Eclipse and High-Order Biomancy

A hairpin loop from a pre-mRNA. Notice its bas...

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Here we have a question from Derek about some of the high-level spells in Eclipse…

I have some questions about the spell lifemaker (Eclipse p. 145). What can and can not be made with it? Could a human make a dragon or treant? What are the limitations of the spell? Could a hydra with immunity to all magic be created? Can unique creatures be replicated via this spell? Other than the number of creatures, what is the difference between genetic reconstruction (p. 141) and lifemaker?

This is fairly straightforward:

Genetic Reconstruction (at level seventeen) alters the genes of an existing life form. It doesn’t rush them into expression. Thus, you can change the genes. Genes code for proteins. Now, some genes are inactive; you can change those around and little effect. Others – such as those influencing the basic setup of the body – are only called on while a creature is in the womb. Others affect the carrier as he, she, or it, matures. Still others – regulating a variety of basic metabolic functions – are active throughout a creatures life. Other genes are involved at many stages.

Now, for a gene to be expressed, it must first be transcribed – copied into the code for a protein on a strip of RNA (there are a few RNA sequences which are active in themselves, but this is going to be complicated enough already). That RNA must then be transported to the main body of the cell, and proteins must be assembled. Once those proteins are assembled, they will begin to play their roles in the cells metabolism and its relationships with other cells.

Overall, this is immensely complicated and takes a good deal of time – which is why supplementing your knowledge biology/nature/whatever skill check with some divination is a good idea before you try anything.

So the changes you make are only going to show their effects slowly – and major structural changes will generally only express themselves fully in the next generation. If you decide to change your enemies genes to those of a very stupid canine-style pet, and fix it so that those genes will dominantly express themselves when he or she has children with another member of his or her original species, that probably won’t have too many blatant effects – until he or she has children, all of whom will be born as stupid canine-style pets. Your enemies body and nervous system are already pretty well formed, and those genes are inactive – although you will probably see some subtle biochemical shifts if you check closely.

Now, if you want to turn your enemy into a stupid dog directly, you’re better off with a polymorph effect; those are faster and FAR less complicated than working out a genetic program which will gradually rebuild said enemy into a dog. On the other hand, polymorph effects draw their patterns from existing species – which is why they tend to turn their targets into “average” members of those species – and do not offer fine control over biochemical details.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use it that way, or that there aren’t an enormous number of things that you can do to existing organisms, it’s just that – in an adult organism – Genetic Reconstruction is most readily used for things like repairing genetic defects or damage.

Fortunately, a lot of life forms reproduce pretty quickly. Genetic Reconstruction will let you create tailored bacteria and virus strains with a wave of your hand, alter a fungus to produce specialized biochemicals (and have it spore within days), provide inherited immunity to some dreadful plague, create retroviruses to make small, contagious, changes in creatures, grant plants the ability to fix nitrogen, and much much more – all with precise control over every aspect of the target’s genome. It basically puts the entire imaginable field of “biotechnology” into a single spell with no particular costs or backlash – which is why it’s level seventeen.

Bets change a bit if your d20 universe doesn’t have genes, or handwaves how (say) a human could have a child with a mass of animated fire (I, personally, require the use of some magic for that sort of thing). In that case, this is probably simply good for adding templates and such without a fuss.

.

Lifemaker, at level nineteen, takes a different approach; it lets you split off a fragment of your own life force to shape into a brand new spirit and forms a body around it. In essence, you can become an instantaneous parent to whatever kind of life form that (a) you can imagine and describe, (b) the game master is willing to say is possible (at the very least, most game masters will insist that powerful abilities be associated with high hit dice), and (c) you can afford the hit points to create. Moreover, as noted, the creature or creatures created are generally friendly to the caster but are – like any other child – not always obedient. That also means that they’ll get quite upset if you mistreat them.

It’s arguably superior to Genetic Reconstruction in a variety of ways, which is why it’s of a somewhat higher level – but can’t directly affect existing lifeforms and the creatures you create may (if you lack sufficient skill) prove unable to reproduce or to have unexpected defects since it’s based on “what you envision” as run past the laws of nature / game master as opposed to “what you rigorously design”.

