Dark Tales II – The Grove

English: Photograph by Mario Vaden, at Simpson...

This is bigger than you are. It’s bigger than all of us put together… Don’t make it angry.

When men camp in the true wilderness, tales are told – not the pale, sanitized tales told by civilized men, confident in their dominance of the world, but tales that give form to the old darkness, the terror of the night before men drove it back with walls, and roofs, and lamps.

A lumberman named Ethan – his tales polished by a decade of spinning yarns about the campfire – knows some tales of eld, preserved across the years because those who listen to, and retell such tales usually live longer than those who laugh and shrug them off…

You want to know one of the horrors of the forest? Well, there are things it is unwise to discuss there but (as he looks around theatrically) it should be all right here in a city marketplace! Come, get me a mug of ale to wet my throat and I will tell you some of the darkest secrets of the forest!”

Centuries past, Valfan the Cruel reigned over this city – and his name was well-earned! He grew tired of throwing his victims – and their families, right down to the smallest children – into the arena to die for his entertainment, and sought to attain greater amusements from their suffering.

The city was smaller then, and the wilds deeper, and filled with monsters now driven far from the lands of men. Valfan took to chaining his victims to trees as bait, to hear their screams, see them devoured alive – and to take the occasional feasting monster as a trophy for his halls.

The trees – well fed on human blood, fallen scraps of flesh, and decaying bone – grew tall and strong – and twisted.

The kings trophy collection – and his skull-goblet collection – grew, and those who would defy him trembled, and dared to meet only in deep secrecy. All went well for Valfan until he turned his wrath against a small community of elves who had dared to complain of his excesses.

The elves fought bravely, and with the archery skill of their race – but the end was never in doubt. The elvenfolk too went to feed the beasts – but one elder amongst them, who possessed some of their ancient skills, choose to invoke a terrible magic as the beasts fed upon his grandchildren and were slain by Valfan and his huntsmen. With the magics of life and death and his hearts blood he bound his and his neighbors spirits to the trees – and gave the trees a hunger for souls to match the carrion soil they grew upon.

The trees sprinkled Valfan and his men with drifting seeds.

Occasionally, when a seed touched naked flesh, it would vanish – silently and painlessly merging with it, sinking down to the very marrow of the bones. Valfan and his men never noticed that subtle peril…

Two weeks later they hunted late, beneath the stars, and settled down to sleep The night was fine, a watch was posted, and few monsters dared to threaten a powerful warrior-king and his guards and huntsmen gathered around their leaping fires.

But their bones were wood – and where their flesh was near the earth, beneath the open sky, their bones grew together, and put down roots, and began to put forth shoots… The panicked cries of the men on watch – now unable to move or fall – became a festival of screams as others roused to find themselves in the same predicament – and the agonies of having their flesh pierced by shoots and their bones becoming rough with bark began.

The campfires died, and darkness – but not silence – reigned.

To Valfan and his men came all the agonies of their victims in weeks of searing anguish before the end – and from them flowed their life force, to bring new life to the spirits bound into the parent trees. The elves were reborn as forest fey – and the tormented souls of the wicked king and his men were themselves bound in wood for decades or centuries, to haunt the grove of trees that they had become – and to prey on yet others in their turn.

Even now, in certain groves, the legacy of that curse continues, the sap of the trees runs the red of blood and seeds will occasionally fall on lumberers and passers-by. And sometimes – a few weeks later – terrible screams will echo in the woods for a time until stillness – but not surcease – comes once more.

Back in the city, when it became apparent that Valfan would not return, the people celebrated their deliverance from misrule – according to rumor, a gift from the fey, who had led Valfan and his men on a mystic hunt to a realm far, far, away. And if there were other rumors… Well, who would risk the wrath of the Fair Folk by repeating such tales? Even now it is wise to see if any are about before revealing the truth.

As most of the city youngsters gathered to listen glance nervously about, one of the older kids suddenly leans towards one of the smaller ones, looking her over with an air of startlement…

“Hey! I just saw a maple seed land on your shoulder THERE (pointing at her bare skin) and now it’s just GONE! Ohmygods! You’d better not sleep anywhere near dirt EVER AGAIN!”

And there will be an outburst of screaming panic.

Accompanying the tale comes, of course, a list of fey haunts and freeholds, faerie circles, groves where it is unwise to trespass, and haunted areas of the woods where terrible fates lie in wait and where wanderers pass only at their own risk. 

Dark Tales I – The Hunt

English: kandal malar

It should be easy to find…

Old Schlaussen was pleased to find a new audience; so few children chose to pay attention to the old tales any longer! Of course, there were tales about THAT too. When people forgot, and woke things that were best undisturbed, then there would be fire, and slaughter, and dark powers would stride the land.

His grandson sighed, and settled down to selling the packets of herbs, vials of extracts, and other herbal creations. His grandfather had a marvelous touch with compounding herbs, and knew just where to find them – a level of expertise that only a lifetime and a touch of magic could bring – but he DID love to tell his tales.

Not that he didn’t listen too – there was a reason why Gramps was still alive after all those years working amidst the dangers of the woods – but he had heard most of Gramps stories before.

Once, long past, before the world was broken and remade at the dawning of the age, men enchanted cities, made mountains fly, and bestrode the world like gods, crafting the stuff of creation like soft copper upon an iron anvil of will and magic. But, in their hubris, they overreached – and the foundations of the world trembled beneath them. The flying mountains fell, the walls between the worlds were breached, and chaos walked the world as the old laws were broken and remade.

In that time the Wolf Lord, the Dark God of Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and the Hunt sought his prey freely – roaming across the planes in search of primordial beasts spawned of wild magic and released from the imprisonment of eons by the foolishness of men. Where his spittle fell, those it touched were transformed, becoming a howling pack which followed in his wake.

That day the Wolf Lord hunted a creature of legend – a Paragon Stag, a creature which walked among the trees of the forest as men walk upon a meadow. In it’s flight it burst the bounds of reality, and strode forth upon the world of men. It crossed hundreds of miles, in bounds that trampled cities, shattered the ground, and spawned earthquakes in it’s wake – and the Wolf Lord, black as night, jaws agape, and eyes aflame, gave chase.

The Stag turned at bay, it’s back to the sea, less then five miles from here. The battle was fierce, blood flowed like rivers, and the earth was sundered – but while the Stag was mighty, the Wolf Lord was a god. He brought his prey low, and feasted, and the streams of the forest carried away the gore in torrents.

Men took the bones, and – in terror lest the Dark God return to their destruction – built a shrine to the Wolf Lord at the sight of the battle. Today that ancient shrine still stands, although the bones have long since begun to crumble, and have been replaced with wood and stone.

Still, beneath the shrine, and in occasional spots in the woods, deposits of the slaver of the Wolf have hardened into the crystal we call Moonstone. Where it lies beneath the ground, plants grow strangely – and are of magical potency. Where trees wrap roots around a chunk of such stone, they achieve a dim consciousness, and – when assailed – may stride forth at night as Treents, to take their vengeance – if necessary, regenerating themselves from their roots to do so. Where men bear it, epidemics of Lycanthropy break out – and those creatures, filled with the dread power of the Wolf Lord, die only when the crystals which give them strength are found and shattered. Some leave descendants amongst the beasts, and those inherit an unnatural intellect – and often a desire for the stone which can grant them a human form. Other fools hunt for preserved scraps of the Stag’s mighty bones – for, with them and a piece of the Wolf Lord’s crystal, one can assume that mighty form for a time, and use it’s power as you will – until the Wolf Lord notices, and comes to repeat his feast.

(Small Boy) “Way cool! Does he munch people all up?”

(Schlaussen) “Oh yes! Starting with your feet, so you can see him eat you up!”

Every tale-spinner in the area can tell of several places where herbs grow unnaturally, where pieces of the Wolf Lord’s moonstone occasionally turn up in streams or when digging, where it is most unwise to fell trees because terrible things happen to you when you do, and where various beasts – especially wolves, cats, and other large predators – often behave far too cleverly to be natural animals.

While these locations and facts things may or may not be real – and, even if they are, may or may not have anything to do with the story that “explains” them – they are certainly starting points.

Kitsune of the Eclipse Part III

Part I covered an Introduction to the Kitsune – the creature of the legends and how it fits into a d20 universe.

Part II covered the basic one-tailed Kitsune and how the racial attributes were derived.

And now, for Part III, it’s the powers and life cycle of multi-tailed Kitsune.

Blacksmith Munechika (end of the 10th century)...

Forging with Foxfire makes for a tricky blade.

There’s even less agreement about the powers of Kitsune with multiple tails than there is about the ways of one-tailed Kitsune. In some tales they are messengers of one or another god, in some simple tricksters, in others possessing or vampiric spirits, and in still others (albeit mostly in more modern versions) they are elemental spirits of nature.

In Eclipse terms multiple inconsistent descriptions usually simply means that means that there are mutually-exclusive choices to make – and there is at least one which fits right in.

A Kitsune who’s about to gain his or her second tail faces a tough decision. Their power may be increasing, but they’re still small wild canines coming up on either age 100 or 200 (depending on the story). That’s not a good thing. It means that – without their shapeshifting magic – they are far, FAR, beyond the point of “natural death”.

And all magics have their limitations.

Some few – confident in the Wheel of Incarnations or their spirits destination – accept the way of things, and pass on. We don’t really need to concern ourselves with them. Characters who peacefully accept that there is, indeed, a time to die don’t tend to have exciting adventures after that point unless they reincarnate or something.

Others, unwilling to abandon either life or their physical forms cling tightly, employing their shapeshifting to maintain a body which should – in the normal way of things – be long since dust. They continue to be physical foxes, independent of any greater powers, and with all the frailties of flesh. They’re most commonly known as Nogitsune.

Two-Tailed Kitsune-Nogitsune Powers Template (+1 ECL Race with basic Kitsune Package):

  • +1d6 Mana (6 CP).
  • Adept (6 CP) for two sets of Rune Magic skills. While Illusion and Transformation are fairly common, a wide variety of other – principally elemental or nature-related – powers have been reported.
  • +4 to each of the four Adept skills (8 CP). This will normally be enough to get a Kitsune up to second level spells.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/must pull a silly prank on a sapient creature of another race to get this to work (6 CP).
  • Magician (for Rune Magic) (6 CP).

Nogitsune normally gain one additional tail per additional level of spell they can use – thus a nine-tailed Kitsune can, within it’s specialities, cast ninth-level spells. Traditionally it takes a century to advance in status that way, but going adventuring – and taking horrible risks – can speed up the process a great deal.

Nogitsune may mix template levels with normal ones if they wish – a process that can lead to them wielding enormous magical power at relatively low level while remaining hopelessly frail. This is NOT recommended in d20 – where seeing a certain amount of damage coming your way is almost inevitable – but it is something of a shortcut. Of course, if you alternate template levels with normal levels meant to toughen yourself up, you’ll wind up with your basic high-level spellcaster. If you focus on normal levels your magical talents will lag,

Advanced Nogitsune Template Level (+1 ECL and +1 Tail):

  • +2d6 Mana (12 CP).
  • +4 to each of the four Adept skills (8 CP). This is enough to gain +2 effective caster levels with those rune magic abilities and +1 level of spells.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/must pull a silly prank on a sapient creature of another race to get this to work (6 CP). Buying this ability again means that you still only get five uses – but that your Mana recovery increases by +1d6 each time. Elder Nogitsune continue to play silly tricks on people because their reward goes up and up…
  • +1 Bonus Feat or 6 CP ability of choice – although some privileges and reputation are almost mandatory at some point (6 CP).

Kitsune may also opt to abandon their physical bodies to become free fox spirits. This requires a complex balancing act, hovering in astral space while maintaining a bond to the physical world so that they can return to it and avoid being drawn into an afterlife and a maintaining a bond with an afterlife so as to avoid being drawn into the physical world and a new incarnation. That’s not easy. In fact, it requires making a pact with a spirit powerful enough to control an afterlife and willing to help you out.

In general, that means making a bargain with a god – normally offering service in exchange for help in maintaining your life. Traditionally, Kitsune make pacts with Inari, a thoroughly benign sort of deity who likes benign kitsune – but, at least in d20, a wide variety of other gods may be willing to make the relevant pact. A Kitsune who does so becomes a functionary in the entourage of a god – acquiring a sort of spiritual rank. They’re usually known as Myobu. Sadly enough, free fox spirits are still rather vulnerable. Their delicate balance between the worlds can be easily upset unless they invest a lot of time and energy in stabilizing it by taking actual levels which provide hit points. Even then, without a true physical form to focus magical energies, their powers are usually less impressive than those of Nogitsune – even if their connections are a lot better.

Two-Tailed Kitsune-Myobu Powers Template I (+1 ECL Race with basic Kitsune Package):

  • Mana as 3d6 Power (6 CP).
  • Shapeshift with Shape of Death and Incorporeal, Specialized/Shapeshift and Shape of Death only as Prerequisites, Incorporeal it costs [1 + Tails] Power to remain corporeal for an hour, Incorporeality is Corrupted/magic works against the user normally (8 CP). Yes, Myobu are spirits – and, in fact, since they are technically permanently using Shape of Death, they are vulnerable to being Turned, Destroyed, Rebuked, Bolstered, and Commanded by characters wielding positive and negative energy. They do, however, gain Turn Resistance equal to their current number of tails.
  • Witchcraft I, II, and III, with Summoning and two Pacts – at least one of Service and (usually) one of Duties, Tithe, Souls, Vampirism (darker patrons often offer this pact, or minor variants that drain energy form the natural world), or Spell Failure. (12 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/must pull a silly prank on a sapient creature of another race to get this to work (6 CP).

Myobu may continue to take template levels if they wish, with much the same consequences as a Nogitsune doing the same. Myobu, however, do not acquire tails according to the level of spell that they can access; they simply acquire them by taking Advanced Myobu Template levels – at a minimum of one template level per century.

Advanced Myobu Template Level (+1 ECL and +1 Tail):

  • +1 Bonus Feat or 6 CP ability of choice – although basic Returning (will come back after being “killed” unless special precautions are taken) and Favors/Spirits or Patron are almost required after four or five tails (6 CP).
  • Mana as +4d6 Power (8 CP).
  • +2 Advanced Witchcraft abilities of choice. (12 CP)
  • +1 to a Saving Throw of Choice (most commonly Will or Reflex) (3 CP).
  • +1 Contact (1 CP).
  • +2 Skill Points (2 CP).

So now that we have the mechanics, what is Kitsune culture like?

That one’s easy. Kitsune Culture is pretty much a myth. Foxes are common enough, but foxes who are old enough to become “civilized” are extremely rare, hence they usually model most of their behavior on the local culture as filtered through the mind of a small, fragile, wild animal that mostly hunts small rodents. Their common traits are mostly those of small canines.

  • When they fight each other it’s usually to submission or flight, not death. Fighting to the death risks serious injuries – which wild animals often will not survive.
  • Even the oldest and wisest Kitsune tend to be shortsighted, impulsive, instinct-driven, and more than a bit childish.
  • They’re very interested in mates and offspring. They also know that most of their fox-children are simply going to be short-lived wild animals.
  • They dislike confinement, and often extend that feeling to objecting confining others.
  • They respect those amongst themselves with more tails. They’re generally older and are always more powerful.
  • They usually consider each other as – at least – distant relatives. After all, given the number of descendents a hundred-year-old fox will have, any two Kitsune almost certainly are related in many MANY ways.

…and that’s about it.

Kitsune are skillful illusionists, and – if that advantage is employed cleverly – can be very effective. If it’s not employed cleverly… well, they make a decent pot of soup and a pair of fur gloves.

Try to stay out of hot water now!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXIX – Memories of Dream

After Charles got the ex-deiphages settled in on Earth for the moment, he settled down to take a look at his maps…

  • He had his original sketch-map of Yu-Shan and it’s Geomancy – a hopelessly incomplete tangle of course. While he had plenty of agents, few of them were welcome poking around Yu-Shans foundations and an awful lot of areas were closed off – not to mention that the job was colossal.
  • He has his newly-acquired map, quite complete and through – if incomprehensibly complex and limited to the original design, rather than including all of the stuff that had been added later on.
  • And, of course, he had the map from that dream that Orchid had sent… that had been kind of weird! He’d been skiing down a slope backwards while juggling cats and trying to negotiate the right-of-way with cranky Yeti who’d escaped from his video game when he’d fallen down a hole and landed in the geomantic monitoring station, with the refrigerator still open…

Hm. Maybe he should review the important bits one more time! There might be something that he’d missed! It was kind of hard to make sure that you’d got everything with dream-conferencing…

(Yes, I forgot to post this short segment; it belonged just after The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXI – Meeting the Nocturnals. Ergo, we’re having a flashback. Sorry about that.)

So… in the dream he’d just finished getting the cats some cream when Orchid had beamed down from the Enterprise, using the openings in the wards that he’d left to allow some dream-communications. He’d run it through again from there…

Well, Orchid had been going to check with Terapishim’s captor; hopefully this was really her sending a dream-message and she’d had some results. Hm! He had to check sometime on that Quintessence Fountain he’d fixed up!

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Orchid, still in the body she’d had before) “Hi… phew, I’ve been busting my rear on this. I managed to yank the information out of one of Lotus’s friends. Lost a lot of motes on that one.”

(Charles) Do you need some?

(Orchid) “You can do that? Well, it’ll save me a lot of trouble come the dawn, so as long as they’re clean…”

She was salivating…

Charles set up a link and transferred over a hundred nice clean motes.

(Orchid) “Ah… thank the Mighty Ones. I was really worried there. You… can’t do that often, can you?”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Why not?”

Orchid went blank for a bit… Charles had to wave his hand in front of her body’s face.

Could… Could the boy really be a nigh-unlimited source of motes? That could change everything!

(Charles) “That was about ten minutes worth… but I could speed things up from the normal level if it’s important!”

(Orchid) “Okay… my boss is going to… I don’t even know what he’ll do when I report THAT! But that’s not what we’re here for… as delicious as that was.”

(Charles) “Did you need some more?”

(Orchid) “Uh… do you have a perpetual mote machine in there or something? You’ve GOT to run out eventually.”

There was more salivating. A normal god of her rank would NEVER salivate, much less let it dribble like that.

(Charles) “Why? It’s geomancy; the power comes from the tension between the underlying pure chaos matrix and the structured matter overlaying it. And there are all the second circles to contribute if needed!”

(Orchid) “Just… four more. That will top me out.”

Charles cheerily transferred four more.

(Orchid) “You… surely can’t do that for multiple entities at once. Surely not all ninety-nine…”

(Charles) “Do they all need the same amount? Cause that would take three or four hours… It’ s not so much that there’s a power shortage, but I can only transfer so fast!”

He had to wave his hand in front of her face again…

(Charles) “Does something happen that you can’t draw on normal sources?”

(Orchid) “What, you mean to heal the daily drain?”

(Charles) Yep!

(Orchid) “Boss says it goes to a good cause. All I know is it drains into the geomancy. ALL of it. I feel like a sieve sometimes; respiring Essence, but not keeping it… Enough about me, though. You came for information.”

(Charles) “Does it work if you’re in a manse?”

(Orchid) “Manses help… somewhat. I know I won’t… cease existing if I’m in one, but the hunger would be maddening. It’s still better than not having a domain at all, I’ll say that.”

She removed a map from her robes, and unrolled it to show to Charles… It was a map of the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate, but not of the above ground. The twistiness of the tunnels, and the depth to which they extended, was incredible. A dot, with a notation indicating that it was about two thousand feet down, sat between two of the gates.

(Orchid) “Good luck finding that point, even with the map. I don’t know too much, but the way my boss talked, even Sidereals have trouble finding places like that.”

(Charles) “That will be a bit tricky! (He mad a note of the location and the map). Still, it’s probably doable…”

(Orchid) “He said they’ve done it before… and then he got in the worst mood. Er… You’re… serious, right? You can support ninety-nine of those links?”

(Charles) “Well, it would take about four hours to transfer that much power to each link… But this might help!”

Charles cheerily held out a ball of blue-gold light/

(Orchid) “Still… once I report THAT, my boss will want to talk to you, succeed or fail. Wait, what’s that?”

(Charles) “It’s a linking effect… A sort of initiation really! Among a few other things, it will basically let you stay in a trio of manses while you’re out and about your business! That should help with the drain I think!”

(Orchid) “Okay… knowing you, this PROBABLY isn’t a trick.” (She tasted the orb first… Satisfied that the Essence was not going to kill her, or affect her mind in horrible ways, she undertook the attunement).

It was basically the start of Charles’s version of making “Akuma” – the usual “embed some health levels in the manses, doubling of base health, being in three rank-5 manses all the time, +1 essence. a few minor manse-based enhancements (doubled base health, fast healing, environmental protection), and three extra charms. On the other hand, it was just with some of the new planetary manses. They weren’t Adenic and didn’t provide any of the unique charms he was working on developing.

Even Charles was a bit leery of giving a deiphage a direct link to his personal energies – and Gothumg had nearly exploded at the first HINT of such a thought crossing his mind.

Gothmug was watching her as she traveled the metaphorical path though… He was getting rather inspirational levels of loneliness and depression off her… and curious about the geomancy that she was tied to. Orchid was behaving quite well though. The sky seemed to be confusing her a bit, and she was definitely having to get used to the idea of “outdoors” again, but she was nearly finished.

Still, even Charles had to admit that Deiphagy WAS sort of naughty.

Gothmug agreed. Consuming other sapient beings for one’s Essence was horribly dark and desperate.

Still… if a measure this straightforward – even if it did involve some of Charles’s exotic geomantic manses – could make that much less necessary, it would be a big improvement!

Ah! Orchid was coming out of the trance!

(Orchid) “Kid-Aden… thank you.”

(Charles) “Oh you’re welcome! Hopefully that will cut down on the problem some!”

(Orchid) “At any rate, even if I can’t hunt, I won’t die!”

Darn! He’d been hoping that – with three Rank-5 Manses contributing – it would be enough to maintain a positive energy flow.

(Orchid) “I’m not sure how much of that will go to the geomancy; it tends to take its own over time. But I’m safe . . .”

She seemed to be near tears. She was desperately trying to hide it, and appear as imperious as before, but it was showing.

(Charles, rather appalled) “That… really seems like overkill! Even as a method of ensuring that power continues to come in!”

(Orchid) “I don’t know where it’s going… but the boss says it’s vitally important.”

Hmm… It looked like the net total WAS positive – but at only about one-tenth what he’d expect from that many manses contributing… Surely she couldn’t normally hunt enough to support THAT. The drain must have responded to the new supply… Well, so long as it was positive – and it really should stay that way; she was currently contributing far more than her share!

(Charles) “I don’t think that much of anything is worth killing the people helping you! Or that good causes need a constant threat of death to make people participate!

(Orchid) “Hey, he didn’t choose this either. But when I ask him about it . . . he just says it’s always been this way.”

(Charles) “Needs fixing! Those links are pretty easy; I presume everyone else would like one?”

(Orchid) “You’d have to talk to him… and I’m not sure he fully believed what I reported from our last meeting. And then he’d have to talk to his coworkers.”

Charles wasn’t good at social graces, but he tentatively gave her a shoulder-pat.

(Charles) “Well, if anyone else needs that set up, they only need to get in touch!”

(Orchid) “I… I will see. I think I had better… well, wake up, I guess. This better not be part of the dream!”

(Charles) “Well, it shouldn’t be!

He got the feeling that – even if it was – the chances of her trying to eat him and thanking him for giving her some hope were about even… Still, if she felt any results at all, it should be real enough. After all, she’d have no idea of what – if anything – to expect. Since she’d gotten accurate information it should have worked!

The dream had faded – but Charles slept quite a lot longer; he never really did get enough sleep!

He made sure to double-check Orchids links and make sure that they were working properly after he woke up though. They were fine… but the Essence regeneration on the Manses had gone down by a point an hour for others attuned to them. That was quite a drain! Far more than could normally be channeled through an individual attunement… Someone on the other end of the link had some neat geomantic tricks that he didn’t know!

