Inherent Spells, Spell Conversion and the Pointlessly Awesome!

And here we have some answers for Bill, who has asked several different Eclipse questions…

How does purchasing inherent spells work? I read the rules in Eclipse, but when I look for examples it is confusing… The Mastercrafter can use a lv 6 spell with Inherent Spell; is that because you are cheesing the double effect to double the maximum lv from 3 to 6? Can you specialize and corrupt a spell for triple effect and cast a 9th lv spell for 6cp?

Abooksigun (scroll down) seems to have a lot of Inherent Spells that don’t seem to follow the rules in Eclipse. I thought level 1 to 3 spells cost 6cp for Inherent Spell, Inherent Spell (grade 1) would allow level 4 spells and cost 6cp more (12 total), Inherent Spell (grade 2) would allow level 5 spells and cost 6cp more (18 total), Inherent spell (grade 3) would allow level 6 spells and cost 6cp more (24 total). At least that is how it reads to me in the book.


Yes, you can indeed Specialize and Corrupt Innate Spell (and several other similar powers) to reach high-level spells quickly and easily. The catch, however, is threefold: you have to persuade the game master to let you, he or she has to waive the minimum level/caster level requirement or allow you to keep your high-powered effect under control regardless (the general rule is on page 10, on the lower right – but it’s noted under the inherent spell description again for emphasis), and you have to live with whatever that Corruption and Specialization is – which can be pretty awkward.

The most common reason for being allowed to get away with it on the first two counts is because the effect is in-theme for the character but doesn’t actually make a lot of difference. Thus the Mastercrafter gets away with a sixth level effect quite early on because it’s not especially important; there are plenty of other ways to trade in magic items you don’t want at a modest discount to pay for the stuff that you do want. One way or another, that tends to happen anyway as long as magic items are fairly easy to make and thus widely available.

For a more extreme example, Dark Lord Kevin operates in the dimension-hopping Federation – Apocalypse setting. Now that setting pretty much allows ANYTHING – although most of it will not work in quite a lot of places (Such as the Core Worlds, where very little works beyond basic witchcraft). Thus Kevin started with Dominion and purchased Godfire and ascended to godhood at level two. He also started off with Negative Energy Channeling/Spell Conversion Specialized to allow him to use a quartet of tenth-level effects. Now even in the Federation-Apocalypse setting those are some pretty extreme abilities to be starting off with – so why was it allowed?

Well his effects required notable rituals, and were blatantly black magic. That’s annoying, but not really enough to justify letting a first level character have access to tenth level spells. The effects he took however…

  • Grant Desire” let him produce – given a little time and provided that he was in a dimension that allowed it – pretty much any effect of up to sixth level at the request of someone else who was willing to bargain with a quasi-demonic entity to get it. Of course, in the dimension-hopping Manifold setting, where characters hopped through dimensional gates into new identities (that provide some of the appropriate abilities) in various worlds at the drop of a hat… there are a LOT of ways to get mid-level spell effects or the equivalent if you really want them and have time. In the last two hundred and fifty sessions this has come in really useful… twice. Of course, by now he has plenty of other powers.
  • Demonic Infusion” gives willing youngsters the Demon Thrall Template – thus explaining where he was getting the enhanced followers that he was purchasing with Leadership and helping give him a reason to actively seek out and recruit more followers. Thus this mighty power… helped explain another ability, provided personal motivations, and gave an endless succession of parents, authorities, and religious figures a reason to shout “Demon! Child-Stealer! Monster!”. Otherwise… it didn’t really have any effect on actual play.
  • Transfer Thrall” lets him transfer his Demonic Thralls to other masters (which was what happened to them whenever he exceeded his leadership allotment). Of course, Kevin’s Demonic Thralls mostly stand guard, act as servants, run errands, handle logistics, and work “offscreen”. Occasionally they serve as temporary PC’s, or the group takes a group of Thrall-characters off on a side-adventure – but mostly this effect allows him to exercise poor judgement by giving Thralls away to people who will later use them to make trouble that he will have to fix. That makes him a profit of course – but there are far easier routes to mere wealth in the setting.
  • Finally, “True Polymorph” lets him transform things! That’s very cool! However, transformations and reality-shaping are an innate part of the Federation-Apocalypse setting; characters can already take various forms in various worlds, shapechanging is a common power, and wealth produced by transformations… is world specific, when the characters switch worlds every few sessions.

Those four effects are indeed spells of terrible potency – and are of no real importance in the setting. Letting Kevin take those powers pretty much amounted to spending some of his points on flavor text. It’s impressive flavor text, and offers enough plot hooks to have justified a lot of chaos and wild adventures – but it’s still basically flavor text.

Similarly, his Godhood is focused almost entirely on Divine Infusion, which is focused entirely on Endowment – which is a tremendous benefit for his Thralls and followers scattered across the dimensions, but is of little or no use to him. In fact, Kevin has so little control of this ability that he’s wound up empowering a number of people who have actively opposed him.

Personally, I tend to find that sort of thing a better indicator of “Optimization” than being able to destroy all opposition with no trouble. Kevin IS pretty powerful – but he’s set up to make a lot of trouble for himself and to provide the game master with any number of plot hooks. That’s optimization for role-playing fun, rather than optimization for combat, or diplomacy, or anything else mechanical.

Now as for Abooksigun…

Abooksigun (scroll down) is actually fairly standard example of a character with a sequence of Inherent Spells – although, as a companion creature to Ptaysanwee, a powerful NPC and a quick character conversion, he’s playing a bit fast and loose with the usual “related” requirement. He’s basically taken “supporting cast” as HIS theme, although I suppose we could call it “the flickering dance of the inner flame” or some such. He’s thus taken…

  • Inherent Spell/Fireball (L3, 6 CP). He’s taken +2 Bonus Uses (+3 CP) since that’s slightly cheaper than taking +2 uses with the Multiple modifier (that would be 4 CP – but really, the “Multiple” modifier is only there to specifically call out that it applies to BOTH first level spells if a character takes the “two level one inherent spells” option).
  • Advanced Inherent Spell I (+6 CP) lets him add another inherent spell of up to level four to his Fireball ability. In this case he’s taken Freedom of Movement and +2 Bonus Uses (+3 CP) again.
  • Advanced Inherent Spell II (+6 CP) lets him add a third inherent spell of up to fifth level to his powers. In this case it’s once again with +2 Bonus Uses (+3 CP) and he’s picked Teleport.
  • Advanced Inherent Spell III (+6 CP) (and again with +2 Bonus Uses, +3 CP) adds Heal to his list – giving him a grand total of Fireball 3/Day, Freedom of Movement 3/Day, Teleport 3/Day, and Heal 3/Day.

That’s less than clear on the actual writeup, simply because the actual page is condensing things for quick reference (and because I was, as always, in too much of a hurry…). Still, adding an Advanced option doesn’t take the basic inherent spell away.

In any case, I hope that helps despite the delay, even if Alzrius has pretty well covered it already.

d20 Failure Modes VIII – The Apollo Mission and the Old School

English: Different levels of magnification of ...

What do you mean “you don’t need this level of detail? Everyone LOVES detail!

One of the big rewards for many gamers is seeing advancement. In Monopoly they get more houses and hotels built. In Chess they promote pawns. And in role-playing games they see their character improve. That may mean becoming more skilled, upgrading combat abilities, stealing mighty devices, learning more potent magic, acquiring new psychic powers, gaining wealth, growing in fame, becoming influential, having more epic tales of heroism to tell, or even having more sexual partners, children and grandchildren. The players want SOMETHING about their characters to improve all the time.

