“Little” Bear, Wrestler of Magic

Magic is everywhere. It flows through the earth, the air, and the water. Fire unbinds it, letting it shine forth – discharging, as random energy always does, to light and heat. It can be trapped in crystals, through alchemy, knotted into “prepared” spells, and shaped in a myriad ways. It flows in from some planes and out to others. Everyone, everywhere, is always encased in a sea of radiance for those that have eyes to see.

Most Wizards claim to see magic clearly in their spell-preparing trances; they draw upon and bind it, weaving it’s gossamer threads into an arsenal of readied effects – racking them in their minds like a shelf full of wildly-varied ammunition. With a phrase, a gesture, or some other subtle trigger, they send them on their way.

“Bear” never did see the magic that way, and never got any formal arcane training – although he DOES have a wonderful knack for finding spell-shapes that work. He feels it instead, rather like clay beneath his hands – and he never was much for fine muscular control. When Bear starts stockpiling his spells, he wrestles and pounds the magic into the forms he’s found that work, squeezing it with brute strength rather than finesse, than wrapping more “clay” around his creation to hold it safe. To release HIS spells he needs few subtle gestures or arcane words; instead he simply shouts – and hammers his spell’s containment between his hands or crushes it’s shell within his fist.

While this crudity has it’s advantages – Bear has found that light armor hinders him not at all – the shards of his shattered spell-containments tend to manifest as randomized magic and environmental disruptions. As a professional spellcaster this makes him QUITE unpopular in towns and cities. Adventurer’s however… Adventurers often do not mind a few side effects as long as he can help them remain alive.

Remember The Princess Bride? Remember Andre the Giant as Fezzik? Now think of him as wrestling magic instead of people. Bear’s magic is powerful, and he has an unusual talent for teleportation magics, but it’s a wee bit sloppy…

“Bear” L6 Mage

“Bear” grew up in the wilds; his parents were foresters and trappers who spent much of the year working their traplines – and they took him along an awful lot. (To this day he has an affinity for the wilds, and for the light protective gear of trappers and hunters). His parents were pleased when he showed magical talent – that was a very valuable knack! – but were less pleased when it turned out to have such destructive side effects. He was still quite young when they left him with a local druid in hopes that another mystic could teach him to control his talents properly. The druid… was not pleased to find that the child’s talents were quite unresponsive to his tutelage. He was on the verge of sending the child back to his parents when he heard that they’d both been lost, and were presumed dead somewhere along their lines.

Bears situation got rapidly worse – until he ran away a couple of years later.

Bear’s race is unspecified; pick one to suit yourself.

Basic Attributes: STR 14, DEX 12, CON 14, INT 18, WIS 8, CHA 8.

Available CP: 144 (L6 Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Poor Reputation, Valuable – wanted for murder (I didn’t do it and I don’t know I’m wanted), Untrustworthy) +12 (Duties) +24 (L0, L1, L3, L6 Bonus Feats) = 190 CP.

Basic Abilities:

  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons and Light Armor with the Smooth Modifier (9 CP)
  • Hit Dice: L1d20 (16 CP), L2d10 (6 CP), L3-5: 3d6 (6 CP) 1d4 (0 CP).
  • +3 BAB (18 CP).
  • Saves: Will +4, Reflex +2, Fortitude +2 (24 CP).

Other Abilities:

  • Seven Levels of Wizard Spellcasting, Corrupted/his spellcasting is highly physical, as he wrestles the magic into shape – and thus is poorly controlled; his magic has destructive side effects on the environment around him (65 CP).
  • Action Hero/Crafting, Specialized in Spell Research for Double Effect, Minor Variant/covers monetary costs of researching and recording a spell rather than the (nonexistent) XP costs (6 CP). “Bear” usually uses a collection of whittled sticks and talismans to store his spells on rather than a book – but the effect is pretty much identical.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP). In conjunction with his level that will give him a base of 54 skill points – although eighteen of those are pretty much committed to his Adept skills.
  • Adept: Buy Arcana, Perception, Linguistics, and Stealth for half cost (6 CP).
  • Occult Ritual (6 CP). This character is using the Condensed d20 skills list.
  • 1d6 Mana, with the Resilience Natural Magic Option (6 CP).
  • Inherent Spell/Warpspace (L3, produces teleportation effects of L2 or less, 1/Day), with +2 Bonus Uses (9 CP).
  • 1d6 Mana, with the Spell Enhancement Natural Magic Option, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (need only spend one point for +3 spell levels); Only to boost his inherent Warpspace Spell (6 CP).

This leaves him with one point left over. Save it for something or buy a contact or a skill point. If you make him human (or any other race that gets a bonus feat) I’d recommend putting it in Rite of Chi.

Spellbreaker Martial Art (Int):

The Spellbreakers Art is oddly alien to most wizards; it involves focusing their magical perceptions and strength of will on shattering spells and redirecting the flow of magic – rather than on binding that magic into effects. It’s few physical movements are startlingly brutal and direct as practitioners batter the universe around them into submission.

  • Requires: Arcane Spellcasting of second level spells or above and at least one Inherent Spell.
  • Basic Abilities: Attack +2 (Adds to Caster Checks to penetrate Spell Resistance), Defenses 4 (Adds to Saving Throws versus Spells and Spell-Like Abilities), Synergy/Arcana, Toughness 2 (Versus damage from Spells and Spell-Like Abilities).
  • Advanced Techniques: Breaking (May roll his Spellbreaker skill instead of a caster level check when Dispelling), Weapon Kata/Staff, Rapid Shot (once per combat may cast a first level spell as a free action), and Whirlwind Attack (with Touch spells only).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength, Healing Hand, Ki Focus (Intelligence), and Light Foot.
  • Known Techniques (presuming 9 skill points, 7): Attack 2, Defenses 2, Breaking and Rapid Shot.

Dark Tales IV – The House

English: Stained glass window made by Stanisła...

It’s always darkest just before the lights go out entirely.

The voice is that of a youthful maiden, a furtive whisper without a pause for breath.

Every city has them – the shunned and abandoned places, where even beggars do not go. The places where tortured deaths have stained the world, where nightmares bloom in darkness, and where things from beyond await a whispered word to grant them passage.

Not so far from here is one of the worst. Gather now ye who dream, and hear my words. Let us peer into the past, across the veil of some two centuries. There burns a spark of flame, a rage to set the world afire.

Caught in crystal, the glitter of lighting-spells scattered a myriad colored rays across the grand ballroom and those therein assembled – a hundred costumed nobles and their entourages of servants and guards. Tensions ran high – but the king had promised dire retribution upon any who breached his peace, and none were foolish enough to challenge that directly

Lord Chalding was the last of his direct line and the banquet was being given by some of his political enemies – but failing to attend was unthinkable; it would allow those enemies to deal and maneuver unchallenged.

