The Faerie Tiend

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by...

Visiting the Fey

First up for today, it’s another question…

For those of us who have never heard of it could you give us a link to something on the Tiend? I tried a google search and got not much that looked trustworthy. -Burning8Bones

The Faerie Tiend – or Tithe – is a medieval notion.

Once upon a time in folklore, Fairies were terrifying quasi-deific creatures. Even the Seelie Court – the “Good Guys” – were notable for riding their steeds through houses, enchanting passers by, and riding to the wild hunt. The Unseelie “Bad Guys” kidnapped children, drove men mad, and inflicted terrible fates on those who disturbed them. The Faerie became the “Fair Folk” because talking about just how unfair, unreasonable, and downright vicious they could be might offend them. The fey were nature spirits – but nature is often pretty unobliging when it isn’t outright dangerous.

While Christianity was working it’s way into a position as a fundamental explanation of everything in the world in Europe, a lot of older beliefs were given (thoroughly unofficial) quasi-Christian explanations by their believers – and so wound up as folklore.

Christian theology had no real place for the fey (or anyone else) as independent powers – so they wound up being “explained” as angels who hadn’t taken a side in Satan’s rebellion or as wandering souls of the dead who weren’t good enough to achieve heaven or evil enough to be automatically drawn to hell (a fate sometimes seen as a way to let such souls continue to act in the world until they qualified for one or the other). More rarely they were considered a hidden race of men with special magical powers to weave illusions to remain hidden – or even as the descendants of children that Eve had hidden from Yahweh, and who had been cursed by God to remain as soulless creatures trapped between heaven and earth. (That last one was a particularly bad fit with Christian beliefs however, and so isn’t that prominent).

The fact that you could never catch them, or even see them more than briefly, and so on, was simple enough to explain; they had to have powers of trickery and illusion or at least to were protected by such powers!

OK, it might also be that they didn’t actually exist, but we are talking about beliefs here.

Of course, since magical powers of trickery and illusion were not of God, they had to be related to Satan – and to Satan’s ability to grant magical powers and dominion over the physical world. The notion of the Tiend was pretty simple; Satan was demanding a more-or-less token price (depending on how you valued souls) from the fey in exchange for granting them their powers, protecting them with his own powers, or just for leaving them alone. After all, if their powers really were independent of his but similar, they were potential rivals. That tithe might be extracted by blackmail, or (in darker sources) it might be an offering of fealty or payment for Satan’s protective services.

In any case, Satan was already a master of the physical world, commanded vast magical powers, and had limitless wealth – which meant that only souls or services were truly of value to him. Ergo, the Tiend consisted of a periodic offering of faerie (possibly of faerie children) or – preferably (at least from the faerie point of view, and perhaps from Satans) – humans. There aren’t really enough sources on the idea to be sure whether or not the individuals offered in the Tiend ever returned, or whether they were killed, or were held as hostages by Satan for a time (perhaps to keep the Fey from acting against him), or whether it was simply a “you owe me a labor tax” arrangement.

A fair number of sources give “seven years” as the interval, a few imply that each offering consists of seven persons (although more say only one and most do not specify), and a very few say both. Why seven? Well, seven is often seen as a magical number. In many cultures it was the length of an apprenticeship, the time a child might be fostered out, the term for holding a political hostage, the length of a magical cycle, or long enough to declare a person legally dead. It was the length of time of a sojourn in Faerie in the 13’th century ballad of Thomas the Rhymer.

That does bring up the question of what those abductees were doing in Faerie… being adopted? “Dying” to the mortal world to become faerie? Being apprentices?

Oh well. That’s an entirely different topic.

In any case, the Tiend is currently popular in fantasy literature involving fairies since it provides a nicely dark, edgy, threat to hang over the characters. It appears in a lot of versions because it’s folklore (and not especially popular folklore) to start with, and – as folklore is prone to be – was neither consistent from version to version or explained in detail where it did appear.

The earliest formal source (and there aren’t very many) may be the Ballad of Tam Lin (Below, in the oldest extant version I’m aware of). The original ballad, however, goes back to at least 1549, since it’s mentioned in “The Complaynt of Scotland” from that year.

Tam Lin

Child ballad #39A: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child

(There’s a version with some translations and notes over HERE).

  1. O I forbid you, maidens a’,
  2. That wear gowd on your hair,
  3. To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
  4. For young Tam Lin is there.
  5. There’s nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
  6. But they leave him a wad,
  7. Either their rings, or green mantles,
  8. Or else their maidenhead.
  9. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  10. A little aboon her knee,
  11. And she has broded her yellow hair
  12. A little aboon her bree,
  13. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh
  14. As fast as she can hie.
  15. When she came to carterhaugh
  16. Tam Lin was at the well,
  17. And there she fand his steed standing,
  18. But away was himsel.
  19. She had na pu’d a double rose,
  20. A rose but only twa,
  21. Till upon then started young Tam Lin,
  22. Says, Lady, thou’s pu nae mae.
  23. Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,
  24. And why breaks thou the wand?
  25. Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
  26. Withoutten my command?
  27. “Carterhaugh, it is my own,
  28. My daddy gave it me,
  29. I’ll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
  30. And ask nae leave at thee.”
  31. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  32. A little aboon her knee,
  33. And she has broded her yellow hair
  34. A little aboon her bree,
  35. And she is to her father’s ha,
  36. As fast as she can hie.
  37. Four and twenty ladies fair
  38. Were playing at the ba,
  39. And out then came the fair Janet,
  40. The flower among them a’.
  41. Four and twenty ladies fair
  42. Were playing at the chess,
  43. And out then came the fair Janet,
  44. As green as onie glass.
  45. Out then spake an auld grey knight,
  46. Lay oer the castle wa,
  47. And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
  48. But we’ll be blamed a’.
  49. “Haud your tongue, ye auld fac’d knight,
  50. Some ill death may ye die!
  51. Father my bairn on whom I will,
  52. I’ll father none on thee.”
  53. Out then spak her father dear,
  54. And he spak meek and mild,
  55. “And ever alas, sweet Janet,” he says,
  56. “I think thou gaest wi child.”
  57. “If that I gae wi child, father,
  58. Mysel maun bear the blame,
  59. There’s neer a laird about your ha,
  60. Shall get the bairn’s name.
  61. “If my love were an earthly knight,
  62. As he’s an elfin grey,
  63. I wad na gie my ain true-love
  64. For nae lord that ye hae.
  65. “The steed that my true love rides on
  66. Is lighter than the wind,
  67. Wi siller he is shod before,
  68. Wi burning gowd behind.”
  69. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  70. A little aboon her knee,
  71. And she has broded her yellow hair
  72. A little aboon her bree,
  73. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh
  74. As fast as she can hie.
  75. When she came to Carterhaugh,
  76. Tam Lin was at the well,
  77. And there she fand his steed standing,
  78. But away was himsel.
  79. She had na pu’d a double rose,
  80. A rose but only twa,
  81. Till up then started young Tam Lin,
  82. Says, Lady, thou pu’s nae mae.
  83. “Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,
  84. Amang the groves sae green,
  85. And a’ to kill the bonny babe
  86. That we gat us between?”
  87. “O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,” she says,
  88. “For’s sake that died on tree,
  89. If eer ye was in holy chapel,
  90. Or christendom did see?”
  91. “Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
  92. Took me with him to bide
  93. And ance it fell upon a day
  94. That wae did me betide.
  95. “And ance it fell upon a day
  96. A cauld day and a snell,
  97. When we were frae the hunting come,
  98. That frae my horse I fell,
  99. The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,
  100. In yon green hill do dwell.
  101. “And pleasant is the fairy land,
  102. But, an eerie tale to tell,
  103. Ay at the end of seven years,
  104. We pay a tiend to hell,
  105. I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
  106. I’m feard it be mysel.
  107. “But the night is Halloween, lady,
  108. The morn is Hallowday,
  109. Then win me, win me, an ye will,
  110. For weel I wat ye may.
  111. “Just at the mirk and midnight hour
  112. The fairy folk will ride,
  113. And they that wad their true-love win,
  114. At Miles Cross they maun bide.”
  115. “But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
  116. Or how my true-love know,
  117. Amang sa mony unco knights,
  118. The like I never saw?”
  119. “O first let pass the black, lady,
  120. And syne let pass the brown,
  121. But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
  122. Pu ye his rider down.
  123. “For I’ll ride on the milk-white steed,
  124. And ay nearest the town,
  125. Because I was an earthly knight
  126. They gie me that renown.
  127. “My right hand will be gloved, lady,
  128. My left hand will be bare,
  129. Cockt up shall my bonnet be,
  130. And kaimed down shall my hair,
  131. And thae’s the takens I gie thee,
  132. Nae doubt I will be there.
  133. “They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,
  134. Into an esk and adder,
  135. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  136. I am your bairn’s father.
  137. “They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim,
  138. And then a lion bold,
  139. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  140. And ye shall love your child.
  141. “Again they’ll turn me in your arms
  142. To a red het gand of airn,
  143. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  144. I’ll do you nae harm.
  145. “And last they’ll turn me in your arms
  146. Into the burning gleed,
  147. Then throw me into well water,
  148. O throw me in with speed.
  149. “And then I’ll be your ain true-love,
  150. I’ll turn a naked knight,
  151. Then cover me wi your green mantle,
  152. And hide me out o sight.”
  153. Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
  154. And eerie was the way,
  155. As fair Jenny in her green mantle
  156. To Miles Cross she did gae.
  157. At the mirk and midnight hour
  158. She heard the bridles sing,
  159. She was as glad at that
  160. As any earthly thing.
  161. First she let the black pass by,
  162. And syne she let the brown,
  163. But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
  164. And pu’d the rider down.
  165. Sae weel she minded what he did say,
  166. And young Tam Lin did win,
  167. Syne covered him wi her green mantle,
  168. As blythe’s a bird in spring
  169. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
  170. Out of a bush o broom,
  171. “Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
  172. Has gotten a stately-groom.”
  173. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
  174. And an angry woman was she,
  175. “Shame betide her ill-far’d face,
  176. And an ill death may she die,
  177. For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight
  178. In a’ my companie.
  179. “But had I kend, Tam Lin,” said she,
  180. “What now this night I see,
  181. I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
  182. And put in twa een o tree.”

Just as a bonus, here’s Thomas the Rhymer (13’th century):

  1. True Thomas lay oer yond grassy bank,
  2. And he beheld a ladie gay,
  3. A ladie that was brisk and bold,
  4. Come riding oer the fernie brae.
  5. Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
  6. Her mantel of the velvet fine,
  7. At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
  8. Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
  9. True Thomas he took off his hat,
  10. And bowed him low down till his knee:
  11. ‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
  12. For your peer on earth I never did see.’
  13. ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
  14. ‘That name does not belong to me;
  15. I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
  16. And I’m come here for to visit thee.
  17. ‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
  18. True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
  19. For ye maun serve me seven years,
  20. Thro weel or wae as may chance to be.’
  21. She turned about her milk-white steed,
  22. And took True Thomas up behind,
  23. And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
  24. The steed flew swifter than the wind.
  25. For forty days and forty nights
  26. He wade thro red blude to the knee,
  27. And he saw neither sun nor moon,
  28. But heard the roaring of the sea.
  29. O they rade on, and further on,
  30. Until they came to a garden green:
  31. ‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
  32. Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
  33. ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
  34. ‘That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
  35. For a’ the plagues that are in hell
  36. Light on the fruit of this countrie.
  37. ‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
  38. Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
  39. And now ere we go farther on,
  40. We’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
  41. When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
  42. ‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
  43. The lady sayd,  re we climb yon hill,
  44. And I will show you fairlies three.
  45. ‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
  46. So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
  47. That is the path of righteousness,
  48. Tho after it but few enquires.
  49. ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
  50. That lies across yon lillie leven?
  51. That is the path of wickedness,
  52. Tho some call it the road to heaven.
  53. ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
  54. Which winds about the fernie brae?
  55. That is the road to fair Elfland,
  56. Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
  57. ‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
  58. Whatever you may hear or see,
  59. For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
  60. You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
  61. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
  62. And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
  63. And till seven years were past and gone
  64. True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Kevin, in this Federation-Apocalypse session log, was simply taking advantage of the fact that – in the Manifold – even minor stories have some power. On the other hand, all the demons who were capable of making it to faerie and were powerful enough not to get tossed out on their ears immediately had much better things to do than to fiddle around with the Fey trying to collect a few temporary servants. Kevin, on the other hand, visited the place a lot – and he could technically claim to be a demon, and thus entitled to collect the Tiend. Ergo, he used the old story to “rescue” a few of the oldest changelings.

Game Testing and the Thinking Designer

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Testing Your Games Isn’t Optional

I suspect that the ability to actually recognize what’s already good and what still needs improving is just as rare as determination. -Thoth

Recognizing it at first glance is tough.

But we have a lot of tricks. The first is to simply play the game and remember what was annoying. It takes some effort to remain attentive, but not much. The second is to get *other* people to play the game.

This goes to a much broader question. Everything which can be tested should be tested. If you’re smart, very experienced, and paying attention, then yes – you can guesstimate. Yes, the master craftsman has a pretty good idea of his work and others and the local market. But anybody can test. You don’t need to be exceptionally smart, organized, or experienced to manage. Sure, we may be somewhat insulting ourselves to say that, but isn’t honestly accepting that we’re not always as bright as we pretend better than staking everything on pride?

Further, it does not matter whether it’s an MMORPG, a shooter, or the next version of Dungeons and Dragons. We interact with the game in different ways but for the same goal (fun), so we can and should test the game.

Shamus Young took a quick look at this in his blog, the inestimably-valuable Twenty Sided. The article is located over here:

The short version is that the more playtesting – and more inclusive of people outside your company – the better. Insiders have it way too easy, because they know. They made the thing, and that makes it tough to have an objective eye. Thoth and I have a devil of a time seeing our own personal spelling errors. Case in point: Spelling in the preceding sentence originally went down as “sapellign“, because I’m an awful typist. I don’t easily *see* it, because I made it. I see what I meant to have happen, not what actually occurred.

And that’s with a very specific, noticeable, error that everyone knows is wrong. It’s a lot less easy with a wide, complex system like a game. Shamus or Jay Barnson of The Rampant Coyote blog, I believe, wrote of a story from one consultant testing a game. She saw the players were going down a blind passageway and falling into the insta-death pit.

The game designers thought the players were just being stupid. They wanted to know why anyone was going down that way at all! They didn’t realize the obvious: that their own definition of “obvious” was omniscient. They forgot just how much knowledge they’d developed over the source of building a game for the last year. They KNEW that passage was a trap, and couldn’t see that everyone else didn’t magically share that info.

Or in another anecdote, Final Fantasy 12 features one of the most egregious abuses of sanity in games. In order to get one particular weapon, you had two options. First, you could not open four unidentified, perfectly normal chests. Then the spear would appear when you finally went to one end-game area. Or you could run that dungeon thousands of times for a random drop. The spear’s existence was known, since it was listed as an equippable item. But the fact that those chests had anything special was not mentioned and was completely impossible to determine from the player’s perspective. In fact, everything the game did pushed you to take the items. And this kind of nonsense is hardly unique: just look up the article on “Guide Dang It” at tvtropes. Dozens of entries include all kinds of weird puzzles which no reasonable person could solve, and only were solved because thousands upon thousands tried.

What’s both best and most frustrating about this is that it often requires only simple fixes. Much of it involves taking things out, or at worst adding small items. It’s *easy* to do. At the same time, it’s not popular. Companies don’t like having anyone not under a non-disclosure agreement, or who hasn’t been specifically invited by the marketing, department touching the game. They definitely don’t want people giving bad feedback, because those people might give bad word of mouth.

They’re over-thinking and under-thinking it. Games don’t sell well because somebody didn’t talk about them. Old bad publicity is a lot less important than new good publicity (because your game rocks when it’s actually released). When a new Blizzard game arrives, everyone forgets how much it sucked to wait for two years while they perfected it.

Unfortunately, the games industry in particular is a hotbed of terrible, terrible business practices. I mean, it’s bad. It’s embarrassing. They venture into madness that no big, established corporation or a small, eager startup would dare conceive, let alone implement.

There is one absolutely clear reason for this: game companies are curiously isolated from their customer base and are often started by people with little business experience. Further, growing industries can paper over their flaws, and games are still a growth industry. In short, they have an awful record of responding to customer patterns and a worse one for predicting them. More often, they ham-fistedly chase patterns which may not exist and security they can’t really have.

The big genres see years of repetitive releases, precisely because publishers are flying blind. They constantly fret over their established markets and often want to discard innovation entirely, leading to a narrowing of genres and styles (a crisis equaled only in the pharmaceutical industry which operates under unimaginably tougher conditions). This is one reason Indy companies have risen to become serious concerns themselves – the big publishers are already sclerotic and risk-averse beyond all reason.

I recognize that like Hollywood, it’s an industry where output quality (how good da flick be) is always somewhat random. But it’s also a  great deal more controllable. Once you start making a movie, the situation is largely out of control. It succeeds based on your ability to quickly adjust to challenges and how well you’re prepared; once you start filming, you can’t really change anything. Once you stop, re-shoots are a pricey last resort. It’s far more feasible to tweak an existing game and incorporate feedback, especially during production. And once it’s “finished”, you can always delay a month and polish accordingly. It’s only an issue if you schedule your release for Christmas and delays might miss the deadline (which is a very good argument for September targets or no target at all).

So, in short, the games industry is laughable in terms of skill. Management is mostly by rank amateurs who may be trained for something entirely different, and have no concept of HOW to manage a project. Now, it’s pretty well established that business school doesn’t teach you to manage. Don’t listen to any of the schools’ declaring otherwise. It does help you understand what kinds of things you need to do. The games industry is so young and fast-growing that it can skimp on that. It can have no decent appreciation of customer service, force dubious legal concepts on customers, and often get away with abusing their suppliers and/or customers directly. It’s a great time to be incompetent, or a jerk, or both.

On training: Harvard MBA’s do well because they get all the connections who also went to Harvard, not because they’re especially well-taught. It’s been more or less mathematically demonstrated as much as anything can be. And if any Harvard grads read this… tough. The data is quite clear. Connections, training, and even academic intelligence have almost nothing to do with managerial competence. What that can do is introduce ideas. But what people get is more in line of an opportunity. They must choose to make the most of it.

 This is why to me it’s not surprising that Guest Writer Daniel at The Rampant Coyote talks about how wearying dealing with customers is. Towards the end he notes that “You just lose heart, and stop reading forums. There are a few who soldier on, taking the flak, and trying to get to the bottom of the feedback. There are even those BioWare hired to do so. But most developers eventually lose heart and just tune it out.”

Tuning it out is a mistake. It’s a huge mistake, and it probably explains why Bioware has made some titanically stupid decisions in recent years. Fortunately, they haven’t been fatal yet, because the company still has strong foundations. If you’re not listening, you’re flying blind.

There’s an old argument about whether games are art. Some of them can be, but not every game can or should be called art. It’s a group product, and artistic sense is less important than making a fun game. If you’re not listening – if you’re not sucking it up and trying your hardest to split good feedback away from the useless or trivial – you’re not doing your job. You will always have nitpickers. They’re not important. What is important is polishing before you dump a product on the market. Dragon Age, which Daniel is justly proud of, still had hugely obvious flaws, which could have been easily corrected. It’s sequel is much, much worse.

The internet is a problem, true. Game designers love using the internet themselves – they just don’t want their detractors on it. You get angry forum posts and customer complaints. Who wants to sort through those?

You do.

Tuning out the bad silences every voice which could help you, when you’ve never had more powerful tools for feedback. Consider that in the 80’s and 90’s, pen and paper and video games often shipped with postcards inside just so designers could get some kind of feedback or understanding.

People tend to be a lot more pleasant when they think you’re listening. Second, on the internet, you can actually get responses. It shouldn’t surprise you either that Blizzard takes a keen interest in their forums. They often read deeply into long threads, and I guarantee those forums have gotten a lot more posts than anything you’ve ever produced. And they listen. They really do. If enough people demand something, Blizzard will oblige, or resolve the issue with another solution. If they decide not, they’ll usually explain their reasoning and why they think it’s either necessary or the best practical answer.

No, customer feedback isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the answer to everything. It’s rarely very innovative. But it contains a wealth of information about your weaknesses, even if it’s often less clear on how you resolve them. I recently read some articles on how Bioware collected statistics (poorly, and obviously not using good statistical methodology) on Dragon Age: Origins. Of course, rather than admit the obvious – that the game had a weak Ostagar area and dragged too much in what should have been the real opening – they simply decided that people “didn’t like numbers” and tried to simplify DA2. And not surprisingly, their claimed statistical results don’t actually back them up, because they failed to clearly identify cause and effect.

Yes, it’s a lot more work. That’s the price you pay for endless reams of data and a hundreds of thousands of customers. My heart just bleeds for your troubles.

Eclipse Character Traits Explained

Fortitudo, by Sandro Botticelli

Well, nobody's perfect

There have been a couple of questions about the Character Traits option in Eclipse.

Now, that particular section assigns scores to pairs of personal qualities – such as Valor and Caution, or Patience and Restlessness. Those scores are linked; each pair always totals twenty-one – and no score ever goes below one.

Some of the common misconceptions popping up in questions about the character traits include the idea that some of those traits are virtues, while others are vices, that they force you to play your character in a particular way, and that giving up a point from one quality (and thus automatically gaining a point in its opposite) is somehow a penalty.

Is valor a virtue? Yes, it often is! Is caution a virtue? Yes, indeed it is! Too much valor can lead to suicidal idiocy, while too much caution may lead to getting nothing done. Patience is good sometimes – but you can also have too much patience. Some of those traits are less admired than others, but all of them have their places – especially when you want to survive.

If, in the face of a horrible monster, you roll Valorous/Cautious and wind up with a “Cautious” result – yet you go ahead and nobly defy it anyway – you’ll lose a point from “Cautious” and gain one on “Valorous”. That’s not a penalty; it’s just a reflection of how you’re developing your character. He or she is defying his or her cautious nature.

If a character is played as being Valorous 90% of the time, his or her Valor score will soon be hanging around 18. By design, the Traits may wander up and down by a point or two on a regular basis – but they’ll wind up in accord with the way that the character is actually being played, rather than the way in which he or she is described. In that way Character Traits are simply a tracking system – and quick-reference way of judging a character on their prior actions and stands in which there isn’t much room for argument.

Really extreme scores in character traits represent a major behavioral commitment – which is why the Character Traits come with the “Granted Powers” section on the next page; with that system in play characters who are actually played in particular ways, and dedicate themselves to particular ideals, can get rewards for it.

Play your character as an treacherous schemer, and you may get bonuses to your treacherous scheming. Play as a noble warrior of the light, and you can get bonuses to those activities as well. That encourages grand passions – and those are always a bonus in a role-playing game. Blandly expedient uncommitted characters tend to be dull.

As far as the mechanics go…

  • The usual trait roll is simply  (1d20 + Trait) +/- (Wis Mod +1) at the option of the character. Since the base DC is 21, if you have a trait of 19+, you’ll always succeed if you want to – but if you don’t keep living up to that trait, it’s value will soon start decreasing in accordingly.
  • If you’re torn as to what your character would do – will he wait out the long boring lecture in hopes of some useful bit of information, or will he go for a meal? – go ahead; roll for “Patient / Restless”. It comes up under “Patient”? Wait. Over that? Now you’re in “Restless” territory; leave. You feel you know what the character would do?  Then you have no need to roll – but the Game Master is free to note it, and shift the relevant trait a point, if you happen to have claimed to have “Restless 19” and yet are hanging around the lecture without checking. In that case, you’re simply announcing that your character doesn’t really have “Restless 19”.
  • Now, if the granted powers rules are in play, high-value traits do provide the character with bonus abilities – at the cost of having to live up to those traits to keep them high. You don’t want to bother? You can pretty much ignore the traits, and they’ll all wind up at about ten. Dull, but functional.
  • Now, the game master may sometimes require trait checks. Where those relate to an active character decision, the player is always entitled to override the results – and thus change his or her traits to reflect the way the character is actually being played.
  • You, were offered a bribe, rolled Principled-Expedient, and it came up Expedient? Well, you can take the bribe (although whether or not you honor the deal later is another matter) – or the player can override that check and shift the trait pair one point in favor of Principled.
  • All that roll is telling you is that – given how you’ve described your character, and his or her past behavior – he or she would be likely to take that bribe. If you decide that’s not how your character really is, then you’re just putting it on the record that your character is more principled than he or she has claimed to be – or is developing in that direction.

Sometimes a character is not entitled to override a check, since it’s not representing their decision. Most often that’s because it’s representing how something else responds to them. Occasionally it’s when they’re trying to use the trait to accomplish a task – in which case the player can’t “override it to stay in character” for the same reason that they can’t override a failed strength check to stay “in character” as a brawny barbarian. The most common such checks:

  • Relate to artifacts, entities, and effects that only respond to particular personality traits – in which case the game master is effectively checking the characters history, but actually has a value he can check in a moment rather than a vague recall of past sessions and a set of logs and notes it will take hours to review. If only a character with Valor, Leader, and Honesty all at 18+ can draw the sword from the stone than that’s the way it is.
  • Relate to a situation where one action is clearly correct but where the character might do otherwise thanks to forces with the player is not experiencing. This can’t be overridden for the same reason that you can’t simply opt to ignore a “Charm” effect because it’s not in character; those undesired actions are a result of the fact that the character is experiencing something that the player is not. The classic example (as used in Eclipse) is the Test of Orpheus; asking a player to decide if their character is nervous enough to fail a major quest doesn’t usually work out well. A will check doesn’t always work either. Should a Will check determine whether or not you can impress the king with your raw enthusiasm when he can easily see through your diplomacy skill? In this case, the player doesn’t get to override the die roll because it’s not really dictating his characters actions, all it’s measuring is whether or not his character succeeds in a task.
  • Relate to an opposed check. If one character has decided to remain in his stronghold until he’s sure it’s safe to leave, and the other has decided to remain lurking outside until the the other emerges, and both state that they’re not changing that decision for ANYTHING – you have a problem. I can pretty well guarantee that simply announcing that both die of old age will not be appreciated by the players. The warrior may want a fortitude save to decide the issue, to see who can tough it out longer. The mage will want to turn it into a contest of wills – or decide the issue with opposed concentration checks. There will be good arguments for each position. It will also be a colossal waste of time. Traits will let you just roll opposed “Patience” checks, and see who gives up first.

Thus, as noted in Eclipse:

Character traits are for games where the game-master wants psychological tests and temptations to actually mean something. They describe a character’s personality and act as a set of general guidelines for roleplaying, a way to measure a character’s level of attunement to whatever higher or lower powers a world may boast, a way to tell if a character is “worthy” of wielding particular items, and provide something to roll against when a player is in doubt or when a character is faced with a psychological test. For example, taking a blow unflinchingly requires a Valorous check, using a Healing Cup requires Merciful 15+, and resisting the temptation of Orpheus requires a Steadfast check. In general, the player may apply the character’s (Wis Mod + 1, 1 minimum) to such checks to modify them up or down as desired. The GM may also modify the basic 21 DC based on circumstances; it’s easier to resist a small bribe than a massive fortune. Player characters may, of course, defy the results of a trait roll, but this will cost them one action point or the loss of a point from the trait in question. Traits come in linked pairs; if the value of opposed trait is desired it can be calculated at (21-Value, one minimum). Traits may either be selected by the player, or rolled like the other attributes – in which case the trait rolled for in each pair is up to the player. Any trait at 15+ is quite noticeable… Magic affects traits roughly twice as strongly as it affects the more definite attributes. This is best used with caution; a ”Ring of +8 Valor” could be a boon or a deadly curse depending on the circumstances.

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.

Eclipse – Spellcasting Modification Feats

First up for today, it’s a quick answer to one of the more common Eclipse questions – how a spellcaster can modify how particular groups of spells work.