Early efforts were not so far removed from the little table of “fantasy units” in the back of the Chainmail miniatures rules. “Advancement” was not yet a big thing – but it turned out that people liked it. So in first edition there were more tables, and levels, and those tables and levels went far FAR beyond where most games did. After all, at that time the “goal” was more-or-less “name level” – around level nine to eleven – and just getting THERE took a rather long time. Even worse from a modern viewpoint, a lot of levels were even less exciting than the “dead levels” of d20 fame. In the absence of a skill system there were plenty of levels at which many characters got a few more hit points, a higher number under “experience total”, more money – and nothing else that showed on the character sheet at all.

Now money is nice, but since magic items were rarely for sale in first edition (and magic that was actually useful being up for sale was even rarer), accumulating wealth meant that you either gathered a hoard like a dragon or you built up lands, castles, temples, and armies because there simply was nothing else to spend it on. You wound up running a kingdom, or magical academy, or becoming the grand high priest of your faith, pretty much by default. That made some sense though; characters with the potential to go beyond “level zero” were supposed to be one in a thousand – and less than one it ten of those ever even STARTED adventuring and gaining levels. Among those intrepid souls who did become adventurers… for every one that made it to tenth level, many MANY more died, retired with enough money to live comfortably, or took up safer professions, before getting past level four or five. Tenth level characters were – once again, by default – roughly one in a million. An eighteenth level character… might be the only one on the continent.

For “stuff on the character sheet” a little dabbling with “nonweapon proficiencies” and character backgrounds (“kits”) got tossed in along the way – but a sizable fraction of the players weren’t content with a few increasing numbers, some tales of adventure, and the occasional random magical item. They wanted more stuff to put on their sheet – stuff that they could assign measurable values to, rather than reputation, political influence, and tales of adventure which were mostly in the game masters head. That was one of the things that made the original Monk class fairly popular; it got something to put on the sheet almost every level. Who cared that it had an upper limit? Odds were that you were never going to reach it anyway.

Enter d20 / Third Edition – and the authors put in a LOT more stuff to put on the sheet. Feats, class abilities, a detailed formal skill system, and more.

The trouble with a lot more stuff to put on the sheet is that – again, by default – a character can do pretty much everything a normal person can. The things that go on the sheet… are things that a normal person can’t do or won’t have.

So characters went from “fairly normal human beings with a few special skills” to “apprentice godlings” as they could do ever more things that were beyond the capacity of any normal person. All those special powers had to have SOME kind of control mechanism – and what D&D had was level. So it all wound up being tied to d20 character levels. In the same way, magic items were made FAR easier to make – allowing more to go on the sheet and (perhaps unfortunately) justifying “magic marts” rather than just a certain amount of high-level exchange of unique items.

Of course with enough magic items you could go from Tony Stark to Iron Man – and that could be a nightmare for the game master who already had to deal with characters who had a bucketload of powers that put many superheroes to shame. So Wealth had to be controlled – which mean that it had to be guarded and couldn’t be the source of “experience points” as it had been; otherwise the players would get even more focused on getting gold without fighting than they had been. Thus “Wealth by Level” made it’s pernicious appearance, castles, lands, and social position lost all their attractions as money sinks, and “fighting” became the primary way to gain experience. As a consequence, other ways of getting money had to be quashed, combat effectiveness suddenly became THE primary way of judging a character’s abilities, “balance” (and part II and III) – mostly judged by the number of useful superhuman abilities on the character sheet – became a serious concern, and (once again) everything else had to be linked to level lest a character be able to easily bypass some situation and become rich without fighting enough to level up. Even more annoyingly, now that you weren’t basically dependent on the game master for magic items, there had to be some way to limit how many you could use – and rules for stacking, bonus types, and body slots made their appearance.

The era of letting each character find one or two really GOOD items written so that they would grow with him or her, and of having those items be defining features of that character for the rest of his or her career, was over.

Complexity does have it’s advantages though; characters could now be a lot more individual and unique without having to spend a lot of time building a personality, backstory, and in-game history.

The trouble was, now that there was a lot more stuff to put on their sheets, players wanted to go ahead and put it there – and it was all tied to level. That meant going up in level quickly and regularly. Once putting stuff on your sheet became one of the major goals, not getting to put stuff on your sheet for months at a time was BORING.

Even letting almost everyone have levels and stretching out the most common range of play from 1-10 to 1-20 wasn’t enough to satisfy the new search for levels – even if it did mean that the spellcasters got another big bump over and above the incredible boost that going to a turn-by-turn initiative system, a “standard action” casting time, and throwing in the “concentration” skill, had already provided. Now characters could go from level one to epic levels within a couple of months of game time. Take 13.5 encounters per level gain, nineteen levels to be gained, and (presuming competent players) about 4.5 encounters per day… and you get 57 days. Just under two months. Characters often acquired abilities and saw them become obsolete before they’d gotten a chance to actually use them. If they took a week off their competitors and enemies might pick up two or even three levels on them in that time!

OK, the need for “balanced encounters” might keep them from doing so, but that REALLY undermined the role-playing part; for that you wanted to feel like the world was NOT specifically set up for the benefit of the player characters even though it really was.

Sure, you could spread out the encounters more – but cutting down the number per day led to the characters with limited-use abilities dominating everything. You could put in time between each set of 4-5 encounters, but that meant either repeatedly forcing the characters to wait (a tactic that gets old VERY fast) or giving up on any plot complicated enough that it couldn’t be resolved in a day or two of adventuring. You could hand out less XP per encounter, but then wealth-by-level tended to get out of whack and the players got annoyed. Now that the goal was to get XP from the encounter, rather than to avoid encounters while you searched for loot, encounters that didn’t get you anything were just annoying time-wasters, not some of the complications to be avoided.

Or… you could go along with the majority and just ignore it, assuming that – for everyone else in the world – events proceeded at a rational pace; kingdoms were founded centuries before, elder evils rose once per eon instead of four times per year, and a child could reach age ten without having seen forty different sets of epic level demigods rearranging the world on a quarterly basis.

Sadly, that meant that your world made no sense.

If epic level characters are rising from nowhere like bubbles in a boiling pot (and a “lasting impact” is therefore something that still has effects two months later), your worlds history is going to be insane, gods won’t survive long enough to explain their doctrines, and all the low-level inhabitants ought to be extinct. If epic characters somehow rise like that without disturbing the world, your world makes even less sense – and your players will be pretty cross; they like to have an impact.

If the rules of the setting are different for the player characters just because they ARE player-characters – then we’re back to the “loss of immersion because the world revolves around US” problem.

Besides… a lot of players like to have their characters have and raise kids, do research, create items, and otherwise do long-term stuff. “Two months to Epic!” pretty much spoils that sort of ambition. Where older editions took leisurely cruises, and characters might go months or years between major adventures, d20 strapped itself to a rocket and struck out for lunar orbit.

And thus 3.0 painted itself into a corner before it really even got started. 3.5 didn’t fix it either – and, for that matter, neither have the vast majority of the successor games.

Eclipse – bound by the terms of the d20 license to not discuss attribute generation or leveling as such – couldn’t do much about this set of problems directly.

That’s why I put the stuff on how to revise the level system into the OGL Web Supplement – although I did try to make the basics obvious enough in Eclipse to make it easy to figure out.

Levels have their place; they’re good milestones, and they serve as an excellent game master shortcut; when the party is labeled “level six” and the monster or item is labeled “level eighteen” you knew that you’ll probably have serious problems if you try to mix them.

