Eclipse d20 – Items of Mystery

Ernst Haeckel's "tree of life", Darw...

It’s a branch from WHAT?!

The blade glitters darkly, it’s dark metal seemingly filled with a myriad dark stars, anti-glints that swallow light rather than giving it up, cutting sharp holes in the light around it. It’s hand-guard is a broken Ouroboros, eternity struck down. It has a thousand names in as many tongues. In current English we might call it “Severance” – the first sword, the blade that divided timelessness from time, order from chaos and life from death. With this blade one might sever a soul from the cycle of life and death, leaving it a vestige of mortality, adrift between the worlds. You might divide a dark avatar from it’s god, a binding between two worlds, or set a creatures future free of it’s now-vanished past – but there is always a price.

The Mirror of Truth lies hidden in the darkness, veiled save in times of desperation, for mere mortals cannot bear too much of truth. What it will show when unveiled… it may show – and therefore seal – the truth of love for eternity. It may show a miser the folly of his ways, it may strip away disguises, or self-delusion, or call the Lord of Death to weep. For that matter it may show an incautious viewer the true depths of the universe, and so drive them to raving madness. Truth is as great and terrible a power as falsehood, and far harder to resist. A falsehood can be easily exposed, while the truth cuts deeply indeed.

The Staff of Shifting was carved long ago from a branch of the Tree of Life itself, and bears with it the mastery of forms… Any creature it touches may be restored to its original form, including healing amputations, maiming, and disfigurement. It might be evolved or changed, devolved, granted health and vitality – or be carried to the distant end of it’s life. With it one may shape new species – drawing upon the endless possibilities lost to the tree when one limb was taken from it, and the universe rendered poorer thereby. Of course, to wield it, one always risks transformation themselves – and more than would be master of life has fallen to the power of the Staff.

These are classic legendary magic items – devices with mysterious and unpredictable effects, limited only by their themes, rarely used due to the terrible dangers found in doing so, and of terrible potency. These are the things you haul out when all seems lost – and hope that the fates aren’t feeling too ironic today.

OK, how do you build items like this in Eclipse?

The basic structure is easy enough. Build a relic using Action Hero/Stunts, Specialized (Stunts must adhere to the devices theme) and Corrupted (Stunts always involve some sort of price or backlash) for Tripl e Effect. It doesn’t matter whether you triple the number of action points or have them have triple effect; the effects are virtually equivalent. If you like, throw in some notes on that – that the user has to know something of the items history, or perform some mighty deed to activate it, or whatever you please. That costs only 1 CP and – thanks to the limited number of uses that come with Action Hero and those nasty limitations – should be able to pull off all kinds of legendary feats.

Given that mighty relics usually cost 3-4 points, you can spend a couple more giving your legendary item some more practical uses.

  • For the Sword… how about two from among weapon enhancements via Imbuement, or Presence/Aura of Fear while drawn, or Major Favors/Death, or some such?
  • For the Mirror… how about something like Occult Sense/True Seeing (a major effect, so a limited number of uses for it) and Blessing (Can let those facing the mirror see what it reveals in them).
  • For the Staff… Perhaps a selection of Innate Enchantments to boost the possessor in various ways? Channeling with Conversion to a set of high-powered transformation spells? Why not?

That gives us… mighty items out of legend, with a few minor useful tricks associated with them and with some lesser powers that can be called on without much risk – and with enough in the way of mechanics to actually make them playable. Somehow, when it comes to magical items, that really does take me back.

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Excalibur d20

  • Excalibur In Welsh legend, King Arthur's sword...There likewise I beheld Excalibur
  • Before him at his crowning borne, the sword
  • That rose from out the bosom of the lake,
  • And Arthur rowed across and took it—rich
  • With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt,
  • Bewildering heart and eye—the blade so bright
  • That men are blinded by it—on one side,
  • Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world,
  • “Take me,” but turn the blade and ye shall see,
  • And written in the speech ye speak yourself,
  • “Cast me away!” And sad was Arthur’s face
  • Taking it, but old Merlin counseled him,
  • “Take thou and strike! the time to cast away
  • Is yet far-off.” So this great brand the king
  • Took, and by this will beat his foemen down.’

– Idylls of the King, Lord Alfred Tennyson

It would be hard to deny that Excalibur (or Caledfwlch or Caliburn or Calesvol or any of several other variants) is one of the most legendary magical swords in western popular culture.

When you want to translate it into a game though… that’s part of the problem. There are a LOT of versions of the Arthurian tales, most with several swords (the sword in the stone generally ISN’T Excalibur). In many ways Excalibur is the counterpart to the Grail. The Grail brings healing and spiritual growth, while Excalibur brings victory and temporal power. Together… they would allow a king to rule his realm with true, enduring, wisdom. Is it any wonder that Merlin sends the quarrelsome, purposeless, knights of the round table to seek the Grail?

It doesn’t help that most of the stories were – by most game standards and definitely by d20 standards – set in a very low-magic world. Merlin offered advice, and prophecy, and might have raised a few mists or healed some small wounds – but you didn’t find him hurling bolts of lightning, or teleporting, or summoning herds of mammoths to trample opposing armies. That kind of thing didn’t come up until movies and television programs started looking for visuals and ways to add extra excitement through special effects. That meant that Excalibur could be an impressive magical weapon without actually having all that much power.

In the original tales, Excalibur is generally agreed to be very sharp and hard (often to the point where it readily notched or ruined normal armor and other blades and was nigh-unbreakable) and sometimes blazed brightly enough to blind opponents. In some (but by no means all) tales it also seemed to give Arthur a substantial advantage in combat – but that’s hard to say; he was supposed to be a great knight, and favored by various supernatural powers, in any case – and MOST games let high-end warrior types defeat ordinary combatants by the dozens in any case, magic sword or no.

And… that’s about it. Plenty of later interpretations have assigned all kinds of powers to the blade – ranging from ill-defined “invincibility” to making the user incapable of lying – but there’s little or no agreement on such things. The most common bit of confusion – mixing up the Sword in the Stone that showed Arthur to be the destined king with Excalibur in the keeping of the Lady of the Lake – makes the blade a symbol of kingship that draws men to the user and inspires them.

OK, that sounds like fun – and makes the blade something we can build on a bit. I’ll throw in that bit. Given that this IS d20, Excalibur will be needing some pretty potent combat magic built in or people will be really disappointed. After all, what king doesn’t wield at LEAST a +4 sword?

So… Excalibur. The blade of the rightful king, symbol of rulership and temporal power. As an item of legendary might its abilities include:

  • Its a Masterwork Adamant Longsword, Tempered with Witchfire (+50% to normal hardness and hit points, +1 to hit and damage due to incredible quality). This has no character point cost – but, in combination with the jewels and rich ornamentation of the hilt and blade – the sword is obviously both expensive and of great quality.
  • Major Privilege/Recognized as the Rightful King: Excalibur is the Sword of Kings and anyone who bears it will be recognized as a great lord of the land. This is Corrupted/the wielder will often find people appealing to him for aid or justice, and will find it necessary to at least make an attempt at providing it (4 CP).
  • Major Favors with +2 Bonus Uses (Fey, Local Godlings and other Land-Spirits): Excalibur is a symbol of rulership, granting authority over both men and the spirits of the realm. Supernatural powers will often come to the aid of the bearer, for the spirits of the land also recognize their rightful lord. Corrupted/the long-term health of the land is tied to the long term health of the bearer. If he or she becomes corrupt, cursed, or crippled, that condition will be reflected in the realm (6 CP).
  • Privilege/three spirit favors each month may be discounted as tribute, and need not be repaid, Corrupted/only as long as the bearer gives the spirits of the land due respect (2 CP). This will neatly cover modest battle blessings, the blade occasionally shining so brightly as to make it hard for opponents to see, and so on.
  • Returning: Corrupted/while the blade is nigh-indestructible, and will inevitably (if eventually) be reforged if it is somehow broken, and the wielder will eventually return from almost any doom save willingly passing on the blade to another, either of these can require a very long time indeed (4 CP).
  • Leadership with the Emperor’s Star modifier: Whoever bears Excalibur will draw creatures of distinction and valor to his or her service as naturally as a comet trails it’s banner of flight. Corrupted/the great and valiant are often proud and contentious; the bearer will often need to find occupation, rewards, and support for them – as well as settling their quarrels and mediating as to who is the greatest of them (8 CP).
  • Imbuement with the Improved, Superior, and Focused modifiers: Excalibur is a mighty weapon, but it’s magical potency is limited by the strength of the possessor. It gains an effective bonus equal to (The User’s Level/2, rounded up) and allows the user to take some or all of those “pluses” as special magical abilities – although these may not be changed for any given wielder once chosen (24 CP).

