Called Shots, the Quick, Easy, and Traditional Way

United States Marines practicing striking

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There’s a critical point that games designers often tend to forget.

The people they hear from are their customers. If you keep getting calls for a particular feature – like called shots – and you don’t respond to it, that’s a segment of customers that you’re not pleasing.

And it’s not like you hold a monopoly on some vital service. If they get fed up, and go find a game that DOES have the features they want, you can’t do much about it.

Now, players often do want to try called shots in d20 games. That’s because they see that sort of thing in movies, and fantasy novels, and in other sources – and they’re cool. Even if it’s just “with an arrow in his leg we should be able to outrun him now!”, rather than “The arrow through his eye drops him like a rock!”, a called shot is a LOT more interesting than “Yep, that’s another eight hit points off his triple-digit total!”. That’s why the default first edition system of simply assuming that a high damage roll represented a critical or vital hit was replaced by more exciting critical hit rules.

If your RPG system cannot simulate some simple, obvious, action – such as “I shoot him in the arm to try and make him drop the knife!” – in an equally simple fashion, it has a problem. Assuming that such simple details are abstracted into the system simply will not satisfy large portions of your audience.

Now, a lot of arguments for and against called shots are strawman arguments in the face of one simple fact – in a fight, the characters are presumed to be doing their best to inflict damage on their opponents anyway. If they can get in a shot to an unarmored area, or in a vital location, they’ll be taking it anyway. About the only time they might not is if they were in the middle of striking a blow at another location anyway, and can’t change it in time to take advantage of the opening.

Ah. There we go. Taking a called shot means passing up opportunities to strike in hopes of a better opening coming up. On the good side? You might inflict more damage. On the bad side, you might not get a better opening, or only get a worse one, or you might get no opening at all.

Wait! I hear a voice from the distant past, speaking from the old school… “Sure, you can try that, but at a -10!”

And there you have the core of a quick, simple, simulationist system for making called shots:

  • You may trade penalties on your attack check in exchange for inflicting some special penalty on your opponent if you hit despite the penalty.
  • When attempting a called shot, a “natural 20” does NOT guarantee a hit.
  • Thanks to effects like “True Strike”, the ablative basis of D&D combat, the hit point system, called shots have relatively minor effects – at the most (at -20) equivalent to a first level spell or basic feat.

For an untested list off the top of my head…

  • At -5 you might get a +1d4 damage, or leave an opponent effectively dazzled, deafened, or at half movement for a round.
  • At -10 you might get +1d10 damage, knock an opponent down, avoid allowing an Attack of Opprotunity when attempting a disarm, grapple, sunder, or trip, blind an opponent for a round, or bypass damage reduction with the attack.
  • At -15 you might get to make an opponent drop a weapon, daze them for a round*, carve a symbol into the target (no damage, but very embarrasing), force them to take a 5′ step of your choice, cause a point of attribute damage*, prevent them from moving next round, or inflict one of the “-5” effects for three rounds.
  • At -20 you might cause two points of attribute damage*, cause an extra ten points of damage, stun an opponent for a round*, inflict one of the “-5” effects for a full minute, or inflict a “-10” effect for three rounds.

*DC 18 Fortitude save negates.

There. Very little fuss, two paragraphs, and very unlikely to prove especially unbalancing – especially since game masters have been doing this sort of thing informally for decades, and it’s worked just fine. Now, this won’t let you make instant-kill shots – except, of course, against opponents so weak that you’d have a pretty good chance of killing them anyway – but that’s what hit points are all about. Sensible players aren’t looking for a quick way to eliminate challenges, or for an equally quick way for powerful enemies to slaughter their characters – but they’re quite justified in asking for a chance to, say, injure an opponents leg and slow them down for a few moments.

The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “We need rules for called shots!”

LARP: Sternenfeuer group from Germany

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Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. Those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since, so I’ll be putting those up – along with some additional comments.

To avoid excessive reprinting, you can find the general introduction to this series in the first article, HERE.

This particular rant is entitled “Called shots do bad things to the game!” – and explains why Mr Reynolds feels that called shots are inherently disastrous.

The Called Shots rant might seem like a small side issue, but in fact it points out a huge discrepancy between groups of gamers. As usual, Mr. Reynolds math is flawless, his arguments logical and straightforward, and his conclusions fairly solid.

Unfortunately, while he addresses the mathematical rules of the system, he fails to give the players options. And role-playing games are mostly about letting players do cool things – which means that the right answer for some playstyles is wrong for others.

Called shots may or may not be worth doing in a game. They’re fun if they work within the system – when they’re built-in and flow smoothly. When they go outside the normal rules, then things become a problem. A game system which has hit locations can more easily handle called shots than one which doesn’t. A game system in which called shots use completely separate rules for damage, critical hits, and effects is a major problem.

Sean K. ignores that and focuses on the mathematical system he devised. And he’s quite right: the system abstracts everything to the breaking point. It doesn’t necessarily need rules for Called Shots. The rules abstract that away into the random hit and critical rolls.

But this doesn’t entirely satisfy some gamers, and we should all see why. They don’t have any input into the dice rolls and they can’t announce that they want to try a special trick. They may have precisely the same chance of critical damage at level 20 as at level 1. A high-level archer probably won’t have any critical enhancements on his bow – they don’t stack very well. A melee-type might or might not depending on his weapon.

Nonetheless, that high-level character can have a huge attack bonus, and it makes a certain amount of sense to hit the enemy where he wants to. And shouldn’t this cause some kind of problem for the target? Shouldn’t chopping off his arm make him less effective in battle? Well, maybe. Except that D&D characters don’t really have arms, either.

Part of the problem lies in the D&D concept of hit points, or the lack thereof. Are high-level characters super-tough, or are they just really good at somehow getting out of the way? The game is largely silent, Gary Gygax leaned in favor of the latter years back, and the rules themselves actually imply the former. D&D characters have always been milk jugs full of hit points: when you poke them they leak a bit. Nobody ever gave the rules more thought than that during design, so that’s how it stayed.

And there are a lot of good reasons for that. Hit points are an abstraction, but they’re a very useful one. But always remember that abstraction is a giant pain in a lot of ways. It’s a compromise, and it leaves a lot at the door.

We did something about that in Eclipse. Eclipse offers a vast array of specialized abilities. You can learn how to make all kinds of ways to cripple and hinder your enemies. But most D&D games aren’t using those kinds of options. It doesn’t help that the “Power Attack” feats favor strong characters over precise ones and don’t work with any ranged attacks. There were and are some considerable holes in the game system, which need a lot more than patches.

So, while the complainers are partly wrong in the desired solution, they’re pointing out a real problem. The game needed a bit more of a grounding and explanation, and it simply didn’t have it. D20 is indeed an extremely smooth system, but smooth is often less important than “easy to understand.” Gamers always make allowances for odd results. But when the basic structure of a game doesn’t allow for the obvious (or allows it, but doesn’t explain how to get it), they become confused or angry. And maybe they should.

For a brief counterpoint article, you can look HERE.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 149b – The Markets of Cyrweld

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

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Marty sighed… It really hadn’t taken long to exhaust the rumor possibilities of the bar for the moment – and it looked like the Otters weren’t silly enough to be recruiting so publicly, even if the place WAS a “notorious gang hideout”. There was other minor gossip, but it was all trivia.

They decided to have a look at the local commodities market. Marty felt that those were always fun! People knifing each other was the very least of it!

Oh yeah, this wasn’t Battling Business World.

Kevin called for his attention-attracting sedan chair and bearers. Fortunately, no one was likely to have tried to take the “wheels” off it! The wheels might not have any weapons or armor, but they did have the usual Thrall-resources!

The Commodities Market reminded Kevin of the trading floors of classical Wall Street – although there wasn’t nearly enough blood to resemble Battling Business Worlds version. There were a lot of magical boards displaying information, including ship manifests, port of origin, port of destination, and share price. Despite the city guards recommendation, none too interesting unless you were a trader or a (genuine) pirate – which he wasn’t really.

Marty somewhat missed the blood, but otherwise liked it a lot. Those were some pretty good boards! He looked to see what was up today!

Hm… Shares in Platypus cargos were not currently being traded, since they were pretty much the sole investors right now. They wouldn’t want to trade any at the moment or for some time to come either; at the moment they were basically penny stocks. Currently the ships working to the south were doing well, but those to the North were having trouble. It seemed that the northern tribes were organizing their resistance better these days – which was definitely a bother.

The big news on the market was the discovery of a new species to the South in the jungles. The ship had only managed to capture one, but the bidding on the cargo was high.

Kevin wondered if they might be the assassin-species! That would explain why they were so quickly available; they’d been in the area to rescue one of their own already! And of COURSE he’d be a prime suspect for being the captor!

For that matter… he might be. The local Thralls would have already spoken for their pick of somewhat more than the expected percentage of ensouled youngsters from each cargo. That was a new record! He’d had people upset with his actions before he’d even arrived in their universe!

Marty saw that thought and had to laugh. A new record! Go us!

Marty had been checking into the situation up North. It looked like the Polar Bears had begun organizing the northern species into an effective resistance against the slavers that had been raiding the area. They’d even begun building ships to patrol the waters – and had been planting icebergs in the shipping lanes that were barely visible above the water… Wait; could they be working with the penguin pirates?

Well, the platypuses were on city-to-city trade this time, so that shouldn’t be too big a problem this time around.

The new species… appeared to be a feline derivative with psionic powers. About the size of a typical house cat, they were incredibly cunning and elusive. Sedating one took had been a difficult project for the entire ship’s the crew. Ok, that was a completely different species.

Kevin concluded that – when you came right down to it – there wasn’t actually much to do here that wouldn’t actually be blind gambling. He’d prefer a market where things were actually being bought and sold… Besides, they still had no party invitations, or challenges to duels, or dimensional visitors wanting to negotiate while they were out of Kadia, and they only had four days to go until the Platypus expedition!

They could always come back after the expedition of course, but he’d rather do something NOW. He wandered off to find something. After all, they showed enough signs of money to draw attention – especially if some of the merchants had weird abilities to detect solvency and possible profits. If they didn’t show enough signs of money, they’d make it even more obvious. Besides… they could see if some assassins attacked their ships – or possibly tried not to hurt all the children while extracting their missing agent – while they weren’t there.

Marty couldn’t find anything else too juicy in the way of rumors, so he wandered off after Kevin. After all, this was a trade-city! The physical markets should be filled with all kinds of stuff!

The markets had… performers, swindlers selling trinkets, arguments between buyers and sellers, people wanting them to fund their latest get-rich-quick scheme, beggers wanting money, abolitionists causing trouble, food and drink vendors hawking their wares, and assorted other stuff.

Kevin tipped the better performers, bought a few trinkets at random where they appealed to him, give small handouts to the beggars, asked the abolitionists whether they want to abolish slavery, duels, predation, or debtor’s prisons, got some food (some of the most interesting – and expensive – stuff available), and looked around to see who else was out shopping – or pickpocketing. He DID still want invitations to the nobilities parties…

As for the items for sale… There were seriously exotic foods, alcohols, fabrics, plants, animals, magical items, spices, psionic items (rarer than magic, and roughly equivalent – albeit with different vulnerabilities. The more paranoid local nobles tended to covet them, even with the stigma of mind-magic attached to them), trade expedition shares, precious metals and gems, rare woods, art, occasional slaves, ancient antiques, and odder things, all being traded and sold. In fact, some of the stuff they’d been auctioning off had already made it here… albeit in far smaller lots and at even higher prices.

Well, that was usual for retail.

They hadn’t brought in much in the way of alcohol, plants, animals though – and ancient antiques were always fun.

Then Kevin had a better idea! He bought a box of small snakes (huh… they even seemed to have snake-souls! Had someone imported a couple of boxes of real snakes at some point?) awakened one, give it wings, and legs, and feathers, and made a small feathered dragon, and then imbued it with enough magic to be a fair match for the locals – using small sequential spells so that each step-by-step small change would be real, and undispellable…

City guard says there are no feathered dragons do they?

Marty saw where that was going early on, said “hi” to the small (and slightly confused) feathered dragon when Kevin was done, and continued with his lunch. Hopefully the kid would realize that – while the local mages could do that sort of thing too – it was a MUCH bigger project for them. That was why race-creation was normally left to the local gods… Oh well. Kevin did tend to lose all sense of proportion as soon as a whim struck him.

Kevin, still finding that no one was paying attention to him – they all just assumed he was playing with illusions or a temporary transformation or something since he wasn’t using too much magic at any one time – was considering just how much more conspicuous he could possibly get. Perhaps set up a balloon animal booth? He seemed to recall something like that in one of the ancient classic films… The Masque of the Red Death? No, that didn’t seem right. Oh well, he had one of the Thralls pick up a selection of local charms and talismans for the new dragon.

Marty liked balloon animals! He voted for the booth plan, and volunteered to help Kevin set it up!

He was kind of sorry when it got pre-empted – at least for the moment – by an offer of a business partnership from one of the members of the Smiths and Artificers Guild.

(Marty, privately) “What bought this on?”

(Kevin, privately) “I’d guess metals are either freely transmutable with spells of that level around here or can be created with them – and SOMEONE has noticed how much power we’re using.”

Hm… According to the local Thralls, common metals could be freely transmuted into each other, magical metals were much harder to transmute into each other, and converting mundane metals to magical ones was incredibly difficult – at least by direct spellcasting.

The Raccoon – one Ramal Hakkan – did indeed have a proposal for magical metal transmutation. The Smiths and Artificers Guild had been working on that for a long time – and they thought that their visitors might have the final resources they needed to make it work at a huge profit. Ergo, a partnership proposal.

Kevin guessed that they needed to charge the mundane metal with a vast infusion of magical energy – and then would need a high-order spell to bind it permanently to the metal.

Their proposed process required a great deal of magical lightning – and given the number of magical assistants that Kevin and Marty appeared to have – they believed that they could easily provide it for them. The Mages Guild wasn’t particularly interested in the proposal. They considered it a waste of time and resources – but if “Angkor” and “Martin” could afford to use slaves who showed the signs of substantial magical power as simple bearers and crewmen, they could surely afford to assign some to such a potentially-profitable project!

Well, that did sound reasonable enough. It meant that some of the more alert locals might soon connect them with the Amarant Solutions office – which had similar youngsters showing similar powers and power-signs – but that had been bound to happen sooner or later anyway.

Marty figured that Limey was probably chomping at the bit to unleash some lightning – while Kevin figured that it was another opening into the local system! An excellent thing to discuss, even if business arrangements were, as usual, more or less up to Marty…

Marty, not too surprisingly, wanted a few more details – and some information on what the guild was willing to provide in return. They were running a mercantile venture, after all!

It seemed like the amount of magical lightning required was considerable, at least by their estimates. They did know that what they’d tried up to this point had been insufficient to produce more than traces of magical materials. The biggest problem was that the input needed to be fairly constant for a lengthy period of time – requiring a lot more mid-level spells than anyone but the most powerful mages (who usually had better things to do) could supply. In return for their participation they were offering a – fairly reasonable – share in the future profits should the venture prove successful.

Well, there were accounting tricks that could rig a hugely successful operation so that it paid one set of investors but “never really earned any profits” – but there wasn’t a lot of point in trying stunts like that when they could just walk out.

Hm. Limey could help with the experimentation, but for long-term spellcasting they needed some of the thralls with specialities in evocation. Limey’s peak powers were a lot greater, but they could keep it up all day…

Ramal did know that a single sixth-order spell, or a series of first order ones was insufficient for the process. Ergo they’d need a team of three or four Thralls capable of casting 2’nd or 3’rd order spells over and over – possibly with Limey to provide boosts to even higher levels if necessary.

Well, they had a few days before they needed to set sail. Marty sent Limey and Elerra off with Ramal and Kevin dispatched three of the more bored Thralls with evocation from the crew – on the condition that the Guild kept the experiments in strict confidence; it would help keep the price up and avoid sabotage.

Marty directed Elerra to make sure that nobody tried anything untoward with Limey as well. He didn’t really expect anything like that, but he WAS trying to supervise the little guy at least a bit better now.

Meanwhile, the dragon wasn’t doing that well. Most of the people at the market were looking at it as yet another weird mage experiment with creating monsters – and even giving it some money and letting it do it’s own shopping (cautiously, since everyone here had magic) wasn’t changing that much.

Marty gave it a cravat, and Kevin got it a vest and hat. There was no need for it to go around naked!

Blast it! They might have to throw their own party at this rate!

Demi-Human Level Limits – What Were Those About?

Gary Gygax at Gen Con Indy 2007. Gygax is stan...

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As an old gamer, I’ve seen the topic of “Demi-Human Level Limits” come up a lot, along with the notion that “they don’t work” or “aren’t balanced”. In fact, the post before this was Editorial0’s take on the subject, as inspired by THIS RANT of Sean K. Reynolds.

As is so often true about the notion that things “don’t work”, the problem doesn’t lie in the system being questioned. It lies in a misunderstanding about what it’s supposed to do.

To get an idea of what’s going on, I’m going to crack open one of my first edition books – the Dungeon Master’s Guide – to page twenty-one and let Mr Gygax explain it in his own words.

Advanced D&D is unquestionably “humanocentric”, with demi-human, semi-humans, and humanoids in various orbits around the sun of humanity. Men are the worst monsters, particularly high level characters such as clerics, fighters, and magic-users – whether singly, in small groups, or in large companies. The ultra-powerful beings of other planes are more fearsome – the 3 D’s of demi-gods, demons, and devils are enough to strike fear into most characters, let alone when the very gods themselves are brought into consideration. Yet, there is a point where the well-equipped, high-level party of adventurers can challenge a demon prince, an arch-devil, or a demi-god. While there might well be some near or part humans with the group so doing, it is certain that the leaders will be human. In co-operation men bring ruin upon monsterdom, for they have no upper limits as to level or acquired power from spells or items.

The game features humankind for a reason. It is the most logical basis in an illogical game. From a design standpoint it provides the sound groundwork. From a standpoint of creating the campaign milieu it provides the most readily usable assumptions. From a participation approach it is the only method, for all players are, after all is said and done, human, and it allows the role with which most are most desirous and capable of identifying with.

There isn’t a word there about “balance” – and as far as it goes, Mr Gygax is absolutely right.

Mr Gygax was presuming that most games would draw extensively on historical, literary, mythological, and cinematic sources for background, simply because he knew that game masters did not have unlimited time to come up with material and the players didn’t have unlimited time to learn it in. Moreover, he expected most campaigns to stick to easily accessible source material that the players could reasonably be expected to know about. That’s why I can have an “Arthurian Knights” game up and running in ten minutes, but explaining the lifestyle of Inuit Reindeer Herders, and how it affects their culture and traditions, will take days.

Now, practically all those sources are ultimately about humans. Historical ones certainly are, most fantasy literature revolves around humans, movies usually star humans, and mythology tends to do so as well. There are a few greek myths which star centaurs – but not many, and they don’t generally challenge gods, defeat mighty monsters, or undertake great quests. Those jobs are reserved for humans (even if they do often have divine blood, making them really really talented humans). Even most of the adventures of Coyote, or journeys in the dreamtime, or the Vedas involve humans pretty heavily. What’s that you say? Didn’t the Lord of the Rings revolve around Hobbits? Isn’t that a pretty major influence on most fantasy games?

Yes, yes it did and yes it is. Of course, the Lord of the Rings revolves around… short humans with unusually hairy feet who happened to be quite healthy (likely thanks to plenty of wholesome food, a simple, vigorous, village lifestyle, and plenty of outdoor exercise). They did seem to live slightly longer than current humans do – but in Tolkien’s world mortal longevity tended to be tied to simple virtues and to the concept that the world had started off near-perfect and was slowly degrading. The Lord of the Rings was about the heroism of ordinary folk and the common man.

Now, if I want to base a campaign on a race as near-human as a centaur – in essence, simply changing the shape of the lower body – I’m going to have to explain a great deal more, and I’d better not forget that there isn’t going to be any climbing of ladders or ropes, that sailing ships will be very different, that I’ll need to have ramps instead of hatchways and stairways, or a thousand other details. A more fundamental change such as “seeing in the dark” calls for an immense array of social, linguistic, and other changes (a few of which are explored in this article). A lifespan a thousand years long? That means that – unlike every human culture ever – only a very small fraction of the population will be children, rather than 50% or so. City planning will be wildly different. So will government, and manners, and apprenticeships, and ten thousand other things.

That’s why most fantasy cultures, or sci-fi alien races, are simply humans in funny hats – and a lot of games that claim to revolve around them simply portray humans and historical human cultures in fairly flimsy disguises.

Unlike most fantasies, however, role-playing-games involve a lot of people sitting around trying to figure out mysteries, asking “why”, and saying “Hey, if the giants can do thus-and-such why don’t they use that to do (x) and solve their problem?”.

If humans and cosmetically-disguised humans were going to be dominating most settings, there needed to be a reason for it. Humans needed to be the most special race of all. Humans needed the power to – in the end – make everything, right down to the gods, revolve around them.

Gary Gygax gave it to them. Humans got access to pretty much all the classes, and could advance beyond normal mortal limitations as far as those classes could take them – although even they couldn’t surpass the limits of being a Monk or Druid or Bard or Assassin or other speciality class which only offered a limited number of levels to get.

Demihumans – as close relatives to humans – got more limited access to the incredible powers of classes and couldn’t progress as far. They had level caps because they simply weren’t capable of the kind of super-powers that humans were. The could practice magic for a thousand years, and still not be able to surpass mortal limits the way a human could. Most of the demi-humans could become very high-level thieves if they wished – but thieves didn’t reshape the world like archmagi, or dominate society like high-level clerics, or annihilate dragons and rally armies like high-level fighters. They also didn’t have a lot of special powers; they were just very highly skilled.

Humanoids were distant relatives to humans. They got even more limited access to classes; they could acquire a few levels as a “tribal spellcaster” (a Shaman or a Witch Doctor) or they could become a “Leader” or “Chieftain” – none of which amounted to much. Later supplements gave them a few more options, but they never really amounted to much.

Outright monsters might have racial variations, but they generally were what they were. A Ki-Rin was insanely powerful, with enormous innate magical and psychic powers – but it had no options for class advancement at all, despite it’s “supra-genius” intelligence.  Monster player characters had a lengthy section on page twenty one again about how and why they sucked and why it was the game masters job to make sure that they did.

Now, Demi-Humans could co-star at lower levels. Indeed, given that first-edition “multiclassing” was reserved for them, and was basically “you’re one level behind but get the average hit points and all the other abilities of two classes” (or sometimes even three), they could easily dominate at lower levels even though their other racial abilities were pretty minor. At higher levels, humans dominated the world – just as Gygax intended.

That also means that the answer to “why don’t we see high level demi-human mages” is the same basic answer as to “why don’t we see hollywood screenplays written by antelopes?”. The answers both boil down to “they aren’t very good at it”. Antelopes aren’t very good at writing screenplays and demi-humans aren’t very good at high magic. There isn’t any simple reason for that other than “that’s how they are”, but there really doesn’t need to be. The underlying reasons are presumably a complicated function of evolution, circumstances, and – in the case of the demi-humans – whatever magical forces are at play.

As a side-benefit, level limits meant that you didn’t have to worry about five-hundred-year-old elven archmagi dominating the world or (when making powerful magic items involved all kinds of odd quests and giving up a permanent constitution point) flooding the world with magic items.

Fundamentally, Demi-human level limits did exactly what they were supposed to do. They worked perfectly, and they are at least as rational as most forms of magic. The question was never “why are demihumans so crippled!” but “why are humans the only ones with this marvelous talent?” – and the answer comes down to “because it’s the talent they were given when the game was designed, just like dragons got wings, armor, and breath weapons”*.

*I’ve also seen an odd argument that – if demi-humans had level limits – they’d want to try and kill humans who were exceeding their limits. Outside of all the basic problems with this approach like “how do you know about it?” and “won’t this get a lot of your own people killed too?”, this is a just as silly trying to assassinate everyone who’s better at a profession than you are – whether or not you practice that profession. Go ahead. Get some of your own higher-level people killed taking out those high level humans. Now there’s nothing to stop that dragon from destroying everyone. Sorry, but communities with a variety of skills are better off under changing or dangerous circumstances – and in AD&D, it’s usually the Humans and Demihumans versus all the monsters of the world, not against each other.

Now, the demi-human level limits were later softened a bit for characters with very high attributes – which were vanishingly rare, but did explain the rare exceptions that had popped up here and there. They were also sometimes house-ruled or ignored, but – despite many statements I’ve seen to the contrary – that wasn’t especially common or routine; I personally played quite a lot of demi-humans up to their level limits. They gained powers and abilities more slowly after they hit those limits – but there were always more items to be gained or made, henchmen and allies to be recruited, magical fountains to drink from, political power to be gained, and many other ways to advance without going up in level. You might indeed accompany a higher-level human party, and still do well – especially since, when the game lacked a skill system, a lot more depended on the players skills than the characters. If you kept it up too long, you’d die – but ANY character who kept it up too long would die. Since replacement characters could easily ride the coat-tails of higher level characters until they – thanks to the doubling factor in the XP tables – did quite a lot of catching-up, the level of parties gradually crept up evan as characters came and went. There were plenty of high-level games out there, they were simply the ones that ran for a long time.

  • Demi-human level limits do suck – for demi-humans.
  • If you have more powerful races out there, and yet humans (or humans in funny hats) dominate the world without a good reason for it, then your world design sucks. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be a lot of fun, and host a good game; it just means that anyone who looks into it deeply is going to be disappointed at the underlying lack of logic – and that tends to work against long-term campaigns.
  • If humans – or those humans in funny hats – don’t dominate the world, but it’s cultures reflect human norms, then your world design sucks again. Still, everything sucks somewhere, and just a few exotic touches may help keep people from noticing.

Oddly enough though, third edition doesn’t really get into too much trouble here. Throw in a few assumptions about casualty rates for adventurers, birth rates, accident rates, high-level characters who want to keep adventuring leaving for other planes due to the lack of challenges at home (thanks to the reduction in XP for challenges below your level), the amazingly swift advancement up to the point where the challenges run out, and the fact that humans now have special advantages other than level advancement, and you can explain why most of the higher-level characters around should be human – and why humans dominate most settings.

I still think that should have been spelled out in the third edition dungeon master’s guide in a paragraph or two, rather than being left as a sloppy assumption – but that’s a fairly minor gripe.

The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – Demi-Human Level Limits

The original Dungeons & Dragons set.

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Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. I’ll be putting those up, along with a few comments and responses, since those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since – whether to copy them or to get as far away from them as possible.

Sean K. Reynolds will always remain a very important figure in gaming – even if he never writes another word or makes another game. He was heavily involved in several of the most successful Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition books, and thereby ushered in the Bronze Age of role-playing games. The Bronze Age (where Gold was the development of DnD and other old-school games and Silver was the mid-80’s to early-90’s flowering of more varied fare) saw a much more mass-market approach. Gaming became pretty common, helped by the fact that pretty much everyone was playing computer games. Sean K. Reynolds was instrumental in developing 3rd edition into that mass-market product. He further helped develop a lot of the crunchier bits, including many classes and prestige classes that are now considered standard basics.

Despite that, I can’t entirely agree with some of his decisions. Different gamers have different needs and assumptions, while his rants (of course) reflect his personal views. Instead, we’ll look at the decisions he feels are both important and controversial – as indicated by his choices on what to rant about. You can find his rants over HERE.

This particular rant is a response to requests to bring back demihuman level limits – and explains why he feels that this would be a bad idea and why discarding them in third edition was the best decision.

In this case, I agree with him. They were a bad idea to begin with. We’re going to explore the idea, why AD&D had it, and why they probably shouldn’t have put it in.

Originally*, there were no level limits. Elves and Dwarves and Halflings all had their own classes. However, as the game developed and classes become completely separated from race, that changed considerably. A situation developed where all these other races got special bonuses right from the start, but humans eventually could out-level them. This only occurred at very high levels of play in very long games, of course.

*Actually, the early books for DnD did cap the nonhuman racial classes, while humans could go on up to level thirty-six. -Thoth

This was, in a way, “balanced.” The humans got potentially rewarded for playing without bonuses. But that doesn’t mean it was a very good way to do it.

For starters, there never was a clear idea as to why the demi-humans suddenly stopped leveling. Why did species which ranged from nigh-immortal Elves to Hobbit-knockoffs simply stop getting better? The game was pretty silent on this, except to admit that if they could level up all the elf NPC’s would be very high level characters. It was a pure mechanical “fix” without a whole lot of logic.

Next, would this really add to the game in any way? Would players of human characters really feel happy that they were out-leveling the other characters? Would the Dungeon Master actually pay any attention to the matter anyway? (The rule was house-altered so often it may as well not have existed.)

Finally, this was a poor attempt at balance. The Elves and Dwarves and all mostly got a suite of relatively useless minor abilities. The entire package together was “occasionally comes in handy.” The entire array would be worth perhaps one character level, ever.

For that matter, it could be argued that they’re a bad idea because they unbalance high-level encounters. (Mr Reynold’s didn’t make this argument). That’s more or less irrelevant though, since – presumably – the players knew what they were getting into when they decided to play a demihuman in the first place. Besides, in the old days, there simply weren’t a lot of high-level encounters in DnD. The game had level limits high enough that they didn’t matter to most players.

In fact, I can think of some ways to use level limits for fun in earlier editions. Humans might be the only one who can level infinitely – but perhaps a max-level demi-human can start adding new classes from those acceptable. A human might become a 30th level Paladin, but the Elf might become a Fighter/Ranger/Mage/Thief in that same time. Why not? It’s not like the Game Police are coming to arrest me for ignoring E. Gary Gygax.\

And that’s the point: demihuman level limits are not, in theory, a bad idea. They do solve the problem of avoiding all the world’s older elves being level 60. But it was a rules hack which didn’t meet the needs of gamers. If it were designed to be a part of the game from the beginning, it wouldn’t have caused such irritation.

For a counterpoint to this article, look HERE.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 149a – The Red Crest

The historical one-headed Babylonian Beast (Si...

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Kevin had to smile a bit. An assassination attempt against mysterious visitors – who were already known to be powerful and touchy – by members of an unknown species using exotic powers, and they’d already managed to get the city guard diverted into worrying about their pronouncement that the unknown species was loosely related to birds… Still, all they’d have to do would be to bind the creature, and they’d have a nice source of information! Besides, it was always nice to keep would-be assassins around as servants; it showed why sending them against them was a bad idea!

(Guard) “I know a bird when I see one, they have feathers and wings. This thing has neither of those.”

(Kevin) “Oh, they’re not birds! They’re just more closely related to birds than to anything else around here! Unless you have some feathered dragons about? It might be fairly closely related to those…”

(Guard) “Dragons are things of legend, I don’t believe in such things.”

Marty was rather disappointed. Who made a universe like this and left out dragons? Maybe some of the giant flying turtles filled the role? Or they just didn’t live around Maytheria? It was a pretty big realm after all.

(Kevin) “Well, they might not believe in you either…’

(Guard) “Now, do you wish us to take this one into custody and press charges or what?”

(Kevin) “Well, I think we can safely say that he, she, or it is not a citizen, is not legally present – or you would know about the species – and therefore might simply be a trained imported animal?”

(Marty) “We’re not even sure this thing can talk, you know. I didn’t hear a word from any of them.”

