Artifact versus Alzrius – Fight!

mr.skullhead got an upgrade

Image by danielle_blue via Flickr

Major Artifacts tend to be difficult to fight with spells. The only thing that really affects them seems to be Mage’s Disjunction, and that has only a small chance of working, and carries major penalties if it does. What’s a good way to try and combat an artifact with magic? And, for that matter, how does an arcane spellcaster guard against being hit with mage’s disjunction?

There are three major problems with fighting major artifacts:

  • They’re almost indestructible. As a rule, given that this is pretty much the defining property of a Major Artifact, we don’t want to tamper with that. “We must carry it into the depths of Hell, and there throw it under the wheels of the Soul-Crushing Juggernaut which powers it with a constant stream of anguish pressed from the shattered souls of the damned!” is a lot more interesting than “Another evil artifact of ultimate power? Keep an eye on it until tomorrow and I’ll prepare my artifact-destroying spell combo in the morning”.
  • A lot of them are rather poorly written, leaving out saving throw DC’s, notes on what the effects of abilities are, and other important information. I can’t do anything about that either; whoever is running the game will just have to fill that in.
  • Many of them are simply used as plot devices, and are never given much thought beyond that. I can’t do anything about that either.

Ergo, we need to bypass all those.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do about artifacts.

  • Most artifacts have to be in contact with their users to operate – and invulnerability doesn’t mean that you can’t swipe them, contain them, send them away, or prevent people from using them. A spell that makes someone drop an item (L1, save applies), grabs an item (L2, they roll Str, caster rolls casting attribute), covers it with a thick layer of iron (L3 mostly for the creation effect, could be a ray [attack at -4, but no save] or a reflex save to dodge), moves it temporarily to a coexistent plane (L4, Fort save applies for living targets), dimension doors an item to the caster (L5, only affects items, medium range ray attack – either requiring an attack roll or allowing a reflex save), or teleports or plane shifts it away (L6 in either case, again a range ray attack). A good illusion of such an effect can also be effective. There are lots of variants here, but those spells should be useful in various other situations as well.
  • Many items have to be voluntarily operated. A Hold, Baleful Polymorph, or similar spell will put an end to that very nicely. Curses, or Amnesia spells can make a creature to forget about items, abilities, or allies, or how to use them, for at least one minute per level of the caster. In general, making a creature forget about an item is only L1, making it forget about a natural ability is L2, making it forget about specific categories of learned abilities (say, “fire spells” or “swords”) is L3, and making it forget about broad categories of learned abilities (“spellcasting” for a wizard) is L4. A new save would apply each round during which someone reminds the victim of whatever he or she has forgotten.

Long term disposal of a major artifact is tricky – but you can make it almost arbitrarily difficult; if you trek to the end of the world and hurl it into the endless depths of the sea of chaos, it will probably be quite some time before it turns up again, no matter how indestructible it is. High level magic can place something beyond the reach of all lesser magics and – at about level twelve – you could try throwing an artifact into a random nonmagical universe, where it will be just another ordinary chunk of matter. A good banishing ritual would be a lot easier to manage though.

For really specialized effects – probably only worth trying if you’re using freeform magic – you can try illusions that make the artifact unable to detect its trigger or transmuting the effect it’s trying to produce into something else.

If someone has a cursed artifact, or you have one that you want to destroy, it’s usually time for research; the entire point of such things is to set up the characters for some sort of mighty quest – or at least a scavenger hunt for a dozen apparently-impossible ingredients. You might as well oblige the game master and go along with it; he or she probably spent a lot of time setting it up.

Far more simply, a lot of artifacts simply produce normal spell effects: counteract those and let your friends beat the wielder over the head. If your game master will let you take it, Eye of the Dragon from the Path of the Dragon should let you absorb a lot of artifact effects; they are, after all, simply magical energy. Incidentally, that will also let you absorb a Disjunction spell. (If you can’t manage that, and think that you’re likely to be facing a Disjunction spell, a contingent, or self-triggered item, with an Antimagic Sphere – that you then dismiss on your next action – provides good protection from it).

If you’ve got a sapient, self-guided major artifact, or something that cannot be deactivated once started, you have a bigger problem – and it’s probably with the game master, since he or she is almost certainly going for the old “here’s an opponent that there’s only one way to beat – and no one else yet has managed to figure it out!” routine. That’s always a pain. After all, if the solution was even remotely reasonable it would have been figured out long ago. Worse, it usually means that you have to try to figure out what the game master wants you to do, rather than what your characters would do in the situation. Worst of all, the game master will probably be quite unhappy if you try other solutions – especially if they’re reasonable and simple.