The drink was not poisoned, or corrosive, or primed to explode in alchemical flames. None of the usual spells or detections reacted. It was far more subtle than that. That night his sleep was deep – and grew deeper, a stasis so profound that even divination showed him dead. Resurrection was attempted, and, of course, failed. Interrogations were conducted – but his enemies denied before spells of truth that they had harmed Lord Chalding in any way, and denied as well that any agents of theirs had brought him harm.

And it was true. THEY had not harmed him – but Lord Chalding, his spirit entrapped in his undying but quiescent flesh, felt the knives that probed, the casual brutalities of being prepared for burial – and was buried as he had requested amongst his beloved gardens. There roots grew in and through him, and worms ate, and he felt it all – as his maddened, anguished, and yet undying spirit too was absorbed by the eager, burrowing, roots along with his flesh.

And hatred burned within the trees and flowers, within the very worms that crawled – and from ruined flesh, and twisted soul, and charnal worm a horrid life grew and flexed it’s wooden limbs, felt the pulsing of it’s crawling nerves, and opened a thousand jaws of mold and vermin, unholy strengths growing across the years. His old enemies had taken his house – and one day a daughter of the clan was wandering the gardens, and pricked a finger upon a thorn, and bled – and a scattering of crimson drops, the blood of his enemies, brought focus, purpose, and a target to the brooding malignance that Lord Chalding had become at last.

And through all the tortured horror of her death, the girl was not permitted to scream.

The search through the gardens and beyond for the missing girl failed to find her bones, now deep beneath the earth in Chalding’s fleshless arms – but led to many small injuries from a thousand thorns. And that night, in the silence beneath the crescent of the moon, thorny vines moved and strangled, wooden limbs struck and crushed, and the vermin of the fields crawled, and bit, and poisoned – and the descendents of Lord Chaldings enemies vanished, leaving only parts of bodies partially pulled beneath the hungry gardens, a few marks of desperate defenses, and thirsty earth well-watered by a river of blood.

And the voice falls silent – and beside each awakening dreamer lies a single blood-red rose.

Despite his endless torment, Lord Chalding cannot (or will not) surrender to death and pass beyond while any descendants of his enemies endure – and, every so often, blood is drawn from an unknowing scion to fall upon the earth and another bloody death or disappearance will follow. Perhaps bloodstained bones will be found scattered amongst flowers and trees, perhaps those same bones will be found bound down by suddenly-sprouting roses and devoured by vermin in their own beds, and – far more likely – perhaps no trace of the victim will ever be found.

With it’s primary claimants vanished, distant relatives disputed the ownership of the manor, in a legal tangle which would have taken years to unravel at the best of times – but those claimants who actually visited the slowly-crumbling estate often lost their taste for dwelling there, succumbed to it’s ominous aura, and left the lawyers to debate their claims as mere formalities. For decades now the manor has stood vacant and unmaintained, and while the barristers have argued, the city has grown to engulf it – and the rumors have spread. Now, few dare pass within it’s gates. While few if any know what links the victims, by now almost anyone could be carrying the damning blood of Lord Chalding’s ancient enemies – and, ever so slowly, the gardens spread, Lord Chalding’s prized crimson roses sprout in new locations, and other people in the lands about vanish.

Still, the reputed unholy powers of the haunted gardens have yet to reach beyond the walls in any verifiable way – and sterilizing the gardens to a depth of twenty or thirty feet to lay the rumors at last would be an enormous effort.

Today, the grounds are a wildly-overgrown patch of century-old forest in the midst of the city. While fires have – of course – occasionally been set, or spread from nearby buildings, the thick wet growth has always smothered those fires with unnatural speed – and vines, thorns, and riotous roses fill such ashen wounds within days with a ferociously thorny vegetative scab.

The manors wrought-iron front gate was chained shut for many years, and some enterprising priest bound it further with a holy seal – but the passage of time has crumbled and rusted the ancient ironwork. Now one gate is hanging from one hinge and the other is laying on the ground – and what was once a broad carriage drive up to the front of the manor is little more than a narrow path, a tunnel wrapped in two hundred years worth of overgrowth and the ever-present roses, their sweet scent masking the corruption beyond. Within twenty or thirty feet the curve of the old drive will put anyone who dares pass the gate out of view of the street – and curiously muffle the sounds of the city. By the time anyone approaches the door, the sounds of the city will have almost vanished – leaving visitors with the troubling thought that any cries for help from the house are most unlikely to bring a response.

The structure of the old mansion is still mostly intact; the stone walls stand firm, the ancient preservation and fireproofing charms on the timbers have held the floors roof mostly intact (if rather leaky), and ancient slates still cling to their seats here and there atop the roof – although it has been many years since anyone was bold enough to try to pass the roses and briars which have engulfed the walls and roof to find out. The warped and weathered wood of the front door is a testimony to the perishability of paint – and within the foyer, the first impressions are of chill, damp, the sickly-sweetness of roses and rotting flesh, and the underlying odors of mold, decay, and death.

To the right, an archway opens into green twilight – what was once a sunroom, it’s stained-glass dome now obscured by ivy and vines on the outside. while pallid, rustling, rose-canes have forced their way in through broken panes in the floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows. No one remains but bursting crimson roses, draped eerily across whatever remains within the chamber as if nature was providing a funeral wreath. Ahead the foyer opens up into a massive room – once the great hall and ballroom of the house, now a dark and cavernous chamber with a collapsed section of floor. To the left, a warped and heavily-sealed door is – once again – sealed with the sacred magics of some long-forgotten priest, although here the ancient symbols are undisturbed.

Perhaps most dangerously of all, Lord Chalding was survived by two bastard daughters – and those of their descendants who are untainted by the blood of Lord Chaldings enemies may walk the halls physically unmolested (if corrupted in mind and spirit) by Lord Chalding and his vine-infested abominations and other monstrosities. Over the decades, the deep cellars have sheltered his descendents in vengeful covens, demonic cults, and gangs of thieves, all gaining access through ancient tunnels and relying on the dangling roots which will bind and strangle those not of Lord Chalding’s bloodline should they attempt to pass for security and warning.

In d20 Terms, Lord Chalding is probably best represented as a Ward Major – hostile, deadly, and very VERY difficult to kill. His bones, and those of his “bride”, may be the center of the ward – but they now rest deep beneath the gardens, surrounded by deadly plants and venomous vermin.

