Relic – The Lives of the Saints

The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris...

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They are written on crumbling rolls of parchment, scraped into the hard stone of prison walls, painstakingly illuminated by novices, and passed on in secret under the eyes of persecutors. Each such account is an enduring testimony to faith, hope, and endurance, and a way to inspire those same qualities in others.

The contents vary immensely in detail – but in a far more fundamental way they are all much alike. They tell the tales of those who were once like you – but who rose to become more, to stand and testify to the truth of their faith, as you might someday. They tell tales of heroism, of redemption, of perseverance, and of death.

They provide examples for others to emulate.

If a teacher has the talent to use them properly, and the faith to lend them power, such an account can help him or her inspire others to follow those teachings, drawing strength from tales of heroes to become heroes themselves.

This modestly-sized and well-worn tome has been pored over repeatedly by a student seeking inspiration – and possibly ever-deeper meanings – in the accounts of the heroes of the faith. Such concentration has, in fact, made it a minor relic…

  • Mystic Artist (Knowledge / Religion), Specialized for Double Effect (double potency of effects) and Corrupted for 2/3’rds cost (4 CP); The initial activation requires at least fifty rounds of listening to the user tell inspiring tales of the faith, only allows the use of Inspiration and Synergy Mystic Artist Abilities (never Manipulation), can only produce beneficial effects, and requires a compatible alignment and general philosophy to take effect on listeners.
  • Echoes, Specialized and Corrupted: Does not work with advanced mystic artist abilities, only allows the use of Inspiration and Synergy Mystic Artist Abilities (never Manipulation), can only produce beneficial effects, and requires a compatible alignment and general philosophy to take effect on listeners (2 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Know
    ledge; Religion +3, Specialized / only applies in relationship to Mystic Artist abilities (3 CP).

With a total cost of 9 CP, this is a one-point relic. It normally requires the investment of a character point in it to use, but – sadly – that can’t reduce it below a one-point relic.

Echoes is one of the more subtly powerful abilities: a Mystic Artist can provide some fairly potent benefits – but normally needs to actually perform to do so. With Echoes, that “performance” can have been up to two weeks earlier – and the user can often “remind” his or her target of that performance as a free action.

OK, the effect doesn’t last that long – but “one minute” can be quite long enough in a fight.

Copies of the Lives of the Saints are always personal relics, created by someone with the Create Relic ability. In general they’re used by priests – who will try to get their companions to listen to their small sermons, parables, and tales of the faith, illustrated with scenes from their personal copy. Those who DO listen will often find new strength at some later point when reminded of those inspiring tales…

Minidrakes and Eclipse

Today it’s using Eclipse to create variant beasties…

Minidrakes are small, winged, snakes that – thanks to a bit of inherent magic – can spit elemental energy instead of venom. While fragile, a group of them can actually inflict quite a bit of damage – enough to bring down prey larger than they can actually eat. In practice, they usually stick to mouse-sized prey, which their spittle will neatly reduce to “dying or dead” with a single hit. Larger stuff is both too dangerous and a waste of time.

Minidrakes usually nest on cliffs, in trees, and in crannies in the roofs of caves, and can be quite dangerous to adventurers because – if a character is resistant to their attacks – they will promptly switch to targeting ropes, hand- and foot-holds, and other supports. Characters who laugh at 2d6 fire damage often find 15d6 of falling damage a good deal harder to shrug off. While this is bothersome, the fact that they’re fragile, of animal intelligence, and generally don’t bother anything character-sized unless threatened is more than enough to keep them at CR 1.

To create a Minidrake in Eclipse I could start off with the point allotment for a L0 character and build a +1 ECL racial template, taking away the basic elements that a snakelike thing doesn’t need and adding in what it does – but that’s a lot of bother. Since Eclipse is back-compatible, all I really need to do is grab the statistics for a small, CR ½, venomous snake and tweak it a bit.

  • Increasing the challenge rating from one-half to one would normally involve adding a few upgrades and making a guess. In Eclipse it’s quite easy; A +1 ECL template provides 32 CP, so a +1/2 ECL template provides +16.
  • Removing their Poison (Trick with Bonus Use) saves another 12 CP. That leaves 28 to work with.
  • Removing Finesse, since this will be a ranged attack creature that uses Dex to attack with anyway, saves another 6 CP.
  • Mindrakes have rather pretty wings, but this doesn’t really count for anything in game terms. Some have four tiny legs as well, but these also really don’t do much of anything in game terms. No cost on either.
  • Adding Celerity/Additional Movement Mode (Flight) at +20′ Movement (for a base of 40′) has a base cost of 21 CP. Flight is a major advantage after all, and so it’s rather expensive. This is Corrupted however – the creature has to have room to use it’s wings, can’t be entangled, will be forced down if reduced below 50% of it’s hit points, and is a larger and more obvious target in flight (14 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP effective value, 6 CP). All spells Level ½ or 1, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated.
  • (Elemental) Spittle (Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
  • Swift Wings (Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
  • Resist Energy (2000 GP). Provides Energy Resistance 10 by shunting incoming energies back to the elemental planes – which is why a tamed Minidrake can resist all kinds of energies and even share that resistance with a companion.
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers cantrips and first level effects at caster level one] 2 CP).

That leaves 12 CP to work with.

  • Just for fun, and in the old Shao-lin tradition, lets give them a Dexterity-Martial Art that works with their spitting. For +4 SP that’s a +7 total – which we’ll take as a +2 AC bonus and an extra +2 to hit. That’s (4 CP).
  • To make them a bit of a tougher challenge when operating in a group, I’ll give them the Legionary ability (6 CP).
  • Finally, to make them just a bit harder to catch, I’ll buy them Good Fortune – that’s Luck, Specialized and Corrupted / only for saving throws, only usable once per week (2 CP).

Now, those are tolerably formidable little beasties – but when you come right down to it, anyone with a simple “Resist Energy” effect going is totally immune to them and a single hit is likely to leave them grounded and ready to be stepped on. They may fly, but with a thirty foot maximum on their ranged attack that’s hardly insurmountable. Overall, CR 1 works just fine.

New Spells:

(Elemental) Spittle: Conjuration. L1, Components: V, S, Casting Time: 1 Standard Action, Range: Touch, Target: Living Creature Touched: Duration: Up to One Minute or until expended, whichever comes first, Saving Throw: Will Negates, Spell Resistance: Yes.

  • The targets mouth fills with enough elemental essence for two attacks, which he or she may either spit up to thirty feet or inflict upon whomever he or she bites (or drools on). This inflicts 2d4 damage on a successful ranged touch attack. The elemental essence is drawn from the elemental planes, and is entirely nonmagical – and so is not affected by spell resistance and allows no save.
  • The spells target may save or resist normally if he or she does not want to be affected – say, if he or she does not want to be spitting acid, or fire, or whatever, or cannot open their mouth at the moment. Of course, if the target wishes to – say – get rid of a gag, this spell may be quite effective.
  • While the elemental essence is real and permanent (although, for example, fire will dissipate normally), the temporary and localized resistance which allows the user to hold it in his or her mouth is NOT. It is wise to spit the stuff out before the one minute duration runs out – and unwise to dribble it on yourself.
  • Each elemental variant is a separate spell. Thus you may have “Acid Spittle” while another spellcaster may have “Flame Spittle”.

Swift Wings: Transmutation, L1, Components V, S, Casting Time: 1 Standard Action, Range: Touch, Target: Living Creature Touched: Duration: One Minute per Level, Saving Throw: Will Negates, Spell Resistance: Yes (Harmless).

  • Swift Wings increases the target creatures winged flight movement speed by 50%, increases it’s maneuverability class by one, and provides the target creature with a +1 dodge bonus to it’s AC while in flight.

That gives us a statistics block that looks something like this…

Minidrakes are usually not aggressive and flee when confronted.

Skills: Minidrakes have a +4 racial bonus on Hide, Listen, and Spot checks and a +8 racial bonus on Balance and Climb checks. They can always choose to take 10 on a Climb check, even if rushed or threatened. They use either their Strength modifier or Dexterity modifier for Climb checks, whichever is higher, and have a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. They can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered and can use the run action while swimming, provided that they swim in a straight line.

(Element) Minidrake Small Animal
Hit Dice: 1d8 (4 hp)
Initiative: +3
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares), climb 20 ft., swim 20 ft, fly 60 ft.
Armor Class: 19 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +3 natural, +2 martial), touch 16, flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +0/–6
Attack: Spit +5 Ranged Touch Attack (2d6 elemental energy)
Full Attack: Spit +5 Ranged Touch Attack (2d6 elemental energy)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Elemental Energy
Special Qualities: Scent
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +1. May either reroll or “take 20″ once per week.
Abilities: Str 6, Dex 17, Con 11, Int 1, Wis 12, Cha 2
Skills: Balance +11, Climb +11, Hide +11, Listen +7, Spot +7, Swim +6
Feats: Legionary.
Environment: Temperate marshes
Organization: Solitary or Flight (2-12).
Challenge Rating: 1
Advancement:
Level Adjustment:

Federation-Apocalypse Session 187 – The Vengeance of the Demon God

Two girls protesting child labour (by calling ...

The more things change... Well, the more they become really different.

Meanwhile, something had occurred to Kevin; perhaps Mr Anvari had another kid or two in the right age range! That wasn’t terribly unlikely on a colony planet and it would help explain part of that vehemence!

If he did, and if he could catch him or her too, it would really rub it in!

He had that checked out.

Oh cool! Mr Anvari had a daughter named Mirlena who was just a little above the minimum age (and reasonably cute too, although part of that was just that he didn’t own her – yet) and an older son named Darius who was still five or six years below the maximum! He’d have to recruit them if it was at all possible! That would really tick the man off! He’d even authorize adding in some extra-special goodies in the contract for them if they were wavering!

When he asked Rusty if he’d called home, Rusty said that he and his siblings had already discussed what they’d heard about the Thrall-contract a few times when their parents weren’t around (a lot of kids were doing that these days) – and he’d already been in touch with them to tell them from firsthand experience how cool the powers were and much he was enjoying himself as a Thrall! He wasn’t suffering a bit!

Hm. Given that Rusty’s mind was completely open to him, Kevin could easily see that he had skipped over his having been fixed; he’d been a bit embarrassed about discussing something that personal with his siblings – and had known that “recruiting” was always a goal and that his older brother might not be entirely rational about that bit. He’d stressed the “Adventuring with Kevin!” and the “Powers!” part instead of the “Being a Pet!” part.

Now that couldn’t have gone better if he’d intentionally ordered it! Rusty was the BEST puppy!

Most of Rusty’s more distant relatives were pleased that he’d promptly sent them contact information – but they hadn’t been particularly worried anyway; to most of them Thralldom sounded like an extended kids adventure – and, in some cases, one that they wished had been available when THEY’D been kids. Most Thralls stayed in touch with home, did useful and quite benevolent things, and ran around enjoying themselves. Ok, they were indentured – but they were pretty much absolutely guaranteed to come through it all safely. Even in Core before the Opening that had never been a sure thing for a child – especially outside of the solar system.

His father, Savil Anvari, was quite enraged – but he HAD been a lot more temperamental than was at all normal recently; his son’s recruitment might be more of an excuse than a cause… His mother, Elandara, was somewhat distressed; her son obviously wasn’t in any danger – which was an improvement on a lot of other adventures he might have run off to undertake – but her idiot husbands outbursts had obviously left Kevin determined to prove that he COULD treat her son like a dog if he so desired!

If only he’d just left it alone… Kevin’s Thralls HAD helped save their world and lives, and were mostly running around being happy, if crazily powerful, kids. But no! He had to get into a pissing contest with an adolescent dimensional overlord archmage and set him to using her son to… make grandiose rude gestures with.

Still… For a supposed “Dark Lord” who could casually move worlds, grandiose rude gestures were a pretty mild reaction.

If only they didn’t involve her son!

Perhaps… perhaps she could do something about it. Kevin was evidently still human – and childish – enough to be diverted into nonsensical shouting matches with people like Savil. That was definitely hopeful!

She settled down to doing a little serious research before trying to get into direct contact with her son. A day or two would make no difference – he’d obviously been happy (at least to judge by the bounce in his step and (sigh) the way his new tail had been wagging) and safe enough (thanks to the safety features of both being a Thrall AND Kadia) as he’d left for Kadia with his (sigh) new master – and it would be best to have some in-depth background to evaluate things against!

The Thrall-Contract was… revealing and incredible. The fact that it had been approved by the computer systems and various other authorities pretty much said that it was genuine. She’d heard of the basics of course after Kevin and his Thralls had moved their planet forty light years in an afternoon – but the sheer number of abilities, and benefits, and skills, was quite astounding, even without throwing in immortality, free access to the facilities and luxuries of Kadia, high salaries, and (sigh) the throwing out of pretty much all the now-unnecessary safety precautions of Core and restrictions on adolescent urges.

She could see how a lot of children would go for it even if they weren’t desperate.

The data on Thrall-assignments was based on statistical sampling only – but those statistics said that virtually all of them were employed doing search and rescue work, disaster relief, medical assistance, manifold trade, operating gates, galactic engineering, and a hundred other useful tasks – although there was a tiny fraction of a percent working as concubines, as short-term attendants in harems and a percentage of error that probably covered some clandestine tasks.

Of course, he claimed to be a Dark Lord – and had successfully re-introduced child slavery into Core (which she certainly couldn’t be entirely happy with even if it WAS strictly voluntary!) – but the content certainly didn’t match the label in most cases! Even the interviews with the ones who were working in harems said that they were happy.

Shouldn’t a demonically-empowered dark Lord who bonded children’s souls make at least a few of his “victims” unhappy? “Going on fantastic adventures and saving people” simply was not a traditional use of child-slaves!

Researching Kevin himself was mostly just confusing… at least beyond his early childhood in Core. It was as if the boy was carefully cultivating several different reputations. The reports tended to tell you more about the person writing the report than they did about what Kevin was actually like!

Well, at least that gave her enough background to try to make sense out of things. It was time to get in touch with Verence. Just because he was… well, quasi-canine anthropomorphic property for the moment didn’t mean that she couldn’t try to check in!

The call to see how he was doing was easy enough to place; Kevin had recently upgraded his contract again to provide cross-dimensional communications for his Thralls.

It was a good thing that she’d dealt with property-class neodogs before. Otherwise the “bouncy – happy – enthusiastic – wasn’t – Kevin – wonderful – he – was – so – NICE – to – make – me – suitable – to – be- his – pet!” attitude might have made the call impossible for her to handle.

Still, the comparison was somewhat comforting too. Neodogs had some importance on the colonial worlds, where things hadn’t been entirely wired yet. They did search-and-rescue, and helped with farming, and a lot of things where… “natural”… abilities were hard to… duplicate.

Huh. A lot like Kevin’s Thralls, with the new worlds of the Manifold in place of the new worlds of space.

That familiarity didn’t exactly make it EASY to deal with when the “NeoDog” in question was her human son – but NeoDogs were definitely “people” in her book, and that was something.

At least it was clear that he was very happy, very healthy, active, and doing pretty well.

His accommodations… left something to be desired. Apparently Kevin was having him sleep in the same room – but either across the foot of the bed or “guarding the door”.

Well, obviously that wasn’t the way most Thralls were treated! There were tens of thousands of them! Verence was… sleeping at his master’s feet, like a dog. BLAST her husbands temper! Verence could have been… still a human boy with his own apartment and useful work to do in Kadia, even if it was as a Thrall, if Savil had just LEFT IT ALONE.

Verence was quite happy about his diet too; apparently he ate with Kevin (she carefully didn’t ask if that meant “being fed table scraps”) and got plenty of extremely fine food – although it sounded a bit short on vegetables to HER. Evidently as far as “what he wanted to eat” went, Kevin was just another unsupervised teenage boy… Of course, being a Thrall – or a Dark Lord – apparently guaranteed good health pretty much regardless of diet short of eating rocks and toxins.

Verence was getting plenty of outdoor exercise too, since Kevin was taking him along on his adventures and daily routine – and he spent a lot of time playing with “Limey Tabard”, rather than his master leaving him stuck in a room or (sigh) kennel

Hopefully “playing with” didn’t mean that this “Limey” was throwing sticks for him to chase!

She looked up “Limey Tabard” in association with Kevin (it was good to know who your kids friends were) – and there was a fair amount of information (and wild speculation) available.

Sadly, most of it made very little sense even for a child who’d been born in the Manifold. While the boy might be a pretty valuable connection thanks to his connection with Marty Tabard – who apparently had some influence over Kevin – but his background as a werewolf-computer was kind of far-fetched! Not to mention the precocious sexual hyperactivity… At least that fit in with half of the rest of Kevin’s associates!

She delicately inquired as to whether Kevin might have designs on her other children…

Well, apparently nothing that had been mentioned to Verence – although he enthusiastically supported his siblings – and all other children – becoming Thralls of course. She’d more or less expected that… EVERY Thrall thought that being a Thrall was great and wanted to share the fun. Still, it did reveal that only a very few Thralls were being treated as pets. They were all still serving Kevin of course, but they apparently felt that THAT was fun – and Kevin seemed almost reasonable for a weird adolescent lord of darkness.

Rusty knew that it was really REALLY important that ALL kids got to be Thralls! If his wonderful master was so busy that he hadn’t yet made arrangements to collect his siblings maybe he could do it! They couldn’t be allowed to miss out – and Darius would be too old to be a Thrall in a few years!

He made sure to use his witchcraft powers and psychological skills to keep from revealing any trace of that thought to his mother though! He knew his duty there, and she seemed to be being a bit silly at the moment! She’d surely come to understand how important becoming a Thrall was later on!

(Rusty) “Uhm… Why does it matter? Is it wrong to be a Thrall? You get to help on all kinds of projects! Kevin says you eventually make all the powers your own and grow out being a Thrall, but I don’t see why that has to happen! But it must since Kevin says so…”

(Elandara) “Intriguing. Now what would happen if you tried not to make it happen?”

(Rusty, doubtfully) “Slower maybe? I don’t think you can really turn down personal growth!”

(Elandara) “Oh, I suppose so.”

Inquiries about Kevin’s activities and temperament got her… stories about Kevin rescuing people, sorting out nasty situations, giving people what they wanted, and strolling into battles and sending all his attackers to therapy.

That matched well enough with the older reports – but the boy seemed to do an awful lot of that sort of thing for a “Dark Lord”! He also didn’t seem to be making Verence unhappy, even if he WAS using him to spite her husband… That implied some finesse there. It was like he did good with one hand and evil with another.

He also… played up the .1% who were serving as concubines and harem attendants on such – for which spots there was fierce competition for short terms. Was that just to maintain his “Dark Lord Credentials”?

He also spent rather a lot of time with his Harems – so those were obviously the Thralls who interacted with him the most. Since his thralls all loved him, of course they’d compete for being the closest to him. That made sense.

Wait; was Verence a trophy who was being kept as close as possible to his master as a reward? Was spiting her husband just a bonus and a reason for a few of the “canine” bits? That made a twisted kind of sense…

At least Verence seemed content and happy with his bargain and situation – although it was pretty obvious that whatever Kevin had done to him didn’t leave him much of a choice about that.

She promised to send him some of his toys and stuff – and some of his favorite foods every so often. If he was going to be bound to Kevin for centuries, he might as well have some comforts of home.

Rusty didn’t tell her that he had an excellent salary and could order all of his favorites that he liked! It was the thought that counted!

Even when the kids knew all the details in advance, and had a free choice at the time, and there were no permanent consequences, and… the computers thought it was a good deal… and you were guaranteed to survive…

Clearly he was being the lesser evil – but still, why did it have to be HER son on a leash?

Elandara had carefully avoided asking her son about the alterations Kevin had had made. Quite enough of them had been visible in the long-range shots for her to make some guesses – and there were things that she didn’t really want to know unless she had to.

There was a mixed undercurrent of relief too… At least he wasn’t being put out to stud to produce thirty grandchildren sometime next year to be raised to be pets. That would be a bit much to handle.

She couldn’t hire an army to go and take her son back – and all the major Manifold search-and-rescue operations seemed to be run by Kevin… It was pretty certain that Kevin had heard appeals from a thousand parents before too. She needed someone with leverage…

If she could get through to Marty Tabard she might have a chance though; a toonworlder he might be, but he was still an adult – with a child of his own – and he seemed to be Kevin’s closest colleague (as opposed to Thrall).

Fortunately, some of the contact numbers Verence had given her were for Limey – and one of them was… a priority number for Marty, since going through him was sometimes the only way to reach Limey.

Marty was feeling a little guilty anyway – and when Limey had told him that Ms Anvari might be calling, he’d decided to talk to her if she asked. Rusty was making him feel pretty guilty. What had he been tolerating that had led to this?

Still, hopefully she wouldn’t ask!

(Marty) “Ah, Hello Ms Anvari! (Slightly shifty and a bit embarrassed) I was more or less expecting your call since Limey gave “Rusty” my priority access number! I must remember to scold him about that, I keep having to change it!”

Elandara sighed very slightly… Evidently not the most responsible parent – but with at least some parental values. Hopefully he was indeed attempting to guide Kevin Sanwell…

(Marty, hopefully) “Were you calling for Limey? He might be playing with Rusty – ah, Verence – at the moment!”

This might be wanting to talk to Limey – or possibly to him ABOUT Limey! A lot of parents wanted to keep close track of their children’s playmates!

(Elandara) “Ah, hello Mr. Tabard. Thank you for meeting with me. I was going to ask you about Kevin, since other than the thralls, you seem to know him best.”

Drat!

(Marty, cautiously) “Erm… Well I have had more recent time with him than most I suppose. (Pause) What about him?”

(Elandara) “I was wondering what you thought of his character. Some people call him a Dark Lord, but some of his behavior doesn’t match the archetype. Yet in some ways, it does.”

Drat!

(Marty) “Well… I suppose you’re entitled to some information there.”

(Elandara) “Please, go ahead. It will help me understand why he is the way he is.”

(Marty) “I’m given to understand that Kevin… plays at being a Lord of Evil, and, as a teenager, enjoys a few of the privileges that go with the role – but his actual goal is to ensure that humanity survives, and expands, perpetually.”

That wasn’t really what she’d expected. It fit in some ways – but what kind of demonic entity was dedicated to such a goal? That sounded more like a guardian! But would a guardian treat children this way?

(Elandara) “Interesting. Has he told you why he wants this?”

(Marty) “From what I’ve seen… I think it’s a racial urge, and that it has HIM. Occasionally… if you spend time with him – you see a bit of it. I… have a clip around here somewhere. From when he was talking to a representative from the Unified Church.

The clip showed a background from one of the Anthropomorphic worlds, with various animal-people roaming about – and Kevin, strolling along talking to one of them. That one was asking a question…

What have you been using your powers for so far? ”

Kevin looked quite blank for a moment – and then answered in an echoing chorus of voices.

(Kevin) “I am the Darkness-that-Defends, the Light of the Abyss and the Angel of Nightfall. In the darkness is the rage of the oppressed, the wrath of the injured, and the vengeance of the bereaved. It is the drive for survival and dominion. I will not permit the fall of the Core worlds or for the race to fail it’s destiny – no matter what that requires.”

The creature he was talking to was visibly unnerved.

That was fair enough. She knew enough of the theory herself to know that THAT wasn’t demonic power. That was the primal darkness, the blind, relentless, urge to breed and spread and conquer that was rooted in the survival instincts of the hindbrain! Had Kevin somehow managed to transcend the tainted power of the abyss? That wasn’t EVIL – it was older than good and evil, and it could work with either.

It was also obviously bloody dangerous! The blind urge to spread and conquer wouldn’t be content with anything less than all of space and time. Was there anything restraining that relentless drive except Kevin’s will?

Marty gave her some footage from the battle with the Hellstorm as well – and a shot of the transformation of Inversion from the moon.

(Elandara, somewhat disturbed) “Are you suggesting that he too is a Thrall? He…” (watching the battle in the New Imperium) “Oh my. That is grotesque power.”

She’d known that Kevin was powerful – but to simply annihilate fleets and reshape reality on that scale?

OH. The Hellstorm had threatened the worlds of the Core – imperiling the survival of the race. It had attacked an inhabited planet – and the darkness had annihilated it. Inversion had been dying, and it’s people would go with it – so he had changed that. An… angel of darkness.

(Marty) “He’s an Opener – and one of the First. I’ve seen enough to know some of what that really means. If Openers are truly foci for the power of the race, he is apparently containing a fair chunk of the massed will to survive and dominate of the entire species from it’s very beginning. He is… rebuilding the galaxy, and planning to build more, to make sure that humans never run out of room to expand in.”

(Elandara, with some startlement) “Does this have anything to do with that Project Midnight Gardener?”

Wait, of course, it did! That was all the Thralls assigned to “Stellar Engineering”! THAT was one of Kevin’s personal projects? Rebuilding the GALAXY?!?

(Marty) “That’s the galaxy-rebuilding project, yes. And yes… the poor kid seems to be committing himself to maintaining that… forever. The kids he recruits are in for a few centuries.”

Elandara took a sharper look at Marty. The man was a TOONWORLDER – and he looked… worn and tired. Not at all whimsical – which he ought to be, considering where he was from. From the sound of things, the situation must be wearing on him.)

(Elandara) “You seem to have concerns. Do you think he can handle that responsiblity?”

Marty did have his doubts – especially if the darkness overcame him!

(Marty, sighing) “I like him – and he’s a kid, and he’s had this dumped on him because he trusted a teacher. It isn’t fair to drop that burden on someone, and charge them with containing the power to create and destroy galaxies, and force them to take responsibility for it forever – if he even can. Even he must have a breaking point somewhere. He diverts himself with sex and pets and trivia I think – and I’m sorry your idiot husband got your son swept up in that – but Kevin will certainly find another diversion soon enough.”

Oh dear! Was she getting caught up in the role of a sympathetic ear or confessor?! The man must have almost no one to talk too! Of course, most of the people around him would be Thralls – and it would be counterproductive at best to try to talk to THEM about Kevin.

Marty was suddenly feeling guilty again; he’d started thinking of this nice woman’s son simply in light of his relationship to Kevin, and how he was serving as a distraction.

(Elandara) “Well, my husband’s temper has been worrying the computers. I never thought it would cause anything like this, though at least Kevin is treating him well (other than making him a neodog, she thinks to herself…) and at least most of the changes other than the powers are temporary.”

(Marty) “Oh yes! There’s even a good chance of him being randomly gifted with stuff later on I think; Kevin does tend to give things away – and he’s handy to be the beneficiary of such moments.”

(Elandara) “It looks like he’s given you quite a bit.”

Ouch! That stung! Not that he didn’t realize it – but having it pointed out was kind of rough! She didn’t seem to mean it as an insult though…

She didn’t. Marty was clearly a roguish type, and so it was to be expected.

(Marty, trying not to look uncomfortable and failing miserably) “Yes”.

Had Marty started working with Kevin as a lark, realized what was going on, and now felt obliged to rein in his worst excesses? That really seemed to fit!

(Marty) “Anyway… I’d guess that your son is going to be a “pet” until Kevin gets diverted and forgets his annoyance at your husband. Then he’ll become a normal servant-companion.”

(Elandara) “Do you think you could speed up the process somehow? He’s furious.”

(Marty) “Well… I’ve been considering approaches on the “pet” part. Maybe a few months there. I don’t think that Kevin even knows how to release a Thrall if he wanted to though – so your husband will probably stay furious.”