This does suggest a look at building artifacts however. After all, I’ve always found the notion that magical secrets were lost, never to be rediscovered – as opposed to the secrets of architecture, plumbing, mathematics, and every other field of knowledge – a bit idiotic. Ergo, breaking down and pricing a few artifacts seems like a reasonable step.

I think I’ll save that for another article though.

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.

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Spell Research – Changing Spell Types

Hermes Trismegistus

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Here we have another question from Alzrius…

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, it is a perpetual (and much-argued) point, but Bards are specifically noted as casting arcane spells, and they get Cure Light Wounds. Ergo either it’s possible or Bards are using some unique form of magic or it’s a mistake that was never fixed.

My usual first and second-edition theory was that divine magic offered an advantage in fine control, since the god – from whom the cleric was presumably drawing the power for his or her spells – filtered, regulated, and partially shaped the power of raw, wild, magic (whatever its source might have been in a given game) before passing it on to his/her/its clerics. Ergo, divine spellcasters had far better fine control than arcane spellcasters, but less raw power and a spell selection that was strictly limited by the nature of their god. Therefore spells calling for very fine control – such as healing – were a lot easier for divine spellcasters, while spells calling for raw power (fireball and meteor swarm) were a lot easier for arcane spellcasters.

Very high level divine spells – like Earthquake – presumably called for the direct attention of the deity or the greater powers of nature (or whatever), but that was reasonable enough; they were supposed to be major miracles. Dragon Kings, and the original Tome of Magic, complicated things with Psionic Enchantments and Quest Spells – but not very much. Those had explanations for how they surpassed the normal limits.

Then, of course, third edition replaced the Spheres, and the notion that each god would probably only offer a sublist of the general clerical spell list, with a fully generic spell list restricted only by a few aligned spells and the Domains – most of which contained quite a few arcane spells. It would be easy enough to add the notion that each god provided more power – enough to match arcane spellcasting – in his/her/its specialities, but it’s a good deal harder to account for the fact that such a large percentage of the spells are now quite identical without assuming that the power sources involved, and the ways that they’re manipulated, are almost identical.

There really isn’t much distinction when it comes to Arcane and Psionic effects either. There may not be an “Arcane Hypercognition” – but “Moment of Omniscience”, with pretty much identical effects, certainly seems reasonable.

About the only real distinction now is theme. Clerics get healing and a better selection of buffs and defenses. Druids get more nature-related spells, Bards lean towards sound, illusions, and mental effects, and Wizards and Sorcerers get the big energy attacks, the odd stuff, and a dose of almost everything else EXCEPT healing – unless they want to invest in, say, Limited Wish to duplicate such spells.

Given that, at the moment, I’d recommend a very simple modifier: if you want to research a spell that the game master feels is “out of theme” for your character type, about +4 spell levels seems appropriate – a modifier high enough to explain why no one bothers. Otherwise – given how popular the idea of researching some effects is – I’d expect the existence of such spells, and why no one uses them, to be fairly well known.

As alternatives…

In Eclipse, the simplest option is to simply take the basic Theurgy ability (not the Theurgy magic system; I just ran out of names for magic systems). It allows the user to convert spells from one list to another, albeit with an increase of +1 to +2 spell levels. That’s a pain, but it does put the spells on your list of potentially-available spells – and so will let you use wands and other spell-trigger items containing them without further fuss. That can be pretty handy.

Alternatively, you can use one of the freeform magic systems – but if you’re asking the question, your game master probably isn’t letting you use those.

My personal suggestion would be to stay within theme and come up with some spells that do what you want some other way. If what you want is “Cure Light Wounds”…

  • A simple first or second level arcane spell – perhaps named “Mystic Surgeon” – might expand on what you can do with the Heal skill, allowing the use of the expanded table that this character uses.
  • Polymorph heals injuries as if the character transformed had rested for a night. Ergo, “Plasmic Flow” (at level two) might render the recipients flesh momentarily malleable, and then let it revert to normal without bothering with the full Polymorph effect, healing the target similarly. At level three a similar spell (lets call it “Wounds like Mist”) could “pulse” several times, thus providing several days worth of healing – potentially more effective than a Cure Serious Wounds spell at higher levels.
  • Now, if you can Plane Shift at spell level seven, and – relevantly – create an Antimagic Field at level six, then Invoke Dimensional Overlay should be about level seven. That would have a short range and affect a 15′ radius for up to five minutes per level of the caster (unless dismissed). This spell would give the affected area the planar traits of any co-existent or inner plane or any other plane which the caster has personally visited. You could use that to heal by tapping the Positive Energy Plane – or to enhance a variety of other abilities by tapping into various other planes.