Eclipse, True Names, and Nymic Magic

Knowledge is Power.

With sufficient understanding of the world, you can exercise control over it.

If you know enough secrets – the secret names and words, the tongue of creation – then you no longer need tools and labor. The Will and the Word suffices.

Or at least that’s the idea.

That’s actually what a classical Wizard is all about. They have learned the secret lore, the ways to bind primordial power in cages of words, and when they speak those words, the power stored in them is unleashed upon the world. That’s Wizardry; the power to change reality by will and words alone.

Nymic Magic is actually a considerably more primitive and limited notion.

At it’s core, Nymic Magic is straight sympathetic magic; a part can stand in for the whole, and what is done to the part can be done to the whole. Thus use some of your targets hair in a doll; the hair is part of them and it’s part of the doll too – so the two are linked, and what is done to the doll is done to the target. Since a name is a part of the thing… well a name can be warped and changed, shattered or mended, called up or banished, with the voice alone. Thus if you knew something’s name, had a clear voice, and sufficient will and vocal control… then you could control or change the thing named.

The fact that this didn’t actually work was easily explained; the names people used commonly were mere use-names. A creatures TRUE name was a mystical secret.

That does sound like a pretty nifty thing to build a character around doesn’t it? That’s why we find nymic magic in Earthsea, you find True Names in Mage The Awakening, Dragonquest has the College of Naming Incantations – and in 3.5 d20 there was the Truenamer.

Unfortunately… the 3.5 design was pretty borked.

The apparent intent was a character with a broad selection of interesting abilities who could use each of them four to eight times a day in a game system where most encounters were of the “appropriate challenge rating”. Instead of having a failure chance/saving throw after they were used, the failure chance was moved to when they were used – and if one didn’t go off, it didn’t count against the usage limit.

What actually wound up being published was a character type who’s mastery of the primal secrets of the universe… provided access to a rather narrow list of abilities, many of which were not worth having and a few of which were badly broken. Worse, the character relied on a single skill; if they boosted it in every possible way they could spam their abilities with a 100% chance of success up to twice a round for any reasonable number of encounters in a day. If they didn’t, they were pretty ineffectual. That, of course, is the problem with relying on a single skill.

The designers didn’t want a Truenamer to be useless when fighting something that they didn’t know the name of either. Ergo, Truenamer abilities were generic things that affected pretty much any target. Actual truenames pretty much fell by the wayside. The system did make some provision for them, but they were rarely worth actually bothering with.

And honestly… once you piled terrible mechanics on top of the mangled corpse of the original concept most people simply forgot about the Truenamer. That meant it got no further support or development – and so wound up embalmed in one chapter of an obscure sourcebook that was rarely ever used.

It is a neat idea though – and Eclipse was designed to make pretty much any character concept buildable. Ergo, here we have the Nymic Master.

A Nymic Master does indeed need to know the True Name of the things that he wants to affect – but when you know the True Names of the Four Winds, of Lightning, of Iron, of Tigers, and of Serpent Venom… not knowing the individual name of that particular monster doesn’t make you helpless against it; it just means that you have to work indirectly. Knowing the true name of a particular creature is best (as per Specific Knowledge/True Names in Eclipse), but generic names are reasonably effective – and the appropriate knowledge skill usually includes the generic true names of most of the things it covers. You just have to know how to use them.

So; the basic power of a Nymic Master is pretty straightforward:

Immunity/the normal limits of Knowledges (specifically, having to take physical actions to get results from applying them, although a form of fatigue still applies to the skill, just as it would apply if you used your muscles): A Nymic Master may use his or her Knowledge and Concentration skills to directly manipulate reality, creating spell-like effects upon the things that the knowledge skill covers (Very Common, Severe, variable effect level, see below). Sadly, the more a Nymic Master uses this ability, the greater the distorting backlash against his or her mind – and the more confused he or she will become on the aspect of the universe being manipulated, reducing his or her effective knowledge skill rank.

The possible manipulations include Control (Ward Off, Move, Command, Summon), Destroy, Create, and Transmute (Heal, Reshape, Transform). The maximum level of effects which can be produced is set by the lesser of the user’s (Caster Level / 3) or the level of immunity purchased. Nymic Magic is normally a standard action, affects a single target within medium range and has a verbal component, but may be reduced to a swift action for +2 on the cost or to an immediate action for +3, expanded to Long Range for +1 on the cost, affect a 20′ radius for +2 on the cost, or be performed silently for +1 on the cost. Their equivalent of other “metamagic” effects must be built into the effect; it may not be added later. Their effects must also be built without modifiers for XP costs or expensive components, which may increase the levels of their equivalents of spells that normally require such components. Save DC’s are (10 + Effect level + Int Mod).

The extent of the confusion / cost in Knowledge Skill Ranks depends on how closely the user is pushing his or her current abilities – dependent on the level of immunity purchased – to their limit.

  • Trivial Immunity (06 CP): L0 spells cost 3 Knowledge Skill Ranks and L1 spells cost 4KSR. Effects of higher level are not yet possible.
  • Minor Immunity (12 CP): L0 spells cost 2KSR, L1 spells cost 3KSR, and L2-3 Spells cost 4KSR. Effects of higher level are not yet possible.
  • Major Immunity (18 CP): L0; spells cost 1KSR, L1 spells 2, L2-3 S; 3, L4-5; 4. Effects of higher level are not yet possible.
  • Great Immunity (36 CP): L0-1 spells cost 1KSR, L2-3 spells cost 2, L4-5 spells cost 3KSR, and L6-7 cost 4KSR. Effects of higher level are not yet possible.
  • Epic Immunity (54 CP): L0-3 spells cost 1KSR, L4-5 spells cost 2KSR, L6-7 spells cost 3KSR, and spells of L8-9 (generally only available at epic levels) cost 4KSR. Effects of higher level are not yet possible. They might be achievable through Legendary Resistance (and very high caster levels) however; but whether or not to allow this is up to the game master.

Unfortunately, only the targets permanent base skill score (purchased ranks plus attribute bonus and feat-based enhancements) can be used to power magic – and the total base score cannot be reduced below +1. The user may, however, expend Concentration Skill Ranks in the place of any other knowledge skill and may also drop plusses from any actual true names that he or she happens to know (Eclipse, Pg 10, upper right column; normally a +4). A single reduced skill may be restored per hours sleep or quiet study and meditation.

Like most natural-law immunities, this is a very powerful effect – literally a game-changer in that it makes a fairly drastic change in the rules. Allowing this calls for careful thought from the game master. After all, once this is in play, quite a lot of other character types could fairly easily dabble in Nymic Magic. Whether adding some secondary powers would be worth buying the immunity and caster levels (or expanding what their existing caster levels cover) when they could be advancing their primary powers would be worth it is another matter.

A traditionally-styled Nymic Master build will have…

  • The full immunity above (54 CP).
  • 20d6 Hit Dice (40 CP)
  • +15 BAB (Warcraft, 90 CP)
  • Proficiency with Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP).
  • 90 Skill points (90 CP)
  • 23 Base Caster Levels, Specialized in Nymic Magic (69 CP)
  • Adept x2 (all the knowledges of course, 12 CP)
  • Fast Learner specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP)
  • A total of +24 on Saves (72 CP)
  • Inherent Spell I (Scrying 1/Day, 6 CP)
  • Inherent Spell II with +2 Bonus Uses (Sending 3/Day, 9 CP)
  • Inherent Spell III with +2 Bonus Uses (Teleport, Specialized for Increase Effect; can only teleport to places where people are calling you with a secret name, but you are always aware of such calls and of who is calling, 9 CP)
  • Defender, Corrupted/the user’s effective level for calculating his or her armor class bonus is capped by his current base knowledge skill rating about the creature in question (4 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge/his or her own True Name (1 CP)
  • Thirty-six points worth of skill-enhancing abilities – commonly chosen from among those listed below, although there are plenty of others available (36 CP).
    • Enduring Focus: Advanced Augmented Bonus, adds (Con Mod) to (Int Mod) for Knowledge Skill Purposes, Specialized/only counts against reductions due to nymic magic drain (6 CP).
    • Mystic Artist (Oratory) (6 CP).
    • Professional (a chosen Knowledge Skill) (6 CP).
    • Reflexive Countermagic (12 CP).
    • Skill Focus (+3 to a chosen Knowledge Skill) (6 CP). This stacks with Skill Emphasis, and has upgrades available.
    • Skill Emphasis (+2 to a chosen Knowledge Skill) (3 CP).
    • Specific Knowledge/True Names (Variable Cost).