(Elandara) “Oh, I understand on the thralldom. I would just like him to have clothing other than a collar.”

(Marty) “Well, it is still smartclothes really from what I’m told; it’s just hiding in the fur… All of Kadia is pretty easy-going about clothing.”

(Elandara) “Well, I suppose what I want for Verence is more dignity than he’s getting right now. Though it doesn’t seem to bother HIM, as you say; he knows how things are around here.”

Oh dear. Should he say it? ALL the Thralls knew they were pets; “dignity” just wasn’t a part of their world really – at least as far as Kevin was concerned. If she’d been another man, and not the mother of one of the parties involved, he might have simply said “Uh… I don’t think you understand. The only thing on their minds is Kevin’s happiness. Get what I mean?” – but that just wouldn’t fly with the mother of a kid! It would horrify her!

(Marty, settling for looking doubtful) “Well, it’s not like most of Kevin’s er… personal staff spends a lot of time clothed.”

(Elandara, somewhat unnerved) “But Verence isn’t doing… that… is he?”

She hadn’t seen anything about Kevin… using… males that way!

(Marty, hastily) “No, no! Kevin is pretty throughly girls-only; it goes with being the embodiment of racial instincts to dominate and breed!”

(Elandara) “Well, he could… I don’t know, wear a vest or a dog jacket or something. It would make me feel better at least.”

(Marty, with some relief) “Oh, I think that would be easy to arrange! I’ll just have Limey give him one!”

Limey could tell him to wear it while on the phone with his mother and where she might find out!

Elandara sighed again – she seemed to be doing a LOT of that suddenly – and kept trying to make the best of a bad situation which now included some concern for Marty, who seemed to be willing to be an ally of sorts. Cartoon characters and stress normally didn’t mix!

Marty abruptly reddened as he wondered whether to point out that she didn’t have to worry about Rusty doing “that”, since part of the dominance thing was that Kevin, er… didn’t tolerate any competition in his harem.

His judgement, even under stress, was still better than that – but Elandara was core-educated, and quite capable of reading body language better than he could hide it.

(Elandara) “Is there something you want to say? You’re fidgeting.”

And now he couldn’t think of anything else to say that wouldn’t be obvious stalling!

(Marty, blushing) “Er… well… you do realize… you don’t have to worry about your son doing “that”. It’s… part of the dominance thing; Kevin… well… he doesn’t tolerate any other intact males in his harem – and since he takes Verence everywhere, well…”

(Elandara, sighing and shaking her head) “I had suspected, and I suppose I could avoid confirming it for only so long. Can’t you do something to control him?”

She’d been fairly sure actually, although she’d tried to ignore it; that was a pretty obvious and direct way for Kevin to prove that he definitely COULD treat Verence “like a dog”. He’d probably had it done along with the rest of the modifications just to produce an image of his newly-neutered pets bouncing along happily at his heels to taunt her husband with. Still, as long as it was just a suspicion, she’d been able to avoid the subject at home.

(Elandara) “Or are you worried he will fry you for your insolence?”

Marty started. He did worry that Kevin could somehow get past his Returning – especially if he lost control…

(Marty) “I think it’s pretty close to the core of the forces driving him; He wants humanity to rule the cosmos – and, on the personal level, he wants to father all the kids – but it is one reason that he rotates his staff – and they can regenerate themselves in hours once they’re off the job.

After thinking about what he’d just said for an instant he made a hurried effort to fix that from a male prospective

(Marty) “Most harem attendants spend a lot of time at stud afterwards! Kevin picked them to be close to him for a time, so a lot of the Female thralls want to be close to them!”

(Elandara) “Understandable, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Sigh . . . I suppose you could try to get him off harem duty as well.”

Well, it seemed that early grandchildren were imminent.

(Marty) “That may take longer – but there’s no aging for Thralls of course.”

(Elandara) “Which is good. Still, I would appreciate it.”

Poor man, getting caught up in this. So like a cartoon character to leap before looking – but that didn’t work out so well in most dimensions.

(Marty) “Besides… as a Thrall, he sees it as one of the biggest prizes he could get; they line up to volunteer!… I’ll try though.”

Elandara could tell that it wasn’t likely to be a high priority unless she prodded a it more; from his point of view it wasn’t like some other Thrall wouldn’t be in the same position next – but she had a commitment to HER son.

(Elandara) “What with the modifications being temporary and all, it’s logically a minor thing. But it’s different when it’s YOUR child.”

Again with the guilt-hammer! Was this a kind of “hammerspace” that worked in Core? It was a lot nastier than the toon variety! What would he think if it was Julia trotting around at Kevin’s heels?

Why couldn’t Kevin have picked an orphan or something?

(Elandara) “Anyhow, I suppose I’ve done all I can to make Verence’s indenture better for him, not that it was torture to begin with apparently. He seems… almost frighteningly happy. Thank you.”

Despite her worries over Verence, Elandara did feel kind of bad for Marty, who was obviously in a tight place.

Unfortunately, Kevin had also been busy…

Since Rusty had already contacted his siblings, and impressed them with just how happy he was, and how cool the Thrall-powers were, Kevin had turned the efforts of his recruitment-specialist Thralls towards Darius and Mirlena while their mother was busy with some research project and their father was busy filing protests.

He’d made sure that they got demonstrations of the powers, knew all about the benefits, and knew that signing up would annoy their boorish father and get them away from him. He also had them informed that Kevin was – for the moment – willing to throw in sweeteners like a high-powered Kadian ID, extra money, personal vehicles, and similar items because he also wanted to annoy their father – but that the opportunity for an especially-generous deal might soon close.

The recruiters also carefully implied to Darius that his little brother would have shown him up if he didn’t sign up – and implied to Mirlena that her brother was getting in on something that she wasn’t.

With such massive resources concentrated on them, and trying to get a quick “yes” at pretty much any price,

They wanted…

Nanosurgery for Daddy’s brain. In fact, they wanted their first mission be to lure him in! Of course, if he came to Kadia, it might well class as a mental disorder, or as sub-critical exposure to a meme weapon, and get cured automatically.

Well that was easy!

They also wanted… a stylish top-end apartment in Kadia, one of the best-on-the-market sensory simulation rigs, their own flits, extra money, and other minor bits…

All of that could be had with nothing more than a high-end Kadian Identity – which Kevin could just decree!

They wanted some servants with musical training. A little odder, but also easy; they could just give the relevant skill-imprints to some indenturees!

They didn’t think to request any sexual privileges or concubines. Of course, that wasn’t that common a thought in Core.

They didn’t ask about their assignments either.

By the time Elandara had finished talking with Marty, Darius and Mirlena were already Thralls – and Darius (now called “Sandy”) was off to join Rusty for awhile. That should rub it in and help lure in his father at the same time!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 186b – A Fire Upon The Deep

Coalbrookdale at night

Bagpipes are NOT that destructive! I don't care what you say!

In the morning, the caravan was up before dawn, loading up on the barges to set forth into the marsh.

Fortunately, passengers did not have to show up quite so early.

(Marty) “Ah, from one kind of boat to another. Better than slogging through the mud, at any rate!”

Kevin was along, bright, early, and cheerful with his usual trio of aides – and his two new pets.

Raphael, having rested poorly thanks to a procession of bizarre, hostile, robotic musical instruments chasing him through his dreams, was pretty much carried aboard by a robot that was acting as a bed.

Not more than a few minutes after their departure, the fog rolled in and the city behind them disappeared into the mists. As the barge drivers pushed the caravan along through the marsh, the sounds of animals echoed around them – and the vague shadows of trees could be seen nearby in the mists. Occasional flickers of fire and light danced tantalizingly just out of easy visual range.

Kevin looked around to see who else was going!

There was… a trio of mice returning home, a pair of cats looking for potential mercenary work further inland now that they were tired of killing flowers, four enchanter mages looking for work at the rumored Rat/Mice city, and eighteen experienced marsh veterans eager to exploit a new and potentially very lucrative local source of refined steel and other finished goods.

Hm. That did sound like a bit of an industrial revolution there! The case for NIMH was getting a bit stronger!

Kevin and his companions also drew some funny looks. Kevin was too young, his Thrall-aides were even younger! (The two pets were obviously just slaves, even if they were styled about as young as Thralls normally got, and so were disregarded).

It was a few hours later when Marty spotted a pile of glossy white “stones” on a rocky outcropping. Definitely artificial – and the stone of the outcropping didn’t look local. They were surrounded by a swirling, if somewhat vague, aura of conjuration and necromancy – although that seemed to be no more than lingering aftereffects.

He had Elerra try to get a psychic impression off them – putting up mental protections first.

It seemed that chameleons had found a roving band looking for the source of the flower minions – and had killed them, meticulously cleaned and bleached the skulls white, and built a pyre for the death ritual. At that point they’d drawn the dark energies they’d cultivated off into a totem crafted of bone, sinew, leather, and wood. Leaving the now spent remains, they had loaded up their totem and disappeared into the night.

Well, that was just delightful. Some sort of spirit-binding ritual perhaps?

Well, it was probably more like a power-gathering or a summoning; the spirits should have been long gone at that point – but it was hard to tell with necromancy; there were ways of keeping them hanging about for at least a while.

Raphael gathered some power and sent out some Greater Prying Eyes with instructions to do a quick patrol of the area and come back – giving them a variety of enhancements to improve the search.

The nearby woods seemed to be clear of most wildlife – and the flora was a bit more rotted than usual. There were no signs of any chameleons still lingering around, although the eyes did find a set of tracks following a chain of hills and rocks off to the North.

Those definitely looked to be reptilian. Anthropomorphizing the basic structure, it looked like… between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 feet tall. They occasionally walked on all fours and were avid climbers – at least given how the tracks sometimes went up and across trees.

Well, that sounded like chameleons.

Raphael relayed his information into the rest of the groups smartclothes – along with a map of the area gathered from his Prying Eyes.

Kevin, meanwhile, had left his new pets on guard while he was distracted – and had focused his attention on the Dragonworlds. He had some personal business with the challengers in the cells there – and was beginning to feel like doing something about the Emperor…

(Caravaner) “Wait a minute, are those skulls?”

(Raphael) “Where?”

The caravaner gestured to the pile of skulls they’d been looking at earlier.

(Raphael) “Yes. There was a chameleon here some time ago. (Pointing) The tracks go off that way.”

Marty was wondering… The tracks seemed to be heading roughly towards that village.

(Caravaner) “Chameleons? Around these parts? Are you sure?”

Raphael gave him the information he’d gathered and deduced.

(Mercenary) “Sounds like a chameleon alright. However they are said to have left these parts long ago.”

(Rusty to Limey) “Are these Chameleon things bad?”

(Limey) “They killed all those people and did naughty things to the bodies! I don’t know what Kevin thinks, but they don’t seem very nice.”

(Rusty) “Well, I’ve got some good attack spells, and Feanor has been learning to make Artifacts! We will protect Master Kevin while he’s working elsewhere!”

(Limey) “What were you thinking of doing? I say we give them a nice little shock.”

(Rusty) “Well, I’ve got lots of Fireballs and Lightning Bolts and Toxic Clouds! And Feanor has some good conjurations, and transformations, and can make them last longer! Maybe set some triggered protections around Lord Angkor, and be prepared to hold off an attack?”

(Limey) “Ooh, I ate a really good scroll for that once! It tasted like blueberries!”

What, the kids were talking about… Wandering out into the foggy marsh to hunt down a group of chameleons able to hide themselves against any background so that explosions could be thrown with great proliferation?

Raphael thought that this was a HORRIBLY bad idea. Especially so against known necromancers.

The sailors were watching the two unarmed near-naked slave-children who wanted to go on the attack with complete incredulity. They were pretty obviously crazy, and had probably been made slaves for a very good reason!

Raphael sighed, took a spare Prying Eye, and added a quick sense-sharing divination that would let anyone near it see what it saw without downloading the recorded images – and sent it to stay close to the idiotic youngsters and keep a watch on them in case they DID decide to go and do something. The instant addition of 360 degree vision from another angle might be disorienting, but True Sight was nice for doing stupid things like wondering off to fight invisible monsters.

Marty had thought they were setting up precautionary measures in case somebody attacked their lord and master Kevin/Angkor.

That HAD been quite true; they’d been setting up plans to defend the boat – but with one of the Master’s companions apparently encouraging them to go out and fight by boosting their senses, the mission abruptly went offensive! They DID have all kinds of powers after all!

And Rusty and Feanor haven’t really gotten to play with most of them! They’ve only been Thralls for a week or two…

Limey felt bad for them! Thrall-powers were all kinds of fun, especially when you had an indulgent master like Marty or Kevin! He could go along and show them the ropes! After all, Marty would want him to help out the new guys! Feanor could try flying over someone as a hummingbird and then turning into a hippopotamus!

Limey used his own shapeshifting to turn into a small jet, and took off to do some strafing!

Rusty tried hawk-form! He’d heard that they were pretty fast and could spot things really well!

And the sailors gaped as the three dog-children abruptly turned into two birds and a model jet plane and took off to go strafing at invisible enemies.

At least Limey took a moment along the way to make himself invisible. All the better for training!

(Caravaner to Raphael) “Is it normal for your friends’ slaves to disappear and run off to try and kill potentially powerful necromancers like this? And did your friends get these slaves at a discounted price?”

(Raphael, unwilling to even TRY to explain) “Yes”

(Caravaner) “Well, I suppose that means he won’t be getting a refund then. I vote we continue on, or do you and your companions want to run off to help?”

Meanwhile Limey, Rusty, and Feanor were trying various minor effects and sensory boosts to find dangerous chameleons – which was something of a bust, since they’d apparently completed their business in the area and left days or weeks ago.

(Raphael) “Oh I guess I should ask them, but really it really is not that big of a problem.”

That was what Kevin got for turning his attention elsewhere when he had new Thralls who had no sense or proportion yet in the party! Especially when no one could poke him while staying well back from the assorted magical booby-traps now surrounding him!

(Raphael, speaking loudly from behind Marty and Kevin) “Hey Marty, Limey just ran off to hunt necromancers with Kevin’s new pets. You want to intervene?”

(Marty) “Dammit. Get back here, Limey! Now is not the time for new employee training!”

About that point, occasional random explosions started to go off – mostly whenever Rusty thought that he MIGHT be seeing a Chameleon. Limey was trying to discourage him until he was SURE of a target – but the boy wasn’t listening too closely while engrossed in the joy of making things go “Boom!” Oh well! It was fun! And swamps might as well be made for exploding!

(Limey) “Aw! But the explodings are going so well!”

(Marty) “Raphael is complaining, and I think he’s got a point. Do you want everything in the swamp after us?”

(Limey) “Aw… I guess not! Ok!”

About that time, with a spectacular fireball hit on a bubbling section of water, Limey, Rusty, and Feanor got caught up in a massive fuel-air explosion – as the initial shockwave ripped through the water and released a tremendous quantity of additional methane from the bottom mud.

The blast cleared out the fog for a radius of several miles as the blast wave ripped through the forest. Everyone aboard the barges felt the heat from the blast well before the blast wave hit…

Fortunately for Rusty, Limey, and Feanor, all three of them had been invested with extra power – and Kevin kept adding more to his contract in any case. By now, even a normal Thrall could have survived thanks to their demonic luck.

They did so reliably – but it hurt rather a lot.

Kevin, meanwhile, had reflexively erected a force-barrier to shield the barges from the blast – but it was impressive anyway, and he had to exert himself to stabilize them against the ground shock.

The sounds of birds and frogs ceased. Sawdust, burning foliage, and burning chunks of meat rained down for several minutes. A current formed leading towards the epicenter – and the sound of rushing water became evident.

(Caravaner) “Yep, definitely not getting a refund.”

Raphael was assuming that the necromantic chameleons had set a trap, and had probably avoided all damage while killing off the Thralls; the Thralls probably had not had that kind of firepower to use on the necromancers.

Ah well! He used his own powers to anchor them. No point in getting pulled to the center!

(Mercenary) “Right, do you bunch have any more suicidally insane slaves that need their throats slit now? I’ll do the job for free.”

(Marty) “Not as far as I know.”

(Kevin, now awake, frowning, and slightly scorched from the booby-trap spell he stepped in standing up) “Oh, they’ll be back in a few minutes! I’ll kennel them for the rest of the trip though! They should know better than to do things like that!”

They were still pretty blackened and bedraggled when they got back.

Kevin shook a finger severely at Limey and kenneled HIM too, since Marty wasn’t objecting too much.

(Marty, to Kevin) “For crying out loud, heal the kid first. We don’t want him bleeding all over the kennel, it’s so hard to get out.”

(Marty, to Limey, privately) “Just WHAT were you thinking? That was stupid! You’re lucky I give you some dignity, you know that?”

(Raphael) “To be fair, they did not exactly get a comprehensive instruction manual for being your pets and or body guards to tell them it was a bad idea. you could probably have one written up and link them to the computer where that stuff is stored if you want to avoid this stuff later.”

(Kevin) Hrmp! They can heal themselves given a few minutes!

(Marty) “Well, okay, if you won’t, I will.”

Or at least he’d have one of the girls do it. Wait! Did Kevin even HAVE any major personal healing powers? He seemed to rely on just refusing to admit the effects of tremendous amounts of damage, not on healing it quickly. Was he just saying “No” because it was one of the things that he couldn’t do?

(Kevin) “A manual might be a good idea though – or maybe a couple of weeks training. I’ll assign a few Thralls to come up with something or other along those lines!”

(Marty) “Why don’t you hire somebody who’s actually done it to help out?”

(Kevin, with some surprise) “What, been a Thrall? Oh! You mean write a manual or run a training program?”

(Marty) “Yeah, they can look at it from the outside and think of things you haven’t.”

(Kevin) “But… Even I don’t know what most of them can do! It keeps increasing! And they’re getting more varied – and inventing their own training programs!”

(Raphael) “you could compile lots of those and put them all on one computer system on Kadia and link all the thralls to it so that they could communicate with the computer and each other en mass – and access all the specific training manuals for whatever job you assign them without needing to all memorize every one or remember where the ones with the training are.”

(Kevin) “Hmm… Maybe I could get some of them to do that… Or would it be better to hire somebody? The House of Roses might be able to refer me to somebody…

(Marty) “I’m sure they would help you out.”

There was an odd reluctance there. Was Kevin THAT much against letting anything out of his personal control? Did he feel that there were enough of his operations getting away from him already?

Meanwhile, the sailors had seen the three young slaves return from the heart of that disaster, heal themselves up, get scolded – and get put into kennels – as the conversation preceded.

They’d also LISTENED to the conversation – and were now variously amazed, dismayed, terrified, and wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

Marty had to smile slightly. People tended to have that reaction to them!

They were still sure that the “pets” had been enslaved for very good reasons – like massive destructive powers and no impulse control – but what did that say about the owners? Crazy? Just too silly to invest in adequate leashes?

Kevin caught that one! That was probably a good idea for the rest of the trip; kenneled AND leashed. For that matter, with some anti-magical muzzles too!

Both the sailors and Marty thought that was a good idea – at least for the sake of the symbolism – although Raphael was against it; they were sapient, and that was just going too far!

The sailors were firmly of the opinion “Too dumb to live, and too dangerous to keep around” – and weren’t too happy with just kenneling. Muzzling them all would help prevent a shipboard revolt.

The kids needed some serious nap time anyway. They’d burned through a good deal of their power reserves in that sortie…

Marty promised to have the muzzle “slip off” after Limey’s nap though.

Kevin made sure to get some good pictures of Rusty with his collar, leash, and muzzle on – and with a clear view of his modifications – in his kennel; it would make a great provocation for his father!

There wasn’t much left in the area that was willing or able to come and bother them at the moment. After the waters settled down again (which took quite some time) the barges continued on. The fog slowly started to creep back in towards the end of the day when the barges come to a brief halt next to a rickety wooden dock on the edge of a small island. A crude path led from the dock further into the marshes and glowing fungi propped onto stone cairns marked and lit the path.)

(Trader) “Along this path lies Shen Haldren. The totems and fetishes mark the edge of what they claim as their land. I recommend not messing with them.” (He glanced at kennels as he said the last part.)

Meanwhile, Kevin’s usual three aides were sneering at Rusty and Feanor, the inexperienced newbies who had messed up, in their kennels.

Of course, they were sound asleep and didn’t notice.

They sneered at Limey a bit too. HE should know better! THEY hardly EVER did anything they weren’t ordered to do! (Except on their own time and their days off of course). They thought that they were much better trained and far superior Thralls!

It was long after nightfall when the barges come in sight of a number of burning torches atop the walls of some stone fortifications in the marsh – evidently some sort of rebuilt ruin. A cry of challenge came from the wall above them as they approached a steel portcullis followed by a response from the lead trader. After a few moments, the sound of massive mechanical mechanisms churning could be heard as the steel gate rose into the wall and opened the way into the interior of the fortifications.)

Oh dear! Yet ANOTHER fortified city, surrounded by possible enemies in concealment?

Lights from hidden prisms washed over the barges as they entered the gateway. As the barges continued on past the wall, it was obvious that the marshy water was being replaced with a stone lined canal with a current flowing inwards. They came to a stop at a set of moorings on the edge of the canal, as a number of well armed and armored guards lined the surrounding walls. A trio of those guards walked down a set of stairs and came to greet the traders, enchanters, and mercenaries in turn. Soon enough it was their turn…

(Guard) “Ah and who might you bunch be?”

(Kevin) “Angkor Shadowfang, Martin of Clan McCaw, Rafe of the Kitsune, and our servants!”

(Guard) “I see, and your business in our fair town of Rastafan?”

(Kevin) “Trade and Research mostly!”

Hm… Too close a match for hand-workmanship on the pole-handles! Automated lathes there! From the evenness of the thread-packing in the cloth he’d bet on a power loom (no uneven bands there on a quick magnified scan). The prisms betrayed either massive natural sources of crystal or good glass-making technology and sophisticated mirror-surfacing techniques, as well as at least a basic knowledge of optics. Probable hydraulics, and some other systems…

Not local then. The locals were quite capable of matching all those things if they’d wanted to bother – but they’d use heartstones and magic for it where they cared and would be far more likely to see each guard personalizing his or her own gear with a bit of magic. The odds were up again on NIMH!

(Guard) “Fair enough. All are welcome. Respect the laws and there shouldn’t be any problems.”

(Marty) “Which are?”

Kevin was betting on “no blowing up the swamp or bringing in slaves who can do so” – at least if word had run ahead of them. They probably didn’t approve of slavery at all though – very odd for this world – since unloading three leashed and muzzled kids sleeping in cages was getting some rather hostile looks!

At least the kids were all healed up now, and it was just a power-recovery nap!

Marty’s quick check on the relevant laws – not too big a stretch on Contract Magic – revealed a late 20th Century/Early 21st Century North American or European structure. It looked like the locals were big on equality – the laws were the same for every adult – and on the rights of minorities under a rule of the majority, due process, and a lot of similar, rather-familiar looking, ideas – some of them not too practical in a seriously magical world!

Well, that was as big a give-away as far as HE was concerned as Kevin’s technological notions were for HIM. That kind of law? In THIS kind of world? Where the various species were blatantly unequal, where there were gross imbalances of personal power, and where the gods themselves often commanded overrunning the neighboring species? It was like trying to import… Well, it was like trying to import pacifism to Battling Business World!

It didn’t say so, but he presumed that blowing up the swamp or town was highly frowned upon and was likely to result in being locked up or banished.

The regulations on bringing in slaves were still in dispute; it had been decided that they could not free outside slaves brought in by others, but neither would they allow the enslavement of anyone on their territory (which would probably disappoint Kevin). The current legal battles were debating what rights slaves who entered with their masters should have – and under what cases of abuse were they obligated to step in.

The debate was quite fierce.

Marty sighed. And yet another place entered the Thrall-debate without even knowing it.

A number of the guards were showing visible disgust at the treatment the Thralls in the kennels were receiving – but were thus far making no move to intervene.

The expressions got a lot more complex as they spoke to a few of the sailors and the gestures in the kids direction got wilder. Kevin grinned – and got everyone headed into town before the guards could start asking pointed questions about either “weapons of mass destruction” OR the within-the-last-few-days modifications…

Even Limey was still sound asleep; he must have blown a LOT of power on that mess… Oh well! If they didn’t wake up by the time they found a place to stay, they could simply conjure up a doggie-bed and pile them on it… They were pack-bonding, and that would help!

The town itself had obviously been built on – and in some part of – an outcropping of the local bedrock. The stone walls / canal boundaries / building foundations extended a good deal of the distance to the center of the town – providing a formidable series of defensive walls along the way. Massive islands of stone blocks – footings for buildings and efficiently-organized gardens – had been built up above the canals which criss-crossed the land, and soaring bridges of wood and rope provided passage between them.

There was an ongoing excavation/construction project on the far side of the town, and there was what looked to be a large elevator system that went down into the earth below the town. Towers with rotating ballista turrets were visible – along with odd pipes with a small flame coming out the end.

(Kevin) “Flamethrowers, swivel-mounted, possibly repeating, ballistas, big walls… Outpost in the unknown or active problems with the flower power?… Also, some pretty good pumps or sealing methods if they need an elevator going down in a swamp.”

(Marty) “Wouldn’t be out of the question.”

(Raphael) “Interesting”

In the center of town there was an inn, shops, and a good deal of farming and construction equipment (possibly indicating a bit of a push towards expansion coming up?). The rats and mice were continuing about their business, only stopping to glance at the group and nodding in acknowledgment – at least now that the kennels were out of sight in with the other luggage. There were a few mildly interested or startled expressions when they saw Kevin’s usual aides levitating all that stuff along – but not astonishment. Probably little personal magic save what came with local ID’s , but enough to be familiar with the concepts.

Near the central elevator system they could see puffs of steam and a small set of rail tracks leading towards the largest of the canals.

They headed over to get rooms at the Inn.

(Innkeeper) “Ah, you must be new arrivals! Arrived as part of that caravan did you?”

(Kevin) “Yep! And with an entourage, so how many rooms do you have? And what’s the price for the finest?”

(Innkeeper) “Currently I have a hundred different rooms available, depending on the stature of our guests. Our finest lodgings are below ground and are available for a mere 150 Zenni a night. That includes a number of benefits like an unlimited pass on the local transit system and excellent meals!”

(Kevin) “Ah, that will do nicely! Four of your finest suites and full services! I shall pay for ten days in advance!”

(Innkeeper, attempting to conceal some surprise) “Very well then! Here are the keys to your rooms, maps of the town, and a menu of what our kitchens have to offer. Our staff is available at all hours to handle your needs and we can help direct your to whatever you might be looking for. Is there anything immediate that I can help you with?”

(Kevin) “We were principally looking for information on the swamp tribes, a little trade, and some information on you – since much of your city looks quite familiar indeed! Building deep underground in a swamp requires either a great deal of magic – far more than it is worth – or some quite sophisticated techniques!”

Marty personally noted that it suggested that there was a damned good reason to make doing so worth it too – but didn’t say it out loud.

(Innkeeper) “Ah, for that you would best speak with our diplomatic offices and some of our scholars that specialize in anthropological studies. Their offices can be found here, and here on your map. For trade, there are the shops on the surface, and then there are the more specialized manufacturies and forges deep underground. We do take a great deal of pride in our knowledge and techniques, having learned a great deal of it from the original masters of such things.

(Marty) “Original masters?”

