Federation-Apocalypse Session 157 – A Fly on the Rabbit

Garden gnome with wheelbarrow

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With the contests winding down, the final event was the dancing competition… Kevin had signed up for that, albeit casually. He wasn’t feeling all that competitive about dancing after the duel, and would mostly be relying on his natural talents with just enough magical enhancement to fit in with the locals…

All he needed was a partner. There was bound to be someone – and he was a pretty good judge of talent.

Marty decided to join the unofficial dangers, just for the fun of it – and started looking around for a partner of his own.

Kevin found a young wolf lady off in a corner of the festivities. She had no escort at the moment, and it was only a competition…

(Kevin) “Would you care to dance? I have some small skill, and it might be fun!”

Marty found a nice-looking parrot lady who was slightly older than he was – with none of the local signs of being married. An angry husband starting a brawl would ruin the dancing!

(Wolf) “Well then, I suppose one dance won’t hurt then. And what is your name?”

(Kevin) “Angkor. A visitor to your fair city. And yours my Lady?”

(Wolf) “Kari Driselle”

(Kevin) “I am most pleased to meet you!”

He offered her the crook of his arm to escort her to the dance floor.

(Marty) “Good evening, madam. I’m Martin of the Macaws. Would you like to dance with me?”

Kevin spun his partner through a fairly spectacular exhibition. He actually had some skill in dance and acrobatics (and looking good) to go with his inhuman charisma, agility, speed, and grace – and he was throughly used to being on stage. They were drawing a lot of attention.

Marty, however, was a bit unused to trying to dance with claws (and may have been tripped up by a rabbit saboteur). He started off dramatically and – given his earlier performance in the sociability competition – had quite a lot of eyes on him when he stumbled and spun his partner into another pair of couples: a powerful tiger and his wife, and a pair of rabbits.

He managed to take the blame himself, but there wasn’t much he could do to salvage the dance.

(Rabbit) “Hey, what do you think you are doing here! Lousy party this festival is with the tigers flinging birds everywhere!”

(Tiger) “Excuse me? Are you trying to insinuate this is our fault? It is clear the gentleman over there is unable to dance, there’s not much we can do about that.”

(Marty, apologizing profusely to his partner) “Yeah, it’s not the cats’ fault I’m clumsy!”

What a weird feeling! He had to admit that – at least for him – damage control was an almost completely new frontier!

(Rabbit) “It’s their festival, and it should fall to their responsibility to keep riff-raff like yourself out of the proceedings.”

(Tiger) “Sir, this festival is free for all to attend, we will not cater to your elitism merely because you wish it. Although I will recommend the gentleman get some dancing lessons. It looks like he can afford some.”

(Marty) “I agree! Do either of you know a good tutor? You seem to know your stuff.”

There had to be some way to defuse the argument! The last thing he wanted was a riot – or, even worse, a clan vendetta resulting from his clumsiness!

Kevin sent a thrall-kid disguised as a deer-child-messenger bouncing up to Mr Rabbit carrying a package.

(Thrall) “Delivery for you sir!”

Marty, who wasn’t in on the joke, used Witchsight to examine the package. Unexplained deliveries rarely resulted in anything good!

(Rabbit) “I recommend a tortoise: nice, slow and deliberate. I think that is about your speed… What is this?”

Oh, a Thrall? Kevin must be playing a prank. That might not be such a good idea at the moment!

The package contained one large, vaguely-menacing, ceramic garden gnome – with a well-hidden charm on it that would cause it to land heavily on a rabbit toe if it was dropped, thrown, or otherwise discarded.

From “Anon Ye Mouse”? Definitely Kevin then; no one else here would even know the word behind that pun…

(Marty, privately) “Kevin? What’s up?”

(Kevin, privately) “Well, the Rabbits have been trying to start a fight for some time for some unknown reason anyway”.

The Rabbit opened the package, looked at the contents in disgust, and then tried to throw it away – with predictable results. Much laughing ensued and the rabbit grew increasingly angry as he made another two tries at getting rid of it before realizing that something was up.

Marty let it go. Clearly the rabbits would take any pretense for a fight.

The gnome was detonated in a hail of shrapnel in short order as the rabbit’s frustration over the charm mounted – but the tiger (and Minel) managed to get a defensive spell up in time to protect all but the closest bystanders.

Kevin was rather startled; he hadn’t expected the rabbit to lost it’s temper quite THAT easily… At least no bystanders had been seriously injured – although that was mostly because most of the locals had enough magic to resist or heal minor injuries. Still, given that endangering bystanders with magic was a strict no-no, they could probably file claims against the rabbits… He had a pair of Thralls pass out the necessary forms to everyone who’d been injured or endangered.