Sometimes that’s merely special effects, and so doesn’t actually require a power; it simply requires the consent of your game master. You want all your spells to have a “green flame” aspect to them? That doesn’t really do anything? So be it. These are fantasy games. Looking cool, exotic, outright weird, or appallingly evil, is all free.

A lot of characters, however, want something that actually makes a difference.

  • They may want their fire spells to operate underwater – call it Phosphorescent Mastery.
  • They may want their ice spells to briefly paralyze those they damage – call it Glacial Wind.
  • They may want to be able to cast spells that normally require plants to work and have them grow their own plants – call it Green Thumb.
  • They may want their fire spells to actually set things on fire and to leave clouds of smoke – call it Incendiary Mania.

They may want hundreds of different things.

Fortunately, in Eclipse, that’s really, really, easy to set up.

Practically any modification you want on a spell can be produced by one of the Metamagical Theorems. Buying the ability to apply a couple of levels of free metamagic – enough to tweak the spells in a particular category to do something unusual – is straightforward.

Purchase the appropriate Metamagical Theorem (6 CP) and two levels of Streamline (12 CP). Specialize and Corrupt both of those items to reduce the cost; only to apply a specific +2 spell level modifier to a particular – and relatively narrow – group of spells.

That will suffice in the vast majority of cases – and at a net cost of only 6 CP, the same as any normal feat. So go right ahead. Give your spellcaster some interesting specialty or option. Make his or her favorite spells a bit more powerful – and make both him and them thoroughly distinctive. Don’t make playing pieces. Make CHARACTERS.

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.

Eclipse Abilities – Immunity, The Fourth Wall

via Flickr”]Y2D079: A Terrible Thing

Players do request the oddest things sometimes… This isn’t an ability I’d normally allow at full strength. At that level it would pretty well eliminate the role-playing aspect unless (perhaps) the character started routinely arguing with – or even outright defying – the player.

That might be fun for a little bit, but I suspect that it would start to wear very VERY fast.

On the other hand, if I had a player who totally refused (or was unable) to keep player and character knownledge seperate, perhaps I’d insist that they buy their character some level of this ability, just as an annoyance tax on their character points…

Oh well. Players are, in general, free to buy whatever they like as long as the Game Master is OK with it. Ergo, to buy this, take:

Immunity/The Fourth Wall. That’s Very Common (practically all the time in fact), Minor (it is only information) – but it’s potentially information from all kinds of sources, which is probably Epic (sure my character knows chemistry, physics, the contents of the Monster Manual, the secret names of demons, etc, etc, etc…). That’s 36 Character Points (CP) for the straight-and-unrestricted version.

  • Now, if it’s just some genre-savvy plot-awareness and making snarky comments at the gods / “audience”, that’s not nearly so important – and so will be far cheaper.That’s Common, Minor, and Minor, for a mere 4 CP.
  • You want to throw in a justification for pop-culture references and phrases like “the true gods wouldn’t put a pit trap like this without an escape somewhere!”, that’s Common, Minor, and Major, for 6 CP – the cost of a normal feat. Go ahead, call it “genre savvy” and buy it if it amuses you. The rest of the characters may be utterly mystified by your monty python quotes and in-jokes, but at least they’re no longer out of character.
  • You want to be very well-read and informed of the details on various monsters, devices, spells, and classes? As in “I-get-to-look-in-the-rulebooks” well-informed? That’s expensive. That’s back to being “Very Common” again, and it might be Great or Epic, depending on how much the game master relies on sourcebooks versus private notes and inventing stuff on the fly. If he or she does a lot of inventing, and thus the stuff in the sourcebooks is throughly unreliable, that’s Great (at best), and so costs a base of 24 CP. Still, we can probably count it as Corrupted since you’re only gaining access to d20 rulebooks, not to all the worlds libraries and whatever the player can find on the internet. That brings it down to a total of 16 CP.
  • Those books are mostly accurate? And you’re allowed to read the setting book two? Now we’re definitely in Epic territory, for a base cost 36 CP before that rulebooks-only Corruption, and 24 CP after it.

It’s still not really an ability I’d recommend allowing in your game, but – like pretty much everything else in Eclipse – you can build it.

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 Endowment of the Dark Gods

The skull and crossbones, a common symbol for ...

Yes. we're talking about you

Dark cults, evil secret societies, and hidden orders of killers are a standard part of most d20 settings.

Yet it’s very hard to say where they come from. These are d20 universes here. You don’t have to join a dark cult to obtain mystic secrets, and any library holds out the promise of arcane power. Why bother with a secret society when you can just move to an evil realm where your activities – however heinous – will be regarded as tame? What evil order of killers has ever been as effective at killing as a party of adventurers?

Most of those evil organizations seem to have no real POINT outside of being stumbling-blocks and experience-point mines for parties of adventurers.

So where do they come from?

Gods have a very hard time gaining experience points. Finding a suitable challenge that you can go after WITHOUT upsetting a lot of other gods or wrecking the universe gets pretty awkward at that power level.

Fortunately, as demonstrated by the creation of magical items, there ARE ways to transfer experience points around, even if they aren’t very efficient.

When you’re a god, there are always options.

Thus the Dark Imbuement – a type of intangible artifact.

When a suitably evil mortal is granted – or “finds” and accepts – a Dark Imbuement, he or she is granted an incredible surge of power, gaining (1d6+14) levels.

If said mortal opts to spend a month or two investing some of those levels into followers, he or she gains followers with a total number of levels equal to (the number of levels given up x 12) – although none of them may have a total level exceeding one-half that of their boss.

So if Yondar the Pestiferous (a sixth level evil sorcerer) takes up a Dark Imbuement, he might gain eighteen levels (and become Yondar the Malevolent, twenty-fourth level Dark Lord of Khadath).

Not knowing what to do with himself (and not wanting to be worth that many XP until he gets level-appropriate equipment) he invests eight of those levels into minions to go out and get him some money and equipment. Besides, as the Dark Imbuement will instinctively inform him, when heroes kill one of his minions – provided only that they’ve been in his service for at least a few months – he’ll get one-half the experience that the heroes do.

So that’s (8 x 12) = 96 levels of minions, who can each be of up to level eight since Yondar has a current effective level of sixteen.

Call it eight of second level, five of fourth level, two of sixth level, and six henchmen of eighth level.

Now, as minions get killed, the power that’s invested in them will return to Yondar – either to be reinvested if he spends a few months recruiting or to boost his own effective level again.

For example, when he’s down to 48 levels of minions, he’ll only have four levels invested in them – and the Dark Imbuement will be granting him fourteen levels on top of the extra XP he’s getting.

Given that that XP is going to his base level of six, that can be pretty useful.

Now, when Yondar does eventually fall to some pesky heroes, the God who created the Dark Imbuement will gain one-half the experience that the heroes got for killing him – and can reclaim the Dark Imbuement to pass it on to some other suitable candidate.

Yes, that’s D&D: the Evil Reverse Ponzi Scheme! You too can make a profit by exploiting your deluded cultists!

Do you need to track this in detail?

No, not really. But now you know why evil bosses seem to rise to prominence overnight from nowhere, why they seem to have indefinite supplies of lower-level minions, why they trickle them at the heroes at just the right rate to have “balanced encounters” and build them up (since that – rather than using their resources effectively – gains them the most XP of their own), why they often seem to have no clear idea of how to use their power effectively, why they haven’t cut a swathe across the country gathering all the XP they need to reach level 20+,  why they seem to get stronger as their minions are eliminated, where those insane prestige classes that require that you kill someone else with the class before you can join it come from (from bosses who can grant levels in crazy classes to normal people and WANT them to die fighting), and why there always seems to be another evil boss around.

You want a true and lasting victory? Find some way to put an end to that Dark Imbuement.

The god behind it will probably just make another one, but it will be a lot of work – and he or she will be out all the power they put into the first one. Keep it up long enough, and you might defeat that god handily without ever getting into a direct confrontation with him or her.

Arcania: Gothic 4 Analysis

Arcania: Gothic 4

Image via Wikipedia

Here we have a contribution from Editorial0.

Today, a quick long look at designing games, particularly video games.

Today I’m going to discus Arcania: Gothic 4. This isn’t a review, although some reviewing will be involved. Instead, I’m going to look at the game and peel back what makes it the mediocrity it is. In any case, remember that this isn’t going to be some witty, cutting review filled with biting humor. First, I’m not that funny, and second, I’m not that witty. Some people are meant to be witty and social, and they are called journalists. Others are dry and depressed, and these people are called philosophers. Whether or not I am a philosopher, I’m still not funny.

I don’t like bad games, and I don’t like mediocre games. So today I’m going to look at separates the great from the good from the so-so. It’s not hard to explain. Great games are distinguished by a high level of polish, that often vague but easily-seen attention to detail. Polish ultimately boils down to a determination to excel.

I suspect that the ability to actually recognize what’s already good and what still needs improving is just as rare as determination. -Thoth

What, after all, makes Blizzard real-time strategy games bigger sellers than others? If you look at a list of features, they often come up short. Graphic-wise, they’re not much better than other games, and usually fail to use high-end hardware. Their plots are perhaps a little better than average, but they’re mostly focused on distinctive characters rather than on any really original story.

The answer is simply, “polish.” Oh, the games have a good foundation in concept. But what sets them apart is the quality of gameplay. Every aspect is carefully considered, developed, experimented with, tested, tweaked, and perfected. Blizzard makes mistakes, too, but even their mistakes tend to be on a very different level from those of other video-game companies. In World of Warcraft, people often complain that their ability usage isn’t quite interesting enough, or that they feel they aren’t being given *enough* perks to compensate for the disadvantages of playing a certain class. Compare this to past or even present MMO’s, which often had people complaining that their entire class basis had been crippled, often leading to whole swaths of the player base dropping out or even being forced out of the game.

In short, every aspect of that Blizzard game is smooth, helps you understand the nature of the game, and immediately puts you at ease. Look at other top sellers – Blizzard’s own Diablo, Valve’s Half-Life, and Nintendo’s Super Mario, and you see much the same. The gameplay is exceedingly simple, merely variants on a single central theme (click on monster, run and shoot, run to the end of the level). But all are extremely polished in all respects. These games can all be played quite effectively with a couple of action buttons and a direction control. All the complexity comes from the situations  and concepts that the player must learn, not from the interface.

Alright, we’ve shown what makes a great game. But what separates the mediocre games from the good ones? Surely, if great games have a high level of polish, good ones must have a decent level of polish, right?

Nope. Oddly enough, a game can be pretty good without much polish, as long as the core gameplay is sturdy. These games tend to be solid and even innovative. Yet, though they may push the boundaries they don’t always create a compelling gameplay experience. Think of games like Knights of the Old Republic 2 or Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. Both games sold well for what they were and offered a lot of game for the money. However (and I say this as someone who absolutely loved KotOR2) they both had many, many flaws and even crippling defects, some of which were built into the design from the beginning. The same innovation which made them unique also made them painful. Doing something new doesn’t necessarily mean that you do it well. Alpha Protocol may well be the single most innovative game in history, combining immense flexibility and variety with surprising control over the plot. It’s a game which lets you write your own adventure story. Yet it was also nearly unplayable.

Still, all those games were good, and a certain amount of ambition can often save a game from the bargain bin. With that in mind, let’s break down Arcania: Gothic 4.

As the title obviously suggests, this is the fourth installment in the Gothic series of games, originally made by Piranha Bytes and published by JoWood. Several years ago, JoWood and Piranha Bytes had some serious differences, and went their separate ways, or rather, JoWood did and took the franchise  along. Part of those differences may have been over the release of Gothic 3, one of those good-but-unpolished games featuring such awkward controls it was nearly unplayable – along with some… awkward balance issues.

For whatever reason, JoWood officially owned the franchise and kept the Gothic titles. Piranha Bytes went on to make Risen, a game which might as well be called Gothic-And-A-Half, since it’s basically the very first game done up in a different setting. (After the split, JoWood came out with an expansion pack called Forsaken Gods. In my opinion it’s among the most awful things ever created by man.)

Risen was a slow seller because it was thrown onto the market without much fanfare, but it did attract some attention for its punishing but fair gameplay, high-quality core of exploration and combat, and quirky retro style. The design was a little unambitious, but it could be a good fresh start and I’ll at least consider future titles.

Arcania: Gothic 4 is not Risen. In fact, it’s not even Gothic 4. It has almost nothing to do with the previous Gothic titles and – aside from minor, utterly trivial nods – doesn’t keep anything from the old gameplay. Nor do I yet understand why they call it Arcania, whereas Gothic was indeed a pretty gothic world.

Brief Recap: In Gothic, you took on the role of a nameless prisoner condemned to the magic ore mines of Khorinis. A seemingly chance demand from a fire magi, trying to get word to his brethren beyond the magical barrier which seals over the valley of mines, launches you on a quest to ally with a friendly “dark” wizard named Xardas, free the prisoners and destroy a terrible demon. A major part of the game is the punishing initial difficulty, but in its defense it directs you to some allies who help you gain experience and open up the three major settlements. Joining one of these is how you progress through the game, a feature the game would keep in Gothic 2.

Gothic 2 picks up literally a few weeks after Gothic. Xardas saves you and helps you defeat a horde of orcs, a flight of dragons, and then stop the terrible servants of the dark god Beliar. You quickly visit the town of Khorinis, which was one of the largest video game cities of its day and still stands out as being remarkably well-realized. In Gothic they paid a lot of attention to friendships and alliances, and in Gothic 2 your friends came back and your actions were remembered. While you usually couldn’t wall off any quests, people did recall what you did to them and theirs, and this could affect quests and events down the line. Sometimes you could solve quests simply by talking to the right people at the right time, giving the player the feeling that this was a living world with its own backstory and relationships. The cast of memorable characters was huge, and almost every interesting friend from Gothic made an appearance. It was good enough to spawn an expansion, Night of the Raven, which only took about about an eon to hit the English market.

Gothic 3 lets you explore the mainland of Myrtana. Some… odd design choices resulted in a less-than stellar experience. Controls were inelegant at best, and enemies of any level frequently stunlocked you because of the poor combat design and animation work. This, sadly, was almost the only element of difficulty in the entire game because most enemies were utterly trivial. Add in a freakish lack of women, re-used voices everywhere, and a dull and long-winded plot without much direction, and you had all the elements of a bad game. While numerous characters came back, they mostly shared models with about five hundred other NPC’s, which meant it was literally impossible to tell who was who. All in all, the game was mediocre and missing some key features, even though there were good ideas at the core.

In Arcania: Gothic 4 you open (apparently) controlling the hero from previous Gothic games, now crowned King Rhobar the Third. This is actually an interesting opening, even if goes on too long. The use of sound and visuals to suggest madness – and even that someone is controlling him – works very well. But soon that ends and your real character awakens from that fake nightmare into the real nightmare.

Arcania features an entirely new nameless character, one who sadly falls into the “bland hero” category. His voice actor isn’t terrible, but doesn’t put much energy into it. Then again, the script doesn’t either; there’s no personality or flavor. The character simply goes along and does more or less whatever is asked of him. Sometimes you have two or three options instead of one choice in a way to proceed, but your “choices” have no real impact on the plot; all the options wind up looking almost identical. Considering how annoying most of the game’s characters are, I often wanted to pick an evil option, just to finish up. However that doesn’t actually get you anything. You won’t save any time or trouble, so you may as well do things the “long” way around. You face the same nuisances.

And annoying is how the NPC’s come off at best. Most don’t have enough character for me to remember names. What’s sad is that there’s some good material going to waste here. You can almost feel a bond between your hero and Diego at the start of the game. You can almost care about his fiance during the opening, even if she does look like her mom drank too much during pregnancy. But it’s all wasted because both characters more or less vanish and don’t influence things again. The game makes a titanic mistake in killing off said fiance. While in theory this would be the hero’s motive for a roaring rampage of revenge, nobody mentions it again and he has all the emotional depth of a brick.

I can’t help but compare this to the subtly snarky lead of previous Gothic games, who imbued the character with energy and a resigned heroism, willing to help but annoyed at the constant impositions, and willing to bargain and make demands when others were unreasonable. The old voice acting wasn’t any good, either, but it did have heart and energy. Arcania’s voices are technically competent (except for Lyrca, who stands out as hilariously awful) but completely dry. People complained about the voice actors, but they’re overstating it. The actors can read lines, but it’s obvious nobody thought to give them any direction.  Ultimately, I personally would rather have bad-but-fun voicework than merely “decent” voices.

The plot actually gets worse as you go along, spiraling increasingly out of control. I think the designers intended for the players to think that it was all a great destined event, but their craftsmanship is so hamfisted that it winds up playing out as a series of random, unrelated nuisances. The script does not help, because it contains all kinds of irrational, random lines and references to things the player does not know or care about, which are not explained, and which don’t make any difference. Worse, even THAT isn’t as bad as the idiotic questing.

The game almost apologizes for throwing up stupid roadblocks. They don’t even make any sense. You simply can’t progress until you do somebody’s annoying fetch quest, when often the only thing standing in your way is a pushy guard or an enemy orc. But they tell you to turn around, because no, we’re not letting you through (for no good reason) and there’s no way around that. That might be tolerable if the quests felt like anything other than useless busywork. But it’s all about fetching leftover junk that the NPC’s are too stupid to go and get. I’m not kidding: you have to get letters, banners, and even a straw hat. I found out why I “had to” get the hat, and it still didn’t make any sense.

Look, it’s not that hard. All you need for your quests is to put the player in charge. Even if the player has to follow along your plot, you have to give him a reason to do it. This means three things:

  • Your barriers to simply walking over and completing the game should feel like an organic part of the world. They shouldn’t break any rules, and that includes forcing the player to have a sudden attack of politeness. If the player must work to gain the help he needs to overcome a barrier, fine. But don’t just have the character up and volunteer for random tasks before some annoying, nameless guard will let him through, particularly not when the character is a monster-crushing killing machine. On the other hand, it may make some sense for the character not to wander into the midst of an active ongoing battle. If the character doesn’t have a boat, they may have no option save to pay the ferryman.
  • Give the player some choice. Killing eight Rats is fine for an MMO (if tired even there). And it’s not even that bad for a single-player game. However, you have to give the player some options. If you need a Gorgon’s Tear, and the only Gorgon is at the very end of a completely linear dungeon and the the only way to kill the gorgon is with a sword, then you’re not giving the player any choice. You know the one way through is to kill through every enemy and then stab the gorgon. If you want the player to kill eight rats, then give him a bounty for bringing in rat tails. This is an area where Gothic stood out. If you needed to get an item from a character, you could kill the man and take his stuff, steal it, buy another, bribe him or buy his, or see if you couldn’t find another item just like it while adventuring. By making those actions goal-based instead of method-based, it strengthened the player’s interest.
  • Give the player an actual reason to care. Arcania almost manages here at the start. But from then on you’re faced with a faceless assortment of tedious NPC’s with nothing of interest about them. They felt plastic and were plastic. Again, I don’t entirely blame the voice acting. Many reviewers hated it, but it’s the bland script which I object to. There’s nothing even to indicate your *character* cares – and when he later seems pleased to meet them again I wondered why he was so excited to meet obnoxious near-strangers, whom he had met once or twice and exchanged a polite greeting. This is bad writing, bad integration, and bad design. Contrast to this to earlier Gothic games. In Gothic 1, they established important secondary characters well. They gave you quests, helped you out, and fought alongside you for common goals.

Look at Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 or Martin Septim from Oblivion. Quality voice acting, aside, the characters weren’t annoying, they interacted with you a lot, and you got to know their fears and goals. Meanwhile, you weren’t expected to somehow fall in love with many other characters whose role in the story was minimal at best. For an example of a good minor character, look at Dr. Mossman. She interacts with you in a limited way, but she’s still engaging.

Once you finally do get going, you’ll find a game which also fails to live up to another Gothic staple: exploration. Gothic was extremely nonlinear. You could go anywhere provided you managed to survive the trek. It limited player movment by using gatekeeper monsters – in short, you had to prove you were strong enough to get into an area, but once inside the monsters were a bit weaker and you then grabbed all the loot and massacred the pretty chunks of experience. This was a fantastic way of doing things, because you had a lot off tools at your disposal. Taking too much damage? Steal or buy some armor and try again. Mobbed by sheer numbers? Hop on a rock and snipe them. Facing one enemy too strong for you? Use those scrolls. Or simply go to a different area or finish some town quests.

Yes, that was hard to get learn, but on the whole it worked really well. Once you understood how the game played you were encouraged to use your resources wisely and actively plan out your fights. Sure, by the end you’d be rolling money and potions, but you had a long adventure of carefully picking and choosing fights until you got strong enough to stomp your foes. The omnipresent feelings of challenge, advancement, and success mattered.

Arcania throws this out of the window. The game showers you with healing items, useless recipes, and endless loot, as you wander through corridors. This game manages to make open fields feel like corridors. Basically, you can jog along the narrow routes available, but there’s little to find and very little reward for anything. You’re going to go past it all anyway, eventually. No matter where you go, you can be confident knowing you will easily handle the challenge, so there’s never any reason to worry. If you do get hit pretty hard, you’ve got plenty of healing items to recover instantly.

About the midgame I had enough bandages to mummify myself. I have about a dozen recipes, but no reason to use them. Money has essentially no use except to buy more recipes I won’t use. It is nice that you can go out and craft things, but I’d need an actual reason to do so. Thus far, mages can get the odd boost from a crafted item, but I haven’t seen any point in the trouble. You’ll get better gear before you can blink twice.

Getting back to the topic of exploration, the game does offer up an interesting series of collection quests. In short, they’ve scattered a bunch of trinkets about the world, and finding them all nets you a rare and powerful item. I like this idea. It’s the execution which bothers me. First, go get a map online, because otherwise you will not find them. They’re often impossible to see onscreen, so unless you just randomly wander near one and see it highlighted you’ll never notice. Second, there’s not much reason to care. You’re never challenged, so getting more goodies is a pretty thin reason to explore. And I mentioned earlier, you don’t have many optional side areas and they don’t have much to find, so you’re basically looking for relics in the hope of getting a pointless reward way down the line.

I had more interest in completing my world map than anything else, and before I hit the one-quarter mark I began to think of monsters as tedious obstacles rather than interesting challenges.

Perhaps worst of all, in a game which tells you to explore every nook and cranny, you’re faced with something worse than monsters: invisible walls. Yup, our old friend the invisible wall makes a comeback, preventing you from getting onto boulders and cliffs. But only half the time, for no adequately explained reason. Sometimes you just seem to bounce off from things. And that’s still not enough for the developers, who made every rock you can get atop but aren’t “supposed” to climb into a literal slippery slope, which shoves you off at a slow clip. Of course, sometimes they’ll shove you off into the instant-death water.

It’s 2011. We’ve had swimming animations since Super Mario. If you’re game is so cheap that you can’t pay for swimming effects for a game on an island with a long bay in the middle, something is wrong. Risen had sea monsters who would eat you if you went too far from shore and still had different movement once you entered water.

The slow movement speed doesn’t help matters. Your character jogs too slowly. I wouldn’t care except that the teleport system sucks. It just plain sucks. Most games these days have a waypoint or teleport system built-in, so that if you can backtrack, you do so quickly. The idiots who made Arcania’s teleport system instead made it a bunch of linked teleport pairs. This means that when you unlock a teleport you can’t actually use for anything. Once you’ve advanced forward, you unlock just that pair. So you wind up unlocking completely useless teleports, which can’t take where you might want to go. This is among the most hamfisted implementations ever, since Gothic had a simple, effective system for getting around way back in its day. In Arcania, you can get enough magic spells to keep doubling your run speed, but it takes a long while to get to that point. So until then, you just have to suffer the nuisance.

Now that we’ve talked about some of the bad points, I’m going to qualify that. The game has a couple really good aspects, even if the developers didn’t build on them well.

First, combat is nicely fluid. If the enemies weren’t completely weak and stupid, it might even be fun. It’s fast, smooth, and far more controllable than previous Gothic entries, which often felt like trying to maneuver a beached whale than engaging in swordfights. And that’s no small thing in a game of medieval combat.

The design team did too much, however, to make the combat options equal – much too equal. Frankly, it hardly matters which route you specialize in: melee, ranged weapons, or magic. They don’t really distinguish themselves very well, and there’s not much thought in building a character since gear overwhelms your choices. That drastically limits replayability and ultimately makes combat even more shallow. I eventually switched over to throwing fireballs simply so the area effect would kill enemies faster. Furthermore, you gain enough gear to do pretty much whatever you want. I don’t mind being able to change my focus to suit. But the choices I made are almost irrelevant, which is very bad. (About which more later).

The other really great aspect is the scenery. The game is beautiful, and not simply because it has oodles of high-resolution textures. In fact, the graphics as a base are only average for today’s games. What sets them apart is the incredible level of landscaping. Outdoor areas look astoundingly real and dramatic, with green-lit forests, seas meeting white cliffs, and powerful fortresses towering above the land. So in short, the scenery stands out as impressive to wander, plausible to experience, and just plain “real.”

The only nitpick here are that underground areas (including every dungeon in the game) are painfully bland and uninteresting by comparison. The difference is as stark as night and day – a tepid grey mass you rush through to get outdoors again versus a colorful, real world. In fact, the only problem with the outside is that the scenery often doesn’t feel quite lived-in *enough*. The environment stands out so much that I kept looking a level of detail they can’t quite manage.

On a side note, somebody turned up the “waving trees” effect to Keystone Cops levels. You can sometimes see plants bouncing around like rubber. And it is hilarious.

Finally, the game is marketed as an action-RPG. But it doesn’t have much action or much RPG. You interact with the world solely through combat, which as we’ve mentioned comes across as shallow and often tedious. But the RPG elements are, if anything, worse. It’s not bad, but the system is so elegant that it’s irrelevant!

Let me explain. The game’s level-up system simply hands you 3 points when you gain a level, plus a little mana and health and stamina. (Stamina recharges so fast you won’t care abut it.) Each branch of abilities hands you a couple minor abilities, mostly not worth using, and a 1% bonus to two stats per level. So you can get a decent percent bonus to your health and melee damage, or health and stamina, or melee and stamina, or magic power and mana regeneration, or regeneration and maximum mana, and so on.

In a way, this works fine. You simply get better at what you like most. The problem is that the bonuses are so small they’re kinda pointless. The only slight stand-out is mana, because you’ll burn through your pool so fast that a high rate of regeneration is almost required. Still, you can just swap out your gear to get as much of that as you might need. Even a simple piece of gear can be worth many levels. If you dumped all your points into melee and decide you want to throw fireballs, you can manage. Trees mostly serve unlock new abilities, and most of them are neither useful nor interesting.

In short, Arcania is a textbook example of what not to do. Do not start with a mediocre script with uninteresting characters who mostly serve as an excuse for the plot. Do not put obnoxious walls in the player’s path. Do not use railroading to force the player to do things (unless you hide it really well and sensibly). Do not drop uninteresting sidequests in the player’s path with no real reason to exist except handing out pretty chunks of xp. Do not develop a huge assortment of bland dungeons with suspiciously similar design. Do not turn a large, open world into a single, linear stage. Give players some interesting and meaningful choices about what to buy or study. Do not substitute combat for meaningful interaction with that world. Do not make most of that interaction largely irrelevant to the actual plot, so that nearly everything you do in the game makes no difference until the last seventh of the game.

Yes, that is a tough list to manage. And yet, many games have handled it well. Morrowind, Saint’s Row 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Gothic 1, 2, and even 3 for the most part. In many ways, it isn’t even that hard. If you do the early aspects right and set up enough conflict, players tend to choose their own sides and often gloss over any rough spots. If you hand many methods of interaction to the player, they’ll come up with their own solutions. If you give them significant (but not impossible) challenges, they’ll then find their own ways to cope and succeed. In games like this, the very best possibility is for the player to come up with a bright idea, succeed, and walk away feeling pleased and a little guilty, as if they were almost cheating the system.