So what you want to do is to keep the characters advancing – so that people get to update and tweak their character sheets regularly – without handing out whole levels full of extra abilities so often. Back in the old days of first edition, I found that about eight to twelve sessions per level worked well – so Eclipse uses a base of twenty-four character points per level. All you need to do is to forget the experience point table entirely and start handing out character points directly. Two per session means one level every twelve sessions. Three means eight, four means six, six means four, eight means three, and so on. There are some complications of course, but that’s one of the reasons that there IS a web supplement.

That way the characters can get a few skill points, or make slight improvements on their other abilities somewhere, every session – or save up several sessions worth of points for a brand new power or feat. More subtly, they aren’t likely to put too many points into abilities that they haven’t been using, and so will almost always use their abilities several times before upgrading them. Levels still bring some free benefits, and still act as milestones – but they no longer control most of the sub-aspects of a character and you’re free of the restrictions of d20 Classes. Your character can grow as you think he or she should at any given moment.

If you want to decouple Wealth and Level, you can do that too; Eclipse characters can be set up so as to get along without magic items – or to use the Wealth Level templates and the Charms and Talismans I put into The Practical Enchanter to replace tracking money and conventional magical items. With those… characters can gain wealth, or go broke, without it grotesquely changing their power level.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version
that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and
power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the

web expansion. If you want, there are some reviews.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Beasts of Atheria Part I – Bears

On Atheria, the world is divided into Domains – each the realm of a particular kind of magic. In Alaria, the powers of Order reign supreme. In HuSung the Elemental Powers rule. In Chelm the terrible magics of Blood and Shadow dominate. In Dernmarik it’s Dimensional Magic. In Ankorath it is the magic of Life and Healing. In dozens of other realms, other powers rule.

When humans are born within a realm they are infused with the powers of that realm, and thus gain their Birthrights – ranging from the deadly mystical toxins granted by the Venom Domain to the regenerative powers of the Realm of Life.

Animals too gain power – although it’s extent is a product of their size and intelligence. Great and terrible whales may swim within Atheria’s seas, perhaps with Birthright powers far, far, greater than man’s – but only fools would seek to hunt them. On the land, each domain spawns it’s variants on the major species – and often more than one.

Bears are fairly clever for animals and are commonly larger than humans (on Atheria adult black bears usually weigh in at around 250-400 pounds and brown bears at 600-1100 pounds) – giving them near-human level Birthrights. Wild bears mostly live on roots, tubers, shoots, fruits, berries, nuts, nesting and insects, although opportunistic predation or scavenging of carrion is fairly common. Of course, this varies with their birthrealm…

The Dernmarik (Dimensional Domain) Black Bear is commonly known as the “Drop”, “Pit”, or “Ambush” Bear. Their Birthright lets them generate a modest dimensional “pocket” – taking the form of a cave or den with a few logs, heaps of dry leaves and grass, and pools of water scattered about – into which they can retreat and close the entryway while still maintaining sensory awareness of the world outside. While this is an excellent way to avoid other predators, hunters, and the winter cold, it also offers them unusual options as ambush predators. They have been known to place one of their pockets along a game trail and hunt by waiting for something appropriate to come along. Depending on how they’ve positioned the gateway to their den-pocket they will then reach out to attack it, drop down onto it, or attempt to open their portal under it’s feat to get it to fall into their pocket-realm. Fortunately for travelers, this is a relatively rare behavior.

Over the past six millennia the humans of Dernmarik have selectively bred and raised some black bears (often known as “Pocket Bears”) to accept humans as their families. They are fairly common (if somewhat expensive to keep) pets in Dernmarik and are normally trained to – in situations of peril or on command – generate their pocket-dens and admit such members of their “families” as may be in the area with them. Pocket Bears tend to make excellent pets for people from Dernmarik (who all have a bit of unconscious reality-shaping from their own Birthrights, and so find that their pets tend to be healthy, understanding, and clever because they like to think they are). They are more dubious pets for others however, as they are quite strong enough to seriously injure a human entirely accidentally. Favored treats for “Pocket Bears” include bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes and syrup, honey, and various nut-pastries.

  • Birthright: Occult Sense/Dimensional Awareness (Their basic senses extend into adjacent dimensional spaces, 6 CP), Inherent Spell with +6 Bonus Uses (Spacewarp with closeable access, normally a six hour duration, L3, 15 CP), Immunity/dimensional access difficulties (Uncommon, Severe, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only to prevent their own spacewarp effect from causing problems when used on Atheria (2 CP), Immunity/the need to wake up to renew their dimensional pocket effect (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, 1 CP). Net 24 CP.

The Parack (Storm Domain) Black Bear or “Thunder Bear” possesses the ability to generate a formidable electrical aura that both protects it and augments it’s attacks and to project it at ranges of up to fifteen feet – as well as low-grade resistance to electrical and weather effects. In the wild it usually uses those abilities for self-defense and to take down small prey – such as the Parackian Flying Fish (whether they’re in or out of the water). Occasional crossbreeding with the domestic “Pocket Bear” of Dernmarik has left the “Thunder Bear” slightly more tolerant of humans than most wild bears, but they still make very chancy pets unless mystically bonded with their owners.

Thunder Bear Birthright (24 CP):

  • Innate Enchantments: Lightning Shield (L1, does 1d6 electrical damage to anyone who hits the creature touched with a natural weapon, unarmed strike, or mostly-metallic weapon, in the next round. Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, CL1, Personal Only, 1400 GP), Shocking Grasp (CL1, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated with Rapid Casting, linked with normal attack, 4000 GP) (6 CP).
  • Thunder Bear Style (Instinctive Str-Based Martial Art +12 (16 total): +2 AC, Standard DR 3/-, Reach (Specialized/only projects the Shocking Grasp effect, +10 feet), Blinding Strike (lightning flash), and Combat Reflexes (12 CP).
  • Lunge: +5′ to reach, Specialized/only for use with Shocking Grasp (3 CP). This gives it a total reach of 15′ with respect to Shocking Grasp and two Attacks of Opportunity. This can be a fairly unpleasant surprise for anyone closing with one.
  • Immunity/Weather and Electrical Effects (Common/Major/Trivial, reduces damage from such sources by five points, 3 CP).

Parackian Fish, like other egg-layers, have their birthrights determined by where the egg is laid, not where it hatches. They normally possess a somewhat clumsy ability to fly, used to bypass the tremendous number of waterfalls in Parack, to colonize new lakes in Parack’s swiftly-eroding and uplifting terrain, to escape pools that have been cut off, to catch flying insects and reach food that would otherwise be out of reach, and to evade nets and predators. While they remain gilled water-breathers, Parack’s near-constant rains generally keep their gills moist enough to allow them to remain aloft for a mile or so.

Birthright: Celerity with Additional Movement Mode/Flight, Specialized for only allowing low altitude and limited maneuverability, 9 CP. While there have been horror stories about Parackian Piranha their existence has never been confirmed.

The Parack (Storm Domain) Brown Bear or “Storm Bear” (use polar bear attributes) possesses a formidable ability to manipulate winds, an ability which it can use to strike

English: An American Black Bear (Ursus america...

Don’t go near that thing! You don’t know where it’s from!

down Parack’s flying fish, create a private missile-deflecting whirlwind (like a Wind Wall), project concessive blasts, conceal it’s scent, scoop fish out of the water with small whirlwinds, protect itself from weather, send small objects flying, break falls, and many similar tricks. They are quite touchy, unusually predatory for bears, and extremely dangerous.

