Federation-Apocalypse Session Log Index III

Here’s an updated index for the Federation-Apocalpse Session Logs to date, since there are so many that it’s rather hard to keep track of them otherwise.

  1. Session 1: Gathering the group, mission briefing, and setting out.
  2. Session 2: Gating to Greenwald, first Praetorian encounter.
  3. Session 3: Debriefings and Madness Memes.
  4. Session 4: The search for Singular, Into the Underdark.
  5. Session 5: Mind Flayers, Drow, and the Godswar.
  6. Session 6: Shopping with the Drow, Destruction with the Mind Flayers.
  7. Session 7: The Dark Temple and the Negative Realm.
  8. Session 8: The New Imperium and the Tomb Archive.
  9. Session 9: The Moons of Korriban and the Second Silmaril.
  10. Sessions 10-11: The Tomb Guardian and a Break in Baelaria.
  11. Sessions 12-13: Sales Pitches, Singular, the Mirage, and the Mages Guild.
  12. Session 14: The Battletech Wars.
  13. Session 15: Battling Business World and the People of Singular.
  14. Session 16: Trade Negotiations – Singluar and the New Imperium.
  15. Session 17: Business operations on Baelaria.
  16. Session 18: Baelaria, Voidstones, the Mages Guild, and a Holy War.
  17. Session 19: Battle at the Alchemists.
  18. Session 20: Vekxin and Hogwarts.
  19. Session 21: The Crypts of the Baelarian Mages Guild.
  20. Session 22: Assault on Londinium.
  21. Session 23: Beneath Londinium and Into the Guld.
  22. Session 24: The (Mad) Minister of Magic.
  23. Session 25: The Outsider, The Adversary, and Merlin.
  24. Session 26: Aftermath in Londinium and the Crystal Palace.
  25. Session 27: The After-War Party, Minotaurs and Samurai Jack, and Experiments in Core.
  26. Session 28:  Interlude in Core – M and the Military.
  27. Session 29: Not Samurai Jack versus the Minotaurs, the Farmer, and the Bandits.
  28. Session 30: Why not to use nuclear weapons in hand-to hand.
  29. Session 31: Cleaning up – Baelaria, Ealor, and Timeslips.
  30. Session 32: Yoda and the Search for Computer Update Sources.
  31. Session 33: Dragonladies, Mech-Shopping, and Planet Moving.
  32. Session 34: Ryan, Godfire, and Moving Pictsome.
  33. Session 35: Seeking the Rosary of Memory, Moria and the Balrog, Raid Training in Battletech.
  34. Session 36: Recruiting the Balrog of Moria, Into the Underdark, and Stones of Mass Destruction.
  35. Session 36a: Raiding with Child-Soldiers.
  36. Session 37: Return to Ealor, Neodogs, and the Dark City.
  37. Session 38: Leaving the Underdark, Space Battles with Pirates.
  38. Session 39: The Rosary of Memory and Child Protective Services.
  39. Session 40: Counting the Rosary, Jarvain and AA.
  40. Session 41: Guarding the Rosary, the Mind Flayer Archives.
  41. Session 42: The Battling Business World INS, Dating with Dragons, and Singular Investigations.
  42. Session 43: Dragon Dating and the Accounting Department Wars.
  43. Session 44: Into the Linear Realms, Tracing the Madness Memes.
  44. Session 45: It seems there were these two professors…
  45. Session 46: Assault on the FBI.
  46. Session 47: Forging Alliances and Buying Advertising.
  47. Session 48: Tracing Cyborg Assassins.
  48. Session 49: Ambassadors of the Fey.
  49. Session 50: Chaos in Crusader, the Weakening Barriers.
  50. Session 51: Negotiations with the High Lord.
  51. Session 52: The Mad Machine Master.
  52. Session 53: Holographic Warfare.
  53. Session 54: City of the Mind Flayers, Preparations for the Linear Wars.
  54. Session 55: Delving into History. Character Backgrounds.
  55. Session 56: The Birthday Party, Sesame Street, and the Big Bad Wolf.
  56. Session 57: Counterassault on Singular.
  57. Session 58: Singular Gates, Evacuating to Ealor, and Visits Home.
  58. Session 60: Family Matters, Golf, and the Jedi Academy.
  59. A Draconic Interlude Part I: Discipline.
  60. A Draconic Interlude Part II: Coursework.
  61. A Draconic Interlude Part III: Academy.
  62. Marty’s Vacation Interlude (Technically session 59, but listed here to remain in sequence): The Living Galaxies.
  63. Session 61: Napoleonic Werewolf Pirates, Dragon Pets, and Squirrel Unions.
  64. Session 62: The Jedi Academy and the Council of Cardinals.
  65. Session 63: Setting Sail for the Crusader Realms.
  66. Session 64: Battle at the Straits.
  67. Session 65: The Storm at the End of the World, the Death Crusade.
  68. Session 66: The Siege of Jerusalem.
  69. Session 66a: Jarvain’s War.
  70. Session 66b: Interlude; Communications with Computers.
  71. Session 66c: Interlude: Chaos on Ealor.
  72. Session 67a: The Merchant Prince.
  73. Session 67b: Dr Lichstein.
  74. Session 68: The Council of Knights and the Temple Mount.
  75. Session 69: The First Ward War.
  76. Session 70: Preparations for Battle.
  77. Session 71a: Interlude, Runaways on Ealor.
  78. Session 71b: Interlude, Considering Accounting.
  79. Session 72: Affairs in Kadia, Underground Investigations, Priestly Confrontations, Intelligence from Elsewhere, and Tactical Planning.
  80. Session 73: Into the Garden of Eden.
  81. Session 74a: The Council of War and Death.
  82. Session 74b: Ward War II and the Silmarils.
  83. Session 75a: Interlude, Rescue Mission in the New Imperium.
  84. Session 75b: Interlude, Escape from Coruscant.
  85. Session 76: Battles in Jerusalem.
  86. Session 76b: Thawbans Relic Accounting, Investigation of Kevin.
  87. Session 77: Memories of the Fallen. Recruiting Death.
  88. Session 78: Death and the Trickster.
  89. Session 79: Gelman and the Squirrels.
  90. Session 80a: Gelman and the Balrog.
  91. Session 80b: Gelman and the Manifold.
  92. Session 80c: Gelman in Kadia.
  93. Session 81: Abigail and the Class-4 Weapon.
  94. Session 82: Artists and Otters.
  95. Session 83a: Corrigan and the Balrog.
  96. Session 83b: The Balrog at the Disco.
  97. Session 84a: The Dark Side of Magic Squirrel Land.
  98. Session 84b: Abigail’s Investigations.
  99. Session 85a: Neodog Rescues in the Linear Realms.
  100. Session 85b: Revenge of the Evil Doctor.
  101. Session 85c: Catching up on Events Elsewhere.
  102. Session 86a: Bad Contracts.
  103. Session 86b: Working Around the Terms.
  104. Session 86c: Slave-Trading Regulations. Lightening the Darkness.
  105. Session 86d: Marty’s Mid-Life Crisis.
  106. Session 87a: Small Cults.
  107. Session 87b: Child Custody and the Drow.
  108. Session 87c: Coming to terms with Concubines.
  109. Session 88: Reconciliations.
  110. Session 89a: Gelman joins the operations department.
  111. Session 89b: Discussions with the Darkness.
  112. Session 90a: Reminiscence of Apocalypse.
  113. Session 90b: Return to Core.
  114. Session 91a: Dragonworld Investigations.
  115. Session 91b: The Bronze Alliance.
  116. Session 92a: On Many Fronts: Reports from Multiverse.
  117. Session 92b: Action Conference – Where to Intervene?
  118. Session 92c: Car Wars – Battling Business Style!
  119. Session 93a: Against Entropy – Operation Midnight Gardener.
  120. Session 93b: Continuing Destruction, Car Wars II.
  121. Session 93c: Car Wars III and Thrall Visitation Rights.
  122. Session 94a: Visitations and the Lawyers of the Rings.
  123. Session 94b: The Witch-King of Lawyers and Singular Debriefings.
  124. Session 95a: The Winter King Part I, into Crusader.
  125. Session 95b: Mystic China – The Winter Maiden.
  126. Session 96a: Recruiting King Arthur, Trading with Necropolis.
  127. Session 96b: The Children of Ealor and the Lost Fleet.
  128. Session 97a: Salvage Operations and Holes in the Cosmos.
  129. Session 97b: Negotiating for Repairs.
  130. Session 98: The Hoslin and the Tomb.
  131. Session 99: Adventures in Necropolis.
  132. Session 99 Interlude A: Abigail and the Dragons.
  133. Session 99 Interlude B: Abigail and Kevin.
  134. Session 100: The Siege of Gethrid.
  135. Session 101a: The Krul-Vampire Treaty of Gethrid.
  136. Session 101b: Hoxin, Guide to Necrosis.
  137. Session 102a: Events Elsewhere and the City of the Damned.
  138. Session 102b: Ruth runs amuk.
  139. Session 103a: Dr Brenner Expanding.
  140. Session 103b: Dr Brenner in the Manifold.
  141. Session 104a: Ruthless Ruth Investigates.
  142. Session 104b: Father and Daughter Conflicts.
  143. Session 105: The City of Necropolis.
  144. Session 106a: Pyramids and Neodolphins.
  145. Session 106b: Gelman, Abigail, and Meeting Kadia.
  146. Session 107: Ramira, Kelsaru, and System Security.
  147. Session 108a: Escape from Necrosis, The Jesus Realm.
  148. Session 108b: Jenkins versus Jenkins, Todd’s Escape.
  149. Session 108c: Lord ZERO versus the Squirrels.
  150. Session 110: The Rescue of Sir Quincy.
  151. Session 111: Working with Werewolves, the Persona Chip.
  152. Session 112, Midnight Gardener, Capturing Vekxin.
  153. Session 113a: Interrogating Vekxin, Introducing “God”.
  154. Session 113b: Heading for Inversion, with Xellos.
  155. Session 114a: Thrall Missions – Todd’s Pathbooks.
  156. Session 114b: Thrall Missions – Lord ZERO and Jenkins versus BBW.
  157. Session 115: En route to Inversion – the Wookie World.
  158. Session 116a: Kevin, Marty, and the Rats of NIMH.
  159. Session 116b: The Rats of NIMH and the Yellowstone Supervolcano.
  160. Session 117a:  Reports from the Manifold, Child Kidnappings.
  161. Session 117b:  Thrall Missions – Child Rescue Operations.
  162. Session 118a: Arrival in Inversion.
  163. Session 118b: Inversion, Breaking and Entering 101.
  164. Session 119: Plumbers, Loonies, and The People of Inversion.
  165. Session 120: The Lend-Lease Program, History of Inversion and “God”.
  166. Session 121: Heading for Berlin, Hijackings, and The Grand Tour.
  167. Session 123: Prison Break in Inversion.
  168. Session 123a: Negotiations in Kadia, Planning the Assault on Inversion.
  169. Session 123b: Consulting the Church, the Infiltration of Inversion.
  170. Session 125: Catalysis, The Transformation of Inversion, Neanderthals.
  171. Session 126a: Jenkins Vrs ZERO, Holly Vrs Kadia.
  172. Session 126b: Gelman and the Rabbi.
  173. Session 127: Jenkins and the Numbers Vrs Mr Leland and Opossums. NIMH and the Authorities.
  174. Session 128: Grenwald for the Neanderthals and Reforming “God”.
  175. Session 129: M, Multi-Identities, the Silmarils, and Morgoth.
  176. Session 130: The Silmaril Wars, Opening Salvos.
  177. Session 131: The Silmaril Wars, the Vala and the New Imperium.
  178. Session 132: Recruiting in Heaven, Empowering the Forgelight.
  179. Session 133: The New Imperium and the Hellstorm War.
  180. Session 134a: Martin in Kadia, Ryan’s Investigations.
  181. Session 134b: Project Midnight Gardener goes public.
  182. Session 134c: The Once and Future Dr. Brenner – Prophet.
  183. Session 135: Boarding the Hellstorm.
  184. Session 136: Marty Vrs Revan.
  185. Session 137a: Falling Back to the Forgelight.
  186. Session 137b: The Imperial Debriefing.
  187. Session 138a: Martin Senior – Arrival in Kadia.
  188. Session 138b: Martin’s Casino, Jenkin’s War, and Limey’s Rebellion.
  189. Session 138c: Marty’s Younger Siblings.
  190. Session 138d: Disciplining Limey; quotations from the Book of Threats.
  191. Session 139a: The Council of the Traditions.
  192. Session 139b: Policy Review, Todd, Limey, and the Number Lords.
  193. Session 140a: The Core Investigation, Gathering of Experts.
  194. Session 140b: Preliminary Interviews; Gelman and the Harem.
  195. Session 140c: The Visiting of Family; interview with Temerin.
  196. Session 140d: Thrall Assignment Policies and the Investigation Report.
  197. Session 141: Child Protective Services, Puffin Wars, and Vacationing with the Anthropomorphous.

Along these lines we have a Current Timeline (and the previous  Timeline Update), a Current Projects list (and the older Things to Do list), and a Session Timeline to help keep track of plots and developments. A timeline update will be next.

Eclipse d20 – Rahne Diende

Rahne Diende

Level Four Human Healer

Rahne is an idealistic young woman who feels that her magical talents are a gift that she is meant to use to make people’s lives better – a quest that she combines with her personal quest to see the world.

Unfortunately, the world is proving unexpectedly difficult; her tendency to heal people for free means that she rarely has any money (even if she’s rarely short for a meal) and her naivety gets her into a good deal of trouble along the way. Still, there’s nothing that gives her more pleasure than to do what she can to help those less fortunate than herself.

Physically, she’s slender, athletic, slightly below average height, and usually has blue hair – although her life magic allows her to grow it out in whatever color she likes with a simple spell.

Personally, she’s easy going and has a good heart – although, with the inexperience of youth, she can be outspoken, headstrong and downright stubborn when she feels strongly about something. While she doesn’t shy away from combat should it be necessary, she really isn’t that good at it – although a few defensive spells will let her hold out for quite some time. Nevertheless, if combat is in the offing, Rahne will be best off finding companions.

Available Character Points: 120 (Level Four Base) +10 (Disadvantages) +6 (Human Bonus Feat), +18 (The campaign is awarding two bonus feats at level one) +8 (Duties) = 162

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Int 14, Dex 12, Wis 16 (18), Con 12, Cha 16 (18).

Level Four Attribute Bonuses: +1 Charisma.

  • Hit Dice: L1-4d8 (8, 6, 8, 6, for 16 CP). Hit Points: 32
  • Base Attack Bonus: +2 (12 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Saving Throws: +2 each (18 CP).
    • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +1 (Con) = +3
    • Reflex: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +1 (Dex) = +3
    • Will: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +4 (Wis) = +6
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +4 (Force Armor) +1 (Dex) = 15
  • Skill Points: 19 (CP Spent) +14 (Int) +8 (Fast Learner) +14 (Enhanced Racial Bonus) = 55
  • Usual Weapon: Staff +1 (+2 BAB, -1 Str), 1d6-1 (Str), Crit 20/x2

Special Abilities:

  • Upgrade human Fast Learner ability from Half Cost to Double Effect (3 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP).
  • Adept x2: Pays half cost for Rune Casting and Mastery (Life and Healing), Rune Casting and Mastery (Spirit), Spot, Heal, Knowledge/Nature, and Knowledge/Religion (12 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses (12 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Adds (Cha Mod) to (Wis Mod) with respect to Wisdom-based Skills (6 CP).
  • +9d6 Mana, Specialized/only for Rune Magic (27 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +18 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only works after sleeping for at least a few hours, can only be used to restore Mana (10 CP). Note that any uses “left over” after restoring her mana reserve in the morning may be used after napping later in the day.
  • Evasive/may cast spells in melee without provoking Attacks of Opportunity, Specialized/only works with healing and protective spells (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP effective value, 6 CP). (Note that this cost 416 XP to activate).
    • Force Armor I (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Use Only = 1400 GP).
    • Enhance Attribute/+2 Wisdom (as above, 1400 GP).
    • Enhance Attribute/+2 Charisma (as above, 1400 GP).
    • Detect Magic (as above, but not personal-only, 1000 GP).


Skill Base SP Stat Bonus Total
Rune Magic / Casting
-Divination +2 2 +8 +10
-Life and Healing +7 3* +8 +15
-Spirit +7 3* +8 +15
-Wards and Shields +2 2 +8 +10
Rune Magic / Mastery
-Divination +1 1 +8 +09
-Life and Healing +7 3* +8 +15
-Spirit +7 3* +8 +15
-Wards and Shields +1 1 +8 +09
Heal +7 3* +8 +15
Spot +7 3* +8 +15
Knowledge/Nature +7 3* +2 +2 Sy +11
Knowledge/Religion +7 3* +2 +09
Sense Motive +7 7 +8 +15
Survival +7 7 +8 +2 Sy +17
Diplomacy +7 7 +4 +2 Sy +13
Swim +4 4 -1 +03

Rahne is a formidable runemaster – capable of casting spells of Life/Healing and Spirit Magic of up to level four at an effective caster level of eight, and of erecting wards and shields or casting divinatory spells of up to level two at an effective caster level of five. While she is a poor fighter, she is a capable defender – and can heal or enhance her allies in a variety of ways via life/healing and warding magic.

Rahne’s Further development will probably involve Reflex Training (to let her erect emergency defenses and shields), the Magician and Runic Ritual modifiers for Rune Magic, the (reluctant) development of some form of offensive ability – and continuing to expand on her Mana reserve, skills, and other basic abilities.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 141 – Of Plasma, Penguins, and Puffins

A polar bear at the Central Park Zoo in Manhat...

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Kevin and Marty’s return to Kadia had started off with a bit of an explanation for Gelman. Kevin had been about 60% of the way along in rebuilding himself – but that still meant a seething cloud of glowing molecular fragments being assembled.

(Gelman) “All right… what’s with the vaguely-person shaped ball of fire?”

(Marty) “That’s Kevin. He blew himself up protecting me from a Sith Lord’s Force Lighting, and he’s still alive. Somehow.”

(Gelman) “Blew himself up and survived as that?!”

(Marty) “Yeah. He’s healing up, though. Should take only a few more hours. I gotta say, I would have been dead meat without him.”

(Gelman) “And at what point did taking on a Sith Lord seem like a good idea? Or is this another one in the “It’s Marty” category?”

(Marty) “Well, Kevin and I thought it would be the best way to stop the invasion. It worked, too! Now ramming his ship with ours counted as ‘That’s Me.'”

(Gelman) “So what major villain of the Manifold are you heading to face next? Some eldritch abomination that consumes stars?”

(Marty) “Nah, we just fought him. Now we’re going on vacation.”

(Gelman) “Right… I suppose the Linear Realms is still the priority at the moment?”

(Marty) “As far as I know. They’re still being hit pretty hard.”

(Gelman) “Well that keeps things simple at least.”

Marty, having read the benefits that Kevin was giving now, arranged a nice gift for Gelman. He’d have an extra burden for a bit, and he’d never really signed up to be manager for a major segment of a cosmic war.

Kevin, meanwhile, was completing restoring himself – and was passing the word to the Thralls to keep an eye out for Ryan. Hopefully he hadn’t gone and inherited the Hellstorm’s massive evil power again. That could get very bad – although he had resisted it before of course. Still, if he followed true to form, he’d accidentally spawn a dozen new menaces purging himself of it again, and the last thing the Manifold needed was more insane godlings to go with the simulacra already running around loose! Just like HE didn’t need competition, even if his head start would be bloody difficult to overcome at this point!

After that – and when he was corporeal again – he settled down to relaxation and recovery for a while.

Unfortunately, Kevin’s pleasantly distracting relaxation period was rudely interrupted by a pair of operatives from Ealor’s Child Protective Services.

Kevin nearly chocked on his malt. Who’d let Child Protective Services get to Kadia? They were pests!

According to the computers… They’d claimed refugee status when they were denied entry, and had shown that they were being ”persecuted and oppressed” by the New Imperium Government and then the rules for entry as refugees had kicked in. What had the New Imperium… No, wait; he could guess. They’d been told to “Shut up and go away”.

Drat it! He’d thought that the entire organization only had one or two live people, and that most of the idiocy was courtesy of the local computers!

Not surprisingly, they were fussing about practically everything – but their biggest complaint was the enslavement betting matches, closely followed by the lack of adult supervision

Oh for…

(Kevin) “The kids need to be ready to deal with the Manifold. If they’re silly enough to get into trouble here – despite all the warnings – they could get HORRIBLY messed up out in the rest of the Manifold. If it takes twenty years on a leash to keep them out of trouble while they pick up an education, it’s really no big deal; they don’t age here, can’t die, and get all kinds of opportunities even as “slaves” – which is pretty light duty for about four hours a day! As for the “Betting Matches”… unless they’re betting with each other – which IS legal once they’re of age – that’s just the juvenile delinquents drawing lots to see who gets spanked!… Well, OK, there may be some of-age youngsters who want to gamble mixed in, but they ARE of age, and so if they want to play a high-stakes game, that’s their business! Now GO AWAY. I’m still adjusting my new body!”

OK, that was a bit misleading… What he wanted to “adjust” had more to do with hormones than physical adjustments, but it promised to be a lot more fun than dealing with Child Protective Services again!

Of course, so was wallbanging.

The Thralls hauled the Child Protective Services bunch away… That was weird really; the last actual human they’d met from CPS had been sensible. Perhaps she’d been the only one and these were just the other two? There couldn’t be THAT many habit-bound CPS agents; Ealor had only had a few hundred children… Maybe these were phantasms?

(CPS Agent, shouting) “You can’t just dismiss us, we will be back, and you will regret this!”

Kevin couldn’t be bothered checking. He had to issue some orders… “Refugee” status was not supposed to be enough all by itself! You were only supposed to get approved to stay as a refugee if your entry was approved normally already! Demons and things didn’t get to take refuge in Kadia just because another demon – or perhaps an angel – was after them!

Fortunately, no one else seemed to have gotten in via loophole… Trouble was, Ealor was on the “known and reasonably friendly” list anyway, they could have just applied normally – and would probably have been approved anyway – especially since Ealor was on record with an open rescue mission.

Oh yes! Being yelled at, or told to “go away”, or even being booted out of someone’s residence, was NOT enough to get you classified as a refugee unless there was a lot more to it! USE SOME JUDGEMENT…

Gaah! Now he needed that neck rub more than ever!

With Kevin still drowning his sorrows – or leftover trauma from being vaporized – in a barrel of sensuality, Marty had a few minor items to pursue. He’d been monitoring what was going on in Battling Business World – and, while it was lurching towards a major reset, the Number Lords were still holding it back. Still, ever-more oddities were popping up as they placed more and more stress on the structure of the realm…

At the moment, New York was having issues with the Central Park Zoo and there was a booze shortage (?). Was the Tux Brigade operating in his realm’s Central Park Zoo again? That might even explain how there could be a booze shortage when neither he not his father were present!

He slipped back into Battling Business World to check…

Reports were a bit confused on the matter, but it looked like – in the interim after Lord Zero’s attacks stopped – a war had broken out around the Central Park Zoo. Small flightless birds were duking it out in massive numbers and the property damage was escalating.

Well, that sounded like an organizational power struggle. Marty headed in to investigate. It had been a bit since he’d visited home!

Near Central Park almost every car was a smoking or burning ruin. The sounds of weapons fire could be heard echoing through the streets. Explosions rocked the ground beneath him as he crept through the streets.

Once Marty would have strode in shouting “What’s going on here!?”, but now – now that he was over his love of violence – he simply wanted to get to Central Park Zoo and see what was going on with as little fuss as possible. Fortunately, he’d gotten good at that too.

Peering around the twisted metal, fallen lumps of brick and mortar, and the still-burning wreckage Marty could see that the park was awash in a tide of black and white. It looked like two small armies were fighting each other in hand to hand combat, with the occasional use of flame throwers, clubs, and swords, and projectile vomiting of all sorts of disturbing things at each other. Some of them looked – especially a bunch at the center of the defensive line – looked familiar from the Car Wars… the Tux Brigade was definitely involved.

Something about the attacking force seemed wrong though… He was no naturalist – but they didn’t quite look like penguins to him. Their beaks were black and orange with a little bit of yellow. They had a dutch accent, and walked more like normal birds as opposed to how penguins walked. They were black and white like penguins though.

Were the avian species fighting for dominance? Well, the Tux Brigade had offered him training!

He pulled on a tuxedo and put on a stray traffic for a beak… Huh. Not that long ago, he wouldn’t have realized just how silly it was that – in Battling Business World – that would probably work! He really was becoming a citizen of the Manifold… That was sad in some ways, but liberating in so many others – and growth always did leave leaving something behind.

It worked too! It was like revisiting a childhood friend, and finding that they hadn’t changed a bit

Meanwhile, back in Kadia, Kevin had settled into his new body – and had re-established his secondary aspects. Along the way, he’d gotten lots of sympathetic attention from his harem, dealt with the foolish young dragons in the cells who’d thought that his odd vanishing had signaled his death – or at least a good time to jump him – over in the dragonworlds, had the roman imperium estate running properly again, and had his projects (or at least a secondary vacation) back underway with several of his identities.