That comes to a total of 48 CP – but, for good or ill, the powers of Excalibur are Specialized:

  • For fairly obvious reasons it is highly desired by usurpers, major nobles, and would-be rulers. After all, it’s power bestows legitimacy and respect upon the bearer and can provide a ruler or warlord with considerable help. The user can expect regular attempts to steal the blade.
  • The bearer’s kingship cannot be concealed. His or her presence is never overlooked in a crowd and people will request his or her opinion on important subjects as a matter of course.
  • The user must remain either a powerful king OR be truly noble and striving to become a king. If he or she does not fit these criteria, Excalibur will surely slip from his or her grasp.
  • The user must invest his or her own CP in Excalibur to wield it – forging a permanent link with the powers of the otherworld.

That reduces the net cost of Excalibur to 24 CP – making it a four-point relic and a major tool of rulership. If a character takes it up, he or she will become a focus of destiny – to rule, or to fail most spectacularly.

Choose wisely. Legendary relics are not to be trifled with.

Excalibur is hardly the only weapon associated with Arthur, nor the only sword. Welsh tradition includes a dagger named Carnwennan and a spear named Rhongomyniad. Carnwennan (“Little White-Hilt”) first appears in Culhwch and Olwen, where it is used by Arthur to slice the “Very Black Witch” in half. Rhongomyniad (“spear slayer”) is also first mentioned in Culhwch, it appears as simply Ron (“spear”) in Geoffrey’s Historia. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure there is mention of Clarent, a sword of peace meant for knighting and ceremonies as opposed to battle. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that – when people speak of “Arthur’s Sword” – it’s almost always some version of Excalibur that they mean.

Life and Death in d20

English: A scene from a generic fighting game....

I know, I know… but it works.

This question was a followup to the one about Undead and Souls in Basic d20. In this case it’s…

How do hit points and death work in basic d20?

Hit Points in Dungeons and Dragons and d20 have been described in a lot of ways over the years – as skill in avoiding injury, as luck, as divine protection, as structural integrity, as incredible toughness, and as a lot of other things. The trouble with most of those descriptions is simply that they don’t work properly.

  • Hit points work when you’re falling into a blast furnace – and how does “skill” help with that?
  • Hit points can be restored by simple spells that work on some plants and all animals. How is a simple spell forcing the gods to provide more divine protection? How much divine protection is a toad going to be getting anyway, even if it IS someone’s familiar?
  • How much skill in avoiding injury or parrying does a tree have anyway?
  • How much incredible toughness does a ghost with no physical body have?

When the descriptive text is self-contradictory it’s time to look at the mechanics – and what the d20 game mechanics say is that there are three kinds of hit points:

  • There are hit points that are restored by positive energy healing spells. Living things have those – and cease to be living somewhere below zero.
  • There are hit points that are restored by negative energy harming spells. Undead things have those – and fall apart at zero.
  • There are hit points that are restored by mending things. Objects and Constructs have those – and fall apart at zero.

Well, undead hit points are pretty obviously a near mirror-image of the kind that living things get – and object hit points fairly clearly represent structural integrity. Ergo, all we really need to look at is the kind of hit points that living things have.

For a look at that, lets take a look at one of the odder living creatures to be found out there in the d20 lands.

Take a fire elemental – an undifferentiated mass of hot gas. It can merge with a larger fire, and reform from it, just as an earth or water or air elemental can move through their elements. It can be injured by passing a sword through it. Why is that? It’s because it has vitality or “hit points”. It can be healed by the same positive-energy summoning spells that heal humans and it can be injured just like a human by the disruption of whatever structure it has. It can move around on it’s own, despite the lack of muscles. It can PICK THINGS UP despite being made of gas. At least on the material level – where that sword exists – it’s structurally quite identical to an ordinary fire, which can be stabbed all day long without harming or disrupting it one little bit. Ask any blacksmith.

So hit points – and the ability to move about and act on things – have nothing at all to do with this “biology” stuff. We know that because elementals have the same kind of hit points that humans do, but they’re noticeably short on “biology”. Hit points have to do with positive energy – which is why they can be restored, or even increased, by adding more positive energy, either on a temporary basis (while normal healing spells won’t do, spells which augment a spirits capacity and then add more energy work just fine) or through ongoing self-development or “gaining hit dice”.

Ergo, spirits have a reserve of positive energy, and use it to hang onto bodies, and to make them to move and act. That’s how a fire elemental works, that’s why a frail-looking crone can have a twenty strength, that’s why “losing hit points” doesn’t actually weaken or hinder d20 creatures until they’re at zero hit points, why wounds are ablative and measurable by spells like Deathwatch rather than being related to actual physical injuries, and why the “heal” skill accomplishes so little. Mere damaged flesh is not, fundamentally, the problem. Flesh doesn’t really matter to a basic d20 human any more than it does to a basic d20 fire elemental – which doesn’t have any.

It doesn’t really matter whether you feel that positive energy deflects damage like a force field, makes a creature tougher than a steel statue, or compensates for and repairs damage. The net effect is the same. A single crossbow bolt to a mid-level human’s shoulder is a small disruption and a loss of a modest quantity of positive energy. A single crossbow bolt to the heart is a notably greater disruption and causes more loss of positive energy because it impacts the bodies systems over a wider area (thus allowing “sneak attacks” and “criticals”) – but it’s still no problem for a spirit that still has a good reserve of positive energy left. Such a spirit can keep its body going anyway – and once the weapon is out of whatever wound it’s created the spirit can seal it up with ease.

Simply having your metabolism stop without physical damage isn’t lethal; you can be turned to stone, spend a thousand years as a statue, and then get turned back into flesh, and be just fine. (In fact, there’s no really good reason why a spirit can’t animate a statue like a golem save for it not having magic to make it easier and not being used to it. If you want to throw in making those adjustments you’ll want a spell like Iron Body).

Of course, if a “Death Effect” snuffs out a living spirits reserve of positive energy, it will die instantly.

So what about suffocation, starvation, and thirst?

  • They’re fairly simple; a normal human (or animal or similar fleshy) body requires a careful balance of the energies of fire (which feeds on the other elements), earth, air, and water to exist. Earth is stable in itself – which is why bone endures – but the others need to be supplied. Without regular supplies of air, earth (found in food), and water the body starts to suffer damage. Too much damage – which happens very fast when it comes to air as might be expected of a fire – has exactly the same effects as any other kind of damage; death. As the imbalance of elemental energies scontinues to increase after death the body mortifies (too much water), desiccates (too little water), falls to bits (too little earth), petrifies (too much earth), burns or powders (too much fire), or freezes (too little fire). Air is more subtle, but it usually doesn’t hang around at all anyway.

What about “Massive Damage”?

  • The problem here is something better known as Cascade Failure. A complex system – whether it’s an electrical power grid, an ecology, a magical structure, or a fleshy, body – has a great many interdependent components. Every one of them has some tolerance for damage. There is always at least a little redundancy. Such systems can handle many insults, overloads, and bits of damage here and there – but sometimes, when the system is under enough stress, a very tiny nudge here or there can tip the balance. Something starts to give, the stress on associated components abruptly skyrockets, they start to give – and in a couple of seconds you go from “functioning system” to “pile of junk”. For a spirit, that’s just too much physical failure to compensate for.

What about Constitution Damage and Drain?

  • Constitution is a measure of how efficiently a body uses positive energy. That’s why changes to constitution affect hit points immediately, without having to wait for damage or healing. Thus a body at zero constitution can’t bind with positive energy any more – and it doesn’t matter how much positive energy a spirit may have left at that point; no matter how much you multiply by zero, the result is still zero.