Because they are cheating – but only their own expectations. They cheat the same-old, same-old standards and gimmicks which create awful games like Arcania. They cheat designers who don’t want to let them really do something amazing. They cheat designers who want to shove everyone along their predetermined path. They cheat the author who put together such a tedious game. It’s not just cheating, it’s the best kind of cheating: the kind where you cheat the rigged game.

Video games really aren’t the focus of this blog, and I don’t play them much – so I fear I can’t say anything about Editorial0’s evaluation of Arcania, or most of the other games he mentions. On the other hand, the basics of adventure design are indeed much the same for both video and tabletop games. -Thoth

Federation-Apocalypse Session 162 – Being Raised by Wolves

Marriage articles of the marriage between Phil...

What has been writ...

Raphael was busily getting connected to the local Kadia network and monitoring for any references to himself. You never knew what you might pick up that way.

Hm. It was a bit odd… He was still in the form of a six-tailed fox with a thin mist drifting about. Normally that would have changed with a new dimension. Evidently Kadia was pretty accommodating about things like that.

That was pretty strange until he got Raphael the Archangel of Healing sorted out from Raphael the Artist and Raphael the Warrior, and all the other “Raphaels” who were distinguished only by some adjective or another… And who was this “Menthas” that kept getting mentioned (by a bunch of dogs?) in conjunction with another Raphael – apparently the healer?

(Matron) “I’ve heard tales of Soul-Binders and the powers they wield and could grant. I have never encountered one myself, but I have heard tales from the outer regions of ancient ones…. and the hunger that drives them.”

(Kevin) “There is some of that. I also need very large numbers of agents, since my operations are widespread. Fortunately, that same wide spread means that I don’t need to fiddle around with recruiting non-volunteers. However, if you want to look over the contract I offer – or the facilities of this world – you are welcome to do so.”

(Matron) Yes, I would like to have a very close look at this contract of yours.

(Kevin) “As you wish. Would you like a pavilion to go over it in? Or perhaps a tour of this world?”

(Matron, looking at Kevin shrewdly) “Hmm, I also suspect that the contract is just as binding on you as it is on the signers. A quiet pavilion would suffice for now. I will save the tour for later I think. A moment while I give orders to the guards too busy panicking and working hard to look like they are doing something effective.”

(Kevin, startledly) “Ah, indeed it is. And there are plenty of pavilions over there, in the picnic grounds… Now, Ms Fenwick? I believe that, if you have become engaged to my friend, than we should set you up with your own account… perhaps a few hundred thousand credits for today?”

The Matron began quietly getting the guards organized – mostly setting them to taking messages back through the portal. After they’d gone back through – save for a few discreet observers, she settled down in the pavilion to study the contract and supplementary documentation (such as the current assignment category listings)…

(Fenwick) “Until, I learn more about how much a credit is, I think that will suffice for now. I suspect it is rather a lot though – at least, given the wealth on display here.”

Kevin’s estimate of Marty’s judgement, and of Ms Fenwick abruptly went up! The young woman was nicely observant, still thinking logically despite a drastic shock and the novel environment, and not at all overwhelmed! All despite the shock of seeing that her sudden fiancee was hardly a normal parrot! That was really quite impressive!

Raphael was sitting back and doing a little thinking – and waiting for a lull in the conversation… It couldn’t JUST be being an Opener; Kevin was obviously maintaining so many cross-manifold power links that a full analysis was going to be a long-term project…

(Raphael) “Do you mind if I do a few examinations of your power Angkor? It seems to have grown a good deal since we last met, and I have some interesting ideas for a project involving cross-Manifold links. It would be nice to have a local project focus here or there.” (He gestured vaguely towards the gate).

Kevin had no particular objections. He’d hardly be the first after all… and he hadn’t even really known most of the others, like that lich-lady!

Raphael promptly started in on a long series of analytical spells… He might as well get that underway while he was in a realm where magical power could be gathered so easily!

Marty had been indulging in a few mental calculations… What was the fun of being a minor god of numerology if you couldn’t even figure out an exchange rate between Zenni and Credits?

The trouble was, not only was there no direct trading, the value scales in use were incompatible, the economic principles were entirely different – one a post-scarcity economy with all necessities free and “Credits” issued against the use of planetary resources and recreational facilities, and the other based on the accumulation of mystical energy in “Zenni” which could be used to boost the user’s personal powers or to craft enchantments…

Of course, he was used to “money” being a measure of economic output and activity, while half the civilizations of the Manifold used some sort of resource-based coinage (usually only valuable locally) where they didn’t use barter or some even more bizarre standard…

Oh dear! Did “money” convert so freely and easily because it was purely belief-based anywhere you went to begin with?

They were right! Too much exposure to the Manifold DID lead to you questioning your faith!

His fiancee had made a shrewd guess though; that WAS a great deal of money either way… About a hundred years of a fairly good salary… Oh! Of course! Kevin owned Kadia outright, and was simply giving her a high-end pass to the local facilities.

He still wasn’t entirely used to that, or to owning his own universe either.

Come to think of it…

(Marty) “Speaking of pocket dimensions, want to visit mine while we’re in this one?”

That might be bit much, but it was sink or swim today! At least they hadn’t set a date yet…

(Fenwick) “Perhaps a bit much given we just met. But this place here seems like a nice place to get to know each other for now. Maybe after we set a wedding date perhaps?”

(Marty) “All right. Where do you want to go first?”

(Fenwick) “Perhaps some of those rides? The spinning ones look rather amusing!”

She seemed to be eying the teacup ride – an old classic, but always a favorite!

(Marty, heading in that direction with her)  “Good choice!”

Raphael’s divinations showed… enormous amounts of power, most of it disordered, a lot of it totally uncontrolled, constantly flowing in and out over the links with the Thralls, dark energies wrapped up in multiple levels of reality, five simultaneous identity-overlays / existences, godfire, mana, psychic energies, the usual Manifold soul-links, magical energies, and hundreds of thousands of soul-links.

All of it bound together in a cage of… contracts and self-imposed rules that looked to be entirely improvised.

It was like standing next to a antimatter-containment system that had been lashed together out of whatever junk had been found ready to hand! Was there anything restraining that powerstorm from breaking free except sheer willpower? The support and belief of his Thralls perhaps?

Still… the boy was obviously a living power nexus – and that meant that the information he needed was in there somewhere, even if the analysis of the mess would obviously take weeks barring some miraculous insight. It was a worthy challenge! And it looked like Kadia had almost unlimited unused computer resources available… He could afford to run all the simulations he wanted and reserve his own computer resources for checking out the possibilities that looked promising!

Kevin abruptly grinned. Teacup rides? He doubted that Ms Fenwick – or Marty – would really be aware of it any time soon, but a little private bowl-shaped nest to cuddle up in together would appeal to some pretty basic instincts in a couple of courting parrots…

(Marty) “So how do you like Angkor’s pocket dimension?”

(Fenwick) “The realm is impressive… Did he actually shape the whole place on his own?”

(Marty) “Yes he did! On his first try too.”

(Fenwick) “Well, he certainly put enough entertainment into it… Does it serve any other purpose than hosting parties?”

With the preliminary analysis up and running, Raphael sent off one of his robots to try and get a look at one of Cyrweld’s local heartstones – shifting it to look like a common psicrystal to be a bit less intimidating. What with the two at the gate and the two who were guarding his transport that only left him with one in reserve at the moment. He might have to pay to join a guild to get a look at their heartstone of course, but that was pretty trivial…  Most guilds kept their Heartstones locked up and well-warded. After all, they were what made them a guild – and they were VERY expensive.

Well, he could try a younger guild and offer them a proposal on upgrading their heartstone – and perhaps improving their hearthstone creation procedures.

(Marty) “It’s his home and base of operations, too. Most people don’t have a billion other people running around their home, but there’s more than enough room for privacy.”

Should he avoid all the gates and being the center of an interdimensional trading – and slave trading – operation for the time being? She was certainly insightful enough to pick that up from “Martin” and “Angkor’s” professions and the sheer amount of goods that they’d just put on the market.

Oh well. The slave-trade was a very small part of the overall trade and rescue operations, and it wasn’t like HER city didn’t have one too. She probably wouldn’t have any trouble with it. After all, in her universe most of the slaves were kidnaped, rather than being given contracts and a free decision up front…

Still, he didn’t want to string Fenwick along for too much longer!

Raphael was wondering where else he could check… Direct comparisons would be best; the local theory and analysis spells weren’t in his database – but Kevin’s powers worked across most of the Manifold, if not in all of it – rather than a very limited set of dimensions. There weren’t many things out there with that kind of range…

Kevin recommended giving it a couple of days at least – but before the wedding. He might want to get her some bodyguards though, and see what kind she’d like.

Marty had to agree with that… There were plenty of Thralls of course… What would she like? Some sort of flyer most likely. Parrots if she was competitive? Hawks and such if she had some feeling that they were predators? Sparrows for quiet and unobtrusive? Oh well, a few Parrots to start with. It would fit in nicely as a default, and they could always shapeshift later on. He’d show her their capabilities.

He also informed Elerra and Minel that – in the next couple of days – their relationship would become strictly professional.  That was likely to last for a while, although he would miss their company at night.

Elerra and Minel were quietly disappointed, even if it might not be a permanent situation.

Back at the main canine party, a moderately powerful Pseudo-Fox had arrived and was claiming to be a “Prophet of Angkor!”. He appeared to be babbling nonsense regarding Angkor’s eventual displacing of the local false deities…

Raphael passed that word on to Kevin immediately. That might need a quick rebuttal – and some through quashing – right away.

Oh joy. They’d have to put a stop to THAT.

Kevin went to sit on him, leaving Marty to continue getting acquainted with his fiancee.

(Raphael) “Do you want me to summon you a 10 ft fall glowing avatar to tell the Prophet no? I can manifest it right behind him and give you mental control!”

(Kevin) “No, no… Lets just see what he has to say first.”

(Prophet) “I speak as a prophet for the God Angkor! He can grant eternal life and vast powers! Mere belief in his power can grant powers unlike any available from your false gods! Repent and give up your false worship!”

(Raphael) “Oh well, it might have been fun… never got to make a avatar to smite someone before.”

(Kevin) “Oh stop that…”

He had the Thralls do a few basic divinations… This was a weak local peasant who had come into a considerable amount of power recently.

(Marty, privately) “A nonthrall follower? That didn’t take very long!”

Drat! Where did the fellow get the idea to worship him? It wasn’t exactly a normal mode around here… After all, the place was full of powerful mages; why would anyone local get the idea to worship him? Was he just VERY vulnerable to high charisma? Oh well.

(Kevin) “I do wish you’d stop that. Tell you what, why not come this way for a few minutes? You can meet some of Angkor’s other followers”.

They shunted him off to the carnival – and had the thralls take him elsewhere to find out where he’d gotten this particular idea; Kevin hadn’t exactly been advertising for followers like this; in fact, he hadn’t even mentioned the possiblity – although Mr Gelman knew about it of course.

(Gelman hadn’t mentioned it in case Marty somehow heard and got ideas – if Marty didn’t already know in the first place).

(Prophet, dramatically as he was steered through the carnival gateway) “God is ascending me into Heaven?! I weep tears of joy! Repent and you too might enter paradise!”

After he left, the rest of the party-goers were giving Kevin some VERY odd looks.

(Kevin) “Oh well! Crazy person off to therapy!”

Raphael had found that quite interesting… There were considerable traces of Kevin’s power on the fellow. Not nearly as intense or binding as it was with the thralls, but there was a strong flow of power nonetheless. Was it actually true that anyone who wanted to serve Kevin got power from him? Without Kevin even knowing it? That could be EXTREMELY troublesome! Had the boy no control at ALL?

Oh well, it was more data for his simulations.

Back at the carnival, Fenwick and Marty were enjoying the Ferris wheel and continuing to get acquainted – although the party was definitely winding down. There were a number of children refusing to return to the party when their parents requested though;  They wanted to take the Contract to avoid returning.

Who’d told them about that?

Oh, they’d asked the computers about ways that they might be able to stay…

Well, that was “No”, unless they’d been of age back in Cyrweld even if they were of age here. Their parents hadn’t consented to this excursion, so the usual rules didn’t apply even if they were of age locally. Their parents could haul them home with assistance of the local thralls and systems if necessary. Hopefully it was more of a “party ending” thing than panic.

They got taken home.

The party wasn’t quite buying the “insane nut needing therapy” line, but was politely accepting it for the moment. The children were being shuffled out of Funland and back to their boring lives back home – albeit with mighty protests.

(Marty) “Alas, fun never lasts. Better that they learn it early.”

(Kevin) “Well, it can for Thralls… I suppose that’s part of the appeal of course… Should I leave a few thralls manning the gate, so that the kids have a permanent recreation area and refuge if things get nasty?”

Oddly, there was one, quiet, late visitor to the party – a pure white she-wolf who seemed to glisten with moonlight – and who was making it known that she would like an audience with Angkor and Martin.

“Martin” escorted Fenwick home before heading off to that. It wasn’t a very long trip; after all, he had wings!

(Kevin) “Ah, good day to you! I was informed that you wished to speak of something?”

(White Wolf) “Greetings! I am sorry to intrude on your affairs. I am an Avatar of Eilistraee. Judging from the powers I sense from you, I presume you are the ones that have been lending assistance to my worshippers?”

Kevin threw up a minor privacy spell

(Kevin) “Ah, yes, we have been providing them with a bit of support. I hope that has been more helpful than offensive? I haven’t run into the situation before, but it seemed like the could use a little help.” (As an aside to Conley) “She’s a goddess from the “Forgotten Realms” place; I don’t know how familiar you are with those regions.”

(Marty, privately) “Yeah, we’ve been helping out her Dark Elf followers. Something’s happened to her. I’m wondering what, if she’s got an avatar running around.”

(Kevin) “It’s no intrusion however; you are quite welcome”

(Avatar) “Indeed, it has been of help, and my faithful have managed to accomplish great things with the aid provided. But unfortunately, they have run into a barrier insurmountable to their abilities alone. The Goddess Lloth, my mother, has erected a barrier around me that prevents me from assisting my followers. While they have slain the guardian that watches over the barrier, they are unable to breach the barrier itself.”

(Marty) “What’s this barrier like? Must be something good to keep a goddess in!”

(Kevin, practically) “And what will it take to break it?”

(Avatar) “I know not the means by which it was constructed, I do know that it defies all means to break it from within using my own power. My followers are unable to penetrate it from without as well. I do know that my mother devoted a considerable amount of her power towards the erection of the barrier. I fear it may take a similar level of power or an exceedingly crafty mind to break it.”

(Kevin) “Ah. Well, we shall have to have a look! I presume you can tell us where it is?”

(Raphael) “Sounds fun!”

(Marty) “Kevin’s pretty crafty, and maybe the two of us together could match your mom.”

Marty and Raphael were checking… This did indeed seem to a projection of some sort – likely a “goddess”, and probably a decent one. There wasn’t any darkness comparable to Kevin’s anyway – and certainly nothing darker.

(Avatar) “I can provide a link through this Avatar. I presume that will suffice?”

(Raphael) “Do you mind if I run some analysis spells on you and your power? I don’t know if I can analyze the barier from here, but I might get some insight.”

Kevin was pretty pleased there! Raphael was quite an expert in a lot of things!

(Kevin) “It should indeed.”

Raphael could determine a number of things… Whatever the barrier was, it blocked divine, arcane, and physical attempts to pass through it. Psionic projections could get through, but the range was atrociously bad; it should be measured in feet from the barriers edge – but it looked like the Avatar had circumvented that limitation by possessing a willing mortal in contact with the barrier. The barrier might well be a reality construct that had warped the Divine Realm of Eilistraee significantly beyond it’s normal limits.

The deity in question was definitely an elven deity though, and the barrier gave a vague impression of silk.

(Raphael) “Interesting, psychic effects can get out… I wonder if the “silk” basis is exploitable.”

(Kevin) “Huh. That’s fairly impressive… Is the link strong enough for active probes, or will that have to wait for going there?”

Unfortunately, the link wasn’t strong enough for active probing. It might well disrupt the link set up for the possession too. Going there was probably the only means of doing any active probing.

(Marty) “We could try breeding a psychic silkworm or something… More seriously, maybe psychic astral projection would do the trick. Think her spirit could get out if somebody bestowed it on her? I mean, she’d need a new body, but if you can make new bodies when needed, Kevin, it shouldn’t be too hard for her.”

(Kevin) “I doubt it… If going astral would do it, she should be able to planeshift freely anyway.”

(Marty) “Yeah, Lloth would’ve thought about that, wouldn’t she?”

(Kevin) “Well, we shall have to come and take a look at it – but at least we can continue aiding your followers in the meantime… I presume the realm and the barrier is associated with the Forgotten Realms proper?”

(Raphael) “Have you tried altering you diving realm with some stronger fire aspect? It might weaken the barrier.”

(Avatar) “I thank you. I understand this is much to ask of strangers such as yourselves, but the other Elven gods and goddesses are unable to reach my realm anymore. And yes, it is associated strongly with the Forgotten Realms proper. Although it also touches upon many others to a lesser extent. Unfortunately, my ability to affect my realm is limited to what my followers are able to accomplish right now. My power are stuck within the barrier.”

(Kevin) “Well, barriers are made to be broken!”

(Marty) “Exactly. Sounds like we need to find some way in and maybe alter your domain that way. Or just break the barrier like Kevin said. Either way’s fine with me.”

(Kevin) “Well, her mother is something of a pain everywhere she puts in an appearance…”

(Marty) “Sounds fun.”

(Kevin) “Might as well frustrate her a bit.”

(Marty) “We could leave a smart alecky message behind.”

(Kevin) “I presume you are currently speaking through one of your priestesses?”

(Avatar) “Indeed I am. This link is being provided by the selfless acts of two of my worshippers. The one before you is a priestess of mine. The other back at the barrier is a recent convert to me from my brother Vhaeraun.”

(Kevin) “I shall dispatch a few assistants for them. There is still some business to handle here, but we should be able to come and see what we can do about the barrier within a week or two. Will that be soon enough? “

He sent dozen thralls that way.

(Avatar) “I thank you for you assistance in this matter and to my followers.”

(Kevin) “Oh, you’re welcome! It’s not as if we’ve been all that much help with the barrier yet anyway!”

According to the Avatar, one to two weeks would be soon enough. Her forces were holding the gateway to her realm and the addition of the thralls to the defense would help matters significantly.

The Wolf Matron would be busy studying things for some time. She was pretty intent on it.

(Kevin) “This is picking up! There may be lots of people looking for us…. And I think that we’ve livened up the party quite a bit!”

(Marty) “More fame for us.”

There was indeed a lot of quiet chattering going on in the background regarding them…

There was a lot of speculation regarding the loonie that they’d managed to attract, what he’d meant by declaring them to be gods, how he’d managed to acquire so many power signs so quickly, who that mysterious visitor who’d seemed to simply glow with a quiet light had been, what kind of mage was able to simply create entire pocket dimensions of such size and scale, questions about what that group wanted  with their city, rumors about them enslaving children, discussions about the artifacts that the children had brought back through the portal, the perceived insult of Angkor hosting another party because he’d gotten bored with theirs…

Kevin was mildly indignant about that! It was still attached to their party, and was for kids… And if they didn’t recognize that they were boring their kids to tears, he had little sympathy for them!

The engagement of Marty, the fact that the other major newcomer to the city had latched onto their group, what their presence might mean with regards to the delegation arriving tomorrow, their interactions with the Eight-And-A-Half-Tails, and more.

Well, they HAD been busy here – and they had more parties to go to too since this one was breaking up! Next up, the Felines and the Rabbits…

Raphael had elected NOT to go to the rabbit party, since he was still new to being a fox that just seemed extra risky – but the Fox clan had always had an odd relationship with the Canine and Feline Clans. Ancestrally, they were very distant relations to the Canine clan. In terms of outlook and bearing, they tended to more closely resemble the Feline Clan, and, though history, had had on and off again alliances with both. A feline invitation to a powerful Fox recently arrived to the city was readily available, especially since it was known that an invitation to the Canine party had already been received.

It had been easy enough for him to pick up an invitation.

Kevin, meanwhile, was checking… would the Canines LIKE having an open gate-refuge that could serve as day care on their grounds?

The guards protested mightily, but the Wolf Matron came down on the side of allowing it until the Head of the Clan could spare a moment for the matter. She did want to assign a few guards at the gateway to track who came and went though – and also to give explanations to parents before letting their children through.

That was fair enough. Kids coming in for the day would continue to get lots of amusement-park tokens. Why not? The usual charges were in hundreth’s anyway (as Abigail had found out), so it wasn’t even “expensive”.

The Hell Chronicles and Alignment-less Templates

Dante and Virgil in Hell

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Here we have an item from Editorial0…

I promised to put up some alignment-less templates, and they are rather fun. Thoth wanted some explanation of their origin, since these at least are all me, and he can’t take the blame this time.

The Hell Chronicles was a strange variant d20 setting with a strong hint of cyberpunk elements. Given the fantasy setting that may make it pre-steampunk. Or Blacksmithpunk. Satanpunk?

The short version is that it’s a d20 game set in Baator, the Nine Hells, or whatever you call your generic Lawful Evil afterlife in d20. Believe me – writing it without hitting any of Wizards’s trademarks was a *pain*. We couldn’t use the words Baator, Nine Hells, Abyss, Blood War, and many others.

In any case, the basic idea was that your hero was either born there, traveled there, got imprisoned there, or for whatever reason was working there. The Marketplace sub-dimension was intended to act as a major campaign hub, being filled with malicious plotters, armies of thugs and murderers, and ridiculous wealth.

Meanwhile, you were pretty well free to blow away any enemy you liked with any weapon you liked. People (demons) might complain and/or put bounties on your head and/or attack you outright for doing it… but the entire dimension was made of solid evil. You weren’t going to make it *worse*. This was helpful because new items ranged from heavy machine guns to cringing slaves bound forever into evil technology.

So there was no lack for adventure and crazy plans, and meanwhile there were all kinds of weird advantages to grab, ranging from insane PrC’s to diabolical cyberware to implanting magic items and spare body parts. It was creepy, insane, and a lot of fun. And I really liked the idea of genteel demonic horrors genially whistling and walking down the street in top hats, twirling canes as they walked by the rows of shrieking damned souls eternally working in the factories and the evil mines*.

*Where they mine for evil, of course.

And yes, a lot of the rules were very strange, and could only have worked in such an odd setting. For example, getting high-quality goods wasn’t a matter of finding the best craftsman. It was about finding the most miserable slaves, because ongoing hellacious agony was what made the best stuff. creating truly special items required equally rare and amazing heart-breaks. And it had to be inner pain. Mere torture was only good for cheap, mass produced articles.

The setting partly involved devils trying to conquer demonic barbarians and “civilize” them with colonies and exploit their resources, and evil corporations and governments competing for power and wealth. Meanwhile your characters could indeed get along rather well, provided they didn’t sign any contracts without reading them VERY closely…

I never finished it because we moved onto other projects, and because as it was shaping up, it just wasn’t going to be a very large book. I always hoped I could return to it, but obviously things just didn’t work out that way. I had to get another job, and well, it didn’t happen.

Now, the Transcendent and Unbound templates were options for characters. You see, everyone got to have one good unusual or exotic trait, which set them apart. It might include having one extremely high attribute or starting with a Prestige Class. The idea was that any starting character could take the Unbound template as their exotic trait, but you had to earn Transcendent status.


Transcendent beings present the Baatezu with something of a problem. The mere existence of these people threatens to undermine the very faith in the entire planar system. The devils are here in perfect agreement with demons, celestials, and most other major outer-planar races. A Transcendent creature or person no longer has a single alignment, but instead contains all of them within herself. Some whisper that these beings are nearing true enlightenment and leaving the universe, while some others just say they’re destroying the fabric of reality. Either way, Transcendence is a problem, albeit one which the devils are not inclined to fight at this time.

Becoming a Transcendent creature is difficult. The character must have held at least three widely divergent alignments and/or codes of conduct and must complete an arduous quest to comprehend her own inner nature, thus unifying all strands of herself into one. Nearly all Transcendent characters are well above 15th level by the time they complete their journey.


A Transcendent being may act any time as if she possessed whatever alignment or alignments would be most beneficial (at the payer’s choice), even multiple incompatible alignments at once. A Transcendent being can wield a holy sword and a murderously evil axe with no alignment-related trouble, can use any alignment-related magic without problems, and cannot change alignment under any circumstances. The character (and player) need not know the exact circumstances, and the fact that he or she had no alignment could be detected through failed Detect Alignment spells. If the character knew the spells were being cast, however, he or she could choose an alignment to emulate and fool the spell.

Such a being might slaughter a village full of pacifists, donate all their worldly goods to a holy order, and then go on a wild drinking spree, before settling in to write a new legal code. Most *don’t* do anything like that – tending toward hermitage and meditation in order to improve their understanding of the universe – but they would suffer no ill effects other than a probable hangover. Any being, including devils, may become Transcendent. Upon death, they probably leave the universe entirely, although they may remain in the form of dreams and visions to guide to living.

(While this is a template, I’m not listing the fact that it changes nothing else about the character. As originally envisioned, it would not have a level modifier: it’s a reward for a long, involved quest and may well see the charcater die, retire, or pass on into another world. In other games, where it might not hold the same meaning, it’s a +1 level modifier template.)


Where Transcendent beings pose a threat, the Unbound are a disaster. They first became known when one of them wound up being tortured for information in Hell; her interrogators assumed they could not detect her alignment because of defensive magic, and were shocked to discover that the individual in question simply did not have any such tie. After studying her and executing her, they attempted to track her soul, but it seems to have simply vanished after entering the astral flow. The Baatezu highly doubt she spontaneously dissipated, and are most unhappy about their ignorance concerning the fates of these beings.

Devils are afraid of them because these creatures, much more so than the Transcended, threaten their entire system. While Transcendent beings must work long and hard to attain “enlightenment”, the Unbound simply exist from birth. If this becomes the predominant feature of the universe, the entire planar system will collapse. Research continues on every subject they can get their claws on, while hunting parties scour parts of the universe searching for answers. Some Devils keep Unbound under their protection, in order to watch them and see what happens.


Unbound have no alignment at all, including True Neutral. They may have similar ties to alien, extra-universal principles or simply run off of an internal moral code. They are simply unaffected at all by any item, spell, or affect that works by alignment. For example, an Unbound cannot not gain or lose experience by reading the artifact tomes for divine casters (such as the Book of Vile Darkness), and cannot be affected by a Cloak of Chaos spell – whether it was cast on her or being used to defend against her. Spells and effects intended to reveal their alignments simply indicate that there is nothing to detect.

Any other effects, such as magic items, tend to treat the character as True Neutral. Intelligent magic items may be confused by the situation, but can decide for themselves whether or not to work for an Unbound character, much as if they were judging the alignment of a normal character.

Unbound cannot be mystically sensed by deities (although any god in range of normal (though often extremely powerful and magically-enhanced) senses can detect them. Such a character cannot change alignment. Such individuals exit the universe after death, or perhaps may choose some other sort of afterlife (such as reincarnation, ascendance to a higher plane of existence, godhood, etc.) although they can be raised if their spirit is still hanging around within reach; unlike those who are linked to the outer planes, there’s nothing pulling them away from the material realm just because their body happens to be dead. Despite appearances, they actually may become clerics and other divine casters; they can have a link to a deity, emotion, or internal force, just not alignment forces per se.

Unbound usually work with an internal or alien code of morals (which need make no logical sense at all), and should develop one in conjunction with the GM. This code need not be consistent with alignment systems, though should be internally consistent; for example, the character might be peaceful, kind, and saint-like when dealing with citizens of one city and horrendously vicious when dealing with foreigners. Alternatively, a character may place great store by goods and resources, and attempt to accumulate them, whether than means honest bargaining or theft and murder.