If you want to look back, here we have…


Rhamming it Down Your Throat

And it’s a guest post by Editorial-0…

Inventing a New Setting

The other day I though to myself “Self,” I says, “It’s pretty dang hard to come up with an original setting.” Sure people complain about RPG’s being stuck in fairly standard settings: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk, or whatever. But then, if you *don’t* use a fairly standard setting concept, you don’t usually get anywhere. People respond to classic settings for real reasons, and they touch certain cultural nerves. For example, fantasy evokes myth and legends, where heroes are larger-than-life and great deeds await. Not surprisingly, fantasy settings trend towards high magic, lots of adventure, and a complete lack of realism. Sci-Fi can involve more realistic elements, but even then the “realism” tends to get played up until it becomes a farce – witness the Warhammer 40K universe, which went into Grim n’ Gritty so hard it came out the other side.

As I don’t want to define anything too world-shaking or galaxy-spanning, we’ll start with a relatively limited area. This is one civilization, although it will have divisions within it: different social groups or classes, different organizations and ideals. That said, it will remain one culture and certain themes and dominant elements should be consistent throughout. We want players to look at this land and get an instant picture of who lives there.

So, let’s try Finns who fight like Mongols with Japanese religions. Sort of Samurai of the Snow, I suppose. Alright, that’s pretty simple apart from the Finnish aspect – the Finns had a strange society, half like the Norse Vikings and half like the Eskimo peoples of North America. Still, the players would figure it out pretty quick: a society relatively poor in material resources but rich in culture, dedicated to spiritual betterment as a path to everything else the world has to offer.

Now let’s really build this sucker out.

Let’s try an environment which is “earthly”, but removed from the day-to-day experience for most of us. For kicks, I decided to go with a chill but dry upland. The northern end of the land is a plateau raised up against a warmer, wetter region (the rising escarpment will halt clouds). As the plateau stretches south-east, it falls in elevation and becomes a land of gently rolling hills. At the eastern edge, a mountain range creates another rain shadow on the plateau itself, as well as being the source of the relatively few rivers in the area. The far southern border slowly falls into a rough and tangled forest. Three rivers divide the land, all flowing from streams running off of the mountains. One meanders northward, another towards the northwest, and the final river arcing west before finally turning south into the forestlands.

So, without knowing anything else about the people who live there, here’s what we have:

  • It’s relatively hard to enter, whether for trade or invasion.
  • It’s easy to travel around once you get onto the plateau.
  • The high elevation makes it cold, but dry. Even in the winter don’t expect much snow.
  • The land favors herding over agriculture.
  • We’ll assume the region is large enough that metals aren’t particularly scarce.

For no particular reason, we’ll call them… Rham. (singular a Rham; plural the Rhami; adj. Rhamish or Rhamelish).

From this, we can make a few guesses about the people who live there. Note that we’re going to simply assume there are just humans with no inherent magical powers, psychic abilities, genetic enhancement, or other form of “super powers”. For now, we’ll leave technology alone.

  • They could run moderately pale-skinned and drink milk.
  • They’ll prefer to dress warmly, but might not worry about wet weather much.
  • Meat dishes will be common, and grain less so.
  • Hardier fruit and nut trees only. There are few local spices.
  • The natives won’t be afraid of outsiders since invasion wouldn’t be easy.
  • They would be quite capable of violence and raiding into the lowlands. (Shockingly, most people are quite capable of taking their neighbor’s goods.)
  • Settlements are small villages and clanholds around a secure and constant water source. Although small, many of them dot the plains.

Note that any element above could be turned about, argued over, or changed if we wanted. It just seemed sensible to me personally, and as long as it’s halfway logical, it’s a fun place to start. Alright, so we have some base elements of the society in question. Now let’s add some values and diversity to it.

  • In the drier regions people live by herding and horsemanship. Small clanholds dot the land since this culture isn’t nomadic.
  • The relatively small wet region will develop have a dense, urban population, but it will be a minority compared to the thinly-settled but expansive drylands.
  • Major cultural values include Discipline, Loyalty, and Spirituality. This people look favorably upon those who demonstrate these traits, and poorly on those who don’t. This goes beyond practicality or good sense: those traits are viewed as essential for a decent life.

Hmm… I’m on a roll now. These are giving me more ideas.

  • They worship various local spirits. Some are well established and might have major temples. Others are nameless spirits of a small farmstead or a crossroads. Ambitious individuals may even name a personal God, claiming its authority – although if they fail in their goals or simply show themselves to be mediocrities this would only increase the humiliation. Religion is intensely personal. Individuals must forge their own connections to the spirit world and seek patronage among spirits, including their own ancestors. Powerful connections to spirits grants you a measure of their wisdom and ability.
  • Morality, as such, doesn’t exactly enter into it. The spirits want offerings, or certain action, and everyone pays some heed to honor, and honorable debts. Compassion or forgiveness for its own sake isn’t considered a significant virtue, although developing may be important to a given individual’s spiritual path.
  • Combining those last two points, the Rhami believe in purity, not peacefulness or a merciful heart. For them, the path to holiness involves ascetic ritual, exposing the self to the elements, and meditating on the pinnacles of mountains.

Whether any of this is real, true, or the path to enlightenment or whatever doesn’t matter. It’s real to the Rhami, and it affects them deeply. When Rhami warriors prepare for battle, they undertake difficult journeys to purify themselves. When Rhami wed, they ritually cleanse themselves many times. Even the coldest-hearted ruler would pay heed to the spirits, and honor his debts even when not to his advantage. Failing to do so would invite scorn.

We’ll assume the Rhami are strongly unified culturally, but not very close politically. Great heroes may take control, but the monarchy rarely stays in a single family for more than a few generations. The monarchy does not possess great power, either – its primary purpose is settle the (frequent) disputes among herders, keep the limited trade lanes open, and preferably ensure a profitable raiding season. Occasionally a powerful coalition of clans takes strict control of the country, but they inevitably disintegrate over time. They would likely favor a monarchy with a strongly religious and ritualistic role – perhaps even believing that a King-Priest of some sort is necessary to appease certain powerful spirits.

Internal tensions might include those who take their monastic and priestly duties more seriously compared to warriors and herders and rural folk versus the cities. But don’t forget that tensions can easily be internal to classes or groups; monasteries may feud over pride and place, while clans of herders steal cattle and occasionally women from each other.

Alright, that’s more words than you might care to write, but really doesn’t amount a lot of complexities. Each note just builds on the last.

Now let’s add some magic (or psychic powers, or super-tech, or anything). There’s no need to be too specific. We’re not laying out a system, but explaining how the culture and ideas of the Rhami might help them develop certain kinds of abilities, spells, or whatnot.

First, the Rhami could easily develop various spirit-based powers, and that’s certainly interesting enough. But I’d like to explore the theme of Mind-Over-Body we have going here. The Rhami would consider magic that tests the person using it even as it allows them to do extraordinary things an extension of spiritual development. They would develop spells that enhance personal abilities, but perhaps apply temporary penalties, or trade attribute bonuses, or require intense concentration and mental discipline.

