The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXIV – The Dungeon Stroll

The leaf of a Drosera capensis bending in resp...

Well, I can definitely say that the substructure is very very strange...

Back in Yu-Shans subsurface mazes, Charles was more-or-less wandering around at random; there were such a LOT of fascinating features you could see here! You could see the foundations of the architecture, and you could see the geomancy from the inside…

What he DIDN’T see was stairs up. Still, there had to be some somewhere, and he had sandwiches!

Ixcatli found the lack of stairs, signs, or directions more than a bit discouraging – and listening to this god-blooded child rattle on about architectural details, and underground manses, and possible relationships with the canal designs, and other useless arcana – in excruciating detail and without an apparent care in the world – was driving him quite mad! Perhaps it would have been better to have remained unconscious! (Well, OK – not really. But STILL).

Charles occasionally wondered why Ixcatli kept twitching his tentacles – but immediately forgot again in favor of surveying the architecture.

The damp, darkened, maintenance corridors – presumably hidden in the upper reaches of the adamant layer of underground Yu Shan – had notches every ten feet in the walls for light sources – but they didn’t seem to be needed; something was making the adamant faintly glow. It wasn’t up to the standard of a good reading lamp, but it was definitely something!

(Charles) “Oh neat! The archways here are designed to focus geomantic potentials upwards, creating an energy-focusing nexus… I think this is the deep underside of a quintessence fountain!”

It was indeed! He could see where the pipes of the stuff flowed into the jade of the basin. The patterning of the plaza was quite clear… as were the anti-tampering measures. It appeared that the fountains were warded against tapping devices, up to and including most artifact means – and the touch of gods who were not in charge of minding them, and – of course – creatures of darkness.

(Charles) “Not bad! It could use an additional set of wards here, and if you adjusted the rune-sequence you could increase the conversion efficiency by up to about ten percent! And it needs to have it’s effective high-frequency range greatly expanded, which is where most of the interstellar stuff comes in! The prayer-spectrum has changed a good deal since this was designed!”

(Ixcatli) “That’s nice…” (tentacle twitch)

Fortunately, Charles was not a god and was not warded away – so he cheerily spent a few moments fixing it!

(Ixcatli) “Um, young man, what are you doing?”

(Charles) “An upgrade! It should work just fine… It’s just no longer properly tuned to the prayers; the interstellar component is not being properly captured because the system was never designed for that!”

(Ixcatli) “Don’t you need a permit for that?”

(Charles, with some surprise) “But it’s not working right! Besides… I don’t think there’s any rule against unauthorized repairs by godblooded subcontractors! Nobody ever bothers much with rules for people like me! And we’re still in the abandoned districts anyway! Who will notice?”

Ixcatli was sharper than the people that Charles usually pulled the “two unrelated truths” stunt on though!

(Ixcatli) “What do you mean by that?”

(Charles) “By what?”

(Ixcatli) “By ‘people like you’… not that I’m complaining, you saved me from that deiphage!”

(Charles) “Oh well, that’s sort of a secret really – but it’s OK! It’s just that no one ever bothered with rules for people like me… They didn’t think it was necessary!… There! All fixed!”

It was flowing a lot better now. How that was affecting the Quintessence… well, it was harder to tell. He’d have to look at the top! Still, even if it was only properly transmuting a minor part of the interstellar prayers it should increase things a good bit!

(Charles) “Well it SHOULD be properly processing interstellar prayers now! Or at least what gets through…”

(Ixcatli) “You are quite a chatterer. Is there a reason for it?”

(Charles, with some disappointment) “But… don’t you like geomancy and manses and fixing things?”

(Ixcatli) “It’s… not a subject that resonates with me. Now squid…”

The walk through the next stretch of identical-looking tunnels involved more information on extraterrestrial squid than Charles had ever dreamed existed.

Then there were three tunnel branches, all of which looked the same. They might be eaten by a Grue!

Or, given that the place was illuminated, perhaps by Scarab Guardians.

Sadly, all was silent. None of the passages had air blowing, or the sounds of people searching or an exit sign, or any real clue whatsoever.

(Charles, with some disappointment) “Do you have any preferences?”

Ixcatli closed his eyes, extend a tentacle, and selected at random. His suckers pointed towards the rightmost corridor on the far end of the room.

They traveled onwards. At first, it remained damp and dark, and Ixcatli continued to expound on the virtues of his particular squid species. He was from a waterworld, so there were a LOT of squids there. Still, while Ixcatli was talking – and Charles continued to actually listen, which was a pleasant surprise for Ixcatli – Charles noticed that there was a subtle upwards incline to this tunnel.

(Charles) “Hm. Going up!”

Ixcatli actually stopped talking for a moment.

(Ixcatli) “Oh, good!”

Then he continued with his explanation of squid camouflage. Still, as they continued upwards it got less damp – and the walls got brighter. Oddly enough, Charles could also hear scratching noises from above – at least when Ixcatli took a breath.

(Charles) “Hey, I think we’re coming near the surface!”

(Ixcatli) “Wonderful! I remember little of my time as a… drone… but I spent most of it unable to see the dome. I wonder who’s ahead right now?”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s usually Sol Invictus!”

(Ixcatli) “But of course… now I’m a Luna bettor myself, but that kind of power is hard to hold the lead against . . .”

By now the place was quite shiny, there were engravings on the walls – and up ahead there was a lit chamber.

(Charles) “I haven’t run into most of them yet, so I can’t really say! It may not be much longer though, at least for some of them…”

(Ixcatli) “You seriously think there’s a chance of you meeting them? Well, you DID help me escape a chamber warded by potent sorcery…”

How in Oblivion had the child DONE that anyway? It had been mortal thaumaturgy – but on such a scale!

(Charles) “Well maybe! You never know what will grab their attention!”

He was busy studying the engravings… There seemed to be some sort of symbolic war going on there!

Art wasn’t really Ixcatli’s thing, but he took an interest as well. At least it wasn’t more blank walls or arcane details of geomancy!

The engravings appeared to be a series of organic whorls and loops, closely resembling vines and leaves. Those parts… twitched, much like a loose vine would twitch in a strong breeze. They seemed to be curving around and overwhelming geometric shapes. Huh! Nature and mechanism?

(Ixcatli) “I’m… not much for art symbolism. Some of the other gods looked down on me for it, but they couldn’t even swim! (He put a tentacle to his beak). “Gaia against Autocththon? I do know that much about the Primordials.”

(Charles) “Hm. Are the mechanisms of Yu-Shan breaking down because Gaia has been here for eons and Autochthon has not been?”

(Ixcatli) “An interesting theory… I don’t know.”

(Charles) “Still, I don’t think it’s writing… There doesn’t seem to be much to translate about it!”

(Ixcatli) “I don’t think so either. Certainly not Old Realm!”

Charles tried a bit of tinkering – touching various bits and trying to shift some symbols around – but while the organic part quivered and felt warm beneath his fingers the symbols didn’t move and were cold to the touch. Ixcatli got similar results with his suckers… Bother! There was so much geomancy and odd energies running about that even Charles couldn’t get much on something as subtle as a few tiny sensation effects without a lot more effort than he really had time for…

He took some pictures and they continued on towards the illuminated chamber – following the flow of the engravings.

There they found a door of clear adamant, with a bar of clear adamant across it on the inside, and a bunch of wards, blocking their way. The room beyond appeared to contain a map – apparently of the entire celestial city – engraved into the wall. The Old Realm print was far too small to read from this distance though, although the map itself glowed with a pale blue light. The engravings continued into the room itself; the map seemed to be a focus for them.

Oh, there was a table, and a couple of chairs, and some minor bits and pieces of office equipment in the room as well – but that really wasn’t important. The scratching was also a bit louder – but they weren’t paying much attention to THAT at the moment.

The wards were against gods, mortals, and Exalted not carrying a specific token. The one against mortals appeared to be the newest…

Charles was no normal thaumaturgist. A keyed ward necessarily contained an impression of the key; if you were skilled enough to examine the structure of the ward and work backwards… He still wasn’t sure what wards would affect him, but now was not the time for testing! Wait, an expertly crafted orb of mundane nephrite containing… ten peach pits? Well, OK… Was there an association with the peaches of immortality perhaps? It seemed that mundane peach pits would do well enough…

Charles reached into his pack – and quietly had some of his associates ship him some peach pits and nephrite to rapid-craft into an appropriate key. A barred and locked door wouldn’t be much of an issue once the ward would let him through! Thaumaturgy was wonderfully versatile that way. Evidently this wasn’t intended to keep HIM out. (For that all they’d need to do would be to specify the still-beating heart of a puppy or something similar).

Rapidly crafting a key – and telekinetically lifting the bar – was really no trouble at all.

The room appeared to be a simple monitoring station. There was a transcendent cooling receptacle (a divinely-overblown refrigerator), the table, four chairs, some minor bits and pieces of office equipment – and the map. The organic engravings surrounding the map didn’t just twitch; they writhed – and they seemed to emanate from the borders of Yu-Shan itself. The geometric figures they enveloped were barely visible.

Squares seemed to be connected with what would be the Fulgent Administrative District. Circles with the Five Spheres Residential District. Triangles with the Pangaean Bureaucratic District. Diamonds with the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate – and Pentagons with the Central Metropolitan Zone. The pentagons seemed to have the least entwining, but the others were fairly evenly divided in terms of trouble.

Now that he was closer up, he could also make out the map text. Other than district names and such there was a numeric indicator in the upper right corner… It read 99/100. That was kind of ominous somehow, even if it could mean 99% of nominal function!… Too bad there was no “Help” button!

Meanwhile, Ixcatli was rooting about in the refrigerator.

Hm… He’d heard a little about these places. Stations like this were fairly common throughout Yu-Shan for geomantic observation; they were pretty vital to studying the spread of the empty districts. Ones in settled regions of Yu-Shan were usually manned at all times. In empty quarters, on the other hand… They were usually underground because that’s where you got the best geomantic analysis. Ah! It was a touch interface!

Unfortunately, while he could zoom in and look at all kinds of numbers and things in the immediate area – where this station was focused on monitoring – he didn’t know enough about the local area to match up any of the symbols or readouts with anything. Still, touching various symbols got him different readings… Touching a pure-looking pentagon lit up the Central Metropolitan Zone; it was mostly white, with a few clear spots. The indicator changed to 19*/20.

Well, empty quarters were unheard of there, at least on the surface. Higher was better, and living there… you wanted everyone to know it.

He REALLY hoped that those were not failure percentages – but there was just too much information, and not enough actual correlations, to sort things out. He needed someone who’d trained on the system.

Probably not failures though, unless the Celestial coverups were even worse than he’d heard. He’d just have to ask someone!

Although, annoyingly enough, the room didn’t have any exits except back the way they’d come in. On the other hand, the scratching was still approaching, and was now coming from the left and above.

(Charles, extending a simple probe-spell) “Hello! Who’s scratching?”

It looked a small group of lesser deiphages tunneling towards them – and they’d just doubled up on their efforts. Ixcatli was backing away from the left wall.

(Charles, cheerfully) “Well, that works! They must have come down from the outside! They can show us the way out if I can cure them!”

(Ixcatli) “Well, let me help you . . . I’m not much of a fighter, but I owe you that.”

(Charles) “Oh not to worry! Wards for you, and wards for me, and a privacy ward and a few others…”

He put up the anti-deiphagy one around the deiphages and the area as they were breaking through.

(Charles) “And I have tea and sandwiches!’”

One of the deiphages – a former rock elemental – turned his fists to steel to finish smashing through the wall, and the pack came pouring through – but as the energies of the ward washed over them, they slowed., and eddied against the secondary wards – and, when they’d snapped out of it a few minutes later, Ixcatli held up a can he’d found.

(Ixcatli) “Does anyone want some ambrosial ambrosia? I found it in the transcendent cooling receptacle.”

(Humanoid God) “How can you open that with tentacles?”

(Ixcatli, shrugging) “Like this.” (He did so, and poured drinks)

Charles briefly wondered about “Transcendent Tentacles of Utility” – but it was much more interesting that the map had shown the “wildness” converging on this location when the deiphages had been converging… The numeric indicator had shown 20*/20 too; and he and Ixcatli had been shielded… If that was what it indicated… then there were an awful lot of gods lost to deiphagy and hiding out – or lost and showing no signs and still functioning… As high as 99%, or had that been purely local?

(Charles) “How’s everybody feeling? I will need a record of your domains for the reconstruction!”

(Rock Elemental) “Weird. What happened? Wait, reconstruction? I’m Hezras, god of smashing probabilistic diamonds.”

(Charles) “Oh, I suspect that you were mostly out of work, yes? I’ve never heard of probabilistic diamonds, so they might well be all gone.”

He kept an eye on the map. If he was about to be assaulted by endless waves of deiphages he wanted to know about it. On the other hand, the Central Metropolitan Zone was the only district of Yu-Shan that wasn’t showing 20*/20 on its numeric indicator. All the districts except it were mostly clear; but it was worst – or perhaps best – around the outer walls… If there were more deiphages coming, the map didn’t show it. Being an empty quarter, the area showed as clear on the map. He could see where the walls were; the borders glowed a darker shade of blue than the borders where the districts met the Central Metropolitan Zone. The areas immediately next to them were completely clear.

Wait, that meant that the empty districts… were closer to 70% of Yu-Shan than 40%. No wonder things were running downhill so fast! That couldn’t possible be far from critical failure! No wonder the monitoring stations were being so closely warded these days! If that news got out… there would be calls to evacuate the Celestial City! Even HE couldn’t readily do that! Even now, Yu-Shan was a lot bigger than he was!

The “fix Yu-Shan” project had suddenly gotten a lot more urgent – unless, perhaps, it was showing that someone – someone other than himself anyway – was meddling with the geomancy of Yu-Shan on a massive scale?

They were indeed all out of work; so Charles got a list of domains for restoring such as smashing probabilistic diamonds, a lake that got eaten by an unshaped, a forest burned in an extraterrestrial military battle two hundred years ago, and a computer peripheral that was no longer made.

(Charles) “Shall we go then? It’s kind of cramped down here!”

The “Yes!” vote was pretty much universal.

(Charles) “Back to the surface then!”