There is no known way to become Unbound, though it *may* be possible to arrange it if one could permanently break all links to an individual from all the outer planes. Thus far, all Unbound have occurred naturally, if rarely, in various places and species. It is up to the GM whether an individual may start out as or become Unbound, and how common they are. This allows the GM to decide how important they are to the campaign.

(Like the Transcendent, the Unbound breaks the normal rules of the game, and there’s always going to be one strange spell or effect which I can’t anticipate. Still, there’s enough to go by and it should be fun to play one in a campaign. It opens some doors and closes others.

This is a +0 Template. It’s not as useful as the Transcendent and it comes with built-in problems. There are a lot of creatures hunting you. Even the “nicer” planar creatures may consider you a threat to existence and/or feel the need to keep you captive. Fortunately, it’s not easy to find you, either.)

Personally, I had some difficulty seeing quite how this would work. After all, in d20, alignments are detectable and the afterlife is a certainty. If the lower planes were really places of torment, it really didn’t seem like they’d find many  recruits… It seemed more likely – at least to me – that the lower planes were basically an ever-growing pyramid scheme, where the promise was that you had ever-more people below you and a fixed number of bosses above you – so your personal power, authority, and pleasure would always slowly increase, even if the bosses did get on your back occasionally. -Thoth

Dramatic Spell Research and Radius Potions

Tarot card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, al...

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Here we have a couple of questions from Derek regarding The Practical Enchanter.

You have a lot of good stuff for spell design but one thing is missing- failure. I was thinking about failure for psionic power design (ie screwing up one’s own mind) and it hit me that it could be applied to magic (screwing up the unnatural order) as well. Have any ideas on this?

That really comes in two different aspects – designing spells and powers that carry an inherent risk of failure and dangerous failures in the design process. After all, simply failing to produce a usable formula or producing one that doesn’t work properly is already covered in the design process – and if you want to create a spellcaster with risky or unstable magic, you want Eclipse: The Codex Persona rather than The Practical Enchanter.

Spells and powers that carry an inherent risk of failure are easy. For that, you can simply build the Arcanum Minimus effect from The Practical Enchanter into the spell formula. This works just like building in any other metamagical effect but – of course – reduces the level of the resulting spell instead of adding to it. Since you don’t need to know a metamagical feat to design a spell formula with the equivalent effect built in, there’s no problem there.

  • The simplest form of failure is using the “Powers of Chaos” modifier. When such a spell fails it can produce wild magical effects at the game masters option.
  • The “Life Energy” modifier can represent mental damage by simply taking the option for attribute damage and applying it to mental attributes.
  • Finally, for really advanced mental damage, you can use the “Powers of Darkness” option, although you’d probably want to tweak the possible effects a bit.

This means that inherently-flawed powers and spells normally won’t be more than a level or two below the unflawed versions. That’s intentional, simply because letting characters get a hold of spells that are too far beyond their normal abilities – even if they are badly flawed – tends to be overly disruptive.

Now, as far as research failures go, the idea is indeed very classic. On the magical side “Occult experimenter carried off by demons!”, “Explosion in laboratory!”, and even “Accidentally created a monster!” are all standard themes. On the psionic side, fiction about psychics is full of crazed mentalists who probed too deeply into their own minds or tried to use some bizarre power with a heavy pricetag.

There are a couple of problems with that sort of thing in the game though.

The biggest is that our researchers usually aren’t dabblers, or experimenters on the fringes of their fields, or even the equivalent of classical alchemists tinkering with things they don’t really understand*. Most d20 characters doing spell or power research are well-trained professionals in their fields, with plenty of experience, long traditions, and reference works to draw on. Amateurs building bombs in their basements blow themselves up fairly often. Professionals, however, turn out explosive shells, special-purpose bombs, and other munitions by the millions, and accidents are very rare.

*For the “amateurs dabbling in effects far beyond their level of competence” notion in The Practical Enchanter  we have Transmutation Circles or various forms of ritual and ceremonial magic – including “Artifact Creation”, which can reasonably be used to create one-shot unique magical effects (or which can just as easily go drastically wrong). After all, a one-shot magical effect can be looked at as a minor, unstable, artifact made up of it’s ritual components can’t it?

Secondarily, spell and power research is usually a solitary activity. If the party wizard or psion is spending two weeks doing spell research, the rest of the party will generally be doing something else – practicing, being fitted for new armor, attending the local temple, or whatever.

Thus, when something goes wrong, it usually falls into one of two categories.

Most commonly, there are annoyances – burning your eyebrows off, various sorts of damage, minor curses, and so on – that the game master can announce at whim because the party cleric will fix them right up before anything more important happens. Those have no real game effect, and so can be thrown in at whim, with no real system needed.

Less often, there are disasters – being dragged off to hell, life-threatening (or very expensive) fires, going insane for lengthy periods (as opposed to waking up with a hangover and a new tattoo), and so on.

Now the player is going to want his or her researching character to fight disasters. If they’re too much for his or her character to deal with, we’re in “bad roll, you died” territory – which isn’t much fun and seems a bit harsh to be charging the character research costs and time for.

If it’s easy to deal with, we’re back in “annoyances” territory.

If it’s something the character can deal with, but only with serious effort, we have the makings of an exciting scene or mini-adventure – but it’s a personal side-quest which will leave the rest of the players sitting around grinding their teeth. That’s not so good.

To make disasters work, you want the character to know in advance that “this might be trouble!” so that he or she can have his or her friends standing by to help. What’s more, you’ll want it to be a research step that can’t be broken down far enough for safety. Otherwise the researcher could just try out components that are individually too weak to cause serious problems.

Ergo, we’re looking at a research component that is large, complex, unpredictable, and which cannot be broken down and still work.

That sounds almost like you’re dealing with a living thing doesn’t it?

Thus the high-end “Assistance” options on the research table. If you want to take risks in your research, just drop one of those modifiers in – say, you get some friends in to back you up and use a ritual to call up a dangerous (and perhaps more-or-less abstract) entity to consult – and deal with that entity. That way, if things go seriously wrong, all the players can be involved in dealing with it. You don’t want to take such risks? Your research will be safer, but considerably harder and more expensive.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily represent inner confusion and the possible abstract perils of a miscast, partially-designed, supernatural effect as well as it might in all cases – but it is dramatic, playable, and potentially involves everyone at the table in a reasonably plausible fashion – which may be the best that can be done in that situation.

What would should the modifier be for a potion in the form of smoke that affects everyone who inhales it (say a 25′ diameter cloud with a single round duration)?

Sadly, this one isn’t really a job for enchantment as such. The problem here is twofold:

First up, it’s simply that spell storing effects – whether they’re wands, potions, or whatever – don’t change the spell effects. You put in a fireball, you get a fireball. Put in a fireball with some weird modifier, you get a fireball with the same weird modifier back. It’s not really the job of spell storing to modify spell effects.

Secondarily, as a flat cost, such a modifier would have some fairly unbalanced effects. If you applied it to Cure Light Wounds would the injuries return after one round? How much more would “True Strike” on a company of bowmen for one round be worth than “Longstrider”?

True Strike would be invaluable; +20 isn’t a guarantee of hitting, but it’s not far from it either. A single such potion that would let thirty guardsmen with crossbows take down some pretty major menaces.

Longstrider, one the other hand, would be a lot less useful.

In this case you’ll probably want to either modify the spell formula (probably the best option), apply suitable metamagic to the spell before it’s stored, or find a way to modify the stored spell while it’s being released – such as with the “Add Metamagic” effect*.

Optionally, you could build an intelligent device which could cast it’s own “add metamagic” effect when a stored spell went off. That would be a mere 12000 GP for a small unlimited-use “add metamagic” spell which added one level of a chosen metamagic to a spell of up to level three when it went off and another 1000 GP for a rank-0 spirit to activate the thing. Personally, I’d pick “Elemental Manipulation”. That way that Fireball wand could throw any kind of elemental blast you wanted – among many other options.

Alternatively, you could use the “Alchemic Mist” spell from the Alchemy spell list. That works for some things, but – sadly – won’t work on magic potions. It does work nicely on poisons and drugs and such 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.

Package Deals – the Sarkari Order

Fire-Three-Section-Staff 2

Image by Tsuki-chama via Flickr

The Sarkari Order is dedicated to the gathering of wisdom and ancient lore. To this end, they train their initiates in mnemonics and self-defense, so that they can memorize whatever wisdom they may uncover and bring it quietly home, to be poured into the great pools of memory from which the order draws.

One of their most basic tests is the mastery of the Sarkari Staff – a complex bit of engineering incorporating a good many hidden mechanisms and a bit of daily magic to keep the whole thing in good order and operating smoothly.

Once a Seeker has mastered his or her staff – each with it’s own, unique, combination of grips and studs used to activate its functions – he or she has demonstrated the mnemonic skills and powers of concentration he or she will need throughout his or her career. After all, the studs are all superficially identical – and so actually controlling such a staff in combat is a considerable challenge.

  • A typical Sarkari Staff’s weapon modes include Staff, Nunchaku, Bladed Staff , Spear, Three-Sectional Staff , Staff and Chain, Hooked Pole (also useful for climbing), Pole Axe, Lance, and  Pike. All such weapons are masterwork, and the ability to switch between them quickly provides a +2 bonus to the user’s attacks.
  • A typical Sarkari Staff’s special mechanical functions – and the number of “shots” available for each before reloading – include: firing a heavy crossbow bolt (1), firing a pellet of some type (6), firing a pellet of some other type (6), spraying some sort of liquid (3), electrifying the ends of the staff (or the blade or blades of other weapon modes), firing a grapnel and line (1) or rewinding that line, extending forcefully (Str 24, 3 uses before the springs need rewinding, also provides a large bonus to jumping), and spraying burning oil in a 10′ cone (3).
  • A typical Sarkari Staff’s magical functions are very limited. It can cast three cantrips per day from the following list: Shield (blocks six points of damage), Flash, Deflect (deflects one arrow or thrown missile), Tao Chi Wheel (provides a brief Shield effect), Ten Thousand Staves (a multiple-strike illusion, which makes an attack almost impossible to block), Microkinesis (on the staff only, allowing the user to hurl it long distances, set it aside and call it, or manipulate the grappling line), and Balancing.

In Eclipse, the Sarkari are represented with a package deal…

  • Seeker of the Way: Exotic Weapon Proficiency/Sarkari Staff, Specialized/requires a great deal of practice to master any particular Sarkari Staff, Corrupted/marks the user as a Sarkari Seeker, who may know very valuable secrets (2 CP).
  • Harvester of Wisdom: Double Enthusiast, Specialized in Skills for double effect (provides 4 SP), Corrupted/only usable for Knowledges (4 CP) with Adaption (changing a skill point allocation only requires 1d4+1 hours, Specialized/only for Knowledges, 1 CP)  plus Immunity/the restriction against using points from Enthusiast to buy Specific Knowledges (Uncommon, Minor, Major, Specialized/requires a creditable source or having taken a particular specific knowledge before, 1 CP).
  • Mnemonic Training: Immunity/the requirement for study time when investing an enthusiast point in a specific knowledge of a view that the user is currently looking at – such as a particular city view or map, an inscription or picture, or the appearance of a group of creatures (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 1 CP).
  • Sarkari Seeker: Privilege/member of the Sarkari Order: is granted a free Sarkari Staff, access to the Pools of Memory (allowing access to many ancient secrets while at the chapterhouse), and gains a modest salary – enough to support normal travel and living (3 CP).

The Sarkari are gatherers of wisdom. They will seek out – and, if necessary, rescue, great teachers and sages, gather (or at least try to study) rare tomes, hoard secret names, record ancient myths, and preserve rare maps. While they are not necessarily ritualists or magi, they are well suited to such paths – and do often follow them.

On the other hand, they are targets. Anyone seeking some occult secret, ancient ritual, or other bit of obscure information – especially terrible secrets that no one should have – will turn to the Sarkari. Worse, occasionally one of them will stumble across some terrible corrupting secret, or fall to temptation, or commit the Necronomicon to memory, or some such – and his or her fellows will have to deal with that.

Federation-Apocalypse Session Timeline IV

 To help everyone keep track of the sequence of events in the Federation-Apocalypse game, here’s the timeline so far. Note that this is in-game time, which has been running a great deal slower than real-world time since the prequels.


  • -2 Years: Raphial begins major research in augmenting cybernetic systems with magic.
  • -4 Weeks: The House of Roses becomes aware of Kevin’s status as an Opener, and begins making offers of recruitment.
  • -3 Weeks: Raphial becomes a House of Roses operative as part of a cooperative arrangement with the New Imperium. Marty arrives in Core Earth New York City, and begins a tour of Earth.
  • -2 Weeks: John Jack arrives on Core Earth Scotland, and defeats a small Dalek Invasion. Marty assists. Both are soon contacted by the House of Roses.
  • -1 Week: Benedict arrives in Core Earth London, and attracts considerable attention. Jarvian Mitchell also arrives in England, but initially assumes that he’s in potentially hostile territory and hides in the park.

Week 01: Teams initial mission to Greenweld. Kevin recruits 3 Thralls. The Firestorm Meme infects Core. Samples of both Praetorian and Anoptic Battle Technology are obtained.

  • Major Characters: M, Dr Vu, Michelle Wingates, and Spellweaver / Adrian Mercati, Thrall-Recruits: Daniel, Gerald, and Bard.
  • Major Factions: The House of Roses, Ourathan Alien Robots, Neanderthals (not yet revealed).
  • Major Plot Elements: Firestorm Meme, Praetorian Nanites, Anoptic Broadcast Node
  • Major Realms: Core (Earth, Greenweld), Crusader, Highway, The Colonial Era.

Week 02: Jarvian joins the team. The House of Roses discovers something of how powerful Kevin’s Thralls are, and begins to investigate. The House – and several other major organizations – are attacked by the Anoptics via the Firestorm Meme, but they are easily beaten back. Raphial cracks the singular nanite coding. Second Mission: Investigating Singular. Intrigues of the Underdark. John Jack quarrels with the team and departs.

  • Major Characters: Ilthulsin the Exile, assorted possible Thrall-recruits and badly damaged children. Various local characters in the Underdark. The Backup Team and a strange Kobold.
  • Major Factions: The Adventurer’s Guilds. Various minor factions in the Underdark.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Silmaril of the Earth
  • Major Realms: Catacomb, Coral, Faerun/The Underdark.

Week 03: Into the Negative Zone. The group arrives in the Negative Zone, hooks up with the Arrancar, and begin patching things up – a lengthy project – while heading for the exit.

  • Major Characters: King Arthur (Version I), the Arrancar, Dimentio / Shyan
  • Major Factions: The Hollows (a.k.a “The Devourers”), The Oracle Archonia
  • Major Plot Elements: The Haven, a.k.a “The Citadel of the World’s End”.
  • Major Realms: The Negative Zone

Week 04: Traversing the Darkness: The group continues improving the Haven and healing the Arrancar.

  • Major Characters: Revan mentioned.
  • Major Factions: None introduced.
  • Major Plot Elements: Assorted training (an easy excuse for later ability purchases).
  • Major Realms: None introduced. In the Negative Zone.

Week 5: Studies in the Zone. The group continues studying exotic abilities in the Negative Zone.

  • Major Characters: The Hellstorm
  • Major Factions: None introduced..
  • Major Plot Elements: The Hellstorm and Kevin’s Contract with it.
  • Major Realms: None introduced. In the Negative Zone.

Week 6: Escaping with the Hellstorm. Revan’s Archives. The Sith Planet / Tomb Archive.

  • Major Characters: The Second Emperor, the Inquistor, Darth Plageous, the Newly-freed Hellstorm.
  • Major Factions: Both sides of the Singularity War. The Jedi and Sith, The Singular Robots, and the Neanderthals (Revealed).
  • Major Plot Elements: The Tomb and Revan’s Archives, a “Manifold Map” (a minor relic which enhances dimensional navigation and lore skills), the Silmaril of the Air.
  • Major Realms: The New Imperium, Classic Star Wars, The Plague and Disaster Realms.

Week 7: Recruiting at Baelaria, Marty sets up his offices in Core. Visiting Singular and the Gravesite. The House obtains details on Kevin’s Contract and Thrall-Capabilities. Third Mission: find out what’s going on in Baelaria.

  • Major Characters: New Thralls, The Mirage, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • Major Factions: The Mages Guild of Baelaria.
  • Major Plot Elements: AI’s.
  • Major Realms: Singular and Baelaria.

Week 8: The Battle Realms, Rescuing the Singularites, Business Negotiations and Baelaria Again. Mages Guild dig is closed down, group moves into Baelaria and begins to establish itself.

  • Major Characters: Arxus, the Elder Wingates (Generals Martin and Martha),
  • Major Factions: The Men In Black, the Clans (a minor faction of the Battletech Realms).
  • Major Plot Elements: Singular Nanite Technology, Wellstone, Voidstone, the Ebon Hawk, and the Soulless Ones.
  • Major Realms: Battling Business World and The Battletech Realms.

Week 9: The Baelarian MageWar, Disappearances at Hogwarts, Under Londinium. The group concludes the battle against the mages guild and begins the investigation into the disappearances at Hogwarts.

  • Major Characters: Jaiden, Vekxin, Alexander Matthington and Ariana Wingates (Praetorians), Paul Malfoy, Dumbledore, Lingering Smoke.The Minister of Magic, Magus Hutchins, and “The Outsider”.
  • Major Factions: Vekxin and has Agents, The Commonwealth, Local Baelarian Factions.
  • Major Plot Elements: Missing Kids from Hogwarts, Anti-Manifold Reaction in Core, the Rosary of Memory, The Sunwell and the Secondary Wells, Three Praetorian Chassies.
  • Major Realms: Baelaria and Hogwarts.

Week 10: Concluding the Baelarian Mages War, The Block Party, Clearing out Trade Routes, Experiments, Skiing in Tibet, Meeting with the Military. The group finishes eliminating most of the Bealarian Mages Guild and celebrates with the locals, dispatches Thralls to run various experiments, and visits Core to consult with various factions.

  • Major Characters: Merlin, Snyder (a mage working for Merlin), Chief Battlemage Kelsier, Taraq the Mobster, a Knight of Grodd, and Colonel Knightly. Arxus taken.
  • Major Factions: The Commonwealth, the Baelarian Military, and the Core Military.
  • Major Plot Elements: The House begins recruiting for Kevin, Kevin begins assigning Thralls to the Core Military (in hopes of getting them to recruit for him).
  • Major Realms: Baelaria, Castle, Samurai Jack World, Pictsome (a semi-abandoned planet with an approaching supernova wavefront in Core), and Core Earth.

Week 11: Lost to timeslip for the player-characters. Vekxin begins military-style attacks in the Underdark. Kevin’s Thralls set up defensive positions in his absence. Experiments begun on Arxus.

Week 12: Lost to Timeslip for the player-characters. Thralls put Faerun-Castle-Baelaria trade route into operation. The Singularites on Ealor send a delegation to Core Earth and open for business with the New Imperium.

Week 13: Lost to Timeslip for the player-characters. The House of Roses traces the timeslips to attempts to apprehend Vekxin: evidently he has powerful backers. ATE begins Operation: Cauldron.

Week 14: Lost to Timeslip for the player-characters.

Week 15: The Nuclear Bandit War, Jyhad, Repairing the Mirage, Visiting The House and Core Military, Curing Vekxins Recruits, Through Star Wars to Thriss. A Consultation with Computers. The group has to take time out due to Jarvain’s using nuclear weapons at close range, so they take time out to talk to the House and the Core Military (and provide them with some Thralls) before investigating the computer systems and starting their own plans to move Pictsome.

  • Major Characters: Yoda, The Dark Mirror, and assorted Storm Troopers.
  • Major Factions: The Ouratha, the House of Roses, the Core Military, and The Embassy (a group negotiating with the Ouratha).
  • Major Plot Elements: Timeslips, Vekxin attacks, Anti-Vekxin Broadcast Recorded, The Central Authority, and teh creation of Kadia.
  • Major Realms: Samurai Jack World, Baelaria, Dagobah, The New Imperium, Thriss (An abandoned core colony world), Kadia (Kevin’s personal realm).

Week 16: Dating in the Dragonworlds, Collecting Thralls, Moving Pictsome. Kevin discovers that he has a rival in the Dragonworlds, and starts making plans to deal with her, while Marty declares a business holiday so that the Thralls can be used to help move Pictsome. On Pictsome, the group teams up with Ryan O’Malley to open a planetary gate.

  • Major Characters: Ryan O’Malley, the Imperial Inquistor.
  • Major Factions: ATE, the Core Military.
  • Major Plot Elements: Planetary Gates are demonstrated practical, various Core organizations become aware of just how much power – and how many Gatekeepers – ATE and the group control.
  • Major Realms: Pictsome (supernova-threatened mostly-abandoned core earth colony world).

Week 17: The Rosary of Memory, Bribery and Balrogs, City of Ellistraee, Asault on Turwin and Mecha Debates, Recruiting NeoDogs, Staffing Kadia, the Mind Flayer City, Assault on BBW London. The group travels to the Underdark in pursuit of the Rosary of Memory – or at least of setting up a fake to trap Vekxin – and actually find the thing. Along the way, they pick up an ensouled Balrog, rescue a bunch of Dark Elves, collect many Neodogs to staff Kadia and open a pilot meme-curing project, and provide the Balrog and many orcs with a transfer to Battling Business World.

  • Major Characters: Vekxin’s Servants (220 recovered), Dhoul (magus of Elistraee), Presnell (Mercenary Mage), NeoDog Thrall-Recruits, Recovering Arxus, Jamie Wolfie (replacement character for Jarvain, who is entering treatment for alcholism), Kelseru Ana’Nasu (dragoness), the Balrog, and the Singular Medical Community.
  • Major Factions: The House of Roses, the Dark Elves, the Moon Elves, the Sun Elves, and the Priestesses of Lloth.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Rosary of Memory, the One Ring (still in the posessian of a Thrall), and the Mind Flayer Archives.
  • Major Realms: Ealor, Turwin (a modest world in the Battletech realm), the Underdark, and Battling Business World.

Week 18: Home Bases. Marty returns to Battling Business World to see how the Balrog is adjusting, trains Limey, and begins a Core advertising campaign. Jarvain remains in Rahab. Jamie is in the hospital. The people of Ealor are discussing Kevin and his Thralls. Kevin seduces Kelsaru the Dragoness, continues the NeoDog purchasing project, and puts the meme-treatment project fully underway. The group then departs for the Linear Realms in search of the secrets behind the weaponized memes and discover Walkins, a meme-engineer and religious nut.

  • Major Characters: Limey the Laptop, Mr Leland, Kelsaru the Dragoness (due to clutch in about three months, will hatch six months after that), Abigail (Marty’s wife), The Mirage (now learning to deal with its memories of prior human lifetimes), and Walkins.
  • Major Factions: Amarant Solutions and the Neanderthals.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Conway Contract and the Weaponized Memes.
  • Major Realms: Battling Business World, Ealor, The Linear Realms.

Week 19: The group traces the origins of the Weaponized Memes through the Linear Realms and prevents assassination attempts on those with knowledge of them before moving Drs Turner and Faulkner to Kadia for safety. The Core Earth Military adjusts to employing Thralls as special agents. The group intervenes in a massed attack on the Linear Realms FBI and Dr Samson and discover that the people of Singular are – somehow – involved with the Linear Realms. Amarant Solutions sets up additional offices as business in Core expands.

  • Major Characters: Doctors Walkins, Turner, Faulkner, Samson and Isane (meme researchers), Director Myagi (a Linear Realms FBI director), President MacArthur (a refugee from Singular).
  • Major Factions: The Neanderthals, the House of Roses, The Core Earth Military / The Department of Mysteries, the Linear Realms Government.
  • Major Plot Elements: The House of Roses begins recruiting Thralls (and thus gains access to 150 more of them), the basic science behind the Meme Weapons is revealed.
  • Major Realms: Core Earth, the Linear Realms, and Kadia (where the research project is set up).

Week 20: Kevin begins mass-recruiting sweeps in the Linear Realms. The Linear Realms begins taking countermeasures against the meme-weapons and saboteurs. Based on interrogations of the saboteurs in the Linear Realms, an attack is launched on their base – but the group winds up being diverted to the Five Worlds after releasing/recruiting a Praetorian. Finding that the place is run by psychotic madmen, they arrange to strip-mine the realm of souls via treaty (despite an attack by Sam-Sei, the Machine Master) before returning to the Linear Realms to assist in setting up support operations and the defense there.

  • Major Characters: Mr Myagi, the High Lord, the Machine Master, and a Praetorian.
  • Major Factions: The Neanderthals, the Federated Americas, and the Fey.
  • Major Plot Elements: An assortment of Artifacts and Realms from the Rosary of Memory, Thrall recruiting goes exponential.
  • Major Realms: The Linear Realms, the Five Worlds, the Living Galaxies, and Crusader.

Week 21: The group takes a flying trip to Crusader to deal with a minor emergency in Metropolis and discover that the realm is destabilizing. Unfortunately, the investigation into what the Neodolphins are up to goes nowhere, although the archive investigations have revealed the presence of the Disease and Disaster realms. Amarant Solutions sets up branch offices across much of Core and in many Manifold Realms. Kevin sets up a colonization project, a soul-mapping scheme, and a computer-analysis project, as well as a campaign to give the NeoDogs in Core anthropomorphic forms. Marty investigates Kevin’s background and sets up a birthday party for his daughter in the Sesame Street Realm. On the more active front, the group assisted with the defense of the Linear Realms and followed an attack group back to Singular – where the survivors were being used as cats-pawns. The group evacuated the singular survivors to Ealor, and set to work on getting the forensics people in to gather clues. Kevin takes Eogam (his son) and goes to see his parents, persuading them to visit Kadia. The group spends some time knocking about Kadia, where Kevin decides that he LIKES being a parent – and promptly (as usual) goes overboard for it.

  • Major Characters: Commander Johnson (of the Linear Realms), Abigail, Julie, the cast of Sesame Street, the Big Bad Wolf, Chief Engineer Chu Taiking, Eogam, and Roulan and Adrain (Kevin’s Parents).
  • Major Factions: The Neanderthals, The Neodolphins, Merlin and Company.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Praetorians, technological dimensional travel, the singularites, an analysis of a Core Computer to find out where it was getting updates and directives from,
  • Major Realms: Sesame Street, Core, the Linear Realms, Singular, Ealor in the New Imperium.

Week 22-24) Having persuaded Kevin’s parents to take a long vacation in Kadia and accept some bodyguards, the group headed off to the Founding Jedi Academy (and a visit to Kevin’s little brother), after which they temporarily broke up. Marty took a couple of weeks off with Jamie in the Living Galaxies (where they spent some time with the NeoDolphins) and on the High Seas (where they did some pirating and recruited a crew of werewolves). Kevin spent the time getting his phantasm-offspring disciplined and setting a training program into motion for them in the Dragonworlds – as well as getting his personal fatherhood-project underway. They wound up with a visit to Cardinal Handel, to discuss Kevin’s activities with the Unified Church. It didn’t exactly approve, but wouldn’t fight him.

  • Major Characters: Jedi Master Tindale, Thomas (Kevin’s younger brother), assorted NeoDolphins, Limey, Abigail, Kelsaru, and Cardinal Handel.
  • Major Factions: The Jedi Orders, Amarant Solutions, the NeoDolphins, the Squirrel Conspiracy, the Unified Church.
  • Major Plot Elements: Kevin’s attempts to legalize his recruiting in Core.
  • Major Realms: Kadia, the Living Galaxies, the Dragonworlds, the High Seas, the Napoleonic WereWorld, Core Earth.

Week 25-26: The discussion with the Cardinals provided some details of what worlds were being attacked – and the group decided to head for one stealthily (by the seas of the manifold) rather than attempting to force a gate through the barriers. Unfortunately, this required a run through the Straits – another crossroads realm, but one that several naval powers were currently fighting for control of – and the Storm at the Worlds End. It got messy before they arrived at the Crusader Kingdoms and found them devastated. There might be holdouts at Jerusalem though – so they headed there as quickly as they could.