(Innkeeper) “A race of creatures with great prowess with the knowledge of the world around them that even allowed them to create other thinking creatures without the aid of magic. You can still find them out there doing all sorts of amazing things, although we settle for staying out of the way and discreetly intervening only when necessary.”

(Kevin) “Ah. You are relatively new to this realm then I take it?”

(Innkeeper) “Yes, although we’ve had an outpost here for some time. It was only when they found precious metals and other useful items deep below that colonists started coming through in large numbers. We are growing quite rapidly these days as more arrive.”

Well, Kevin took that as near-confirmation. NIMH was in town!

Of course, their diplomats might recognize him – but would it be by reputation as a terrible dark lord, or by his activities in their world?

Raphael mused… Societies that accepted Kevin’s Thrall-recruiting would – inevitably – hold a trade-and-travel advantage over those that did not. Was that one of Kevin’s subtle-evils-that-were-hard-to-tell-from-good, neither good nor evil, or an indication that – in the end – the practice was at worst merely species-survival pragmatism and at best was simply a new stage of childhood that would ultimately be good for everyone?

Yes, a Thrall COULD get the short end of the stick – Rusty and Feanor might be becoming the poster children for that (or would have been if they didn’t seem so HAPPY) – but the worst that could happen to a Thrall before adulthood was basically… some temporary aches and pains and later embarrassment. Considering what they got in exchange – and compared to most of history – that was unimaginably good fortune.

Drat the child! He was either incredibly insidious, utterly transparent (perhaps in the sense of “something you couldn’t see at all”), or totally blatant, and it was hard to tell which! How could he be running the largest humanitarian organization in history – providing food, search-and-rescue, medical services, defense assistance, disaster relief and evacuation, trade support, and a thousand other services, under a… bright, rainbow-colored, smiley-faced, banner of evil? Even if he did provide an option to “work for me for awhile in exchange for high pay and extremely superior benefits”?

Young Wizards pre-production

Today we bring you a work in progress, made up jsut for fun. I started this a while back after reading Wizards’ A practical Guide to Wizardry. It’s a fun little book and quite inexpensive if you want a copy. It’s more or less a cute Harry-Potter-meets-DnD book. So I decided to set about building a game to match. The result is definitely not ready for primetime. For one thing, I still have to finish writing up all of the spell seeds, class schedules, and monsters. (Now there’s a sentence I didn’t see myself writing…) Feel free to post comments or suggestions. Anything accepted would certainly be noted in the final free version.

Young Wizards

A D20 Sourcebook for All Ages

Why? Because there isn’t a Harry Potter Role-Playing Game yet.

Every child wants to be at least three of the following things: a superhero, a different superhero, a heroic warrior fantasy hero, and a wizard who may or may not be a superhero. Between this and Champions, we’ve got you covered.

Inspired by Wizards or the Coast’s charming A Practical Guide to Wizardry, we present Young Wizards, a Fantasy Role-playing game with heart. Yes, this is blatantly a Harry Potter rip-off. So what?

What This Game Is

This book covers the rules for playing a promising young wizard, eager to have all kinds of adventures while learning the basics of magic. The system works in any number of settings, with several points in mind.

First, we need enough wizards to populate a school with at least several hundred. Second, magic must be commonplace enough for students (or their families) to casually purpose magic items. Third, all adults are completely incompetent, but not that it shows too obviously, while the children keep everything secret from them for no good reason.

Yes, all of those are important. Adults never do anything much, unless the kids are already as good. Adults never take proactive measures, never question the obviously lying students, and never take heed of the blatant warnings. There are no useful police around, the kids need enough convenient magic to defeat the powerful but erratic or dim villains

Fortunately, the same goes in reverse for the villains. Their plans are always vulnerable to sabotage by a few random kids, who mysteriously stumble across convenient clues. They never settle for immediately killing the children who stumble across their most evil of evil schemes, and they definitely don’t kill the ones who keep messing up their plans time and time again. If  the villains do try to hurt the kids, expect them to use spells of dubious usefulness instead of, say, stabbing one with a sword, or in more modern games, using a gun.

Playing the Game

The most common tool for determining results in the game is a roll of three six-sided dice. Most checks in the game use this, and more information appears in relevant sections. You may need some different kinds of dice, or simple more of them, for spell effects.

Character Creation

Step 0: Basic Characters

Every character has several basic abilities no matter what. He or she has 4 hit points (health). He or she can carry 3 Major magical items at once. And the character will possess some basic magical abilities.

Example: Therrin, a new student to Swinemole Academy, hasn’t even begun to figure out his own talents. However, as a base he can carry 3 Major magic items (that is, notable and important magic goodies). He is also tough enough to take up to 4 points of damage before falling unconscious.

Step 1: Assign Attributes

You have nine attributes which form the basis for your character. These are Strength, Agility, Willpower, Curiosity, Artistry, Memory, Charisma, Courage, and Leadership, and each one does something special for you. You may assign the following numbers as your please.

+3, +2, +2, +1, +1, +0, +0, -1, -2

Strength tends to be associated with Courage and Charisma, Agility with Artistry and Curiosity, and Willpower with Leadership and Memory, but you may assign values as you please. These will control how effectively you accomplish tasks, including using spells.

Strength – Modifies starting hit points and how many Major magic items you can carry.
Courage – Modifies Protection magic and resistance to fear or some Destruction magic.
Charisma –  Modifies Enchantment magic and persuasion.

Agility – Modifies your ability to dodge enemy spells, target foes, and many skills.
Artistry – Modifies Illusion magic and crafting skills.
Curiosity – Modifies Information magic, investigation skills, and resistance to illusions.

Willpower – Modifies Destruction magic and resistance to Enchantment magic.
Leadership – Modifies Summoning magic and resistance to Change magic.
Memory – Modifies Change magic and lore skills.

Example: Therrin chooses to make Courage his best attribute, at +3. He will enjoy a +3 on every skill associated with Courage, as well as a +3 bonus on any roll to resist fear and cast Protection magic.

He also chooses to put a -1 in his Strength score, because he’s not very tough. This changes his basic hit points to only 3, and he will only be able to carry 2 Major magic items at once. He also has a -1 penalty to all Strength-based skills.

Step 2: Choose Perks and a Hindrance

Every character receives two Perks and one Hindrance. Every character receives the Academy Knowledge perk for free for their specific academy.

Perk List

Academy Knowledge – +1 when defending against any spell cast by someone who learned at your school. You can take this more times, if you’ve made a study of the techniques of other schools, too – just pick a new school each time. If you’re a third-year or better student, you can take this again (for a total of +2 defense) for your own school.

Bonus Caster Level – +1 Caster Level for a spell school. You may only take this once.

Familiar – Familiars are handy friends and companions on your adventures. As long as you live, your familiar will assist you in every way. While still an animal, a familiar is more intelligent that others of his or her kind, and can perform many useful tasks for you.

Free Spell Slot – You gain a free spell point to cast any spell. (As a starting character, Great Attribute is a better choice).

Great Attribute – +1 to an Attribute (may only be taken once)

Magical Resources – You gain a free Major magical item at the start of the game.

My Specialty – +2 Caster Level with a magical specialty. Pick a specialty, such as fire spells for Destruction magic or enhancement spells with Change magic. You get the +2 Caster Levels whenever you cast that kind of spell.

Wealthy Family – You receive 3 silver coins per game session instead of 1. You may take this up to three times. The second time, you receive 6m silver coins per game session. The third, you receive 1 whole gold coin (equal to 10 silver).

Hindrances

Poor Family – You receive no Allowance and have 1 fewer Major magic item as a starting character. You may not take this and Wealthy Family.

Role-Playing  – You have an appropriate disadvantage for your character which isn’t covered mechanically. This kind of disadvantage is always very annoying to the character, and you do have to actually play it out. However, it should be fun to play with for everyone, too. You should bring it up once every session or two even if your Gamemaster doesn’t – or be prepared to take another Hindrance instead. Examples include having a thick foreign accent, so that even other characters can often fail to understand you, or having very bad eyesight.

Weak Defense – You are at a -1 penalty against one spell school’s effects.

Weak School – Pick a spell school. You have -1 Caster Level in it. You must take at least one class from that school per year.

Step 4: Choose Skills

Each point in an attribute assist with every use of its associated skills. However, every point in an attribute also gives you 1 free skill point you may place into a single skill for that attribute.

Example: Therrin [XXX]

Acrobatics (Agi) : If you need somersaults and rolls, or to stand on your head, it’s time to pull out the Acrobatics skill.
Animal Care (Lea) : The proper care, discipline, and attention to riding falls under Animal Care.
Bargain (Cha) : Convince people to trade, and make better trades yourself.
Brawling (Cou) : Not all fighting comes down to magic. When duels devolve to punching and wrestling, it’s the Brawling skill which counts.
Climb (Agi) : Climbing does exactly what it says: you climb up something
Combat (Str) : Not many wizards trains with real weaponry, but even the mightiest magic only goes so far…
Command (Lea) : Command lets you tell less-important people what to do, and in Young Wizards, that’s mostly means younger students. While this starts out a weak skill, it becomes quite powerful later in your education.
Craft: Cloth (Art) : All Craft skills allow you to work with a specific material or style to create a useful or artistic object. In this case, it covers the use of cloth in creating clothing, sails,  tents, or anything else.
Craft: Metalwork (Art): [Covers all metalworking skills]
Craft: Other (Art) : [Create a new skill as appropriate.]
Craft: Painting (Art) : [Covers drawing, sketching, painting, and other 2-d artwork]
Craft: Paper (Art) : [Covers paper-folding and origami]
Craft: Stonework (Art) : [Covers masonry, stone carving, and sculpture]
Craft: Weaving (Art) : [Covers any kind of weaving, from baskets to sweaters]
Craft: Woodwork (Art) : [Covers all woodworking, from making bows to cabinets]
Followers (Lea) : Followers nets you a number of servants equal to the points you put into the skill (your attribute does not count). They’re not very useful individually, but it’s always helpful to have a few minions
Gadgetry (Mem) : Gadgetry covers the creation and maintenance of mechanical devices.
Listen (Cur) : Listen helps you notice and understand what you hear.
Lore: Arcane Magic (Mem) : All Lore skills cover your knowledge of an academic subject. Arcane lore is knowledge of arcane spells and techniques.
Lore: Divine Magic (Mem) : [Covers divine powers and religion]
Lore: Geography (Mem) : [Covers the lay of the land, national borders, rivers, and seas, etc.]
Lore: History (Mem) : [Covers past events and known history]
Lore: Monster (Mem) : [Covers the biology, habits, and powers of monsters]
Lore: Other (Mem) : [Create a new lore skill as appropriate.]
Lore: Wizards (Mem) : [Covers specific wizards, including those in political positions, important researchers or teachers, and anyone the character might have met or would know about.]
Jumping (Str) : Leaping, vaulting, and all other hops of all fall under Jumping.
Perform (Art) : Play an instrument, dance, sing, or some other active art.
Persuasion (Cha) :  Persuasion is the skill to use on someone of your own social standing – a student on your own year.
Pleading (Cha) : When you suck-up to a teacher or beg staff for supplies, Pleading is what to use.
Puzzles (Cur) : When playing cards, chess, or solving the crossword, Puzzles is the way to go.
Resistance (Wil) : Resistance protects you from the social skills and spells of others, giving you a defense against flattery and bullying alike.
Running (Str) : Running simply allows you to move swiftly, a useful skill any time.
Search (Cur) : Search allows a thorough and systematic inspection of anything – from books to the entire academies.
Sneak (Agi) : Move around quietly or hide carefully.
Spot (Cur) : Use this skill to notice hidden clues or connections.
Steal (Agi) : Take something without being noticed, hide an object, or
Stunt (Cou) : When you try something utterly crazy, this skill lets you come through unscathed whether you succeed or not.
Swimming (Str) : If you want to become a strong swimmer, this is the obvious choice.
Throw (Agi) : Throwing accurately isn’t easy unless you master this.

Note: Number of skills per attribute
Strength  4
Agility  5
Willpower 1
Curiosity 4
Artistry  2*
Memory 2*
Charisma 2
Courage 2
Leadership 3

Step 5: Pick your Class Schedule

Almost done! One last big decision remains: what classes do you want to take?

Every character’s coursework is important, because it decides what spell seeds you know, and therefore what magic you can create. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the spell you want right now – you’ll eventually have more chances to learn spells. Additionally, every character must take certain classes, so you will have a basic grounding in some spells.

Step 6: Finishing Up

Calculate Spell Points: Every character gets a daily allotment of spells equal the total value of all attributes. Thus, a starting character with no modifiers gets 6 Spell Points. Each one is used to cast one spell.

Every character gain an allowance of one whole silver coin per game session, unless they modified it with Perks. Characters start play with their allowance ad the basic magic items required for school.

Skills

Why put skills before the actual magic? Well, skills have generally been honed by the character over time, so they’re much more personal and a greater part of your identity. Additionally, even a character who never studies magic has some skills. Monsters and warriors alike possess skills.

Skill tests are quite simple. Take three 6-sided dice and roll them. Add the results of all three dice to the skill and its relevant attribute. A result of 17 or 18 is always at least a minimal success, while results of 3 or 4 are always at least a minimal failure. In this cases, the Game Master sets the results based on your skill level, the situation, and what seems reasonable.

The Game Master will set a difficulty for each action you attempt, based on how hard or complicated it is. Sample Difficulties Classes (DC) for each skill are listed below. Usually a DC 5 item doesn’t require active rolls – they’re for comparison unless the character using it is totally useless. On the other hand, some tasks are simply beyond the scope of skills for children (not always adults), and these are marked “Imp” for Impossible.

Skill List

Acrobatics (Agility)

Acrobatics is the skill which measures your ability to somersault, roll, balance and tumble. Skilled acrobats move with grace.

DC 5 Do a cartwheel
DC 10 Stand on your head
DC 15 Roll after being thrown to avoid damage
DC 20 Backflips
DC 25 Unassisted forward flips
DC 30 Safely fall from a tower
Imp Walk across a thin string while blown about by powerful gusts

I’m going to stop with some of the less-neccessary formatting, since I’ll wind up doing it all over again later.

Animal Care (Leadership)

Everything to do with caring for, riding and training animals falls under Animal Care. Those who develop their talents here find that beasts of all kinds pay attention.

DC 5 Domesticate a puppy
DC 10 Ride a tame horse
DC 15 Teach an old dog a new trick
DC 20 Tame a wild horse
DC 25 Herd cats
DC 30 Tame a wild tiger
Imp Tame an angry dragon

Bargain (Charisma)

Salesmen and snake-oil sellers alike use Bargain to make deals, and more than one budding wizard has done the same. Anything to do with trade falls under Bargain, from making deals to getting discounts, or even knowing what’s hot for trade and what’s not.

DC 5 Find a coupon
DC 10 Reduce prices by 5%
DC 15 Convince a shopowner to let you in after-hours.
DC 20 Reduce prices by 10%
DC 25 Convince someone to trade their prized and treasured item.
DC 30 Reduce prices by 15%
Imp Convince someone to trade their beloved family heirloom

Brawling (Courage)

Brawling is the sweet science – the skills of boxing, wrestling, and all kinds of hand-to-hand fighting.  Any and all

DC 5 Hit a punching bag
DC 10 Punch a classmate
DC 15 Grapple a classmate and hinder their spellcasting
DC 20
DC 25 Shatter a block of ice
DC 30 Land a hit on a master martial artist
Imp Punch a ghost

Climb (Agility)

Kids love to climb all over things – and so do adults when they think nobody’s watching. Naturally, Climbing is the skill to use. Whether you’re swinging from tree limbs or hammering in pitons at 15,000 feet, it takes balance, judgment, grace and skill.

DC 5 Climb the stairs
DC 10 Climb a tree with many branches
DC 15 Climb a tree with sparse branches
DC 20 Climb a cliff
DC 25 Climb a near-vertical mountainside
DC 30 Climb a stone tower bare-handed
Imp Climb a smooth, greasy surface bare-handed

Combat (Strength)

Combat is an unusual skill for Wizards. Most prefer to master the arts of magic instead of war. Still, even magical swords don’t run out of energy like wizards throwing spells, and even the most powerful spellcaster is helpless once stuck with a blade. And some wizards greatly prefer to use their magic to assist them in putting that blade where they want it…

DC 5 Avoid stabbing yourself
DC 10 Accurately place an arrow into a target thirty feet away
DC 15 Win a fencing match
DC 20 Throw a knife into a tree
DC 25 Hit the target with an arrow while blindfolded
DC 30 Smoothly slice a falling brush lengthwise
Imp Parry a blow from the Black Knight’s unstoppable doom-blade, Damocles.

Command (Lea) : Command lets you tell less-important people what to do, and in Young Wizards, that’s mostly means younger students. While this starts out a weak skill, it becomes quite powerful later in your education. This skill is different from Followers, because your minions are always temporary.
DC 5 Order a puppy to sit
DC 10 Order a lower-classman to do your chores
DC 15 Order a lower-classman to do your homework
DC 20 Order a classmate to do your chores
DC 25 Order a classmate to do your homework
DC 30 Order an upper-classman to do your chores
Imp Order a professor to sit

Craft: Cloth (Art) : All Craft skills allow you to work with a specific material or style to create a useful or artistic object. In this case, it covers the use of cloth in creating clothing, sails, tents, or anything else.
DC 5 Make a dishrag
DC 10 Sew competently with close instruction
DC 15 Cut a tent with
DC 20 Sew stuffed animals
DC 25 Tailor a pricy suit
DC 30 Make the most elegant of clothwork
Imp Sew a dress fit for an empress from moldy burlap

Craft: Metalwork (Art): [Covers all metalworking skills]
DC 5 Bend a nail ninety degrees
DC 10 Forge a nail
DC 15 Craft a moderately complex work, like a birdcage
DC 20 Reliably produce steel with a low-quality furnace
DC 25 Craft extremely complicated work, such as an intricate puzzle
DC 30 Forge a quality sword from cold iron using a rock for a hammer
Imp Hammer cold iron into a tool with your forehead

Craft: Other (Art) : [Create a new skill as appropriate.]
DC 5
DC 10
DC 15
DC 20
DC 25
DC 30
Imp

Craft: Painting (Art) : [Covers drawing, sketching, painting, and other 2-d artwork]
DC 5 Toon-like doodles
DC 10 Quality pictures or paintings
DC 15 Recreate events in a drawing
DC 20 Classmates pay you for art
DC 25 Your scenes are breathtaking
DC 30 A youthful equivalent of the Mona Lisa
Imp Your art hypnotizes those who see it

Craft: Paper (Art) : [Covers paper-folding, calligraphy and origami]
DC 5 Make a paper airplane
DC 10 Fold commonplace origami
DC 15 Make paper armor
DC 20 Fold beautiful origami
DC 25 Craft your own high-quality paper from almost any plant fiber
DC 30 Fold paper into effective tools
Imp Make a paper airplane… and glide around on it

Craft: Stonework (Art) : [Covers masonry, stone carving, and sculpture]
DC 5 Break a rock to two mostly-even pieces
DC 10 Make rough decorative stone walls
DC 15 Carve a professional block of stone
DC 20 Find a weak point in a wall
DC 25 Replacement arms for the Venus de Milo
DC 30 Michelangelo’s David
Imp Personally carve Mr. Rushmore

Craft: Weaving (Art) : [Covers any kind of weaving, from baskets to sweaters]
DC 5 Tie a knot
DC 10 Knit a sweater
DC 15 Weave a (very comfy) blanket
DC 20 Weave body armor… with the right materials
DC 25 Weave advanced futuristic body armor from modern-day materials
DC 30 Weave a basket from soggy straw… while underwater
Imp Weave rotten straw into effective body armor

Craft: Woodwork (Art) : [Covers all woodworking, from making bows to cabinets]
DC 5 Sharpen a stick
DC 10 Craft a strong and strong wooden pole or beam
DC 15 Craft a simple bow
DC 20 Construct fine wood work
DC 25 Craft a masterful bow
DC 30 Build a railroad ridge from beanpoles and cornstalks
Imp Chew green pine wood into solid oak beams

Followers (Lea) : Followers nets you a number of servants equal to the points you put into the skill (your attribute does not count). They’re not very useful individually, but it’s always helpful to have a few minions.

Gadgetry (Mem) : Gadgetry covers the creation and maintenance of mechanical devices.
DC 5 You manage to use a crowbar
DC 10 Set up a chain and pulley
DC 15 You can build all kinds of hobby
DC 20 You can make simple engines and fix modern vehicles
DC 25 Rube Goldberg has nothing on you
DC 30 You can repair the Space Shuttle
Imp Perpetual-motion devices

Listen (Cur) : Listen helps you notice and understand what you hear.
DC 5 Hear someone calling your name
DC 10 Make out a garbled message
DC 15 Few could sneak up on you even when asleep
DC 20 You can often track by sound
DC 25 You have little-to-no penalties at night
DC 30 You get a tingle down your spine if someone mentions your name nearby
Imp  Hear anything at all after being deafened

Lore: Arcane Magic (Mem) : All Lore skills cover your knowledge of an academic subject. Arcane lore is knowledge of arcane spells and techniques.
DC 5 Wizards use magic
DC 10 Wizards need wands to focus their magic
DC 15 You know the basic concepts of most common spells, even if you haven’t mastered them
DC 20 Wizards use magic gestures and items to narrow magical channels and cast exactly the effects they want
DC 25 You know the details of every common spell in existence, and many rare ones
DC 30 Wizards manipulate the aetheric forces through the concentration of will, use of symbolic mystical materials, and body positioning, creating alterations in the universal constants which define the probability of events and even the rules of reality
Imp Create a new branch of magic

Lore: Divinity (Mem) : [Covers divine powers and religion]
DC 5 Some people, like, believe in gods, right?
DC 10
DC 15
DC 20
DC 25
DC 30
Imp Deities from numerous dimensions drop by for afternoon tea

Lore: Geography (Mem) : [Covers the lay of the land, national borders, rivers, and seas, etc.]
DC 5 You know your own address
DC 10 You’ve got the lay of the land
DC 15 You remember most major nations and their capitals
DC 20 You know every quirk of the region around you
DC 25 The details of geography never escape you
DC 30 You could re-draw by hand every alley and driveway in the county
Imp GPS devices are measured against you

Lore: History (Mem) : [Covers past events and known history]
DC 5 Romans wore togas, right?
DC 10 You vaguely recall a few important dates
DC 15 You’re fairly well-read
DC 20 You could write popular history
DC 25 You’re a respected historian yourself
DC 30 You’re in constant contact with esteemed historians
Imp You routinely correct history books based solely on your superior knowledge

Lore: Monster (Mem) : [Covers the biology, habits, and powers of monsters]
DC 5 Undead aren’t alive
DC 10 Elementals have opposite-element weaknesses
DC 15 Vampires can’t cross running water
DC 20 Giants must offer hospitality if you request it politely
DC 25 You know how to stop a Hydra’s regeneration
DC 30 Dragons have a one-inch unarmored point which leads directly to the heart
Imp Monsters gain weaknesses because you just declared it

Lore: Other (Mem) : [Create a new lore skill as appropriate.]
DC 5 The ancient secrets of knotting your own shoelaces
DC 10 The usual hiding places for lost keys and socks
DC 15 Your grandmother’s phone number
DC 20 The name of your forgotten friend from kindergarten
DC 25 The exact wording of a dictionary definition
DC 30 What you ate for lunch six years, two months, and seven days ago
Imp The details of your own birth

Lore: Wizards (Mem) : [Covers specific wizards, including those in political positions, important researchers or teachers, and anyone the character might have met or would know about.]
DC 5 You recall your own spell list
DC 10 You recall the most important wizards today
DC 15 You recall the structure of wizard government
DC 20 You recall the  notable spells of most famous wizards
DC 25 You recall which wizards really influence events behind the scenes
DC 30 You recall that Dark Lord del’Nasty’s true name is Dastardly Don Lerk
Imp You recall the details of Dark Lord del’Nasty’s secret research

Jumping (Str) : Leaping, vaulting, and all other hops of all fall under Jumping.
DC 5 Jump over a stream
DC 10 Jump a hurdle
DC 15 Pole-vault a chasm
DC 20 Olympic high jump competitor
DC 25 Jump to the second story with legs alone
DC 30 Jump out of a fifth-story window… and walk away
Imp Leap tall buildings in a single bound

Perform (Art) : Play an instrument, dance, sing, or some other active art.
DC 5 I’m a Little Teapot
DC 10 Decent piano player
DC 15 You may not be a star, but you could dance with them
DC 20 You regularly play for money, and don’t go hungry
DC 25 You may not be a Tsar, but you could dance for one
DC 30 Faeries weep at the memory of you
Imp The Brown Note

Persuasion (Cha) :  Persuasion is the skill to use on someone of your own social standing – a
student on your own year.
DC 5 “Hold these books while I go to the restroom”
DC 10 “You should join our study group.”
DC 15 “Can I copy your homework?”
DC 20 “Can you do my homework?”
DC 25 “Hold this incriminating evidence while I go tell a professor”
DC 30 “Dare you to jump off the tower!”
Imp “Hey, let me test this chainsaw on your precious torso.”

Pleading (Cha) : When you suck-up to a teacher or beg staff for supplies, Pleading is what to use.
DC 5 Convince a teacher to give a pop quiz
DC 10 Convince a teacher to give extra potion supplies
DC 15 Convince the custodian to clean a mess early
DC 20 Convince a teacher to offer extra credit
DC 25 Convince a teacher you deserve a better grade
DC 30 Convince a custodian to keep quit about that bubbling cauldron in the bathroom
Imp Convince a teacher to falsify grades

Puzzles (Cur) : When playing cards, chess, or solving the crossword, Puzzles is the way to go.
DC 5 Solve a well-known riddle
DC 10 Solve a simple guessing game
DC 15 Solve a crossword
DC 20 Solve a Rubik’s cube
DC 25 Piece together a page from a shredded mass of paper
DC 30 Sphinxes have been known to ask for new riddles
Imp Solve Fermat’s Last Theorem

Resistance (Wil) : Resistance protects you from the social skills and spells of others, giving you a
defense against flattery and bullying alike.
DC 5 Resist your worst enemy demanding your life for stick of gum
DC 10
DC 15
DC 20
DC 25
DC 30 Resist your favorite professor offering your greatest desire for the slightest favor
Imp Resist flawlessly-performed mind control spells

Running (Str) : Running simply allows you to move swiftly, a useful skill any time.
DC 5 One foot in front of the other
DC 10 You avoid embarrassing yourself
DC 15 You routinely win school sprints
DC 20 Four-minute mile
DC 25 Respectable Marathon time
DC 30 Olympic-level sprint
Imp Faster than a speeding bullet

Search (Cur) : Search allows a thorough and systematic inspection of anything – from books to
the entire academies.
DC 5 Search your desk
DC 10 Research common information – available in any decent book on it
DC 15 Search a house
DC 20 Research complex subjects – something only available in rare documents
DC 25 Search a huge castle
DC 30 Filter through the contents of an entire library
Imp Locate a needle in a haystack… that’s on fire

Sneak (Agi) : Move around quietly or hide carefully.
DC 5 Sneak past the room of a sleeping teacher
DC 10 Hide under the bed
DC 15 Duck out of class early
DC 20 Hide yourself in
DC 25 Set up elaborate machinery
DC 30 Hide from a team of hunters in an empty room
Imp Build a wall around an alert guard without him noticing

Spot (Cur) : Use this skill to notice hidden clues or connections.
DC 5 See a tree branch in front of your face
DC 10 See a friend across a busy room
DC 15 Notice the similarities in two books secretly by the same author
DC 20 Realize you’ve seen a certain man in three places today – he’s following you!
DC 25 Find the hidden text encoded in a perfectly normal book
DC 30 Notice a bead of sweat in poor light
Imp See a paint fleck in a completely dark room

Steal (Agi) : Take something without being noticed, hide an object, or
DC 5 Take an unattended item in an empty room
DC 10 Pick a cheap lock
DC 15 Pick a pocket
DC 20 Unlock a bank vault
DC 25 Pick an alert person’s pocket
DC 30 Figure out the weak points in the magical security of a master wizard
Imp Pick a pocket… and get underpants

Stunt (Cou) : When you try something utterly crazy, this skill lets you come through unscathed
whether you succeed or not.
DC 5 Bellyflop into a pool
DC 10 Jump from the bleachers
DC 15 Stand while riding a horse
DC 20 Leap from a tower
DC 25 Surf a tsunami
DC 30 Eat a jar of Jellyjuice without losing your bones.
Imp Fling yourself into a chipper shredder

Swimming (Str) : If you want to become a strong swimmer, this is the obvious choice.
Throw (Agi) : Throwing accurately isn’t easy unless you master this.
DC 5 Float in a calm lake
DC 10 Swim 100 meters
DC 15 Dive from the high board
DC 20 Rescue a drowning swimmer
DC 25 Outswim a shark
DC 30 Swim across a raging, stormy sea
Imp Swim across the ocean

Using Magic

Knowing the theory of magic is merely a bit of knowledge. Practicing magic takes more work. Actually using it successfully can be quite difficult. But knowing when and how to use it – now that’s the hard part.