Birthright (30 CP):

  • Innate Enchantment/Manipulate Winds (Level Three Greater Invocation/Wind Control (can produce wind effects of up to level two), Caster Level Five, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, 30,000 GP / 30 CP).

d20 Failure Modes VII – Optimus Crime

Character Optimization sparks debate in every d20 game from 3.0 to Pathfinder. How much is too much? Too little? What can you do to make the other characters relevant when one player is an optimizer and the others aren’t? (Oddly enough, “what do you do to make poor investigators / speakers / roleplayers relevant when a game focuses on those things” doesn’t come up nearly as often – perhaps because it can’t readily be addressed mechanically, even when the fundamental problem is the same; the players don’t all want to play the same sort of game and are good at very different things).

Part of the problem is that the answers vary from table to table and from game master to game master – and not even consistently within individual games. One game master may not like notable magic, and will have a problem with even slightly-optimized bards while fully embracing optimized rangers. Another may reverse those positions. Some hate high-end social abilities while delighting in characters that can annihilate demigods in battle in a single round. Players with access to different books create wildly divergent characters based around completely different assumptions. Players who focus on creating characters with an assortment of minor powers they find interesting may find themselves left hopelessly far behind by players focusing on raw power – and either may find their characters quite useless depending on the current focus of the game. Players with access to more books and the time to dig through them or to consult optimization boards will find things that simply work well together – and many more things that were badly-written in the first place or were written by different authors and were never meant to work together. Races, templates, feats… the more that were written with no underlying system, the more potentially abusive combinations appeared – not that anyone could agree on exactly what they all were.

An awful lot of campaigns wind up relying on piecemeal house rules – disallowing various books and individual bits from other books, adding unofficial errata, and provoking arguments. A certain amount of that sort of thing is inevitable in any role-playing game of course, but d20 put in more exceptions to it’s general rules with every book, which exaggerated the problem.

To be blunt, this is an area where no one is entirely happy; the game master wants some fights to be easy, some to be hard, some nigh-impossible, and some impossible – and so do the players, but they all want to draw the lines in different places. The combat-as-war types see looking for loopholes in the rules as an entirely valid part of their attempts to ensure that their battles are all foregone conclusions (or at least HEAVILY stacked in their favor), just as most real-world military groups would prefer. The combat-as-sport types see that exact same notion – as well as NPC’s who make serious efforts to survive – as cheating and spoiling the game. The combat-as-a-last-resort crowd is a bit rarer in d20, but they tend to want combat to be fast, rare, deadly, and heavily in favor of the first strike. The “deep immersion” players may not care a bit; they have little to no interest in combat and haven’t actually looked at their character sheets in months anyway. EVERYONE wants their character to be effective and have a starring role at least once in awhile.

Eclipse doesn’t entirely solve optimization woes; participant expectation conflicts can’t really be fixed by rules. Once again, however, it does try to remove some of the mechanical roots of the problem.

The biggest fix is simply that Eclipse – rather like the Hero system – put all the abilities into a single book and looked at how they interacted. That eliminates the access-to-different-books problem, much of the time-to-hunt-through-them problem, and – as a side effect – the “bits-from-different-books-that-were-never-meant-to-go-together problem. (That’s also why Eclipse II consists of examples and ways to use the system, rather than of additional rules).

On the hyper-optimizing side it eliminates most of the stack-six-different-class-abilities-that-all-add-to-the-same-thing problem. While you can duplicate pretty much any character class and any fictional character in Eclipse, class abilities that do the same thing will all be using the same underlying mechanics and won’t stack.

On the badly-balanced-races-and-templates side Eclipse lets you calculate the price of racial abilities as readily as it calculates the value of class abilities – and you can’t take a template that gives you great powers in exchange for -10 Con and then go Undead and negate that problem; having no Con means losing the bonus for the -10 Con. You’d have to scrape up those points somewhere else or give up the powers. Just as importantly, in Eclipse, drawbacks are worth less than bonuses cost – making it harder to take a penalty in an area that your character doesn’t care about in exchange for bonuses in the areas that you are interested in.

On the “single winning trick” front, as was noted earlier in this series, Eclipse makes defense easier than attack – meaning that the rewards of classical optimization are reduced. Building a single uber-trick – the incredibly boosted charge, or spell, or other ability – is much less attractive when your target might laugh it off or reflect it in your face. Effective – and optimized – Eclipse characters tend to be built with a variety of powers that they can combine to solve various problems, good defenses, and a selection of constant boosts and enhancements. If someone finds a combination that suits the campaign especially well, other characters can simply buy it too – and so can NPC’s. After all, everyone is shopping from the same selection of abilities.

Like any point buy system (indeed, like any complex rules system) Eclipse can be abused. There are examples of most of the major methods of doing so on this site. Fortunately, Eclipse also includes a page on how to keep things under control – including the option of assigning an ECL adjustment to hyper-efficient or hyper-focused builds. It also comes with a campaign options checklist to keep all the necessary house rules together; if you think that the Path of the Dragon is too broken to allow in your game, just check “no” – and if you think that buying a Reputation is overpriced, just note that you’re reducing the price. You’ll still need cooperation from your players – but that’s pretty much inevitable anyway.

Now Eclipse WON’T help you deal with badly-written spells and equipment (although using The Practical Enchanter may), or with badly-written skills, social systems, monetary systems, and creatures; it doesn’t cover that – but that kind of background material varies according to the setting and the whims of the game master anyway.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

D20 Failure Modes VI: Suffering Peasantry Batman!

English: A chaos magic ritual that uses videoc...

Where do they find the TIME for this stuff?

In standard d20 the world is full of magic and full of monsters. Yet virtually all of the magic is either (a) designed solely for combat, or (b) is priced ridiculously out of range of ordinary folk. There’s a distinct lack of magic for ordinary people and tasks. On the “monsters” end… traveling beyond the walls of cities is fearsomely dangerous in many areas, and perilous even in more civilized places. Mid-level adventurers can easily wind up in danger; how well can low-level noncombatants expect to fair?

If you look at it honestly, the d20 peasantry is going to be fearsomely poor, chronically underfed (and often weak and stupid due to that same chronic malnutrition) – and both desperate and short-lived because they’re so often killed by monsters. Worse, they’ve got to support a top heavy society of militaristic specialists just to remain alive; taxes on what little they can produce are going to have to be high. “Money” is not going to figure in their lives because they don’t need a medium of exchange; they need to barter for a little salt and preserved meat so that they can live through the winter. Gold isn’t even useful to them; they don’t have days to make the dangerous trip to a city where they can spend it or to hunt for someone locally who has a surplus of something to sell to them instead of trading that surplus for stuff that they DO need. Gold is pretty… but you can’t eat it. There may be a few coppers floating around, but for the most part the peasantry has no use for money. Money only becomes really useful when there are substantial, regular, surpluses – when you can be reasonably sure of being able to trade the money for what you need. Without surpluses… there’s no guarantee of THAT, and money becomes worthless. You can see that happen during any natural disaster even today.

In medieval times money was useful in cities, where the powerful gained access to surpluses by leaving everyone else on the verge of starvation. Why did stealing a weeks wages bring the death penalty? It was because if someone robbed you of a weeks wages… you and your kids did not eat for a week. When you were already living on the edge of starvation, that might mean that they died – and it could even kill you if it left you too weak to work. Modern notions of “justice” mean little under such circumstances. If you want a somewhat more realistic medieval price list, look here

As for magic items… Magic items are like having a shotgun and kevlar suit when everyone else is naked. They’re not tools, or luxuries, or ways to show off. They’re POWER. Minor items may be sold for money – but major items are power on the level of “commanding a hundred fanatical followers”. You don’t just BUY that. When it comes to power on that level… you trade like for like among equals, take it from those with less power, and try to hide it from those with more power. Treachery, theft, and murder are to be expected – especially when the fast track to personal power is “kill things and take their stuff”.