Diseases and such are just a variant on this; a “disease” is a lot of tiny parasites that reduce the bodies ability to bind with positive energy – possibly by sucking it up themselves. Too much of THAT and – inevitably – down you go.

What about old age?

  • Death from old age isn’t a physical failure in d20. After all, learn the right disciplines or spells and you can alter your physical age as you please or even get a whole new body – and yet most of those abilities do not extend your lifespan. Similarly, you can’t Raise or Resurrect someone who has died of old age.

And you don’t even need a body at all for a Resurrection.

If it isn’t a physical failure, it must be a spiritual one. Ergo, at some point, the spirit loses the ability to channel positive energy into a physical body. In most creatures that’s a gradual process with some warning signs; first the spirit can no longer keep up with superficial, cosmetic, signs – graying hair, wrinkles, and so on – then you get stiffness, degenerative problems, slower healing, less resistance to disease, and the deeper signs of aging – and then, in the end, even if the spirit manages to evade lesser causes of death, the amount of positive energy the spirit can push into the body will no longer suffice. Irreversible natural death occurs.

Are there other possible explanations for hit points? Of course there are; they’re just a lot harder for me to fit into the d20 rules set. They mostly require either some very convoluted reasoning to make them fit the d20 mechanics or major changes to those mechanics.

Now, the d20 mechanics are hardly perfect. They have limitations, they don’t simulate “common sense” very well when it comes to things like injuries, and they’re pretty abstract in places – but they do play reasonably well and are usually fun. Sure, I could hack in some far more realistic rules about injuries and combat – but just ask any real soldier. Realistic combat is NOT FUN. Realistic injuries are NOT FUN. Playing “desperate terror, sickening adrenalin rushes, and horrible pain with a high statistical chance of death” is NOT FUN. Playing “three months in the hospital and then maimed for life” is NOT FUN.

“Fun” is why we’re playing these games. Given how much most role-playing game rely on combat to generate excitement, where realism gets in the way of fun, realism gets thrown under a bus and then buried in a shallow anonymous grave.

Thus, in some realms, injuries are hindering and complex, they often fail to heal entirely, and even a tiny injury in the right place can kill. There death is often a slow process – and chunks of your body and mind can die before others. The line is hard to draw, and that gradual fading is a mystery to most men. The nature of life there is entirely different from it’s nature in a basic d20 universe – and it’s ending is equally strange by d20 standards.

In a – far more fortunate and far more entertaining – basic d20 realm death is simple. To quote the SRD:

A character dies when his or her hit points drop to -10 or lower. A character also dies when his or her Constitution drops to 0, and certain spells or effects (such as failing a Fortitude save against massive damage) can also kill a character outright. Death causes the character’s soul to leave the body and journey to an Outer Plane. Dead characters cannot benefit from normal or magical healing, but they can be restored to life via magic. A dead body decays normally unless magically preserved, but magic that restores a dead character to life also restores the body either to full health or to its condition at the time of death (depending on the spell or device). Either way, resurrected characters need not worry about rigor mortis, decomposition, and other conditions that affect dead bodies.

When a spirit no longer has enough of a reserve of positive energy to hang onto it’s physical body, it begins slipping – moving from from “-1″ on down, much like a man losing his grip on a tree branch. Once that spirit runs out of positive energy, it falls. One billionth of a second before the fall, simple healing magic can see the victim hail and hearty in an instant. One billionth of a second afterwards, the bond of spirit and body is broken and the victim is dead. In basic d20 worlds the spirit is immediately drawn to it’s destination plane, just as a man holding onto a tree branch is drawn to the ground once he loses his grip.

Some spirits find ways to stick around – dropping to a “support” above the “ground” – using negative energy to return as an “Undead”, psychic power to persist as a free spirit, or many other methods. Such things are judged unnatural by many – and negative energy “life” is inherently malevolent and destructive of positive-energy life – but there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with doing so.

So much for life and death.

As for what comes after…

Under standard 20 rules, a spirit pretty much loses it’s individuality once deceased; it becomes a generic “petitioner” in the afterlife and can be killed again – being annihilated (if they aren’t for a long time they’ll eventually be absorbed into the structure of the plane – once again, effectively being annihilated). On the other hand, many settings state that these now entirely-generic entities are rewarded or punished for things that they did in life – even though you can’t actually tell them apart in any meaningful way and they don’t remember their mortal lives. Of course, the d20 rules also state that determined spirits can come back as revenants, that you can find and communicate with them, and so on – the usual hazards of multiple opinionated writers who aren’t consulting each other.

Most actual d20 games ignore the “petitioner” bit; what’s the point of rewarding or punishing generic blobs who have no idea of why? Why make an “afterlife” into a generic video-game extra life that will inevitably end at some point? Why seek out the ancient spirit of a long-dead king, or mighty mage, or your dead child, when all you’re going to find is a generic petitioner who knows nothing and doesn’t know you?

Fortunately, house or setting rules that change that only require changing a few sentences and have virtually no effect on the mechanics. Dead characters are usually (although hardly always) pretty much out of play in any case.

Finally, of course, we have attitudes towards death.

Now, unlike in reality, in a basic (or even setting or a house-ruled afterlife) d20 fantasy setting Death is normally no mystery. There’s no particular doubt about how it works, or the moment of death, or about personal survival in the afterlife, or anything like that. If you have serious unfinished business, or a really big grudge, or want to watch over a grandchild, or want to haunt your murderer – well, most d20 settings say that a determined spirit can find a way to do it, if only by appearing in dreams. Gods very definitely exist, and care for their followers both before and after death. People fairly often come back from death, or use astral travel to visit the planes of the dead, meet some dead relatives, and tour the place a bit.

That means that the fear of death is mostly based on anticipated regret – “there were still things I wanted to do! I’m not ready!” – rather than fear of personal extinction and the unknown, or even of punishment (gods who punish people who follow their philosophies don’t tend to get many followers). That’s also why d20 worlds tend to have gods of the dead, protectors of the dead, judges and advocates of the dead, psychopomps who guide the dead, and gods who just like to kill people – but they generally don’t have a true “god of death” or any version of a “grim reaper” any more than they have gods of “losing your grip on tree branches”. The process is simple, automatic, and has no need for personification.

This too is good; it means that heroes who spit in the face of death, face threats with valor rather than appeasement, and who sacrifice themselves for causes knowing that they are passing into the care of their divine patrons are relatively common – rather than as rare as they are in the real world.

That makes for an exciting and dramatic game – and is, given the rules of the setting the action takes place in – entirely realistic. It’s hard to ask for more out of a rules system than that.

Undead and Souls – the d20 way

Combined Nuvola apps dict.png + VampireSmiley....

Yeah. These guys.

This particular question wasn’t online – but it is an interesting one, even if it has been addressed before in various places.

In basic d20, do Undead have Souls?

Well, since it’s basic d20, lets see what we can get from the System Reference Document.

As far as Creating Undead goes… Create Undead requires “a clay pot filled with grave dirt and another filled with brackish water. The spell must be cast on a dead body. You must place a black onyx gem worth at least 50 gp per HD of the undead to be created into the mouth or eye socket of each corpse. The magic of the spell turns these gems into worthless shells.”

Evidently “Create Undead” doesn’t require access to the soul even when it’s creating intelligent undead or templated undead. This fits in with the general rules about death and souls. You can find those under “Bringing Back the Dead”

Several spells have the power to restore slain characters to life.

  • When a living creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature’s deity resides. If the creature did not worship a deity, its soul departs to the plane corresponding to its alignment. Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving his or her soul and returning it to his or her body.
  • Level Loss: Any creature brought back to life usually loses one level of experience. The character’s new XP total is midway between the minimum needed for his or her new (reduced) level and the minimum needed for the next one. If the character was 1st level at the time of death, he or she loses 2 points of Constitution instead of losing a level.
  • This level loss or Constitution loss cannot be repaired by any mortal means, even wish or miracle. A revived character can regain a lost level by earning XP through further adventuring. A revived character who was 1st level at the time of death can regain lost points of Constitution by improving his or her Constitution score when he or she attains a level that allows an ability score increase.
  • Preventing Revivification: Enemies can take steps to make it more difficult for a character to be returned from the dead. Keeping the body prevents others from using raise dead or resurrection to restore the slain character to life. Casting trap the soul prevents any sort of revivification unless the soul is first released.
  • Revivification against One’s Will: A soul cannot be returned to life if it does not wish to be. A soul knows the name, alignment, and patron deity (if any) of the character attempting to revive it and may refuse to return on that basis.