One of the penguins on the defense notices Marty as he approached the front lines from the rear.

(Penguin) “My you are a big one! Are you some sort of insane mad scientist experiment? The humans are really good at those!”

(Marty, removing his cone) “Hey, I just got back into town! What’s with this? You guys need help?”

(Penguin) “Awww, I thought you were some sort of ill-tempered mutated emperor penguin! Anyway, the Puffins are attacking and trying to take over our made forward base in the northern hemisphere. They were hoping that in the aftermath of the evil number god’s attacks that we wouldn’t be prepared. Little did these danes know that penguins are always prepared!”

(Marty) “Sorry, I’m just short and chubby! Want me to do some backstabbing on their end?”

(Penguin) “Ya, if you can get the leader, then the rest will get bogged down in determining who is next in charge, they will be playing paper rock scissors for weeks!”

(Marty) “Any idea where that waste of feathers is?”

(Penguin) “Probably the one insulting the commander from atop that light pole over there.”

There was a lamppost that looked like it belonged on Sesame Street slightly behind the Puffin lines. An oversized puffin perching on it was saying all sorts of awful things about the quality of the commander’s mother’s regurgitated cooking.

Right! Like his mom could do better! Marty ducked behind cover and had Elera cast a flying spell on him while Minel turned him invisible – then rose up like the wrath of god to fly up and attempt a nice, full-force, stabbing, going right for the bird’s beak! His knife sank into the puffin’s beak as he opened it to launch another biting insult. The knife sank in – and all the hot air rhetoric got stuck in the puffin’s throat, unable to escape! The puffin begins inflating rapidly…

Marty grabbed the beak, pulled out his knife, and tied the beak shut. It was hard – the words stuck in it’s throat started to come out as he pulled the knife out – but as he quickly tied it’s mouth shut a look of panic entered it’s eyes. The puffin was now the size of a beach ball and was swiftly growing larger.

(Another Puffin) “He’s going to blow! Run for it!”

Marty hurled the puffin towards the sea!

His throw was off, as the puffin started spinning off center like a balloon instead of going off into the distance. However, it swiftly turned an ugly shade of green.

(Penguin) “If he wasn’t going to blow before, he going to now! Take cover!”

Penguins, puffins, and Marty, all ran for cover with comical expressions of panic! There was much chaos and confusion as the puffin swelled to four feet in diameter… Marty ducked behind a tree as a massive explosion went off – and a whistling sound went off into the distance. The air was filled with the stench of rotting eggs, and penguins and puffins were passing out as the  disgusting noxious fog swept over them, although it did seem that the penguin command team had managed to acquire gas masks from somewhere… A faint contrail could be seen spiraling off into the sky – and possibly into orbit.

(Marty) “Yeah, I thought your mom couldn’t cook better!”

(Marty, aside) “Well. That went more smelly than I thought, but at least he’s out of commission!”

He had Limey summon a big gust of wind to send the fumes to the nearest landfill – aiming as high up as possible to keep the humans from getting too suspicious – not that Manhattan wasn’t stinky enough with car fumes.

(Commander) “Thanks for your help there higher mammal. You fight like a penguin would, with cunning and valor!”

(Marty) “No problem! Now, I had somebody offer me training before. Does that still stand?”

(Commander) “Ah, that was you now wasn’t it? We can certainly offer that training. What sort of training do you need at the moment? We offer combat, commando, infiltration, and basic organizational training.”

(Marty) “I’ll take the organizational training. Never paid much attention to it in business school.”

(Commander) “Certainly. What type of organization are you trying to run?”

(Marty) “It’s going to be a pocket dimension, a lot like the one owned by one of my associates. It’ll have at least three planets. One for administration, one for fun, and one duplicating Earth. Is that okay?”

(Commander) “A bit larger than our normal jobs, but we can certainly manage. Is the size just for show or an indication of the size of the organization?”

(Marty) “A little of both.”

(Commander) “Very well, give us directions and we shall send a team of trainers and organizational experts to start setting things up.”

(Marty) “Right, I’ll open up a gate to my friend’s dimension! We can do some test runs there.”

Marty notified – who seemed to be a good chunk of the way back to normal by now – that a lot of phantasm penguins were coming into Kadia and requested some sites to test godrealm-building.

(Kevin) “Penguins? Oh, why not…  Can’t be any worse than CPS!”

Temporal Note: since the Federation-Apocalypse game has many different characters in play in several different groups, their timelines require some co-ordination… Most of the events that involve Kevin and Marty from sessions 138, 139, and 140 actually fall into this period – when Kevin is completing his recovery and Marty is more-or-less at loose ends. For those groups, of course, Kevin and Marty are simply putting in cameo appearances during their own activities – which are spread over a good deal of time.

Kevin wanted to visit the anthropomorphic worlds for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one was simply because he’d pretty much concluded that the computers, the Church, and the House of Roses were running interference in Core to ward off “distractions”. The parents of the three Thralls he’d “taken home for visits” were from Core of course – but even that wouldn’t suffice to explain just how calmly they’d accepted the situation; they had to have been briefed in advance. He had thousands of Thralls from Core in his service – and there had been no parental demands, no rescue attempts, and only the most tepid of objections save from a few investigative and crusading types. Even if most of the other worlds were too wrapped up in their own plots to pay attention, Core should be taking more notice than THAT.

The anthropomorphic worlds, on the other hand, were huge and ill-defined. They had no central plot to distract everyone, they had a vast number of local powers – far too many to interfere with at all readily – and they were wide open. Anyone could get there fairly easily. Ergo he could show up with a splash (not quite so easy to trace that everyone looking for him would appear at once – but more than conspicuous enough to let the ones who were really looking start to turn up), make some noise, act out a bit,  and – for once – be waiting for people to come to him, rather than chasing them across the Manifold. With any luck that should winkle out some angry parents, any religious sorts whom he was offending, emissaries from annoyed deities, and stray demons that were after him! There might even be some business propositions about buying or renting Thralls! Or some non-business propositions, or attempts to summon him, or some such! It would be fun!

Kevin had been making preparations. He’d had a ship of his own commissioned (the Nightwind Voyager), had had the Lissefea refurbished and enhanced, and had gotten the crews ready to go – leaning towards Thralls with naval skills. He’d loaded them with the richest of cargoes – gold and fabulous gems, ivory, rare spices, the finest of silks, celestial wines, magical materials and items, masterpieces of art, and other fabulous treasures. Even by Core standards, it was a pricey pile…

For a crew… Thralls of course, shapeshifted into anthropomorphs, mostly as wolves and big cats – matching his own wolf-form. More Thralls as his “personal household” – some shape-shifted to look much younger and somewhat like his wolf-form as offspring-apprentices, a few concubines (mostly wolves, but with a lioness or two), some equines to carry things, and his usual three as a lion, a wolf, and a bear. He’d thrown in a matched set of black-jaguar palanquin-bearers, just to show off. Branded and collared of course, and the house-slaves declawed, as was appropriate in most of the anthropomorphic realms… Even the realms that didn’t recognize predation weren’t big on social equity when their populations were so obviously unequal.

Marty, of course, wanted his crew made up of assorted birds or prey and fancy tropical birds – but that was easy enough to arrange with a bit of shapeshifting and local identities.

In either case… a large, and extremely wealthy and powerful, household – or a set of pirate lords.

Marty wasn’t exactly surprised to find that Kevin had gotten a pair of ships together and loaded them with all sorts of ostentatious goods and slaves – but the lengths to which he’d gone were fairly impressive! He hadn’t seen that much loot… well, not since the looting of London, and maybe not even then!

(Marty) “Wow. If we don’t make a big splash, I’ll eat krill for a week!”

(Kevin) “Er… what? (He ran a search)… Er… Tiny arctic shrimp? What have you been doing Marty?”

(Marty) “Getting staff for my own dimension. Why?”

(Kevin) “Just wondering… why Krill? It’s mostly whales that eat that stuff… and fish and things.”

(Marty) “Penguins too. Say hi, guys!”

(Penguins in unison) “HI!!!”

(Kevin) “Well, those are the most FORMAL birds I’ve ever seen! Hi Penguins!”

(Marty) “This is the Tux Brigade. They’ve volunteered their organizational services, since I need work there.”

(Kevin) “Oh! You mentioned them before! Some sort of undercover formal dress ninja birds?”

(Marty) “Yeah. Anyway, I helped them in their fight against the Puffins of the Netherlands, so they’re helping me in return. Who wants an ice floe corporate headquarters?”

(Penguin #2) “Ooooh, me, me, me!”

(Marty) “Okay! Tell those kids over there Lord Marty sent you, and they’ll get you set up. Now I’m going to be away for a while, but I’ll keep in contact. You guys have fun when you’re not on the clock, got it?””

A very large number of penguins went marching past to meet with the Thralls… Kevin shrugged. OK; why not marching penguins?

(Marty) “Well! Now that my work’s done, let’s get this vacation started!”

(Kevin) “Set sail for the anthro realms! One of the areas we’re getting lots of recruits from!”

Marty settled back… As long as there was swashbuckling and piracy, it would be good! And if they were there, could piracy and conflict be far behind?

It took a couple of days of sailing (long enough for everyone to settle into their roles) before they passed through the mists to make the final transition…

The port in the distance was a sizable city, and looked vaguely appropriate to the renaissance or the age of exploration. There were quite a few ships in port, and a fair number of fishing boats in the local waters. A large and wealth city…

(Marty) “Avast, me hearties! I see plunder!”

(Kevin, a bit more practically) “We’ve already got a hold full! We want to sell things and make room first!”

(Marty) “You can never have too much… oh, okay.”

Kevin posed grandiosely in the prow, his cloak fluttering, his sword prominently on his hip, and an elaborate hat with a long feather on his head! Marty flew up to the parrot’s nest (NEVER a crow’s nest!) and squawked “LAND HO!”!

A small boat flying a green and red flag headed out to meet them. It was probably the harbormaster, and so they refrained from blowing it out of the water. Besides… they were here to trade; why make a bad first impression?

(Kevin) “Well then! And what would ye be wanting?”

(Pompous looking official badger) “I am going to need to be told your names, affiliation, and business here in the city of Gan Trego.”

(Marty) “I be Martin of House MacAw, here to make me fortune and sample yer taverns’ rum!”

(Kevin) “I am Angkor Shadowfang, Captian of the Nightwind Voyager! I am here to see the sights of your fair city, to seek amusement, and to sell my current cargo! What in your little city is worth a bit of coin?”

(Official) “Well if you are here to sell goods, then I am going to have to inspect your cargo and levee a tax. As for the attractions of our fair city, we have magical services, many old and venerated churches to visit and pray at, gladiator combat to bet on, slaves for sale, and of course the market with goods from across the world available… Is there perhaps something in particular you are looking for?”

(Kevin) “Taxes is it? There be no greater thieves than the ones who sit in governmental councils! My hat is off to them!” (Kevin doffed his hat to make a sweeping bow in the general direction of the larger buildings).

Marty/Martin augmented the show with cheery squawking and birdsong (and offered to employ a Fascinate effect to facilitate pitching him overboard if Kevin was agreeable). Kevin, if somewhat reluctantly, had to turn that down for the moment… They were here to trade after all!

(Kevin) “I think perhaps I shall be sampling the shows and social whirl! The courtly dance is always amusing, and perchance there will be over-excitable young nobles!”

He grinned conspiratorially at the badger – with lots of teeth. Sadly, the badger seemed to be very well practiced at ignoring such things.

(Official) “Very well then, will you show me the cargo?”

(Kevin, pointing at youngsters) “Show him the cargo Daviros! I smell… good beer, bad beer, slightly overripe fish, some very good hotpot, entirely too much cheap perfume, (List goes on)… Ah, fresh roasts with spicy sauce – I shall have to have some of that…”

Marty wanted to lock him into the hold, but Kevin had to object…

(Kevin) “No, no… we’re arriving legitimately! How else will we get into parties? Well, OK, we may have to be gatecrashers… There will be time enough to throw him overboard if the taxes are unreasonably high and he won’t take a bribe!”

(Marty) “Oh all right. Besides, he might have a pretty daughter.”

(Official) “All right, I have tallied the value of the goods inside your hold and have determined the tax to be levied. Here is the paperwork for your review.”

Hm… the local taxes seemed a bit… excessive, unless the official was skimming pretty seriously. A quick scan showed that the local taxes were actually reasonable enough (even if they would be a fabulous windfall for the city), but it was quite obvious that the official was taking a rather high percentage off the top – far more than the modest “service fee” that most officials would tack on. Almost as bad, he wasn’t actually offering any useful information, or offering to let some goods in tax-free, in exchange! He was even stupid enough not to realize that skimming a percentage or two off a fabulous cargo was far more likely to be noticed than skimming a bit off a lesser one! He could have tried a far lesser scam, and STILL have been a wealthy badger!

(Marty) “SQUAWK! This be robbery!

(Kevin) “Skimming a bit are we now? And what would your masters say to that if I showed them these papers? (He carefully keep them out of the official’s reach). Shall I have your guts out, or perhaps your balls for souvenirs? I think they would make an entertaining ornament to show your offspring in the poorhouse – or bait for a little fishing!”

(Official) “Well if you have a complaint regarding my assessment, you are free to see the tax assessor’s office and file a complaint.”

(Kevin) “Certainly! Lets go right now! The apprentices can handle the docking…”

Kevin picked the badger up and hauled him along.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 140d – The Last Report

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Kevin, meanwhile, had recovered enough to handle a few things. Rationally or not, the first item on the agenda – at least as far as he was concerned – was Thralls. More specifically, some of the ones that Limey had wound up recruiting.

It wasn’t that the boy had claimed a harem. Limey was perfectly entitled to claim a harem if he’d hit puberty and could manage it. After all, the fact that Limey had to deal with puberty at all was entirely their fault. Laptop computers – even sapient ones – didn’t normally have to deal with adolescence.

His problem was with the Thralls that were involved! The females mostly had jobs as gate-operators and project co-ordinators and such, and were all perfectly entitled to pick Limey to father their kids it they wanted to – but the males were mostly new Thrall-recruits, with no other tasks! There were plenty of major projects underway that called for Thrall-services. Was there really a group of his Thralls who – despite all the powers and abilities he’d given them – couldn’t think of any better way to serve him than to act as simple child-attendants and household servants for one of Marty’s pets? Were some of them really THAT short of initiative? That was very disappointing! It was one thing if HE asked for it – they were HIS property after all – but it was quite another thing if they just couldn’t see that there were better things to do out there! Having Thralls doing nothing but waiting in a harem for their master to return to his pleasures was a serious waste of their time! Even HIS concubines had other jobs when he wasn’t around, they didn’t just lie around waiting for him to call on them!

Admittedly, he and Marty had thrall-aides and guards – but that was because they were doing things that called for them. Their kids were being looked after by Thralls because they needed special care, were threatened because of his and Marty’s activities, and because – as children of wealth and power – they got special privileges! There was no reason for Limey to need Thrall-attendants even if he was fathering children; Limey’s kids would be normal thrall-candidates eventually, and they would be quite safe enough in Kadia until then – just like all the other Thralls children. If he wanted or needed a dedicated harem for some reason, normal indenture-slaves should be quite enough.

Hm. Eventually he’d have to make having some kids a normal part of a female thralls tasks. That way he could keep the human race expanding perpetually!

Kevin spoke briefly with Marty and the various Thralls.

The girls were straightforward; Limey had been abruptly dealing with human instincts, wolf instincts, and adolescence on fast-forward when he’d never even had an organic body before. He was a close associate of Marty’s, and powerful, and had needed them. They were still doing their gatekeeping jobs; the ever-growing Kadia gateway network was currently keeping some 16,000 Thralls busy – and there were plenty move on caravan escort duty.

The males however… They were a few who hadn’t been handed initial assignments, had not been sure of what to do, didn’t have a lot of initiative, didn’t get recruited by Thralls who were running projects and needed help, and who had desperately wanted to get closer to Kevin – or to anyone who associated with him a lot… Aaargh! The thickheaded ones from out on the end of the bell curve!

Fortunately for them, Marty recognized the signs of Kevin’s darkness-fueled temper rising and promptly stepped in to defuse the explosion before the dummies got assigned to permanent harem attendant positions or to Dr Brenner or something. Defusing Kevin was often a very useful solution! It kept the kid from doing things that he’d regret later on! Even if he had to agree that signing up for harem attendant positions just to be working for an associate of an associate of Kevin’s was pretty silly…

Besides… he remembered how hard being a freelancer had been: being abruptly dumped into the job market could be pretty confusing at first!

He suggested setting up some default assignments for incoming Thralls, so that they didn’t have to look for work. After all, given that some of them came from radically different worlds, it was hard to blame them for finding Kadia disorienting at first.

It was a good idea. Kevin promptly set up some default assignments to initial training classes, followed by rotation  through a variety of positions in Kadia until they found one that satisfied them – and assigned a few of those new manager-Thralls to handle it. He hadn’t really considered it before; the vast majority of the Thralls didn’t need explicit directions for everything!

Wait! There was an endless demand for disaster-relief, rescue services, medical aides, and famine mitigation efforts – and that kind of job often led to good publicity and to gaining new recruits as well, which was an extra bonus! Thralls who didn’t show any real aptitude for other jobs, and who didn’t have other preferences, could be routed to those jobs pretty much endlessly. It would be a strike at the Horsemen of the Apocalypse too!

Limey had a request as well; he didn’t actually feel that he needed any harem-attendants (which Marty was quite pleased to hear), but a couple of adventuring-assistants to keep him from being bothered while he cast spells to assist Marty might be handy!

Well, that was easy enough; Marty just assigned him the most physically imposing pair – a couple of kids from the Five Worlds named Antonio and Eduard – and sent the rest back to the labor pool… Hm. It looked like most of them had been from the Five Worlds; they’d apparently been used to waiting for orders before doing anything – and for permission for everything short of breathing. No wonder they hadn’t known what to do when they got turned loose in Kadia with no one to provide directions! Fortunately, it looked like most of the Core Thralls – and virtually all of the ones from the more independent worlds – had a lot more sense than the Five Worlds batch did. Still, the further their operations spread, the more totalitarian regimes they were likely to start recruiting from.

Meanwhile, Kevin had found that there were people wanting to see him – apparently a Core survey group.

Oh blast! Just what he HADN’T needed at the moment, and couldn’t turn down! Well, at least he still had the “recovering from injuries” card to play… It was even still partially true.

He gave them a little time.

The final report was as difficult to compose as Dr Parson’s had expected. Kevin had made more time for them than they’d really expected – but he’d been very hard to read. His habit of multi-tracking all the time made reading his physical responses unreliable; you could never be sure that they were actually related to what he’d just been asked or said.

  • Kevin did indeed seem to consider himself an embodiment of “the darkness” – but he also seemed to define “the darkness” as the instinctive human drives to spread, to dominate, to strike back at whatever harmed or threatened, and to have lots of children. Midnight Gardener seemed to be nothing more – and nothing less – than an attempt to claim all of eternity for the human race and the uplifted animals it was dragging along into its future.
  • He seemed frighteningly easy to impose on. He had – despite being an Opener and thus almost unbindable – apparently been summoned at least once as a Demon Lord, and had answered. In fact, they had felt compelled to warn him not to simply give everyone what they asked for – and to watch out for would-be mates who wanted to exploit him. So much of his will seemed to be bound up in controlling the more malevolent aspects of the darkness that he seemed to have little capacity left to consider other things – and he was self-aware enough to rely extensively on the judgement and decisions of others. That might be why he so readily gave others what they asked of him, and would explain the one notable exception – his refusal to share, or transfer, the powers of darkness; he was afraid of creating another Hellthunder.
  • His Thralls… were adolescents. Like every adolescent, they wanted adventure AND security, freedom from restraints AND firm limits, independence AND someone to love and care for them, the power to act on their own decisions AND someone older and wiser to tell them what to do and take responsibility for it. They wanted skill and power right away, without having to work for it. They wanted all the self-contradictory things that every youngster wanted – and Kevin gave it to them. Their development was indeed being retarded, but they seemed to be in little danger, and were mostly doing work that was useful to the race.
  • Gelman appeared to believe that Kevin was primarily focused on containing the darkness, and so was essentially both allowing the will of the race to steer him around and pretty much giving anyone who asks whatever they asked for simply because saying “yes” was easier than arguing – and it would be hard to say that he was entirely wrong.
  • Kevin himself apparently felt that youngsters who were silly enough to get themselves enslaved in Kadia – despite all the computerized warnings – were too foolish to be let out in the Manifold without a leash. He also apparently felt that a few decades service in Kadia might suffice to get them ready for the wider world – and that the Manifold was coming into their lives whether their parents, or Core, liked it or not.
  • As for his Thralls… his statements indicated that he felt that they had agreed to his contract, were being well paid for their time, and would eventually “graduate” into the Manifold well-prepared for it, able to use many of it’s powers, with a proper appreciation of its opportunities and dangers, and long, long, lives ahead of them to explore and enjoy it. He did not seem to see any real distinction between a Human and an equally-sapient Neodog or Anthropomorph – or any reason why humans should NOT be property. That might be a symptom of being somewhat inhuman himself.

Overall? Kevin possessed enormous power and controlled tremendous resources, but that potential seemed extremely unlikely to become a military threat to the Core Worlds. It was, in fact, far more likely to come to their defense – but he and his operations were certainly a threat to the established ethics and social structure of the Core. Whether that would ultimately be good or bad was beyond their ability to say.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 140c – A Family Connection

Nadyenka and Dr Parson had a more specific source in mind for their next stop. They shared a distant family relationship through Lilian Ardanel – and Temerin, Lilian’s youngest daughter, had opted to stay in Kadia – and was currently supposed to be one of Kevin’s Thralls.

Lillian was pretty worried about her, although she put on a good face when it came up. She might be right to be worried too… If only they could get more than the public information on Midnight Gardener! It showed a frightening level of ambition anyway – and either a lack of all sense of scale or a serious intention to challenge eternity. The boy was certainly thinking on a transhuman scale there – even if the fundamental motive was no more than “I don’t like death!” his humanity was arguable enough at this point anyway.

Finding Temerin was easy enough – although they did stop to talk to a young performance artist along the way. It seemed that he had opted for indenture instead of Thralldom – but had nearly bought himself out of it in less than a year through sheer talent since he was allowed to keep all of his profits beyond a fairly modest daily fee for not taking a work-assignment as a tour guide…

That really was a remarkable bit of generosity on Kevin’s part. Demanding a substantial share of the profits rather than a flat daily fee wouldn’t have been at all abnormal. They bought several of his paintings; the expense account had been under no strain at all so far, so they might as well give the boy the final boost he needed to be free.

Dr Parson’s involvement with that interview gave Nadyenka more time to find out what Temerin was involved in – and it seemed that she was currently working with weaponized meme victims, attempting to trace the source of their exposure and looking for new strains. That was… rather a lot of responsibility for a child of only twenty-eight! [thanks to Core genetic engineering, that’s about equivalent to an old-style fifteen]. For that matter, it was also yet another major, and at least apparently altruistic, project – unless Kevin’s motive was simply to ensure Core’s stability so that he’d have a steady source of recruits. Still, if that was it… why had such a vital project been left in the hands of a self-proclaimed demon lord? Surely there had been an evaluation run when the boy had gotten involved in that field as well!

So many contradictions… Either the boy had no stable personality at all, or he had some of the most elaborately contorted self-justifications in human history!

In recent history anyway. Old-style humans could get pretty crazy.

While the others were musing, Dr Parsons went on a bit ahead.

Temerin was engaging in some light exercise then he arrived – a combination of acrobatics and aerobic dance to music that called for impressive strength, agility, and timing. A rather high-end training exercise for a purebred human, if only mid-level for someone with the right genegrafts – or for a Thrall. At least she was quite blatantly healthy and happy, even if that “happy” might be pretty artificial.

(Temerin) “Great uncle-Albert! How nice to see you! What brings you to Kadia?”

(Dr Parsons) “It’s good to see you too! I noticed you had disappeared, so I thought I would search for you. Your cousin Nadyenka is here as well, and will be along shortly.”

(Temerin) “Oh Uncle Albert! I was home for a holiday, and sent an electronic contact address! Mother was just all nervous wasn’t she after that mess in Masayvril wasn’t she?”

(Dr Parsons) “I’m afraid so, child. Is everything all right? You seem happy enough.”

Dr Parsons was scanning as well… It looked like she really had accepted the Thrall-pact; assorted massive physical, psychic, and magical augmentations, genegrafts, exceptional muscle tone and conditioning, and all. She’d filled out a bit too – probably thanks to the shapeshifting. She was as well-shielded as the rest on most levels, but – like the other Thralls – had nothing to keep him from reading her physical reactions and condition – or from noting her pointy ears, tiny cute fangs, and slight fuzz. What, was lycanthropy – or possibly the old “catgirl” or “wolfgirl” routine IN this month in Kadia? That was what happened when you made voluntary shapeshifting a major feature of a world!