There was still a ways to go, but Charles could feel the familiar impression of the empty quarters up ahead: silence, an odd chill, and the occasional lonely wind blowing.

(Hezras) “Uhm… young man, wouldn’t you rather have me up front?”

(Charles) “Not a worry!”

(Hezras) “If you say so…”

(Charles) “And you might get hurt or something!”

(Hezras) “Uh, sure…”

Well, it was no flint off his carapace if the silly mortal boy wanted to get eaten… although the child certainly seemed fabulously overconfident for what he was!

Up ahead, there were deiphages pouring out of a side-passage. The gods behind him seemed torn between intervening and letting him go ahead… He turned on his basic ghosting charm to so as to be ready to dodge if necessary! It looked like… there were about twenty-five, oddly coordinated in movement. Instead of slavering and clawing, they were marching!

(Charles) “Allo! I take it that somebody dominant is in charge?”

(Female voice from the back) “And I take it you’re responsible for those gods going off my senses? (Sigh…) well, there’ll be more.”

(Charles) “I suppose! Isn’t it sort of mean to do that though?”

(Female voice) “You don’t know a damn thing about why I’m doing this. Come on, boost me up. I want to confirm it’s a kid.”

(Charles) “Well no I don’t know! Why else ask?”

A goddess rose out of the crowd. The robes were quite similar to the ones Ixcatli was wearing right now; ichor black. She was humanoid in appearance, other than the watery hair.

(Goddess) “Wow. And here I thought he’d taken too much of the wine.”

Well, she wasn’t anybody that Charles knew! Her eyes were definitely like Ixcatli’s were before he was freed; not blank, but glistening with intelligence. Her posture was far more imperious than a god of her apparent rank’s should be.

(Charles) “I’m Charles! What do you like to be called?”

(Eighty-Six Orchid) “Well, most people call me “RUN!” or “GHUL!” or “SIEGE!” I think you’ll be wanting an actual name, though… it’s Eighty-Six Orchid. I can tell you that much.”

(Orchid, to one of the other deiphages who had started drooling.) “HEY! Stand down. This might be worth something.”

(Charles) “Well it’s nice to meet you! Could you tell me what you want? We might be able to compromise in the interests of sorting things out!”

(Orchid) “Ehh… you mean me, or us in general?”

(Charles) “Oh, either or both!”

(Orchid) “Okay… me. I became this about, oh, a while ago. Two, three millennia? Anyway, the others explained what was up. That’s what I CAN’T tell you yet. What I’m after is employment that the godsdamned Bureaucracy can’t get off its rear end and find for me.”

(Charles) “Oh! Well, I’m working on that now… What did you used to be in charge of?”

(Orchid) “Cixhatlan dance. That was an empire of worlds on the edge of shaped space.” (She frowned). “I almost had dance dominated on them, too. Should have seen the look on my backer’s face.”

(Charles) “What happened to them? Conqured or something?”

(Orchid) “Yep. Tarvial got them.”

He could hear her teeth grinding! Tarvail… Oh yes, the place with all the defenses against the Wyld! It must have conquered this “Cixhatlan” place!

(Charles) “That might be a little harder than most, but I’ll work on it!”

(Orchid) “Then that damn Bright-Foot Nakita muscled in on my worshippers, and of course she had dozens of worlds backing her even then. Any gods from Tarvial here?”

He could see a hungry look in her eyes – and Ixcatli was trying hard to be inconspicuous.

(Charles) “I’m not sure that’s relevant! Anyway… so something is going on in the borderlands; there weren’t supposed to be many gods governing those. More things to fix and people to cure!”

Orchid had been peering at the child. For someone who was apparently just a God-Blood he seemed incredibly overconfident – to the point where he shouldn’t have survived an hour without protection! On the other hand, as a deiphage, her essence-senses were very good indeed – and if you looked beyond the surface… there was unbelievably amounts of power there, buried deep inside…

(Orchid) “Okay, so when you want to cure the deiphages, I assume that means all of us, right?”

(Charles) “Well, yes, that would be all of you – unless some just don’t want to be cured!”

(Orchid, waving a hand at the lesser deiphages) “If you could heal these guys, that’d be great. The ones like me are another story. Oh yeah, and we’d need another means of defense.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Defense against what? I can cure them easily enough!”

(Orchid) “The Celestial Bureaucracy-especially the lions. I would say Sidereals too, but we both know how busy they are.”

(Charles) “Wait, are they harassing you because you’re out of work? That’s just mean!”

(Orchid, looking frustrated) “Not that. That’s . . . what I can’t tell you.”

(Charles) “Oh. Well, I’ll cure this batch… Could you tell me somewhere safer?”

(Orchid) “Hrm . . . it’s this damnable oath connected to a Charm I have.”

Oh! That “Destiny Sponsorship” thing probably!

(Orchid) “You’d have to give me armor to compensate. And a god of my rightful rank can’t wear silly mortal steel!”

(Charles, rummaging in his pack) “Oh! I’ve got some around here… (he got out a set of the commando armor) Here we are!”

(Orchid, gaping) “Wait, what the Empyrean One!? You have artifact armor in your pack?”

The other gods – deiphage and otherwise – were also quite surprised.

(Charles) “Uhm… Why not? It’s really quite light!”

(Orchid) “Guh… never mind.”

She had one of her deiphages, who did appear to be a god of a defunct armor style, check it over – and found his report a little hard to believe. The child was not only hauling around artifact armor, but he was hauling around high-end disguised artifact armor with a multitude of different functions – and was prepared to GIVE IT AWAY?!.

(Orchid) “Okay, it’s good. I’ll take it. Now, if you’ll drop the wards that are messing with the geomancy in that monitoring station, we can talk there. I’ll leave my people outside.”

Magical Biotech and Monster Making, Part I – Ingredients

Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, fro...

You want to play what?

There was an earlier request for this, and – now that I finally have a little time for writing and putting things up again – it’s time to start this particular article-series…

d20… covers a lot of settings. The realm of dream? Been there. Virtual reality setting? Done that. High Fantasy? Please! That’s where it all started! Low Fantasy? Of course! Cyberpunk? Sure! Hard Sci-Fi or Historical? Rare, but it HAS been done. Homicidal Pixie-Unicorn Rampage versus H.G. Wells Martian Invaders? Well… OK, let me get out the Fey supplement and the War of the Worlds supplement…

And that’s the problem. Can you think of any creature – no matter how silly, “unbalanced”, lacking in a proper ecological role, and inconsistent – that could NOT make an appearance in a dream? Or in virtual reality? Or in a world with enough magic or sufficiently alien laws of nature?

That’s a rhetorical question because no, of course you can’t. If you can imagine it, it can appear in all those places – and is a perfectly valid d20 monster.

It may be one that makes no sense in a particular setting – but the SRD is full of those already. If a given setting doesn’t have elemental planes, or has hard-science biology, you aren’t going to have any use for Elementals or (Especially!) Elemental half-breeds. Low-magic world? You’ll be skipping dragons. No absolute alignments? Most outer-planar creatures are out – or at least will need plenty of revising.

Where do monsters come from?

They spawn from children’s dreams or from concentrations of magical or psychic energy, they are freakish mutants, they are created by wizards, dread gods curse the world with their presence, technicians make them in laboratories, mad scientists and alchemists build them from corpses, prayers for vengeance are answered with horrors, they arise from stillness and silence due to the Tao of creation, they are cursed people, they are animals risen above their station, they are nanotechnological horrors, they come from the future, or the past, or from alien realms,. and they are councilors and guardians.

How do monsters survive?

They consume flesh, or life force, or draw on elemental energy, or are incarnations of ideas and need nothing save minds to think of them, or embody spiritual principles, or survive on magic, or have internal nuclear reactors, or feed on souls (whatever that means in a setting), or are driven by sheer will, or are infused with positive or negative energy, or photosynthesize, or run on bolts of lightning, or divine power, or infernal power, or… well, it really doesn’t matter. How a monster survives – or reproduces, or what kind of society it has, or it’s family organization, or what it looks like – really doesn’t matter. All of that is simply a set of hooks for world-building, or bringing the monster into a scenario – and if you’re designing your own monster, you can find an excuse for it anyway. It’s not like you have biological, ecological, or even physical facts to restrain you.

Like it or not, what makes a suitable, “reasonable”, or even barely-usable monster varies with each setting – and with each game masters interpretation of that setting.

How do you create and modify monsters?

That depends on the setting. You’re in the Realms of Dream? You may be able to produce Godzilla with a Lucid Dreaming check and the expenditure of a little psychic energy. In a realm of High Fantasy? Perhaps an Alchemical Laboratory to create a mighty homunculus is in order – or perhaps, for swifter and less-controllable results, summoning a primal malevolent force and forcing it into a cage of form woven from your own imagination and strength of will will do better (although, if you lose control, it will become another unique terror haunting the land). A low-magic world? You may have to breed your beasts for generations to make much of a change at all. A technological world? A genetic engineering and cloning facility with a staff may be your only hope.

The only real “rules” here are some vague metagame principles.

  • Your monster should fit into the world background – even if it’s from another plane, there need to be “other planes” mentioned before it shows up.
  • It should present an interesting, but solveable, problem for the players – whether that problem is tactical, philosophical, moral, or whatever. After all, we don’t want them bored, completely frustrated, or giving up in disgust. We’re playing this game for fun.
  • It’s probably best to hold down the pop-culture references, puns, and gaming jokes. They tend to disrupt the actual play of the game – no matter how much laughter them may produce at the moment.
  • If the creature can reproduce, as opposed to being a unique creation or summoning, there should be a reason it hasn’t taken over the world if it’s powerful enough to worry about that.
  • It’s usually a bad idea to give it one obscure critical weak point and make it otherwise quite invulnerable. Not only does this make for one-use creatures (next time they’ll know!), but it’s quite likely to result in complete frustration. Players almost never do the things that you thought they were going to do.
  • It’s usually a bad idea to leave some of the player characters with nothing to do during an encounter with the creature. It’s all too likely that – the day they run into the creature that’s utterly immune to magic and conjured things in a white-box setting – that all the combat-specialists will be unavailable – and even if you don’t get that worst-case scenario, you’re still leaving half the table bored.

Sadly, none of that is much help when Mandrake the Magician wants to create a guardian-beast for his laboratory and mystic sanctum. For that we need a monster-designing system for player characters.

Fortunately, In Eclipse, I have one handy – and the next article will start getting into the mechanics of that.

Eclipse – Troublesome Relics

Here we have an a small package for personal relic creation designed for a character who’s own powers backlash against him, even when channeled through a focus, and thus cause him various disadvantages.

This isn’t the most efficient possible way of building such relics – for starters, you could simply the abilities purchased for the Relics (“causes this troublesome side effect, etc) and squeeze out a few more character points worth of abilities – but it suits the character conception well. It’s not that he’s accepting drawbacks to squeeze out more abilities, it’s that he possesses a lot of uncontrolled power and cannot prevent it from backlashing against him.

Runecrafting Package:

  • Create Relic, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable to make personal relics, only usable with points from Enthusiast, and all relics carry a disadvantage – although this does help reduce their cost (2 CP)
  • Double Enthusiast with Adaption, Specialized and Corrupted for 1.5x effect (provides three character points to make relics with) and half cost/ points from Enthusiast are only usable to make Relics (4 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP costs of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial / only covers L0 and L1 effects at caster level one), Specialized and Corrupted / only for making temporary relics with Enthusiast Points (1 CP).

As for some actual relics…

Eye of Witchery (1 CP Relic):

Used as a gazing-stone to help focus his unruly (Witchcraft I) psychic talents, this simple piece of iridescent quartz now acts as a focus and channel for the user’s mental energies – turning psychic potential into active, if often undependable, powers.

Disadvantage: Unluck. Sadly, while creating the Eye has stopped the original poltergeist, random illusion, and fear aura effects that troubled the character, it has not yet stopped his powers from pestering him entirely (-3 CP).

Provides: Witchcraft II and III (12 CP), giving him 14 Power, Will Save DC 17, and access to…

  • The Adamant Will, Specialized for half cost/only to resist pain and external control, not to conceal things.
  • The Eye of Shadows, Specialized for Increased Effect (no cost to use) / sometimes activates on it’s own, picking up random images and strongly emotional thoughts – usually people’s negative opinions of him and shared flashes of pain, anger, and despair. The character can read psychic impressions by touch, and may attempt a will save versus this power to attempt to focus it on someone – who also gets a save.
  • Glamour. For a wonder, this works normally – although, of course, deception and manipulation does fit teh characters demonic ancestry.
  • The Hand of Shadows: Another item that operates normally.
  • Shadowweave: And another! Perhaps because, once again, illusion fits demonic ancestry perfectly.
  • Witchfire, Specialized for Increased (Double) Effect/destructive aspects only, is highly painful to use since it draws on his own inner flame. This also means that – under sufficient pressure – the characters flame-based powers will sometimes “leak” a bit in awkward ways.
  • Witchsight: the fourth, and final, item which works normally.

Thaumaturgists Wand (1 CP Relic):

A ritualists wand has minor magical properties, but it’s more or less just a focus for concentration – and for that, one that you craft yourself will do nicely. This character made one for the classes in basic magic that he was given when it became obvious that he had a gift. Now that it’s infused with greater powers it’s far more useful…

Disadvantage: Insane. The user is unreasonable about what he or she is actually responsible for, and tends to assume that he or she is bears some fault for everything that goes wrong (-3 CP – and a perfect adventure hook).

Provides:

  • Rite of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/ can only be used to recharge any one pool once per day, takes at least ten minutes, a complex diagram drawn on the ground, and some minor props (candles, salt, and incense). Sadly, this will not work on externally based magic – such as the spirit favors the character mostly relies on to produce controllable effects (3 CP).
  • Adaption on Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted/only for swapping Relics around, only usable once per week (1 CP).
  • Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted/only to perform summoning rituals of the Ars Geotia and Vestiges (2 CP). Sadly, while the character is fairly skilled for level one, he’s nowhere near good enough to bind major entities with his Spellcraft of Knowledge/Arcana skills; he’ll have to scrape up a pile of bonuses to do much of anything much here.
  • Action Hero (Stunts Option), Specialized and Corrupted for half cost and 1.5x effect (now 5 action points); only usable for “saving peoples necks ” (including his of course), only usable for magical stunts, such stunts are very conspicuous magically (3 CP).
  • Reflex Training (Extra Actions variant), Specialized/only usable for magical actions (3 CP).