  • Major Characters: Cardinal Handel, Oshann (Kevin’s oldest Thrall), Captain Rata, A’ikana (a new player-character joining the group), Limey, Kevin’s Parents, a pair of Dragons from Excession, Captain Ramius, and Jason Custone
  • Major Factions: The Unified Church, the Neanderthals,
  • Major Plot Elements: The War of Souls.
  • Major Realms: Core Earth, Kadia, the High Seas, the Straits, the British Empire, the Storm at the End of the World, and the Crusader Kingdoms.

Week 27: The group arrives at Jerusalem only to find it under siege by three hundred Death Knights and a hundred thousand lesser undead. They break through the lines to get in and set to work gathering information, resupplying the city and dealing with the disruptive elements within it (such as Dr Lichstein). Kevin, of course, uses the same strategy he always does – recruiting Thralls. The Silmarils intervene on the side of the defense as well. Back in Core, Jarvain – now that he’s out of alcoholism treatment – deploys his Cadets in the Battletech realm in aid of his old house (albeit more as an unexpected allies than as subordinates). That way they’ll be able to gain some actual battle experience in the Battletech universe. In Kadia, communications are opened with the Update Authority for the Core Computer Network, and a study on the core acceptability of Kevin’s Thrall-Pact is implemented – although this does not alter Kevin’s schedule of press releases on the subject or his attempt to spread the information far and wide. On Ealor, a group of children who were displaying strange powers are taken into custody by Child Protective Services. While such powers – linked with an interest in Kevin – are appearing in Core, Faerun, and other places, only in Ealor has the response (at least as yet) been quite so hysterical. In the Dragonrealms, Kevin’s Hatchling-School is fully open for business.

  • Major Characters: Death Knights, Jurin Hans (Knight-Lord of the Knights Templar), Dr Lichstein, The Round Table Council, Assorted Dragons.
  • Major Factions: The Neanderthals, the Army of Death, the People of Jerusalem, the Unified Church. The Update Authority.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Disaster Realms, The Singularites, The Silmarils.
  • Major Realms: The Crusader Kingdoms, Core, Battletech, Kadia, Ealor in the New Imperium, and the Dragonrealms.

Week 28: The primary group continues to build up their forces against the army of the dead besieging Jerusalem, improves the cities defenses, and investigates the Gate to Eden which was supplying the water. A series of battles and a final defense of the Temple mount destroys the undead horde – and leads to a confrontation with Death, his subversion to the Core side of things, and his being placed in the custody of the House of Roses, the Unified Church, and the Core Earth Military. On Ealor, a group of the Singularites children escape from Child Protective Services – and a call for a search and rescue group is placed to Amarant Solutions. In Kadia, Kelsaru organizes Kevin’s business arrangements and trade systems, as well as associating with Kevin’s parents and organizing the recruitment efforts – since the candidates are now arriving by the tens of thousands. In the Anthropomorphic worlds, the Thralls are setting up recruiting systems. In Core, they have finished purchasing all the available property-class Neodogs – although they had long since been reduced to individual negotiations. In many other places, the War of Souls is spreading across the Manifold. The Thralls of Amarant Solutions go on a mass-rescue mission to Coruscant, and pull it off. In Battling Business World, Mr Gelman discovers the existence of the Manifold, explores Kadia with his family, and battles the Neitzchian. Secondarily, Abigail investigates the squirrels, determines that they are – indeed – people, visits Kadia, and hooks up with Gelman. Unfortunately, she concludes that Marty and Kevin may be a danger to Julia, and begins legal action to bar his visitation. In the Linear Realms Rameraz encounters Doctor Brenner, the criminally insane surgeon, and rescues some children from him.

  • Major Characters: The Round Table Council of Crusader Kingdoms Jerusalem, Kelsaru, The Guardian of Eden, Thawban, The Horseman of Death, Tomlin (Marty’s Old Self), Puck, Gelman and Ruth, Corrigan and the Balrog of Moria, Abigail, Julia, and the Squirrels, Rameraz and Doctor Brenner, and Maegoren the Death Knight.
  • Major Factions: The Men in Black, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Numbers, and the Neitzchian.
  • Major Plot Elements: Kevin’s Parents, The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Ark of the Covenant, the War of Souls.
  • Major Realms: Crusader Kingdoms, Kadia, The five Worlds, Battling Business World, the New Imperium and the Old Empire.

Week 29: Marty has a mid-life crisis, collects a harem, confronts Gelman, goes to visit Faerun, and negotiates with the Drow for his children. Kevin corrects a bad contract, punishes Ikeran (one of his Thralls) for setting it up, sets down rules for slave-trading, and returns to the Dragonworlds to deal with challengers. Gelman has an interview with Kevin, accepts that he – like all humans – holds both of light and darkness, and signs on to help organize his operations. In Core, Death is debriefed – and a variety of useful bits of information are obtained both from him and from other sources. In the depths of Faerun, Vekxin is cornered – although it’s going to take even more time to grind through the last of his defenses. In Battling Business World, Corrigan educates the Balrog of Moria on the value of humanity.

  • Major Characters: Mr Gelman, Ikeran, Rameraz, Dr Brenner, Marty’s staff and upcoming children.
  • Major Factions: The House of Roses, The Unified Church, The Core Military.
  • Major Plot Elements: The (Perpetual) Drow Godswar, The Dragon School.
  • Major Realms: Core, Kadia, the Dragonworlds, The Linear Realms, Battling Business World, and Faerun.

Week 30: Marty gets over his midlife crisis (and retires the harem), spends some time reviewing Kevin’s reforms (and finds them acceptable) as well as reviewing the information that had been acquired from Death so far. Perhaps unfortunately, he also finds himself considering hiring the Nazghul as lawyers to represent him in Abigail’s child-custody case. Kevin engages in mass recruiting, starts setting up planetary rescues for worlds in danger from the ring nova, distributes reinforcements to several worlds, puts some “rights” into his contract, and introduces large numbers of anthropomorphic properties into Core. In Kadia, reports come in of Merlin being involved with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and with the attacks on Singular. Fortunately, the development of the Meme Countermeasures is well underway. In Faerun, the Rosary of Memory is being tapped, Vekxin is cornered and under siege, and the surface drow now have several Thralls working for them.

  • Major Characters: Vekxin, Abigail, Death, Merlin, and Chessaugh.
  • Major Factions: The Update Authority, the Unified Church, the Core Earth Military, The Meme Masters (probably the Neanderthals).
  • Major Plot Elements: The Ring Nova, Marty’s Children, Anthropomorphic Slaves in Core, the Drow Godswar, Merlin, and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • Major Realms: Kadia, Faerun, and Core.

Week 31: Marty returns to Battling Business World with some Crusader Kingdoms observers in tow and fights The MarketShare Wars before finding that penguins are invading and going ahead and hiring the Nazghul to help out with his child custody case. He eventually realizes that the ongoing reality distortions are even affecting Battling Business World. Meanwhile Kevin begins to consider a maintenance plan for the cosmos, attempts to use the Syndicates of the Linear Realms to stabilize the situation there, and takes some Thralls home for a visit to their parents – to find that Core parents seem to find his new-and-improved contract acceptable – and he drops by the “Amish” planet to move it out of the way of the supernova shockwave, which seems to go by without much trouble (albeit likely drawing more attention). The forensic examination of the Singular base is completed, and evidence of Merlin’s involvement deepens, leading to more resources being focused on Merlin and the Commonwealth – as well as on the realm of Inversion. The group decides to go and look for the contacts Master Tindale had recommended that they find – heading off on a route through Crusader, Mystic China, and the Shao-Lin temple to look for the Winter King. Gelman attempts to organize Amarant Solutions Manifold Operations and awakens his Blackberry.

  • Major Characters: The Winter King, Gelman, the Nazghul.
  • Major Factions: The Criminal Syndicates.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Ring Nova, Reality Distortions, Project Midnight Gardener, Singular, and Kevin’s Contract.
  • Major Realms: Battling Business World, Core, the Linear Realms, Mystic China, and Inversion.

Week 32: The groups contact-seeking trip forced them to deal with a giant ninja attacking Tokyo in Crusader, a vengeful haunting in Mythic China, and the Shao-lin. After Recruiting Arthur II and deploying him to the Linear Realms with Thrall and Arrancar backup, they started trying to come up with trade goods suitable for Necropolis. Unfortunately, their trip through the New Imperium-Old Empire Korriban-Necropolis-The Jesus Realms to reach The Terminal Café wound up being diverted by Child Protective Services in Ealor and a Derelict fleet in the Old Empire (which they decided to salvage and transport back to the New Imperium for repairs).

  • Major Characters: The Shao-Lin Elders, Assorted Superheroes and Villains, Darth Vader, King Arthur II an the Arrancar, and the Hoslin Droids.
  • Major Factions: The Singularites (Child Protective Services), the Hoslin, the Shao-Lin and the Sith.
  • Major Plot Elements: Precognition, a Salvaged Battle Fleet, the Hellthunder (reports on), the War of Souls (in the Linear Realms).
  • Major Realms: Crusader, Mythic China, the Linear Realms, Ealor and the New Imperium, and the Old Empire.

Week 33: Jarvain, hoping that the repair time would be long enough for him recruit at least a skeleton crew, takes command of the battle fleet as the group returned to the Old Empire – only to find that it was being slowly devoured by a hyperspace anomaly. Fortunately, the realm would almost certainly reset long before that became a problem, so they headed for Korriban – although the diversion added several days to their trip. Finding that the Hoslin were currently based there, but were being besieged by Imperial Forces, they spent more time evacuating them to the New Imperium-Battletech borderlands. After that, passing through the Tomb Archive, and getting by the Sith Undead to reach the gate to Necropolis was a minor gauntlet.

  • Major Characters: The Hoslin Council and the Hoslin Droids.
  • Major Factions: The Hoslin, the Krul, and the Lords of Necropolis.
  • Major Plot Elements: Korriban and the Tomb Archive, the Hoslin,
  • Major Realms: The Old Empire and the New Imperium.

Week 34: The group’s travels through Necropolis suffered persistent interruptions; they dealt with necromantic rituals on the road, assisted in the defense of a city besieged by the “Krul” (a local form of hostile revenant), brokered a peace treaty, and then set out for the lands of Necrosis, a Dream-Lich – and found even more unpleasant entities along the way.In Battling Business World, Abigail was investigating just how Blackie had been turned into a pet – and wasn’t liking what she found (It’s worth noting that the second part of the latest interlude with Abigail – session 99b – takes place after the groups return from their latest trip).

  • Major Characters: The Vampire Lords, Night Lord Kylar, Necrosis, Abigail, and Blackie.
  • Major Factions: The Krul.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Strangers.
  • Major Realms: Necropolis.

Week 35: The group is entangled in Horse-trading (and enhancing) in the city of Gethrid, travels into the realm of Necrosis (which takes several, surprisingly-uneventful, days), has a psychic confrontation with Hoxin before recruiting him as a guide, and continues towards Necropolis proper. In the Crusader Kingdoms, the remaining city-sieges have been broken by flights of Thralls and the local knights. In the Kuat Shipyards of the New Imperium Ryan and ATE are building the Forgelight – a ship to counter the Hellstorm and Revan – and their continuing assault on the New Imperium and nearby realms. In the Linear Realms, Arthur and the Arrancar have arrived in the Linear Realms and started organizing. In Core, Jamie and A”ikana are working on debriefing Death. In Kadia, Kelsaru has set up high-stakes battle games to deal with the juvenile delinquents – and Ruth Gelman has begun freeing slaves by winning those games.

  • Major Characters: The Vampire Lords of Gethrid, the Nightlord, Hoxin, Ryan, Evanescence, Kelsaru
  • Major Factions: Ryan and ATE, King Arthur and the Arrancar, the Unified Church
  • Major Plot Elements: Death, Revan and the Hellstorm, the Forgelight, and Mysterious Gifts from the Vampire Lords and Nightlord.
  • Major Realms: Necropolis, the Linear Realms, and the New Imperium.

Week 36: The group escapes from Necrosis into the Jesus Realms – where Limey gets an identity chip and is accidently fused with a Thrall in the process. Brendalen the Werewolf stops by for a visit, after which the group goes after, captures, and interrogates Vekxin – learning much about the realm of “Inversion”. Dr Brenner sets sail into the Manifold, opening up new realms for grotesque exploitation. Todd, Abigail, and the Traditionalists are rescued from Lord Zero and Battling Business World. In the process, Lord Zero is temporarily “slain”. King Arthur and Arxus begin political organizing in the Linear Realms.

  • Major Characters: Evanescence, Klass (and some aliens), Necrosis, Columbar Santiago, Limey, Todd, Lord Zero, Abigail, Gelman, Sir Quincy, Dr Brenner, Aslan, King Arthur, Arxus, and Vekxin.
  • Major Factions: Necrosis, the Commonwealth, Inversion, and “God”, King Arthur and the Arrancar.
  • Major Plot Elements: Persona Chips, Reality Storms and Random Gates, False Prophets of Kevin, the Traditions of Battling Business World England.
  • Major Realms: The Jesus Realms, the Forgotten Realms, Battling Business World, the Linear Realms, Kadia, and the Green Galaxies.

Week 37: The group sets out for Inversion with Xellos, traveling past wookies and into the realm of the Rats of NIMH. Outside of the ship breaking down, the crash landing, and a speed-crazed mouse for a pilot through the forests of the wookie homeworld, things are uneventful. In Kadia and Core the Midnight Gardener, Core Acceptance, and Colonization projects were all moving along, despite the interference from Erin, an investigative reporter. Kelsaru clutches. Todd sends Jacob to recover his Pathbooks from Jenkins – despite her new powers – so that he can begin teaching his Paths.

  • Major Characters: Xellos, Kelsaru, Erin, Todd, Jenkins, and Lord Zero.
  • Major Factions: Inversion, the Mazoku Alliance, the Rats of NIMH, and the New Imperium.
  • Major Plot Elements: Xellos and the Darkness, Midnight Gardener, and the Core Acceptance Project.
  • Major Realms: Kadia, the New Imperium, the Talking-Animal Fringes of the Anthropomorphic Realms, Core, and Battling Business World.

Week 38: The group deals with the Yellowstone Supervolcano, confuses the local humans and creatures of NIMH, and travels through a volcanic eruption to reach the desolate realm of Inversion. Dr Brenner survives an assassination attempt and expands his operations – getting himself set up as a Dark Prophet. The NeoDogs run a series of rescue missions into the Linear Realms. Ruth takes up a career as a Liberator of Children in the Linear Realms.

  • Major Characters: Dr Brenner, the Narrator, “God”, and Ruth Gelman.
  • Major Factions: Inversion.
  • Major Plot Elements: Dark Prophets and Inversion.
  • Major Realms: the Realm of NIMH, the National Geographic Realms, Inversion, the Linear Realms and the Green Galaxies.

Week 39: The group discovers that Inversion is a world deep in collapse, with an ongoing war with the moon. Even Xellos finds it dreary. Unfortunately, it turns out that Spellweaver and Michelle Wingates were there – and the group HAD promised to try and bring them back. That led to a short side-trip to the moon, dealing with a hijacking, a series of rescues, a short conference, and appearing at a trial – which shattered Inversion (and led to Kevin developing multi-presence). In Battling Business World, Lord Zero sent Jenkins out into the Manifold – and her first step was to confront Mr Leland, the Balrog of Moria, Lou, and Corrigan, which resulted in their mass relocation to Kadia and her going off on a general rampage. In Lunar Inversion Holly Simmons investigated the group after their meddling – and wound up discussing things with Todd, which gave him much additional food for thought. Gelman went to Core Israel to discuss Kevin – and his spiritual challenges and development – with Rabbi Menasche, a research theologist. In Kadia, Kevin’s parents were investigating his situation – and just HOW he had become infused with such an incredible amount of dark power – and were NOT happy with their results. In the realm of NIMH, the Rats and Humans were forming an alliance. In the face of the powers of the Manifold, their differences were small indeed.

  • Major Characters: Xellos, Spellweaver, Michelle Wingates, “God”, Serah, Jenkins, Mr Leland, the Balrog of Moria, Lou, Corrigan, Holly, Gelman, Rabbi Menasche, Kevin’s Parents, the Number Lords, Animus the Necromancer, Ophelia the Binder, Lacus the Negator, Hubert the Assassin, Renalt the Destroyer, and Cardinal Richars.
  • Major Factions: Merlin and Inversion and the Churches of Core.
  • Major Plot Elements: Singular and the Praetorians, the Number Lords, attempts to guide Kevin.
  • Major Realms: Inversion, Battling Business World, Kadia, and Core.

Week 40: Departing Inversion for the realms of the Neanderthals – and thence to Greenwald – led to the group purging “God” and Serah of the darkness (and letting Xellos get most of it) before reporting back to “M” – who was having troubles dealing with Ryan’s simulacrae. It was resolved to visit the Silmarillion after talking to the Balrog of Moria in search of background information. THAT led to a fight with Ryan’s “Feanor” clone and a semi-nuclear end to the first war of the Noldor. Kevin did manage to acquire Angainor from the Vala though. In the Dragonrealms, the Dragon Emperor was looking into “Ailill’s” operations.

  • Major Characters: Serah, “God”, Xellos, a Neanderthal Elder, “M”, Ryan, the Balrog of Moria, Ryan’s “Feanor” Simulacra, and the Vala of Middle-Earth.
  • Major Factions: The Unified Church, the Neanderthals, and the House of Roses.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Silmarils, Ryan’s Simulacra, Merlin’s Manipulations,
  • Major Realms: Inversion, Core, the Neanderthal Gateway Realm, Kadia, and Middle Earth.

Week 41: The group visited Shehaqim to recruit an angel to help empower the Forgelight, which led to an almost-immediate battle with the Hellstorm and Revan, ending in their destruction – and in Kevin’s temporary disembodyment and Ryan being lost between the dimensions. Upon their return to Kadia, Kevin went into seclusion to heal while Marty discovered a series of shocks from Limey and his Father. In Core, Project Midnight Gardener goes public. In Kadia, Marty’s father Martin had gotten throughly established, set up a casino, and fathered some more kids, while Limey had begun trying to usurp Marty (and was badly in need of some discipline or therapy) and the Traditionalists were investigating Kevin. In the Linear Realms, Dr Brenner had begun testing his limits and expanding into the Green Galaxies. In the Manifold at large, Jenkins was rampaging across the realms – and building up her power.

  • Major Characters: Revan, Ryan, the Emperor Skywalker, Limey, Martin Senior, Todd, Jenkins, Dr Brenner, Anahel the Recording Angel, Kelial the Angel of Guidance, Michael Archangel of War, Menthas Angel of Radiance, Martin’s younger brothers, and Sir Quincy.
  • Major Factions: The Realms of Light, the Hellstorm, ATE.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Hellstorm and the Forgelight, Dr Brenner, Midnight Gardener, and the Number Lords.
  • Major Realms: Shehaqim, the New Imperium, Kadia, Core, the Linear Realms, and the Green Galaxies.

Week 42: While Kevin was recovering from being vaporized, Marty fought in the Penguin-Puffin wars – after which the group set sail for Cyarkian, in the anthropomorphic realms – and promptly came into conflict with the Port Authorities, allied with the Platypuses, bet with the Otters, and attended the theater (where an unknown race of killer quasi-reptiles tried to assassinate them). Meanwhile, Core was running a major investigation of Kevin and Marty’s operations. In Kadia, Child Protective Services showed up from Ealor. In the Linear Realms, Ruth Gelman attacked Dr Brenners operations and discovered Kevin’s ensoulment projects. In the Dragonworlds the Dragon Emperor invited Kevin to an emotionally-disastrous dinner party.

  • Major Characters: Mysterious Assassins, the Core Investigators, Ruth Gelman, Dr Brenner, and the Dragon Emperor.
  • Major Factions: The Core Military, the Dragon Empire.
  • Major Plot Elements: The Core Military, Dr Brenner, the Dragon Emperor.
  • Major Realms: Kadia, Cyarkian, the Linear Realms, the Dragonworlds, and Core.

Week 43: The group kept itself busy in Ciarkian – interrogating a captured assassin, shopping in the markets, playing with transmutation, making some feathered dragons, dealing with mugger-rapists and ferret-pickpockets, a luncheon with the Eight-and-a-half-tails, a trip to Shehaqim to visit Menthas (and to try and fix a magical wound with the assistance of Raphael, Archangel of Healing). Unfortunately, on that same day, that also led to Conley, the Arch-skeptic a trip to the world of tea. purchases of large quantities of books, a magical duel, and an evening at the carnival – despite the Rabbits and Conley’s investigation thereof. The next morning started off with fox-parents investigating Kevin, Marty investigating Kevin’s recent erratic behavior, and the return of Raphael the Technomancer.  Then it was off to parties, where Marty got roped into marriage and Kevin – after being summoned and interrogated about Midnight Gardener by an Ouratha – was further interrogated by a Wolf Matron and set up a private party of his own.

  • Major Characters: Eight-and-a-half-tails, Magical Duelists, Raphael, a Panther Lordling, ELDER Parrots, Ms Fenwick, an Ourathan Elder, the Dragon Emperor, and the Wolf Matron.
  • Major Factions: The Ouratha and the Galactic Community, Merlin and his Assassins (suspected), and the Forces of Light.
  • Major Plot Elements: Assassins, Shehaqim, and the Dragon Empire.
  • Major Realms: Ciarkian, Shehaqim, and Kadia.

At this moment, the group is only two days into Week 43…

Federation-Apocalypse Session Index IV

Theseus fighting the Minotaur by Étienne-Jules...

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Here’s an updated index for the Federation-Apocalpse Session Logs to date, since there are so many that it’s rather hard to keep track of them otherwise.