While learning and education would matter and literacy extremely encouraged, the Rhami would never take the flat “scientific” view of the universe as material to be used and discarded. Thus, they might avoid magic that sacrifices others, seeing it as ultimately futile – you can’t truly grow strong on stolen power. Likewise, they would avoid magic that uses complex mathematical ideas or abstraction, because to them understanding is personal and localized.

That’s not everything you might want for a setting, but it’s a pretty strong start. You’ve got everything you need to define an entire campaign. Next up, we may try adapting this to a specific ruleset and game style.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXIX – City Of Fire


All right already! I hear you!

Getting off the bus and looking around led Aikiko to one conclusion pretty quickly…

The city was really weird! From what she’d seen elsewhere on the continent the place should be teeming with street kids, littered with junk, and subdivided into competing territories. Sure, there was some of that – but it looked like some sort of massive clean-it-up push was underway.

Oh, of course. Either her do-gooder was still in the area, or he had just left. And who’d look for vanishing street kids? Sure the cops would be puzzled – they didn’t want the kind of publicity that street kinds being found dead tended to generate – but who’d question vanishing street kids? Street kids vanished all… the… time…

Wait a moment… Some hurried searches – at least seen through the eyes of a Solar Detective – looked AWFULLY odd. It was just… accepted… by most of the mortal groups that paid any attention at all that tremendous numbers of street kids had to be finding homes or something just as they had been for decades – or centuries! – because they obviously couldn’t just VANISH. But seen through HER eyes… It was obvious enough to HER that at least a million a year did indeed just vanish, never to be seen again on Earth. Offworld Raksha perhaps? After all, planets with sizable populations were fairly rare, while small outposts of Raksha were widely scattered. Where else would they get their livestock/pets/servants?

And the mortals… mostly didn’t bother looking. Who’d miss them when they were gone? Street kid disappearances were absolutely normal, and had been for as long as anyone could remember. Sure, the Cops didn’t want a pile of small bodies full of bullet holes to turn up – but as long as one DIDN’T they were happy.

Huh. Nobody more prominent was disappearing – and even adjusting for missing street kids, crime was down a LOT too. That was really weird, especially considering the local economic disparities! Looking at the local news… Corruption was down, efficiency was up, there was more acceptance of necessary-but-annoying measures, and there’d been no rioting for weeks now. What was going on? If it wasn’t a Guardian, it was some other Exalt fixing things for their own reasons.

She went hunting for signs of overt supernatural activity. After all… she might well have some competition!

That was easy. A quick look in the archives showed that the local papers had been full of reports of “god talking to me”, “voices of conscience”, and similar. The churches were freaking out a bit over that – it was Catholic territory – but quite a few clergymen had heard it too, mostly telling them about the benefits of various social programs, and why they should promote them. Cops had mostly heard why corruption would get them into trouble, what areas they should focus on, where evidence could be found, and so on. Most of the politicians weren’t talking, although a few had reversed positions based on “listening to their consciences”. The most recent reported cases looked like… about two days ago, but anything much more recent than that would hardly have made it into the news yet. It was reasonably likely to have been within the last day.

The Whispering Voice

  • Cost —, Mins: Linguistics 4, Essence 3, Type: Permanent.
  • Keywords: Illusion.
  • Duration: One Scene.
  • Prerequisite Charms: Any Linguistics Excellency.

charm broadcasts the user’s words. Whenever he or she is speaking, he
or she may opt to spend 6m to to make his or her words perceptible to
everyone within a radius of (Essence) miles who fits into a particular
group chosen by the user. (Possibilities here include “my army”, “men”,
“children”, “criminals”, “humans”, “dragon kings”, and many more).
Unfortunately, this can not transmit anything beyond the impression of
hearing the user’s normal voice; the user may apply excellencies and
dice-boosting effects, but no other charms, artifacts, or effects.

Huh! That certainly sounded like a Guardian… She’d have to congratulate him on the good work!

And time to get out the chewing gum again.

It looked like… about eight miles down the coast – hardly any distance at all! – and about six hundred feet down. Some sort of park area?

She headed that way – and found that the roads were currently blocked off by the Park Service, and there was a staff-type turning people away.

(Aikiko) “Huh! What seems to be the problem?”

(Park Ranger) “Well… the monitoring stations have detected some significant groundswell over the last eighteen hours, and there have been several small tremors over the last six; the observatory is says there is a strong possibility of at least a minor eruption Ms! So we’ve closed the park and issued warnings to the nearby area. It’s not a big worry – there have been several similar events in the past few years, with a bit of ash and minor activity – but we wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt!”

(Aikiko) “That does sound dangerous! Good thing you guys acted fast!”

Hm… rainforest jungle, with rough terrain underneath – lava flows with lots of old gas bubbles that could collapse when stepped on mixed with easily-eroded ash-filled spaces between them, It would doubtless be easy to get past the ranger, but even with her boosts fast ground travel was probably going to require sticking to the road. There were warning signs against leaving the roads and posted paths even by a few steps, since it was so easy to wind up trapped down a hole in that mess. A normal human trying to get through the area would probably wind up making about a mile a day – if they were lucky enough not to get killed or get lost. No wonder the area was a nature preserve; no one could possibly use it for anything else!

Still… not much choice. At least a rain forest offered plenty of cover by the time you were ten feet off the road. She headed back towards town until – a hundred feet or so back – the curve of the road put her out of sight of the park ranger.

Fortunately her stealth skills, parkour, and athletics charms were enough to get her safely past the roadblock and back on the road once she was sure that no one was monitoring her… Judging by the stunt with the avalanche, the youngster she was following was probably trying to stop the eruption.

Huh. That terrain was ROUGH – but she didn’t want to drag some well-meaning human park employees into Exalted affairs – and they might have tried to follow her if she’d just brushed past them.

The mountain was only a modest-sized volcano, but it was emitting some tell-tale sulfurous fumes. According to the link… the target was somewhere underground, beneath the volcano.

Well, volcano gods often had sanctums below their calderas! Unfortunately, there were lots of lava-tubes, cracks, fumaroles, and other possible entrances – but it was VERY hard to tell how deep they went!

(Voice) “You shouldn’t be here young woman! You’re in considerable danger here!”

It looked like… a middle-aged man with a beard, a T-shirt that said “Volcanologists do it with more heat”, a notepad, a few instruments, and a pocket computer.

(Aikiko) “Well, what are you doing here then? Research?”

(Vulcanologist) “Gotta keep an eye on the place! And some danger goes with the job… And what are YOU up to? The park rangers are supposed to be keeping the tourists out! You could get yourself killed!”

Hm… something occult about the man was making her eyes water a bit! While vulcanologists really did hang around active volcanoes – being either very brave or reckless bastards! – but his presence at this PARTICULAR eruption DID suggest that he was more than a normal schlub.