Characters in Young Wizards don’t have to memorize spells, and they don’t have to write a hundred different tricks in a spellbook, either. Instead, we generalize. We assume that characters studying magic learn a variety of spells within the fields they study, and can use them at will  until they run out of energy.

That doesn’t mean a character can whip up any effect he or she likes with a basic effect, however. The character must continue to study those magical effects in order to develop the ability to use more and more powerful spells. Additionally, the character must know the specific alteration techniques – like expanding the spell to affect an area, or making it last longer.

Actually casting a spell is simple. Much like skill rolls, take three six-sided dice, roll them, and add all the faces. Then add in any bonuses or penalties from Attributes, Perks, wands and other special bonuses. If that’s equal or higher to the total difficulty from the spell effect and any modifiers, the spell is cast and you mark off one of your spell points.

However, there are a few limits and complexities to worry about, so read on.

Caster Levels and Wizardry

As wizards become more and more skilled, they gain Caster Levels. Each wizard character starts his or her studies with one Caster Level. Each year of study gives one additional Caster Level. A wizard will therefore have Caster Level when he or she starts play, and a total of five after finishing four years of study.

Caster Levels are very important. Many spells become more powerful based on the Caster Level of the user. There are other ways to get more Caster Levels, and therefore more powerful spells. Some magic items grant special-purpose Caster Levels, for instance. Wands are also a good way to get specialty Caster Levels.

Characters with a wand properly-attuned to a certain field of magic gain +1 Caster Level and a +1 bonus on the skill check for that entire field of magic. Many starting wands are not attuned to a specific field of magic, because young wizards should be encouraged to experiment a bit. So getting a properly attuned Wand is a good idea once you have some spells, but it isn’t important right at the beginning of play.

Characters with a proper Charm also gain a +1 Caster Level and a +1 on the skill check to cast a spell with a specific spell seed, like Fire or Teleport spells.

Classes

No, this game has no character class, but characters certainly have a lot of classes. As characters proceed through their education, they learn new spells and develop talents further. Spells are taught in the order listed, with one spell seed learned in the listed school quarters.

Choosing your classes wisely, but some are required and you must take them. Don’t worry if you miss some effects you really want – you can always take them next year!

General Aptitude
101. Basic Studies. (You can learn spells taught in classes. Levitation, XX)

201. Spellwriting. (You can make scrolls of spells)

301. Spellcraft Theory. (You can design your own spells?)

Alchemy
101. Basic Alchemy.

201. Alchemy II.

301. Alchemy III.

401. Advanced Alchemy.
404. Ingredient Analysis.
403. Potion Design.

Destruction Classes
101. Elemental Spells. You learn to create and focus raw elemental energy. (Conjure Fire, Conjure Ice)

201. Fireballs. You learn to handle and manipulate advanced fire magic. (Explosion, Piercing Flame)
202. Lightning Bolts. You learn to control advanced electricity magic. (Call Lightning, Energize)
203. Ice Storms. You learn to control advanced ice magic. (Freeze, Ice Rain)
204. Magical Missiles. You learn to direct pure magical energy.

301. Acidic Destruction. You learn to use advanced earth forces.
302. Sonic Combat. You learn to control the power of sound.

401. Forcefulness and You (204 req). You learn to control directed kinetic energy.

Information Classes
101. Detection Spells. You learn basic warning-spells of nearby dangers.
102. Scrying. You learn to peer through mystic foci and see things far away.
103. Communication Spells. You learn the art of one-way and two-way messages.

Illusion Classes
101. Lights and Sounds. You learn the basic spells to create active illusions to fool others.
102. Invisibility. You learn how to hide yourself, others, and objects from sight.

Enchantment Classes
101. Curses. You learn how to cause nuisances and hindrances to your foes.
102. Love Spells. You learn to create and instill emotion in a target.

Change Classes
101. Transformation. You learn the basics needed to turn one thing into another.
102. Movement Spells. You learn how to increase speed or move about magically.
103. Enhancement Spells. You learn the ways to amplify a target’s natural strengths.
102. Adv. Transformation.

202. Temporal Adjustment.
203.

Summoning Classes
101. Animal Friends. You learn the basics of calling on ordinary animals as allies.
102. Basic Teleportation. You learn how to transport objects with magic.

201. Summoning Monsters (101 req). You learn to summon and control local monsters.
202. Living Teleportation (102 req). You learn to teleport yourself.

301. Planar Summoning (201 req). You learn to summon outer planar creatures.
302. Object Teleportation (202 req). You learn to transport lots of mass long distances.
303. Long-range Teleportation (202 req). You learn to teleport yourself far away.

401. Gates (301 and 302 req). You learn to create, analyze, and control magical gates.

Protection Classes
101. Shields and Wards. You learn starting personal protection spells.
102. Counterspells. You learn how to cancel other’s magic by sacrificing your own.

201. Bindings (101 req).

301. Magical Immunity (101 and 201 req).

 

Spell Seeds

Alchemy
Itching Powder
Jellyjuice (who needs bones?)

Destruction
Acid (1d4/level armor piercing)
Earth (1d4/level, knockdown)
Electricity (1d6/level, arcing)
Explosion (1d4/level, effective against objects)
Fire (1d6/level, ineffective against armor/objects)
Force (1d2/level, invisible)
Ice (1d4/level, freezing)
Sonic (1d4/level, deafening)
Stone (1d4/level)
Water (1d8/level in water, 1d6 with large nearby source)
Wind (1d2/level, knockdown, armor piercing)

Information
Analyze Magic
Analyze Matter
Hear
Remember
Trigger
See
Speak

Illusion
Darkness
Hide (self)
Image: Animal
Image: Mineral
Image: Vegetable
Light
Sound

Enchantment
Anger
Apathy
Confuse
Float (self)
Friendship
Hold
Levitate (other)
Love
Luck
Unluck

Change
Attribute
Form
Mind
Skill
Time

Summoning
Beast (control an animal)
Monster (control a monster)
Portal (opens tele-portal)
Spirit (control a spirit)
Summon (Call any summon)
Teleport

Protection
Antimagic
Bind
Counterspell
Shield
Ward

Spell Alterations
Increase Power

Short Range
Medium Range
Long Range

Homing

Small Area
Medium Area
Large Area

Short Duration
Medium Duration
Long Duration

 

Familiars

Cat
Dog
Dragon
Ferret
Fox
Lizard
Owl
Pig
Rat
Raven
Snake
Sparrow

 

Magic Items

Minor

Itching Powder
Jellyjuice

Major

Spell scroll

In any case, you get the idea. it’s not quite a D20 product yet, but will probably end up with a nice, big D20 label. I’d certainly enjoy seeing someone play it right alongside Pathfinder. Hopefully that’s enough to give you the sense of what’s coming.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 186a – The Wailing of the Damned Bagpipes

uilleann pipes by Marc van Daal

The pipes, the pipes, are howling...

With their business in Ratsurmer mostly in the hands of Thralls and the locals – it WAS only a bit of normal trade after all – they looked into heading out into the marshes / rain forests.

Well, Marty looked into it. Kevin was too distracted playing with his new pets – although he did recommend just asking the locals; they might know something about where the witch doctors hung out!

The Marshes were dark, wet, and very foggy. Still, there were a number of landmarks out there. There were ancient ruins built back when the great empire ruled the area and a number of larger hills that provided dry land for the villages of the local tribes (or at least for the ones that didn’t build their villages in giant trees). The largest local village was a place where the various tribes met called Shen Haldren. There was another spot simply known as the “Quarry”, and there was supposed to be a place far out into the swamps where Rats and Mice were congregating.

That place was relatively new, and apparently did lots of advanced metal working, and had a quite sophisticated society, including some rather odd notions of property and rights. They’d been actively avoiding getting into the disputes between the tribes and the town, preferring to offer their services as mediators and to trade with both sides.

That was kind of interesting. Considering that the tribal shamans were apparently sending the flower-things, Shen Haldren might be a good start. On the other hand, Kevin was inclined to talk to the rats and mice; they might know what was going on – and he still thought that it might well be NIMH out there. He was giving that combined culture a good deal of credit for being really adaptable and having strong motives to probe into the manifold; the series had massive volcanic disaster building after all – so with one plugged, others might be working their way up to erupting.

Oh well! It wasn’t like they wouldn’t probably be hitting both! They could just look for a few local guides!

There were… a cat that claimed that he had a duel of honor to settle with one of the rats and was looking for people to help him make the journey, a caravan looking to head for the rats and mice with books, enchanting materials, and seeds in hopes of trading for more fine metal goods, and a crazy hermit who claimed to know the way through the Swamps of the Damned – and was willing to show people in exchange for their corpses when they died. The crazy hermit is quite willing to defer payment until you reach Shen Haldren!

Well, the caravan would be passing “close” by Shan Haldren. They were quite willing to provide passage and then direct them to the path for the remaining three miles that they’d need to travel to reach the village.

There were a few jokes about the hermit – but they elected to go with the Caravan.

Kevin whistled his two new pets to heel – which was a good trick for a wolf-person with a muzzle! Fortunately he could help himself out with Witchcraft!

(Caravan Leader) “Alright, got any goods you are hauling along, and are you providing your own supplies?”

(Kevin) “Oh, we have supplies, and… Want to bring any goods Marty?”

(Marty) “Why not?”

They brought some of the exotic seeds from the Archipelago, minor coral magic talismans (which should be unusual here) and a few other plant materials.

The caravan would be leaving in the morning; the servants and porters would be loading cargo into the barges through the night.

Marty ordered a selection of the local drinks – there HAD to be at least a few good ones in the city! – and figured that the evening was well in hand, albeit perhaps with a little hunting of those plant creatures if they attacked again.

Kevin settled down to teaching Feanor and Rusty some tricks – all of which are actually quite trivial for a Thrall with Telekinetic Witchcraft, so that mostly consisted of describing the “Trick” and a couple of seconds acrobatic practice.

After that his new pets could start forming a pack with Limey! Limey was sure to like that!

Limey did like the notion – and Marty told him to be nice to the newbies while frowning disapprovingly at Kevin.

(Kevin, mistaking the disapproval for leaving the “pets” to play with Limey without telling them how powerful he was) “Hey, they’re Thralls! They’re tough! Not as tough as Limey of course, but still…”

Meanwhile, the plant creatures were slowly being rounded up by the guards – although the cat with the rapier and boots was making quite a show of his battles. The Thralls reported that the slave markets were flush with phantasms but only held a handful of ensouled, only a few of them kids (although the batch had been purchased and sent to Kadia as usual).

Marty was quite annoyed – and made a series of rather comical cartoon sour faces – when he discovered that the local alcohol was bitter enough to border on being vinegar. Still, he diverted himself by complaining at Kevin…

(Marty) “Well, you could, I don’t know, give them verbal commands instead of just whistling. They are sapient.”

(Kevin) “Oh, that’s just for “Come here!” it cuts through the babble nicely! I could use a bagpipe though… Can you kids howl mournfully in descant while I play the bagpipes? It should be easy to get in the mood once I start, I don’t know how to play the bagpipes!”

(Kevin, doubtfully) “Maybe a tuba?”

(Raphael) “Why do you want howling while you are playing the bagpipes?”

(Kevin) “Hey, it will probably sound a lot better than me playing the bagpipes by myself! And descants are fun!”

(Marty) “Oh for the love of… OK, Minel, get him some bagpipes.”

It would keep him from doing even less dignified things with his new pets, at least!

(Kevin) “Cool! I always meant to learn to play something!”

(Raphael) “You should learn uilleann pipes instead… then you can sing badly along with it. You could even learn power uilleann pipes”

(Kevin) “All I have to do is want a little air flowing through and I can sing at the same time!”

He tried it – and then the bagpipes detonated musically, firing some pipes a hundred feet into the air, as he used molecular-level telekinesis to force in far too much air, creating an extremely noisy “Squawk-boom”. Rusty and Feanor dutifully howled mournfully – while trying not to laugh.

(Kevin) “Drat! One moment while I conjure up a reinforced set!”.

Marty took another drink of the local liquor and made a lemon face again. Had the boy even been TRYING there?

Actually Kevin had simply overestimated the strength of the bagpipes and underestimated his witchcraft – or at least that was what he claimed anyway, and who would question the Dark Lord about his bagpipe playing?

Raphael considered summoning up a set of Uilleann pipes with a bellows operated by two robots and a bag big enough that he needed the other two to help him use it – but then thought better of trying to encourage Kevin in ANY fashion.

Marty had to agree with his judgement there!

Meanwhile, a couple of Kevin’s usual aides were busily explaining to the guards that Kevin really wasn’t the latest menace sent by the witch doctors to make their lives a living hell.

Meanwhile, Feanor, in his role as Kevin’s pet artificer and summoner-of-implements had busily conjured up a set of reinforced bagpipes – allowing Kevin to set to work once more…

Marty listened with considerable surprise. The kid… had the hang of it within a few notes, was using witchcraft to feed the pipes a few moments later, then threw in some counterpoint with more witchcraft – and had his pets howling in a “descant” – which seemed to be a weird relationship that complemented the tunes – AND was singing… bloody well… inside of a minute or two.

That was actually pretty impressive! OK, it obviously involved quite a lot of raw supernatural power to bypass the need to actually practice… but STILL.

Actually, Kevin had some unspent skill points – so he spent one on Wind Instruments, getting (1 SP +10 Cha +11 Dex = +22). He improved rather rapidly – playing the bagpipes with Witchcraft counterpoint (+6), Thrall-howling Descant (+8 assistance) and while Singing (+6 Epic Synergy) fora total of 52 – along with Stagecraft 42 and Sing 41. He wasn’t focusing on those.

(Marty, to Raphael) “He just wants to play the bagpipes and sing at the same time.”

Sadly, the music still wasn’t to the local tastes.

(Guards) “You mean people actually want to play those things?”

(Raphael, feeling that he wasn’t going to convince anyone that Kevin wasn’t sent to annoy or menace them) “Don’t worry; this is most likely a passing fancy and the music will stop soon… I think. Yes, they are popular in a few places”

Actually, objectively, he was doing pretty blasted well now – but it was STILL pretty weird!

(Guard) “Must be a bleak and desolate hell, if they wish to play that sort of instrument for entertainment.”

Kevin rolled an eye at HIM and produced a small illusion of a demonic entity come to pass the hat.

(Marty) “Maybe. Depends on how quickly he gets bored.”

(Raphael, frowning at the kilted Imp) “Oh come on now! You don’t need to upset the locals more than you are just by playing bagpipes! Don’t make things like that appear just to harass them!”

(Kevin) “Hey, it’s an Imp-rovised performance!”

Oh well! Some people just didn’t appreciate the Dark Lord of the Bagpipes! He ended the performance, patted Rusty and Feanor on their heads, and ruffled their ears. They’d done quite well!

(Kevin) “It was a good performance after that dicey opening! They should be grateful! Nobody appreciates me! When is the caravan leaving?”

(Guard, mumbling) “Not soon enough.”

Actually, it was in the morning.

Since nobody else expressed any appreciation, Kevin retired to his private quarters / harem for the evening to seek appreciation elsewhere – taking Rusty and Feanor along to sleep against the door and at the foot of the bed as “guards”.

Marty sighed as Kevin let his new “pets” trot right into his private quarters / harem at his heels and shut the door without shooing them out. The boy was pretty traditionalist about that; not only was he treating them like dogs, but he’d obviously had them neutered too.

Funny… That really wasn’t like Kevin… Wasn’t he the one who’d been annoyed at the Thralls who’d decided to be harem-servants for Limey when there were better things to do? Kevin normally only did things like that when…

When someone challenged him.

Oh bother.

He focused his own attention on an Avatar in Core.

Coverage was pretty much universal in Core – and he had plenty of offices there! It was easy enough to get one to search through recent public footage involving Kevin on… what was the name… oh yes: Shayhian.

Huh. Live (even if mostly Teleconferenced in virtual reality) hearings? Traditionalists! Ah! One of the more “primitive” worlds (at least by Core standards) that Kevin had pulled out from in front of the Ring-Nova shockwave! Only recently fully back on the grid…

And – like all the other planets Kevin had moved – there were quite a few Thralls posted there to monitor for aftereffects, make themselves generally useful, recruit, chase other girls or boys (as appropriate), show off their powers, and push for acceptance of Kevin’s owning them.

There seemed to be a good deal of gratitude for Kevin (and the Thralls) pulling their planet out of the way of the nova shockwave – but there were still a fair number of protests at the legal council’s decision to experimentally legitimize Kevin’s De Facto ownership of the human Thralls.

The ruling that there was nothing illegal about his advertising his contract to youngsters had provoked a lot less controversy; “freedom of information” and “informed decision-making” were deeply embedded in Core’s beliefs.

The fact that the computers would allow kids who were old enough to sign up WITHOUT parental consent if they understood the deal hardly even got a comment; decisions for underage kids had been on a two our of three system – kid, computer, and parents – for centuries now. Since the computer evaluation on Kevin’s contract had said “more than fair”, it was allowed – not that it could be stopped anyway. It wasn’t exactly encouraged – but if a kid wanted to get out into the Manifold, or to get the powers quickly, there weren’t many (well any really) other acceptable low-risk options.

Ah, the protesters had selected some spokespersons to oppose Kevin’s testimony – one holding forth on religious and moral rationales, one on legal and ethical reasons (and “setting terrible precedents”), and one – apparently selected because one of his younger sons had recently signed up for Thralldom and was one of the two test cases being reviewed – making a primarily emotional appeal about the protection of their children.

Appeal to the electorate based on emotional grounds – not too likely to work on a large scale in Core even when it WAS about kids, but not bad; it would garner sympathy and sway fence-sitters.

Then the man had made an attempt to berate Kevin directly.

“You can’t treat our children like dogs!”?

Good gods. OK, the man had probably never dealt with a Dark Lord before – but hadn’t he at least dealt with a teenager at some point? If the recruit was a younger son, presumably there had been at least one older one! How could he have missed that this was EXACTLY the wrong approach to take? Was the man going to shake a finger in Zeus’s face next and tell him that he wasn’t allowed to chase women for an encore?

And… sure enough, once the decision had come down in his favor, Kevin had promptly reset his new properties smartclothes to smartcollar mode, and taken both his test-case Thralls down to a full-scale medical facility, and had them given anthropomorphic canine body-styling, and tails, and fur. The details hadn’t been broadcast since they (unlike a long-range shot on the way out) weren’t public – but, judging from personal observation, he’d also had them given the ability to bark and pant and howl like dogs – and had probably had them neutered there too.

The idiot man might as well have scheduled the veterinary appointment and modifications for his son himself. Had he been sacrificing his sons well-being for a time to try and score points with the rest of the population?

Probably not; he did have a Core education – and from the lack of excitement over the incident it was pretty obvious that the rest of the planet mostly agreed with Marty; the idiot had provoked Kevin into proving that he could – if he chose – treat his properties like dogs, just as they’d given him the right to do when they’d accepted his contract.

It was apparently being taken more as a demonstration that Kevin DIDN’T usually choose to exercise those options – and the entire issue seemed to be settling down as… a minor concern. Evidently most of the people in Core were taking Kevin’s activities as just another bit of Manifold weirdness that would work out fine in the end, just as that sort of thing usually did. Some individual parents were taking things a lot more personally – but others were accepting. If their children wished to go their own way, at least this direction was a safe one.

The planetary government had simply slapped a tax on Thrall-recruits – requiring that a percentage of the “take” (or other Thralls in their place) be assigned to public-service jobs – along with putting the equivalent of a warning label on Kevin’s advertisements…

Which – of course – told everyone interested that the offer had been checked out, and was quite legitimate, and approved of by the computers but not by many adults. That might well make it even more attractive to the kids in Kevin’s age bracket!

Of course, they were also stressing that Kevin was responsible for what he ordered the Thralls to do, and for taking proper care of them.

It was hard to see how that part was a net profit for Kevin – or why he was so pleased; it meant taking on additional responsibilities and all it offered in return was accuracy in labeling. Was it just that honesty-up-front principle of his?

Well, at least the these-are-pet-dogs routine was apparently just pique and Kevin’s usual over-the-top method of “making a point”, so Kevin would probably get over it relatively shortly. Most likely within a month or two, even if he did add the two to his usual entourage as personal harem attendants (which they would of course – sigh – be just fine with).

Hm… There might even be an opportunity there! Kevin was using “Rusty” to make a point. After all, HE thought of the Thralls as property that existed to serve him (which was a bit much even if the Thralls agreed with him!) – but the argument that he was wasting the kids potential, and depriving a loyal servant of many of the pleasures of life, just to make a point against someone else was a possible wedge to suggest that the Thralls deserved some independent rights! Why should the Thrall be “punished” when it was someone else who’d provoked him?

Meanwhile, Raphael was firmly suppressing the notions of an electronic, robotic, laser-stringed, mad scientist band that had started floating through his head.

Oh no! The crazy was catching!

Still, he commented before Kevin was entirely out of earshot. Might as well keep the bearer of vast cosmic powers buttered up a bit!

(Raphael) “It was ok… better than some bagpipe music I have heard.”

Marty had to chuckle! He was quite used to bagpipes exploding, just not outside of Battling Business World!

Kevin was somewhat mollified – and the bits of the exploded bagpipe did not take root to grow into bagpipe-bearing trees overnight.

It was still time for bed though!

Marty was sure that the locals would be relieved at the mercy of the dark lord!

Then Raphael remembered that he’d agreed to accept a staff of Thralls – and still had no idea of what qualities he’d be looking for in them. Eager to please was one thing – but that unquestioning total submission to Kevin was both appalling and frightening. If the boy wanted to cover his walls with Thrall-pelts removed while they were still alive, they’d be lining up for the privilege!

He REALLY needed to find someone qualified to advise him on this!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 185b – Orders and Laws

Resistance verte...

Ah, the Manifold! The views are almost always good!

Marty was impressed with the sales-pitch – and the selection – as well. The man should be up pitching to the local rulers, not down in the marketplace acting like one of the munitions salesmen on the office shopping channel!

Ensouled too. Of course, an awful lot (80%+) of the locals were too* – but it certainly raised the possibility of him being foreign – and said he was no local phantasm or remotely-operated front!

*Except for the slaves, who – to Kevin’s disappointment – had turned out to be less than 10% ensouled, and most of those either sentenced to slavery or otherwise losers or occasionally born to losers a generation earlier and not yet having gotten out of it. Apparently they were mostly just assumed to be there, and no one questioned where they came from.

The crowd was pushing a bit, but no way were they leaving that many interesting things laying about without a little more probing! They fired up their various passive senses to see if they could tell if he was from somewhere else!

After a moments thought, Kevin also scanned around for a rent-a-thrall in his entourage; an awful lot of them WERE out helping with manifold commerce…

Hm. No Thralls – but if he wasn’t an outsider, he had certainly been travelling around extensively given the wisps of Manifold energies about himself. Hm… Most likely a Gatekeeper; if he was an Opener then he had either expended his powers and needed to recharge for awhile or he was a rather weak one to start with.

Marty found that quite interesting! Considering that he was a merchant, Marty was quite willing to assume that he was some kind of extradimensional trader.

Kevin estimated most likely a gatekeeper (possibly an opener who just liked to trade). Still, if he were just a Gatekeeper the convenience factor of his merchandise – and the trade routes that would underlie it – seemed awfully high unless he had been at this for some time.

Kevin settled for showing an interest, and money, and trying to talk to him after his pitch!

It was some time before he sold all his wares – and hinted at more to come the next day to the shoppers – and closed up shop. He did let them follow him from the stall in front of the store into the store itself afterwards.

(Shopkeeper) “I take it you have some questions you would like to ask?”

(Marty) “Oh, just wanting to do some business with you.”

(Shopkeeper) “Well, I certainly still have merchandise left to sell. I take it something caught your eye?”

(Marty) “Yeah, I wanted to take a closer look at some of that Black Gold.”

(Kevin) “And we’re wondering a bit which worlds you’re operating in! You seem to be picking quite carefully!”

The shopkeeper pulled out a lump of the stuff from a crate and laid it on the table.

(Shopkeeper) “There you go, examine it to your hearts content, although I will ask that you not leave the shop with it unless you pay first. I take it you are both travelers here as well?”

Marty examined the stuff… It looked like a fairly ordinary lump of metal with similar weight and other properties to gold – save the color. He could feel a slight repulsion effect as he held it in his hands – just strong enough to make grasping it seem a little odd.

(Marty) “Yes, we are. So where did you come from?”

(Shopkeeper) “Oh, I was originally a trader plying the Mediterranean during the reign of the Byzantines. I found out that there were places that I could sail that others couldn’t – and ended up in the Great Wheel of Worlds. I’ve been plying the trade routes for some time now, and I’ve been looking into incorporating this place into my circle. I’ve got five other places I circle through for a tidy profit – but these “Zenni” things translate quite interestingly in several of those places!”

Hm. He’d probably started off in the Manifold to begin with, or been killed in Core and not noticed it – but those were pointless quibbles at this point.

(Marty) “Well, then. How much do you want in return for this Black Gold? It has some interesting potential.”

(Shopkeeper) “Well, I’ve been charging 300 Zenni per ounce.”

Hmm! That was pretty pricey – at least compared to other local anti-magical materials – but the stuff had it’s own advantages: gold was particularly workable and non-reactive, making it ideal for jewelry, plating, and thin coatings. It was especially stable too, whereas most of the other local anti-magic materials were unstable, brittle, or tended to degrade over time. Finally, it looked like a bit of careful alloying could tune it’s resistance a bit, strengthening it against particular types of magic. Ergo, it was very good for things like coatings that made your armor resistant to magic, or boxes that hid what was in them from divination magic, and so on.

Overall, it was a fairly decent price given those advantages; it looked like the man was more interested in building up a customer base than in immediate, short-term, profits. Marty cheerily invested in a fair supply! Enough to plate a couple of good-sized rooms! It would probably work in Escrima – especially if he thought that it did – and he could use a magic-proof bunker and conference room!