(Guard) “This creature does not match anything we know of, and thereby cannot be a citizen of our city.”

(Guard 2) “Probably some wizard’s experiment then.”

Kevin produced a Smartcollar, set it to “inconspicious monitoring and reporting on specimen” instead of the default “take care of the wearer” and put it on, errr… “Scales” it was.

(Kevin) “No problem then!”

(Marty) “Is there anything else we need to do if we want to keep it, then?”

(Guard) “You will have to sign these papers indicating that you are taking full responsibility for the actions of the creature from this point forward.”

Hey! Legal Magic! (Kevin REALLY doubted that the guard had been carrying around those forms just in case). Maybe the guard Heartstone included a “produce forms” spell? Or maybe some sort of automatic note-taking and printing? That would actually be pretty bloody handy for a city guard… Licences, forms, notes, all instantly filed with the Heartstone, reports always up to date, good records on everything… They wouldn’t have Core-level surveillance, but they’d be way ahead of most worlds on the police procedures!

(Marty) “Right then!”

Marty used his own contract magic to make sure that he had a good idea of the obscure clauses and loopholes before he signed it – and Kevin promptly added a proviso:

(Kevin) “Well, we will take responsibility for it within known limits of an unknown specimen!”

Marty produced some revised forms, inserting some subclauses releasing them from responsibility for the results of the creature’s use of powers which the city guard had not properly notified them of…

That was probably a bit unfair to the poor guard, but Kevin had gotten paranoid about what contracts he committed himself to – and, to be more fair, they hadn’t accused the city guard of any lapses with regards to an attempted assassination.

They returned to the booth – and the embrace of some privacy spells – to let the Thralls continue probing while Kevin used more magic to break mental blocks and lay bindings – as well as using his mystic oratory and witchcraft to change the creatures – ah, her – attitudes. The locals seemed to disapprove of mind-magic, so they didn’t want to use some of those powers in public…

The extended sunset of Cyrweld was fading into darkness as the play entered it’s final acts. There hadn’t been any more assassinations, and everyone else seemed to be avoiding the newcomers who apparently had a big target painted on them. Fortunately, the Thralls were working on the final barriers – and simply ignoring assassination attempts should impress people with how confident they were.

Sadly, even as the play ended, no one else seemed to have the gall to attack or confront them after that little tussle. Servants from the other families present seemed to pass by the booth more frequently than really seemed required – probably to covertly check up on them – but none of them stopped to speak to them.

They didn’t make any approaches after the play either – although they did all make sure that they got a good look at their catch. Well, to be fair, a new assassin-species running about would make the nobility more than a bit nervous.

(Kevin) “Aw… no one wants to talk to us! Hm… I wonder if they were all female? The species might be dimorphic.”

(Marty) “Lizard Amazons? I guess we’ve seen weirder.”

They took their Lizardess-assassin back to the ships before waking her up. They didn’t want to damage her; she did have a soul and it was almost certainly a human one.

They suppressed it’s magical and psychic abilities with neutralizer-spells after checking to see if that would injure her, then ramped up the thrall-probes, checked for deep or hidden barriers, and used more spells to break any barriers that were installed – taking care not to damage her mind.

Fortunately, she wasn’t dependent on magic or psionics for survival. There were several layers of mental defenses and shielding to get past, some artificial and some natural. Eventually they did get them all peeled back so they could get at the bare mind.

Kevin had a side-bet with Marty that all she would know was that the Hidden Fern Village must have gotten a fee to try to get them!

Oh well; even if it turned out that that was all they get, the “backstory of the species” was one of their major interests anyway. Both of them were incurably nosy after all! That was why they were adventuring god-businesspeople!

Still, “what’s the usual procedure when one of us is captured?” might be an important bit. If the procedure was “massed attack”, that was one problem. If it was “abandon them to whatever fate our foes wish upon failures”, that was something else – and it was “adopt mighty foes as honorary members of the tribe”, that was yet another kettle of fish!

Hm… with pretty much full access, it looked like the standard procedure when one of them was captured was to pull back, gather more forces, and possibly bring in males if the opponents looked to be unusually strong. Interestingly, it looked like “rescue” took a slightly higher priority than eliminating the original targets. They’d be upset they kept her then… But that was pretty much an “Oh well” as far as Kevin and Marty were concerned. If the males came after them, they were probably more likely to spot them then the townsfolk.

(Marty) “Well! The males must be fairly tough then!”

Kevin bet that the males were stronger, tougher, and didn’t have camouflage powers; they drew off predators from mates and eggs.

The imagery associated with males was convoluted… The things that seemed to be identified as males in her mind seemed to be… smaller, weaker, and less able to defend themselves than the females would be able to – but the images were mixed with a variety of images of other creatures not of that species, or that were highly stylized versions of the species considered to be “males”. The gender seemed to be strongly associated with ceramics and pottery for some reason. Males were more in touch with magic and psionics than the females and were extremely adaptable to a wide variety of roles. They were physically weaker than the females, but compensated for it by adapting to whatever role was needed by the group.

They also got a fair amount of general species background. They looked to be from… some sort of reasonably modern lab facility, with a lot of genetic and gestation equipment, along with quite a few specimens who were still being grown. There was a sort of a colony existing on the outskirts of the lab, with heavy interaction with human researchers. The total population was perhaps a few thousand.

Huh. That actually COULD be Core – but the gear made it unlikely. They got some genetic samples to take back, both from her and from the blood on Marty’s weapons; if they wanted to, they could clone a few. Why the weird poisons though? Were they perhaps from some world where they were being sent against their own kind? That could be tricky.

They recorded a lot of background information as well, but none of it seemed to relevant at the moment.

They bound her pretty throughly, with a wide assortment of powers – mostly telepathy, mystic artist, binding magic, and pleasure-effects. Her name was difficult to pronounce given the difference in vocal structure, but roughly translated as “Red Crests”.

Kevin made sure that her smartcollar was disguised as a part of her normal clothing, and set a link on it so that – if she did get snatched back – they could try to trace her. He made sure that it stayed in technical contact too for monitoring.

They’d apparently been targeted because they’d been identified as a major source of interference on several fronts. They, and their subordinates had been identified as major obstacles to the plans of their superiors. The worlds of Inversion and the Linear Realms seemed to be involved.

Well, that was probably – ultimately – Merlin again, if quite possibly through more cats-paws again. He’d be wanting non-magical minions to go into Core for him, and wouldn’t want to try to compete with technology – ergo, limited Psi-powers which he thinks will/might work there, training in toxins and stealth-assassinations, and so on. What little they know about Merlin suggested that he didn’t understand technology at all. Tech didn’t seem to be part of the Neanderthal perspective, either – but strange humanoids certainly were… Still, the Neanderthals seem unlikely to be behind that “made in a lab” business unless they’d subcontracted the job.

Still, that did say that their presence had been noted. Fairly quickly too!

They set up security patrols and other protective measures, both for their own and for the Platypus buildings places and ships, fitted “Red Crests” with a normal collar (to be easily removed if she were rescued), inserted the command not to resist – in fact, to go along gladly if she were rescued – and partially rebuilt her various shields and defenses, focusing on making it seem like the inner levels hadn’t been breached, and got to bed.

There were no disturbances that the Thralls couldn’t handle – and up with the morning!

(Marty) “Good morning, Red Crests. How are you?”

(Red Crests spoke with a heavy hiss as she worked to pronounce the words) “Whatsss are you goingsss to do withsss me?”

(Marty) “Oh, keep you around as an aide. Can you make coffee? Do filing? Type?”

(Kevin) “Why? You’d rather we’d killed you? I usually try to avoid that.”

(Red Crests) “Isss heard that you enslavessss childrensss and force femalesss into yourssss harem. Naturally, Isss am concerned withsss whatsss you will do withsss me.”

(Kevin) “Oh that’s true enough! But there are plenty of children to enslave and you’re not my type for the harem!”

(Red Crests) “If Isss am to be a sssssservant, then what are yousss asking of me?”

(Kevin) “Uhmm… I know! Unless Marty has something in mind, you can tell the kids stories about why your world, and life, and why wherever-it-is you grew up is a good place that they should run off to!”

(Marty) “Hey, sounds good to me.”

Heck, they could record, analyze, and listen in! It might be revealing!

(Red Crests, turning a bluish color) “Tell ssstoriesss?”

(Marty) “That’s not going to be a problem, is it?”

(Kevin) “Hey, I enslave people, I don’t make them stick around if they’re unwilling, and it’s not sporting not to tell them about all the places that they could run off to if they wanted!”

She’d tried to assassinate them, so she could just deal with Kevin and Marty’s Bizarro World! Hopefully her head wouldn’t detonate! They were Kevin and Marty! They were beyond rationality, and made all things conform their own warped idea of logic!

(Kevin) “You do know some stories don’t you?”

For a moment Bard considered pranking Kevin – perhaps telling him “Hey! A little known fact! The ability to process logical contradictions became an evolutionary imperative after the brain’s ability to process logically progressed to a certain level, unfortunately, not all species that needed this ability had it when the first logical contradiction was uncovered, ergo the dinosaurs were wiped out when the first proto-monkey did something weird!”

Then he thought better of it. The boss would probably find it amusing, but you needed to be very careful what you told him! Feeding unlikely stories to a reality-warper with Kevin’s power level was all too likely to result in very silly things indeed happening!

(Marty) “Come on, it’s not even the worst thing he could do to you. He could have you clean his socks.”

Kevin delegated some of the Thralls to listen to her, to record an analyze, and to try to put together some ideas about her culture and makers. They were in port, so a lot of the ones in their crews didn’t have much of anything to do. Memory-scanning was great for information, but getting a feel for a new species was a lot harder in some ways – and her shie

Red Crests settled down to telling the Thralls stories of her home and culture – although it was fairly obvious that she was holding some things back. Her color changed as she spoke and seemed to be a form of visual presentation of emotional states.

Hm… Fortunately, the Thralls were immune to sensory-based mind control effects, so even if she could hypnotize people that way it wouldn’t work – and they could probably pick up a lot of what she held back since her outer shields had been broken down…

There’d been an arson attack on the Platypus ships in the night, but the port authority was able to respond quickly enough – although they’d been a bit surprised to find out that the Platypus family was able to pay the bill for the service.

The Platypuses said that this was normal back when they were a bigger shipping rival in the city, but it had gotten pretty rare as the family started going under. Between the thralls and the city guards they’d been able to trace it to a band of hired thugs that hung around the docks. They were currently in custody and were being interrogated now.

Marty was a bit disappointed! No chance to hunt them down and beat them up. Ah well, he would just have to go and find some excitement of his own then!

Kevin kind of agreed… It looked like the normal punishment for arson was a lengthy jail term for a first offense, hard labor digging tunnels for a second offense, and a third offence got you turned over to a mage-school for practice. Most of the thugs were on their first offense of course, since the usual pattern was to shift to another crime after the first conviction. There was no leverage there then.

Kevin had been so wound up in organization that he hadn’t even noticed that Marty was steering them to a bar…

(Kevin) “Hm. Why did I suspect Bars might come up?”

(Marty) “Because I like drinking! Besides, I don’t think we’ve interacted with the regular folks that much. There’s something to be said for being buddy-buddy with them.”

(Kevin) “All right! Off to a bar for a bit! Perhaps one of the more notorious gang hideouts?”

(Marty) “Why not? Who knows what we’ll hear at one of those?”

He hadn’t had booze for breakfast in… why in months! He used to do that every other day!

Kevin started checking things again… The Amarant Solutions office here was mostly shipping and coordinating the over-seas slave trade. Picking up the occasional apprenticeship-seeking youngster or street kid locally was a bonus, and – given that there was good local magic – so were most magical services. There were a few things that the local couldn’t provide – or at least couldn’t provide cheaply. The slave trade had been cycling between boom and bust since they’d been in the city, depending on how successful the slavers were at grabbing people.

His contract was in a bit of a gray area locally… It was definitely legal regarding those bound elsewhere and brought in. Convicted criminals – and children sold by their parents – were legal enough, although the clans had a say over such sales as well. Non-citizens could probably be bound fairly freely, but binding citizens within the city would probably be illegal. Taking them away and then binding them would be legal though, if only for lack of precedents and larger-scale law. The legality of enslaving noble children was likely to lead to lengthy and costly legal battles though.

Marty, meanwhile, for once, was NOT looking for a brawl. He wanted to listen in on the rumors among the lower tier set. It seemed that…

  • The platypus family had gotten new financial backers; most believed that said backers had to be either be pulling off a tax dodge or be incredibly naive.
  • There were tales of a new race of invisible lizard/bird hybrid assassins running loose in the city, and they were currently being blamed for just about anything odd now, including the destruction and reconstruction of the Port Authority Building.
  • The “Eight-And-A-Half” had supposedly returned to the Fox Family after a long sabbatical. There was a lot of awe and reverence for whoever that was… A Fox’s power and social standing seemed to be represented by how many tails he or she had. Eight-And-A-Half lost half a tail in a battle with a pair of powerful mages and a psion from another continent while defending the city. Since then she had been on a sabbatical journey across the world for unknown reasons. Why she had returned was unknown, but it was considered good news by the common folk.

Could that be because of their arrival? If Eight-And-A-Half considered the city under her protection, she might well be concerned over having Kevin and Marty visiting… Of course, it could be the penguins / pirates or any of a hundred other reasons. A good local mage would be quite a challenge. Still, they, at least, were neither invading nor especially hostile – and she seemed to be a well respected member of the community. The people seemed to think of her as someone truly Noble.

They might need to talk to her. It might be fun too!

  • The Otter Family was supposedly calling in a lot a favors from all their contacts – although there were no real details circulating.
  • The moles had supposedly found another gold vein deep in the mines of the cliff walls.

Meanwhile, Kevin was bored – and was starting his tuned-oratory broadcast trick to everyone within ten miles; it would only be audible to kids with souls who felt that they lacked decent prospects – the kids who were in search of apprenticeships but couldn’t find one, weren’t really getting enough to eat (actually going hungry wasn’t too likely since they all had magic), and so on. That would probably mostly be street kids and crafters children and such. He exerted his mighty powers of influence to… strongly encourage them to drop by the Amarant Solutions trading building for a talk sometime within the next day or so.

A few noble kids – ones who felt that they were either getting a really bad deal or were probably going to be killed for some reason – might hear it too of course, but responding was up to them, although Kevin was definitely encouraging it.

Any regular kids who did drop by woukd be offered a good meal, a bit of cash, healing of anything that was wrong with them, and the usual basic pitch – with a quick trip to Kadia if they wanted to get the full details (those would be a bit vague until/if they went and got them, and they’d get the usual memory-blurring before their return if they didn’t want to sign up. Noble kids would get less of the minor benefits (unless they needed them), but would get an offer of sanctuary if they needed it.

Sorcery and Wizardry – Cost Comparisons

Sorcerer Hat

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Here we have an inquiry from “Greg”, which came in via Email. Personally, I prefer that questions go in the comments here; that way they don’t get lost in the spam and the answers are available to everyone, just as this answer here will be. Answers to questions of “why” do tend to get kind of long anyway.


I am mostly finished reading thru Eclipse again, and now I remember why I didn’t switch to it earlier. There are a few things that I do not agree with in the point costs. Primarily the spell-casting costs, and some of the 3.5 feats indexed in the back. While I agree that a Sorcerer should cost more in terms of how many spells are cast, there should also be a huge discount based on how few spells they actually can know. In addition, I don’t think the same cost should be applied to all the spell levels for each level equally. After all a 9th level spell is vastly superior to a 1st level spell. At the same time, the number of CP doesn’t change based on character level so in essence those same 24 CP are buying more powerful effects at higher levels. With a little work I think I could find a happy medium for my games.

Now, there are a couple of basic reasons why the Sorcerer progression costs what it does in comparison with the Wizards:

First up is simply back-compatibility; the preliminary base costs for Eclipse were established by breaking down the existing classes. Sorcerers simply didn’t get much except spells – and thus their spell progression was expensive.

This is, however, actually fair enough, as will be discussed below – although I’ll be generally discounting cantrips.

  • A basic Wizard gets (3 + Int Mod + 2 x [Level-1) spells (discounting cantrips). Thus a 20’th level wizard knows a base of (41 + Int Mod at first level) spells PROVIDED that he has never had his or her spell book destroyed or stolen. If that’s happened, a Wizard may not have any spells at all available. Making backup spellbooks is time consuming and expensive, but is a vital precaution for any Wizard.
  • A 20’th level sorcerer gets 34 spells (again, discounting cantrips) – and they can’t be readily taken away.
  • A basic Wizard who hasn’t suffered any spell book related accidents will thus get at least ten more spells to pick from, and quite possibly many more than that – but only actually has a base of thirty-six available spell slots which they must fill with preset spells. Even worse, some of them are likely to be duplicates and others may prove quite useless in any given day, in which case they might as well have not bothered with that spell that day.
  • In actual practice, a Sorcerer will – in any given day – often have access to more different spells than a Wizard, and has the flexibility to use a particularly useful one many times if he or she so desires. Spontaneous casting is an enormous advantage. A Wizard must rummage for spells, carefully protect his or her spellbook, and find out what he or she is likely to be facing in advance to prepare appropriate spells – and STILL often won’t have as many useful spells available as a Sorcerer.

Wizards may be able to obtain old spellbooks and copy them, or purchase scrolls, or trade spells – but that depends on the setting, and on the whims of the game master, and costs both money and time. Sorcerers may be able to purchase devices that convert their spell slots into spells they can’t cast too (In Eclipse these are built using advanced Spell Storing options, WOTC got around to introducing them some years later. You can find them in the Magic Item Compendium as Runestaves) but – like a Wizard – they can’t count on it.

Now Eclipse allows spellcasters to spend character points to get more spells. Wizards can buy them for 1 CP each – but then have that pesky vulnerable spellbook and preparation requirement to worry about. Sorcerers have to pay 2 CP each – but add those spells to their list of spells that are available on demand, rather than just gaining more possible selections to fill a limited number of slots with. That’s a lot more useful, which is why their cost is higher.

Just as importantly, a standard-build Wizard is already using Fast Learner, Specialized in Spells for Double Effect, to get their base of two spells per level past the first. For a mere 6 CP, a first-level Sorcerer can take Fast Learner too, and get one extra spell per level past the first – or reduce the effective cost of his or her spell progression to match the Wizard.

There are other ways of learning more spells of course, such as Paths and Metaspells – which cost the same for both Wizards and Sorcerers. That’s because a closely-linked set of thematic spells seems likely to be just as easy for an intuitive Sorcerer to pick up as for a Wizard to study and record in a tome of spells. For that matter, there are also options for spontaneous casters using the Wizard progression (and getting more spell formula than a Sorcerer but not so many slots) or for changing the Sorcerer progression to use spellbooks and pre-prepared spells.

We can also simply compute the cost by comparison. A level of the Wizard progression costs 14 character points – 11 for the spell progression itself, and 3 for the specialized base caster level to use it with. Now, a Sorcerer gets 50% more magic AND spontaneous spellcasting – obviously “worth” +50% for the extra spells and at least +50% for spontaneity. That gives us 22 points per level.

Now lets knock off 40% for the reduced flexibility. That takes the base cost down to 13.2 points per level. Seems reasonable so far.

That gives us a base cost for a level in the Sorcerer spellcasting progression of (13 points for the spells + 3 points for the specialized base caster level to use them), for a total of 16 points – just what it costs in Eclipse.

Of course, you can also build the progressions by buying Mana as Generic Spell Levels, buying the same Specialized Caster Levels, and buying spell formula.

Lets see…

  • A 20’th level Sorcerer has 273 spell levels worth of spells available. That would – on the average – cost 328 points to buy. That’s pretty pricey – but a Sorcerer can only use Arcane spells (and not all of those) and has to tie those levels up in a set of fixed spell slots. That’s Corrupted, for a total of 219 CP.
  • 20 Specialized Caster Levels cost 60 points.
  • 34 spontaneous spell formulas cost 68 CP.

That’s a total of 347 CP, versus the 320 CP that a Sorcerer is paying out. It costs a little more to build your own custom chart – and you don’t get bonus spell slots for high attributes. The standardized progressions are given a bit of a bonus since the characters are accepting a preset structure and are, quite literally, progressing – they’re following a course of study and building upon what they’ve learned earlier. The same goes for Base Caster Level, Base Attack Bonus, high end skills, and a lot of other things.

That’s important. It takes more effort to learn how things work and to build a proper basis for more advanced studies than it does to learn how to do a few things by rote and rule of thumb. Thus the spellcasting progressions yield better results in the long run than randomly picking up bits of magic – although randomly picking up bits of magic may be faster at first. Go ahead, take some Generic Spell Levels, Corrupted for use in your custom set of slots as prepared arcane spells only, take some Specialized Caster Levels, and buy some spell formula. That will even let you get a bit ahead of a progression-based spellcaster for a bit – but you won’t get bonus spells for high attributes and they, with their well-organized studies, will surpass you at higher levels. If you want, you can build a character with individualized access to particular spells at individualized caster levels, as in this example. That’s even less efficient though.

In effect, you’re paying something extra in advance for access to those high-end effects later on. In effect, low-level spellcasters are banking points – overpaying for minor stuff so as to save up for the major purchases later on.

Now, the argument that the higher-level sections of a spell progression should cost more than the lower-level sections – and not in the part-of-those-points-are-being-banked style of the previous paragraph – is reasonable enough. There are games that work that way, charging a progressive cost for attributes, special talents, and skill levels. In games like that a +1 in a skill might cost one point, a +2 another two, points for a total of three, a +3 another three for a total of six, and so on. This works fairly well, and is believable and natural. It does have some problems though; it greatly encourages every character to dabble in everything; in such a system it’s generally far more sensible to buy two skills at +10 (for a total of 110 points) than one skill at +15 (for a total of 120). One skill at +20 costs 210 points – enough to buy fourteen skills at +5.

Unfortunately, d20 levels do not work that way. The various classes all have an essentially linear construction. For example, a Ranger gets 6 SP per level with unchanging costs per skill level, eight sided hit dice every level, saves in a linear progression, and more – and a fair number of those things are not linearly effective. Base Attack Bonus provides iterative attacks (or simply damage multipliers if combined with modifiers such as Enhanced Strike/Crushing); the difference between +2 and +3 is not at all equivalent to the difference between +5 and +6. Similarly, the feats at the end of prerequisite chains are usually a lot better than the ones at the beginnings – but they’re all one feat slot each.

It would be possible to rewrite the system so that steps in a spellcasting progression cost progressively more – but if we do that, we’ll need to give out progressively more points per level at higher levels, since we know that basic spellcasters get one level of their progression at each level and still get their other benefits at a constant rate.

Wait, doesn’t that mean that I could skip taking a my next level of spellcasting at – say – level sixteen, where each new level might be costing three times as much as it did at first level, and spend those points on a huge pile of skills instead? Or perhaps buy first level Clerical, Druidic, Bardic, and Paladin spellcasting? That wouldn’t get me any big spells, but access to even some simple cure spells might be pretty handy at times – and they’d get used every single day. Could I use that slot I could have taken a high-end feat in to take two or three basic feats? Why not?

Wait a minute now, this doesn’t look anything like d20 any longer and I’m going to need some fairly complicated spreadsheets. To make it look like d20 again I’d have to write a huge pile of rules that would… effectively turn it back into a linear progression. That would be a great deal of work to accomplish very little. (There’s an article which covers Linear and Non-Linear skills and progression methods over HERE).

Of course, in other ways, the increased spell levels are almost irrelevant. Which is more effective – Sleep versus a trio of one-hit-die orcs or small monstrous scorpions (A CR of 1.5 or so against a first level caster) or Power Word Stun (a level 8 spell, with a fifteenth level caster) against a trio of 12’th level orc fighters or colossal monstrous scorpions (CR 15)?

Now, yes, the Sleep spell is very good for its level – but quite a lot of low-level spells are very good for their level, and quite a lot of high-level spells are not nearly as effective against opponents of a similar level as they might be. In actual play, a ninth-level spell may not actually be any more effective in solving an eighteenth level characters problems than a first level spell was back when they were level one or two. In fact, it’s often the other way around.

As for the shorthand conversions of 3.5 Feats in the back of Eclipse, I fear I’d need to know which ones Greg disagrees with before I could provide definite answers – and the listing is only there to direct people towards where to look to build exactly what they want anyway. It’s not really a guide to converting characters. Why bother converting characters? Eclipse is back-compatible; you can just use old characters directly.

From prior questions I do know that…

  • A couple of people have found the Armor Proficiency listings confusing since they list a total cost (3 CP for Light Armor, +6 for Medium, and +6 for Heavy) rather than the step-by-step cost.
  • The Great Cleave listing tends to confuse people, since it’s 12 CP cost is for building it directly – whether you have Cleave or not. (There are other ways to build Cleave too).
  • The Augment Summoning listing can be built as listed, but it’s cheaper to build it with a Specialized combination of Metamagic and the Streamline modifier. That took a lot more space to explain though.
  • Point-Blank Shot is simply wrong; It should be +1 Warcraft (Specialized in Missile Weapons Only, only from within 30′ range, 3 CP) and Augment Attack/+1 Damage (2 CP) for a total of 5 CP. That one either got mispasted or mixed up with something else.
  • The costs of many of the listed Feats – anything with an “*” on it – include the costs of the standard prerequisites that build up to them. A lot of people seem to miss that line in the first paragraph for some reason.
  • In general, pretty much any standard feat costs six character points. The ones with higher costs basically all have higher costs because they include prerequisite feats. This is, once again, part of back-compatibility; since standard d20 characters get interchangeable feat slots, virtually all feats must wind up with the same cost – or a few points less, since no one will complain about getting a few extra points.

Now, I hope that helps!

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 148b – Dispatches from the Core, Part II

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One of Kevin’s special research projects had turned up… pretty much a complete blank. There had been plenty of “lost world” expeditions, and attempts to reach wherever-it-was the spirits of the dinosaurs hung out, attempts to find out if evolution was working out in the manifold, searches (both in Core and in the Manifold) for possible traces of pre-Sapiens intelligence, and more – with universally negative results. Lots of phantasms, lots of fictions, and occasional animal spirits uplifted to sapience (who tended to remain that way thereafter), but no detectable traces of pre-primate Core sapient races. If there had ever been a race of sapient dinosaurs or some such thing, they’d been non-technological, hadn’t spread very far, and had left no legacy.

As far as genuine Alien visitations went… there was no real evidence that anyone had been by the Earth for the last couple of geological ages at least – and the moon would have done pretty well at preserving traces. There were a few signs of very ancient aliens out in deep space and in other star systems. Some of those traces were recognizable in form and function, others… not so much. Most of those signs had turned up in space around old biospheres, and might have been simple surveyor probes. There hadn’t been much since the dates when the Ourathan had started limiting interstellar travel and exploration – which fact had explained a number of things.

A few worlds had been found where sapient species might have developed and gone extinct, whether via war, disaster, or by slipping into their own Manifolds – and if they’d vanishes into their own Manifolds, they’d effectively closed the door behind them and thrown away the keys unless they were to be reached through really fundamental concepts, deep inter-Manifold exploration, really powerful effects, or slowly growing into unified entities.

The otherworldly dragons of Excession had been occasional visitors to Kadia, and to other worlds using Kadia as a transport hub, and had allowed a limited number of visitors to their world. They seemed to be taking a survey of various worlds to see what did and did not work so that they could properly guide the evolution of theirs. They seemed to be simply a relatively small group of ensouled dragons doing a getting-the-world-ready thing on behalf of the local powers.

Baelaria was doing pretty well at picking up the pieces, and Spellweaver had been making appearances from time to time. The locals had been wanting him to take a more active role in things, but he’d been resisting.

There had been some aggressive probing at Kadia’s defenses from the Abyss, but they’d been repelled pretty readily. The Divine Alliance bunch had made a few “official” visits to “assess” things, while the more modern deities had mostly been taking a “wait-and-see-while-encouraging-good-behavior” attitude.

On the alien front, the Ourathan wanted to supervise the Midnight Gardener project, and to help in the selection of a test bed somewhere isolated. The Taractocoli also wanted to supervise the process. Well, they were, of course, quasi-immortal, and just as active in and out of the Manifold – so they would probably be turning up quickly enough.

On the legal front, roughly 90% of the Thrall-offices – at least in the realms with serious courts and civil rights laws and such – had been forced to hire contingents of local lawyers to argue an apparently-endless stream of cases derived from their recruiting attempts. Eventually Kevin was going to be having to either close up in some worlds or go and testify.

Dimento/Shyan had been sighted in the New Imperium, Baelaria, the Stargate systems, and most recently in the Nazi occupied realms – even if they didn’t have all that many real inhabitants.

Finally, quite a few Thralls had been assigned to help keep ATE functioning as well as possible in Ryan’s absence.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 148a – Dispatches from the Core, Part I

Thanks to a player shortage, this session was devoted to inquiries about what else was going on around the Manifold…

Back in Core…

The House of Roses was working on contingency negotiations with the Ourathan, in hopes of keeping the near-inevitable (at least in their estimation) overwhelming of the federation defense fleet and ground forces from getting ugly. Like it or not, the Ourathan already controlled much of the galaxy, had obviously successfully dealt with resisting species many times before, and were apparently at least passively backed by many far older species. It simply did not seem likely that Earth would be able to hold out – although it was obvious that withdrawing into the Manifold was always possible.

Unfortunately, Kevin’s Midnight Gardener project seemed likely to draw the attention of some of those elder races. While Kevin’s ability to bestow gatekeeping might actually be unique in the galaxy – with intelligent races rare, only a few thousand Openers race, and his trick unlikely – the networking ability was surely more common. Other races would have Openers of their own, and they would almost certainly be far, FAR, more experienced. Word would spread slowly, and with interested Openers at their disposal an Ourathan/Alien joint expedition to one of Kevin’s galactic feeding stations might be a matter of years rather then millennia.

On the bright side, however, the continuing efforts to organize and train teams of M-Class agents to respond to Manifold disasters could now operate on a far more selective basis since Kevin’s Thralls could fill out the rosters. Still, teams with access to more specialized powers and abilities were still much in demand.

The Unified Church was continuing its efforts to regulate the gateway network. There were some gates that should remain forever shut, others that had been foolishly opened and should be shut, and MANY that needed to be monitored and balanced lest things from the darker realms slip through. One day the human race would be mature enough to face all of it’s ancient nightmares, but that time might not come for many centuries. Until then, they must remain bound.

Their studies of the progression of human souls through the Manifold system – and their progress towards the true godhead – were still in their infancy, but already the great inevitable progression towards enlightenment, the learning of lessons, and the epochally-slow but irresistible breakdown of the boundaries of the self as more and more memories and identities became the common property of the race, was evident. As time flowed into eternity, it would carry the souls of the cosmos with it into realms beyond the imagination of any individual.

While the Unified Church had fewer objections to Kevin’s pacts than might have been assumed – their admitted impermanence, his honest explanations, and the infinite sweep of time ahead made his activities more mischievous (and worse for him than for his recruits) than unholy, it was still a delay on the path. Whether or not the true Godhead expected that was impossible to say. A few theologians even thought that – just perhaps – some souls needed some such experiences for their ultimate growth; otherwise it would not be possible. Did not the Manifold itself show that the Creator gave all that was needed, without limit?