Obviously this wasn’t checked during the 3.5 update. 3.5 allows Resurrection without the body and has changed Trap the Soul so that it entraps the body as well. Fortunately, this doesn’t change the point.

The SRD also provides us with a definition of Death and what happens there:

A character dies when his or her hit points drop to -10 or lower. A character also dies when his or her Constitution drops to 0, and certain spells or effects (such as failing a Fortitude save against massive damage) can also kill a character outright. Death causes the character’s soul to leave the body and journey to an Outer Plane. Dead characters cannot benefit from normal or magical healing, but they can be restored to life via magic. A dead body decays normally unless magically preserved, but magic that restores a dead character to life also restores the body either to full health or to its condition at the time of death (depending on the spell or device). Either way, resurrected characters need not worry about rigor mortis, decomposition, and other conditions that affect dead bodies.

So; Resurrection – a ninth level spell – can’t affect a body that’s been dead more than ten years per level and cannot affect an unwilling soul. Per the rules above, no spell, however epic, can be designed that bypasses that restriction. Animate Dead or Create Undead – at levels three and six respectively – can affect bodies that have been dead an unlimited length of time, even if the soul of such a body has risen to become an archdemon, or achieved godhood or some such.

While that does open up the amusing possibility of destroying gods and demons and devils and such who rose to that position after dying as mortals (the standard d20 start for new demons and devils) by finding their original bodies and turning them into mummies or something, the implications change the setting quite a lot and certainly does not fit in with the rules. If a spell can drag an unwilling soul back and stuff it into an undead body, why not into a living one?

Thus we can deduce that undead do NOT necessarily have the original soul unless, perhaps, it was willing – or possibly unless it went straight from being alive to being undead. Instead they usually have some sort of artificial mirror-image of that soul, created from negative energy. That would, of course, explain their hostility towards everything the original soul loved, makes sense of the workings of the various undead-creating spells, keeps people from killing gods with third-level spells, keeps souls from being recalled from the planes of good and forced to change their alignments, and still explains why you can’t resurrect people who’s bodies are currently active as undead; a soul and it’s mirror-image cannot exist simultaneously in the inner planes.

Souls that want to become undead may or may not be able to “answer the call” and take up unlife – but I’d say that they can. That makes sense out of liches and voluntary vampires and such.

Turning someone directly into an undead without allowing the soul to depart may or may not bind the soul. It probably doesn’t though – first because it’s pretty hard to go from “positive energy” to “negative energy” without passing through “zero energy” (dead) along the way and partially because trapping souls is supposed to be REALLY high level magic again – something that it doesn’t seem likely that minor undead are capable of with simple draining attacks. Save it for those high-level mages voluntarily turning themselves into liches and accused death knights returning from the lower planes as undead and such.

This also answers whether or not you can make a sapient undead out of the body of someone who’s transferred to a Clone (something the original rules do not address). By this analysis, no you can’t; the original, positive-energy aligned, soul is still present on the inner planes, so such an attempt will automatically fail.

Spells and abilities that prevent corpses from being turned into undead are thus pretty simple; they keep the body from being effectively infused with negative energy. That’s why simple, low-level, effects work just fine;  all they’re doing is purging the remnants left over from life which would have gone into forging the quasi-soul. Arguably that might not actually keep some necromancer from turning the corpse into a skeleton or zombie – but it very well might. After all, with nothing left to set the pattern, infusing a body with negative energy won’t work any better than infusing a random rock with it.

Now, many game masters may run variant worlds where undead (at least those who go beyond being simply automatons like skeletons and zombies) DO get the original soul all the time – but they should be careful about the implications that has. In that case it’s probably best to say that undead can only arise when the soul involved consents. That would help keep the world from being overrun with self-propagating undead like Shadows too.

D20 – Mass Combat Made Simple

English: http://www.mfr.usmc.mil/4thmardiv/4th...

Yes, Lizard Men would be great at this, wouldn’t they?

A common complaint in d20 games is that there’s no mass combat system.

Fortunately, that’s actually pretty easily fixed – although, as usual, the first step is in figuring out what cases your rules actually need to cover.

  • If the PC’s are not involved in the battle you don’t need any rules. You simply narrate whatever result seems reasonable – perhaps modified with the result of a few die rolls to see if something unlikely happens.
  • If the PC’s are running one side or the other from a command position, but are not getting involved directly, you can have them make a few skill checks, let those results modify your notion of what seems reasonable and narrate the results. If you want to get elaborate you can give the players a few decision points – when to advance, when to retreat, and some basic tactics to pick from – and base your narration on that. Once again, in this case you don’t need any rules. It’s not like they’ll really be able to micromanage anyway – and if they CAN, we no longer have “they are not getting involved directly”.
  • If the PC’s are operating as special forces against small groups of opponents… the standard combat system handles that very nicely indeed. That’s what it’s for. You don’t need any mass combat rules here either.
  • If the PC’s are in direct battle with – or beside – mass-battle sized groups of near-equal, equal, or superior individuals… Then you don’t need rules. Their options are basically limited to 1) run away, 2) cash in a plot coupon, 3) come up with something so incredibly clever that the GM gives it to them, or 4) dying – heroically or not at their option. You can just narrate the result again.

So; the only time you actually need “mass battle” rules is when the player characters are up against large numbers of much weaker creatures that are organized enough to still be threatening. (If they’re not organized you can just use the Swarm rules…).

So lets reach back, back beyond d20, back beyond AD&D, back beyond the original edition… back, in fact, all the way to one of the older editions of Chainmail and a little page of fantasy units in the back of the booklet.

Hm. It looks like heroes and wizards and such count as military units. Their mighty heroism and magical power makes them equivalent to sizeable groups of normal soldiers, capable of competing directly against military units on the field of battle. Of course current RPG’s tend to focus on the individual heroes, start them off well before “name level” – and forget all about that “equivalent to military units” stuff. (Except for the occasional threads about “Can an army of 10,000 peasants and a midlevel warlord take down the 20’th level wizard in his tower? And no sending out the Iron Golems!”.)

So; there are your rules. Powerful heroes are equivalent to military units. Ergo, for combat purposes, Military Units can be reasonably represented… as powerful individuals.

OK. We’ll give them a few special rules;

  • They are disrupted – and effectively vanish – when they hit zero hit points, just like summoned creatures. There will be lots of broken survivors who will run away. Actually “killing” them will require chasing down the majority of the individual fleeing creatures. It’s usually not worth the bother.
  • Looting them gets you lots of lesser gear, rather than the higher-level equivalent items that they combine to represent.
  • The scale is bigger. How much bigger? It really doesn’t matter much; the player characters can simply be presumed to be moving about on a larger scale, spending time picking out good targets from among the mass instead of just blasting away, and a few characters can effectively man that city wall. Time and distance are stretched out proportionately – and so don’t actually change anything. The only major effect here is that – if you want to add mounts or supplies to your military group out of your personal resources – you’re going to need a lot of them.

If you must guess the CR – instead of just making it reasonable for the group (remember, you don’t need rules for “an easy victory” or “too strong to fight”) – divide by five or so. Groups just aren’t as well organized as individuals.

So you have a peasant militia with 120 CR 1/2 members being organized by a sixth level fighter?

OK: that gives us… three wings of 40 guys each. Divide by five. 8 CR 1/2 characters is… a fifth level equivalent.

So; build them as three fifth level characters – probably fighters. They’ve been taught to dash in and out? Mobility feat. One wing was taught to strike mighty blows? Power attack for that one. One wing includes a bunch of novices from the temple? Build that one as a cleric; the novices massed efforts can approximate a few higher level spells. They include some creatures with weird abilities? Give the units you’re building some. That’s easy in Eclipse, but there are ways to do it in most d20 systems.