Well, experience probably counted for something. A good thing he hadn’t linked things up internally! It shouldn’t bother the design purpose of the manses though; they were mostly unused at the moment, since they were designed to provide city services over their extended areas of influence – and that part seemed to be working just fine!

Still, with that much power flowing, it should have been possible to tell where it was going – besides over the extradimensional link into Yu-Shan… there had to be quite a current of power going BEYOND Orchid. Of course, if it was shielded that sort of thing did always win.

He didn’t really push it – but he did get SOMETHING… it was apparently… going into about a block of empty quarter… adjacent to a slum. It seemed to be centered on the quintessence fountain. Huh! Location, but nothing as to function…. Oh well! At least Orchid didn’t have to worry about being sucked into the Geomancy if she ran out of motes!

Return to… Well, it does bear some resemblance to Middle-Earth…

Español: Cirth n.º 19 "G", empleada ...

Rune along, why don’t you rune along home now, night is falling and the path is steep…

And here we have more of a debate over an old article… Well, I do try to respond to everyone except the spammers in detail, so – once again – here’s a complete response to Jeremy, since this is entirely too long for a comment. You can find the original article HERE, and the first response HERE.

“Now, I quite understand the desire to make your favorite characters high level.”

It has nothing to do with liking Gandalf (he’s a decent chap, I suppose) and everything to do with wanting a little internal consistency as to your standards of comparison, not to mention that it irritates me every time people attempt to pave over the fact that Istari are spirit beings incarnated in flesh whose powers stem from their pre-biological existence, and not being actual old humans who learned their magic. Whenever people just jump right in and make that completely unjustifiable comparison, it annoys me, especially when people try to spread that idea, like you — and the actual net effect is people start thinking its true.

The nice thing about using point-buy systems is that – barring math errors – they’re always consistent. As for consistency with the source material… You seem to have failed to notice that 1) The racial writeup is indeed for a spirit being incarnated in flesh (although, in Tolkien, every Elf, Dwarf, and Human is also a spirit being incarnated in flesh. Elves are even noted as sometimes getting to return after being killed). 2) The writeup doesn’t actually say anything about how Gandalf acquired his magic; that’s your own assumption being projected onto the article, and 3) Any game writeup compares disparate characters, origins, and sources of power. You can object to conclusions, but complaining about things being compared is simply demanding that your own personal comparison be taken as automatic truth. Sorry, but life does not work that way.

You’ve also failed to provide any actual references to the source material yourself. Is it that hard to actually find some segments that support whatever point it is you want to make? This would be a lot more fun if you actually supported your arguments.

The result of this mistaken line of thought (which you did not start, only perpetuate) is stuff like how I walk into a gaming store, open up a copy of MERP, full of hope, and find that it says “Oh yeah, the Istari opened up wizarding schools, so humans can learn magic too!” You go in expecting that a “Middle Earth Roleplaying Game” has some sort of accuracy instead of being a shameless D&D clone, and instead, you get the same old Harry Potter style wizards. Obviously, you didn’t start the fire, and its not your fault MERP was based more off D&D than Tolkien, and so I don’t blame you for these mistakes either.

I’m afraid that here you’re complaining that a third party’s interpretation of the source material – as adjusted to make a playable game – doesn’t agree with yours. Sadly, of course, that has no relevance here.

By the way, MERP was based off of Rolemaster, not D&D and the system is quite different. D&D clones use new wording but the same mechanics – since the mechanics cannot be copyrighted.

“Tolkien’s “Wizards” were old,”

Yup, distinctly unlike AD&D and D&D equivalents. And please don’t cite Elminister or Dumbledore — “human guy who learned magic and is now old” doesn’t even vaguely resemble “spirit who took the form of an old man.” There’s art of geezery wizards, which proves primarily that the artists for it, like most D&D fans, had the mental conception of wizards = Gandalf, but its vanishingly unlikely for any wizard PC to be old. Their starting age is going to be in their 20s and 30s — and there isn’t really an opportunity to go beyond that, 99% of the time. When there is, you will have old wizards alongside old party members in general.

Hm. You might want to do something about this Harry Potter obsession of yours, since it has nothing at all to do with the topic… Now, you do realize that the wizard stereotype goes back to the middle ages and beyond? What most people have in mind for “Wizard” is Merlin – and HERE we have an illustration for him some 700 years old. For a very nice line drawing, here’s one from Gustav Dore, 1868. A little more modern? Here’s a 1922 version by Wyeth. Considering that all three of those artists died before Tolkien came up with Gandalf, I think we can guess which way the inspiration flowed. For that matter, you might check the Artwork in first edition – where it was expected that it would take decades to rise in level, and by the time one gained the title of “Wizard” at level eleven you were quite likely to be old. Quite a few current games cover many years as well – and many player characters opt to start off older than required even if the game master doesn’t require it.

“they learned new things about magic,”

Yeah, but what makes D&D wizards distinct is that they verifiably learn new magic and add to their repertoire. I don’t think its at all clear or implied that Istari were ever apprentices — in fact, in all likelihood, Gandalf was a powerful spirit being that became a weaker being. The only time he demonstrates anything like learning new spells is after his reincarnation — and the difference between Grey and White may simply have been in an attitude shift caused by death and rebirth. The Istari were designed to give immortal council to mortals and to guide them; and indeed, an immortal being would in all likelihood be sagely. But linking their sageliness (that they have been around awhile) to their supernatural powers (which wholly stem from that they were created with that level of power) is a mistake; a connection is never implied.

Sorry, but that’s your own extrapolation again; the writeup says nothing at all about Gandalf ever being an apprentice, where his power came from, how it was acquired, or whether it would improve. You claimed that there was no evidence that the Istari learned new things about magic – and I simply pointed out that, according to Tolkien, they did indeed both study magic and acquire additional magical lore (the idea that that translated to new spells is your own interpolation again). As for the “acquiring new powers through study” making D&D wizards different… Sorry, but that’s one place where AD&D wizards are strictly according to tradition. Look at the reputation that Sir Francis Bacon acquired.

“Ah, a classic (and totally irrelevant) strawman argument.”

Its not irrelevant. D&D elves resemble LotR elves far, FAR more than the wizard vs wizard comparison, yet Gary has said many times that the only thing he actually took from LotR is that they dislike orcs (and who doesn’t?).

It’s still quite irrelevant; the point of a comparison is to look for differences – and we’re not talking about D&D Elves versus Tolkien’s elves.

“First up, we’ve already disposed of that “coincidence” theory.”

Er, no we haven’t. At no point in the quoted interview he mention wizards, and I’m pretty sure everyone knows, by now, that D&D casters are based off of Jack Vance, hence, Vancian magic. D&D takes from a wide variety of inspiration, and Gary has said, many many times, that the inspiration from LotR is purely superficial.

Incidentally, while Gandalf bears even less resemblance to a D&D wizard (or other caster) than Sauron or Morgoth do (who can actually be verified as engaging in something vaguely like magical research and even in spending XP components), you know who he does bear resemblance to? Odin, and Tolkien himself said that both Odin and

Sorry, but your argument was that there was no relationship. Being a part of the inspiration is a pretty obvious relationship. In any case, I’ve already pointed out the flaw in your argument here; I gave Gandalf all the abilities he displayed in the books; the total number of character points required made him level eight. He didn’t become level eight because of the comparison. Are you now arguing that – in terms of d20 magic – Gandalf was a wizard?

Now, if you’d read Vance’s Dying Earth series you’d know that – while a few of Vance’s spells appear in D&D – Vance’s “Wizards” rarely knew more than a few spells, but those spells were generally extremely powerful. The “memorization” and “fire and forget” casting system is based on Vance’s notions. Most of the actual spells, the progression system, the breaking up of spells into discrete levels, and most of the other details are not.

I’d also recommend proofreading your replies. Leaving out words and dropping sentences before they come to any point does not help your arguments.

“or you’d have noticed that this is an Eclipse Classless writeup (not a Wizard).”

Right. You nonetheless, of course, are comparing him to various caster types, and starting the discussion using the fact that he doesn’t use Fly, Teleport, etc. (wizard spells, generally). First establishing that he’s not a very good wizard, and then making him out to be about comparable to a level 8 caster.

Wrong again; If you had really read it, you’d realize that the point was that he didn’t use high-level spells of ANY type – which was why other spell lists and healing were mentioned. Giving him the abilities he actually displayed didn’t require a high level build – or can you provide some examples of abilities that Gandalf displayed in Tolkien’s books that the given build does not cover? I notice that you’ve skipped past that possibility – and that would be the quick and easy way to demonstrate that the build was flawed.

“Can you actually provide a quote and a page number where it says that Gandalf didn’t use his full power against Sauroman’s army? Or the dweller in the pool? Or the Witch-King? Or, for that matter, the Balrog?”

Even by your very conservative estimation of Gandalf (and rating a balrog off of Gandalf instead of rating Gandalf off a balrog), I’m pretty sure a guy who can fling spells and fight for eight days straight is going to have no trouble against mobs of orcs, yet he is never portrayed as cleaning up large herds of orcs for the Fellowship while everyone relaxes in the shade. When he fights the Balrog, its an eight day laser light show; but the most he does against typical monsters is use Fire Seeds, once, four books ago.

This, of course, was in response to your claim that Gandalf was always holding back; you do notice that you’re evading rather than answering here? OK though, lets look at that; Gandalf’s description of the fight with the Balrog is on Page 105 in my copy of The Two Towers, in “The White Rider” section…

“Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water, and all was dark. Cold it was, as the tide of death; almost it froze my heart.

Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin’s Bridge, and none has measured it said Gimli

Yet it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge, said Gandalf. Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone, He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake. We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Gloin. Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he (1). Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dum; too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the endless stair.

Long has that been lost, said Gimli. Many have said that it was never made save in legend, but others say that it was destroyed.

It was made, and it had not been destroyed, said Gandalf. From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed, ascending in unbroken spiral in many thousand steps, until it issued at last in Durin’s Tower carved in the living rock of Ziraksigil, the pinnacle of the Silvertine. There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak. Suddenly Gandalf laughed. But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapor and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

1) This is odd, since Sauron predates the creation of Arda and is presumably as old as the rest of the spirits Iluvatar created; evidently Gandalf is being poetic rather than entirely literal.

Hm. I don’t see anything there about “an eight day laser light show”. They fell a long way, and hit deep water. After getting out, the fight – sword against unarmed combat, since the Balrog no longer had a weapon – continued until the Balrog ran away (apparently it wasn’t entirely stupid). Being lost, Gandalf pursued the Balrog a very long way – apparently not trying to kill it until AFTER it showed him the way out. Once out, and standing on ice and snow, the Balrog burst into flames again, and there was a lot of steam. Ice was knocked loose, and slid down the sides of the mountain. Something very noisy happened – perhaps a Lighting Bolt – and the Balrog was knocked off the peak and hit something hard instead of water this time. Oops!

As Tolkien wrote it it’s a wonderful and evocative passage, but it doesn’t imply a lot of magic anywhere. Personally, I think the desperate struggle – as much against physical limitations as against each other – is a lot more impressive and heroic than if they were two Dragonball-Z characters powering up and throwing energy bolts at each other.

Trying to count days won’t get us anywhere though. We don’t know how much time was spent fumbling around in the dark or wandering far “on roads that I will not tell”.

As for rating a Balrog off of Gandalf instead of the other way around… There’s no other choice if we’re actually going to stick with what’s in the source material. We have a fair amount of information on Gandalf, but very little actual information on Balrogs.

“Morgoth was afraid of a minor member of a host that he once opposed singlehanded.”

Wait, lets back up to the Two Trees and Ungoliant. Ignoring that Morgoth seems to take all damage as vile damage (or something) and thus for obvious reasons never fights unless he has to, I don’t think Two-Trees Morgoth really had time to weaken noticeably. Ungoliant, after sucking the Two Trees dry, is then powerful enough to challenge him. On the other hand, Gothmog (iirc) the balrog shows up to save him. We could say that Gothmog is only level 8 (or higher but still comparable to the Moria balrog, as he’s obviously strong by balrog standards either way), but it strains my suspension of disbelief to think that a sub-epic Morgoth is going to be able to go on to manufacture tons and tons of dragons and volcanic mountain ranges and what not.

Actually that’s backing up roughly four to five hundred years. Remember; the Silmarillion covers rather a long time and a lot of people have put a lot of effort into sorting out the chronology; most of the timelines (googling a few is easy) make it about that much. As for how long Morgath had to weaken before that… lets check THIS timeline, or perhaps THIS one. Hm. Yep. At that point, per Tolkien’s chronology, Morgath had had some 5000 years of Valinor – each equivalent to almost ten earthly years – to weaken. That seems sufficient.

In any case, in your (inaccurate) version here, two-trees Morgoth launched a sabotage-strike with the help of another creature against two defenseless trees and then… ran away. So; Ungoliant, swollen with the power of the two trees is a threat to someone who is pretty obviously terrible at combat. A combat specialist (actually, according to Tolkien, a LOT of combat specialists) shows up and scares off Ungoliant. That doesn’t really say much about anyone’s talents outside of combat.

Although the fact that Morgoth is pretty obviously terrible at combat by this point explains why a mortal combat specialist can give him so much trouble pretty easily.

“There are some examples (including the powers you need to purchase to be Morgoth) up on the site here.”

Point. I glanced over it; how would him creating dragons fit into those abilities?

Pretty easily; in Tolkien’s works Morgoth is the originator of evil, who infused his power into the physical world to the point where evil creatures would continue to carry out his will even after he is banished from the world. Making dragons isn’t that hard (as an evil overlord he could do it with transformation, ritual magic, or by having your support staff do the work), it’s controlling them after you make them that’s hard – and the creator of all evil gets that as a simple Privilege.

“Page 291: Balrogs and Dragons at the fall of Gondolin. Gothmog Lord of Balrogs and the Elven King kill each other. Dragons destroy the city.”

Exactly what you’d expect, personalities clash 1 on 1 and the guys that spew ridiculous amounts of fire burn everything down. The draconic claim to fame is flight and lots and lots of area effect fire, while balrogs handle individually potent adversaries.

Really? What I’d expect is for the “personalities” to lead the defenders from amidst their squads of bodyguards. D20’s sillier dungeon-crawl conventions don’t apply to Tolkien’s warfare. This is not a d20 city full mooks. It’s full of centuries-old experienced, elves, many of them combatants.

Even more sadly for this argument, winged dragons that can fly do not appear until the War of Wrath (The Silmarillion, page 302). The notion that “Balrogs handle individually potent adversaries” is entirely your own interpolation – or can you provide a quote and a page reference? Still, if you had been correct about the flying dragons, then the Balrogs would have made a rather minor – and stupid – contribution. Why get killed instead of letting the dragons rain fire on the heroic types until they died?

“Hm. Group of dragons versus two elvish armies – including Fingon. Elves need rescue – but it takes two Balrogs, including probably the most powerful one ever, to take down Fingon on his own.”

Yes… I would definitely expect a swarm of one comparable thing to do more than merely two comparable things? Not to mention that huge hordes of firebreathers facing off against tree-loving mooks is going to end in obvious tragedy.

Really, I hate to have to ask, but did you actually read the books, or are you basing your opinions on secondary interpretations? After all, if you had actually checked this section, you’d find that “Morgath loosed his Balrogs” upon the city – that is to say, a lot of them. So much for “a swarm” versus “merely two”. Secondarily, these are Noldor – centuries old, lovers of cities, highly experienced, and not at all “mooks”. Who do you think Fingon practiced with? (Are you thinking of the elves who preferred not to go to Valinor? They might fit in under “tree-loving mooks).

“Evidently quite a few got away and didn’t need to hide.”

Not to mention that dragons improve and get better over time.

The other important thing is that, if we assume Morgoth and balrogs are so emaciated in the power level department as you say, then dragons get completely crazy by comparison. There is a dragon that was so huge that, when it died, it collapsed an entire dwarven civilization underground. That’s quite beyond even a Colossal Red Dragon. Not to mention that, as you say, the dragons had a good chance of taking the Valar. I find it difficult to believe that total scrubs on par with level six elves are going to be able to create dragons that are hundreds of times their power level.

Ah; I see that you’re skipping past the War of Wrath section. You do realize that when you skip past an argument instead of answering it you concede the point? Here you’re attempting to skip past the “Dragons versus Balrogs” discussion to complain that dragons are too powerful… For that you want a quote and a page number. You also want to avoid trying to drag standard d20 dragons into things, since the discussion is about the exact opposite – converting Tolkien’s creatures to accurate d20 representations; how powerful a standard d20 dragon is is totally irrelevant.

As for creating weapons that are more powerful and destructive than you are being hard to believe… I take it that you do not believe that mankind has developed tanks, bomber planes, and nuclear weapons either since those are better at destroying things than an unarmed engineer is?

“Basically the argument in this complaint is entirely circular”

The pot calls the kettle black.

Okay, How does the level 5-8 elf king thing square off, again? Morgoth (lv?)needs help vs Ungoliant (lv?) from Gothmog (lv8?), and Gothmog later kills and is killed by the Elven King (lv5-8?). Morgoth doesn’t manage to harm Ungoliant at this point at all, so we can assume she’s at “full,” and this suggests that Ungoliant is grown to a power level over Morgoth even moreso than Morgoth was over Fingolfin. Gothmog (level 8, apparently) pretty much immediately drives Ungoliant off. That suggests Ungoliant was at least two levels below Gothmog, so she’d be about level 6. She herself whooped Morgoth, so he’s probably another two levels below her, which leaves us with a level 4 Morgoth. Gothmog and the Elven King (elite awesome heroes are, apparently, level 5-8, so ) are about evenly matched and kill each other. Meanwhile, Fingolfin would have to be about… level 1, tops, as Morgoth would be about as strong as your average troll — and that would have been way back before his diminishment.

Of course, to your point buy system, you could simply add “Kryptonite: Vs Spiders” to Morgoth, “Kryptonite: Vs Balrogs” to Ungoliant, and “Kryptonite: Vs Elves” to Balrogs.

Lets see… Morgoth (Noncombatant and physical coward, as seen at the end of the War of Wrath, Silmarillion, Page 303) is intimidated by a freshly-empowered Ungoliant (Nasty spider-monster). He gets tangled up in webbing, and calls for help – and a sizeable number of his Balrogs come and run Ungoliant off. To check that section…

“But Ungoliant had grown great, and he (Morgoth) less by the power that had gone out of him, and she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him. Then Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry, that echoed in the mountains… Far beneath the ruined halls of Angband, in vaults to which the Valar in the haste of their assault had not descended, Balrogs lurked still, awaiting ever the return of their Lord… they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire. With their whips of flame they smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she quailed, and turned to flight, belching black vapors to cover her”. – The Silmarillion, Page 86 – “Of the flight of the Noldor”.

So; we have intimidation, webs (and now you know why flame is an instant cure for the Web spell!), and a swarm of Balrogs – who suffice to scare off a giant spider. No actual combat takes place – and power has nothing to do with it unless you count Morgoth’s ability to scream so piercingly that it’s heard many many miles away.

Of course we’ve also established that you do not remember the books clearly, and are not bothering to refer to them to make your arguments; You stated that Gothmog (not mentioned) drove Ungoliant off – not that a swarm of Balrogs did so. Arguments based on your personal third-party reinvention of the books are not convincing.

Gothmog and an Elven King did kill each other. Therefore we can say that they were either about equal, or one was already wounded, or external aid was involved (it’s not like they were having an isolated white-room duel), or one was lucky.

Sorry, but this argument is still based on your own personal reinvention of what happened in the books and on the notion that levels are all-important – when even in basic d20 they’re not; the situation, your particular build, how you use your abilities, and the luck of the dice can be far more important than your level.

Its especially bizarre to imagine that the great heroes of an immortal and magical but biological race would be judged by the same level standard as the best historical Earth heroes, when the latter only had one lifetime to improve, and the former can gain levels indefinitely. It is even more bizarre when the dragons vs Valar battle soundly demonstrates that magical and immortal, but biological creatures do grow over time — massively so — and can even become strong enough to take on Valar.

Is the craftsmanship of Eru just that much suckier than that of Morgoth that dragons ramp up in power level with age and experience but elves can’t?

Here you have entirely missed the point; the greatest elven heroes are indeed superhuman – but “superhuman” starts around level five in d20, which was what was being pointed out. That’s also an independent line of argument, but it does tend to support the basic premise.

Of course, Tolkien’s world doesn’t have levels. It’s characters do not tend to gain much in power over time; Legolas did not incredibly overshadow everyone but Gandalf did he? In Tolkien’s world – just as in Christian theology – uncorrupted spirits, and the corrupted ones that do not try to create their own minions, have constant power. Those spirits who put their power into other things are weakened permanently thereby. Sauron permanently weakened his personal power by making the One Ring. Morgoth spent so much of his power as to cripple himself. Feanor didn’t just pick up a couple of levels and make Silmarils Mark II; he made them, some of his power passed into them – and he would never be able to make such a thing again.

Yes, the elven heroes are mildly superhuman. That puts them around level 5-8. Now, can you actually present a reference from Tolkien’s books that says that dragons grow more powerful after they finish growing? That’s a D&D convention – not a Tolkien convention.

You’re contradicting yourself; first you point out that there was little indication that Gandalf grew in power (although he certainly learned things), and then you want to apply d20 leveling conventions to the elves. I’d agree that Gandalf didn’t show much power growth through the books unless (and it is unless, since Tolkien made no definite statements on the matter) his powers improved after he was “sent back” – and that probably wouldn’t have anything to do with “experience” anyway.

I’d really suggest calming down and a careful re-reading of the primary source material – The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Silmarillion.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXVIII – The Primordial Archives

English: Juniperus morrisonicola near summit o...

Somewhere out there!

Looking at his geomantic map of Yu-Shan – as sketchy as it still was – Charles had begun to get an uneasy feeling that, what with so many of it’s gates now drifting in space, or no longer linked to anything of any geomantic importance, Yu-Shan was basically scrounging for motes to remain functional. All those endless conveniences, canals, powers, and bindings… It really looked like it was more than the local geomancy could support unaided – and the damage made things far, FAR worse. Creation was originally much, MUCH smaller of course – but it had funneled motes to Yu-Shan through prayer and – Charles suspected – through the gates. The Blessed Isle might have been almost as optimized as Yu-Shan, but the hinterlands of creation had brimmed with untapped power…

The increased drain on the remaining useful gates, coupled with the disruption of Earth’s geomancy, would neatly explain why demesnes were rare and why so many manses were mostly powered down; Much of the power was being drained off – and even Essence could only cross interstellar distances so fast, as Gramps knew all too well!

His gate-survey showed that the gates to tiny planetoids in space were mostly “dead” – in fact, in many cases they were active drains on Yu-Shan’s dragon lines. The ones to earth showed an enormous variance in power flows; some were at their limits, some were moderate, and most were very low due to a lack of earthly power sources. The result was power losses and massive imbalances. It looked like the normal response of Yu-Shan would be to shut things down and conserve power. Presumably the underlying activities – preventing elsewhere coordinate drift, maintaining basic security and structural stability (and perhaps the Games of Divinity) normally took priority.

Of course, the tendency of the more active gods, and the Sidereals (who admittedly had a lot more to worry about than the Geomancy of Yu-Shan) was to… shunt more reserves into play to keep the services running. But wherever the divine energy to keep things going was originating from, it was nowhere near the Central Metropolitan Zone.

Still the greater deiphages seemed to be constantly scrounging for motes and feeding them into the Geomancy. Was that why more wasn’t being done about deiphagy? Still, from the survey that only seemed to affect the abandoned areas – although the one he’d fixed the quintessence fountain in appeared to be expanding slowly. No more than a tenth of an inch an hour – but it was radiating from… beneath that fountain.