Most, however, saw deadly peril, or at least the possibility of a lengthy dark age and a great delay upon the path, in the fact that they employed infernal energies and granted Gatekeeping… Would not those children – when they began to break away from Kevin in what they estimated might be as little as twenty years – be driven by the darkness that had infused them to use their powers to open the greater gates of darkness? Mankind was not yet ready to face all of it’s legendary evils and unconscious fears unleashed! Were not the difficulties with the Hellstorm alone full proof of that?

After better than a century of maintaining a lot of old institutions out of tradition, The Federated Americas were reclaiming their old continental identity. The antiquated  “Continental Congress” and three Presidential Offices (Canadian, Union, and Mexican) had proved a common factor with many of the Manifold versions of the continent – and the Federated Americas had been asserting their independent identity more and more – and had begun trying to integrate the technologies and  realms of the manifold, shifting processes into realms that supported them best, experimenting with Manifold technologies in the Core, and importing exotic materials. At least some traces of the ancient “manifest destiny” notion had come into play, as the united continents explored, and staked resource claims in, the more convenient realms.

The remnants of the people of Singular were trying to find their own identity, independent of the major power blocs. That would have been hard enough after their long separation – and wildly differing experiences and decades of temporal differences as their realm had fragmented around the various groups of survivors – but the fact that nearly 40% of their population consisted of new recruits from among the more technically-oriented societies of the New Imperium complicated matters even more. So did the ongoing task of rebuilding their research and industrial base – and of resisting integration into the Federated Americas, although the move to Ealor was helping out with that.

Singular had found one advantage though; with Kevin and Marty’s recovery of the remaining Command Unit (the Wingate child) with active command codes, they had been able to regain control of the robot legions consolidating control of the Legions under the Urban Cohorts (the carefully un-advertised production version of the Praetorian prototypes). While the Legions were – like other robots – limited to a fairly small group of realms, they were a powerful force there. They had distributed the command codes again, and limited them in various sets, so as to prevent such a situation from occurring again.

The various trade groups were expanding rapidly. Even those few – mainly headquartered in the Core – who refused to make use of Thrall-services at all on ethical grounds were profiting from their indirect effects. While “ordinary” gatekeepers were relatively scarce, the fact that Thralls were filling such positions elsewhere made more of them available anyway.

Many of the Core traders were also being relatively cautious in their expansion – sticking to the slowly-expanding “safe zones” and the massed markets of the Core. Core traders usually weren’t all that competitive – following the games-theory approach of “wealth for everyone!” – but there were always a few. Those tended to extend feelers into the Manifold as quickly as they could manage.

Other traders were not so picky; while relatively few actively traded in slaves, in a fair number of cases that had more to do with the fact that there usually wasn’t much profit in it, rather than with any particular moral principles… In particular, the Manifold-based groups were using Thralls for trade, magical aides, and assistants quite extensively. The benefits were impressive, and the cost was reasonable enough for them.

A few were compromising – either fishing for voluntary recruits since they could ask for their services for awhile in exchange for bringing them in or – in a few cases in Core – lining up potential recruits either to send to Kadia – or to hold in reserve in case Kevin’s bargain became legal and they could bargain for long-term services or even ownership.

From the Commonwealth, the few Thralls that had been assigned there had a report as well. This version of Merlin was definitely a pain – but his version of Arthur was from some of the oldest Christian writings regarding the various Saints of the era. The man had a strong anti-religious personality with a penchant for doing whatever he thought he needed to do to build and maintain power. A classic Celtic warlord. Unfortunately he wasn’t particularly fond of having “foreigners” and other outsiders running around in his domain. He allowed traders to come and go, and to set up trading outposts near the fringes of his realm – but expected them to make their visits to the interior of his realm strictly temporary. He hadn’t responded well to approaches from the Unified Church or from any other major group in Core, and did indeed seem to have some ambitions towards becoming Imperator or High King. The Thralls were trading peacefully, and had developed a local contacts and had hired locals to do the trading in the interior – but they hadn’t been able to develop any contacts or information sources at court.

The current evaluation of Necropolis had more-or-less removed the realm from the major factions list – it had apparently been put there in the mistaken belief that the realm was a unified version of most of the major “cities of the dead” from classical tales and fantasies – but it was still on the Unified Churches banned list, which was causing problems with Kevin’s recruiting there. They kept finding and closing down his access routes…

Necrosis and his “apprentices”, however, were still well up there on the “Major Trouble” list as some of the most powerful known magical hyperintelligences. They might not actually control the entire realm, but they had more than enough of a power base to handle most intruders – and were known for magical manipulations – and for dumping wealth and dangerous items on the market in service of those manipulations. Most of the other factions responded by trying to keep major mages of their own to hand, by stomping on any groups that turned out to be acting as proxies for him, and by trying to shut down access routes to Necropolis in general.

In the Old School – Oh Death, Where Is Thy Victory?

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No fair! Why should my character be dead just because the monsters rolled well and hit him for a lot of damage? They missed Joe’s (identical) character! This game is SO unbalanced!


Wait a minute! Why should my character fall down into the demon pits just because I failed my reflex save to get clear of the trapdoor when Joe’s character gets away just because he made his save! That’s SO unbalanced!

OK, that’s blatantly silly. The fact that most role-playing games use dice, and that they’ll influence the outcome, is stated right up front. This is like complaining that people get dealt different hands in poker. It’s a part of the game. If you get dealt a bad hand (whether figurative or literal) you just have to play cleverly to try to overcome that disadvantage – or fold and wait for the next hand. The dice, cards, or luck will generally even out in the end.

Still, in at least one way, our complainer is right. His character is now at a serious disadvantage through no fault of his or her own.

Of course, he’s also going to have the epic tale of how his character either escaped from or died in the demon pits, while Joe’s character will have the somewhat lesser tale of how he luckily didn’t fall down a pit and walked back to the tavern to get some dinner – UNLESS he voluntarily accepts the same disadvantage by going in after his friend.

It’s succeeding – or failing dramatically – in the face of great odds that makes for exciting play and good stories. The bigger the disadvantage overcome, the better the story.

Now lets look back across the years, and rewind to first edition, and hear…

Wait a minute! Why should my character fail to qualify for Ranger just because I rolled bad stats while Joe’s character gets to be a Ranger just because he rolled good stats? Rangers are way cooler than fighters! This game is SO unbalanced!

And, once again, no it isn’t. The game started when you picked up the dice; making characters was and is a part of playing the game. Presuming that no one is using loaded dice, both players had exactly the same chances and options – but Joe made better rolls and now has some advantages. Our player with the ordinary fighter will just have to work harder to try and overcome those poor die rolls.

But wait! What about “the dice will even out in the end” part?! How is that going to happen? Our player will be punished through the entire game for a few poor die rolls he had no control over!

And there we have a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of how the first edition worked.

Characters – and ESPECIALLY low-level characters – died a lot. Usually permanently. Unless Joe played very well indeed, his lovely attributes weren’t going to last too long – and even if he did play well, a few bad die rolls could cut him down.

What, no one would ever take such risks? When the alternative is usually a lifetime of grinding poverty and an early grave anyway? Have you ever looked at the life expectancy of soldiers in some of the more dangerous jobs in World War I and II? It was actually a lot worse.

Still, adventuring in first edition was so dangerous that it was fairly common for characters to retire, passing on the mantle to younger heroes because they no longer wished to take such risks – especially if they’d gotten hold of a large treasure or two. Old characters often moved gracefully into politics and raising families, emerging only when they were desperately needed. That was why they started getting strongholds and followers around level ten or so. The world was full of things for minor adventurers to deal with because the high-level characters had better things to do.

The ever-doubling experience tables were a fabulous boon to new characters as well. If a first level character joined a tenth level group, they were likely to be handed some gear – and all they had to do was survive two or three sessions, and they’d be fifth or sixth level while everyone else was still tenth. In another two or three sessions they’d be ninth level – and they’d continue, at most one level behind, until the higher-level characters retired or were killed (in other words, usually not for all that long), in which case it was now their job – as a senior party member – to build up new characters. That way the group gradually advanced in level, even as individual members came in at first level and older characters died.

Why would a low-level character join a high-level group? A first level character who joined that tenth level group had excellent odds of becoming tenth level themselves – far FAR better odds then they had of surviving spending years adventuring with other low-level characters. A chance like that was a fabulous opprotunity – and thus characters of many different levels often adventured together. Yes, new characters still died more often than older ones – but, just as in reality, a group that included some veterans passed on their skills to new recruits and kept a fairly high percentage of them alive. Why was your young mage growing in power so fast? He or she was benefitting from the lore passed on by that fabulously powerful tenth level magic user that he or she was hanging out with.

Character’s didn’t need too much background either. A first level character might well have gotten out of his or her apprenticeship mere hours before. A second or third level character? Possibly a quick adventure or two, which they were lucky enough to survive. After all, you weren’t starting off as a grand hero, so you didn’t need to have your prior impact on the world evaluated, or to have a slew of enemies, or much of anything else. You were chronicling your attempts to survive and rise to prominence in your field, not how Captain Awesome became slightly more awesome.

That neatly freed the game master from the problem of “where did this high-level character that no one has ever heard of before come from?”. It made simple survival really mean something – and it chucked a lot of the current worries about “balance” out the window. Everyone got the same dice, the same rules, and the same opportunities – which is about as perfect as “balance” gets.

The price of those benefits was that you had to accept that characters died a lot. In fact, in the end, they ALL died – just like everyone in the real world. It was HOW they died that mattered. In a dramatic duel? Saving a village? Confronting a rampaging dragon and being part of the group that took it down? In bed with someone else’s wife? Having raised a family and seen a few terrified villages scattered in the wilderness become a prosperous realm under their guidance? A good death was a win. One adventurous and heroic life completed, it’s last page written, epilogue done, cover closed with a sigh, and placed on the shelf of pleasant memories to occasionally be pulled out again for a bit of reminiscence. A good ending washed away all the craven moments, times you got out of character, and other literary sins.

Ignominious deaths were losses – and victory meant nothing unless you sometimes lost.

Attaining grossly high level and running out of things to do due to game master exhaustion was about the worst way to lose of all. It meant that your characters story just sort of… guttered out, with neither a heroic end nor a “happier ever after” nor even an ironic twist. It hadn’t MEANT anything. It’s just as sad as when something like one child-character’s quest for his lost parents was never resolved.

I’ve made lots of characters who were designed for martyrdom. Some died gloriously, and became in-game legends and fond memories in reality. Some, made for campaigns that never went too far, are lost in limbo, their tales unfinished. A few got hauled back into play by game masters who felt that “dying” equated to “losing”, and that heroic sacrifices should be rewarded – not realizing that a heroic sacrifice and a good ending was it’s own reward.

OK, nostalgic rant over. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…

Bonus Replies: Editorial0 and Alzrius

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Editorial0 has had a bit of free time recently, and decided to provide his own set of answers to some of Alzrius’s recent questions. Since his prospective tends to be quite different from mine, he has some alternative solutions and explanations.

In regards to spell research, what modifiers are there for trying to invent an arcane version of a divine spell or psionic power? Notwithstanding GM fiat, is such a thing possible (e.g. an arcane cure light wounds, or an arcane hypercognition)?

Well, barring GM fiat? You can indeed.

However, getting around that isn’t going to be easy. I generally presume that unless the writer had a massive stroke of idiocy*, any simple, cheap, and easy way of accomplishing things has been discovered, polished, and become routine. So you aren’t going to come up with a spell that’s an absolute improvement on Magic Missile. That spell is just as good as it can be.

*That does happen. Writers all-too-often put in huge problems or challenges and then forget that they themselves put in an quick solution one page back. Or claim that something is impossible and then put in easy ways to do just that later on. But barring this, I assume people in the game worlds aren’t idiots. So we know that the Cure Light Wounds spell is about as good as it can get.

Also, note that what The Practical Enchanter says about spell design: it’s a combination of complexity AND power. People all too often ignore the Complexity because Power is obvious and flashy.

Now let’s look at the Cure Wounds series. Power-wise, those spells fit in at their given levels pretty closely. A given healing spell is usually weaker than a same-level attack spell, but they do scale with the spell level and somewhat with the caster level.

So now we know a more powerful caster does affect the spell. This may be important later.

Complexity-wise, healing is way overboard. That 1st-level spell can knit bones, restore organs, push leaked blood and fluid back where it does no harm, erase any chance of infection. If the individual is dying, it will erase all the ongoing damage to the nerves, brain and spine instantly.

This does presume relatively normal biophysics of course – but an awful lot of d20 games do indeed presume that, even though the rules do a pretty poor job of actually representing it. -Thoth

Cure Light Wounds is at LEAST at fifth-level complexity. I’d say sixth for practical purposes. With a few hundred years of development and polishing it might be possible to get the spell down to fifth level.

So why is it so cheap? Well, remember that divine spellcasters get a hidden bonus. They have a deity, and probably an entire divine staff, processing, preparing, and weaving the spells. Druids get that same edge from nature gods or local spirits or some such. Those spellcasters may be storing and casting their healing spells, but they don’t have to do all the work.

I can’t explain Bards. Bards are just weird, and they do their own thing. They’re something of a problem because it’s not clear how, exactly, they learn their own spells. Furthermore, they originally got their spells from a semi-religious force, so… Bards are just Bards.

Bards presumably get it from their attunement to the harmony of the universe or from the muses or something. I have to agree with Editorial0; Bards arcane healing spells have been a headache since third edition came out. -Thoth

Not every spell needs this level of complexity – but divine spells are notorious for having a lot of control, being especially targetable, or (at least in the old days) being frequently reversible. They traditionally offer such options a lot more often than arcane spells.

So we know the deity is handling the complex pre-arrangement of spells. They won’t do this for every spell, but healing magic is definitely a worthwhile investment. What else offers so large and obvious an aid to the faithful? And as the priest’s ability to handle power improves, he or she can channel additional healing with each Cure Wounds. The spell is already quite complex, so there’s no reason not to pour on more power once the cleric can handle the flow.

You  may ask why, if the God does this for Cure Spells, they don’t for all other spells. First, the deity isn’t devoting all his (her/its/other/etc.) attention to the problems of every priest. There’s only so much power available even to d20 god, and there’s only so many things which can really benefit from it. Some other spells do benefit, just not as much. And of course, all the extra work takes out some of the brute force.

Not to mention that Healing spells are about the most generically useful spells in existence, and are pretty vital for maintaining your congregation in a d20 universe. -Thoth.

In any case, Arcane spellcasters get none of this benefit – or its costs. They get all the raw power they can handle, but nobody’s helping them cast complex spells. And if you somehow manage to gather a large group  of people channeling energy to you, servant spirits taking care of trivial spell effects you’re not interested in, and remove yourself to the Astral or Outer Planes, then you’ve already become a deity in DnD terms.

Mere mortal beings must live with their limitations. A single Cure Light Wounds spell might be worth spending a single fifth level slot on for a wizard on rare occasions, but usually they’re far better off with a potion or a magic item and using the spell slot to stop your enemies, evade traps, or avoid damage. Arcane spellcasters who get to that level aren’t likely to waste a lot of time studying really weak magical effects, or bothering to make scrolls and hand them down. They have better things to do.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do healing effects. You can. It’s just a lot more trouble than its worth. Do you really want to give up 5th-level spell slot for a Cure Light?

And if we look at existing spells, we do see that arcane spellcasters have a lot of ways to manipulate life energy. They can steal it, donate it, and exchange it. With some work, it wouldn’t that hard to create a battery of life energy you could then draw from with spells, or hand out to your friends. But it’s never going to be as easy as the divine spellcaster’s tricks.

I should also mention Lerandor’s Rule, also from the Practical Enchanter. It says that it takes  2^”N” level 1 spells to mimic a spell of “N’th” level. That’s exponents for anyone who may not recall algebra. Imagine the number 2 being multiplied by itself “N” times.

So, a level 4 spell would require 2*2*2*2 level 1 effects to develop. That’s 16 separate, specially-designed level 1 spells, cast in sequence. A level 5 spell is 32. A level 6 spell takes 64. If anyone was insane enough to cast Wish using level 1 spells, they’d have to create from scratch a whopping five hundred and twelve new first level spells.

Using Lerandor’s rule, you can indeed resurrect someone with arcane magic. The advantage of breaking everything down to its tiniest component is that all the components look an awful lot alike, whether they’re divine, arcane, or psychic. And yes, I’ve actually used this in game before: I had a character who could indeed design spells on the spot. I even managed to accomplish level four spell effects with first level spells – when I had a few hours to think about it.

All in all, for that, just use a ritual magic system. It’s a lot less of a headache.

Mixing Psychic Powers and other effects is even easier. If you take the time to design them, they (usually) don’t cost anything extra as Arcane effects OR as Clerical effects. Clerics would have to beg their deity, who may not find it worth the trouble, and Druids probably can’t get them at all.

However, the MAJOR benefit to being a Psychic is in the flexible power points and spellcasting, not the effects. But on that note, remember that you’d have to make the effects for your OWN kind of spellcasting. As a wizard, you can indeed create a Summon Mental Construct spell – but you have to develop it for one specific spell level and memorize it in advance. As a sorcerer, you know it for a given level and can use any appropriate slot – but you don’t get to vary the level of the spell effect.

Eclipse does offer ways of easing those limitations. You can use the Theurgy feat to merge  Divine and Arcane magic, so you can indeed learn the relevant powers directly. While this makes them more costly it’s a lot cheaper than trying to develop your own new Arcane Cure spells.

What’s a good way for an arcane spellcaster to try and deal with enemies that use the old “grapple the mage!” routine to prevent him from casting spells successfully?

  • The most obvious way is the good old Easy metamagic + Streamline. That removes the nasty gestures modifier. Alternatively, the variant Quicken Spell rules do the trick. Of course, that’s not the only way.

And still requires a concentration check. That’s why I focused on ways to get around having to “cast” normally at all. Editorial0, however, is focusing more on ways to avoid being successfully grappled in the first place… -Thoth.

  • Reflex actions and evasive effects – the old “not being there” routine – work really well. Whether as spells or personal abilities, intangibility, erecting barriers, altering space to increase the distance between you and the enemy, and short range teleports work really well.
  • So, of course, does avoiding being seen. Invisibility is classic, but shrinking down to hide under the under the fighter’s helmet works really well. I suggest running a cooling spell though, since it may get hot and you don’t want him getting too sweaty, either.
  • Or you can just crank your AC high enough to not get hit. Magic items, Innate Enchantment, or Siddisyoga all work fine.
  • So does piling on the Celerity and using move actions to stay well out of their reach.
  • You could buy an Immunity to being grappled. This gets pretty expensive, because it may fall under the “immunity to natural law” rules. If you had a decent Base Attack Bonus and maybe some martial arts, I’d certainly consider letting you buy it as your incredible skill allowing you to slip through any foe’s grasp.

There doesn’t seem to be any sort of spell or effect that will selectively let you remove a limb from another creature. It’s not hard to see why this is, since a few such castings could quickly descend into the realm of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Black Knight; or even just one-off decapitations all over. Nevertheless, what would a spell with the ability to sever limbs look like (and what would be the game effects of losing an arm or leg)?

You actually can do this with a variant Polymorph effect. If you want such a disguise, it’s not a problem. Just use Alter Self. But being able to hit others is a +2-3 spell level modifier, so a Polymorph variant seems appropriate. I’d peg it as a level 3 effect: easier than anything but a specialty polymorph, and granting your choice of limb. Use a standard Fortitude save to resist.

This one departs pretty radically from my notions; I went with Curse effects and a suggested rules tweak to make people happy with crippling effects (as an alternative to death) – but going with Polymorph is certainly a reasonable approach too. I’d drop the spell a level or so though; it’s certainly less drastic than turning someone into a mouse. -Thoth

The real reason not to bother is that it’s not all that effective. It’s no easier than turning someone into a penguin or making them fall asleep and it’s merely a hindrance, if a grotesque one.

Anyway, losing an arm with a spell is painful, but so are a lot of other things d20 characters shrug off. Losing am arm would simply lose you an arm – no off-hand attacks, off-hand shield, or two-weapon wielding without some major penalties. Depending on circumstances, a character could lash an item to his stump if you left one, but that would take a few minutes and isn’t something to try to do in combat.

Losing a leg would be more problematic. Lose a leg, and all you can do is crawl along. This won’t stop d20 characters (who seem to be made of broken hobnails and leftover bricks) from spellcasting or attacking though. It would erase all base movement, and by extension a normal run wouldn’t help since it’s a multiplier. But characters with bonus movement might still be able to use it, along with any movement-related feats if they have move to spare.

If you think that’s weird, just go watch the old move, “Crippled Masters.” Do not mess with legless monks.

Another interesting possibility is removing the head. There’s no reason this must kill the target, either. Yeah, supposedly the Vorpal weapon kills that way, but d20 characters can often take battle-axes to the neck and laugh (and this is a polymorph effect, not a killing effect. -Thoth). This would blind and deafen the character, and I wouldn’t ask that they do a lot of long division, but is otherwise none too hindering. The player would have to try and use his character’s memory to swing a weapon or target spells, and I as GM would make them do some fun saves or attribute checks while I laugh hysterically. You’d want to get your poor target a regeneration spell or use a Dispel* before they dehydrate. And hopefully they won’t panick and stab anyone who comes near.

*Yes: it’s an ongoing magical effect like Polymorph and can be Dispelled. Making it permanent and immune to that costs +2 spell levels.

Given that alignment is determined by planar forces (as laid out in The Practical Enchanter for the rational discussion and change alignment spells, could there be a spell to stop you from changing alignments when you normally would?

I like to call such a spell morality shield, since it would presumably not only protect you from having your alignment changed by using spells/magic items with an alignment descriptor different from your alignment (e.g. you can be a good spellcaster using spells and magic items with the [Evil] descriptor and not become evil over time), but also from actions that would change your alignment, whether immediately or gradually (e.g. betraying your friends, burning down an orphanage, etc.). Is such a spell possible? What effect would it have on spells that relied on alignment to determine their effects (e.g. blasphemy)?

Yes and no. If you can do block a force or object with magic you can usually allow things in and out selectively – but this takes a higher level effect. That’s pushing level 9 spells already, and you’d have to keep it up over the long haul.

The real problem here is that you’re still stacking up “teh 3b1L”, or the good as the case may be, and you’re likely to attract a lot of notice from certain beings. Obviously, you’re a powerful spellcaster. Demons and devils and such may want to hire you in some universes, or kidnap you as a potential new evil being. And good beings will still reject you if they hear about your vile actions or whatnot. Your acts may not affect your official alignment, but that doesn’t mean that people ignore them.

And if your shield drops for any reason, it’s entirely possible (if not certain) that your true alignment will form an outer-planar link. Will this happen instaneously? Not in most universes. But we’re talking weeks at most, not years. And it may not actually help you if and when you die: no ongoing spell effects then, and whatever powers or forces are in charge of the local afterlife may take a very dim view of you.

Of course, this can work in reverse. You might be evil, but decide to switch sides, and use this technique to fool your bosses into thinking you’re still a loyal minion of evil. Obviously, you’d have to be a powerful spellcaster, but you could let your plans fall handily into the heroes’ hands, secretly free them when they get caught, and then turn on your boss at the last minute. Even if you get killed, the local good powers can probably find it in their hearts to forgive you your previous acts of villainy. After all, that was one heaven of a show!

All of this takes a somewhat generic view of the d20 cosmos, without adding any new elements. That doesn’t have to be that way. I created a couple templates for the kinds of characters you may be thinking of. You can play a character with an omni-alignment and no alignment at all. I’ll have Thoth post them.

Now, I don’t care about the Evil descriptor. That’s irrelevant. In normal d20, divine casters simply can’t cast those spells if they’re good, no good god hands them out, it doesn’t change your alignment if you use them as magic items, and you can make arcane equivalents which are morally neutral in and of themselves anyway. You may be thinking of a side note from the Book of Vile Darkness, which is a different matter. BoVD was an erratic supplement at best. Certainly neutral divine spellcasters can use evil effects and it presumably doesn’t make them evil – and the arcane equivalents are morally neutral.

I have to disagree somewhat here; the base assumption in d20 does seem to be that casting spells with an alignment descriptor is indeed a good/chaotic/lawful/evil act as appropriate, even for an arcane or neutral divine caster. Basic d20 just doesn’t have any detailed rules about changing alignment – save that it’s normally gradual. Thus, if you keep running around throwing “evil” spells, you’ll gradually drift towards being evil. Fortunately, d20 also doesn’t imply that there’s any form of “slippery slope” associated with any alignment; it’s just as easy for an evil character to drift towards good as it is for a good one to drift towards evil. -Thoth

The Corrupt spells from the Book of Vile Darkness are a different matter. Neutral characters can indeed cast them on a whim, they just have to pay the price.

Of course, most of those spells are just plain stupid. They’re not effective compared to other, similar spells. They’re just gross for no meaningful reason. Like most games, they have the ancient magic of evil powers and forgot to make it worth bothering with. Would you go out and damn your soul forever to learn the Dark Secrets of Blasphemous Accounting from the Dread Lords of Infernity so you could do exactly the same estate planning, tax payments, and SEC filing you could with normal accounting? It’s a pointless, insulting sourcebook that doesn’t even have much to offer in designing villains. They confused “ugly” with “evil,” and even in high fantasy games the two are not always the same. No one is going to use them, except possible an already-evil spellcaster who was trying to see if he could get a benefit – and who would probably forget about it when it became obvious that you didn’t.

Mechanically, spells which detect your alignment still work unless you’ve completely warded yourself from alignment forces. You’re blocking the weak, pan-universal effects of infinite planes of existence infinitely distant, not the specific magic focusing on you now. If you ward yourself such that your alignment no longer exists, then the spell has nothing to detect. It will default to the “neutral” alignment effect.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too. Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

Living Magic – The Harvest

Seeds of Clausena lansium, photo taken in Hong...

Image via Wikipedia

And here we have a question for The Practical Enchanter, from Derek

You mentioned living magical items in The Practical Enchanter, yet there is nothing on the tables for creating those that reproduce. How would you price a tree that casts Create Food and Water as a 10th level cleric daily and produces one viable seed per year?

Usually enchanting a living creature is just like enchanting anything else; you take the feat for the type of enchantment you want to embed in it, then throw in the Living Enchantment modifier – so that you can use it on a living creature instead of an object – and get to work.

If you wanted to give your familiar the ability to throw a Magic Missile spell at Caster Level Five three times per day, you’d want Enchantment with the Living Magic modifier to allow it, and the base purchase cost would be (Spell Level 1 x Caster Level 5 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.6 for three uses per day) = 6000 GP or 3000 GP and 240 XP. That could be handy…

That power, however, wouldn’t be passed on to your familiar’s offspring. That’s a good thing, at least from the viewpoint of all other species considering how fast rats – for example – reproduce. A rat infestation in the warehouse is one thing, a rat infestation where each rat can unerringly inflict an average of 10.5 points of damage at a range of a hundred and fifty feet three times per day is likely to wipe out the human race.

Creating a self-reproducing magic item is trickier.

  • First up, the item needs to meet the prerequisites for enchanting another living thing.

That requires Enchantment (or one of the other item-enchanting feats) with the Living Magic and Artificer (you’re best off with the Half GP Cost) modifier here) modifiers – two very complex mental feats. Bestowing those requires using the Surprising Mastery spell template and a fifth level effect. Technically that’s only needed for eight hours a day – so once per day at caster level ten will work.

That’s (Spell Level 5 x Caster Level 10 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .2 for 1/Day, x.7 for only affects the item x.5 for only to reproduce the item, not for general use x.8 only once the item is placed in a fixed place = 5600 GP

  • Next up, creating another magical item is going to cost XP – so our self-reproducing item will need a source for that. The easiest is Harvest of Artifice with the Gleaning and Transmutation modifiers – another pair of very complex mental feats. Getting those, once again, requires an fifth level effect built using the Surprising Mastery spell template. This time, however, we need a constant effect – so that’s three times per day, for a net cost of 16,800 GP. That combination will yield up to 1800 XP per year for enchanting purposes.

Technically enchanting objects calls for “a fairly quiet, comfortable, and well-lit place in which to work”, valuable magical components, and – possibly – special tools, as well as having the required spell available once per day.

Fortunately, trees normally get planted in fairly quiet, well-lit, places – and the “Transmutation” ability can provide materials and “special tools.” (in this case, likely special fertilizers) as needed. Ergo, that package is really all we need for the job. Unfortunately, spells which provide very complex mental feats are “GM permission only” – but I’ll presume it’s been given for this bit of magical artificing.

The requested effect is Create Food and Water, at Spell Level Three (x Caster Level 10 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .4 for 2/Day x .9 since one use per day is only to expend on enchanting the next seed x.8 as the tree must grow to a reasonable age and size before it will begin to bear and is immobile thereafter = 17,280 GP.

That gives us a total base cost of 39,680 GP. I’ll round that up to 40,000 and note that – while the fruit is considerably longer-lasting and much tastier than the food that’s normally produced by the Create Food and Water spell but is always the same, and so the fruits do get boring after a bit. They also don’t travel well, aren’t replaced unless they’re actually picked, and the juice will spoil in a few days, unlike the water normally created by the spell.

So creating the first such tree requires a tenth level spellcaster with Create Food and Water and two especially-researched custom fifth level spells – and has a net cost of 20,000 GP and 1600 XP. The self-reproduction ability, however, halves the GP cost since we got the trees the Artificer modifier. Our tree can produce one seed a year – and start another – if its fertilized with 10,000 GP worth of special fertilizers. Left on it’s own, it will provide those materials (and any conventional fertilizers or watering it needs) through transmutation and it’s own creation effect – but that process will require another 5000 XP. Without it’s special fertilizers, it will require (6600/1800) 3.7 years to produce a seed.

Ergo we have…

Bountiful Tree:

This modest tree is a living magical item which always bears a scattering of blossoms and a crop of fruit, regardless of the season. The large red-and-purple fruits are highly nourishing and are juicy enough so that those who eat them will need no other source of water – and each such tree yields enough fruit each day to feed up to thirty medium-sized creatures. Unfortunately, once harvested, the fruit bruises (and then spoils) very easily; it only lasts a week or two so if stored carefully and only for a few days if carried about. Even the juice will only remain fresh for a few days.

While a Bountiful Tree would be prized for those qualities alone, they have a far more wonderful ability; unlike common magical devices, Bountiful Trees can reproduce themselves. Untended, a Bountiful Tree will produce a single seed every three or four years – which, if planted, will eventually (in a number of years) grow into a new Bountiful Tree, to produce more such seeds in it’s turn. If tended and fertilized (at a cost of some 10,000 GP) they can produce a seed in a single year. Perhaps sadly, this isn’t especially common; given that they ARE self-reproducing anyway, relatively few people see the need to spend so much just to accelerate the process

Bountiful Trees can thrive in almost any non-arctic climate, weather extreme droughts with little or no difficulty (although they may slightly reduce their fruit output), and do not drop their seeds until the end of the trees roughly eighty-year lifecycle – although they can easily be manually harvested before then. Many fortresses include a few Bountiful Trees scattered through their inner courts, greatly reducing the difficulties involved in keeping the inhabitants fed.