(Tiger) “I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave. Throwing attack spells around one of our parties in completely unacceptable.”

(Rabbit) “Booting me out for the incompetence of others and insulting gifts being given to me?!”

(Tiger) “Not at all, I am throwing you out for showing no regard for the other guests at this party while flinging around dangerous magic.”

Conley, having completed a couple of the books, opted to get involved… What, exactly, were this pair doing in this world? It had to be something more important than simply attending parties!

Wait, were the Rabbits really trying to start a clan war against the cats? That sounded like a self-correcting problem to HIM. Weren’t the cats part of the military aristocracy?

Oh wait. Everyone here had magic. That evened things up a lot. Well, if they were stronger, they deserved to win!

Or would if they weren’t being so obnoxious about trying to start fights and sabotaging the festival.

Hm… It looked like starting a clan war without sufficient reason was frowned upon – and would  get the other factions behaving in an unsupportive fashion towards your side. They wouldn’t  actually side with the opposition – but they’d quietly make things easier for them and harder for you. Being seen on the defensive regarding your clans honor was sought after in these instances.

Interesting. Had Kevin or Marty tried to analyze the rabbits to see if they were doing this on their own, or were being coerced into it? Had they done any spying, probing, or information-gathering at ALL? Besides… why did Kevin and Marty care? Was it really simply that it was disrupting their vacation or their attempts to make a local splash? Were they THAT reactive and easily led?

(Rabbit) “This is outrageous! This insult will not stand!”

Marty sighed. Somehow, the rabbits struck him as a local problem. Would this really help them be conspicuous enough in hopes of drawing our enemies out where they could see them? Kevin would get involved of course – but he just liked messing with people.

(Tiger) “Then please, feel free to leave the festival at your next convenience.”

(Rabbit, stomping off) “I will! Expect to hear from us soon regarding this insult!”

(Tiger) “I wish to apologize to everyone for the disruption. Apparently some of our guests are unable to tolerate the faults in others and the associated accidents. Please carry on.”

Kevin finished the dancing, while Marty kept an eye out for rabbit disruptions… He hadn’t liked the sound of that parting comment.

Conley followed along after the rabbit, shapeshifting as needed to blend into the crowds and empty alleys. It wasn’t hard… the rabbit was making no attempt to hide his route and was moving across the city. He didn’t seem to care whether or not anyone was following him back to a major villa.

Conley became a fly, landed on the back of the rabbit’s coat, and hid in a fold of the cloth.

The rabbit swatted at him casually as he approached, but thought nothing more of it as he slunk into the folds of his clothing.

Inside the villa he saw a number of other rabbits in the entry room… All of them looked up to pay their respects to the one that just entered as he walked in and past them. His ride went through a number of hallways, then stopped before a large mural painted on plaster. After making a few gestures, the plaster proceeded to curl up – and revealed a hidden passageway carved into the stone.

Hm… The passive sensors – looking for magic, psionics, and electronics, as well as increasing his spectral range.

The rabbit entered the corridor and sourceless lights came on as he walked along. He could tell that the place was heavily shielded from external detection – and looked to even have a number of misdirection spells attached to it. Soon enough the corridor opened to a large chamber with a number of high ranking rabbits and large black cat people.

Conley set his sensors to record. No signs of off-dimension support yet, but you could never tell.

(Highest ranking rabbit present) “Well, how did it go, did they take the bait?”

(Rabbit) “Unfortunately no, it looks like most of the sabotage was foiled before it could even occur. One of the idiots you gave me seems to have even ingested the laxative as opposed to putting on the food like he should. It ended up with me using the clumsiness of one of the party goers to try to get a rise out of them, but Arcerus is too stoic and polite for that.”

(High Ranking Rabbit) “Well bother, this would go so much better if we could get them to escalate hostilities. Any idea who was interfering with the sabotage? I would have figured the cat clan to not have the resources necessary to foil that scale of disruption.”

(Rabbit) “Not yet, it does look like it was outside of the cat clan though. It might be allies of theirs. The cat clan may be suspecting something of our plan.”

Conley rather wished he had telepathy…

(Panther) “I doubt that, Arcerus and the other heads of the clan are not that cunning; they are too caught up in their ideals of nobility and honor to suspect the lack of it in others. They suspect nothing I think.”

