back to my own universe, I am not going to kill you over what you and some alternate of myself chose to do.

   Fair enough I suppose.

(Akira) She and I are…. well…. engaged.

   Her face was impossible to read behind that cold glare she was using to burn holes in the cabinet.

(Valerie) Just how durable are people like you anyway?

(Akira) Well to be honest, I suspect you Force users are more durable with the telekinetics, body control, and all than we are.

   As soon as I finished that sentence, her fist collided with my nose far faster than I could possibly react. My vision was blurred badly and blood was streaming down my face onto my clothes and onto the floor. It also hurt like hell. On the other hand, it wasn’t a killing blow of any kind.

(Valerie) Perhaps that wasn’t fair.

(Akira) To who? Me, you, your Kira, or my Valerie?

(Valerie) I DON’T KNOW!

   Meanwhile, back in the main galaxy:

   Valerie and I had been having an argument over why I had to at least pretend to show interest in the wedding plans. My response about planning to be gone before the six months were over got me one of the hardest to discern looks I’ve ever seen. She was about to unload some comment at me when suddenly everything faded to black.

   As awareness returned, I found myself surrounded by exploding equipment, fires, Ben lying on the floor screaming, Lazlo, some guy wearing leaves, and two bounty hunters blowing their way through a blast wall while fighting, and 10CH in the middle of it all. I face palmed and sighed into my hand. There was no need to verify, this had to be my home universe. No where else in the multiverse could possibly be this insane. All we needed was the circus performing in the background followed by a general planetary riot to complete the insanity.

   10CH, Lazlo and the leaves guy (now on fire and with very little of his clothing left) were busily fighting the bounty hunters – pounding on the insectile creature (and then going to a lot of trouble to avoid killing the fellow) and trying to take out various functions of the power armor – and I left them to that while I tried to discern what was going on (presuming that it WAS anything coherent). It was then that I realized the Valerie from the alternate universe I had just come from was standing next to me still.

   Oh hell.

   Ben, meanwhile, had realized that – unless he managed to drain the power-overload from dozens of hyperdrive systems in the next few seconds – they were all going to blow up ANYWAY.

   He decided to trigger them, and hopefully have them shunt themselves into hyperspace. Even if it dragged them into a short-range transfer unprotected, it would be more survivable than the upcoming blast. His frantic, force-enhanced, attempts to program them to do that worked – to some extent. The drives let go pretty much simultaneously as he hit the activation key.

   He’d forgotten about his warning to himself. The teleport system field was still active – and strong enough to be forcing those hyperdrives to resonate with itself.

   The bounty hunter in armor had, meanwhile, decided to just gas everyone and THEN sort it all out. Fortunately, 10CH’s shield generator sufficed to hold that back for a bit – to spare the living creatures, not himself of course – and he continued to easily disable systems.

   Lazlo was rather startled at that. He’d never really seen an assassin-droid in action, and they were a lot more formidable than he’d thought – even if he presumed that 10CH was well above average. Still, it was flamethrowers versus lightsabers, gas versus inner control, and massive impacts and explosions versus armor and enhanced physical durability in a grand free for all.

   Suddenly Ben rushed to the control systems, and started doing something with them and with the force – and seconds later I felt the now familiar transistion to hyperspace via the transporter superweapon. We exited hyperspace almost instantly, but still were standing in the room we had been in. Ben then announced some nonsense about forgetting to listen to himself just now. I chose to ignore all of them for the moment and tried to get a clearer picture of what was going on. Figuring Valerie could take care of herself for a few moments, I headed out the hallway.

   I ran into Alys running towards me and asked which Alys she was. Being told she was the one that shot down the antimatter missiles led to me sighing yet again and shoving her out-of-the-way as I made my way to a window. Looking out the window, I saw a great host of Sith soldiers in powered armor surrounding our…. office building.

   Right….

