From the Diaries of Alys Nere – Session 52

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How on earth had I wound up responsible for the defense of an entire planet? Not to mention a heap of antimatter warheads stuffed into a packing create in the corner? At least she’d gotten Xiang and Lazlo focused on each other instead of their insane personal obsessions and 10CH had been willing to keep an eye on the antimatter stockpile.

Was that an appropriate job for an assassin droid? Oh well, she’d worry about that later.

Of course, no one else was willing to take anything off her hands, even if it was amusing to see them shy away when she waved her datapad at them.

Was “willing to taking responsibility” a far rarer and more potent power than anything that the force or codex bestowed? Was that why she was stuck coordinating this mass of trouble magnets? That simply wasn’t fair! It was almost enough to make her wish that she was back in the empty galaxy!

Getting Zandramas’s remaining minions out of command was easy. Actually getting them picked up proved surprisingly difficult. They seemed to have minor force-powers (just enough to have gotten some warning to escape and to play a few tricks with controls and such), plenty of skills, the ability to interface with electronics, and the ability to generate lightsaber blades – at least at relatively low power.

The blasted goop must have started infiltrating the rest of its poor victims bodies. Still, at least they were exposed and out of their positions of influence.

Wait, Lazlo thought that he was actually married, and was cross at her about it? She arranged for her command post to stay mobile. That’d help dodge both missiles AND Lazlo – and to be honest, she was more afraid of Lazlo. She’d rather deal with an orbital bombardment than him.

Perhaps destruction should be measured in Lazlos?

She consulted Nimh to see if she’d have any further tactical insights and set to work. The capture of the remaining shield generators was grinding along slowly but steadily; only two of them were still holding out. Those two though… they’d put their local shields up, apparently carried the Sith troops into hiding, and were shooting at anything that came near them.

And they didn’t have anyone left who could operate in a type-two stasis field. About all they could do was to try and make sure that no one communicated with those two generators from the outside and hope that there weren’t any hidden loopholes in their last orders to keep the shields up.

So, if a shield did collapse… there was a faint hope of holding out long enough to fix it if she had enough bounty hunter ships in reserve to cover incoming fighters and launched as many missiles as possible to cover the gap. So… best coverage, and shield-segments least likely to be attacked… she deployed the ship reserves to the poles and set up to concentrate anti-ship fire around the shield generators. If one went down, there might be some faint hope of holding off the attack long enough to get it back up again. Sometimes people were capable of remarkable feats under pressure. She ought to know.

At least she’d been able to have Zandramas’s remaining possessed minions picked up by the planetary security forces – and they could shut up the bounty hunters, if only locally now that Mrs Beasley was offering thirty billion for her, simply as an associate of the group.

Now that blasted giant ship was sending her messages – about being “ready to fulfill it’s primary function?” Wait, that was a Lifestar… Oh, they weren’t going to try and hypertunnel the planet were they? Not with a ship that they’d obviously never really used before! They couldn’t possibly be so reckless… Oh no. It was being piloted by Jacob, Smooche, and Ben. They had no sense at all!

She hadn’t managed to issue more than a few local warnings before the sky went white – and the all-too-familiar moment of disorientation, followed by the sand-in-the-mouth signature of silting, let her know that the three stooges had pulled it off. No so bad as usual though… This shouldn’t even need medical treatment, even if it would make people feel a bit ill for a few days. It must have been a fairly short jump.

All right, maybe they’d done it right; at least it did get the planet out of the way of that insane battle.

Still… now half the emergency channels and hardlines were down. Worse, she was getting reports that the shields were down, and Yevetha ships were crash-landing all over the planet… Just great, they’d done it right enough to transfer the planet, and wrong enough to include the attacking fleet.

She started coordinating the defense. At least there weren’t that many Yevetha making it to the surface – and they had few weapons left and were ill themselves. At least they were easily recognized by the few remaining war-droids, and the stupid things were a fair match for basic combat programs with no direction.