Well, no maniacal laughter (or growling or whatever), but it was looking like the panther was the one in charge. Wouldn’t he be, at least nominally, a member of the cat clan though? Infighting?

(Panther) “However, this plan will not work well unless we can cut off the Cat Clan from any sympathy and support from the rest of the factions in the city. We have to make it look like they deserve the attack so the rest of the city doesn’t object to a coup of the clan leadership. You must redouble you efforts or else soon the rest of the city is going to grow suspicious of your activities.”

Conley figured it was a bit late for that; they didn’t even live here, and they’d thought that the rabbits were already getting pretty blatant.

According to his reading… the most dangerous ones looked to be the ones who were best dressed – and had the most power signs about them. The panther in particular had ebony claws, a blood red mane, and silvery fangs. He’d be a bit of a challenge, to say the least, although some of that could be a sign of social power as opposed to physical or mental power. Apparently it could be hard to tell sometimes. Still, it was  probably not a good idea to go commando in here. It was unlikely to go over well.

Still, that gave him someone to follow after things broke up!

The proceedings soon broke up after a discussion of specific failings during the festival. The rabbits headed back down the tunnel he’d entered through, while the panther headed down another tunnel.

Conley tried to follow him in the same way – by landing on him and hiding in his own anti-divination precautions.

Back at the festival, the dancing competition was over – although Kevin and his partner only got second place. Another couple had had a lot of synergistic magical enhancements going on each other – and had barely managed to eek out a victory.

Kevin spent a few minutes expressing his appreciation to his partner, and wished her a most pleasant evening. (She’d been most impressed actually, and would like lessons). It would be a few minutes before he starts wondering where Mr Conley went; the last he’d seen the man he was reading…

Marty, sadly, was busily apologizing to HIS partner. More unaccustomed damage control… She didn’t really accept either! OK, being tossed into a pair of tigers would be a shock for a parrot lady, but it wasn’t like he was married to her, and that was what this felt like!

She’d stomped off in a huff anyway, so he’d gotten a few drinks… He started wondering where Conley had gone a little later though – and started asking if anyone had seen a gryphon.

Back with Conley…

(Panther) “An unusual fly we have here. Few common flies reek of such magical power as you do. Who are you and what are you doing here? I suggest not lying or trying to escape.”

Darn, he’d been spotted! At least they were alone!

He shifted back to his “normal” gryphon-form.

(Conley) “Hello. Pleased to meet you. I’m Conley, and you are?”

(Panther) “Lord Tychus Achyon. Why are you here and who are you working for?”

(Conley) “Why am I here? Because I am. You think I would be a field philosopher if I hadn’t answered that one already. Useless to sit around asking why. Get something done. Why, why not. You are, just get moving. I hate that question, junior philosophy classes make such a big deal of that one. Why, why, why? Much bigger things to worry about. Confusing the younger generation. No wonder so many of them turn to religion. Much easier to blame it on someone else. No, I’m sorry, because is the best answer for why are we here. Now, if, rather, you’d prefer to know about my particular system of beliefs, goals, and motivations as they apply to my system of mores and ethos, that would be a much better and interesting question.”

(Tychus) “I recommend not speaking in riddles to me and giving me a straight answer when spoken to. Philosophical dissertations are best left for somewhere other than the presence of a powerful predator guarding his territory.”

(Conley) “What riddles? You asked a question, I gave you an answer. Just because it’s not a answer you’re ready to understand isn’t my fault. Did you not ask me why I was here? I rather think you did! And you’re being redundant! A “powerful predator guarding his territory”? Well, typically only predators really bother with territory, and they’re the only ones overly concerned with ‘guarding it.’ And if you have staked out a territory, one would think you’ve already demonstrated a certain amount of power to do so. And you can’t be a predator if you don’t have some manner of power, otherwise you can’t really be much of a predator, can you.”

(Tychus) “You have intruded into the lair in which you do not belong under false pretenses. When I ask you to explain yourself, you then insist on purposefully misinterpreting the question and refusing to answer a perfectly legitimate question. In my mind that makes you an intruder and a hostile one at that. Now, are you going to answer the question like a reasonable person, or insist on wasting my time?”

(Conley) “Ah, but there you are wrong. I did not enter under false pretenses. There was nothing false about my pretenses.”

(Tychus) “Pretending to be a creature you are not and failing to notify people of your presence on their private property is false pretenses. I also suspect the rabbits might be able to bring up charges of breaking and entering.”

(Conley) “I rather doubt they could. I didn’t break anything, nor did I enter. I simply rode along with someone who did. And as for pretending to be what I am not, I never claimed to be something I am not. And the rabbit I rode in on did notice me, he waved at me as I landed on him.”