Strong Transmutation, Caster Level Ten, the trees themselves are immobile, seeds can cost from nothing (if there are a few around already) to 20,000 GP or even somewhat more if they’re just being introduced into an area or into a desert or some such.

Naturally enough, this general setup will allow you to make other sorts of item-growing plants as well.

For an example, use Imbuement with the Artisan (half GP cost) and Bonded (the item uses it’s wielder’s caster level and attribute modifiers if those are superior to it’s own) modifiers in place of Enchantment. That gives us a tree or bush that can enchant spell-storing items.

Now, give it Cure Light Wounds once per day in place of Create Food and Water and have it make wands of Cure Light Wounds at caster level one. Those will cost 188 GP and 30 XP each to grow – allowing our wand-bush to grow slightly more than one such wand per week of proper tending (at a cost of 188 GP per week) or slightly more than one per month if left on it’s own.

Now, this bush won’t be self-reproducing – but it’s certainly a wonderful centerpiece for a temple of healing or some such.

I think that, in this case, I’d enforce the rule against spells bestowing very complex mental feats without special permission by assuming that only very, VERY, powerful entities – such as gods – can normally do it. While this variation still costs about 30,000 GP (as much as quite a few basic wands) I’d still expect to see them turning up enough to drastically alter the price of basic wands if mere mortal spellcasters can make them.

Besides, that sacred tree in the fire-gods fane which grows Fireball wands (with a base caster level of five, growing four per year if tended at a cost of 5625 GP per season or one every two years if left untended), or the boulder which produces stones which summon minor elementals when broken, or the berries which act like a particular potion, and so on, make good features for magical areas and interesting sources of rather specific treasure; if the lost temple of the healing god has gone untended for twenty years, what will the party do with 240 wands of Cure Light Wounds? Set up a trust fund? Trade most of them to the priests for higher-level spells when they need them? Hand them around during the siege of a town? That’s enough to break the market pretty throughly, and far more than they’re likely to need anytime soon. Besides… will grabbing them all for themselves upset the god? Or – more likely – is it a question of how MUCH it will upset the patron god?

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too. Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

Alignment – Mechanics and Magic

Servant girl kneeling by the Nile

Image by vintagedept via Flickr

Here we have the last of Alzrius’s current questions…

Given that alignment is determined by planar forces (as laid out in The Practical Enchanter for the rational discussion and change alignment spells, could there be a spell to stop you from changing alignments when you normally would?

I like to call such a spell morality shield, since it would presumably not only protect you from having your alignment changed by using spells/magic items with an alignment descriptor different from your alignment (e.g. you can be a good spellcaster using spells and magic items with the [Evil] descriptor and not become evil over time), but also from actions that would change your alignment, whether immediately or gradually (e.g. betraying your friends, burning down an orphanage, etc.). Is such a spell possible? What effect would it have on spells that relied on alignment to determine their effects (e.g. blasphemy)?

Alignment is one of those areas where d20 universes – in fact, most game universes – often bear very little relationship to the real world. It’s also perhaps the single most contentious feature of many games. Ergo, before I can cover spells like that, I’ll have to take a look at how “alignment” actually works first.

In the real world people make all kinds of decisions without the benefit of planar forces – and with very little consistency. Normal people can be loving to one child and cruel to another for quite trivial – and often unapparent – reasons. They may be boundlessly loyal to their tribe or nation and utterly treacherous with outsiders. They may commit horrific atrocities in the pursuit of high ideals – and be tenaciously opposed by proponents of those same ideals. Real people tend to behave in ways that are, at least at a glance, wildly self-contradictory.

A lot of that inconsistency is rooted in the conflicts between four elements.

  • Basic survival behaviors (“my genes first!”).
  • Kinship behaviors that promote the survival and well-being of offspring and close relations (“some of my genes are in them too!”).
  • Social behaviors that support the well-being of a large, and possibly unrelated group (“cooperation promotes the survival of the ENTIRE group!”).
  • And – at least in humans, who are our only currently known example of a species in which memes demonstrably govern behavior almost (or possibly more) than instincts – learned behaviors that tend to promote their own survival, rather than those of the genes of the host.

What people will do in a given situation, and why, is a topic that’s provoked thousands of years of study and few (if any) reliable answers. A lot of the high-end social behaviors get labeled “good” in the real world, simply because they’re generally useful to the people around the individual in question.

For a simplified example from an old campaign…

Swollen with refugees from warring neighboring countries, the city of Cisnaud was stretched to it’s limits. Food was in short supply, and could barely be brought in quickly enough. Crime was running rampant, orphaned children filled the streets, and one or another crisis came up daily.

  • The guard commander knew that later historians would consider him a monster, and the decisions he made tore at his conscience – but he maintained order with an iron hand, brutally executed the occasional inconvenient innocent, and turned a blind eye to a great deal of suffering. His resources were limited. If the city collapsed, many more would die, the society which held his loyalty would fall in fire and upheaval, and it would be his fault for not doing what was required to maintain it. He saw no other way.
  • An idealistic young guard recruit did his best to assist in any situation which came before him, and would NOT allow the punishment of someone innocent of wrongdoing – which often brought him into conflict with his good friend the Guard Commander. He knew that the mere physical survival of Cisnaud and it’s people meant nothing if they sacrificed their principles and the soul of their society with them.
  • A middle-aged guard sergeant knew that his loyalty to his family and children came first – yet for them to prosper, the city had to continue to function. Thus he followed his commander, did his duty, and protected the innocent when he could. He also extorted valuables from the refugees when he could. After all, it was their fault that food was scarce – and how could he deny his children when they cried for a morsel of bread?
  • The guard-lieutenant, loyal to the people of his city, and knowing the suffering being imposed upon them by the masses of foolish foreigners who could not manage their own affairs, took every opportunity to get rid of the refugees who were not pulling their own weight. That was his clear duty – and allowing them all in would only prolong their suffering until his city inevitably collapsed under the strain, dooming everyone. Getting rid of some of them, and inspiring more to leave for other places where they might have a chance, was the greatest aid he could offer them – and his commander was foolish not to see it!

Will that sort of “alignment” work in your campaigns?

Maybe. Most campaigns simply don’t run long enough to explore NPC motivations in depth, or focus too much on combat for them to matter (who cares about the motivations of that corpse?). Others have players who don’t care about detailed NPC motives and don’t want to spend time that they could be spending on exciting adventures on character drama.

Still other players feel that games that do not  include complex NPC motivations are superficial and unsatisfying, and will want to take the time.

Most games need some sort of shorthand for describing complex social relationships and character motivations. Sure, any individual kid in that crowd trying to sell you a probably-phony treasure map is probably a unique and complex individual – but for the most part the player characters will never deal with them again (or know it if they do). All they’ll ever know about them is that “a dozen poorly-dressed youngsters tried to sell them a treasure map”.

On the other hand, they may take an interest in any random one of them – which will require the game master to come up with a bunch of stuff on the fly. No one can pre-detail everyone in a world.

An individual game system may call its shorthand labels loyalties, natures, motivations, traits, intimacies, alignments, or any of a hundred other things, but they’re all ways of sparing everyone from coming up with a detailed personality profile for every character – and of tagging opponents for easy recognition.

The basic d20 alignment system is one of the really simple ones. It fits the entire universe into only nine slots – a relic of “old school gaming”.

  • In an old-school system it worked pretty well. After all, in the basic book and first edition characters died a lot. Most of them quite permanently. New characters were constantly being introduced to the party to replace them – and nobody wanted to spend a lot of game time on the characters getting to know each other and coming to trust each other. Simple alignments covered that? You were good? Your motivations were compatible and you were reasonably trustworthy. You were in. You were neutral? You were tolerably trustworthy as long as prospects looked good, and – after a bit – you could be presumed to develop personal loyalties. You were evil? You couldn’t be trusted and would be – at most – an ally of convenience. With a few “know alignment” spells you could have a party assembled, mostly trusting each other, and ready to go in minutes.
  • You could sort out which NPC’s were reasonably trustworthy fairly quickly. Was that a bit unrealistic? Why yes! Yes it was! On the other hand, most game masters are not great actors, and can’t supply the hours worth of social interactions, behavioral cues, rumors and reputation, and other information you’d use to make a judgment about whether to trust someone in the real world. Is a spell that tells you “This guy is generally trustworthy”, “this guy could be up to something”, or “You can’t trust this guy” any better or worse as a form of shorthand than saying “I have Sense Motive at +18, does this guy seem to be on the up-and-up?”.
  • Your targets were clearly labeled. There wasn’t any “Well, I don’t like his social policies, and his campaign against the frontier tribes is more ruthless than it needs to be, but he is maintaining the stability of the realm; is trying to overthrow him really justified?”. If the king was evil, you knew that it would be a good thing to overthrow him and replace him with a good – or at least neutral – ruler. Let the rebellion begin!

It worked for The Lord of the Rings and for Star Wars: A New Hope didn’t it?

Now, the nine-slot system works quite well for a quick fantasy shorthand, but – of course – it breaks down as soon as people start trying to import real-world morality or complexities into it. Otherwise it wouldn’t provoke all those endless debates.

  • Coral Polyps live in armed, hostile, racially-exclusive colonies that reject all outsiders, attempt to kill anything that comes too close, and devour anything small enough to eat.
  • Wolves are loyal to their packmates, care tenderly for their children, live in a highly organized society, and usually kill only to survive.

I could go on indefinitely, yet – in basic d20 – all animals are true neutral. In d20, pragmatism, social survival mechanisms, group loyalty, and most of the usual motives, are all unaligned behavior – and those animals are simply behaving sensibly. The rules try to get around this by noting that animals are true neutral because they “lack moral sense” – but then provide us with true neutral sapient beings and nonsapient inanimate objects with alignments.

In basic d20, alignment – like “principles” in politics – usually only comes into play to explain bad decisions.

  • Why did the evil overlord fix the irrigation system, defend the cities against a vicious monster, or help stop the plague? Because ruling a prosperous, tax-paying, empire is in his or her best interests. Those decisions were neither good nor evil; they’re just sensible.
  • Why did the evil overlord provoke a rebellion by publicly roasting the babies from a dozen villages or kill off his or her hostages while they’re still needed? Because he or she is Evil – often to the point of being quite psychotic.
  • On the good side, why doesn’t the paladin shrug and say “well, I saved most of the kids, and going back in for that last one is almost certainly going to get me killed – and he’ll die anyway. If let myself die, I’ll be abandoning everyone I could save in the future” when it seems hopeless? In reality, there does come a point when the firemen won’t go back into the burning building even if they think that there might be someone left inside. They balance the risks against the benefits – and there comes a time to give up. The more extreme fantasy heroes NEVER give up.

Why is that?

It’s because their alignment is causing them to make bad decisions. If they get extreme enough in their alignments, they may – and SHOULD – lose all pretense of sanity, just as they might with any lesser obsession or delusion. Sane decisions are generally pragmatic, sensible, and essentially neutral – but basic d20 alignments cause characters to behave in a consistent fashion even when it’s dumb. Why do you see articles and debates on “Lawful Stupid”, “Chaotic Stupid”, and every other possible combination? It’s because, when you come right down to it, that’s what the rules are telling us.

Why – in the setting – do alignments make people make poor decisions? There really isn’t a good explanation in the rules other than “this is a quick shorthand method of pigeonholing everyone so we can get on with the combat!”.

For a reason we’ll have to turn to deduction.

  • We know that spells, inanimate objects, and other mindless things can be “good” or “evil”.
  • Using them will make YOU “good” or “evil” – and make you do stupid things.
  • Why would a bunch of apparently-clever spell designers use forces in their spells that can make their user’s act like idiots? Why do Paladins, Blackguards, and other “holy champions” get extra powers from belonging to extreme alignments?

(“Belonging to” is quite literal by the way.)

The simplest explanation is because the energies of the outer planes offer their user’s special benefits via one of the oldest of all supernatural bargains – you get the goodies now, they get your soul later. You get access to easy power, a clear-and-simple lens to interpret the world through (permitting people to exist with a blissful lack of thought), and promises of a tailored afterlife – all because those planes want you as a new recruit to the legions of celestial/infernal/whatever spirits. Why should those forces care if using their power inclines you to do stupid things? If you die sooner, they get paid sooner!

Now, I could cook up other explanations, but they’re all far more complicated, have a harder time explaining the existing rules, and lead into the endless morass of arguments you can find all over the internet. How can inanimate objects be evil? How can a Helm of Opposite Alignment work if alignments are based on voluntary decisions? How do the powers of good justify slaughtering creatures who are commonly – but not always – evil? Why not teach them to be good and strengthen themselves? How do we justify infant damnation, even if we add the word “orc” to it? (Theologians have spent CENTURIES debating that one; I doubt that I’ll find a good argument that they’ve all missed in a lousy set of game rules).

Even worse, once people start arguing and justifying things, thousands of years of human history have pretty throughly established that – with enough words – any principle can be used to justify anything you want to do. You want to murder ten thousand delightfully good little kids in cold blood? Well, that ensures their eternal bliss in heaven – whereas if you allow them to grow up, some souls will inevitably be lost to the fires of hell, sentencing them to eternal torment because you refused to do your clear duty. That’s “Paragon of Virtue” to “Mass Murderer of Children” in forty words – and saying “that’s ridiculous!” won’t refute the logic, or the fact that history is full of actions carried out with even thinner rationales. Trying to tie your game rules to actual moral values or principles is asking for endless argument.

This explanation avoids all that – and tells us why it’s not worth trying to convert some species; the amount of power it takes to overcome their natural tendencies is more than they’re worth, and morality has nothing to do with it.

It also explains the “militant true neutral” – the character who feels that the balance of the outer planes must be actively maintained. In that case, they’re not – like animals – inherently insensitive to the energies of the outer planes; they’re actively seeking to maintain complete independence from them by precisely balancing their energies, both in themselves and in the wider world.

Nine pigeonholes (or ten if you count “true neutral by choice” separately from “true neutral by being outside the system) is pretty limited though. That’s why Eclipse includes three expanded “alignment” systems

  • One simply supplements the existing system by providing some rules on motivations and rewards for following up on them.
  • One based on a characters position on a series of ethical questions. That’s far more flexible and somewhat more complicated – but offers a set of firm guidelines on what your character thinks is acceptable and how that fits into society.
  • One based on personality traits. That one’s extremely flexible, but requiring tracking character behavior with some numbers to see if they qualify for using “aligned” effects or gaining special powers.

Now that we have some idea of how those “planar energies” might work, we can talk about spells that change their effects.

  • The Change Alignment spell in The Practical Enchanter simply infuses the victim with an enormous amount of planar energy, forcibly changing their planar attunements. The result is just as permanent – and no more permanent – than any other way of adopting an extreme alignment position and, incidentally, comes with the same revelatory feeling, lift in mood, and realization of just how foolish you’ve been all your life up to now as any other extreme conversion does.
    • A much weaker version of this spell can simply keep reinforcing an existing alignment, shielding it against effects which would change it – such as using inappropriately-aligned spells. The user would have to save against the spell to act against their alignment – but if they succeed in doing so, their actions (whatever they are) will not impact their reinforced alignment; the energy shift will just be shifted back.
    • A slightly weaker version can change an alignment temporarily, flooding the victim with enough outer-planar energies to override their normal tendencies. While the victims are forced to behave in accordance with the temporary alignment, actions carried out while under the influence of such a spell are not truly voluntary – and will have no effect on the victims alignment after the effects wear off.
  • The Rational Discussion spell in The Practical Enchanter blocks the flow of alignment energies into the affected area – making everyone there effectively true neutral for the duration. That doesn’t prevent them from doing anything they feel necessary, including casting aligned spells – they’re focused enough to penetrate such a weak block – but the energies will find no purchase on the mind of the caster, and so will not affect his or her alignment when it does come back.

In any case, spells that target alignments have effects based on the current balance of energies within their targets; it doesn’t matter if they’re currently of a particular alignment

Some spells – those with alignment descriptors – draw on alignment energies. There are a couple of ways to make those work without affecting the user’s alignment.

  • You can use the Elemental Manipulation Metamagic, or a secondary spell effect, to add enough of an opposing force to the spell to keep the power you’re drawing on from affecting you. That’s pretty simple, and hence is only +1 spell level – but doing things that way will eventually attract the attention of representatives of the alignment forces, who will want the user to make a choice.
  • You can design a spell to accomplish the same thing as an aligned spell without drawing on alignment forces – or to bypass the effects of tapping into the outer planes by externalizing the effects – at +2 levels.

A spell that stabilizes a character’s outer-plane attunement is possible, and rather low-level (ten minutes per level at level two). Unfortunately, taking away the option to shift the balance of energies that you’re drawing on – however briefly – makes it impossible for the user to act out of alignment for the duration of the spell. That will also prevent the user from casting spells with an inappropriate alignment descriptor.

This, of course, opens up an alternative way of playing a Paladin or similar character; they’re so closely attuned to a particular force – the one that grants them their powers – that they’re unable to act against it’s dictates. It’s not that they will lose their powers if they act against their alignment, it’s that the only way they can violate the strictures of their alignment is to have already lost their powers – and the game master should simply overrule any attempt by the player to have their character act otherwise. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be tricked, but nothing short of total mental domination – in which case they’re no longer in control – can force them to violate their alignment – and it has to be knowingly to count.

An effect which shields the recipients mind against unwanted alignment energy-influxes, and thus would allow the user to cast aligned spells and use aligned items without some of the consequences is about level three – or possibly higher in worlds where the alignment forces are especially powerful or fundamental. If you want it to protect you against alignment-based attacks, such as Blasphemy, add three levels.

Finally, an epic spell which feeds alignment energies into someone, and allows them to channel them into active alignment-based powers even if they’re not properly attuned to them is possible – but it will only work on characters who already know how to channel such energies. This does offer the interesting possibility of giving your favorite paladin or blackguard both sets of powers for awhile.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too. Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 146 – Your Theater or Your Life!

The Jolly Roger of Barbossa's Crew, which was ...

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Since they were going to the Theater, Marty did a little checking… It looked like the Fox and Wolf families had a rivalry going over who were the greatest patrons of the theater (much to the delight of the theater groups), although the Chameleons and the Parrots were also involved (which was certainly understandable). The families each tended to favor a particular style of theater and drama. The current hot theater group in town – the foreigners (who had to be pretty good to be able to afford to travel with any assurance of a venue and making a profit) was being hosted by the Chameleons.

Marty spun an evening-length enhancement spell on himself just in case! Shiny, colorful plumage, sharp, sturdy beak and talons, and other appealing characteristics. Something that would make the lady parrots go wild! And flowers, just in case the performances were really good, and lots of fruit in case it was not! Also extra fruit for Marty, who was craving it for some reason…

Kevin, meanwhile, was simply vastly overpaying for a booth – although, to be fair, that was more in hopes of drawing attention than out of his usual disregard for the value of money. Still, it was a bit hard for a child of the Core to really appreciate just how vital money could be. He picked one of the largest; he wanted to leave space open for private meetings or for attacks on them, or to offer space to any possible pretty young women who wanted to see the show but who had arrived too late to get a booth of their own…

At Marty’s request he took one near where the Chameleons sat; it would make a point – and who knew what might happen in a private place, with dark passages, actors and weapons, and all sorts of ropes to swing on WITH background music! It could really be delicious! To go with it, they ordered a buffet of the finest wines and refreshments, with a spread sufficient for several extra people. If no one turned up, the Thralls could go to town on it…

A couple of the Platapi came too. They got them an adjoining booth though; there was no need for them to get in the way of anything that might happen…

They did, in fact, manage to make quite an impression. A good number of the middle and lower classes outright gawked as they passed by, while the upper class families in attendance noticed their presence more discreetly. They left the litter-bearers to wait outside and make even more of an impression; there was only room for a few servants inside anyway if they wanted to have room for visitors…

They got a richly-dressed Otter making his way towards them soon enough – in fact, before they’d made it to the booth. He was dressed in the Blue and Gold colors of the Merchant fleet family of Otters, the Klops.

(Otter) “Ah, you must be the new investors in town I have been hearing so much about, looking to get into the shipping business I hear?”

(Marty) “Yes, we are! So how is it around here?”

(Otter) “Oh the seas are really dangerous these days from what I am told. Only the most determined of mariners have been able to survive in this latest wave of piracy. Oh, where are my manners, I am Gunther Albrecht, of the Albrecht family.”

(Marty) “I am Martin of House MacAw. Nice to meet you! Now what was this you were saying about piracy?”

(Kevin) “Angkor Shadowfang”.

(Gunther) “Oh yes, reports have been coming in recently of a good number of pirates out on the high seas lately. They’ve been attacking ships most determinedly. In fact, some of the lesser trading companies have gone under due to the losses they’ve been sustaining.”

(Kevin) “Ah, pirates! Good sport, entertaining battles, and often lots of amusing treasures to be reclaimed!”

(Marty) “Don’t forget the bounties, either!”

(Gunther) “It would be nice if things were so romantic, but sadly a good number of people have been killed with similar attitudes. Battling piracy is not for the feint of heart.”

Marty had to smile to himself. He had no idea who – or WHAT he was dealing with, did he? Ah well, he’d play along!

(Kevin) “How sad! I always find such sports most entertaining!”

(Gunther) “Indeed? Well then, may I wish you the best of luck in your new venture. I just pray you haven’t gotten in over your head on this one.”

It looked like he was trying to “subtly” imply that the pirates might be paying particular attention to their fleets out there on the high seas now. That wasn’t entirely unexpected. Ah well.

Of course, it was also saying that they had pirate connections, and had been using them to drive the competition out of business. They weren’t angling for money, they were just attempting to attain – or maintain – their monopoly. There was a strong possibility that there were some otter family liaison’s on the pirate ships – which fit fairly well, otters were major water predators. Perhaps they could capture those family liaisons and ransom them back with optional blackmail? The family might deny any connection however; piracy might carry the death penalty – or it might be regarded as a standard risk of the sea.

They had the Thralls check on that – but they’d have to see how well it went! Still, a loss would be small change at the worst!

(Kevin, to Gunther) “Would you care to make a few bets?”

(Gunther) “Oh? That the latest venture of the Talathan will be successful?”

(Kevin) “Why not? Although, I think perhaps we should define “successful” first?”

(Gunther) “Alright, I am listening.”

(Kevin) “Shall we say; returning, and making at least a small profit for the Talathan overall after deducting any losses and the initial cost of the expedition, which I am informed will be approximately 5000 Zenni?”

Marty considered betting an additional sum per pirate they captured or killed… No, wait, he’d have to bet they got so many or more or something, and it was hard to say if they’d encounter enough of them! He had his Thralls check on the penalties for piracy…

It looked like it was a two-step thing; the first offense got you branding and jail time, the second offense drew the death penalty. Rewards for pirates ranged from 100 Zenni to 15,000 Zenni depending on the pirate caught. The more notorious and dangerous the pirate, the more money.

Oh well, it looked like catching pirates was it’s own reward.

Although, knowing Kevin, he’d probably just do his usual thing – collect them, label them “slaves”, and then take care of them – although whether that was psychological rationalization on his part or Kevin’s was open to question.

(Gunther) “Seems like a fair wager, how much do we care to bet on that outcome?”

(Kevin) “What would you like? A few thousand is hardly worth bothering with of course, but if that is all you’re comfortable with? A hundred thousand or two would be more interesting however!”

(Marty) “Yeah! That’s my kind of bet!”

Kevin was, of course, trying to back Gunther into either betting hugely or looking bad… Of course, from the Otter point of view, such a bet meant that they could spend hugely making sure that the Platypus fleet didn’t come back and have someone else pay for it!

They could pretty much see Gunther mentally tallying up the list of things that he could throw at the little platypus fleet to make sure that it never came back – and what forces he thought they might have to throw back. The locals relied too much on their protection from mental probes; they weren’t as good at hiding things as they thought they were – and their protections didn’t apply to passive reception anyway.

(Gunther) “Tell me, will you be attending the expedition as well? Seems rather unsporting to bet that you will be not returning, you see.”

(Kevin) “I hadn’t decided – but we can simply leave the funds here so that you can collect if the expedition is lost! It wouldn’t be sporting otherwise!”

That threw in the lure of insurance against reneging on said bet… According to the Thralls Gunther was fairly high up the chain of command within the Albrecht family. Just how much money was at his disposal was open to question though… They insisted that – if they were putting their funds in escrow – he put his there as well.

(Gunther) “Fair enough, let’s go for the big pool then. Always more exciting that way isn’t it?”

(Kevin) “200,000 Zenni then?”

(Gunther) “Very well then, a bit steep for my tastes, but I cannot be seen to back down either. I am in.”

Ah good! That was quite a lot… enough for them to hire a sizeable fleet to get them! And Marty could still try to get some side-bet action… Kevin had the Thralls post immediate guards on the platypus fleet and go on high alert. The otters were likely to try to get in a shot before the play was over on the theory that no one would be put on watch until they got back to give the orders. The Platypuses would be sending out their expedition in five days… A bit of a time limit on their local fun unless they used magic to commute.

(Gunther) “Well then, I hope you enjoy the show and that your venture is successful, although please forgive me if I do root for a minor financial loss.”

(Marty) “Oh, I think I feel the same way.”

(Kevin) “It should be amusing either way! And to the play!”

There were no more immediate approaches. There were plenty of people looking for funding for their latest get-rich-quick scheme or scam, but the thralls could readily sort through those. Most of the other patrons seemed to be content to simply watch for the moment.

The play was, indeed, about the rise and fall of a merchant prince. How greed and a psychotic willingness to use others led to his meteoric rise and then his eventual downfall at the hands of heir.

Marty had a feeling he shouldn’t have taken Limey to see this one.

Kevin kept a sharp eye out for approaches, assassinations, craziness, cute young women needing protectors, phantoms of the opera, or requests by the management to allow someone else who wanted to overpay to share the private booth…

What they actually got was assassins… They heard the sound of shuffling feet behind their chairs as the play got to a particularly loud segment.

Marty opted to try thought-sensing to see if it was hostile, while Kevin did a bit of light-bending to look behind him – and prepared to withstand major attacks. It probably wasn’t the otters; they’d want to wait until they’d deposited the money…

Marty caught a bit of backlash as he tapped into something seriously strange – and all Kevin saw was a slight visual distortion in the air behind him. Either very talented chameleons or using full invisibility! Cool!

Kevin spun out a few smartthreads and gently felt out what was in the distorted area.

It turned out to be an organic creature, slightly above room temperature, scaly, and trying to shove it’s claws into his back through his chair. That was easy enough to evade by leaning forward – but Marty was not so lucky – and the whatever-they-were’s hit hard.

(Marty) “SQUAWK!”

Kevin wrapped their booth in a force-barrier and dimensional-anchoring effect, both to make sure that the attackers did not escape, whether via magic or psionics, and to avoid disturbing the people watching the play.Besides… This was a bit prompt for the locals, so it was probably an outside enemy. He could just see that one… “Who hired you? The PTA? We’re keeping kids out of after-school activities in favor of silly rescue missions and such?”

Ow! Bloody throwing knives! Well within his wolf-forms healing abilities however…

Marty had shapeshifted (into a mouse) to rip free of the claws holding him – at the price of having to regenerate some more – and was hammering one of the invisible things. It turned out to be tough customer, so Kevin banished whatever-it-was they were using to remain unseen, making up for not knowing exactly what it was with raw magical power…

That revealed three lizard-like people in the room, all of them very startled to suddenly be visible.

They responded with a barrage of knives, which was unpleasant despite their various defenses.

For good or ill, they included the three “servants” (two of Kevin’s usual trio and Limey), but weren’t aware of the girls who were in ferret-form in pockets as usual. Kevin and Marty, however, wanted to find out what was going on – and so had the Thralls stick to defending themselves for the moment while they waited for a good chance to act.

Marty was doing fairly well at hammering his opponents – sticking with mouse form for comical effect, since it didn’t hinder his supernatural enhancements anyway – and unleashed an attack that would have crushed a tank. Unfortunately, his opponent had sufficient psychic resources to blunt the blow to something survivable – even if it left the creature with few reserves left.

Kevin fell back on mystic oratory in an attempt to draw the three into a tale-spun trance… He wanted to talk to at least one of these, and if Marty was pulling out attacks like that, he might not get to!

(Kevin) “Knives in the darkness have been the bane of many a lordling, but such is the price of power, treachery is ever with us. Here, now, is the start of yet another tale, one of…”

Marty hammered away, rapidly draining his opponents reserves.

(Kevin) “in the court of the mouse king, where mighty heroism lurks in the most unlikely of forms, there too treachery is afoot; a younger son, attempting to usurp his noble fathers place, by first disposing of his brothers and then…”

Resisting? Blast it, they had probability warping too! These were some pretty high-quality assassins here!

Good enough to realize that it was time to run. One of them triggered some sort of gizmo that absorbed magical energy in the area – something like the negative matter the alchemists back on Baelaria had produced – and they shadowstepped away using psychic powers.

Well, at least they would have. Kevin REALLY wanted to talk to someone, and had all of his Thralls augment his own stunning psychic attacks.

Marty had his friends jump in as well. Something in the assorted blasts finally overloaded the assassin – leaving them with one captive, however deeply unconscious.

They had some very VERY professional assassins here… Probably unconsciously shielded too! This was going to be a challenge!

(Marty) “Let’s get this one bound. Though I think we’ll need more than that.”

They stripped it, made sure he/she/it STAYED unconscious, screened the area against detection and against that specific species, got the thralls to work on mind-probing in case he/she/it had a resistance or block that would run down – or they were very lucky and he/she/it didn’t have anything – started funneling mystic artist indoctrination into his/her/its head, stacked on the binding spells and psionics, and checked his/her/its gear for any clues – since the local thralls had nothing on the species…

Ah, social perception could show them what groups he/she/it was a part of. It was almost impossible to shield against that – since their assassin was, indeed, shielded against most other things.

(Kevin) “Mysteries are almost as fun as cute young women!”

(Marty) “I’m beginning to agree!”

The search, and their wide array of skills and talents, did get them some information.

The bead seemed to have been composed of a magic absorbing powder that – upon breaking the seal – began to vacuum up the surrounding magic. A rare thing, but not entirely unheard of. The trouble was finding a ready supply of the stuff that translated well from realm to realm – as they’d already suspected, a lot like the Bealarian Nullstone. Their existing security precautions should suffice; the stuff would limit their opponents abilities as well.

The species was… unknown and saurian. Color-changing skin, acidic venom that it could spit, limited thermal regulation (still not on a par with a bird or mammal, but capable of adapting to a fairly wide temperature range – and to near room-temperature in this nice warm city), three toed feet, upright, active posture, eye sight considerably beyond what most reptiles have. Genetics look normal for something Earth derived, and the classification spell listed it as Avian. It also showing signs of prolonged high altitude sickness and a high calorie intake consistent with a carnivore type metabolism. It was ensouled though.

Well, if it was genuinely alien, it was a coincidence worthy of divine intervention. Almost certainly either an obscure (and likely non-local) fantasy or something created. Either way they’d have some interesting questions for it when the creature came to!

Wait, could it be something descended from a line that would have split off around the period of Archaeopteryx? It was vaguely possible that this was a descendent of a pre-human sapient species that had died off in Core! That was unlikely to the point of insanity, but it would be SO cool!