With a total cost of 504 CP, a Nymic Master comes out just right – neither under- nor over-spending. Variants commonly expand on their defensive abilities or upgrade the Base Caster Levels to cover an additional field of magic (+23 CP) and reduce other abilities to buy more conventional magical or psionic abilities.

As might be expected from a character employing an entirely new magic system, a Nymic Master has some notable advantages and disadvantages. Most notably, they have the ability to employ their occult abilities as swift or immediate actions right at level one – an extraordinarily useful, if expensive, resource, and one that other spellcasters might want to dip into Nymic Magic for simply for the defensive applications. They also possess great flexibility – although that in itself is not all that unusual in Eclipse. On the other hand, they progress more slowly than most primary casters; at high levels using (caster level/3) rounded off as a spell level limit is pretty limiting compared to (caster level/2) rounded up. Almost as troublingly, few conventional magical items or spells will actually help their “spellcasting” thanks to it’s reliance on a “base”, unaugmented, skill rank for power – although they may help a Nymic Master avoid sounding like an idiot as their knowledge skill ranks go down and down each day.

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. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

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.

Eclipse and the Tier System

For today, it’s a question from Alzrius

I only recently discovered the Tier System for classes in D&D 3.5, by one of the guys over at Brilliant Gameologists, and was wondering what you thought of it.

Looking it over (the second post seems to be the most insightful), this is basically a system for ranking classes based on two factors: 1) How many relevant options they can exercise in *any* given situation (or perhaps it’s better to say “in *every* possible situation”), and 2) how powerful those options are. As you probably guessed, full-progression spellcasters that don’t have a limit to how many spells they can know top the list.

I have to admit, I find this to be a very insightful breakdown of the various classes, particularly in terms of its analysis regarding what these differing tiers mean in the context of practical game-play (particularly what the GM can expect, and should prepare for, if the players use differing-tier classes in his campaign).

-Alzrius

The Wizard of Oz as pictured in The Wonderful ...

Stop looking behind the curtain!

Well… I’ve run across the Tier system before, but – to be honest – I’ve never really had that much use for it. Most obviously, that’s because most of my games use classless systems, which makes the entire notion of Class Tiers something of a moot point. There are several more subtle reasons though, mostly revolving around the conditions under which it operates. The Tier system can be very, VERY, useful to those who are playing a classed d20 game “straight” – that is to say, when…

  • Most of the stuff from a fair number of “official” books is allowed, including at least a few badly written or edited bits*.
  • There are no special world-laws that restrict problematic abilities or other major modifications to the classes.
  • The “party” is an automatic association, instead of simply being a current group of characters (possibly one of many) with reasons to work together.
  • The game follows the default d20 pattern – a few sessions worth of self-contained set-piece challenge-rating-appropriate encounters and then a “boss fight” (and usually a level up), with a few bits of gather-information, find-the-mcguffin, social-persuasion, and bypass-the-obstacle activities thrown in along the way.
  • The game continues to relatively high levels. After all, comparing a fourth-level Wizard or Cleric to a fourth-level (whatever) is usually not all that much like comparing an eighteenth-level Wizard or Cleric to an eighteenth level (whatever).
  • The game master is handing out per-level treasure normally, and is either putting in plenty of downtime for spell research and crafting or is allowing magic-shopping.
  • And (of course) that the game is not using Eclipse or another classless system.

In that case the Tier system is reasonably accurate – and can be EXTREMELY helpful. After all, “default games” are very common; an awful lot of game masters have neither the time, nor the inspiration, to invent a world, sort through a mountain of sourcebooks for what to allow, create world laws, let parties self-select from a pool of characters rather than simply having everyone make a character, and adjust the game to complicate things or to keep things at their preferred levels. For them, the Tier system is an excellent guide to what to expect and what to watch out for.

There’s a lot of fun to be had that way – but I generally do take the time. In addition..

  • I’m not much for “level appropriate encounters”. I’ve found that it’s usually MUCH more interesting to let the players discover a strange problem, follow trails of clues to figure out exactly what it is, find that it’s far beyond their ability to deal with directly, gather information, either come up with a plan to exploit a vulnerability they’ve uncovered or gather the resources they need to implement whatever solution they come up with, and then try to pull out a victory. With that kind of adventure structure it really doesn’t matter much how powerful any individual character is; every character can find useful (and often vital) things to do, given that the “Tier 1” types can’t be everywhere at once and that they’re sorting out their own missions (which will, of course, be tailored to their particular abilities). That way special resources – such as connections and character-tailored unique items – often matter more than having an impressive range of personal powers to use. There’s an example of that over HERE.
  • I’ve allowed various freeform magic systems since the late 70’s – albeit usually limited by theme. Over that time I’ve found that cleverly applied minor abilities usually outperform poorly-applied raw power – and my games tend to make small, themed, freeform magics available to anyone who wants them. Of course, when you misuse freeform abilities, or apply more traditional talents in creative and unusual ways, there’s always a chance that things will go spectacularly wrong. Similarly, most of my games since the late 70’s have allowed some form of special talent system – something which makes little difference to a powerful character, but helps a lot with weaker ones. That also means that I’ve had a LOT of practice evaluating proposed spells and powers – which is why many of the spells and ability combinations that are favored as “win buttons” (for example, Shivering Touch) do not make it into my games. After all, if it was THAT easy, then those problems would have already been dealt with by other groups. Ergo it’s obviously not that easy – although discovering why may be an adventure in itself.
  • Problems in my games can usually be solved in many different ways – and the most workable solutions generally involve some sneaking and information gathering, some player deduction, some magic/psionics, some persuasion and negotiation, and sometimes some combat. Those tasks may be simultaneous in in different locations or they may call for a group effort (it depends a lot on how the players decide to handle a situation). When everyone can contribute in their own fashion, flexibility simply means that you get to handle whatever task it is that no one else wants to deal with (Congratulations! It’s probably the worst one!).
  • When there is combat, both the PC’s and the NPC’s in my games tend to use tactics. If the Wizard (or whatever) is really causing your side problems, than you focus your sides efforts on the Wizard and you take him or her out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Of course, the more high-level characters on both sides tend to have defense and escape effects ready – a major reason WHY those individuals have made it to high levels. That’s also why most of the “solve my problem” effects do not work on important people, serious problems, and major opponents. There are LOTS of people out there with special powers; if those important people, problems, and opponents could be dealt with so easily… they would have been dealt with long ago and they wouldn’t be important now.
  • I am throughly willing to play up the disadvantages of the various character types. Clerics had better be being very careful to stay in their gods good graces, Wizards had better look after that precious spellbook and make backups, and so on – and in the time they spend doing that, and in researching spells or making items, the rest of the party is likely to go adventuring without them (one reason why multiple characters are common). Freeform casters, or those pushing their powers, had best be prepared to deal with the possibly disastrous consequences of mistakes. If the enemy facing your party of wizards sensibly flees to a no-magic dimension… then the players will either have to play non-magical characters for a while to go after him or anticipate the eventual return of a well-prepared foe.
  • There is no strict division between “Player Character” and “Non-Player Character” in my games. The players often have multiple major characters, and equally often play secondary characters, or henchmen, or old characters from other players, or have characters retire (they sometimes play some of their children later, and sometimes they make guest appearances when the game hits something important to the character again), or simply take over NPC’s (whether temporarily or to develop one that they found interesting into a regular character). There are also quite often multiple parties, players on hold until they can start making it to sessions again, and players who want to sub-GM for a bit. This also means that parties sometimes reject particular characters, effectively putting them out of play. If the party thinks that a particular character is a pain… they do not have to take him or her along.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Tier system; it works just fine for it’s intended purpose. It’s just that it’s pretty much inapplicable to any of my games.