  1. Session 1: Gathering the group, mission briefing, and setting out.
  2. Session 2: Gating to Greenwald, first Praetorian encounter.
  3. Session 3: Debriefings and Madness Memes.
  4. Session 4: The search for Singular, Into the Underdark.
  5. Session 5: Mind Flayers, Drow, and the Godswar.
  6. Session 6: Shopping with the Drow, Destruction with the Mind Flayers.
  7. Session 7: The Dark Temple and the Negative Realm.
  8. Session 8: The New Imperium and the Tomb Archive.
  9. Session 9: The Moons of Korriban and the Second Silmaril.
  10. Sessions 10-11: The Tomb Guardian and a Break in Baelaria.
  11. Sessions 12-13: Sales Pitches, Singular, the Mirage, and the Mages Guild.
  12. Session 14: The Battletech Wars.
  13. Session 15: Battling Business World and the People of Singular.
  14. Session 16: Trade Negotiations – Singluar and the New Imperium.
  15. Session 17: Business operations on Baelaria.
  16. Session 18: Baelaria, Voidstones, the Mages Guild, and a Holy War.
  17. Session 19: Battle at the Alchemists.
  18. Session 20: Vekxin and Hogwarts.
  19. Session 21: The Crypts of the Baelarian Mages Guild.
  20. Session 22: Assault on Londinium.
  21. Session 23: Beneath Londinium and Into the Guld.
  22. Session 24: The (Mad) Minister of Magic.
  23. Session 25: The Outsider, The Adversary, and Merlin.
  24. Session 26: Aftermath in Londinium and the Crystal Palace.
  25. Session 27: The After-War Party, Minotaurs and Samurai Jack, and Experiments in Core.
  26. Session 28:  Interlude in Core – M and the Military.
  27. Session 29: Not Samurai Jack versus the Minotaurs, the Farmer, and the Bandits.
  28. Session 30: Why not to use nuclear weapons in hand-to hand.
  29. Session 31: Cleaning up – Baelaria, Ealor, and Timeslips.
  30. Session 32: Yoda and the Search for Computer Update Sources.
  31. Session 33: Dragonladies, Mech-Shopping, and Planet Moving.
  32. Session 34: Ryan, Godfire, and Moving Pictsome.
  33. Session 35: Seeking the Rosary of Memory, Moria and the Balrog, Raid Training in Battletech.
  34. Session 36: Recruiting the Balrog of Moria, Into the Underdark, and Stones of Mass Destruction.
  35. Session 36a: Raiding with Child-Soldiers.
  36. Session 37: Return to Ealor, Neodogs, and the Dark City.
  37. Session 38: Leaving the Underdark, Space Battles with Pirates.
  38. Session 39: The Rosary of Memory and Child Protective Services.
  39. Session 40: Counting the Rosary, Jarvain and AA.
  40. Session 41: Guarding the Rosary, the Mind Flayer Archives.
  41. Session 42: The Battling Business World INS, Dating with Dragons, and Singular Investigations.
  42. Session 43: Dragon Dating and the Accounting Department Wars.
  43. Session 44: Into the Linear Realms, Tracing the Madness Memes.
  44. Session 45: It seems there were these two professors…
  45. Session 46: Assault on the FBI.
  46. Session 47: Forging Alliances and Buying Advertising.
  47. Session 48: Tracing Cyborg Assassins.
  48. Session 49: Ambassadors of the Fey.
  49. Session 50: Chaos in Crusader, the Weakening Barriers.
  50. Session 51: Negotiations with the High Lord.
  51. Session 52: The Mad Machine Master.
  52. Session 53: Holographic Warfare.
  53. Session 54: City of the Mind Flayers, Preparations for the Linear Wars.
  54. Session 55: Delving into History. Character Backgrounds.
  55. Session 56: The Birthday Party, Sesame Street, and the Big Bad Wolf.
  56. Session 57: Counterassault on Singular.
  57. Session 58: Singular Gates, Evacuating to Ealor, and Visits Home.
  58. Session 60: Family Matters, Golf, and the Jedi Academy.
  59. A Draconic Interlude Part I: Discipline.
  60. A Draconic Interlude Part II: Coursework.
  61. A Draconic Interlude Part III: Academy.
  62. Marty’s Vacation Interlude (Technically session 59, but listed here to remain in sequence): The Living Galaxies.
  63. Session 61: Napoleonic Werewolf Pirates, Dragon Pets, and Squirrel Unions.
  64. Session 62: The Jedi Academy and the Council of Cardinals.
  65. Session 63: Setting Sail for the Crusader Realms.
  66. Session 64: Battle at the Straits.
  67. Session 65: The Storm at the End of the World, the Death Crusade.
  68. Session 66: The Siege of Jerusalem.
  69. Session 66a: Jarvain’s War.
  70. Session 66b: Interlude; Communications with Computers.
  71. Session 66c: Interlude: Chaos on Ealor.
  72. Session 67a: The Merchant Prince.
  73. Session 67b: Dr Lichstein.
  74. Session 68: The Council of Knights and the Temple Mount.
  75. Session 69: The First Ward War.
  76. Session 70: Preparations for Battle.
  77. Session 71a: Interlude, Runaways on Ealor.
  78. Session 71b: Interlude, Considering Accounting.
  79. Session 72: Affairs in Kadia, Underground Investigations, Priestly Confrontations, Intelligence from Elsewhere, and Tactical Planning.
  80. Session 73: Into the Garden of Eden.
  81. Session 74a: The Council of War and Death.
  82. Session 74b: Ward War II and the Silmarils.
  83. Session 75a: Interlude, Rescue Mission in the New Imperium.
  84. Session 75b: Interlude, Escape from Coruscant.
  85. Session 76: Battles in Jerusalem.
  86. Session 76b: Thawbans Relic Accounting, Investigation of Kevin.
  87. Session 77: Memories of the Fallen. Recruiting Death.
  88. Session 78: Death and the Trickster.
  89. Session 79: Gelman and the Squirrels.
  90. Session 80a: Gelman and the Balrog.
  91. Session 80b: Gelman and the Manifold.
  92. Session 80c: Gelman in Kadia.
  93. Session 81: Abigail and the Class-4 Weapon.
  94. Session 82: Artists and Otters.
  95. Session 83a: Corrigan and the Balrog.
  96. Session 83b: The Balrog at the Disco.
  97. Session 84a: The Dark Side of Magic Squirrel Land.
  98. Session 84b: Abigail’s Investigations.
  99. Session 85a: Neodog Rescues in the Linear Realms.
  100. Session 85b: Revenge of the Evil Doctor.
  101. Session 85c: Catching up on Events Elsewhere.
  102. Session 86a: Bad Contracts.
  103. Session 86b: Working Around the Terms.
  104. Session 86c: Slave-Trading Regulations. Lightening the Darkness.
  105. Session 86d: Marty’s Mid-Life Crisis.
  106. Session 87a: Small Cults.
  107. Session 87b: Child Custody and the Drow.
  108. Session 87c: Coming to terms with Concubines.
  109. Session 88: Reconciliations.
  110. Session 89a: Gelman joins the operations department.
  111. Session 89b: Discussions with the Darkness.
  112. Session 90a: Reminiscence of Apocalypse.
  113. Session 90b: Return to Core.
  114. Session 91a: Dragonworld Investigations.
  115. Session 91b: The Bronze Alliance.
  116. Session 92a: On Many Fronts: Reports from Multiverse.
  117. Session 92b: Action Conference – Where to Intervene?
  118. Session 92c: Car Wars – Battling Business Style!
  119. Session 93a: Against Entropy – Operation Midnight Gardener.
  120. Session 93b: Continuing Destruction, Car Wars II.
  121. Session 93c: Car Wars III and Thrall Visitation Rights.
  122. Session 94a: Visitations and the Lawyers of the Rings.
  123. Session 94b: The Witch-King of Lawyers and Singular Debriefings.
  124. Session 95a: The Winter King Part I, into Crusader.
  125. Session 95b: Mystic China – The Winter Maiden.
  126. Session 96a: Recruiting King Arthur, Trading with Necropolis.
  127. Session 96b: The Children of Ealor and the Lost Fleet.
  128. Session 97a: Salvage Operations and Holes in the Cosmos.
  129. Session 97b: Negotiating for Repairs.
  130. Session 98: The Hoslin and the Tomb.
  131. Session 99: Adventures in Necropolis.
  132. Session 99 Interlude A: Abigail and the Dragons.
  133. Session 99 Interlude B: Abigail and Kevin.
  134. Session 100: The Siege of Gethrid.
  135. Session 101a: The Krul-Vampire Treaty of Gethrid.
  136. Session 101b: Hoxin, Guide to Necrosis.
  137. Session 102a: Events Elsewhere and the City of the Damned.
  138. Session 102b: Ruth runs amuk.
  139. Session 103a: Dr Brenner Expanding.
  140. Session 103b: Dr Brenner in the Manifold.
  141. Session 104a: Ruthless Ruth Investigates.
  142. Session 104b: Father and Daughter Conflicts.
  143. Session 105: The City of Necropolis.
  144. Session 106a: Pyramids and Neodolphins.
  145. Session 106b: Gelman, Abigail, and Meeting Kadia.
  146. Session 107: Ramira, Kelsaru, and System Security.
  147. Session 108a: Escape from Necrosis, The Jesus Realm.
  148. Session 108b: Jenkins versus Jenkins, Todd’s Escape.
  149. Session 108c: Lord ZERO versus the Squirrels.
  150. Session 110: The Rescue of Sir Quincy.
  151. Session 111: Working with Werewolves, the Persona Chip.
  152. Session 112, Midnight Gardener, Capturing Vekxin.
  153. Session 113a: Interrogating Vekxin, Introducing “God”.
  154. Session 113b: Heading for Inversion, with Xellos.
  155. Session 114a: Thrall Missions – Todd’s Pathbooks.
  156. Session 114b: Thrall Missions – Lord ZERO and Jenkins versus BBW.
  157. Session 115: En route to Inversion – the Wookie World.
  158. Session 116a: Kevin, Marty, and the Rats of NIMH.
  159. Session 116b: The Rats of NIMH and the Yellowstone Supervolcano.
  160. Session 117a:  Reports from the Manifold, Child Kidnappings.
  161. Session 117b:  Thrall Missions – Child Rescue Operations.
  162. Session 118a: Arrival in Inversion.
  163. Session 118b: Inversion, Breaking and Entering 101.
  164. Session 119: Plumbers, Loonies, and The People of Inversion.
  165. Session 120: The Lend-Lease Program, History of Inversion and “God”.
  166. Session 121: Heading for Berlin, Hijackings, and The Grand Tour.
  167. Session 123: Prison Break in Inversion.
  168. Session 123a: Negotiations in Kadia, Planning the Assault on Inversion.
  169. Session 123b: Consulting the Church, the Infiltration of Inversion.
  170. Session 125: Catalysis, The Transformation of Inversion, Neanderthals.
  171. Session 126a: Jenkins Vrs ZERO, Holly Vrs Kadia.
  172. Session 126b: Gelman and the Rabbi.
  173. Session 127: Jenkins and the Numbers Vrs Mr Leland and Opossums. NIMH and the Authorities.
  174. Session 128: Grenwald for the Neanderthals and Reforming “God”.
  175. Session 129: M, Multi-Identities, the Silmarils, and Morgoth.
  176. Session 130: The Silmaril Wars, Opening Salvos.
  177. Session 131: The Silmaril Wars, the Vala and the New Imperium.
  178. Session 132: Recruiting in Heaven, Empowering the Forgelight.
  179. Session 133: The New Imperium and the Hellstorm War.
  180. Session 134a: Martin in Kadia, Ryan’s Investigations.
  181. Session 134b: Project Midnight Gardener goes public.
  182. Session 134c: The Once and Future Dr. Brenner – Prophet.
  183. Session 135: Boarding the Hellstorm.
  184. Session 136: Marty Vrs Revan.
  185. Session 137a: Falling Back to the Forgelight.
  186. Session 137b: The Imperial Debriefing.
  187. Session 138a: Martin Senior – Arrival in Kadia.
  188. Session 138b: Martin’s Casino, Jenkin’s War, and Limey’s Rebellion.
  189. Session 138c: Marty’s Younger Siblings.
  190. Session 138d: Disciplining Limey; quotations from the Book of Threats.
  191. Session 139a: The Council of the Traditions.
  192. Session 139b: Policy Review, Todd, Limey, and the Number Lords.
  193. Session 140a: The Core Investigation, Gathering of Experts.
  194. Session 140b: Preliminary Interviews; Gelman and the Harem.
  195. Session 140c: The Visiting of Family; interview with Temerin.
  196. Session 140d: Thrall Assignment Policies and the Investigation Report.
  197. Session 141: Child Protective Services, Puffin Wars, and Vacationing with the Anthropomorphous.
  198. Session 142/Realm of Ciarkian Discussion Part I: The world and its inhabitants.
  199. Realm of Ciarkian Part II The local population and their monetary system.
  200. Realm of Ciarkian Part III The city of Cyrweld, its ward, and its economy.
  201. Realm of Ciarkian Part IV: The guilds and knightly orders of Cyrweld.
  202. Session 143a: Ruth, cultists, and the Linear Realms.
  203. Session 143b: Ruth, the NeoDogs, and Ensoulment.
  204. Session 144: Kevin and Marty versus the Port Authority.
  205. Session 145: Of Sailing Ships, and Sealing Wax, and Platapi, and Kings.
  206. Session 146: Assassins and Bets at the Theater.
  207. Session 148a: Dispatches from the Core.
  208. Session 148b: Dispatches from the Core, Part II.
  209. Session 149a: Interrogating the Assassin.
  210. Session 149b: The Markets of Cyrweld.
  211. Session 150: Metals, Muggers, and House Wars.
  212. Session 151: Taking 8 1/2 Tails to Heavenly Healing.
  213. Session 152: 8 /12 Tails in the Houses of Healing.
  214. Session 153a: The Dragon Emperor Investigates.
  215. Session 153b: The Dragon Emperors Menu Defeats Kevin.
  216. Session 154: Conley versus the Delusions of Heaven.
  217. Session 155: The World of Tea and Duels of Magic.
  218. Session 156:The Carnival of Cats.
  219. Session 157: Conley versus Rabbits and Panthers.
  220. Session 158: Parental Concerns and Parrot Parties.
  221. Session 159: Marty Investigates, Marty Versus the Dragon Emperor
  222. Session 160: Kevin versus the Ouratha, Marty versus Parrot Matrons.
  223. Session 161: The return of Raphael.
  224. Session 162:

Should Paladins Have Counterparts For Other Alignments?

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Here we have another contribution from Editorial0, with some minimal editing and an afterword.

Paladins have always encountered a lot of hostility. Whether you liked them or hated them, they were just plain weird. As a class, they were Fighters, except they weren’t. They were Clerics, except they weren’t. In 3rd edition, they were really more of a Prestige Class, except they weren’t. They were ridiculously brave good guys, except they (sometimes) weren’t. They were incredible dicks who messed up everyone’s fun, except they (usually, hopefully) weren’t. People tended to view Paladins strongly, for good or for ill. Some wanted them to be special and others didn’t.

Paladins were simply outside the norms of the game. The Ranger’s code of conduct didn’t amount to much (and vanished in 3rd edition), while the Paladin’s was strict and omnipresent. The Paladin has a scattered selection of odd abilities and had some unique tools, which potentially made them almost invulnerable. They almost required evil enemies. They got a special magical horse. They seemed to have special duties, although many gamers simply ignored that.

They probably sparked half the alignment debates, and what a Paladin could and could not do got a look-in in most of the rest. Variants for other alignments appeared in second edition, and – in third edition – they inspired the creation of dozens of similar classes or Prestige Classes to fit other roles.

Let’s step way back. Gary Gygax had something to say about it. If you look, you’ll note that originally Fighters had no advantages over Paladins and Rangers except for a slightly cheaper XP table. Paladins, however, received plenty of goodies. This wasn’t an accident. Them as has (lucky attribute rolls) gets (better class abilities). If you didn’t get them, then your story will be tougher but possibly more fun. To the extent that “class balance” (as opposed to “game balance”) played a role, Paladins paid for their awesomeness with lots of duties, periods of introspection, and a life of self-sacrifice. Every other character could effectively give up adventuring, but Paladins were pretty much expected to live in the saddle forever. They could return home, but they always had to leave again, never to simply *enjoy* wealth or success.

Paladins were dedicated selflessly to the ideals of Good and Law – Justice incarnate. Remember, too, that in the original alignment system Lawful Good was simply better than anything else.

From another perspective, Paladins were special because of the nature of Law and Good. The Paladin was abstractly, selflessly, and personally devoted in mind, body, and spirit. Other good characters care, but they’re not devoted in the same way. Good people don’t usually burn with a zealous devotion to perfection. Lawful characters may be devoted, but they don’t *care*. They intellectually affirm that things ought to be a certain way, and even work towards that, but it doesn’t deeply affect their spirit. And while evil or chaotic characters may champion some wicked or personal cause, they’re by definition thinking about themselves first – or, sometimes, not thinking about much of anything. Even loyal and brave evil characters generally do evil out of devotion to a person or a duty or their own wealth, not a holy cause.

So the Paladin is, or was, unique.

However, things got a lot… looser in 3rd edition. This is where the people demanding more flexible Paladins are right. If you don’t allow special champions for other causes, you need to explain why, and the writers never really did. Of course, this feeds into the whole alignment controversy, as the writers never clearly explained whether good and evil were relative terms, or absolute forces, or whether people could actually be good and evil per se, or if it was all just flags in a war of meaningless and mindless cosmic forces.

I definitely don’t like the solution which, ahem, evolved*. Now we have Blackguards (a very silly idea which we won’t explore here), and dozens upon dozens of variant classes and PrC’s for holy warriors. Most of them are cheap Paladin knockoffs designed to get you everything good from the Paladin class without actually requiring anything. And of course, the Paladin himself has dropped most of those pesky restrictions and duties.

*In every sense of the word, including the notion of emerging from the muck and mire to fill a variety of tepidly specialized niches with ugly diseased mutants.

Over the years, we’ve had a number of possibilities. Eclipse shows how to build any such characters, including the aforementioned endless PrC’s. You could hand out alignment-based magic and let people play whatever class they wanted as Paths of Power does.

But maybe we’re all just trying too hard. There’s something fun about the old Paladin. He’s still over there, looking a little grizzled and worse for the wear, but still hefting his Holy Avenger to smite evil, still giving away his treasure, and grinning like a maniac over his lucky attribute rolls. I say we let him do what he does and let the idea alone. You can always make a cheap copy, but nobody ever quite measures up.

And that’s fine by me.

Personally, back in the days of first edition, I was always of the opinion that a Paladin got special bonuses because their various codes made their lives a lot more difficult – preventing them from employing strategies and items that other characters could and forcing them to stay out of some adventures.

Besides, in a world overrun with vicious monsters, you needed some sort of counterbalance. Ergo, those poor, weak, humans got Paladins – and no one else did.

That, of course, was sabotaged by players who tried to impose their characters limitations on the rest of the party, instead of dealing with the fact that their special powers had a price.

Finally, of course, quasi-paladins of other alignments popped up, and the anti-paladin put in an appearance – and quite a few of those alternative classes suffered from few limitations of any kind except the one limitation that  any player-character always ignored – “NPC Only”.


The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part I

The vajra, a distinct symbol of Vajrayana

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Student artificing had been terribly easy. You used one of the small-scale, part-time, facilities attached to the Academy, you made minor, low-priority, items for other students, for the staff, and for the occasional godling too low in status to get something done by an official source. You showed your better pieces to the instructors, and discussed how you’d made them and how that could be made easier or the design and procedures improved (well, OK; mostly he’d just showed stuff to the instructors and discussed how he’d made it), and you got graded! It was one of his easiest classes!

He did most of the actual work at the Hoenheim Manse of course, where he had much better facilities – but he had to visit Earth a lot anyway, simply to collect the more exotic ingredients. The schools stockpiles were strictly limited. The requests had been picking up quite a bit of course since he usually got done a bit early, but why would anyone suddenly put him in charge of a factory-cathedral? Even if it WAS a small one and in need of some repair?

Even worse, he abruptly had a massive list of official orders, an even bigger list of unofficial ones, a lot more ingredients to collect, and a lot less free time… On the other hand, that also meant that he could use the facilities of the Factory-Cathedral after hours for some of his own projects. That wouldn’t speed things up that much – but it would let him turn out multiple copies of the more minor items at once. That could be REALLY handy!

Hm. It should be possible to duplicate at least part of that effect, at least now that he had an example to examine. Anyway, he was going to need a lot of ingredients…

A starmetal Fivefold Harmonic Adapter (*).

Well, all he’d need there was some Ambrosia from prayers to the maidens (the only ethical source), to supply a bit of starsteel. That would be mostly a matter of checking circulating coins of course… Still, it was silly not to turn out a large batch if you were going to use a factory-cathedral for that kind of thing. It might even be possible to adjust things so as to turn out multiple types at the same time. That would be a LOT more efficient. Besides, it would make a fine starting-test, and there was bound to be a demand for more of the things.

For other official orders he had…

  • Three harnesses of Dawn’s Cleansing Light (*)
  • Hm… Thaumaturgically condensed sunlight from the peak of one of earth’s highest mountains should do nicely.
  • Three Privacy Veils (*)
    • Spiderwebs from a long-sealed room. That should be easy enough.
  • A guitar (as per an Unsurpassed Sanxian) that could transform into a Starmetal (or, preferably, Moonsilver) Vajra (***)
    • A guitar personally signed by a major rock group perhaps? They certainly concentrated enough near-worship to qualify for a blessing.
  • A tent of Perfect Camouflage (**)
    • An elite military uniform snitched from an on-duty military base? That didn’t seem quite right, but it was the best he could think of offhand. It might do.
  • A Hearthstone Compass (*)
    • A fragment of stone from a fallen manse should do for that.
  • A motorcycle cover of Perfect Camouflage (**)
    • More perfect camouflage… Perhaps the hide of a giant squid? They changed color. A camouflage net from some old war?
  • A Folding Ship made entirely of plastic (*****)
    • No point in even speculating about that at the moment. He wasn’t up to making anything like that anyway!
  • Three “Thousand Comfort Lounges”, capable of dispensing aerosol compounds (**).
    • Huh. He had no idea on that one… He’d have to check the records. NOT a top priority anyway, at least in his judgement.
  • Green jade Black Widow Razors altered to dispense intoxicants instead of poison (***).
    • Green jade, a mixture of rare oils and compounds, and the fangs of a venomous serpent. Easy.
  • A red jade Thunderbolt Shield (**)
    • Red jade and meteoric iron. That was easy.
  • A pair of red jade Heartstone Bracers (**)
    • More red jade and mixture of rare corals.
  • A red jade Daikalbar (**)
    • Yet MORE red jade and an thaumaturgically-enchanted sharpening stone. Magma from a persistent lava lake would do too, or perhaps an ancient spearhead to scribe it with.
  • A starmetal Tapestry Box (an artifact notebook computer) with wireless capabilities (***)
    • Some circuitry from a computer that someone had lost? A vacuum tube used in one of the first computers? A tic-tac-toe victory over the tic-tac-toe computer in the smithsonian? That one was kind of hard…

    Now the “unofficial” orders included…

    • An adamant Reaper Daiklave (**).
    • Adamant was a little harder to get, but possible – and the enchanted sharpening-stone should do for it too.
  • A set of adamant Discreet Essence Armor with resizing capabilities (***)
    • Hm… some rare silks, a bit of moonsilver thread, and gems to match the major chakra.
  • Two jade saddles (** each)
    • Perhaps the essence of a teenage girl’s day spent fussing over a horse? They did seem to get pretty deeply involved with the things…
  • An Amulet of shadow walking (*** version)
    • A vial of darkness from the depths of a cave where the sun has never shown, carved with an obsidian blade which has tasted blood, from the heartwood of a tree hit by lightning during a night storm.
  • A pair of perfected boots disguised as sneakers (*)
    • Uhm… A pair of really good sneakers would do. Preferably carried by a runner during a marathon. That would be pretty easy.
  • A Soulsteel Windblade-class Personal Transport (***)
    • A flying surfboard or skateboard? What he had on that suggested the remains – or spirit – from someone who had died performing extreme sports, surfing, or skateboarding. Now that was just WRONG. Even if the spirit WANTED to spend eternity sailing on the winds NOW it would surely get old after a few decades! Soulsteel was right out… He or she would just have to settle for some other material with an adaptor built it! So… Feathers from five different predatory birds, a globe of each of the four winds, and a cloud from an otherwise cloudless day. That should do it nicely.
  • A Swift Rider (***)
    • Horseshoes from a Kentucky Derby champion and a hipparion bone. That one was easy.
  • A Windslave Disk (* version)
    • Oh well. A minor blessing from a wind-spirit should do nicely. For that matter, an earth-spirit would do as well.
  • Three sets of red jade shark-sized Death Fangs (apply magical material bonuses to bite attacks, * each)
    • OK, that was trivial; red jade, a very hot flame, and a few teeth from a powerful carnivore.
  • A pair of Wave-Stepping Boots (**)
    • A bottle which was afloat with a message for at least a year. Not too hard.
  • An Ultimate Document (***)
    • Possibilities there included the tools of a master forger, a notorious fake ID, or even an Etch-A-Sketch – an old one which had seen a lot of use and had been stored in an attic or something.

    That about covered everything.

    Time to get started on those components!

    The Educated Designer

    Thoth, ancient Egyptian god often depicted as ...

    Image via Wikipedia

    If You Don’t Know Something – Learn!

    In Thoth’s recent article on Infravision, he stated:

    Sure, you can say that the physics of your world works some other way – but then you’re going to have to build and explain that physics as soon as someone starts experimenting (if you want to go that route, here’s an article on Elemental Physics to give you a start, and a followup on Dimensional Traits). You may get lucky and not have to deal with that, but if you run enough games, sooner or later you’ll get some players who keep wanting to know “why” and “how”. Those are the ones who want to try another route to problem solving; figuring out how things work in the setting and how they can take advantage of whatever you come up with – in other words, engineering.

    This is a major point.

    At one time, many of the people making games were in fact, nerds. Well, they’re still nerds, but they used to be nerds who often studied computer science, engineering, and mathematics, or at least tinkered with radio kits. This had a profound impact on the games they made and how they built worlds.

    You can look at earlier editions of Shadowrun, for instance, and see that it was designed by people knew technology. Most of the technology which went into the original three editions was pretty sensible. Sure – it was almost magic by the standards of the 1980’s. But in terms of what computers were capable of and what people could program in, it isn’t too far-fetched.  You can see they had insane notions about law and politics, but they knew technology in and out. They understated how much technology would change life – and got the basics of extreme connectivity right  We might never design cybernetic limbs which can run on body sugars, but it’s not outright impossible and the theoretical technology exists. We might never be able to jack in and control computers with our minds, but it’s not outright impossible and early experiments have already been done.

    Likewise, the magic system was quite internally consistent – it was an inhuman “technology,” just like any other. Sure, there were a few oddities. Still, there was rarely an NPC who did something you couldn’t (though they did stretch NPC power to the ludicrous level at times). If it could be done by science, it could usually be replicated by magic, and vice versa. (at least in theory). The big difference was in the focus of each. Magic was personal but let you bend the rules of this universe. Science was universal but stable. But magic still had its own explicit rules. Despite characters sometimes claiming that they were “doing the impossible,” they weren’t. They simply pushed the limits by developing improved techniques and variants of old ones.

    Spells were even consistently categorized, and this division wasn’t invisible to spirits and actual in-game characters. There was no neat dividing line between system and setting, because the world didn’t need one. The relationships which held true for one held true for the other.

    More interestingly, magic and science had explicit interactions. In fact, science held the ultimate trump card: space. Outer space? No magic. Period. Trying to use magic in space was less safe than actively shooting yourself in the head. Nor was this the only interaction, but it was the most vivid one.

    In essence*, Shadowrun used the principle that energy was energy. You (consistently) used a fireball spell just like you used an ice spell, or for that matter a transformation spell, because they were all Manipulation magic. The actual effect of that fireball was about the same as that of n incendiary grenade (but more variable depending on your skill and bonuses). Armor would indeed help, just as it helped against an incendiary weapon. Likewise, spells in the Combat spell category could hit you directly – but even then the same toughness which let you survive a bullet or avoid a concussion let you resist the spell. Magic in the physical universe used the same rules as everything else. Magic in nearby astral space bent those rules. Magic in a far dimension had totally different rules.

    This kind of consistency was perfect for players. You didn’t have to be a genius or prophet to guess how your new spell would work, both mechanically and in the game world. You didn’t have to understand everything about science or peer into the minds of the designers to “get” how things worked. It was both consistent enough to encourage new development and familiar enough to make sense to players.

    Now, Shadowrun wasn’t perfect. As mentioned, it was completely insane in several other respects. This game has the Supreme Court handing out Extra-Territoriality for Corporations as a result of a Criminal Case. It has AmerIndians mysteriously getting millions of new people, then engaging the American government in a guerrilla war with bows and arrows (I am not making this up) alongside the odd bit of major magic – and winning against a couple million troops and armored assault forces. And then they somehow took their population from nowhere and kicked out all the non-Indians living in the west, most of whom then vanished from the population figures.

    Well, you get the idea. They built a coherent game with rules which made sense and allowed consistent interaction with the world. That’s a long and big-worded way of saying “It made sense and you didn’t have to house-rule everything.” They actually did make a coherent world in the present – it was the history which didn’t make sense, along with the odd nonsensical background note. (An author misunderstanding Diplomatic Immunity, for example, led to a hilarious scene in one early published adventure where sane or attentive parties would shortcut the entire session.)

    So, after all this talk about what they did and didn’t do, who cares?

    You should. You’re either a gamer, or you’re not. If you are, you’re either a GM or player or both, and if not, you should go start. But as a gamer, it’s in your interests to have a consistent setting. It means you can step outside the moment’s action. You can look ahead to the future, change your strategy based on the technology and rules, and come up with new solutions. It means you have a framework for what your magic, technology, and skills can accomplish. It means you have the option of being a co-creator along with your GM.

    And for GM’s, this takes a load off your shoulders. You don’t have to explain everything, but you still have reasons for everything. You don’t have to houserule blind anytime someone tries something strange. You have a framework – one you can expand on if necessary – but which ties the players together. Ever wonder why so many D&D games fizzle? It’s because there’s not much to do unless the Dungeon Master goes to the trouble of making a coherent world on his lonesome. Apart from that, you’re just rampaging through corridors killing and looting, which gets tiresome if you play any one class too long.

    As a consequence, knowing what you’re talking about is crucial for a designer. You don’t need a degree in political science to write about politics. That’s a good way to make sure you never understand politics whatsoever. Don’t read some textbook. Read the originals. Read von Clausewitz as he discusses war and politics. Read Machiavelli in translation, and listen as he talks about the hard choices that leaders face. Read the Bible and listen to the words of the Hebrews when they were in distress, and how their kings rose to and fell from greatness. Read Cicero’s Letters, and Caeser’s Gallic Wars (or de Bello Gallico) and you’ll understand what revolution means to people who lived it and fought for and against it on the battlefield and the Senate hall.

    Likewise, know something about technology, science, and engineering – more than you can learn from a pop-science book. Here you do want a textbook. Learn how Newtonian physics work – and then learn why they don’t work (but mostly are close enough anyway). Get down into the structure of atoms. Look at how bio-chemicals, DNA, tissues, tissues, organs work and how insanely complex life really is.

    In the end, this will make you a better designer. And it doesn’t take that much – a few weeks of reading.  You’ll probably have a lot of fun with it, because Machiavelli, Caesar, and Judges are gripping histories and stories. If you haven’t looked how matter and energy actually work (to the limited degree our puny minds can conceive), you may be very surprised and intrigued. And it may lead you to new ways of thinking and new idea about your world.

    In this world, physical reality flows from natural law. Now, natural law may not be all that natural depending on your religious or meta-physical view, but the short version is that we have rules.  Likewise, human civilization has rules, if more flexible ones. And everything flows from these rules. Energy is mobile, always moving from an area of higher concentration to lower.

    Now, for your game you don’t have to attempt to build an entire universe. For one, you won’t succeed: it’s vastly more complex than all the humans ever born working in concert to manage. But you should lay down some basic principles. Do you have “magic?” What IS magic anyway? Is it the will of the Gods, who define and reshape reality? Is it an energy which responds to your mind? Is it extra-dimensional spirits intruding their reality on our own? All these have impacts on the characters, the stories, and what magic should do in the setting. Thus, your rules and background can work together. Shadowrun sometimes took this too far in having in-universe characters talk about game concepts, but you can’t argue they didn’t mesh the rules and world.

    This isn’t always so complex. Star Wars is a fantasy story with a sci-fi gloss. And George Lucas basically shrugged, said his ships had really huge guns, and left it at that. And because he had a reasonably clear idea of how it worked and he was the only writer, it was pretty consistent (then they opened up the universe for novel writers and things got messy). Star Trek ran into some trouble because there wasn’t much agreement on what the technology could do (not how it worked but its raw capabilities) from one episode writer to another. So the best Star Trek episodes were about human/alien society, science fiction in its rawest form, not technology per se.

    *Ba-dum-ksssh! Shadowrun Players get it.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 161 – Party Accommodations

    Over the sky

    Image by Garry - via Flickr

    Raphael had been pretty happy where he was… OK, running about the Manifold was amusing in some ways – but learning centuries worth of Core Technology – which worked in FAR more places than Imperial Technology – was utterly fascinating. Deciphering the secrets of the Singular Cellular Replacement Technology (and why it slowly failed in Core) and all the other exotic technologies that came into the House of Roses had been challenge enough to fill a hundred lifetimes. He’d upgraded his robots and such a good deal, simply in testing his theories. A depressing amount of the technology that was brought in was reliant on the oddities of it’s realms of origin, or simply made no sense at all – but there was plenty that did, or which suggested new lines of inquiry.