Well, there WAS more power coming in there… That fit in with the “Abandoned” areas having a higher energy level… And – from the little research on the topic he could find (mostly from the Bronze Faction and the Bureau of Heaven) – it looked like an area was abandoned as more unemployed deities fell to deiphagy – and deiphagy attacks increased in accordance with their increasing numbers. Deities moved away, and there were consequent changes in the local geomancy…

Which looked to be quite wrong. The spread was very slow – but it was the changing geomancy that turned areas into abandoned territories and divine abandonment followed… As the geomancy changed celestial services were disrupted, the area cooled, the lighting changed (instead of glimmering, it bathed buildings in rather naturalistic green and brown hues. Mortals ware of varying preferences – but most gods found it horribly offputting), breezes blew, and a wide variety of aesthetic differences developed. As the “abandoned” geomancy came to dominate there were more disruptions in the canals, irregular computer and communications services, and extended response times to blue jade emergency pillar activations. Eventually, once the abandoned geomancy was totally dominant, using the pillars would instead summon deiphages – although, luckily for most of Celestial society, you had to get pretty deep before that started happening.

The occupied regions functioned at lower power, but were geomantically quieter – and much, MUCH more stable in terms of services.

What was the overall purpose that power was diverted from for all those services and things?

There wasn’t any help for it. It was time for a trip into the Primordial Archives! It would be nice to know what Yu-Shan actually DID before he started hooking up massive power sources. His research was suggesting that the results might be a lot more complex that simply powering up the city services and such again.

A good thing he now had plenty of geomantic resources. He should be able to get a LONG way into the archives…

He went looking deep and early – searching for material on manses, geomancy, and the earliest days of Yu-Shan. Old, old, OLD material. From the first days of creation, the primordial dawn…

He poured tremendous amounts of power from Aden into manifesting as much as possible of the recursive archives, extending the fractal pattern with hundreds upon hundreds of geomantic relays. Were it not for the Veilward, the humming and Essence vibrations would be blatantly obvious across half of Yu-Shan.

The power outflow would be obvious soon enough anyway, as the excess discharged itself into the local Dragon Lines, pouring through them like a flash flood raging through a network of valleys.

Situated as it was in the Fulgent Administrative District, Dudael was well-protected against deiphages, and Charles had enhanced those protections – if only be reactivating the Veilward – to the point where only the mightest deiphages could get in. Thus, the first sign of trouble was the phone call.

Charles was several levels down by then… Past the implied and potential architecture, and on his way from the theoretical architecture into the extrapolations…. He’d reach the hypothetical levels soon enough!

At least he would be if he could find the right route… essence was whirling dramatically (ir relatively harmlessly) throughout Dudael’s interior architecture, coalescing into things that even he could not predict.

His current attackers were a wild thesaurous and a couple of sets of encyclopedias, all three taking form as rather nasty bestial and metaphorical behemoths, with some rather weird powers! They encyclopedias were attempting to index his internal organs, while the thesaurous was altering the description of his defenses one near-synonym at a time, opening larger and larger loopholes with each translation!

Drat it! As geomantic manifestations of an nigh-indestructible manse they were pretty much impervious to direct assault! And his phone was ringing!

(Charles) “Er… Yes?”

Rebuild his ward, put up another, there’s a GOOD behemoth, oh blast immune to that… Ow! That was seriously nipping at his defenses and he didn’t WANT an index!

(Shengxi, Celestial Lion) “Hello, Charles? Is everything okay where you are?”

And now there was a… major storm spirit, absorbing his power and building up for an x-ray / antimatter level series of bursts!

(Charles) “Uhm… sort of! Does anyone there know what to do about sevenfold storm spirits with symmetrial essence-nodes? The nodes seem to absorb almost anything I use on it and throw it back as lightning-like energy discharges! And… Ow! Encyclopedias! Shoo!”

(Shengxi) “Whaa… is this related to the geomantic disturbances one of the reclaimed territories is reporting over there? What in Malfeas are you doing!?”

(Charles) “I’m down in the archives! And this section is loaded with stuff that didn’t make it into creation!”

The connection wavered over a dozen possible origins as Charles was forced to fall back on his evasion-charm; the dratted Thesaurous had managed to define several of his primary wards as “Children in his care”!

(Shengxi) “Archives? I thought that place was a factory-cathedral. Hey Xiaoxiao, find me some information on Dudael-and try to get it to me on the way…”

Meanwhile, the Thesaurous was reciting synonyms for rending, and was attempting to pierce Charles’s remaining protections.

(Charles, busily counterspelling) “Oh it is! The archives only have a theoritical existence until you channel in enough geomancy to start actualizing them – but then you can find almost anything!”

Uh-oh! The Sevenfold Storm Spirits’ nodes were whirring and sparking ominously… in multiple places.

(Shengxi) “Not going to blow up, is it? Place of that power exploding would be disastrous.”

Charles performed a fast OCR Scan on the Thesaurous and ran a spellcheck program on it… It should have enough old spellings to be confused for awhile – and he had Gothmug (who had more or less been viewing this as an excellent training exercise) put some walls around the storm spirit!

(Charles, a bit short of breath) “Oh, no! All the power goes into expanding the archives, but they’re potentially near-infinite.”

(Shengxi) “Hrm. Well, kid… I’m still sending a squad down to keep an eye on the place. Can’t have you experimenting without somebody monitoring. And that archive sounds… risky.”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s just got some theoretical monsters!”

Wait… the Thesaurus… Oh! Of course! Synonyms, the foundations of language… These were linguistic encyclopedias! For Primordial! The linguistic interface function! He had to HARNESS them, not get past them!

For a moment, Dudael appeared outwardly the same – but Charles got the distinct feeling that the walls were evaporating, just as the encylopedia-behemoths were bludgeoning their way through his wards!

Ah! He threw them some quick printouts of updates to incorporate and let them graze on new facts for a bit!

(Shengxi) “All the same, kid, I want to be sure… and in any case, that’s probably attracting deiphages by the score. I wouldn’t want them having you for supper there.”

Hm… Dudael was handling the powerflow without difficulty – as it should – but “space” was losing it’s definition… The walls were becoming slightly transparent and it would obviously be easy to wander into another dimension if you weren’t careful! Still… that was also a sign of getting close! Things at the period he wanted – when the Primordials had been shaping the Wyld into the Shinma and had been planning Yu-Shan – weren’t very defined.

Meanwhile, the sevenfold storm spirit had unleashed a brutal flurry of electricity against the walls around it, assailing several other dimensions with mighty arcs of power in it’s attempts to find a route around Gothmugs indestructible barriers to get at Charles. The thesaurous was gorging itself on old spellings, and Encyclopedia-Behemoths A-SA had fallen asleep from their feeding frenzies.

(Shengxi) “Hey, kid, the call’s breaking-“

(Charles) “Sorry! It’s the dimensional distortions! I should be done in a little bit!”

Well maybe that part had gotten through! The call was lost!

Of course, Dudael’s walls were now almost fully transparent. So was the entire neighborhood outside – and everything in Dudael as well. Essence saturation was reaching the point where almost anything was possible, and so the choice of reality was almost purely theoritical… Which meant the end of the archives – and that almost anything at all should be accessible from this point!

Charles focused his concentration on the information he wanted, reached out, and tried to pull it out! He needed the overall designs and purposes of Yu-Shan! To compliment the geomantic survey he was running now!

While nearly everything at street level was transparent, the streets themselves were not. Where major streets of jade would be in modern Yu-Shan, there were… simple paths, carved out of the adamant beneath. The geomantic lines ran along these paths. The original structure beneath the overlay… Unfortunately, there was nothing he recognized as Solar, Lunar, or Sidereal Essence in the geomancy. The geomancy of the five elements was present, in about the same amount as in the Yu-Shan he knew. And there was a collection of eclectic Primordial Essence here… all connected by an Essence type he did not recognize. That was the type that ran along the paths, connecting the others. The power level… felt like the empty quarters, but much more stable. It wasn’t quite at the level of modern Yu-Shan’s inhabited regions, but it did feel like it could, potentially, be active – as in “alive”. That essence type would be dominant if it could, but something centered on the Jade Pleasure Dome was holding it back. As it was, it was… moderating the other varieties of Essence.

Oh dear! It looked like the sleeping or bound primordial theory had just picked up some support!

The Sky Dome above was… blank. Then, suddenly, it flickerd. Old Realm numeric characters ran along the adamant surface, written in a cramped and ragged hand. Then there was some text… “TESTING… TESTING…”

That was very slow – operating at a divine time scale. A reality computer? Bother! This was just producing even more theories! Worse, while he could watch a little longer, he’d have to power things down soon…

There was an announcement, reverbating throughout the entire city. A female voice, speaking an archaic dialect of Old Realm.

(Voice) “Overseer 1-A to Overseers 1-BA through 13; Test 1 go. Report to stations for monitoring. (There was a pause) Also, unauthorized entry in Western Sector 52-395. Five, Six, track target and send Operators to location.”

Huh! That was his current location! This should be an archival replay… If it was interactive, it was a very realistic replay! Or was this just… another way of looking at Yu-Shan? Dudael was a pretty mysterious place, and even HE didn’t know all its secrets yet!

(Charles) “Hello! I was trying to check on the original design of Yu-Shan and what it was for! I need to know what will happen when I start fixing things up!”

Dudael… spit out a perfectly solid map of the geomancy – but static was starting to snow around him… It was probably time to start powering down and retreat!

(Overseer 1-A) “What… you… Mighty… fix? Just… the place… want to help… Empyrean.”

And the static became VERY sharp, and loud.

(Charles) “I’ll try to sort it out! Is there some less drastic way to get in touch?”

There was no answer – and Dudael was solidifying much as it went transparent.

(Charles) “Thank you Dudael!”

Through the geomancy, Charles sensed frantic attempts to trace him, but they were getting outpaced by his shift back to reality… He threw out an arcane link (and a cell phone number! You never knew) and a trail of sorts…

Then Dudael was back to normal; the encyclopedia was just an encylopedia again, the thesaurus just a thesaurus, and the sevenfold storm spirit was nowhere to be seen – but the map remained.

Charles headed back up, letting the archives close up behind him as things powered down. The Essence displays diminished rapidly – but the Celestial Bureaucracy was sure to send investigators now. Still, he had the geomantic map/design! That should help a lot!

Outside he could hear what sounded like a skirmish, just past the wards. It looked like… Shengxi and his squad holding back what appeared to be several dozen lesser deiphages – which were lashing out at the lions with fangs, claws, and more esoteric means of absorbing Essence.

Charles handed off the map to Aden and headed out to ward them…

(Charles) “Excuse me! I have teacakes, snacks, and fruit! It’s time for a break!”

The Lions stopped attacking when it became apparent the deiphages were no longer deiphages – but they kept a vigilant watch over the group.

(Charles) “Lunch?”

(Xiaoxiao) “Well…” (Checking with the goggles) “He’s blocked it off. And got any shortbread in there?”

(Charles) “Oh yes!”

(Shengxi) “Yeah, shortbread would be great. (He take a look at one of the former deiphages.) Damn… you’re right. Not everyone can do that.”

(Charles) “It needs fixing!”

(Yuchan) “That’s an understatement. So… uh, Shengxi, what are we going to do with these gods?”

(Charles) “Oh, I usually take them to earth to see about some domains while they’re safe from the deiphagy effect!”

(Xiaoxiao) “I believe standard procedure is take them to the nearest reclaimed territory and let the Bronzers handle it. Or we could do that. Your call, you’re the one in charge.”

(Shengxi, thinking) “Eh… domains?”

(Charles, with interest) “Ah, so some of them have gotten the ward-pattern working! And they need their domains restored or substituted!”

(Xiaoxiao) “Like Shengxi says, it’s not something anybody can do. The Bronzers usually grab Sidereals who can quickly.”

(Shengxi) “And tell me more about how you’re going about that. Not that they don’t need employment for their own safety, but I DO need something for the post-mission files.”

(Charles) “Well… what were all of you gods of?”

The pack was somewhat of a rarity among deiphages: gods of defunct technologies.

(Charles) “Hm! Well, that’s slightly awkward… Still, those usually have descendents, and the local positions work…”

(Shengxi) “What, going to stick them out in space?”

(Charles) “Why not?”

(Shengxi, shrugging) “Well, that’s out of my jurisdiction… for some reason. I’d still like to process them as they leave… bureaucracy.”

(Charles) “What does that involve?”

(Shengxi) “They’ll have to sign forms stating they’re moving to the Terrestrial Bureaucracy-such as it is. Way things are today, that’s officially exile. I’m pretty sure you’ll be backing them for Celestial positions. Chengdu told me you were the type – and since nobody stops the Lunars, hey, no jade off my hide.”

(Charles) “Well, a vacation won’t do them any harm!”

(Xiaoxiao) “No, certainly not.”

Wait… Charles had taken a bunch of Gods through a gate not so long ago… Was this a HABIT of his?

Return to Middle Earth – Gandalf and the Eclipse

Gandalf (DragonCon 2007)

Yep. “Wizard”. Can’t you tell?

Over the past few years Tolkien’s work has come up several times in relation to Eclipse d20. That’s no surprise really; Tolkien’s works – most notable The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion – are deeply entangled in the foundations of fantasy gaming.

Thus we’ve had Eclipse conversions for the Fellowship of the Ring, for the Charms and Talismans of the Rings, for Gandalf and the Balrog, for the Silmarils, and even for Morgoth and Sauron – albeit as Identities (temporary roles that you can drop into while visiting that dimension) for the Manifold Campaign.

Guidelines for converting literary characters for RPG’s can be found HERE – and here is Darth Vader for another example.

Now, occasionally someone objects – and anyone who puts in a large objection gets a large answer. Here’s the latest from Jeremy, in reply to the Gandalf and the Balrog post. As always, I’ll be going through the entire thing bit by bit in order.

-The idea of a level 8 balrog is pretty shocking, and based on a trainwreck of false assumptions.

Now, I quite understand the desire to make your favorite characters high level. What I suspect you’re missing is that Tolkien set his tale against a fairly realistic background; Most of his characters were level zero or one. World-class experts were level two or three.

An eighth level character was, in comparison and in the setting, of incredibly high level. For a discussion of that, try the Converting Literary Characters link.

“Tolkien’s Middle-Earth was magic-poor. When you came right down to it, Gandalf – one of the Istari, and one of the most powerful mages in the world…”

He’s an Istari. They don’t bear ANY resemblance to D&D wizards, other than a handful of spell effects (all of which are used as spell-like abilities, with no hint of him having learned them at Hogwarts); they have a similar name, and that is where the resemblance begins and ends.

Except, of course, that Tolkien’s work was among the inspirations for the original game – which led to a dispute with the Tolkien estate over the inclusion of Hobbits, Ents, extremely recognizable Rangers, Gandalf’s stunt with the flaming acorns, and a variety of other intellectual properties. The Tolkien Estate forced TSR to change a lot of names. In fact, we can quote one segment from an interview with Gygax that mentioned the topic… (The full interview can be found at theonering.net).

(Interviewer) “Do you enjoy the works of JRR Tolkien? If so, How did he influence your work?”

(Gary Gygax) “Oh-oh! I am going to be in trouble from the get-go! I loved THE HOBBIT, read it once to myself, then about three or four times aloud to my children.

As a Swords & Sorcery novel fan from way back–I read my first Conan yarn about 1948, was a fan and collector of the pulp SF and fantasy magazines since 1950, I was not as enamored of The Trilogy as were most of my contemporaries. While I loved Bombadil, the Nazgul too, the story was too slow-paced for me.

How did it influence the D&D game? Whoa, plenty, of course. Just about all the players were huge JRRT fans, and so they insisted that I put as much Tolkien-influence material into the game as possible. Anyone reading this that recalls the original D&D game will know that there were Balrogs, Ents, and Hobbits in it. Later those were removed, and new, non-JRRT things substituted–Balor demons, Treants, and Halflings.

Indeed, who can doubt the excellence of Tolkien’s writing? So of course it had a strong impact on A/D&D games. A look at my recommended fantasy books reading list in the back of the original DUNGEON MASTERS GUILD will show a long list of other influential fantasy authors, though.”

So that tells us where the relationship begins. Lets compare. Tolkien’s Istari studied differing fields of magic (EG: such as Sauroman studing the Rings of Power, The Silmarillion page 362), and learned things about them. They used components and tools (acorns, existing fires, staves, words of power) in working their magic. They could not work without components – as per Gandalf’s being unable to burn snow.

Now lets check the System Reference Document under “Spell-Like Abilities”:

A spell-like ability has no verbal, somatic, or material component, nor does it require a focus or have an XP cost. The user activates it mentally.

Ah. There we have it. Tolkien’s “wizards” may have had some spell-like abilities, but many of their magical powers were definitely not spell-like abilities.

Lets see about the “resemblance”… Tolkien’s “Wizards” were old, they were scholars of magic and other lore, they learned new things about magic, they invoked magic through words and components, and they had a limited reserve of magical power (thus we have Gandalf being fatigued after using a Word of Power to try and hold a door closed against the Balrog). Yep. Sounds like a pretty throughly stereotypical “Wizard” to me – and that’s a stereotype that goes back LONG before Gygax OR Tolkien.

Or to say that Keebler elves and Santa’s elves are obviously the exact same thing as D&D elves.

Ah, a classic (and totally irrelevant) strawman argument. I generally don’t find it necessary to invent silly statements and try to assign them to someone with an opposing viewpoint. I also decline to engage in partial quoting out of context. That’s why your complete post is quoted in this answer, with each piece in order, and with each item answered.

I mean, rating an angelic being who fights with a sword on his coincidental similarity to a D&D mage (who are not known for being physically supernatural immortal beings or for using swords)? Really?

Lets see now… the article doesn’t rate anything except his spellcasting in comparison to a mage. Instead it evaluates all of his displayed abilities, including his swordfighting – but by d20 standards there’s no avoiding the fact that his magic was not so good. Sauroman trapped Gandalf by locking him on a rooftop. Evidently Gandalf had no Gate, Teleport, Fly, or even Feather Fall spell. He couldn’t conjure himself a rope. He couldn’t polymorph himself and fly away. Instead, when he had urgent things to do, he… waited around until he could talk a giant eagle into giving him a lift.

Now that’s clever, and evocative, and a wonderful bit of fantasy – but in d20 terms it says that he wasn’t all that much of a spellcaster.

As far as using a sword goes… plenty of D&D wizards used swords, even in first edition. Even if you didn’t dual or multi-class, if you found a really good sword it was well worth taking that -4 non-proficiency penalty.

“Longevity” (fairly easy to achieve) is not at all the same as “immortality” (which Gandalf quite obviously did not have – except as every spirit had it).

Rating all of Gandalf’s abilities on his vague coincidental similarity to a D&D spellcaster would be like watching Equilibrium and declaring that Cleric John Preston must be a low level cleric, since he never casts spells, or watching a movie about Batman and concluding that since bats have 1 hit dice, and that he is called Batman and not Dire Batman, he must be a level 1 character.

Ah, more strawmen. First up, we’ve already disposed of that “coincidence” theory. Far more importantly, this also demonstrates rather neatly that you either didn’t bother to actually read the article you’re complaining about or that you didn’t understand it – or you’d have noticed that this is an Eclipse Classless writeup (not a Wizard) that does quite well with a sword and is using druidical or clerical magic with a modified spell list – which is a far better match to the abilities Gandalf actually displayed in the books.

That’s the result of cataloging the abilities Gandalf displayed in the original source material. He would indeed make a lousy d20 wizard – which is why he has not been built as one. Are there any abilities which have been left out? You’re quite welcome to provide the relevant quote and page number (those vary between editions, but are often helpful in locating the right section anyway).

You’re actually inadvertently correct on the next bit! “Cleric John Preston” has no “Cleric Levels”. What he calls himself is quite irrelevant; he’s not a spellcaster, he’s living in a world with no apparent magic, and he pretty certainly can’t channel positive energy to turn the undead. He’s not a d20 Cleric, he’d be a modern-setting d20 combat oriented character.

Perhaps sadly, buying all the abilities that Gandalf displayed in the source material only required eight levels worth of character points. It’s not that the character was “rated at level eight”. It’s that building a character who could do everything that Gandalf could do only required eight levels worth of points. Arguing about classes is irrelevant.

The bit about Batman… is derived entirely from your notion that the name given to something is important and the strawman argument that I should think it is. Here’s a hint; I don’t think that what you label something changes what it is. I know a car mechanic named “Jesus” (spanish spelling, and not uncommon). Does that mean that I should assume that he repairs engines by calling for miracles?

We also know that Gandalf was definitely holding back whenever he was using magic near a human, at any rate. Although the motive Istari have for holding back is different, even in D&D, a high level character would likely let his companions fight their own battles whenever possible, just like Gandalf — for one thing, they’d need the XP more than him, and for another, that draws a lot of attention.

I fear that all I can recall along those lines is a statement that the Istari were not permitted to oppose Sauron power to power. Can you actually provide a quote and a page number where it says that Gandalf didn’t use his full power against Sauroman’s army? Or the dweller in the pool? Or the Witch-King? Or, for that matter, the Balrog?

His evidence that balrogs are only level 8?

“Various elven heroes took them out, and at times the elves fought them by the swarm. They were lesser foes than dragons, although they were ‘cloaked in darkness and terrifying’.”

“Since he turned out to be level eight, it seems reasonable that his apparently near-equal opponent should also be level eight.”

He neglects to mention that at least two of these elven heroes were appropriate challengers to a being that is definitely on par with a Physical God of Greek myth (and Valar definitely seem to fulfill the exact role that the usual godly pantheon in other “campaigns” do), Morgoth, who could do things like will entire volcanic mountain ranges into being (to use as his FENCE) and whose blows hit so hard that they shattered the earth right down to the MAGMA below.

Seriously, what kind of damage is that? If any level 15 character you know can make entire volcanic mountain ranges spring up, please, link me to your character build. If any power attacker before level 20 can shatter the earth on a MISS right down to the lava, please, link em to your character build.

Ah, here you are missing a few things. Morgoth started off as the second most powerful entity in the cosmos – right after Tolkien’s stand-in for “Omnipotent Creator”. In the beginning, Melkor alone was a match for most of the Vala put together.

Fortunately for our heroic elves, in Tolkien’s writings, evil inevitably decayed and weakened.

“And Arien Morgoth feared with a great fear, but dared not come nigh her, having indeed no longer the power; for as he grew in malice, and sent forth from himself the evil that he conceived in lies and creatures of wickedness, his might passed into them and was dispersed, and he himself became ever more bound to the earth, unwilling to issue from his dark strongholds.”

-The Silmarillion, page 113.

Arien was a Maia. Of course, the Balrogs were also Maia. Morgoth was afraid of a minor member of a host that he once opposed singlehanded.

He’d gone a long way downhill, long before Fingolfin

Now, the passage you’re probably thinking of is on page 180 of my copy of the Silmarillion in “Of the ruin of Beleriand”. It states that

Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him…

Hm. I don’t actually see anything there about magma or cracking the planetary crust. Even discounting the possibility that Grond is a +1 Flaming Hammer with some odd special ability that tries to drop it’s target into an instant pit (or better, which is very likely; it is a quasi-deities primary weapon after all), have you ever tried making fire with flint and steel? If you strike a massive metal object against earth and stone hard enough you’ll get smoke, sparks, and even fire if there’s anything at all to burn (such as grass or dry dirt with some organic content) or if you hit hard enough to reduce some rock to a molten state.

Just as importantly, evidently the “mighty pit” was not so large that Fingolfin couldn’t leap aside – and we know that Fingolfin didn’t have any super-leaping powers or he wouldn’t have had to walk the rest of the time. So; Morgoth’s blows were not up to impacts like the one that formed Meteor Crater – and that impact did not punch through the planetary crust, although it created plenty of magma as kinetic energy transformed to heat.

Of course, if it had punched through the planetary crust there would (after some delay for travel time) have been a full-scale explosive volcanic eruption covering miles – which isn’t mentioned.

As for character builds that can do silly amounts of damage or make mountain ranges at low level… Try googling “Pun-Pun” or “Hulking Hurler” or any of dozens of other optimized builds. In fact it’s harder to do that sort of thing in Eclipse than in basic d20 – but you can. There are some examples (including the powers you need to purchase to be Morgoth) up on the site here.