For some practical campaign-log examples of how things tend to go… I’d recommend the Shadowrun Yseult Sequence ( Part IPart II,Part IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIMapping InterludePart IXPart X, and Part XI – Aftermath.) – and, if you have lots of time, the Star Wars Codex log (although just the index is fairly long). The Federation-Apocalypse log is VERY incomplete, both because the game is still ongoing and because I ran out of time to keep the log up – but the last logged session was #201, so there’s plenty of material anyway. The Exalted Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice are also still ongoing, but the logs are up through session 135 (even if they are mostly from the viewpoint of a single character).

*It’s worth noting that many of the examples given for a Wizard easily solving problems have problems of their own, at least from my point of view. Again, that doesn’t mean that the Tier system is wrong – a high-level Wizard may (and probably will) have a vast array of powerful options available – but the most dramatic examples of overpowered spells and combinations of spells tend (pretty much by definition) to be among the “poorly written or edited” material, just like the worst examples of fighter feat combinations.

Thus…

  • Shivering Touch is blatantly poorly edited – Damage with a Duration? – and is very commonly disallowed as being absurdly overpowered. Lets see… Level 3, no save, 3d6 dexterity damage. Not only is this likely instant out-of-action for a lot of creatures, but it can be put into spell storing missiles. Get forty bowmen; they’re bound to get SOME twenties. Fortunately for Dragons in Eclipse they all have (of course) quite a lot of the Path of the Dragon – which means that they can take some spell absorption abilities very very easily indeed (along with a wide variety of other defenses). Thus a single problematic spell is much less of a problem in Eclipse.
  • Love’s Pain is only third level – and can thus easily be spammed. It damages whoever the target creature most loves, bypassing saves and spell resistance. How hard is it to, say, make a puppy love someone? If Love’s Pain works as described, anyone, anywhere, who isn’t immune to mind-affecting spells (right on up through the local gods) can be killed off at whim by any group who can scrape up the money for enough scrolls and get illusions that are good enough to fool a puppy. This wrecks most settings. While Eclipse, once again, offers a variety of defenses, the real answer is fairly simple; the ability to strike at a target anywhere in the multiverse calls for much, much, higher level magic – which is why Deathlink (which is similar, but more limited) from Paths of Power II is ninth level – and why the general ability to set up such a link to cast lesser spells over (in Eclipse; the Ties of Blood spell) starts off at tenth level. Ah well; even if you insist on using the spell as-is, at least in Eclipse there are plenty of defenses (and even some ways to reflect it back on the attacker).
  • Explosive Runes… Well, some particular rune must be read first yes? Won’t that kind of inhibit reading the next one even if the initial blast leaves the next set of runes intact and visible? Worse, if you write them identically – one set of runes directly over the last – only the top layer can be read at one time. If you don’t, then eventually they’ll be too much overlap for anyone to be able to read them at all. Admittedly, that kind of reasoning will only make sense to the people who consider setting-logic to be at least as important as rules-logic – but I happen to be one of those, and this IS a question about my opinions.
  • Sending in a horde of the mindless dead has it’s places – but unless you take some risks and supervise them somehow, a simple pit can take out hundreds of them.
  • There are reasons why Contact Other Plane is rarely used; it’s risky and it’s untrustworthy.
  • And really… Locate City Bomb? Even the most rules-bound game master will usually squelch that one. It involves blatant abuse of multiple items. Fortunately, in Eclipse, you can be pretty sure that it won’t work anyway. Just as an example, the Eye of the Dragon ability allows it’s possessors to automatically absorb spells that would affect them – and if they absorb an area effect, they negate it entirely. That’s a rare talent in the general population – but it’s out there. If your spell would negatively affect many thousands of people, there’s likely to be a roll-off to see who uses some special ability to negate it first.

And I hope that answers your question!

The Aegyptian Empire

 

 

  • First Was Ptah, the Opener of the Ways;
  • Striding Against Time to the Beginning.
  • The Waters Were Without Form and Void;
  • Lifeless, Dark, and Deep Beyond Measure.
  • The Breath of Ptah Stirred the Waters;
  • With the Ineffable Word of Creation.
  • The Sun Arose, Driving Back the Darkness;
  • And the Waters Dried, and Land Arose.
  • As Did the Gods, Mighty Beyond Imagining;
  • Yet Every Light Casts It’s Shadows.
  • About the Sacred Lands, the Nile Valley;
  • The Dark Waters Drew Back Yet Further.
  • Barbarian Lands Arose from the Waters;
  • Shadows of Men and Beasts Cast and Mingled
  • The Shining Gods Too Cast Their Shadows;
  • At the Ends of the Earth, Demons Rose.
  • Feeble Against the Glory of the Gods;
  • Yet Envious and Devoted to Destruction.
  • Beneath the Sheltering Mantles of the Gods;
  • Bright and New Was the Youth of the World.
  • From Beyond the Walls of the World;
  • The Demons Whispered to the Barbarian Horde.
  • Appearing as Quarreling, Primitive Gods;
  • Teaching a Dark Shadow of the True Ways.
  • Marching Even to the Boundaries of Aegypt;
  • Bringing War and Blades of Iron Death.
  • The Dark Waters Came upon the Bright Gods;
  • Demons Flowing Hidden Within Barbarian Veins.
  • Power That Was Turned Against the Dark;
  • Was Entrapped, and Did Not Return to Them.
  • The Foundations of the Earth Tremble;
  • And Demons Press It’s Borders.
  • The Ancient Gods Are Crippled and Dying;
  • And the Heavens and Earth Die with Them.
  • We Stand Against That Dread Darkness;
  • We Go Unwilling into the Final Night.
  • For While We Aid and Sustain the Gods;
  • Reclaiming Their Immortality and Powers.
  • Aegypt Shall Endure, the Gods Rise Again;
  • And Our Children Live.
    All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

    Oh come on! Aren’t they magical nexi in pretty much every setting ever? There are some conventions that you just can’t break!

    Aegypt had been invaded before; the people of the Young Kingdoms – the Libyans, Nubians and Assyrians – had all launched attacks. There had been deaths, the sacking of villages and border towns, and sometimes that had even seized a village or two – but the magic of the priests of Aegypt reigned supreme. Waves of invaders had broken upon the bulwarks of the Gods, who’s might none might gainsay within the circles of the world.

But beyond the Borders of the Earth, the Shadows of the Gods, Apophis’s Spawn, watched and waited. To the Young Kingdoms they appeared as “Gods” of their own – primitive, unjust, and brawling, but theirs, as the distant powers of Aegypt were not. When Rome was founded in the Wild Lands, the hands of Apophis’ Spawn were upon it – and they concealed their power, the devouring strength of the Dark Waters beyond the World, in the blood and banners of it’s people, suckled upon the wolf’s teat.

 

When the Legions of Rome marched on Aegypt, the priests once again turned the primordial powers of the Gods against the invaders – but this time, as the Legions fell, the powers that were used against them were stolen by the lurking darkness, and did not return to the Gods. Their ancient might, the foundation and sustenance of the world, was shaken, and the earth shook with it, vomiting fire and ash to darken the skies. In every temple the priests saw dread portents and onrushing doom – for the Gods, bereft of the power to defy time, were suddenly senile, and dying – and the earth would perish with the Gods that sustained it.

 

But in that dark vision was a glimmer of hope; the power of the Gods could not be carried back into the void beyond the walls of creation. The demons who held it were trapped in their turn, caught within the circles of the Earth until the world’s end – which approached all too swiftly – or until they are slain, and the power they have stolen freed to return to the Gods. As for the Gods themselves… they could be sustained for a time by the meager energies of mortal men, offered to them through their altars, in contests, and in rituals.

 

And so sacrifices were offered up in a steady stream; a tithe of contests to invigorate, rituals to soothe, and lives to sustain, the gods while the people of Aegypt went forth to hunt down the Spawn of Apophis – and to conquer, to send resources back to Aegypt that the sacrifices might continue and the world be sustained thereby. Numidia, Italia, Macedonia, Galatia, and Judea, the Circle of the Young Kingdoms, all were gathered into the great Aegyptian Empire as sources of contests and sacrifices, as bases for suppling expeditions into the Wild Lands in pursuit of the Spawn, and as sources of slaves and taxes to support the great quest.