    He hadn’t stuck his nose outside the laboratory complex (although, admittedly, it included facilities in several realms (including Kamigawa, where he was studying linking and gathering), to provide greater resources and to allow the use (and study) of magic, powerful psionics, and other methods of analysis unavailable in Core) in MONTHS – and even then it had only been for a mandatory meeting and luncheon. There was so much to do!

    Then he was called in for a non-technical conference. Both Emperor Skywalker and the House wanted him for something…

    What in the Manifold would cause BOTH the Empire and the House to pull him out of the lab? Was it his Outbound Flight project? But that was SIMPLE! All it involved was launching a normal-space near-lightspeed laboratory flight into deep space from the human world farthest from the Ourathan invasion! With a link through the Manifold, it would be virtually impossible for the robots to ever interfere with THAT. He couldn’t let the robots steal the right to figure out the only independent set of laws of physics from humanity!

    They wanted to know about that “Kevin” kid he’d traveled with? Well… An Opener, a fairly minor mage, a minor psychic, and – sadly – with some sort of ability to bond kids to him as special agents – although at least it made them competent. What could the kid possibly be up to that called for the Emperor’s attention?

    The construction of his own realm, the recordings of the battle against the Hellstorm, and the synopsis of Midnight Gardener made it a lot more obvious what was up. Worse, the kid was now OPENLY recruiting and binding other kids, and claiming to be a Prince of Darkness…

    Had the kid been concealing that kind of power all along or had he really made a pact with the powers of darkness? And he was attempting to restructure the galaxy? On his own, and without even asking for advice?

    Yes, that deserved investigation. It was worth at least a diversion from his work; he was one of the few scientists who’d had personal contact with the boy…

    The fact that he currently seemed to be most active in Ciarkian, a realm that was relatively near Kamigawa (and one of his laboratories, where he’d been researching the creation of magical artifacts and summoning)) and the fact that he might well have developed from Gatekeeper to Opener status – his powers had improved a great deal recently, what with the ever-increasing flow of energies between the planes of the Manifold – just made him even more ideal for the task.

    The trip from Kamigawa was fairly straightforward – and it was easy enough to spot the high-powered newcomers to the city that HAD to be Kevin and Marty. An adolescent wolf-mage accompanied by a small horde of magical children and playing at being a privateer and a military… parrot?

    No, that COULDN’T be anyone else.

    They didn’t seem to be up to much besides socializing and random interventions in things that were none of their business – and it looked like they’d be attending a series of parties.

    Well, it was easy enough to arrange an invitation.

    The party was a formal affair, with most of the hosts wearing military and knightly order uniforms. You also see the powerful adolescent you believe to be Kevin as a wolf. He is currently cornered by a Wolf Family Matron and being asked a number of difficult questions.

    At that party, Kevin was answering an awkward question about “respect”. Sadly, the wolf-matron had him flustered enough to answer candidly…

    (Kevin) “Hm. Actually, destroying and rebuilding the Port Authority Building had nothing to do with respect. I simply needed to live up to a particular role, and to find an excuse to ensure that my presence here was sufficiently conspicious. The casualty was unfortunate; I had not anticipated that someone would be stupid enough to stay as the building slowly came down; I left plenty of time to escape by crawling, much less by any sensible means. As for gaining the respect of others… Those who are inclined to respect others usually need no prompting to acknowledge their accomplishments, while those who are not so inclined never truly do.”

    Raphael checked… Yep. The wolf-adolescent was wearing Smartclothes, and it looked like no one else in the area was – except himself of course. Well, those usually worked. Everyone in the Core tended to just accept them as background.

    He tapped into the communications system to ask Kevin if he needed a distraction to help him get away. The kid didn’t need one – but promptly struck up a simultaneous conversation with him. Multi-tracking? An unusual discipline for a kid…

    (Matron) “All about playing a particular role then? I think there might be a problem when a bit of role-playing causes you to destroy and then rebuild entire buildings. Let alone cause the deaths of others, regardless of how readily avoidable it might have been.”

    (Raphael, privately) “Hey is that you Kevin? Its me Raphe. Need some help getting away from her?”

    (Kevin, to the Matron) “The death was unintentional and regrettable – if possibly reversible – but, in this case, accepting a role was necessary”.

    (Kevin, to Raphe) “Hey! Last I heard you were buried in a lab for Oracle knows-how-long! Did you finish, escape, or get out on good behavior? I don’t think I need help here, but what in the Manifold are you doing in this realm?”

    (Raphael, privately) “Oh I got out for good results some time ago and went to study magic a few gates over then found this place mostly by accident. Then I got a request to investigate some project you are up to with the notification that you were in town.”

    (Kevin, privately) “Oh? Which project?”

    (Raphael, privately) “Oh it was something about a gardener in the dark or night or something.”

    (Kevin, privately) “Oh, the galactic rejuvenation project? I might have known… Still, I suppose you’re a good sign! I was wondering what was going on when the first query ews from an alien…”

    Over at the parrot party, Marty was getting acquainted with the young and beautiful Lady Fenwick when Kevin called…

    (Kevin, privately) “Hey, Marty! Raphael’s here!”

    (Marty, privately) “Really? Haven’t seen him since we ran into the Wingates!”

    (Raphael, privately) “Wait, did she just say you were responcible for that thing at the docks? I was hoping that was a time gernade gotten caught in customs. Damn. I was really hoping to get a look at one.”

    “Thing at the docks?” Oh! The Port Authority Building of course.

    (Kevin, privately) “Oh yes, that was me… Kind of had too. The port authority actually.”

    At the parrots, Dame Pentwick had left Marty to get acquainted with Ms Fenwick as the party wound down.. He spent some time talking to her; Her mother had virtually gotten him to sign a marriage contract already, and he hardly even knew her yet!

    She did seem to be pretty nice, if not as formidable as her mother… That had been like trying to stare down an entire board meeting!

    (Matron) “Necessary? Very well, the motivations of others isn’t my concern so much as the actions taken based on those motivations. I have reservations about dealings with you, despite what the others might think. Your actions make me wonder what is making the decisions: you or the power you claim to wield. I suspect that is a question you must face, and face alone. I shall be keeping an eye on you and your friends I think.”

    (Raphael, privately) “Are Marty, Jarvian, Benedict, or any of the others still around? I really have been out of the loop for a while.”

    (Kevin, to the Matron) “And that is quite fair enough; I have only been here a few days, and you SHOULD have reservations about dealing with me… Now, are you too interested in some form of “demonstration” tomorrow?”

    (Matron) “Demonstration? To what end?”

    (Kevin, to the Matron) “I as informed that there was some diplomatic purpose in putting on a show tomorrow, although the desired form was carefully left unspecified”

    (Matron, her eyes narrowing) “Diplomatic you say? Would you be willing to tell me who is interested in such a demonstration tomorrow? I would most like to have a conversation with them.”

    (Kevin) “I suspect that would be considered unfair. I take it that you feel that such a thing would not be politic? As a stranger, I fear I have no idea what they wanted, or who they wanted to impress, anyway.”

    (Kevin, privately, but bringing Marty into the hookup with Raphael) “Jarvain is currently managing a battlefleet we picked up, Benedict vanished some time ago, and I never even tried to find out where that idiot paranoid agent – whatever his name was – went.”

    (Marty, privately) “Hey Kevin… and Raph! How’ve you been?”

    (Matron, sighing) “Bother, well I shall recommend against you performing any sort of “demonstration” tomorrow. And it seems that others still don’t seem to realize how ill-advised such a measure might be.”

    (Raphael, privately) “Oh pretty good. I have found some interesting toys to play with and spells to sumon them so I dont have to lug them around.”

    (Marty, privately) “That’s great! We’re actually on vacation here, hoping to attract some attention. Not doing too badly either!”

    (Kevin, privately) “Now that is handy! Some of our opponents – actually a set of quasi-dopplegangers made a lot of trouble that way)”

    (Raphael, privately) “I can see how that would be a problem… Do you have any recordings of it? It is always nice to steal your enemy’s tricks”

    (Kevin, privately) “Sure! That was the fight in Middle Earth, where Ryan’s clone was playing Feanor.”

    (Marty, privately) “Ah, that WAS fun! He was a tough one, that’s for sure!”

    (Kevin, privately) “So, any other reason why you’re here Raphe?”

    (Raphael, privately) “Oh just studying magic and psionic effects locally looking to see in animal instincts caused any interesting divergences from most of the other places I have explored. The local colleges are really quite nice here. Never can get enough new tricks. I will need to talk about Midnight Gardener some time but it can wait… I think.”

    Kevin looked around the party… None of these people would tell him what they actually wanted! How could he give it to them then? Worse, the place had no games, no fun, no one talking but elders showing how dominant and in-control they were… How depressing!

    Marty had to laugh. At least no one had tried to marry him off yet! Not that he was finding it too objectionable…

    With no one asking for him, and no reaction from the Matron on suggesting that he could bring back the idiot wolverine guy, and no trace of fun anywhere (there were some kids and adolescents around, but they were all so on their best behavior – and so obviously bored – that he got the impression that they were leashed – although there were a few that seemed to be as obsessed with appearances and perceptions as the adults), Kevin went to talk directly with Raphael; he was more fun!

    He seemed to be attending as a foreign Fox researcher, with white robes and every sign of being a mage that he could possibly manage…

    (Kevin) “Well, that looks stylish! Haven’t seen you since… that mess on Baelaria I believe? This party is less fun I fear… I think it’s more of a formalized bit of dominance-sorting than an actual party. I’m beginning to be sorry I didn’t go to the Parrot party instead.”

    Marty promptly volunteered to make excuses for him at the Parrots! The party was winding down, but it was still more fun than being quizzed by cranky matrons!

    Alternatively, he could come over there after chatting up his new fiancee!

    Wait, what?

    (Rapheal) “Ah well, not all is lost. I do not think I would have found you so soon if you had not come here… unless some annoying jedi coincidences have rubbed off on me.”

    Well… It was worth a TRY at livening the place up! Maybe starting a few party games of his own since the hosts were such sourpusses as to not have any of their own? Take pity on the bored kids? Per Marty’s suggestion, tell the youngsters stories about the Big Bad Wolf and then claim that it was his autobiography?

    Well, probably not that.

    Perhaps he should just get a bit of a sub-party going… His tolerance for people who wouldn’t say what they wanted was minimal; it seemed to be pretty much a timewaster.

    Kevin promptly gathered up the kids, along with Raphael, and headed out into the garden – and into a much more interesting Kadian amusement park. Why not? They could all have some prizes, and he could just assign a few thralls to holding the gate. The adults could posture, he was going to make sure that SOMEONE had a good time!

    He did keep it discreet; he just set up a walk-through route down one of the paths in the hedges.

    The Thralls on staff – more from Ciarkian – handed out lots of credit tokens, so that the kids could go on rides, play the games, get prizes, buy souvenirs, and stuff themselves. They wouldn’t be allowed to overspend though; this was a party!

    Marty resolved to head over that way. Kevin had no real sense of “consequences” – or of how his powers (and his casual use of them) would look to relatively normal people, and some of the ensuing confusion should be fun!

    He spun a few final tales – and impersonations of people he’d met in his travels – for the Parrot Hatchlings who weren’t taking naps and left with his new fiancee.

    Hm. Kevin was showing restraint! He wasn’t enslaving the kids in retaliation for being bored! No matter how cathartic it would be!

    Oh well. To be fair, he didn’t do that – and probably wouldn’t want to.

    (Kevin) “Rapheal? welcome to Kadia.”

    Raphael was a bit disappointed in some ways… The fey forest was impossibly inviting and perfect, the rivers and falls were perfect, the cities were full of greenways and lovely, there were loads of amusement parks and inviting recreational facilities – but it wasn’t really that impressive or strange looking compared to Core itself. There were large numbers of magical creatures of course, but nothing much in the way of really exotic environments… Very welcoming though.

    Ah, there was some of that elsewhere according to the local net, it was just a long ways off.

    Wait, how big was the place?

    An… open-ended divergent hyperbolic geometry? With a fractal pattern of short-cuts? Now THAT was exotic for an inhabited world! Subtle though… A lot of spare, and very obliging, computer capacity too – although there was some evidence that an intelligence had moved into the network. The basic system was – once again – modeled on Core’s, albeit with some changes to the legal side and recognition of Kevin as the creator-overlord.

    Better than 80% of the kids came to the promise of a better party.

    (Kevin) “Well, that party was boring, so we’re having a better one here! Enjoy the park, anything you win in the games is yours to keep, and you’ve got enough tokens to play, ride, or eat anything here for the day and to buy souvenirs…”

    He set a greeter at the gate, in case worried parents showed up and demanded explanations. After all, with the gate open they were effectively still on the grounds, and would be easily traceable with a simple spell. If anyone still got upset, he could come in person if necessary.

    The children all scampered off to the various games and rides, while the adolescents were mostly preoccupied with the sights, wonders, and entertainment – although a few of them were too engrossed in each other to worry about it.

    Raphael decided to get down to business – and inquired about Midnight Gardener.

    Unfortunately, he didn’t get much past the publicity-spiel before they were interrupted again.

    Marty was on his way… The young lady was quite personable, and far more lively when her mother wasn’t standing over her – and she had quite a few interests, including the exotic creatures of other disks on the tree and of the trunks and branches. She found the number of variations just fascinating!

    He might have to look for some!

    The first adult through was a drunken dog servant, who was rude, but promptly left again…

    The second was a Jackal mage who came through the gateway after tracing its magical energies and started excitedly asking the thrall greeter a large number of arcane questions. Raphael found that amusing and convenient. He was examining the effects of the longstanding and imbalanced gate on the local space anyway.

    Third was a Raccoon Dog mother searching for her little girl by scent – who started having a serious fit.

    (Kevin) “Is something wrong?”

    (Woman) “Where’s my child? You have a lot of nerve, opening up gates all of a sudden!”

    (Kevin) “Well, just ask the remotes (he beckoned to one). Where is this lady’s daughter at the moment? And why shouldn’t she have a little fun? The park is perfectly safe, and she was bored to tears…”

    The kid was currently in the giant ballpen.

    Kevin had the remote display an image.

    (Kevin) “See? She’s having fun.”

    (Woman) “You could have said something, you know!” She will calm down as she looked around though… “You wouldn’t mind if I joined in, would you? I was a little bored to tears myself.”

    (Kevin) “Not at all. Here, have some tokens! You can ask any of the remotes for directions if you need them!

    (Woman) “Oh, shiny! This gate is remaining open, right? You’re not trying to trap us?”

    She looked for signs of lying, but there didn’t seem to be any. Evidently the boy did indeed intend to leave the gateway open.

    (Kevin) “It will remain open until everyone is home – or possibly longer it the children request it.”

    (Woman) “Well. I’m off to the ballpen, then.”

    She maintained proper decorum, but that did look like a lot of fun there!

    (Kevin) “Have a nice time!”

    Raphael laughed and threw in a few electrostatic charms to keep the balls bouncing around and to provide amusing effects. It led to an occasionally-surprised raccoon-dog mother and a lot of delighted kids.

    (Jackal) “Amazing piece of magical work here. I’ve never heard of anyone able to manipulate space like this before except in legends.”

    (Kevin) “Ah well. It’s a knack, and the kids were bored.”

    (Jackal) “Can this sort of thing be taught? How mutable are the local laws? How big can you make it? Is it permanent, or does it require constant maintenance or need to be rebuilt every so often?”

    (Kevin) “Oh, this one is permanent. The local laws are only mildly mutable once established. The size is potentially infinite; the more people who opt to live here, the larger it can become – and I set no limits on its borders. I’m afraid that only parts of that particular knack can be taught or shared though”

    (Raphael) “Wait are you talking about the dimension or the gate?”

    (Jackal) “The pocket dimension of course. Although given a potentially nigh infinite size, I am not sure the term pocket dimension really applies…”

    (Kevin) “The current population is approaching a billion or so.”

    (Jackal) “A billion you say? Surely you jest?”

    (Kevin, gesturing at a remote) “As of the moment, 1,108,576,143 residents”.

    (Jackal) “Fascinating… I wonder where they all come from?”

    (Raphael, somewhat appalled) “Already? this was not made the last time we met was it?”

    (Kevin) “No, but I’ve been taking in a lot of refugees.”

    (Raphael) “Oh, the refugees. that would do it. I keep forgetting the scale of those.”

    (Kevin) “And they come from a variety of places; there are quite a lot of areas with really nasty wars and such going on.”

    At about that point, eight wolf parents pursuing their children came through the gateway. Two of them immediately retreated through the gate – but the others immediately began arguing with the Jackal mage.

    (Parent) “This is your doing isn’t it? You just cannot stop playing with the weird magicks can you? I swear if any of our children are harmed from this, we will personally see to it that you are banished from the city!”

    (Kevin) “Actually, it’s mine. And your kids were bored silly, so I gave them somewhere more interesting to go – and they would have to work at it very hard indeed to get hurt here.”

    (Raphael) “Well that sounds like a glowing endorsement of your creativity! We will have to trade stories some time. I have been looking for interesting magic and psionic effects for a while now.”

    (Parent 2, to the Jackal) “You created this? I find that a little hard to believe. Illusion magic of this scale is difficult to say the least.”

    (Jackal) “It is not an illusion. Why is it that everyone thinks that it’s my fault? And this isn’t an illusion, but a pocket dimension of the greatest sort I have ever heard of.”

    (Kevin) “Oh, Illusions are not one of my talents.”

    (Parent 3) “You created this because you got bored at a party?! And it isn’t an illusion?! Just who are you and what do you want with our children?”

    Marty, who had just arrived, had to admit that this WAS the kind of attention that Kevin had been seeking!

    (Marty) “Oh he just opened a gate here this has been here for months at least.”

    (Kevin) “I was bored, they were bored, so I let them come play here. What’s wrong with that? Oh, and I’m Angkor, although I must admit to other names… Oh, since you’re here, here are your park tokens, and you can ask any remote (wave more over) for directions or a map display or a communications link.”

    Some of the parents immediately went looking for their children – but several others were backing away quietly and another pair went back through the gateway.

    Raphael quietly directed his robots to keep an eye on the guys leaving to see where they went – and to watch for signs of a mob coming to make havoc.

    Kevin and Marty didn’t care about mobs. They were welcome too!

    The robots reported that the ones who were leaving were off to report the situation to the guards. The guards were chaotically massing outside the portal when the Wolf Matron showed up and started verbally shaking them out of their tizzy – barking orders and is giving them directions to keep things quiet for the moment.

    Marty had to laugh. He’d been hanging around with Kevin so long that he’d forgotten what his current powers looked like from outside… An adolescent with far more power than the locals usually ascribed to their own gods had come to their party, gotten bored, made off with their children to a pocket dimension of astounding size and power, and didn’t seem to have the slightest notion of why this might be seen the least bit out of the ordinary. They were doing well to not be panicking outright. Not everyone was like Core, and accepting of kids wandering off into the Manifold!

    Kevin really didn’t see the problem. Pocket dimension spells weren’t that hard; Kadia was just big…

    The Matron led the guards through the gateway, quickly glanced around the place, and firmly suppressed her own reaction to it – while the guards proceeded to gawk and stare.

    (Matron) “I had a sneaking suspicion that you would be at the center of this debacle. Got bored with our little party I take it?”

    (Kevin) “Well, the children were bored too, so I gave them a route to an amusement park for the evening. Why not? It’s a very safe park, and they can play without distracting everyone else from their verbal fencing.”

    (Matron) “It’s also considered rather rude to take people’s children to other dimensions without asking. I especially object when the person taking the children is a known trader of child slaves. You’re lucky that a mass panic didn’t start with parents flinging offensive magic around. Boredom isn’t an excuse to do whatever you want for the sake of entertaining yourself and others.

    Hm. It looked like the Matron had additional sources of information!

    (Kevin) “Well, my apologies for any upset (he did mean that; he had figured that anyone who wanted to check on where the kids were would just use a bit of magic – which would work fine with an open gate); that’s why I made sure to leave the gate open – so anyone who wanted to know where they were could easily find them with a simple linking spell.”

    (Matron) “In the future it would be wise to let the parents know beforehand, instead of letting them get concerned and have to discover for themselves that their children have been spirited off. Would you be pleased if someone came along and spirited off your child when you weren’t looking? Even if it was for a bit of “harmless” fun?”

    Raphael started tapping into the local magic just in case this went sour – and was pleased to find it remarkably easy to use, even if that did lead to quite a power surge… He spun it into an astral summoning. It might be handy to have a guardian-creature to call on. He manifested a construct with natural invisibility and some armor and extra durability in front of himself just for kicks.

    (Kevin, sighing) “Mine tend to wander off on their own even without anyone spiriting them away – but I always make sure that nothing serious happens to them.”

    (Matron) “And how would you claim to manage that? Children are notoriously inventive at getting into mischief.”

    (Kevin) “When I created this realm, I made sure that being killed simply results in waking up in the morning here. I extend that benefit to those children who come under my care wherever they may happen to go. It does help with their safety.”

    Kevin was beginning to wonder… Would they be able to get anyone important to come to them? They might be better off winding down the rest of their Ciarkian commitments and checking in with the House of Roses.

    Marty had to agree. He was getting a little antsy too. While he had been enjoying his wings and talking to people, there was work to be done!

    Raphael wasn’t quite so sure… He wanted to see the demonstration at least.

    Well, they did have a couple of local commitments.

    (Matron) “And does this benefit extend past this…. realm of yours or is it simply an innate property of this location? And is this tied to all those child slaves of yours too?”

    (Kevin) “It extends to anyone I set up the basic link to. The children in my service receive that benefit along with a fairly wide variety of others – and it does indeed function anywhere they go. There wouldn’t be much point otherwise.”

    (Raphael, looking oddly at Kevin) “I never thought about it before but that is kind of similar to a living hearthstone effect.”

    (Kevin) “I think it’s related in some ways, although the available power seems somewhat greater.”

    (Matron) “An interesting analogy – although I suspect that the link has issues if the child is ever killed. Such as the binding becoming permanent until they can grow into the abilities through their own power perhaps?”

    Hm. Was her source of information in Hogwarts? It would explain a lot!

    (Kevin) “It depends on the link level. The lesser links simply last until they’re given up, but provide limited benefits besides being recalled here to wake up if they’re killed. The link with my agents does indeed last until they grow into the powers I bestow. Have you encountered something along those lines before?”

    The Matron spent some time on divinations and careful choosing of words before trying to answer that.

    (Raphael) “I wonder if hearthstones are hindered by their nonliving nature trying to enhance living things.”

    (Kevin) “It seems reasonable; they probably can’t grow and adapt to it properly… Is that what you’re working on these days?”

    (Raphael) “Oh no that is just something I picked up locally mostly I have been rounding out my knowledge of magic and studying tapping into the energies of whatever dimension I am in… It has caused some weird concepts to occasionally pop into my head.”

    Marty was showing Fenwick around a bit… She ought to meet Kevin, and have some idea of just what she was getting into, well ahead of the wedding!

    (Marty) “My friend has his own pocket dimension. It’s very convenient for some things!”

    He took advantage of a momentary lull in the conversation to introduce her.

    Kevin bowed to Ms Fenwick…

    (Kevin) “And I don’t believe we’ve been introduced… Here is your party welcome package though!”

    (Marty) “Thanks Angkor. This is Miss Fennwick.” (Telepathic link: “She’s going to be my next wife.”)

    (Kevin) “Ah, Raphael, Martin Macaw (Tabard).”

    Kevin was covering some shock there – mostly about the high speed! Marty couldn’t have known the girl for more than a day!

    (Kevin) “Why then, I am honored!…” (Privately) “Does she have any idea what she’s getting in to?”

    (Raphael, waving to Marty) “Hi again!”

    (Marty) “Hey Raph! Good to see you again!” (To Kevin) “Well, she knows I’m wealthy and powerful, and that’s what her mother was looking for. I’m going to tell her the full truth before we make it official, though.”

    (Raphael) “Good to see you too… good to be out of the lab.”

    Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 59

    A Russian VPF pull fuze used for booby-trap pu...

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    Note: While Xiang has now remembered her real name, her general personality – as determined by the player – has in no way changed. Ergo, she’s still going to be referred to as Xiang for the moment.

    And so we sat and waited. Or at least, I sat and waited. The others were still busily setting up their traps and such for the Faded assault. Something was wrong with this whole proceeding, but I wasn’t entirely sure what. Valerie was too preoccupied by her preparations to bother listening to my concerns, as was everyone else. We’re missing something critical, but exactly what continues to elude me.

    About the time of the predicted assault, the bridge shuddered and there was the sound of multiple explosions nearby. Gravity had a momentary interruption, and the bridge switched to emergency lighting. Smoche immediately started swearing about something too. My senses were warning me that something beyond a simple bridge assault was going on.

    Ben swore. Drat it! They’d set so many booby traps and concentrated their forces so much that assaulting the bridge had become a really low-probability route to seizing control! So – of course – the faded had gone elsewhere! He should have foreseen that, but he hadn’t thought to check!

    Shipwreck – working with Smoche – started scanning bridge systems…

    Lazlo hefted his faded prisoner in stasis; he’d make a fine shield!

    (Smoche) Most of the control connections to the bridge have been severed. Systems are being rerouted to secondary control.

    (Kira) What’s secondary control?

    (Ben) That’s the backup bridge.

    (Kira) Wait, we have one of those?

    (Valerie) Apparently.

    (Kira) Alright, where?

    Ben then pulled up a display and had an indicator light up where the secondary bridge was at. Orienting myself against the map, I turned to the appropriate door and powered on my lightsaber. I wouldn’t put it past the Faded to engage the door locks and disable the controls to keep us from leaving the bridge, but I highly doubted they knew how fast I could cut my way out. Stabbing the door with a thrust, I then began to cut open a hole.

    Thankfully my senses gave me enough warning to power off the lightsaber and leap back far enough to avoid the explosion that tore through the door. Shipwreck started warning about more devices implanted on the doors to deter more such actions – where Ben hadn’t throughly trapped the bulkheads and decks. At least the path down the corridor to the lift was now clear.

    How did they manage to get this many traps and explosions off so quickly without us noticing? It wasn’t like they could use hypertime right now. I stared down that corridor hard and quickly concluded that more traps were likely to lie between me and the secondary bridge. And given the amount of swearing coming from Smoche, time was not on our side in this matter. Xiang, Jacob, and Lazlo immediately took off down the corridor in a blind charge.

    Shipwreck was scanning… It looked like they had one faded – with what was left of what had to have been a plentiful supply of smartmines – running about at high speed and blowing up conduits and slapping mines on doors. How was he… Ah. A SERIOUS hypertime expert; he was using micro-bursts of extremely high speed to get in between Smoche’s hyperjump cycling – which was a good deal slower now, thanks to the damage to the power core. The guy was still only averaging about four times normal speed even without a witness, but between that and phasing, that was letting him drop bombs at strategic points awfully easily.

    Smoche was livid! Explosives? In HIS control systems? This was not to be borne!

    Lazlo and Xiang promptly dived ot the door and headed for a fast-transport tube. Those ran to the secondary bridges so that – in the case of damage to one bridge – the survivors could resume control in the shortest possible time.

    The capsule headed off at extremely high speed – passing through some of the odder environmental parks along the way. The Mrs Beasley HAD been intended to be able to offer accommodations to almost any known sapient creature after all…

    Jacob hesitated a moment – and then headed out after Lazlo and Xiang. There would be enough people to guard the bridge against a single faded, even if they were pretty mean!

    I needed to move fast and in an unanticipated way. Hmm, maybe turning the trap idea in on itself would work well in this situation.

    (Kira) Handell!

    (Handell) Yeah?

    (Kira) I want you to rotate the ship so that the secondary bridge occupies this position.

    (Valerie) What are you doing?

    (Kira) I am going to phase through the window while Handell rotates the ship under me. With any luck, I will end up outside the secondary bridge.