(Aikiko) “I’m tracking somebody down, and have reason to believe they came into the park today. I want to get them out before they put themselves into too much danger! Have you seen any kids, a bit younger than me, around?”

(Vulcanologist, peering at Aikiko more closely) “No, no… I can’t say I have! We’ve been keeping kids away from this situation of course!”

(Aikiko) “That’s a hassle…”

Hmm. So whoever this was had either arrived before this guy, or evaded him. If it was the latter, she was impressed! He caught her, after all – even if she had been surveying the mountain rather than hiding. Still… watering in the eyes, vulcanologist – she’d put money down that she was speaking with a Fire Aspect at the moment!

She dropped her own cloaking; if worst came to worst, they’d have a footrace up the mountain.

(Vulcanologist) “Oh blast it! More complications? All right then!”

He too wavered a bit, and abruptly looked quite a lot more imposing, with a great big sword and some armor to go with the gear. The T-Shift had probably been an illusion.

(Vulcanologist) “So… who do YOU represent and why do you care?”

(Aikiko) “I’ve been sent by a powerful figure to gather information on this kid, who is much like me – but even more powerful in some ways. I’ve been tracking whoever-it-is for the past few days. They’re currently at the bottom of the volcano. My theory is that they’re trying to stop the eruption. And you?”

(Vulcanologist, sighing) “It’s not so much the basic eruption – sure, it would mess up the nature preserve, but it’s certainly natural! – it’s that the volcano’s been working towards opening a major secondary vent offshore. We… can’t really issue a warning about THAT; there’s no mundane way of detecting it – and there’s no knowing exactly WHEN even with magic! If that blows, however… So who’s this “powerful figure” and what’s he want with the diplomat?”

Well damn! It would depend a lot on just WHERE and HOW BIG – but an underwater eruption… most likely said “Tidal Wave”. It might threaten hundreds of miles of coastline!

(Aikiko) “I’m not supposed to out him, but let’s just say he’s older than the current form of Creation. And that the kid is part of his sphere of interest.”

(Vulcanologist) “Well, I’ve got to admit he’s SOMETHING…”

(Aikiko) “From that, I’d say you’ve been working with him… how big of a tsunami are you expecting?”

(Vulcanologist) “It’s hard to be sure – but if it triggered a major slide into the trench it could threaten vulnerable areas along the entire coastline! Even if it’s just a “small” tidal wave… anywhere from five million to thirty-five million casualties, damages of half a billion or so, and massive environmental destruction. It would take generations to rebuild!”

(Aikiko) “Huh! So you’re negotiating with the volcano god? How’d you find the kid?

(Vulcanologist) “Mostly luck on that one! All those reports of “voices” and such seemed worth looking into – and some of the Air aspects found a way to trace them down, and the kid was willing to try and help out once he heard what was wanted!… How’d you find him?”

(Aikiko, with slight embarrassment) “I used a bit of personal debris and some thaumaturgy actually… Any idea how those negotiations are going?”

“Personal Debris”? Ah! The old “hair and fingernail clippings” routine. Well, that was easy enough if you could get a hold of that kind of thing. Even a lot of mortal thaumaturgists or “psychics” could handle that kind of link.

(Vulcanologist) “Well… it hasn’t exploded yet! We did send in a couple of aides with the kid – but we only had so many who could handle the environment in there! (with some worry) It’s been most of a day now – and (looking at the pocket computer) we really ARE getting tremors. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!”

Drat it! If only she’d brought the Behemoth Cloak along – but she’d been worried about Mechagodzilla using it to track her!

Wait a moment… thanks to Charles she was in multiple places at once, and the effects of the Cloak were purely supernatural. Would it matter WHERE she wore it?… Huh! Evidently not! THAT was pretty convenient!

(Aikiko) “I’ve got a life-support artifact. I’d be happy to run in and check; I was wanting to talk with the kid anyway.”

(Vulcanologist) “Hrm…. I’ll need your oath that you won’t knowingly make the situation any worse if you can possibly avoid it!”

Aikiko thought for a moment – but she couldn’t see why she’d be inclined to make it worse anyway!

(Aikiko) “Deal!”

One short oath later, the man was telling her what he knew about the route down – but his information only went (quite literally) so far; if there were branchings and such beyond that… he hoped that she was good at tracking!

Which did seem likely to him; otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten this far!

(Aikiko!) “Thanks… hey, what’s your name?”

(Vulcanologist) “Giancarlo, of the Huanca Clan! And you’re welcome… why not? Honestly… I don’t see how it could get much worse anyway!”

(Aikiko) “Right! I’ll be back as soon as possible, Giancarlo!”

With no need to hide, Lightning Speed it was!

The tunnels down were mostly fissures and lava-tubes. Fortunately, the choking fumes and dreadful heat…. flowed over the Cloak and passed harmlessly. Unfortunately, the gum was no longer helpful! An indication of direction didn’t say which twisty tunnel or fissure to clamber through to ultimately wind up going that way! Hrm… what to use? It was so hot that any bits of hair or cloth would probably get burned up – and they would have the same problem anyway. Scent? The fumes would choke it out. Traces in the dust? The constant shaking was bringing down a steady rain of dust. Sure, she was an Exalt – but she wasn’t a tracking specialist!

Still, there couldn’t be TOO many tunnels down here, and there were bound to be some minor gods about! Presumably some volcanic subordinate was in charge of caring for the tunnels…

A bit of thaumaturgically-boosted prayer got a response quickly enough.

(Spirit, with considerably surprise) “Another in the SAME DAY?!?! After a thousand years of silence, who calls?”

(Aikiko) “My name’s Aikiko Tanaka, sir! It’s good to hear the other one made it to you! Where are you two? I was hoping to speak with both of you!”

A minor god, made of volcanic ash with great gaping holes in it, swirled into an (essence-cheap) image-only appearance.

(Spirit) “Er… Both of me? What?”

The voice was a rumble of shaking stone, and the mouth was a crack into a glowing throat of volcanic ash at a red heat. Neat!

(Aikiko) “Well, you said someone else prayed to you… care to tell me about them? I need to talk to them.”

As flames blew past, Aikiko couldn’t help but grin. Volcanos were AWESOME! At least with the right protections, they were…

(Spirit) “A most… impressive young man! The people with him had some power, but his… burned like a star fallen to earth! Power enough to fuel this entire mountain! He asked for directions to the deep sanctum – so I, of course, obliged.”

That did kind of sound like Charles to HER – or at least to Charles when he wasn’t shielding himself from detection…

(Aikiko) “I’m also looking for the deep sanctum. I’d be thankful if you could tell me where to meet up with them, sir.”