OK, now that little toy can help in several very specialized ways – but can also lead him into all kinds of trouble. More plot hooks.

Sigil of Scholarship (1 CP Relic):

This small, cheap, medallion is a souvenir – an early “award” for doing so well in his classes. It is, of course, just a trinket – something the teacher had handy to “award” to a clever nine year old – but it means something to him.

Disadvantage: Compulsive. While the character bears this relic he feels compelled to analyze everything and theorize at length, passing those theories on to his companions (-3 CP). (Not that he might not do this anyway, but this means that he never stops…).

  • Provides: Fast Learner/Specialized in Skills (no bonus yet, 6 CP) and Adept (Arcana, Athletics, Gather Information, and Stealth, 6 CP). (And yes, that’s for a variant skill list – but substitution is easy enough).

Eclipse Martial Arts – Fang of the Wind

All right. Now that reality is no longer beating me over the head with a hammer, it’s time to try to get back on track, starting with a Martial Art for Eclipse d20.

Tlantli Ejecatl (Fang of the Wind) (Dex).

Stillness is Death.

Always in motion, Strike and Retreat.

Linger Not within a Foe’s Reach.

The Patterns run Deep, Instinctive.

Before Weapons, Before Armor, Talons Were.

The Ancient Dance, to Rip and Tear and Leap Back.

To Flow like Water before the Storm

Claws like a Cutting Wind

Stillness is Death.

Tlantli Ejecatl isn’t a sophisticated art. You move in, you strike, you move out. You flow smoothly, relying on evasiveness, flexibility, and speed to avoid your opponents strikes, and on open-hand slashing and gouging for your own offense. You focus on hurting opponents enough to take them down if they’re weak or to dissuade them from coming after you if they’re strong. You go for the cheap shot.

You train in Survival, in Athletics*, in Acrobatics, and perhaps in other fields – the better to survive. That is, after all, what the Martial Arts are all about.

* This art is set up for a campaign using a variant – more compact – skills list, rather like the Pathfinder list. Feel free to substitute.

  • Requires: Natural Weapons/Claws, at least +1 BAB Specializing in Claws, Movement Rate of 40’+ OR having spent at least two weeks living as a hunting creature with claws or talons.
  • Basic Abilities: Defenses 3 (“flowing waters”), Synergy/Survival (“walk of the beasts”), Synergy/Acrobatics (“feather dance”), Synergy/Deception (“forest stillness”), Toughness 3 (“the wild heart)”).
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Mind Like Moon (“predator and prey”), Mobility (“flowing winds”), Spring Attack (“claw dance”), and Combat Reflexes (“cheap shots”).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength (“enduring survivor”), Ki Block (“blowing before the wind”), Light Foot (“dance of clouds”), and Vanishing (“one with the hurricane”).

If you want to go toe-to-toe with some monstrosity, or compliment your already-juggernaut like build, this really isn’t the martial art for you; there are plenty of better ways to build that.Tlantli Ejecatl (and similar arts) are best used by characters who don’t stress physical combat – but who can boost their movement rate if necessary to dart in and out and continue making a difference when short of other options.

Residents of the Ars Goetia, Part II

Eliphas Levi's Pentagram, figure of the microc...

What could go wrong?

The “Demons” of medieval tomes were mostly the creation of fevered would -be demonologists and “scholars”. While they might be loosely based on a few genuine mythological fragments, those tattered threads are pretty thoroughly lost in a sea of wild conjecture. For our purposes this is good; it provides a lot of room for turning them into creatures that can play an interesting role in various games.

Part One included Andromalius (the Judge), Beleth (the Berserker), and Bifrons (the psychopomp). To continue with part II, we have…

MALTHUS (Mal-Thus) The Earl Of Slaughter, Armorer Of The Abyss.

  • Favored Form: A slim, languid, effeminate fop, carrying a rapier, dripping with gems and jewelry, and wearing exquisite silken clothing – often a near-parody of a high-ranking officers military uniform. He takes care never to appear before a given individual twice in the same outfit. Some people call his outfits and appearance “ridiculous”. HE calls them “bait”.
  • Major Powers: Grandmaster Psionic (Disruption and Vamparism), Powershaping (Conjuration and Battle Magic), Master Strategist, Tactician, and Military Engineer. Despite his utter brilliance as a general, putting Malthus in charge of a military force somehow always results in a very high casualty rate (most infamously, the legendary “morning calisthenics massacre”)- but he does get things done. If it’s needed he will conjure up his own troops, fortifications, and arsenals, but he prefers not to waste his time and genius on matters of simple logistics.
  • Sacrifices: Malthus prefers human sacrifices, dying violently and in pain. He will quite cheerfully collect his own sacrifices if the summoner doesn’t get them ready for him – although he quite willing to count casualties among any troops placed under his command as sacrifices. Luckily, he can be somewhat placated (at enormous expense and far less effectively) with an assortment of new outfits and various luxuries – gems, silks, fine wines, and the best of foods.
  • Ritual: Summoning Malthus requires setting up a magical circle – and a substantial lump of opium to be burned as incense.
  • Basic Nature: Malthus is a master general, and he knows it very well. He will want to take charge, snap orders at all and sundry, and lay around languidly and be waited on. Unlike many of the other creatures of the Ars Goetia, Malthus has embraced the darkness, simply because it gives him more chances to exercise his supreme skills in the arts of war and attracts great heroes to meet in battle. He does not see his troops – or his opponents – as people, but as pawns.
  • Combat Skill: Malthus is insanely dangerous in battle. He has enormous personal strength, as well as being very, very, skilled with virtually all weapons. He will, however, normally spare noncombatants; children can grow up to be worthy opponents, and older noncombatants can produce and care for more children – giving Malthus more people to kill or to lead into battle to die demonstrating his supreme brilliance later on.

OROBAS (Or’-O-Bas) “The Prince Of Steeds”

  • Favored Form : Orabas most often appears as a powerful black stallion with a crimson (or actively flaming) mane and tail, but sometimes appears in the form of other steeds – although always in a similar color scheme. He speaks in the inhuman voice of whatever creature he appears to be. Regardless of his form, he will be equipped for war, with silver barding and tack – although he wears no bridle.
  • Major Powers : Basic Powershaping (Counterspells, Divination, and Enchantment), Lesser Psionic (Beastmastery, Healing, Belamourment – and Exokinetic Fields). As befits a mighty steed, Orobas possesses great Physical Strength, Toughness, and Speed.
  • Sacrifices : None.
  • Ritual : A complex summoning circle. Orobas is of little use unless bound, a rite that requires a silver bridle and several minutes. It also requires providing Orobas with the summoners true name and reason for calling him forth – information that Orobas will freely share with any other summoner.
  • Basic Nature : Once bound, Orobas is a faithful retainer and will do his best to serve and obey the summoner and to answer his or her questions – giving him something of a reputation as an oracle. While Orabus is a most superior mount, keeping him bound will gradually drain the summoners vitality – inflicting (1D6) points of damage each day which can only be regained via rest and time, and not at all while Orabas is kept bound. Orabus views his office and purpose as to be a faithful retainer of whoever his current “master” is – a powerful steed and wise advisor. He does not feel that it is the business of a war-steed to question it’s master – and so turns a complete blind eye to the summoners moral status, and to the nature of the deeds he is called on to assist (no doubt the reason for his current status). Orabas might carry a heroic master through storm, flood, and the very fires of hell to rescue a single child – while for another he would crush a dozen beneath his blood-soaked hooves. As a part of his service he will hold a master’s secrets in absolute security – unless asked about them by another master, in which case that aspect of himself will cheerfully tell it’s master whatever he wants to know.
  • Combat Skill : He’s a war-steed, and – within that basic limitation – is extraordinarily competent.

STOLAS (Sto-Las”) “The Prince Of Carrion Crows, Bard of Chaos”

  • Favored Form : A huge raven with silver talons and red-golden eyes. Stolas “prefers” to speak in riddles, snatches of song, and doggerel nonsense. He often sends a minor aspect of himself to answer a summons, instead of coming in person. Such raven-familiars can grant a summoner various minor powers – usually translation or very minor powershaping abilities (as always, in a particular field or fields).
  • Major Powers : A master Spy and Thief, Stolas also possesses Powershaping (Air, Sound, and Illusion), and possesses the ability to speak and read all languages, a talent he may share with his summoner if he desires. Stolas is a notable musician – and may be a true master. He can produce a wide variety of bardic effects.
  • Sacrifices : Stolas favors original music, elder texts, weird snippets of knowledge, and concerts. What he finds acceptable seems to be a matter of whim. The summoner usually needs to negotiate.
  • Ritual : An elaborate circle, incense, and a full set of ceremonial gear is needed to summon Stolas – unless the summoner is capable of performing the far faster Song Of Summoning on woodwinds or harp. Stolas will teach a summoner the song on request, but a proper performance requires considerable skill and personal tutoring from Stolas; books, recordings, and similar methods are not sufficient to learn the subtle personalization that makes it work. He’ll also teach summoners about music and herbs on request.
  • Basic Nature : Stolas is a rogue, a trickster, and quite unreliable… Everything he does should be taken with a grain (several grains?) of salt. Even when bound to a summoner, he cannot be prevented from dragging everyone in the vicinity into baroque entanglements, twisting answers to questions that do not involve music or herbs, and generally making mischief.
  • Combat Skill : Stolas’s talons apparently possess some curious venomous or disruptive property – making them unexpectedly dangerous to both living beings and magical constructs.

Eclipse – Building the Possessed

Etrigan

Really not a team player.

Today’s request is a character loosely styled after Jason Blood / Etrigan (DC Comics) or Naruto (Anime) – a youngster who’s had a mighty demonic force that some magician couldn’t handle or kill directly imprisoned in his or her body, so that it will die when he or she does. That provides the character with some minor special powers – and, when the character is seriously injured or otherwise distracted, the dark power within will emerge to save it’s own life by striking out at the characters enemies.

Now this is indeed a rather neat, if not especially original, twist – as witness it being the basis for various superheroes and anime characters – but it leaves open a lot of questions.

  • The original binder was ruthless enough to do this to a kid. If he or she wanted to be rid of the demon, why not then kill the infant? Every moment the child lives it is a threat to those around him or her – and to the binder. Even for a “good” character this is pretty much a no-brainer – unless, perhaps, the binder has some goody-goody target he or she wishes to drop a time bomb on (although, to be fair, in that case a timed-release effect would be a LOT better).
  • If the binding is inescapable and moments of freedom restrained and short, then why is the entity prolonging it’s misery?
  • If the times of freedom can be prolonged, what was the point in the first place? A jail with a unlocked revolving door and an awkward kid for a guard isn’t much of a prison.
  • If the binding is escapable, why doesn’t the entity keep the kids body injured enough to maintain control and do what-it-is it needs to to escape permanently?
  • If the force is irredeemably hostile, why not take times of freedom as a chance to go on the rampage, avenge itself on humanity, and slaughter everyone in the vicinity? This character is putting the lives of everyone in the area at risk every time they get into a fight – or use the stairs, or step out in the street, or otherwise might be injured. Even if you can restrain the creature enough to keep it from massacring your friends, the world is full of innocents ready to be victims. There’s a reason why so many werewolf movies wind up with a dead werewolf.
  • If the entity bound within isn’t far more powerful than the characters, what’s the point? It’s like having a bad-tempered dog that occasionally jumps out at people if you don’t hang onto the leash. This is an even worse problem in d20, where the player characters start weak, and grow rapidly – and where there are plenty of powerful NPC’s about. Your entity needs to be so potent that epic-level NPC’s couldn’t handle it – yet you don’t want to hopelessly overshadow the other characters while they’re first level.
  • D20 worlds are full of rampaging monsters; if this works, why isn’t the world overrun with kids (and adults) with demons bound into them? For that matter, why wasn’t it done centuries ago, leaving the monsters long gone?

Now, if we gloss over problems like those what we wind up with is some mighty force that… intervenes whenever the character is in really serious trouble, smacks down his or her enemies, may or may not make some minor trouble for the player character group, and then conveniently goes away. That’s not much of a “curse”. That’s a really convenient power that overshadows everyone else in the group. There’s a reason why Etrigan and Naruto don’t usually hang out with crowds and are central characters rather than just being one of a team.

So… to build the actual mechanics, what we need is a set of boosts that enhance the characters existing abilities, rather than acting as an independent entity and are specialized or corrupted to involve some – but not too much – loss of control. That will make the “imprisoned monster” abilities useful/effective throughout the character’s career while avoiding overshadowing everyone else too much. The “terrible imprisoned being” backstory is fine, but in game terms it’s just a special effect. It’s the mechanics that actually matter when it comes to character-building.

Fortunately, Eclipse already has some mechanisms for just that effect. What we want here is Berserker, possibly with some Innate Enchantments that only function while berserk.

  • Berserker with Odinpower and Enduring, Specialized for Double Effect (+12 Str, +12 Con, +6/- DR, -3 AC)/the character transforms into a more monstrous form and loses control, this dubious ability activates automatically when the character is severely injured, their normal mind is suppressed, or when the GM thinks it ought to. While the character can usually refrain from hurting friends too badly, and from outright massacring NPC’s, severe injuries, destroyed goods, structural damage, and general trouble are the order of the day. In effect, the character has a potent (but not insurmountable) “save my ass!” card in reserve – but playing it is going to be expensive (12 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized/only works while the character is Berserk (10,000 GP total value, 5 CP), Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, only while the character is berserk, 3 CP), Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover the abilities derived from being “possessed”, 1 CP) (9 CP total).

The actual Innate Enchantments are generally first level spells at caster level one, are unlimited at-will, and are personal-only whenever that’s applicable – for a net cost of (L1 x CL1 x 2000 GP x .7) = 1400 GP.

• Demonic Endurance: Resist Energy. Provides Resistance 10 to all energy types (1400 GP).