On the other hand, like the rest, she did indeed seem to be fine – and quite happy with the arrangement.

Maysavril had been one of the worlds on the fringe of the New Imperium/Old Sith Empire until the Hellstorm hit it unexpectedly and reduced the surface of the planet to a sea of molten rock. Unfortunately, Temerin had been visiting there at the time and hadn’t managed to reach a gate in time to evacuate. For a time she’d been presumed dead in the attack – although, in the Manifold, there was always hope.

As it had turned out, quite a lot of people – at least the ones with offworld wealth to pay for it or who were most salable – had been taken off by freetraders. Some of Kevin’s agents bought her, and had offered to either send her home with a charge against her credit account in Core or to let her join the Thralls. She’d seen enough of their abilities to find that interesting – and the notion of being able to take care of herself was also appealing – so she’d taken them up on it. After she’d reached Kadia, been briefed, and had accepted the bond, she’d gotten back in touch with her parents – who’d been overjoyed to hear that she was alive, less than happy to hear that she’d been enslaved, and QUITE unhappy to hear that she had then VOLUNTEERED for more slavery!

Confirming that made Dr Parsons quite uncomfortable. Thralldom in the abstract was enough of an ethical problem, having it become a family matter was entirely too close to home. Still, at least she was alive; as long as that was true, almost anything else could be worked out eventually.

It was easy enough to find out why Lilian was looking so strained though; unsurprisingly, no amount of explanations from Temerin had helped things with Lilian – especially since the first reports of her daughters adventures had involved dangerous rescue missions, with her having both legs blown off and nearly dying on one of them.

Dr Parson’s wasn’t so happy about that himself, but at least she was definitely aware of the risks. It was even better that she’d apparently decided to keep things a little quieter for a bit.

(Dr Parsons) “Sigh… you do realize your mother is unhappy about this, of course.”

(Temerin) “She thinks I’ll get hurt… I did stop taking rescue missions to try and calm her, but it’s not like I could get killed or anything! Kevin doesn’t allow that!”

That was still the rub; Kevin delivered what he promised – but the price he demanded could be abused so readily!

(Dr Parsons) “I know, dear.”

As the rest of the group arrived, Temerin cheerily waved, gestured, cleaned up instantaneously, and flipped down from the exercise area to give Parsons and Nadyenka welcoming hugs.

(Temerin) “Hey Nadyenka! Why are you here? You worried too? I’m just fine you know!”

(Nadyenka) “If you say so.”

(Temerin, not being stupid) “You don’t approve – but they rescued me, and gave me a chance to rescue other people and really do things that needed doing!”

(Nadyenka) “For what purposes, though? Have you thought about his motivations? CAN you?”

(Temerin) “Yeah! He likes to have people in general be happy and expand – and he likes to have more Thralls sign up! And why shouldn’t we?”

Nadyenka really didn’t have an objection to that quite ready… It was outrageous, and it was targeting children, and she didn’t approve – but she was stymied in looking for a LOGICAL objection.

Dr Parsons had been probing as deeply as he could – at least on Temerin he had a baseline to work with – and the Thrall-augmentations were just as major as he’d come to suspect. There was no remaining trace of damage or trauma; it looked like the transformation had wiped all that away. Her stress levels were good – but she practically radiated eagerness to please Kevin – like all the rest – and utterly accepted her status as property right down to the instinctive level.

She did still like to help people at least…

Generic lycanthropic powers, but – at least for a Thrall – that seemed to be a very minor thing, and might just be a training package. She was also about two weeks pregnant at the moment.

Lycanthropy never got any less disturbing… Wait, she was pregnant?!

Dr Parsons elected to ask telepathically, since he wasn’t sure Nadyenka was going to react.

(Temerin, mentally) “Oh? It shows already? I decided to get pregnant by young Limey Tabard! He’s really cute, and he’s extra powerful, and he works directly with Kevin and Marty!”

(Dr Parsons, mentally) “That’s an odd name. Is it his actual name or just a nickname?”

(Temerin, mentally) “Oh, it’s Limey Remiliard Akeveron Tabard really!”

(Dr Parsons, mentally) “Is he a werewolf? A human?”

(Temerin, mentally) “Oh he’s a werewolf! And a weremachine! And a lot of other things, as well as being a bit younger than I am – but he has lots of energy!”

(Dr Parsons, mentally) “I can’t even BEGIN to imagine what the baby will look like. But you’re clearly well-supported here.”

(Temerin, mentally) “Oh of course! Lord Kevin takes good care of everyone – and he makes special provisions for anyone who’s having a baby!”

(Dr Parsons, mentally) “That’s good.”

Oh dear! Was Kevin is trying to BREED thralls? What were those benefits?

Oh. Public records. Virtually EVERYTHING was public records… Was that intentional policy, a leftover childhood assumption, or a carefully-crafted front? In any case… Larger quarters, child care, larger luxury allowance, assignments in Kadia with flexible hours and such to allow parents to spend time with their children (and to make sure that the children remained in Kadia, where nothing seriously bad could happen to them, until they were of age), and – apparently – Kevin’s general seal of approval.

Well, at least he wasn’t forcing them to have children – although further investigation was certainly in order. Still, she was far, FAR too young! People didn’t normally start families until they were at least a hundred and had settled down in life a bit! (Well, OK, a few overeager types started around forty). Her family was NOT going to be amused!

Well, there was nothing that could be done for Temerin; she’d accepted accepted the deal, and apparently Kevin was incapable of revoking it. They could set up more regular communications, and tell Lilian that – since she had a daughter resident in Kadia, and in Kevin’s service – she could just come and visit readily enough.

The report – to both Lilian and the military – was going to be awkward. The data was disturbing, yet there were few black and white issues save one; it was hard to find a better deal in exchange for your freedom, dignity, and personhood – but were those things that, even if there was no way to stop the sales, Core should acknowledge that a child could sell? Loosening up had benefited humanity, but to this extent? It seemed so extreme!

Now, they could certainly report strong indications that Galman was right; Kevin was addicted, trapped, and not really in control of the power passing through him. The fact that he didn’t have any purpose in mind for most of the Thralls said that it was the binding itself that drove him. The honesty… spoke of inhuman self-discipline, and he might well have recently become aware that fathering children was a possible self-treatment for binding-addiction.

It would be worthwhile maintaining communication with Gelman. For someone approaching the matter from a religious and philosophical perspective, he had done some rigorous investigation and analysis – and he seemed to be genuinely concerned. There had even been some indications that he might be trying to influence the situation – although he might well get in over his head.

Next up; they’d have to try and see what Kevin was doing in person. So far, at least, there was no indication that simply meeting or talking with him – if that could be arranged – was dangerous, and they still needed more data.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 48

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Alys wondered how they’d reached a position where most of their allies were insane Sith, but didn’t have the time to consider it in depth. She was still holding nearly four hundred war droids – and eighteen hundred bounty hunter ships – in reserve, and that was heartbreaking. There was so much that needed doing, the ships couldn’t do most of it, and she had to hold some forces for emergencies – but that meant that there were people she could have sent them to help and wasn’t.

Hm… Did this make her one of the largest individual receivers of stolen property in the galaxy? Would that help her negotiate with Hutts in the future? She could almost feel her parents disapproval all the way from Coruscant – although she liked to think that there’d be some pride as well.

Blast it, with the orbital communication links out of action, and the government virtually monopolizing the few existing hardlinks, she couldn’t confirm success at more than half of the other shield generators. At least the vast majority of the Sith activity – including all the Artificers, most of the Droid Army, and all of Jacob’s button-pushing disruptions – had been concentrated around them. Most of the other cities should be in considerably better shape!

Also, fortunately, an awful lot of the people in “their” city had opted to take vacations, visit relatives, or otherwise get out of town for a bit when all the Sith had moved in… There were still a fair number of casualties though – and half the emergency services were (of course) droids, and a fair number of those were scrambled, most of the human supervisors had gone on vacation – probably via hacking the droids to cover for them.

She had several of the reserve ships, and a small contingent of the reserve droids set up in the area so that they could easily move to defend her location. It was an odd thought, but at the moment at least she was a pretty vital control nexus herself.

From orbit, at least with the naked eye, it was difficult to tell that the planet was still there; between the plasma-shroud wrapped around the shields and the radiation storm, communications with the planet were down and instrumental readings were so degraded as to be almost useless. The local fleet commander had pulled back to higher orbits in clear space and referred the matter to his experts… All this nonsense was harmless enough of course; the slight burden on the shields was trivial – but it did make marvelous cover, and they might well have a madwoman equipped with multiple antimatter warheads running about. Fortunately, while the planetary shields stayed up, she would not be able to reach the surface. There was a strong possibility of an insurrection of course – a series of unexplained events on an occupied planet was a strong indicator of that, and it would obviously be to such a rebellion’s advantage to strike while the shields were up and communications were down – but he had his contingency plans in place for that.

Ben and Jacob were trying to reach Smooche. It looked like Kira and Lazlo were going to need a private miracle to deal with Lecrouss – and all of his apparatus was committed at the moment.

It proved unexpectedly easy to cross the town… As long as it was simply droids his precognition stood him in good stead, and most of the other groups had better things to do than to get involved with a modest contingent of war droids and a couple of “prisoners”.

Unfortunately, the battle around the spaceport was NOT so easy to get by. Missiles, craters, lots of random fire, droids laying siege versus the spaceport defenses and Smooche’s droids, and half of it on movement-response or semi-random. Enough to swamp immediate precognition.

Not enough to stop longer-scale stuff though. It was just barely possible that he’d get through on a run – especially if he asked Alys to clear out an area and try to overload the starport shields for a bit – but the chance of success was small and the chance of being killed was depressingly high. The only really good odds were with going underground – and most of the spaceport substructure was depressingly solid.

There were a couple of tunnels and trenches though – mostly with squads of droids trying to get through. There was s good possibility that they could use that. Wait. There was another possible entrance… one that the droids weren’t bothering with.

He had Alys do some very hurried research. There was an old tunnel that had been… Sealed off because a ship had crashed over it and left it unstable and it had been… cheaper to seal it off than to fix it. It was too narrow, and too unstable for war droids – so they weren’t bothering with it.


It was still his and Jacob’s best shot. They got their chameleon systems activated, and headed for the tunnel.

Lazlo and I had found an overpass near the stadium that at least gave us some indication of what was going on inside. We could see about 300 droids in the section we had a clear line of sight on. Extrapolating from there gave us over a thousand droids inside the stadium with another two thousand surrounding the place. That was way too many droids to try and handle without one of Ben’s contraptions. Nevermind the Necromantic Artificer I sensed wandering around inside the stadium. I couldn’t get a clear view of Lecrouss himself, but I could see droids hauling in vans full of snacks and such into the stadium. It wasn’t like we had the equipment to do any sniping anyway.

Well, on the plus side, that implied that he wasn’t out to kill the children immediately and was at least putting in a modicum of effort into keeping them calm. That was encouraging on some level but it also made whatever he was planning feel more ominous. In fact, the whole situation felt ominous, like a major storm was approaching over the horizon and I was feeling the chill in the air. Something very important was about to happen and I wasn’t sure what it was. Nor was I sure I could stop it if I had to.

Lazlo spotted a commotion before I did. Looking where he was pointing took a moment for the contact lenses to refocus before I saw a bunch of teenagers heavily modifying a school bus. Details were still hard to make out, but it did look like they were welding plating to the bus along with a nearby stack of missiles.

Oh for the love of….. they couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to believe that would work.

I leapt off the overpass and onto the street below. From there I made straight for the staging area they were using. I heard Lazlo land on the ground behind me as he hustled to catch up. The teenagers saw me before I got to the staging area as they suddenly started lining up with missiles pointed at me. I was readily able to dodge the four missiles aimed at me as I started verbally berating them over the brilliance of their “plan”. Apparently the idiots thought that such “massive firepower” pointed my way would be enough to get me to surrender.

The ensuing argument wasn’t going anywhere, even if arguing was better than active idiocy, when a yellow blur of to my side caught my eye. A quick glance showed that one of the kids had started up the school bus and was attempting to run Lazlo and I down. Lazlo rolled to the side as I made to leap over the bus. Unfortunately, my power responded a bit more forcefully than I anticipated as I went up at bad angle. I then hit the top of the bus, rolled several times, and then hit the pavement face first. Not very graceful to be sure, I then stood up and began brushing myself off when I heard the beeping of a backup alarm. I only had sufficient time to turn around as the rear door impacted my face.

That knocked me back down, and the bus proceeded to back over me. Then, once I was firmly in the middle of the repulsor field, it parked. This was embarrassing to say the least as I looked at the underside of the bus above me. I saw one of the kids try to attack me with a welding torch only to find that the repulsor field was deflecting the flame. Annoyed, I gave serious thought to just using my full power to stand up and throw the bus off of me. That at least would intimidate the teenagers and maybe convince them to drop this insane plan of theirs.

Meanwhile, Lazlo was taking small arms away from the youngsters… Apparently they were smart enough to avoid trying to use missiles in a small area… And were apparently trying to avoid drawing the attention of the war droids.

Wait; how were they managing to avoid being picked up by the droid patrols? They were well within the defense perimeter already.

Alys was wondering the same thing… Had they managed to hack the droid programs while an Artificer was in direct control of them? That would be an incredible feat… No; they’d hacked the city records the war droids were using; they’d… simply listed a dozen or so areas, and some of the entryways to the stadium as being impassable or unusable – and the droids were simply ignoring the places where people couldn’t be.

That was actually pretty clever – and another strike against he “droid army” idea – but there had to either be some reason why it wouldn’t work or something fouling up precognition – or Lecrouss would have picked up on it already.

Hm. Actually that was kind of discouraging. No wonder people thought that only a Jedi could stop a Sith; if they were likely to be stopped by anyone who couldn’t avoid precognition, they just didn’t show up.

Meanwhile, back with Kira…

No, probably wasn’t smart to do that while I was this annoyed. I am not going to fall to the Dark Side just because some punk kids managed to run me over with a bus. Well, if using Force abilities was out of the question right now, then there was only one thing left to try. Stepping into Hypertime, I felt the effects of the repulsor lessen significantly. I rolled to one side and then resumed my verbal assault on them. I heard the school bus start up again as the driver made to run me over again. This time I was ready for it.

Entering Hypertime once again, I rammed my fist through the windshield and removed the keys from the starter. I then leapt back onto the street in front of the bus and twirled the keys on my finger. I saw Lazlo had systematically disarmed the other teenagers of all their missiles as well. The driver looked at the hole in the windshield, the glowing hot sections of the hood where my feet had been, and then at me taunting him with the keys. He determination then wilted at that point.

They finally agreed I wasn’t likely to be a Sith since I hadn’t even bothered to kill any of them. There were still a good number of arguments regarding Ben’s destruction of the universe, hacking droids, my competence, and trying to remain hidden. We determined that they had more school buses being prepared like this one and I got Alys to send some droids to them all to start coordinating this nonsense. It looked like their plan was nothing more than drive in – relying on the droids not starting to fire immediately for some reason – and fire volleys of missiles at Lecrouss in hopes of overwhelming him before he could kill the kids.

I can’t believe they would consider something so idiotic. The number of children likely to die in that scenario was staggering. Even if they did win, the casualties would make it a symbolic victory for the Sith and dishearten the population even further. That can’t be allowed to happen when we are so close to liberating the place. I told the teenagers to go home and find shelter, but they insisted on being prepared to intervene if I screwed up. They especially were not happy to find out my plan was to enter, talk, and try to stall as long as I could for either my companions to do something, or for Lazlo and I to try to kill Lecrouss.

Alys came over the commlink and said something about the kids having set up multiple dead zones of some sort to keep the Sith droids from finding them. Not really understanding what she was describing verbally, I told her to do what she could to prevent Lecrouss from getting more children while keeping these teens from doing something stupid. She didn’t seem happy with the idea, but went along with it for now.

Out at the spaceport, Ben and Jacob had reached the tunnel entrance – and Jecob promptly used his lightsaber collection to slice through the seal.

Unfortunately, that drew the attention of the Droids – and so Jacob tried to pick up Ben and go for a high-speed flythrough. Between Ben’s precognition and his droid-brain augmented piloting system, he nearly made it too. He was approaching the crater that would let them exit inside the spaceport when he dodged a partial blockage and found that there wasn’t any floor to repulse himself from.

Ben promptly provided a panicked force-boost up – while Jacob poured power into his repulsor systems to boost himself off the walls. Between them, they were abruptly headed for the ceiling at very high speed.

Jacobs armor and shields were not enough, although the shield-overload cracked the pavement above. He was stunned by the collision – but Ben figured that he was going to die. He REALLY wanted Kira’s phasing ability right then (and the player had banked enough XP to buy it on the spot). He passed through the stone like a wisp of mist, and found himself drifting up into the sky as a see-through ghost.

Naturally enough, he concluded that he’d been killed instantly – and dropped back to first rescue, and then haunt, Jacob.

Jacob was not pleased at the prospect of being haunted until he died or got eaten by Zandramas, but it was hard to argue with a cranky force-ghost.

With more controlled levitation Ben helped Jacob get out of the pit, and then into the spaceport – and Jacob promptly got poked by one of Smooche’s droids and… instantly frozen?

How was that… a subspace transfer. Instantaneous loss of radiant energy. Damned close to absolute zero in a single instant. Clever, if impractical for normal folk… The droids stuck Jacob in a freezer for later thawing (or disposal) and – since force ghosts were Smooches business – pointed him towards the lab.

Wait, if he was a force ghost, how could the Droids see him? Was it just that they were being boosted by an Artificer? At least Smooche was willing to thaw Jacob and help set up the electricity-draining effect to help out Kira with the droids.

Meanwhile, some of the better bounty hunters had been doing some signal-tracing – which wasn’t easy at the moment. They’d narrowed Alys position down quite a bit, and were headed that way. They wanted their ships back – and it looked like whoever was behind the hacking might really be the group mastermind. A big prize, especially with all those stolen Sith resources…

Back with Kira and Lazlo…

That left Lazlo and I walking towards the stadium. Eventually once we got close enough, one of the droid patrols intercepted us and demanded to know who we were. Identifying ourselves as Kira Keldav and Lazlo, the droids then proceeded to demand we surrender. Which led to a most…. interesting scenario as we surrendered and the droids were confused as to what to do about it. When asked, the droids then revealed that they had been ordered to apprehend some 2,416 individuals. 314 of those had been dead over two hundred years. Another 689 were believed to be fictional, and the remaining 1,413 were probably not within a thousand light years of this world.

That was….. disturbing. I mean, Xiang being unable to distinguish what was real and what was fantasy was one thing, but this was on another level of delusion entirely. It looks like Lecrouss was even unable to tell that someone had been dead for centuries. Either he was that focused on his task, or something else had badly damaged his mind to this extent. What information we got from Ichara and Smoche was that Lecrouss was more than a bit odd, even by their standards.

Eventually the droids decided to escort us to Lecrouss to get further directions. They then proceeded to disarm me as best they could, but only found the lightsaber on my belt. All the stuff I had hidden in secret pockets was nicely overlooked. Once inside the stadium, I could see approximately a thousand children in here and close to five hundred droids on the inside. Droids were busily handing out snacks and treats while also keeping the children divided into two groups.

They had a problem with Lazlo too, since he was listed as an indestructible bioweapon – and was supposedly capable of nigh-infinite feats of strength. As a Jedi, disarming Kira just meant taking away his lightsaber. Disarming Lazlo was impossible… Ergo, they rummaged through the listing of restraints until they found one for immensely-strong entities that was supposed to be unbreakable.

They insisted that he take a Wookie oath of surrender before letting him in.

Why they were keeping them divided was unclear, but we saw Lecrouss walking amongst one group. As he touched each child in turn, the child would then be escorted to the other group. All I was initially able to sense was that something really weird was happening with the Force as he touched them, but Lazlo whispered that Lecrouss was creating links of some sort with the children. Once he pointed it out to me, it became easier to see what was happening.

It looked superficially like the Pyramid Technique Lazlo had learned back on Chyran. However, something wasn’t right with it, as it looked to actually be controlled as opposed to that poorly aimed mess Lazar used. Then I realized why the Force looked so odd while he did it, he was using the Codex to limit the feedback and throughput. At first I thought it a monotalent, but then I saw indications that he was actively balancing the power flows himself. This wasn’t a natural monotalent, but an accurate mimicking of a monotalent using the Force and Codex!

Oh hell.

That meant this nut was a hybrid on some level too. And that he had figured out how to do one of the major tricks that would give a hybrid a major leg up on Sith and Faded. Finally, Lecrouss noticed Lazlo and I and demanded to know who we were. Introducing ourselves didn’t get a lick of recognition. Lecrouss turned to the droids and demanded an explantion. The droids then proceeded to recount a description of who we were, why he had wanted us, and then informing him that we had surrendered to his custody.

The sheer amount of time and information it took for recognition to hit him was disheartening to say the least. I was really hoping for a reaction like Smooche and Ichara where they immediately focused on me to the exclusion of all else while they tried to get the information they wanted. Lecrouss then said something to the effect of “low priority” and then went back to work binding the children.

Lazlo at least succeeded in getting him talking to us while he did it. That slowed Lecrouss down some and got him talking about the process he was doing. From that jumbled mess of mysticism and fictional lore, I got some inkling as to what he thought he was doing and what it might mean with regards to the use of monotalents, but I was going to have to review the recordings of the conversation repeatedly with the others to really make any sense of that load of nonsense. When he started going on about undead stars and the death of the cosmos, I felt the need to point out that not even black holes really were undead in any sense.

This then prompted the question from Lecrouss as to how else to save civilization from “Heat Death” if not through necromantic unlife? I really didn’t want to go into details about the Final Empire, but I did tell him I felt any prognosis about final fate of the galaxy was extremely premature. Lazlo chastised me on believing I could alter the final fate of the universe all by myself. I almost pointed out that the Final Empire recorded our group by names as the people that made it possible to avoid the “Heat Death”.

I wasn’t sure if that was an arrogant argument to make or not.

Jacob, meanwhile, had been dispatched with some of Smooche’s war-droids – while Ben and Smooche built weird devices – to get the stasis generator they’d left behind.

Unfortunately, there turned out the be a Sith, one of Zandramas’s possessed agents, and a bunch of droids trying to investigate it. Apparently the Sith had been trying to push things in with a massive force-ram, and had been exerting hundreds of tons of pressure on something just past the edge of the field (the first droid he’d put in) for hours now.

Jacob managed to dive in despite nearly getting caught – but was unable to keep the Sith from getting a partial link onto him. Worse, he dived in, started to fall, touched the droid that had been being accelerated at hundreds of G’s by the Force-ram for hours, which jerked ahead, and stopped in stasis while he fell to it, and so on repeatedly – thanks to Jacob being a little stunned – until it drilled it’s way through the floor, came out the bottom of the field, and turned into a fireball which blew Jacob back up through the field and – thanks to the stabilizing thrusts of his droid-brain controlled repulsors – straight back up the shaft he’d created to confront the Sith.

He then fell back in – but found the Sith was stronger than he was by a substantial margin, and – now that he had a good telekinetic grip – was pulling him back out.

He pulled the generator to himself – and once the Sith was inside, and was relying on Jacob to supply him with time, dispatched him relatively easily. After that, escaping with the generator, and getting back with it, wasn’t too hard. He was very hard to stop while carrying a second stage stasis generator, even if he was encumbered by another one of Zandramas’s minions.

When he got back to the Spaceport, Ben and Smooche were almost ready to head for the stadium.

Nonetheless, as Lazlo and Lecrouss talked about links, I spent more time watching the process at work. That, combined with Lazlo’s questions and Lecrouss’s answers gave me a better estimate of what Lecrouss was able to use the links for. It did look like the children would get a minor trickle of power flow back along the link so that they would be a little healthier and such, but the majority of the benefit went to Lecrouss. He can a significant power boost drawing on so many like that, and attempts to kill him would result in probably fatal damage being transferred to half of the children at least. This combined with his already considerable power made the prospect of fighting him dismal.

I saw Zandaras’s minion watching us closely, but did my best to shield my Force presence to the level of a minor apprentice. I wasn’t sure enough about what the relationship was between Zandaras and Lecrouss to risk taking out the Zandaras minion just yet. Hopefully I will get enough warning that things are about to go sour to take out the minion first.

Meanwhile Lazlo was able to get some history out of Lecrouss and a bit more on his motivations. Apparently, Lecrouss and his wife had a deep link between them. That sounded like the Bonding thing I’ve heard about in Holos and such where two affectionate Force users become closely linked and share a deep resonating bond. Exact details always seemed to vary with the writers, but in general the whole thing had a mystical romantic air to it.

Lecrouss also had lesser bonds with his children too. Unfortunately, it looked like his family was killed in a space disaster some time ago. The trauma of the loss deeply affected his mind and resulted in a downward spiral into madness. This led to an obsession with reviving his dead family through whatever means necessary. The combination of the trauma, obsession, and Dark Side induced madness had left his mind more or less an empty shell of his former self.