You’re modeling a swarm of demons? Use the statistics for a few more powerful ones and simply describe the seething mass of lesser creatures as they combine their powers to launch a few more powerful attacks.

The nigh-invincible United Armies of the Hundred Cities might be built as a quartet of eighteenth level characters. Sure, there are things out there that can take them out – but their well-trained massed forces of the dozen cities that actually contribute much, with all their minor priests, magicians, and mystics, and their field fortifications, catapults, and other defenses, say that it isn’t going to be easy unless you’re a high epic level type yourself.

This also has a subtle advantage; you can use masses of lower-level opponents quickly and easily to oppose those high-level PC’s – rather than having to have massively powerful creatures and opponents lurking around every corner. That way you don’t have to answer questions like “where were all these guys when we were low level?”, or “how do the normal peasants survive?” or “how can the world still function when it’s full of people who can warp it, twist it, and overthrow it at whim?”.

Now, if a player wants to command a military unit, or the services of a temple full of novices and underlings, or some such… let them take Leadership and apply the same principle. Use the statistics of a single, higher-level, character to represent the massed efforts of many lower-level ones.

No, this isn’t a perfect simulation of a mass battle – but it’s quick, simple, workable, and works in the game. If it still worries you, just remember; d20 is full of high-order abstractions already. What will one more hurt?

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice XCVI – Seeking The Wildway

Monstrance from museum in Pelplin

Perhaps you should be a bit more careful with that…

In his offices in Yu-Shan Lytek was fearfully busy… He now had 350 Solar, 600 Lunar, and 200 Sidereal Exaltations to look after – as well as the three Abyssal Exaltations he was tinkering with (with much tsking over the twists and tortures inflicted on them).

He’d been reluctant to call Charles in to talk about the Abyssal Exaltations at first – it WAS his domain after all! – but… the boy was (of course) fabulously skilled. More importantly, he was utterly trustworthy – and he was the one who’d captured the corrupted Exaltations for him in the first place. It wasn’t like he didn’t already know about the situation…

Charles had, of course, been more than willing to go all-out on his examination; he had quite an interest in the mechanisms of Exaltation – and had spent the time for a boosting ritual, and his augmenting charms, and called in Ixiah to assist, and deployed the manse-enhancements, and more…

He’d shared those perceptions with Lytek. It had been enlightening all around! Lytek was always happy to discuss Exaltations anyway; behind Autochthon, he had the most precise and delicate understanding of the things in all Creation.

Lytek had shown Charles some of his personal notes – including a diagram of what a Dawn Caste Exaltation should look like to match the Dusk Caste Exaltation they were currently working on.

It was far too dizzyingly complex for most occultists to comprehend. Even most of the Exalts who specialized in such things would have found it confusing; it was a crystalline structure with countless nodes and circuits, all woven into an intricate pattern in far more than three dimensions. Had Autochthon forged them from human souls? That would neatly explain why they would only bond with other human souls…

Of course, unlike most Exalts, Charles had gotten to take a good look at his own Soul and Exaltation from the inside. Some of the nodes were remarkably similar to Solar demesnes – but on a near-microscopic scale. Still, that had been one of his theories; internal geomancy seemed likely as an power source. Thus Autochthon might have taken the most powerful structures he’d known as a model – creating Exaltations as miniaturized primordial world-bodies, rolled up on themselves and anchored to a soul through elsewhere. That would, of course, also explain why it was so hard to trap them; they were not THERE in the first place.

Not to mention that it fit in with what he was doing… Had Lytek’s meddling simply… removed the mystical “bolt” which held his Exaltations pocket realm compressed and allowed his Exaltation to begin unfolding?

Some of the nodes exuded less power than others. It was still Solar Essence, but those nodes weren’t nearly as efficient as other nodes were. Was it being used internally? Could it just be awaiting tuning (and the investment of XP in new charms) to develop channels for itself?

A node-by node comparison with the Abyssal Exaltation was tedious – but it was easy enough with Charles, Ixiah, and Lytek performing research together. Thank goodness for flexible wyld time, computers, aides, and instant genius!

The Dusk Caste shard was not really all that different from the Dawn Caste shard. Many of the nodes were reversed, practically a mirror of each other. Others… save for an infusion of necrotic and devouring Essence, some nodes were all but completely identical to the Solar shard’s equivalents. They seemed to be related to what Lytek referred to as “mirror charms”. Other nodes seemed to have dormant links to the Spiritual Underworld, sealed off by Yu-Shan’s nature. Others seem to tug in motes exposed to them, as if something were pulling on their patterns. The latter two problems were the ones that had given Lytek the most trouble in finding a fix.

Hm… Reversed essence flows? Most of them on the mental level, since that was where the interface was? Bonded at the moment of death, rather than at a peak moment of heroism and life. Reoriented… Well, Exaltations bonded to the soul. That bond was broken when the soul… broke free of the body, separated into its component parts, and passed into lethe (leaving memories) or the underworld. Ergo… at the moment of death, every Exaltation was momentarily oriented towards the underworld – and destruction. That gave death-curses, and artifacts like Death at the Root, their power. (Hm. Was every exaltation capable of sustaining one such secondary death-curse? That would explain why most couldn’t be reproduced similarly; by now most of them would be sustaining SOMETHING). Pulling on their patterns… a powerflow into the underworld? Possibly to the Monstrances if they still existed? SOMETHING had to be powering that link – and it had to possess a powerful pull to overcome the link to Lytek’s cabinet

Did enough anguish to start the process of death break down some of the links to the Exaltation, allowing the pesky monstrance to be hooked to the now-exposed anchorpoints? From what he’d heard, whether they liked it or not, and whether there were Deathlords and Monstrances or not, Abyssals were inevitably drawn to death – and what better initial draw than the actual experience? There was an opportunity; there had to be a moment between when the soul broke the last links with the body and when the higher and lower souls separated. Now, if the monstrances were gone… the souls of the last owner, in the course of being drawn to oblivion, would link them to oblivion as they passed into it – if it was possible to link to nothingness. Still, there was necrotic magic; oblivion had power, even if it was negative power… An anti-universe?

If that was the case… since he’d prevented the prior owner’s souls from being drawn into oblivion – it might be possible to disengage the residual links. They had to extend through elsewhere – everything did, since it was an N-dimensional realm. If those were broken though… It might just vanish – perhaps back to Lytek’s cabinet? – since those were presumably the main hold on it.

There were several possibilities there; sending someone in, blocking access to elsewhere, trying to transfer them to a more healthy holder, or simply trying to cut the links. If Exaltations WERE world-bodies, compacted through elsewhere as they might be… from some dimensional viewpoint they would be full-sized. Finding that route… would be pretty hard. Fortunately, an Exaltation on it’s own wouldn’t actively block investigation. If he could just find the link, he could create a manse with a gate to follow it… There were Sidereal Charms and other forms of Gates that might work too of course – but manse gates were VERY hard to block, and could easily reach almost anywhere imaginable – and so it was worth a try!

It would probably be best to send in a probe first though!

Lytek, meanwhile, was looking thoughtful and somewhat sad…

Charles tried to divert him by explaining – which merely gave Lytek something else to worry (and to briefly flicker) about; constructing specialty manses as probe-tools? It wasn’t like he didn’t know that Charles built manses very very quickly indeed – but it was beginning to sound like he was considering ways to simply build them around opponents!

Charles, meanwhile, was planning… either solar-aspected to be as undisturbing as possible – and to help a bit with the energy-balance – or abyssal, which would make things easier… Wait! There was no reason why you couldn’t include “Exotic Aspect” in some Dynamic Architecture, so he could make it both!

That notion made Lytek flicker again – but Charles felt that it would balance things out nicely! And Lytek could ease things further with his Dropper of Effacious Calibration – although he flickered yet again.

Charles wasn’t inclined to let any Abyssal Energies into Aden if he could possibly avoid it though – so he picked out an extrasolar planet. That way there would be room for more manses as needed!