Of course, Fingolfin was NOT an “appropriate challenger”. He lost. Badly. He did do some points of damage – but there’s no indication that the wounds he inflicted were more than painful annoyances, and he got pulverized when he got hit. All this is telling us is that – in melee – Morgoth had a powerful weapon and bad aim. That’s not too surprising since he wasn’t a melee combatant and (in Eclipse) probably never bought any base attack bonus.

Your entire argument thus comes down to “I think these two elves must have been high level”. You think that because they fought Melkor/Morgoth and did some damage before being pulverized.

Lets see… fifth or sixth level combat character in melee against a noncombat fifteenth level character.

Yep. That’s about the outcome I’d expect.

Lets check reality; Look at olympic records versus physical DC ratings. Look at the difficulty of doing original research. Almost everyone who has ever lived can be accurately represented in d20 at or below level three. There might be a few who’d require level four – but I wouldn’t count on it.

Level six is literally superhuman.

In addition, he says “they were lesser foes than dragons,” a statement not well represented by the lore. There were dragons more powerful than the typical balor, but the reverse is also true.

Ah, by “The Lore”. Lets take a quick look at the Silmarillion then. That is, after all, the only place where we’ll find information to compare lots of Dragons and Balrogs.

Page 229: Here we have Balrogs and Dragons both on the field. Glaurung split two elvish armies – and it’s noted that, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of the dwarves (who managed to wound Glaurung) the dragons would have exterminated the Noldor.

At that same battle it took Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, and another Balrog attacking from behind, to take down King Fingon.

Hm. Group of dragons versus two elvish armies – including Fingon. Elves need rescue – but it takes two Balrogs, including probably the most powerful one ever, to take down Fingon on his own.

Page 291: Balrogs and Dragons at the fall of Gondolin. Gothmog Lord of Balrogs and the Elven King kill each other. Dragons destroy the city.

Page 292: Glorfindel and a Balrog both die in a fight and a fall from a height.

Page 302: The War of Wrath. The Host of the Valar annihilates the Balrogs in a single line – “The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid”. The Dragons are then unleashed, and the Host of the Valar – which just casually destroyed the Balrogs – is driven back. There is battle in the air “all the day and through a dark night of doubt”. The hosts of the Valar prevailed only with the rising of the sun.

That’s the last appearance of Balrogs in the book. Dragons, however, are mentioned several times more. Evidently quite a few got away and didn’t need to hide.

I really can’t find anything that says that Balrogs are really in the same class as Dragons. Could “The Lore” perhaps provide a page number and reference?

Basically the argument in this complaint is entirely circular; “I’m sure that some of these characters were high level, so the others must also have been of high level!”.

Well, I agree; they were – at levels five to eight – of fabulously high level for a realistic world. In magic-rich worlds, where incredible superhuman abilities are all too common, they really wouldn’t stand out much.

Cabal: The Producer

The Producer (Zvolf)

Story: Gary Stewart’s tricks started out by merely exploiting the pocketbooks of his television audience. But now The Producer works for the Cabal now, no longer limited to merely bilking parents with overpriced merchandise. A natural-born genius only held back by his own his own erratic personality, Stewart applied his intellect to media. He developed mathematical principles of mental manipulation – at first just descriptors to help him create really obnoxious cartoon shows, but later advanced to minor hypnotic suggestion (Buy Now! Use the Deceptive Financing Terms!) Stewart quickly made a fortune, although he was too emotionally unstable to keep it.

He came to the attention of The Cabal after a brief crime spree following the cancellation of his last television production, as his personality flaws began to outweigh his profitability. Instead of smashing up the offices or going on a killing rampage, however, Stewart altered the officially-recorded ratings of the studio’s programs while sabotaging their financial systems. The effect was subtle at first, but cost the station many millions in revenue as news of the studios’s declining viewership went public alongside its hemorraging accounting system.

As it turned out, the Cabal owned that studio and was definitely not amused. However, his ability to conceal his electronic traces couldn’t stop the Cabal from noting that a mad genius with a grudge was the obvious source of the trouble. But in displaying that much talent, along with a healthy disregard for decency and the law, Stewart attracted considerable respect and interest instead of hatred. Gary Stewart immediately accepted their new employment offer, particularly as the alternative was “suicide” at the hands of Cabal agents, and became The Producer. He’s never looked back. His extreme skiills quickly earned him promotion to head of information security. As it turned out, the Cabal had long suspected he was weaving subliminal messages into his programming, and encouraged him to develop his theories even further.

The Producer now shores up the Cabal’s security by implanting loyalty in its soldiers and workers, as well as reprogramming the memories of anyone who discovers too much. While he can’t manage permanent control or total mental alteration, his abilities are quite enough to erase or implant memories, as well as inserting triggered actions. Further, his understanding of communications technology makes him responsible for much of the Cabal’s digital security as well. His ability to conceal almost all electronic and digital signatures make him the ultimate communications manager. Better yet, he’s an effective spy, with a full suite of abilities for watching everything he wants, and pulling apart the data afterward. While not a leader of the Cabal, the Producer is definitely one its most convenient, and very-well prized, servants. He’s given every courtesy and trusted to know many secrets, although frequently he learns more than his superiors desire. His Paranoid and Prankster traits put a considerable strain on his profesional relationships, as it were, but not nearly enough to discard him. The Cabal certainly notes that both make it easier to dismiss him as a madman should he ever be caught.

Height: 200cm (6’7″), Weight: 80kg (176 lbs), Sex: Male, Age: 32, Race: Caucasian (American)

Appearance: Tall but extremely thin, the producer has a very ungainly loo, as if a someone animated a scarecrow. His eyes and dart in all direcitons, while he constantly fidgets.

Value Characteristic Points
8 STR -2
12 DEX 6
12 CON 4
13 BODY 6
19 INT 9
17 EGO 14
14 PRE 4
8 COM -1
2 PD 0
2 ED 0
2.2 SPD 0
4 REC 0
24 END 0
23 STUN 0
Total 40
Points Powers END
29 10d6 Mind Control: Reprogramming Unit; Communication: Verbal, +0; Extra Time: 1 day, -3½; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1; Variable Advantage (Can make effect

triggered or delayed, etc.): Max. Advantage ¼, +1¼; OAF: -1; The Producer’s Mind Control is limited to subtle effects and is very slow to work. He usually needs his victims to watch multiple episodes

of his special productions, but that’s enough to implant hypnotic suggestions. His Mind Control is also visual, not actually Verbal, but has similar limitations compared to Telepathic.

0
27 Invisibility (Radio Listen/Transmit); Side Effects: 30/Half, -½; Always On: -½; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use,

+½; Usable by Others Number: 2, +¼; The Producer is effectively invisible to electronic tracking. His accounts can’t be found, he leaves no traces from staying in a hotel, and can transmit electronic

messages without leaving a digital trail. On the downside, he has to spend a good long time creating false identities to use. Having destroyed his digital signature completely, he also can’t turn it back on.

Anyone trying trace him digitally would need extensive work to link usual system errors and blank spots in time logs of system scattered across half the internet.

0
4 Advanced Military Electronics Package; Computer: Int 13, Dex 0, Spd 1 (-27 Points Base).
(1) Elemental Control: Electronics (3-pt reserve); All abilities Conventional Technology (-1)
a-3 Radio Listen and Transmit; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½; Invisible (Scrambled: Detectable, but untranslatable.): One Sense Group, +½
b-2 Infrared Vision; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
c-3 Telescopic Vision (Sight, +4 to PER); Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
d-2 Flash Defense (Sight, 5 pts); Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
e-2 Flash Defense (Hearing, 5 pts); Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
f-2 Detect Health of User (+1 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Touch, +0
g-2 Enhanced Perception (all) (+2 to PER); Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼
h-3 Eidetic Memory; Always On (Memory is either perfect or utterly gone): -½
i-2 Basic Computer Functions
(1) Absolute Time Sense
(1) Inertial Locator/Bump of Direction
(1) Lightning Calculator
j-2 Detect Environmental Hazards (+1 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Touch, +0; Detects Chemical Weapons, High Radiation, Etc.
k-4 GPS/Heads-Up Map Display: Navigation; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼ 14-
l-7 +3 level w/Rangefinder/Targeting System: Ranged Combat; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼; OCV Only: -½
m-4 2d6 Aid: Programs/Databases (Fade/week, Max. 12); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Extra Time: 1 min., -1½; Activation: 11-, -1; Must have

program available to load: -2; This allows the user to load maps (area knowledge), mission information, and so on. All of it should be Usable By Others/Power Lost, so you can load a total of 10 points worth

of information.

3
(3) Programs; 1) Monitor instruments and transmit information to user and command systems
2) Place call for emergency assistance if serious health issues are detected.3) Refuse to activate without proper identification of authorized user.-The first two programs normally run continiously after boot-up. The third runs at boot-up but shuts down once satisfied.
(1) English (Basic Conv.); Literacy: Standard, 0
(4) Easy Interface: Computer Programming; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼ 13-
17 Multipower: Camcorder (35-pt reserve); OAF: -1
u-6 6d6 Energy Blast; Range: 225; Versus: ED; Penetrating: +½; OAF: -1 4
u-8 5d6 Flash (Normal Sight); Range: 250; OAF: -1 5
u-18 Clairsentience (Normal Sight); See: Present, +0; Dimensions: Current, +0; Range: 100,000″; OAF: -1 7
u-18 Clairsentience (Hearing); See: Present, +0; Dimensions: Current, +0; Range: 100,000″; OAF: -1 7
u-3 N-Ray Vision; Transdimensional: Any Dimension, +1; OAF: -1
u-3 Enhanced Perception (all) (+13 to PER); OAF: -1
133 Total Powers  
Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
10 Money (Wealthy)
12 +4 level w/3 Related Skills: Cryptography, Electronics, and Computer Science
22 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  
100+ Disadvantages
20 Normal Characteristic Maxima
20 Paranoid (Very Common, Strong)
15 Overconfidence (Very Common, Moderate)
15 Villain Bonus
10 Prankster (Common, Moderate)
15 Secret Identity
95 Total Disadvantages
COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
40 + 155 = 195 195 = 95 + 100
OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
4 4 6 0 2/0 2/0 6, 12

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice – The Modern Gates, Part II

English: Artists rendering of the Kuiper Belt ...

Yeah, somewhere in there…

To continue with the list of what’s going on with Yu-Shans gates in the modern world, here we have gates 13-24.

Personally, I don’t think that anything as significant as a gate to the realm of the Celestial Gods should ever be boring – and an awful lot of the original locations and gates were.

13) In the depths of the Java Trench within the Indian Ocean, this gate, while now buried in near-molten rock, is still surrounded by a circle of first-age pylons memorializing the defeat of The White Ram, guardian of Yu-Shan – or so most who peruse the ancient records believe. Of course, ensuring the death of a seer is more than a bit tricky; The White Ram had transferred a portion of it’s essence into the structure of the very gate it would be ambushed at – ensuring that a new incarnation of itself would eventually arise, transformed and free of The Lidless Eye That Sees, but with it’s old memories and powers. The Exalts who slew it’s body eventually detected the survival of it’s soul – but could find no way to extract it from the gate short of the destruction of Yu-Shan. While the pylons were intended to be an eternal containment, even first age materials begin to bend beneath the pressure of continents and the burning geomancy of the deep earth – as The White Ram foresaw. Soon enough, as a primordial deva measures time, it will be free again.

14) In the disruptions of the reshaping, two contradictory realities were formed and bonded together to create what is now Australia. In one, powerful Fey have been forged into totemic forms, and primordial behemoths of unthinkable power roam, constantly recreating the worlds wyld-infused lands – accepting any imaginable force and incorporating it into creations weave. Here, each morning dawns as the first day, unmaking what came before to transform it into what comes after. Rathess itself – and the Yu-Shan gate – endures here, at the heart of the Dreamtime.

In the other, and far more easily reached, version of reality we have the physical Australia – but there are ways to draw on the powers of the Dreamtime, and even now there are trails here and there which can lead one in and out of mundane reality – and occasional echoes in one world of occurrences in the other.

15) This gate of Adamant and Jade emerges on Neptune – where what was once a river of water now flows with liquid ammonia, and strange creatures descended from reshaped humans and their beasts are defying terrible storms, surging seas, and crushing gravity to spread across a world far, FAR, larger than the earth. While still primitive and tribal – held there in part by a shortage of ways to melt and forge the ice that is their worlds closest approximation to metal ore – the unexplored frontier is now ten thousand miles from the gate at it’s nearest point.

16) Within a series of mighty caverns deep within one of the major bodies of the Asteroid Belt bored gods – and some Lunar Exalts looking for a clubhouse outside of Yu-Shan – have installed a series of low-grade manses to provide atmosphere and local gravity, glittering veins of crystal to support plant growth, and a variety of eccentric creatures. It’s become popular as a place to take a walk in “nature” for the safer paths – and as an obstacle-racecourse for the tougher ones.

17) In Australia, in the depths of the eastern coastal forest, streams tumble down many miles of mighty gorges in cascading waterfalls as they rush towards the coast. Behind one of the dozens of waterfalls along the route of one particular stream lies a shallow cave – from which can be reached both the Yu-Shan gate, several ancient solar tombs, the rock-encased remains of Nexus, and a route into the Dreamtime through what was once an ancient wyld pocket. While the aboriginal people of Australia once occasionally visited here – trading the wonders of the Dreamtime for occasional favors from Heaven – humanity has forgotten the existence of this magical place for many thousands of years.

18) On the island of Sulawesi in Malaysia a Soulsteel gate stands within an ancient series of crypts and tunnels now hidden high in the central mountains – the last remains of Sijan. Here the stygian silence and darkness of ancient crypts weigh oppressively – and few are willing to disturb the place simply to reach an incredibly inconvenient location. Eventually some archeologist or treasure-hunter is going to locate the place – and who knows what they’ll unleash?

19) In tiny Tuvalu (Oceania) the location of the gate marks what was once a major battle of the Balorean Crusade – and most locals can trace their lineage to the fey court that held the area for much of an earlier age. While full fey are rare, the population is reasonably well aware of the true nature of reality – and supports much of the local economy by accommodating gods who wish to spend a little time on a Polynesian-style beachfront sipping an exotic gossamer drink.

20) Now located on the surface of a small asteroid floating in the “L5” region of the Earth – Moon system, this gate was once located within a shadowland. Now, with what is left of the area permanently adrift in the desolation of space, it effectively opens into the underworld – or at least into an isolated chunk of it, reflecting creation as it once was. Unfortunately, what once was includes the Well of Udr. The Celestial Lions usually keep this gate firmly shut and heavily guarded.

21) Oddly enough, despite now being located in the full Wyld, Xu-Lak has changed less than most of the other gates. It’s still Yu-Shans Embassy to the Wyld. Unfortunately, since the Raksha and Unshaped made a second – and nearly successful – attempt to destroy all Creation, Yu-Shan has VERY little to say to the Wyld – making this just another gate that mostly stays shut and very heavily guarded. Equally unfortunately, the gate now opens far enough out to be in pure chaos – making even defining a direction back to Creation virtually impossible.

22) The giant “Petrified” Tree into which this gate is carved has – with it’s relocation to the Kuiper Belt and colonization by some of the Fey – turned out to be less “Petrified” and more “slow silicon metabolism”. Over the past thirty thousand years it’s increased in size considerably and seems to be slowly collecting additional mass from the Kuiper Belt and bonding it together – becoming a truly colossal tree connecting fey iceburg-palaces. The fey, lurking in the darkness between the stars in their icy crystal fairylands have gotten even odder than most fey.

23) This lonely gate opens on a mass of ice in the Oort Cloud, where an assortment of artificer-gods and a few other entities with similar interests have built themselves a small stardock, and are experimenting with a wide variety of more-or-less magical ships and ways of surmounting the lightspeed barrier.

24) Located in Northern Russia, the indestructible ice of this gate occasionally spawns “frost giants” – mighty warrior constructs with a variety of ice powers. While these are, fortunately, less indestructible than the gate that creates them, they can be extremely dangerous.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXVII – Aikiko’s Search

Lí­mite Chile/Argentina en el paso del Bermejo...

Can’t the ancient master ever live in a condo?

Meanwhile Kiko was considering… if the others were anything like Charles… the best way to find them would be to look for places where things had gotten over-the-top WEIRD, and where the local Dragon-Blooded were scrambling to cover things up. That meant… News stories that had been big but were being downplayed, crank internet sites, and rags like the National Inquirer.

Oh good grief. She was turning into a “Man in Black”. All she needed was a set of sunglasses and a flashy-thing… Maybe she should just go with it and ask Charles for one!

Nah. He’d probably object to the mental meddling. He had some sort of hangup – or scruple – about that! That might be fair enough after all; it was sort of high-handed to do that to people… Maybe that woman who wrote the “Harry Potter” stuff was more tuned in to reality than most people thought! She had the attitude of most magical beings towards “Muggles” just about right!

It took a good deal of poking around and analysis (and nine successes on a 10d investigation check) before she had a list…

  • On the Baltic Sea Istaros Mining Inc had reported the theft of four hundred and eighteen pounds of high-grade amber from it’s processing plant – and it’s replacement with 1260 pounds of .999999 pure gold. The board of directors was currently unable to decide between strengthening security and putting out a welcome mat. The local authorities were investigating the “crime” as a possible money-laundering scheme – since the value of the gold, of course, far exceeded the value of the amber.
  • In Kyrgyzstan (seriously? there was a place called Kyrgyzstan? didn’t that mean something kind of weird in Old Realm? Was that tradition or just coincidence?) sixteen archeologists and students had mysteriously died opening a neolithic tomb. It was reportedly a burial mound with surprisingly advanced stonework for the period – estimated at 8,000 BC – but it had unexpectedly collapsed shortly after being opened for investigation. The entire archeological team was found covered in dust and unconscious around the entrance. Most had died enroute to the hospital or in the hospital without awakening… Those few who had recovered consciousness before dying had raved incoherently. The entire group was dead within hours. The authorities, looking at the dust that scattered over them and around the collapsed site, suspected mycotoxins. The site had been closed indefinitely.
  • In England, an amateur band called “Helical Storm” had been banned from performing while an investigation into the outrageous special effects displayed during their latest performance was conducted. The police suspected that hallucinogens had been released to support the “effects”, but had not yet been able to identify the agent in question to prefer charges. The victims had reported bizarre transformations, strange creatures appearing on stage, some sort of music competition straight out of “Merlin”, and quite a lot of people had somehow wound up with no clothes on…
  • In China, one “Yan Tong Ling”, the leader of a small ancestor cult, had recently been arrested by the Chinese government – but had apparently escaped, somehow leaving behind a withered mummy in his cell. The search for him was ongoing – but the episode was generating enough bad internet jokes to sweep over the Great Firewall of China like a tidal wave swept over a garden wall.
  • From Malaysia the news was that a notorious – or at least rumored – “Secret Martial Arts Tournament” was turning out to be for real; the Besi Hantuperajin (Er… “Iron Spirit Art”? “Iron Smith of Ghosts”? “Forge of Iron Souls”? Was that really as ominous as it sounded to her?) had been considered semi-legendary, but invitations had recently been issued to some of the most skillful martial artists in the world. Of course, a fair number of sensationalists had promptly concluded that – if the competition was for real – perhaps it’s equally legendary prizes were as well. More sensible sources had concluded that it was most likely just an attempt to capitalize on an old story – while many of the worlds major schools were denouncing the entire thing as a publicity-seeking sham, and had advised their students to ignore the entire thing. A few, more authoritarian, schools had banned it outright.
  • In Argentina the current headlines – at least in a few minor papers – were shouting “Freak Landslide Spares Andean Village!”. It seemed that the village of Huascar, in the high Andes, had reported a miracle – that a massive landslide had neatly split, had and rolled on by on each side of the village – leaving the village and it’s inhabitants unharmed. Local credit was being given to the “Spirits of the Mountains”, and small offerings to those beings were being made. A few of the locals were even reporting seeing a mountain spirit standing above the village dividing the avalanche with it’s bare hands. Naturally enough, most of the major papers were simply reporting that some quirk of the ground, or perhaps a large boulder that had stuck temporarily, had diverted the flow.
  • In Oregon, a local Phi Kappa Epsilon fraternity had reported that “Godzilla” had attacked one of their fraternity parties, and carried off two members and three young women. The police had admitted the presence of a colossal set of footprints in nearby lawns, but were currently treating the incident as a prank.

That one could well BE a prank – but still, there were enough oddities in the details that something in it just… rang true to her.

They all did. There had been hundreds that had NOT of course – but most of those were such obvious nonsense that they could be easily discarded. They were just diversions – probably set up by the Terrestrials – from the (rare) real supernatural occurrences… It probably helped them a lot that so much of the current population was determined to ignore the occasional weird bit.

Could the humans actually be suppressing such things? Sure, the power of any individual normal human was trivial – but there were more than seven billion of them now, and monotheism did focus their power well. That might be enough to keep a lid on a lot of the minor spirits and elementals, and THAT would let the Terrestrials focus on the major stuff.

Gaah! She’d caught theorizing from Charles! She’d better focus on her patrol and on just why she was thumping this fellow over the head!

(Slightly later) Well, she wasn’t too good at dealing with spirits just yet, though the ancestor cultist incident is curious. The tomb was probably more dangerous than those archaeologists ever thought; it sounded like prior-shape-of-reality stuff. Maybe a tomb-Manse? The rock band might be a lot of fun to check out, but Lytek was expecting results, and she might get high on the stuff and hang out for weeks.

Lytek did actually have a fair amount of patience. He was roughly 36,000 years old after all!

The Godzilla case was amusing though. Even if that wasn’t a Guardian, she might have to check that out and congratulate the pranksters! The tournament definitely sounded interesting too! Come to think of it, that mining case was also interesting; who was running around transmuting gold to amber? And the village too… Argh! So much interesting stuff to check out! Of course, there was the last one…

  • Doctors in Ontario’s Sisters of Mercy hospital (Outside Ottawa) were currently fighting a legal battle to avoid releasing ultrasound images to the patients involved (six pregnant teenagers, ages fifteen to sixteen), citing an ongoing internal investigation and an inability to release any results (or any other reasons for NOT releasing those results) until it was complete. While the six young women involved were currently unable to get second opinions or scans due to Canada’s single-payer and que system (after all, in a mere five months or so they would KNOW anyway, and so it wasn’t considered urgent), it was likely that they would be able to manage soon. Support was pouring in from women’s rights groups – who felt that the doctors had no right to withhold the girls test results – to fund a trip to the US and ultrasound scans there for them.

Not revealing WHY they wouldn’t release the ultrasounds could be bad… mutations? And that wasn’t much younger than she was! What was going on there?

A bit of sympathy put that one fairly high up the list – and looking up a map of Yu-Shan’s gate locations didn’t take very long. Given money, and modern transportation on the earthly end… it shouldn’t take very long to reach any one of the locations really.

Tentatively… the Hospital, than the Fraternity, and then the Andes. It looked like it would be easier to cross into Canada from the US than it would be to use the Canadian gate- the Northwest Territories were not exactly conveniently placed – but that was no trouble…

Ottawa was quite an interesting place! She took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing, even if she was mostly interested in the hospital – which currently had a heavy police guard, a swarm of protestors, and a lot of guys in dark suits. The way that her commando armor was set at the moment she’d blend in best with the protestors – but thank goodness for changeable clothing!

The guys in dark suits were… mostly standing around, watching, and directing the policemen. It looked like they were in charge. Weird! Canadian feds, or something more sinister? She’d bet on the latter!

A bit of scouting around was easy enough… the place was in the cities greenbelt, surrounded by tress and rolling hills. Basic security was… A fence and a few cameras, now augmented by the police and the men in suits watching. The suits did seem to be Canadian Feds – or were at least well disguised as such – but they were mostly checking ID’s and keeping the protestors out. The doctors and nurses and such were… being passed on in, as were scheduled patients and emergency traffic.