For gear… lots of knives, the clothing looked to be a silk derived fabric with numerous enchantments upon it. More antimagic pellets along with several other pouches containing other pellets of different colors and several vials of liquids and gels. No actual smartclothes though… Visitors who were good at blending in? The creation of a crazed local mage? Probably not the ones who were putting the platypuses out of business though. There wouldn’t be many survivors if that was it.

Well, they’d heard about the imported silk with chameleon properties…Why no apparent poisons or drugs? Neither their own metabolisms, nor those of the Thralls, showed any serious abnormalities.

(Marty) “Well, what the hell is it doing here? Somebody from another place probably sent it!”

(Kevin) “Most likely! Still, if it was a popular fiction sometime – or someone is funneling souls into a realm – it’s not too hard to get an ensouled colony. Certainly well within – say – Merlin’s resources!”

(Marty) “Just what I was thinking… and I was really enjoying this vacation, too!”

(Kevin, disappointedly) “If it’s prehuman civlization from two hundred million hears ago… I’d expect a lot more sophistication somehow. This isn’t impossible – the stuff he’s carrying COULD be incredibly sophisticated – but I’d have expected something nasty with the knives!”

Kevin had the thralls add “check their supplies against their own metabolisms” to the list of tests he was having them run. The could be trained for use against each other, while they were more or less unexpected targets.

The Thralls could confirm that the species wasn’t known locally – and could analyze the blades and chemicals and such swiftly enough.

They did find a bioagent on the knives designed to cause those infected to secrete a pheromone that they believed the species would find very easy to detect. The toxins found in the vials and in the powder pellets would be nasty against their own species, and of limited effect against more or less human metabolisms.

Kevin cleared out the pheromonal stuff. He had enough pheromones of his own, thank you!

Meanwhile, a pair of ushers – wanting to know if everything was all right – had been trying to get in .

(Kevin) “It’s fine! It was just a bunch of assassins who left a few knife holes in things! More drinks please!”

(Marty) “Yeah, and another delicious mango for me, please!”

That got a pair City Guards and an Officer at their booth quite shortly, along with the drinks.

(Kevin) “What’s the fuss?”

(Officer) “We had reports from the ushers that there was an assassination attempt. Is this true?”

(Marty) “We took care of it, but yeah.”

(Kevin) “Oh yes. Would you like some spare knives? They used quite a lot of them.”

(Officer) “What sort of creature is this? I’ve never seen the like before.”

(Marty) “We’re not sure. Magic said it was some kind of bird.”

(Kevin) “Oh, it’s not from around here! Anyway, we’re keeping it for the moment! People who try to attack us by stealth often have the most revealing things to talk about!”

(Guard) “Bird my ass!” (The Officer growled down at the guard for the outburst.)

(Kevin) “Oh, it’s more closely related to a bird than to anything else that lives around here except for feathered dragons if you’ve got any!”

Marty was already decided! He was going to name it “Scales”! At least if Kevin could manage to tame the thing!

Kevin was agreeable. Nothing discouraged assassins (or sometimes encouraged vicious reprisals and rescues) like keeping the last one to try it as a pet!

Still, sometimes assassin groups got pissed at their bosses, simply for sending them in with no real idea of what they were up against. Losses in an assassination mission were not too unusual.

Hm. He did know dimensional tracking as Angkor! Should he try to follow them?

Nah! They’d come all this way to let people come to them for once! He wasn’t going to blow that by leaping up to chase after people again! Besides… that would leave the platypuses in a bind, and they only have five days to get those ships ready to repel a massed attack that – if they lost – would have been funded with THEIR OWN MONEY!

On the other hand, if they won, the Otters would take a rather large financial hit – just what Marty had been angling for!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 145 – Of Sailing Ships, and Sealing Wax, and Platapi, and Kings

Standard Catalog of World Coins

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With the Mandas family deciding not to make an issue over the unintentional and arguably self-inflicted death of an incompetent, and the City Guard – with no complaint from the family and a claim of a legal duel – officially uninvolved, Kevin and Marty prepared to wander off into the city.

The city guards would be keeping a careful eye on their over-powered and rather touchy visitors, and would stand ready to call in help form the other knightly orders and heroes of the city – but, at least for the moment – they were one possible menace amongst many.

Kevin called for his entourage and prepared to set out. He’d brought all those Thralls and stuff along, and it seemed like it would be considered acceptable (if pretty ostentatious) locally – but they WERE out to make an impression… And Kevin thought that making that fact a bit obvious was less important than displaying the fact that he HAD the resources needed to display matched sets of well-trained noble-species chattel-slaves.

He got out the sedan chair and the matched set of black-jaguar bearer-“slaves”/thralls. Huh… they – like the rest of the Thralls – were showing their basic local-species power signs. That might be a bit TOO conspicuous… he made sure that the crew and most of the servants would dress to cover things up a bit. That really wasn’t an option with the bearers and his personal servants however; they were part of the display – and would certainly attract attention.

Marty got out his own entourage, minus the sedan chair (he preferred flying!)

The city was a bustling and active place. Traders were coming and going through the mountain pass and the port, bringing in rarities and carrying other rarities away, making deals, and meeting in private. Interestingly, most most of the buildings were flying colors in the windows and doors, and many of the people wandering the streets seemed to be wearing at least a colored armband or – more rarely – a full tabard of a pair of colors. It looked like those were associated with particular major houses… They’d need some house colors of their own!

It looked like… the colors tended to occur in pairs, although that wasn’t a solid rule. It looked like the older major houses had a lot of the two-color pairs, and later houses had to take trios or odder shades.

Sadly, Marty’s first choice – red and black -seemed to be taken, but red-black-and Macaw-green was available according to the local Thrall-office.

Black and White – which seemed oddly appropriate to Kevin – wasn’t taken, and didn’t seem to say anything too horrible to the locals (“WHITE AND BLACK?!? This indicates that you intend to serve the dark god of destruction and burn the world to the ground!”), but he threw in a subtle bit of ornamentation; a crimson wolf-skull-and-crossbones over blue-and-white galaxy on a sable background. A simple command and to the crews smartclothes had everyone appropriately attired in mere moments…

In the city itself, most of the buildings were open air designs – apparently meant to maximize the number of buildings and courtyards open to the outside and to allow for as much greenery as possible. Most of the streets were relatively broad, and a number of the main streets were straight – as opposed to the tangles of narrow lanes in sections of the city which had not been cleared by some sort of local disaster a century or so back. The result was oddly pleasing, with tangled local neighborhoods linked by broad avenues – and all of them overrun with people. Unlike the ancient cities of Core, however, the upper floors tended to have their own entrances and storefronts, catering to flying and climbing species, with cascading tangles of flowering vines – maintained by minor magics – substituting for canopies and curtains.

There was a traveling theater group in town, much gossip on the streets about the destruction and reconstruction of a building down by the harbor by an angry and vengeful mage, and discussions as to the likely impact of an approaching pirate armada on trade – and as to whether or not they might attack the city itself…

Kevin ordered his Thralls in Kadia to ready and crew a few more ships! He might need a small task force!

The financial and market district was a hive of activity surrounding a massive magical board showing the price indexes of a large variety of goods and stock in various trade expeditions… It reminded Marty a lot of the stock trading pits of Battling Business World, even if there were a lot less knives in evidence.

Hmm… Currently it looked to him like gold was high, a trading company that had just returned from an expedition to an island chain to the south was also climbing fast (although no one was quite sure why, and it might just be a speculative bubble), another trade convoy to the north was seeing it’s stock plummet rapidly and was rife with takeover speculation, some sort of fabric was trading rapidly, and there was a list of people up for indentured servitude contracts, along with a basic profiles on each one.

The fabric was supposed to be from a species of chameleon-like giant spiders. Their silk also supposedly had limited color changing properties, was incredibly durable, and was resistant to attack if woven properly. It appeared that someone had managed to obtain a fair supply of the stuff, and was reaping the benefits of their virtual monopoly – and it looked like nobles who wanted to look good (and unarmored) but who still worried about attack were bidding the prices up at a great rate… Heck, if he (Marty) hadn’t already had Smartclothes, this would be a great deal! He made some notes about the stuff, even if Smartclothes were so much a part of Core’s assumptions that they worked virtually everywhere in the Manifold.

Kevin had gotten bored with the stock-trading board pretty quickly and wandered off to look for lunch at one of the finest local restaurants… They’d wanted to make a fuss about reservations and such, but large denominations of the local currency* had settled THAT quickly enough. He had large amounts of their finest viands readied for himself, and got in some early orders for Marty… When Marty got bored with the stock-trading and turned up, his lunch was ready.

*The Zenni, with the much larger “MaZenni”, and the fractional “Zennima”. Small exchanges were usually handled by barter and on credit.

Kevin was mildly interested in that fabric… It sounded awfully familiar after all! Coincidence, a reflection of Core ideas being spread across the Manifold, or possibly doped with smartfibers to allow monitoring? Someone else meddling?

The main meal of the day was an exotic – steaks from the fruit of a magical plant/animal hybrid. It was prepared with a smattering of vegetables and covered in a curious sauce made from the sap of a large fungus. The drink is a slightly fermented apple cider, which complimented it nicely, and the whole was quite delicious…

(Kevin) “Excellent! And send out a good basic meal for the bearer-slaves!”

(Marty) “And send them some cider too!”

That meant more money of course, but the amount was trivial!

Where to go after lunch? To a show? Shopping? Looking for trouble? It wasn’t like the money was important!

Hm… Judging by the conversations, the biggest current draw was a touring theater group – apparently a foreign bunch preparing to do a trilogy of plays regarding the rise and fall of a merchant prince. A quartet of fish people were running around town buying all sorts of useless junk. There was lots of takeover speculation about a failed shipping company that was about to go under financially and lot’s of grumbling about the price of gold as well.

There was also lots of speculation regarding the incident at the Port Authority. The most popular current theory – at least in the restaurant – seemed to involve a rival house’s sabotage gone wrong and the local Mages having to step in to contain the mess.

(Marty) “Feel like a very hostile takeover, Kevin?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I think we could just infuse the place with a little money! Run by a particular small family group I take it? We could drop by and grab some local legitimacy! Fish people is a little odd though… They’re unusual until you get closer to Innsmouth!”

A few quick inquiries revealed that the struggling shippers were a small family group of platypuses who had been struggling significantly against the larger, better organized, and better funded Otter family. They did have a number of ships and had been relying on indentured servants and hired hands to fill in the gaps. They were currently expected to run out of funds – and wind up being indentured – within the next few days.

(Kevin) “Ohhh, Platypuses! Definitely people to drop by and see! If nothing better comes up, I’ll drop by them!”

(Marty) “Want me to scope things out for you, Kevin? I never saw a platypus before!”

(Kevin) “Oh, lets just go together! I’ve never seen a real one either!”

Well, certainly real enough anyway!

There were a few street kids hanging around looking at the sedan chair and the slave-bearers – although it looked like the only locals who didn’t have souls were some of the generic extras in the streets and most of the slaves. Oh well! They hired one of them – soul or not – as a local guide anyway and upgraded his clothes and cleanliness with a quick spell. He was mildly surprised that they were willing to spend power on such trivia, but pleased enough…

Marty was a bit disappointed! He’d have expected the City Guard to try and plant an undercover operative on them, even if he hadn’t yet spotted the inevitable followers! He kept an eye open for them, just so they’d know who they are – although he also (at Kevin’s suggestion, since he’d grown up with Smartclothes), had his smartclothes do face-and-body-type scans and track the people they encountered; if the same set kept turning up, they were being followed…

Smartclothes would have a hard time with magical disguises, but they should spot people who just keep showing up repeatedly easily enough.

The kid led them to a small building several blocks back from the harbor. It was adorned with the colors brown and green, and was looking like it was in need of some minor maintenance… The city guard was quietly visible there, and looked to be acting as a deterrent at the moment. It looked like the family name was Talathan.

They just knocked! It was a commercial place after all, and they didn’t need a Marty-style raid on it just yet!

Marty figured it would work out fine anyway. He was a bird right now, they apparently had bills, and laid eggs, so what could go wrong? They were birds!

As they entered the shop, an angry and disheveled looking platypus met them…

(Platypus) “Are you a customer or a bill collector? If you are a bill collector then go back to your employers and tell them I will pay the money! Try and rough me up and I will sting you so hard your great grandchildren will say “Ouch”!”

(Kevin) “Neither! We fall under “Investors” who need local contacts, so happiness and relief is in order!”

(Marty, who was thinking “I thought birds had feathers… wait, sting!?”) “Yeah, we wanted to see who you knew and maybe make some deals.”

(Kevin) “And if MY great-grandchildren say “ouch!” they will probably say it with nasty gouts of energy! When you’re in deep trouble, the proper greeting is a gleeful welcome of any new factor that comes along! Thus, the glad cries of “Mercenaries!” or “Investors” or – for that matter – “Pirates!”. If you’re about to become food for worms, anything is an improvement!”

(Platypus) “Ah investors!!! Welcome to the Talathan shipping company! We have plenty of ships and crew ready to meet your shipping needs! What business can I do for you today?!”

(Kevin) “Right! We want some local interests, which you have. You need money and backing, which we can provide. How much do you estimate that – say – 49% of your operation is worth? That will leave you with control of course – presuming that is that you’ve been borrowing, rather than selling stock or going into partnerships!”

(Marty) “Yeah, that might be trouble. So what exactly happened to you guys?”

Hm… Kevin had the local Thralls look into that – and start buying up any stock and debt-papers that the Platypuses had been selling! After all, they had no obvious connection to the local Thralls so far – and should have at least a little local property and such accumulated given their import/export resources, even if most of the money did go back into buying slaves! He passed word to buy up the contracts of any platypuses that were up for indenture. They were rare, so the odds were that any who were available would be closely related.

There weren’t any indentures at the moment – but the stock was near-worthless currently, since debts will take priority over stockholders – and even the debt was deeply discounted. The Thralls found it pretty easy to buy up most of it.

(The platypus looked incredibly frustrated as he went into a monologue.) “Oh it was those dastardly otters from the Gavnos family. They allied to the penguin pirates and are using them as a covert way of disrupting the shipping lanes while denying everything. I’ve been trying to find safe routes around the pirated lanes but keep ending up in the most god awful places. What would anyone want from a swamp full of fishmen anyway?

(Kevin) “Oh, there’s something most places you look!”

Would that be the Tux Brigade again? Piracy suited a wandering BBW bird, and it would explain why they kept running into adventuring penguins!

According to the local Thralls, it looked like they’d sold stock initially, with the company/family turning towards debt as time went on. A bit of divination and analysis indicated that the family could probably continue to pay wages and fees for another two or three days at best.

(Marty) “So where do these pirates hang out? They might start meddling with us too.”

(Platypus) “Supposedly they operate out of three ports: the cesspool city known as Ventorga, the floating fortress Alabaster, and the rival city state to the North called Hables.”

(Kevin) “Well, we may be able to do something about that!”

Marty made a note to try to find a map later.

(Platypus) “What, you have an army lying around?”

(Kevin) “If necessary!”

(The Platypus looked a bit unnerved) “I don’t think I quite caught who any of you are…”

(Marty) “I’m Martin of House MacAw, Captain of the Lissefea!”

(Kevin) “Angkor Shadowfang, Captain of the Nightwind Voyager. And you?”

(The Platypus puffed himself up proudly) “I am Naeth Talathan IV! Head of the Talathan family and head of this fine shipping establishment!”

(Naeth) “Alright, I take it you are not local then?”

(Marty) “We just sailed into port a few hours ago.”

Hm. The locals were somewhat aware of other dimensions, and that they get weirder the further out you got – but they didn’t seem to know much about the larger-scale structure. The anthro realms were kind of isolated and closed usually – and considered themselves more stable and central because of that fact.

(Kevin) “From a ways out! That’s half the fun!”

Most of the stock they’d sold was available. 51% was in Talathan hands, 40% was in the hands of people who were quite willing to get rid of it cheap, and the remaining 9% was in the hands of a Fox who was unwilling to sell at this time. The debts were substantial – and it looked like the Talathan had begun resorting to “get-rich-quick” schemes towards the end. It was still minor compared to their resources however, but it would still wind up being the largest investment they  have in the city – by a factor of ten – if they paid them off.

Marty voted for why not? Any inroad was a good inroad! And these platypus… things were kind of endearing!

They had the Thralls grab the 40%,- and the vast majority of those debts that people had decided were bad and were trying to dump to speculators at a fraction of their supposed “value”. The Thralls managed to scoop up 81% of the outstanding debts at less than 10% of the outstanding value. The remaining 19% were held by a certain Fox shareholder at the moment and he looked to be in it for the long term. He’d probably ALREADY bought them at minimal valuation, and was figuring on picking up whatever he could in the breakup.

That drastically cut down on the amount they’d have to pay out.

(Kevin) “All right then Mr Talathan; How big is your current outstanding debt and how much additional capital will be needed?”

They’d see how honest he was!

Naeth pulled out a folder, rifled through it, and then produced an answer

(Naeth) “We’re looking at 20,000 zenni to handle the most pressing debts, and another 3,000 zenni to get the crew and supplies needed for another expedition. I am planning on using all eight ships together as a convoy to provide mutual cover. Maybe another 5,000 to pay for mercenaries to help handle the pirates.”

(Kevin) “And in total to cover everything?”

(Naeth) “To pay back all the debts right now would require and additional 120,000 zenni on top of the 20,000 for the most pressing, for a total of 140,000 for the debts alone.”

Hm. According to what they could get elsewhere, that was pretty much accurate – although he was clearly rounding off. Well, Marty was approving…

(Kevin) “Right then. You currently need at least 150,000 to cover immediate expenses and a cash reserve, for a total of 200,000 or so. Some military support is also in order. Now, we will – of course – be expecting a sizeable interest in your business until the debts are repaid, but – as already noted – we are primarily interested in local contacts, invitations, and society. You should have at least some such connections to place at our disposal I should think. Is that an acceptable bargain?”

Marty was still approving. He’d expect the guy to cook the books a bit, and he needed a reserve in case something like this happens again.

Kevin was prepared to prop the guy up with a little TK if necessary.

Naeth managed to remain remarkably composed through the offer, although his eyes did go very wide for a moment.

(Naeth) “Most generous of you kind sir, although I must ask, how have you come to have so much money to spare like this?”

(Marty) “I’m not sure you’re in a position to ask, but we’ve got lots of land tucked away.”

(Kevin) “Money is easy. Good entertainment is hard, but novelty helps! Why waste time on getting to the fun part when visiting a new location? For a local budget we brought in a couple of shiploads of loot…”

(Naeth) “Well, that certainly helps matters, do you have a specific trading venture in mind, or shall I continue along with the next one I was lining up?”

Marty didn’t have anything in particular in mind yet; for the moment, they should probably just help guard the one he had planned. Maybe after that they could sail up to another, friendly city state. One where they hadn’t started off by smashing up the Port Authority. Not that they weren’t asking for it.

Kevin didn’t entirely agree… if they kept leaving, how would they attract enough attention? Besides… he thought that the port authority story was mostly staying inside the wolverine family, and they’d brought enough Thralls to send some even if local recruits were sparse – although he’d have to check on how many recruits were currently available for induction at the local office. After all, the place had a slave market that they’d been monitoring and a sizeable poor underclass.

Marty thought that the second best then would be to make trouble for those otters later!

(Kevin) “You have more local information than we do at the moment, so it would doubtless be best to continue with your current plans. We will, however, be sending along some assistance in dealing with the pirates.”

They’d only brought two ships – but then, of course, they’d brought top-end military-class vessels with assorted manifold upgrades and full crews of Thralls… They could send one along, and even a few more Thralls if the local office had any likely recruits lined up at the moment.

(Kevin) “We will provide your expedition with an escort vessel – and perhaps a few crewmen with special training. Pirates often have quite a lot of valuables aboard their vessels!”

Hmm… Currently the local office had…. eight recruits lined up. Enough for at least one aboard each of the eight ships they were sending. Even with the common local in play the Thrall-powers were fairly decent and they had loads of flexibility. Kevin had one of his usual servants fetch a chest from the sedan chair.

(Kevin) “Here is a hundred thousand to start, Shall I have a second hundred thousand brought over, or simply send it around to the various major creditors?”

(Naeth) “Go ahead and bring it here, I will ensure it goes to the various creditors as appropriate.”

Well, he didn’t seem likely to skip out with it. It looked like he was taking this opportunity as a second chance. He did want it to be seen that he was the one paying back the debtors as a matter of pride. His rivalry with the Otter family seemed to be a huge motivating factor in his personality and affairs.

All the more reason to prod them then!

It also made is seem likely that the Otter family had been calling in debts and favors to try and push their competitors out of business – and that they might now cause problems (or have their own problems) if that didn’t happen? At the least, they’d be annoyed.

(Kevin) “Very well! It should be here within the hour!”

They left Naeth to get things straightened out and headed for the theater. Marty wanted to blow off a little steam, even if he was getting calmer these days!

Kevin threw more money around to get a big booth, and – perhaps – graciously find room for someone important! He needed party invitations! Or muggers and/or a young woman to chivalrously rescue, or just to establish that they were was worth inviting to things – and to leave room open for people to come and talk to them, or look for support, and so on. The word that the Platypuses suddenly had money after their conspicuous visit there would soon get around. Birds would have an easy time getting into a private theater booth for a little secret conference!

Of course, they might also get demons from the Manifold, or agents of Merlin, or people with dodgy intentions for buying Thralls, or who wanted to sell him kids, or who wanted to get him to give them stuff or would-be challengers – or practically anything in the lines of “people come to you”!

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 51

Opening logo to the Star Wars films

Image via Wikipedia

On Gruenn, Alys was cataloging the current problems.

    • They still didn’t have all the shield generators under control.
    • They still had some Sith forces operating onworld, including a few possessed saboteurs.
    • The Commander of the Sith Flotilla that was currently in orbit seemed to be sane, competent, and quite certain that he could take the shields down whenever he chose.
    • Xiang was probably in orbit, possibly with Shipwreck – who always gravitated to things that exploded violently – with hundreds of antimatter warheads.
    • The Barramour were still lurking at the edges of the system.
    • Zandramas and HIS fleet would be arriving in about a day.
    • Thanks to Mrs Beasleys talk-show fundraising drives, the bounties on Kira, Ben, and Jacob were now past a trillion credits each – and the incidental bounties on most of their other companions were at least in the billions. Combined with the furor over Mrs Beasley the Ship, that meant that most of the galaxies remaining bounty hunters – along with a Hutt fleet – were probably on their way.
    • Mrs Beasley the Ship – perhaps the most powerful individual vessel that had ever existed in the galaxy – was on it’s way, towing along one fleet manned by a race of insane combat monsters and a substantial chunk of the republic fleet and the Ratsoogomoz.
    • Ben was en route with yet ANOTHER experimental drive system.
    • The Furripedes, with the Zomogoostar, the Shard of Devastation, and an unknown number of salvaged ships were on their way – hopefully.

Matters were coming to a crisis point, and vast forces were converging.

Which is why it’s time to cut to Kira, who is getting a new outfit halfway across the galaxy from the scene of the action.

Put that lightsaber down please!

I found myself staring at the mirror on the wall. The first stubble of a beard was beginning to show on my face. This was the first indication of my new hair color after the new implant. Supposedly the implant secreted an enzyme that activated the malformed genes whose inactivity caused my albinism. This meant my eyes were slowly turning blue, my skin was tanning, and I was seeing my “natural” hair color for the first time.

(Kira) Why red?

(Valerie) What’s wrong with red?

(Kira) It seems like an awful lot of the people I’ve met lately have had red hair.

(Virstris) It’s a common Varen color. Supposedly had something to do with the seed population that colonized the Varen system and the surrounding cluster.

(Kira) Ok, fine, but that does not explain why I have red hair. No one in my family as far back as I am aware of had red hair.

(Valerie) They didn’t, you dolt, they had malformed genes for red hair that made them carriers for albinism.

(Kira) I just thought I would have black hair like my family. Nichel and I looked so much alike when I dyed my hair. Oh well, at least no more bacta and chelation treatments for me.

(Vincent) Yes, you just need to continue the calcium supplements to counter the bone loss. That should take only another couple days. In all, your recovery has progressed at a remarkable rate.

(Virstris) Now, what’s your name?

(Kira) Verun Navaro

(Virstris) And where are you from?

(Kira) Uhhh, Dweomer.

(Valerie) Uhhh’s aren’t going to cut it if you want to pull this off.

It’s been like this for over a day now. They keep teaching and quizzing me on the life of some poor sap they found who looked like me. Apparently I was going to assume his identity and he was going to live a cushy quiet life somewhere out on the edge of the Galaxy. The story was going to be leaked that Verun Navaro was actually Force sensitive and secretly apprenticed to Valerie Soung for some time now. Witnesses to my training with her would be arranged and records modified to suit the new status.

(Kira) Well excuse me if remembering the details to a life I never lived doesn’t come naturally to me.

(Virstris) We’ll start from the top again….

And so it went. Virstris worked on teaching me the specifics of my new identity, Vincent continued his work on healing my injuries, Ban repaired and replaced my equipment, and Valerie oversaw everything. She tried to hide it, but my announcement that I would join the Varen had stirred something inside of her and she was determined that everything would be made perfect. It just seemed like a complete turnaround from the days she could only sneer at me back at the Academy. Now that I think about it, the change in her disposition really started when I manipulated her into killing Jurin for me.

The similarities to my exile in the Codifier Galaxy while A-Valerie trained me in how to better play the role of Akira were striking. I guess a part of me had been compartmentalizing the two Valerie’s as fundamentally different people, but now I am beginning to see the “Core” that makes them essentially the same person. Amazing how much and how little difference being raised in a different setting made someone.

As my injuries healed, I was needing to use less and less of my Force powers to expedite the healing and to keep my stamina up. That also meant I was becoming more aware of the ship around me too. I have dealt with crowded spaces before and the presence of multiple powerful Force users, so that didn’t bother me. What was really vexing me though was the Bond. I had a pretty good idea of where Valerie was in relation to me, what she was feeling, and even catching glimpses of her thoughts from time to time. Especially when she was thinking about me. I was also certain the converse was true as well. Tenatively experimenting with the Codex proved unable to filter it out at all and I could tell she tried something similar as well. Whatever the link was, it was on a level deeper than either of us could reach consciously with our powers.

It got really interesting when we were both in the same room. The flow of thoughts and imagery between us became significantly stronger at those ranges. One of us (I still don’t know which) glanced at the bedroom in my quarters and the flow of imagery that followed was more than a bit…. well I don’t know what to describe it as, except she got red-faced and angry with me. The embarrassment was easy to tell on her face, but I didn’t know if that was from her embarrassment at her seeing that image, or her embarrassment at my seeing it. It never occurred to me that having a direct telepathic line into the mind of a woman would still leave me completely confused as to what the hell she is thinking.

I mean, seriously, what I am supposed to be doing with this? The parallels with our Codifier counterparts were strong, but they had also gone through a serious lead up romance. Valerie and I were adversaries and rivals not too many days ago, and then we were suddenly thrust into this. Plus there was also the fact that Valerie has fallen to the Dark Side. That added another whole dimension to the Bond and the implications for me.

Suddenly I heard Valerie’s voice in my head.

<Valerie> Quit moping, you’re making me depressed.

That snapped me out of my inner dialogue and back to the situation around me. Augusta and Vincent were still watching the news on the massive fleet battle going on. Ban was prepping the crystal furnace so I could make me a new lightsaber crystal. Virstris and Valerie were busily comparing a holo of Verun to myself and making alterations to my appearance to better match the two. I wasn’t liking the look of those earrings Virstris was holding either.

(Kira) So these things are like engagement rings?

(Virstris) Not quite, they are usually exchanged between people dating as a token of love. The more rings a person accumulates, the more loved and desirable they are.

(Kira) On Alderaan, we called such people players and avoided them. No one wanted to be the next conquest for them to brag about.

(Virstris) It’s a different culture on Dweomer. Alderaan has it’s own peculiar traditions as well.

(Kira) Like what?

(Valerie) Paying a bunch of people to plant colored grass in patterns on your lawn for instance.

(Kira) Hey, now I will be the first to admit that grass painting is a rather asinine profession.

(Virstris) Now, hold still. I am about to start putting the piercings in.


(Kira) Son of a…..

(Valerie) For someone that blew off silting, toxic gas, and a battle with a mighty Sith Lord, you are reacting in a rather silly fashion.

(Kira) How many more of these do we have to do?

(Virstris) Five.

(Kira) And why aren’t we using painkillers?

(Virstris) Because it’s all part of the experience. You have to be able to accurately describe it to others if you are to play the role correctly.

(Kira) Ah yes, the first thing that comes to mind when faced with a Sith Assassin is to ask him if he used painkillers while getting his ears pierced.

(Augusta) Ha! Kira’s bounty hit the trillion mark! Pay up Ban!

(Ban) Damn it!


(Kira) Damn it!

(Virstris) Four more to go.

Mrs Beasley was apparently taking up a galactic fundraiser now to “deal with the Kira problem once and for all”. She was only getting a few million credits per world, but several million worlds were now contributing to the fund. It certainly didn’t help that Jacob apparently thought it cute to stop at every world along the way and demand that it surrender or be destroyed in my name (even if he did then leave immediately without actually doing anything at all). The Hutts were organizing a fleet to join the fray – apparently simply to try and collect the money that Mrs Beasley was raising – and now we were seeing a long extinct civilization rise from the dead to chase me.

The Yeveetha were causing the most havoc besides the Mrs Beasley as they too would announce their intent to destroy every world they came across. They showed a willingness to pick fights with everyone and everything in their path. I mean, I’ve heard of insane species with religious prohibitions against the rest of the cosmos, but I thought that they only existed in comedies and poorly written action holos. It was hard to fathom the idea that something like that actually existed.

The other Varen were watching the whole spectacle and laughing. Morrowain in particular liked to watch the ships and fleets tally up along with my bounty. She even ran the news feed to most of the major displays throughout the ship for the crew to watch. The Hutt betting boards were also proving popular. The bookies were giving favorable odds for my capture or death at the hands of this massive amount of firepower chasing the Mrs Beasley.

I have to admit, I thought Ben was having delusions of grandeur when he called it his “Ultimate Dodge”, but that blessed thing had managed to get me out of the way of this mess. That meant I was probably going to have to take back most of the things I said about his superweapons and insane inventions. Of course, that would have to wait until I got back in touch with the others again.

The remaining earrings went in painfully but quickly. Virstris then went to work finding a hair dye that matched the new color growing in and began applying it. In many ways I felt like a kid again with my parents washing my hair for me. I had offered to do it myself, but Virstris insisted that this was the only way to ensure the color was thoroughly spread since she could see the back of my head and I could not. When that was done and all the excess dye was washed off, she went to work trying to get the hairstyle to match Verun’s.

(Kira) When did you become a stylist?

(Virstris) It’s a skill I picked up during infiltration training. It’s helped Valerie on some of her assassination missions in Republic space. This limits the number of people who witness the fact that you are both Kira and Verun.

Finally the hair was done, and I was handed the repaired contact lenses to put back into my eyes. Once I got those in, I was handed a mirror to look into. The face in the mirror wasn’t unfamiliar as I could easily tell that it was me in the reflection. Looking at the Holo of Verun was when it became weird. I hadn’t really seen the resemblance between us until they made the changes to make me look like him. I could see the differences between us, but I knew what to look for.