• Hellish Vitality: Rugged Metabolism package, including Fast Healing I – for 18 Rounds – 2/Day, Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 1/Day, and Lesser Restoration 1/Day. (1400 GP). While putting in unlimited healing would be a mess, restricting things to uses per day (x.2 x number of daily uses up to four) brings down the cost nicely.

• Immortal Vigor I: Provides two bonus six sided hit dice, which are treated as having rolled sixes. (1400 GP)

• Infernal Ward: Shield (2000 GP). One of the few spells that starts off as personal-only, and so isn’t eligible for that price break.

• Rending Talons: Claws. Provides 1d8 Natural Weapons. May make a full attack using both at normal BAB. Also, +4 BAB with Claws (2800 GP).

• Speed of Night: Personal Haste. Provides a +30 Enhancement Bonus to movement and +1 Bonus Attack at full BAB when making a full attack (1400 GP).

Now, with a net cost of 21 CP, that’s a not-unreasonable expensive package. In fact, a baseline d20 human only costs 9 CP (gaining one Bonus Feat for 6 CP and Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for half cost for 3 CP) – and the allowance for a +0 ECL species is 31 CP. That means that, if the GM is generous, you can just call your race “Demon-Infused Human” – at a net cost of 30 CP – and have done with it. That has the advantage that – if you ever manage to get rid of your personal demon – you won’t have to rebuild your character particularly. You just drop back to the baseline human.

So lets create a preliminary build for…

Lerona Vendrith

Fourteen-Year-Old Demon-Bound Human (+0 ECL).

This probably won’t bear too much resemblance to the final build; the actual information that the prospective player provided for this is only about half a paragraph, and contained few details on the characters actual abilities – but that doesn’t really matter in an example.

Basic Attributes: Str 16, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 14, and Chr 12 (The GM is using a rather generous attribute array there. I think I’ll also assume that a part of that strength is of supernatural origin; it’s a bit hard to credit in a kid otherwise).

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages) +2 (Duties) + 18 (Human Bonus Feat and Level -1 and 1 Bonus Feats. Yes, the GM is being generous again there, and Eclipse levels start off in infancy at -2) = 78 CP.

Basic Expenditures:

  • Warcraft (BAB): +1 (6 CP).
  • Hit Points: 20 (L1 d20, 16 CP) +3 (Con Mod) = 23 (53 Monstrous).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Armor Class 10 (Base) +2 (Dex) = 12 (13 Monstrous)
  • Initiative +2 (Dex)
  • Move: 30 (60 Monstrous)
  • Save Bonuses:
  • Fortitude: +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +3 (Con) = +4
  • Reflex: +0 (Purchased) +2 (Dex) = +2
  • Will: +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +2 (Wis) = +3

Usual Weapons

  • (Normal) Club: +4 (+1 BAB +3 Str), 1d6+3 (Str), Crit 20/x2,
  • (Monstrous) Claws: +15/+15/+15 (+1 BAB +4 BAB Bonus +9 Str), 1d8+9 (Str), Crit 20/x2.

Special Purchases:

  • Witchcraft I and II (12 CP): Provides 15 Power, access to The Adamant Will, Healing, and Witchsight, with a Will DC 14.
  • Advanced Witchcraft/The Sight, Specialized/uncontrollable aspects only (3 CP).
  • Mana, for +3d6 (16, a VERY good roll!) Power (6 CP).
  • DR 2/- (3 CP). Note that this also protects against energy damage.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP). We’ll be generous, and assume she picked this up at birth with some disadvantage points.
  • Adept (Knowledge/Theology, a Martial Art, Survival, Linguistics) (6 CP)
  • +5 Skill Points (5 CP). That gives her 5 SP (Purchased) + 12 (Fast Learner, 3/level, x4 at L1) +4 (Int at L1) = 21 SP. Eight of those will go to maximizing her Adept skills, leaving her 13 SP to spend – enough to maximize another three skills with one point left over to dabble in something – perhaps picking up another language.

From what little I’ve got in the way of backstory, Lerona was being raised as a cloistered priestess to help keep the beast within her under control – although she hadn’t actually learned much of anything in the way of priestly powers. She was kind of upset at the prospect of spending her entire life basically stuck in a cell for something that wasn’t at all her fault – and so she ran away. Ergo, Theology is one of her stronger skills.

This character is an extremely dangerous combatant when the beast comes out – but the beast is actually pretty vulnerable; a simple Hold Person, or (at least at the moment) even a Sleep spell will take out the beast very neatly. The base character may want to pick up some spell resistance and other special defenses later on; after all, when the beast does come out, the character has just become a high-priority target.

Eclipse d20 – White Necromancy

An example of unsuccessful main-gauche use

Now, we'll do this another hundred times!

Today it’s a request for a mildly unusual Eclipse d20 writeup – a Wood Elf Spiritualist / Necromancer who DOESN’T dabble in negative energy, and thus is free to be a gray – or heroic – figure.

This isn’t really likely to be the version the player finally uses – the backstory is severely abridged and modified to fit a more generic d20 universe, the powers are based on the initial request and will doubtless be modified with more feedback, and so on – but character requests always become examples on the site, and the final version doesn’t much matter when it comes to an example.

Elves often take a very animistic view of things. The world, after all, is full of spirits – nature spirits, elemental spirits, sky spirits, city spirits, spirits of light and darkness, powerful ancestor spirits, sainted spirits who reach down from the higher afterlives to intervene, spirits anchored to relics from their lives, and the confused and lingering spirits of the recently dead. The gods… are distant and powerful, mighty beings who rarely speak to anyone save for their priests – who pay for their privileges and mighty powers with lifelong dedication and service.

The spirits of the material world are near at hand. Dryads and nereids and sylphs fill the woods, waters, and air, jinn haunt the deserts, spirits of thunder ride the winds of storms, and the spirits of the hearth warm their hands at the fires of every cottage. They are less mighty than the gods by far – but they are numerous, close, and inclined to answer when called upon, even if their would-be “priest” isn’t especially dedicated. Sadly most people – and even most elves – lack the talent to communicate with them.

Those who have that talent are Speakers and Shamans – and for every full shaman with a full suite of spiritual powers and the ability to call on spirits of any type there are many Speakers with far more limited talents. There are tree-speakers, fire-speakers, weather-mongers, sky-callers, earth-binders, and a hundred more minor variants.

Most such variants are quite respectable. There is nothing wrong with being a flame-speaker, especially in the dead of winter – or when your village is under attack. People may be more leery of a fire-speaker (especially of one known for poor self-control) than of a specialist who speaks with field-spirits – but that’s simply sensible caution.

Other specialties are less welcomed. In fact, some are barely tolerated at best.

Death-speakers are not popular. They often wind up as outcasts or footloose adventurers once the nature of their talents – or intentionally-developed specialty – becomes apparent. They are often, and unjustly, associated with Necromancers, despite the fact that their powers have nothing at all to do with negative energy or the undead. Deathspeakers deal with lingering spirits, call upon the dead who are still tied to the material world through various relics of the ir lives, and taps into the lingering traces of positive energy and spiritual essence found in the environment and the bodies of the dead – a more subtle power than the usual Necromantic ability to blast people with vast bolts of negative energy and raise swarms of undead horrors.

Speakers all have an innate ability to manipulate spiritual energy; they can detect spirits and spiritual energies, communicate with spirits, and channel spiritual power – their own and any ambient power which happens to be about – and use it for a modest selection of tricks. Specialists tend to be a bit stronger, but are limited to tricks related to the type of spirit involved – leaving them weak and limited compared to major spellcasters. On the other hand, the basics of their power are mostly inborn – leaving them plenty of time to develop other abilities. They need constitution, to help support and channel the energies they tap, and charisma to talk the spirits they call upon into helping them out.

Like many other varieties of relatively subtle, highly-limited, and low-upper-limit magic in the game, Deathspeakers are most readily represented by the Witchcraft system – which offers a variety of cheap and efficient, if relatively low-powered, abilities. That way they can be fairly formidable to start with, their power is low-cost and intuitive enough to be effectively described as a talent, and they can start off with access to many of their signature abilities.

Tanelis Moorinsanti (Tanelis “of the deathly fields”).

Outcast Wood Elf Deathspeaker

Wood Elf Racial Package (+0 ECL version, with the game using the Half-Price rule on buying up attributes):

  • Self-Development: +2 Strength, +2 Dexterity (12 CP).
  • Immunity/Sleep Effects (Uncommon / Minor / Major, 3 CP)
  • Occult Sense / Low-Light Vision (6 CP)
  • Proficiency with Elven Cultural Weapons (A narrow group, 3 CP)
  • +2 on Listen, Search, and Spot (6 CP) [If using standard skills]
  • +2 on Athletics, Perception, and Survival (6 CP) [Using the homebrew skills for this game]
  • Speaks Elven as an extra language (1 CP)

Available Character Points: 48 (L1 base) +2 (Duties) +10 (Disadvantages) +12 (two bonus feats, per house rules) = 72.

Basic Attributes: Str 14, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 14, Con 16, Chr 16 (the game master is specifying a rather generous attribute array of 12, 12, 14, 14, 16, 16 here).

Basic Abilities (26 CP):

  • Hit Points: 12 (L1d12, 8 CP) +3 (Con Mod) = 15. His next few hit dice will probably be a good deal smaller, but starting out with a good-sized die is always useful.
  • BAB +0 (0 CP)
  • Saves:
  • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +3 (Con) = +5
  • Reflex: +0 (Purchased) +3 (Dex) = +3
  • Will: +2 (Purchased. 6 CP) +2 (Wis) = +2
  • Proficient with Light Armor (3 CP) and all Simple Weapons (3 CP).

At the moment, Tanelis is using Leather Armor (for a net AC of 16 derived from 10 base, +3 Dex, +2 Armor, +1 Parrying Dagger), a Longbow (+3/1d6+2), a Longsword (+2/1d8+2), and that Parrying Dagger (no effective attacks until he learns an appropriate martial art). Given that he can’t afford all that much else at level one, it can reasonably be assumed that he has a light pack, his weapons, food, water, bedroll, some rope, and a few common implements and objects.

Special Abilities:

Deathspeaker Spiritual Manipulation Package:

Witchcraft III, with two pacts: Missions (must undertake various services for the dead to help bring them to rest) and Backlash (His power draws on his own life force, and can rapidly fatigue, exhaust, or even injure him if he overuses it by entirely draining his power or by attempting to sustain too many effects long-term). (Effective net total = 6 CP).

Witchcraft III provides (Str + Dex + Con)/3 (for him, 15) Power and seven basic witchcraft abilities to work with, with a save DC of 16 (Will). In his case, those include:

  • Dreamfaring, Specialized for Enhanced Effect; he can detect and communicate with spirits in the area, sense spiritual energies (an ill-defined category, which is basically whatever the game master thinks it should be – making this ability potentially either extremely useful or virtually worthless), including spiritual links (for example, a corpses bones, or a greatly valued personal item, can often serve as a link to a spirit in the afterworlds) – but he cannot use the standard dream entry or astral projection aspects of this power. Unfortunately, this ability does not, in itself, extend to the Undead (beings powered by negative energy).
  • The Hand of Shadows, Specialized and Corrupted/only to “cast spells” which manifest as re-animating corpses or as semi-uncontrollable poltergeist effects (both at L3 for 2 power). Fresh corpses may retain some skills; older ones generally do not. In general, these can be treated as zombies – but they don’t last all that long, involve no negative energy (and so are morally neutral and impervious to “turning”, however disgusting and disquieting most people find them), and fairly often retain some vestiges of personality. Unfortunately, most corpses only retain very small amounts of life force to use – so they cease to be animated in a day or so at most. Trying to extend the duration usually requires investing a hit point or two in each corpse – and is one of the best ways to invoke the “Backlash” pact/limitation noted above. Thus this ability, while potent for a low-level ability, only really works when fresh corpses are available.
  • Glamour and the Inner Eye: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect; these two powers are only usable for basic communications, and only with spirits – but within that field the ability has no power cost. In the immediate area this overlaps with the Dreamfaring ability – but using purely mental communications allows him to communicate over spiritual links, extending his reach into the various afterlives. It still doesn’t extend to the undead though, since they are immune to mind-affecting abilities.

Personally I’d continue with…

Healing: This is the standard Witchcraft ability with no modifiers. By concentrating small amounts of ambient life force and his own energies into a living target’s body he can provide small amounts of healing – albeit nothing like the quantities available to healing specialists and at a fair power cost.

And…

Hyloka: The standard witchcraft ability. By manipulating his own life force, and tapping into ambient energies, he can shift the balance of biophysical processes in a variety of minor ways.

Since both of those are quite useful and fit in with the ability to channel and manipulate small amounts of life force. On the other hand, if you don’t want your Deathspeaker to have any powers over living creatures at all, they’re inappropriate. Ergo substitute:

  • Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect/only works against disembodied spirits and the undead. Using this power allows Tanelis to disrupt spirits and the undead in a variety of ways, causing modest amounts of damage and inflicting various hindrances,
  • Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (no cost)/Tanelis can detect oncoming death, the progress of illnesses, and the bodies of the recently dead. In game terms, he can track the hit points of everyone in the immediate vicinity, tell at a glance if someone who’s sick will survive the night, and so on.

That leaves one power to select. In this case, we’re going to take three and specialize and corrupt them so that each only counts as one-third of a power. That’s a mildly unusual approach – but this is a mildly unusual character.

  • Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power; can only be used to create basic spooky effects – drifting ghost-lights, spectral glows, and vague translucent apparitions.
  • Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power; can only be used to create basic spooky effects – such as odd breezes, chilly spots, and unaccountably snuffed-out (and cold) candles and lanterns.
  • The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power, can only be used against the powers of spirits and the undead, one-third cost. This allows him to easily withstand the mind-influencing powers of spirits and the undead – at least until his strength runs out.

Advanced Witchcraft Abilities:

  • “Familiar” (the Witchcraft-based access-route to the “Companion” ability) x2 (12 CP) – Two Animals (Large Dogs) using the Mystic Companion Progression, and with a Ghostly Template (as neutral ethereal spirits, rather than negative-energy undead, 6 CP) that will only become available after they die. Tanelis has raised his dogs from small puppies, and would be as reluctant to see them go as they would be to go – and, being a Deathspeaker, has unconsciously arranged to prevent that. When they do die, their spirits will continue to hang around. Until then they’re big, wolfish, mutts. Until then, each of them does at least provide him with +6 Power – raising his reserves quite significantly.
  • Path of Fire/Leaping Fire (6 CP). Tanelis can burn some of his life energy (power) to move faster in an emergency – boosting his own muscles and nerves in the same way that he enhances those of his “zombies”. It’s come in handy when he needs to run away from some upset townsfolk more than once.