OK; the security lockdown wasn’t too severe. Perhaps she could just leap onto the roof from a nearby tree? Of course, if there were other supernaturals around, somebody was likely to catch it – and she didn’t want to be blatant. Not only was that the opposite of how she was starting to prefer to work, it would freak everybody out and possibly cause chaos in an already bad situation…

The security check seemed to mostly involve appointments, some computer queries, and checking ID’s. Drat! Hacking wasn’t her thing, and she wasn’t much for false paperwork either…

Well, the parking garage was the nearest high building – only forty feet or so away, with a connecting walkway-bridge. It had a couple of cops checking people in and out, but it looked like the main security check was is in the foyer where the bridge connected to the main building. Basic video surveillance again… Running up the garage with Spider-Foot Style was likely to be noticed… Switch to a cops outfit and try to get in that way? Of course, they’d ask for credentials, and most of them appeared to know each other, so that was probably trouble too.

Well, she did have the Easily-Overlooked Presence Method! If she just made sure no one was looking when she jumped the fence and made sure that her clothes fit in… Hospitals were full of people bustling around carrying stuff. Who would look twice?

Besides, if somebody did, she could always run.

A quick trot up a tree, a backflip over the fence to land inside – well beyond the range of the various simple sensors on the fence – and she was in.

Huh. Spending all that time in Yu-Shan, surrounded by gods who were utter masters of their specialties, sometimes she forgot just how big an edge she had over any normal human agent! The impact of the jump alone would have killed most normal people if they’d had any hope of setting it up in the first place…

No time to spend dwelling on it though! Ducking into the utility area in a fold of the walls and starting up was the work of a moment. Her armor shifted from a nurses outfit to a maintenance man’s gear before she went past the camera into the area. Was speed better than caution?

Well, she should still be easy to overlook as long as she wasn’t doing anything too abnormal… Mundane climbing it was! And without breaking any mortal records either! She could always shift to Spider-Foot Style if she needed to…

Aikiko’s stealth check easily beat out most of the observers; the were, after all, mostly just humans. No one had enough empowered agents to waste them on mere security for minor operations…

A couple of people on the roof? Guards?

Nah. Sneaking in a surreptitious smoke break. Easy enough to duck past while they were looking the other way with a modest burst of speed. Ha! Just like that one time in the slums, only with less tentacles…

The upper floor turned out to be the cancer wards. The place was teeming with harried CNA’s, nurses at the central station, and assorted arguing doctors – mostly waving charts full of papers, looking at computer screens, and discussing the status of several diagnosed-terminal patients.

…Oh. The cancer ward. That put an end to the cockiness… Still, a bit of listening in was easy enough after she picked up a few towels – and revealed that the doctors were studying charts and complaining about “secret government experiments” – and about locking up patients. Looking in on the charts themselves, they were all… showing distinct improvements. There hadn’t been any deaths in the last eight days.

That was weird! She was no doctor, but even she knew that “terminal” usually meant “not going to make it.”

She went to have a look at the patients. There were three wings, with patients in rooms up and down each one – and it was easy enough to wander along and look in on them… There was a fair assortment, with a surprising number of youngsters who’d apparently just checked in during the last few days. Only the youngest were being allowed visitors – most of whom ere overjoyed about the “remission”.

Aikiko had to struggle not to slip in and visit some of the kids herself – she knew that young cancer patients were often lonely, and she didn’t like seeing others suffer – bit for the moment she contented herself with listening in on the doctors making noises about last-ditch treatments, sudden responses, and cancers gone into remission. Most of the kids are just happy; it wasn’t not hurting any more.

Most of the parents and relatives were equally mystified; why had they suddenly been transferred? Yes, the change had indeed apparently done the kids good, but…

Aikiko had to agree; that was good, but pretty mysterious! Maybe she should have invested in some magical senses! She was sadly lacking in those beyond her commando armor’s nightsight. That was making life unexpectedly harder! She’d really have to learn some of that sort of thing! She knew well enough that there was no known magical cure for cancer – other than magic of course.

Heading down took her through a series of other wards – and a series of similar situations. The doctors were none too sure of what was going on – but apparently did have some sort of protocol; something labeled “Archangel” – which apparently meant “shuttle your worst cases through as fast as possible while it lasts”? So something like this had happened before?

Oh of course it had. Every so often you’d get someone who’d Exalt without knowing about the secrecy preference, or a new hospital god would wake up and be overly helpful (or just try to promote his/her/its hospital over all the others, or some fey would decide to stir everyone up – and there would be mass healings until… until someone who valued secrecy more than mercy caught up with whoever-it-was and made them quit.

On the second floor there was a much heaver guard, more guys in suits, several odd people – and a sealed-off wing – or at least one with a new door and a special checkpoint. Even without special essence senses, there was a crackle of essence in the air here – coming from the sealed-off wing. There was an active ward there, and a powerful one – and possibly a lot more than one.

Hmph! Definitely major supernatural, or even Exalted, activity here! A few minutes watching the odd folk… Looked like… a wiccan priestess, a notable television psychic, a UFO nut, and several scientists.

Hm… from what she could pull up… the TV psychic probably did have at least a little skill in clairvoyance. The UFO nut… well, he might be seeing SOMETHING, but it was probably in his head. The priestess… well, she might know a few things, but she was pretty sure that most of the Wiccans knew a lot less about actual magic than SHE did, and that was saying something! After all, if they knew something… it would be common knowledge by now. Maybe some of the guys in the suits were doing it?

Two of the suit guys seemed impatient, annoyed, and a bit incredulous – and one of the scientists seemed simultaneously less mystified and more incredulous than the others. And she was fairly sure that two of the suits were showing some of the signs of elemental aspects…

Of course. Why were the Terrestrials always the best-dressed people in the room? Was it just the money? Of course, Intelligence guys classically wore good suits… They were usually pretty perceptive too.

What was it the one was saying?

(Suit #1) “We could try again”

(Suit #2) “Why waste more power? If it was going to work, the first time should have shattered the wards like they were made of spun sugar!”

Wait; they HADN’T put up the wards? If only she had Essence sight or a bit of thaumaturgy she might have a better idea of what was going on…

Well, she knew a LITTLE – you couldn’t hang around with Charles without picking up a little bit unless you were deaf – and it would be better than trying to punch the ward down; she was pretty sure that that would be foolhardy…

(With seven successes on a six die pool, improvising a few hours of essence sight was easy enough)

And it even worked! Not bad for a novice use of the arts!

It looked like… the wards around the area kept out anyone hostile (specifically including anyone who was inclined to recommend, or perform, an abortion), any doctor or medical personage who wanted to meddle, raksha, most spirits, terrestrials, ghosts, and a variety of other menaces… Layers and LAYERS of wards. Major healing and other protective spells too. The few other people with any power were… apparently also trying to analyze things.

It also looked like a terrestrial-circle counterspell had hit the wards and… bounced. She was no great mage, but she was pretty sure that THAT should not happen! Not unless someone with serious power was meddling! That explained a lot!

So; the guards were keeping an eye on who could actually go in, and trying to figure out what was going on. She should be able to get in – she wasn’t hostile and didn’t fit into any of the broad categories the wards covered – but an attempt would be quite blatantly obvious… She was almost curious enough to try anyway!

A clipboard and towels – and her charm – were enough to make the guards assume that she was yet another CNA – but one of the terrestrials gave her an incurious glance – and then did a bit of a double-take and moved to intercept her.

And there weren’t even any windows nearby!… Ah! The lounge would do! It had outside windows and no one in it at the moment…

She didn’t need anything more than natural speed to make it to the lounge ahead of the man – but he didn’t seem particularly hostile, and wasn’t raising the alarm… Besides, she didn’t want to make a racket! There were sick people around!

Ah good. There were handy windows in case she needed to get out. Still, for all she knew, the man might just want some coffee!

(Suit #1) “So… who do you represent? What’s your interest?”

(Aikiko) “I’m an independent investigator.”

Huh! Not quite what she was expecting! The man must be bored. Still, she didn’t quite want to reveal that she was in Lytek’s employ. For one thing, most Terrestrials weren’t even aware that he existed!

(Aikiko) “I’d heard about weird stuff here and wanted to check it out.”

(Suit #1, somewhat bitterly) “Weird, oh YES. SOMEBODY seems to want to blow the entire game! Six girls pregnant by – and with – SOMETHING. Something obviously inhuman! And somebody is funneling through major protective spells every time one of them so much as GETS NERVOUS. Couldn’t they have gotten nervous BEFORE spreading their legs? And whatever-it-is can’t seem to tell WHO is sick in the vicinity, and keeps healing EVERYONE. We can barely contain it here! And – what the hell – everyone is going to know it anyway in another five months or less!”

(Aikiko) “Inhuman? What do you mean by “Inhuman” – or is that under wraps?”

(Suit #1) “Heh. Every doctor here knows, somebody leaked to the blasted PRIEST, and he wants to do an exorcism, and they’ve been showing the packet to everyone…”

Hm. The man DID seem pretty desperate to find some answers

(Suit #1) “…so I might as well show it to you – if you will promise me that you’ll share anything that YOU know or can deduce about it!”

(Aikiko) “Oookay… sure thing, sir.”

Wow! They really must be desperate!

Well… she was no medic – but she had a look.

It looked like… an embryonic… hollywood werewolf. There seemed to be… three boys, two girls, and one ultrasound – the first one – which had come out… blank? Someone hadn’t known what an Ultrasound was and had blocked it? Ah; later tests had shown it to be another girl.

Well that was kind of… creepy, but would probably be cute when they came out!

Still, there were all kinds of things that could look like werewolves. Maybe this had something to do with Charles? It did seem to be his style of magic in some ways, didn’t he say he was out to fix the universe? Maybe this was a part of it, although it was weird even for HIM. The wards sure seemed like something he’d be able to put up – and the healing healing…

She didn’t want to rat on Charles, but she HAD said that she’d let this guy know what she could deduce…

(Aikiko) “Well, definitely looks like baby werewolves, but you knew that already. I know this guy who might be helpful…”

She referred yet ANOTHER group of Terrestrials to Charles, without directly ratting on him.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice – The Modern Gates, Part I

Qingnian Lu, a Turpan city street shaded by gr...

Qingnian Lu; Still a pleasant place after all this time…

Yu-Shan’s gates are pretty much indestructible – and Gaia went to some trouble to pull most of them back within the borders of creation during the reshaping. In fact, she managed to pull most of them quite close to the center of the universe, the better to conceal them from the Unshaped Hosts.

Thus many of the gates open to Earth – and most of the remainder open to places within the solar system.

To start our list of modern gates, here are the ones that used to open to the Blessed Isle – an area that now roughly corresponds to Eurasia.

1) Iceland. Buried deep within the throat of an active volcano, this gate has led a few courageous explorers – during lulls in the volcanic activity – to describe a fantastic realm hidden deep within the depths of a hollow earth. The ancient ruins buried far beneath the surrounding lava flows and sheets of ice would be quite a revelation to the modern world.

2) Deep beneath the waters of the Atlantic, this gate resides in the silt-covered ruins of a modest settlement. Unfortunately, it is little-accessed these days, and continues to be guarded by a fabulous seagoing behemoth capable of perceiving and blasting both spirits and physical beings. Given the near-uselessness of the gates current location, and the considerable power of its guardian (which has fed for eons upon the energies of the gate itself), no one has yet bothered to try and forcibly reopen the gate.

3) On the Azores, along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a gateway is carved out of ancient volcanic rock. For unknown reasons it can be used by anyone, with no need for charms or magic – and so is usually kept closed and sealed.

4) About eighty miles off the coast of Ireland, this gate is buried in the sea floor, and is – every so often – used by various sea gods, who occasionally disport themselves in the waters about the Emerald Isle, gathering small cults and producing occasional god-blooded offspring to become heroes and myths. There has been something of a crackdown on the practice for the last few centuries however, resulting in much fading of the old traditions.

5) In the British Isles (and in a few spots across the English Channel) the magical substrate of dozens of lakes were patterned after one of the few stable points in the area during the reshaping – a lake stable because it held a gate to Yu-Shan just beneath it’s glittering surface. Now, each of those lakes serves as an interchangeable gate – but Yu-Shan has increased the guards since the “lady of the lake

” episode. A few brave mystics continue to use the gate as a transportation network – ducking into one lake only to emerge from another – but few have the arrogance to keep popping up in front of a contingent of Celestial Lions without a VERY good reason.

6) In a grove of trees near Paris curious glyphs glow beneath their bark under the light of the moon and strange voices call at night. Here, where the magic of the gate is damaged and twisted by the long-forgotten death of a Primordial, a proper offering to the powers that once were can meld the flesh and souls of man and beast (Sacrifice an animal with the appropriate ritual and pick up to (Will + Occult) points worth of mutations. The user may spend a point of will to manifest or banish these mutations as a six-tick action).

7) Egypt, near Memphis. Located at the center of an ancient temple of Bast, material beings have a hard time reaching this gate, since they must worm their way to it through a tangle of fallen stone – the remains of the structure once erected by humans to enclose the indestructible gate and to honor the gods who occasionally passed through it.

8) Displaced into a pocket realm by the stresses of the reshaping, this gate hangs unseen some hundreds of feet above the ruins of Babylon in Iraq. From it’s pocket realm the whispering voices of the gods who occasionally visit to survey the middle east – a popular pastime of the War Gods – pass into earth. Even from ground level especially sensitive mortals can sometimes hear them, and tap their divine knowledge and power. As you come closer to the invisible portal to the pocket realm, that becomes easier – and if you can reach the threshold, you can simply stroll on through into an idyllic celestial realm even before reaching Yu-Shan. Sadly, the ziggurat that once allowed men to visit the gods has long since fallen.

9) Hidden in the Himalayas on the northern border of India, the Dhorash gate once opened into a divine sanctum used by the local nature gods. With the reshaping, the sanctum – a place of considerable power with manse-like characteristics – was bound into the mountains, becoming a hidden valley full of magic for it’s residents to draw on (including life-extension and healing effects) wonders of nature (including many magical plants and animals now extinct elsewhere on earth), and elegant structures – but the entire area can only be located by following a hidden trail through treacherous peaks.

10) In Japan, deep beneath Mount Fuji, sleeps the shattered remains of the Imperial Manse – and whatever is left of the Sword of Creation. Unfortunately, it is now buried deep indeed, and is apparently guarded by some of the greatest horrors of the underworld. A few suspect that the Jadefolk have reclaimed one of Autochthon’s greatest works, but most feel that the manse is probably derelict – and extraordinarily dangerous. Unfortunately, the gate was sealed with the Scarlet Empresses mystical key – and that has been lost for thirty thousand years.

11) This gate emerges near Turpan City, China – once a stop along the ancient Silk Road, and still an important agricultural center. The gate overlooks Moonlight Lake, one of the lowest exposed places on earth.

12) In Siberia, the Tunguska gate has been unreliable ever since a wild flare-up of geomantic energies was triggered by some intrusion form outside of Fate. The warped geomancy of the area has caused some very strange things indeed to happen to gods who attempt to use the gate. Even stranger things happen to mortals. Given that the area – including the immediate area around the gate – has warped to the point that a variety of wyld pockets and pocket realms have spawned, has worried Yu-Shan to the point where the gate is usually kept sealed.

Cabal: Myrmidon

Myrmidon

Story: The word Myrmidon means three things.

First: an extremely skilled soldier who fears nothing, advancing ushakably and defending unbreakably.

Second: an obedient minion who does not question his master’s wishes, carrying them out without pity or remorse.

Third: a soldier of Achilles in the Trojan War. (Well, two out three ain’t bad.)

Myrmidon embodies the mercenary ideal. He does not stop to ask questions; he immediately seeks out his target, destroys it with extreme prejudice, and returns to collect his pay. In a direct conflict, it takes a great deal to drive him off, while he hits extremely hard in response. He doesn’t waste a great deal of time on drama and he doesn’t pause to trade taunts and threats with his victim. He views himself as a very small fighter/bomber, an expensive tool to obliterate your target.

Myrmidon uses a variety of tactics, but prefers two basic, straightforward techniques in combat. First, he can slam the target at high speed, using his Scorpion Lance to kill quickly, taking whatwever hits the enemy dishes out. Alternatively, his Force Field and hefty defenses allow him to wear down opponents, letting them tire themselves out while he weakens them with a barrage of shard fire in return.

He has few weaknessness. First, he’s quite slow; his heavy, customized power armor doesn’t grant him superhuman reflexes or swiftness. Meanwhile, his flight pack packs a lot of punch, but boasts little manueverability.  It should come as no surprise that he lacks special defenses. He earned his armor from mercenary work, not battling psychics and mages (mostly, anyway). A superteam would easily overwhelm him if he’s on his own. That said, he can inflict a lot of damage and absorb a lot of punishment, and can escape rapidly if things don’t go his way. While he doesn’t have soldiers or minions personally, he makes a point of knowing what the guards, warmachines, and weapons of anyone he works for can do. It makes him more effective at fighting with them. Plus, he’s been betrayed before, or been asked by a new client to blow the tar of out a previous employer.

Myrmidon works only for money, but he’d definitely offer a discount for killing Martyr. He’s never been able to bring Martyr to bear long enough to get a killing blow. In return, Martyr stole his Combat Dress and then redecorated it, a foul insult to Myrmidon’s “Honor”. Fortunately for Martyr, Myrmidon isn’t always available to the Cabal, as he does contract work around the world. The Cabal pays good enough rates that he’ll guard critical installations or hunt targets for them even in stable, more-or-less peaceful nations like the United States. He knows stealth is not his strong suit, however.

Height: 177cm (5’10”), Weight: 100kg (220 lbs), Sex: Male, Age: 34, Race: Caucasian (Greek)

Appearance: A heavy-set man with olive skin and narrow-set eyes. He has many scars, old bullet wounds, and the like dotting his body. Out of his armor, he’s impeccably dressed.

Value Characteristic Points
12/45 STR 2
13 DEX 9
10/30 CON 0
13/33 BODY 6
13 INT 3
13 EGO 6
10 PRE 0
12 COM 1
6 PD 4
6 ED 0
3 SPD 7
8 REC 0
60 END 0
54 STUN 0
Total 38
Points Powers END
7 30-Point Heavy Power Armor Elemental Control (20-pt reserve); Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1; All abilities -.5 OIF (Power Armor), -1 (Conventional Technology Only), -.25 (Visible: power armor is pretty obvious). Characters using heavy power armor will usually want heavy weapons as well, and will need to spend some of their extra points on either the armor or on the multipower reserve.
a-7 Flash Defense (Sight, 40 pts); Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
b-7 4d6 Flash (Normal Sight); Range: 200; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1 4
c-7 +20 BODY; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
d-11 20″ Flight (NC: 160″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×8, +10; Non-Combat (MPH): 179; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1 4
e-11 Armor (15 PD/15 ED); Hardened: ×1, ¼; Always On: -½; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
f-10 Life Support Systems; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
(1) Life Support: High Pressure/Vacuum; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
(1) Life Support: High Radiation; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
(4) Need Not Breathe; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
(1) Life Support: Intense Heat/Cold; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
g-6 +33 STR; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½; Reduced END: Half, +¼; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1 1
h-7 +20 CON; Activation (The armor must be activated system-by-system. Myrmidon does not need to check every time he uses a system once it’s been active. Assume that he needs at least five minutes to activate everything.): 11-, -1
24 Multipower: Scorpion Lance (55-pt reserve); OAF: -1; Charges: 16, +0; Concentrate: ½ DCV, -¼; The Scorpion Lance is a weapon he designed alongside the best technicians the Cabal could provide. It’s a cruel, shapeshifting weapon designed to impale enemies with jagged shards of energized crystal. Mymidon also learned how to use it as a melee weapon, finding that it could penetrate defenses more easily in close combat, even worse than firing barrages of razor-tipped crystals. Burning out one of the shards can also provide a temporary shield.
u-4 Force Field (20 PD/20 ED); Continuing Charges: 1 Turn, -2 lev; OAF: -1; Charges: 16, +½; Concentrate: ½ DCV, -¼ 0
u-7 3d6 Killing Attack (RKA); Range: 335; Autofire: 5 shots, ½; OAF: -1; Charges: 16, +0; Concentrate: ½ DCV, -¼ 0
u-2 2d6+1 Killing Attack (HTH) (Total 4d6+1); Range: 0; Penetrating: +½; OAF: -1; Charges: 16, +0; Concentrate: ½ DCV, -¼ 0
110 Total Powers  
Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
9 Tactics 15-
6 Engineering: Powered Armor 15-
10 Money (Wealthy)
15 +3 level w/HTH Combat
12 +4 level w/All Ranged Attacks
52 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  
100+ Disadvantages
15 Always Obeys Orders of Superiors (Very Common, Moderate)
20 Code of Chivalry (Common, Total)
15 Greedy (Common, Strong)
5 Reputation (8-)
20 Normal Characteristic Maxima
25 Villain Bonus
100 Total Disadvantages
COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
38 + 162 = 200 200 = 100 + 100
OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
4 4 4 0 21/15 21/15 4, 8, 12

Kitsune of the Eclipse, Part II

キタキツネ (北狐 kita kitsune), a Vulpes vulpes schre...

The first step in coming up with modifiers for a Kitsune lies in coming up with the modifiers for a Fox.

That’s actually a bit of a problem. Foxes are such minor creatures that they didn’t get official statistics – and the ones for a medium-sized dog are pretty obviously far too generous. Dogs kill and hurt people pretty often; foxes… don’t. The few recorded attacks on humans by foxes pretty much all fall into the “dismal failure” category – including attacks on sleeping infants. Foxes normally back down from housecats. A young boy being attacked by a rabid fox suffered a painful nip – but simply scooped it up and – when it wouldn’t calm down – swung it’s head against the ground. The really annoying part was the rabies shots.

In d20 terms that pretty much means… no really effective attacks (failing to kill sleeping one hit point infants despite multiple bites is pretty pathetic), no worthwhile defenses (easily killed by an unarmed child), massive penalties to Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence (they’re small, fragile, don’t live very long even with the best of care, and may be bright animals, but they’re still not really very clever by human standards; ergo, they have the usual animal intelligence of  two as a base).

They are very quick though. That’s something.

So a Fox / Kitsune gets… Scent, Low-Light Vision, boosted Dexterity, boosted Movement Speed, the usual animal-senses +2 boost to Wisdom, the usual Awakened Animal intelligence – and some fairly massive penalties to Strength and Constitution.

But wait! Aren’t Kitsune supposed to be extremely cunning and intelligent?

Are they?

Lets look at a classic Kitsune story – the tale of a fox who liked to go riding.

A pretty young girl often stood on the bank of the Kaya river to the east of the Ninnaji temple, Kyoto in the evening. When a man on horseback passed going in the direction of the capital, she would ask him to give her a ride, saying “I want to ride to the capital behind you.” Most would agree – but, after riding a little ways, the girl would slip down and run away in the shape of a fox, barking with delight. This prank was repeated many times.

The tale was told at the quarters of the Takiguchi (the guards at the Imperial palace). On hearing it a young takiguchi officer (“the takiguchi” hereafter) said: “I will catch her and teach her a lesson!” Other takiguchi officers present said with one voice: “Certainly we will catch her!” Said the takiguchi who spoke first: “I will capture her tomorrow evening.”

The next evening the takiguchi went rode his horse to the bank of the Kaya river, but did not see the girl. Disappointed, he was riding back in the direction of the capital when he saw a girl standing by the roadside. On seeing the takiguchi coming riding, she said cheerfully: “Hey,I want to ride to the capital behind you!”. He answered “Surely. Climb on quickly. Where are you going?”. Answered the girl: “To the capital.”

As soon as the girl got on the horse the officer tied her by the wrist to the saddle with a rope used for hitching a horse. Said the girl: “Why do you do such a brutal thing to me?” Replied the takiguchi: “To prevent you from getting away from me, of course. I am now taking you to my quarters to sleep with you tonight!”