(Virstris) Alright everyone, compare and comment!

(Ban) I’m impressed. You can see a slight difference in the shade of red, but I could easily tell myself that is a trick of the lighting.

(Virstris) Well it’s better to go with his natural color as opposed to dying it to match Verun’s.

(Vincent) That isn’t his natural hair color.

(Virstris) You know what I mean!

(Augusta) He certainly has a malicious look in his eyes. Although it could use a little something extra to help the effect.

At which point Valerie began rummaging through the bag she had brought earlier. After a few moments, she pulled out a set of jaws with teeth that looked ominously familiar to me. I had sudden flashbacks to the Force Predator of Kahranoth back aboard the Zomogoostar. Valerie stopped what she was doing and looked at me with a hint of surprise in her eyes.

(Valerie) You’ve seen this species before?

(Kira) Yeah, had one sicced on me by a mad doctor.

(Valerie) And yet you obviously survived.

(Kira) Yeah, but it took a lot of cheesy tactics and fighting like a Codifier for me to manage to drive it away.

(Valerie) You didn’t run?!

(Kira) There weren’t very many places to run that it couldn’t rip it’s way into in short order. You probably have no clue just how monstrously strong those things are. Fighting was the only chance I had.

(Virstris) Impressive.

I could sense Valerie was making an internal assessment there. I can only imagine images of my fight with the thing were flashing through her head now as I thought back to that fight. Something clearly unnerved her but she quickly suppressed it.

(Valerie) Regardless, I picked this up on Nar Shadda some time back. It’s been fashioned into a face mask you can wear. Try it on.

Putting it on took a moment to figure out the chain mechanism that fastened around my head. After a few moments, I had it resting on my face in what seemed like a comfortable position. For added effect, I cycled the robes to a black and red color scheme.

(Augusta) Oooh, now that is a malicious look!

(Virstris) Agreed!

(Vincent) Ehhh, he looks like a Holosith that is trying too hard to me.

(Ban) I can add a voice changing system to the mask to make you sound more like Verun.

(Virstris) Might be best to intentionally induce a distortion into the voice. If scanners pick up a voice changer and yet he sounds like Verun, people are going to get suspicious.

(Ban) Simple enough, I can add an ominous echo distortion on top of the Verun voice pattern so that it seems like Verun is trying to be more intimidating. No one will be the wiser.

(Valerie) Is the furnace ready yet?

(Ban) It is, how many crystals are we going to be making?

(Valerie) How many do you want Kira?

(Kira) Well, I can’t use the shield anymore now can I?

(Valerie) No, it’s too distinctive. Maybe further down the line when people aren’t looking for you so hard.

(Kira) Let’s go for two crystals then. One lightsaber for attack, and the other for defense.

(Ban) Alright, two it is then. We’ll do them sequentially. Since you’ve done this a couple of times, it should be faster than before. Shall we get started?

(Kira) Sure.

Ban inserted the seed crystal and dopant into the appropriate places and fired the furnace up. I sat down and took the pose I had been trained to use back when I got my first lightsaber and began my focus meditations on the forming crystal. Ban verified everything was working properly with the furnace before taking the mask and tinkering with it.

While growing the crystal was much faster than the previous times I had done this, it still was a several hour ordeal. Eventually the process was done and the cooling cycle completed. I removed the crystal and popped it into place into one of the lightsaber hilts the Varen had given me. Powering it on produced the familiar translucent violet corona indicating it was glowing in the ultra-violet. Odd, some part of me figured that the color would have changed somehow. Why, I don’t know.

(Virstris) Ultra-violet is a bit too unique to be using under a false identity. You may have to end up using generic lightsabers like Valerie does when undercover.

(Ban) Not necessarily. Can I see the crystal for a moment?

I powered off the lightsaber, removed the crystal and handed it to Ban. Ban then produced yet another arcane device from that tool bag of his and inserted the crystal into it.

(Ban) These things typically have alternate resonance frequencies beyond the primary one. Efficiency is lost when you shift resonance modes, but it does work quite well at disguising the color.

Ban fiddled with the device for several moments muttering to himself while taking notes. Eventually he looked up and spoke again.

(Ban) Alright, the primary resonance frequency is in the near ultra-violet as we all knew. There are an additional four frequencies this crystal will resonate at with a reasonable amount of output.

He turned the screen to face us. I saw four sets of wavy lines, numbers and then colors arranged together. Three of the four sets had colors next to them: violet, gold, and orange. The fourth color was a blank panel showing “Outside Display Output Range.”

(Ban) As you can see, Violet, Gold, Orange, and Infrared. Pick the color you want and I can tune a frequency shifting circuit appropriately.

(Kira) Wait, what?

(Ban) A lightsaber crystal can give off more than one color depending on the circuitry powering the lightsaber. I can build a circuit that will change the UV blade on your lightsaber to a gold one if you like.

(Kira) If you can do that, then why don’t more people do this? You’d think the Sith would have an interest hiding those red blades of theirs.

(Valerie) Because in using an alternate resonance other than the primary one, you impair the lightsaber’s function. You’ll find they don’t cut as well. You can compensate for this with techniques that enhance the output of the lightsaber. I’m sure you are familiar with the technique.

(Kira) Yes, it’s a difficult one to control though.

(Valerie) Well, consider this resistance training.

(Kira) Focus on overcoming the lightsaber’s inherent handicap as opposed to focusing on harming my opponent?

(Valerie) I suppose that is one way of going about it.

A thought then occurred to me.

(Kira) Alright, why don’t you do this then?

(Valerie) Because mine is a combination of red and white light.

(Ban) The white light portion poses difficulties in any attempts to shift the frequency. You not only have to find a harmonic for the red, but for all the other frequencies that make up the white light as well. The calculations I did some time back gave only two potential options: very long radio waves, and highly intense gamma rays. Both have obvious difficulties and make the circuitry fiendishly complex and very large.

(Valerie) Not very practical. And attempting to suppress portions of the resonance so that it only glows red leads to the stresses sheering the crystal in short order despite anything I try to do about it.

(Ban) So which color do you want?

(Kira) Orange, we’ll go with that.

(Ban) Alright, I will begin tuning the appropriate circuits. In the meantime, let’s get you started on that second crystal.

That one took even less time to grow than the first. After it was done cooling it was again a simple matter to assemble the lightsaber and test the blade. Ban then motioned to several droids that had quietly arrived while I had been busy meditating on the crystal growth. All three looked to be carrying bins full of nicely organized parts.

(Ban) They’ve got a wide selection of parts and styles for most of the major components. Pick the ones that you like and swap out accordingly. I’ll add the additional circuits to the emitters you choose.

I had to admit there was quite a collection here. There were several different brands, vintages, and styles here to choose from. I was still going to have to procure myself some of the more esoteric components, like the black gold hilt, but what was here would do a hell of a lot better than the generics I had been given. After choosing the parts I wanted, Ban started modifying the emitters while I assembled the rest of the components. Soon he handed me the modified emitters, I snapped them into place, and powered both of the lightsabers on.

Both gave off a warm orange glow and that familiar hum I have grown to know so well. However I could tell both of them were not quite right as they flickered and sparked more often than I was used to. Focusing on the enhancement technique brightened the glow and made the blades more…. full than before. I could tell compensating for this was going to require a serious amount of practice. There also was an underlying feeling of a lot of force bound up on some immovable obstacle threatening to give.

(Ban) I take it you are satisfied?

(Kira) Yes, although this is going to take getting used to. It’s like trying to stand straight up with a heavy backpack on your back.

(Valerie) You’ll manage.

(Ban) Here is the mask back, everything checks out on it.

Suddenly Valerie’s bracer started chirping. She looked at it and then pressed a button.

(Valerie) Alright, let’s go Kira. It’s time to report in and receive orders.

I put the mask back on, put the lightsabers on my belt, and followed Valerie outside the “apartment” and to the waiting conveyor car outside. Once the two of us were seated, the car took off and carried across across the ship. we followed the main thoroughfare some kilometers before beginning the ascent up the command tower. The sheer number of side corridors and levels that passed us by began to blur together quickly as I lost track of them all. I realized that this ship had more in common with a cross-section of Coruscant equipped with engines than it did with the Zomogoostar in many ways.

Eventually we were deposited outside a corridor with guards stationed outside it. From the looks of their armor and weapons, they were of the same type of unit Virstris was from. Except these four guards showed no detectable Force presence that I could pick up. These must be the elite Force-Immune that Virstris spoke of. I wonder if Valerie has told the Varen that these guys were very likely to have Codex potential? Then I heard Valerie’s voice in my head.

<Valerie> We’ll discuss that later. Now, as we rehearsed.

(Valerie) Valerie Soung and Verun Navaro reporting as requested.

One of the guards immediately took out a handheld scanner and began scanning me while another did the same with Valerie. After a few sweeps of the wand he then held out a pad in one hand and a light in the other.

(Guard) Please remove the glove Master Navaro and place your hand on the panel. Now look into the light please. Thank you, everything checks out. You are now free to enter.

Putting the glove back on, I followed Valerie as we walked down the corridor past another set of guards and through a doorway. On the other side of the door was a familiar looking conference room and twelve figures around the large table. I recognized Morrowain and the Iresha woman from when I first arrived, but the others were unknown to me. All of them were powerful with the Force and I fought the urge to shift to the Codex side of things. This was definitely a crowd I didn’t want to mess with right now. I really wanted my thermal detonators back. Not that I figured they would do me much good.

(Valerie) Members of the Council, I present Verun Navaro.

(Kira) Special Agent Verun Navaro, reporting as requested. Awaiting your command.

Special Investigator Nimh Tahl’s Field Report – Session 51

Back in the hills of Gruenn…

Alys was still frantically coordinating things when some of the remaining governmental higher-ups finally managed to trace her down.

They didn’t have much choice any longer – they had to admit that there was no way to stop things now – but they desperately wanted to know if there was some sort of plan to this rebellion, and if that plan (hopefully!) involved their planet surviving he ensuing chaos more or less intact.

Alys could re-assure them on a number of points. The plague was a fake, space and time was not breaking down starting with Ben, the universe was not ending, the “plague victims” were in hiding and not dead, and more – but she had to admit that the shield generators were still under enemy control and defended by droids, even if those enemies were effectively paralyzed at the moment and the droids were operating under a communications blackout.

After a great deal of work, pointing out that she did not have TIME to explain everything, and much negotiation – and calling in Nimh to testify – the local planetary government had to concede that their only chance was to hope that these people’s plans would allow them to survive – and they were official trouble magnets who had managed to remain unshot for months. With any luck – and nothing else could save them now – it would stretch to cover everyone else.

Alys found herself more or less ceded command of the planetary security forces and equipped with emergency powers. She had them deploy the planetary security forces (or what was left of them) in readiness to try to gain control of the five sealed shield generators, ignore the bounty hunters, shut down the official hunt, close down the orbital links to hinder the Sith Commander – and started letting valuable personnel people out of stasis.

As for Nimh…

I woke up thirsty, hungry, and with a headache. The locals in the camp obliged me when I asked for food and water, and I was able to get a pain suppressant from my medkit. It took a while for my brain to fully synchronize as I sat there an mechanically ate what was on my plate. It always took awhile for the droid prosthetics to resync with the rest of my brain after taking SynStim. At least the prosthetics ensured I had something left to sync as opposed to the poor fools that were rotting their brain with the stuff.

It still wasn’t a smart thing to be doing often, no matter how addictive the stuff is.

That fact that I was still here indicated that at least this section of the planet was not being bombarded. That was a good sign. The morning sky wasn’t showing any real change to the fleet in orbit either. That meant the siege was probably still going on then. Looking at my commlink showed about twelve hours had passed since I took the SynStim.

Swapping modules, I did some rounds in the surrounding camps for anyone needing medical care. There were some minor injuries, a broken bone, an infection, and a number of people in psychological shock. Between my medkit and the supplies the others had available, I was able to treat everyone present in a few hours. I left instructions for those that would need long term care, and then hitched a ride on one of the trucks ferrying supplies in from the next town.

Solid rumors were scarce on the ride to town. It appeared that the government had cut off all the major broadcasts relayed via satellite and had gone to landlines for communications. That implied the government had finally wised up to what was going on and thrown their lot in with Keldav’s group. That implied a certain amount of sense, but I really doubted they had much choice in the matter. What other rumors there were running around were so fanciful or outrageous that it was really hard to take them seriously.

Arriving in town didn’t really change things as the rumors were still full of wild speculation and very little in the way of veritable facts. Communications were thoroughly clogged as there wasn’t enough landline capacity to be handling all the communications traffic this world generated. There wasn’t much more to do here than at the campsite I was at earlier.

Suddenly I got a priority encrypted call with a government signature on it. Answering it revealed Alys Nere on the display. She apparently was having trouble convincing the government about several points her group had uncovered and was wanting my assistance as an expert independent witness to the facts. She already had a ship in route to pick me up if I agreed.

Well, there wasn’t much I could do anyway right now, and acting as an independent expert to a planetary government regarding the claims of Keldav’s group was certainly something that would keep me occupied. I agreed to act as a consultant in the matter and boarded the ship that arrived moments later. Inside I found a member of the resistance as the pilot as Keldav’s group apparently were swapping out the purely droid based crews with organics. After confirming that I was in fact Nimh Tahl, he lifted off and took the ship several hundred kilometers south.

We quickly landed outside another small and rather non-descript town and I was directed towards the local security station. Entering the Security Station, I found the place had been converted into a makeshift command center of sorts. I could see displays of twelve planetary shield generators on the walls with a projected tallying of forces underneath each of them. It looked like seven of the twelve shield generators were under the control of the locals now, and the remaining five were still in dispute. Those five were also giving the locals an immense amount of difficulty given the lack of professional soldiers to use against the Sith battledroids and soldiers still in stasis.

Soon enough Alys found me and asked me to look over a number of samples and bodies trapped in stasis for her. Then I was to make a report on my observations that she could then give the authorities so they could make an informed decision regarding Alys’s claims. Alys then gave me some background on her group’s findings regarding these samples.

Alright, I will admit, the horrible possessed bioweapon made out of silicon goo and droid brains was more than a bit hard to swallow. Especially when she started to explain how it had been busily possessing important government officials in an attempt to sabotage attempts to create a rebellion. Luckily for her, she actually had captured some of the officials she claimed to be possessed so that tests could be run. I flipped through the notes the one known as Shipwreck had generated and then pulled out my own sensor pack to begin verifying claims.

  • First specimen was a sample of the silicon goo that they had scooped out of the brain of one government offical. Since it was locked into stasis, there was no way to verify that the stuff was actually alive. I was also unable to resolve details to the degree claimed by Shipwreck in his report either. Still, I was able to verify that the stuff was seemingly organic in structure, included multiple electronic circuits and crystals, and appeared to have been interfaced with a nervous system in a fashion analogous to my own implants.
  • Second specimen was a government official with the silicon goo still inside his skull. He too was in stasis, but it was easier to verify that he had to be alive given the lack of vital signs and decomposition. The silicon goo in his skull was easy enough to detect, and looked to be of similar composition and design to the first specimen. Here it was easier to detect how the silicon goo was interfacing with the central nervous system. In fact, it wasn’t as I had initially supposed where it was interfaced to the brain directly much like my own prosthetics were. Instead, it was coupled to the brain stem directly and completely bypassing what little was left of the brain for all but the most automatic of functions. That explained the lack of resistance to the foreign implant taking control of the body.
  • Third specimen was much like the second, yet another government official with more of the stuff in his head.
  • The fourth was more interesting. This one lacked the silicon goo in any detectable fashion inside his skull. However, he did possess a number of implants inside him including an explosive charge of some sort and numerous other electronics. An analysis of a blood sample that took a good deal of creativity to extract also revealed a number of modifications. There were a number of enzymes of obvious artificial origin that I was unable to verify the purpose of given the equipment at my disposal. I also detected hormonal levels consistent with chronic high stress levels and a number of tranquilizer chemicals.

My findings were consistent with the reports given by Shipwreck and Lazlo, even if I was unable to do any Force probing or whatever it was Shipwreck was able to do to get that level of detail.

Finally I reviewed the information provided on the nature and abilities of the Sith Lord Zandaras. The information provided sounded more like something out of a horror holo as opposed to a real creature running loose around the galaxy. As far-fetched as the information provided about escaped bioweapon from four millenia ago seemed, the data matched what I was able to verify about the silicon goo and what I had heard about Zandaras.

In fact, it explained a lot of peculiar things about Zandaras.

What wasn’t being said and really stood out in my mind, was where the party got this information from. It was too much of a coincidence for them to have stumbled upon this information that was proving to be most relevant and helpful in fighting the most dangerous Sith Lord to come around in quite a while. This group knew too much, had almost all the missing information no one else in the galaxy seemed to have, and even knew where to look for it and what it’s relevance was. I think there is more to this story than these people are letting on.

Perhaps Zandaras escaped confinement because they let it loose?

Still, that sort of accusation was not needed right now. I gave the government my findings and the conclusion that the group was telling the truth regarding the nature of the how Zandaras was controlling critical members of the government. I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing that report and the findings in detail over the commlink to various government officials that felt they needed to hear this first hand.

Once that was done I wandered back over to where the amateur resistance commanders were steadily making a mess of trying to capture remaining the shield generators. I watched them shuffle icons around the holo map while making grand pronouncements about brilliant plans and strategies to each other as they all produced garbage. I played the cute and innocent girl act for a while as I asked about the various pieces on the map, the shield generator defenses, and that circular projection coming out of the van off to the side of the map that covered most of the field. Ah, so that was a larger version of the stasis generator then.

Still, the resistance was largely made up of irregular fighters and malfunctioning droids of assorted types. Meanwhile the defenders were well equipped professional soldiers and hardened battledroids with a massive defensive advantage. Simply put, the only reason the resistance hasn’t suffered massive casualties already is the fact that the stasis field was stopping the soldiers from doing anything and the droids were turtling.

[That was partially defense, and partially quarantine; there had been reports of a time-stopping plague, then everyone organic inside had apparently stopped experiencing time – obviously they had a major outbreak! Thus the local medical robots had been able to take over several of the shield generators…]

What grand schemes the would be generals were coming up with were unworkable on a number of levels and tended to greatly overestimate the combat abilities of irregulars versus professionals. Well, the Sith Commander in orbit was wanting the shield generators relatively intact, so assisting the resistance in taking them with minimal damage could be construed as a sign of remaining neutral in this. It’s to the short term advantage of the Resistance, and to the long term advantage of the Sith to ensure those shield generators remain intact.

Hmm, those stasis generators project a field of static size centered on the field generator.

(Nimh) Why don’t you send in a droid to the van and tell it to drive three meters forward at a time. This will then make portions of the Shield Generator accessible to your forces three meters at a time.

(Commander) Well what good would that do?

(Nimh) Well, you could then concentrate your forces on gaining control of the three meters of the shield generator that become available, while the Sith can only use the droids and what few soldiers come out of stasis at that time. Once you gain control of that portion, move the van another three meters. Divide and conquer.

Alys immediately approved of the plan and began implementing it. The commanders present looked a little sheepish to have been told something so obvious in hindsight. I didn’t really care what they felt so long as they did the smart thing needed to get the job completed correctly. We needed to take this slowly and thoroughly, this was going to be all for naught if the resistance ended up accidently blowing the thing up in their haste to capture it.

That still left the matter of jamming the Sith kill command while we looked for the modification the Sith installed to receive and act on it. Unfortunately, that was going to have to wait until the engineers had time to thoroughly go through the Shield Generators we had captured. Hmm, I may have to go to one in the near future and try to assist in the effort.

The one named Lazlo then called Alys wanting to know what to do about the ones called Xiang and Shipwreck. Listening in on that conversation revealed that Lazlo was now in communcation with Xiang and Shipwreck. Xiang had a “plan” to use Shipwreck’s unique talents to find a way past the shields of Zandaras’s command ship and then challenge Zandaras to a duel and threaten to blow up his ship with antimatter unless he consented.

At first I had wondered if I was watching the Xiang holo show by accident or something because that was one of the most insanely stupid plans I had ever heard. I was quite saddened to find out this was actually real and the full scope of the plan. Comparing what I knew of Xiang’s combat abilities against the data on Zandaras did not give Xiang very good prospects beyond becoming a thin paste smeared on the wall. On the other hand, the amount of antimatter she had at her disposal was more than sufficient to blow a good sized hole in the Super Star Destroyer in orbit.

Sadly, manipulating Xiang to blow herself up and kill the Sith in orbit was morally wrong on a number of levels. Plus Xiang seemed to be against any plan that did not result in her fighting the Sith in a hand-to-hand duel to the death. That greatly limited our options. What we really needed to do was get those antimatter warheads and missiles out of her possession and then stash away for whatever use we find for them later.

That meant trying to talk Xiang out of her suicidal plan though and that wasn’t going to be easy. I could tell that Alys had come to the same conclusions as well. I was amazed that someone could be this delusional to actually believe that she was a character from a holo show.


If she actually believed herself to be Xiang from the holo show, then it stood to reason she would act in the same way the character would in a given situation. Surely there have been situations where Xiang had to back down from a fight and not go charging in. Alys soon after came to the same conclusion and we both began consulting the Xiang Holo Show message boards for ideas on how we might influence the situation to our advantage.

The message boards were yet another good example of why I dislike most people. Idiocy, willful ignorance, hate, intolerance, and posturing ruled the day for a lot of people the moment they believed themselves anonomous. It took some digging while Lazlo stalled the discussion with Xiang and Shipwreck for a bit, but eventually we found four major options: first was that Xiang would back down if badly injured, second if she was unable to reach her opponent, and third if her friends needed immediate assistance or fourth if someone made a declaration of undying love to her.

Well, Xiang was currently uninjured and was beyond our ability to cripple her. She also believed herself to have a good chance of reaching her opponent and would die trying if not. None of us needed her immediate assistance, nor could I see any way that I liked to readily simulate that to a nut with antimatter. That left someone making a declaration of undying love to her.

It was amazing how empty the makeshift command center got at that statement. Those remaining were either female, claiming to be married, or of the completely wrong species. Alys volunteered Lazlo and he “accepted” to “take one for the team”. What followed was one of the corniest and sappiest confessions of ”love” that I had ever heard. I figured that there was no way it would work and was shocked to see that Xiang was crying.

Xiang immediately brought a small shuttle down from her ship she left in low orbit and chased down Lazlo. After she captured him, she dragged him before Alys and demanded an immediate ceremony. Much to my surprise Alys went ahead and gave one, after which Lazlo promptly ran off into the woods with Xiang giving chase. Alys looked at me and said that it wasn’t official so what was the harm?

I had my doubts about that, since Alys was a noble from Coruscant and the now official leader of the planet’s forces in resisting the occupation. That definitely gave Alys substantial legal powers that I doubt she really was taking into account on this matter. Still, this did separate Xiang from her shuttle loaded with antimatter.

I immediately started directing droids to systematically and carefully remove the antimatter warheads from the shuttle. Once the droids understood the nature of the request, they thankfully used the care and precision a delicate task like this required. It looked like she had….. 120 warheads onboard, each with 2 kg of antimatter. The freighter still in orbit looked to have 300 torpedoes with four warheads apiece. That amounted to…. 2,640 kg of antimatter.

Holy Hell.

What the hell were these people doing that they could have amassed such a stockpile? Seriously, that would require the output of multiple direct conversion power systems running more or less continuously for years to generate that much. What sort of equipment did this bunch have at their disposal that they could undertake that kind of a project? Was there more to that superweapon asteroid nonsense than I had first believed?

No matter, we unloaded all the warheads and stashed them away in a heavily guarded warehouse in the meantime. I double-checked the containment systems on the warheads and directed several technicians to keep watch over them and make sure they remained charged. Having their armaments blow a hole in the world after successfully repelling the Sith occupation would be very embarrassing to say the least. And I certainly didn’t want that happening while I was on that same planet.

Xiang eventually came back and claimed that Sith had stolen her antimatter and Lazlo from her. Neither Alys nor I made any attempts to dissuade her of this delusion since it didn’t force us to come up with an excuse anyway. Now to find a use for the antimatter stockpile….

Then all hell broke loose in the skies above us.

First indication that something was wrong was when the Sith Fleet in orbit retreated. What sensor scans were coming from satellite indicated that the Sith fleet had retreated to the asteroid belt. Why that was became clear an hour later when a new fleet suddenly appeared in orbit and began bombarding the planetary shields. A broadcast then began as some avian creature aboard the bombarding fleet announced that all species except their own to be blasphemy and that we were going to be exterminated off the face of the planet. Apparently their god would smite the shields for them as they demonstrated their resolution to kill us all.

Who the hell were these people and where did they come from?!

I took a recording of the broadcast and began searching archives regarding the species. It took a lot of digging and searching old records to find much of anything relevant. Closest match appeared to be the Yevetha, a species thought to have been exterminated by the Infinite Empire nearly 65,000 years ago. What few records there were described them as obsessively xenophobic and utterly incapable of conceiving of peacefully coexisting with other species.

Other records included notes about augmented reflexes, enhanced strength, light natural armor, extensible blades in the forearms, very fast metabolisms, poison vulnerabilities, and details about the life cycle. Apparently the “adults” would breed to produce a sessile creature that would then clone more of the adult specimens by the thousands. Those clones were programmed with the knowledge of the original adults and could immediately enter the religious jihad against everything else. Those that survived long enough would breed more sessile creatures to repeat the process again.

They also looked to be completely incapable of creative thought whatsoever as the primary tactic seemed to be to charge straight at the largest and most dangerous looking threat they saw. Any technology or infrastructure was supposedly captured from eaten enemies and even something as simple as farming was unknown to them.

Alright the odds of this species being something that evolved naturally were nonexistent. This had to be a bioweapon created by some enemy of the Infinite Empire as blaster fodder. I had my doubts the original stock species even existed anymore, and this bunch was showing signs of having been modified so extensively that reviving the original genome was a lost cause.

Tactical Recommendation: Extermination.

At least the shields still seemed to be holding, and this did give us additional time to capture the shield generators before the Sith decided to drop them remotely. With any luck, we should have full control of the shields before the Sith can do anything about it.

Then more ships began arriving in the system. What limited sensor systems we had showed multiple large Republic Battle Groups, a Hutt fleet, several Sith fleets, more Yevetha, more Bounty Hunters, mobile asteroids, capital ships of unknown origin, and an abolutely massive spherical ship. That thing was enormous… nearly three times the length of a Super Star Destroyer and over thirty times the volume! The shield systems alone were Core World Planetary class! Despite the fact that everyone was shooting at it and each other all around itself, it was pretty much ignoring them all!

Where in the infinite hells did that thing come from?! And why are all these ships here?!

Right, gaining complete control of the planetary shields was now top priority. I need to help find and eliminate that remote shutoff immediately. There wasn’t going to be any way to survive this otherwise.

Meanwhile, Jacob and Smooche had been jumping across the galaxy, leaving messages at several planets so that Jacob could spread his Fame (or infamy) and rejoice in his ever-increasing bounty (finally bigger than Kira’s!), even if it was by association with Kira. They’d also discovered, and played with, the planetary-scale ion cannon, and picked up Ben – who’d caught up with them, used his subspace drive (as witnessed by the Sith and several others) to get past the shields, and boarded the Lifestar – only to be captured by the cat-like security robots.

Persuading Jacob and Smooche that he was indeed THEIR Ben hadn’t been too bad… but their lunatic progression across the galaxy WAS!

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 50b

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5...

Image via Wikipedia

At Alderaan, there had been a lot of debate – but the local fleet command had had to admit that – if Kira and company had actually managed to lure Zandramas into coming to them, and there was a decent chance of catching him with only a portion of his fleet, and without a planetary base to fall back on, then it would be a good chance to take him out. Zandramas was on the defensive for the moment, so a portion of the fleet could be spared – and the Jedi Order did vouch for Handell, despite his blatant alcoholism and the exceptionally bizarre asteroid-craft he was piloting…

A fleet contingent was dispatched.

Jacob had drawn on his home universe and poured those energies into the engines of the Lifestar with every bit of will he could muster. There were millions of people depending on him to bring them to a less-than-doomed galaxy.

He had emerged… off the grid, but his senses said that this was, indeed, his home universe. There were even some locals in the area.

OK, insane, implacable, and utterly hostile locals, who promptly decreed them an affront against the will of their god and started attacking – but they were his worlds hostiles!

The Yevetha had believed themselves the sole sapient life in the galaxy; that the universe was given to them to expand into at leisure. The presence of others was an abomination – and they would eradicate that. This ship, however mighty, would fall before their determination. No lesser foe would divert them from their prey.

As Jacob and Smooche laid a course back to Gruenn, the Yevetha fleets set out in pursuit – and Jacob set out to contact the rest of the group through the force if they were out of reach in any other fashion!

He actually managed to touch several of them briefly, to inform them that he was back, and was bringing Mrs Beasley (they’d found the Lifestars name in the old records) to help! He offered to pick up Kira along the way – but at the moment Kira thought that he was well out of it.

Ben, meanwhile, was dealing with two of the worst headaches he’d ever had! One from the fact that he was entirely too near another temporal duplicate of himself – and one from the fact that THIS version of himself had never even heard of Hyperspace!

What had HAPPENED in this version of the universe to cause it to censor an entire fundamental branch of science?

What they used in place of it was even more of a headache – and it was something that his alternate self was extremely proud of; he considered it the fastest possible drive – and, in a way, it was.

A subspace drive… It phased the ship into subspace – where everything aboard instantaneously radiated away it’s thermal energy, dropping almost to absolute zero. The initial impulse carried the ship through subspace a predictable distance in zero time – and in a totally random direction, whereupon it snapped back into normal space.

Once there, the super-cooled computer came back online, scanned the area, extrapolated it’s current location based on the known distance traveled and star-sights – and then, if they weren’t within a reasonable sublight travel distance of where they wanted to be, adjusted the distance and performed another random jump.

When it’s drunkard’s walk finally brought it out near where it wanted to be, it moved in through normal space and – once it was no more than a few hours out – thawed its passengers and main bulk with a low-powered lightsaber field, It used neutronium power generators simply because nothing else would provide the necessary power and still work at such low temperatures.

So it FELT instantaneous, but the actual duration was essentially random. It couldn’t really be totally random of course – otherwise it would probably be a divergent series rather than a convergent one – but whatever “steering” principle was involved was probably pretty weak…

Yes, it WAS a neat idea, and a brilliant way to exploit something he had never imagined could be exploited, and he was pretty impressed with himself for coming up with it – but it wouldn’t help him get home!

For that he needed hyperdrive coils…

He spent days using the fabrication systems to make some – and on recording a tremendous amount of hyperspace theory for himself and for whoever could use it locally. With any luck at all there’d be SOMEONE. His duplicate was willing enough to spend a little time in hibernation to get those goodies – even if most of the crew simply believed that he was the LUCKIEST subspace jumper in existence, and might even have dropped by from another cosmological volume.

Try as he might, he couldn’t convince most of them of anything else – and once he left through a hyperportal, they’d probably mostly forget all about him. Still, with any luck someday a censor-immune would pick up the dusty volume of notes and recordings – or his alternate might be able to develop an immunity after all. He had.