He randomly selected a site well out across the universe, set up a gate for Lytek (it would work better if he was at the site where the link would be set up – and Charles wouldn’t dream of meddling with his domain without him being there anyway) – and started setting up defenses… Working on an abyssal domain on a dead world could be trouble anyway, even if they weren’t meddling with one of the most potent forces in the universe… There might be backlash or something, and that called for more aides!

Besides a Deathlord or something might show up – and it certainly wouldn’t do to allow some sort of attack or kidnaping attempt on Lytek!

Lytek brought some of his trusted personnel, too, just in case. Besides, he needed someone there to record this!

Charles had brought along Chaffri the Traveler, Malinda the Diviner, and Uthorian (Master of Wyld Thaumaturgy and Raksha Powers) to seek out the route, and Gothmug and some Balgrogs to handle perimeter security. He’d invited Righteous Hala too – and she’d had her questions, and been a bit floored at the explanation – albeit not as she might have been; she was an Elder Lunar and her own understanding of geomancy was not insignificant!

(Hala) “It makes sense, in a strange way! Very well then… I’ve GOT to see this!”

(Charles) “Well, it’s only a theory – but it certainly seems like it’s worth a try!”

Hala surveyed the security arrangements – and found them reasonably through; assorted agents and wards, divine charms, geomantic manse effects (including a set of perfect privacy defenses), illusions to deceive normal senses and anyone who might somehow spy on the area, Gothmug’s perimeter traps, immutability, protection from unnatural mental influence, diseases, poisons, crippling, and various other effects, concealment of the geomantic shifts that erecting a manse would involve, and more – starting, of course, with the semi-random choice of location and a through search of the place before Lytek arrived.

Charles had consulted the Nocturnals as well. He suspected that Lytek wouldn’t want to consult a Sidereal… The Nocturnals might conceivably cause trouble – but on the evidence so far hd didn’t really think that the Abyssals were what they were here about.

Of those he’d met, Catherine, Astrid and Vaal were the most available. Vaal was actually not too far from Lytek’s office at the moment; he was running minor errands for Mr. Montague.

Charles asked him if he had a little time!

(Vaal) “Yeah, sure! Astrid said I should help you out if you asked. What do you need?”

(Charles) “Advice mostly! On a probe into a badly-corrupted artifact of considerable power!”

(Vaal) “Uhm… okay, I can do that! What kind of artifact?”

(Charles) “I’ve been asked not to discuss that outside of privacy wards. Is that all right?”

(Vaal) “OK!”

Vaal was pretty well floored when he got directions to the Bureau of Heaven. Wow! Him – a poor kid from the Celestial slums – going to the Bureau of Heaven!

Catherine was less surprised. She’d long known that Charles had some pretty serious connections. She’d been working on a little something of her own, but if the boss thought it was important it probably was. He was a pretty easygoing kid!

Chaffri brought them over – not that they really recognized him as being anything but a fairly powerful god.

The group gathered at an eerily still and gloomy demesne on an equally gloomy world… Dark enough to subdue even Vaal, who was excited because this was his first time leaving Yu-Shan. Catherine, however, was watching the absurdly massive precautions being set up and reinforced.

(Catherine) “This must be something big, boss. Now that you’ve got the wards set up, want to tell us?”

Charles had checked with Lytek first. Lytek had been quite reluctant – but, as natives of Yu-Shan, both of them know the value of secrecy. He’d said “yes” in the end.

(Charles) “Well, I’ll need you both to promise not to pass on this information … (they both agreed). Many thousands of years ago the Powers of the Underworld managed to seize and corrupt – or perhaps tarnish is more accurate – some Solar Exaltations. I managed to get ahold of some of them some time ago, and have been working with Lytek on a way to get them back to normal. I… haven’t been able to fully analyze them. Still, there’s a strong possibility that they have their own internal geomancy. Ergo, I’m going to try to construct a manse-gate that will grant access to the inside – if such an inside exists. This calls for some very elaborate protections indeed, most of which are now underway, and the help of a wide variety of entities. I thought that your presence might be helpful! If I don’t get it right… you might be able to shift things to where I did get it right so I could see what I did wrong!

(Vaal) “Whoa… um, this might be beyond me, but I’ll help as much as I can!”

(Catherine) “Yeah… you’ve helped me and Jose out a lot. It’s the least I can do.”

Besides… LYTEK was consulting CHARLES about the structure of Exaltations? He hadn’t been able to FULLY analyze them? If Charles hadn’t been so… unfailingly kind and helpful… Who or WHAT was she working for?

(Charles) “Oh – and this is Chaffri the Far-Traveler – he’ll be helping make sure the gate is stable – and Gothmug here is handling perimeter security, and Uthorian here will be helping with the navigation, as will Malinda, and…”

Introducing everyone went on for a bit.

Lytek and his aides showed up while that was going on, prompting a bit of a restart.

(Charles) “Hello everybody!”

Both Vaal and Catherine were quietly awed. Neither of them would have had any hope of meeting a god of his stature in their mortal lives. Vaal and Catherine bowed quite respectfully – but Lytek’s crew were pretty shocked to find themselves surrounded by a crew of Devas.

(Amris, Divine Clerk – very nervously) “My lord, what is this!?”

For a brief moment Charles struggled with the temptation to announce “It’s a service call! These are still under warranty!” – but he didn’t give in.

(Lytek, taking a deep breath) “These individuals mean us no harm. They are… friends of young Charles, loyal to him and his needs, and they are as benign as him. They intend to help us with this matter. I swear this on my honor as a functionary of the Bureaucracy.”

He had to invoke the Mandate of Divine Subordination on it; it was quite dismaying for gods to be surrounded by devas! Especially unknown ones – even if they did seem to be as benevolent and friendly as Charles was.

The work began, weaving together Uthorian’s wyld power to bring the impossible into reality, Malinda’s techniques for seeking through the spaces that were not, Chaffri’s unfailing power to locate routes, the weavings of the Loom of Fate to bypass the centuries that such a search would normally require, Charles’s Adenic thaumaturgies, Lytek’s unmatched knowledge of Exaltation, certain adaptive Lunar Charms, a bit of Nocturnal timeline-shifting, normal and wyld stunts, and vast reserves of essence fed by a geomantic network…

The necrotic essence resisted fiercely – and the project was of vast complexity. Despite the powers focused on the task, it required time – and something badly wanted to deny them that.

Righteous Hala had helped unify the groups efforts at first – but the manipulations soon got far beyond where she could assist directly. Patrolling the perimeter was more useful; Charles’s guards were powerful – but woefully inexperienced.

Chaffri and Malinda were tracing out what should be a route into the tainted shard when Hala and Vaal approached – and quite hurriedly too.

(Charles) “Oh dear! Is something up?”

(Vaal) “I spotted what I thought was a comet, but Hala said it looked like a black ship! She says that might be really bad!”

(Hala) “Sigh… away from Earth, Vaal, that usually means Abyssals or their agents.”

(Charles) “Bother! We’re fairly well hidden, but they probably want that Exaltation back!”

(Hala) “My thoughts exactly – and if they can’t find it, they probably know this area’s warded off.”

(Charles) “TWICE bother! And we still haven’t even fully confirmed that finding a route in is possible! This could still be a wrong track!”

(Catherine) “So what do we do? I’m sure Vaal and Lady Hala could hold them off, but we’ve got Lord Lytek here!”

(Charles) “Uhm… Gothmug? You’re the security specialist, and I bet you’ve studied all the likely opponents… Should I call in more forces and proceed or fall back? I don’t know how we could hide things any better; we already picked a random point in the cosmos for this!”

(Gothmug, with drama) “Oh woe! They must have incredible sensors on that ship to penetrate OUR defenses! I would dearly love to study those… I’ll summon some of the Balgrogs with the holy blades!” (He grinned.) “That should give them pause.”

(Catherine) “And I think Vaal and I can do SOMETHING to distract them.”

(Charles) “Shall I set up the consecration? I was worried that it might interfere with the gate-attempt.”

(Gothmug) “It would help! At any rate, we cannot allow Lord Lytek to fall into Abyssal hands!”