They continued riding. After passing Ichijyo it was quite dark, and they proceeded along the road toward the east. When passing Nishi-no-Omiya, the takiguchi saw a procession approaching, proceeded by a forerunner on horseback, holding a pine-torch to light the road. By the torch-light, the takiguchi could see some carriages drawn by oxen moving in stately fashion to the musical creak of their heavy wheels, with two men walking before each carriage, holding pine-torches in their hands. Their figures were seen in relief against the darkness of night. The takiguchi thought it was the procession of some personages of high rank. Therefore he turned back out of respect, and went on, riding along the road of Nishi-no-Omiya toward the east – from Higashi-no-Omiya to Tsuchimikado.

At the gate of the Tsuchimikado palace, the Takiguchi called out to his followers whom he had ordered to wait for him there. Said the men under him, coming out: “At your service, sir.”

Then the takiguchi unfastened the rope, pulled the girl down from the horse, and ordered his men to build a fire before going on to the Takiguchi Station. Aroused by the clamor, all his fellow takiguchi officers emerged from the station. Said the officer “I have caught her!”

The girl began to cry and beg to be released as the fire burned brightly. The takiguchi officers spoke with one voice: “Into the fire with her!”

The takiguchi who had caught the girl said that she might escape if this were done. However they said that it would be fun to throw her into the fire and shoot her with bows and arrows in a volley. Ten takiguchi officers notched their arrows upon their bows and the takiguchi who had been holding the girl threw her right into the fire!

The girl, however, turned herself, in a twinkling, into the shape of a fox and, before they could send a volley of arrows, effected her escape, putting out the fire.

In the dark, the takiguchi called to his men. There was no response. Not a single man was there. To his surprise, he found himself on a lonely plain! He could see that he was now in the midst of the cremation ground at Toribé-no, located in the suburbs of the capital. (The only crematory in the Heian Era, Toribé-no was a word used as synonym of death in those days.) He thought that he had dismounted from his horse at the gate of the Tsuchimikado palace. He was mistaken. He recalled that he had turned back to go to Tsuchimikado. He was mistaken. He had come to this desolate and death-like crematory, instead. He imagined that he had seen many pine-torches burning in the dark after passing Ichijyo. He remembered seeing all these things clearly, including the two torch-carriers walking on each side of a carriage drawn by an ox. He was deplorably mistaken. Now he knew that the torches were nothing but the fire produced by foxes by stroking their tails.

Brave as he was, the takiguchi had no alternative but to go on foot. He had no horse to ride on. He returned home dog-tired and chagrined.

His fellow takiguchi officers at the station at Tsuchi-mikado, on the other hand, were wondering what had become of the takiguchi since he left on his adventure, and so sent a messenger to the takiguchi’s quarters to look for him two days later. The takiguchi, in the evening of the third day, presented himself at the station, feeling like a sick man. Asked his friends: “Did you go to catch the fox-girl the other evening?” Replied the takiguchi with some asperity: “No, I did not. I was ill, very ill.” Asked his fellow officers again: “What are you going to do now?” “I will go and catch her this evening,” was the re-joinder. Said another takiguchi, laughing: “Catch two of them this evening, I hope.”

The takiguchi left the station without saying a word. This time he said to himself: “The fox may not come this evening as it was out-witted by me the other night. If it appears this evening, I will never loosen my hold on it. Never! I will hold it all through the night. If it does not appear this evening, I will not present myself at the station, but keep to my quarters for some time.”

He set out on horseback followed by several strong men for the Kaya river. He soliloquised once more: “I’m going to be made a fool again! There is no help for it though since I said I would catch her.”

The fox-girl was not in sight when the takiguchi crossed the Kaya river by a bridge. However when he was coming back disheartened, he saw a different-seeming girl standing at the edge of the river. The girl accosted him, and said: “Hey, I want to ride to the capital behind you!” The takiguchi obliged her. However, the moment she was on horseback he lost no time in tying her up with a rope as before.

It was getting darker and darker as the takiguchi was riding along the Ichijyo road in the direction of the capital, accompanied by his men. He ordered his followers to kindle pine-torches and carry them ahead of him and beside his horse. They went on, but they saw nobody until they reached the Tsuchimikado palace. The takiguchi got off his horse. He seized the fox-girl firmly by her hair. She cried, but he would not have mercy on her. He brought her to the Takiguchi Station. He was deaf to her entreaties; and she seemed to realize her situation this time. The fellow officers came to see the captive. “So you have caught her at last, eh?” they said.

The fox-girl was tortured and tortured until she could stand it no longer and turned back into a fox. They scorched her hide with pine-torches. “O spare me!” the fox yelped plaintively. The takiguchi said: “We have given it a lesson. Set it free!” They released the fox, and it scampered off, limping.

About a week later, the takiguchi went to the Kaya river. He wanted to see the fox-girl again out of curiosity. She was there. She looked ill, and beaten. Said the takiguchi to the fox-girl: “Don’t you want to ride to the capital behind me?” Responded the fox in the guise of a pretty girl weakly: “I should like to ride on your horse; but I don’t like to have my precious fur scorched. No thank you.”

With that, she vanished.

So… what are some conclusions we can draw from this? (Outside of “Young women out by themselves are evidently considered fair game for rape, torture, and murder if you say “I thought she was a fox!”).

Uhm… OK. We have a rather simpleminded, and very repetitive prank – and, after being captured and threatened with rape (and there are far rougher tales) the Kitsune… alters it’s disguise slightly and does the same thing, in the same place, to the same man who had just captured, bound, and threatened to rape her a few days before.

In fact, it seems like all she’s learned the third time around (after being tortured) is not to climb up on a horse with that PARTICULAR soldier.

This isn’t scholarship award territory.

A lot of other tales are similar; many Kitsune are of about average intelligence, and there are some who are actually fairly clever or scholarly, but there are at least as many who are pretty simple-minded – and who usually wind up dead for trivial thefts (usually of food) and pranks. You don’t find stories about Kitsune who – say – go to an Inn and say “Hey… I’m hungry! If you feed me every day I’ll make your food and drink taste like the very finest in the land!

For foxes Kitsune are awfully bright. For humans… not so much. No intelligence modifier it is.

Basic Kitsune (One Tail, Physical Fox, Age 50-199):

  • +4 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom, -4 Constitution, -8 Strength. Reducing attributes gives back one-half the cost of increasing them – so this has a net cost of 0 CP.
  • Occult Senses/Low-Light Vision and Scent, Corrupted/Kitsune are rather doglike, and have a hard time adapting to “normal” standards; they tend to find carrion attractive, like to eat various bugs and rodents raw, and so on. This often gives them away (8 CP).
  • Celerity/+10 Ground Movement Speed (6 CP).
  • Immunity/Aging (Uncommon, Major, Major). This gives a Kitsune a potential lifespan of about 1200 years, spreading out their aging across the ages. This is, however, Specialized; Kitsune may not augment their physical abilities via transformation, totally conceal their true forms (there’s always some kind of clue), disguise their reflections in running water, or conceal their scents; no matter what they may eventually learn to turn into, they’re still foxes underneath (3 CP).
  • Universal Damage Reduction 2/- (3 CP). This has nothing to do with classical Kitsune, who are depressingly fragile even at the peak of their powers – but this is d20, so they get something.
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers cantrips and first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover their racial abilities, 1 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: All effects unlimited-use use-activated at caster level one – for a base effective “cost” of 1000 GP per cantrip and 2000 GP per first level spell.

Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Flavor*, Ghost Scent*, Ghost Sound,

First Level Effects: Beglamourment*, Disguise Self, Enhance Attribute/+2 Charisma, Enhance Attribute/+2 to non-charisma attribute of choice, Expeditious Retreat, Humanoid Form*, Hypnotism, Jump, Magic Fang (allows them to bite for one point of damage), Pass Without Trace, Produce Flame, Silent Image, Speak with Animals, Tactile Illusion*

That’s 32,000 GP – or 33 CP – worth. This is Specialized and Corrupted for reduced cost however, reducing the cost to 11 CP:

  • Kitsune take damage from Dispel Magic and Antimagic effects – generally 1d4 per level of the caster up to 10d4 (once per minute for antimagic fields). Even a “young”, single-tailed, Kitsune is far, FAR, past a foxes “natural” lifespan – and only their shapeshifting magic keeps them alive. Dispelling that is a terrible shock – and while an antimagic field is slower, a Kitsune who fails to escape one will soon perish.
  • Kitsune Magic is an expression of concentration and fox instincts. When they are frightened, overcome with emotion, or injured, they must make a concentration check to avoid losing control and dropping effects which require even moderate concentration – such as all their illusions. They cannot escape their instincts without renouncing their magic either; when confronted with something that would trigger their instincts – angry dogs, distracting food, chances for sex, and similar short-term diversions – they must make a DC 15 willpower check to resist giving in.

This gives our basic Kitsune template a cost of 34 CP – a +1 ECL race. Whether fortunately or unfortunately however, your basic Kitsune has a Disadvantage: they’re social Outcasts – mostly unprotected by the law and generally considered untrustworthy. At -3 CP that brings the grand total down to 31 CP – just at the limit for a +0 ECL race.

Overall, a Kitsune who stays back and relies on their racial illusion-casting abilities can be quite effective. If they’re going adventuring, they’re probably best off as non-combative Clerical or Rogue types – where their wisdom and dexterity bonuses will stand them in good stead and their illusion abilities can effectively back up their class-based talents. It’s no surprise that the more reliable ones tend to hang around shrines and work for gods. That’s one of the best ways to stay out of the soup!

This is getting entirely too long – and taking up too much time. Ergo, the templates for kitsune with two or more tales are going to have to wait for next time.

New Spells:

Beglamourment, A.K.A. Fulfillment of Expectations: Illusion/Phantasm, Bard 1, Components V, Casting Time One Full Turn, Range Short, Target One Creature, Duration: One Hour, Saving Throw: Only if actively disbelieved, see below, and Spell Resistance Yes.

  • This subtle illusion causes it’s victim to perceive reality the way he or she thinks that it ought to be. If you talk about this marvelous little restaurant you found, and it’s talented chef, and the delicious food he serves, and cast this spell as you lead your victim to the place – a backstreet hovel that serves the worst food in the city in a tiny room – then for him it will be a marvelous little restaurant. It may be charmingly small, but there will be plenty of room for him and you.
  • Sadly, the effect does not cover up notable living creatures; you can hide the mice, rats, and roaches in your “marvelous restaurant”, but you and your “chef” will need your own disguises. It’s easy to break too; since it shows the victim what he expects, anything that disrupts those expectations will spoil the spell. Thus, anything that actually does the target harm – or an illusion that should do harm and does not – will break the spell. Spill cold gruel that’s supposed to be “boiling-hot gourmet soup” on your target, and he or she will know that something is wrong. Another “customer” who insists on shouting about the miserable hovel and how the roof is leaking on him will break the spell. A determined attempt to disbelieve will do so as well – and, when the spell is broken, it’s effects vanish utterly. Still, if you want to make a cramped den seem like a spacious mansion, then this is the spell for you.

Flavor: Transmutation, All Classes 0, Components V, S, Casting Time One Full Turn, Range Short, Target One up to 100 lb of food and drink, Duration: Permanent, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance No.

  • Flavor makes up to a hundred pounds of food and drink taste like whatever you like. Separate items may be given separate flavors, although this may extend the casting time since you must indicate each item.

Humanoid Form: Transmutation, Druid 1, Sorcerer 1, Bard 1, Components Special, Casting Time Special, Range Touch, Target Personal, Duration Special (D), Saving Throw None, Spell Resistance None.

  • Humanoid Form turns an animalistic user into an anthropomorphic animal – with an upright posture, hands, a voicebox that can handle speech. It can make the user seem medium-sized if smaller, but normally provides no other game-mechanical modifications. If cast as a standard action without components it lasts for one minute per caster level. Each optional component used in the casting extends the potential duration – changing it from minutes to hours, to days, and finally to years. Possible optional components include:
  • Adding a reusable focus item strongly linked to a humanoid race. That’s classically a skull, but any physical relic or important piece of human equipment that’s been presented to the caster will do.
  • Casting it as a ten-minute ritual.
  • Casting it in the presence of a humanoid with a positive emotional bond with the user.
  • Binding an additional permanent enchantment to the spell – although the item or ability so dedicated will be unusable for the duration, as it’s power is being drained to sustain the spell.
  • If at least three optional components are used, the effect becomes secure against loss of concentration.
  • If all four methods are used, the spell also grants interfertility with humanoids and the user can switch between full-animal and anthropomorphic animal forms as a free action for the duration.

Ghost Scent: As per Ghost Sound, but the user can produce a wide variety of smells instead. At the worst, this can be annoying and distracting, causing a -1 penalty to those creatures with a sense of smell who fail a DC 15 concentration check.

Tactile Illusion: As per Simple Image, but you can produce tactile sensations – making a lumpy mattr

ess feel soft, inducing annoying itching, the sensation of pebbles in peoples shoes, making an illusory wall feel solid (unless seriously pushed on), and so on. Used as an “attack” this can be annoying and distracting, causing a -1 penalty to those creatures who fail a DC 15 concentration check.

Kitsune of the Eclipse, Part I

Prince Hanzoku terrorized by a nine-tailed kit...

Yeah, these guys

Perhaps fittingly, trying to establish the true nature of a Kitsune is chasing after an elusive illusion.

When you come right down to it, Kitsune are creatures of folklore and fairy tales drawn primarily from China, India, Japan, and Korea – often admixed with counterparts from cultures still further afield. Foxes are widely distributed, and people do tend to see them as quick, tricky, cunning, and – rather often – as being capable of shapeshifting or illusion magic – although that says more about people than it does about foxes.

As might be expected from multicultural folklore, the details beyond that are wildly inconsistent.

In some tales Kitsune are basically clever beasts, who have gone beyond their natural role to speak and practice small illusions – such as appearing human when they need to communicate. Here you find tales of tribes and families of Kitsune infesting abandoned palaces and either helping out or making minor trouble. In most cases, only a few of the eldest Kitsune in the group possess magic or can communicate.

In other tales they are minor magicians and clever shapeshifters, who often try to become accepted members of the human race – commonly by having children with one or more of them – and by imitating the local culture. That’s sensible of them. After all, the normally-sapient races dominate the world, usually eat a lot more reliably than normal predators, and have a lot more comforts than you can find in a hole in the ground. Besides… if you’re a sapient magical animal too rare to have it’s own culture, who else are you going to look to for an example of how sapient creatures behave? Chipmunks?

There’s usually a price for violating the natural order this way – explaining why it isn’t common – but everything has it’s price.

In either of these cases, the Kitsune usually serves as the Trickster, much like Spider in some African tales, or Coyote in Amerindian ones. The “lessons” such tales provide to the listener are usually fairly simple, straightforward, and practical. “Don’t trust strangers the way you do people you know”, “if you’re happy with your wife, don’t worry about her relatives”, and “consider your bargains carefully before agreeing to them” are important lessons for youngsters from relatively small, closed, social groups who will soon be venturing out into the world.

City kids tend to learn lessons like that early on, and so tend to regard such tales as quaint, and cute, and as things to be collected into books – but in their proper setting they serve a purpose.

In other tales Kitsune are (possibly elemental) spirits, who need a source of power to manifest themselves (and often drain the strength of the land or of people to do so) or whom possess others. After all, it’s pretty obvious that spirits have a hard time manifesting in the physical world; otherwise they’d be all over the place. Their behavior usually reflects the culture of the tale-teller; every teller of tales sees their culture as the natural one – and presumes that many of it’s details will be reflected in the spirit world. This type of Kitsune is usually the villain of a tale. After all, it’s violating the natural order, draining strength (in some form) from the mortal world, and making trouble merely by showing up.

In other tales they are spirit-messengers of gods. Again they usually follow the tenets of the local culture – and carry whatever mysterious messages and powers the gods wish to give them. Of course, mythic gods tend to set up quests and complications rather than solving peoples problems for them. That’s because tales which end in “and then a god intervened and fixed it” are just as unsatisfying as “it was all a dream!”. They draw the same sort of scorn, no one asks to hear them again, and they drop out of circulation – and out of the mythology. Thus, in these tales, the role of a Kitsune is to offer some wise advice and occasionally a bit of help – but to leave most of the action up to the mortals. Their actual powers rarely matter very much.

In still other tales they ARE gods, being capable of transforming themselves into pretty much anything at all – including things like stars. While this sort of stunt is usually reserved for very old and powerful kitsune, such creatures tend to be unique, named, individuals – much like the Amerindian Coyote. There’s not much point in trying to determine exact powers for such beings; they’re always “whatever fits the story or the lesson it carries”.

Some features – and limitations – are pretty common though;

A basic “Kitsune” is simply… a normal fox. In the eastern tradition, a fox that survives to extreme old age will (like any other animal that does so) start to develop greater intelligence and supernatural powers – the very first, presumably, being slower aging.

Predictably – and reasonably enough in terms of magic – those powers normally start with the ability to generate minor illusions and speaking with minor illusions (pretty much the basic starting point for any magician, since tricks of illusion are generally considered to be among the weaker genuine magics). Kitsune then proceed rapidly* (and understandably) into shapeshifting – starting with renewed youth and personal health and then learning to take human form – and then move on to basic tricks with flame (the most facile of the elements – and one closely related to illusion).

*Sometimes as early as age fifty. Of course, classical tellers of tales rarely had any clear idea of just how long a fox actually lived.

Kitsune gain more tails as the gain age and power. By the time a fox has mastered those basic magics and gains a second tail, he or she will have survived at least a hundred years – and, like any other mage, will find that mastering the basics opens an immense variety of other paths. Some transcend their physical bodies to become true spirits, while others remain mortal, and able to participate fully in the physical world.

Regardless of the choice they make, a kitsune never escapes the fact that – far all it’s age and power – it’s still a fox. Decades spent as a normal animal leave an indelible legacy to go with a kitsune’s powerful instincts.

  • They show an irrational fear of dogs and hunters.
  • They tend to lose control of their magic if injured or frightened (such as by dogs).
  • They are short-sighted and easily distracted.
  • They are often extremely possessive.
  • They engage in repetitive behaviors, even when it’s unwise.
  • They are far too interested in sex and games for their own good.
  • They overestimate their own cleverness and engage in foolish tricks that bring them nothing and can easily get them killed.
Kitsune glowing with fox-fire gather near Edo....

Don’t you just hate it when this happens?

Even shapeshifting does not surpass this limitation; they may look like a mighty monster – but their social status, strength, toughness, and attacks remain those of a fox. Foxes that get into physical confrontations with humans do not win. They may look like a mighty dragon, with scales of adamant and eyes of flame – but a single arrow may well prove as fatal as it would for an ordinary fox. When they are hurt, or tormented, or even raped, they are simply… foxes. They may escape, but if they are killed, they often simply wind up in the soup or as fur trim on a robe, or as a pair of warm gloves.

In an ongoing species tragedy, this also means that – when two Kitsune have pups – the offspring are normal foxes, the vast majority of which will live, breed, and die, long LONG before developing their intellects – or the magic that would make them near-immortal. Having children with a human won’t result in Kitsune, but the offspring will develop some powers, may someday opt to undertake a true transformation – and are likely to live long enough for their nigh-immortal kitsune parent to at least get to know them.

For this alone, Kitsune generally agree… It is better to be human – or, in fantasy worlds, a member of ANY race that starts off with hands, and a culture, and a decent level of intelligence.

Next up, a set of racial templates for d20 Kitsune.

Game Mastering And Kitchen Forensics

English: Realdo Colombo (1516?-1559). Realdi C...

Look at this weird bit!

Most youngsters secretly believe that their parents have no idea of what is going on.

Most parents remember believing that as youngsters – and yet still fondly believe that their own parents went to their graves never figuring out half the things that they got up to as kids, even as they believe that THEY aren’t letting their own kids get away with anything.

Doublethink is a wonderful thing. It lets you believe that your generation is uniquely clever – and that both your ancestors were, and your descendents will be, toddling through life in blissful ignorance. It makes it easy to think that most people throughout history were basically ignorant – and, by extension, rather stupid.

It isn’t true. A medieval peasant might not know where to find India and various other countries on a map, but he or she would be intimately familiar with where to find a wide variety of berries, herbs, and other natural resources around his or her village – and guess which skill set will be more useful in most people’s lives?

A new Master Mason in the medieval period would have spent a lot more hours listening to older masons, and studying what theory there was, and (especially!) in practical hands-on practice, than anyone of similar age with a modern architectural degree. Did you start at age seven and spend twelve hours a day until your mid-twenties practicing in your field? No? Then don’t sneer at that Master Mason. We could plunk him down in a forest and reasonably expect him to do much of the work of feeding himself AND to build himself a fine stone house from scratch.

For a practical example, many people think that “forensics” is a modern discipline – something you have to go to college to study.

Lets take a look around… a medieval kitchen, and see what we can learn about forensics at a quick glance.

Behold a slab of raw meat! The cook wants some, so it’s time to take a knife to it!

Hm… the fork leaves small holes, a saw leaves ground-up edges, a sharp knife leaves a clean cut, a dull knife tears, and a hammer pounds meat out flat so that it cooks through quickly! Behold! Different implements leave different kinds of injuries! If you look at the damage left behind, you can tell quite a lot about what caused that damage. You can see where the dog bit and worried off a chunk, where the arrow that brought down the animal let a lot of blood leak into the tissue to cause massive bruising (and change the flavor), and where someone has been trimming the slab.

Oh, wait, the Chief Cook is getting impatient.

Hurriedly hacking off a few slices is the work of a few moments, offering little to observe save the slow oozing of blood from the meat. Funny though; when you – in your hurry – accidentally gash a finger, the blood comes welling out, almost as if something was pushing it! Evidently when you poke holes in live things, they bleed a lot – but when you poke holes in dead things, not so much. Something… is pushing the blood out of living things!

No time for that, the cook wants a fresh chicken! That’s an easy one though; you grab a chicken, hold it down, and chop off it’s head…

There’s that blood spurting again! No worries; it will stop in a few moments! All you need to do is hang on until it does.

Hm. It stops spurting when… the heartbeat stops. At the traditional moment of death. There won’t be a formal medical description of the function of the heart and the mechanics of the circulation of the blood until Realdo Colombo (1516-1559) – but formal scholarship often does lag a long ways behind practical experience. That’s one of the ways that the people doing the autopsy on Julius Caesar were able to tell that it was the second knife wound that had killed him…

Now everyone knows that bodies decompose, but surely you can’t learn anything about that in a well-run kitchen!

Oh wait. The cook is calling for that partridge that’s been hanging!

Yes, that does mean letting raw meat – or entire animals – spend days or even several weeks starting to decompose a bit before you eat them. Of course, if you forgot to drain off most of the blood first, rot would set in a lot faster. In warmer climates it’s a good idea to drain the blood at once, even if you intend to cook the animal immediately. Throwing out a few things which wound up being over-aged will ensure a basic familiarity with the processes – and very rough timetable – of decay.

It will also ensure that you’re aware that things keep longer when kept cool, keep almost indefinitely when frozen (a boon to winter larders), and can be preserved in a variety of ways.

Now that the main meal is prepared – and that we’re past the stinky part – lets rejoin our young kitchen apprentice as he learns to… gut game. The hunters have brought in some fresh carcasses again!

They’re cooling and stiffening of course. You’ll soon get used to how fast they cool, and how quickly they stiffen up and unstiffen, and pick up a decent working knowledge anatomy, of as you work in this job though!

Oops! Nicked the gut!

OK, so we’re not done with the stinky part yet!

Still, all that glop spilling out… we can see what this creature was eating before it wound up on the menu itself.

We can also see the liver flukes, the worms in the intestines, and the swollen and discolored liver that indicates poison or some really serious sickness…

If you’re working in a Jewish household the Talmud calls for seventy different traditional “forensic” checks for irregularities and growths. For example, the lungs are checked for scars which might have been caused by an inflammation – which would render the animal unfit to eat under Jewish dietary laws.