Well, there was one advantage: he was so lost that he had nothing at all to loose. He’d simply put everything he had into it, meditate until his brain hurt, and try to get back on pure instinct. That’s what the force was best with after all…

Perhaps desperation was good for something after all; it FELT like the right galaxy… Even if he was way off the grid.

His lashed-up hyperdrive was going to need constant nursing… He’d have to find someplace nearby that could supply some standard components.

He set out to try to use the force to determine which way to go – and found that four civilizations were within reach, but one was definitely best.

The Pfatari were… a sapient plant-form, who had learned to tap the energy gradient between the “warmer” space near stars and subspace for energy and shared a consciousness linked by subspace communications. As they could not travel through hyperspace beyond the seed stage – although they were acquainted with the theory – they were ever-so-gradually spreading through the asteroid belts around their suns and through the oort clouds between the stars. They were cautious about the prospect of dealing with a galaxy full of animal life, but felt that it would be unethical not to assist a stranded traveler.

Huh. Most of the galactic species could share the galaxy with the Pfatari and never even notice… They helped him build a better hyperdrive – and he showed them the subspace drive. They could really use the thing.

Meanwhile, back on Gruenn…

Lazlo was trying to figure out a way to get offworld, out of this trap, and back to Handell – and not having any luck at all! He couldn’t get hold of Shipwreck either, and if there was anyone who might be able to find a route – other than jumping into another universe and getting lost forever – it would have been Shipwreck.

Unfortunately, with the shield generators in stasis, there was no way to try and set up a way through – even if he did currently have some of the better bounty-hunter ships. Dammit! There had to be some way out!

Oddly enough, the two Sith madmen – one of them in charge of hundreds of war droids – who were in the immediate area were about the only potential menaces that he could safely ignore at the moment! The universe was surely out to drive him crazy!

Back with Alys and Nimh and the rest…

Then came the communication broadcast from orbit with the Sith Commander’s demands. He wanted the resistance to lower the shields immediately, or else he was going to bring down the shields and begin bombarding the planet. He also wanted the surrender of Kira Keldav, Jacob, and Ben Therus. Unfortunately that was a course of events that would likely get me killed. I needed to prevent the bombardment of the planet as long as I could, but how would I accomplish this? My power was limited, and the Sith were holding all of the cards.

No choice then.

I reached into my bag and pulled out some SynStim. The stuff was a synesthesia inducing compound mixed with an extremely powerful stimulant. The euphoric and cognition highs were addictive in most sapients. The disruptive effects on the brain communcations also tended to become permanent over time with seizures becoming common in habitual takers. Fortunately, the droid prosthetics in my brain made me almost immune to the damage, but did nothing to help with the addictive qualities of the drug. Plus there was also the unavoidable crash that would occur as blood sugar levels collapsed. I could achieve near miraculous deductions and observations with the stuff, but it was exhausting and made me more prone to using the stuff in the future.

Still, with a potential bombardment and little I could do about it, it was my only recourse to try to alter the situation in my favor.

Luckily, having prosthetic lekku made it easy to inject chemicals into my bloodstream without messy needles. Inserting the tiny gelcap into the appropriate slot, I could feel the chemical hit my brain as sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste all melted together into a single flow of sensory data. Memories began to warp, meld and tear as well as more portions of my brain began to respond to the chemical. In this roiling sea of sensory and memetic chaos, my mind began to recognize patterns in the data.

As the patterns formed, a plan came together.

Leaning heavily on my prosthetics to act “normal”, I called the occupational fleet in orbit. At first I got a secretary of some sort wanting to stonewall me from bothering the Fleet Commander in charge. Hammering her with logic and arguments that obviously went way above what her mind could comprehend readily, I got her to finally put me through to the Fleet Commander directly.

Trying to sum up my description of the man was going to be a lost cause of “tastes like blue” and “sounds like sandpaper”. Thankfully, the droid prosthetics allowed me to pretend nothing was out of the ordinary in my conversation with him. Acting programs had their uses after all. Later I would review the audio/visual pickup recordings for a more conventional analysis.

(Commander) Yes, what is it? I don’t like wasting my time with Republic Inspectors.

(Nimh) I must point out that it is not in your best interests to bring down the shields and bombard the planet at this time.

(Commander) You presume much to tell me what to do.

(Nimh) I am merely stating that it is in your best interests to do so. Let me explain why this is. First off, it appears you still have not found the one called Xiang, despite the fact that all evidence indicates she is still loose in the system with multiple antimatter warheads.

(Commander) Go on.

(Nimh) Obviously Xiang is targetting Sith in her mad crusade for a duel. Currently the only Sith in the system that I can deduce are all planetside right now. They would be an obvious target for her. This would then result in a good amount of planetary devastation in the middle of a war effort.

(Commander) So then what are you suggesting?

(Nimh) Make her move for her and let her think it’s her idea. Keep the shields up until the one called Zandaras arrives. He will undoubtedly be arriving aboard a vessel easily capable of surviving anything thrown at it from her. Once she is eliminated, you can then safely bring down the shields and reconquer the planet again without risking harming the vital industries.

(Commander) Using my superior as bait? That is a bold and potentially foolish proposal.

(Nimh) I am merely suggesting providing Xiang with an unassailable target to waste her efforts on. You can then retake everything you have lost with the least amount of destruction to anything valuable. All it costs you is a few days delay and some minor embarassment to Zandaras, but you can then report having manipulated the situation to neutralize all the threats without allowing any of your enemies to cause undue harm to valuable resources.

The man stroked his beard thoughtfully as he considered the proposal. Yes, this one was very competent and open to new ideas. That made him very dangerous and very useful. As long as I keep it in his best interests to keep me and this planet alive, I stand a good chance of surviving this. On the down side, outsmarting him completely is going to be extraordinarily difficult – and I was certainly giving him information during this conversation that he had not had before. There was no way to avoid it.

Also curious was the man still seemed to be confident in his ability to bring down the shields on command, despite what reports I had heard from Alys regarding her conquest of the things. That implied the man had an ace up his sleeves to bring them down still besides that strike force currently assembling. Alys eliminating that attack force may not be enough to secure the planetary defenses.

What is he planning then?

It has to be something he can trigger from orbit without support from the ground. His ability to destroy the generators was limited by the fact the shield was currently up. That meant whatever it is was on this side of the shields. An explosive charge planted to destroy the shields? Possible, although that would mean the planet was vulnerable to outside attackers while the occupation repaired it again. Plus, military shield generators were usually quite robust against major failures such an explosion would cause.

Probably a computer or electrical shutoff then. That way the generators could be reactivated on demand after the occupation retook them. While it was conceivable that it was some sort of heartbeat failsafe, predictions showed it much more likely that it was some sort of an active communications code to trigger a shutoff. And that could be jammed then.

(Commander) Very well, you make several excellent points. I will avoid dropping the shields and bombarding the planet until the timeframe is more opportune. I do recommend that you turn your impression investigative powers towards finding Kira Keldav, Lazlo Milvago, Jacob, and Ben Therus. It would let the occupation take a more generous view on your presence here.

(Nimh) I’ve have been sent to find those people anyway.

Neatly avoiding having to promise to hand them over once I found them. It also helped matters that only Lazlo Milvago still appeared to be on the planet. The Commander promptly cut off the communications channel at that point since the discussion had ended.

I spent several minutes busily writing notes and thoughts while still under the effects of the SynStim. Most of the insights would usually turn out to be bogus or irrelevant, but a few would prove useful. It was difficult to remember them once out of the state unless I wrote them down in considerable detail. I finished a few minutes before the inevitable crash hit me. Fighting the mental exhaustion that was threatening to put me to sleep, I sent a coded message to Alys to look for the possibility that the shield generators had remote shutdown systems installed.

Hopefully she can find some way to interfere with the deactivation codes and prevent the Sith from shutting down the shields whenever they want.

I asked the locals at the camp to keep an eye on me as I was about to fall into a deep sleep for a while and would be unable to take care of myself. As I curled up in one of the makeshift tents, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. With a few minutes of arguing, I had successfully delayed a bombardment of an inhabited world for a couple of days. I wonder what I will do tomorrow?

Meanwhile, Jacob and Smooche were hopscotching their way across the galaxy – stopping at various planets to proclaim that “they were working for Kira Keldav, and had come to destroy them all!” – before departing quietly. He wanted to give the crew some practice with the Ion Cannons, to make sure that everyone knew about the Yevetha trailing along behind them, and to make sure that – if he had to move Gruenn – they would all think he had destroyed it and so would be properly terrorized.

Of course, with the largest ship in the galaxy headed for Gruenn, being chased by a hostile alien fleet that shot at everyone who came near them (and freely declared their intention of destroying everyone else in the galaxy), they rapidly picked up a few more pursuers – like half of the Republic fleet.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 50

Over with Kira…

I woke up in a tank of bacta for what seemed like the hundredth time. I could see Vincent Lowell on the other side of the glass poking at a datapad. I could still see the tubes connected to my arm for the chelation therapy.

(Vincent) Ah, you’re awake. You will be pleased to know we are about 35% done. We are going to have to suspend treatment for a while though to let your body rest a bit. Too much bacta too quickly can start causing allergies or worse, and you’ve been needing quite a bit of the stuff. Please be ready to stand as we drain.

The various tubes connected to me disengaged when he said that. The tank started draining through a hole in the bottom. Standing was easier this time than the last few times I did this, although the numerous incisions across my body were making themselves felt. At least I was actually beginning to see signs of improvement. Once the tank finished draining the tank opened up and I stepped out. Toweling myself off, I then put on the clothing laid out for me. They had quietly confiscated my stuff the moment I went into medical treatment. Whether or not I would see any of it again was an open question.

(Vincent) You seem to be walking and moving about more readily this time.

(Kira) Yeah, I can definitely feel some improvement.

(Vincent) Good, we finished the repairs to the brain, central nervous system, and your heart. The other internal organs are progressing well. Bone loss is stil an issue, but we are combating that as needed.

(Kira) So what now?

(Vincent) We have a set of quarters set up for you right now. I believe you had some visitors there waiting for you to arrive. If you are ready….

As he gestured to the door, it opened to reveal a small hovercar designed to run in the corridors of the ship. Vincent climbed aboard and was waiting for me to join him. As soon as I sat down, the car took off at high speed down the corridor. We entered one of the main thoroughfares through the ship and merged seamlessly into traffic as the droid driver took us along. I saw large amounts of cargo being transported around, and even damaged fighter parts being shipped to repair bays. An automated voice came over the intercom.

(Intercom) Attention: Threat level reduced from Orange to Yellow. Repeat: Threat level reduced from Orange to Yellow. Enemy fleet still in sector. Additional attacks are to be considered probable. Crew rotations will remain on current schedule until further notice.

(Kira) I take it the battle went well?

(Vincent) Minor damage, the big ships are hard to damage significantly without a real concerted effort. The fighters had a harder time of it, but we value our pilots more than the enemy does.

(Kira) Was it the Baramour?

(Vincent) Can’t say.

(Kira) Can’t or won’t?

(Vincent) Can’t, I haven’t been informed by my superiors. Not that it really matters. The enemies of the Varen are my enemies. That’s all I need to know.

We turned off the main thoroughfare after a couple kilometers and started up a ramp for a good ways. The gravity shifted to point perpendicular to the ramp, but it still felt odd to watch the people not on the ramp walking at an angle to myself. A thought occurred to me.

(Kira) Alright, why am I in quarters so far from the medical bay?

(Vincent) You were put into quarters where some of the more talented members of the crew could keep an eye on you if you tried something foolish. I will probably be reassigned to the closest medical center in order to continue treating you.

We eventually came to a more “residential” section of the ship as the car got off the ramp and entered a large open space. The place was clearly made to resemble an outdoor type environment with a fake sky, a large grassy park and a pool. The quarters were designed to give the impression of an apartment complex surrounding the place. It seemed a bit extravagant to me for personal quarters aboard a military vessel.

Families were out in the park playing and doing other activities. Most of them stopped to watch as we went by though. I could feel several Force presences in the area and I suspected they all could feel me in turn. About all I could feel was a limited curiosity.

We then arrived outside an “apartment” overlooking the park. The door opened automatically as we stepped out of the car and approached. The place was luxuriously furnished and rather large. There were holoscreens set up as windows and a full set of servant droids milling about. What caught my eye though were the three people sitting at the table playing cards. They reacted to my appearance immediately. It was Virstris, Ban, and Augusta.

(Virstris) So there you are! We’ve been wondering when Vincent would let you out and about. It’s been a while.

(Kira) Hey Virstris. I take it you guys are still assigned to Valerie?

(Augusta) Yep, we’ve been supporting Lady Soung and her missions since you first met us.

(Ban) They’ve yet to get someone to fill your spot for long though.

(Kira) Really?

(Augusta) Well you killed Gregory on Alderaan. No skin off my back though, Gregory was an arrogant posturing ass well on his way to going HoloSith. I won the bet.

(Ban) And I lost. I thought he would have lasted a little over a year until Valerie inevitably brained him. But you got him first.

(Augusta) After that they brought in Ayshan for a while.

(Virstris) Dear god, don’t remind me. The man had a permanent rain cloud hanging over his head.

(Augusta) At least he was competent.

(Virstris) My sister eventually insisted that he either leave or he was going to have to start taking drugs immediately. He left.

Ban then reached under the table and pulled out a bag. He set it on the table and opened it up. He pulled out my robes from the bag and laid it out on the table.

(Ban) I’ve gotten most of your stuff repaired. Whoever made that robe is top-notch. I wouldn’t mind learning some of his secrets. There was a layer I didn’t really understand and so couldn’t properly repair, so we took it out but all the rest should be back up to snuff.

He then pulled out the stasis belt and smiled wickedly.

(Ban) This thing was an interesting find. Ended up testing it on Augusta’s dog….

(Augusta) You what?!

(Vincent) Worked wonders for shutting the mutt up.

(Ban) Circuitry is simple enough, but I am still not sure why it works. We’re going to be playing with the thing for a while, but in the meantime I’ve repaired this one for you. The other major circuitry on the belt looked to be either missing or badly damaged. I can’t tell what exactly that was supposed to do, but I suspect it’s what brought you here.

(Kira) Never really understood the damned thing myself.

(Ban) I also took the opportunity to upgrade the bracers with a set of shield generator circuitry similar to Lady Soung’s. Her insistence really. We got a new blaster, knives, and other minor replacements from the armory. Sorry but you can’t have thermal detonators at this time.

(Kira) Hardly expect I will need them anytime soon anyway.

(Virstris) True, and I doubted they still worked anyway. Those things aren’t particularly fault tolerant in my experience. We were rather surprised to find you didn’t have a lightsaber on you.

(Kira) The droids confiscated it before I could see Lecrouss. It’s still probably back there on Gruenn. Finding it again will be a pain, and my spare is on it’s way to Alderaan.

(Virstris) That’s not a problem! We can supply you with another lightsaber. They have plenty of spares for the Varen to use.

(Ban) Indeed, we can even let you create an artificial crystal too.

I really didn’t want to say anything, but this was getting ridiculous. I understood that my being healthy was in the Varen’s best interest given Valerie, but why they chose to repair all my equipment and then give it back was beyond me. Not too long ago I was responsible for causing a significant amount of damage to this very ship. Never mind the fact that I was still technically a renegade.

(Kira) Alright, why am I not being stashed into cryogenic stasis? You could easily do it at any time you chose and yet you continue to act like I am part of the faction.

(Virstris) Well, aren’t you? Mother seems rather insistent that you are joining us.

(Kira) News to me.

(Virstris) It will all work out.

They went back into their game while trying to include me in the conversation. Apparently Lessa Soung was still adamant that I was joining the Varen. Now that I know of the Bond with Valerie, I can see why. It made fighting them rather pointless in a lot of ways. Still, I wasn’t going to just leap into their ranks with open arms.

The initial conversation with Valerie the day before about the Bond hadn’t gone well either. We were both more than a bit uncomfortable feeling out the Bond between us right now. Just being aware of it and in close proximity to each other was a bit disconcerting. The image of our alternates from the Codifier Galaxy came from one of us (not sure which) and was instantly shared over the link to make the conversation even more awkward. Then it devolved into a shouting match over her anger at my recklessness and my frustration with her keeping this a secret for years.

It didn’t help that we each could tell when the other was lying and what we were feeling. It finally ended when Vincent had put me back into the tank for another round of therapy. We hadn’t had a chance to continue that discussion since then. She was busy with whatever this project was and I was still recuperating.

The card game the others were playing started to include stories of past missions and I somehow got involved. I was telling them about how we defeated the Sith at Archegyph with a jellyfish when I felt someone come into telepathic contact with me.

<Jacob> Hey! You are alive! You need a pickup while I am out here?

How Jacob had found me was beyond my ability to fathom, let alone how he managed to cross the galaxy too. I really wanted to pull on the Codex in order to block him out right now but realized I was pulling on the Force too hard trying to stay active. If I switched to the Codex now, I was going to collapse in moments. That meant I had to endure this.

(Kira) Pickup? What do you mean? Where are you and how can you give me a pickup?

Virstris and the others looked at me very oddly for a moment before they realized I was in contact with someone via telepathy.

<Jacob> I found a REALLY big ship called the Mrs Beasley! I am currently heading….. well I am not sure where, but I have a lot of ships chasing me now! I can swing by and pick you up!

I suddenly got the feeling that it would be very bad to get involved in whatever it was Jacob was doing.

(Kira) The Mrs Beasley?! What the hell kind of ship is called that?!

<Jacob> Another Ben and Alys built this ship to save the Galaxy from Darth Kira!

My head impacted the table hard at that remark. Then I hit the table with my head a few times more for good measure. The others in the room were looking at me curiously when I finally stopped.

(Kira) Jacob, not right now. I am currently getting medical treatment and have some issues to work out. I will catch up at some point.

<Jacob> Ok!

Jacob then disconnected the link and I was left to my own thoughts. What premonitions I was getting were suggesting that it was critically important that I stay here for now. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to find out why given what I just learned.

(Virstris) What was that about?

(Kira) Jacob has apparently found a ship called the Mrs Beasley and is running around the galaxy with a small fleet chasing him. He wanted to know if I needed a pickup.

(Augusta) Sounds like the usual chaos that follows you around.

(Kira) Yeah, except this time I am getting the very strong feeling that I need to be as far away from this one as possible.

Suddenly I felt Valerie start heading our direction from across the ship. I was definitely on her mind, but I couldn’t tell why. She must have been in a hurry as it didn’t take her long to get here. She practically stormed through the door and began asking questions in an somewhat bemused tone.

(Valerie) Kira, do you have any idea what is going on out in the galaxy right now?

(Kira) Something about a war going on last time I checked.

(Valerie) Very funny smart ass. Have a look at this.

She walked over to one of the holo-displays and switched it to a galactic news feed. The news coverage was dominated by reports of a ship named the Mrs Beasley tearing across the galaxy. A number of massive ship battles were reported in it’s wake and more ships from across the galaxy were moving to intercept. Several Sith factions were sending their ships, and the Republic fleet was abandoning several portions of the front to give chase as well. Even the Hutts were supposedly sending ships.

What really shocked me though was the information on the Mrs Beasley. It was easily much, much larger than the Winter Moon, and much more powerful. The fact that it was basically ignoring the fleets giving chase was testament to the power the thing had. No one knew where it came from and the story that Kira Keldav had built in secret to destroy the Republic and the Sith was quickly gaining traction. I was especially annoyed with the number of public officials going on record calling for my head.

(Augusta) Wow, a hundred credits says Kira’s bounty hits the trillions after this one!

(Ban) You’re on!

I am going to kill Jacob the next time I see him.

We watched for several hours as the running disaster unfolded in front of our eyes on the news. The number of ships involved and the casualties were skyrocketing hour by hour. I watched as all chances of me ever being able to return home to Alderaan vanished along with whatever was left of my reputation as something other than a mighty Sith Lord. If there was any consolation to the madness, it was that the massive fleet battle was well on it’s way to intercepting Zandaras.

(Valerie) Well, you’ve brilliantly distracted all attention from our project here with this one Kira.

(Virstris) A pity you had to destroy your life to do it.

(Valerie) There is no going back now, there never really was. You will join us Kira, you don’t really have a choice in the matter now.

(Virstris) Just as Mother predicted.

(Valerie) We’re the only ones you can trust in this. You now understand why this is true.

I felt sick and it wasn’t the silt still in my body either. It was the realization that the last three years of my life had been wasted running away. Valerie spoke the truth, I had to throw my lot in with the Varen to hope to survive the likely reprisals from this galactic fiasco. I felt a hand on my shoulder and saw Valerie’s there.

(Valerie) The galaxy has good reason to believe that Kira Keldav is on Gruenn, on the Mrs Beasley, or dead. We will create a new identity for you to use. The Galaxy will be chasing a phantom.

(Kira) Very well, I will join the Varen Sith. I will not fall to the Dark Side though.

(Valerie) We shall see. Who knows? Maybe you are right, the future is always in motion.

Three years after being taken in by the Sith and then escaping, I am now joining them of my own free will. I am Kira Keldav of the Varen Sith.

And I am Unfallen.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 144 – Back to Port

Coat of arms of the Port of London Authority. ...

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Meanwhile, back on Ciarkian , Kevin and Marty were en route to the Port Authority building.

Marty figured it was simple! They’d go to the port authority with him, make sure he wasn’t going to ream them, and either stow him below decks or stab him a few times if he was. It would be a good example to the other tax collectors! They infested ports, like rats!

Kevin was considering… Accompany him to see his superiors and point out where he’d been skimming; then, if they were in on it, either go and see their superiors or suggest throwing him to the annoyed wolf and swiping his cut. If they were not in on it – or their skimming was better hidden and their official didn’t know about it – then he was in trouble.

Hopefully they wouldn’t try to cover for the idiot; allowing themselves to be cheated by someone this dumb was unthinkable – and would mark them as gullible idiots themselves AND as being too weak to stand up for themselves! That wouldn’t leave many alternatives that wouldn’t ruin their vacation… Being conspicuous was one thing, opening with a disaster was quite another!

Maybe there’d be some leverage… He had the Thralls start a quick sweep to try and find out a bit about Mr “Mandas”.

The Wolverine Official took them through the dockyard to the main office, just above the harbor itself. From there they could see that the city itself was nestled between several small mountains that formed the harbor. There were signs of a pass or two leading through the mountains – and it looked like the harbor and mountainsides had been substantially reworked to better accommodate the city itself.

Meanwhile, Kevin was listening to his Thralls reports. Port Official Jeriah Mandas. A member of the well connected, and rather ruthless, Mandas family. Well educated, if not very bright. Jeriah’s family had been running the Port Authority for four decades now, and had substantially increased their holdings in the city thanks to their share of the official tariffs. Jeriah himself was fascinated with all things nautical, but was rejected for naval service. There was a major rivalry between the Mandas running the port and the Ghondus (Otter) family who ran the major mercantile fleets. He had two children (well, that was hopeful! Maybe he could get them gambling or something and get some personal leverage on the man!) who were (sigh) three and five years old. Far too young for anything to be binding, even if it would have been sporting.

From his own observations, unlike most of the people around, Jeriah was a phantasm – which meant that he was almost certainly a pawn; a normal phantasm wouldn’t dare to skim excessively unless someone had put him there specifically to do it. Just as importantly, a real person would have realized that he or she could cut way down on the personal skimming and still get rich given the immense value of the cargo they’d arrived with.

Marty was on the link, and had reached one conclusion already; if the Mandas family had been growing that fast, the entire family had to be padding the tariffs for some grand-scale skimming – but that meant that the level of personal skimming that Jeriah was engaged in was certainly well over the top. He really MUST be an idiot; even if he was in on it with someone higher up, didn’t he know that they’d skip town and leave him to take the blame as soon as someone really took exception to it? The Mandas would never go far enough to endanger their current sweetheart deal!

The other major families included…

  • The Kiergan (Canine) family, who ran the city guard and most of what land-based military forces there were – mostly just some guards at the passes and a few groups that chased minor intrusions.
  • The Verdal (Equine) family, who ran the land-based caravans, and had gradually been losing ground to ship-based trade routes for generations. It was only the fact that some rarities were only found in the interior that kept them going.
  • The Linvari (Feline) family, who ran the Tyerin Magical Academy – the largest in the city – and were mainstays of the old nobility and the knightly orders. Their family hearthstone was one of the more powerful ones in the city, and provided numerous magical enhancements. Interestingly, they also controlled the mountain passes leading to the continental interior – and were nominally in charge of land defense, although most of the actual troops were from the Kiergan family.
  • The Hakann (Procyon, primarily Raccoon) family, who controlled the aqueducts, water distribution, and navy – as well as much of the Artificers Guild.
  • The Ramun (Fox) family, who ran the priesthood and – far more importantly – ran the taxation system, which seemed to give them immense wealth somehow. Perhaps they got a share or something?
  • The Orav (Owl) family, who ran the Halls of Enlightenment Magical Academy, and dominated the Scholars Guild as well.

The government was basically a council led by the most powerful families in the city. Most of the major families had seats, and the infighting was best described as “barely civil”. The major families each ran some critical service or property in the city itself, and used the money they got that way to fund attempts to gain control of MORE of the city, with the weaker groups regularly combining their influence to take down anyone who was getting TOO powerful. There was a local Amarant Solutions trading outpost, where the Thralls mostly sold various goods and occasional magical services and bought local rarities and slaves.

Kevin looked at that and didn’t see a lot of leverage. There was no overlord or anything to point the skimming out to. They could join another faction – but at the moment, the only obvious leverage before threats of violence was that Jeriah had been skimming excessively – as opposed to the expected bit of graft.

Marty was wondering what it would take to break into the game… It looked like – at a minimum – a LOT of money and/or a major service/property that the others were all going to want to have or use. Like the docks, the properties leading to the mountain pass, the mercantile fleets, the overland caravans, being the most powerful mage in the city, or having trade contacts.

Hm. It seemed likely that having access to innocuous children with secret magic powers would count.

The Port Authority building itself was a rather lavish building overlooking the harbor and docks. There was a splendid view of the harbor vista from it, and it was abruptly apparent that there were quite a lot more ships coming and going through here than their initial impressions had suggested… They’d probably just arrived between groups.

There was a lavish lobby with a pretty wolverine receptionist waiting at the desk. Jeriah waved to her as he led them to an office on the top floor. Inside there was another wolverine with a large pile of papers on his desk, muttering to himself and clicking away at an abacus far more rapidly than they’d ever seen anyone use one.

(Jeriah) “Sir, these gentleman wish to file a complaint.”

(Counter) “A complaint? About what? I am busy.”

(Kevin, who’d been scanning Jeriah enough to be quite sure) “Yep! This clown is indulging in personal skimming well above the norm!”

OK, the rates were NORMALLY higher for newcomers than for established traders or rival families – but Jeriah had gone well beyond that! He’d tried to double the normal-cargo percentage – and on THEIR cargo, that was absurd! Never try to skim so much that a tiny fraction of it would pay for a hit on you!

(Counter) “May I see a copy of the manifest and charges?”

Marty had already made sure that it was an accurate list of what they were here to sell, as separate from their personal entourages.

(Counter) “And Jeriah, do you believe this manifest to be accurate?”

(Jeriah) “Looks to be, checked it myself.”

The Counter looked over the list of charges and pulled out another small abacus from his desk as he started zipping beads around far faster than they could track.

(Counter) “Hmm, seems to be a slight miscalculation in the charges there. Simple enough mistake really. I’m sure you understand, not everyone can be a computer.”

Marty was kind of interested! According to the girls, that abacus was the magical equivalent of a small personal computer system! And helped with multi-tasking! And might have a bunch of other functions! That was really kind of neat! Being back to doing business again was really getting back to his roots and was quite invigorating!

Jeriah knew exactly where he’d fudged the figures of course – and it looked like the Counter had been pretty sure of where to look. Marty had pointed it out to Kevin of course…

(Counter) “Now I am going to waive the error and give a slight discount on the docking fees if that is acceptable?”

Marty was good with that (they had come to trade after all) but Kevin had been testing, and had gotten quite enough to satisfy himself that the Counter was perfectly aware of Jeriah’s skimming, was probably getting a share of it, and was intending to use their families power and influence to gloss over the incident.

Further prodding just resulted in the Counter getting hostile…

(Counter) “You do realize that the use of mind-magics on free men is a capital crime do you not? Now, I am quite willing to overlook this entire affair as a large misunderstanding, but I will not tolerate people magically manipulating members of our family in our place of business. If this happens again, I will call the city guards upon the bunch of you. Now kindly pay your fees and be gone from my sight!”

Kevin barely throttled back the impulse to start unleashing devastation across the quarter. Not only was this a waste of time, but it wasn’t even any fun! Besides… having told Jeriah and the Counter that they were going to have a problem if their solution failed to satisfy him, it was now necessary to go through with it. His intended role didn’t allow backing down, so if there wasn’t going to be any point of leverage, and the Counter chose to refuse to apologize, that left only violence…

He didn’t bother with the private link with Marty. If Mr Counter wanted to hypocritically use his own mind-magic to pick up their telepathic conversation, that was fine with him! Now… could he blow up the building without damaging the rest of the city too much?

The Annihilus Wave – last unleashed against a galactic battlefleet – swam in the back of his mind as echoes of Melkor’s primordial rage began to rise and infuse his mind.

Marty tried to divert him by having Limey look for a suitable set of spells! Perhaps Acid Fog? It would be draining, but not disastrous… They wanted the general area to remain existing! And Kevin’s thought that some portion of the continent, the sky, and the ocean would still exist afterwards was NOT really a route towards that outcome! Perhaps they could just supply massive resources to all their rivals?

Kevin, mentally sorting through horrific black magics, did not notice as the Counter began fidgeting nervously with a charm on his pendant while stalling for time by “double-checking” his figures… The charm flashed magically after he fidgeted with it for a few moments.

(Kevin, in a voice which literally shattered small objects to dust…) “Ah well! Since I promised this clown consequences for his intentional perfidy, and you decline – presumably out of misplaced family loyalty and some notion of presenting a united front – to enforce any…”

He began to cheerily consider the options for destroying the entire city, and which ones could be narrowed down a bit – and had the ship crew make sure that they were ready to take action as well.

(Marty, trying to be diverting) “Wait a minute, limey can also do Transmute Rock to Mud over a pretty big area! Want me to bring the house down?”

He let loose his own sonic squawk, seeing if he could briefly stun Jeriah and the Counter. Better out than annihilated along with the entire area!

Damn! Dark energies were starting to curl around Kevin’s fingers, and he was still in Voice of Doom mode! Maybe if he prodded him into doing a few small things to let off steam? He had Minel grab Kevin with her telekinesis and start to pull him out…

The Counter frantically grabbed another charm and teleported out as Kevin raised a hand and – in minor irritation while he considered rains of fire and such – disintegrated every record and paper in the building

Jeriah gaped in horror as his ally vanished, horrific energies boiled off of Kevin, and the sound of people running came from below! He’d never even considered the possibility that these lunatics would be willing to start a battle against the house and the city guard! He’d realized that they might have done a few other things than trading to acquire that incredible mass of treasure – they couldn’t possibly have traded for all of that wildly-variegated mess – but this was insane!

(Kevin) “Dear me! Jeriah, it looks like you’ve decided to destroy your place of business! And your ally here has decided to scarper, rather than issuing an apology! This probably means that a lot of people are going to die! This should be fun!”