(Spirit) “Ah, certainly! Guests are so rare these days!”

He provided directions through the twisting, superheated, maze – which brought her out on a ledge, with several chairs and tables shaped from obsidian and volcanic stone, above a massive pool of fuming magma. The red glow of the pool illuminated the chamber and the massive arch of the ceiling. Three Humans – two hanging back, and one at the edge of the ledge and talking – were speaking with a modest group of volcano, earth, and disaster gods.

Most of them appeared to be being as reasonable as natural-disaster gods got, but Rikandithu the Earth-Shaker, God of Natural Catastrophes, seemed to be quite upset! He was currently gesturing dramatically with Holocaust Bringer, his massive blade of molten orichalcum… It was a regular geothermal summit! But if anyone would want the vent to blow, Rikandithu would be the one…

That seemed to be the substance of it anyway… the region had been largely peaceful (at least in his category) for more than a millennia, yet proper sacrifices had not been offered to him in centuries! He would tolerate it no longer! Those teeming, worthless, Mortals WOULD PAY – no matter who – or WHAT – it was who intervened on their behalf!

The other gods were a lot less active about it – but they weren’t arguing either. They probably had the same issue; they just weren’t so empathetic about it.

Actually, most of the others had both more to do and were less propriated to begin with; they weren’t going to argue with Rikandithu directly – he WAS the most powerfully destructive one amongst them of course – but they saw no reason why they couldn’t settle for a SMALL event to remind the humans to pay attention to volcanoes, rather than a massive release that would kill tens of millions of them.

Looking at the human negotiating… it was a rather young boy, and he was indeed radiating air and wyld energies in what certainly looked like a manse-aura!

Meanwhile, one of the two who were hanging back had noted her presence with some surprise.

(Aikiko, waving quietly) “Giancarlo sent me to check up.”

Meanwhile… Rikandithu’s intimidation didn’t seem to be very effective on the kid – but his rant was still going strong; it really looked like he was working himself up to something drastic!

Oh, this was going to be GOOD…

Zombie Apocalypse II – The Rise

George A. Romero was an early contributor to t...

Isn’t there ANY way to keep Aunt Edna from coming to the family reunions?

Movies and television programs shoot straight for the impression. You can SEE what’s going on and you don’t expect a reasonable explanation. There it is, so it must have happened somehow. You get swept up in the moment, and so the background for that moment doesn’t have to really make any sense.

Games, however, do – which is where many “Zombie Apocalypse” games run into trouble.

Your standard zombie apocalypse setting features hordes of zombies (generally rather stupid, likely infectious if they bite or scratch you, and somewhat awkward, but really not all THAT hard to destroy), a shortage of food, water, guns, ammo, and other supplies, and a small group of relatively random survivors.

Over the course of the movie, show, or game those random survivors will lose some members, and pick up other stragglers to replace them, while dealing with a series of zombie attacks and zombie sieges, making sorties against zombies, and venturing into zombie-overrun areas in search of supplies. During that time they will take out quite a lot of zombies – often at a ratio of dozens of zombies destroyed for every human character lost.

Yet somehow a relatively small – and thus seriously outnumbered – outbreak of those same zombies somewhere managed to overrun human civilization, apparently including all kinds of military outposts, organized areas, and remote locations. Sure, surprise and shock will help a bit – but if random survivors with little or no equipment can take out dozens of zombies each, well-prepared and trained types can reasonably be expected to take out even more. You can hardly argue that any setting that starts off resembling the real world will be particularly ignorant of zombies. How many zombie movies have YOU seen?

So… why didn’t the zombie apocalypse implode, leaving civilization more or less intact? Why are there so many zombies LEFT?

Movies and TV shows usually skip over that part – something of a pity since the original Night of the Living Dead actually covered that issue; the zombies rose, a nearby cemetery (apparently with an awful lot of fresh bodies in shallow graves for some reason) provided enough zombies to besiege a small farmhouse – but, in the morning an organized bunch of people with guns came through eliminating the zombies. Evidently in most areas there was shock, horror, some casualties – and then the methodical elimination of the zombies.

Honestly, that’s what I’d expect from humans. Humans didn’t get to be the sole surviving hominid species, or domesticate dozens of other species so as to turn them into walking snack food, or manage to take themselves off the instinctive prey species list for so many predators (by consistently killing the ones that attacked them until they bred that tendency out), or come to dominate the world, by being nice. Sure, humans can display many fine qualities – but a quick look at atrocities, crime statistics, warfare, interrogation, and punishment through history suggests that a pretty large chunk of the human population will soon rival the most ruthless of sociopaths if they feel endangered, vengeful, or immune to consequences.

What can we do about this? Well…

  • An epidemic with a long incubation period could spread widely through the human population before countermeasures could be taken – potentially too far to stop – provided that it’s both easily transmitted and infectious for a reasonably large part of the incubation period. Of course, in this case, it’s virtually guaranteed to have already infected your survivors, and will spread through any group that gathers with no chance of stopping it. This might work for a short, and utterly hopeless, movie or game, but it’s not really going to work for a campaign or television series.
  • If the zombies are virtually unstoppable they could overrun everyone – but unless they weaken rapidly for some reason, this means that the best that survivors can do is to hide. That’s not very interesting.

Basically, any kind of slow-rise scenario with zombies that random survivors can evade or handle in reasonable numbers during a campaign is not going to overwhelm human civilization unless you get really, REALLY, contrived about it. Even if your zombie-making agent works on the already-dead, there aren’t many bodies in shape to turn into zombies compared to the living population (unless your zombie-making agent can build zombies out of dust, in which case we’re back to “major acts of magic”).

So we need a fast rise scenario – one where an awful lot of people turn into zombies without being exposed to a zombie in the first place but in which some people – probably pretty much at random – are spared. It doesn’t really matter what the zombie-making agent is in this case (or why, or even if, it’s infectious; being wounded by a rotting corpse without good medical care may well give you some pretty horrible infections anyway). Bits of radioactive meteorite, strange gases, out-of-control nanotech, some terrible necromantic ritual, mother nature striking back… whatever. When you have enough zombies to start with, it doesn’t really matter if they’re infectious or not.

If you want to include the usual resource shortage, just make it a preexisting condition. Throw in a month of two of war (perhaps the zombies are the result of some bizarre weapon), or some nuclear strikes, or a smaller initial zombie-rising before the main event, and you can fairly readily justify any kind of supply shortage you like. Turn 90% of the population into zombies directly and you can quite reasonably expect them to take out most of the survivors; zombies being easy to outwit won’t do you much good when you’re sleeping next to someone who turns into a zombie in the night, or when you’re five years old and your parents suddenly turned into zombies, or in a lot of other situations. You want 1% surviving? One-tenth of one percent? One in a million? Pick the circumstances and time of the transformation appropriately, and you can justify pretty much any proportion of survivors to zombies that you like.