Back on the streets, Kevin’s attempt to track down Conley wasn’t going so well; all he could tell was that Conley’s magical trail had been obscured somewhere near the rabbit’s compound.

Marty had to wonder what he’d been doing there. Trying to infiltrate the place? That kind of thing was HIS job!

Still, without any real idea of where Conley had gone, there wasn’t much they could do. Even without privacy wards, none of them were divination specialists anyway.

(Conley) “Now, on that end. Let me guess, trying for a coupe, using the rabbits to start a conflict so that the felines are distracted while you pull some internal maneuvering? It’s a good plan, and I highly commend it. But can you hold off for a couple weeks? It’s interfering with things.

(Tychus pulled out a pouch and opened it to glance at the contents.) “Now, why would I do that?”

More checking showed that Conley had almost certainly entered the Rabbit villa, but to what end or what had happened to him since was impossible to say. The number of illusion and redirection spells shielding the place was large.

Of course. Rabbits liked to protect their burrows.

(Conley) “Well, first, I’d consider it a good favor. Secondly, maybe I could find you a way to do things that aren’t quite so blatant. Your rabbits really aren’t very good at being subtle you know. And it keeps my companions from having to interfere with things. Mostly so far our stamping down on the rabbits activities has been because we’ve found it fairly impolite and a disturbance to the party – and we’d really rather like not to be distracted right now.”

It was easy enough to deduce what Kevin and Marty might be up to when you had close contact with them. Neither of them was nearly as good at concealing their intentions as they liked to believe. Hm… The bag seemed to contain finely powdered silver with no particular magic.

(Conley) “Silver? Afraid of weres? I’m not one of them.”

(Tychus) “Intriguing, and how do I know that I can trust you with this task while delaying my own plans because you find them inconvenient? It seems the burden of proof is upon you in this matter… Consider the silver a precaution. Strange intruders into my presence should be regarded with caution I think.”

(Conley, beginning to flow from form to form) “Well, because I can do this (as he shifted into the form of the tiger from the party) or this (taking the form of the panther he was speaking too) – and, quite frankly, I don’t care about local politics. I just need to be able to keep an eye out for the kind of people who destroy cities as assassination attempts. Now, if this Arcerus were either to abdicate, or to start making decisions that weren’t, wonderful. Or responded negatively in public so as to attract the wrong sorts of attention, it’d be much simpler, correct? (As he flowed into the form of an elemental dragon). As I see it, it’s not a matter of how can you trust me, but how can you afford not to?”

(Tychus) “Intriguing. A far more powerful shapeshifter than any I have seen before. And your proposal would certainly be helpful in light of these Rabbits and their…… inadequacies.”

(Conley) “Excellent. Glad you see it my way. So, where do I find you when our issues are resolved?”

(Tychus) “Very well, I shall delay my plans for the moment while you proceed to demonstrate your prowess. We shall meet again once you’ve made progress.”

(Conley) “Take care then.”

He shifted into a gravity elemental, departed through the ceiling, found that he was under one of the cliffs overlooking the city, made a note of the spot (in case he wanted to investigate further at a later point), and headed back for the ships – and the rest of his books. Kevin and Marty would probably turn up soon enough, and he could always pass on some information through their servants if they stayed out for much longer.

At least that might stop the nuisances for a while. If they wanted to make friends with the local rulers, well, they could go with the one trying to take over, or let the one in charge know about the coup attempt. They’d mentioned that they would be attending a cat clan party in the morning – and it was pretty late after all that discussing.

Marty was actually fairly pleased with the current cat rulers. Arcerus had been pretty gracious toward him despite his big social gaffe, and he knew how to throw a party.

Alchemical Bonuses and Practical Enchantment

"The Alchemist" by William Fettes Do...

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First up for today, it’s another question from Derek:

In The Practical Enchanter you mentioned that alchemy isn’t cost effective (p 49). How so? How might you change it to make it cost effective?

For those who aren’t reading that particular book, that’s the note under Alchemical Bonuses that – in general – spells that grant alchemical bonuses aren’t cost-effective simply because they’re far more complicated than spells that grant similar bonuses through other means.

For a practical example, lets say you want to increase someone’s strength.