Alternatively, you could just take Celerity (for 6 CP) and boost your movement rate. That’s a lot less flexible, and somewhat less powerful – but it doesn’t cost Power and is “on” all the time, which IS a significant advantage and – once again – stays away from the ability to .

  • Voice of the Dead (6 CP). This ability allows the user to communicate with, and use social skills on, the undead. While the negative energy they’re infused with has nothing to do with him, the remaining memories of life in most sapient undead are enough to let a Deathspeaker try to negotiate with them – even if they’re not enough to actually control them. Without this ability our Deathspeaker can communicate with the dead, and disembodied spirits, and spirits in the afterlife – but not with the unded. With this, not only can he communicate with the undead, but they start off with a neutral attitude towards him.

Other Abilities:

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP). This provides +2 SP/Level. I’ll presume that it was taken with disadvantage points pretty much at birth, for +8 SP at level one.
  • Adept/Four skills of choice can be purchased for half cost (6 CP). For this game, that’s going to be Athletics, Perception, Persuasion, and Survival.
  • +4 Skill Points (4 CP).

Total: 72 CP.

Skills Points = 4 (Purchased) +4 (Int Mod x 4) +8 (Fast Learner) = 16

  • Athletics +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Str) +2 (Race) = +8
  • Perception +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +8
  • Persuasion +4 (2 SP*) +3 (Cha) = +7
  • Survival +4 (2 SP*) + +2 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +8

That leaves eight skill points to spend – enough for another pair of maxed-out skills. I’m going to leave those available pending further information on the setting and character.

Most of the things the character will want to buy later on relate to his witchcraft of course: some items to round out his spiritual powers include:

  • Path of Coven Master/Summoning , Specialized and Corrupted/only to call up the spirits of the dead and only works when said spirit is either hanging around an area or the user possesses an appropriate link to it – usually a portion of their body or relic of their life, although (if a spirit is especially desperate) their true name will sometimes do (2 CP). This will allow him to hold seances, summon forth vengeful spirits, seek the aid of saints, and otherwise consult the dead.
  • Path of Spirits/Seize the Wandering Soul (6 CP): This dangerous power allows the user to capture wandering souls for a time – possibly killing their bodies in the process. It is wise to remember that many gods take SERIOUS exception to anyone seizing the souls of their followers.
  • Path of Spirits/Spirit Binding (6 CP): This powerful – and risky – ability allows the user to bind souls captured via Seize the Wandering Soul into areas, objects, and non-sapient bodies. And yes, that does mean that you can effectively reincarnate people.
  • Path of Spirits/ Hag-Riding (6 CP): This ability allows the user to drain power from bound souls and use it for his or her own purposes.
  • Path of Spirits/Ridden by the Loa with Equal Control, Corrupted/only Spirits of the Dead (8 CP): This ability allows the user to invite the spirits of the dead to share control of his or her body – and to imbue him with some of the abilities the visiting spirit held in life. Thus channeling the spirit of a noble warrior could considerably boost the user’s combat abilities.
  • Privilege/Blessing of the Ancestors (3 CP): This is a ritual invocation of the ancestors, asking them to watch over something. This lasts for at least a year, and often permanently – but is too subtle for game mechanics. Thus a fallen candle may quietly snuff itself out rather then starting a fire in a blessed house. Fields yield more, suffering less from pests and weather. Children are healthier, have fewer and milder accidents – and are far more likely to reach adulthood. Farm animals have more offspring, spinning thread snags less often, and artists are more inspired. The scale of the ritual required depends on the scale of the blessing sought; kids only take a minute, a city might take a three-day festival honoring the relevant Ancestors.
  • The Path of Air/Breath of Life (6 CP): Allows the user to temporarily breathe life into inanimate objects.
  • The prospective Player has suggested Path of Spirits/Siphon (6 CP) – an ability which allows him to bargain with spirits for on-demand access to some of their powers. That’s doable of course, but it isn’t one of the prime choices in my view simply because the spirits of the dead don’t usually have that many as-needed powers to draw upon. Still, if the character later expands his reach to start drawing on other kinds of sprits, this will become a great deal more effective.
  • Finally, of course, the character will want to build up his Power reserves a bit. The easiest way to do that is to take Mana using the Power option – adding 3d6 to the user’s Power reserve for (6 CP).

As always, characters built using Witchcraft have some very interesting options and can be quite formidable at lower levels – but, while Witchcraft will continue to be a useful talent at higher levels, it simply doesn’t scale well and offers relatively little offensive punch at any level. On the other hand, those powers will be extremely convenient in mystery scenarios and offer some useful party support – as well as an endless series of plot hooks. We’re looking at a d20 universe full of monsters and disasters and spells here. There will be enough spirits floating around with unfinished business to keep a thousand characters endlessly busy. That’s well worth putting up with a party that has some extra minions along.

Are there alternative builds? Of course there are. It’s just that most of them will be rather more expensive and will have to push off many of the abilities until later – although their upper limits will be considerably higher. Witchcraft is intentionally designed to give low-level characters cheap access to an array of interesting, heroic-level powers and to top out there. You won’t ever see a Witch blasting cities with gates to the elemental planes or summoning up mighty demonic armies – but you won’t see them with nothing much to do today but throw Magic Missile a couple of times either.

For example, lets say we wanted to build this character with Thaumaturgy.

According to his backstory…

Tanelis discovered his talents as a Death-Speaker as a child when he accidentally reanimated a recently deceased pet. That didn’t work out well of course – it was still dead, and decaying, and spiritless, and it didn’t last for long – but it left Tanelis with a fascination for playing with the forces of life and death that was regarded as, at the least, unhealthy.

The elders tried to steer him into more appropriate fields, but Tanelis kept practicing Death-speaking in secret. Youthful rebelliousness, and the fact that it was simply how his talents ran, made sure of that For him it was like just like playing in the mud and getting a bit dirty, plain and simple. His ability was entirely neutral, there was nothing sinister about it!

He somehow made it to young adulthood with his secret intact – despite his near-total inability to use other forms of magic. Unfortunately, an orc attack put an end to that. With his friends and family losing, Tanelis fell back on his well-practiced ability to re-animate the dead to call up reinforcements.

The sudden influx of quasi-zombies to the field turned the tide – but Tanelis flattened himself with the strain – and the village elders did not take kindly to being defied and weren’t too clear on the difference between necromancy and Deathspeaking in any case. He was presented with a choice; forswearing Deathspeaking or exile.

Tanelis knew that he couldn’t honestly forswear Deathspeaking. It was a part of who he was – and if he saw his friends in danger again, he’d surely use it again no matter what he swore.

Since then, he’s been wandering around as an adventurer, trying hard not to be too bitter about his fate and the village elders irrationality. Still, it’s all in the past; the future is what matters.

OK: So he was capable of animating corpses as a child. As a young adult, he was capable of animating a swarm of them.

That’s a fifth or sixth level effect. Doing it at level one with Thaumaturgy calls for… A DC 25 check, 12 Power and 6 Spell Levels. To get that to work we’ll need to buy…

  • Mana as 4d6 (14) Power, Specialized/only for use with Necromantic Thaumaturgy (4 CP).
  • Mana as 3d4 (8) Generic Spell Levels, Specialized/only for use with Necromantic Thaumaturgy (5 CP).
  • Thaumaturgy/Necromancy (6 CP).
  • Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only for casting Thaumaturgy (3 CP).

Now that’s 18 CP – the same as we’d save by dumping the Basic Witchcraft and Voice of the Dead abilities. The hounds can stay the same, simply taking the Companion ability directly – but this version will also call for a bunch of skill points. At least five, and probably ten or more.

We can squeeze that into a level zero child-character, although they won’t be capable of much of anything else. Scraping up the skill points will, however, require a high intelligence and most of the character’s remaining points; other abilities will simply have to wait for higher levels.

On the upside, at high levels, this version of the character will be capable of massively powerful necromantic effects. Still, that doesn’t really fit in with the requested theme – which is why Witchcraft was selected to begin with.

Eclipse and Eclipse II are available in a number of ways:

There’s the Freeware Edition at RPGnow or Box.Net. It’s complete, but – if you like it – it would be nice if you helped support the system by spending ten dollars to pick up the full package, which includes Eclipse, Eclipse II, the Web Expansion, and will be updated with Eclipse III when I get time to finish that up (a notification to download the package again will be sent out). There’s a review up which also briefly covers Eclipse II Here.

In print-on-demand we have the Softcover (30$), the Hardcover (35$), and the “Direct” softcover edition (24$) which uses a cheaper set of printing options to lower the price. Unfortunately, the cheap options are only available for printing in North America – so for anywhere else, the original versions are probably cheaper anyway.

Eclipse II normally comes with the Eclipse download package – but you can download the PDF on it’s own for five dollars here or buy it in Hardcover (32$) or – once again – in that cheaper North America only Softcover Edition.

By request there’s also the Combined Edition – Eclipse I and II – making sure that you have the complete system, and plenty of examples, in one volume. It’s available in Softcover (36$) and Hardcover (45$). Those are expensive but are, of course, notably cheaper than buying the books independently. Of course, only one person can use it at a time instead of two.

Residents of the Ars Goetia

Illustration from The Goetia: The Lesser Key o...

It's best to double-check that before starting!

When it comes to source material, it’s hard to get much more authentic than going medieval – and the list of “demons” in the Ars Goetia offers quite a lot of inspiration.

Of course, when you read that list you don’t find a lot of game-style “demons”. You don’t find much in the way of berserk killing machines, of evil for the sake of evil, or of random torment. You find pursuers of thieves, teachers, healers, seers, war-leaders – and even war-steeds.  A list of entities who… wound up on the wrong side of heaven for one reason or another – apparently rarely for direct rebellion – and who were cast out.

There are a lot of reasons why someone can wind up on the wrong side of a war and still be a decent enough person. Traditionally, quite a few of these entities were serving their summoners in pursuit of their own redemption – even if they’re not very good at it and have massive blind spots.

For game purposes, most of these entities can be treated as Conceptual Spirits – entities that embody immortal ideas, and so can be in many places at the same time. The summoning rituals open the way for them to manifest – and the more powerful the summoner, the more powerful the manifestation.

They’re relatively easy to summon – at least as far as games in settings where magic works are concerned – but there is always a price…

ANDROMALIUS (An’Dro-Mali~Us) “The Earl Of Justice”

  • Favored Form : A stern and fearsome man attired in the clothing of a judge. He occasionally appears with, or sends in his place, one or more terrible black hounds – in reality merely embodied fractions of his own energy and immaterial essence. He has been known to leave one of these “creatures” with a summoner.
  • Major Powers : Grandmaster Psionic (Psychic Senses and Heightened Talents), Powershaping (Nymic Magic and Transformations – only when embodied), Spell Imbuement (Only in living creatures, maximum of seven). He will often bestow a set of carefully-tailored spells to allow a summoner to enact judgement on the guilty.
  • Sacrifices : None required when the summoner is acting in pursuit of justice, otherwise he may require some quest – always in pursuit of justice – in return for his aid. He will also always tell the summoner something about himself or something he’s done that he would really rather not know – most often revealing the undesirable or unjust results of the summoners own past actions.
  • Ritual : Circle, scribed with an oaken rod.
  • Basic Nature : Vengeful and merciless. Andromalius tends to use his “summoners” as agents in carrying out his eye-for-an-eye judgements. It is probably this lack of mercy that put him on the wrong side of the greater celestial powers.
  • Combat Skill : Master of the “Soft” martial arts.

BELETH (Bel-eth) “The Mad King”

  • Favored Form : A handsome and powerfully built man riding a mighty war-stallion, usually accompanied by martial music. He occasionally simply sends the horse-fraction of his energies, in which case things can get “uncomfortable” for the offering (see below) – unless the “summoner” has a mare – and some splendid tack – ready (which is very, VERY, wise). The horse can be ridden, and is a useful and obedient mount – at least as long as you do a lot of fighting.
  • Major Powers : Master Psionic (Telepathic Powers), Powershaping (Winter and Summer magics), Hypercharisma and Hypermasculinity.
  • Sacrifices : Beleth requires the, er, attentions and companionship of a pretty girl while he’s present. He will leave her psychically bound to the summoner as a personal slave when he leaves (this can actually be very very useful if he arrives in horse-form and is offered a mare). If such an “offering” is not forthcoming, he can occasionally be placated by a supply of expensive weapons, armor, and masculine accouterments.
  • Ritual : Beleth can be summoned through the use of an enruned ring – and an invocation – but it is a very good idea to have inscribed either a protective circle or a containment circle first.
  • Basic Nature : Lustful, hot-tempered – and far too easily enraged. Beleth often arrives in a fury, and can be extremely dangerous if defied. He’s more than a little nuts. Unfortunately for him, he sees nothing wrong in his behavior; is not a mighty warrior entitled to such small indulgences?
  • Combat Skill : Beleth is competent with virtually any weapon but primarily relies on sheer strength and his immense personal vitality. The horse is a powerful steed, although it does have a pesky tendency to teleport right into the middle of combat.

BIFRONS (Bi-Frons) “The Earl Of The Dead”

  • Favored Form : Either an insubstantial minotaur with eyes full of stars or a slim, naked, boy. He is very hard for most people to see at all either way.
  • Major Powers : Navigator, Caravan Master, and Inter-dimensional Traveler, Powershaper (Necromancy and Mindsending), and Cultural Adaption. Bifrons is a wanderer of the empyrean plane, and is capable of taking people on a guided tour through almost any afterlife.
  • Sacrifices : If not placed with the gift of some means of transport (Horse, boat, car, plane, whatever) Bifrons has an annoying tendency to drop off those who travel with him in an inconvenient location. Summoners who simply want him to use his necromantic or tutoring talents on their behalf may either undertake a “brief” empyrean combat/quest or placate him with simple cash – although, unless things have changed recently, Bifrons does not take paper money, credit cards, checks, or letters of credit. He insists on gold and silver coins.
  • Ritual : The summoning circle must be drawn in the earth, either outside or in some public place – such as an inn. The summons also requires mold from a graveyard, and all negotiations must be completed within seven minutes – or Bifrons will travel elsewhere.
  • Basic Nature : Irritating. Bifrons is a know-it- all, and delights in telling endless stories about his travels elsewhere – and how they were so much more interesting and dramatic then whatever is going on at the moment in his summoner’s life.