As a (fortunate!) side effect, this means that you can pretty much eliminate the players/characters who insist that THEY are living in a private fortress stockpiled with ten years worth of supplies and enough armaments to equip a special forces brigade. you can just ask them for a full inventory and then inform them that they were part of the 99% who just dropped dead spontaneously, and thus they should make a character from among the random folk who survived the initial transformations.

Wait, you still haven’t decided how your zombies work? Go back and look at Part I again – Powering Your Corpse.

Skin of Stone, Man of Straw; Encounters Beneath the Eclipse.

A fairly common question with point-buy systems like Eclipse is “What if something is too good for it’s cost? Or what if a character buys some massively powerful ability straight off? After all, if some starting character simply invests all his points buying super-ability “X” meant for the settings major gods he or she could just slaughter / ignore / bypass / recruit / outrun / edit out of time / whatever all appropriate opponents!

Fortunately d20 is complicated enough – unlike, say, Amber – that you can’t simply spend all of your points on “Warfare” and assume that you will automatically dominate virtually any combat situation. Still, you do need some mechanisms in place to handle this sort of problem.

The first level of trouble for any universal system is simply that what abilities are valuable will vary drastically from one campaign to another. For an example from a recent query, lets say you buy DR 5/-. That’s a relatively cheap ability (6 CP) if you limit it to physical damage only. In a campaign focusing on first level boxers, that would be a tremendous advantage. Full-contact martial arts? Still pretty useful, but martial arts opponents in Eclipse can – at equally low level – have special attacks that will bypass damage reduction, or convert their attacks to energy, or just power straight through DR 5/- depending on where they spent THEIR points. In the science-fiction Federation-Apocalypse setting, where any serious combatant character will probably start off carrying a light microfusion missile launcher that does 5d20 damage in a modest radius, Damage Reduction is so unimportant that no one pays much attention to the fact that – thanks to technical advances – the average man in the street gets DR 4/- for free from his smartclothes and basic genetic augmentations. Who cares? It doesn’t actually help – and other defenses that will are a much better deal.

Of course, in a campaign centered on mysteries, or diplomacy, or politics, combat abilities may ALL be fairly useless.

For a similar look at skills, in a realistic WWII setting where injuries are specific, infection is a serious threat, and characters die all too easily, a knowledge of basic medicine can be invaluable. In settings with easy healing magic, d20’s default rapid healing, and a lack of specific injuries it’s more dubious. In a setting with automatic nanotech first aid kits that will treat wounds far more effectively than any human physician, or where all the action takes place in a virtual reality that doesn’t affect the character’s physical bodies, it may be utterly useless.

Like it or not, the “value” of various abilities varies drastically with the setting, with the available equipment, and with the genre and style of the campaign.

Since Eclipse is setting-independent, it has mechanisms for dealing with this – primarily the Campaign Options Checklist and Character Templates. The Options Checklist lets you ban or limit the available abilities to fit the setting, while the Character Templates both allow you to limit how far a character can advance a single sequence of abilities at any given level and to require minimum expenditures in areas where any setting-appropriate character should show some ability. After all, without setting restrictions, saying “you can use Eclipse” is pretty much the same as saying “You can use any d20 book ever written, including the stuff that no one ever actually published, regardless of genre”. Fortunately, with everything in one book, it’s easy to set the restrictions that you’ll need to make your setting work.

Still, even after you’ve set up the general restrictions of your setting, won’t players try to optimize and gravitate towards the “best” abilities? Won’t some of them be better at it than others? won’t allowing a free choice of abilities lead to the players ignoring some of them entirely?

There’s always some of that. That’s why you see a lot more people in d20 games playing mighty Sorcerers than you see playing one of Peter Rabbits bunny-siblings (although there are, of course, always a few…). Fortunately, when faced with a wide variety of abilities and a (hopefully equally wide) variety of situations to use them in players often find that they have very different opinions of what is “best”.

What’s that? All of your players want to focus on small-scale tactical combat that’s been set up as “Balanced Encounters”? And that’s why the initial query focused on how “underpriced” Damage Reduction was? It looks so attractive that every character will want it? (That also brings up why Balanced Encounters are a bad idea, Combat as Sport and War, and the Fifteen Minute Adventuring Day, but those are other articles).

So lets say that all the player characters want that Damage Reduction. After all, it’s enough to protect them against quite a few minor opponents isn’t it?

Well, no – in Eclipse it certainly isn’t. The basic answer is that Eclipse offers a wide variety of exotic attacks and defenses as well as a quick-conversion rule for using standard scenarios and creatures that gives the NPC’s and creatures from other d20 sources some character points of their own to spend. The more “underpriced” (in the eyes of the players), and thus common, an ability is, the greater the number of opponents who will have invested a few of their points in ways to bypass, overcome, or neutralize it. After all, you see a lot of people who know how to change a tire on their car. The number who know how to install a new alternator is a lot smaller. Why is that? It’s because you’re far more likely to have had to change a tire yourself than you are to have had to install a new alternator yourself. People develop the skills needed to deal with the problems they face – and (surviving) monsters will tend to have developed abilities that helped them survive. Thus if the majority of adventurers have Damage Reduction then the majority of the creatures will have ways to get around it.

Just as importantly, the monsters can settle for very limited use abilities without a problem; THEY will only have to deal with occasional fights. Adventurers seek out many fights, often in rather rapid succession.

So classical DR 5/- is indeed available for 6 CP. So is +2d6 damage that only helps overcome damage reduction (Augment Attack), or increasing your base damage with a particular attack (Martial Arts), Fireball 1/day (Inherent Spell), converting your attacks into energy damage (Martial Arts again, albeit a different subsystem), getting Shocking Grasp several times per day (Inherent Spell), picking up the ability to “see” in the dark (Occult Sense), obtaining a limited-use paralyzing venom (Trick), getting low-grade spell resistance (Spell/Power Resistance), obtaining political influence or powerful allies (Action Hero/Influence, Connections, or Favors), acquiring a familiar or an animal companion (Companion), and many, many, other abilities. That’s why successful characters – and groups – in Eclipse tend to be the ones who have a wide variety of abilities. You can see the same principle at work in the real world; there are gazelles, tortoises, beavers, and thousands of other wildly diverse types of creatures roaming the earth – yet nature is a far more ruthless optimizer than any player. Why don’t you see just a few types of “optimized” animals? It’s because the real world offers a very wide variety of challenges, and thus supports a wide variety of creatures, each “optimized” in a different way. If your campaign only supports a few types of characters… it’s because you’re stuck in a rut and aren’t offering a wide enough variety of challenges.