In many ways, I think it would be fair to say that Lecrouss died the day his family did. His body just hasn’t caught up yet. Something about that started sounding alarms in the back of my brain though, but I don’t know why.

The bonds he was creating looked like something I could sever, but Lecrouss was bound to resist the effort once he became aware of it. Unfortunately, he had enough power to readily overwhelm my efforts if he wanted to. Distance would help, but our ability to take the children offworld was rather limited right now, and I wasn’t going to let this madman run loose while we worked on ending the siege.

I really hated to be asking yet another favor of A-Valerie and Akira, but they were growing to be our only choice in the matter. If we could send the children to the Codifier Galaxy to break the bonds, then we stood a chance of pulling it off. But that meant we had to get the children away from him first. Lazlo solved that when he got Lecrouss to agree to let us take the children already processed by him. The order then went out to the droids to give us the right permissions for that.

That neatly cleaned up the necessary point of dealing with the droids once Lecrouss was incapacitated. We could evacuate the children and the droids won’t raise a finger to stop us. Cutting off the supply of additional children should then give us the chance to keep him from linking more while we evacuate this batch. Now we just needed to find a way to incapacitate him before he can give new orders to the droids.

I called Alys over the commlink and asked her to send a ship to let us begin the evacuation process. While we waited for the ship, I heard Lazlo and Lecrouss discussing links again. The conversation had swung back around to necromancy and undeath when Lecrouss then offered a demonstration of something undead. At first I thought he was going to do something to one of the children, but he just waved his hand and announced that they would arrive from the cemetary shortly.

Shortly thereafter a ship appeared above the stadium as it manuevered for a place to land. Suddenly I felt a massive surge of Force power coming from Lecrouss. Turning to look at him, I saw that he had gripped the ship with telekinesis and was steadily pulling it to the ground with raw power. This was even more unnerving when I saw the ship fire it’s thrusters hard to try and counter the effect. Within moments Lecrouss had forced the ship to land and was examining it. Then he dismissed it as just a droid piloting it and flung the ship back into the air.

I asked Lecrouss to leave the ship alone since it was one of ours. This started the line of inquiry from him as to why we had bounty hunter ships piloted by droids, but I deflected that with the comment that we were very good at stealing the property of our enemies. Lecrouss eventually relented and allowed the ship to land. I started directing the children aboard the ship. Soon enough it was full and left and Alys said another one would be arriving shortly.

This led to an argument between all the different party members over what to do with the situation. Ben was not happy to hear I wanted a Trans-Temporal Hypertunnel again. Alys wasn’t happy with the request on my end to evacuate the city. Lazlo wanted to try and reform Lecrouss. I argued that Lecrouss was practically dead and there wasn’t anything left to reform. I argued that Lecrouss was so far gone, he took the cake. On second thought, Lecrouss didn’t just take the cake, he took the brownies, the cupcakes, the doughnuts, and the entire friggin bakeoff. The argument got dropped at that point as it was established that first priority was limiting the damage to the children.

Meanwhile, a commotion had started among some of the children on the far side of the stadium. Focusing my attention in that direction, I saw the children were upset by a pair of shambling corpses coming our way. I quickly verified the…. undead were not hurting the children yet and held my position. Looking at them closely through the Force, I couldn’t really say they were what I would have expected for an undead monstrousity. As best as I could tell, the only reason the things were moving was because Lecrouss was actively supplying energy to it moving. once that ran out, it would shortly thereafter stop.

Not all that different from what Ichara and the other Artificers do with machines.

Lazlo then asked a question about how could such an arrangement possibly be self sustaining. Then my precognition started shouting warnings at me as I saw Lecrouss announce he was going to use one of the kids to give a more effective demonstration. I felt a massive surge of power build up as I can only guess Lecrouss was about to kill the small child.

Without even really thinking, I flashed into Hypertime and tackled Lecrouss with all the power I could. We rolled several times as I felt massive wave of necromatic energy wash over me. That didn’t do any crippling damage so far – although it looked like Lazlo had pulled his grounding trick again and taken most of the blast. He obviously couldn’t survive doing that again though. I could see Lecrouss’s furious face slowly turn to look at me as we stopped rolling and I could sense he was about to fire off another serious blast. Keeping a firm grip on Lecrouss, I reached down with my other hand and pressed the button on the Ultimate Dodge belt Ben had given me. Everything then went white.

When awareness returned, I found myself situated in a swirling mist of blue and white. I could tell I was slowly losing air, but it looked like the Codex environment technique activated unconsciously to slow things down. I pulled out the breath mask I had on my belt and put it on. That bought me more time, but I wasn’t sure how much I needed or whether there was any point to it.

Lecrouss was nowhere that I could see, although the concept of place was more than a bit odd here. At least that meant I didn’t have an insane necromantic Sith out for revenge to deal with right now. Looking down at the Ultimate Dodge belt, I was dismayed to see the amount of heavy damage it had taken. I didn’t need Codex probability analysis to guess the thing wasn’t going to be able to take me back. Given that and the fact Lecrouss was nowhere to be seen, I concluded something had gone drastically wrong with Ben’s design.

Well crap.

The odds of the others being able to mount a rescue were abysmal. Any other form of outside intervention coming into play was inconceivable. That meant I was on my own to figure a way out of this mess. I know intuitive navigation can help with plotting courses through hyperspace, but I wasn’t even sure what traveling through hyperspace even meant in this scenario. That also didn’t give me any clue as to what to do about transitioning back to normal space either. I seriously doubt the Jedi or the Sith had any techniques for moving through hyperspace without a ship.

Blast it!

This day hasn’t gone well from the start. The schoolbus was just an omen to this humiliating disaster. At least I might have given the others time to figure out how to deal with Lecrouss and save the children. That did bring me some small measure of comfort as I “float” wherever I am. There has to be a way out of this….

I then became aware of a strong pulsing link to me. It was the only such thing I could sense out here in this…. mist. Not really understanding what I was doing, I reached out instinctively and grasped that thread. I could sense another person on the other side of it, but the details were hard to make out. Not really knowing what else to do, I gently tugged a few times on the thread and found it to be solid. With that confirmation, I took a firm grip on the thread and pulled myself towards it.

Again everything went white.

Back at the stadium, there had been initial confusion when Kira and Lecrouss had vanished – but they’d kept Lecrouss talking long enough; Ben and Jacob and Smooche had arrived before the Droids had sorted out what to do and shut them down with the electrical-drain trick for long enough for all those kids with missile launchers to blow most of them up and Jacob had used the stasis generator to clean up the remainder.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Lecrouss was both active in hyperspace, capable of surviving there, and capable of projecting his power through the children he was linked to. They’d have to keep them in stasis until they could get them out of Lecrouss’s range.

Hopefully Kira was still alive – but the prospects were dim. He should have gone to wherever Lecrouss had – yet Lecrouss seemed to be free to try and exploit his links with the kids. That didn’t sound good for Kira.

System Inventory

Basic Role-Playing

Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to a special request – “what could we play?” here’s a quick survey of the games currently on my shelves. There are probably a few more buried in boxes and things, and there are quite a lot more on PDF – but it’s hard to hand a PDF to someone at the table and let them leaf through it, so I prefer to run games I actually have a physical copy of if possible.

Obviously enough, this is going to be a giant list: sorry about that, but there’s just no other way. Note that this does NOT include sub-games, supplements, and d20 stuff in general except to note the presence of the d20 category. That would boost the length of this list many times over.

  1. 2300 AD
  2. 7’th Sea
  3. Aberrant
  4. Ace Supers
  5. Ace Agents
  6. AD&D (first and second editions, with innumerable settings and supplements)
  7. Adventure (the White Wolf version).
  8. Adventures in Fantasy
  9. After Wars
  10. Aftermath (a game with the most complex combat flowchart around).
  11. Agone
  12. Alternity
  13. Amazing Engine (with an assortment of worldbooks).
  14. Amber (still one of the few systems out there that gets along without a randomizer).
  15. Apocalypse
  16. Arcanum
  17. Arduin
  18. Aria (a game where characters, clans, and societies use pretty much the same rules).
  19. Army Ants (literally; you play militarized insects battling it out in the back yard).
  20. Ars Magica (one of the few RPG’s that embraces troupe play).
  21. Asylum (where hallucinogens from the sky have made the entire human race psychotic).
  22. Attack of the Humans
  23. Baba Yaga (designed for a WWII game with a bit of mysticism, but a universal system).
  24. Basic Role-Playing System (the base for Runequest, Nephelim, Call of Cthulhu, and many more).
  25. Basic D&D (and assorted expansions)
  26. Bastet (an Old World of Darkness race).
  27. Batman (a stripped-down version of DC Heroes).
  28. Battlelords
  29. Beyond the Supernatural
  30. Big Eyes Small Mouth (the original Tri-Stat system).
  31. Birthright (Included as separate from normal AD&D thanks to the boardgame aspect).
  32. Blood Dawn
  33. Blood of Heroes
  34. Bloodshadows
  35. Boot Hill
  36. Brave New World (a world where your superpowers are usually less effective than buying a gun – and the upgraded version of the game never came out).
  37. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  38. Bullwinkle and Rocky (OK, this one is for kids – but it’s still a role-playing game that includes hand puppets to help you show what your character is doing).
  39. Bureau 13 (if someone wants Ghostbusters, this is a good contender).
  40. Bushido (one of the classics when it comes to oriental role playing games).
  41. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (this would doubtless have attracted me more if I’d ever read the original comic).
  42. Call of Cthulhu (not the d20 version, that’s under general d20. Still a classic).
  43. Castle Falkenstein
  44. Chainmail (again, not exactly a RPG, but ancestral).
  45. Champions / Hero System (1’st through 5’th edition).
  46. Changeling, The Dreaming
  47. Children of the Sun
  48. Chill
  49. Chivalry and Sorcery
  50. Chosen
  51. Continuum
  52. Continuum II (one of my personal rules sets).
  53. Corax (another Old World of Darkness were-race).
  54. CORPS
  55. Cosmic Enforcers
  56. Creature Feature (technically an expansion for Chill, but turning it around to play the monsters is pretty much a whole new game).
  57. Critter Commandos (for kids, but where else can all your soldiers be represented by stuffed animals?)
  58. Cybergeneration (amusing, if unlikely – and featuring nanotech that might as well be magic).
  59. Cyberpunk
  60. Cyberspace (a Rolemaster supplement, but one that really rewrites the world).
  61. Cyborg Commando (not one of Gygax’s better efforts unfortunately).
  62. d20 (3.0, 3.5, Future, and far too many variants to list)
  63. d20 Eclipse Point Buy
  64. d6 (Fantasy and assortment)
  65. Danger Quest
  66. Dangerous Journeys (another one of Gygax’s, and with potential – if a bit turgid in spots).
  67. Dark Conspiracy
  68. DC Heroes
  69. Deadlands (original and d20. A nicely original system and an evocative world. If you want to try it, go for the original).
  70. Demon City Shinjuku
  71. Demons
  72. Dominion Tank Police
  73. Don’t Look Back
  74. Dragon Quest (complete with that wonderful list of summonable demons).
  75. Dragon Hordes (more of a war game really, but some RPG aspects).
  76. Dream Park (a game where your playing a player of a character who can adapt to the game system. Best if you’ve read the books and know what you’re getting into).
  77. Dreamtime
  78. Duel
  79. Dying Earth (the original “Vancian” setting).
  80. Earthdawn
  81. El-Hazard (a Tri-Stat production, but essentially a separate game).
  82. Elfquest
  83. Elric
  84. Empire of the Petal Throne (Tekumal, and a seriously old-style classic).
  85. Enforcers
  86. Everlasting
  87. Everway
  88. Exalted (a nigh-unplayable rules set with errata that – at more than 160 pages – is longer than many games, but with White Wolf’s usual highly-readable fluff).
  89. Expendables
  90. Extreme Vengeance
  91. Fading Suns
  92. Fantasy Wargaming
  93. Fantasy Earth
  94. Feng Shui
  95. Fifth Cycle
  96. Forge out of Chaos
  97. Forgotten Futures
  98. Fringeworthy
  99. Furry Pirates
  100. Fusion
  101. Galactic Underground
  102. Gamma World (in both original and updated styles).
  103. Gangbusters
  104. Gatecrasher
  105. Gemini
  106. Geriatric Wars
  107. Ghostbusters (honestly, I’d use Bureau 13; it’s a lot more flexible).
  108. Giant Psychic Insects from Outer Space (OK, technically this goes with Don’t Look Back – but how could I pass up including this title?)
  109. Godlike (a one roll engine game, with a bunch of sample characters on this site under the “other games” tab at the top of the page).
  110. Godsend Agenda
  111. Greeping Death
  112. Gurahl (another Old World of Darkness subrace, but of some interest).
  113. GURPS (Cyberpunk, Discworld, Horror, Ice Age, Illuminati U, Lensman, Martial Arts, (The) Prisoner, Riverworld, Space, Special Ops, Supers, Swashbuckling, Time, Wild Cards, etcetera).
  114. Gypsy (Old World of Darkness)
  115. Hahlmabria (a very generic, and extremely forgettable, D&D clone).
  116. Harnmaster
  117. Heavy Metal
  118. Hengeyokai (Old World of Darkness East)
  119. Hero Wars (Glorantha)
  120. Heroes Unlimited
  121. Heroes Forever
  122. Heroes and Heroines
  123. High Colonies
  124. Hunter (Old World of Darkness).
  125. Imagine
  126. Immortal (very atmospheric, and with lovely art, but rather difficult to play).
  127. In Nomine (where both the angels and the demons are friggin’ nuts (TM))
  128. Indiana Jones (where your heroes are close to unkillable).
  129. Infinite Domains
  130. Insectia
  131. Iron Wind
  132. Ironclaw
  133. It Came from the Late Late Late Show (this one is a lot of fun; you’re an actor in a BAD movie).
  134. Jadeclaw
  135. James Bond OO7
  136. Justifiers (the system is hopelessly creaky, but the background is nice. I’d use Baba Yaga for this).
  137. Kindred of the East (Old World of Darkness again).
  138. Kult
  139. Land of the Rising Sun (a Chivalry and Sorcery spin-of, and as hard to play as that ever was).
  140. Legacy: War of Ages
  141. Legantia
  142. Legend Quest
  143. Legend of the Five Rings (we usually use a point-buy adaption that allows for building your own schools)
  144. Legendary Lives
  145. Lexicon Atlantis
  146. Little Fears (a game about being a child with horrible things after you. Not… pleasant).
  147. Lords of Creation
  148. Lost Souls
  149. Macho Women with Guns (once a joke, later a game – but where are the motorcycle aztec wrestling nuns? And how badly does even remembering that joke date me? Even more than the rest of this list?).
  150. Maelstrom
  151. Mage, The Ascension
  152. Man, Myth, and Magic
  153. Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP system. A lot of fun really, and character generation is a game in itself. There’s some stuff for this under the Other Games tab)
  154. Marvel Super Heroes (Current card-based system)
  155. Masterbook (the TORG successor).
  156. Masters of the Mind
  157. Mechanical Dream
  158. Mechwarrior
  159. Mega
  160. Megatraveler (an “updated” version of Traveler that more or less came and went).
  161. Mekton II
  162. Men in Black
  163. MERP / Middle Earth Role Playing
  164. Metabarons (what happened when West End lost the Star Wars license).
  165. Metamorphosis Alpha
  166. Midnight at the Well of Souls
  167. Millenniums End
  168. Mokole (Another race from the Old World of Darkness)
  169. Multiverser
  170. Mummy (Old World of Darkness)
  171. Murphy’s World (Monty Python meets AD&D meets the Apocalypse).
  172. Musketeers
  173. Mutants and Masterminds (d20, but sufficiently different to get it’s own listing).
  174. Mutazoids
  175. Nephelim (Original secretive-entities from ages past version).
  176. Nexus
  177. Nightbane (notable for creating REALLY random characters…)
  178. Nightlife
  179. Ninjas and Superspies
  180. Nobilis
  181. Noir
  182. Of Gods and Men
  183. One Roll Engine (the system for Monsters and Other Childish Things and assorted other games).
  184. Oriental Adventures (Not the d20 version, worth noting as being essentially AD&D 1.5)
  185. Ork
  186. Over the Edge (if this got much more “Rules-Lite” it would evaporate entirely).
  187. Palladium Fantasy Role Playing
  188. Pandemonium
  189. Paranoia (in various editions).
  190. Pelicar
  191. Pendragon (perhaps THE game of arthurian romance).
  192. Powers and Perils
  193. Price of Freedom
  194. Prime Directive
  195. Prince Valiant
  196. Project Twilight
  197. Providence
  198. Ravenstar
  199. Realm of the Gateway
  200. Recon (sneak-sneak-sneak-BLAM-you’re dead… the game is better than actually doing it, but it’s still rather less fun than you might think).
  201. RIFTS (and far too many supplements and worldbooks).
  202. Robin Hood
  203. Robotech
  204. Rolemaster (the closest any game has yet come to a complete list of everything).
  205. Rune (viking slaughterhouse. Need I say more?)
  206. Runequest
  207. S.LA Industries
  208. Saurions (a long-forgotten derivative of Chivalry and Sorcery).
  209. Sengoku
  210. Senzar
  211. Shadowrun (still one of the best, at least if you stick to editions 1-3).
  212. Shalkith Last Kin
  213. Shatterzone
  214. Ship of Fools
  215. Skyrealms of Jorune (for those who want a really exotic background).
  216. Sorcerer (White Wolf, in assorted versions)
  217. Space Master (Rolemaster version).
  218. Space 1889
  219. Spacemaster (yes, this is entirely separate from the Rolemaster version).
  220. Spacetime
  221. Spookshow (ever wonder why intelligence agents are called “spooks”? Now you’ll know).
  222. Star Wars (d6, the d20 version is included in the general d20 listing)
  223. Star Frontiers
  224. Star Trek RPG
  225. Stormbringer
  226. Sun and Storm
  227. Suzerain
  228. System Failure
  229. Tales of Gargenthar
  230. Tales from the Floating Vagabond
  231. Talislanta (a simple system but a nicely detailed world and background).
  232. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  233. Teenagers from Outer Space (have you seen my popcorn grenade? Oh wait! It’s under your seat!)
  234. Tenchi Muyo (another Tri-Stat production).
  235. The Fantasy Trip (Melee, Wizard, and Into the Labyrinth)
  236. The Blood
  237. The Primal Order
  238. Thieves World (a nice system if you want to focus on stealth and illegal operations).
  239. Throwing Stones
  240. Time Master
  241. Timelords (a Dr Who system)
  242. Timelords (A couple more by the same title, but unrelated to Dr Who or to each other).
  243. Tome of Neverworld
  244. Toon (you might as well not bother with a system here, but it’s fun).
  245. Top Secret (along with a bunch of other Hero System genre productions – sci-fi, fantasy, giant robots, and more. The Hero System does best with pulp heroes to superheroes though).
  246. TORG (the war for the multiverse!)
  247. Tractics (ok, it’s not really a RPG, but it was an ancestor of theirs).
  248. Traveler Classic
  249. Traveler, the New Era
  250. Tribe 8
  251. Trinity (psychics versus mutant monstrosities returned from beyond the stars!)
  252. Tunnels and Trolls
  253. Twilight 2000 (this is what you get for picking a near-future date for your game…)
  254. Underground
  255. Universe
  256. Unknown Armies
  257. Unsanctioned
  258. Usagi Yojimbo (yes, it is indeed cartoon rabbit samurai epics).
  259. Vampire, The Middle Ages
  260. Villains and Vigilantes
  261. W.H.A.T. (a generic system – with an acronym standing for nothing that I can recall…)
  262. War Gods (Turned out to be more of a miniatures war game, but usable)
  263. Warhammer Fantasy Role Play
  264. Warlock
  265. Warp World
  266. Waste World
  267. Wasted West
  268. Web of Stars
  269. Web of Heroes
  270. Web of  Horror
  271. Werewolf Wild West
  272. Werewolf the Apocalypse
  273. Whispering Vault (where you get to be horrors from beyond come to save reality).
  274. Witchcraft
  275. Wizard’s World
  276. Wizards (yes, a RPG taken from that old animated film)
  277. World Tree (an extremely well-written and highly recommended game)
  278. World of Darkess (New, and point-buy adaption)
  279. World of Synnibar (Yes, yes, I know, Boo Hiss)
  280. Worlds of Wonder (including psiworld, spaceworld, and superworld as I recall).
  281. Wraith, The Oblivion (a remarkably gray setting with very little in the way of actual goals).
  282. Ysgarth (a game with the most elaborate skills system I have ever seen).

Hm. There seems to be a distinct shortage of RPG’s in my print collection that begin with a “Q”, “X”, and “Z”. I must see if I can fix that. I think there are a few “Xeno-something” games in existence out there.

This also doesn’t include a selection of minigames and one-page things. Those are usually too thin to support an extended campaign.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 47

As usual, here we have Kira’s player log with information on the rest of the characters added so it can serve as a general session log as well.

With Xiang – and her cargo of antimatter missiles – rushing suicidally towards the orbiting Sith fleet, Alys focused on coordinating the various resistance, hacker, governmental, and Artificer factions… There were hyperspace shuttles to get directed – and conceal from the departments of the government that were still under Zandramas’s control – rogue resistance groups to cover for, stasis generators to position, and a hundred other tasks. Somehow, when she’d started off on her hunting trip, she’d never seen herself as coordinator for a planetary insurrection.

Jacob had gotten the hang of the Artificer’s special trick – and was, once again, upgrading his armor; this time with a droid brain to help him control the ship in flight and with his sensors and with a chameleon cloak. The Artificer’s trick was great! It made the suit feel almost as much a part of him as it had been when it was his body!

Ben was frantically tinkering… he’d been focused on the stasis systems for weeks, but with the amount of raw firepower that was shortly going to be flying around, giving everyone one of his “ultimate dodge” hyperspace-stasis systems was the only way that he could see that they were all likely to survive.

The others began commencing with the final preparations for the takeover. Alys was busily coordinating everyone. Ben handed out yet another esoteric device that he called the “Ultimate Dodge”, supposedly it did the same thing to a person that happened to that warehouse days ago. Jacob was hammering yet more expensive equipment into his suit of armor. Lazlo was curled up on a couch napping, and the Bounty Hunters were busily cleaning and checking their weapons.

I took the opportunity to sit down in a quiet place and went through the meditations Telera taught me. As much as I tried to clear my thoughts, my mind kept getting distracted by a problem that has been nagging me for quite some time. I was quite obviously gaining power far more rapidly than I should be. I was even outpacing the rest of the trouble magnets in the party at the rate I was going. And that brought to mind another troubling thought: both Dkira and Ekira had received substantial boosts in power. Dkira had received a lot of experimental enhancements from the Baramour. Ekira had boosted himself using whatever genetic enhancements he could get his hands on.

Yet for all their enhancements, I was able to keep pace with them. Especially in Dkira’s case as I was able to fend him off long enough for the others to kill him with thermal detonators. Yet there should be no way a kid just about to enter his third year as a Force user should have been able to do that. Also interesting was the fact that Akira was roughly my equal in terms of relative power. Yet he too was inexplicably progressing far faster than he had any right to. A-Valerie said as much to me during one of our training sessions together.

Four Kiras, all have received power boosts of some sort. Two of them are readily explained given what we know, and the other two are not. Yet there is a single common factor with both me and Akira: a version of Valerie. Hmm, yes, now that I think about it, I can sense she is at the heart of the matter. How or why I cannot say, but I think the next time she and I meet, we need to talk.

It was next to impossible to not overhear how things were going while in my meditative stance. Apparently the shields went up before Xiang arrived. The shields had been reconfigured to keep the minefield on the inside, which was annoying but expected. Unfortunately, we had created too much of a disturbance to expect the enemy to raise the shields with the mines on the outside. Oh well, since I was able to foresee it, I’ve been able to plan for taking care of it. We’ve got Smoche’s shuttles and we also have armed resistance cells stationed around the globe with a plentiful supply of missiles to shoot down any of the mines Smoche misses.

Reports started coming in regarding the battle with Xiang in orbit. The antimatter warheads came in from extreme long range – apparently the farthest out she was able to target from. This gave plenty of time for the defending Sith ships to raise their shields and prepare their defensive line. From what we were able to gather, the occupation ships were largely undamaged save for a freakish lucky hit on a fighter bay launching a fighter on the largest capital ship. The defending Sith shortly thereafter even reported capturing the ship Xiang had launched from, and some droids – but not her. They had started running sweeps for escape pods, and were keeping the defenses up in the meantime.

Something didn’t seem right about that.

The atmospheric ionization – the planetary shields weren’t nearly enough to stop all the hard radiation from a wave of antimatter blasts – was making communications difficult, but there was a lot of chatter for stopping such a simple attack.

Then came the report that three of the warheads the struck the occupation fleet were duds. I didn’t really understand the signifigance of that fact till Ben reminded me that it was impossible for an antimatter warhead to fail to detonate when destroyed. Ok that makes sense, but then why did they fail to detonate? Alys suspected that was because Xiang had removed the warheads, loaded them and every other warhead she could onto another freighter, and sent the first one in on automatic.