Exalted Chronicles – Hearthstones and Motives

Peanut butter blossoms closeup.

You're telling me we could have ended the Primordial War with cookies?!?!?

Radiant Heart Ruby (Fire or Adenic Hearthstone *****): Glowing with the cheerful radiance of an ember in the heart of the flames, a Radiant Heart Ruby sheds a warm and comforting glow, bringing heartening memories to mind to fortify the bearer with the strength of his convictions. If touched by a creature of death, the stones glow will dim for a brief instant – and then shine forth redoubled, causing that creature to recall the joys of life.

  • The bearer gains +2 to his or her effective willpower and may roll to recover willpower once per day, as if just awakening – provided that most of his or her Intimacies are positive.
  • The bearer may treat (Conviction) Positive Intimacies as Motivations, changing each morning.
  • Creatures of Death may find touching the stone renewing and rewarding, as it or it may remind them of things they wish to forget, depending on how they react to having long-forgotten positive intimacies from life dredged up and brought into vibrant focus again.

Since the questions come up, here’s a list of Charles’s Intimacies. They haven’t changed much – in fact, at all – since he started off, mostly because they’re so broad that there isn’t any need for him to change any of them.

Charles’s Intimacies: Life (promote), Liberty (respect*), Happiness (spread), Creation’ (protect), Manses/Geomancy (promote), Thaumaturgy/Sorcery (promote), Fix Things (drive), Science and Artifice (make useful things and see them used), People (like and help), Cute Fuzzy Things (care for^ and promote and pet), Peanut Butter (need), Friends/Relatives (like and help), and Death (dislike).

Charles also generally respects nature, and natural science, but that’s more of a philosophical point and respect for Gaia, whom he likes (of course, he tends to like EVERYONE).

’Not that he has anything against the Wyld, but infinite chaos doesn’t NEED protecting. Nothing finite could either harm it or protect it anyway.

*Charles respect for liberty is rather libertarian. Liberty doesn’t mean anything without the right to make bad choices, to suffer consequences, and even to give it up. He tends to promote liberty on a broad scale; he doesn’t run about letting people out of jail or rescuing murders from the local forces of justice.

^Sadly, Charles found out early on that trying to save all the young rabbits, no matter how cute and desperate to live they were, just starved the equally-desperate and cute young foxes AND led to the rabbits eating all the food the other animals needed. Predation… happens.

Not that he hasn’t tried to moderate that in Aden, by making sure that most creatures don’t need much food and by making sure that their populations don’t grow very quickly. Sadly, the occasional culling and bit of predation is still necessary; even his magical control is less than perfect.

Charles usually opts to treat Promoting Life, Promoting Manses and Geomancy, Liking and Helping People, Fixing Things, and Protecting Creation as additional motivations. This usually gives him quite enough to do…

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice LXIII – Traps and Recklessness

Kuan-Shan-Lanscape-View

Aden, the west view

Charles sighed and headed back to Yu-Shan… For every step forward, a half a step back! Now he had a bunch of child-“pets” to do something with in all his free time… Many of them had been on the streets, desperately ill, or running away from horrible situations, which pretty much let out the “blur a few days worth of memories and send them home” approach.

He couldn’t let them leak the secrets of the Raksha either! Their refuges were limited enough without attracting masons, terrestrials, and other enemies! Heck, these days even normal humans could be quite a problem for them. Humans had a LOT of iron these days, and some fairly nasty weapons.

The Raksha couldn’t even retreat really; Raksha gatemasters were rare. If they weren’t, most of them would probably would have departed the refuges for the Wyld or the borders by now.

That wasn’t quite true actually… The wyld pockets did have one thing going for them; near-absolute security. If you only preyed on stray humans and kids purchased from people who pick up runaways and such, no one would ever bother you. No unshaped, no primordials wandering in, cranky lunars almost unheard of… having to put up with a few restrictions was a small price for safety.

Besides… the Terrestrials liked keeping magic quiet. A few kids reporting encounters with the fey would probably mysteriously “overdose themselves” or something. It wouldn’t be at all fair to set them up for that.

Well… He could check on what kinds of policies were in place already. The trouble was, most of the strong opinions so far – from Righteous Hala, Mr Montague, and the Cartiers) were pretty much all “We can’t stand Fey! Smite Them!”. The Lunars weren’t too keen on the fey as a whole – and the ones in the Fellowship of Moonsilver and Jade had passed it on to their terrestrial allies (including Nadine). As for Mr. Montague… well, he had grudges to say the least. He could use a more objective view than that! And some advice on what to do with mortals who were demonstrably unable to take care of themselves and who had nowhere to go…

There did seem to be some policies in place. The Forbidding Manse of Ivy was a bit more dispassionate about the fey than the Cerulean Lute of Harmony. Saturn’s Mercy Hospital had some information and policies dating back to the Reshaping – not every mortal who fled with the Sidereals had made it in unscathed. Outside of Yu Shan, independent Terrestrials and Aspected often had their own quiet dealings with Raksha – and Gramps had likely dealt with the issue as well. In 20,000 years he’d probably dealt with pretty much EVERYTHING.

Right! He’d pop around and take a look at their policies! That would only take a few minutes. While he had plenty of more important things to worry about than a few pets – it wasn’t like it would matter in the slightest if they stayed pets for a century or two – he could spare them a few minutes…

The Bureau of Destiny had a public information statement on what to do with children, the elderly, and other infirm individuals rescued from the fey with nowhere to go.

  • If they had no damage to their Virtues or Willpower, calm them and rationalize it as a hallucination if they are ordinary mortals.
  • If they come from families involved in the occult, most of them have means of tracking their relatives down. Afterwards, take them to a safe zone, which could be a mortal hospital.
  • If they have been nibbled on to the extent of trait loss, secure them and let Yu Shan know. A crew from Saturn’s Mercy would be down shortly to take them up, and would make sure that they did not reveal Yu Shan’s existence. If they then wanted to stay in Yu Shan, they’d need Sidereal or divine sponsorship.
  • If access to Yu Shan or a safe zone was not available, such as in some areas of the borderlands, ward them against the Wyld as best you could and try to get them out yourself.
  • Saturn’s Mercy had contact numbers and explanations of what to expect – mostly panic to varying degrees.

Hrm… Charles suspected that “a patron in Yu-Shan” often meant “owner” as far as mortals were concerned, but it was something. At least gods didn’t USUALLY munch on their mortal servants… The Forbidding Manse, the Cerulean Lute, and Saturn’s Mercy all concurred.

Gramps sent him a note, along with some exotic but healthy nuts from some distant planet. It outlined the common methods fey used to lure children in and control them. Mostly it was tapping into whatever dreams they held about what they wanted to be, and using those to subtly keep them in a freehold. He suggested slowly guiding them back into reality before taking them to a safe zone. Otherwise, they might attempt to go back!

He also noted that Raksha sometimes traded children to other Raksha, the better to appeal to them. If a little boy wanted to be a movie action hero, it was better to stick him with the Xia than with the Ornamentals. He recommended putting up VERY good anti-wyld wards on the kids -and on Charles himself. He also wanted to know why Charles needed to know… Was something wrong at Hoenheim?

Charles suspected that – considering the powers of mutation and transformation the fey had – most of them got their dreams; they just got will-drained along with them. The fey did give you what you wanted – but the price was high.

His Raksha contacts agreed there! Children had delicious dreams, but they could be so stubborn if not drained of some of their Willpower.

Still, in practical terms… It was easy enough to see that most victims were simply ignored. Actually rescuing them didn’t accomplish much, they weren’t too useful, and they were a security risk. It was one of those things that most people agreed SHOULD be done, but which almost nobody actually did because there was nothing in it for the people who actually did the work. Thus… “You really should help them, but if it’s too much of a pain, or will give away too much, or you can’t conveniently do it, or they’re really happy with it… well, any you pull out will just be replaced by new victims soon anyway”. The usual public idealism and private pragmatism. Just like most of the OTHER functions of the Bureau of Destiny.

Oh geez! He had to look for Terapishim too!

So… Where was Terapishm?

He was indeed either shielded from, or beyond, the usual thaumaturgical means of detection, and Terrestrial Circle magic was not working. Charles tried asking the Celestial Lions (who said they’d get back to him) – and then jumped to using Celestial-level effects.

That led to a massive clash of energies. Fortunately, whoever was opposing him had power – but either lacked skill in using it or wasn’t really trying… Charles punched through easily.

Terapishim was in an unfinished room about five hundred feet beneath the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate’s streets; the ward seemed to be set up in the immediate area surrounding it. Its main function was to prevent divine Essence from leaving, or being used within, its borders. It also had an alarm setup in case any Essence-wielding being tried to enter or penetrate it. That was currently chiming softly… He was quite well set-up in there, but he was bored and complaining about the poor quality of the beer and about those damned noisy chimes!

Well, neither he nor his artifacts used divine essence! Charles will let his Guardians know where he was going though, popped on down there – mere instants ahead of all the responses of “what makes you think this isn’t a trap!” and variants thereof.

Well… it might be the same people who’d snatched the Nocturnal Lady they could be waiting just for him – or for the moonsilver death machine disguise he wore that time.

Well, there was only one way to find out… He was already activating the Amulet of Celestial Wings as his aides started shouting at him mentally not to do anything reckless!

Terapishim looked quite surprised as Charles appeared in the room…

(Charles) “Hello!”

Charles was intending to pull the same quick snatch – pop in, make contact, pop out – that he’d used for his last rescue.

The player was pretty sure that this was not going to work – but Charles was young, and far, FAR, too impulsive for his own good.

“Terapishim” waved a hand, and the ward dropped.

Hm! Maybe it wasn’t really him!

(“Terapishim”) “Wow… I didn’t think it would be this easy.” (He motioned toward the door to the room, which completely retracted into the wall. Charles could feel the Essence in the room subtly changing – and was cautious enough to try to depart again.

Even he wasn’t totally surprised when that failed to work. Something was blocking his amulet – and it looked like it would take a Solar-tier effect to break through it. He could come up with a number of different things of course – but finding out why was also important!

Meanwhile, his various allies/subordinates were swearing and starting various operations and notifications…

(Charles, as curiosity won out for the moment) “So what do you want?”

Whoever it was who’d been impersonating Terapishim was now dropping the disguise… He, she, or it appeared to be a lesser deiphage in squid form… but the robes were far too nice, and the posture was too good, for it to be a run-of-the-mill deiphage. Instead of being blank, its eyes glowed darkly.

The elder deiphage perhaps? Well, probably not… Still, Charles put up a celestial-level version of the deiphagy-creating-effect-warding around the area (if only because that was about where Adenic thaumaturgy operated anyway) – quite forgetting to put up something around himself.

(Deiphage) “You’re SERIOUS about this. Okay, you just shot yourself in the foot there. I wanted a quiet shift and maybe some hunting afterwards. What I got was a little kid who somehow has access to Sapphire sorcery.”

(Charles) “Oh, I tinkered with it! So why did you want me to visit?”

(Deiphage, crossing some tentacles) “Funny way of putting it, kid.” (The deiphage twitched uncomfortably) “What business do you have with unemployed gods anyway?”

(Charles) “Employment assistance in this case! And I like the beard! It’s a very good one!”

(Deiphage) “I’ll give you that one. Anyway… we found him locked up by some other unemployed gods. We took care of them and took him into our custody. You look pretty smart, so I think you can guess what I was doing here.”

(Charles) “Waiting in case someone was looking?”

(Deiphage) “Good guess! I would have given you three.” (It extended a tentacle over to Charles and tried to place it on his shoulder. Tentacles should not stretch that far…

Fortunately, several of Charles’s guardians had hurriedly placed protective wards on him through their hearthstones… The foolish child seemed to have no sense at all sometimes! Of course, what the Deiphage had seen was that the boy was… erecting a wardspell, just as a ward had gone up around him. That was a pretty easy deduction, even if it was entirely wrong!

(Deiphage) “Ow…” (as the tentacle was repulsed) “And you looked tasty, too! Anyway… I’ve got to go. I will say my boss has plans for your friend – Terapishim, was it?”

(Charles, curiously) “Who’s your boss?”

The tentacles suddenly started flapping around, as if the deiphage had lost control… It forced them into submission after a minute or so – but while it was distracted, Charles launched a probe into it – backing it with rather a lot of power.

Hm… Whoever he was talking to, this was not their actual body. He was getting an Essence reading of 3 for the body – but the possessor’s actual body was someplace outside of Fate, and getting a reading on its Essence was difficult. Still… it looked like 5-7. Unfortunately, whatever was on the other side of the link he was reaching along shielded it’s mind with another bothersome perfect effect.

(Deiphage) “Sorry, that’s classified. And whatever you did is sucking me dry! DON’T DO THAT AGAIN!”

It went limp for a moment – and then opened it’s eyes, appearing to be a normal god.

(Charles) “Botheration!”

(Squid God) “Where am I? What is a MORTAL doing here?”

(Charles, somewhat absently) “Oh, you were being possessed by a greater deiphage! Or by whatever is behind them… Definitely a problem! Still, at least now I know that whatever-it-is is active, sapient, and essence-weilder, capable of trickery and coherent communications, is fairly knowledgable, and exists outside of fate! That limits the possibilities a great deal!”

(Squid God, looking around) “Well, we should concentrate on our current problems for now! This room has no exit, and I do believe (sensing) an anti-teleportation effect is active.”

(Charles) “And we’re about five hundred feet beneath the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate!”

(Squid God) “Bothersome!”

Charles started analyzing the wards… It looked like the walls were warded against Divine Essence, Solar Essence, Lunar Essence, Sidereal Essence, Nocturnal Essence, Terrestrial Essence, all forms of elemental energy, being pierced, and being crushed, along with teleportation. It was a Solar-tier effect too! That limited who could have set it up even more!