 

While unrest seethes within the conquered lands, and the beast-men of the wild lands follow demonic leaders and seize the chance to attack, many of the great Legions of Rome, Beastmasters of Numidia, Heroes of Macedonia, and even Visionaries from Galatia and Judea are called upon to join the great hunt. Sadly, some hear the siren call of rebellion more clearly – even if such a path leads ultimately to the destruction of the world. Still, if any effort of the People of Aegypt can be enough, the Gods, the Earth – and their Children – will live.

 

It’s always convenient to have some clear goals for a campaign. Here it’s pretty simple; maintain stability, sustain the gods, gather allies, and hunt down the Spawn of Apophis – or watch the world end. 

OK, maybe it’s not necessarily all that simple – but it’s certainly clear. 

On Magic:

 

Divine Magic: While the powers of the Gods, and the magic that their priests can draw from them if they must, are still the greatest force within the Circles of the World, the greater magics now require mighty rituals, contests, and sacrifices to replace the power that they draw from the gods – and their priests much devote a good deal of their time to soothing and maintaining their dying Gods. Lesser magics are still fairly readily available however, and extend to fourth level effects in the great temples of Aegypt, to third level effects in most of the world, to second level in areas of great desolation where the demons have had the most impact, and only to first level effects beyond the Walls of the World.

 

Arcane Magic draws on the power of the Spawn of Apophis – and even at it’s peak is normally a weak and feeble thing compared to the glories of the Gods. Arcane Spells of up to fourth level may be cast beyond the Walls of the World, spells of the third level may be cast in places of great desolation, of the second level in most of the world, of the first level in Aegypt, and they cannot be cast at all in the great temples of Aegypt. Worse, it invariably has corrupting and destructive side effects, whether on the user or the environment.

 

Psychic Powers draw on the user’s personal energies. Unfortunately, humans don’t have all that much of those, hence psychic powers are limited to lower-end Witchcraft and (after long training) second-level psionic effects.

 

A variety of secondary power sources – pyramids which concentrate the natural energies of the land to empower nymic (“heka”) magic, veins of crystal which store the power and magic of the Sun, and similar structures, items, and places, can also power magic – but their capacity is always limited and few can power effects of above second level – although the Great Pyramid can indeed power third level effects.

 

The population is generally human, and uses the basic rules for a human being unless otherwise noted.

 

The people of Aegypt are indeed the chosen folk (or at least the ones in the magical center of the world); they may all use a variety of lesser magical devices (Charms and Talismans, although it’s somewhat dependent on their social rank and role, 6 CP), they gain a second bonus feat (6 CP), they radiate Presence (an Inspiring Word aura affecting their allies. This also provides some social benefits among the other races, although everyone in Aegypt is used to it, 6 CP), and may practice any type of “magic” within the limits of the setting save for Arcane Magic and Shapeshifting. They may not, however, use “advanced” technologies – such as iron, siege engines, windmills, improved sails and ships, and so on; the Gods have shaped their society and their forms, and so shall it remain*. Their culture tends to be easygoing and fairly classical – which is why they’ve been forced to adapt some Roman and Hellenistic notions to re-organize their society for war. They do tend to disapprove of demon-worship (even in the vague guise of “Other Gods”), but it doesn’t really matter NOW. The damage is already done.

 

*The general technology of the world is Romanesque – although there are occasional devices made possible by magical materials that could fit into considerably higher technology levels.

 

The peoples of the Young Kingdoms may use a smaller number of Charms and Talismans (3 CP), but automatically gain two skill points per level instead of one (eight at first level, 3 CP) and gain a +2 to an attribute (which one depends on their origin, 12 CP). They may use Arcane Magic, and have limited access to other types of supernormal abilities depending on their origin. They may not, however, practice divine magic beyond the most basic levels or study more than (Wis Mod) types of magic in total. They have mostly retained their cultures; the switch from Roman to Aegyptian overlords really hasn’t made that much difference. As far as the Aegyptians are concerned, the Gods told THEM how to live; if they’d wanted to give directions to the people of the Young Kingdoms, presumably they would have done so.

 

The Beastmen of the Wild Reaches cannot (normally) use Charms and Talismans, but have a limited form of shapeshifting (that can be improved on) resembling Lycanthropy (a 15 CP package – although an exceptionally valuable one due to the attribute bonuses of anthropomorphic forms) and gain two skill points per level (eight at first level, 3 CP). They may only use a single other field of magic however, although they may choose between arcane magic, secondary power sources, and personal energies. They’re primarily tribal, although there are a number of minor variants (gothic, celtic, etc). Unfortunately, many of their tribes are heavily demon-influenced.

 

 

Eclipse, The Factotum and the Seneschal

There was a request some time ago for a “Factotum” build. Sadly, I can’t build a Factotum because the class isn’t open game content. On the other hand I CAN use the mechanics in Eclipse to build something very similar – lets call it… a Seneschal.

Of course this style of build suffers from a pretty fundamental problem; “per encounter” abilities simply do not work well in any reasonably realistic setting or one where situations get more complex than expected. For an examination of the problem, look HERE. Still, all we have to do to simulate that is to limit the amount of power available during any one “encounter” and make sure that there’s plenty of recharges to that limit available.

As usual, we’re first buying some basics – Warcraft (BAB) +15 (90 CP), Saves +24 (72 CP), 6 SP/Level (138 CP), d8 HD (80 CP), and Proficiency with All Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP), Light Armor (3 CP), and Shields (3 CP).

That’s a total of 395 CP out of the usual 504 available for a base class – but as a skill-based class we’ll certainly want to make use of Fast Learner (Specialized in Skills, 6 CP) – providing 40 Skill Points at a cost of only 6 Character Points. That leaves us 143 CP to by special abilities with.

Seneschal Special Abilities:

  • Working Smarter, Not Harder: Augmented Bonus: Add (Int Mod) to (Str Mod) for Skills and Checks (6 CP).
  • I Know What I’m Doing: Augmented Bonus: Add (Int Mod) to (Dex Mod) for Skills and Checks (6 CP).
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Advanced Augmented Bonus: Add (Int Mod) to (Dex Mod) for AC purposes (12 CP).
  • Polymath: All Skills are Class Skills (Immunity/increased cross-class skill costs, Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP).
    • This isn’t a big deal in Eclipse; by default in Eclipse, any skill that makes sense for your character is a class skill – although the GM may choose to limit how many you can pick (in which case this ability is relevant). Of course, it also only takes three extra skill points to turn a “cross-class” skill into a class skill in Eclipse anyway. As a note, “Trapfinding” isn’t usually an ability in Eclipse. In Eclipse skills work the same way for everybody.
  • Contingency Plans: 3d6 (10) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted; can only be regained via the Rite of Chi, only to power special abilities each of which must be both specific and bought independently; it thus does not automatically include a branch of Natural Magic (6 CP).
  • Contact With The Enemy: Rite of Chi with +36 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/cannot be used to recover spells or power, mana may only be used to refill the user’s “special abilities only” mana pool, cannot be used during an “encounter”, must be used to top up the user’s mana pool between encounters (20 CP).
    • Basically this says that the user can refill his or her mana pool about ten times per day even if he or she runs it down to zero each time. That should more than suffice for a day’s “encounters” If the user wishes to have a bigger mana pool, buy +1d6 Mana (2 CP) and +8 Bonus Uses on Rite of Chi (4 CP) as often as desired; four to six times is usually quite sufficient.
  • Brilliant Improvisation: Immunity/the time normally required to use the Rite of Chi (Common, Minor, Grand, 12 CP).
    • This would be a big deal – natural law immunities usually are – but there’s usually at least three or four minutes to spare between two encounters. Most of the time this has no real effect, and thus there’s no real worry.
  • Clever Tactics: Natural Magic/Reality Editing, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost: the user may spend a point of Mana before rolling to gain a competence bonus equal to his or her (Int Mod) on an attack roll, damage roll, or save. This does not require any kind of action, but is the ONLY reality edit that the user may produce with this purchase of Reality Editing (4 CP).
  • Stroke of Brilliance: Natural Magic/Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: the user may spend a point of Mana without using an action before any skill check to gain an unnamed bonus equal to his or her (Int Mod) on it – but this ability may only be used once per day per skill and is the ONLY reality edit that the user may produce with this purchase of Reality Editing (6 CP).
  • Bane Strike: Natural Magic/Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: the user may spend two points of mana before an attack as a free action to add (2+ Level/2) extra d6 of damage to the attack to a maximum of 12d6. If the user misses, the effect is wasted (6 CP).
    • The original build had no inherent upper limit on the (sneak attack) damage for this ability IF you had enough points to spend – but in most cases it was still a lackluster ability. Ergo the rewrite here upgrades it (it only costs 2 points for all your extra dice, instead of 1 per die and is just extra damage, without sneak attack limitations) but applies an upper limit (which is above the original one for the base class, but below the limit if you were investing all your feats in buying extra points).
  • Inspired Moment: Reflex Training/Once-Per-Round Extra Action Variant, Mana Fueled Variant (normally costs two mana), Corrupted/actually costs 3 Mana (4 CP).
  • Gods Help Me: Positive Energy Channeling, (Wis Mod + 7) uses per day at +4 on the chart, with Spell Conversion to a 6’th level effect (Heal), Specialized for Reduced Cost: the user must spend a mana point to use this ability and the healing/infliction is limited to hit point damage up to a limit of (2 x Level + Int Mod) (note that this means that the effect on Undead is the same regardless of their save) (16 CP).
  • Taking The Shot: Luck, Specialized for Double Effect (the user may “Take 40″) in rolls to overcome spell resistance, powered by Mana instead of Uses per Day (6 CP).
  • I See A Weak Point: Augment Attack/+6d6 (21) Damage to overcome damage resistance only, Corrupted/requires the expenditure of two points of mana to activate for a round (12 CP).
  • It’s A Million To One But It Just Might Work: Arcane Shaping: Inherent Spell I, Specialized and Corrupted/only as a prerequisite, Inherent Spell II, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Easy-to-control L10 Greater Invocation / Any Arcane Spell of L7 or less) with +8 Bonus Uses (also Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost) and an Int-Based Save DC. May only produce effects of up to (Level/2.5, rounded down), only one effect of the maximum level can be produced each day, effects must be selected at the beginning of each day despite the “Anyspell” effect, it costs one mana when the effect is actually activated, any special components must be supplied normally, cannot produce effects that cost experience points, cannot select the same effect twice for any one day (12 CP).
    • This is using the cheesy “fabulously powerful inherent spell through Specialization and Corruption” trick – but those limitations will keep its effect safely below the abilities of more specialized casters and it does cost Mana, which raises the effective price considerably since you have to buy that too. As long as the build doesn’t involve too many other pieces of cheese, this is acceptable. Every build is entitled to at least a LITTLE cheese.
  • Anything You Can Do I Can Fake: Inherent Spell III/Any one (+2 levels) “Surprising Mastery” spell adding two related Complex Mental Feats (Level 5 Base, 7 Total). Uses Mana (two points to reduce the level, two points to power it, for a total of four). In Eclipse this lets the user add +12 CP worth of abilities to his or her character until the duration runs out. Specialized/limited to a maximum duration of one minute, the user only has three sets of abilities available each day, although he or she may swap them out from day to day (6 CP). (as a free action).
    • The original class could pick three “extraordinary class abilities” from a “standard class” each day, provided that each was available at level 15 or lower and “appeared in the text description for that class”. By spending four points as a free action they could emulate one of those abilities for a minute. This was a difficult ability to deal with originally; there was no definition of what a “standard class” was, some class abilities were unspecified but arguably “extraordinary”, and a lot of abilities might or might not work – such as “fighter bonus feats”. In Eclipse there are no “standard classes”, and pretty much any ability you want can be built as any kind of ability there is. On the other hand saying “you can do anything at all!” seems a bit too much. The actual intent seemed to be to allow the use of “an ability another character type picked up at a particular level” – so in Eclipse this seems pretty simple: most abilities that get picked up at at a given level cost 12 character points or less (with the rest going to skills, hit dice, saves, and other abilities). So this version of that ability lets you temporarily add 12 CP to your build.
  • Duck And Cover: Inherent Spell IV/Immediate Moment Out Of Time (L6). Much like Moment Out of Time from The Practical Enchanter, this distortion of time makes the user utterly invulnerable. Unlike it, the effect lasts for a mere instant – stopping only one attack. It may be employed as an immediate action after the damage or effect of an attack is announced. Specialized/costs 4 Mana and still expends it’s 1/day use (3 CP).
    • This was mildly tricky; normally I’d just use Reflex Training (the Extra Actions variant) to let the character escape onrushing doom (often by simply getting out of the way) – but he or she might already have used an extra action. Ergo, it has to be magical. Fortunately, that’s not too hard either. If the character wants to describe things more dramatically than “it bounced” or “I vanished for a moment” it really doesn’t matter. Go ahead and let them; it’s the mechanical results that matter as far as the rules are concerned.

And that comes out to 143 CP worth of special abilities, and a grand total (after using Fast Learner) of 504 CP – although there are a few slight improvements over the original; this version gets one extra spell, doesn’t lose the automatic (Int Mod) bonus to AC if they wear medium or heavy armor, gets one extra use of Channeling, can use their once per day “escape death” against things other than hit point damage, has a somewhat-improved attack option, and will eventually get access to ninth level spells at epic levels. I could probably save three or four four character points by fiddling around to precisely match the original model – but why bother? It would just complicate the math.

Now, if you want to purchase some upgrades, take Duties – like the Cleric and Druid. Then spend those extra forty character points upgrading; that’s enough to pay for a few more daily uses of pretty much everything, and probably for a few extra tricks to boot (I’d go for some Witchcraft; it’s the easiest way to get a pocketful of special tricks, even if most of them aren’t particularly overwhelming). As a skill monkey, be sure to scrape up a few points somewhere – possibly from Disadvantages – and take Adept at least once; that will help stretch those skill points even further.

If you want to convert to Pathfinder… Take the Pathfinder Package Deal, pick a Pathfinder Race, and spend the eighteen character points that you’ll be freeing up from the first-level skill allotment.

Personally, I still find it gratifying to find that Eclipse can pretty much duplicate character types that weren’t published until years after it was.

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. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

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.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXXXIV – The Road To Kyrgyzstan – With Hope

Late fifteenth century armor with bellows helm

“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die”

With Charles off fiddling with Alchemicals and the Fey and deep space, a distinct lack of more Kaiju sightings, at least a month (and maybe two or three) before she’d be due on the Toho movie set, Shpaiki trying to persuade people to join a volcano-god cult, the priests still keeping their recreated Deva’s more-or-less well-channeled, and no major disasters visible at the moment, Aikiko was chasing another one of her clues – all the way to Kyrgyzstan!

It was another rattling broken-down bus trip to Koktash, the nearest “city” (well, small town) to her destination – but at least the driver seemed relatively sane, even if the mountains were pretty impressive! Aikiko kept an eye out though; more than half the “marriages” in the country were apparently handled via bride-abduction, and traveling by herself certainly made her LOOK kind of vulnerable.

Not that a Solar Exalt would have any problems handling a few human would-be abductors, but it would be SO embarrassing… The people were considerably more stand-offish than the ones in South America though – and seemed much more unsettled to see a woman traveling alone. Still, outside of a few rude comments, she hadn’t much been bothered so far.

Koktash DID have a couple of small stores – and it looked like she’d be headed into some of the worst terrain in the country. She went to pick up some supplies – and to ask a few questions about the area. It was going to be a very long walk, even given the stamina of an Exalt! More importantly, walking looked like about her only option unless she started REALLY flinging money around; she was rather reluctant to involve a normal human in her search given the description of the place!

(Rustam, the shopkeeper) “You wish to hike WHERE!? By yourself?!?! Madame! Please! Reconsider! It is a three day journey, the hills are hot and without water, and the landmarks are few! To travel by yourself with but a map and this “GPS” thing (his voice shows blatant doubts) is to invite disaster! Even if you meet with no natural problems, there are said to be bandits in the hills!”

(Aikiko) “Well… what would you suggest, then? My backer won’t be happy if I don’t investigate this!”

(Rustam) “At least talk to the Genardarme’s! A bit of sweetening and they should be glad to escort you! Even, perhaps, in one of their flying machines!”

