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.

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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.