When it comes to duplicating existing species – such as dragons and treants – it works just fine. There are a couple of problems with making a creature that’s “Immune to Magic” though – mostly that (1) it will probably take a few moments to kick in (to avoid interfering with the creation spell itself), (2) “Immunity to Magic” has upper limits – whether you buy it as per the Immunity ability in Eclipse or whether you follow the golem-style protections available in The Practical Enchanter, and (3) your game master will probably want your creation to have a fairly high hit die total before he or she will let it have that ability.

As far as “duplicating” a unique creature goes, if it has a genuine, flesh-and-blood (or at least protoplasmic tissue), living body, creating a creature of the same type is straightforward. It is, however, an independent creature; it won’t have the memories, or levels, or other learned or acquired abilities of the original (after all, quite a few of the creatures in the Monster Manual were originally unique mythological creatures).

Now, if this conflicts with some sort of epic curse (“you shall be alone forever, with your race gone beyond recall!”) or local natural law, you’ll have to consult your game master to see what happens; judging that will require some knowledge of the details. Perhaps fortunately, you usually can’t “duplicate” incarnations of cosmic forces and such; even if they’re currently working through a genuinely living flesh-and-blood body rather than a manifested construct (rare) the important, unique, part of them has nothing to do with the body they’re currently using.

The hit point cost really isn’t that bad of course. By the time you can cast a nineteenth level spell, you can probably afford to take a couple of days off to regain thirty or forty hit points through rest and time. Hopefully you can also afford to take some time out to properly raise and discipline your newly-created high-powered magical offspring who have no life experience at all – or will be wise enough to stick to creating creatures that won’t cause disasters when they run amok.

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.

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks again. The reason I specifically mentioned treants is that I think it is bizzare that a human could create a plant from his flesh. Of course being of such high level, lifemaker beats polymorph any object’s creature type changes hands down.

    And if you are interested, there is some real science that could help with hybrids breeding true via genetic reconstruction. Go to Science News’ website and search for “ant incest”. Crazy ants found a way to keep from inbreeding that could have some interesting applications for creature design in d20.

    • Oh you’re welcome – and it is a bit weird, but then (as you note) we are talking about a spell that’s as much past Wish as Wish is past Light.

      To be technical, with Lifemaker, any other method of donating some hit points to your new creature (the “Spark of Life”) would probably work just as well as giving blood -, but bleeding a bit is one of the easiest ways. After all, if it was really the tissue that was the important part, normal healing magic would repair the damage quickly and easily.

      The self-cloning scheme is one way to go about creating a self-sustaining hybrid line, but it does have the disadvantage that – with a single progenitor individual – you might as well not bother with sexual reproduction at all. For higher animals, I suspect it will be better to just cast your spell (whichever one you’re using) a few more times and make yourself a breeding population. That way you can get some diversity going.

      Fortunately, the initial inbreeding need not be dangerous to your new species, provided that you didn’t give them any faulty genes to start with.

      If you have any more questions, please ask. They give me article topics…

  2. Now that I think about it, genetic reconstruction can be the solution to an idea that has been on the back burner for years- colonization of dead rocks by engineering creatures to not need air or water. I got the idea after reading some supplement for Spelljammer and never got around to writing anything about it.

    Now to just turn the spell into a dedicated artifact.

  3. Can Evolution (level 13) be cast without a desired endpoint? In other words, can it be used to adapt a species to an unknown environment? Cast it on the colonists and throw them through a portal. If the colonists survive, their children would be much better adapted to local conditions than those that didn’t benefit from the spell.

    • Strictly speaking, no. But it’s a 13th level spell. You can whip up a variant for that purpose easily if you’re that powerful.

    • You can make the spell do what you want; it’s just a job for Metamagic. You’ll need Obliging (from the Stabilize Metamagic). That will give you a version which will helpfully adapt your colonists to their new environment on the fly.

      The base version won’t do that though. Since it shifts the genome towards a desired endpoint, if you don’t have one in mind it will just add a lot of randomness.

      That still might help colonists – some of those wild adaptions might well help in a new environment – but others may well doom the kids who happened to inherit them. Still, after a few generations you might wind up with multiple sub-species that way.

      More practically for the base version, if you can throw thirteenth level spells around and have the time for magical rituals, it will probably be easy enough to find out what’s on the other side of the portal first anyway.

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