Lytek was quite busy ensuring that the shard didn’t just vanish to seek out a new host – to the point where he couldn’t focus too much on anything else.

(Charles, extending the consecration) “Very well! If we can just determine a route, the manse itself could be set up anywhere!”

Catherine and Vaal conferred briefly and slipped out of the warded area. They seemed intent on summoning something – perhaps a Fluctuation.

Whoever-it-was aboard the black ship provided Gothmug and the other defenders with quite an education as he, she, or it hammered through wards, material barriers, illusions, misdirections, spatial warps that turned things in the wrong direction, zones of chaos, dangerous environments, and dozens of other delaying tactics… Whatever was coming was… OLD power, and skilled in using it. Good enough to be fairly sure of what it could safely ignore…

Still, it was buying time… as it turned out, time enough for Lytek, Charles, and his Devas to find a route, despite the loud snarling and gnashing noises resounding some distance away. Still… now that they had a route, they could put up the gate-manse anywhere – and without the shard nearby for enemies to focus on. It had been safe enough so far in Lytek’s custody, and it was time to pull out. Back to Earth first – there was enough activity there to break the trail pretty throughly – and then getting Lytek back to Yu-Shan.

Catherine came back running when the call to retreat came.

(Catherine) “Dammit, they got Vaal!”

Charles’s stomach twisted. “Got him”? But he’d brought him along! Surely not…

(Catherine) “But… they didn’t kill him.”

(Charles, urgently) “How far out?”

(Catherine) “Well… we were ambushed. I didn’t see the attacker’s face, but Vaal suddenly froze solid. There was a blur that went that way. Whoever it was grabbed him like nothing.”

(Hala, seeing the look on Charles’s face) “If you’re about to do what I think you are, I’m coming with you!”

Charles reached up, sank his fingers into the structure of space and gravity – and wrapped strands of starlight around his fingers, swirling them into a collapsing spiral, a miniature wormhole and event horizon, here where Uthorian’s presence filled the area with chaos and his own fantasies might be made real, reflecting the shaping of space and time from the paces-wide reach of chaos of it’s beginning.

(Charles) “Nirharva, Nirupadhika, Sindiharta, what was once for this moment and by my will be again, the illusion of distance vanished… Vaal, by your name and self, BE HOME.

Technically this was simply a Thaumaturgic Wyld Stunt – boosted by a channeled virtue and some style dice and his absurd levels of thaumaturgic enhancement – on the level of Solar Circle Sorcery; defining Vaal as being within range of his geomantic banishment and and Gothmug’s geomantic elsewhere-transfer no matter where he’d been taken. The principles of completion, the momentary and partial negation of the shaping of space – at least with regard to Vaal – and a few other tricks thrown in for good measure… What good were Shinma if you weren’t going to use them when you needed to?

For an instant, as far as Vaal was concerned… the universe was a rather small place, a shaping laid over dimensionless chaos – and he was home as much as he was anywhere, with geomancy anchoring him there as the universe regained it’s former dimensions.

Aboard a dark ship, an individual who’d thought he had someone who could tell him what was going on in that warded area – and if it was in fact a shard – was quite disappointed as Vaal disappeared. A shame, too! The teenager’s essence signature was one that he had never seen before!

Still, the powers that had taken him were at LEAST as interesting! Wyld Magic, Geomancy, and… at least two essence-types that were entirely new! And new factors in the game always meant new possibilities…

(Catherine) “Wow! Well, knowing you, that worked! At least the distraction went off.”

(Hala) “I was worried you were going to run off and try to save him.”

(Charles, absently) “I shouldn’t meddle with the Shinma too often! Things might get really weird if they start acting up!”

Vaal, called from Yu-Shan to try to find out what had happened… Something embarrassing had! He’d suddenly been unable to move!

(Hala) “Oh, the stories I’ve heard! But let’s go! We don’t want whoever it is finding us.”

(Charles) “Back to Earth and Yu-Shan then!”

And with the VERY interesting information that there was a route into an Exaltation – and THAT opened up all manner of possibilities… Even if it hadn’t gone perfectly, it had been a huge success!

Why did the ending theme from “Portal” keep running through his head though?

Meanwhile, poor Lytek was in something of a panic. Once he’d gotten the shard safely stowed away again he’d had a moment to reflect things…

(Lytek) “How on earth did they penetrate YOUR wards?”

(Charles) “Probably a deathlord! If they’re using oblivion… by definition, taking a shortcut through somewhere that doesn’t exist is impossible to block. It’s a risky approach for them to be using though! You can easly lose yourself amidst other possible universes that way! And my privacy wards may be perfect – but there’s no concealing that they’ve lost touch with something they have their hooks into, and that limits the possible locations to people using perfect privacy defenses – which are really rather rare. So; look for someplace where you can’t penetrate with divination – and if you look through oblivion, you can scan everywhere at once. Very bothersome! Doing that too much… will get you much worse than dead though!”

(Lytek) “A fortunate fact for us. I am glad we were able to hold out long enough for some progress!”

Lytek didn’t mention that – now that he had a moment – he was also considering Charles’s method of rescue… He’d called on the Shinma! And been answered! Manipulating the foundations of reality to rescue a single individual! What had he unleashed upon the cosmos? Solars a hundred times Charles’ age couldn’t do that! If the child used that power recklessly… It could be even more damaging than Wyldhand had been!

(Charles) “Well, I should be able to make a gate into it now! That… may not solve things, but it’s very likely a new approach!”

(Lytek) “And next time, if all goes well, you will not have to invoke the shinma to protect us.”

He was partially joking – but his aura was still quite dim.

(Charles) “Well, that is the easiest way to make sure you reach everywhere!”

(Lytek) “Oh yes… but one person? You had your Lunar mate – an experienced fighter – right there. Surely you could have sent her to save him?”

And not done something that could have had disastrously bad side effects… Even as it was, things might be strange in that area for a bit!

(Charles) “But he could have been taken almost anywhere!”

(Lytek, blinking) “I suppose so, but that kind of power… oh, never mind.”

It was his own fault after all – and at least Charles was being SOMEWHAT responsible with it… Still, he’d have to send Aikiko more assistance! And more funds! What were the four that he DIDN’T have his eye on up to?

(Lytek) “You have been more than helpful already… but did you find any Sidereals with those odd symptoms?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Mr Montague had some sort of ache in his fingers. I didn’t see anything in a passing group – but I haven’t seen the Sidereals too much in the last month or two. None of the ones actually in Aden have shown any symptoms – but it’s almost impossible to have any there anyway.”

(Lytek) “That’s the young Joybringer, correct? That’s worrying. I do appreciate it, though…”

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice Session XCV – Flowing Waters

List of people who have been considered deities

Aikiko was scouting out the lay of the land – and finding it a soggy affair. Springs and cisterns on the upper slopes – below the modest forests which crowned each rise and above the glinting lakes occupying each depression – fed slowly-trickling streams which kept each careful terrace wet and growing with a burgeoning green that spoke – even to a city girl like her – of century upon century of carefully-tended prosperity.

It was only very gradually that she became aware that the area was subtly warded – layer upon deep layer of spells. There was something strange about it too… It reminded her subtly of the Crater Lake Freehold, although there was no obvious trace of chaos.

Several hours of careful checking later she knew that the surface layers were all fairly normal; there were wards against storms, and crop pests, and blights, and similar hazards – all old, potent, and regularly renewed. Underneath that though… there was something much more subtle going on. Too subtle for her; she wasn’t bad at thaumaturgy, but she wasn’t even up to mortal mastery, much less the kinds of things that dedicated essence-users could pull off. About all she could say was that a part of it… twisted out of normal reality entirely; it was at least partially isolating the entire area from something beyond.

No way to tell where it was going, or what it was blocking – not with her skills – but that just meant that (sigh) it was time to call in some help… Charles had offered to lend her an aide, and his creations were pretty much ALL incredibly skilled with thaumaturgy. Even Solar charms were of no use if you hadn’t learned them!