Yes, preparing kosher food calls for a fairly detailed autopsy on each and every carcass.

Wiping the blood off your hands will reveal – at least if you look closely – the individuality of hand and fingerprints – but that’s no news; hand and fingerprints were widely accepted as signatures as early as 2000 BC in Babylonia – and the roman attorney Quintilian won his client’s acquittal for murder by showing that the suspect’s hand did not match a bloody palm print at the murder site in the first century BC.

People “back then” were not stupid. They had plenty of practical experience and minds that were every bit as sharp and observant as people today. (Possibly even sharper and more observant on the average. “Died of stupidity” was a lot more prevalent back then).

Don’t assume that you’re going to get away with things in a game just because the local guards don’t have a forensics degree. They may not have a formal education, but they’re usually not at ALL stupid.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice LXXVI – Advanced Deiphagy

Qingdao-panorama

A much better view than underground!

Upon careful consideration, Raymond wanted to actually see a heavenly “slum” – the thought of heaven having slums was still a bit much to swallow – and he wanted to bring Howard along too; evidently he hadn’t gotten to go last time – and it would be better to have some backup, even if it was just for spotting things.

Charles had no objection; that just meant reopening the gate for a few minutes – and he’d have needed to do that anyway to explain that Raymond would be a bit longer.

Howard was more than willing. Curiosity was eating him up too.

(Howard after coming in) “So, what’s going on? Wow!” (As he saw the environment.) “How big is this place?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Map Please!”

The network promptly projected a map for them, showing Aden’s current (unclassified) one hundred and seventy-five thousand square miles… A whole world full of obliging geomancy? That was… absurdly handy. And given how supportive the place seemed to be… Was Charles prepared to evacuate the earth if that should ever be necessary?

(Raymond) “I… think that dwarfs most freeholds, doesn’t it Howard?”

(Howard) “Yeah, it does… nice place.”

They spent a few moments zooming in on interesting features while walking…

(Raymond) “Charles was about to take me to Yu-Shan.”

(Howard) “And let me guess, you wanted to take me since they left me out last time.”

Raymond nodded.

(Howard) “You don’t mind, do you Charles? I’m more curious than anything.”

(Charles) “Why not? I really must warn you not to be rude to any gods though!”

(Howard) “I guess that goes without saying… what do they do if you are?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, humans, near-humans, and Terrestrials don’t have many legal protections there. So they could do all kinds of things, although – since you will be in company – the most common thing would be to have you ejected.”

(Howard) “What, like a yappy dog that won’t stop?”

(Charles) “Somewhat! The trouble is, that most of the gates are a bit… dangerous now.”

(Raymond) “Hmm… if the universe started in a different shape than we thought, in space?”

(Charles) “Some of them! And a couple in antarctica, and a few at sea, and so on.”

(Howard) “Nothing we couldn’t handle with some magitech for the Earth ones. I know they’re guarded, though… lions and dogs, right?”

(Raymond) “Or other ways. We might have to see one of those from the Heaven end.”

(Charles) “Well… the Celestial Lions are about 30,000 year-old gods. The Lion Dogs are mostly older.”

That gave them both some pause, as they knew that older gods were often powerful. Finally…

(Howard) “Let’s try not to get on their bad sides. I’m ready when you are.”

Charles called Gorim Naku (who’d been most pleased to find that Aden incorporated several forms of public transportation, but nothing much individual past bicycles). Putting Raymond and Howard aboard a tour bus seemed like the simplest way of making sure that they didn’t have any direct contact with unfriendly gods – and Gorim surely knew all the routes and neighborhoods!

Gorim Naku was happy to show them around Yu-Shan; he took them to a gate, to a slum (which was still nicer than many urban neighborhoods on Earth, even if it was subject to deiphage attacks), and even went by a reclaimed territory. The Opalescent Gardens were always popular for a scenic drive-by; the amusement park was quite lovely, even if it was behind fortress walls – and Charles did have a couple of under-16 tickets – as well as the effective salary to pay directly anyway (what with Cult-4 and a Prayerstone-5). He paid for admission for everyone.

Howard and Raymond spent the rest of the day there, mostly just watching the crowds (although they did have a few drinks and place a few small bets; both were married though, and took their vows far too seriously to go in for anything more risque than that…

Charles sighed – it did look like fun, but he had some other urgent things to do! He had to go down into the tunnels beneath the the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate and get Terapishim back! He had to figure out the geomantic map of Yu-Shan too… A good thing he had plenty of ways of speeding that up!

He made sure that his guests had several gods to look after them and make sure they get home and set up monitoring for an emergency gate pickup if necessary. Still, Howard and Raymond should be quite safe in the Opalescent Gardens Reclaimed Territory; it was a major source of income for the Bronze Faction, and it was very well protected. Even beyond that… the Cresses had turned up, and were actually with them.

Probably one of those Sidereal destiny manipulations or something. Rosa was catching up on work as best she could, while Alvan was talking thaumaturgy, and both were displaying the gracious hosting expected of those touched by Venus.

Naturally enough, they were passing around some information and speculation about Charles…

It was the first time that a reclaimed territory had hosted Terrestrials. Their visit would not be inconspicuous… although it would be quite safe.

Charles left them to it, and examined his map for the location Eighty-Six Orchid had referred to – which turned out to be fairly easy. It didn’t seem to correspond to a manse, a hole in the cosmos, or anything particularly important geomantically… (Nor was there a point labeled “Route to World of Darkness; Under Renovation”). The highest geomantic concentrations were in five spots; one was the Jade Pleasure of Dome (of course) but the others were spread out, one per non-central district, but always in the most distant locations from the center. The concentration of demesnes followed the standard laws of geomancy, but it was very organic except for a few spots where there had been bureaucracy-approved geomantic efforts.

None of that had much to do with where Terapishim was though. There was nothing there save a link about two thousand feet down… it did go outside of fate, and seemed to be connected to Yu-Shan, but not of it. There was no sign of infernal or deathly energies or wyld energies though.

Should he mention it to anyone? The Sidereals would be interested, but that might upset the Deiphages… Oh well!

Since no one appropriate really occurred to him, he started off that way…

(Gothmug, with some exasperation) “Oh, Charles! Remember last time? Shouldn’t you get some backup for this? That is VERY deep underground, and who knows what will be there?”

(Charles) “Well… Maybe Kiko? But she was going somewhere I thought!”

(Gothmug) “Oh yes, to Peru, wasn’t it? At least take some of the Coatl and the Inukami with you! We can handle the warding, but last time was close for my tastes, and I would hate to damage those gloriously gloomy catacombs.”

(Charles, doubtfully) “Well, I’ve got six Coatl with me… Maybe some of the Kickaha would like to come? They were looking for something to do!”

(Gothmug) “Excellent idea! I know a few who are spoiling for a good fight…”

He sent a dozen through.

(Charles) “Hi guys!”

(Kickaha) “Hi Charles! Gothmug said you were going someplace that’s probably full of cannibal horrors and would need our assistance. What’s up?”

(Charles) “I was going to rescue Terapishim, and he was supposed to be about two thousand feet down under Yu-Shan and held by deiphages! So Gothmug suggested that I take an escort!”

(Kickaha) “Okay! My pack’s the best sniffers in the Shire. We’ll let you know if anybody’s sneaking up on you.”

(Charles) “Thank you! And what’s your name?”

(Kickaha) “Oh yeah, I was so excited I forgot. I’m Marcel! Nice to meet you in person at last!”

Marcel extended a hand – which Charles cheerily shook.

(Charles) “And nice to get to know you Marcel!”

He shook hands with, and got introduced to, everybody – including Marcel’s mate Angelica, and the most prominent betas – Lily, Francois, Herman, and Josephine.

(Marcel) “So when do we go?”

(Charles) “Right away!”

He started doing some advance scrying; he didn’t want to interrupt a procession or something!

(Marcel) “Right!”

There was a brief howling session – apparently for morale-building purposes. That called for a quick sound-suppressing ward though; no need to disturb people!

The nearest access way had seen some use, but not all that much. It was dark, and there was some magic around – but only Celestial level. Several lesser deiphages were milling aboutl they had collars around their necks with what appeared to be some sort of talismans on them. They appeared content and well-fed – and, ironically enough, it really did seem to be a procession of sorts.

The access way dead-ended in an adamant wall. Behind that wall was the region that Charles had sensed. The magic seemed to be coming from the floor itself…

Charles waited a bit for the Deiphages to pass by. Most of them shambled further down the corridor – but a couple stuck by the dead end, though. Oh well! Time to teleport everyone down and have a look!

As Charles teleported himself and Marcel’s pack two thousand feet deep into Yu-Shan’s subterranean passages essence erupted from the floor and lashed out at the group’s legs, taking the form of grasping tendrils, pulsing and writhing with violet light.

It looked like… a Celestial variant of Sprouting Shackles of Doom that also sucked essence from the targets.

Charles promptly set up a ward… Although that gave the drooling deiphages at the far end enough time to start shambling towards the group. It looked like… a flowery god and a mechanical one.

They were deep enough in the geomancy that the anti-deiphagy ward probably wouldn’t work… but a simple barrier worked well enough with the snarling and fang-baring Kickaha backing it up. They knew that Charles made good barriers, but it was the thought that counted!

Knocking politely at the adamant wall didn’t get an answer, so Charles inspected it in magical detail, looking for the way in – as well as for traps, consciousness, interesting patterns and geomancy, barriers against fate – and a door-knocker.

The wall… felt like there was a separate dimension behind it, warded against – amongst other things – fate, teleportation, and scrying. Of course, Yu-Shan was a big sanctum on its own, but this felt like a tunnel leading to another, smaller, sanctum. A close look did, however, reveal the number “96” in Old Realm base-20 characters. Even that was well-hidden from Terrestrial level detections and ordinary thaumaturgy.

Hm… There were slightly more greater deiphages than that apparently, hidden deep in very old geomancy, invisible to the Sidereals and thus outside of fate… had the earlier ones been the original operator-gods? It was just possible that they’d only been pulled into the system when they had a bad day and had run short of motes to feed in after the Geomancy was meddled with… If their minds were still in the input-buffers, it just might be possible to rescue them!

If Yu-Shan WAS a world-creation and editing engine and HAD been used to inflict modifications on the Yozi’s… would those modifications fail if Yu-Shan failed? That would explain the primordial surrender very neatly! They’d have known that, for them, just as for everyone else, nothing short of a final death was unhealable – and that, in the face of infinite time to come, eventually there WOULD be a failure.

That would also be why the Incarnae had never shared any of this information; there had been – and might still be – primordial loyalists, who would have tried to either use the systems to reverse the process or to cause breakdowns in Yu-Shan to eventually achieve the same end.

That would also explain why the Unconquered Sun had turned away from the faithful Dragon Kings; their eons of service, and ever-reborn memories… would have been a grave threat to any such elder secret. You could never know when some of them might remember something!

That was still only a speculative theory of course – but it was certainly doing well enough to be worth pursuing a bit later on if the geomancy seemed to fit.

He tried extending a communications-probe…

(Charles) “Hello!”

There WAS consciousness on the other end… at least one sapient, and familiar one. He also got the sensation of panic.

(Charles) “Would somebody open the door please?”

(Greater Deiphage – presumably Ninety-Six Lotus) “YOU again… damned Eighty-Six Orchid! Bad enough that you took my favorite vessel and she broke my exterior wards – no, I am not letting you in! Find your own damn way!”

Meanwhile, the deiphages outside were clawing at the barrier.

Charles made a whimsical attempt to guess – “Primordial Override; Access Geomantic Command 96” – while looking for ways to key the barrier – but it didn’t work. Lotus had it closed on his end, and further reinforced with a Divine Decree: “This gate is barred to those who are not tied to the geomancy of beloved Yu-Shan.” It was at the maximum power that an Essence Seven god could generate.

Plus, of course, on his end the adamant was blocking it.

Well, he was intimately tied to Dudael, which was a manifestation of Yu-Shan’s geomancy – and he could easily reshape the adamant or fiddle around getting the passkey… It looked like he’d need a Celestial Lotus, dipped into Celestial Wine.

Reshaping the Adamant was a lot easier than THAT.

A vortex of whirling energy emerged in the wall… The pair of deiphages’ clawing was frantic now, and the Kickaha smelled a lot of saliva that wasn’t theirs or Charles’s.

(Charles) “I think I ought to send all of you back through my personal gate, and head on in now that the wall is open!”

(Marcel) “Charles, are you sure? You don’t know what’s beyond there!”

(Charles) “Well… you probably can’t go through, but if you’re right on the other side of my personal gate you can come right back out once I’ve gone through… If you can come through, you’re welcome though!

(Marcel) “We’re going to try!”

Well, they were tied to HIS geomancy… It could work!

Charles… went through. Most of the Kickaha did not make it through; the penalties from the Divine Decree overwhelmed their efforts to push through with sheer will. Marcel, Angelina, and Herman did make it though. The sensation was weird, but that was definitely a dimensional transition. It felt like he was being shuttled between places. Still, in a mere instant, he was once again standing in a tunnel of adamant… but this one was much fancier. On par with a Third Rank god’s residence.

Charles made sure that the Kickaha who couldn’t make it got recalled to Aden. The Kickaha were very glad that Charles could do that; they were unable to move!

(Charles) “Hello!”

No one answered, so Charles and the Kickaha went to look around. He was pretty sure that one of the minds he’d sensed had been Terapishim.

There were more of those organic carvings on the walls, running down the corridor in simple patterns. There were four doors along the corridor, two per wall, and one at the end. Atop the ceiling, an eye-shaped sensor was turned directly toward Charles. Off in the distance, he can hear loud scratching and scraping. The doors were reinforced and locked – but scrying revealed more corridors, and more doors – although the reinforcement was lighter on those doors. This place was big, as divine residences often were. Fortunately, it wasn’t as big as might be… Extending the area showed that the residence was more or less… a bunker. It had around twenty rooms and, other than the engravings, was remarkably spartan in decor and furnishing. Six of those rooms were protected by internal anti-scrying. One of those was in the center, with three more nearby. The other two were on the far ends.

Well, it wasn’t too likely that the anti-scrying covered smells! He had the Kickaha try to sniff things out…

There were quite a few lesser deiphages wandering the halls. Again, they had collars and talismans and seemed unconcerned about eating. A few wore black garments much like Lotus’s robes.

The Kickaha could smell beer coming from one of the central rooms.

Charles promptly headed off to check that one – despite the fact that it was close to one of the biggest concentrations of deiphages… He might get an answer or two!

The six rooms of the central area had only two ways in. Charles opted for the East. The East was associated with tea, and at the moment that was as good a reason as any!

Shortly, Charles and his Kickaha were confronted by a menagerie of collared and all-too-alert deiphages bearing weapons: spears, mostly. There was one in the back in black robes.

(Lotus) “Heh… maybe Orchid was right about you. I still can’t let you in! I have my orders!”

The corridor was too narrow – as befitted a bunker – to simply run some extra walls down the middle, and the lesser deiphages were ready to block their path up front – although they were reluctant to actually attack. There were some in the corridor itself, more tightly packed; and Lotus himself in the rear. The Kickaha were waiting for Charles’s orders.

(Charles) “Hm. Who can you let in?”

(Lotus) “Orders have always been to allow only members of my own cell, and superiors from other cells, in here. As it is… I can’t let you go any further, Mighty One or not.”

(Charles) “Well, I’m only here to pick up Terapishim!”

(Lotus, arching it’s current bodies eyebrow) “What for?”

(Charles, cheerfully) “He’s got a job application in, and I don’t want him to be late for the final interviews!”

(Lotus, with some astonishment) “Come to think about it, I recall you mentioning that . . . bother! I’m going to need another god of his Essence if that’s the case.”

(Charles) “What for? Would a specialty artifact do instead?”

(Lotus) “The boss… she wasn’t specific. The way she was talking, though… I haven’t heard her that happy in millennia. How big of an artifact? Does it channel Essence across entire neighborhoods? Because… he’s not bad for a foreigner, even if he does complain about the beer.”

(Charles) “Well, how big would you need?”

(Lotus) “If it had been a few millennia ago, we’d need a dedicated station for it. As it is… it’d still have to be a top-rank for what she wants! MAYBE just below that if we wanted to risk detection.”

(Charles) “Well, what are the actual specifications?”

The body went blank, then recited specs with all-too robotic precision. It… was a geomantic manipulation device designed to expand the empty quarters rapidly by divine standards – about a percentage point a month. It didn’t need to be permanently powered; they just needed enough for a rapid five-percent increase… Unusual though! Even a god should not be able to recite artifact specs verbatim with that accuracy, unless it was a part of their domain…

(Charles) “Huh! Well… I take it something is coming to a head?”

Perhaps sadly, while it was probably very short-sighted of Charles, making it for them DID avoid violence – and, as far as he was concerned, giving stuff away had never actually turned out to be disastrous so far…

(Lotus) “I… don’t know much more than that. But she sounded so hopeful, and I’ll be damned if I disappoint her!”

(Charles) “Well… OK!”

He was in a rush, and it was a temporary item, so a little eccentricity should be fine… He opened up a puddle of chaos hanging in the air, fished around in it for a minute or two – and pull out what they wanted (basically wyld questing, with a gate to his personal supply of chaos).

(Lotus) “Hey, WHAT? Mighty One, you can’t introduce THAT in here. Couldn’t. Still, thank you.”

Lotus took the artifact and ran some extensive Essence based checks.

(Charles, curiously) “Why not? I left it on the other side of the portal.”

(Lotus) “Sigh… it’s protocol, not that that matters anymore.”

Charles had made the artifact to last a little over five months, since they HAD asked for 5% – and so Lotus fairly rapidly concluded that it should work for their needs… The lesser deiphages had been watching with some astonishment. Many of them seemed frightened that a Primordial/Wyld shaper was in Yu-Shan…

Meanwhile, the Kickaha were appraising Lotus’s body. This still might come to a fight!

(Lotus) “Well… I better fulfill my end of the deal. Please, Mighty One, give me a few minutes.”

After all, if he didn’t… He really doubted that his deiphages could overcome the child’s bodyguards – much less the boys own defenses – quickly enough to keep him from pulling out some ludicrous implement of destruction if he was so inclined!

(Charles) “Oh sure!”

Lotus went further down the corridor, accompanied by all but a token force of the lesser deiphages. A particularly heavy set of doors opened and shut – and then Lotus came back out, carrying an unconscious Terapishim. Charles would know that beard anywhere! The Kickaha were quite impressed by its thickness and texture.

A quick scan showed that he was quite all right; he was just knocked out for awhile.

(Lotus) “Sorry about him being knocked out. Again, protocol. He should be up again in a little while… only a few hours.”

(Charles) “Not a worry!”

(Lotus) “And when you see Eighty-Six Orchid again… tell her she owes me some damn wards.”

(Charles) “Should I put some up?”

(Lotus) “Promise me they won’t be against the geomancy or kill us, and it’s a deal.”

(Charles, rather puzzledly) “Why would I want to do that? You asked for them. What do you want wards against?”

(Lotus) “I didn’t survive this long by sticking my head out… much. Anti-teleportation, anti-scrying… oh yeah, and anti-geomantic interference.”

Charles promptly erected a set as per his usual standards.

(Lotus) “If only I knew where the boss got the REALLY good ward from-that one I used on you.”

(Charles) “Well, it had loopholes! And these are almost as good!”

(Lotus) “Good… last thing I need is unnecessary loopholes. And you’d better get out of here, in case someone else is scrying this spot.”

(Charles) “Well, I didn’t break your existing wards! They didn’t apply to me anyway!”

(Lotus) “Yeah… thanks, Mighty One.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Lotus… almost seemed like he wants to touch Charles to see if he was real. Gothmug and some of the others tensed a bit when he reached out – but he wasn’t trying to feed, and putting up a ward against a simple touch seemed a bit absurd.

Lotus placed a paw on Charles’s hand… and then withdrew.

(Lotus) “I’d better go back in before some jerk spots me… be careful.”

(Charles) “OK! You be careful too!”

Lotus waved, and passed through the adamant wall. Charles waved back – and then teleported back to the surface. Terapishim was already showing signs of waking up! He was a tough old god!

(Terapishim) “CHARLES!” (And gave Charles a big bear hug.)

(Charles) “Hello Terapishim! You were missing for a bit there! Are you feeling OK?”

(Terapishim) “Some of my rivals in that city-god test grabbed me using powerful magic-I think Solar – and then deiphages came and ate them and then the deiphages grabbed me and took me to some place where the beer was AWFUL!”

(Charles) “Well, I have better beer!”

(Terapishim) “And then… it gets fuzzy. But that’s not important. We need to find Gri Fel and GET OUR JOB. But a beer wouldn’t hurt…”

Charles promptly placed the call to Gri Fel!

(Gri Fel) “Ah, hello Charles!”

(Charles) “Hello there! I found Terapishim!”

(Gri Fel) “I… don’t recall telling you he was lost. But that is truly good news!”

(Charles) “Oh good! When’s your appointment? I think the final judgement was due out very shortly!”

(Gri Fel) “Very soon-only three days from today. I was getting worried. PUT HIM ON THE PHONE.”

Charles did so – and there was a several-hour session of them catching up and and Terapishim getting fashion tips…

Charles left early. He had other things to do! He was almost ready to depart for the other end of creation now! He just needed to get Gri Fel and Terapishim in their office and the manse set up!

The Empiric Masquerader part II – The Online Variant

English: A Beijing opera mask

Well, sort of…

The question here was how to do a “Chameleon” style build – which was covered over HEREThe secondary question on this particular build was how to duplicate some of the features of the home-brewed twenty-level version – from a forum over HERE in Eclipse. Ergo, for Part II, it’s a quick look at that forum build. 

Well, first up, after paying for the saves (27 CP), hit dice (40 CP), and +8 BAB (48 CP) of that version, adding another ten levels leaves another 165 CP to spend.

Several of those features are additional masks – another five or so – all of which it makes available at first level. Of course Eclipse makes a near-infinite number of design-your-own masks available, some of which can have extremely potent (if highly specialized) abilities. Given that allowing an infinite variety of powers really won’t work, the best way to represent this is simply to buy more masks of your choice. As examples…

The War Forms package (conveniently 28 CP) creates a formidable shapeshifter. Call it the Beast’s Mask and there you go.

The entire Archetypes series (Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV), at 24 CP each, can be used as additional masks. Most of them are less focused on raw power, but they offer a wide variety of interesting options and enhancements. In fact, a great many of the power-packages used in constructing other characters can be fit in as masks.

Other masks are easy to construct. You want a Martial Artist? Call it the Pugilist’s Mask (27 CP).

  • Additional Innate Enchantments: Feather Fall, Martial Arts (the user’s hands and feet are as effective as a +2 Hand Axe), Sure Step (the user gains a +10 enhancement bonus on Balance, Climb, Jump, and Tumble and retains his or her Dexterity bonus to AC when balancing or climbing), Immortal Vigor I (the user gains +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP), C’hi Healing(provides Cure Light Wounds three times per day and Lesser Restoration twice per day), and Tough as Nails (converts the first five points of damage from any attack to nonlethal damage) (6 CP).
  • Celerity/+20 Ground Movement (9 CP).
  • Improved Imbuement/Unarmed Variant (12 CP)

If you want to build a mask that provides martial maneuvers, or warlock-style powers, or create soul-melds, or bind spirits, or summon vestiges, you can do so.

Some of the other powers are hardly worth discussion. For example, “Chameleon Lore” is simply a renamed version of “Bardic Lore”. “Mimic” mostly consists of purchases of Augmented Bonus, Specialized to only a few times “per encounter” (NOT a good idea; the troubles with “per encounter” abilities get a much more through discussion over HERE). Imitate sounds, imitate alignments, and disguise self are just a few more Innate Enchantments. Throw in Guises, Improved Cloaking, and an Inherent Spell or Immunity to allow swapping out a mask quickly once per day, and the ability to maximize a “Cure” spell every so often, and you’ve got it.