Still, with the planet away from the warring fleets, she could call for whatever help there was in the vicinity…

Gruenn’s new orbit seemed to be some fifty-five light years from it’s original location – a very short jump indeed. On a major hyperspace route nexus – one important enough that the local asteroid belts supported small colonies, repair, and resupply stations to service the traders, even if there wasn’t – or hadn’t – been an inhabitable planet in the system.

The locals were pretty surprised that there was now – but could certainly help clear out the surviving Yevetha. The locals had been doing surprisingly well anyway, partly due to some basic tactical advice, partly due to overwhelming numbers – and partially due to the local population of Kreedath Berserkers, who seemed to recognize the Yevetha as hereditary enemies.

Handell, their asteroid bases, a few republic ships, and a couple of dozen salvaged capital ship turned up a little later. Apparently Handell had decided that routing around the original Gruenn system and coming back would be a shortcut (even if most of the republic fleet had continued on to Gruenn more directly).

Unfortunately, the Republic Senate was hoping that the Yevetha could be civilized, tamed, and reformed. The Kreedath were, of course, voting for extreme measures – as they usually did – but the republic was a bit doubtful about filling their crews with Kreedath.

Mrs Beasley – reluctantly – lifted the bounties on Alys and Lazlo, put their bounties into homes for indigent cats (after a small fee for their trouble), and started a campaign to raise funds for the Yevetha war… She didn’t relent on Kira though; he was probably out having more giant ships built!

Alys put her apology-reward into the funds for planetary reconstruction and rebuilding the educational system to get the Droids OUT of teaching positions.

This time around, Ben has presented his own viewpoint on matters on the Holocron of Ben Therus.

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Illusions, Undead, and Lifesense

A depiction of a lich from the game The Battle...

What do you mean how do I see? Help! I've gone blind!

Sean K. Reynolds has a rant up that “debunks” the notion that “Undead can see through all Illusions!“, mostly by pointing out that:

1) Under the standard rules and creature descriptions, Undead are immune to “mind-affecting” spells – but not all illusions are “mind-affecting”. Therefore this is no reason to conclude that standard undead are immune to physical illusions.

and

2) That the basic assumption in the standard d20 rules is that – unless a creature is explicitly given some special ability or disability – it’s abilities are comparable to those of a human or it’s closest real-world equivalent. Therefore undead do not have some special “lifesense” unless such a thing is specifically noted and “the simplest answer is that their senses work like human senses”.

The first conclusion is fine, but the second manages to be correct in essence while being blatantly wrong in detail. It’s obvious enough that if a creature does not have a human-style eye and neural net, it cannot see in the way that a human does. It ignores that fact that human senses vary a lot in acuity between individuals. It ignores color-blindness and other human variations. For that matter, nothing in the game rules actually addresses creatures that we know have similar but somewhat different senses – such as bees that see into the ultraviolet, snakes that pick up thermal radiation for night hunting, dogs that hear higher-pitched sounds than a human can make out, or even the simple loss of sensory acuity with age. Animals all get low-light vision, despite the fact that many real-world animals have no such adaption. In fact, in the third edition (in a sloppy holdover from earlier editions, where “wisdom” meant something quite different from it’s current odd combination of will and perception) wisdom increases with age – meaning that getting old makes your senses better.

The “correct in essence” part comes from the fact that those differences are almost always  insignificant in terms of the game – which glosses over a lot of details to make playing it easier. A skeleton may be perceiving the world through some bizarre magical process, but whatever methods it’s using, the default game assumption is that the net result is close enough to human senses to let the game master run the game easily.

That’s why the brief sections on vision, light, darkness and blindness (including the commonly overlooked note that if you can’t see properly, you can’t use sneak attack damage), blindsight, blindsense, darksight, low-light vision, and tremorsense mostly focus on combat modifiers. There’s a note that tracking by scent requires a check (wisdom or possibly survival, depending on where you look – but there’s no rule allowing a “Scent” skill for creatures with the Scent ability) – but it looks like that’s mostly in case someone has a bloodhound Familiar or something. There’s also a note that concealment isn’t always effective against special senses – but there isn’t much of anything more. For the most part though this is indeed quite good enough.