The real standard of value in a basic fantasy d20 campaign is the Magic Item. Thanks to Wealth-By-Level EVERYTHING else is priced around that. After all, once you hit sixth level or so… are there really any more mundane items to buy that will make much of a difference to you?

Yet the vast majority of d20 settings feature a functioning monetary system, reasonably happy, contented, and healthy populations, legal systems that pay some attention to actual justice, readily available low-level magical items (potions, scrolls, etc), a distinct shortage of crippled children, communities with NPC spellcasters (which they cannot afford to pay and who have virtually no powers that are useful outside of combat), a shortage of plagues, and many traveling merchants. Sure, real medieval societies had merchants – but they DIDN’T have much in the way of real monsters to eat them.

d20 settings are prosperous because playing in a society full of desperate, crippled, child-beggars who are almost all doomed is not fun for most people.

To make that work by the rules, instead of setting it up by GM fiat and ignoring the problem (which does work, but REALLY irritates the people who like world-building and coherent settings) or just giving the peasants some handy powers, we need ways to upgrade farm productivity to modern levels, heal wounds, cure diseases, and keep monsters away. We need to find ways to make villages prosperous enough to support specialists like that rarely-useful mage, to have them actually trade in fairly substantial sums of money, and to let people travel with reasonable safety. Yet we don’t want to leave the adventurers with nothing to do, make them unimportant, or even make their magic less potent and valuable by comparison.

Eclipse and The Practical Enchanter do have some mechanisms set up to cover this. Neither spends enormous amounts of space on those methods since the exact details don’t usually matter much in play – but I did want to cover it.

The primary mechanisms are Ritual Magic, Hedge Wizardry, and Relics, and the simple fact that point-buy characters can buy the things they need, rather than being shoehorned into classes.

Ritual Magic comes in two major styles – the “high magic” of unique and potent rituals that some Adventurers use and the “low magic” of blessings for flocks and fields, steering monsters and disasters around your village, “sweating out” illnesses, warding vermin out of the granary, and so on that adventurers rarely bother with. High magic rituals tend to call for all kinds of exotic components; herbs from the isles of the sunset, a dragon’s fang, water from the a mystic spring deep in the haunted caverns, and so on. It accomplishes mighty deeds. Low magic rituals tend to call for things like candles, salt, and a shot of whiskey – and make for good crops, strong, healthy, animals, greatly reducing the number of monsters that wander into the village, and turning potentially lethal illnesses into a couple of days in bed. Such rituals are slow and of no use at all in combat – but they’re also well within the reach of peasant grandmothers. Villagers rarely need the fast, potent, magic of heroes and adventurers – but this means that the “default village” will be reasonably prosperous, capable of supporting a few specialists, fairly safe, and have a mostly healthy and productive populace.

There are a selection of sample low magic rituals here (scroll down) and here and  discussions of ritual systems over here and here.

Hedge Wizardry is a single feat in The Practical Enchanter (available for 6 CP for those using Eclipse) that provides a spellcaster of with a wide selection of simple, practical, spells for harvesting crops, cleaning houses, and many many other tasks. While you do need a bit of spellcasting ability to use Hedge Wizardry, enough magic to use these effects is readily available at first level in Eclipse – even with the character point penalty for being a non-combative non-adventurer. Similarly, Hedge Wizardry includes the ability to make Conjures – rather cheap magic items using those practical effects, some of which should be within the reach of a prosperous village.

Hedge Wizardry is covered more extensively in a series of articles here – Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII. In Eclipse you can also get practical magic in other ways – but this is perhaps the quickest.

In Eclipse point buy your basic first-level Village Priest-Magician is likely to have a series of highly practical talents rather than combat abilities. That’s because cultures that have people like that in their villages, and who pass on that tradition, tend to prosper and expand at the expense of cultures with less practical orientations. That’s why useful innovations – agriculture, using metal, the wheelbarrow, and (in a d20 fantasy cosmos) the use of practical magic – spread so rapidly. A first level non-adventurer gets 36 character points to spend (an adventurer gets 48). That’s not a lot – but it’s more than enough to purchase the 24-point Sacerdos Pastor village priest package. He or she will be able to mitigate illnesses, bless flocks and fields, help with a childbirth that’s going badly wrong, mediate with an annoyed river-spirit that’s been smashing fish traps – and send for some adventurers if some actual attack comes up.

In Eclipse gods can get along without worshipers – but if they want to wield the awesome might of Godfire they need at least some, and the more the better. Luckily for them, In Eclipse a god can invest in powers that help out their faithful followers. They’re unlikely to invest much in bestowing help on Adventurers; there aren’t very many of them and a 10’th level fighter is rarely as grateful for a little help as a first level farmer (much less a couple of thousand first level farmers) – but even a few small bonuses for the peasantry is a wonderful way to find worshipers. When a few regular prayers to the grain-goddess may get you a +3 bonus on grain-related Farming checks and a harvesting-spell which will save you days of back-breaking labor and possibly save your harvest from an early storm… the grain-goddess is going to have a pretty reliable pool of worshipers every year. Travelers can perhaps gain some guidance on avoiding things that they can’t handle – allowing ordinary folks to travel occasionally. That sort of thing won’t be much of any help to adventurers of course – but when they need divine help they can just talk to the party cleric.

When gods compete… you win!

Finally, of course, we have the sellers of potions and scrolls. Somehow they almost always have what you want available, but never seem to have much of a stock when you sneak in after hours and raid the place… Moreover, they never seem to have the kind of personal power that running a business like that would seem to call for. For THAT we have the Philosophers Stone – a very useful device for villagers, but one of far less use to adventurers. You can find it over HERE, although you’ll have to scroll down a bit.

Put all of that together… and you’ll wind up with prosperous, well-built, hamlets, with mostly healthy inhabitants, well-tended gardens, the surplus crops to pay their taxes and still be able to sell some, money circulating and even a bit saved, several small shrines, a village priest who can actually help people, and possibly even a resident low-powered mage who can provide a few potions and scrolls. Of course, when monsters do (rarely) show up the contrast, the peril – and the desire to send for adventurers to help out – is all the greater (and they can actually afford to PAY those adventurers something). Even with a world full of monsters such places will resemble happy modern villages much more than a collection of smelly mud huts perched beside a river full of pollution and disease.

After all, what’s the use of “saving” people from monsters and evil overlords if you’re just going to send them back to a short, miserable, life of drudgery?

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the
web expansion. If you want, there are some reviews.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

d20 Failure Modes V – The Nova Strike

Merchant Adventurers Hall, York

Let us return to the Inn to rest!

It’s most often called “the 15-minute adventuring day”; the characters go in, use all their most effective abilities and renewable resources up on a few encounters (or even on the first one), and then fall back to rest, refresh their abilities, and deal with the cries of “Linear Fighters, Quadratic Mages!”.

This really isn’t a problem with game design however.

The Infernal Cult was long established. It’s Dark Temple had nestled in it’s hidden valley for centuries, it’s crypts filled with tortured innocents, it’s altars drenched in blood, it’s summoned guardians most formidable. Permeated with unholy energies, the area enhanced the power of the cult and diminished that of those who would come against it. The only access-ways were through the magic of the cult and the maze of passages which lay beneath the surrounding hills.