(Kevin) “Want some assistants? You have a well-established operation, and I think I have some apprentices who would learn a lot working for you – and they have some quite useful talents of their own!”

(Marty) “They’re GOOD.”

(Shopkeeper) “What sort of assistants? I understand that a lot of people from this Core place are keen on getting out here into the trade business, but the Great Wheel of Worlds is a dangerous place. I am not exactly the best when it comes to teaching people to fend for themselves. My talents lie in recognizing other people’s garbage as someone else’s treasure.”

(Marty) “Oh, you won’t need to teach them to fend for themselves. They come like that.”

(Shopkeeper) “Really, then what are they doing trying to assist traders instead of running off adventuring like so many do these days?”

(Marty) “Angkor here can explain much better than me.”

(Kevin / Angkor) “Oh well! I grant them some power, and in exchange they work for me or for whoever I assign them to for the next few centuries – and I like promoting trade, there are near-endless areas to trade in, and you seem to have the knack! I’d like them to learn from your experience and take it elsewhere! I’ll gladly throw in a non-competition clause to cover your personal routes and such! And they do make good bodyguards, servants, and aides!”

(Shopkeeper) “Mind if I ask for a demonstration of these abilities? I just want to verify that these assistants are truly up to the task of protecting themselves out in the Great Wheel.”

Marty got Limey out – while Kevin sent for a couple of normal Thralls; Limey was kind of boosted past the usual.

The demonstration was carefully restrained though; there was no point in destroying a few city blocks as a demonstration! A non-combat demo would probably be enough… The last thing they needed was to become known as the Merchants Who Destroy Everything.

(Shopkeeper) “Most impressive. And you say you are lending them this power? An unusual talent to say the least.”

(Kevin) “It does seem to be my particular special gift!”

The shopkeeper quickly agreed to the deal; with the non-competition clause and no costs, why not? He’d be a fool to pass that up!

They didn’t bother prying for information. The Thralls would collect quite enough after all; He had no reason to hide much with that non-competition clause in place – and didn’t seem to have been traveling in and out with a lot of rats from a more technical world – although he had seen more rats coming and going lately in the forest/marsh

That was probably one of their minor disturbances… They wished him well – and Marty made some arrangements to keep in touch before going; networking was always useful!

He was more than willing to keep in touch when able – and the fact that he now had a few Thralls in his employ would make it easier!

They poked around for a few more hours – and then Kevin abruptly looked quite delighted and pleased at something not immediately apparent…

(Kevin) “Shayhian – one of the almost-off-the-grid small colonies we rescued from the ring nova – has decided to go ahead and recognize my legal recruitment and ownership of Thralls! That’s way cool! The rest of Core has been digging in their heels for ages, and mostly over a semantic point!”

A few hours later he brought in a pair of youngsters in fluffy anthro-dog forms…

(Kevin) “Who’s a good piece of property then? Who do you belong to?”

(Eagerly tail-wagging boys) “We are Master! You Master!”

(Kevin) “These were my first test cases! the first Core kids to be recruited in Core and to legally belong to me in Core! I tested by having them given body mods that would normally call for all kinds of special permissions! All the doctors asked was what kind of coloration and styling I wanted, and if I wanted to pay extra for a rush job, and if there were any other mods I wanted done!”

Marty sighed.

(Kevin, pulling affectionately on one kids ears and rubbing the other one’s stomach) “I’ll keep you two as personal pets I think! Sort of mementos!… Oh yeah! I almost forgot! I think I’ll name YOU “Rusty” – and (grinning) YOU “Feanor”! Heel!”

On Shayhian, the test case had revolved around a pair of youngsters – Verence Anvari and Jaser Kevril – who had taken advantage of the computers approval to visit Kadia over Verence’s Father’s objections and had signed up as Agents / Thralls before returning home to inform their parents that they now belonged to Kevin and would soon be out on assignment for him.

Jaser’s parents hadn’t really been pleased, although they’d been more-or-less expecting Jaser to run off into the manifold or something – and at least this was a safe way to do it. They’d seen and heard enough about the abilities that Kevin’s Agents got to realize that they were pretty tempting – and Jaser had shown signs of psychic talents, and some of the other bits that people who merely WANTED to work for Kevin supposedly got.

Verence’s Father, Savil Anvari, however, had gone through the roof – and had pushed for a formal hearing.

Kevin had come in person to testify, there had been much debate – and now the decision was being announced:

(Reader) “The court has reached a unanimous decision; in view of the fact that Mr Sanwell’s contract has been judged acceptable – in fact, extremely generous – and that individuals who accept it are voluntarily accepting a soul-bond and giving up much of their free will for the duration, our ruling is in Mr Sanwell’s favor. Those individuals who accept Mr Sanwell’s contract have renounced their status as “persons” for the duration of their indenture since someone else must take responsibility for their actions and care. For that period they are livestock-class chattels subject to the usual animal-rights protections for livestock and to the proviso that any genetically-human offspring born during their indenture period are born free.

Mr Sanwell? You may collect your property.”

(Savil) “No! You can’t just reclassify my son as livestock! You can’t turn him over to that little bastard to treat like some kind of bedamned pet!

For Kevin, for the moment, that didn’t intrude. Wait, what? A clean victory? For all the work he’d put into setting it up, he hadn’t really been expecting THAT, even if it was only on one of the colony worlds he’d rescued!

Vast psychic energies seethed in the mind of the race as he reached out to Verence and switched the delighted youngsters smartclothes to smartcollar mode – and his ID-broadcast from “human” to veterinary mode, claiming young Verence – or whatever he chose to name his property now – as the first legally-owned human slave in the core worlds in better than half a millennium.

Kevin had been working on this goal for the last one hundred and eighty sessions – and it had been designated as one of his “Epic Triumph” goals. It also roughly marked the end of his first year as a major god – with more than a billion spirits in Kadia and a devoted interdimensional faith with made regular small sacrifices of magical energies. Once released the power-flood was noticeable nearby even in Core – and made Kevin feel REALLY good. 

Verence beamed! Now Kevin owned him legally and everyone knew it and that was just the way it should be and Kevin was happy and so he was happy!

Jaser became the second formal human slave in many centuries a few seconds later – and Kevin sent out the order to the rest of the Thralls on Shayhian to switch their own systems over a few seconds after that.

Despite Verence’s blasted father yammering in his ear and trying to spoil the moment, Kevin was deeply satisfied. He knew his Thralls were property, and they knew it – and at last that view of things was on the way to being accepted in Core.

He grinned at his new property, and sent them a thought

(Kevin) “Now lets go and get you some body-mods that will drive Verence’s yammering father right up the wall!”

(Verence, delightedly) “Yes Master!”

His father was SO wrong and had no right to pester Master Kevin! He belonged to Master Kevin, and Master Kevin had every right to modify him however he wanted! This would show Father that!

The doctors had noted the decision of course – and after listening to that idiot trying to berate the young man who’d demonstrated the ability to move planets and destroy galactic battle fleets they were quite pleased to find that the extent of Kevin’s “retaliation” was to pay for some body-mods on his new property.

It was obviously just to make the point of course; Kevin’s Thralls were all shapeshifters, and he had his own world full of medical clinics. He had no reason to pay for Core medical services except to rub it in with the kid’s father.

Surprisingly enough, pretty much all he wanted was some anthropomorphic canine-style body mods – mostly cosmetic stuff, and not even a full-scale rebuild.

Kevin got prompt service – much aided by the subjects rather impressive regenerative powers – and was on his way out (and back out into the Manifold) a few hours later.

Marty sighed. He’d had his drinking session, gotten a useful trade

deal and a new contact, and had been ready for something a bit more exciting – but that brought him right back around to rub his nose in the fact that Kevin was a SERIOUS addict. Not that he and his martini glass had that much room to talk – but “binding souls” was a bit more serious than “d

rinking booze”!

Yes, Kevin had been working on getting his contract fully recognized in Core for ages – to the point where he’d been beginning to think that the boy would NEVER get Core to go along with it – but making them formally pets, rather than servants, was just a bit much. (On the other hand, he has just made himself legally responsible for their care and what he tells them to do – and it wasn’t like he could be STOPPED from recruiting in Core otherwise.

Kevin thought that Marty was being a bit of a spoilsport there… He’d been working on that for AGES! Oh well. The kids could play with Limey when Marty was busy!

That had also occurred to Marty…

(Marty) “Hey Kevin! Would you like to have Limey help train them in their spare time then? He’s quite an exceptional thrall!

Eclipse and Old Sarge – Small Unit Tactics Style

Martial arts training session

Nowhere’s Near This Friendly

The conceit is fairly common; an old, grizzled, sergeant-type takes charge of a group of green newbies and turns them into an effective fighting unit.

Quite often it’s in live combat; while the newbies have refused to listen before, as things get desperate the newbies do exactly what the old sergeant says – and he semi-miraculously pulls them through. Shortly thereafter the old sergeant is the respected NCO leader of a crack team.

Of course, next he or she usually dies rescuing a couple of the team members who thought that they now knew better than the old Sarge did, and the group becomes even more effective as they go on to avenge him or her, and eventually (often in a tag scene) one of them becomes a grizzled old sergeant themselves – but that’s the way the plot goes.

Most movies and novels are realistic enough to indicate that there’s a fairly long period between the sergeant taking charge and everyone being fully-trained; they just skip over the training period because it’s boring.

The trouble with the notion in RPG’s is threefold. First up, in RPG terms, learning through training is usually impossibly slow compared to the pace of the action. Secondarily, if a simple sergeant can turn green newbies into a truly effective team, what are the player characters needed for? Finally, any kind of long-term combat bonus which can be acquired during downtime tends to translate – at least in a RPG – into a “must-have free bennie” that the players will have their characters grab for at every opportunity until they get it, and will then forget all about except as another bonus on their character sheet.

Ergo, what we’ll want in RPG terms is a way in which a more experienced character can give greenhorns a quick temporary boost without “magic” and (possibly) a way in which his or her leadership can enhance more powerful characters – but only while the user is around.

There are several ways to do that in Eclipse.

  • Arith Lewauken uses a combination of Assistant, Reflex Training and Blessing to, effectively, give each of his nearby allies a large bonus on any one skill, attack, or attribute check roll per round – provided that he’s taken a round out to give directions within the last 2d4 rounds.
  • The Battle Sage, over on Christopher West’s blog  uses Presence to grant those nearby the Legionary feat – an elegant and simple solution.
  • A Mystic Artist – most likely using something like Diplomacy or Oratory and specializing in giving commands in battle – can be reasonably effective quite cheaply, although this is more a matter of inspiring leadership and shouting orders than of having any actual tactical skills. For example, an aspiring priest might focus on Knowledge/Religion to chant inspiring tales of the faith and invoke the favor of his or her god – inspiring and enhancing his or her companions.
  • A high-level character using the Executive ability can grant substantial bonuses to entire legions of followers – although this is getting into high command positions rather than the art of small unit leadership.

Still, I hate to repeat a build – so here’s another way:

Buy…

  • Immunity/the restriction that martial arts only work with specific weapons (Very Common, Minor, Major), Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only works with a specific martial arts style, the style cannot have any mystical effects (4 CP).

and…

  • Double-Advanced Blessing / the user may share abilities with up to (Charisma) other nearby (within 60′) individuals in addition to himself at any one time. Specialized and Corrupted / only works for a specific martial arts style and any immunities related to it, the style cannot have any mystical effects, only works as long as the user can continue to offer advice.

There. That will let Sarge share the benefits of some of his experience with greenhorns – and even advanced characters who don’t have a martial art of their own that they’d prefer to use – nearby.

If Sarge happens to have a total of +11 in his or her Command Martial Art Style, he or she might bestow six martial abilities – perhaps +2 to Attacks, +2 to Armor Class, Combat Reflexes, and a good chance to avoid surprise (Mind Like Moon) – on everyone he or she is coaching.

That’s well worth 10 CP and investing some skill points in a martial art. You may have to talk fast to get it by your game master though; after all, natural-law Immunities, and Blessing, are both special-permission only abilities – and for good reason; they can be used to produce extremely powerful effects, just like this one. Fortunately, abilities bestowed by “blessing” don’t stack with existing abilities – so this martial art won’t stack with another.

Now, if you want to go completely overboard, buy…

  • Immunity/the inability to use more than one martial art at a time (Very Common, Minor, Major), Specialized / only works with a specific martial arts style (6 CP).

Yes, that’s yet ANOTHER natural-law immunity, and a far more dubious one. Allowing an entire group of characters to stack two martial arts can easily result in massive, cheap, bonuses. Still, if you let someone get away with it, that 16 CP and some skill points will make the user an indispensable part of any combat team – even if that puts them just a bit behind the people who have focused exclusively on building up their own combat abilities.

Now, for that command martial art, try…

Veteran Soldier Small Unit Tactics (Con):

There’s a knack to keeping your head down, to taking the shot you’ve got instead of waiting for a better one, to knowing what’s got to be done and when to avoid volunteering like it was an invitation to be shot – which it often is. You want to know how to use whatever cover you can get, when to pop up to take a shot, and how to sleep on your feet with one eye half open. These are the ruthless moves and tactics that – with a good dose of luck – kept you alive, when so many of the other young, green, troops died in their first few battles.

This isn’t a particularly formal martial art. It doesn’t have any fancy requirements besides making it through few your first few mass battles. By that point, you’re a seasoned veteran – or you’re dead.

Good luck recruit.

  • Requires: Surviving at least three mass battles.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 4, Defenses 4, Synergy/Survival, Synergy/Hide (or Stealth), Synergy/Heal, and Toughness 2.
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Combat Reflexes, Mind Like Moon, Weapon Kata (either unarmed if first taken with a primary military weapon or with the user’s primary military weapon if first taken as an unarmed technique), and Weapon Kata (with a secondary military weapon).
  • Occult Techniques: None.

Note that – if this art is used in conjunction with the immunities and blessing abilities noted above, the user can skip the Weapon Kata – and will max out the techniques of this style when he or she reaches a total of +29. Given that – at that point – the user will be granting everyone in his party including himself or herself a +4 to attacks, +4 to AC, +2 to Survival, Hide, and Heal, Combat Reflexes, a save against surprise, and DR 2/-, that’s probably well worthwhile.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 185a – The Power of the Flowers

Drumnadrochit

No, I don't really think so!

With Raphael analyzing and storing assorted mushroom, plant, and weird-organism samples with an eye on possible commercial applications, Marty watched for a minute or two, and Kevin for perhaps twenty – and then they got bored.

Kevin was in his private quarters, passing the time with his playthings, while he actually focused on Shayhian, back in Core. When he’d said he was available, and sent an avatar from Kadia to put in an appearance at the hearing chambers (even if most of the other people had been VR), things had gotten underway fairly promptly.

The hearings had… gone surprisingly well. The last couple of years of groundwork, putting expanded Thrall-rights into his contract, the fact that it was temporary (and included a survival guarantee), and the ever-improving abilities he offered had made his contract seem a lot more acceptable. The fact that Core already recognized ownership of Neodogs and anthropomorphic animals had meant that everyone was used to the idea. The computer systems, and occasional parents with worrisomely adventurous or troublesome offspring had been allowing them to come to Kadia and sign up anyway – but what had really tipped things for him was the constant presence and assorted helpful activities of hundreds of Thralls; each one a living demonstration that the powers, skills, wealth, and personal enhancements he offered were real, that his Thralls retained their own motives and personalities outside of the “Serve Kevin” compulsion and servant-skills that came with the package, and that – when not “on duty” – they were still pretty much normal kids.

Outside of a few protesters and a few attempts to kill the hearing by adding toxic amendments (the one that had came closest to getting through had been disguised as concern over Kevin’s tendency to allow underage breeding; it had attempted to kill things and/or discourage recruits by adding a spay/neuter requirement for Thralls recruited from, or posted to, Core – but it had gone down in flames with only a tiny percentage of support) things had been… quite civil.

Soon the ruling would be handed down!

Meanwhile, Marty had wandered up above-decks, and was peering into the water for lack of anything else to do…

There were an unusual number of sea creatures here, darting back and forth along the plants and root chimneys floating in the water around the ship – although that one, rather small looking, shadow didn’t seem to be moving very much down there. It had a… long neck nearly twice the rest of it’s length, four fins off the sides, and a long tail.

Hey, it was the Loch Ness Monster!

And… it was getting larger, and seemed to have oriented itself so that he couldn’t see the head or tail in the shadowy outline.

EVERY toonworlder knew that one! It was coming straight at him – or nearly so – and fast!

The Thralls out on patrol in dolphin and shark form reported a length of nearly eighty feet and a rapid approach to the surface, with a probable arrival time of about twenty seconds, right in the middle of the fleet between two of the merchant vessels – unless it changed course. Given it’s size, and the fact that it was an active swimmer, it was hard to be more precise than that.

Marty started the crew in on protective shielding.

Kevin, miffed at being interrupted, simply responded with orders for irritation… The Thralls were reporting that it was apparently a simple animal – non-sapient, not a vehicle in disguise, and not shielded. It just saw a likely food source near it’s favorite hunting ground and was currently deciding which floating tree to eat off of first.

In other words, it wanted to smash up the ships a bit and eat whoever fell into the water. Still, if it was an animale it should be easy to drive off. He had the Thralls try to give it the impression of something here making it terribly itchy and some vague recall of pain associated with floating trees.

Marty had some throw in some fouling sticky stuff in the water, just in case it proved mentally resistant or something.

Thrall-witchery wasn’t all that powerful – but there were a lot of them. The beastie veered off around the far side of the vegetative island for the time being.

Well, there was no particular reason to stick around. They’d already gotten their samples, released their insect swarm, and picked up their overboard sailor.

Marty was a bit disappointed – he’d have to wait to get the Loch Ness Monster’s autograph – but had to agree. There really wasn’t any reason to stick around.

The rest of the trip to Rastsurmer was pretty uneventful; they saw a few more interesting animals and sights – giant sea turtles (perhaps infant sky turtles?), a huge whirlpool where some crack in the sea floor penetrated deep into the structure of the disk, spires of crystal, and a spot where some magical flux caused an elevated causeway of water to flow for miles through the sky – but nothing else tried to attack them.

Back in Cyrweld, an arrogant Otter was rapidly losing his cool… The initial probes hadn’t been encouraging about launching a major attack – and, even at this range, the diviners they’d had monitoring the expedition through the eyes of a few seabirds had been shocked into unconsciousness by whatever the group had done at the Archipelago – and every attempt to probe the area since then had suggested that it no longer existed within Ciarkian! If Angkor actually commanded power on THAT scale, then an attack on him would be a fools game! Even the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails in her prime had never simply… annihilated regions that displeased her!

And the money was already in Escrow! Worse, they’d already spent a good deal on the initial probes! If he cost the clan a hundred and fifty thousand Zenni, and had provoked some unlikely wandering godling into breaking their near-monopoly on trade, he would be very lucky indeed if he AND his wife and children didn’t become part of a peace offering to the creature!

Still, there were a few personal favors he could call in – and if those individuals got themselves annihilated trying to pay off those favors, well, at least they wouldn’t be complaining afterwards about how unreasonable expecting them to make such an attempt had been!

As the light faded, and day turned to the brief twilight of the disk, they saw the mountains of their destination up ahead – and the huge bronze statue of a Rat holding a staff in some heroic pose perched atop the island that marked the entrance to the harbor. A number of lights were set to illuminate the statue and change color on a set rotation – and they could see a number of small little fires illuminating the mountains behind it as well.

(Captain) “Hmm, must be a festival or something going on right now.”

Well, that was par for the course. War, revolution, or attacking otters?

As if on cue, a spectular set of fireworks displays went off behind one of the mountains – and showered a significant area with sparks and light. As the fireworks illuminated the city, they could see rats, otters, and other creatures battling it out with some sort of giant flower.

Marty grinned! Now THAT was the kind of festival he could get behind – if it really WAS a festival and not an invasion of anthro-eating flowers.

They headed on it – just a bit ahead of the main flotilla, while leaving a rear guard! It might just be a big illusion to cover an otter attack!

As they passed the statue and entered the port itself they saw another city that had nestled itself in the mountains on the edges of a natural harbor – although this one had a large rain forest/marsh behind it. The architecture here was significantly more wooden – and was integrated into the docks as it climbed up the sides of the cliffs with winding switchbacks, rope bridges, and an abundance of climbing poles (covered with claw-scratches) everywhere. There were a number of fires burning in the streets and on the roofs, although none of the actual architecture seemed to be particularly burning – despite being on fire. The local residents were (somewhat bemusedly) watching the battles as the city guards and the more adventurous segments of the population chased colorful plant-things through the city and slew them without prejudice.

(Marty) “Must happen often.”

Hm. It didn’t look like a pogrom. The plant-things were setting fires, leaving trails of slime, occasionally emitting masses of sparks, and releasing a pink cloud that the locals were avoiding. Their specific actions seemed to be tied to color of the flower on the head. More importantly, there didn’t seem to be any real consciousness there. Animations perhaps? It could be a holiday honoring some ancient invasion-victory or something. After all, no one seemed particularly worried about it. It WAS a lot like traditional festivals back in Battling Business World!

As they arrived in port, they found a dock master coming to meet them.

(Dockmaster) “Ah, traders I take it?”

(Marty) “Yeah! Not a bad time, is it?”

(Dockmaster) “Eh, the local witchdoctors have sent in another wave of these flower summons against us again. That usually keeps the guards busy for a while, but the annoying bastards don’t seem to realize they aren’t doing that much damage. More of a nuisance really.”

(Kevin) “Maybe they regard it as a sport or personal contest of some sort? As in “I bet MY summons can make it to the docks this time around” “Oh, it’s ON now! I bet mine will get half a mile closer than YOURS!””

(Dockmaster) “You know, I wouldn’t entirely rule that out. The blasted tribes out there are notoriously difficult for outsiders to really understand.”

(Marty) “So how long have they been doing this?”

(Dockmaster) “It’s been going on for nearly three months now. The initial waves were a lot more troublesome until the mages had a chance to analyze the attacks and change the ward accordingly. Trying to prevent the summons themselves from entering the city hasn’t worked for long though. The witchdoctors always seem to find a way around that.”

(Kevin) “Huh… I presume attempts to find out “why” have been unfruitful?”

That was bad enough. He was having a hard time restraining himself from saying “have failed to blossom?”.

(Dockmaster) “I’m told no, although the mayor and his bunch have been handling that for the most part. I usually get told via word of mouth that our representatives were driven off or were told something completely nonsensical about how “dreams are being disrupted” or some such.”

(Kevin) “Hm…”

Well, that could be something psychic, could be a dimensional overlay, could be NIMH turning up and introducing some quite alien-to-here elements into the local reality – and they DID seem to have been getting into everywhere recently.

Marty had to agree there! They were in the right area for NIMH. Maybe they should grab one of these plant constructs and do some analysis!

Well, OK. Go and do something more fun while RAPHAEL did some analysis.

Kevin figured that the constructs were probably local enough, but NIMH might well have shown up in the city; it DID seem to have a major rat influence – at least judging by that statue. Hm… There was some level of reality disturbance in the city – although it was always possible that it was just resonance from his own activities, even at this range – but the exact source was difficult to home in on. There WERE traces of the distortion centered on the archipelago, but it was fairly weak now.

Ah. There WAS something else adding to the mess though. Some locally, from within the city, and a larger focusout in the forest/marsh.

(Kevin) “People fiddling around! And I thought that this realm was a backwater!”

Well, there were an awful lot of people running about in the Manifold!

(Dockmaster) “Very well, I assume you will be staying awhile, at least to unload your cargo, sell it, and then buy and load new cargo and supplies?”

(Marty) “That’s the plan.”

Of course, they’d doubtless get entangled with the flowers and the locals – but then Kevin was an utterly incurable meddler – and it would take the fleet at least a week to unload, sell, buy, and reload cargo – and the Thralls could handle that or call for help if necessary. It certainly didn’t require their attention!

(Kevin) “Yes indeed! So are there papers to fill out, or can we simply decree shore leave in shifts and let the clerks argue over the customs and dues?”

Raphael checked the local laws first. If this is a “free city” or some such the group’s usual slave-escorts might be kind of out of place… Hm. A few idiosyncratic local customs, violations of which were punishable by minor fines, but otherwise fairly typical. The local laws did not forbid slavery, although they did require some token of ownership (such as a the usual collar) to signify the lack of free status. There should be no major problems there.

(Dockmaster) “There are some papers to fill out, but nothing too involved. We would recommend that you keep a certain guard around your ships at all times as the city guards obviously cannot be held responsible for protecting the ships in port during these sorts of incidents. They will assist if called for, but don’t expect them to put ships ahead of the blasted flowers otherwise.”

(Kevin) “Oh naturally! After all, they’re there to protect your citizens, not random ships visiting your harbor!”

They left the Thralls, in various forms, to keep an eye on things and headed out to see what there was to see locally – and to try out some local food and drink! Then perhaps they’d check on the reality disturbance in the swamp if nothing else weird happened!

Kevin was also determined to look around for NIMH! As usual, he’d leapt to a conclusion, and would treat it as a strong theory until further notice. He also, of course, sent out some Thralls to check the local slave markets for youngsters with souls and to buy any who were available from particularly desperate or ruthless parents, or because they’d gotten into trouble, or whatever, and to do some recruiting amongst the street kids. Thralls were one of the best investments ever! They could recruit more, and soon you had compound interest!

They also spent a little while watching the fireworks from the flower invasion of the fireworks warehouse – although that ran down fairly quickly. Marty got to participate in a bit of the local barroom drinking and brawling – but Kevin got ejected for being “too young” (which he was astounded enough to allow), visited the metals and gems shops (as always, some with interesting local magical potentials and various bits of charmed weapons and jewelry), visited the aroma shops (well, the did smell exciting!), looked at what wares the carpenters had come up with using the unusual local woods, visited the fabric traders (who were peddling a variety of silks and other fabrics as usual, some with minor magical properties), and watched some of the more dashing types swashbuckle around with the flowers for show, sport, and honor!

Kevin bought a lot of trinkets, mostly focusing on gems, silks, fabrics, and clothing. He tended to give away a lot of that stuff!

The fireworks caused a good deal of chaos as they shot around the city at random and startled people. Occassionally they struck houses and other buildings and detonated in spectacular explosions – but those generally caused very little damage. They did leave trails of glowing dust that slowly settled to the ground and covered the city in a swirl of glowing color. The light from the fireworks neatly highlighted the guards and adventurerous types battling the flowers through the city. A cat that was leaping from roof to roof as he defeated dozens of flowers with his rapier and acrobatics drew quite a lot of attention – and polite applause!

He was drawing quite a bit of female attention as well with his grandiose posing and heroic battling. Kevin briefly considered competing – but animated flowers seemed just a bit… beneath his powers. There wasn’t any challenge there!

Kevin issued an invitation to a really splendid feast after the battle for the best defenders, and put up the money for it with a local resturant…

Meanwhile, the markets were still open despite the evening hours, and one of the more showy salesmen was been busily running a demonstration of a number of new materials that had just come in from the forests earlier that day – much to the amazement of the crowd.

New materials in followed by a major assault… Upset someone perhaps?