    (Ben) That’s a great idea!

    (Valerie) Of all the stupid, insane stunts! At least stay inside the ship and just phase through the walls!

    (Kira) Fine. Smoche, would you be terribly upset if I destroy the controls in the secondary bridge?

    (Smoche) I’ll be terribly upset if they get control of my ship.

    Actually there were five secondary bridges – so the ship could be operated regardless of the damaged area and current facing – but that didn’t make any difference at the moment.

    (Kira) I’ll take that as a yes then. Handell, you ready?

    (Handell) A few seconds to get the calculations loaded.

    (Alys) I’m coming too.

    (Valerie) I’m going to stay here and help defend the bridge.

    Ben made sure his traps in the wall were deactivated. About a minute later Handell announced he was ready to rotate the Mrs Beasley. I gave the go-ahead and phased. It was hard not to flinch as the wall suddenly accelerated towards my face. Walls flicked past far faster than I could keep track as the Mrs Beasley rotated underneath my feet. The impression of a holo special effect was hard to shake off as I watched massive amounts of corridors, rooms, and machinery pass me by without feeling a thing.

    Alys didn’t manage to phase – but Ben managed it nicely.

    Meanwhile, Lalzo and Xiang were hurtling towards the secondary control room stop at high speed – and Lazlo was getting increasingly nervous. There was something very wrong here… He jammed the emergency stop button – and the braking system started slowing the capsule. Xiang started forcing open a back panel.  

    The reason for that apprehension appeared at the end of the tube – a monowire grid, freshly spot-welded into place. Xiang managed to bail out in time, but Lazlo – encumbered by his “shield” – had more difficulty, and wound up slightly injuring himself and slicing several limbs off his “shield” as he got out of the tangle.

    Damn… They could see into the secondary bridge, but the angle certainly wasn’t favorable for what ranged weapons they had and the tube proved too solid for even Lazlo to bend. Making it far, FAR, worse was the fact that Jacob was coming up behind them in another capsule…

    (Jacob) Those fools what are they doing in this tunnel?? Oh it is the Newlyweds…This is no place for a romantic stroll!

    He hit his own emergency stop – but could see that it wouldn’t be in time. Then Xiang set her force-pike into the walls and braced for impact.

    It was really too bad that, after a hundred millennia of using inertial dampers, the galaxy had quite forgotten the secrets of “seat belts”.

    Impressively, it held up. Such were the benefits of buying the best possible equipment and investing your own energies in it.

    With the front of the capsule folding around Xiang, Jacob was hurled halfway through what was left to collide with her as well – slightly injuring himself, although Xiang tanked it easily again… She was just as bad as Lazlo, even in her right mind! It was something of a shame that the couple seemed to be considering breaking up!

    She yanked him the rest of the way out after confriming that no one else was coming this way and headed back to the barrier…

    It looked like the monowire barrier was the work of a small spider-droid… The faded had apparently anticipated the use of the fast-transport tube in the assault. Jacob thought that was silly! Thanks to his artificer-technique, droids were easy to manipulate! Silly faded!

    He seized control and sent it after it’s prior masters – then set to work with his lightsabers; even if the monowire was tough enough to resist a lightsaber, the walls of the tube – and the spotwelds – were NOT.

    Meanwhile, Handell had completed his calculations – and spun the ship. Since Alys had missed the ride, she went back to telepresence – sending in a wave of security droids to back the others.

    I appeared on the bridge with a bang of displaced air. I saw two Faded in the room: one reading an instruction manual, and the other swearing at a control panel that was flipping switches back after he flipped them himself. (probably due to Smoche). Both turned in shock as they noticed my arrival, along with Ben’s. Alys presumably got lost somewhere in the process.

    Moving before they had a chance to respond, I unleashed a storm of Force lightning across all the panels and consoles with all the power I could muster. Blue arcs of electricity crawled across all the controls, detonating some panels, fusing others, and causing small explosions and clouds of smoke all around me. That neatly derailed any plans they might have had regarding using this place to take control of the Mrs Beasley.

    At that point one of them reacted by suddenly directing the energies I had just unleashed to underneath my feet. More power then flowed into the mess as it all then proceeded to detonate and rip through the flooring underneath me. I pulled again on the Force hard to resist injury and to keep my footing as I stepped through the fires and arcs of electricity towards the Faded. Ben was blown back by the detonation, but it looked like I had the Faded’s full attention right now.

    The other Faded was looking at me with a mixture of horror and shock as he suddenly did something with the Codex difficult to read. I got my answer almost immediately as to what he thought he was trying to do as the lights went dim, the sensation of gravity disappeared, and my Force senses went dull. He was obviously trying to push me out of the universe and succeeding much better than I would have anticipated against a Force user. I grabbed onto the Force as hard as I could, trying to resist the push out. Unfortunately my struggles were not going well as I could feel the threads binding me to this reality slip away from me one by one.

    How is he able to push out a Force user? Is he really that powerful, is it because I am a hybrid, or is it because I am not native to this galaxy? Or more than one of those?

    Despite my struggles, the threads binding me here all slipped from my grasp and everything went black. Then with a brilliant white flash, I found myself back on the bridge standing next to Valerie. Before I could even react she smacked me on the back of the head.

    (Valerie) Quit falling out of space and time!

    Back on the main bridge, Alys had deployed enough security droids to chase the faded saboteur onto the bridge – at least with the help of Valerie and Lisella using the force to attack him and sending grenades chasing him – and had confronted him with her talent for taking command and ordering people around (backed by a force point, for a 58). Between that, and the fact that he was confronted with rather a lot of opponents, he was wavering pretty badly.

    Sadly, back on the secondary bridge, the initial battle wasn’t going well… Ben had managed to evade most of the initial electrical blast, but now had his feet welded to the floor and a high-voltage cable running power through his armor. Fortunately, Jacob, Lazlo, and Xiang were cutting their way out of the transport tube.

    Everyone on the bridge was staring at me except Khadim, 10CH, Valerie, and Lisella. Then I noticed that a presumed Faded was also staring at my sudden arrival. Alys was the first to respond coherently.

    (Alys) Surrender, as you can see, our resources and abilities far exceed anything you can possibly imagine.

    Whatever resolve the guy had wilted in the face of the numbers and power arrayed against him. Valerie and Lisella moved quickly to restrain him while I went to Handell. He looked up from his drinking surprised to see me.

    (Kira) Can you rotate the ship again to put me back on the secondary bridge?

    (Handell) When did you get back? Wait, you want me to do that again?

    (Kira) Yes, I don’t think the others are doing well.

    (Handell) Hold on, give me a minute to get the calculations entered again. You want fast or right?

    Valerie took that moment to give me a dirty look from across the bridge.

    (Kira) Do it right. Hopefully the others can hold off long enough for me to help.

    (Handell) Gotcha.

    Back on the alternate bridge, Jacob had hurled his lightsabers at the two faded – and had seriously injured their phasing specialist, who’d expected the lightsaber to pass through him harmlessly. Ben had tried to transfer the heat from his armor into the Shifter’s blaster, that had worked tolerably well – at least costing the guy a weapon – but he needed help quickly…

    Lazlo moved in to hit people, which some success – dodging the various explosions and electrical arcs along the way – but another unlikely shift in the electrical powerflows courtesy of the faded left Ben even more injured and Jacob barely conscious….

    Fortunately, that left Alys’s droids concentrating their fire on a single target – and they managed to briefly stun him. If you filled the air with enough blaster bolts, something would leak through the interface eventually.

    Xiang promptly impaled him with her vibropike. He’d let her first couple of strikes pass harmlessly through – but he couldn’t do that while stunned…. The man attempted to twist the timeline into one where that hadn’t happened , but only succeeded halfway; he arrived on that timeline – but no one else did, and he was unable to repair the breech of reality.

    From everyone else’s point of view, he was just gone.

    The gravely injured Shifter attempted to eject all of them from reality – and would have managed it with most of them if the force hadn’t aided them (via much spending of force points). With his failure, the backlash took him – and a bunch of the droids – as well.

    That was a VERY good thing; Ben was cooking and nearly out, Jacob was cooking and nearly out, Lazlo had some serious wounds (and his “shield” was quite dead), and only Xiang was in decent shape.

    Fortunately, Alys could afford to send in more droids.

    It took the better part of a minute for Handell to do his thing again. Again I phased right as the wall lunged at me and the ship rotated underneath my feet. The effect wasn’t nearly as disorienting this time, by it was still incredibly difficult to suppress the urge to flinch. Appearing on the bridge with another blast of displaced air, I saw the battle had concluded without me. Neither Faded was anywhere to be seen. Xiang and Lazlo looked somewhat bruised and battered. Ben and Jacob looked to be having other issues. A symptom of this distress was evident from the fact that both their feet were welded to the floor.

    Meanwhile, Jacob was “adopting” the spinner-droid (and having it reel in it’s monowire) and ordering more. Those were kind of cool!

    Oops… Channeling the force into his bionics to try and heal them was making him feel their damage as pain! That had been a REALLY BAD IDEA! Ow!

    He put it into the Mrs Beasley instead. That would help things!

    Alys was already remotely directing droids to cut Ben and Jacob free, but I shoved the droids aside and did the job myself with a lightsaber in a fraction of the time. Droids then immediately took everyone to medical for treatment. Droids were verbally giving the complaints I was silently giving in my head. We were taking too much damage in this. Jacob especially was accruing damage far too quickly. And we still had around eight Faded on the loose.

    I was also dismayed to find out that Lazlo had killed his prisoner before we even had a chance to interrogate him. The fact that he found absolutely nothing wrong with this idea gave me the impression of a house cat presenting a dead bird on the porch. The dark energies I felt coming from him also weren’t reassuring. It felt a lot different from the Varen I’ve met, and a lot more like some of the worst apprentices at the Academy like Jurin.

    And yet everyone calls me a Sith and the one most likely to fall to the Dark Side.

    Alys already had droids cleaning out corridors of traps. The fires in the secondary bridge were quickly put out and Smoche was back in control of things from what I understood. I briefly considered joining Virstris and the others in fighting off the Faded assault on the power core, but received one of those Force promptings to wait for the moment. So I stood in the remains of the secondary bridge and watched the ongoing battle out the window.

    Like I knew she would, I felt her approach and enter the room.

    <Valerie> You are damned lucky you have me around to save your ass.

    <Kira> Well, it wasn’t my intention to get shoved out of the universe in the first place.

    <Valerie> The twi’lek is already asking annoying questions about that whole fiasco. She can’t seem to take the hint to drop it.

    <Kira> I figure it is only a matter of time before she figures it out.

    <Valerie> A lot faster than you did no less.

    <Kira> I guess I do owe you a thank you for earlier.

    <Valerie> Let’s hear it then.

    <Kira> I said I owe you one. It means you’ll get it later, probably after I find one to give. When’s your birthday?

    <Valerie> Maybe I’ll ask for your head on a pike too.

    <Kira> Now, now, we both know the consequences of that.

    <Valerie> Yet you continually fling yourself out of the universe.

    <Kira> I didn’t fling myself, I was pushed out. And you know damned well I fought that effort.

    <Valerie> Then maybe you need to learn how to better anchor yourself instead of relying on me to pull you back.

    <Kira> And how exactly do you suppose I practice that? Most people don’t have to worry about sudden existence failures.

    <Valerie> Oh I’m sure I can think of something.

    The conversation went quiet at that point as I turned back around to look out the window of the bridge. The battle was still raging outside as the Faded ships fired fruitlessly at our shields trying to score a meaningful hit. The number of ships involved was impressive. It sorta reminded me of the massive battle I saw in the holos as most of the fleets back home around the Mrs Beasley. There were so many ships darting around at such a distance it almost looked like the stars were moving around us.

    Wait a minute….

    Valerie quickly noticed my shifting attention as I started trying to get a rough count of the ships around us.

    (Valerie) What is it?

    (Kira) There’s too many ships.

    (Valerie) What do you mean? The shields seem to be holding up fine despite the damage.

    (Kira) I mean that there shouldn’t be this many ships out there.

    (Valerie) Now you presume to tell the Faded how many they can bring to battle?

    (Kira) How many were attacking Alderaan when we arrived?

    (Valerie) You know this, fourteen major ships and a few hundred fighters.

    (Kira) And why were they attacking Alderaan?

    (Valerie) Again, you know this. Because it is one of the last major fortress world between the Faded and most of the Rim. Most of the other routes only give you access to a small fraction of the Galaxy, but if you take Alderaan there is nothing to stop you from reaching the void at the edge of the Galaxy. If the Faded take Alderaan, they effectively win against the Codifiers. Destroying the Codifiers means they can wish themselves into paradise – at least according to their twisted religion.

    (Kira) And yet, there are several thousand ships out there right now.

    She stared out the window as the realization of what I was saying dawned on her. Annoyingly she immediately began her own counting of ships as if this was another thing I couldn’t be trusted to do right.

    (Valerie) It has to be factional infighting that has prevented them from pulling it off – unless they were just attacking everywhere to keep Alderaan from getting any reinforcements.

    (Kira) I don’t believe it.

    (Valerie) It’s stopped the Sith from taking Alderaan.

    (Kira) Except the Sith have something else to contend with: the Republic fleet. The Faded don’t have that issue.

    (Valerie) Hm… Many of those ships don’t look to be dedicated warships per se. The actual number of warships may be significantly smaller. In fact… perhaps we should check with Shipwreck. I see very little major weapons fire.

    (Kira) The fact that they exist at all still poses a problem. Either the defenses of the Codifiers and Alderaan were much sturdier thirty days ago, or something is seriously wrong with this picture.

    There was actually; Kira was a bit too used to the fleets of his own galaxy; there actually wasn’t a single ship on the scale he was used to out there – and his unconscious assumption that the largest ships he could see were star destroyers (rather than light cruisers) was throwing him badly off.

    (Valerie) Well what do you propose? Do you really think they are so incompetent that they can’t get more than fourteen ships together to fight their most hated enemy?

    (Kira) How am I supposed to know? Since the Dark Side seems to cause brain damage, maybe Fading causes stupidity?

    Just then I realized what I just said and to whom. Valerie spoke again, and the icy tone of her voice was impossible to miss.

    (Valerie) Brain damage?

    Opening my mouth again was just going to result in more trouble, so I kept my mouth shut.

    (Valerie) Is that what you really think?

    (Kira) ….

    (Valerie) You will answer me now.

    (Kira) After spending time with Artificers, Arethi, Jedi, Jacob, HoloSith and even Varen, it is hard to deny the idea that the different factions more closely resemble various mental disorders as opposed to factional cultures. I think it was Smoche and Ichara that really drove the point home.

    I could feel that sea of anger within her boiling. To say she wasn’t reacting well to the perceived insult was an understatement. I was just surprised at how much it seemed to be affecting her. She actually seemed to be quite hurt by it, yet I would have thought it something she’d have brushed off flippantly. The only time I had seen her this upset was when I mocked her lightsaber. That had ugly implications for what was about to happen next.

    I absently stepped back as my hands slowly edged towards the lightsabers at my sides. Just when I thought the anger was about to boil over, she suddenly went very cold and her face went impassive. All I could tell over the link was that something had come down hard on her anger and squashed it. The recognition that it had to be sheer willpower made my hair stand on end. When she spoke again, is was in a very quiet, emotionless tone.

    (Valerie) Back to the business at hand, what do you propose is going on with the Faded fleet?

    (Kira) I don’t know. All I know is that by my own estimations, we have several galaxies worth of Faded and ships out there attacking…. us…. now….

    (Valerie) I take it you’ve thought of something?

    (Kira) Maybe that is several galaxies worth of Faded and ships.

    (Valerie) And you complain about the twi’lek being cryptic.

    (Kira) No, think about it. This galaxy has been slowly fragmenting. The old maps pretty much prove it. We’ve been assuming that it’s been losing the occasional planet or star, but what if it is losing a fraction of the stars every so often? This one galaxy has instead been fragmenting into many, each with a fraction of the stars of the original.

    (Valerie) Ok, but that doesn’t explain why they’re all here.

    (Kira) But what if our incredibly unlikely journey to the Galactic Core to fix things is causing the pieces to reassemble? We even have an atavist aboard. He’s been fixing the Censor as we’ve found out the hard way.

    (Valerie) But why would it be reassembling so much here compared with Alderaan?

    (Kira) Because we are getting close to the stasis field where all the divergence hasn’t happened. All timelines converge back on this section of the galaxy which has been locked into an instant in time for millennia now.

    (Valerie) I still find it hard to buy into. Assuming that the Faded can’t work together is a lot simpler than inventing new physics.

    (Kira) I’ve had a lot of people try to lecture me on what can and can’t be done. I let the evidence decide and I don’t make conclusions before then.

    (Valerie) You would be a lot more convincing if you hadn’t taken years to realize the truth in front of your eyes.

    Sheepishly I had to concede the point.

    Checking in with Virstris showed some progress against the Faded assaulting the power core. Handell had been assisting as best he could by rotating the ship while Faded were phased. This had helped split up the six Faded, and Handell had apparently even succeeded in throwing one into the room with a hole leading straight to the power core. So that left five Faded remaining on that end split up into three groups. Virstris and the others were working with Alys to continue to isolate and overwhelm the now smaller Faded groups. Of the two that managed to sneak through the shields earlier, one was now missing, while the other was still at large.

    It was around that timeframe when I felt two massive surges of Force power emanating from deeper in the ship. The first one felt a look like what Smoche and Ichara do with imbuing equipment with Force energies except this one was focused on the Mrs Beasley as a whole. The second pulse was “focused” on the Faded ships around and behind us. Given who I suspected was behind those two blasts of power, I highly suspected the second one was aimed at pushing more buttons. As proof, the Faded fleet around us immediately fell into chaos, confusion, and some ships were even destroyed.

    Between that and our final approach to the Galactic Black Hole, the Faded assaults on the Mrs Beasley began to drop off. Apparently they weren’t insane enough to want to follow us near an almost invisible black hole. Can’t say I blame them, not everyone could have a pilot as good as Handell and a sensor specialist like Shipwreck. Handell wasn’t appreciative of my faith in his abilities though.

    This thing looked a lot more like what people visualize when they think of a black hole. It was the purest pitch black and utterly featureless from what I could tell. Nowadays I knew enough to realize that wasn’t what I was supposed to be seeing. The accretion disk and jets were missing, nor was the thing generating an appreciable gravity well at this distance. Which for a black hole a thousand light years across was more than a bit odd. To me this suggested that the second stage stasis field hypothesis was gaining significant traction.

    This left the issue of what to do now that we were here. The debate between the experts began, in the meantime I turned my attention back to the Faded on board and the effort to clean them out of our ship.

    The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Infravision should be brought back for 3rd edition!”

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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. I put up some basics on how infravision might actually work in the d20 system yesterday, over HERE.

    This particular rant is entitled “Infravision and Why It Should Be Destroyed

    Now, Reynolds has a fairly good argument, but as with several of his rants, it relies on underestimating his audience. At heart, Darkvision is far less sensible than Infravision – and Reynolds tacitly admits it’s also much less interesting and useful.

    This particular rant includes a variety of scenarios demonstrating that Infravision is very useful and cool – which are then labeled too complicated and handwaved away. The only problem is that Infravision is pretty simple. With it, people simply see heat. Since the technology to do it is known and occasionally shown on television or movies, and much of the player audience will understand it. This is hardly some impossible feat of comprehension, and a couple simple guidelines would have explained it nicely. I was prepared to agree with him until I realized just how utterly awesome Infravision would be!

    Mr Reynolds is also assuming that “natural” infravision must be equivalent to modern high-end infrared detectors with computer-enhancement, and that it perceives detailed intensity instead of a mixture of frequency and intensity like normal sight. Those are both unjustified assumptions. Thus my earlier discussion of how actual organically-based infravision would probably work, and why that has very little to do with those assumptions. -Thoth

    The contrary view is simply that Darkvision is easy. It’s just like regular vision, except in the dark. This is true, but that’s almost irrelevant. It can’t cut through magical darkness. It is simple to duplicate through items. Most player characters don’t get Darkvision anyhow (only Dwarves and Half-Orcs). Those who do can see only slightly farther than the nose on their face – even in caves, 60-foot visual range is almost useless. And low-level spells can do the same job better anyway.

    Well, it is pretty useful if your game spends a lot of time on melee combat and the lights go out at all often. Still, if the GM keeps doing that, soon everyone will have some way of compensating – or they’ll be dead. -Thoth

    Thus, nearly any party requires better light sources anyhow, and darkvision is at best a minor bonus, uninteresting to use. That’s hardly a great reason to prefer it. Those who want to use it, can; those who don’t have no reason to bother. It also suffers from the exclusivity problem. Games are much better served when the players can all participate, so no DM is going to set up an elaborate scenario relying on some players have darkvision and some being blind.

    In the end, darkvision is a parlor trick, but infravision is incredibly cool. It’s not appropriate for every race, but it’s fun and well worth exploring. And you can look at how Shadowrun used it: some races received lower penalties for darkness, some got infravision, along with quick, easy rules to use it, and both were inferior to technology available to everyone.

    Infravision – Why and How

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    The primary reason for using “Darkvision” in 3.0 and 3.5 is “because it’s much simpler mechanically”.

    To quote Mr Sean K. Reynolds – one of the 3.0 game designers – “Infravision rules have a lot of holes in them, and cleaning up those holes isn’t worth the time and effort to do so. Darkvision is an elegant solution (it works just like normal vision and doesn’t rely on a science explanation that can be misinterpreted or exploited) and doesn’t require all of this extra work.”

    To put that into the game, 3.0 and 3.5 system reference documents provide the following bit of rules:

    DARKVISION: Darkvision is the extraordinary ability to see with no light source at all, out to a range specified for the creature. Darkvision is black and white only (colors cannot be discerned). It does not allow characters to see anything that they could not see otherwise—invisible objects are still invisible, and illusions are still visible as what they seem to be. Likewise, darkvision subjects a creature to gaze attacks normally. The presence of light does not spoil darkvision.

    Uhm. Yes.

    In fact, of course, darkvision is only “simpler mechanically” as long as no one asks questions. “It works like normal vision” has the advantage of drawing on a lot of real-world experience, but all of that experience is based on some pretty complicated physics – that “science explanation” Mr Reynolds wanted to avoid. A simple magnifying lens is a standard bit of d20 equipment, but it brings in refraction, the dual wave-particle nature of light, electromagnetism, the properties of materials, and more. In fact, it brings along thousands of pages worth of physics – all the stuff that underlies all those “common sense” notions about how the world works.

    Sure, you can say that the physics of your world works some other way – but then you’re going to have to build and explain that physics as soon as someone starts experimenting (if you want to go that route, here’s an article on Elemental Physics to give you a start, and a followup on Dimensional Traits). You may get lucky and not have to deal with that, but if you run enough games, sooner or later you’ll get some players who keep wanting to know “why” and “how”. Those are the ones who want to try another route to problem solving; figuring out how things work in the setting and how they can take advantage of whatever you come up with – in other words, engineering.

    I look through windows, wear glasses, and use binoculars, telescopes, and mirrors. What effect do those have on my darkvision? What is it that’s being refracted? If I’ve been cursed to need extremely powerful corrective lenses to see, how does that interact with darkvision? Can I make illusions or inks that are ONLY apparent to darkvision? Lamps and spells that extend its range? How does it work underwater? Do colored dyes that only block particular colors block darkvision? Are there dyes or gases that block darkvision but not normal vision? How about if I mix several of them? Are there materials which are opaque to normal light but transparent to darkvision? Can I use darkvision through a periscope? Can I see myself in a mirror in the dark with it? What’s reflecting? Are there darkvision mirrors that don’t reflect light? Why or why not?

    Darkvision is “simple” because the rules don’t bother to give you any guidelines on how it works and don’t bother to answer any of those questions. Instead, you get chucked straight into house rules the instant some inquisitive character with darkvision picks up a magnifying glass or mirror and asks a few questions.

    Another objection is that it complicates the rules – in part because infravision has a fixed range, which “doesn’t make sense”.

    That’s true; it doesn’t.

    The ONLY major difference between “infravision” and “normal vision” is that – to infravision – everything (including the air) glows a bit. That doesn’t show up on most infra-red images since those systems are only designed to detect thermal differences. Virtually every infra-red image you see on the net is actually the equivalent of a grayscale image, with phony “colors” assigned to represent brightness and make the images more interesting. In fact, two objects at exactly the same infra-brightness can – and usually will – have entirely different infra-colors. Infravision will tend to get swamped by the environmental background at long ranges, but it doesn’t have a hard range limit save by convenience.

    In other words, discussions of “thermal signatures” with respect to full infravision are totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter exactly how hot a creature is, just as it doesn’t matter exactly how brightly illuminated a yellow object is when it comes to normal sight; it’s still yellow. The colors will be different of course, and might have their own names – but the players will never care.

    As a minor difference, Infravision provides a bit less detail and gets fuzzy more quickly thanks to the longer wavelength involved – but the actual difference is trivial as far as characters are concerned.

    How will the differences work in the game? In exactly the same way that the rules cover how far away you can see a faintly glowing object, or can make out a lantern flame at night, or how much smoke cuts down that distance – by leaving it up to the game master, who has to describe what everyone sees anyway. Situations like that are subject to so many varying factors that it would take dozens of  pages worth of (rarely or never used) special-purpose rules to cover them. You don’t find those for sight, why should you find them for infravision?

    Wanting to track by heat isn’t all that different from tracking by scuff marks on the floor, the slow ooze of mud back into footsteps, lingering traces of smoke, or by scent. That’s tracking – perhaps with a modest modifier for a method that suits the current situation better – whatever that method may be. Just a minute ago? Heat may work best. Climbed out of a stream? Sight works best. On a smooth floor? Scent works best.

    Will spells have infravision-related side effects? Will Burning Hands flashblind people with infravision? Will Cone of Cold make it hard for them to see?

    Probably not. Why not? For the same reason that bright spells like Lightning Bolt don’t flashblind people in the area and that flame spells aren’t listed as producing clouds of smoke (either inherently or from the stuff that’s been set on fire). If you wanted to worry about such effects, now you’d want to worry about who was looking that way at the time, and who was blinking at that instant, and so on – another mass of detail which will add little to play. That’s why it’s left to the GM to bring such things up if he or she feels that it’s important.

    Does a person transformed into an elemental form or a cloud of gas have body heat? Why should they? What are various monsters thermal signatures like? Are undead inherently cold?

    It doesn’t matter. Their infracolors will still distinguish them nicely.

    Will infravision negate many illusion or visually-based spells? Why? The distinction between infra-red, visible light, and ultraviolet light is actually very small. They’re all just photons, and within a very narrow range of frequencies at that. There’s no reason to expect that tiny difference in frequency to mean anything to magic. In fact, humans can see ultraviolet light just fine if you replace the protein-based lens of the eye (which doesn’t transmit ultraviolet) with glass (which does) – an amusing fact discovered thanks to some old surgical treatments for cataracts.

    Will infravision negate invisibility in particular? Again, why should it? If invisibility was a simple physical effect which let light pass through the user, or routed it around them, it would blind the user, since no light would reach their eyes. For that matter, it covers long flowing capes and mighty wings just as well as it covers mice. Is there any reason why covering up an “aura of heat” should be any harder than covering up condor’s wingspread?

    Will a creatures own body heat interfere with its infravision? Pretty obviously not. If a creature has infravision, it necessarily has some method of dealing with this particular issue. It is, after all, quite possible even without magic; there are ambient-temperature thermal sensors in wide use now.

    Both Darkvision and rules-based “Infravision” work the same way – and, in fact, are pretty much precisely equivalent – as long as characters are treated as playing pieces on a board. Once you take a role-playing view, and the players start asking questions, they’re equally complicated. The real difference is that Infravision offers a set of answers – however complex – while Darkvision (at least as written) simply tries to pretend that the questions don’t exist.