It didn’t cover Thaumaturgy though… Of course, it was actually hard to block thaumaturgy without disenchanting the area… In any case, while it was difficult to work with the enchanted base materials of Yu-Shan, it wasn’t impossible to use alchemy to transmute out a passage and stairs…

He used willpower to fuel it instead of Essence.

It took some time, but by coaxing the Essence flows the Primordials had integrated into Yu Shan, Charles eventually managed to shape a portion of the wall into a passage and stairs… It wasn’t going to last too long – Yu-Shan kept wanting to revert to it’s original form and he had to concentrate to keep it from doing so – but it would last for long enough to leave. All they needed to do was to get beyond the warding zone and it should be a lot easier.

Eventually they emerged in a damp and darkened tunnel – and Charles made some light… It appeared to be a maintenance tunnel. Most of Yu Shan was gold, silver, and the colors of other precious materials, but the tunnel’s walls were plain adamant. They were dull from long-term dust accumulation. Every ten feet, there were notches in the walls, just big enough for a torch or flashlight.

(Charles) “Well now! This looks more promising than a blank room! I wonder how long it’s been since people were down here? Oh, sorry, we haven’t been introduced! I’m Charles Dexter Ward!”

(Squid God) “Ah, a Western human. I’m Ixcatli, god of the Nezhutl salt water squid. At least I was…”

Hm! That world was a part of Tarvial. Did he mean that he WAS the god of that area before the reshaping, or did he hold an extraterrestrial domain? That was very rare – and evidently didn’t really act like a domain in the absence of a gate.

He asked! The lunars had arranged a few after all!

(Squid God) “Ah, you seem surprised that I know the proper context for “Western!” Some friends of mine bought me here about… oh, it wasn’t too long ago. Does “Austria-Hungary” mean anything to you?”

(Charles) “Uhm…. History class! I was just wondering if you were linked to where those squids are currently located!”

(Ixcatli) “Oh! I’m not sure… when they bought me up here, my link was severed for some reason. They were discussing it with the authorities while I waited in a safehouse.”

(Charles) “Who brought you here?”

(Ixcatli) “I’m not sure if you would know. You appear to be less mortal than I thought, but you’re unlikely to have met people of that power. And I wasn’t supposed to tell…”

(Charles) “Uhm… You were being possessed by a deiphage, and possibly for many years! From a supposed safehouse! I think “not supposed to” has gone out the window long ago.”

(Ixcatli) “Sigh… I suppose so. I never should have sneaked out for that walk, and it was so hard distracting the guards too! Anyhow… I believe it was a Sugar on the Trunk. Sugar or Trunk for short. He was the one in charge, with Silken Silence accompanying him – but gender is so subjective with Lunars… And form… it’s so confusing.” (He shrugged his tentacles.)

Well, it was time to ask Hala again! She might know those!

(Hala, after ensuring that the privacy wards were up) “Ugh… I remember that incident. Trunk left that god in Silence’s care while he dealt with a fey invasion, thinking she would be responsible with him.”

(Charles) “How long ago was that?”

(Hala) “Around the beginning of Earth’s First World War. You might want to let Trunk know you found him; we took him and Silence off Heaven duty after that one. Where’d you find him, anyway?”

(Charles) “Oh, he was being possessed by some power outside of fate that’s involved with deiphagy! But working through the ward I put up drained it so much it had to let go…”

(Hala) “That explains that, then. No wonder my Sidereal friends had such a hard time divining for him. You didn’t find him by doing something… reckless, did you?”

(Charles) “Oh, I was looking for Terapishim, but all I found was a warded area with a greater deiphage creature impersonating him… It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It was cranky though!”

(Hala) “What in the hell would deiphages want with unemployed gods who aren’t deiphages?”

(Charles) “Recruiting? Or lunch? I’d bet on recruiting though… If the deiphages in Yu-Shan can be possessed and manipulated that way, someone has been building up an army here for quite some time! And someone put Deva Cutter – and possibly other, similar, weapons – into circulation. At the moment, the damaged areas of Yu-Shan may be larger than the intact ones. An army reaching a critical stage perhaps?”

(Hala) “I’ll have to watch those areas more, then. I’m pretty sure you DID do something reckless to get Ixcatli back, but thanks anyway. And be more careful!”

(Charles, doubtfully) “I’ll try!”

(Hala, also doubtfully) “Okay…”

(Charles) “And time to look for a way up I think!”

That wasn’t actually that hard to find.

It wasn’t until considerably later that Charles recalled that – after getting outside the Ward – he could have just teleported again!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice LXII – Moving In Faerie Circles

18th century Netsuke mask of Hannya

Masque of the Raksha

Charles sighed… there was one REALLY obvious source for information on visiting the Wyld… He could go and talk to the Raksha around Hoenheim directly… It was such a pain to get actual information out of them though! They were fun (and impressive and weird and always full of unexpected twists) – but they tried to fit everything into their favored narratives, and regarded a good story structure as being far more true than anything so pedestrian as “facts”.

Oh well! If that was what let them exist in the Wyld, perhaps he really ought to listen! He headed for Hoenheim, the Wyld Pocket – and the Goblin Market. There were usually plenty of Raksha there!

He hadn’t been down there in quite awhile actually – especially not now that he had the Mardi Gras manse. Still, he hadn’t seen any of his friends down there for quite some time…

Kaernock has been wondering where he’d been!

(Charles) “Oh… Kind of frantically busy in Yu-Shan! Lots of things to fix there!… How have things been doing around here?”

(Kaernock) “All has been well in the wilds… there have been a few powerful individuals about, but none disturbed the trees or other plants!”

(Charles) “Always good! None of them poking into your business I hope!”

(Kaernock) “No one dares poke into my business – to do such would be folly! There were also some less powerful beings wandering through-even a… (disgusted) woodcutter!”

(Charles) “Whaaa?!? How’d they find the route into the pocket? Or are there more?”

(Kaernock) “Nonsense! There is only one route into this place; rest assured I have made sure of that! But this fellow must have had friends-he had a talisman on him!”

(Charles) “That’s WEIRD! The entryway is in a little park in the middle of Atlanta!”

Wait… didn’t Kaernock know about that one? Besides… it would be pretty strange if there was only one entryway! He would have bet on a dozen backdoors to retreat through!

Oh, wait. The Raksha were creatures of deception. who knew what backdoors Kaernock and the rest of the local fey were hiding?

(Charles) “Well, if you need some more wards or something I can put some up! Or get you some more guards!”

(Kaernock) “A display of power was enough to make him retreat… but these “wards” would be appreciated!”

(Charles) “No problem there! The portals right over here… Do you want a passcode, keyed to particular people, or tuned to a gatekeeper or set thereof?”

(Kaernock) “I believe I have a suitable servant for this… you there, boy!” (A commoner warrior approached) “Allow this young man to attune you to the portal.”

(Commoner) “Yes sir!”

Charles threw up a couple of Adenic wards… they had a better chance of standing up to most dispelling anyway – and gave them a few centuries duration.

Kaernock watched with outward stolidity, but as an fair master of the Occult himself, he could tell that those were some exceptionally powerful wards – and he was rather shocked by how much Charles’s skills had developed.

Or, perhaps, by how much more he was now willing to reveal.

(Kaernock) “Well now! THAT should keep those damned woodcutters out!”

(Charles) “I hope so!”

(Kaernock) “And now, we can patrol the regions around the goblin market! Trade has been strong there lately, and we must ensure that the caravans reach it unraided!”

Hm! Caravans said more ways in and out… unless they had a gatemaster. It WAS a very old and well-established pocket after all! He hadn’t met a gatemaster yet, but that would be one Raksha who’d be protected and hidden as best as possible!

(Charles, as they were calmly strolling towards the market) “Oh, I wanted to ask… I have to run an errand out towards the True Wyld, and I was wondering if there was anything in particular I should really watch out for or take along?”

(Kaernock mulled the matter over.) “I have not wandered that far in a long time. Nevertheless, I would suggest watching for Hannya and unshaped! I understand they are much rarer these days, but they can still bind those weaker than them to their whims. I would also recommend some form of conveyance, such as a fine steed, or perhaps a flying boat. You might need them to escape pursuers.”

(Charles) “Hm… Well, I think I can come up with something like that!”

(Kaernock) “Also, a chancel if you have one. Certainly, you can set up camp at a waypoint, but a chancel is far safer!”

(Charles) “I think that’s covered!”

(Kaernock) “Wonderful! And companionship is never poor outside of shaped reality, either. You always need someone to watch your back.”

(Charles) “Hm! I may be fairly well prepared then! I definitely need to add a vehicle though!”

The trip to the market didn’t take long at all… Evidently Kaernock had some subordinate with a way grace in his group to shorten travel times for him. Business was indeed brisk, with various merchants yelling over each other to sell their goods, wandering vendors holding up food of uncertain origin, and browsers gawking.

The fey market was always interesting! The last time he’d been through was… at least a year ago! When they were selling very silly pixie-things!

And… they still were – although they weren’t nearly as popular these days. The silly things got caught AGAIN? No… at least it looked like a different batch this time.

Charles sighed and – once more – made an offer, even if it WOULD show him to be an easy mark.

After some haggling, which did get intense, he was able to purchase the lot.

(Charles) “Right then! How did you bunch get caught?”

(Pixie) “This man made of steel caught us in a net-ward! We tried to fly out before it closed, but his dragonfly friend was too fast for us…”

(Charles) “Hrm… Well, do you think that – if I let you go somewhere private – you can avoid getting caught again?”

(Pixie) “Yes, we’ll try”

(Charles) “OK then!”

He designated an Inukami to take them somewhere suitable – and they wound up getting relocated to a Wyld zone on a South Pacific island. In the meantime, a group of merchants was setting up a massive stall in a prime area.

Charles wandered over and see what they were selling!

Murmuring sounds came from the wagon, which was drawn by what must have been one of the last tyrant lizards on Earth. It had been mutated to have feathers and wings. Of course, the commoner attendants were doing much of the labor while the actual merchants sat on benches and lunched on gossamer delicacies.

Charles wasn’t worried about fey food, and the refreshments came with the sale and show (the merchants seemed to be anticipating plenty of profit on this trip), so he nibbled a bit… Unsurprisingly, it took some pretty careful picking amongst the “goodies” to find something palatable. Most of the combinations were just plain WEIRD (for one, mango and salmon just did not go together well). Still, there were always a few good ones mixed in amongst the ones that were downright awful.

One of the commoner attendants – presuming that the apparently-mortal boy was a moocher rather than a potential customer – tried to shoo him away, and he did keep getting funny looks from all the out-of-the-area merchants who were wondering where his leash was… The child wasn’t even mutated to keep him from running off!

One imperious look from Kaernock, though, and most assumed that he was just a VERY trusted pet. One of the merchants will actually approached Kaernock…

(Merchant) “Ah, he is very well-broken in, to be wandering around like that.”

(Kaernock, grimly) “That boy is no pet.”

Charles cheerfully stuck out his tongue at the fellow…

(Merchant) “My mistake. I meant no offense, my lord. However, if you are interested in new servants, I have acquired some promising specimens!”

(Kaernock) “Acquired fairly, I hope . . .”

(Merchant) “Oh, certainly, all treaties followed. We retrieved them from a… I believe it was called a ‘church youth group.'”

Oh dear! Was that one of those “child reprogramming” things that most kids were so desperate to escape from?

(Merchant) “The adults who managed to elude us did say something about ‘troubled teens.’ I have no idea what that means. Were they diseased? Well, Anarick is taking care of that if they are!”

Charles slipped a very well disguised probe though – mostly out of impatience – and took a quick peek… It looked like a bunch of unawakened human early teenagers. Some had intricately-patterned red-brown fur and jaunty squirrel-like tails. A particularly handsome merchant was examining one of the… unchanged girls.

(Merchant) “Hmm. Dye, is it? I think I’ll incorporate it into your fur!”

(Girl) “But I don’t want fur!”

(Merchant) “Oh, hush, dear! It will look splendid!”

Fey Essence will began to whirl around them as the merchant activated his mutation charm. The other kids just looked on in unbelieving shock – at least the ones who weren’t currently diverted by their own new fur and tails – but it wasn’t like there was anything they could do. They were well-coffled and secured in their cages.

Well, “where they’re from” would doubtless be a part of the intro speech – and he was a guest, and was at peace with the local fey, and they had lived here far longer than he had – still, the girl was , resisting…

He tried to quietly pick up a few “how we got into this mess” thoughts… Had they been running away into the wilderness or something? Most of those insane religious camps had multiple wire fences. That was a lot of iron to get past! And most wyld pockets were pretty well isolated these days… It usually took some strong magic or some pretty determined work to get into one!

Or… a tremendous desire to escape and find a refuge. “Vanished into the hills to live with the Wyld Things” was a very, VERY, old idea.

Given Charles’s power level it was easy enough. It seemed like an… “Outward Bound”-style operation, albeit a much stricter one. This group of kids had fled one night. One of them was clever enough to hide some wire cutters, another convinced bunkmates to create several distractions, and yet another mapped things out. Unfortunately, they hadn’t even known that the fey really existed – much less that there was a Wyld pocket offering relatively easy access that close to the compound. So; eleven unwilling but captured while… well, it would be trespassing in a way. That had been stupid of course; everyone knew that the wilderness was even more dangerous than the streets – but they’d been REALLY desperate to escape to… anywhere their insane religious-fanatic parents and the camp “counselors” would not be able to reach them.

And the fey had granted that wish – just not in a way that they’d ever dreamed of.

Scanning around… there were nearly a hundred more kids in the caravan, most of them being readied for sale – but they’d mostly been – in accordance with the current treaties and agreements – either born into the service of the fey or variously enticed into the bargain. They’d fled abusive guardians, been gathered from prostitution or begging on the streets, been dying in hospital wards, been desperately scrabbling in the ruins at the edges of war zones, or hunting for food in famine-stricken areas, or been considered mad, or had uncontrolled psychic talents, or had simply dreamed wyld dreams – probably because they had a touch of fey blood – and been drawn to the wyld zones where they felt at home. They had been offered… health, and longevity, and regular food, and reasonable comfort, and all the wonders of dream, and the curious pain/ecstasy of occasionally being temporarily drained, and the possibility of – eventually – perhaps even earning the right to have graces forged for themselves, and to gain the power to shape their own dreams into being, all in exchange for a term of service.