  • He was currently demonstrating a gem called Flowstone. A sparkling gem of considerable beauty, it was easily malleable with the hands into any given shape. It could be torn apart into two gems with a minor exertion of strength, and two pieces could be pressed together to make a larger one. Exposure to the proper (and only moderately tricky) acoustical tones resulted in the stone hardening significantly – to the strength of iron. The seller was currently demonstrating how he could use a potter’s wheel to make a wide variety of jars, dishes, and glasses using the stuff.

Now that was rather neat! – But it implied that he must have quite a lot of it.

THAT made Kevin wonder even more at who he took it away from; something that handy and pretty was unlikely to be unclaimed – and he couldn’t have paid much for it if he was making dishes out of it.

The other items in the merchant’s current lineup included Dream Mercury, Adamantium, Dusk Wood, White Oil, and Black Gold.

Marty had a look!

  • Dream Mercury had to be attuned to a specific user and imbedded in a handle. After that, with a bit of practice, the user could mentally adjust the shape of the mercury droplet to any form he wished of the same mass – although a small enchantment tuned to a specific group of forms made it much easier to control. It was very rare and valuable, the two devices he was demonstrating with were a multitool type and a variable weapon.
  • Adamantium was about as usual; It was very hard and very strong and nigh impossible to work once formed.
  • Dusk wood generated an endothermic reaction when it burned, with the peculiar effect of making the air around the wood cooler and absorbing light for a small radius around itself. It was often used – in combination with a few more materials – in everburning enchantments.
  • Purified White Oil made an excellent lubricant, would flow up and over the sides of almost any unsealed container it is kept in, and was a thermal superconductor that always maintained the same temperature across it’s entire volume.
  • Black Gold was much like regular gold in terms of general material properties – save that it acted completely the opposite of gold with regard to magic and was black in appearance. While gold made a great metal for enchantments and storing magical energy, Black Gold repelled such energies around itself – and could no

    t be used for normal enchantments.

OK; either the man had cross-manifold connections or he was seriously exploiting some of the locals. That many amazingly-useful “natural” wonders at prices low enough to show them off to crowds in public rather than to carefully-selected plutocrats? That was most unlikely.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 184b – The Return of Ruthless Ruth

Domenichino, Virgin and Unicorn, (working unde...

Not quite how it works in Kadia...

Ruth Gelman was back in Kadia, visiting her parents and celebrating something of a victory; she’d broken up enough of Dr Brenner’s little parasitic Kevin-cults to bring in the authorities – and gotten Kevin’s rescue-recruiting on a semi-official basis; the authorities were now well aware of where all those illegal and refugee kids were going, and – even if they didn’t officially approve – were very glad that someone was handling the issue who could offer the kids something more than sterilization and the labor pools…

They hadn’t really liked the measures they’d had to take to keep the population under control. No one did.

While she didn’t entirely approve of Kevin’s contract either, a look at some of the alternatives out in the Manifold had convinced her that kids could do a great deal worse. Being one of Kevin’s Thralls – or even being an indenture-slave in Kadia – wasn’t too bad.

Still, you could wind up enslaved in Kadia through… gambling, juvenile delinquency (although the odds were still only 1 in 20 – and the rules had been revised to that enslaved losers all went to Kevin’s service, rather than one in three being given away as a prize), various forms of adult criminality, and… by heading into “lawless zones”? What the heck was…

Oh. The deep wilderness preserves had no law or law enforcement – so if you got into trouble there, you were on your own – and if someone managed to capture you there, and claimed an indenture on you after dragging you back out, it was legal.

Of course, fighting back, or dying and waking up back at the malls, was legal too. Still… letting people wander into something like that without warning them was just wrong!

She should be fine; she was pretty good herself and she still had that bodyguard of Thralls that Dad had assigned.

Her temper started cooling rapidly when she found that entering a “lawless zone” required being of age, signing a waiver, listening to various computerized warnings (including the odds of getting into various kinds of trouble), being admitted past a series of barriers, and a long trip into the wilderness.

It took her Thrall-companions several days to find a group of young women who’d been captured to rescue… Not that wilderness camping wasn’t fun, but it was looking like you really had to WORK to get into trouble this way.

That turned out to be a group of… six young women, who’d been captured by a trio of boys who were heavily armed with stun weaponry. Evidently they’d been out “hunting” for months, and had finally found a group to capture.

She took the one on guard down fast and silent, and put the other two out while they were asleep.

Interrogating the young women however… They’d come out here just because it would be EXCITING? Because there was a small element of danger and they wanted to feel like they were really taking some risks? They hadn’t brought any major weapons, or hired any guards or guides, because they wanted the “authentic wilderness experience”?

She had better things to do than to run around rescuing people from self-inflicted nonsense!

Something snapped – and her newly-acquired Kadian ID surged a bit to the front. Idiots were warned, and if they persisted in their folly, and got into trouble, it was their own blasted fault! An indenture-term might teach them to think!

She loaded up the whole collection, had her Thrall-companions call for some transport and indentured the lot of them!

Not that she really had anything in mind to do with them – and she still couldn’t bring herself to just put them up for auction.

While she was trying to decide THAT, it was pretty irritating to find that blasted boorish unicorn stallion was still hanging around in the local woods – and the thing had apparently caught some gullible kids. Apparently even Core kids could have some awfully unrealistic notions about unicorns.

That was profoundly stupid too, but not quite as dumb as her current collection of slaves! Still, if they hadn’t been so blind as to NOT ASK ANY QUESTIONS AT ALL they wouldn’t be part of a herd of unicorns now!

Wait a minute… The Unicorn had tried to catch her, and had been catching other girls, so… Yep. Kadian law said that she was free to try to catch it if she wanted! All she needed was to… order the appropriate magical bridle!

And (as the Kadian ID surged again) she had just the right bait available…

She wasn’t sure how her parents would feel about her deploying some indentured girls as bait – but the thing was sapient and Fey, and wasn’t likely to be fooled by illusions or decoys!

It was a bit embarrassing, even with her smartclothes set to filter things like that a bit by adding clothing – but the silly girls HAD pretty much gone out in the woods to be bait, so this was no more than they’d been asking for!

The blasted thing was clever, and managed to slip off with the bait three times before managed to penetrate it’s own illusions, catch it in the act, and slip the bridle into place.

(Ruth) “Well. We meet again.”

(Unicorn) “What, you again? Well, if you’ve changed your mind, you could have just spent some time in the forest not wearing any clothes like this luscious young thing! Surely you can tell how much SHE’S enjoying herself!”

(Ruth, determinedly ignoring what the stallion was doing with the “bait”) “Hmph! You won’t be so blithe when I bring you to market.”

She hadn’t quite decided if she’s going to sell him yet. She’d be happy if he agreed to vacate Kadia!

(Unicorn) “What, going to sell the foals or leave them fatherless? Not especially heroic there!”

(Ruth) “Foals? Ugh…”

As much as she hated to admit it, he had a point! And one she REALLY should have expected! What else did the creature want girls for anyway?

(Ruth) “Look, if you just give back the girls you’ve stolen and promise to leave Kadia, me, and my family alone, I won’t bother you or your family. OK?”

(Unicorn) “Hrm… Awkward! Most of them have months more to go! And I’m part of Kadia… I can certainly send the girls back after their indentures are up, and stay far out in the wilderness well away from you and your family though! Would that do? This magic bridle pinches!”

(Ruth) “I’m glad you noticed. And yeah, we have a deal.”

There’d probably be some sort of limited loophole in there somewhere – but he WAS a fey.

He seemed slightly surprised though.

Actually he was surprised to get out of it without having to swear to a term of service – at least twenty-one years would have been usual! He wasn’t used to dealing with people who didn’t want to enslave their opponents!

(Unicorn) “Well OK then! It is a bargain!”

Ruth had done her research; she had the binding oath on file and memorized. The standard phrasing would bind HER to leave him unmolested as long as he sticks to his word though – and made it expensive-to-nigh-impossible for him to break it anyway.

She’d decided that that was good enough. While having to leave him unmolested might be a problem if he made trouble for other people, this was mostly about avenging the sleight against her. It would be embarrassing for them later on to admit that their first offspring were unicorn foals, but far worse things could happen!

By the time they’d finished, the indentured “bait” had – of course – finished transforming into a pregnant female unicorn.

Ruth sighed. Oh well! Taken as a concubine and impregnated by some male was probably THE most common fate for an indentured girl in Kadia! She’d be all right – and the unicorn magics would probably stick permanently. There were far worse packages.

Hmph. Was this urge to catch girls from Core part of Kevin’s darkness? She’d seen enough to have to admit that chasing girls otherwise was pretty normal for males….

That left her with three male and two female indenture-slaves herself. What to do with them?

Federation-Apocalypse Session 184a – Vampires or Lawyers? Vampires please!

John Lomax, South Africa lawyer en tennis play...

We're coming to take you away!

Off in Star Wars: Galactica*, yet another group had taken entirely the wrong turn, and were calling for rescue. The realm they’d fallen into had all too many gates – but they all seemed to lead to more variations on the same realm! Even worse, it seemed that the casualty rates were likely to far exceed 100% thanks to the widespread cloning and duplication of all the important characters!

Bad fanfiction could be very hard to escape from even if you were the captain and the crew of a small planet that was probably plotted to play some vital role in the conflict.

*An obscure fanfiction realm tangent to Star Wars, The Children of the Lens, and BattleStar Galactica) the long war was coming to a close. The sapient stars of the two galaxies had been seeded with battle stations and the equally-sapient planets were in use as light cruisers in the “ultimate” war against the Sith Hordes – who were controlling a fleet of enslaved stars and were attempting to run off to join the Sith Galaxy.

Yes, it was THAT kind of universe. There would be trouble there later; the group contained a set of House of Roses agents with some very valuable information along.

Meanwhile, back with Kevin, Marty, and Raphael – oddly enough – all of them were pondering upcoming court cases…

Marty was most worried about the upcoming case with Abigail in Core; his legal team would be at a definite disadvantage there – although weird things could still happen. Besides… weren’t there some jurisdictional questions or something? It wasn’t like he was a lawyer! There might be testimony from supernatural entities whose weak children Kevin inadvertently snagged, manifold adventurers testifying, their odd attorneys, arguments over which dimension’s laws apply in dimensional crossroads – and all kinds of attempts to make it an argument and precedent over Kevin’s Thralls rather than about child custody in his particular case!

When it came down to arguments about Kevin’s ownership of Thralls… That was a tough one! Kevin was a friend, and he owed him a lot – but he had some pretty big doubts about the Thralls! Social responsibility and – and parental disapproval (whether justified or not) – were pushing him tor argue against; he hated to think of a son of his serving as one of Kevin’s cheerful attendants. While that wouldn’t happen to his kids of course – Kevin had said they’d get the “enjoy yourselves” orders if they did sign up – he could feel for other parents!

Still… It didn’t really seem like it could be stopped at this point, and the Thralls WERE doing a lot of good even if a tiny percentage wound up in “personal service”. Despite those personal doubts, he’d almost have to testify “for” ownership… Perhaps it could be limited? Put in more organization and restrict the “attendant” positions to kids who’d indicated willingness BEFORE becoming Thralls and who had either no parents, or parents who didn’t care, or parents who had no emotional trouble with the “long term benefits” argument?

He did have some leverage anyway. Everyone in the “he agreed to work with these people” group had at least a little – except that secret agent guy who had opted out of the group. Maybe he could did up Benedict and double up that influence? Kevin WAS addicted – even if it hadn’t been strictly voluntary – and he’d be loathe to give up or limit his taking of Thralls… And would certainly argue that they are needed to open the Manifold to everyone else, to move planets, to operate the Midnight Gardener project, and so on.

Maybe he could push for more reforms, rights, and treatment agreements though. And more actual organization… That would mean working with Gelman – but he owed the man an apology anyway. Pesky “responsibility” was slowly bringing him around to the man’s point of view… Some more managers would be useful too. Gelman was good, but he was only one man.

Oh GODS. Had he just thought that middle management – at least in it’s place – was a good thing? Anyway…

Maybe not too many reforms though! There needed to be ways to punish idiots like Ikeran, and Kevin certainly had a nicely appropriate-and-ironic touch there! The kid REALLY should have known better! And he’d hate to deprive Julia of her Thrall-Pets-Bodyguards!

Drat. He’d worked his way around back to Julia and Abigail – and he really had been trying to avoid thinking about that.

Kevin was mostly thinking about the Jesus Realms and a recent request that he appear to testify on Shayhian, in Core. Anything that might have a bearing on his formal ownership of the Thralls in Core and more legalistic worlds concerned him deeply – even if the question was fundamentally just one of labeling. He owned them – but it would be nice if he Owned them and could rent out their services, modify them, and so on without having to bother with subcontracting or rotating them in and out of more legally accommodating dimensions!

There was the practical point too… Youngsters who really wanted to sign up with him could not really be prevented from doing so! A strong desire to work for him would give them a little power – enough to work a soul-dedication ritual which would bring them to Kadia when they died, and enough to control their own bodies well enough to simply drop dead if they wanted to! Once a kid had the idea, and the desire, Thralldom was almost inevitable!

He made a note to make it to Shayhian, even if he had to manifest an avatar there as a special effort! That one was coming up quite soon!

Raphael was thinking of the nightmare avalanche that Kevin’s claims of godhood – and of an assortment of biblical precedents – the old “My Sheep, My People”, “And none shall take them out of my hand”, and so on – could unleash. That could get SO messed up, and would stir people up in a thousand realms if it got beyond the courtroom!

Plus, of course, Kevin’s claims that he was doing it for their own good actually had some merit. It wasn’t just that they could get killed otherwise, or that his contract actually was a really good deal, His argument that he only wanted legal recognition that he owned them because – at the moment – he could order them to do things and not be held responsible for it when they did them, and because there were obligations to care for your livestock well, and supervision, and rules, but no such rules applied to what people “voluntarily” did to themselves – even if they had no ability to disobey the person who ordered them to do those things.

He… couldn’t say he approved. It was better to take your own risks and have your successes be truly your own! The only thing that Kevin was offering that they couldn’t get on their own with a far shorter period of knocking around the manifold adventuring was…

Well, OK: a guarantee of survival, a perpetual stream of material indulgences, instant power with a complete lack of responsibility, and the sure-and-certain knowledge that they were valued and cared for – even if it was as pets. It was still a grossly unequal relationship – but at least the soul-bond went both ways and the whole arrangement WAS only temporary.

Besides, it would be foolish to try to stop Kevin from collecting those kids who WANTED to accept Thralldom… He had already shown that it was possible to acquire the trick to doing so accidentally – and having a supply of children that had been told ‘no’ lying around was just asking for someone else to come in as competition. Worse, whoever that turned out to be might not hold together nearly as well – or be nearly as benign

That didn’t leave a lot of choice; he’d have to testify on the “allow it and make them property” side. After all, it was true – and he really didn’t want to have a precedent for it going the other way if someone figured out the trick to doing something similar

Once Marty managed to shove Julia and Abigail into the back of his consciousness again, it had partially resolved itself. His sticking point was organization… He’d never been big on that personally – but with tens or hundreds of thousands of Thralls running about there needed to be a reasonably clear chain of command. Maybe they could set up separate thrall groups for each dimension or something? Kevin was still trying to run the projects he was interested in at the moment personally and leaving the others to Gelman and/or whoever was handy when he pointed and said “Someone go and take care of that!” – and that was just silly.

While Gelman had been doing his best, he wasn’t really all that familiar with the Manifold, wasn’t entirely clear on the resources available, and certainly wasn’t used to operating on such a scale. The Thralls had gotten to be pretty decent at providing their own, small-scale, organization (especially since Raphael and Gelman had been suggesting some skills along those lines) – but they really weren’t up to the large-scale stuff; it required too many command-level decisions.

He… had been trying to avoid thinking about it – but he was going to have to play mentor a bit and take a more active approach to getting things sorted out. At least enough so that people didn’t go off making decisions that he or Kevin would disapprove of without very good reason.

Or go ramming the backs of other ships! That was just silly!

What had happened to that kid anyway?

Oh, knowing Kevin, probably something like what he’d done to Ikeran. Oh well, he was another one who’d earned it. That “We can’t really die!” – with no concern for all the sailors who COULD – had been pretty astoundingly self-centered!

Raphael was thinking of suggesting a secondary communications link with a computer to allow for project tracking, policy updates, brief lectures form Kevin on what he actually wanted done, and so on. Present generic instructions just would not do! Even the Thralls had more than enough power to create some incredible messes when directed that way!

It would have to be one heck of a computer system to handle tens of thousands of magical links though. Still, Kadia had vast amounts of unused capacity, and magic to back it up, and even the baseline Core computers the system was modeled on WERE pretty good.

Wait; What kind of communications were the Thralls using now? There had to be SOMETHING.

Well, it wasn’t like he didn’t have a thousand or so available! He could simply ask.

(Thrall) “Oh… Well, in Crusader and the New Imperium, and a few other places, you can usually just place a call! Other places you can send letters and couriers! Some places are close enough for telepathy and magic! Most others we have to call Master Kevin directly, but we only do that if it’s REALLY urgent because he’s very busy!”

Wait, what?!?! The only direct communications links they had were through KEVIN?!?! No wonder there was so little organization! The boy couldn’t possibly he handling more then eight or ten channels at a time, and there were hundreds of thousands of Thralls! Even using telepathy, the system had to be impossibly congested!

Kevin never had thought of setting up the Thralls with independent communications! After all, HE was in charge of things!

(Raphael) “Ok… I really need to talk to him about adding some automation to that. that is no way to run an organization this large when it is so simple to extend the conection to his realm a little bit. Perhaps we could hook you up to the computers of Kadia as a secondary link; that might be handy for a lot of things. Could you remind me next time we check in with the lead boats?”

(Thrall) “Certainly sir!”

(Raphael) “It already has a strong connection to him so it should be doable.”

(Thrall) “Uhm… Are you going to be one of Master Kevin’s regular associates from now on?”

(Raphael, thoughtfully) “I think so. I have been the lab for far too long.”

(Thrall) “Will you be needing any more staff?!?!”

OK, the fact that the kid was currently an anthropomorphic dog certainly aided the impression – but the big brown eyes, pleading expression, and wagging tail were pushing the image of a lonely-but-frantically-eager puppy in a pet shop window into his brain.

(Thrall) “Most of us never get to work for Kevin even as close as being a crewman on a nearby ship! I’m good at all kinds of things!”

(Raphael) “… Suuurre…”

He wasn’t quite sure how to take that look…

(Raphael) “I could use some help with a lot of things, but I will have to wait till after we get to port and I talk with Kevin… Are any of the others on this crew shift capable of a telepathic link to Kadia? Specifically the group working on computer maintenance. It would be nice to be able to give specifics and organize this before I suggest it to Kevin and he surprises the system with a bunch of new open communication ports with no hardware changes detected.”

(Thrall) “Only a couple of us at the moment! I can get one set up quick though!”

More of that eager-pleading look… Raphael resolved to change the subject to get away from uncomfortable situation of talking about possible employment as quickly as possible.

(Raphael) “That would be helpful.”

Still with the pleading-eager-willing-puppy look. What was up with the kid? Thralldom was about as secure and safe as employment could get! Was it… literal?

Raphael pushed down the worry that it might be another of those things he didn’t want to know – like the time he tried to divine how a mech from one of the anime realms was powered – and gave it a shot.

The kid knew – right down in his soul – that he was Kevin’s property, and loved that, and desperately wanted to serve him. Just working for him was good, but being closer to him was even better! Belonging to, and working for, one of his associates would be almost as good as working directly for Kevin – and Kevin tended to assign Thralls to his friends and allies.

The kid was jumping at the possibility that Raphael might be willing to own him – regardless of hardly knowing him and of having no idea at all what Raphael might want to use him for. He was eager to be an aide, or a steed, or a familiar, or whatever Raphael might want!

That was exactly what he’d been afraid that look meant.

Well, he had no need for a steed; he had the robots for that. “Aide” was far better – and far less disturbing – than steed, or familiar, or (much worse) many of the roles that were further down the kids mental list.

Oh blast! That made it nearly obligatory! At least any HE accepted wouldn’t wind up being used for anything like THAT.

He’d talk to Kevin about accepting some aides – including (sigh…) this kid.

He needed to get some basic reports from whoever was actually running the computers of Kadia – if it was not the computers themselves – on ways to connect and handle a cross-dimensional remote link

Kevin quite cheerily agreed to let Rafael pick out a dozen or two Thralls (including the one kid who’d asked) to start with, and to transfer their power-links to him so that he could draw on their power reserves and they would regard themselves as being formally assigned to his service.

Raphael would have to think about that; the Thralls did have some variation automatically, and more with training – and he’d have to think about what he was needing.

Marty made sure to tell him that “Female, Beautiful, Not Resembling My Ex-Wife, and Naked” was likely to lead to problems – particularly if you’d unconsciously kind of like a kid. The Thrall-girls were FAR too obliging that way!

The Life Cycle of the Couch Tiger

Red sofa

The coloring agent is actually blood you know.

The cubs start out as simple footstools, and typically hide in the corners, waiting to be fed with wood, and bits of metal, and fiber. If no more substantial furniture is available, they will graze on carpets and plant fibers – which is better than nothing. Still, too much of such junk food and they will soon become overstuffed, a condition which may plague them all their lives.

On a proper diet they will swiftly grow into upholstered chairs, unfolding a back and arms in the dead of night.

From there, the seat broadens, and they will become double-chairs, or “love seats”. At this point their fabric will begin to lose the simple patterns of childhood, and begins to develop the intricate embroiderings and brocades of adulthood. Now capable of pulling down and devouring wooden benches, tables, and other serious prey, it will not be long before the Couch Tiger molts it’s outer fabric – creating a layer of crudely degraded cloth often known as a “dust cover”. When it emerges from beneath that cover, it will have attained full adulthood as a sleek modern couch, capable of pulling down anything short of a full-grown banquet table.

As Couch Tigers age, they grow thicker layers of upholstery, and sometimes develop thick fabric callouses known as “slip covers” – further defenses against the wear and tear of their predatory lives.

Elder Couch Tigers may begin to seek out gold, gems, and similar ornamental materials as they age, incorporating them into their fabric and reinforcing it – and, incidentally, developing the magnificent coats for which they are justly famed. After a secondary molt-and-“dust-cover” stage, they may emerge as so-called “Antique Couches” – magnificent beasts with their curled, clawed legs, massive structure, and scarred finishes. There is no mightier predator to be found within the furnished world.

Sadly, even the mightiest of Couches will fade at last. While human aid can preserve the best of the breed for a remarkably long time, wear and tear will eventually accumulate, their vitality will fade, their joints will become old and creaky, and – finally – the remains of the best specimens may be restuffed to become museum pieces, their final flickers of vitality barely enough to remain standing.

Still, if well-fed and cared for, a Couch Tiger is readily domesticated, and will make a reliable companion, always ready to hold a few things for you – or to support you when you’re tired or are simply looking to relax with a friend.

All right then; the original question was about building “living” furnishings and household utensils – the sort of things you see in some cartoons – in Eclipse.

The quick-and-dirty way is pretty simple: I’ll call it the “Talking Teapot Template” (+0 CP and +0 ECL).

  • Select an animal with some vague resemblance to what you want. Want flying teacups? Bats or Birds might do nicely.
  • Remove it’s Constitution attribute. Whatever magic makes these things “alive”, it’s not any kind of normal metabolism. Since most animals have decent constitution modifiers (+2 or +4) after dropping the size modifiers this will save you 12 to 24 CP and provides a long list of immunities – even if it does often cost the larger animals some hit points. Coupled with the usual “converted character get a few bonus points” rule, call it 24 CP as a general template.
  • For larger creatures buy Advanced Finesse/Bonus Hit Points are based on Strength instead of Constitution. For smaller creatures just buy the size-based bonus hit points available with the “No Constitution” option. 12 CP either way.
  • Buy Universal DR 3/-, applicable to both physical and energy damage. That’s enough to let teapots sit over small fires without harm (after all, even peasants with 1d4 hit points tend to stay conscious after stepping into small fires or burning themselves on stoves – so such episodes can’t to too much damage in d20 terms) and to reasonably represent the durability of things like ceramics, thin metal, and jointed wood. That’s 6 CP.
  • Add some minor special talent worth 6 CP. If you want the usual talkative-but-not-too-bright candlesticks and utensils, add +1 Int. Since a lot of animals are Int 2, that gets you to the sentient-and-talking (if not too bright outside of their specialty) stage. Go ahead. Give that animated weapons-rack the equivalent of Combat Reflexes, or let that lumbering lion-stove generate the occasional small burst of flame or count it’s door as a shield or some such.
  • Shift their skills (and sometimes bonuses). If you’re making a classical Badger Teapot, drop the “Escape” skill and put a few points into Craft/Cooking. Let it boss the other utensils around and make your dinner. For a Couch Tiger change the stealth bonus from “hiding in tall grass” to “hiding in furnished rooms”.
  • Describe your creatures new look. That should be pretty easy. It’s motivations are usually pretty straightforward too; hungry Couch Tigers want to eat your gear. Well-fed Couch Tigers want to nap, usually in front of a nice warm fireplace. Teapots usually want to make and serve tea. Upset flying teacups may pour hot tea over your head and be REALLY REALLY ANNOYING as they complain at you in high squeaky voices.

Now that may be a few CP off in particular cases, just as any general procedure will have it’s exceptions – but these are typically going to be NPC’s, and being a few CP off really doesn’t matter all that much.

What, you want a lot of these things? “Leadership” is best if you expect to ride to battle on your banquet table (Elephant), accompanied by a pair of Couch-Tigers and a dozen or so Flying Knives (Hawks).

For background features – if you really want an animated teapot that makes tea in the morning before you get up – you can just “buy a trained animal”. If the GM makes you pay a point or two to know an artificer who makes these things – well, that is the GM’s privilege. It’s not like this is going to make a serious difference.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 183b – With an Order of Mushrooms

Fungus on Fungus

The classical version was prettier...

The seas were otherwise calm, and the wind was blowing in a favorable quarter – but about six hours into the journey it seemed that one of the crewman had fallen overboard.

He was still visible at least – but he was… swimming off into the distance?

That was STUPID!

(Kevin, to the Thralls) “Fish him out again! If he wants to go and isn’t a spy, he needs a small boat! If he’s a spy, we may still want to let him go, but we want to know who he’s spying for!”

It wasn’t like they didn’t have a dozen different ways to fish him out. The way he frantically struggled to get back into the water again was a little disconcerting though. What, had someone thrown a spell on him to turn him aquatic?

(Marty) “What’s up wolfy?

(Wolf) “It smells so good! I must have it! You can’t keep me away from that sweet, sweet aroma! You just want it all to yourself!”

Well, that was an interesting local variant on the old ‘Sirens’ routine!

(Marty) “Noseplugs for everybody!”

(Cook) “Are you insinuating that my food has given everyone indigestion?! Well, I never!”

(Marty) “No! Angkor can explain.”

(Kevin/Angkor) “Nope! That someone is trying to lure you all into drowning yourselves with supernaturally-enticing odors!”

(Cook, doubtfully sniffing the air) “Hmm, I must say that is an enticing aroma………”

(Marty, who could not cook) “Oh no you don’t!”

Kevin threw a mass noseplugs spell!

Raphael started holding his breath until he was sure that he wouldn’t get hit!

OK, there would have been a serious flaw with that plan if Kevin HADN’T promptly gone with the noseplugs solution – but the kid was pretty predictable sometimes.

Still, after a few hours, the odor would saturate their clothes, food, and supplies. That was going to be a headache later unless the effect was short-term or something (in which case it might be a boon to trade).