With a few points to spend, the goblins with a touch of magic from a draconic bloodline can be a very different challenge from the goblins with political connections that will bring the wrath of the local king down on you if you harass them. Neither of those groups is a lot like the one that works for a malevolent cult and so can call on some demonic favors, or the one that raised an evil child who later became a mighty mage – but who still feels some loyalty to his childhood tribe. If you’re going to have unique characters, you’ll need to invest a little time in unique monsters too.

Finally this brings us to personal optimization – the player who finds a combination of abilities that works too well in your campaign, who just has a knack for squeezing every point until it screams, who haunts optimization boards, or who’s simply so clever about applying his or her characters abilities that they leave the other characters far behind.

To some extent this is a good thing. At least they’re putting some time and effort into the game. If it becomes a problem though… that’s when you turn to page 163. In fact, given that it would be wise to read the whole book before using it, you should already be applying pages 8, 16, 22, and 163 – all the sections on control mechanisms and limitations. That’s usually more than enough. If it’s not…

Fundamentally, players who want to disrupt, rather than play in, the game you’re running or with the group you’ve got are indulging their own egos by sabotaging everyone else’s fun. If you’re putting up with it… well, I can’t write any d20 rules that will help keep people from treating you like a rug to wipe their feet on. For that you want a self-help book or a therapist. If someone wants to build a character who does not fit the setting, you say “no”. If they want to build a character who will not work with the group, you say “no”. If they will not behave themselves during a session then you don’t invite them again. If your players don’t want to help make the game a success… it’s going to fail anyway, no matter what rules you’re using.

Eclipse – The Questionable Inner Fire

OK, now that I’ve located the overflow error that was making it so hard to read the questions it’s time to start catching up on answering them…

I have some questions about the Witchcraft Advanced Power: The Inner Fire.

If a character takes The Inner Fire at level 4 and has a Wisdom of 20 can he cast two level one spells and one level two spell or does he get 2/1/1/1/1?

If the character makes it to level 20 and up to a wisdom of 30 is his supply of spells based on the current numbers, or is it stuck at whatever level he took it at?

If the same lv 20 character takes the Inner Fire his CL is 10 and he can safely cast lv 5 spells. Does he get access to higher level spells as well? If so, and he decides to cast a 9th level spell and makes his will save, what CL is the spell cast at? 10th (his current CL), 17th (min lv for casting 9th lv spells), 20th (his character lv)?

Can the character take The Inner Fire more than once for the same attribute? I know I saw one of the sample characters here (Torak Rosul) take it three times, but they had different govering attributes for each list (int/wis/cha).


Alzrius, who kindly and effectively did some filling in here while I was having trouble, is quite right;

The Inner Fire activates all the bonus spell slots for the current value of the chosen attribute up to the characters level, and continues to do so if that attribute (or level) changes. Thus that fourth level character does indeed get access to effects of up to level four – although it would be rather suicidal of him or her to make a habit of using them since he cannot, at caster level two, safely control anything beyond level one spells.

At level twenty as described he or she would be able to use spells of up to the fifth level safely – and could indeed cast that ninth level spell, although with sixteen levels to go until it could be cast safely, the results of a failure would probably be pretty brutal.

Barring special modifiers, his or her casting level for The Inner Fire will always be (Character Level/2) – which may make some spells with level-based effects fairly ineffectual and means that someone using The Inner Fire isn’t going to have much luck at overcoming spell resistance or dispelling things. Coupled with the limited number of effects available, this makes The Inner Fire less than overwhelming in high-level combat.

You can take The Inner Fire more than once, but it must be for differing attributes each time – and it won’t work if those bonus spell slots are already activated. Thus a high level Wizard can’t take The Inner Fire and apply it to his or her Intelligence; those spell slots are generally already active.

Still, that really is quite a lot of power for a relatively small investment; why would something like THAT have been put in the book?

The answer to that calls for some background on what the Witchcraft system is for.

While it can serve as the primary magic system for a low-level game, as a rule it isn’t all that attractive for primary spellcasters unless (perhaps) the game master lets them get away with one of the cheesy “tricks” packages. Magical specialists will generally want to focus on improving their major powers, which will soon exceed anything that Witchcraft will let them do. For them, dabbling in Witchcraft to acquire The Inner Fire means gaining a few low-level spells, with low caster levels, and based on a secondary attribute at that (since they’ll already be using the bonus spell slots for their primary spellcasting attribute), in exchange for giving up a couple of caster levels or – say – taking Berserker to boost their Casting Level, taking Streamline on their favorite Metamagic, and buying some Mana with the Spell Enhancement power. That really isn’t a good deal. Why waste your time and character points acquiring a few weak magics when you can play to your strengths and acquire some impressively powerful ones?

Witchcraft can, however, give low-level combatant characters like fighters, rogues, and martial-artist types, some very useful special abilities and options both in and out of combat. Even better, thanks to the linear nature of base attack bonus and most combat abilities the effective cost of taking it – unlike, say, giving up a few levels in a spell progression – is very small, especially since Witchcraft can be readily used to boost your combat abilities.

It’s at higher levels where Witchcraft abilities like The Inner Fire really come into their own. There is some truth to the complaint that – at very high levels – combatants are left behind by the primary spellcasters. That doesn’t have to happen in Eclipse, but there are plenty of poorly-built or converted characters whom it does happen to – and for them it’s well worth expending the points to buy the Inner Fire and pick up some “spells” – even if they choose ro represent them as special powers. Sure, it’s a limited package – but for them it’s cheap and it’s a set of abilities that they didn’t have before instead of just a limited backup for their major spells. If your high-level martial artist decides to swear service to some mighty power (and get some Wis-based “Chi Powers”), or your clever rogue wishes to emulate the Gray Mouser and pick up some basic wizardry (drawing on his or her high intelligence) they can do so – and will get enough to useful, rather than emulating classical d20 and wasting a couple of levels on becoming the equivalent of a Fighter 18/Wizard 2.

In Eclipse, there are only a few powers where it matters what character level you took them at. In large part that was a design goal. It makes it much easier to build characters; you just add up your points and spend them without having to worry about what level you took something at instead of going level-by-level. It also eliminates things like the (quite notable) differences between a Barbarian 20 / Sorcerer 20 and a Sorcerer 20 / Barbarian 20. As a general rule, in Eclipse, your developmental path doesn’t mean all that much.

There are a few exceptions though. The Professional, Adept, and Fast Learner abilities and the Bonus Skill Points from raised Intelligence all offer benefits that depend on the level at which you acquired them. If you want them, it’s best to take them as early as possible. That’s because those abilities pay for themselves after a few levels and then pay dividends – so if they were retroactive, there would come a point at which they’d instantly pay for themselves and then would continue to offer additional bonuses. That really wouldn’t work very well, and so it’s another compromise in the interests of compatibility.