That wasn’t a bargain that he approved of, or would have recommended – but he hadn’t been there to save them or offer them another choice. HE had been born to wealth and power – and had been granted far greater power – so who was he to deny them their right to choose? He had never been so desperate…

Still, they were young enough to deserve additional chances to choose later on. He’d have to find a way to provide some in general – at least after buying up a fair chunk of this batch!

Overall… there were nineteen who’d been captured while “trespassing” and who wanted to resist or escape. A solid majority of the cargo were… quite happy with their present situation. A few were hoping for better bargains, or regretting what they’d agreed to now that it had turned out to be entirely real, or were at least a bit scared… In total, nearly forty of the hundred-and-twenty odd – mostly the captured ones and a few of the ones with stronger wills – were either wanting to resist or at least having some second thoughts.

Oh dear. Several (apparently on consignment) knew that they were coming home to their magical fathers, to join his household – even if they WOULD have to work their way up from being a servant.

When Charles realized that he’d gotten diverted, he turned his attention back to the captured runaways – where there were still a couple of them left that weren’t furred and tailed (and regenerative and otherwise enhanced). They were trying to back away from Anarick there… but it was hard to do that in a gossamer cage while wearing gossamer manacles.

(Anarick) “Come now! I thought you teenagers wanted to look like each other…”

(Boy) “Help! Someone, anybody! I don’t want to be a squirrel!”

The way Charles had things set up, it would have been really HARD to avoid answering that call… Oh well! He set a quick ward on the kid, and on his still-dodging friend – warding off mutation, but otherwise harmless – and with it’s origins throughly masked.

(Anarick) “Huh? What is this? It… tastes like thaumaturgy. Bothersome!”

Kaernock had raised an eyebrow and was giving Charles the eye… Even with his patronage, impulsively interfering like that could get Charles into a duel to serious embarrassment! After all, the merchants were also treaty-guests. Hopefully the boy realized what he was getting into! Still, he had proven well-able to resist the occasional shaping-snipe that was a routine part of living in a Wyld Pocket in the past and his Thaumaturgy was VERY good – and insanely fast… How did the kid do that anyway?

Charles was considering… He had plenty of gossamer – which was always the dominant form of currency with the Raksha – and plenty of the flint arrowheads dipped in fey-touched honey that were used as a local coinage in the Atlanta pocket…

Anarick came out of the wagon, looking annoyed.

(Anarick) “Nandkith! There is a thaumaturge playing tricks on us here! He stopped me from preparing the servants for market!”

(Charles quietly wove a small sending) “I prefer a few to bid on the way they are! Blank slates are just as interesting!”

That changed his tune!

(Anarick) “I apologize… I meant that there was a customer who wanted some… unpolished specimens.”

Charles hadn’t known that Kaernock’s eyebrows could arch that high! Still, Kaernock wasn’t intervening yet in any case… By fey standards of “pranks”, a bit of thaumaturgy on a minor piece of property was pretty trivial.

Nandkith was already launching a performance-based cup-shaping attack, attempting to embarrass Charles into leaving the market.

Kaernock allowed it; Charles HAD interfered with their setup after all – and simply attempting to run him off was a reasonably measured response… Besides, he had never seen just how Charles protected himself against such things up close enough to see what happened. Who knew? He might even have found a way to shape back!

Nandkith’s shaping… shattered against the borders of Charles’s essence-aura like spun glass hurled against an iron wall. That was an Adamant Defense! What the Creation-born often called “Perfect!” And yet… the boy had barely seemed to take notice of the attack, and certainly hadn’t DONE anything! A PASSIVE Adamant Defense? It was… like one of the ancient barrier manses! Like Hoenheim! Or the River of All Sorrows of Legend! Had the boy somehow tied himself to a power like THAT?

Then the boy pulled a wand out of Elsewhere, gestured sweepingly, and launched his own set of staff-shaping entanglements – reshaping his and Nandkith’s personal narratives as a tale of the caravan visiting HIM, acknowledging his mighty magical power, presenting the two youngsters who didn’t want to be shaped to him as a gift – and of Nandkith being given a present in return – wealth equivalent to being paid a good price.

That was a bit basic of course – and obviously the work of a novice – but it did flow with the narrative of the caravan well enough, and it was… backed by utterly incredible occult skill, and hurled as a three-pronged attack without even bothering with a shaping weapon!

Nandkith shattered the first weaving with his own Adamant Defense – perhaps seeing nothing more than beginners luck – but was floored when the next two shapings hit, and blasted their way straight through his Courtier’s Caul and left him thoroughly ensnared…

(Nandkith) “Oh dear! You have me in a corner! Why don’t you take these two and I’ll take some of your collection of arrowheads or Gossamer?”

He’d take either! He didn’t need the boy to start in on additional shaping attacks! Now that he was ensnared, the child could make his life a misery! What in the infinite depths of Chaos was the boy? Human children were not even supposed to be ABLE to engage in shaping combat! Much less to possess power like THAT!

Charles was quite agreeable; that was all he’d been after anyway – although he did make sure that the price he paid was decent, but not excessive.

(Anarick) “Well, that nasty business done… how may I assist you, young sir?”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m just here to do some bidding!”

Who was this child? He seemed to be Kaernock’s… FRIEND!? Raksha of his stature were supposed to have superiors and inferiors, not friends! The head of his freehold must know about this! The boy could be a weapon! Or at least a considerable asset… How HAD the child erected such a powerful defense so casually anyway? Nandkith’s attack had simply been… ignored totally!

The sale went just fine, and Charles bought quite a few in addition to the first too – leaving various Raksha to wonder who was funding him as well as where he’d gotten all that power. He bought all of the resistors, and a fair chunk of the doubters – and quite few of the contented ones, just to talk to a bit and think about. It wasn’t like he didn’t have room for pets.

The runaways and resistors stayed quiet for the moment. Charles had sent them reassurance that this was a rescue of sorts – and at least he appeared human, as opposed to the Raksha around them. Quietly kneeling for a little while (even with an embarrassing absence of clothes and a dreamlike excess of fur and tails) was a small price to pay for getting the hell out of this insanity…

Even if it did remind the camp escapees of the demands of the various “ministers” there.

Kaernock gave them all a suspiciously standard-sounding speech about how they should not interfere with the wilds, and the punishments for doing so. He was still looking at Charles funny, but Charles was his friend… He did have to wonder what he wanted all these kids for… It could be just a whimsy given his apparent resources, but maybe the boy was just hitting that mortal “puberty” thing and wanted to experiment? From what he recalled about the generations of servant’s he’d owned he was about at that age… Not that it mattered in the slightest of course! His purchases WERE just properties, and now belonged to Charles to do as he liked with! He had more important things to worry about – like where the boy had gotten those Shaping Powers! Surely the boy hadn’t been deeper in the Wyld! It was fabulously far away and surely He would have heard!

Charles and the Merchants added up the total – and Charles offered to pay in Resplendent Butler’s Accouterments. That would at least help ensure that the merchant’s next cargo of slaves would do well!

The merchants examined the Accouterments and got rather excited…

(Anarick) “What craftsmanship! I MUST test these on the next shipment!”

(Charles) “There… Now then; I… can’t argue with the willing ones, but I’m perfectly willing to trade, and pay well, for the ones who AREN’T willing to be servants – although, not for ones collected in violation of the treaties!”

(Kaernock) “I will take any of those out of the holding and leave them outside its borders. They must find their own way from there… And I must say, that was an impressive feat of shaping back there! How did you acquire the Graces for that?”

(Charles) “Oh, I used a Hearthstone that allows them to be created easily!”

(Kaernock) “Really now! Even easier than our own Charms? I am shocked! Surely if you had wanted some, I would have provided some!”

The noble Raksha nearby nodded.

(Charles) “Oh, but then you have to build them up over time to make them really useful! This way they start that way…”

(Kaernock) “I would examine one of these Hearthstone Graces, and see for myself.”

Charles knew that THAT was safe enough! They were indestructible and the only way to claim one so that it couldn’t just be pulled back through elsewhere was to win in shaping combat… Ergo, he fished out the wand; Kaernock had just seen him using that one anyway!

Kaernock had a look – and was impressed; if the Hearthstone had indeed created a grace of that order without draining the user… That could be very useful indeed unless there was some other price involved! Besides… he could feel the occult power twining about the wand; either Charles was a far greater entity than he had expected – and no mere human thaumaturge! – or his staff grace was greatly enhanced in some fashion!

(Kaernock) “And no unshaped snared to improve this? No great quests?”

(Charles) “Nope!”

Kaernock handed the Staff grace back to Charles – it was HIS after all.

(Kaernock) “How often can this stone make a Grace?”

(Charles) “Well… It’s channeling the power of a peak-end manse; pretty much all you want.”

Wait. That meant that Charles could restore lost graces without personal cost and could turn normal humans and other creation-born into quasi-Raksha almost without limit – if he hadn’t started that process already! That could be a tremendously useful resource! Befriending the boy – even if he still didn’t quite know why he had – had been a tremendous stroke of luck!

Fortunately, the boy didn’t seem to need a lot of protection… He’d known about the Inukami and the Coatl – but his shaping defenses appeared to be at least as good. Hopefully he wouldn’t get any ideas – but they had sworn an oath!

Which was absolutely true – and it wasn’t like Charles would ever even consider breaking a promise…

Meanwhile, the resisting runaways were trailing along for lack of options – and the accepting ones were trotting along happily. Charles had had the Inukami hand out Resplendent Butler’s Accouterments – even the resistors had been happy to take them after they realized that they provided clothing – but it was rapidly becoming apparent that the runaways, as recent captures, were frightened, confused… and quite hungry. Their hosts had had VERY odd tastes in food.

Charles had the Inukami get them something human-style tasty. He rather thought that Kaernock would want to talk for a bit.

Kaernock did indeed want to talk… It was clear that Charles had become much more powerful since he had last seen him, and in unanticipated way. He wanted to know where that Manse was for one thing. While his knowledge of contemporary Creation wasn’t quite complete, he did know that hearthstones were linked to manses like pennants and cysts were to freeholds.

(Charles) “Uhm, well… (well, he WAS an old friend… he put up some VERY good privacy wards… All the Sidereals knew after all…) It’s through here!”

Charles opened the gate to Aden – which Kaernock, of course, recognized as some sort of freestanding Chancel gate.

(Kaernock) “Guard this location well, my men!”

And he and his two most loyal riders rode into Aden – and were utterly shocked as Charles collapsed the gate afterwards. That was NOT how Chancels normally worked!

(Galdaras) “What is this!?”

(Charles) “Urm… Is that asking where we are or how the gates work?”

(Denethel) “Chancels do not disappear this way!”

(Charles) “Well, this is sort of an internal model! The gate only exists in relationship to the last location on one end, or where I am on the other – so if I leave another way, like through a gate, the primary entrance just follows me around. It’s much more convenient that way!”

(Kaernock) “If you are suggesting what I believe you are suggesting… there are only two things you could be. And since you have not incorporated yourself into the landscape…”

(Galdaras) “How do we know he is not projecting an emanation?”

(Charles) “Why would that be required? Being in more than one place at a time really isn’t THAT hard!”

(Kaernock sighed) “Regardless, it is clear that you HAVE grown in power. Even to the point where shaping hits you as a fly hits a mountain.”

(Charles) “Wasn’t I doing it right?”

(Kaernock) “Oh yes! You do not need to worry about that; it was a suitable ensnarement. But what is this place, other than not a chancel?”

(Charles) “Well… You know how gods make sanctums by enlarging a point in Elsewhere? Breaking down it’s dimensionality while expanding it’s three-dimensional size? You can do the same sort of thing internally; you just narrow the focus of your imagination and force it into internal reality! It’s the same way you can store so much stuff in Elsewhere really!”

(Kaernock, dryly) “An impressive feat, to be sure.”

(Charles) “The next thing you need to do is learn to open the gate so you can get inside your own inner world and externalize parts of it! Then you just need to fix the place up and install whatever else you need! And it works, cause here we are! I put most of the important or useful manses in here, so I didn’t need to worry about things happening to them!”

(Kaernock) “Well! I feel like some exploration… why not explain more about it as we wander?”

Charles sent the resistors off with some of the Sentinels – the Inukami, Kickaha, and Baalgrogs could provide any necessary discipline and training until the kids were either old and sensible enough to go (and were cured of being mutated) or until they decided to join one of the manse-guardian groups… It wasn’t like he could sent them back to the crazy parents who had sent them to loony indoctrination discipline camp and none of them wanted to go home either – especially not while tailed and furry.

Fortunately, there was no real resistance to basically being “stuck in boarding school”. With (slightly censored) contact with their friends back home, a carnival/park/shopping nearby, and decent rooms it was a LOT more comfortable than where they’d been. That was a good thing, since he couldn’t just set them loose anyway; quite a lot of people would be perfectly willing to kill them off to keep them quiet; the world wasn’t ready for people coming back from the fey… If it had to be “kept until you’re either ready to release or have adapted to being kept”, they might as well be more or less willing.

The willing pets… Errgh… Well, they could come along for now. They couldn’t get into TOO much trouble in Aden with the sentinels to watch them! In fact… they had their collars, and could be minor servants and errand-runners and such, which should take care of them. They were all… pretty much happy with the situation.

(Charles) “You’re happy with this? All right! Hey you guys! (Speaking to the Inukami, some Kickaha, and various other handy minor types) Take care of the new pets here!”

There! That would take care of that for the moment!

It took Kaernock some time – and a visit to Charles’s private sea of chaos and the Mardi Gras Manse – to conclude that he had had the fabulous good luck to get to know, and to swear oath-friendship with, the first helpful Primordial who liked Raksha… and practically everyone else apparently.

His minions had no idea of what to say. Every Raksha knew that the Wyld could throw up anything, at any time. They could feel that basic fact in their very graces! Unfortunately, “could” was NOT equivalent to “likely”…