   Alys had already looked out a window, and had been on her way to inform the others – which little errand she continued. They apparently had been snagged by the teleportation center and were now aboard a major Sith vessel. Not a good situation – and one that they’d just escaped from a few months before! Worse, now they had an office building instead of a ship, along with bounty hunters, internal alarms, fires and explosions, probably a Sith Assassin, and likely some of the local staff along for good measure.

   Judging from the look of things, we appeared to be on something at least the size of a star destroyer at the very least. I really had no clue what was going on here, but figured the best way out of this was to improvise as best I could. Setting the clothing to black, I proceeded to step outside with a swagger in my step and started barking orders. About the time I finished shouting “minions”, I got several dozen soldiers pointing a serious amount of firepower at me.

   I was disarmed and told to be quiet as they stormed the office building with hordes of troops. Hmm, aboard a Sith vessel equipped with a teleportation system and they seemed to be expecting us. Oh hell, the party didn’t try to actually ambush Valerie did they? Of all the stupid things to have tried. Wait, now that I think about it, that neatly explains why the alternate Valerie was standing next to me if we both switched. That means my Valerie is now back in that universe with the other Kira. But if she’s there and this one is here, then that means the one Master Soung is expecting isn’t here.

   Oh hell.

   If I wasn’t popular with the Sith before now, being responsible for the disappearance of daddy’s little girl is going to make my life a serious nightmare. I thought being hunted by Valerie was bad, and SHE was semi-friendly! At least for a Sith!

   Outside, Handell had fled to somewhere near the outer limits of the system – but Shipwreck had busily been reloading with every spare missile they had in storage. The local planetary defenses would be engaging the Star Destroyer, and he meant to go back for another run on it to help out.

   Handell was willing – but not until he’d had some more booze. When you were evading, shaky hands was an advantage.

   Inside the lab, Alys and the others had cooked up a quick plan; Alternate Valerie would pretend to be Valerie-Prime, and maybe they could figure something out.

   Minutes later, I saw the alternate Valerie come stomping out barking orders to the soldiers much like I had tried earlier. Except, you know, for the annoying fact that it worked for her. She had the party – and a couple of bounty hunters (now persuaded that they’d have to rescue their targets from the Sith if they expected to be able to sell them back to them) in tow behind her with the commander of the soldiers hanging on her every word. She stopped as she passed by me, gave me a long look that told me how big a favor she was making as she waved the soldiers to let me go. She gestured for us to follow as we went to Valerie’s quarters aboard the Winter Moon.

   Oh great. We were in another one of the Varen Sith’s major fleet vessels. With Ben and Lazlo claiming to be apprentice Sith of all things.

   Alternate Alys was kind of wondering about that. They WERE. Had they actually been sent to capture Kira? They’d certainly done a bang-up job of it! From an alternate universe no less! Or… had the Sith let them go in the first place because they’d known that something like this was likely? The Sith were good at precognition – but THAT good?

   Ben was a bit shocked to note that his precognition had been entirely accurate.

   Outside, the Star Destroyer – even damaged – was having little trouble holding off the planetary defense fleet (such as it was), and was on it’s way out. Shipwrecks well-timed secondary strike crippled the primary hyperdrive – but there were still the backups, and the Sith started a series of course-changing smaller jumps to make sure that there would be no chance of Republic forces following them.

   Of course, the counterfire during Shipwrecks second strike had left the Asrai badly damaged. There would be no choice but to land for repairs – and pursuit was out of the question.

   Once in her quarters, Valerie announced there was no chance of the Sith eavesdropping on us here. I immediately demanded an explanation of what was going on from Ben and was most displeased at what I was hearing. Valerie was upset to be here and that her “insane and evil” alternate was in her universe with a head full of ideas on how to destroy civilization.

(Valerie) This is all your fault!

(Kira) My fault? I didn’t do anything, you were watching me the entire time weren’t you?

(Valerie) Doesn’t matter!

(Kira) No, this is the fault of that fiancée of yours that you are so fond of.

   That set her off as we began to argue yet again with each other. Then the guy wearing nothing but lightsabers announced he wanted to join the Sith because they seemed so nice.

(Kira) STOP JOINING THE SITH! AND PUT SOME PANTS ON!