Marty tried pleasure magic. Cleaning was definitely on the fringe of the field, but it had to be there… He whipped up a large-area deodorizing spell – even if it did leave everything lemon scented.

Raphael went with the mind-magic again – some psychic void spells to negate the compulsion.

That didn’t work entirely – it was pretty strong – but it neatly handled what got past Marty and the Noseplugs.

Kevin had some of the Thralls in dolphin-form take a look; they were already immune to most compulsions induced through the senses – and it couldn’t be affecting dolphins much anyway because, if it did, (1) they’d be there from all over the seas, and (2) they had very little sense of smell anyway.

The Thralls reported the presence of some sort of vegetative mass the size of a small island floating in the waters. It looked like the usual sea life was avoiding the thing. Tentacles or roots reached down below it, and disappeared into the murky depths below.

They also reported a faintly repugnant scent.

A giant venus fly-trap from another realm? Or just a rare native species? If it was THIS effective it would be really hard for the locals to figure out what caused the occasional disappearances…

Kevin had the Thralls try communicating; after all, it might have some kind of mind!

More of a floating forest. There were quite a lot of little minds – but nothing at all advanced. The scent seemed to be coming from a fungal growth on top of the thing. The largest mushroom was over twenty feet tall and had a strange orange mist about itself.

Underneath it there were a lot of slowly-crumbling bones… sailors and birds mostly.

Marty had to wonder… Was the whole setup symbiotic? Would it attack them if they tried to chop the fungus off? Would the roots will pop up to strangle them? He remembered how the Truffle hunt had gone back home! 80% casualties! Those oak trees could be brutal!

The longest available “pole” to poke it with was a line-of-sight forcebolt spell – even if it was a rather weak one.

Hmm… The roots didn’t seem to react much beyond swaying in the currents. The vegetative mass responded by bunching up and releasing some sort of clear gel. The fungus responded via the release of more orange haze.

They talked Raphael into testing the gel and the haze and various other samples. He was a general scientist, and a biologist, and an arcanist, and who knew what all…

Well, presumably he did – but with a divination mage, it was really hard to tell what he was an expert on besides “knowing stuff”.

It looked like… the root system was an odd form of a sulfur-breathing creature anchored to a volcanic vent. The top vegetative portion appeared to be a combination of symbiotic plant species doing nitrogen fixation and other species that captured animals for additional nutrients. The root system for the plant was intermingled with the roots coming from below with significant nutrient exchange going on. The fungus is more of a parasitic organism that had infected the plants on top and was busily breaking the plants down into food for itself, and in the process was using it’s spores to lure in potential compost.

Removing the fungus wouldn’t harm the plant, and the funguses only major defense mechanisms were it’s attractive and sophoric scent and highly-addictive tissues. Damage would cause it to release more spores, but that was fairly easily dealt with.

That really was quite interesting! There could be a wide variety of commercial uses… Perfume, foods, and more!

Of course, it might well be magical enough to only work when it’s alive and it would have to be carefully sealed in airtight containers or else shipboard productivity would plummet.

It looked like they’d have to rid the forest of some parasitic fungus. Of course, the spores were all over the place… They’d have to decontaminate the fleet after this – and the crews too; it might be able to grow on or in them too.

Hrm. Highly attractive smelling mushroom zombies?

As far as eating them went… that “addictive” bit WAS a problem. Worse, Marty suspected that these were not like BBW mushrooms, which often DID heal you or grant special powers for a bit!

Sadly, the psychological and physiological effects ranged from stupor to depression and a weakened immune system.

Drat!

(Marty) “Hey, I think Jenkins’ ex took that one for weeks after the divorce! You don’t want that in you.”

(Raphael) “Well, now that we have decided to get rid of the fungus, how do we get rid of the fungus?”

(Kevin) “Rain of fungicide? Transform a few local bugs to eat it right up?”

(Raphael) “Wait!! it’s a parasite; giant heal spell?”

(Kevin, rather doubtfully) “Well, it is a single infection-organism…”

(Raphael) “It’s growing on two other plants, and there’s no land there for it to root in other than the rotting corpses it has gathered… Still, bugs might be the better option; that will keep working if the spores make another – and doesn’t take nearly as much magic.”

Huh! Raphael didn’t seem to have ANY idea how much work making species could be! It took HOURS!

For a moment, Raphael suddenly found Kevin looking doubtful a little frightening… What if he took this as a reason to suddenly revise the world again? He was NOT stitching reality back together twice in one day!

Well, at least he didn’t want to have to try!

Marty had to agree there. He suspected that they hadn’t yet sailed out of the radius of Kevin’s FIRST major magical act on this voyage!

Bugs it was!

For a moment, Kevin had an impulse to create a giant moth creature designed to eat anything vaguely looking like a mushroom – and to battle any giant lizard creatures that might be roaming around – but that passed quickly.

Of course, things might easily warp a bit after they left. That kind of thing DID happen, and Pirate Mothra (and, for that matter, Ninja Godzilla) had both been mentioned on occasion… And it WOULD do wonders to disrupt Otter shipping!

Everyone else’s too though – and they’d probably done enough of that for one day.

Kevin settled for a variant on ladybugs that could easily digest these particular mushrooms, trace them by scent, breed effectively, and to slow up (eating far smaller amounts of other fungi) – or even drop into hibernation – when the supply of their preferred fungus ran down.

That just used magic, no mana, and so wouldn’t distort the local reality again.

Marty and Raphael kept a few carefully-contained fungus samples for further investigation and possible commercial use, but let the bugs have the rest. Marty felt that – between Escrima and Kadia – there had to be some way to make it profitable and safe as a perfume or something.

It took an hour or two before Kevin was happy with his bugs anyway.

After that… It was cleaning and scrubbing the ships and crew. Fortunately the Thralls had their smartclothes to help filter it out and were at last finding that immunity to sensory-based mind control coming in handy. So was Raphael’s endless supply of Unseen Servants…

And the fleet continued southward.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 183a – A Darkness Upon The Deep

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...

And on his alternate, non-blood, throne...

Raphael was wondering… He’d never thought of Santa Claus as a Lord of Darkness before – but giving people whatever they asked for… People so rarely considered whether getting what they asked for would actually be good for them! There was a reason why stories of twisted wishes, evil Jinn, and monkey’s paws persisted – and why “getting what you asked for” carried a seriously ironic overtone!

Kevin didn’t seem to mean it that way – but he didn’t really seem to think about what he was doing either! He just threw gargantuan energies – enough to blow this entire dimension to bits if the boy had slipped up if HE was any judge – behind a casual, and slightly sarcastic, request!

Yes, the old man had been a guardian of sorts, and the islanders had quite a few kids… but STILL.

Bad enough that the boy had that kind of power available in the first place… Was it just that he was operating with a fleet full of his Thralls around him at the moment? Midnight Gardener had been impressive – but at least it was power on a social scale; it required the efforts of tens of thousands with Kevin doing little more than directing those resources. The Emperor Skywalker did the same…

The implications went beyond what he could control. Was it time to consult the Emperor? Or the authorities of Core? Or the Unified Church? Or the Galactic Elders? Or the Oracles?

Or perhaps all of them?

(Raphael) “Hey, Kevin? Was it really… WISE to give a bunch of island primitives the power to completely shut down all traffic through a potentially major trade route indefinitely?”

(Kevin) “People can always sail around!”

Marty had to laugh! When Kevin went full power, he went FULL POWER.

(Kevin, growing aware of the LOOK Raphael was giving him) “But they asked!”

Trading was complete by morning, the tide was turning, and the Captain was ready to depart – and there were no more questions or requests (outside of a pair of kids who somehow got by the watching shamans, asked for candy, and were handed endless bags of it before returning to be severely switched for such temerity and disobedience).

Meanwhile the random distortions to the local reality were rippling outward from the island…

Marty had thought a little through the night; He was rather glad that Kevin had never turned his full power on Battling Business World – or on himself for that matter – although he kept that off the link. After all, Kevin was VERY unlikely to do that unless he lost control.

Still… He’d gone through his Smartclothes files. “The Darkness That Defends” was it? The “Destiny Of The Race”? Kevin was a friend… How much was he actually bound to “The Will Of The Race”? What exactly did “The Race” demand? Was there any limit?

Well, OK, he was also apprehensive about the upcoming wedding (although he wasn’t sure whether he was more worried about something going wrong or having it go smoothly), nervous about the upcoming court summons, and – of course – about the troubles of assaulting a japanese banking firm full of ninjas, to which he’d had a small flashback for no apparent reason.

Well, it wasn’t as if it was out of the question! You never knew where those little guys would hide or when they would pop up!

Raphael had set aside such speculations for the moment, and was thinking about how much easier this would all be if the ship handled like a matrix hovership. If there were stormy skies and horrible dangers on the ground to get past as well it would feel just like the old holos of home!

Kevin wasn’t worried much about anything! He was mostly being cheery, with offhand thoughts of breakfast, and rather more thoughts of how much fun he’d had in bed with his concubines last night!

They should have paid a bit more attention to the fact that the local reality had gotten rather weird and malleable. The Thralls noticed – but that wasn’t uncommon when Kevin had done a major working. Usually they just stabilized it for him – but this time it didn’t seem to be working. Maybe it was that they’d all been involved in it? It might take an unconnected thought-pattern to do it…

Marty got the overwhelming feeling that was being watched – while Raphael started to hear a familiar – and ominous – buzzing, along with the sounds of a firefight.

Kevin had noticed – but knew that meddling any more at the moment would just make it worse. The locals would settle it down soon enough!

(Marty, now paying attention) “Oh hell. Kevin, I think you broke the dimension.”

Raphael spent a little of HIS personal mana – and rather a lot of Stabilization magic – to try to hold the fleet (or at least the party) together just out of a reflexive desire to not wind up there alone…

(Kevin) “Oh it should settle down! The fleet alone is enough to hold a pocket realm of this size!”

(Voice) “Mr Tabard, I believe it is time you came with us now.”

It looked like a dozen Otters dressed in suits, wearing sunglasses, and wielding knives and briefcases.

Raphael saw a hovership, currently under assault from nearly three dozen sentinels, materializing off to the side of the fleet as the storm whipped up…

(Marty) “Where?”

(Suit Otter) “She hasn’t decided yet, Mr Tabard. She just said she wants to see you for something. Now, are you going to come quietly, or shall we have to use this restraining order to tie you down?”

(Raphael, muttering) “Must not use connection to other dimension… must resist temptation… Robot four, shoot those sentenals!”

Marty was miffed! The restraining order looked to be a high quality one with a signature from a high district court judge. Pretty strong! It would take a lot of time to break out of or appeal.

The cartoon piece of paper flexed it’s huge muscles and did a bit of weightlifter-posing.

Marty didn’t even WANT to know what the little speedo was covering.

Well, that was Battling Business World!

Crud! It looked like he’d be going with them, then!

Kevin looked to the Thralls – but they were already busy trying to settle things down with magic.

Why just magic? Oh yes! They were in the same bind that he was! They’d contributed mana to creating the disturbance, so more of their mana risked feeding it instead of settling it down!

He had the ones who weren’t good at the right kinds of magic settle for protecting the normal crew instead! Hopefully none of THEM were latent reality editors!

(Kevin). “Drat! Looks like I may have overdone it a bit!”

(Marty) “What did I just tell you a few minutes ago?”

Raphael’s robots began shooting at the sentinels. Some of the sentinels broke off their battle with the hovership and came towards the fleet. Meanwhile, the restraining order had grabbed Marty in an enormous bear hug and begun to squeeze money out of him – a fountain of bills flying in all directions!

(Kevin) “Aagh! He’s hemorrhaging solvency!”

(Suit Otter) “Soon everything of yours will be transferred to her. I don’t recommend resisting Mr Tabard, although it might give me some amusement.”

Fortunately, the islanders – watching somewhat bemusedly from the borders of their own little archipelago-world – were safe enough; they didn’t know what was going on, so their naive faith in the local reality was holding things stable for them.

That and the open sea was ALWAYS a place where worlds melded into each other! Everyone knew that the sea led to a myriad wonderful realms!

Raphael continued to try to stabilize the area – but he was beginning to fear that his efforts might simply lock in a small nexus right where they were…

He poured in more power – and THAT, in addition to the Thralls efforts, began to stabilize things – although the sheer scope of the problem was obviously only beginning to become apparent. It was going to be a several hour ordeal.

(Marty) “HELP!”

Blood was one thing, but – to a Battler – money was another thing entirely!

Raphael noted that three sentinels had landed on the ship and were doing battle with the thralls – and that Marty was in the hands of Agents while screaming for help.

(Kevin) “Hey! The majority of his assets are legally sheltered and operate under inconvertible axioms! If you want to squeeze him you need to go through the Courts of Kadia!”

(Raphael) “Robot three! Pull that paper off him.”

(Marty) “You bastards didn’t say anything about finances!”

Kevin, as the supreme legal authority of Kadia – where most of Marty’s assets were – started throwing in some opposing orders.

Marty tried to slash his way out. That, in combination with the robot helping to peel off and rip the restraining order, soon got him free – at which point Suited Otters suddenly started pouring out of the Crow’s Nest, the galley, from below decks, and from over the sides of the ship, all swarming towards Marty.

Raphael saw them as dozens of agents, seemingly appearing out of nowhere and swarming past him as they leapt from ship to ship.

Marty started wondering if Contracting Magic could be used to Summon Lawyers!

Oh, wait! Of course it could!

The evil version of “Summon Lawyer” had no spell level and could be cast by anyone. The third-level version required a sacrifice of money, but wasn’t evil – and could be upgraded to get more than one lawyer as usual, although the financial component could get costly rather quickly.

Kevin, meanwhile, had set up a sign that said “Immigration Paperwork! Please form an orderly line!” and had started stamping passports for Ciarkian AND the Local Islands Subreality!

Raphael groaned. The kid was just playing along! Was he just trying to deplete the residual energies by channeling them into yet more silliness?

Meanwhile, Marty was summoning up a powerful legal team with his Contracting Magic and some of his vast wealth!

Raphael was busily warping time to let him – and his robots – match the speed advantages of the otter-agents! That would let them fight while he focused on dodging and controlling the environment…

Marty’s spell resulted in the formation of a major dark portal lined with runes of damnation – from which a figure cloaked in black and followed by billowing black fog stepped forth on to the ship. A layer of frost has began to accumulate on the deck near him. Eight more appeared through the portal behind him.

(Cloaked Figure) “At last, I have been summoned to battle! I, the Dark Witch-King of the Nazghul, shall defeat these pathetic weaklings who think they can claim my client’s money! That is my job!”

Well, Marty had put them on retainer as his attorneys!

Meanwhile a large number of people of stereotypical ethnicities have begun forming a line at Kevin’s immigration station that was causing the ship’s deck to become very crowded.

(Marty) “Keep it up Kevin! If we get enough people aboard, there won’t be room to breathe, much less fight!”

Kevin immediately put several more Thralls on paperwork duty!

Raphael groaned… It looked like their ship had become the center of attention – and was now sitting a bit low in the water and dropping steadily. The addition of so many people and the rapidly spreading ice and rain wasn’t helping matters either. The Nazghul smiting people so hard that they were flung off the ship WAS helping – but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the weight gains.

Kevin threw a buoyancy spell under it – but that was a stopgap at best!

Meanwhile, Marty was busy fighting a number of weak lawyers who were threatening to simply overwhelm him with numbers. He wasn’t sure where he’d gotten the metal staff from.

(Marty) “What am I doing wielding a STAFF?”

(Kevin, cheerily) “Well, let your staff deal with them while you’re busy! You can afford a good enough staff for that!”

Marty groaned. Had it actually come down to a pun battle?

Oh well. He let the staff go and do it’s own fighting while he pulled out his knife again.

Raphael directed the Thralls to boost the ice-effects. If they could get the ship perched on a small iceburg there would be plenty of floatation and room!

Eskimos appeared, turned into agents, and swarmed over the side of the ship onto the deck.

(Raphael) “Oh come on!”

(Kevin) “Papers please! Form an orderly line!”

(Witch-King) “By the power of my hate, I call upon the freezing winds and icy rain to heed my bidding. LET FROZEN RAIN BE YOUR BANE!”

(Kevin) “And a tremendous pain!”

Within moments the storm became a veritable blizzard as snow, freezing rain, and enraged yetis appeared out of nowhere. The ship was now thoroughly encased in ice and the various agents and sentinels were quickly becoming covered with ice. Meanwhile, a conga line had formed leading up to the immigration desks.

(Marty) “Bring us your poor, your tired, your Cuban dancers?”

(Kevin) “I know I have a mask around here somewhere! Is it time for Cuban Pete?”

(Raphael, finally blowing his top) “All right. no more!”

He made some grand gestures and used his telepathy dweomer to create a huge illusion that none of this was happening on the assumption that the group was making it happen by expecting it – directing his robots to defend his allies against anything that continued to exist while projecting an aura of raw confidence and the appearence of competence at the same time.

Suddenly the scene wavered and shimmered before disappearing completely. Raphael stood proud and alone, looking incredibly smug about something.

Kevin was kind of disappointed! He was an EXCELLENT dancer!

(Marty) “Wow.”

(Raphael) “That was just too silly. I had to stop it”

(Marty) “Think you could do that over an entire dimension?”

(Captain) “Alright, what the HELL JUST HAPPENED?!”

(Marty) “What day is it?”

(Captain) “Sunday, why?”

(Raphael) “I am good – but not that good”

(Marty) “Yep, just another Sunday. More seriously, I think we had a bit of dimensional overlap. Sorry about that!”

(Kevin) “Oh, a bit of reality disturbance! It always settles down after a bit! It gets too self-contradictory for stability and the excess energy runs out!”

(Raphael) “Or I get annoyed and stop it either way”

(Captain) “Right, now who were those guys?”

(Marty) “I think they were just manifestations of what we were thinking about at the time.”

(Captain) “Does this happen often? And why do you find yourself thinking about people in weird clothes attacking you in the middle of a blizzard while flying golems try to carve up the ship in the middle of a dance party?”

(Raphael) “Some of that was from my people’s home. Some was from Marty’s home, and some other stuff I did not recognize”

(Marty) “No, only when Angkor spends too much of his energy on things. And that’s just how what we were thinking about combined.”

(Raphael) “I might have been thinking about the golems.”

(Marty) “And I was thinking about the lawyers.”

(Raphael) “Lets move on to something more pleasant to talk about.”

(Marty) “Yeah, I agree.”

(Captain) “And what exactly do you want to talk about?”

(Kevin) “Breakfast!”

(Marty) “That is a VERY good thing to talk about. What do we have onboard?”

(Cook) Already people are asking about breakfast. I was busy defending the food stores from the rats and now people are asking what is to eat…

For a moment, Raphael considered trying to test to see if the local reality was completely stable by messing with the inventory – but decided against it.

(Cook) “Fine, I’ve got salted pork, eggs, and a hashbrown casserole I can whip up shortly. The milk will need thawing though.”

Kevin (still cheerily) had a few Thralls assist. He wanted lots of sausages!

Breakfast passed by with only minor hijinks. Rain had resumed falling, but thus far no major storm had materialized.

(Kevin) “Well, we should be restocked with supplies, the trading was fairly good, and we’ve had a little light exercise (with no serious injuries!), so I suppose it’s time to set sail again! And the Islands (what are they called anyway) are much safer than they were!

(Marty) “I won’t argue with that!”

He got the Lissifea ready to go.

The Myth of the Monomyth

This image outlines the basic path of the mono...

But won't I fall off when I get to where it's straight down?

A lot of people – including many writers and game masters – take the idea of the “Monomyth” or “The Heroes Journey” fairly seriously.

That’s a bad idea.

Fundamentally, the “Monomyth” is so generic that it can pretty well be applied to ANY human activity. That’s a large part of what makes the idea appealing – anyone can relate to it, and it lets anyone, deep down in the depths of their ego, consider themselves a hero.

It also makes it fairly worthless as an insight, as a way of understanding mythology, or as a guide to writing good stories.

When you come right down to it, it describes a situation where:

  • There’s something you want or need – a goal to be accomplished.
  • Achieving that goal will be a certain amount of trouble.
  • For a time, inertia rules. But then you get up to go and do it.
  • If you’re lucky, you get some help.
  • You head out to deal with the obstacles.
  • You start doing new things to deal with them.
  • You approach your goal.
  • There’s a temptation to give up. Is the goal worth all this trouble?
  • You make the decision – whether to continue or to drop the project.
  • Armed with new determination, you continue!
  • You achieve part of your goal!
  • You are tempted to linger over that rosy sense of accomplishment instead of finishing up!
  • You tear yourself away from that temptation, and continue towards the completion of your goal!
  • You may need a little help with integrating your new accomplishment into daily life.
  • You achieve balance, tying your new and old selves together!
  • You are free to live your life with new confidence!

OK there… Lets say you’re bored with the blank wall in your living room. You… want to hang up a poster.

  • You face a problem: you need a hammer.
  • You attempt to refuse the call; you glance around the living room looking for something else you can use without the bother of finding a hammer.
  • You may be offered aid and encouragement; “Didn’t you leave the hammer in the garage last month?”
  • You depart from your comfortable, everyday, life in your living room.
  • You open the garage door and cross the threshold to venture into a strange and hazardous realm; the garage, where things have often fallen on your foot.
  • You face exotic and frightening hazards; invisible spider webs, uncertain footing, and teetering piles of junk.
  • Monstrous creatures oppose you, but can be bravely driven off or bypassed; after all, most spiders think you’re too big for them to deal with.
  • You encounter the personification of your goal; the toolbox under the workbench. It offers many wonderful possibilities!
  • You resist the temptation to be diverted, even if that DOES look like the box that your old CD’s were in…
  • You are tempted to linger in the exotic realm. Will you be needing any more tools? If you take along a screwdriver maybe you can fix that loose hinge on the front door!
  • You center your resolve. You may not be as good with your hands as a home-repair specialist, but you can certainly do a few things around the house!
  • You pick out the tools you will need to do a few things! Your quest has achieved it’s goal!
  • Wait a moment! Do you actually have a nail inside? Perhaps you should look for a few of those while you’re at it!
  • You resist the temptation to linger and head back towards your living room! The picture should have a picture-hanger with it!
  • Abruptly you realize that, with your hands full, you cannot open the garage door to get back into the house! Fortunately, rescue is near at hand; even if you have nowhere to set things down, you can always ask your domestic partner to open the door for you!
  • You re-enter the house, and set the tools down, so that you can clear the top of the buffet and prepare to work!
  • You step up on a chair, achieve balance, and apply the tools you have quested for to achieve your goal – smoothly hammering in the picture-hanger!
  • You test your new picture-hanger, step down, and hang your picture! Your life – or at least your living room – will be forever changed!
  • But wait! Now you want to fix that loose board on the porch! Now that the power of the hammer is yours, a new quest awaits!

Do I really need to go through how those same steps fit in with the need to lose twenty pounds? How a new diet plan may offer help and assistance? (Lose those unwanted pounds “like magic!”) How the terror of the Thanksgiving Turkey may imperil all your gains? The temptation to quit when progress seems slow? How – even if you achieve your goal – you will need to figure out how to fit the occasional dessert into your life while maintaining your new weight?

The root of every epic heroes quest is no further away than your kitchen – or perhaps it’s stored in your garage.

That’s why the “monomyth” seems so familiar, and thus seems like such a “powerful insight” – it’s because it describes your daily life and the daily lives of everyone you know.

To produce anything worthwhile you need to go beyond the “monomyth”. It’s the unique touches, the unexpected twists – and yes, even the bad jokes – that keep people invested in your setting and make the trip through it interesting.

Law, Disorder, and Player Characters

line art drawing of armor.

And I am the law!

Originally “Law” came down to a simple idea; if you upset the rest of the tribe too much, you’d better hope you were faster than a spear AND that you could get along on your own.

Underlying that were a couple of other assumptions – that a normal member of the tribe COULD keep track of what would upset the rest of the tribe and that spears worked on everybody.

As groups got bigger, and it was no longer easy to keep track of what particular actions annoyed people, “law” got more complicated. It had to be formalized in local customs, lists of taboos, divinely-ordained commandments, and in codes of behavior.

As armor and weapons got better and more specialized (and expensive), you reached the point where taking down a lawbreaker who was so equipped might cost the lives of a dozen or more of your friends and relatives.

Justice now often carried too high a price – but the possibility of a “judicial assassination” was always there; spears from the front might be awkward, but knives in the back while the target was sleeping or bathing or sexually involved still worked on everybody.

As usual, price and demand soon arrived at a compromise – and multi-tiered “justice” appeared. A “nobleman” (generally “a person with expensive weapons and armor and training – and often with a lot more guys like him backing him up”) might suffer only small penalties for outrageous offenses – while the powerless might be killed over trivialities.

And for centuries, that was obviously the way it was supposed to be.

Eventually, however, guns made law. While it isn’t quite true that “God made men; Colt made them equal”, there is a certain underlying truth to it – which is why it’s persisted so long. As weapons improved, and got cheaper, and armor faded away into obsolescence, it gradually became a fair assumption that, barring special situations, if one side showed up for a fight with two or three times as many guys as the other side did it was almost certainly going to win.

Just the way that it had worked back in the days of the primeval tribe – and, just as it had been in the tribe, the “Law” became a more-or-less abstract set of rules that applied to pretty much EVERYONE – even if the list had gotten a lot longer and more formal.

These days the same principle – “We’ve got nukes” – is reforming the nature of “International Law” in much the same fashion.

So what does that say about “Law” in fantastic settings?

It says that it has serious problems.

It’s not just that divination magic may be a reliable science, or that “a demon possessed me!” may be an demonstrateable (and perhaps acceptable, unless one will then be held responsible for the moral lapses that allowed that to happen) reason for murdering an orphanage full of children.

It’s that both the fundamental assumptions the law is built on break down.

  • In a world where your community may contain multiple species, exotic spirits, long-dead and yet very active individuals, and outright monsters, “what upsets people” may be a job for a few decades worth of intensive study if it’s humanly comprehensible at all. If failing to make an offering at the village shrine when you arrive at the gates of the village causes massive avalanches to sweep down and kill everyone in the area UNLESS the miscreants still-twitching hearts are ripped from their chests and offered upon the altar before the sun crosses the horizon, then failing to make an offering on arrival is a crime that carries an immediate, no-appeal, death penalty – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a five year old that didn’t know and ran ahead of his or her frantically-calling parents on the path up to the village. Maybe the kid will be given an hour to say goodbye to his or her grieving relatives – but that’s about the limit of the possible mercy.
  • The other basic assumption – that your community CAN enforce it’s laws – is equally open to question. If that little kid turns out to be a shapeshifted dragon, or is magically protected against any source of injury the locals can bring to bear, or can teleport, or summon demonic guardians… Well, the villagers are pretty well helpless, and the only choice is to abandon anyone who can’t travel and flee the area.

Such is the law.

And yes, that sucks.

The thing is, most gaming worlds assume that societies are familiar enough to not need a lot of explanation time that could be spent on actual play – and that calls for some sort of law.

  • A lot of worlds have what might be called “Inertial Law” – the “Law” is a vague background element, mostly based on whatever legal code the players are used to, and enforced by a vague sense that the characters are used to it and that there will be trouble if it’s defied.

That can actually work – but only as long as the players cooperate with it. Once they get the idea that the locals can’t stop them from running amuck, the end is near – and it’s pretty hard to explain how the system came to be, or held together, in the first place.