Mr Reynolds then goes to state that giving the Undead some special “life sense” would be a huge advantage – and that taking away their normal senses would make it impossible for them to function, since they’d have no way to perceive anything that wasn’t alive.

The basic arguments here boil down to “none of the books say that “, “it would change their challenge ratings”, and “it’s too complicated”.

To which the answers are simply “none of the books say that elves have natural mohawks either, but if I say they do in my setting, then that’s the way it is”, “challenge ratings are set by rule-of-thumb anyway, and only actually matter if your game focus on combat”, and “anyone who run a game which uses more than a thousand pages of basic rules and has tens of thousands of pages of expansion rules can probably handle a little complication to get the setting they want.”

Nothing in the books is “proof” of anything except what’s in the books – and the setting always takes priority since – ultimately – a game master can always keep the setting and drop d20. There are lots of generic rules sets out there.

Now it IS incumbent on the game master to think through the consequences of anything he or she changes, so as to keep their setting consistent.

If I decide that undead have “lifesense” (in Eclipse, that simply requires giving them an Occult Sense feat), and that those with decayed bodies do not naturally have senses of sight, scent, or taste – and can only “hear” since the sound vibrates through them – then I’ll need to consider a few things. Perhaps…

  • Vampires have normal senses in addition to lifesense because their bodies are posed between life and death, and still work to some extent.
  • Liches and (and presumably some other high-magic undead) still effectively have normal senses because they have the raw magical power needed to fake them.
  • Those undead who are relying on Lifesense won’t have any trouble perceiving the world enough to function – but they’re going to see it through layers of fog. Every solid surface is dusted with bacteria and molds and the air itself is full of spores and germs. Inside a stone wall will be an area with little to no life, it’s surface will be crawling with it, and the air will be dimly “lit” by it. Constructs will be a lot like walls – perhaps a bit hard to make out, but easily tracked once spotted.

Ergo, to prevent an overwhelming flood of data, lifesense will either need a limited radius of effect or to be line-of-sight. Either has it’s consequences.

  • If lifesense has a limited radius – essentially acting as a limited form of Blindsight or Blindsense – undead will be difficult to creep up on or flank, and hard to hide from, but any idiot could just stand outside their sensory range to work on attacks and they’d never know it until the attacks started and could be traced back. This sounds like a good “lifesense” option for Vampires and Liches, who also have normal senses to use. Honestly, it seems like it really should be kind of hard to slip up on creatures like that. They get a kind of Blindsense.
  • If lifesense is line-of-sight, then it works a lot more like normal sight – and incorporeal undead can’t use it to navigate through solid matter. Masses of life will swamp it at range, and stealth will work just fine. Staying out of line of sight, or creeping along under the cover of a cloak (which is dusted with bacteria, but isn’t nearly as alive as the wearer) will work just as well against this version of lifesense as it will against normal sight.

In either case, “lifesense” isn’t affected by darkness and will indeed penetrate virtually all conventional illusions – but it won’t allow anyone relying on it to read, or let them know that they’re glowing with Faerie Fire, or spot a newly-created (and thus relatively uncontaminated) wall – although a wall of fire might show up as a suddenly dead spot. Similarly, they won’t realize that they’re walking into a just-cast Web spell. Undead using lifesense can be flash-blinded if they’re too close to someone using a curative spell and can be fooled by illusions directed against their lifesense. Perhaps scattering a cloud of gnats – effective invisible to normal people – will act like a cloud of concealing fog against undead who are relying on lifesense.

To be fair, most living creatures will probably be able to sense the unnatural presence of the undead too – although they, having many other senses, will probably not have such a sense very well developed; ergo, they’ll be using a simple, few-details-provided radius version – a version of “blindsense” that only reveals the presence of undead. Still, that covers the classic “unnatural chills”, “having a bad feeling about this place”, and “sensing evil presences” very nicely.

Now, this is indeed considerably more complicated than defaulting to humanlike sensory abilities – but it opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. There will be special strategies and weapons for use against the undead. Illusion-casters might be able to undergo some exotic initiation – perhaps spending some time “seeing” as the undead do while learning to cast illusions against lifesense – to make their illusion spells effective against the undead. Perhaps Monks can learn to “mute their chi’ and so slip past undead more easily.