   Alternate Alys wanted to go home. A near-empty galaxy was preferable to THIS. She wanted to curl up in a corner.

   I could feel those dark energies build up inside as I felt the Dark Side begin to rise within me. Reaching into one of my belt pouches, I pulled out an injecter. I double checked to make sure it was the suppressant and not the stimulant before jabbing it into my leg and letting the chemicals loose in my system. Once I felt the Force leave my grasp, I unloaded my frustrations on the bunch of them as I went on a rant. I don’t know if I was coherent or not. Frankly I didn’t care either way.

   About three hours later, my throat was sore and I had a pounding headache. Everyone was emotionally exhausted from the whole affair. For all intents and purposes we were caught by the Sith. The Sith just didn’t know it yet. And I was certain to be a dead man once Master Soung found out this wasn’t his daughter.

   At least the Sith had conformed that Lazlo and Ben were Sith apprentices – and they hadn’t had a single question to ask about how they’d gotten off their secret colony world. That was ominous. It pretty well said that the Sith had intentionally let them go. Of course, not every group could manage to capture themselves without even letting the enemy know about it.

   About the only plans we had were to either accept it and surrender, or to try to escape while Valerie’s cover held. I wasn’t very fond of the former, and after some more discussion, we voted for the latter. Now to figure out how to get off this ship. The hardest part may end up being getting Valerie off this ship without drawing too much suspicion. I wasn’t about to leave her in the hands of the Sith.

   The only way to get Valerie off the ship without raising eyebrows would be if it was expected for her to go. Another assassination run was out of the question with us here. We didn’t know enough about any dignitary functions she might need to attend either. What if she was chasing something though and had to leave the crippled capital ship behind? That might work, but what would she be chasing?

   Me.

   Again this keeps coming back to me. Alright, if we triggered a big enough explosion: say one of the damaged torpedo launchers exploded. 10CH could prep a shuttle for launch while I sneaked out to the shuttle bay in the commotion. Once aboard, 10CH and I escape into hyperspace. The crew then informs Valerie of my escape, and she leads the rest of the party into a shuttle to give chase. After all, they know me well and have all joined the Sith – so it would only be natural for her to bring them along.

   It was a reasonable plan and it was predicated on information the Sith likely did not have. For it to work before our cover was blown though, we’d have to move fast. In the meantime, it was time to dredge up my memories of the Academy and Valerie so that I can give this Valerie the best possible chance of keeping the act together. This is going to be awkward and difficult.

   Back in the Alternate Galaxy:

   The bleeding finally stopped as the bacta treatments were beginning to take hold. In a day or two, my face would be back to normal. Giving the bloody clothes to the droids to wash, I found Valerie had switched into her counterpart’s clothes.

(Akira) Well at least there is a ready supply of clothing that fits you.

(Valerie) The colors are too bright.

(Akira) Into the dark and sinister look huh? Well, we’ll see what we can do about procuring some in the meantime while we figure out how to get you home.

(Valerie) So there is a way?

(Akira) Seems to be. Shipwreck had determined a set of hyperspace coordinates that would lead to here via some magic of his. Ben thought those could be made to work with some alterations to the hyperdrive.

   Trick got to be, those coordinates were how to get here, not go the other way. Besides I didn’t know what those modifications were to make them myself. That technical sort of stuff tended to go over my head too much. I suppose we could find a sensory expert similar to Shipwreck, but the odds weren’t good on doing that quickly.

(Akira) The other option would be to sit here and wait. After all my Valerie is there and needs to come here.

   It suddenly occurred to me that if my Valerie was there, than she was in the path of those antimatter missiles that were fired at us. She may already be dead. The look on my face must have been obvious.

(Valerie) What is it?

(Akira) They may all be dead already. Those missiles were only seconds from impacting when we dropped out. It may all be for naught anyway.

(Valerie) No, they’re alive. At least Kira is. If he survived that, then the others did to.

(Akira) How can you be so certain of something like that? I mean I felt the missiles fading away, but that could have been us dropping out, not the missiles.