Alys sighed. Xiang had access to the cloaking plating, and was suicidal enough to use it no matter what the disadvantages were – and might be suicidal enough to use antimatter warheads as personal weapons. Worse… all the energy discharges, and radiation, from a wave of antimatter warheads was enough to provide perfect cover for a cloaked approach – with what Ben estimated as at least 40% of the antimatter missiles; they wouldn’t all have fit on the first ship that she’d chosen. Suddenly she was even gladder that the Sith had put the planetary shields up; they were excellent protection from their own ally.

This brought to mind two thoughts. First was that we needed to keep the antimatter warheads under better lock and key in the future. This is not the first time a rogue party member has used the things in a manner not exactly conducive to our goals. I mean, yes, she did manage to get the shields raised, but I have issue with the method itself. A lot of people just got a massive dose of radiation today because of her antics. Second thought that crossed my mind was the fact that this seemed too clever for Xiang. If I had to guess, I would say the tactic is a copy from that holo show of her’s that she reenacted. In which case we could probably get a leg up on predicting her if we found which episode she was acting out.

It seemed the Sith Commander in orbit came to similar conclusions regarding Xiang and another ship as they kept the planetary shields up and began enforcing much stricter rules on ships coming and going without proper identification and inspection. It looked like the fear that Xiang might be trying to sneak in with a few antimatter warheads to use as personal weapons was motivating the occupational authority to react. I still say this implied an admirable level of competence in the Commander, but the others didn’t want to hear it. I just hope whoever is the Commander isn’t Zandaras – or one of his blasted extensions.

Still with the shields up and likely to remain up for the foreseeable future, it was decided that now was the time to strike if we were to have any chance of taking back the planet. Alys was already working the communications system hard trying to coordinate things across the globe. I didn’t envy her the sheer scale of the task before her, but stayed out of trying to assist her. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was going to need everything I could personally bring to bear on a problem soon enough. So I watched and continued my meditations.

Apparently Smoche’s modifications worked without any disastrous failures that we could learn about. We had reports come in of additional EMP’s and radiation blasts hitting the surface, and took that as a sign of successfully intercepted mines. How many we were able to get was impossible to verify at the moment, but I remained hopeful that we got most if not all of them. We got word back that at least a third of the shield generators were now captured and at least theoretically under our control.

Jacob was pleased! Smooche had let him pick the moment to push the big red button, and he’d pushed it when it felt just right to push it, and nothing nasty had happened! Buttons were good things after all!

Ben still wanted to kick himself over that; if he hadn’t been so distracted, he’d have thought of that one long ago – even if it did go against his principles to first de-tune a hyperdrive and then to try to use it near a planetary surface. It guaranteed that it would destroy itself, along with the ship and it’s crew, and everything nearby that it had pulled into hyperspace, in mere milliseconds.

Come to think of it, it was too bad that it wouldn’t work on anything too massive to be pulled into hyperspace, or which had a hyperdrive of it’s own that would ground out the field, or on… Well, come to think of it, it would almost never work. He wasn’t sure if that made him feel better or worse about missing the possibility.

Up above, the hyperspace shuttles had reached an altitude of about ten miles, made a slight “course correction” to point them directly at the mines, and had triggered their hyperdrives… For a minuscule fraction of a second their detuned fields had spread out, pulling a column of air into hyperspace, sweeping over the mines and pulling them into hyperspace – and then beginning to scatter back into normal space as the excess mass, and lack of attunement, turned everything into a mass of subatomic particles falling back into normal space.

There was still some coherence to the fields as they hit the inside of the shield. A fraction of the mass-energy spread out across the inside of the shield – wrapping the planet is a shell of plasma – but the rest dropped back into normal space just outside it, erupting into thirty massive spikes of plasma and hard radiation, with a total energy far in excess of Xiang’s antimatter barrage. For a time the world was wrapped in a radiation storm. The EMP, static, and ionization took out most long-range communications save for the hardlines – including surface-to-orbit communications – along with an awful lot of equipment. Suddenly the planet blazed like a miniature sun, doing an excellent – if unanticipated – job of simulating some horrific planetary cataclysm.

Fortunately, the Shield Generators – hardened military facilities behind secondary shields of their own – stayed online as the stasis generators engaged and the medical-droid / hacking link assault was launched.

Alys even managed to get those hackers organized into running a secondary line of attack in taking over all those Bounty Hunter ships and Sith droids. That bunch she recruited had far greater success than I had anticipated as she was now in remote control of 3,600 ships, 40,000 Sith war droids, and at least four of the shield generators. And all of this was connected directly to her datapad.

Alys was spending force points like water, making sure – via spectacular Bureaucracy checks – that everything was properly organized and went off smoothly. They HAD to get those shield generators into stasis, and take out those mines, and get the droid army under control, steal the bounty hunter’s ships, and… in fact, almost every facet of this had to come off, or they’d have been responsible for the death of a world.

Reports also started coming in that all those war droids the Sith had brought in were now rebooting as the EMP’s and radiation blasts caused even more errors in their programming in addition to the damage Jacob’s little stunt had done earlier. This at least disrupted any sort of organized occupational response for the time being and gave us a substantial leg up on the matter.

At about that time most every Force sensitive in the room became aware of a growing number of people dying above us. Quick checks from Alys revealed that the various Sith droids were now resorting to different protocols in response to the programming damage and the sheer chaos of the situation. What exactly was going on wasn’t clear since communications globally were in a mess and what reports we could get were conflicting. At the very least it looked like some of the droids were now beginning to take hostile action against people. Best bet was that the droids were trying to round people up and dealing with those the resisted harshly.

Ichara thought that THAT was just too bad! People were being killed before she could put them into robots!

Alys starting issuing orders to try and calm things down when I felt an utterly massive burst of power come from Jacob. A wave of soothing calm washed over the area and I suspected the entire planet as I can only assume that Jacob had just pulled on the collective power of the sector to power that. Jacob then announced that he felt that he had just attracted the attention of Zandaras to himself specifically for eating. Why Jacob felt this was surprising in the least was beyond me. To me it’s obvious that the soul devouring bioweapon of destruction would want to consume the soul of a Force user able to pull on the power of an entire sector.

Jacob had indeed pulled massively on the force (spending to get all three rolls to 40+ in order to save as many lives as possible) to spread his wave of calm – and the directions to remain inside, stay safe, and not resist the droids. There’d been so much pain and fear… how could he NOT try to help? Unfortunately, he’d also sensed the unnatural presence of Zandramas – and been sensed. Zandramas was most intrigued, and was now headed their way at top speed to absorb him. He’d had a small link before, and had sensed Jacob’s presence a few times – but this power would be most valuable to him… Jacob also made a note to himself; never upset Alys! She could control the world if she wanted to!

Alys was hoping that she wasn’t going to wind up with a stimsynth addiction after this… Thank the force (oh dear; hopefully not literally!) that she’d trained and interned in project management on Coruscant. Nothing less would have let her hold this mess together for an hour! She’d thought that keeping her friends semi-organized was bad enough, but now she was trying to run what she could reach of the planetary defense network, issue instructions – through a bunch of underage hackers – to thousands of war-droids, direct the efforts of a small fleet, organize the resistance, deal with the bounty hunters, keep a bunch of Sith Artificers (!) from causing disasters, and make sure that the city kept working in the midst of a war zone – all from her datapad.

Fortunately, she kept finding new reserves of strength and skill somewhere. Was that the force too? She wouldn’t have believed herself capable of some of the things she was routinely doing now a mere few months ago.

Blast it… the robots that were still under Sith command were bad enough – and “their” artificers seemed to have managed to bring their droid troops through all the disruptions readily – but half the others had rebooted to damaged programs, and were completely out of control! And those blasted bounty hunters were getting into everything!

Upstairs, at least a portion of Alys’s interference had been traced.

We all became aware of cracks appearing in the dome above us at roughly the same time. There was a suddenly blast and a hole appeared through which droids started dropping through. I got a few seconds warning before Ben activated his Second Stage Stasis system and that gave me sufficient time to go into hypertime and counteract the effect on myself. Khadim and Jacob immediately began to load everyone and everything of importance back into the boring machine to facilitate our escape. I took the opportunity to go underneath the hole our enemies had blown open and looked up.

I saw more droids than I cared to fight on their way down with indications of even more ready to follow. I also saw indications of at least a dozen bounty hunters guiding things too. I briefly toyed with the idea of leaving some thermal detonators waiting for them when they came out of stasis, but decided against it. The stasis field was too valuable as a impenetrable black void for the enemy to throw themselves against right now. I still took a quick tally of everyone present and didn’t see any of the Holosith among them.

Right about the time it occurred to me that escaping via the boring machine was going to be a nonstarter while the area was in stasis, I saw Jacob climb in and start powering on the boring machine. Ah yes, he’s powerful enough to drag major pieces of equipment into his timerate, I don’t know why I forgot that tidbit. We finished loading the boring machine and Jacob took us into the wall we had entered the place through the day before. Soon enough as he followed the tunnel left behind, the others reentered normal time and I suddenly lunged into hypertime for a split second before I stopped the technique. I resumed my meditations while the others argued the situation.

Alys then received reports of the droids making more trouble out in the city. Lazlo, Jacob, and Ben elected to head out into the city and work on damage control on the streets. Alys, 10CH, and Khadim were going to find another secure location and try to keep ahead of the Occupational Forces’ response. For the time being I elected to remain with Alys since my presence on the streets was likely to continue to cause even more chaos. The bounty hunters, unsurprisingly, elected to stay with me. Jacob brought the boring machine to a quiet location in the tunnels underneath the city. He, Ben, and Lazlo prepared to depart when I suddenly got a vision.

I saw a gaunt man dressed in black robes and armor invoking imagery of bone in the middle of a stadium. The stadium was filled with young children, many of them crying, and hundreds of black war droids standing guard. More children were being shepherded in by the droids from across the city. The vision then focused for a moment on the gaunt man in black as I heard a single word resound through my mind.


I don’t get visions that often, and I had never gotten one that vivid or powerful before. Something incredibly bad was about to happen and I think I was just told I needed to intervene. As the hatch to the boring machine began to close, I quickly slipped out to follow Ben, Jacob, and Lazlo, much to the Bounty Hunters’ consternation. I waved at them as Alys came over the commlink demanding answers as the boring machine reentered the bedrock. She didn’t sound happy to be stuck with the Bounty Hunters with only 10CH and Khadim for allies. I told her it was one of those premonition things, but I didn’t think she bought it.

She then announced that as best as she was able to piece together, the enemy droids fell into six groups. First bunch were attempting to capture the space port from the Artificer droids. Second group was seizing various government buildings. Third group was removing youngsters from hospitals, daycares, kindergartens, and schools. Fourth set were busily rounding up stray people and collectiing them in temporarily force-fenced areas outside the city.

Over in the next city, a fifth set of droids were in a stalemate trying to capture one of the shield generators from the droids set to defend the place. And finally a sixth group of droids was attempting to capture pieces of infrastructure around the city, including the regional hypermatter reactor. Amazingly, the vast majority of the droids were engaged in tasks that we could wait to respond to individually or were busily keeping themselves occupied as droids ended up on opposing sides due to the fog of war. Suddenly I understood what Valerie told me of the limited effectiveness of droid armies.

Alys then asked over the commlink what the priorities were for her to send responses to. Primary in my book was critical infrastructure like the regional hypermatter reactor and such. If we lost that, it was conceivable that the shield generator would lose power and then the rest of it all was moot. Similar priorities to other critical infrastructure needed to sustain a population of billions for any length of time. Government buildings, civilians rounded up in fences, and the spaceport could all wait until we could focus on each in turn. The shield facilities were also a priority, but not urgent yet.

That still left the children being rounded up. Whatever was going on there, it needed to be thwarted no matter what. Alys began arranging for what droids she had in her command to create defensive perimeters around the critical infrastructure and what bounty hunter ships she had to begin air lifting children and sickly out ahead of the droid sweeps. Ben, Lazlo, Jacob, and I then began to quietly make our way the remaining distance to the surface.

De’Arc and the bounty hunters shrugged and continued setting up traps and firing posts. Between looking over Alys’s shoulder, the public datafeeds, and their own data sources, a nice defensive position deep underground was looking pretty attractive. Besides… they WERE resisting the Sith, and, on the cash side, Alys had just seized control of more resources than all of them put together could reasonably expect to accumulate in a lifetime of bounty-hunting.

We saw a group of four bounty hunters making their own way down to escape the chaos above ground. We elected to just sneak past them and on up to the surface as opposed to risking a needless confrontation. I set my robes to begin color shifting to match the surrounding environment. It was still nowhere near as good as Valerie’s or especially Ichara’s stealth suit, but it still provided a good deal more cover than nothing. We were about halfway past the bounty hunters when suddenly I became aware of something glowing bright neon green behind me. Turning to look behind me, I saw Ben glowing brightly and frantically hammering at a datapad.


It’s like watching Jacob give a presentation on industrial manufacturing.

This obviously attracted the notice of the bounty hunters who almost immediately recognized Ben and opened fire. Jacob disarmed them telekinetically and I used my own telekinesis to hold three of them against a wall. I had hoped to grab all four of them and then pin them with debris, but that powered armor of theirs was taking all of my concentration to counter. I heard the sounds of battle as the others engaged the one still free, when I saw Ben run up to two of the ones I had pinned. He used that stasis gun of his to put those two into stasis.

Sadly, Jacob had pulled an immense pile of weaponry to himself. That wouldn’t really have been a problem – despite a bad moment with all the knives headed his way – thanks to his armor, but at least one of the bounty hunters had been equipped with those little taser-droid things, and they promptly elected to shock the unauthorized handler. That led to an attempt to take him hostage, and yet more electricity. Stupid droid weapons!

Unfortunately, that dropped those two from my grip as their Force presences winked out. That disruption in my concentration was enough to let the last one fire a flamethrower at Ben. That caused Ben to lose his hold over the two in stasis and they became free. Suddenly the battle we were winning from the start turned ugly fast. I felt Ben go into stasis, and I felt Jacob go unconscious. One of the bounty hunters lost consciousness to Lazlo and he was busily fending off two while I had one still pinned. I couldn’t hold the one and help the others at the same time. Eventually I saw that we were going to lose this battle if I didn’t do something drastic.

Stepping into hypertime, I sliced at all three of the still fighting bounty hunters with my lightsaber as I attempted to disable them all. I managed to seriously wound two of them, but the armor on the third resisted the blade. Blast it, lightsabers in hypertime don’t ever seem to work quite right. Still, that gave time for Jacob to come back around and reenter the fight – and to start treating Ben, who’d nearly burned to death before getting his stasis going.

That brought the numbers fighting on both sides back to parity, and we were still armed with all of our weapons, whereas the bounty hunters were not. We each then focused on a particular opponent. I ended up with one of the two I had wounded earlier. I was armed with my lightsaber whereas he had only a retractible blade mounted to the forearm of his armor. He came slashing along the side at me, hoping to slice the tendons in my arm. It was a simple matter to grab his fist as it came in, twist his arm behind him, and then ram him face first into the wall. The helmet cushioned the impact, but a few more forceful slams into the concrete and he went unconscious.

Looking at the others, I saw Lazlo and Jacob had won their own battles, but with varying degrees of injury. Jacob got to work reviving Ben, while Lazlo and I put the Bounty Hunters into stasis. I elected to just leave them in the corridor for someone to find later. They can wake up with concussions then. I don’t need them causing any more trouble right now.

Heh, this gives new meaning to the phrase “Hit them into next week.”

Then I noticed that some of the flammable gel from the flamethrower had gotten on the shoulder of my robes. It was only a few drops, but the robes still took it without any damage. I was even able to wipe the residue off my shoulder with a brush of my hand. Alright, I am impressed. Tailor Qwuam certainly does good work and not just in terms of looks, but also function. I will certainly need to remember to seek his business in the future.

As we finished the clean up, a group of twenty Sith combat droids approached us. Not sensing any hostile action imminent, I stood confidently and waited for a response. Worst case, I suspect hypertime would be really effective against them since they can’t effectively anchor me to their timerate.

(Droid Commander) Are you Kira Keldav?

(Kira) I am, may I ask why you want to know?

(Droid Commander) We have been assigned to assist you and your companions during this crisis.

Ah, these must be some of the droids Alys had under her command then. Leaving the Bounty Hunters in the road with appropriate signage, we finished making our way to the surface without additional issues. I could hear distant sounds of battle as droids fought droids, while Security and Bounty Hunters made their own contributions to the mess.

Alys then came over the commlink again with another update. She had traced the children being collected back to a stadium near the center of the city. Air reconnaissance showed Lecrouss to be present and one of the government officials possessed by Zandaras. What imagery she was able to get showed Lecrouss wandering among the children trying to be nice and calming. Needless to say that didn’t seem to be working very well.

Alys then sent us layouts of the place and underlying tunnels along with details of the droid distributions. It looked like over a thousand droids had set up a perimeter around the place, with another five hundred or so inside standing guard. That still wasn’t counting the additional thousand or more collecting children from across the city. There was no way we were going to be able to overpower that many droids with the firepower we had available. Let alone do that while a powerful Sith and an extremely dangerous observer are in the middle of it.

I tried running various scenarios for sneaking in and killing Lecrouss only to get abysmal odds back from the Codex. Nor did it help matters that a successful assassination would end up giving Zandaras valuable information about what I do and how. So I needed to incapacitate the Zandaras minion first, but that in turn gave Lecrouss warning of an attack. The loss of surprise with Lecrouss made my already long odds of a win even worse. Plus there was the unknown of how the droids would react to Lecrouss’s defeat. Killing Lecrouss would accomplish nothing if the droids he controlled then went on a killing spree among the children.

Unfortunately, trying to run odds on how the droids themselves would react gave a wide variety of options almost equal probability. I was unsure if that was a sign of how Lecrouss’s and Zandaras’s precognition was interferrring or if that was because some of the droids would follow each of the actions I had assessed. We really needed to disable all the droids at once if we were to have any chance of rescuing the children. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the equipment with us to stasis them all.

Remembering back to Jacob’s experiments with Smoche, I recalled one blast that ended up disabling all the electronics in the city for a few moments. Turning to Ben, I asked if he could rig something up to mimic that effect. Depressingly, he then went into a rant about how that was impossible given the equipment and knowledge he had. At least Ben started talking about rigging something up I didn’t really understand with Smoche’s aid. I told him to get with Smoche and hurry as best he could. I was going to confront Lecrouss and try to buy Ben as much time as I could to pull off a miracle.

Jacob elected to go with Ben to provide protection and to help Ben move as quickly as possible. I figured Lazlo would go with them too, but Lazlo volunteered to come along with me. In ways I was glad to not be going alone, but I had a sneaking suspicion that any attempt to overpower my opponent this time was doomed to failure. This was going to have to be a battle of cunning and stalling for time.

As I began walking to the stadium I could see off in the distance, I heard Telera come on the communications channel.

(Telera) I didn’t have a chance to warn you, but an Artificer’s precognition prevents them from focusing on something fundamentally impossible.

(Kira) I don’t understand.

(Telera) It means that regardless of how outlandish their actual goal may be, if they have remained focused on it, then it must be at least remotely possible for it to work.

(Kira) You can’t be serious…

(Telera) The fact that Lecrouss and the others focused on your group so much is also worrisome, it means you might be catalysts to make their projects work. Be careful!

Oh hell, I really didn’t need this right now. A nutjob that thinks he can become a necromancer is bad enough, but actually having to face someone that might actually pull it off because of something I might do is more than I think I can handle. I just hope I don’t get known as the idiot that caused the death of all these children.

Exalted – Wonderworker’s Mantle (Artifact ***)

Painting of Yushan by Nasu Masaki (那須雅城).

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A Wonderworker’s Mantle – sometimes known as a Girding of Autochthon – is intangible outside of spiritual domains such as Yu-Shan or divine sanctums. In such locations, or to the senses of essence-users, it appears at a glance to be a simple length of cloth. Close inspection will reveal it to be composed of countless tiny metallic spiders, their legs linked together in a network that resembles chainmail. When an attuned Mantle is in use, the spiders will form themselves into a pair of gloves – and the user will be surrounded by an impression of revolving gears, little levers and pistons, fine wires, glowing gems, and other mysterious mechanical bits, all ticking away busily at the interface between the user’s personal essence and the cosmos, making complex adjustments.

While a Mantle employs small amounts of several differing magical materials – moonsilver for adaptability, orichalcum for perfection, starsteel for inevitable success, and jade for elemental power, it isn’t oriented to any one of them. Despite this, there many variants of the Mantle, since each has only two lesser and two greater powers – while six lesser and four greater powers are known to exist.

Lesser Powers (Select Two):

  • Essence Anchoring: While every mantle has one Hearthstone Socket, those Mantles with this feature have an additional two.
  • Forge of Dreams: The user may Craft Gossamer with Occult (Class-A).
  • Harmonic Resonance: The user may attune any single artifact as if he or she was naturally attuned to whatever magical material it is made of (Class-A).
  • Ritual Enchantment: The user may roll Occult instead of Crafting for Artifact Creation rolls. This does not, however, bypass the need to have the appropriate Craft abilities, it simply lets you use magical manipulations instead of physical ones to do the work (Class-A).
  • Spirit Forging: The user may craft both Ambrosia and Quintessence with Occult (Class-A).
  • Threadcraft: The user may Craft Fate with Occult (Class-A).

Greater Powers (Select Two):

  • Greater Harmonic Convergence: The user may attune to any magical material as if he or she had a natural affinity for it (Class-B).
  • Mastery of Artifice: Reduces the target numbers of skill rolls made to design or create artifacts by two (Class B).
  • Mastery of Engineering: The user is not subject to the usual 2d penalty for working with an inappropriate magical material (Class-B).
  • Protocols of Implementation: The user gains (Essence) extra dice on all rolls calling for fine manipulation – most notably crafting, lockpicking, and surgery (Class-B).

Artifact Design: Power 4 (2x Class-A powers, 2x Class-B powers, and Class-B Self-Powering), Usefulness 4, Plot Impact 2, Script Immunity 2, Creation requires the use of Ambrosia, small quantities of Orichalcum, Moonsilver, Starsteel, and White, Green, Red, Black, and Blue Jade – and a Factory-Cathedral (-4). Ergo, it’s built as a two-dot artifact, but purchased as a three-dot artifact (since the user need not worry about those awkward components). Since it’s self-powered, it only has a one-mote attunement cost.

A Wonderworker’s Mantle is an unspectacular artifact; it makes a lot of things somewhat easier, but it’s fundamentally a tool; depending on the powers of the one you’re using you can save a few motes on attuning artifacts, get around requirements for some of the more esoteric (and very rarely used) craft skills, or gain a few bonuses when making artifacts. It’s useful and it’s multi-purpose, but it certainly isn’t particularly game-changing. That puts it solidly in the Artifact *** category in second edition as well as first.

Eclipse and Skill Enhancements, part II

Melting metal in a ladle for casting

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Skills in a fantasy world are always a bit of an odd subject. Skills, like other technologies, are just ways of taking advantage of the way that the world works. In reality, an expert fire-builder and tender will know how to carry hot coals in a canister, how to waterproof matches, how to make and use a bow-and-drill firestarter, or start a fire with a magnifying glass, or build and use a birchbark pneumatic firestarter, or start a fire by getting sparks out of a variety of natural and artificial materials, how to find tinder in the wilderness – or a city (starting with bark, dry tree fungi, grass, the rotten wood inside hollows in trees,  paper, old leaves, and plenty of other materials), the most effective ways to use an assortment of accelerants and fuels, how to refuel old-style cigarette lighters, how to replace the flints in an old-style sparker, how to make candles and various kinds of firestarters, and a lot more. Real experts will probably know how to create various fuels, explosives, and incendiary devices. Then there’s how to use tongs and gloves, how to arrange fires to cook on or for other uses, how to control their spread, the best options on how to survive one that’s out of control, basic treatment for burns, and much more.

I picked up a lot of those things going camping and from survival books, more in chemistry class, and still more from lots of other sources – and I’m no expert.

Of course, in most fantasy worlds, a lot of things work on magic, and many of those options don’t exist – but I’d expect a fantasy expert to know the equivalents. So OK, only a few of the great masters of fire – men that most consider wizards and masters of hidden arts – will know the three words and seven gestures that can make a fire ignite instantly, burn underwater, flare up, shrink away, open a safe path, unburn something, or rise up to smite an enemy – but why don’t quite a lot of smiths know the charms that protect their hands from fire, temper blades, and keep steel from rusting?

The real answer is probably that the authors wanted to keep skills quick, simple, easy to relate to the real wold, and easy to understand – as well as wanting to maintain a firm distinction between what WAS “magic” and what WASN’T – but it is a bit of a gap.