  • In a few hyper-realistic worlds (such as World Tree, which doesn’t flinch when it comes to examining social issues, regardless of how exotic it’s setting is) “Law” is mostly something that applies to ordinary folks. When truly powerful people and groups are involved, the magistrates simply try to negotiate a compromise that will keep them all as happy as possible.

Thus when a group of powerful adventures was annoyed by some street-gangers, they did a quick divinatory check, determined that the youngsters didn’t have any backing worth noting – although their pretense of having backing had fooled other people so far. Ergo, they simply enslaved the bunch of them and sold the ones they had no use for.

And that was perfectly “legal”. If the kids had actually had some backing, that would have been a different matter – but they didn’t. As far as the locals were concerned, the kids fully deserved their fate for being stupid enough to annoy people who could casually check them out and enforce an appropriate penalty when they turned out to be unprotected.

Of course, this system tends to fall apart if the players discover that their characters have plot armor, and won’t be suffering any consequences for misbehaving. You can simply not give them plot armor – but in that case you’ll have to make sure they get plenty of warning about what not to do; having the party exterminated for upsetting some powerful NPC group in some obscure fashion can be very disruptive to the game.

  • The default position is often Private Law – having some reasonably-powerful NPC’s or groups thereof enforcing the laws they feel are appropriate in their private domains, either personally or by hiring some tough guys. This can be made to work surprisingly well with one simple trick; once the characters are powerful enough to start ignoring the “law”, they BECOME the law – and the locals will start appealing to them to straighten out their issues.

This does, however, tend to imply a patchwork-quilt of law; cross a valley into the next nobles territory and the “law” may be wildly different. In most settings it’s also hard on many other social structures; unlike wealth, titles, and property, personal power and skill is generally impossible to pass on – which means that the “local authorities” are going to change every generation or even more often, as old powerful individuals die off and either pass their domains on to other powerful (and probably unrelated) adventurers or adventurers take domains away from heirs who lack the power to control and hold them.

  • Then, of course, you have Imperial Law – some vast, faceless, organizational power that has enough raw power to enforce ITS preferred “law”. This works – but the organization needs to be truly vast, resilient enough to withstand massive challenges to it’s power, equipped with enormous investigative and enforcement abilities, and wide-spread enough that there’s no simple way to avoid it in those areas it controls. Otherwise the player characters will just move somewhere that’s less bother.

That’s actually pretty easy; the game master can put pretty much anything he likes into his or her game background.

Unfortunately, that makes it a lot harder to explain why there’s anything for the characters to do – unless they work for the Imperium.

You can do that too, but “you are agents for…” campaigns rarely work that well. The players want to make their own decisions, and an awful lot of them just won’t be satisfied with improvising a bit around the fringes of their orders.

It also means that your laws are going to have to be extensive, and uniformly enforced, and a lot of trouble to keep track of. That’s not so good; game masters only have so much time, and spending it on legal paperwork instead of creating and running adventures is an unattractive notion.

  • Divine Law offers some useful possibilities however. All we have to do is to presume that the gods (1) exist, and (2) want lots of attention. It doesn’t really matter why…

Given those assumptions it’s pretty obvious that a thriving religion, with great temples, tens of thousands of worshipers, and mighty sacrifices is a LOT better than a far smaller number of hunter-gatherer tribes hiding from monsters and passing on a few myths around the campfire.

But that kind of thing takes an organized society. Like it or not, you can’t get the walls built and keep them manned, or grow enough crops to feed everyone, or construct those temples if everyone wanders about doing their own thing at random – or keeps disrupting the group. Sure, your rules may promote vicious backstabbing or slave-holding or many other heinous evils – but they won’t countenance random murders, or random decisions to allow slave revolts to succeed, or “kill all the kids day”. Embrace disorder to that extent and your society will not be able to survive.

ALL the gods (or the fair folk or whatever) thus have an interest in maintaining their worshipers – and their cities, and customs, and behavioral restraints. Sure, there may be mortal law enforcement for customs and rules that the gods don’t care about – but the gods don’t need mortals to enforce their rulings; that’s a part of what makes them GODS.

Under Divine Law there are rules that don’t matter much, and rules that you can get away with violating if the mortals don’t catch you – and then there are the major rules that the gods will personally smack you for violating – although sometimes the patronage of one will protect you from the ill-will of another.

Small “crimes” may call for nothing more than a few prayers and small sacrifices to atone for. Commit murders, and perhaps terrible ill fortune and incurable diseases will follow you for the next seven years. You might be able to atone, especially if you had good reason – but you can’t count on it.

Given that the characters will have normally grown up knowing all about this, if you use Divine Law you’ve got to remember to tell the players when their proposals will bring down penalties on their characters – but if they decide to go ahead anyway, so be it.

The major problem with Divine Law is that it can seem quite arbitrary – and that there should be some good reason for it if there are inconsistencies. If King Nasty murdered his father to seize the throne, and murdering your father is normally punished by the Curse of Melting Bones, then you’ll need to come up with some reason why he’s either eluded the curse or is getting along despite his melting bones.

Now, if you only have one god – or impersonal forces run your world – then you have what might be called…

  • Natural Law – or perhaps Traditional Law – is pretty straightforward. It involves really bad things happening to you when you break the rules.

We see this in the real world; eat fugu without following the complex, traditional, ritual preparation, and you may well wind up dead. The fact that we call it “poison” doesn’t make it any less “you died because you failed to follow the rules”.

In fantastic worlds, things may be a bit less well-understood, but the results can be every bit as direct and observable.

They wondered why Silvya had drunk himself into unconsciousness and collapsed in their Church – but when the pit opened, spewing forth icy white flames, and the demons of the lowest circles dragged him down, the spectators blotted Silvya from their memories and set out mournfully to search; such a fate awaited only the most treacherous, the most brutal murderers of innocent kin – and that meant that young Dalimar, Silvya’s sole relative since the plague of the year before, was surely hideously dead.

If they could find Dalimar’s body, for him there would be a funeral, an honorable burial, and guidance for the long journey to the higher realms of the dead. Silvya… Silvya was lost, at least until the turning of the age.

Natural Law doesn’t always have to be that drastic. If lesser manifestations are run by small curses, or left in the hands of mortals (who knows? perhaps injustice empowers curses), things can be quite reasonable. More importantly, there are usually ways to finesse natural laws – ways in which to negate the penalties, or avoid acquiring them in the first place, that wouldn’t work with an intelligent enforcer who wouldn’t fall for technicalities.

Natural Law offers other bonuses as well; some players assume that – if their character is now hunted by the authorities – all that means is that the authorities have just joined their list of targets. Under Natural Law that isn’t really a problem. Moreover, it can lead to any number of scenarios. Was someone tricked into committing a crime which will call the Wyld Hunt down on them in three days time? Can you save them? Should you try?

When the job of “Defense Lawyer” may mean personal combat with a supernatural manifestation of vengeance, opening a legal practice gets a lot more exciting.

On the other hand, you’ve really got to make sure that there are tricky and difficult-to-exploit ways around Natural Law – and you’ve got to draw the line carefully. If the rules are too easy to get around, why isn’t everyone doing it? If they’re nigh-impossible to evade, you’re going to have a hard time creating villains; they’ll have to be either really subtle or extremely rare.

A few settings are anarchic, and have no “law” at all. In this (lack of) “system” personal vendettas, dueling prowness, and raw power are all that matter.

Unfortunately, anarchy tends to be unstable; people start banding together in self-defense, and – very soon indeed – you’re back at “Private Law” if the place hasn’t been overrun by more organized neighbors first.

Are there more options?

Well, no, there really aren’t. There are variations – perhaps the laws are enforced by powerful “law machines” – but when you come right down to it, either there are no effective rules (Anarchy or – if there are rules but there’s nothing much to enforce them – Inertial Law) or there are effective rules. If they don’t apply to the characters we have Law for Ordinary Folks only. If there are effective rules they may be enforced by individual entities or by groups of entities (Private Law), by a single giant group (Imperial Law), or by either Personal (Gods) or Impersonal (Monotheistic Deity or “Natural Law”) Supernatural forces.

You do usually need Law in a setting – but it’s always a good idea to think about where it comes from and how it’s enforced.

For some more information on classical law, and how it functioned, I’ll direct you (for now) over to the Intelligence Check Blog for parts ONE and TWO.

More Indexing – Spellweaver81

USPS Mailbox for Star Wars Stamp Promotion

They're Heeerrreeee...

Here we have some more catching up on the cross-indexing; Spellweaver plays in the Star Wars game – usually as Kira Keldav. He turns out the Kira-focused versions of the logs, which I then go through to insert what all the other characters were up to.

Unfortunately, for the last couple of months I haven’t had time to do much of any of that – so here are some direct links to his material.

Pseudoscience Demolitions: Spellweaver has somewhat more patience left with this than I do, and doesn’t expect people to make most of the deductions for themselves – which means his articles on the topic tend to go into more detail than my general observations.

  • Remote Viewing: The US Governments Clairvoyance Project. I tend to just note that this promised marvelous results at very low costs – and yet it was dropped, declassified, and not picked up by the rest of the world. Ergo, it was a false promise and failed to work. The End. Spellweaver covers it a lot more throughly…
  • Masaru Emotos Water Crystals: The claim that water picks up “emotional energies” from people’s thoughts. Basically yet another claim that the “power” of “positive thinking” has non-psychological benefits. So why don’t the powerful and wealthy get panels of positive thinkers to provide them with all these benefits? Could it be that one of the qualifications for wealth and power is the ability to recognize when something does not work?
  • Masuru Emotos “Experiments” – taking a detailed look at Masuru Emotos own reports on the subject.

Star Wars Material:

Exalted – Aden, The Lost World, and Mardi Gras

Aden is known for its boat-oriented stamps. Mu...

No, not THAT sea!

Specific areas within Aden include…

The Lost World: This high plateau contains ten waypoints (slightly more than 7000 square miles), is surrounded by virtually unscalable cliffs (Charles would suggest taking the underground monorail network if you want to visit the area instead), and is broken up by several additional natural barriers (dramatic chasms, rivers of lava, etc) to provide more local biomes. Naturally enough, and in memory of the Creation-That-Was, it’s centered on a pair of waypoints with their demesnes aspected towards Earth, which are surrounded by pairs of waypoints aspected towards Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. Those provide a certain amount of elemental upheaval that goes with the theme – while the manses are dedicated in pairs to (1) maintaining and observing the local species and environment, and (2) to historical records and libraries, including projects such as using the reports from Earth’s Small Gods and thaumaturgic divination to recover lost artworks, books, and similar materials from the history of civilization.

While Charles does not yet want to risk creating intelligent beings from scratch, he’s quite willing to let his realm populate itself with animal life according to the environment – and to use thaumaturgy to make genetic adjustments. While you may not be able to resurrect people, making new examples of extinct species, or changing species, is easy enough – and so the Lost World is full of dinosaurs and such from various eras, with underground seas to accommodate the ocean-going forms. If any Dragon Kings want to visit, their are appropriate accomadations on hand, and the environment should be comfortable and accurate enough; Charles consulted them on designing the area.

The Sea of Chaos: Deep beneath the surface of Aden, in the hollow center of the world the Sea of Chaos waits.

OK, it might actually be on the outside, depending on whether or not the waypoints of Aden proper are currently arranged on the inside or the outside of a sphere. After all, between the cosmetic displays, the distorted geometries, and the fact that Aden is more made up of a series of spheres linked together than an actual space-filling sphere, it’s hard to tell.

Anyway, there the sea of chaos waits, bordered by six middlemarches waypoints, forming either the shores of an island or of a lake. The subsurface routes that pass through the shores are dangerous to use since they are exposed to the energies of the Wyld – but through that unclearly defined space you can reach anywhere else in Aden with a relatively brief trip.

While the Sea of Chaos and it’s middlemarch “shores” are impervious to grandiose shaping that would fix it’s nature (substituting an immunity to that for the weather control and some of the conveniences that otherwise prevail across Aden), and so cannot be purged of it’s chaotic energies, you can enter it and draw on it for wyld-questing and lesser shapings. In most places few do so.

The Wyld Carnival sprawls across a sizeable chunk of those middlemarch shores – the result of the Mardi Gras Manse.

Mardi Gras Manse (Earth *****):

Rank-5 (ten Creation Points) +1 (one given-up Hearthsone level) +9 (booster artifacts) = 20.

Hearthstone (****): A Grace Stone. While it appears to be a simple stick of chalk, the Grace Stone can be used to congeal portions of the target’s aura into Graces – the usual set of four, either individually or all together. In either case, the user may provide the target with graces rated at (the appropriate virtue +1).

  • Integrated Amplifier Artifacts (-9): Since pure chaos was quite handy, Charles opted to spend a little time fitting this manse with a full set of nine unique, self-powered, rating-five, booster artifacts as a proof-of-concept test – giving the Mardi Gras an extra nine manse construction points to work with.
  • Immutability (1) and an Extended Zone of Influence (4): The manse holds it’s own structure and geomancy constant, and shields the local area against the random influences of the Wyld – but it does NOT protect other creatures in the area from shaping effects. Here visitors are safe enough from unfiltered power of the Wyld – but they can play out almost any scenario, train in exotic disciplines, and tour historical simulations without danger.
  • Pasiap’s Buried Whiskers (1). The manses senses are excellent – and extend throughout it’s Zone of Influence.
  • Sentient (5): The Manse is intelligent, skilled, dedicated to helping Charles and entertaining his guests. Since it also – courtesy of it’s own hearthstone – has Graces, it can engage in the usual Raksha shaping, weaving of fantasies, and shaping combat (although, thanks to it’s Immutability, it’s immune to shaping damage).
  • Bound Guardian Force (4): Mardi Gras maintains a force of some three hundred noble Raksha – or at least creatures very like Raksha, if far more friendly (they’re built as Noble Raksha, but get +1 to each virtue, +2 essence, and can respire normally in Creation).
  • Integrated Utility Artifacts (3): Heart of Rakastan (*****). This low-end “reality engine” adds great power to the user’s shaping – effectively duplicating most outwardly-directed Raksha charms and making the manifestations of the user’s fantasies and shaping attacks quite “real” – capable of existing under the rules of creation and thus capable of penetrating most anti-shaping barriers. Gossamer Loom (**, produces 10 Gossamer each time Mardi Gras fulfills a fantasy), and a multi-tracking booster allowing the manse to operate many fantasies at the same time (***).
  • Archives (2): Mardi Gras maintains a vast archive of movies, fiction, fantasies, and related material – all of it used as a basis for more fantasies.

Remember the “Shore Leave” planet on Star Trek? Yes, here we have the equivalent in a manse – albeit with allowances for a few more practical features. If you need something from the Raksha, Martid Gras should almost certainly be able to provide it. Otherwise, just have fun!

Exalted: Aden, the World-Body

Stamp Aden 1953 20sh

Yes, the postage costs ARE murderous!

Aden is Charles’s semi-private internal world – a realm which currently consists of 98 Waypoints or nearly 70,000 square miles of territory. That’s still actually a relatively small world – about the size of Ireland or of a middle-of-the-run US State – but it’s still six times the size of Hawaii and could (with his various enhancements) readily support many hundreds of millions of people.

Charles, with his fondness for Manses, has invested his law-tweaking for Aden in Manse powers – giving it:

  • Attunement Recognition (0): Well, the place is a part of Charles’s soul, and so recognizes his friends, allies, enemies, and guests.
  • Basic Senses (0): Charles can sense what’s going on in his little universe; the difficulty to hide from him there is 5 (for both material and immaterial beings), and all dice pools to do so are reduced to zero before charm use.
  • Cosmetic Displays (0): Charles can pretty much redecorate at will – changing minor details, causing the skies and lighting to reflect his mood, and so on.
  • The Subtle Bearth of Sextes Jylis (1): The weather is under Charles’s full control. In fact, this is augmented; he may, if he so desires, whip up storms, lightning bolts, St Elmo’s Fire, and similar weather-based effects and assaults (+1). As a rule, however, Charles prefers sunny days, night rains, pleasant temperatures, and cooling breezes – although you will find snow on the ski slopes, occasional spectacular night storms, and beautiful sunsets (even if that does require a little help from those Cosmetic Displays).
  • Life-Sustaining (2): Recognized residents do not age, gain +5 Bonus Successes against Poisons and Disease, and heal 2B/Hr, 1L/Hr, and 1Ag/5Hrs (this also means that many crops and agricultureal products can be harvested every day). Bleeding stops near-instantly and wounds heal cleanly, and without scarring. Upgrades: Immunity to Poison and Disease (rather than just getting five automatic successes against them). If new arrivals are afflicted with such things the effects will be halted instantly and they will be permanently cured if they remain for at least twenty-four hours (+1) and Immunity to Crippling (residents are immune to Disabling and Crippling effects and will heal any currently affecting them within twenty-four hours of arrival, +1).
  • Advanced Magical Conveniences x2 (4)
  1. Arcane Metabolism: The recognized residents metabolisms (and those of the flora and fauna) are augmented by Essence, rather than being exclusively supported by mere food and drink – and so need a lot less in the way of food, water, and air. The plants grow faster, the local fauna is far more plentiful, and so on.
  2. Family Planning: Aden quietly manipulates the fertility of the various living creatures within itself – keeping populations from burgeoning out of control preventing cycles of boom-and-bust, replenishing species which have suffered disasters, restraining pests, and ensuring bountiful harvests and hugely productive flocks herds.
  3. Harvesting: Aden harvests and imperishably stockpiles it’s own resources, in an ecologically-friendly, and fully sustainable, fashion. Every day it collects small amounts of magical materials from plants and regions that “naturally” produce them, harvests and cures wood, produces fair amounts of various metals, vast loads of foodstuffs, assorted exotic components and substances, and (sadly) thins the animal populations down to sustainable levels – which at least provides meat, leather, fur, and similar goods.
  4. Landscaping and Maintenance Services: The lawns are mowed, the trees are trimmed, the fences are maintained (and do keep dangerous creatures out of the inhabited areas), the gardens are weeded and planted regularly, and much of the landscape seems quite idealized – and utterly lovely. There are lovely campgrounds, tempting trails, and similar delights in every direction. The living quarters get automatically repaired and kept up as well.
  5. Occult Utilities: All of Aden effectively enjoys the benefits of running water and plumbing, “broadcast” electrical power (OK, electrical toys just work without any need to provide them with power), “cable” (including the local internet), and garbage disposal / recycling.
  6. Ordained Hospitality: Recognized residents will be provided with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and filing services, furnishings (chairs, tables, pavilions, beds, wardrobes, gazebos, and so on will all appear and disappear as needed), and similar basic comforts. Their visits should be as comfortable as possible!
  7. Sanctum Sanctorum: Aden is linked to Yu-Shan, where Charles spends so much of his time, and shares it’s basic properties; you can’t dematerialize within it, Ambrosia and Quintessence can exist there, and so on.
  8. Shipping Networks: Recognized residents can have stuff shipped around Aden quickly and easily – including everything from letters to massive blocks of stone – but Charles, of course, gets the best and quickest service. Others may have to wait a bit on the convenience of the local messenger gods.
  9. Thaumaturgic Support: Aden will sustain three thaumaturgic effects for each recognized resident. While these can be dispelled normally, the endless power reserves of hundreds of manses means that they will re-establish themselves six ticks later. Such effects do not actually have to be on a resident and do not have to be cast by the resident – a fire-protection spell cast by a hired thaumaturge on a residents house qualifies perfectly well – but they do have to be things that the resident wants to keep on working.
  10. Thaumaturgic Empowerment: Any sapient creature in Aden gets seven free uses of thaumaturgy per day (ignoring the usual mote and/or willpower cost), with +3 bonus successes and a one-level reduction in the time required. As an aspect of Charles, Aden is as deeply attuned to thaumaturgy as he is.

In general, thanks to Charles’s incredible occult skills, the other aspects of each waypoint-landscape will be maximized as well; the land is incredibly fertile and richly-watered, filled with mineral wealth, and well-stocked with valuable game (Resources 5), it often offers sources of small amounts of magical materials (+5), and it comes equipped with (somewhat fanciful) housing ranging from rustic “hobbit-holes” and bungalows on up through country villages, fairy-tale castles, cliffside-and cavern cities, and modern arcologies. All, of course, are beautiful, blend into the countryside, and are entirely ecologically-friendly. They’re also linked by subsurface magnetic levitation trains for goods and mass transport (or at least the major centers are so linked), modern communications, and are surrounded by orchards, well-equipped farms complete with domestic animals, and belts of wilderness. There are roads, bridges, and canals (most pleasantly rustic, since the serious transport goes by the underground trains), and even fortifications to keep wild animals out.

Each waypoint will have three demesnes (and soon manses), rated at five, three, and two.

  • The Manse-5 will be a major installation/production center – factory-cathedrals, structures that generate programmable mutation-fields, gate-nexi, essence-batteries, and other primary facilities.
  • The Manse-3 will vary – but at least some will be set up so that they can establish a link with people remotely through their hearthstones and bestow the ability to use a particular charm on the lucky individual so honored. That way Charles can bestow power-packages on his “Akuma”.
  • The Manse-2’s will be a lot more random – but will generally serve more local purposes.

Finally each waypoint will have it’s own Wonders – usually four minor and three major.

Minor wonders are things that are cool but not directly useful – towering mountains of crystal, glorious waterfalls, fields of geysers, smoking volcanoes, rivers that play music as they tumble over rocks, flocks of beautiful singing birds, and swarms of playful fuzzy animals are all good examples. Major wonders are potentially useful, such as valleys filled with exotic herbs, meadows of poppies with intoxicating scents, orchards of strange and exotic fruits, rivers of flame and light, and ecologies filled with giant reptiles.

All in all, Charles hopes to eventually be able to manifest his world-body, take aboard a few million people, travel to a new world, terraform it with Solar Circle Sorcery, mutate the people to fit in, and drop off a fully-equipped and well-supplied colony… That will take more work, but this is a good start.

Exalted – Charmed Lives and Constitutional Religions

OK, this notion was just too amusing to resist… These probably aren’t the best-balanced of all charms, but they don’t seem particularly likely to destroy the game. I’m not entirely sure if any keywords fit either though. For the most part, it won’t matter anyway.

  • PETITION FOR REDRESS (2/2)
  • THE RIGHT OF PEACEABLE ASSEMBLY (3/2)
  • |TO PROVIDE FOR THE COMMON DEFENSE (3/3)
  • | WE THE PEOPLE (4/3)
  • | ESTABLISH JUSTICE (4/4)
  • | DUE PROCESS OF LAW (5/4)
  • PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE (3/3)
  • LAY AND COLLECT TAXES (4/3)
  • THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY (4/4)
  • TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS (5/4)

PETITION FOR REDRESS

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 2, Essence 1.
  • Type: Permanent.
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: None.

The user may hear prayers directed to him or her as if he or she was a spirit. Actively listening can provide a good deal of information, but imposes a -3 internal penalty to non-reflexive actions. Passive listening inflicts no penalties, but only the most urgent or widely-repeated prayers will come to user’s attention. If the user wishes, has access to appropriate thaumaturgy, and can complete it before the link fades (usually a few minutes, but – in the case of religious ceremonies – possibly many hours) he or she may use the arcane link created by the prayer to take a quick look at what the supplicant knows about the situation and then transmit a thaumaturgic effect to or through the worshiper in response.

THE RIGHT OF PEACEABLE ASSEMBLY

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 3, Essence 2.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: Petition For Redress

A character with this charm doubles all the supernatural benefits provided by the Cult background and may choose to heal three levels of bashing damage, or two levels of lethal damage, or one level of aggravated damage, in lieu of receiving a point of Willpower when his or her Cult would normally provide Willpower. If the cult would normally be providing multiple points of willpower, the user may choose how many to spend on healing and how many to take as willpower.

TO PROVIDE FOR THE COMMON DEFENSE

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 3, Essence 3.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: The Right of Peaceable Assembly

The user may take a look at the situation and invoke a rapid thaumaturgic effect (any such effect that requires one minute or less) in answer to a prayer as a reflexive action – and may ignore the usual willpower cost for doing so, since that cost is borne by the cult at large. If it should matter, the user may answer a maximum of one such petition per six ticks. This charm can, however, be purchased again at Essence five, eight, and ten, allowing the user to answer up to three, seven, of twelve prayers per six ticks. If the user does not need to spend a point of willpower to provide a response, he or she may regain one mote when he or she answers a prayer thanks to the upwelling of faith that such miracles provoke.

WE THE PEOPLE

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 4, Essence 3.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: To Provide For The Common Defense

The occult mechanism of the character’s cult becomes self-sustaining; prayers will continue to be answered as if the user was available (and at the peak of his, her, or it’s form) to do so even if he or she is asleep, unconscious, out of touch, in another dimension, or dead.

PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 3, Essence 3.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: The Right of Peaceable Assembly

The user gains an additional pool of peripheral essence equal to (3 x his or her Cult Rating) and an additional pool of Willpower equal to his or her (Cult Rating). These pools can, however, only be refilled by motes and willpower derived from his or her Cult. If the user desires, willpower from this pool may be spent on self-healing, as per The Right Of Peaceable Assembly.

At least in our games, no combination of pool-enhancing effects can more than double the total number of motes a character can personally store.

TO LAY AND COLLECT TAXES

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 4, Essence 3.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: Promote the General Welfare

The user is surrounded by an aura of spiritual power which allows Quintessence and Ambrosia to exist nearby (if it matters, within Essence x 10 yards) , even outside of Yu-Shan. He or she gains the benefits of a Celestial Salary equal to his or her Cult rating and gains a +3d bonus on social rolls to relate to mortals and spirits. Sadly, this does not affect other Exalts, Yozi, Deathlords, or Neverborn.

THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 4, Essence 4.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: To Lay and Collect Taxes

The user may draw on the energies of his or her Cult to overcome normal limitations. The user gains a Stunt Pool (see Graceful Wicked Masques and it’s Errata) equal to the sum of his or her virtues, may roll (Essence) to regain stunt dice once per scene, and may expend a virtue channel to perform the equivalent of a Wyld Stunt. While anyone who is directly affected (creation-born or not) may spend willpower to avoid such an effect, such stunts require minimum Cult ratings instead of minimum Heart ratings and the Essence requirement is reduced by two.

ESTABLISH JUSTICE

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 4, Essence 4.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: We The People

The user finds strength and reassurance in the unwavering support of his or her Cult. He or she may add or subtract his or her (Cult Rating -1) dice as desired when making any Virtue Check or when Channeling a Virtue.

TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 5, Essence 4.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: The Blessings of Liberty

The user gains access to a pair of custom artifacts with ratings equal to his two highest virtues and natures suited to those virtues. These artifacts have no attunement cost, appear whenever they are needed (and vanish when not needed), are never encumbering, and can only be damaged by destroying the user’s Cult. His or her faithful cultists may spend 4 XP (each cultist spends their own XP) to acquire a pair of custom artifacts of their own with natures suited to their needs – although such artifacts are only rated at one dot each.

DUE PROCESS OF LAW

  • Cost: —; Minimum: Lore 5, Essence 4.
  • Type: Permanent
  • Keywords:
  • Prerequisite Charms: Establish Justice

The user, and any faithful members of his or her cult, gain support from each other. Whenever the user OR one of his or her faithful followers spends a point of Willpower to resist mental influence – unnatural or not – he or she is considered to have spent an additional (Cult/2, rounded up) points of willpower in resisting such assaults.