  • Direct Transmutation magic – and the resulting Enhancement Bonus – is simplest; you simply amplify the force that their muscles produce and toughen up their body a bit to withstand the strain. That’s straightforward and works with their body’s natural tendencies. Ergo, an easy spell, and one that’s relatively easy to scale up. Thus the Enhance Attribute spell template.
  • Spells that provide a Morale Bonus are actually pretty easy; all you’re doing there is mobilizing the bodies natural reserves – basically releasing adrenaline and overiding the safety limits of the parasympathetic system. The trouble with this is that there’s only so much there; once the reserves are all in use that’s all there is – and those reserves are not normally available because operating on that level for long will tear muscle fibers, destroy tendons and ligaments, damage joints, and break bones. Now, d20 human bodies heal far more easily, and are inhumanly tough to begin with, so they can withstand short bursts of this sort of thing without lasting damage – but this is why the Wrath series of spells only goes so far and the seventh level version (on page 37) is specifically listed as the upper limit for such spells. It’s no coincidence that it’s the same upper limit for barbarian rage.
  • A spell that grants a Circumstance Bonus might wrap the recipient in a force-field exoskeleton that amplifies the force he or she exerts and handles most of the support and back-pressure from it. Unfortunately, that calls for a complex feedback control loop to avoid exerting excessive forces and penalizing the user’s sense of touch. It won’t work right if it winds up exerting too much force against the ground and sending the user flying with every step. The user wants to swing that sword harder – not crush it’s hilt in his or her fingers. That’s a lot more complicated, and so such a spell is (per page 13) about three levels higher than an equivalent Transmutation spell.
  • Spells that grant Inherent Bonuses to Strength essentially rebuild the recipients body to make it stronger – the magical equivalent of genetic augmentation or cyberware in more “realistic” games. That’s a very complicated effect, and so such spells are of rather high levels. It’s also no coincidence that they cost “experience points” – a form of supernatural energy which accumulates in people until it reaches a critical threshold and discharges itself in permanently transforming and enhancing them – unless they drain some of it off into transforming normal items into magical ones, or use small amounts it to make major – but temporary – transformations in targets, or use that power in other ways first.
  • There have been attempts to design spells that grant a Sacred (positive energy) Bonus to strength by feeding extra energy to the muscles and adding in a minor, ongoing, healing effect to handle the resulting damage to the recipients body. Unfortunately, a shortage of energy isn’t what limits muscular strength – so what this results in is an endurance-increasing effect coupled with a bit of fast healing. Those are both very useful effects, but neither actually adds to the recipient’s strength.

Now lets say we want to provide an Alchemy Bonus to strength via a spell. Alchemy bonuses come from compounds and drugs – things which get the body to perform in an unnatural way or function on their own. Fortunately we aren’t limited to real compounds and drugs.

A powerful stimulant spell is simple enough – usually around level three – but why bother with a spell? It’s going to work exactly the same way (and have the same disadvantages) as a big dose of any other powerful stimulant, such as cocaine or methamphetamine. If you don’t mind the side effects, you might as well just use chemicals instead of wasting a good spell on a relatively modest effect. In settings where drug prices are not artificially inflated by laws against them (not that adventurers commonly pay much attention to the local laws), an emergency dose of some stimulant is cheap enough.

An alchemical antitoxin spell would either create a general (magical) antitoxin or analyze the poison involved and produce a specific antitoxin. The first is pretty complex; it may be a fairly minor effect, but it’s going to require either giving up some experience points or a very high level spell to produce a magical compound that will last for awhile. The second has a selection of advantages – you could take a poison sample and produce antitoxins which could be taken in advance, or be carried along to spare spell power for more important things – but it is (once again) a very complex effect, and thus a high level spell. It’s generally a lot easier to simply get a “Neutralize Poison” spell.

To produce a substantial direct alchemical bonus to strength you’ll want to create some chemicals – most likely enzymes – that (1) rebuild the muscle fibers to increase the force with which they contract, (2) make the tendons and ligaments tougher, and (3) increase the structural strength of the skeletal system and joints. If you want a long-term boost, you’ll want to increase either metabolic efficiency or the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and nutrients and digestive efficiency.

We’re looking at pretty high complexity, and thus high-level, spell there – and all for a not-all-that-large temporary boost to strength (if you want it permanent, you’ll need to modify the recipients genes and metabolism to keep on producing those compounds).

That’s why spells which grant alchemical bonuses aren’t generally cost-efficient; most of them are of far higher level than equivalent spells using other types of bonuses. There really isn’t any good way around that. On the other hand, if you just want a spell that produces acid, or transmutes material, or some such effect, you can certainly call it “alchemical magic” and it will work just fine. It won’t be providing an “Alchemical Bonus” 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.