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.

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2 Responses

  1. If you want a cheap intelligent item, you might want to have an item familiar. Sure, it costs a feat slot, but it would make the item intelligent and gives it some powers to hold for…

    • True, but Item Familiars don’t become sapient until you hit level seven – and they’re not allowed in a lot of games.

      I can see why of course; a character with an item familiar can be a great deal more powerful (especially if they’re an elf and take “Natural Link” from Races of the Wild and take a class that depends heavily on one or two skills; that can take them from – say – +12 at level five to +28 as a base) – but if they lose the item or it gets destroyed, the character is utterly crippled. That puts the GM in a very bad spot; he must either put up with bonuses so good that anyone sane would take the feat, or start crippling characters.

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