A group of bold adventurers came, as adventurers had come before – but this batch seemed powerful indeed. They easily blasted their way through several groups of the hobgoblin troops that guarded the tunnels and passages of the outer defenses – and then, inexplicably, fell back.

The Guards were reinforced, and fresh traps and defenses prepared. A few of the greater creatures of the depths were called in, returning old favors. The priests unlocked ancient chests, and used a few scrolls to call in some of the evil adventuring groups the temple had sponsored and aided across the years. Trackers were sent out, and the adventurers – camped nearby* – were attacked while resting, awakened and disturbed so that their mystics would be unable to refresh their powers – effectively crippling them while a massed assault was readied.

As it turned out, it was an easy victory for the Temple’s forces; the group that had seemed so powerful had – utterly foolishly – virtually exhausted themselves in their initial attack, reserving little power for their retreat, their defenses that night, or for any other purpose. Afterwards the temple leaders made it a point to hunt down the attackers families and haul them to the altars as tormented sacrifices. It was such a useful way to discourage others!

*If the group is high enough level to teleport back to their own base, then their opposition is almost always of high enough level to have similar resources – and the divination abilities to locate their attackers, or those they value.

Even a simple clan of Orcs living in a small complex is probably paying tribute to some far greater creature; if you attack them, fall back, and come back later… they may have moved out, they may have called in allies, their boss may have sent help or even come in person, and they might even have sworn service to some local unpleasant warlord or infernal power in exchange for protection. Even Orcs are not stupid enough to be sitting around in their cave waiting for adventurers to refresh themselves and come back.

Of course there are times when the fifteen-minute adventuring day works just fine. If you’re in no rush, have a safe place (presumably without any old-style wandering monsters) to rest, and can easily reach that safe place… Well, the undead sealed in the chambers of an ancient tomb, a nest full of giant insects, or the numerous mindless (or just disorganized) monsters of a cavern may not do anything to get ready for the next assault beyond breeding and eating the bodies no matter how long you give them or how many times you retreat and come back – but mindless opponents really aren’t that big a problem anyway. Go ahead; open one chamber in that long-sealed tomb, deal with it, and wait to open the next crypt until tomorrow. When you’re doing something very dangerous it’s pretty reasonable to want to start off each step as well rested and prepared as you can manage.

There are risks even in situations like that – something may escape, or start to awaken, or some such – but the giant scorpions in the cavern complex aren’t going to use the time to organize their defenses. If there’s no countdown-until-something-nasty-happens, or other major threat in the area, you’re not in a race with competitors, and there are no hostages you need to rescue before upsetting the enemy too much – then take your time.

If you’re exploring a megadungeon, then you may be able to focus on subsections – perhaps going in to go after that sub-complex full of orcs. Since they don’t get along with the hobgoblins, the hydras, or the vermin in the refuse-filled section of natural caves, as long as you do enough damage to the Orcs to really cripple them they won’t be a further worry – and you can fall back to rest without anything going disastrously wrong. Similarly, when you discover the sealed portal which generates the Dark Temple’s unholy power – but which five hundred years worth of Evil Priests have not dared to open – it’s time to come back later. Possibly several years later, when you’ve put on a bunch of levels. Whatever lies beyond that portal has waited for five hundred years. It can probably wait a while longer.

Using the “fifteen-minute adventuring day” tactic against an organized group means giving your intelligent opponents all the time that they need to get ready to take you out. If they fail to call in help and make a really good effort to do so it’s not the game that’s at fault; it’s the game master.

Even if the player-characters win in the end anyway… using the fifteen-minute strategy means that organized opponents will have plenty of time to send their kids away, to get “beware of these guys!” messages out, to put out revenge-contracts, and to hide anything valuable that won’t help them in a fight – which means that the party they will probably never find most of their opponents “treasure”. They might not even find the the stuff that was in the form of domesticated animals or slaves, ransoms, supply stockpiles, territorial claims, and even structures if they can set up a dead man switch or a classical “load bearing boss”. If you knew that people were coming to kill you and take your stuff – and that you might not be able to stop them – wouldn’t you want to make it as difficult and unprofitable for them as possible?

Now the “Dark Temple” scenario is one that’s come up many times in one form or another over the last thirty-five years. The most successful groups have pretty much invariably been the ones that scout out the situation, arrange for prepared fallback positions, recruit local help where they can, stock up on expendables, set priorities, plan their attack, and manage their resources so as to get through the entire “adventure” without stopping and giving the enemy a chance to call in assistance and prepare for their next attack.

The adventuring parties advantage lies in being unexpected, in striking when as many as possible of the temples resources are committed elsewhere, and in being on the attack. There is a REASON why so much effort was made to conceal just when and where the D-Day landings would be made. The focused surprise attack is the attackers advantage. Time to prepare is the defenders.

The trouble here is that game masters are generally pretty reluctant to have their monsters and NPC’s take advantage of such opportunities. Killing off – or even seriously inconveniencing – characters tends to force the game master to rewrite his or her plotlines on the fly and often upsets the players. Thus monsters don’t finish off unconscious characters, the rules about item saving throws and destroying equipment get ignored even when it would be a sensible tactic, organized opponents don’t attack the player characters when they’re at any kind of disadvantage, and so on.

As always, doing things that way fails because unearned victories are ultimately boring. When there’s no real chance of losing, winning is meaningless. Sure, the “unconquerable hero” fantasy is fun for a while – but it never really lasts, and that makes for dull games and short campaigns.

If the players think that opponents actually reacting to what they do is “unfair”… then that is a problem with player expectations rather than the game system. Would Monopoly work if the players decided to “play it as a team against the bank”? Players who aren’t willing to accept failures, setbacks, and occasional character deaths are not actually there to play the game; they’re there for a bit of semi-shared fantasizing. They want to drop the “game” part and just stick with the role-play.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I suspect that over-emphasizing the “game” aspect is why fourth edition had a rather short run. Still, you really don’t need a game master, or a bunch of books of rules, or dice, for a pure role-playing session – and some of the other people there will probably want some gaming with their role-playing. There are people out there who like finding clever ways to use odd items, trying to figure out what they’re up against so that they can prepare the appropriate spells, gambling on their ingenuity, and coming up with complicated plans.

Personally, I think it’s unfair that I can’t just live on ice cream – but trying to get along without real food would kill me just as inevitably as trying to get along without real challenges will kill a campaign.

Go ahead. If the Player Characters want to use the fifteen-minute day strategy when it isn’t appropriate… Have their opponents exploit that time as efficiently as the players would. Take the abilities they showed into account and set up to counter them. Let their enemies make great promises to dark gods and infernal powers of sacrifices later in exchange for help now (in other words, faced with disaster they take out an emergency loan). Coming back later means giving your enemies plenty of time to get everything ready to kill you – and if that results in some dead characters, or even a total party kill, so be it. Tell them they wake up as ghosts, bound to service by an opposing necromancer, and have to undertake some unpaid missions until they find a way to escape and return. Send them to Planescape, and let them know that their next death will NOT let them off easy. Let them earn new lives by undertaking some quest for the God of Death. Have a ragged priest resurrect them twenty years later, when the Dark Temples forces dominate the continent and the failing resistance has sought out their graves to summon the last heroes who dared to try to stop the oncoming horror.

Just don’t let them walk all over the opposition and the setting because you’re reluctant to risk them losing. It really does make for poor games.