If you want to fill that gap in in your Eclipse game I’d recommend taking Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon and Heart of the Dragon, all Specialized and Corrupted/it requires a DC 15 skill check to produce a level zero effect, each skill is associated with a specific effect, each effect can only be attempted once every five minutes, the user must have at least four skill points in a particular skill before it’s effect can be employed, and creating such an effect is considered a swift action (10 CP).

That will give a skill expert a selection of minor magical effects to draw on – and is easily upgraded later on to cover first, second, and even third level effects at DC of (say) 20, 30, and 45. Admittedly, that would be getting expensive and difficult – but by the time you’re approaching level twenty, the cost is fairly minor and it would add a lot of interest to Craft/Metal when you could “Call forth the memory of Steel” and unleash the flames of the forge against your enemies as a fireball every so often.

Now, to continue with the relatively minor skill enhancements from last time…

Escapology: You can easily slip away from larger opponents. If you’re grappled or pinned, you gain a +4 bonus on your Escape Artist check to get away for each size category your opponent is larger than you. That’s Immunity/Grappling (Uncommon, Minor, Great, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable once per encounter or every few minutes out of combat, only provides a +4 bonus per size category the opponent is larger than the user, 2 CP).

  • Of course, that general mechanic could be used for Twisting Parry (helps protect your weapon against a sunder attempt), a bonus to spotting members of particular races when they’re disguised, or a host of other special-purpose defenses.

Escape And Strike: You can follow up a successful escape from a grapple with an attack made against your flat-footed opponent as a swift action. That’s Opportunist, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable once per encounter or every few minutes out of combat, only usable with a light weapon, counts as a swift action, and the user must already be holding the weapon to use this trick (2 CP).

  • OK, that same general mechanic is usable for all kinds of “followup actions”. Far too many to actually bother listing though.

Extreme Speed: You can move more quickly than you normally could. That’s Celerity (+10′ ground movement), Specialized and Corrupted/Corrupted/only usable once per encounter or every few minutes out of combat, requires the expenditure of your swift action for the turn.

  • This one I’ve already generalized; it’s not like Celerity is a particularly uncommon effect. Why bother with one trick for climbing, one for swimming, one for tumbling, and one for running when the same enhancement can simply cover all of them?

False Casting: You can make the casting of a spell look and sound like the casting of another spell of the same level, thus preventing specific counterspelling. That’s Immunity/having your spell recognized while you’re casting it (Common, Minor, Major, Specialized and Corrupted / only usable once per encounter or every few minutes out of combat, requires a swift action (2 CP).

  • Now this mechanic can be applied to a lot of other things. Want to plant incriminating evidence on people while apparently just talking to them? Open a lock without seeming to? Get out a weapon without giving the alarm? Minor variants on this will do it very nicely.

Group Distraction: You can use the Bluff skill to feint against multiple opponents at the same time, although each opponent gets their own Sense Motive check. That’s Immunity/the rule against using Bluff against more than one opponent at a time (Common, Minor, Minor), Specialized and Corrupted/can only be used once per encounter or per one-minute period outside of combat, the Bluff check suffers a -2 penalty per additional victim beyond the first (2 CP).

  • Wait, where was Bluff inherently limited to one opponent at a time anyway? I’m not at all sure that I’d make a character buy a special ability to do this – and if I did, I think I’d allow them to affect at least (Cha Mod +1) individual opponents without penalty. Still, this is the generic build for making a skill do something unusual – and so can be applied to dozens of other things.

Healing Touch: You can actually heal some wounds with the Heal skill; if someone is dying, and you successfully stabilize them, they regain 1d6 hit points. That’s Immunity/the normal limits of the Heal skill, Specialized and Corrupted/only works when stabilizing a dying character, can only be used once per encounter or every few minutes outside of combat (2 CP).

  • Once again, this is basically a generic skill expansion and uses the same mechanics. This is one that I’d keep a closer eye on though; I’d probably substitute “only usable (small number) times per day on any one character” for the once-per-encounter limitation. It seems like repeating this kind of thing on someone would seriously stress their body – and if you need it more than once per encounter, you’re already in enough trouble anyway without being told that your second dying friend can’t get 1d6 of healing if you stabilize him or her.

Champions – Superheroic Wealth

Gold Key, weighing one kilogram is used to acc...

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“Money is the greatest super-power of all!”

Wealth in Champion is normally just a minor perk – it costs a mere fifteen points to be a multi-billionaire. Of course, that’s because in Champions (as in many other superhero games) money can’t buy anything that really matters. Things that matter have to be purchased with points, not mere money.

Unless, of course, you build your “Wealth” AS a power…

Now, for a low, low, twenty points – a mere trifle! – you can have wealth that really means something. Buy vehicles and mansions for your friends, start really doing something about that “mutant menace” meme, get that youngster with telepathic powers some light body armor and a tranquilizer pistol to protect his mighty brain, and get a consultant to help you out with that mysterious item.

Cost Powers

I Am Incredibly Rich: 90 Point Wealth Multipower. All powers require one day to take full effect (-3,5), all powers require various OAF’s (wallet, credit card, bank…) (-1), all powers subject to 14- activation (-.5), the user must be able to go shopping or order things (-.5), and the results generally do not arrive for some time (-1). Technically some of these cost Endurance – in fact, up to nine points worth in some case – but it’s spread over a full day, so it doesn’t matter at all.


I Cans Buy Stuff: 2d6 Aid, (Fade/season, Maximum 20, no range); Difficult to Dispel ×2 (+¼); 12′ Radius Effect (“It’s on me!) (+1), Increased Area: ×2 (+¼), Selective Target:(+¼); Affects All Powers Of A Related Group – But Each Must Be Enhanced Separately (+1).

This is used to enhance the target’s Equipment Allowance (points to spend on conventional personal equipment, usually bought as independent items. The base champions equipment pool is “0”), Vehicles, and Bases. Thus, a character with Incredible Wealth can buy EVERYONE in the group their own personal 20-point collection of gadgets, 20 points worth of vehicles, and 20 points worth of bases.

Yes, the ability to buy useful stuff is, indeed, a superpower in Champions, where characters normally have to pay for everything with points…


I Want To Be There Tuesday: You can take your private jet, personal helicopter, or – at worst – just buy plane tickets. 5″ Flight, Non-Combat Multiplier: ×125 (NC: 625″ / 465 MPH), +30, Usable By 8 Others with Simultaneous Use (+1.25; Must take plane; not under own power (-2).

With enough money, you can get pretty much anywhere in the world in very short order – and in considerable comfort too.


Get A Public Relations Campaign Going: 2d6 Mind Control; Verbal Communication (+0), Area Effect (Radius, +1) with Increased Area: ×1000000 (+5) for a net 3000000″ (six thousand kilometers – enough to cover a couple of continents), Nonselective Target (-¼), Continuous (+1), Reduced END: Zero (+½), Uncontrolled (+½), Visible (-¼), Only works on those who pay attention to media (-½), Does not count as an “Attack” (+½), Attracts Attention (-½).

Advertising doesn’t really control minds, but it can certainly sow ideas, make people a lot more receptive to your plans, and get them to do things that they wouldn’t much mind doing anyway.


Place A Want Ad: Summon four 50-point creatures, Range: 0; Summon Limited Group/Possible Employees (+¼), Hire Employees (+¼).

Need some staff? You’re more than rich enough for it. The user may hire a fairly sizable staff, and expect them to be reliable and loyal within reason since the “Hire” modifier covers their salaries and minor perks.


Send It Out For Analysis. Why waste your valuable time in a lab when there are plenty of scientists and universities who can do it for you? All you have to do is look at what they report… Discriminatory “Detect”, Variable (+2, net 24 points), and +10 Perception (+30). Science, 2D6 Aid to any one (+.25) relevant technical skill, fades 1/minute (+.5, AKA; “I read the report”).

In this case, you hand the thing you want analyzed to a scientist-type, and then – in a day or so – just skim through the report he or she comes up with on it. For a few moments you will understand – and after that you’ll have the layman’s summary (whatever description the game master gives you).


Get Some Bids On This: 9d6 Transform (Cosmetic, to the same basic class of target only); Range: 450; Cumulative (+½), Difficult to Dispel ×2 (+¼)

With this power you can have things rebuilt. You can pay for cosmetic surgery, have houses painted, have repairs made to a building, and perform various other makeovers – although, in the superheroic tradition, if you want really big jobs carried out, or things done that will require really major transformations built up in steps (ruined building to leveled building to cleared lot, to new foundation, to new walls going up, etc), you’ll just have to visit each day and see how the job is progressing. Still, with as much money (9d6) as YOU can throw at things, most jobs won’t take very long.


I’ll have my people look into that. +9 “Overall Levels” – giving the user an effective roll of at least 20- on any job which he or she can hire someone to do for him or her and report back on.

Need to know something? Hire a detective agency and get a report or have your research department find out for you. Your time is valuable; after all, your bank says that it’s worth rather a lot per hour…


Get Some People In Here. Change Environment, 32″ radius with Variable Effect (+1), Reduced END Cost (Zero, +½), and Uncontrolled (+½).

You may call in servants, caterer’s, interior decorators, moving men, and more to supply food, a pavilion, furniture, background music, clean up the area, set it up as a playground, etc, etc, etc. As a special note, minor effects – such as sending out for a meal – are usable with this ability more quickly then usual; it doesn’t take long to deliver food.

RPG Design – What Rules Are For

Eight magicians doing a ritual at a live actio...

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Role-playing games don’t actually need to have rules. “Lets Pretend!” has been around for a very long time indeed. All you need to do is to imagine that you’re a person different from yourself, occupying a different environment, and interacting with people who aren’t there – and then try to react as that person would. The more you get into that role – giving it depth, and motivations and concerns other than yours, and make it a person rather than a playing piece, the better your’re doing at role-playing.

Try not to lose track of reality while you’re at it though. We call that “going crazy” and you can have a lot of fun without immersing yourself that far.

In a role-playing game the characters may be, or try to do, anything whatsoever. A crippled, dying, old man who’s trying to make peace between his quarreling grandchildren while passing on some cultural traditions and life lessons can be a wonderful role to play. A giant computerized tank is likely to be a lousy one; it may have far more power than the old man, but it’s boring, emotionless, has no depth, and has very few options besides “Destroy!”.

As an example from play, an elderly fisherman – a throwaway role who got handed out when the players took on the roles of various normal people in a prequel to a session with their usual superhero characters – turned out to be more memorable, and in many ways more truly heroic in the face of disaster, than the players main characters – who reached the scene a few hours later. In fact, several players were rather reluctant to give up their normal-person roles, and expanded on their writeups for occasional use later on.

Sadly, the non-rules of “Lets Pretend” often run into the “I shot you!” “No you didn’t!” “Yes I did!” “No you didn’t!” problem. Resolving that calls for either a judge or some rules, or – if the setting and game is very complex – both.

What do those rules need to cover?

  • You don’t need rules telling you that people don’t generally phase through walls when they lean on them, or that water runs downhill, that dead animals don’t move around by themselves, that mashing your thumb with a hammer hurts, or that swallowing a porcupine whole is probably a bad idea. The judge and players don’t need rules to help them out anywhere that the outcome is obvious.
  • You need rules where the outcome of an occurrence in a setting is likely to be different from what the people running and playing the game would expect based on ther personal knowledge and experience – or where they’re not going to be pretty much sure of what the outcome of a given occurrence would be.

Thus a World War II game is likely to be filled with rules about the tanks of the period, and military weapon ranges, and the effects of grenades – topics that most of the players will have no firsthand experience with and have no way of judging. It will probably need a fairly detailed combat system, since those are hard to judge the outcome of without rules and some form of randomizer. It doesn’t really matter if those rules are at all accurate (and they usually aren’t), as long as they’re reasonably self-consistent, plausible, and provide outcomes which are consistent with the setting.

A game about spacefaring diplomats or merchants may get along without much information about weapons or serious combat – but it will probably have rules on freefall maneuvering, negotiation with aliens with very different instincts and motives, translation errors, currency exchanges, space travel, and translation.

You won’t see detailed rules about the short-range blast effects of nuclear weapons on unprotected characters in either game; the people playing won’t have personally experienced that, but they can almost certainly be counted on to have a fair idea of what the results will be.

Now, if it’s a superhero game, there may well be rules telling you how to build a character who can swallow porcupines whole without injury, and there may well be rules about close exposure to nuclear weapons, because superheroes can sometimes survive that sort of thing – an outcome which clearly goes against most of the players knowledge and experience.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that the only reason to have rules in a pure role-playing game is to establish where the setting differs from reality – and thus to help figure out the result of occurrences in that setting when the results are not already obvious. Naturally enough, that includes combat. Do you need extensive combat rules for the Terminator versus a Normal Human Child in a Playpen? (If you think that the answer is “Yes! With lots of gory description!” then I recommend seeing a psychiatrist). On the other hand, if it’s the Terminator versus a very young Hercules, that may be a different matter – because now the outcome is seriously in doubt.

That means that if the rules for a role-playing game…

  • Don’t support the world background and the fluff text – as in “but how could that happen when the local clerics/mages/gadgeteers/warriors/hackers/artists/spirits could just (whatever)? – they’re badly written.
  • Don’t describe how things actually work IN THE SETTING so as to help the game master figure out situations that they don’t cover (there are ALWAYS situations that they don’t cover, see Godel’s Theorem) – they’re badly written.
  • Provide out-of-setting or “metagame” mechanics, rather than figuring out how to make the rules support the desired setting, they’re badly written. Anything that’s out-of-character goes directly against the core of a role-playing game – playing a character. (And yes, Narrative Mechanics can be fitted into the way a setting works. For examples, look over HERE).
  • Rely on listing things you can or can’t do, as opposed to discussing the consequences and odds of success for any action a character could attempt, they’re badly written.
  • Require lots of errata, corrections, or editions, they were (self-evidently) badly written – at least to start with.

Now those guidelines only apply to role-playing games. Most wargames, tactical board games, card games, lawn games, and other games are NOT roleplaying games; they’re abstracted from the setting – and it’s only the mechanics and the challenge of winning under those rules that is important. They also don’t apply to setting-free systems, where you’re simply handed a game engine and use it to build the mechanics to represent a world and the characters in it. Those aren’t, and are not intended to be, complete games in themselves; they require a game master with a setting in mind to make them work.

Like it or not, out-of-character narrative mechanics, rules which provide tactical (or any other) mechanics without in-setting explanation, rules which don’t support the setting, “exception-based design” – in fact, anything but an unobtrusive simulationist system to help sort out “what happens if I do this” – undermines role-playing. Of course, it may, at the same time, enhance other aspects of the game as a whole. That’s why most “role playing games” are actually hybrid systems with role-playing aspects. They’re designed to present interesting gamist or narrative challenges, or to tell great stories, or to provide puzzles, or to do many other things, as well as to provide opprotunities for role-playing.

Now “realism” has nothing to do with “simulationist”. I can write simulationist rules for the world of Wily E. Coyote that will reproduce the cartoons nicely; I’ll just be simulating a world that has nothing much to do with the way that the “real” world works – which is fine. Similarly, “a good game” has nothing to do with “realism”, “simulationist”, “narrativist”, “gamist”, or “role-playing”. Chess is a good game too, so are many video games, and so is croquet.

But if I happen to be looking for a “role-playing game”, I may be looking for a pure roleplaying game – one where that dying old man talking to his grandchildren is a far more important and vital role than that combat tank – or I may actually be looking for one of the many hybrid systems, which supplement the role-playing with tactical, narrative, and out-of-character challenges. I may even just be looking for wonderful fluff, and mechanics be damned.

Knowing what you’re actually after makes it a LOT easier to find or design a game, and is always worth a little thought – if only because it helps avoid the perpetual internet quarrels between people who are actually looking for different sorts of hybrid games and yet believe – thanks to them all being called “role playing games” – that they’re all the same sort of game.

Eclipse – Magic and Metamagic Part II

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And here we have the last couple of Alzrius’s current questions.

How can I make a spell last a truly long time in a sort of “stasis” until I activate it? I know that Persistent metamagic will extend a spell’s duration for a varying length of time depending on the increase in spell level, but that’s for an active spell. I’m talking about a spell that, once cast, remains dormant until activated (e.g. a conscious contingency effect). This is the old “Remember back when I clasped your shoulder in a friendly way all those years ago? I cast a spell on you then, and now *snaps fingers* I’ve got you,” routine. Given how similar this is to Triggering metamagic, perhaps a better way to ask would be, can you somehow extend the duration of a Triggered spell after it’s been cast, since you can’t otherwise make a Triggered spell last more than a few days normally?

This one is tricky – and should be; after all, if you can set long-term triggered spells on people without some other special cost or limitation, what’s to stop you from – say – setting up all your friends with a dozen convenient preset spells each? Or even more if “Dispel Magic” isn’t a common threat or doesn’t work on spells that aren’t actually active yet?

  • You could buy it as an Immunity to the normal time limitations on the Triggering Metamagic. Now that’s an effect which could let a subtle mage have thousands of triggered spells waiting – perhaps a fireball on every everburning torch in the royal castle, with the magic of the torches themselves to cover up the magical traces of the waiting spell. A most unpleasant surprise there for anyone who happens to be in a room when twenty fireballs go off in it on a single command word. Why not use the same word throughout the building, then cast Ventriloquism and shout that word from afar? Destroy the entire government in a single moment!

Perhaps fortunately, this is a natural-law immunity, and probably an epic one – and thus is both very expensive and requires special permission from the game master. I wouldn’t be inclined to grant that permission personally. This is just too easy to abuse.

  • The most general way to do this is to learn Spell Storing for placing spells on living things with the “Simple Action” activation modifier (or learn Craft Wondrous Item with whatever modifier the GM demands to enchant living creatures) then use the Forge of Will spell (from The Practical Enchanter) to enchant people with one-shot command-word-triggered spells with a simple touch. That drastically ups your costs – but in Pathfinder that won’t cost you any XP (and not too many in standard games) and it’s still relatively cheap as long as you stick to just a few uses of low-level spells. It may lead to complex bookkeeping though, and probably won’t let you have spells ready to go that you cast on someone years ago until years have gone by in the campaign. This route is expensive unless you limit it, but item-crafting feats can be quite useful anyway.
  • If you want to manage without long-term costs, but with relatively few preset spells, you could use Power Words with the Spellform and Sendings modifiers, Specialized and Corrupted/the spell must be attached to someone else, the target cannot be changed, and the sendings must be triggered by verbal command from the caster rather than having limited autonomy. That would give you a modest pool of spells you could leave hanging around other people – although, since the pool is modest, you probably wouldn’t want to leave them committed all THAT long (especially since it would risk them becoming living spellforms). Still, it’s only 6 CP.
  • If you want to almost always have a hidden trick that “you set up long ago” available, take Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized in “having set up a contingent effect”. Throw in Rite of Chi with some Bonus Uses, and you’ll be able to afford to invoke a few such effects each day – more if you make it more plausible by sticking with spells you actually know, make it a point to touch people at random while muttering under your breath, and only pull it on creatures that you might reasonably have had prior contact with. In fact, if you apply all of those as limitations, you can cut down the cost of 3d6 Mana with Reality Editing and Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses down to a mere 12 CP or two Feats – and you’ll be able to start using “effects that you set up years ago” several times a day right now. While that makes no logical sense, and fails utterly to explain why the character hasn’t been using those options he supposedly set up long ago before now, it also gives the character the ability he or she apparently wants to have and makes it a significant part of his or her abilities right away. A more straightforward “set up abilities in advance on specific opponents” power, it may well never enter play; in most campaigns a lot of enemies are once-offs, never seen before their initial appearance and never seen again after it – and characters often don’t have time before the campaign ends to harvest the fruits of any long-term plans. I’d still really only recommend this method for a new character being brought into the game though, unless your game master has a very loose approach to casualty.
  • The simplest, and probably the most limited, approach is to go for a basic spell. In this case, use a variant on Mark of Justice; reduce the triggering option to your verbal command (for -1 spell level), give it a normal save (possibly made when it’s triggered) for -1 spell level, and take off the extended casting time for +1 spell level. That gives our “Delayed Bestow Curse” a net level of four. Given the immense variety of options for Bestow Curse – “you may also invent your own curse” – this provides plenty ways to have nasty things happen to people. Since a curse can effectively Slow an opponent forever, or reduce their constitution by six points, or drain their spellcasting attribute to the point where most of their spells become unusable, I’d say that having all their weapons vanish, or bursting into flames for a fair amount of damage (as a once-off), or finding that all their attacks do half damage, would all work too. Sadly, while this is simple, and very cheap (all you need is the ability to cast fourth level spells – which a spellcaster will almost certainly be developing anyway – and a single spell formula), it’s also unlikely to be all that useful. After all, it doesn’t offer any method of providing beneficial effects, it doesn’t have any secondary utility, and it only works if you actually get to meet opponents well before you’re going to be fighting them – and yet still know that they’re going to be opponents. After all, you can’t afford to be casting fourth level spells on everybody; they’re expensive!

Is there any iteration of the Temporal metamagic (part of the Easy theorem) that will let my character cast a given spell as an immediate action?

  • Yes there is; it’s simply a less common application, since it raises the base cost of Temporal from +1 to +3. After all, all the actions in a round are – in theory – actually happening at the same time, so an “immediate” action must actually be taking place in the middle of your usual actions. Evidently immediate actions work a bit like Time Stop; the user can interrupt his or her primary actions, use the immediate effect, and pick up his or her primary actions again without missing a step. I personally think that’s a good trick, and well worth +3 spell levels to make it possible.
  • Alternatively, and far less expensively for a lower-level caster, you can simply take Reflex Training (the three times per day variant) and specialize it in spellcasting. That will achieve much the same effect, if only a few times per day – which is probably more often than you’d want to stack that much metamagic onto a prepared spell anyway.

Eclipse – Magic and Metamagic

Today we have some questions from Alzrius – and a set of responses long enough that I’m going to have to split this response into two parts…

I’m playing a utility mage in my current Pathfinder group, I wanted to ask about feats and spells or other special (Eclipse) abilities that would let me bend or even break some of the usual rules regarding spellcasting. Most of these are things that can’t normally be done with metamagic.


What would let me cast a spell that’s undetectable both while it’s in effect and leaves no lingering aura? That is, Detect Magic and similar spells wouldn’t pick it up. Presumably, this would also let me craft undetectable magic items.

There are actually a couple of ways to do this sort of thing:

  • The Eldritch series of abilities starts with the Subtle modifier (6 CP), which makes your magic difficult – although not impossible – to detect.
  • The Lacing metamagic includes the option to give spells a built-in illusion effect to hide them. That’s usually applied to spells with audible or visible effects, but you can apply the concealment to other aspects if you wish – such as the magical aura of a spell. Given that all spells have magical auras, but none of them are particularly unusual, that comes in the default space between “already subtle or quiet” at +1 spell level and “flashy or wildly obvious” at +3 spell levels. Ergo, +2 spell levels. Buying Lacing and Glory would conceal your spells very nicely, and would work on any continuously-active items you made as well (it probably wouldn’t work on spell-storing devices, since the stored spell is not active and so the concealment effect wouldn’t be active either). You’d need to upgrade this to deal with True Seeing and similar high-level divination effects that pierce normal illusions, but by the time those become a worry, finding room for an upgrade shouldn’t be too much trouble. Overall, 8-12 CP depending on just what modifiers you apply.
  • If you wanted to get really complicated, you could use Cloaking or an Immunity to protect yourself against divination and then either use another Immunity (to the normal restrictions) or Blessing to extend the effect to your spells and items – but that’s over-convoluted, expensive, and requires special permission from the game master for the use of either Blessing or a natural-law Immunity. More trouble than it’s worth either way.
  • You could try to talk your game master into letting you define your magic as “something else” – such as calling on the mysterious energies of a strange plane – for free. Unfortunately, this cuts both ways; if the forces you’re tapping don’t interact with magic, your “spells” couldn’t be detected or dispelled by the usual spells – but you couldn’t use your own powers to detect or dispel magic either. Given the awkwardness of having two separate-but-near-identical systems in play, I don’t recommend even trying to talk your game master into this.

When you’re asleep, you normally automatically fail all saving throws. How would my character retain the ability to make saving throws against spells and effects even while slumbering?

First up, this depends a bit on interpretation; a sleeping character is considered “Helpless”, and is treated as if his or her dexterity was zero – but the condition listing then goes on to note that this is treated as the character having a “-5″ dexterity modifier – and why note that if it’s automatic failure?

There’s also a SRD bit that says that “Some spells restrict you to willing targets only. Declaring yourself as a willing target is something that can be done at any time (even if you’re flat-footed or it isn’t your turn). Unconscious creatures are automatically considered willing, but a character who is conscious but immobile or helpless (such as one who is bound, cowering, grappling, paralyzed, pinned, or stunned) is not automatically willing.”

Now, while willing targets get no saves, spells that only affect willing targets are helpful spells. This is in there to dodge the notion of unconscious characters having to be awoken BEFORE they can be magically healed or teleported with the rest of the party, and only applies to spells that require willing targets. Being “willing” to accept helpful spells is not the same as renouncing a save against a hostile effect. That’s why unconscious characters quite specifically get saves against spells intended to invade their minds, against catching diseases, to shake off negative levels, and against many other hazards.