OK, you’d have to squeeze the points pretty hard to cram all of this stuff in – but that’s a pretty standard feature of class designs by enthusiasts; they’re virtually always more than a bit overpowered. It really isn’t that hard in principle.

The online writeup does introduce some very… awkward… aspects though. For example, it notes that the spells the character casts will fade away when he or she shifts to another mask.

Er… spells don’t do that even if the caster dies. Is swapping out a mask more profound than that?

The most troublesome ability it introduces is, of course, the one the original querent was most interested in – Jack of All Trades.

To make sure I’ve got that right, I’ll simply quote that bit:

Jack of All Trades (Ex): A chameleon dabbles in all things, excelling in what she chooses to excel in. Beginning at 1st level a chameleon treats all skills as trained, and makes skill checks with all skills as if she possessed a number of ranks in that skill equal to half her class level (minimum 1). Additionally, whenever a chameleon changes her Mask she selects a number of skills equal to (4 + her Intelligence modifier). She may use these skills as if she possessed a number of skill points in each equal to (her character level +3).

You meet the skill prerequisites for selecting feats as if you had ranks in all skills equal (your class level +3). If, when changing your skills around with Jack of All Trades, you reduce any skill to the point where your effective ranks are lower than needed for a feat you possess, you lose access to that feat until your regain the required ranks

-Djinn_in_Tonic

Now, this ability is grossly overpowered; the only thing that makes it look even remotely sane is the fact that the discussion in the original thread focuses exclusively on “combat balance”. Even considering only the SRD skills, there are thousands of possible craft and profession skills – including many that are not normally available in any given setting. So this ability effectively provides several thousand skill points per level and makes it’s user skilled in everything from flint knapping through starship engineering and building time machines – even if starships and time machines don’t exist in the setting, you know all about how to build good ones and have all the skills needed to start from scratch.

Knowledge skills are open too – the ones in the SRD are specifically called out as simply common examples. Ergo this makes the character an expert in everything from “knowledge/how the universe was created” to “knowledge/dread secrets that will cause anyone who discovers them to instantly drop dead” (See: “Basilisk Image” HERE and HERE). Yes indeed, you know what secrets Cthulhu whispers to drive men mad, you know the secret names of demons, you know the most depressing facts in the universe, and you know the intimate details of a trillion possible alternate lifetimes as well as you know your own life…

You know, I might allow this after all; “brain `axplode’” is always fun.

In Eclipse it would also cover a near-unlimited selection of Rune Magic Skills, Martial Art Skills, Thaumaturgy and Dweomer Skills, Theurgy Skills, and Restricted Skills. Call it ten thousand skill points per level.

That doesn’t mean you can’t build it of course. It’s just that no sane game master will let you take it. What you want here is “Immunity to having to have skills to use them; all skills are treated as if you had (Level/2, rounded up) skill points and (Int Mod +4, changeable at intervals) are treated as if they had (Level + 3) skill points invested in them. That’s Very Common, Major (since it does cover things like trap detection and martial arts), and Legendary (since it goes up pretty much indefinitely) for a net cost of 60 points – although you could distribute that over quite a few levels as you buy it up to cover your ever-increasing effective skills.

The Cabal: Eraser (Neun)

Eraser (Neun)

Story: Eraser (Neun), formerly Carla Hawkins, leads the Cabal’s internal security group as head enforcer and killer. While a formidable combatant in her own right, she’s capable of much more than brute force.

Eraser began working as a killer in her native Louisiana at the tender age of 8, and found she had quite the talent. Her father decided she was quite useful, and a girl, or later woman, could often bypass defenses that a dangerous-looking man couldn’t. Thus, she continued the “family business,” as it were.

Yet family ties don’t last forever, and she was forever changed when her father was gunned down trying to assassinate a mob boss. She flew into an unstoppable rage, destroying first the guards, then the mob boss, then his family, and finally several bystanders.

Since then, she’s had a lengthy career as a masked assassin, managing to avoid ever being identified or caught as a mass-murderer. She works relatively cheap, too: it’s the thrill and challenge which interest her as much as the money.

Her biggest contract came when she received an offer to claim the life of Senator (then Representative) Stevenson. He surprised her thrice over: first by resisting her charms, second by defeating her in a fight, and third by revealing that he’d hired Eraser in the first place. Intrigued, she accepted his offer and became the Cabal’s ninth agent.

Eraser is aging, and is in fact over fifty. Treatments have kept her looking young and reasonably fit, but without more… complete alteration, her body will begin weakening eventually. To that end, she desperately wants Doctor Vitus to create a new shell, similar to Nu (Dreizehn) and to give her an immortal life. The Cabal ix-nayed her desire to become the first test subject, reasoning that the possibility of losing their most dangerous agent was too much risk. They do intend for her to become the first in their Assassin line once the process is perfected.   Eraser, despite her age and coolness under fire, has a tendency to go completely insane in combat. She became emotionally unstable following the death of her father, though it doesn’t make her any less dangerous. See her disadvantages for more.

Abilities: Aside from being quite evasive (at least, for a normal human), Eraser deals out quite the punishment at close-quarters. However, she won’t simply come out swinging, but instead takes the subtle approach. Enemies can’t kill what they can’t see or hit. If possible, she’ll get close by seducing a dangerous but vulnerable target, analyze his or her defenses, and then completely destroy that individual in a single attack. If there are too many enemies, she will use a smoke bomb from concealment, and then strike down foes from cover – but in the middle of the group!

Height: 170cm (5’7″), Weight: 70kg (154 lbs), Sex: Female, Age: 54, Race: Caucasian (American)

Appearance: A sultry, raven haired woman in her mid-twenties. While slim, every muscle is hard and ready to snap into action like a whipcord. When “working,” she wears a grinning ghost-mask.

Value Characteristic Points
10/16 STR 0
13/18 DEX 9
13/16 CON 6
12/15 BODY 4
10/16 INT 0
10/13 EGO 0
13/19 PRE 3
11/23 COM 0
3/6 PD 0
3/6 ED 0
2.3/6 SPD 0
6/9 REC 0
26/38 END 0
27/33 STUN 0
Total 22
Points Powers END
45 Multipower: Wrath (45-pt reserve)
u-4 3d6+1 HKA (Total 4d6+1); Range: 0; OAF: -1 5
u-2 Darkness: Smoke Bombs (Normal Sight, 3″ radius); Range: 225; reduced END: Zero, +½; OAF: -1 0
u-4 3d6 Drain: Defenses (Return/min.); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Eraser can study, and determine a weak point in, any opponent’s defenses, affecting any normal skill-based defense, or anything like normal armor, Damage Reduction, or Damage Resistance. If applied to skills that alter both offensive and defensive capabilities, it may prevent all or part of the skill from being used on defensively. 4
15 Elemental Control: Envy (15-pt reserve); Eraser’s base skills are usable all the time (see the Skills section). These abilities can only be used if the opposition has someone more capable than her, in which case she can use these points to match the most skilled enemy.
a-11 +4 level w/All Combat; Generic Limitation (Match Enemy Only): -½
b-10 +6 level w/HTH Combat; Generic Limitation (Match Enemy Only): -½
c-10 +6 level w/Ranged Combat; Generic Limitation (Match Enemy Only): -½
d-15 +4 SPD; Generic Limitation (Match Enemy only): -½
6 Elemental Control: Lust (6-pt reserve)
a-4 3d6 Mind Control: Alone Time…; Requires Skill Roll (Seduction): -½; Communication: Verbal, +0; No Range: -½; This is part of her ability to persuade targets to go off alone with her. Homicide is likely to follow. 1
b-5 +4 level w/3 Related Skills; Limited Power (Urban environments only): Slightly, -¼; Seduction, Stealth, and Shadowing
2 12-Point Combat Dress Elemental Control (5-pt reserve); All abilities -.5 OIF (Uniform), -1 (Conventional Technology Only).
a-5 Armor (8 PD/4 ED); Hardened: ×1, ¼; Always On: -½; Activation: 14-, -½
b-2 Life Support Systems
(3) Need Not Breathe; Relies on OAF Faceplate of OIF Uniform: -½; Charges: +2, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Hour, -5 lev
(1) Life Support: Intense Heat/Cold; Short term and subject to upper limits: -1
c-2 Infrared Vision; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1
d-2 +3 level w/Stealth (Camoflague)
8 Common Charms; Charms are normally Fragile Inobvious AccessibleFoci (-.75) and are powered by Personal Magic (-.25). They cannot normally exceed 10 active points either singly or in combination. Many powers are difficult or impossible to create as charms: consult the GM.
(4) Armor: Warding Talisman (4 PD/2 ED)
(4) +3 DEX, Monkey Belt; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½
6 +6 CP to All Attributes Blessing; Modifications to Primary Attributes do not affect secondary attributes. Aid to Defenses has half effect per standard rules.
(6) 1d6 Aid (All attributes) (Fade/turn, Max. 6); Range: 0; Affects: All Powers of Special Effect, +2; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1; Always On: -½; Personal Only: -1; Increases maximums only, does not speed healing: -1; Aid to Defenses is halved per the standard rules. Aid to primary attributes does not affect secondary ones. 0
66 Aid Enhancements
(4) +3 BODY; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½
(6) +12 COM
(4) +3 CON; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½
(4) +2 DEX; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½
(3) +3 ED
(6) +3 EGO
(6) +12 END
(6) +6 INT
(3) +3 PD
(6) +6 PRE
(6) +3 REC
(6) +6 STR 1
(6) +6 STUN
158 Total Powers  
Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
15 Pride
(15) +3 level w/HTH Combat
5 Greed
(5) Money (Well Off)
20 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  
100+ Disadvantages
15 Berserk (14-, 14-, Berserk); Circumstances: Uncommon, +5; Eraser can be driven into a blind rage if she encounters a situation which reminds her of the lossof her father. Seeing a man being shot repeatedly is the trigger, even if she doesn’t care about or doesn’t know the deceased. The situation doesn’t have to match that closely: laserguns could trigger it, and the race or age of the victim doesn’t matter that much.
5 Hunted: Former Victims’ Families (8-); Capabilities: Less Powerful, 5; Non-combat Influence: None, +0; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0; Although they aren’t aware of her current employment or her true name, Eraser made many enemies in her career, including Mafia families, some police agencies, and even a house of European royalty. Every now and then, one of these picks up her scent.
15 Always Obeys Orders of Superiors (Very Common, Moderate) ; Though on the outer limits of sanity, and of dubious stability at the best of times, Eraser is exceedingly loyal to her current employer, which has been the Cabal for some time.
10 Vengeful (Uncommon, Strong)
15 Hatred of Any Associated with Current target (Common, Strong) ; When given a target, Eraser dives headfirst into an irrational hatred of everyone associated withthe target, and is known to murder them for no particularl reason. She’ll even go so far as to inflict petty harm to them if murder isn’t a convenient option.
15 In Love with Stevenson (Uncommon, Total) ; Eraser is fanatically obsessed with Stevensen, partly a byproduct of his incredible charisma andmental abilities, but also her dangerously erratic personality. While it remains to be seen how long this infatuation will last, she’ll inevitably end up directing her attentions to someone else. Stevensen, for his part, finds it rather amusing.
25 Villain Bonus
100 Total Disadvantages
COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
22 + 178 = 200 200 = 100 + 100
OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
6 6 4 0 18/12 12/6 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXV – Visitations

English: The Hall of the London Charterhouse. ...

Isn’t this kind of overkill for a closet?

Meanwhile, the power-influx from the Green Galaxy was flowing out along the local dragon lines, no longer filtered and mitigated by ten to the hundreth power light years of distance. The churning power was shifting both current and future demesnes towards wood aspects already – although the process would take many years to complete.

The effect was expanding at about ten miles a day – and was showing no signs of stopping. It was, after all, the Elemental Pole of Wood, the most powerful source of that element’s essence in Creation. The entire Southeastern United States and probably parts of the Caribbean islands would soon be affected…

That would definitely attract more attention over time, even if the effect would be hard to trace to a specific source what with the wards and pocket-dimension effect.

It wasn’t long at all before Charles heard about it… Huh! He’d underestimated how big an impact a link with one of the old elemental poles would have… Perhaps the sheer distance to their current manifestations had diluted their power to the point where half of earths geomancy had gone quiescent? It would certainly explain why there seemed to be so few modern demesnes – and how people had managed to get by with so little awareness of magic for so long!

He’d probably have to make some similar manses for the other three elemental poles to balance things out.

Hm… Would they be better in a circle around Atlanta so as to mitigate each other out locally, or would a tetrahedron around the planet be better for balance?

Considering the power involved – and that the Earth was the old elemental pole of Earth – it might unbalance things even more to put them all on one side of it. A tetrahedron it would be!

Meanwhile, however, the Morgans had seen him casually open a freestanding gate into another universe – using geomancy and a confusing mixture of other energies – pass through it with their alchemical guest, and then re-emerge a little later. He hadn’t been paying attention to the fact that he hadn’t left the conference room yet.

The Morgans knew of a number of creatures capable of that stunt – but Charles didn’t really seem to match… Unshaped would normally use wyld energies to do it (and were near-legendary anyway), raksha usually had to leave the portal behind, and divine sanctums were usually fixed locations. Moreover, they used personal energies – not a mixture of various types of essence. Definitely curious!

Well, when in doubt, send in your most experienced Aspected… which was Raymond.

Fortunately, he was entirely willing. He considered it pretty obvious that Charles was utterly harmless – and his curiosity was about to blow the top of his own head off!

He asked for if he could visit as well as soon as the pair came back out.

Charles figured that – as long as he was coming out as something more than human anyway – he might as well do it in a big fashion. Besides… he was reasonably sure that – as long as he kept it to less than a dozen or so suspect visitors at a time – they could probably be handled. And it wasn’t like the secondary doors were impossible to get past or no one could get in otherwise.

(Charles) “Oh! Did you want to visit too? Well, if you want; I do have some things to do though, so you may have to wait a few minutes at spots!”

(Raymond) “If you wouldn’t mind!”

(Charles) “OK!”

Charles took him on the usual tour, visited a few random places – and stopped at the Well of Worlds because it was focused in on planet #38 now – and it was time to terraform it…

Raymond seemed quite at ease – although it was hard not to be in Aden – and spent a lot of his time taking photos and trying to analyze the essence flows.

Charles suspected that that wouldn’t help him much more than it had the Sidereals. Just for drama – and because he had been wanting to anyway – he channeled the terraforming spells personally. It wasn’t like Raymond couldn’t figure out that he’d been terraforming planets; how else would he have coordinates for empty ones handy?

Besides, all it meant was that the Guardians channeled their spells through their hearthstones rather than through their usual avatars. It was really neat seeing how well everybody worked together!

Raymond, however, had seen the child channeling power on nearly that level before. While seeing it wash over a barren rocky world, transmuting rock into water to carve out rivers and seas, purifying, oxygenating, and thickening the atmosphere, adding transmuted resources and soil, sprouting trees and plants, and spreading animals to balance the ecosystem with utterly unnatural speed, was impressive, it wasn’t really anything NEW – and there definitely seemed to be traces of secondary power-signatures. They boys personal power WAS tremendous – but at least for this, he had help! He’d probably had help in creating the Yggdrasil too…

(Raymond) “So… whatever you are, you’re definitely interested in spreading life everywhere. And what is this place, anyway? I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure you made it.”

(Charles) “Well… It’s me as a world really! It’s like Dr Who and his Tardis, I can be bigger inside than out and – like now – I can have an aspect of me inside myself… Does that make sense? Anyway, once I get the gates open, there will be lots more room for people!”

(Raymond) “Gates?”

(Charles) “Well, each planet gets a dozen or so Manses with Gates back to the earth! Planets are no good unless people can come live on them! And the manses make the cores of the cities!”

(Raymond) “I see.” (He looked around.) “And with this place, you probably have the resources to pull that off… I guess you’d be sending any mortals here who’d be willing to as settlers.”

(Charles) “Well, it’s mostly refugees here right now – but there are always more of those!”

(Raymond) “A sad fact… what about the fantasy creatures? Some of them seem to be helping out too.”

(Charles) “Minor Sub-aspects or me and THEIR secondary creations really! The major sub-aspects tend to be pretty busy!”

(Raymond) “Helping with the terraforming, I’d say… there’s no way you could do it all on your own.”

(Charles) “Some of them! But that’s one of the things I made them to help with!”

(Raymond) “So… I’ve got to ask. Does this place connect to Yu-Shan?”

(Charles) “There are some gates there – and it connects to anywhere I go of course, since it’s me.”

(Raymond) “Good to know. Now… how did you make your own world? That’s supposed to be impossible unless you’re one of those Primordial things, or some beast from a Wyld pocket.”

That was really a good question! He’d never really stopped to consider the exact mechanics behind the charm…

 

Cabal Campaign: The Chairman

 

The Chairman/Senator Kyle Stevenson (Eins)

 

Value Characteristic Points
18 STR 8
16 DEX 18
14/55 CON 8
13/31 BODY 6
16 INT 6
17 EGO 14
20/60 PRE 10
16 COM 3
4 PD 0
11 ED 0
4 SPD 14
15 REC 0
110 END 0
50 STUN 0
Total 87

 

Points Powers END
40 Multipower (80-pt reserve); Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1; Varies in strength depending on how recently he’s “fed.” After a campaign rally, he will be at the peak of might. He loses 5 points from his reserve a day, to a minimum of 20.
u-4 14d6 Mind Control; Communication: Telepathic, +¼; No Conscious Control: -2; Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1; Stevenson’s Mind Control acts on its own; he can’t entirely control how people will react. He instills powerful but temporary devotion, as people are carried away by his psychic grasp. Under his control, they will ruin themselves for his benefit or hurt his enemies without command. 9
u-3 Damage Reduction (Physical, 75% Resistant); Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-2 Damage Reduction (Energy, 75%); Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-2 Damage Resistance (40 PD/40 ED); Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-2 +18 BODY; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½; Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-5 +41 CON; Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-2 +40 PRE; Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
u-2 Power Defense (40 pts); Generic Limitation (See Notes): -1
12 20-Point Total “Wealth” Multipower (90-pt reserve); Extra Time: 1 Day (-3.5), OAF (-1), Activation 14- (-.5), Must be able to go shopping or order things (-.5), Results generally do not arrive for a week or so (-1).
u-1 2d6 Aid; Buy Things (Fade/season, Max. 20); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power, +0; Difficult to Dispel: ×2, +¼; Area Effect (Radius): 12″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×2, +¼; Selective Target: +¼; Affects All Powers Of A Related Group, But Each Must Be Enhanced Seperately: +1; This can be used to enhance the target’s Equipment Allowance (Points to spend on conventional personal equipment, usually bought as independent items. The base champions equipment pool is “0”), Vehicles, & Bases. 6
u-1 5″ Flight; Buy plane tickets (NC: 625″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×125, +30; Non-Combat (MPH): 930; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½; Usable by Others Number: 8, +¾; Must take plane; not under own power.: -2 1
u-1 2d6 Mind Control; Advertising Campaign; Communication: Verbal, +0; Area Effect (Radius): 3000000″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×1000000, +5; Nonselective Target: -¼; Continuous: +1; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Uncontrolled: +½; Visible: -¼; Only works on those who pay attention to media: -½; Does not count as an “Attack”: +½; Attracts Attention: -½; This is a continent-wide campaign… 0
u-1 Summon; Place Want Ad (4 50-point creatures); Range: 0; Summon: Limited Group, +¼; Summon; Hire Employees: +¼; One may hire a fairly sizable staff, and expect them to be reliable and loyal within reason. The “Hire” modifier covers their salaries and minor perks. 7
u-1 Send It Out For Analyasis; Discriminatory “Detect”, Variable (+2, net 24 points), +10 Perception (+30), Science, 2D6 Aid to any one (+.25) relevant technical skill, fades 1/minute (+.5, AKA; “I read the report”).
u-1 9d6 Transform (Cosmetic, Limited Class); Range: 450; Cumulative: +½; Difficult to Dispel: ×2, +¼; Have things rebuilt. Covers cosmetic surgery, having the house painted, minor repairs, and various other makeovers. Really big jobs may take some time though. 9
u-1 “I’ll have my people look into that”; +9 “Overall Levels”; Effective roll of 20- on any job which you can hire someone to do for you and report back on. EG; Hiring a detective agency.
u-1 Change Environment; Get Some People In Here… (32″ rad.); Effect: Variable, +1; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Uncontrolled: +½; You may call in servants, caterer’s, interior decorators, moving men, etc, to supply food, a pavalion, furniture, background music, clean up the area, set it up as a playground, etc, etc, etc. Minor effects are usable more quickly then usual; it doesn’t take long to deliver food. 0
82 Total Powers  

 

Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
11 Oratory 25-
20 +4 level w/Group of Similar Skills
; Stevenson can use this anytime he may bring the power, majesty, or influence of his political office to bear.
31 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  

 

100+ Disadvantages
20 Normal Characteristic Maxima
15 Overconfidence (Very Common, Moderate)
15 Secret Identity
10 Vengeful (Uncommon, Strong)
30 Villain Bonus
5 Distinctive Features; Concealability: Easily, 5; Reaction: Noticed and Recognizable, +0
5 Hunted: Martyr (11-); Capabilities: Less Powerful, 5; Non-combat Influence: None, +0; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Only Watching, ×½; Punishment: Harsh, 0
; Martyr doesn’t know exactly who the Chairman really is, but has guessed that he is an extremely important political figure. Even so, the Chairman barely step a toe out of line in his “unofficial” role without having Martyr stomp on it.
100 Total Disadvantages

 

COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
87 + 113 = 200 200 = 100 + 100

 

OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
5 5 6 0 4/4 11/11 3, 6, 9, 12

Story: As the famous Senator Kyle Stevenson considers his options – a bid for the Presidency? pursue the office of Governer? – numerous followers wait with bated breath, hanging on his every word. His father, former General and former Senator Jacob Stevenson, would be proud, if the very son he endowed with power through exposure to top-secret military experiments hadn’t killed him for revenge, spite, and pleasure. Jacob Stevenson cheated nature, but he couldn’t cheat death.

The good Senator, you see, is more than a normal man. Endowed with the ability to feed on psychic energy, he grows ever-stronger the more devoted followers he has, and uses his narrow but potent mental abilities to gather ever-greater numbers to his cause. At peak strength, he becomes nigh-unkillable, and few can resist his charismatic entreaties. He does, in fact, enjoy a remarkable political career, but he dreams of more.

Senator Stevenson founded the Cabal as his personal criminal empire, bringing in useful allies. He believes he can easily persuade them of the benefits of his own plans when needed. Besides, the clean-cut, handsome, diplomatic Senator from New Jersey couldn’t be seen in a super-brawl no matter how badly he needs raw force.

He made an exception for his father: after twenty-four years, such sweet revenge on the papa who tore out his soul and replaced it with the endless hunger for adoration. And while adoration is a fine entree’, there is something to be said for horror as desert. The generous public attention and condolences were but a further treat.

Stevenson masters his criminal empire as The Chairman, devoting his spare time to manipulating the situation to benefit of both his public and priovate personas. As a powerful Pennsylvania politician with national influence, he denounces violence and crime and urges more public control over superhumans. As the Chairman, he has the means to create chaos, and suppress it in order to make his anti-gang task forces look successful.

Height:
185cm
(6’1″), Weight:
80kg
(176 lbs), Sex: Male, Age: 37, Race: Mixed (American)

Appearance: Just dashing enough to attrract women, and but strong-jawed in a way that appeals to men, Senator Kyle stands out in a crowd. He always dresses in a smartly-cut suit, but nothing so expensive as to attract envy or suspicion. He’s of mixed European/Hispanic ancestry, and makes sure to present himself in a manner that appeals to his current audience.

Role-Playing: You are confidant, charismatic, and always in control. Look people in the eye and offer them a firm handshake. Even as The Chairman, you exude confidence, always organizing and directing others.

Advancement: Upgrading his multipower reserve will definitely make him a force to be reckoned with, as will reducing the rate at which it weakens.