The Coatl that arrived a few hours later spent awhile on the job… underneath the seasonal, and adjustable, stuff… the ward was OLD, and powerful, and sustained by geomancy as if it was a manse power of some sort – and it warded off Raksha and Chaos and… blocked communications with Yu-Shan. Very subtly. Divine reports from this area were all… gibberish. The usual illiterate-little-god stuff. A few legible words with atrocious spelling and a bunch of random scrawls. The legible words were scattered through the reports… Water! Damp! Less! More! Wet! Rice! Dirt! and so on.

Here Aikiko went off on a bit of a tangent; She was thinking that the ward prevented messages from Yu Shan from getting through while the gibberish was just the usual troubles with illiterate little gods and possibly some obstructionism – not that the ward was scrambling outgoing communications.

You had to love Celestial Bureaucracy regulations! MOST of the required reports were like that! At least the little gods knew the words most important to their jobs. Still, those gods were… venerated locally, and had shrines, and were old… Still, no doubt they wanted to keep the authorities off their backs. Hence, the ward; it would keep queries and probes from getting through – and the ones who could write could always just make short, uninformative, reports!

Huh… Well, the easiest way to reach the local senior overseer-god was – obviously enough – to try praying! Given that the tournament was being held here it was only polite anyway!

The local overseer-god was Wenjioth, Master of the Terraced Flow, in charge of ensuring that water slowly flowed through the system of terraces from the high reservoirs as it should. He was a most dignified (if still terrestrial) god, dressed in a swirling robe of stormcloud.

Aikiko had backed the prayer with power enough to draw his attention – but you never knew! Elderly gods were SO STUFFY unless fun was a part of their domain! Still, he might know some stuff about the tournament.

Wenjioth soon swirled into existence…

(Wenjioth) “You seek my attention young woman? Your power is most noticeable, cloaked as it is in the heart of antiquity.”

Well, it WAS Southeast Asia.

(Aikiko, bowing) “Greetings, most honored Master of the Terraced Flow. I was participating in the tournament held on this island, and wanted to give my respects.”

(Wenjioth, who also bowed quite respectfully) “And you have my respect as well! Those who come to compete are most skilled and worthy indeed – and may become much more so! So it has been for for many centuries!” The ancient power that surrounds you… It may not be permitted however! As great and subtle as it is, it’s power is not truly yours – and would not help your soul withstand the rigors of claiming a portion of the prize!”

Aikiko – who was still conclusion-jumping – felt that that was obvious! Wenjioth saw the Exaltation! That sort of thing – and her essence level – was hard to miss unless you hid it!

(Aikiko) “I see. That would be a shame; I was hoping to see where I stood in the martial arts word, power or not.”

(Wenjioth, looking slightly surprised) “Well, you can easily remove it for the tournament. If you wish, I can safeguard it for you. Such ancient relics are very rare, and are to be cherished!”

Uh… that seemed… shifty, to say the least. Was it even POSSIBLE in ANY way to remove an Exaltation without killing the bearer? Much less put it back?… Oh! She was being silly! He meant the Behemoth Cloak! It was pretty obvious, and it surrounded her with all kinds of layers of defenses… And THIS fellow was illiterate? Probably not! But it would probably be rude to ask… Still, that was easy.

(Aikiko) “Master, as you can probably tell, my mastery of Old Realm is nowhere near yours. I am only mortal. But, if it’s not too much trouble, could you check my calligraphy?”

(Wenjioth) “Why certainly! Few mortals are even aware of Old Realm any longer!”

Aikiko produced a sample of the stuff that Gri Fel made her copy to practice her calligraphy and translation – which swiftly proved that Wenjioth was certainly literate, and highly skilled at calligraphy. What was he hiding? Was he just concealing his cult?

Oh wait! That anti-communication ward! It wasn’t blocking incoming messages… It was turning all the reports form the area INTO gibberish, no matter what they started out as! Wenjioth might not even be aware of the issue!

On the other hand… even if SHE had more direct lines to Yu-Shan, he was old enough to be fluent in Old Realm. He could have been quietly in charge here for more than thirty thousand years. That would make him an ancient god indeed – and made her wonder about how aware of the modern world he was?

A little gentle probing revealed that Wenjioth thought of the outside world mostly as a land of barbaric lunatics who kept assaulting his people in the name of “Allah” – who did not even seem to exist – and denying the evidence of their own eyes when he occasionally manifested. They kept labeling him a “Jinn”.

(Aikiko) “A kind of demon, I believe. But you are clearly no demon! What are they doing to your followers?”

(Wenjioth) “For a time they brought strange weapons! But I changed the flow of the waters slightly, and put an end to THAT. Then they were foolish enough to attack some of the competitors AND some of the current champions and judges. Few survived, and there was relative peace for months. A few are starting to return however! They are foolish fanatics, following a cause that does not exist! More deluded men I have never seen!”

(Aikiko) “People believe in a lot of weird things outside. Can you tell me more about those weapons? And where are these men?”

(Wenjioth) “They were things of fire and detonations like the lightning, like the firedust weapons of old! Sometimes even more potent, flying like dragons! But I set the forces of the waters against such things, and their flames will no longer burn. Before then one of the Masters of Shadow prevented several attacks, causing the destruction they would have wrought not to be… Even I have difficulty remembering THAT however.”

(Aikiko) “I see.”

Hm. Mercenaries? maybe with helicopters or planes? That would be awfully high-budget though…

(Aikiko) “What did the ‘dragons’ look like? Did they have wings, or were they crowned by something rotating? Or were they something else altogether?”

Wenjioth shaped a few visions in a bellow of his cloak of mist… turbans, robes, submachine guns, grenades, missile launchers, various sorts of bombs. Mostly targeting the ancient temple where the tournament was held, the local shrines, and any resistance. Most of the missiles simply… blew themselves into pieces, but then no further explosion occurred – although it looked almost like one started to. Other than the weapons failures and horrible things happening to some of the terrorists at the hands of mystic martial artists… straightforward terror strikes. The routine seemed to match up reasonably well with the local anti-government forces.

(Aikiko) “A serious threat without divine protection! These valleys are lucky to have you watching over them.”

(Wenjioth) “Only this local area, sadly enough. I pity the many humans who live beyond my borders without guardians!”

Hrm. She was going to have to keep an eye out for him… It still didn’t explain the ward though. Maybe somebody up in Heaven was trying to muck things up for him? But why?  He wasn’t a part of that bureaucracy. Perhaps it was just some protection left over from prior Ages?

(Aikiko) “Well, hopefully things will change for you… It has been a pleasure. Is it all right if I leave the cloak later? I think it will be pretty safe with you, but I still need it for the time being.”

(Wenjioth) “Certainly! It has been a pleasure to meet you young magus”

Wenjioth bowed again, waited a moment for Aikiko to bow back (she did) – and vanished.

Heh. Magus. Ah well . . . most people with her level of Essence these days were thaumaturges, supernatural martial artists, or both – as, in fact, she was.

She went to check out some records… which took some digging, and asking for and calling in a few small favors, and using her new Coatl aides communication talents – but she found some material eventually.

Wenjioth had once controlled water flows across a considerably larger area, but refused to do much of anything but stabilize and defend the area during the Primordial War. There was some suspicion of his being a Primordial Loyalist, and so he was given reduced responsibilities, and not promoted into the Celestial Bureaucracy afterwards. He protested at the time, but thereafter focused on Wards and on making sure that no other major entity ever had any reason to actually visit his valleys; they paid taxes on time and in good measure, and never troubled anyone… He was notable for developing a set of charms to redirect dragon lines through water-currents flowing in runic patterns – thus fueling some very impressive wards and geomantic effects, often approaching manse-level operations.

Huh. Now that was kind of neat! She’d have to introduce him and Charles to each other.

Wenjioth’s small domain had been mostly ignored for many centuries – but had been one of the few areas to survive Wyldhand, apparently by rechanneling the local dragon lines into immutability… There had been a brief spurt of interest, but other things had come up.

Aikiko… was impressed. Those must’ve been powerful wards to withstand Wyldhand! Presumably manse-level effects was right… Definitely a god worth helping out – and one that could be useful for her plans too.

Not to mention a talk with some of those “Shadow Masters”. A charm that could reflexively snuff out explosions was quite impressive – especially in a mortal martial art!