Eclipse doesn’t really address the fifteen minute adventuring day directly. After all, there’s no way to write a book that will force game masters to make their world react appropriately to what the player-characters do. It does chip away at some of the underlying problems however.

  • On the “we’ve used all our best abilities!” front having high-end, but often limited-use, defenses available means that stacking everything into a few powerful initial attacks is very likely to see those attacks wasted. An efficient attack plan in Eclipse will usually rely on things that the characters can do quite a lot of times – probing to find out what’s likely to work and to exhaust defenses. If they’re up against mooks, they’ll never need to go beyond the small stuff. If they’re up against a really dangerous opponent… they’ll want to either wear down his or her defenses with the small stuff or find out what he or she is vulnerable to and use an appropriate attack. In Eclipse mighty attacks are usually finishing (rather than opening) moves, and conservation of resources becomes the default rather then the exception.
  • On the “we’re too badly injured to go on” front, a parties available healing tends to go a lot further when the characters are using active defenses to take a lot less damage in the first place. Just as importantly, powers like Grant of Aid and Healing Touch allow characters to pick up some healing ability of their own rather easily.
    • Fortunately, since the opposition can buy those abilities too, you don’t need to give them huge amounts of magical items to have them be creditable opponents – and Eclipse characters can be a lot less reliant on magical devices than standard d20 characters in any case.
  • On the “we can’t go on without all our buffs!” front Eclipse characters tend to rely more on abilities like Augmented Bonus or Innate Enchantment for their basic “buffs” – making them permanent, rather than something that runs out so that you lose effectiveness. Thus there’s a lot less of a difference between the party with short-term buffs running and the baseline party. You don’t need to have your larger, but limited-use, buffs running for every fight – and so you can, once again, save them for when you really need to go above and beyond your usual abilities. That also frees up the spellcasters to use their abilities for things other than buffs and healing.

None of that’s a guarantee of course; Eclipse does allow you to build any kind of character you want – and if you want to build a character suited to 15-minute tactics you can. Just don’t be surprised if the rest of the world fails to go along with you.

D20 Failure Modes IV – Surviving a Standard Game

But wait! I’m not using Eclipse and I can’t buy those defenses! What can I do?

Well, first up, you switch to Eclipse… No? Well, OK; there’s still a solution for you (other, of course, than digging through a thousand sourcebooks looking for some decent defenses).

When it comes to survival in standard d20 games as levels go up, nothing is better than having a GM who plays the parties opponents as if they were targets at a carnival game – sometimes hard to knock over, but never really a true threat (which is pretty much what “balanced encounters”, as redefined for d20, comes down to). If your GM isn’t that obliging, then intelligent magic items are your friends. Intelligent magic items can use their own actions to use their own abilities. Even more interestingly, they are treated as Characters – which means that they can use other items and get their own actions, although they admittedly normally start on your initiative.

Most specifically, what you want is usually the lowest level of intelligence at +1000 GP – Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 10, Empathy, 30′ Vision and Hearing with one minor power – make it a first level spell usable three times a day (from Pathfinder, but reasonable in 3.5, +1200 GP). That uses the items caster level rather than having to buy that separately and comes out to about the same price as an Eternal Wand.

So what’s that good for? A held action can interrupt other character’s actions. Ergo, all you need to do is tell your item to hold the action (trigger item power) until it’s empathy tells it that you would REALLY like it to go off. For best results, tell it to start holding when you get up in the morning.

In a lot of ways that’s better than turning something into an immediate action.

Sadly, the game master may rule that basic item empathy is one-way; it can inflict urges on the user, but not read his responses. If so, inquire about an upgrade; looking at the psionics rules Empathy is a mere L1 power and it normally covers a 30-foot radius. A version limited to touch is cantrip-level; a mere +1000 GP at most (I’d say +500 or so if I didn’t already think that it was probably two-way since the item already has at least part of it) should suffice to make throw it in.

Of course intelligent items normally do not get along – although “alignment might change this sort of behavior”. Presuming that your game master isn’t going along with your good items liking each other or your evil items being willing to form a coalition… well, your basic intelligent item as above starts off with an Ego of 4. That’s not a hard DC for most characters to make even if their will saves are not particularly good – although the “automatic failure on a 1″ rule is troublesome. If the game master enforces it on character-versus-item will checks you’ll need to take some special precautions. A long-term Protection From Evil effect will do nicely, and very high-level characters may be able to afford Mind Blank, but otherwise you may have to rely on having some rerolls available.

  • Having the Luck Domain gets you a daily reroll, but a lot of characters won’t even qualify for that, much less want to take it.
  • A Greater Crystal of Mind Cloaking (5000 GP) will provide one; being mentally dominated by an item is pretty blatantly mind-affecting, so it should apply.
  • An Amulet of Fortune Prevailing (5000 GP) lets you reroll a save once per day. Not a bad item to have anyway. You have to use it before the game master announces the results – but when you roll a one you know it.
  • A Mantle of Second Chances (12,000 GP) gets you one reroll a day.
  • A Luck Blade with no Wishes (22,060 GP) provides one reroll a day, a +1 luck bonus on saves, and is a +2 shortsword – and the reroll and luck bonus explicitly go to it’s possessor, not to it’s wielder (presumably 2000 for the save bonus, 8000 for the +2, most of the remaining 12,000 for the reroll). That’s not bad, although it does open up the field for buying more rerolls…
  • Of course, giving a couple of your intelligent items the Resurgence spell 3/day is fairly cheap (after all, you have to give them a minor power of some kind), otherwise useful, and will work very nicely; whichever item is NOT acting up should be more than willing to help you out against another item acting up; after all, they don’t get along!

OK, you could still blow several rerolls – but if you only have a one-in-twenty chance of missing anyway, it’s not too likely. Personally I’d still limit people to – say – three intelligent items just on general principles, but that’s just me.

So what can you do with this sort of thing? Lets make some items!

Faithful Minister, Girding of the Enduring Hero:

Think a little on-demand healing would be convenient? An intelligent Healing Belt can be your friend fairly early on and is really fairly cheap. See if your GM will let you double up on the cost of the Belt part in order to get twice as many charges. If not… get an unintelligent one sized for a tiny character and tie it around this belt (or another intelligent item); that way your item can use it on you if you need it (either way, this costs 3900 GP – suitable for a sixth or seventh level character). Sure, it’s only 8d8 to 12d8 per day depending on how fast you burn through the daily charges – but that much healing, combined with some useful low-level spell three times per day, may be enough to keep you up for several extra rounds since it’s not taking up any of your actions.

What are some useful low-level spells? I’d consider Benign Transposition (although, since sapient items are considered characters, it might leave them behind; consult your GM), Blood Wind, Color Spray, Delay Poison, Divine Favor, Feather Fall, Grease, Lesser Restoration, Magic Missile (not as reliable as a proper counterspell, but not too bad at breaking someone’s concentration), Nerveskitter, Protection from Evil, Resist Energy, Resurgence, Shieldbearer, or Silent Image. Most of those are reasonably effective even at higher levels or (like Color Spray) extremely effective at lower levels. .

Silent Guard, the Ring of the Iron Tower:

Worried about Uberchargers? What you want is a Ring of the Forcewall (5100 GP) with that little +2200 GP enchantment on it and some useful secondary spell. Some pest charges you? Take your Attack of Opportunity – more than one if you can manage it – and then let your ring pop up a force wall in front of you just as Mr Charger moves in to begin his attack. Net result? You get your shot and he runs full-tilt into a sudden wall of force. Now that his charge is ruined, take your own action, step past it to one side or the other – it IS only ten by ten – and do your worst. Since it’s basically going off when you need it, you can block nasty incoming spells and such too.