Personally, I usually apply a circumstance penalty to will saves for sleeping targets (although the results may not be quite the same on a sleeper; they often mishear commands or simply act things out in their dreams). On the other hand, most fortitude saves don’t rely on being conscious. Even in reality, being bitten by a snake isn’t really much worse if you’re asleep than if you’re awake.

Now, I don’t recall Pathfinder making any major changes there – but presuming that the game is being run this way…

  • The easiest way to do this is to take Opportunist – allowing the user to select a particular situation (being asleep) and a particular type of action which would not normally be permitted in that situation (normal saving throws) and thereafter use that action in that situation. That’s (6 CP).
  • You could do the same thing by taking Immunity/the need to sleep. That’s Very Common, Severe (since remaining permanently awake will have very nasty consequences in time – such as death), Major, Specialized and Corrupted/only to allow the use of inherent defensive abilities while otherwise “asleep”, saving throws only. That’s also 6 CP, but does show a more obvious upgrade path – get rid of the Corruption and you can continue to enjoy your dexterity-based AC bonuses and such in your sleep. Very handy if you take an Accursed/Sleepwalker disadvantage!

Normally, when a person makes a saving throw against a spell, they know that some sort of effect just targeted them, though not what it was or who used it. However, that can still be more information than I’d like someone to have. If my character is alone with someone, and subtly casts Charm Person on them, if they make their save they’ll likely be suspicious.

Ah, that annoying “A creature that succeeds on a saving throw against a spell that has no obvious physical effects feels a hostile force or tingle, but cannot deduce the exact nature of the attack” rule.

That’s actually rather hard to get around, simply because there’s not much to work with – and nothing at all to indicate just how it works.

Taking an immunity to other people noticing your spells really stretches the notion of you being immune to something. Not a good route to try to talk your game master into letting you take.

Well, this is making the target aware of some aspect of the environment, which makes it a sense of some sort. Ergo we have some sort of inherent sense that lets creatures know when their magical resistance is being challenged. That’s an obvious game-balance factor, but should be possible to get around; after all, humans have an immune system, but don’t automatically know when it’s being challenged.

  • Ergo, our first possiblity is making spells undetectable by this “magic sense” – most likely by using Lacing again, pretty much as above. If you can conceal a spell from sight, there’s no reason why you can’t conceal it from this “magic sense”.
  • Alternatively, you can add a secondary effect to the spell that makes the victim either forget or ignore what their “magic sense” is telling them. That would mean that the spell would call for a secondary save if the first is made; they’d only realize that a spell or effect had targeted them if they made the second save as well.

Adding this as a secondary effect is a little awkward; normally it would call for researching each spell all over again. You can get around that by buying Immunity/the need to do spell research to create a combination spell with a secondary effect (Common, Minor, Great, Specialized/can only be used to combine spells that you already know and only you can use the combined formula, 6 CP).

Once you have that – and it has a lot of other uses – all you need is the spell-combining rules from The Practical Enchanter and a specialized spell formula; “forget that alert from your magic sense” (probably no more than level one). This will still increase the level of your subtle spells by one, but it’s very flexible; you can add all kinds of secondary effects to your spells.

Eclipse and Skill Enhancements, part I

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The question of special tricks that go with particular skills in Eclipse has come up a number of times. Unfortunately, the abilities being inquired about are not open game license material. That doesn’t mean that you can’t build identical abilities in Eclipse – you certainly can, especially since Eclipse and the necessary mechanics were published under the open game license before the things came along – but I can’t use their official names, official descriptions, or call them that when providing examples.

Ergo, here’s how to build some Skill Enhancements.

Skill Enhancements are minor abilities linked to particular skills. In basic d20…

  • They normally cost two skill points each.
  • They have an assortment of prerequisites.
  • Only one can be learned at any given level
  • A character cannot have more skill tricks than one-half their level, rounded up.
  • A character can “unlearn” a skill trick when they gain a level, and spend those skill points elsewhere – provided that the game master can be talked into allowing it.

Skill Enhancements are, of course, usually the province of characters with a lot of skill points. In Eclipse, that means that they’ve been spending a lot of character points buying skill points – so diverting a few of those points to buying minor special tricks changes absolutely nothing.

By definition, Skill Enhancements are only minor talents – and aren’t nearly as useful as Feats. Building them in Eclipse thus usually means taking a special ability that’s Specialized  and Corrupted to reduce its utility and cost – often (although certainly not always) using “only usable once per encounter or once every few minutes out of combat” and “requires a successful skill check” as the limitations. That usually brings the net cost down to 2 CP – oddly enough, just the cost of 2 SP.

Eclipse does not, however, generally require a lot of prerequisites, or limit your character point expenditures so rigidly; you can go ahead and buy all the odd skill-linked tricks that you want and can afford.

If you really want the ability to “unlearn” them automatically, instead of talking to the game master about a character revision, buy Enthusiast, Specialized for Double Effect (2 “floating” CP) and Corrupted for two-thirds cost (2 CP)/the points are only usable to buy skills and minor skill enhancements and only one can be traded out per level.

Now, to build some skill enhancements…

Acrobatic Strike: Normally you can’t attack someone when you tumble past them. Now you can. Opportunist: the character gets to make a flat-footed attack when he or she moves through an ground-bound enemies space. Specialized and Corrupted/requires a successful tumble skill check, only usable once per encounter or once per minute out of combat (2 CP).

  • Now, variations on that actually sound a lot more amusing. How about Acrobatic Pickpocketing? Or perhaps Acrobatic Roping to try and tie someone up as you tumble past and around them?

Assume Mannerisms: Normally people who know someone have an easy time spotting impersonators. Now, not so much so. Immunity/the bonus to penetrating an impersonation granted to people who know the person being impersonated (Uncommon, Minor, Major, Corrupted/only usable for one hour, and only once per day, 2 CP).

  • Likely variants here could include Divergent Reality (reduces the penalties for trying to use Bluff to pass off a lie that’s blatantly untrue), or perhaps Harmless Guise (negates penalties for trying to use Gather Information in a hostile environment).

Back Upright: Standing up is normally a move action that provokes an Attack of Opportunity. Now it’s a free action that doesn’t. That’s Evasive (for an uncommon action) and Immunity to the time normally required to stand up (Uncommon, Minor, Major), both with a base cost of three CP – and the total reduced to 2 CP after applying those “only usable once per encounter or once every few minutes out of combat” and “requires a successful skill check” limitations.

  • I can think of a LOT of places to use those mechanics – but be warned; that immunity falls under the “Immunity to Natural Law” provision, and thus requires special permission from the game master. I’d recommend a good deal of caution on allowing it; this case is limited enough to be fairly harmless – but letting characters do a lot of things outside of time is asking for (at the least) a very strange game.

Clear Sight: Normally you can’t see invisible things. This lets you catch a brief glimpse of them with a DC 20 spot check. That’s Occult Sense/Detect Invisibility, Specialized and Corrupted/requires a DC 20 spot check made as a swift action, only usable once per encounter or minute out of combat (2 CP).

  • Now this one is just begging for an Eclipse note…. Think about how many other special sensory talents you can buy this way. Want to be able to spot magic? Disguised demons? Ninja? Hidden weapons? Auras? Causes of Death? The nature of potions? The origin of archeological relics? Any of a thousand other items a character might be interested in? Go ahead, buy some weird sense that tells you what you want to know, link it to a successful skill check to corrupt it and make it take awhile – say an hour for non-combat stuff, such as determining the nature of potions, and the usual once every few minutes (“per encounter”) for combat-useful tricks. That way, for a very low cost, your character can be the unique expert on some interesting topic.

Clever Fingers: You no longer need tools to disable devices and open locks. That’s Immunity to the need for thieves tools to avoid penalties to relevant skills (Common, Minor – and Trivial, since it’s only a -2 penalty normally, for a net cost of 2 CP). You don’t even need to restrict this one to bring it down to 2 CP, which is a modest improvement over the basic version.

  • Obviously enough, variants apply to many other skills. Want your dwarf to forge iron with his or her bare hands? Your earth-elemental entity to simply transform his/her/it’s fingers into tools? Minor variants on this ability will cover you.

Collector of Tales: You get a +5 competence bonus on checks to see if you know things about monsters. That’s actually a little tricky; there are lots of ways to get bonuses on skills, but few of them will be specifically +5 – and this needs to be cheap and to apply to five different skills. The easiest way is to buy Specific Knowledge/special powers and weaknesses of monsters. That would normally provide a +15 typeless bonus to a specific skill for that particular purpose for a mere 1-3 CP, but +3 to each of five different knowledge skills is quite acceptable. Now, turning that from a +3 typeless bonus into a +5 competence bonus is a Corruption (for increased effect)/does not stack other competence bonuses. Overall, the net cost is only 1-3 CP – and going with the middle of the range (2 CP) is quite reasonable.

  • This is good for buying specialties in a lot of subjects. Want to be an expert on Dragons, their role in the ecosystem, and their history? On the study of the Telerian Empire? Go right ahead.

Concealed Casting: You can use Sleight of Hand to hide your spellcasting. Whether or not this calls for any special trick at all is up to your game master; concealing spellcasting isn’t one of the options that’s actually listed under sleight of hand – but the basic rules tell us that “This section describes each skill, including common uses and typical modifiers. Characters can sometimes use skills for purposes other than those noted here”.

  • Of course, if the GM doesn’t feel that something you want to do falls under reasonable uses for a skill, you’ll just have to buy an upgrade – and the usual method for stretching a skill into new territory is an Immunity to the normal limits of the skill. That’s Immunity/the rules against using Sleight of Hand to conceal spellcasting (Common, Minor, Minor), Specialized and Corrupted/can only be used once per encounter or per one-minute period outside of combat, requires a Sleight of Hand check (opposed by onlookers Spot checks) made as part of the casting. If an onlooker doesn’t see that you’re casting a spell, they can’t attempt to counter it or use the opening to make an Attack of Opportunity.
  • This one, of course, is a general template for making a skill do something that it normally couldn’t – and there are many other abilities on this particular list that are going to be built exactly the same way.

Corner Stance: If you have a corner to brace yourself in, you can briefly let go of a surface you’re climbing without falling. Now, this is another one that would seem to be a reasonable option for the base skill – mountain climbers and such do this kind of thing quite often – but if your game master wants you to have a special ability to justify this, buy it just like Concealed Casting, above.

Dismounting Strike: You can use a Fast Dismount check made with the Ride skill to leap off a moving mount and attack someone as if you’d charged them.

  • OK, do you really need a special ability for this? Characters have been charging into combat, as well as diving off of balconies, cliffs, stairs, mounts, flying carpets, trains, and pretty much anything else which offers a height and/or velocity boost, to add momentum and impact to an attack since Chainmail came out. Older editions, the game master simply assigned a bonus to the damage countered by an ad hoc penalty to the attack (and likely a chance of falling or – as in the case of the spear-wielding character who attempted to dive onto a dragon passing a few hundred feet below the cliff he was standing on – a chance of going “splat” on a miss and a BIG bonus to damage). Third edition handles it with a bonus to hit (no, I’m not sure why) and a penalty to AC and loss of iterative attacks. That seems a bit counter-intuitive, but – given the abstract nature of the combat system – works well enough.
  • If your game master feels that you need a special ability for this, buy it just like Concealed Casting, above.

Eclipse d20 – Ability Exchange

Hecate, illustration by Stéphane Mallarmé, in ...

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Something that comes up fairly often – especially with inexperienced players making characters – is the desire to drop old abilities and replace them with new ones.

Now that’s not unreasonable; unpracticed skills and abilities often become rusty over time, and – eventually – are forgotten or atrophy into near-uselessness. They rarely go away entirely though – and are usually fairly easy to rebuild, at least to a point. There’s some truth to the old routine about “you never forget how to ride a bicycle”.

That’s something that there’s no formal rule for in Eclipse. You’re always free to upgrade existing abilities, you can use a ritual, spell, or psionic ability that lets you forget old abilities and replace them with new ones, and you can gain temporary abilities in a variety of ways – but there’s no set mechanical method of simply forgetting things and spending the points elsewhere.

I’ll usually let characters trade around a few points every so often – but how often that’s appropriate depends a lot of how fast the characters are advancing. It’s also something that requires cooperation between the player and the game master.

For example…

  • A player who finds that they’ve purchased abilities that they never actually use, or bought powers that don’t actually reflect their character conception, can pretty much have that adjusted on request. If you aren’t doing that already – in pretty much any game system where you don’t just roll randomly for everything – you probably ought to be.
  • If a character purchased special privileges as a Noble of Kalrynth, but discovered that Kalrynth was scheming to bring about a horrific apocalypse and turned against them, it would definitely be time to turn those points into something else. How about contacts with a friendly group opposed to Kalrynth? Perhaps a sacred blessing? A new ally? Those are all throughly rational ways to shift a few points.
  • An aging fighter-turned-politician might take some points off his (presumably high) base attack bonus to buy contacts and social abilities, but he or she is pretty unlikely to forget the basics of combat, or lose his or her racial abilities, or inherent magical powers, or a lot of other things.

Simply letting some abilities atrophy while you work on new ones is a lot more problematic. Quite a lot of games feature a meteoric rise; characters may start off as inexperienced beginners and rise to mighty overlords over the course of (at most) a few game years.

I’ve played with a d20 group that – more or less as an experiment – simply tried to level as fast as possible for a bit. The characters made nine levels over the course of nearly five weeks of game time. That’s not too unexpected – the game is built around “so many encounters make a level” after all, and the characters did nothing but dash from one encounter to the next as quickly as they could find another string of them or a powerful monster in the wilderness – but it does mean that a level-based system for ability-atrophy would have been wildly inappropriate.

On the other hand, I’ve also played with groups that routinely spent six months or more on between-adventure downtime. One, very high-level (and almost entirely elven), group spent several centuries waiting for another worthy challenge to arise. Now, none of them WANTED to rebuild their characters – but it certainly would have been enough time to retrain themselves if they’d wanted to. Once again, a level-based system for ability-atrophy wouldn’t have worked.

Now, if I put in a rule that simply allowed rewrites over time, characters could potentially just take some time off and completely transform themselves – which doesn’t work too well either.

That’s why, on this one, there is no hard-and-fast rule – and there isn’t going to be. If you want to change old point-expenditures, you’re just going to have to persuade your game master that what you want to do is reasonable.

Any role-playing gamer who isn’t reasonably good at that will probably need (yet another) new character in very short order anyway.

The High Frontier

Illustration of the interior of an O'Neill cyl...

Hidden in the deeps

Civilization lies at the roots of mountains, beneath the hills, and in dangerous outposts by the sea – nestled as deeply within the sheltering depths of the atmosphere as possible. Men dig deep, and seal their doors with stone and iron, or else forsake advancement to live in small, tribal, groups, scattered in the wilderness.


That’s because concentrated magic and heavy elements – the agricultural blessings which support large populations, the priestly spells which bring healing and comfort, the wards which hold back the restless dead, the enchanted blades which pierce the adamantine hides of monsters, and all the other technology of magic which underlies civilization in a magical world, as well as coinage and heavy metals such as gold and platinum, also draw down the Great Beasts.

Stars burn like candles against the infinite night, their worlds huddled close to the warming fires. There, shielded by thin veils of atmosphere, life swarms – tiny beings who need not husband their life forces against the endless drain of the void and eons of time. Beings with frail and short-lived forms, who burn through their energies with abandon, to make room for new generations. Beings who can afford to invest the stuff of their lives in enchantments and sorceries.

And those resources of power and enchantment are what call to the elder  beings that live in the infinite depths. They are creatures of the airless depths of space, of freefall and radiation, and of rock, metal, and nuclear fire. Only the greatest – eons old, mountainous, and filled with power – can drift down through the smothering layers of atmosphere to almost touch a planetary surface and still return to the freedom of space. Middling-sized creatures, a mere few thousand feet to a few miles across, must orbit, and work from afar – while the least such beings, such as the plasma dragons and fusion “sharks”, must content themselves with those few morsels which depart the hostile depths of gravitational wells to visit the shallows of space.

Intermediate and greater beings rarely “attack” directly however. To do so is to almost certainly destroy the very resources they seek to harvest: instead they dispatch tiny constructs – organelles or insignificant remotes from their viewpoints, terrible monsters from the viewpoints of planetary creatures – to gather what they seek.

From a planetary point of view, a contingent of horrific monsters descends upon a city (or upon a party of magic-rich adventurers) and attacks. People flee or seal their doors, and retreat into the depths, for they too need the resources the creatures seek to survive against the mundane hazards of the world.

Eventually the elder beings withdraw – perhaps glutted, perhaps merely finding the diminishing returns no longer worth the expense of maintaining the operation, occasionally driven off by local defenders of unusual power. A few terrible monsters are left behind, as insignificant to the elder ones as a few shed flakes of skin are to a human. Assaulted cities may recover, hunting down the last few horrors as their people emerge from their refuges  – or they may collapse entirely, leaving nothing but deep ruins, tombs for entire cities, filled with the unquiet dead and with slumbering, undirected, horrors sitting atop whatever heaps of resources (of magic and rare metals) they had accumulated before going into hibernation. Naturally enough, the strongest horrors will often prove to have penetrated most deeply into such refuges…

Thus ancient artifacts are things to be stored in warded vaults, hopefully safely hidden from the unnatural senses of the elder ones, to be taken out and used only rarely, with trepidation. Heaps of treasure and magic molder in ancient ruins deep beneath the ground, too deep to be easily sensed by the Great Beasts, and guarded by swarms of undead and waiting construct-horrors of imperishable metal and stone, waiting only to be disturbed to awaken – either to be defeated or to add the bones and equipment of more adventurers to their hordes. Powerful mages and priests cast spells with caution, and limit the use of their powers, while their friends avoid carrying masses of magical equipment or developing mystical abilities lest they draw the attention of the horrors from beyond the circles of the world. A realm built upon magic, a powerful mage’s tower, even a party of adventurers with mighty innate powers… all are far too likely to draw attack.

  • Lower-level adventures usually revolve around bandits, intrigue, searching the uppermost – and thus safest – levels of fallen refuges, and the lesser (and generally non-magical) planetary creatures.
  • Mid-level adventures involve exploring the deeper levels of old refuges where the most deadly undead and harvest-constructs may yet linger, defending cities against casual raids, mundane travels, and local politics.
  • High-level adventures may involve defending cities against determined raids, clearing entire refuges of stray horrors, braving the dangers of seeking hidden magical objects – and attempting to locate, bond, and train a Syfann, so as to battle the Great Beasts in their own realm.

The Syfann are seal-like, quite intelligent for animals, and telekinetic – capable of projecting a force-bubble around themselves that provides life support, resistance to the hazards of space, wind screening – and telekinetic flight. They are capable of accelerating themselves, and roughly half a ton of cargo, at several gravities without feeling a thing, and can easily carry a rider into orbit, to an attacking Great Beast, or to a nearby moon.

When they’re linked with the energies of a powerful, high-level, character, their limits increase. They can accelerate faster, travel further, and resist greater hazards. A bonded character powerful enough to have few challenges left on his or her home world can explore the terrible depths of space, battle the dragons of the asteroid belt, and fly among the stars with their faithful steed.

The Syfann may be a creation of some ancient geniuses or an evolutionary step towards leaving the planet – but taming one is the key to truly high-level adventures. Once used to people, they’re quite friendly and very loyal – but getting close to one for long enough to get it used to you can be quite a trick. Small colonies frequent the frozen tops of high mountains, the centers of icecaps, and other places where they are can fly and play safe and undisturbed. Worse, they can sense the presence of magic – and, until they’re tamed, will usually flee from it at enormous speeds.

Still, with a Syfann as a steed-companion, a courageous hero can pursue the Great Beasts into the infinite night.

The Seas of Space are a realm of beauty and terror, where blazing suns cast stark shadows across the space-coral reefs of asteroid belts, where fusion-driven “sharks” seek to devour sources of water and organic molecules – if possible, without the wasteful use of energy-blasts – and plasma dragons feed on solar flares.

Life here is founded on metal and crystal and raw energy, tough enough to withstand millennia of meteor strikes, vast and powerful enough to withstand a perpetual struggle against creatures just as deadly. Fortunately, adventurers are small enough to be beneath the direct notice of the greater horrors – unless their power becomes vast indeed.

Apparently drifting in the darkness, terrible accelerations concealed by incredible distances, the most powerful of the Great Beasts are many miles across – living “dungeons”, filled with terrible energies, populated with dreadful symbionts, parasites, organelles, and (occasionally) even a few  descendants of planetary creatures clinging to life in survivable pockets. Surrounded, and often filled, with one of the most hostile of all environments the Great Beasts incorporate within themselves the stolen planetary magics of ages past. Larger than any one planet can support, and occasionally worshiped as gods, they populate the deeps of space – and, perhaps, occasionally meet between the stars in the oort clouds to meet and trade, as lesser entities might visit a marketplace or purchase the wares of a wandering merchant.

To penetrate so far, and – perhaps – to divert the Great Beasts from your world for a few centuries or millennia would be an epic adventure indeed, even if no mere mortal is likely to be able to do too much to change to ecology of the galaxy.

Occasionally, a group of the Great Beasts will find a young or isolated world which they have not touched before – and such worlds often invite assault, simply by virtue of having accumulated vast hordes of magic. Such a terrible occurrence will often be recorded by the planetary residents as an invasion of abominations which shatters their civilization.

For the Great Beasts such an occasion will be fondly remembered as their equivalent of “that day last month when we found a big patch of ripe berries that no one was harvesting!”.

Fortunately, those humans who choose to live without much in the way of magic and heavy metal – the small tribes, the subsistence farmers, and similar folk – generally need merely hide when the once-every-few-centuries Great Beast scavenging for water and organic molecules comes calling; they need only defend themselves against mundane local menaces.

You always need an answer to “how can the normal people live with all those high powered monsters around?” In this case, it’s pretty simple; swarms of undead only arise in the tomb-ruins of devastated cities, where no one is performing the proper rituals for the dead – and they must stay close to the place of their deaths. The greater horrors are not “around” – they are out THERE.

In this case you also get some bonuses; a reason for why so few fantasy cultures go into space, a reason to have normal life be magic-less enough to be familiar, a reason for monsters sitting on piles of treasure in deep dungeons, a lack of a need to explain dungeon ecologies (since they’re full of inactive space-monster-constructs and undead), plenty of ruins and underground refuges, and a good reason why civilization does not spread out beyond its well-defended pockets. It provides a steady drain on magical gear (space monsters ate my magic sword!), explains why high-level adventurers kids tend to be fostered in the courts of noble friends and such, rather than being kept with their parents or in their strongholds (and incidentally being loaded with magic and special advantages). High level adventurers may create strongholds in the asteroid belts – but they are combat outposts, not places to raise children and collect taxes.

It also has the amusing consequence of transforming all the dungeoneering into astronaut training – and with the environment and ecology just too hostile for the planetary life-forms to colonize without a LOT of magic it provides a perpetual frontier to keep the high-level adventurers busy holding back the things that ravage their planet. Simultaneously, that also leaves the planetary frontier to the mid- level types – which is arguably as it should be.

RPG and Character Design – Combat Styles

A recent request was for a look at two-weapon fighting techniques.

For that, it’s best to start with some basics. This article addresses the biomechanics behind designing practical melee weapons – but the basic melee styles for humans (and, by extension, humanoids) really haven’t changed a lot since Homo became Sapiens. Well-designed melee weapons allow the user to apply all the strength and speed of which he or she is capable – which is why the classic rule of combat is that the choice of weapons matters far less than the abilities of the combatants.

So what are those basic styles? You’ve got to fall back on something when evasion fails.

  • You can skip artificial weapons entirely, relying entirely on improvised weapons or even your bare hands and feet. This has a really major advantage; it’s extremely hard to keep you away from everything you could use to fight with without crippling you in advance.

On the other hand, there is a reason why actual combatants have always used especially-designed and crafted weapons if they possibly can, well-balanced tools if they can’t get actual weapons, and improvised weapons if they can’t get well-balanced tools, in preference to their hands and feet. Almost anything is better than hands and feet – although improvised weapons still aren’t very good. Yes, unarmed martial arts training will help – but, all else being equal, a man with a blade and three months of training in using it is almost certainly going to beat out a martial artist with years of training. When it comes to “successful unarmed armies”, the cupboard of history – vast as it is – is virtually bare.

And no, Ghandi doesn’t count. Just think what Attila the Hun, the Romans, or Stalin would have done to him.

  • You can use a two-handed weapon. That gives you two points to apply force to it, providing better control, increased speed of use and recovery, and allowing the use of a heavier weapon – which increases the damage it can inflict. Spears, staves, polearms, baseball bats, and a huge array of other weapons and tools are used this way.