He threw a ring of flames around the building. He wouldn’t want people running away before he got to them…

Marty sighed. At least the disappearance of one of his targets had convinced Kevin to simply play around a bit rather than unleashing any ultimate horrors! Oh well. He’d been hoping to simply dissolve the floor or something, but moderately-drastic might help divert Kevin.

He had Limey turn the foundations into mud, and felt the building begin to settle and creak.

Several wolfish guards and a pair of wolfish guard-mages burst into the room.

(Guard-Captain) “Right, surrender peacefully and no one will get hurt!”

(Kevin) “So are you surrendering? I’m willing to accept it if you do, simply because it’s amusing!”

(Guard-Captain) “Well protocol would suggest that my surrender should be given once it’s obvious that victory is impossible. Whereas your surrender would ensure no one got hurt from what I imagine is a misunderstanding.”

Marty had Elera snag Limey with her telekinesis and started looking for the nearest window… It looked like his best bet was over the desk and through the folding doors that were partially open to the balcony beyond.

(Kevin) “Ah, I take it you don’t work for this house? Then I have no quarrel with you; they, however, have offended me; Since they have declined to offer satisfaction, I will have to deal with them!”

(Guard-Captain) “I must inform you that murder is against the law in this city and I must oppose the attempt if made.”

This wasn’t good. Either this young wolf was psychotic, or berserk – or he actually was powerful enough that he had no fear of them. He certainly showed all the signs of it (as another canine, he was quite familiar with the canine power-telltales), and his companion seemed to be focused on protecting everyone else from his friend rather than worrying about the possible consequences of such a battle! He’d brought along two of his best counterspellers to try to contain a powerful, angry, mage – but they might not be able to deal with this!

(Kevin, “smiling”) “Duels are, however, quite legal – and in sending for you, and offering a threat of violence, they have challenged me… At the moment, however, I am simply destroying their records and paperwork. Now, I believe I will start eliminating everything metal in this building that isn’t structural!.. Now Clothing! Now Furnishings! Now…”

The guard-mages gasped as the young wolf raised his hand, ripped through their counterspells like paper, and unleashed a series of archmage-level destruction spells… He even tailored them to exempt the area around himself – and them – as he spun spells that disintegrated non-structural metals, clothing, furnishings, and finally the wood and stone of the building, gradually creeping down so that everyone would have ample time to escape – even if they were crawling. And he was just pulling power from the world to do it! On a scale allowing for spells like that!

Oh gods. An angry Dragonlord (locally, someone who’d managed to subsume a minor god, and so could continue spellcasting indefinitely, with substantial power boosts) Archmage apparently specializing in destruction. The entire guard might not be enough to stop him!

Marty was actually pleased… He’d diverted the boy enough that he was still only implying the threat of the kind of magical violence he could unleash, rather than actually doing it! For Kevin in a mood like this – especially when he had wolf-instincts – this was showing excellent self-control!

Still, he co-ordinated his efforts with those of Elera and Minel to remove everyone who’d been in the room but Jeriah – who had slipped off while the guards were the center of attention – from the building, hovering them a few feet above the now swiftly-collapsing structure.

Kevin scowled… he’d been doing it slowly! What was… Oh, Limey had ruined the foundations. He warped time for a moment and slowed the collapse enough to make sure that there’d be plenty of time to get out again. There were screams of pain and shock anyway, but there shouldn’t be any major injuries…

(Limey and Marty simultaneously) “Whoa.”

(Limey) “Go boom!”

(Marty) “Wow. You don’t know your own strength buddy!”

(Marty, on the private link) “Back to the ship, Kevin? After that I don’t think we’ll be doing any trading here – or would you rather make our beef further known?”

(Kevin, also privately) “Well, it looks like slowing the collapse let everyone get out easily… and “touchy and powerful” is a perfectly good rep. We are here as privateers after all.”

The final headcount showed that the Counter and Jeriah were unaccounted for, but everyone else seemed to have escaped easily – if somewhat embarrassedly. The guards started searching the debris for the Counter and Jeriah, while also putting out small fires – so they told them that the Counter had teleported away while Jeriah had run off out of the office.

(Kevin, to the guards) “Well now… it looks like we have identified the pair who were cheating visitors to your fine city! Still no apology from the house that was permitting it however! I will have to visit some of their other properties… Would you mind pointing some out?”

Marty took full advantage of his mighty parrot voice to use his mystic artist talents to make sure that they didn’t run off in fear. The guards did look to be somewhat in shock.

(Marty) “Yes, please. It would be a bad thing if we had to target places at random. And if we got your rivals, they might blame you.”

(Guard Captain, coming to a fast decision) “Right, I never liked that family anyway. It’s against the rules for me to… allow you to cause more destruction to the city, but if you are wishing to file a complaint with the Mandas family, then you might be looking at the villa in the northern mountainside overlooking the port.”

At least this pair had deliberately refrained from causing excessive casualties so far. They seemed to be more interested in humiliating their foes, and confident in their ability to do so. If the Mandas actually had been foolish and overbearing enough to provoke this pair… getting in between them would not be a good idea! Not without a GREAT deal more preparation anyway!

(Kevin) “Ah, thank you; I shall drop by and see them!”

Kevin took down the flame barrier, and let all the wolverines escape into the city to try and find clothing, while Marty squawked, did head bobs, and threw in some wolf whistles to rub it in. They then bowed sweepingly to the Guard-Captain, and headed off for the villa, trailing a seething mist of smoke and dark energy.

Kevin simply strolled over to the Mandas residence, while Marty flew to watch out for attackers – and, of course, because he was being a parrot at the moment.

The city formed a sickle around the harbor and the road began to climb higher and higher into the sculpted mountainside as the road worked it’s way up to the top of the city and the Mandas villa. Soon enough they reached the villa itself – and were slightly surprised to see how high they’d gotten in the seemingly short walk. Some sort of enchantment on the paving-stones apparently… A charm to combat weariness and speed travel. A lot of small enchantments around this city.  Really rather obliging of them!

A pair of family guards stood at the entrance to the villa.

(Guard) “May I ask your business?”

(Marty) “We have a complaint!”

(Kevin) “One of the Mandas family members offered me insult – and was incidentally stealing from the house – and attempted to take refuge behind his house connections. Ergo, we’re here to talk to whoever is the head of the house; if the house supports our refugees, then I suppose my quarrel is with the entire house, and it will be nice to know who the targets are!”

(Guard) “Ah, we’ve been expecting you. You are to proceed to the Headmaster’s office on the top floor. This courier will show you the way.”

News got around fast. Somebody – most likely one of the guard-mages – had probably sent a magical message on ahead.

(Kevin) “Very well!”

He did keep an eye open for ambushes though. If there was one – or they dropped out of contact without prior warning – the Thralls were instructed to open fire on the place with the ships guns.

The courier showed them to the top of the building. The roof was actually a pergola with grape vines growing all over them. A small large fountain sprayed water energetically, and vines had taken root in the fountain itself – although they were carefully sculpted to remain artistic looking and to prevent drainage issues. A large wicker desk and chair sat to one side overlooking the bay. An older – and wiser looking – Wolverine was sitting in the chair and looked to be reading a book.

(Headmaster Turien) “May I help you?”

(Kevin) “Oh, quite possibly!”

He and Marty laid out the complaint, and the fact that the Counter had apparently preferred to cover it up rather than deal with it.

(Marty) “Double the usual rate for personal skimming? Some is fine, even expected, but we have standards!:

(Turien) “Sigh, all of this over a few thousand Mazenni. Alright, since the insult was to ask for too much money, then the proper response would be to pay the money incorrectly asked for.” (He placed a coin purse on the desk) There is the extra money Jeriah asked for, is that sufficient?”

(Kevin) “There is no need for money; I would merely expect an apology from the two involved; the insult lay in treating us as fools who would not spot the scam.”

(Turien) “Well I can confirm that Jeriah is now dead and my best Computer is now teleported to parts unknown. My Port Authority office is now destroyed as well with the CIty Guard demanding payment for the fire control and rescue efforts. I am afraid an apology from those two is not going to be forthcoming.”

What, had Jeriah actually cowered in hiding somewhere until the building had completely collapsed and burned around him? He really had been an utter idiot!

(Kevin) “Ah; I thought that leaving enough time for people to crawl out would be quite sufficient even for him. My apologies then; I miscalculated. You may refer the city guard to me of course. Shall I put the building back? It will be simple enough.”

(Turien) “That would be most appreciated. I am expected to ensure the swift processing of goods and trade through the port and the lack of a Port Authority building within which to conduct affairs will slow things down considerably.”

Good gods. Able to throw that kind of magic around in more than one field? On a whim? Jeriah had truly been a fool… If he’d so much as opened his eyes he would have seen the power-aura.

(Kevin) “Very well then! Hopefully nothing else will escalate beyond the personal level during our visit… Since Jeriah is deceased, I shall set up a small fund for his wife and children. If your computer does turn up again, I will still expect an apology from him however!”

(Turien) “If I see him again, I will send him your direction with the order to apologize.”

They departed politely…

(Kevin, privately) “I think that establishes us as touchy, powerful, and rich. What do you think Marty?”

(Marty) “Yep! It certainly should! Now let’s unload some cargo!”

Kevin dropped by the building site and spent a few minutes with various transmutations putting the building back. The payments requested by the city guard for an emergency response and fire-fighting were actually pretty reasonable too – even if they were pretty surprised to find him paying them.

They headed off to see the cities attractions! And spend some money! To visit the social events and the theater and the taverns and such!

And – since they would be spending money and magic so liberally – to see which groups would take the risk of inviting them places in hopes of great profits.

Tonights Game

Tonight’s game will have to be online, rather than the usual physical meeting. Hopefully this will not prove a problem for anyone.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 143b – Stalking the Shadows

The “prayer retreat” started before Ruth’s patience gave out entirely – but it was a near thing.

The plan wasn’t too elaborate, but then she was a teenager from Battling Business World – and it ought to suffice unless the religious kooks were holding heavy weapons or a horde of guards in reserve or something.

She had eight neodogs to cover the exits and provide backup, Harry in reserve, and a safe room in the sublevels staked out to interrogate any captives she caught in. All she had to do was grab whoever was in charge. Once they’d started she’d move in, block the exits, go in and capture a few cult recruiters to beat some truth out of!

They probably wouldn’t have enough weapons or psychic power to stop the neodogs. She kind of wished that they had more than their inherent powers – good though those were – and smartcollars to work with, but they were pretty tough – and they were as willing as she was to “die” to save some kids, it wasn’t like that would put any of them out of action for very long. Six exits though. She had the neodogs double up on the two “secret” exits. Anyone trying to make a break for it would probably go that way – and they could skip the one she and Harvey would be going in through, so that one of the neodogs could go in with them.

It was too bad that canine-style powered battle armor would be sort of out of place in the Linear Realms!  It was pretty cool! Those Akita models from Japan had jetpacks and everything!

Maybe she could pick up some for them for later missions! More people to take home and get fitted!

As the kids started to gather for the “retreat” it became obvious that the illegals were now wary enough that only the desperately hungry were turning up. GOOD. That meant that there was more time to rescue them – but it also meant that Brenner would probably be trying a new scam soon… Anyway, most of the crowd consisted of legal kids with families and a few older semi-fanatics. The mood was pretty enthusiastic too – and there were several “enlightened guides” around doing minor psychic tricks and trying to “help” various kids achieve enough “enlightenment” to gain similar powers.

There didn’t seem to be much natural potential though… and there didn’t seem to be a single real “leader”, although one of the enlightened guides seems to be loosely coordinating things.

Wait a minute… the guides did seem to be getting some results – albeit almost entirely with the ones who had promised their service to the great lord and his prophet. They claimed that the ones who weren’t willing to do so were obviously “not yet worthy”…

Were they fronting for someone like Kevin? Hopefully there weren’t like hundreds or anything, but the boy presumably had at least a FEW competitors – and hopefully some less morally-ambiguous ones.

Oh to Sheol with it. If he did have more ethical competition, they wouldn’t be working with Dr Brenner, or luring in hungry children, or filling the heads of legal parents with cultish nonsense. Kevin might be morally ambiguous – but he apparently didn’t lie to people. He didn’t seem to work indirectly either; there wasn’t any “you are working for some nebulous supernatural entity, listen to the prophet who relays his will!” about his bargains!

She kept a discreet eye on the coordinator – and continued her hunt for enforcers or guards. There ought to be some around – but all she could spot was the rest of the “enlightened ones”. Were they really operating as a relatively peaceful cult or were they just set up to look like one? So far the only real defenses were a few small illusions at the access points after everyone had arrived – and they just made it look like access to the place was walled off.

Well, the “enlightened ones” would probably put up a fight. It was pretty obvious that THEY were fairly fanatical – and their descriptions and dialogue pretty much identified the “prophet” as Brenner though.

Damn it! If only he were here to be shot in person!

It looked like… Eight “enlightened ones”, and – quite possibly – more for every moment that she delayed. That was going to be awkward… Best to strike while she still had an edge. At least the other neodogs could be there in moments.

Damn. They were leading off the first group of kids through the subtrain tunnels, and they had some sort of transport waiting. No time to waste! That pair of neodogs could save those kids. She called the other six in to help her – and Harry – snag that coordinator!

Out in the subtrain tunnels, the two neodogs simply quietly reprogrammed the train and ran the kids off to the local police. Meanwhile – since the locals didn’t come back from death (and just how weak was THAT!) – she started off with a barrage of concussion and knockout gas grenades while a couple of the neodogs moved in to snag the co-ordinator and get him headed towards the exit. The rest of the neodogs – and Harry – could take on anyone who tried to stop the grab or take her on.

It looked like they weren’t really powerful enough or prepared enough for autofire grenades. The “enlightened ones” mostly responded with low-grade psychic bolts and mind-control attempts – and she could easily shrug off the one with her regeneration and the other with her own psychic defenses. She never had liked being told what to do, and the powers she was drawing from Kevin hardened that into a near-impenetrable stubbornness!

It actually looked like their primary “weapons” were purely telepathic… Hopefully they had SOMETHING else in reserve, or this wasn’t going to be much of a fight!

Ruth yawned, elaborately.

(Ruth) “Really? Is that the best you can do? Your prophet sucks.”

There were panicky children running everywhere – and then things livened up abruptly as a tiger landed on her head, clawing and slashing wildly in the clouds of gas

(Ruth) “Bwuh?!?”

Okay! Things just got a lot more exciting! Even if her Neodog guards were already trying to take the thing down, it was raking her badly enough to call for some serious regeneration!

Best to keep it on her though, she couldn’t risk it hurting the kids even if (sigh…) A couple of them were already joining in with their own new powers on the side of the “enlightened ones”. Stupid kids… Had she ever been that stupid? She wasn’t THAT much older than the local brats, surely she’d remember?

She tried to hit it with a curse-paintball; the kids around here were just too fragile to risk her usual explosives 0 but as she let go of the coordinator she’d been dragging, he turned into a gorilla, and started trying to squeeze her to a pulp!

Well, at least that explained the bloody tiger. It looked like the “enlightened ones” got some shapeshifting too. That would make them bloody hard to catch if any of them slipped away!

Fortunately, with her Genemods, she wasn’t anywhere nearly as far behind in strength as a human would be! Much to her assailants shock, she broke away and cursed him too… The neodogs had turned into huge dire wolves to overwhelm the tiger, and were currently throttling it into unconsciousness while the locals screamed and ran.

Unfortunately, at one-on-one, her hand-to-hand fight with the enlightened gorilla wasn’t going so well.

(Ruth) “Ugh. Let me go, you creep!”

(Gorilla, speaking very badly) “Grragh… Blasphemer! You shall not prevent the choosing!”

Harry… was smashing the gorilla over the head with a support beam from the wall; he seemed to have triggered the berserker ability that came with his genegrafts – and the neodogs were proving to be more than a match for the “enlightened ones” and the kids who’d joined in on their side, even with the several extra kids who’d started showing powers when attacked and even sticking to stunning effects.

The neodogs weren’t at all happy about fighting kids, even with stunning effects. That set off a lot of deep conflicts… Still, the knockout gas was working regardless of scruples. A few were holding it off with telekinetic effects though -and the neodogs weren’t too sure what do to about them.

A few more concussion grenades when she got free of the gorilla took care of that. Honestly, the enlightened ones didn’t seem nearly as tough as the neodogs. It looked like the police alarms had been triggered too – but the police take at least ten minutes or so to arrive at an absolute minimum. That wasn’t going to matter.

With Harry having laid out the gorilla, and the tiger busy being unconscious as well – and both of them reverting to human form – the neodogs had begun (very reluctantly) tasering the kids who were holding off the gas – but the blasted kids keep dodging, making fantastic resistance checks, and… damn, there went one trying to shapeshift to a bear.

That powerset was starting to look awfully bloody familiar. The Neodogs were noting that too, and REALLY wanted to probe these people.

Ruth grabbed the coordinator and his underlings, sent one of the neodogs in human form (with clothing!) to get some restraint kits while she and the rest of the neodogs got everyone to her safe area before the police showed up. Then it wass time for probing, questions, and soda and crackers (hey, she was no torturer!).

That upset the neodogs even more though… The “enlightened ones” had smartclothes, and some of the most basic employee-powers…Tthey wanted to take them back to Kadia for some full-scale mind-probing.

Ruth had no opposition to that! She was pretty curious herself.

The Kadia network had a bunch of worried messages from her parents for her… but otherwise the place hadn’t changed a lot. OK, to be fair, she’d only been away for a few weeks, but on the other hand, that was a substantial chunk of the time the place had existed.

Most of the messages from her parents wanted her to check in, although there were a few worried instructions about the dangers of visiting the Linear Realms. Nothing much that she hadn’t already heard about or run into yet though. Hm… the later messages showed a surprising level of acceptance.

Huh! She’d drop by the old place! Her baby brother would be excited to see her, at any rate.

He was indeed – although he’d never been even a fraction as bouncy as he was now… She hoped that he wouldn’t start climbing up her and stuff. She’d liked it better when Isaac would just play quietly with his pharmacy kit and books!

Wait, he’d made her some variant ammo?

(Ruth) “Neat! What’s it do?”

(Isaac) “Continuous-dose knockout, neural paralysis, and temporary blindness for the three that seem to work!”

Ruth grinned and rubbed his head really hard.

(Ruth) “These should be useful. What about the ones that don’t work?”

(Isaac) “Most of those were supposed to turn people into animals! But I can’t get them to work right!”

(Ruth) “Well, keep trying. I’m sure you can do it.”

(Isaac) “I’ll find some way to make it work! Maybe Sandy will know how!”

(Ruth) “Yeah, or know somebody else who can help you. Hmph. I’d better see what Mom and Pops are doing. Can’t give you all the attention.”

(Isaac) “Why not?”

(Ruth) “Because then you’d get a big head, and then how would you walk?”

She punched her little brother lightly on the shoulder. It was nice that she could to that now without him fainting.

(Isaac) “I don’t think it works that way!”

Isaac came along along up to mom and pop, who have been notified of course, and had taken time out to see her from whatever they’d been doing.

(Ruth) “Hey, I’m home and in one piece!”

Pops beamed, and her mother just hugged her without even fainting.

(Ruth) “So how have things been?”

Pops went into some detail about the absurd difficulties of working with Ryan – who, at least according to pops descriptions, seemed to refuse to adjust to people at all.

(Ruth) “That stinks. Does he at least have some cool gadgets?”

(Gelman) “Lots! But he forgets that people aren’t gadgets, and he tends to upset almost everyone who works for him who ISN’T a monomaniac! Smoothing things over for him was a never-ending ordeal! He makes working for Kevin seem quite sensible! And that takes some doing!”

Geez. The man had managed to upset Pops! He really had to be something!

(Ruth) “So like working back in the old world then.”

(Gelman) “Oh… Not quite that bad I must admit. Still, I’m glad that project is over.”

(Sophie) “Have you had much success over in that awful dimension? Will you be staying here for awhile?”

(Ruth) “Yeah, saved some kids from a cult. And I found out some stuff too. Pops, you might want to have a look at this.”

She showed Gelman what she’d collected on the “enlightened ones” and their cult.

(Gelman, who was more than clever enough for that) “Hum. That looks almost as if… Oh dear. They think they’re working for this vaguely-described figure, with notions that sound a lot like Kevin’s – but they’re being told that his instructions are relayed though Brenner as a prophet. Somehow I don’t think that Brenner is doing anything in this but claiming a power he doesn’t have.”

(Ruth, in some shock) “That’s just wrong. He’s sponging off Kevin’s generosity!”

(Gelman) “Well, if that’s all he’s doing it would be… wait, I’ll check… He’s been selling an awful lot of child-slaves recently, of which a VERY high percentage accept Enthrallment. He’s given up on direct kidnaping and is brainwashing people into kidnaping themselves! That’s just… evil AND lazy!”

Ruth was agape – and Isaac was pulling up some linear realms feeds and asking the computers to search for stuff that would be of interest. That got him quite a mix – some stuff vaguely related to the current conversation, stuff on drugs and chemicals, and some children’s cartoon about otters.

It also got Gelman a lot more details on the spread of the religious movement. Combining that with Ruth’s observations, it looked like Brenner’s current scheme was pretty straightforward in a horrible way; the recruits who developed powers were partially reinvested in the scheme by sending them back out to recruit more, and partially sold in Kadia – and he skimmed off the most susceptible legal kids – plus ANY legal kids (susceptible or not) who’s guardians would accept it, and almost all the illegals, for sale as well.

(Ruth) “That’s horrible! And I took out only one measly cell! Sure, every bit helps, but how can I stop it?”

(Gelman) “Aargh! It would be best to stop it from Kevin’s end! Surely he can be a LITTLE more specific on who gets his power! Or maybe throw in some knowledge of how he actually operates with it? I’m just not sure that he even has any conscious control over that! It just seems to happen! Still… Administrators started appearing after I pointed out the need for them, so it must be possible to influence it! And… and that’s even more horrifying isn’t it? If a casual request can influence what power is being handed out on that scale, all it would take would be some manipulative bastard getting Kevin’s ear for awhile. I don’t think the boy has any idea what he’s actually doing! I always thought that Apocalypse really ought to require some thought!”

(Ruth) “Well, you always said we could nuke ourselves to bits in seconds. Not that it mattered then. This is scary.”

For a moment she latched onto the “administrator” thing.

(Ruth) “You think I could talk him into making an inquisition? No, wait, that’s stupid. It worked out so well with the Catholics.”

(Gelman) “I think… perhaps that we’d better REALLY think carefully before we ask him for ANYTHING… Has he ever said “no” to anybody at all?”

(Ruth) “I don’t remember hearing about it.”

(Gelman) “Oh Mighty One of Israel, please grant me this… Let no one else have figured that out yet! Or for a long time please!”

(Ruth) “You and me both, Pops.”

Oh dear. Now she was feeling sorry for Pops! He’d only been seeking the safety of them all when he’d moved them to Kadia, and now he was finding that all kinds of responsibilities came with it. Sure, it was plenty safe, but like he needed more stuff to agonize over!

Still… better that her father be trying to manage Kevin than Marty alone – or most of the other people in the universe!

Abruptly, Isaac – who’d been keeping an eye on the otter cartoon – started yanking her short and pointing at the screen…

(Isaac) “Hey! There you are!”

(Ruth) “Yeah, Isaac, I’ve been here the whole time.”

(Isaac) “No! On the cartoon! (to the computer) Run it back to the beginning of the sequence please!”

Ruth sighed and had a look;

Huh… It was a cat-girl, and a “hellcat” with mysterious witchy powers, and a paintball gun to blast endless hordes of enemies who just come back later (normal in cartoons of course), and it was “Ruthless Ruth, the Hellcat Guardian”, and other bits matched…

(Ruth, grinning wickedly). “Well, looks like I’m famous!”

(Isaac) “Hey wait! If that’s you, then… (he had the computer do a search)… then that’s me!”

Well, it was one young otter-doctor character who kept trying to cure people with wacky remedies.

(Ruth) “Now what’s up with that, I wonder?”

Her glance towards her father was NOT coincidental.

Gelman seemed a but bemused, but perhaps was glad of the distraction… The cartoon seemed to be designed for the Linear Realms, by some expert psychologists. It was educational, involved manifold concepts, and a fair number of the characters were based on people in Kadia. There were lots of cute young dragons who seemed to have a lot of fun too, and lived in a big communal apartment building. It was purely omputer-generated, contained some minor details and subliminal elements about Kadia, and was being provided nearly free to the Linear realms service providers. With his access, it was easy for him to trace it back to orders from Kevin – or possibly from one of his concubines. It was almost certainly Kevin though.

Ruth didn’t see any motive, but it seemed pleasant enough and she was being depicted in a fairly cool light. She had no problems with it!

Gelman was still puzzling. What could that possibly be for?

Ruth considered that… Perhaps advertising and recruitment. The place did seem to suck. Though she hadn’t been to the REALLY bad spots yet.

She ran that notion past her father – and triggered something.

(Gelman, stunnedly) “Recruitment… OH! Wait, is that even POSSIBLE? Is he thinking of that as an EMPLOYEE BENEFIT? That’s INSANE!!!”

(Ruth) “What?”

(Gelman, ignoring her) “SANDY! Get in here!”

(Sandy, popping in quickly) “Yes Sir?”

Gelman just pointed at her, Isaac, and Sophie – and presumably sent some private mental messages.

(Sandy) “Urm… Yes Sir! That’s good I think, isn’t it?”

(Ruth) “Pops, what’s going on? The last time you were that red, you choked that fat guy from work!”

(Sandy) “Oh, wait! Are you worried about recruitment?”

(Gelman) “Err… well… I think he was trying to make it easier for you to travel across the Manifold dear”
(Ruth) “I don’t think I get it. Is he trying to give me more power through stories?”

(Gelman) “It might be… but it’s the Linear Realms, a world with an enormous population, and where people want to escape from, and live in fantasies, and where people – and children – die all the time, and their souls move on to live again somewhere else… Or at least “souls” as the way the Core defines them. I don’t think they’re right entirely, but they are describing SOMETHING.”

(Ruth) “So you’re saying… wait a minute… that’s really creepy! You mean I might have somebody’s soul running around in ME?” Ewwww!”

(Gelman) “Oh dear!”

(Ruth) “And Isaac too?”

(Gelman) “Well… yes. I’m sure he meant well!”

(Ruth) “Okay, but it’s still freaky! And if we start acting funny, you better get a rabbi to fix us!”

(Gelman) “I don’t think it works that way. What the Core calls a soul seems to be more like a memory; it keeps you stable everywhere and records your life – but it takes very special powers to find out what it was doing before it moved into someone!”

Ruth very nearly started cursing. It was only the presence of Sophie that restrained her.

(Ruth) “Well… okay. I guess I’ll just have to live with it.”

(Gelman) “Well, if you hadn’t noticed before, it probably won’t be too much trouble. I’m pretty sure that Kevin thinks of it as a fairly large gift! Besides… you were out doing exciting and heroic things; it was likely to happen anyway. “souls” seem to like recording exciting stuff instead of settling into dull lives.”

(Ruth) “As long as it stops with recording… But hey, nothing bad’s happened yet.”

Kevin had indeed included Gelman’s family in the “get souls for his kids” experiment some time ago. It wasn’t everyone who tried to provide souls for family members as an employee benefit!

Gelman was… appalled. He hadn’t asked for such a thing… Was Kevin, the “random dark lord”, out doing things he thought that people MIGHT want? Aaargh! That level of “obliging” was one of the creepiest things he’d ever heard of! Worse in it’s own way than most of the “eldritch abominations”!

(Ruth) “Anyway, I think I’m going to stick around here for a bit. I promised the neodogs and Harry I’d show them the old world after that.”

(Gelman) “Do be careful with Harry there! He’s kind of vulnerable!”

Sophie puts in a careful query about why Ruth had been keeping the boy if she’d moved on to other ways of rescuing kids.

It took Ruth a moment to realize that she had no easy answer there. Yes, he had been serving as a guide in the Linear Realms, and he’d still be available if she did decide to go for the high-stakes rescue games again at some point – and she had gotten used to him being around – but all of those were really kind of thin weren’t they? Especially what with all the neodogs in the linear realms who had gotten to know a lot more about the place than Harry – even if he did have a detailed knowledge of a particular building in Australia.

Besides… looking at Sophie, and the fact that she was of legal age in Kadia, Sophie was probably wondering if it was some sort of romance thing, and she probably really doubted that Harry had been born in a Jewish family – although he could be considered a jew under the old “one law for the sojourner” bit if he kept Jewish law and was circumcised – and she could doubtless see that Ruth was at least somewhat fond of him.

He still had nearly fifteen years to go in his indenture, even if she had set it up to pay off at twice the normal rate. On the other hand… According to the computers she could set him free with a few words and an order to undo the light dose of conditioning he’d been given Theoretically he might ask to have the wolverine genemods removed – but that was pretty unlikely since they were purely beneficial to him and he seemed to be enjoying them.

She had the computers clear his indenture.

(Ruth) “She has a point, Harry. It was nice working with you, so why don’t you undo that obedience stuff they put on you?”

(Harry) “As you wish. Thank you! “

(Ruth) “And don’t get yourself into gladiatorial fighting like an idiot again! I don’t want to have to bail you out from that!”

If she needed a guide in the Linear Realms again she could just ask a neodog who’d worked there.

(Ruth) “Do you still want to visit my home world, though? It is pretty deadly if you can’t just respawn. I think you can find ways around that now.”

(Harry) “Uhm… maybe I could watch a movie? I’d be glad to visit some worlds where people don’t routinely try to kill you because you’re ahead of them in line though!”

(Ruth had to laugh at that. They did sometimes!) “I’ll see what I can find!”

She’d show the neodogs some of the home movies from Battling Business World later, before going to get them some combat armor! A trip back would be fun, even if it would be a bother to go back to being considered a minor though!

Now, how to tell off Kevin… She’d never imagined that it was even POSSIBLE to intrude into someone’s life in such an incredibly arrogant and high-handed fashion, even if he had meant well! Not so long ago she’d have left that rhetorical minefield to her father – but she was an adult now, and it wouldn’t do to leave it up to Pops!

Argh! Fire off a snippy note about sticking souls in her without her permission? It still felt pretty invasive even if all he really did was stick up a sign saying “neat incarnation over here!”. How could you do something so personal in such an impersonal fashion?

Oh, first up she’d find out exactly what the effects of… whatever he did… actually were.

That turned out to be rather hard. Apparently that was one of the few things that no one was really sure of.

They weren’t sure about Kevin himself either, although it was pretty obvious that he was more than a bit nuts – even if most of them also were unsure as to what the standards of sanity were for a semi-cosmic being!

He certainly washed from extreme to extreme with his ID’s, although he was always scrupulously honest about his bargains, claimed that all the nice things he did were actually acts of evil, sent underage kids home free, ran vast rescue efforts, and engaged in massive slave-trading.

It looked to HER like the boy was simply binding addict with no stable personality who was just making rules to keep himself somewhat stable when he wasn’t in a role!

That was kind of sad really. It seemed like it would be a very painful way to live. So focused on containing his power that it was easier to just make rules than to consider each situation that came up. Perhaps it was a good thing that she’d never actually met him…