Yes, as Mr Reynolds notes, it’s “easier and simpler” to just assume human senses – but it’s even easier, and far, FAR, simpler, to just go and watch TV instead of playing with the d20 system at all. If we were looking for “easier and simpler”, we wouldn’t be fiddling around with role-playing games.

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.

The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Undead Can See Through All Illusions!”

Kuhn used the duck-rabbit optical illusion to ...

Rabbit or Duck?

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 or (in this case) some notable editing to cover the fact that I ran first edition games for many years, while Editorial0 has a good deal less experience with the older editions.

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

This particular rant is entitled “Undead Can See Through All Illusions!” – and explains why Mr Reynolds feels that this is pretty obviously wrong.

Indeed the rules as written pretty much directly state that he’s right – but calling on the rules to justify his reasoning is purely circular logic: after all, he was one of the people who wrote the rules, so the fact that they agree with him isn’t exactly surprising. Still, the design decisions here do make pretty good sense.

This idea mostly got started because of sloppy thinking. Back in the first edition days of yore, when they were still gamely ignoring how the rules actually worked in favor of pretending that hit points were a matter of skill and not superhuman toughness (wait, some people still are), the idea also arose that illusions could only be perceived by a living mind, and only worked on the mind. That came from the psychosomatic damage rule, wherein if you failed to disbelieve an illusion it could go ahead and beat you into unconsciousness – even if the damage turned out to be illusory when you woke up later on. The failure to disbelieve took priority over the fact that the illusion had no actual substance to hurt you with.

Thus, if it didn’t have a mind, illusions couldn’t hurt it.

That WASN’T the same thing as immunity to the illusion though. A robot that didn’t have a mind couldn’t be hurt by those illusory spikes – but it still saw the illusion, and would still fall into the pit that the illusion of spikes had been cast over if it tried to just make its way through them. Still, such borderline cases rarely came up; things that made decisions – and so could be fooled by illusions – usually had minds. As far as creatures with minds went, if they disbelieved an illusion it couldn’t do psychosomatic damage to them. Thus it soon became a common-knowledge “fact” that illusions were mental effects “because they only worked on creatures with minds”*.

*There were in fact some spells in that category in first edition, but they ran more to enchantments like “charm” spells than to illusions. Illusions were physical, and could be seen perfectly well even if you were scrying from a hundred years and a thousand miles away and had perfect mental defenses.

This ignored the rules stating that creatures who disbelieved an illusion were still affected by the sensory effects that it produced (for an easy example, an illusory wall still made it hard to target someone hiding behind it whether you believed in it or not) – but that was easy to overlook, since it wasn’t like the PLAYERS could actually see what was going on in the first place, so when the spell “didn’t work”, it tended to be ignored thereafter.

Third edition gave undead immunity to mind-affecting spells – and some people put that together with the idea that illusions were all entirely mental effects (which had been incorrect even in first edition)  and concluded that undead were therefore immune to all illusions.

That, of course, started a huge argument because it was based on a misreading of the rules to start with and ignored the fact that third edition had explicitly split up the list and drastically nerfed illusions by eliminating psychosomatic damage. Some illusions were mental and others were explicitly physical and – unless backed by “shadow” – couldn’t directly hurt you.

A mental illusion wouldn’t work on undead, who got immunity to all of that. Of course, this actually confused things even more in other areas. Why didn’t they work on undead with minds? Why didn’t they work on Constructs with minds? Sadly, this was mostly a case of the game writers not really having a good reason for the immunities they handed out. They could easily have had a Mindless template or attribute of monsters, but they wanted undead to have certain combat characteristics and they gave those characteristics to them.

A bit of further confusion arose from the fact that it was pretty obvious that undead weren’t using their long-decayed eyes to “see” with – which led to discussions about what they did see, and how, and to the notion of “lifesense” (which also justified that non-existent immunity to physical illusions).

Thus we know where this particular error came from. Of course, if you WANT undead to have “lifesense” in your campaign, you can find a discussion of that in the next article in this series, over HERE.