This is a pretty good option. It’s not a particularly defensive style, even if you’ve got good armor, and so it isn’t favored by the highly trained and experienced. After all, you generally don’t get to be highly trained and experienced if you take more risks than you must when it comes to fighting – and no one’s ever found a better general combat survival strategy than “let other people take as many of the risks as possible”. Two-handed weapons are, however, relatively easily taught – and will often let the user draw on their prior experience with common tools and implements. That’s why a mob of minimally-trained peasants can really ruin your day. They may not be experienced fighters, but they have plenty of practice in using axes, sledgehammers, staves, pruning hooks, pitchforks, and similar implements.

  • You can use a one-handed weapon and nothing in your other hand. This offers a rather subtle bonus when using midrange weapons; it encourages the user to fight standing sat an angle to an opponent – slightly reducing an opponents target areas while somewhat improving the user’s ability to balance, lunge in and out, and focus. Closer in, it leaves one hand free to grab or strike.

Unfortunately, this comes at a rather high price; one arm is either out of action or – at a minimum – far less threatening. As noted earlier, weapons exist because it’s rather difficult to do serious damage with your bare hands. This particular style is only common where the usual weapons have medium-to-long range, are piercing, require minimal muscle power, and are not opposed by much in the way of defenses. That way a single accurate hit to the body or head is often decisive, but an off-target hit is relatively harmless. You only trade half your offensive power for a modest boost on your defense when a half-strength offense is enough.

You see this with unarmored fighters with epees, foils, light pistols, and knives – weapons small and light enough to be fully controlled with one hand, which penetrate easily to vital organs with a thrust in the right place, are relatively harmless on a grazing hit, and which are usually used by civilians fighting as individuals or in small groups. This is why soldiers and policemen, who usually have better weapons, come in groups, and – at least throughout much of history – often have effective armor, generally aren’t seen fighting this way.

  • You can use a one-handed weapon and a defensive item – whether that item is a cloak wrapped around an arm (not a very good choice, but still far better than nothing), a parrying dagger or sai, a buckler, or a larger shield – with the other hand. There are a lot of options here, and they all have their advantages. A smaller and lighter item is easier to see past, easier to carry around, and easier to move quickly. A larger item offers more coverage, can absorb more of an impact due to it’s greater mass, and can provide some coverage against ranged attacks. In military and heavy-combat situations, larger, heavier, items – such as shields – tended to be preferred. In areas where organized combat was not expected, smaller items tended to be preferred – leading to the conclusion that smaller items are generally less effective, but that larger ones are far more awkward to haul around.

There are several things that make a defensive item easier to manage than a true second weapon. Two are probably most important – the fact that the repertoire of movements needed to interpose an item between it’s user and an attack is far less complicated than those involved in the full use of a weapon and the fact that such items take advantage of an ancient set of reflexes. After all, the ancient logic of survival is hardwired into the brain – and you can handle a damaged, or even missing, arm far better than you can handle an injury to a vital organ.

You can blur the distinction a bit by putting spikes on a shield, or threatening a strike with a parrying dagger, or some such, but such tactics are always secondary. If they’re not, you’re actually using two one-handed weapons.

  • You can use two one-handed weapons. This gives up power and control in favor of the ability to hit more often and threaten attack from multiple angles at the same time. That can be pretty hard for opponents to deal with. Unfortunately, the price of that falls on the central nervous system; humans tend to be weaker and clumsier with their off hand and often find it hard enough to keep track of one opponent and weapon in combat. That’s why two-weapon styles like Escrima or Florentine Fencing are relatively rare and specialized things. It takes a lot of skill and practice to fight well with two weapons – far more than it takes to fight effectively with one. In fact, sometimes using two weapons is simply an intimidation tactic; it says “I’m either very good or more than a bit crazy – and, either way, getting in close is going to be bloody dangerous”.

Wait you say? What about all those sword-and-dagger folks?

Those are fairly simple too; in most of those situations, the dagger is primarily defensive – often carried and used because bringing an actual shield or wearing armor says “I’m here to start a fight” rather than “I am ready to defend myself”. Even more importantly, throughout most of history, a personal knife was a pretty fundamental tool, piece of cutlery, and utility item – just like a Swiss Army Knife today.

Swiss Army Knives make dandy weights for your fist too, but they’re still tools, and only really get used as weapons as a last resort. The same goes for those Japanese iron parrying fans and a lot of other disguised semi-weapons.

Now that’s about it. You can mount blades or spikes on your wrists, or elbows, or head, or even put snap-out weapons in your shoes. You can make belt-buckles which fire bullets, gun-daggers, and powders to throw into your enemies eyes. You can do all kinds of things – and you can be sure that people have tried hundreds of things that you haven’t thought of in ten thousand years of searching for combat advantages. Here’s the secret to evaluating that sort of thing; if it didn’t wind up in common use historically, you can be pretty sure that it didn’t actually work very well.

The same applies to most “dirty tricks” and “low blows”. If they worked well, they’d be standard tactics. Scruples have never stopped the use of effective tactics and weapons; there were attempts to issue religious prohibitions against early firearms; and you can guess how well THAT worked. “Dirty tricks” are despised because they almost never work – which means that when a strong opponent loses to a weaker, but lucky, opponent, he or she can salve wounded pride (if not wounded body) by blaming the loss on a “Dirty Trick”. It’s a lot easier to claim a “moral victory” by blaming your loss on your opponent “cheating” than it is to say “I was overconfident!” or “I fouled up!” or “They were so lucky that God must have been on their side!”.

Blaming witchcraft and curses was popular once too, but nowadays it simply makes people think that you’re crazy – which is no help at all.

You might be able to make something weird work with magic or psychic powers or some such, but magic can make it possible to incinerate your enemies with a few words of heated sarcasm; without knowing what kind of magic works in a setting, there’s not much point in trying to discuss it.

Overall, while you can surprise an opponent once in awhile with this sort of thing, you can’t rely on it – which is why it’s best to save the weird tricks for a last resort.

So what’s best?

In reality? A good diplomat. Failing that, a really good general who can maneuver the enemy into surrendering without a fight. Failing that, outranging them with missile weapons in a position where they’re pinned down. Failing that, a strongly fortified position to hold. Failing that…

Oh. You meant if and when it finally comes down to a melee.

  • Well, no successful army in history has ever fielded a bunch of unarmed melee fighters.
  • You won’t find many winning armies who trained their front-line troops to use two weapons at once either. That style seems to be a special-niche thing throughout most of history.
  • You will find a fair number of two-handed weapon users. A lot of them are spear and pole-arm troops, such as peasant levies or the medieval Swiss. Horsemen occasionally went for this option as well, since it helped them take advantage of the extra height and speed the horse provided – and it was hard for them to turn to use a shield properly anyway.
  • You’ll find a quite a lot of one-handed-weapon-and-shield types, including the early Greeks, Aztecs, American Indians, Polynesian Islanders, Roman Legionaries, Norsemen, and more.
  • You won’t find ANYBODY training armies to use spiked elbows or similar nonsense.

Of course, we’re talking about RPG’s – with characters who are better than everyone else, and often have fantastic powers. RPG Characters can usually fight effectively any way they please; it’s simply a matter of fitting the character build to the desired style.

Next time on this topic, I’ll see about doing that, and building some of those speciality fighters in Eclipse.

Champions – The Red Scarf, Mystic Adept (154 CP)

Lid with an Aramaic magical script. Earthenwar...

Image via Wikipedia

The Red Scarf’s roles allow him to add up to sixty points worth of attributes, abilities, and skills to his basic suite of abilities – although each role takes time to build and is subject to game-master approval:

The Red Scarf’s final prepared role is as a mystic – albeit as a relatively inexperienced one. Of course, one of the great “advantages” of magic is that a relatively inexperienced magician can use ancient spells to call on forces that are far, FAR, beyond his or her ability to truly control – accepting various mystical quests and obligations along the way in exchange for that kind of raw power.

While the Red Scarf’s Mystic Adept role actually only offers access to a selection of apprentice-level basic spells (drawing on local energies rather than on greater beings) and a single greater invocation, that spell is one of the most ancient bits of magic around – and will, if he uses it much, get him entangled in a conflict that predates the formation of the solar system by many billions of years – and in the (messy) affairs of earth’s selection of young Celestial Dragons.

The Mystic Adept Package:

Attributes: +10 Constitution (20), +10 Ego (20).

54 Added Skills
(16) +2 levels with All Skills
(3) Linguist
(3) Scholar
(1) Ancient Mayan (Basic); Literacy
(1) Arabic (Basic); Literacy
(1) Aramaic (Basic); Literacy
(1) Finnish (Basic); Literacy
(1) Gaelic (Basic); Literacy
(1) Gothic (Basic); Literacy
(1) Latin (Basic); Literacy
(1) Mandarin (Basic); Literacy
(3) Knowledge / Magical Spells and Devices
(3) Knowledge / Mystical Planes
(3) Knowledge / Mystical Beings
(3) Contortionist
(3) Acrobatics
(3) Survival
(3) Animal Handler
(3) Simulate Death


60 Powers  
(5) Mental Defense (+5 Points)  


(17) Fiat Noviate, Mystical Multipower (60-pt reserve); Gestures: Instant Power, -¼; Incantation: Instant Power, -¼; Focus (Magician’s Pouch): Obvious Inaccessible, -½; Concentrate: ½ DCV, -¼; Extra Time: full phase, -½; Generic Limitation (30-point maximum on powers): -½; Visible (Reveals the user’s unique magical “signature”): -¼;Since all of these powers have 30 (or sometimes 29) active points, he can run two at once. End
u-1 Detect Magic: Includes Mental Awareness, Detect/Magic instantly at range with a +6 to the perception check, and Discriminatory Sense on the Detect Magic ability, allowing detailed analysis.  
u-1 8d6 Lesser Banishing / Dispel Magic; Range: 150; Affects: Any Single Magical Power, +¼. 3
u-1 12″ Wings of the Elohim / Flight (NC: 24″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 27; Reduced END: Half, +¼. 1
u-1 Evarinth’s Lesser Warding / Force Field (10 PD/0 ED); Variable Special Effects (May swap between PD. ED, MD, PD, and FD): Any, +½; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1; Invisible (Invisible to normal sight, visible to psychic and mystical senses): One Sense Group, +½. 0
u-1 Will of the Magus / Telekinesis (STR 13); Range: 145; Manipulation: Fine, +10 3
u-1 Astral Projection/Extra-Dimensional Movement to various Mystic Realms (+10); Leaves Physical Body Behind: -1. 3
u-1 Aegis of the Infinite / Missile Deflection (All Ranged Attacks); Deflect Attacks: Adjacent, +½.  
u-1 The First Sephiroth / Change Environment (4″ rad.); Effect: Variable, +1 3
u-1 2d6 Invocation of Mercy / Aid to All Damaged Characteristics (Fade/turn, Max. 12); Range: 0; Affects: All Powers of Special Effect, +2; Restore Only Lost Characteristics and Powers: -½ 3

Fiat Noviate is a pretty basic “superheroic mage” package – covering the usual “Mystical Senses”, “Levitation”, “Move things around by gesturing at them”, “Spellbreaking”, “Mystic Shield”, “Astral Projection”, “Minor (and rather ill-defined) Spell of Protection” and “Weird Special Effects” that virtually define a superheroic mage. The Red Scarf also has a minor healing spell available, but every apprentice is entitled to at least one special trick. It doesn’t provide him with much raw power, but it’s also cheap enough for relatively minor would-be mages to take.

(16) The Eleven Lights of Luathon (82-pt reserve); A spell that was old when the milky way was young, the Lights channel the power of Luathon – the ancient Celestial Dragon who merged with the Great Barrier to defend the cosmos billions of years ago – through the caster’s spirit and into supernal, primordial, light. The colors that result reveal a great deal about the caster’s inner nature. Using the more dangerous lights against another mage is regarded as a grave insult – perhaps because they were designed as a weapons against creatures “of the outer darkness”, and that’s a fairly rude thing to imply about someone.Multipower only usable for a preset, game-master determined list of effects (this limitation cannot be bought off later, -1), recognized by knowledgeable magi (-.25), will not work against certain targets (creatures which are linked to the power source involved may take an immunity to the spells effects, -.25), visible (reveal the user’s unique magical “signature”, can be detected in use by other mystics, -.25), -.5 in variable limitations (usually taken as either a 14- activation check or as incantations and gestures, -.25), side effect (3d6+1 cumulative major transform; the user must assist the Firstborn upon request and must oppose the Elder Ones, -1), side effect cannot be avoided (-.5), “visible” (the user’s unique magical imprint is readily distinguishable, -.25), tends to draw supernatural foes and minions of the Old Ones (-.25). End
u-1 Change Environment/Light (8″ rad.); Effect: Fixed, +0; Reduced END: Zero, +½ 0
u-1 5d6 Flash (Normal Sight); Range: 375; Reduced END: Zero, +½ 0
u-1 4d6 Energy Blast vrs Flash Defense; Range: 375; Versus: ED; Attack vs. Flash Defense: +1½; Area Effect (Radius): 6″ radius, +1; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 3
u-1 Visual Images (Normal Sight, 16″ radius); Range: 345; Observer PER Penalty: 5, +15; Reduced END: Half, +¼; Reduced END: Zero, +½ 3
m-2 Images (Normal Sight, 16″ radius); Range: 310; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Observer PER Penalty: 5, +15 0
u-1 Revealing Light (40 Active): Detect Invisibility (+0 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5, Detect Magic (+0 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5Detect Mental State (+0 to PER); Time Required: Half Phase, +0; Range: Ranged, +5, Enhanced Perception: Detects (Detect, +6 to PER).  
u-1 12d6 Suppress Invisibility; Range: 375; Affect: Single Power, +0; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 3
u-1 25d6 Dispel Darkness; Range: 375; Affects: One Power, +0 7
u-1 N-Ray Vision (not through magical wards)  
u-1 6d6 Mind Control Hypnotic Light; Communication: Verbal, +0; Area Effect (Cone): 9″ long, +1; Reduced END: Zero, +½ 0
u-2 3d6 Killing Attack (RKA); Range: 395; Penetrating: +½; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 3

The Eleven Lights of Luathon was originally mentioned in Mystic Masters, a 1989 supplement for Champions. This version has the same general theme, but has been heavily rewritten – and reduced from 123 points to 29 – while changing its origin, revising it’s functions, and adding it’s various special costs. Still, I liked the name.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 140b – Interviews

It was a bit of a risk – but they agreed over breakfast that the next logical person to talk to was this “Fred Gelman”. He was one of the few accessible non-Thralls who’d had extensive contact with Kevin, he could help them reach more obscure sources, he’d already provided a good deal of useful information and a contact-reference – and he seemed to have a good moral sense.

They asked a few questions about Kadia in general and the management in particular to cover up the fact that visiting Gelman had been on their list of “things to do on my vacation” all along – but it was really beginning to look like no one cared… Either Kevin was, in fact, being reasonably honest – or all of the currently-occupied region of Kadia was a showplace, and he kept anything he wanted off the record hidden off-dimension or at least a few million miles from the populated areas.

Gelman didn’t have to much to add to the information that he’d already provided (Gelman’s interviews with Kevin and Rabbi Menasche can be found Here, Here, and Here) – but he could give them an introduction to Kevin’s harem – and the dragonesses there certainly had some personal impressions to provide. On the other hand… most of those impressions were pretty much guaranteed to be irrelevant. The boy’s adolescent antics – however eccentric – had no real bearing on their investigation!

Unfortunately, random Thrall-interviews conducted while wandering around Kadia weren’t very informative either. Most of the Thralls had only seen Kevin in person once, at a modest distance, during their mass induction. They said that they were treated well, loved working for Kevin, had – of course – perfect health care, were well paid, and felt that they were doing valuable work. Most of them claimed to have been rescued from various bad situations, and had signed up either because of all the benefits and powers, because they wanted to use those powers to rescue friends and family members from something, or because they just wanted to do good. Even the ones who’d been indenture-slaves before they’d signed up claimed that there hadn’t been any real duress – and the youngsters who were still indenture-slaves that they spoke to tended to confirm that. They spent a little time working, a fair amount of time in school, and most of the rest of their time on whatever they wanted to do. Some of the ones who belonged to owners other than Kevin seemed to have more burdens, but that seemed to be very rare – and mostly the result of private bets.

Of course, that just emphasized the difference between belonging to Kevin and belonging to some random individual.

Curiously enough, Nadyenka found the fact that new Thralls were allowed to shift from job to job until they found one that suited them especially ominous. It – once again – implied that there were a LOT of Thralls. Enough so that even the number of open positions in a rapidly-expanding trade and Manifold operation were having difficulty absorbing them all. That was borne out by the induction arrangements; Kevin might be recruiting hundreds, or even thousands, a day! In an exponential growth pattern as THOSE Thralls recruited more! That would have to start to taper off eventually – but unless there was a limit to the number of Thralls the boy could take, he might soon command an army of millions.

Jerome found it less ominous and more sad… The religious evaluations were obviously right; the boy was a soul-binding addict. His Thralls had no general orders save… to please their master by maintaining good public relations and bringing in more Thralls. They were given lots of time to please themselves, and ever-increasing benefits, simply because that would also serve to bring in more children to be bound… an uncontrolled engine with no true purpose save to feed Kevin’s addiction. The boy seemed to be personally benign enough – but with that addiction to divert his attentions, how easy would it be for someone else to turn his activities to their own ends?

At least in his opinion, it was extremely unlikely that the Midnight Gardener project was simply an attempt to make sure that his supply of new Thralls would never end. No simple addict would risk a disruption of his current supply to deal with a possible shortage that would not occur for billions of years. There had to be something else driving the boy – but he’d be willing to bet that the thought of “Thralls without end!” was lurking in the back of his mind.

Radheya had had less to do so far – where there was no magic involved, the technological basis of Kadia, and the equipment of the Thralls, seemed to be relatively conventional. Still, the sheer scale of Kadia was disturbing. If the local hyperbolic geometry really extended indefinitely, and the systems were all in place and simply waiting for a population to arrive – then, with the near-limitless resources of the Manifold to draw upon, the only apparent upper limit on the manufacturing capacity of the place was the ability to co-ordinate production. Still, potential did not amount to intent, or even danger, when there were no signs of anything truly threatening as yet.

They decided to take advantage of Mr Gelman’s introduction and briefing on the place to talk to the residents of the Harem. If they were looking for subtle influences on the boy, talking to the people he’d chosen to surround himself with might be quite informative.

The location was a towering, showy, and quite absurd mountain-castle-fortress, and the door was answered by a young silver dragon wearing a collar.

(Silver) “Dr Parsons and company? You have a recommendation from Mr Gelman, but nothing listed for the purpose of your visit – which doesn’t quite fit in with a “vacation” anyway. I take it you’re one of the groups evaluating Kadia and Lord Kevin’s operations on behalf of those “Core Computers” he would like approval from? Were you looking for someone in particular?”

Well, it looked like the “vacation” cover was blown – it had been fairly thin to start with – but either no one cared about the the military evaluation part of the trip or it was still more-or-less secure.

(Dr Parsons) “Is Ramira in? I would like to ask her about life with Kevin.”

(Silver) “Yes, she is. I shall let her know that you would like to see her. In the meantime, if you would wait here, Marderin (the silver indicated a gold with a collar) will be in attendance.”

(Dr Parsons) “Certainly.”

(Marderin) “Can I fetch anything for any of you? Or is there anything else you need?”

(Jerome) “Perhaps drinks. It’s been a long day.”

Marderin took their orders and the drinks arrived in a few moments…

(Dr Parsons) “How close are you to Kevin?”

(Marderin) “I’m an attendant in his Harem sir; I see him fairly often, but he generally has other things in mind while he’s here than chatting with the servants.”

(Jerome) “You must be fortunate to work in such a lovely facility.”

After all, if there was anyone around who might resent Kevin, it would be a slave-attendant in his harem.

(Marderin) “Indeed sir! Especially after I challenged his dominance back at home!”

Definitely another Thrall. Bothersome magical realms with strange supernatural creatures. The creature probably hadn’t known what he was getting into when he’d tried challenging Kevin; the boy’s powers were certainly formidable.

A little further chat while waiting revealed that Marderin had thought that Kevin was simply a dragon of about the same age, but of a somewhat inferior – and notably evil – breed, and thereby somewhat weaker than himself. He’d tried to challenge him to either enslave or kill him and take over his holdings. He’d been quite surprised to be so easily defeated, and then extremely pleased to not only be permitted to live, but to be offered the chance for a comfortable life as a Thrall after the initial discomfort of enslavement.

Hm. Just like in some of the older gaming worlds, although that was somewhat surprising. Most of the more popular ones from their great heyday during the arcology period of the 2060’s had mutated beyond recognition long ago. Perhaps drawn from a very obscure source? In any case, it looked like… the boy had been after a power base first, and the harem was something of an afterthought – and even then had stayed confined to whichever dragon-realm it was until one female had started dating Kevin, had become dominant over all the slaves, and had been moved to Kadia. All kinds of provisions had been made for her kids and to make sure that they would have souls.

Could that possibly have been the boys first romance? It would explain the dragon-fixation… Well, if Kevin was a Dark Lord, he was a very, very nontraditional one who had read that ancient list of rules.

The harem itself was pretty traditional – at least as adjusted for dragons; jewels, ornaments, and scale-decorations for the concubines and simple collars for the attendants. It wouldn’t be a harem without male guards who couldn’t enjoy the women of course… Did the boy actually think that he was being shocking? It was fairly normal behavior for an empowered adolescent male – or at least it would have been outside of the draconic angle, which was a minor variation at Kevin’s power level. Far more importantly… he’d arranged for all of the residents including the attendants to be happy with their positions, located it in a realm where mere physical forms were easily mutable, and made sure that all the residents were volunteers on temporary assignments.

It seemed to be a theme; virtually everyone in Kadia was pleased with life – even if an outside observer would have said that they were obviously being mistreated. Were any of the boy’s facades – the Demon Lord, the Oversexed Adolescent, the Benign Merchant, or the Embodiment of Destiny – more than a mask?

Ramira was mildly surprised to have visitors – especially from a “focus group” – but she knew that the Core acceptance project was important to Kevin / Ailill, and so she consented to see them, even if it was a bit of an imposition!

(Ramira) “Well then! I am rather busy gentleman, ladies – but as a courtesy to Mr Gelman, I can make some time for you. What was your business?”

(Dr Parsons) “We wanted to ask some questions about your relationship with Kevin. How did you enter his harem?”

(Ramira frowned slightly… what a silly question! Was this going to be a total waste of her time to satisfy the idle curiosity of mere humans?) “I was looking for a worthy mate, and – upon investigation – he seemed like a remarkably good prospect; in fact, he turned out to be even better than that!”

Dr Parsons frowned slightly himself… The subtext there of “and he turned out to be surprisingly easy to move in on” was slightly disturbing – as was the rather mercenary attitude. How many of the people around Kevin were simply using him? Was the boy THAT easy to manipulate, or did he simply not care as long as he got something he wanted in exchange?

(Radheya) “I understand you handle local computer security. Mr. Gelman has told us of your skills. Is Kevin pleased with your work?”

(Ramira, preening slightly) “Of course!”

(Jerome) “Now has he sired any hatchlings with you yet?”

(Ramira) “I don’t see how that matters, but it’s no secret that all of Kevin’s concubines here are pregnant – except Kelsaru, who clutched a few weeks back – and of course no other intact male dragons are permitted in the harem! I think they’re going to turn out splendidly, and he’s already made arrangements for them to have every advantage!”

Dr Parsons sighed. Ramira was far easier to read than she appeared to imagine – and it was quite obvious that her soul was entirely human. She had fair telepathic defenses, but nothing at all to keep him from sensing her blood pressure, heart rate, and other indicators. The “Surprisingly enough for a male dragon” appendum was easy to read.

(Dr Parsons) “And, lastly, how do you feel about his treatment of the servants, here and elsewhere in Kadia?”

(Ramira) “Rather excessively kind really! It’s no way to maintain real discipline!”

(Dr Parsons) “Well, thank you for your time, Ramira”

Dragons. It was obvious that Kevin’s charisma was having an impact on her, and that she liked having such a powerful mate – but she, at least, seemed to have a pretty pragmatic view of the entire topic of “family”. Still, brief conversations with a few of the others made it apparent that most of the concubines were a lot less mercenary. Even most of the genuine dragons seemed to be decent enough, if ambitious – and several of the thralls in draconic identities seemed to have been with Kevin quite awhile; evidently the boy even bonded with his Thralls to some extent – although he obviously preferred more freely-offered companionship.

On Kevin’s side… the classic teen-age attention-seeking factor was fairly evident. The boy was trying so hard to be shocking, and to such little effect. Had he forgotten his own basic biology lessons? “Try to monopolize a bunch of females and eliminate rival males” was a pretty basic drive in males. That utter adherence to “fairness” though – was that an attempt to keep his addiction under control? The boy focused so on his rules and rigid control… was it simply that he had no attention left over for anything more than simple, instinctive, goals? There was lots of posturing in evidence, but very little actual “evil” by any but the most general philosophical measures. The only differences seemed to lie in the methodological approaches and the self-justifications. Was the entire bit with the harems and children a diversionary sideshow?

Confound it! Did the boy HIMSELF have any idea of why he did things?