Well, dang it… The man was probably right – and she didn’t want to tangle with bandits any more than she had to. She went to talk to the cops, even if it would be a good challenge to see how easily she could manage it on her own!

As it turned out, the local cops were pretty corrupt – but it was fairly pleasantly corrupt; they’d overlook foolishness for a small fee and cover up minor indiscretions. Nothing that would really cause a stir if they were to be investigated, but enough to make life easier all around. An informal variant on “pay a fine and go home”.

Well, it was a pretty small town by western standards. No doubt everyone knew everyone and “policeman” was just a post to hand out to whoever the local big man in town owed a favor to or was exercising a little nepotism for.

(Beloit, the fellow manning the police station) “Are you in need of assistance Madame?”

(Aikiko) “Hello sir! I’ve been sent to investigate that archaeological site about three days from here, and I needed help getting up there. I was told the police could help me out with that.”

(Beloit) “Well, the site is still sealed! The… (very carefully) demiol…ogists from the capital said that it might still be quite dangerous if there were any “pockets” left!”

(Aikiko) “My backer sent me here to check the place out. He’s very interested in ancient things, and any bit of information I can get will help. Is there any way I could at least get access to the site? Even just getting a look would help!”

Beloit pretty clearly had some doubts about the “demiol…ogists”

(Beliot) “I suppose arrangements might be made for at least a look! It will be hard though, and may take quite some time! Fuel for the flying machine is so expensive, and other things must be put on hold…”

Aikiko nodded sagely – or at least as sagely as a teenaged girl could manage.

(Aikiko) “Of course, sir. (Quietly) Would there be any way for me to help make that faster?”

(Beliot, looking insincerely embarrased) “Ah, but the money from the capital is always behind and our budget is so small… It would be much easier to oblige you in this way if you could cover the fuel and such! I believe you call it… “Expense Account”?

(Aikiko) “Of course, sir.”

Well… that was perhaps not the best use of Heavenly funds, but Aikiko suspected that the Sidereals ran into this all the time.

(Beliot) “I am SO sorry to have to ask so! I would not, but there just is no allowance in the budget for such side-trips!”

Beliot cheerfully soaked his young visitor with the expense account for as much as he thought he could possibly get away with – about 400 American dollars. Aikiko thought that that was actually pretty cheap for a helicopter and pilot for the afternoon! She took it!

(Aikiko) “Hey, it’s no problem!”

The helicopter was old, battered, and very dusty – but it seemed functional enough. Beliot cheerily hung up a note to the next officer about closing the office for a bit and headed around the back to take the helicopter out… It was obviously supposed to be for rescues and ambulance work and such, but equally obviously was more often used for joyriding and rental flights. Still, it wasn’t like the corruption was NEARLY as bad as it was in Yu-Shan – and the man was friendly and entertaining enough. Not at all a bad ride!

She asked him a bit more about those bandits on the way. You never knew; some Exalt might be trying to stir up trouble in the area.

Like so many places, the local “bandits” were a cross between Criminals and Political Dissidents; they mostly come out of the hills to steal supplies. There was rarely too much violence, although over the years some people (on both sides) had been shot. There’d been a tacit truce for several years now – which was normal enough really.

Beliot did admit – among his the dismissive narratives about the heroic efforts of the police, how the bandits no longer dared to even approach the town, and how they were no menace at all to anyone now that he had (apparently personally, rather like some action movie star. Oh dear; he was trying to impress her) secured the borders – that he hadn’t heard from any of them in months.

THAT didn’t actually sound good to HER. There might be a more mundane cause of course, but she kind of suspected that they’d run afoul of something up there…

(Aikiko) “Do you think they’re planning something?”

(Beliot) “As if they would dare! If they were to try any foolishness we would stop them, Toot Sweet!”

Huh. Somewhat less confidence there… Well, no point in prying. Presumably, like most such groups, they specialized in ambushes and other guerrilla tactics – but if they WERE planning something Koktash’s six-man police force was obviously going to have trouble!

The site was about forty miles out – a quick trick by helicopter, a three to four day slog through the hills and mountains – and into just about the WORST bit of landscape to be found in the entire country. The hills were looming and dusty and – despite the more plentiful rainfall a bit further south – the area was a near-desert. Here was desolation – a few scattered bits of scrub, thistles, and weeds growing across soil that had, in prior ages, once supported prosperous farms. The dry streambeds seemed to flow with dust, as if life had been replaced by desiccation, and the land was but a hollow mask, like the flesh of a freshly-unwrapped mummy – ready to crumble at the merest touch.

And perhaps ready to do so as life sought to return once more to withered flesh.

The area was an archeological dig, probing into the ruins of the distant past – apparently a megalithic tomb, a structure dating back to the old stone age or before. Travel to the area was normally by chartered helicopter or camel caravan, but few wished to go that way at the moment; the mysterious deaths of the scientists and their crew had spooked most of the local caravan men and the police were still – supposedly – investigating. The wind moaned around the rocks, dry and hot, parching the skin, with a sound like dry reeds rustling in a lake of dust.

Huh. It was giving HER the creeps!

The actual site was even sadder in some ways, the police had put up some markers to warn people away – but they were basically a circle around an old hill with some signs of buried structure to it. According to legend, the place had been a castle belonging to a god of death, who once lured the sun itself into the depths and there entrapped him for three days while a horde of demons almost overran the world in the sheltering darkness.

There were traces of old and partially-buried walls in several places. The archeologists working assumption had apparently been that the place was once a neolithic hill fort; they had been quite excited to find an passage that went down – and had concluded that it had to be a massive tomb. The passage was a little ways to the left, carefully blocked off with some sort of spray-on plastic foam with biohazard signs stuck on it – according to the policeman, warning symbols left by the “demiol…ogists”.

International biohazard warning signs? Oh! Epidemiologists! By the gods… it was pretty much a given that it wouldn’t hurt HER, but could she be a carrier of something? That could get really REALLY bad!

Beliot was reluctant to get close. Even before the mass death, the place had a bad reputation!

(Aikiko) “So what happened here before the archaeologists died?”

There was the old story of course, and a later one that someone slept on the hill once and was driven homicidally mad by evil spirits, and a series of tales about the archaeologists and a high incidence of falls, rocks mashing feet, and many more bits of trouble – although those particular stories weren’t very credible as much beyond normal climbing-around-on-a-hill dangers.

Time to run some essence detections!

And seven successes to get them up discreetly.

There was definitely SOMETHING supernatural going on at the site. There were essence leaks all over the place. They… seemed to be mostly affecting something below the surface though. The place looked like a partially capped demesne. Necrotic essence. There was something… partway alive under the dust – but on a closer look, the plants weren’t just dry and weedy; they were all dead.

THAT wasn’t good! Charles would probably just poke around a bit and then create a life-sustaining Manse on the site. Unfortunately, she couldn’t just plop down Manses that way!

Beliot was REALLY against actually getting too close; those “demiol…ogists” had apparently said some really nasty things about the place.

(Aikiko) “Like what?”

(Beliot) “Lots about “micro-floxins”, and fungi, and “inhalation almost instantly deadly” (that one had REALLY gotten his attention), and “sealed air supply” and “containment”.

(Aikiko) “Well, that doesn’t sound very good!”

Huh… It certainly sounded like normal humans shouldn’t be anywhere NEAR the place… Maybe she could use Charles’s expanded thaumaturgy to give him life support, or knock him out, or just compel him? It wouldn’t be very nice, but letting him get killed would be worse! A compel with more money might work… Oh well! She could probably persuade him to land a little ways out and let her walk; after all, if she died, he could say that he’d never heard of her…

(Aikiko, fishing out another 400$) “Why don’t you land over there and I’ll have a closer look? You won’t have to go in with me, and I’ll even pay for it!”

(Beliot) “Ur… Are you quite sure? They were quite empathetic! I would not wish to see a young woman like yourself walk to her death! There were no survivors of the expedition!”

(Aikiko) “I’ve walked in more danger than this!”

Of course, if she told him about Mechagodzilla, that would probably be a dealbreaker; young and mad? He’d never agree! The man was actually fairly concerned!