The Girdle of the Lightning’s Dance:

A Belt of Battle (12,000 GP base) can give you extra actions – although it normally takes a swift action to activate it. With sapience, it can go off by itself – and if it’s triggered by a held action it can interrupt other actions. Go ahead, take a move action and get out of that Fireballs radius of effect just as the caster targets it. You’ve seen people outrunning explosions in a dozen movies, why shouldn’t you get in on that action? For it’s 3/day spell… give it Nerveskitter. You know you want to! Even if we are downplaying the importance of going first it’s still useful – just not deciding.

Also, since you can’t wear two belts, you’ll want to give your Belt a Healing Belt of its own. Once again, buy one for a tiny character, tie it around the first belt, and call it a Healing Tassel.

The Cloak of Mist:

Want to be sure of getting away? A Cloak of Mysterious Emergence costs 13,000 GP, but can either Dimension Door the wearer three times a day or teleport him or her up to 120 miles once a day (the special effect is pretty much irrelevant) – and an extra couple of thousand GP to make it activate itself when you really need it is well worth it. Going from “My god I’m going to die!” to “at your favorite tavern ordering a beer” is basically priceless. Sure, you can be stopped with the appropriate spell, or pursued given other abilities – but that means that someone else will have to be spending actions and/or lots of money on preventing your escape rather than on attempting to kill you directly. Well worth it.

A counter for Save-or-Die and Save-or-Suck spells is a little harder. That’s a very broad category of effects, and a general protection-from-magic effect would basically make quite a few entire classes of characters irrelevant. Ergo, the best that can be done is to improve your odds – and, even at that, this one may just have to stretch things a bit. Lets have a look at…

The Ring of Maggador:

Ring of Spell-Battle (12,000 GP, Caster Level 14), Int 16, Wis 16, Cha 10, Ego 9 (12 if Pathfinder rules are used), Speaks and Reads, 60′ Darkvision and Hearing (+6000 GP), and – from Pathfinder again – three instances of being able to cast a first-level spell three times per day: Resurgence (Spell Compendium, allows rerolling a save), Dispelling Touch (The Practical Enchanter, as per Dispel Magic but only on a creature touched), and Eldritch Armor*/+1 Death Ward (The Practical Enchanter) (+3600 GP). For a grand total of 21,600 GP that gives you a fair knowledge of what’s being cast in the area (although it will help a lot to have Spellcraft at a fair level), the ability to try to counter a spell being cast nearby once per day, second-chance saves three times per day, a decent chance to get rid of some nasty effect on you three times per day, and the ability to shrug off straight Death effects up to three times a day – even if it IS only once per encounter. Sure, spells like Disintegrate will still hurt very badly indeed – but this should give you much better odds of getting in your own shots. Sadly, it’s also a little expensive; at the usual “one-quarter of your wealth” rule we’re looking at a 12’th level character maybe having this as a primary magic item, although nothing says that you can’t start with the ring and add the intelligence separately, which would make it available around 10’th level.

*Alternatively you can drop the Eldritch Armor in favor of giving the ring a +13 in Spellcraft so that it can identify nasty spells for you – but that costs more.

Oh, you want the super-deluxe version? It’s going to cost you, but here it is:

The Warlord’s Blade

  • Aurorem Blade (+4000 GP): From the Book of Exalted Deeds; the blade can be repaired if it’s broken or damaged in a single round by an act of will.
  • Basic Bonuses (Total: 32,000 GP): +1 Magebane (+1), Dispelling (+1, 3/Day Dispel Magic at +10 on creature struck), Greater Dispelling (+1, 3/day Greater Dispel Magic at +15 on creature struck) (32,000 GP). This serves to give it a casting level of fifteen.
  • Other Abilities (Total: 31,800 GP): Spellblade x2 (if the user is targeted by Dispel Magic or Greater Dispel Magic the blade absorbs the spell and the user may retarget it as a free action the next round, +12,000 GP), Finder (grants its wielder a +4 insight bonus on Search, Spot, and Survival checks made underground, +4800 GP), Sizing (weapon changes size on command, +5000 GP), Vanishing (1/day, as a swift action, dimension door up to 60 feet after a successful melee attack, +8000 GP), Everbright (blinding flash 1/day, weapon immune to acid damage and rusting, +2000 GP).
  • Sapient (Total: 72,200 GP): Int 19, Wis 19, Cha 10, Ego 29 (best to be friends with this one), Speech and Telepathy, 120′ Darkvision, Blindsense, and Hearing, Reads Languages and Magic (+12,000 GP), has ten ranks in Spellcraft (+5000 GP), Resurgence 3/Day (Spell Compendium, allows target to reroll a save, +1200 GP), Dispelling Touch 3/Day (The Practical Enchanter, as per Dispel Magic but only on a creature touched, +1200 GP), Magic Missile 3/day (5d5+5 damage, mostly as a concentration-breaker, +1200 GP), Dispel Magic 3/day (+18,000 GP), Lesser Globe of Invulnerability 3/day (+33,600 GP).
  • Temporary Blessing (38,500 GP): Doomwarding. This gives a weapon seven charges, the user may spend up to one per round to reroll any die, or to make an extra attack.

That gives the blade itself a total cost of 178,500 GP – plus the cost of the base weapon of course. It could be upgraded to a +5 total without pushing it into Epic territory, but this is pretty obviously not a primary do-damage weapon. In fact, you could remove the “Magebane” and bring the price down to 164,500 GP – but it seems so in-theme that I’d hate to do it. Still, we now have it’s OWN items to add…

  • Blade Furnishings (Total: 43,250 GP): Dispelling Cord (swift action for +2 on Dispel Checks until the end of your turn, 1000 GP), Hand of Glory (use an extra ring, Daylight and See Invisibility once each per day, 8000 GP), Healing Belt (3 charges/day, heal 1d8/3d8/4d8 by spending 1/2/3, 750 GP), Ring of Spellbattle (automatically aware of spellcasting within 60′, can identify spells being cast with Spellcraft (both automatic), may counterspell with Dispel Magic or redirect a spell 1/day as it’s being cast, 12,000 GP), Ring of the Force Wall (5100 GP), and a Greater Ring of Counterspells (stores one spell of up to L6 as an automatic counterspell, 1/day as an immediate action turn any spell into a Greater Dispell Magic with up to +20 on the roll, 16,000 GP).

Now that’s actually fairly impressive; until things start getting into epic levels you’ve got a pretty fair chance of countering several of a mages spells and of resisting more. It’s certainly not a perfect package, but a character with a lot of cash to burn might consider it.

On the other hand, few people are going to be able to afford this sort of thing. Lets rewind back to the Ring of Maggador and look for an inexpensive way to improve on that.

Fortunately, there is one.

Leveling Items Up:

So; you want more and you don’t have enormous amounts of cash? Well, with Leadership your minions can have levels in various classes – and there’s nothing that says that you can’t take some of your intelligent items as minions. Since they are explicitly considered to be characters they should be eligible. Given that you’ve already got them, and that items don’t have ECL adjustments, there shouldn’t be any problem there. The class you want is almost certainly Psion, although something like Warlock could be interesting. Go ahead, make that Ring your psion cohort and you’ll have a ring of power to make any halfling green with envy. Given that your minions are generally personally loyal, this really should handle the ego problems as well.

Personally I still think it’s better to just build your characters with Eclipse and let them defend themselves – but if you can’t do that for some reason, at least you can do SOMETHING.