(Valerie) Because he and I are bonded.

(Akira) Bonded?

(Valerie) Our Force presences are linked together. We can feel each other over the link. It’s even been fueling his rapid growth as his power patterns after mine. I don’t think he is aware of the bond still, but he is alive.

   Alright, I knew I heard a bit of resentment in her voice when she said that, but there was also a hint of… something else in there. I couldn’t read into it anymore without digging. It all still sounded of mystical nonsense like what Telera spoke of. At least she seemed convinced they were alive.

(Akira) So how did you learn to do that hyper speed trick I saw in the holos of one of your attacks?

(Valerie) I didn’t, Kira did.

(Akira) Ok, but he was learning to do that when he came to my dimension and I went to yours. When did you get a chance to learn it from him?

(Valerie) I told you I didn’t learn it. I gained the ability to do it when Kira did due to the bond we share.

(Akira) Wait, one of you learns how to do something and the other one picks it up automatically?

(Valerie) Yes, although it takes time to transfer. It also doesn’t transfer the knowledge of what to do with those abilities.

(Akira) That’s dangerous, ignorant use of the Codex can result in falling out of the universe or becoming a Faded. We need to get you trained.

   That seemed to bring a smile to her face.

(Valerie) He’s proving to be useful after all.

(Akira) Not the boat anchor you thought he was?

(Valerie) Possibly. Now, what is the Codex? And why does Kira wish to learn it?

(Akira) It might make more sense if we called it what he thinks of it: the Anti-Force.

(Valerie) Hmmm.

(Akira) Think of the Force as forging links between things. The Anti-Force or Codex is about severing those same links. As for why Kira is trying to learn as much about it as he can, I suspect it is because he hopes it provides an answer to controlling the Dark Side.

(Valerie) WHAT?!

(Akira) According to his notes, the theory is that the two balance each other in normal people leading to… well “normal” behavior. A breakthrough or someone with inherent power is predispositioned to one side or the other.

(Valerie) So he’s trying to turn off his ability?

(Akira) Not necessarily, at the very least, he’s trying to learn how to use the power of one to curb the excesses of the other. Sort of like how monotalents don’t lead to Dark Side explosions or sudden existence failures.

(Valerie) And this Anti-Force exists?

(Akira) As best as anyone can tell, that’s what I’m doing.

(Valerie) And it really could enable true control?

(Akira) I don’t know, but I suspect it can. All evidence suggests it’s possible.

   Her eyes had the look of the predator sensing the kill within it’s grasp. I didn’t have to be a telepath to see the wheels turning in her head. Since we were on the topic, this did bring to mind another question that had been bugging me.

(Akira) I hope you don’t mind me asking, but why are you so…. rational?

(Valerie) What do you mean?

(Akira) The doctor, Jarik, I am told fell to the Dark Side and went on a paranoid rampage that nearly killed everyone with horrific plagues and toxins before my eyes. Are they mistaken, or am I misunderstanding the whole concept of Sith and the Dark Side?

(Valerie) He was weak, he found that in the depths of his rage – or perhaps suspicion – he could no longer control himself. Our training focuses on maintaining control even in the depths of hate – or of whatever passion a student falls to.

   Ehh, that was disturbing. In other words, they were merely the survivors who didn’t go boom. There can’t be many people capable of being that coldly rational while gripped by those kinds of raw emotions. I didn’t like the odds of me being able to pull off that level of self-discipline. It also meant that the emotional power channels were still being burned into her mind by the whole process too.

(Akira) A thought just occurred to me.

(Valerie) Go ahead.

(Akira) If the Dark Side is burning certain emotional patterns into your mind, then the ability to selectively erase portions of a person’s mind becomes invaluable.

(Valerie) Such a Force technique doesn’t exist. The Force pattern reasserts itself over the erased sections eventually. Memories return given time.

(Akira) You’re right, a Force technique doesn’t exist that does that. However, there does exist a Codex technique that does exactly that.

   Startled, she turned to look me in the eye in shock. I see I have her full attention now.