Beliot was torn… it would be MOST bad for his karma to bring this young woman out here to die! And for his feelings! And for the fact that he’d feel obliged to try and rescue her and would feel REALLY guilty if he did not…

And that was fairly obvious on his face.

(Aikiko) “Look… I’m going to level with you. That place might be even more dangerous than what you think, and honestly, with what might be in there, *I* might be the one saving your rear. Are you absolutely sure you’d insist on going after me?”

(Beliot) “Of course!”

Well… obviously enough he’d LIKE to think he would anyway. Whether he’d actually have the nerve… Who knew? It might be a major moment of heroism for him! Of course, for a mortal, that usually meant “dead”…

(Aikiko) “Well, dammit… first, we’re going to have to give you some protection! The ‘demiologists’ are probably right about the air, and I have some ways of protecting myself against that. You on the other hand…”

On a closer look… the necrotic essence sustained and enhanced the growth of fungi – and turned them virulently poisonous. Fortunately, the effect faded once the stuff was removed; rather than being a permanent mutation. That probably puzzled the scientists no end.

Well giving him her Behemoth Cloak would be a big risk – and he couldn’t attune it anyway. Could she give a mortal life support against the dangers here with thaumaturgy? Or the Coatl that Charles had assigned her? They were so quiet that she almost forgot that they were along at times! And she did have a spare set of Charles’s Commando Armor; that would help a lot!

Aikiko attempted a Lifeweave for protection against spores, toxins, and the like with her own Adenic Thaumaturgy in the meantime – concealing it as a touch and using her anima to hide the usual display.

What with the First Excellency, channeling Compassion and the basic Adenic boost that wound up with 15 successes. With the aid of the Coatl with the secondary effects, that was far more than enough.

(Aikiko) “Okay, put this sash on.” (She gave Beliot the commando armor) “Trust me, it’ll give you all the protection you need for this!”

She discreetly helped him attune it. The Coatl had apparently convinced him that she must be a most powerful witch anyway. She had to sigh about that – that was going to have some implications for later. Still, at least she could warn Charles about the partial capping now. Come to think of it, she had the Coatl do that while she and Beliot headed in.

(Charles, on being notified) “Another damaged manse? Botheration! I have a long list of them to fix on earth after I get Yu-Shan fixed up!”

Walking across the ground – and peeling away the plastic – sent up great clouds of toxic dust and spores, which dissipated – hopefully harmlessly – on the wind. The plastic foam was obviously there for improvised containment, and the passage beyond was surprisingly broad and wide. There were the remains of a fairly fancy set of doors too – which looked to Aikiko a bit advanced for the old stone age! The stone of the walls, ceiling, and floor bore traces of tremendous heat; at some point it was – very briefly – melted, just on the surface, by (according to her investigation excellency) something INCREDIBLY hot, but which was only around for fractions of a second. That would be hard for anyone without enhanced senses to tell though, the walls were covered with mold and spores.

The remains of the doors were easy enough to step over – but doing so brought a breath of chill and definite feelings of apprehension; no wonder the scientists had blocked it off! Even if they had no idea of WHAT they were feeling or why…

Hard to say what pre-Earth period the architecture was; passages were fairly generic… Still, a bit of divination (which she was no longer bothering to hide from Beliot) said… late Shogunate? There were traces of Solar essence around though. They were very old – almost as old as the place was – but they were VERY powerful. Of course, most older Solar stuff was very powerful…

Wait, late Shogunate? Hadn’t virtually all the Solar’s been out of action then? Maybe some vengeance project done in secret by a “lucky” Shogunate Solar? But in that case, how did they get the necessary equipment and tools? Sorcery?

Well, at leas there didn’t seem to be any nasty traps!

The archaeologists obviously hadn’t gotten this far – they’d apparently died pretty much as soon as the doors had collapsed – but there were still footprints. One set. Heavy, headed out. The mold hadn’t entirely filled them… A few months perhaps. Probably from about the time that the passage had been opened.

(Aikiko to Beliot) “Hey, did you have any reports of big creatures in the area about the time those archaeologists died?”

(Beliot) “Er… well, there were some reports of a trail leading away, but there were footprints everywhere – they’d been working for more than a week! – and there didn’t seem to be anyone missing. What could be down here? It’s been sealed away for at least a thousand years!”

(Aikiko, thoughtfully) “At least until they opened the place…”

Well at least it hadn’t been Mechagodzilla’s footprints. She wouldn’t have thought that likely anyway – but she hadn’t ruled out the possibility in advance.

(Beliot) “Well, no one could live down here that long!”

(Aikiko) “Unless they were under some form of life support or suspension… the ancients were surprisingly knowledgeable. I bet if we penetrated further, we’d find an artifact for that purpose.”

Urk! Had the Shogunate used some artifact or something to make a Solar into an Abyssal for some reason? Or maybe the Solar just knew that Charm that let a Solar look like an Abyssal, and knew necromancy? Or someone thought that an Abyssal Manse would just be a good place to stick a Solar for imprisonment?

There were other chambers – partially collapsed, their once-contents scorched and burned. The melted surfaces continued.

And Beliot was looking at her very oddly indeed.

Roughly centrally under the hill there was a grand hall. At one end of a mighty stone table (or the scorched remains of one). there was a neat chunk melted out of the rock and the remains of a throne, melted into a stub. At the other end… there was a black throne, undamaged. The footprints came from one side of the melted throne. On the other side of that throne there was a mostly-melted suit of armor, partially full of crystals and bits of junk. Some of the bits were glowing faintly. It was mostly made of Adamant, with some Orichalcum and more Moonsilver – and possibly some Soulsteel, deep inside to judge from the faint moaning.

As she approached the glow brightened, and sparkling golden motes swirled into the damaged armor… She could feel the drain! Subtle but present. Motes and vitality, with most of the motes coming from her (of course) and more of the vitality coming from Beliot… The radius was large, but the effect was too slow and inefficient to really notice if you weren’t very close indeed.

(Aikiko) “Arggh! This is exactly why I wanted you to stay behind…”

She and the Coatl put up more wards! She’d feel awfully bad if he died!

That slowed it enormously – but didn’t stop it totally. It would almost certainly be a really bad idea to touch that armor! Even though the glow was brightening and pulsing…

(Beliot) “What the HELL is HAPPENING?”

(Aikiko) “The armor’s trying to suck the life out of us! I wouldn’t recommend touching it!”

Fortunately, it didn’t seem to be particularly efficient about absorbing either solar or mortal vitality and essence.

(Aikiko) “Thankfully, it’s not being very efficient – and my friends can stall it.”

It looked like the drain was mostly attuned to Lunar essence – but then one of the bent Orichalcum bits… straightened itself out into a support strut and “healed”.

Weird! Solar traces in the Manse, likely Abyssal Aspect for the Manse itself, and Lunar here? Some kind of honey trap for a vengeful Lunar’s newly reincarnated mate?

And a bit of crystal was currently… uncracking.

(Aikiko) “Okay, that isn’t good! I’d bet that if we stay here long enough, that armor’s going to form into a guardian and attack us! We should leave VERY soon.”

Crafty Observation Method turned her attention to the blast shadows burned into the walls, like the pictures from Heiroshima. It looked like courtiers and servants and such – but the styles looked like they were even OLDER than the Shogunate though. The black undamaged throne was of obsidian and soulsteel. The area had OLD wards – Shogunate era again (and not all that long past the usurpation if she was any judge) – built into the structure and supported by it’s geomancy, against information… coming in from outside? The damage was caused by Solar essence, although some areas had been shielded by immensely powerful necrotic essence… no, not JUST Necrotic – by something even deader. By Oblivion.

Had some Solar been doing experiments with Oblivion in here? But why shield against information coming in instead of information going out?

The oblivion traces were mostly by the end with the dark throne. Whoever it was didn’t bother protecting the rest of the court from the wave of solar energy though.

Terrestrial experiments with using Oblivion to build Manses?

According to the Coatl, somebody VERY powerful on the melted throne got REALLY angry. There was a lot less damage on the side of the armor that had apparently walked away; something there had absorbed a LOT of solar power. They weren’t sure that the source of that power had been an Exalt though; it seemed awfully… pure. NOTHING else. No humanity. Could have been a very OLD solar.

Did whoever this had been foul up badly enough to get a visit from the Sun himself?

The armor… had obviously never had an occupant, it was some sort of automation. Given a power source it seemed to be capable of self-repair somehow.

So a powerful wielder of Solar Essence, possibly an Essence-10 elder or perhaps the Sun in person, came to this Manse during the Shogunate. They had sat on the melted throne, and then did something violently destructive, incinerating most of the room and sending the manse into power failure (thus explaining the partial capping). The occupant of the other throne (apparently also very high-essence or even also Essence-10) had shielded himself/herself/itself from the blast with Oblivion, whereupon the being from the melted throne had departed without further conflict (from the state of the entrance passage, very quickly and while radiating enormous heat) – and the Manse, and the Automation were still functioning (at least to some extent) after being massively damaged at least thirty-five thousand yearss ago.

But where had the Oblivion come from? Abyssals hadn’t existed at that point as far as she knew!

Unless, perhaps, another Solar had fallen to the Void. But that would be truly monstrous, even if they did it with the intent of avenging the Usurpation.

Unfortunately, Aikiko botched her Lore check, and couldn’t think of any oblivion wielders – especially at Essence-10! – who’d been around at that point. After all, even wraiths normally weren’t STUPID enough to play with Oblivion; they were still around because they couldn’t let go!

The player, of course, thought of Deathlords and Nephwracks – but not the Character.

(Beliot, muttering…) “According to legend, a Castle of a God of Death, who once lured the Sun itself into the depths and there entrapped him for three days while a horde of demons almost overran the world in the sheltering darkness.”

Perhaps she shouldn’t have mostly disregarded that old legend…

(Aikiko) “A god of death… what was your god of death like?”

There might be a LOT more truth to that legend than she’d thought!

(Beliot, coming out of his reverie) “Oh, they were supposed to look like the long dead, but commanded terrible powers, and – being dead already – could not be slain. All the forces of the underworld were at their command! But all of that is nonsense!… Isn’t it?”

Oh dear. No… no it WASN’T.

(Aikiko) “We need to leave before he or she finds us! Not even I can handle tangling with one of those.”

“Now” WAS a good time to leave! The Deathlord might not be home, but she didn’t want to chance it… Especially not with a mortal present!

And one who was already starting to stagger a bit. Even with the wards, and the support of the Coatl, the place was getting to him.

She helped Beliot out. The man might take small bribes to give joyrides in the police helicopter, but he certainly wasn’t corrupt enough to deserve to have his life sucked out of him by some ancient Deathlord Automaton! Even at this point… it might take him a couple of days to recover.

Huh… Climactic fight? But there hadn’t been any signs of anything beyond one blast and one defense. Solar Elder? But were any of those LEFT at the time? Negotiations that ended poorly? That might fit…

Terrible army of demons overrunning the world, darkness, a confrontation here during the late shogunate between two essence-ten creatures who apparently met on friendly – or at least non-violent – terms for at least a little while first. area carefully barred against information coming in from the outside – and what seemed likely to have been an immensely powerful automation designed to absorb solar energies that was durable enough to survive a near-nuclear level blast of heat and to repair or reactivate itself when disturbed after more than thirty thousand years.

Wait! Towards the end of the Shogunate… A Solar, negotiating with a Deathlord to keep the fey hordes from consuming everything? Or perhaps to stop the Great Contagion? But there were hardly any Solars left at that time! Why block information coming IN from the outside? Most people wanted privacy, not to be on display while they couldn’t see out or receive messages!

Could it really have been the Sun himself? Essence-10 was pretty blasted rare! Incarnae and the occasional Elder Celestial Exalt was about it. Perhaps the Games of Divinity didn’t have as much of a hold over the Sun as most people believed? He WAS created to be one of Creation’s guardians after all… He REALLY must not have liked the Deathlord’s terms! Tricked perhaps? After all, the Sun was powerful, but he was neither omniscient nor infallible.

And evidently neither was she! When they got out… it was late night, and they hadn’t been in there more than twenty or thirty minutes. Were they in the Underworld? Ah! The helicopter was there! So they were still on Earth (and the bandits hadn’t commandeered it!)

(Aikiko) “Time is distorted here, it seems. Are you good to fly us out? I’ve got a little skill in that area.”

(Beliot) “I… should be able to manage! I need some coffee…”

Checking the time with the Adenic Network… it looked like the time ratio was about twenty-five to one. Two or three hours in there would make it two or three days outside, although they’d just blown the afternoon and evening. Freaky… but then time in the Underworld and Creation were not the same thing!

So… a Deathlord had gotten the Sun down there on some pretext and delayed him for a few hours that turned out to be roughly three days outside – and the Sun did not react well when that information finally got through. He’d gone Supernova – but whatever was going on outside was so urgent that he had simply left as quickly as possible. The Deathlord had allowed the attendants and such to get vaporized, but had handily shielded himself/herself/itself with Oblivion. The automaton on one side of the Sun’s throne had absorbed the buik of the blast on that side, but had failed to stop the Unconquered Sun.

Something seemed a little off there, but even an Investigation Excellency needed some facts to work with.

How had the Sun been lured into such a meeting? Had the Deathlord used the Sun’s insanely high Virtues against him to make it so there’d be a conflict if he didn’t negotiate? Or just called in some old favor or promise? Had the automaton been there to block the Sun’s retribution? That didn’t make a lot of sense what with Deathlords having perfect defenses.

As for the army of “Demons” that had been given time to “almost destroy creation”… Considering the period, that would probably the Raksha and Unshaped, not literal demons. The Sun erupting from a necrotic tomb had been an event important enough that it was still being passed down after nearly forty thousand years. The Sun’s wrath when he came out of the place had probably been bright and furious enough to be imprinted on the locals and all their descendants somehow. She wouldn’t put it past her patron, even if she’d never met him! Still… it was a reassuring thought that the Sun WOULD have done something about the Balorean Crusade – if he hadn’t been tricked and stalled!

And that meant that… there was a Deathlord automation on the loose that had been designed to restrain the Sun (or perhaps an Essence-10 Solar, although that didn’t seem at all likely), had managed it for at least a few moments, had been out long enough to be a hassle to track down, and was working with directives that were presumably forty thousand years out of date. That might mean that it would be easier to track, but it might also be out terrorizing the countryside based on that old programming!

Now that she was outside the wards… she got in touch with Charles about it; he could spread that warning more effectively than she could.

(Charles) “Well, that IS interesting! The Sun might have made quite a lot of difference in that mess even if he could only pull himself away from the games for a few hours!”

(Aikiko) “It seems that way, yeah!”

(Charles, with much curiosity) “Hm… A golem designed to battle or restrain the sun… That must have been QUITE an automation! I wish I could examine it!”

(Aikiko – with some brief doubts, although it WAS just a wish) “It’d have to be, to hold him. I… think it got out, too! Hopefully it didn’t get too far.”

(Charles) “Hrm… How long?”

(Aikiko) “Since the place opened! It’s been a couple of months – which, come to think of it, probably lets out random rampages.”

(Charles) “Oh dear!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, I know. Any ideas for tracking it down?”

(Charles) “Er… I don’t know how it would think… Maybe it’s looking for a Yu-Shan gate? That would be about the only way it could get near the sun again. Unless it has secondary directives perhaps”

(Aikiko, sighing) “I have no clue of what those might be, if they even exist…”

Pulling up the gate locations… It looked like Turpan and India were closest!

Beliot was too busy trying to catch his breath properly to pay much attention to Aikiko’s distraction – but it would be best to get the poor man back to his home as quickly as she could.

(Aikiko, to Beliot, as she slipped him another thousand) “Well… you’d probably be better off not talking about this – but at least I can cover your expenses! Here’s a contact number and address for me; if you see or hear of anything or anyone else going in or out of there, or hear anything weird from that area, let me know!”

Beliot could easily see when something was beyond him; he readily promised to let her know. He also thanked her – although he was worried now! If the old gods of death were real, what else was? He didn’t pester – it wasn’t like he could do anything about it – but Aikiko threw in some advice anyway.

(Aikiko) “Sprinkling salt around your doorway and house helps with their servants. If one of them actually shows up, though… yeah, that won’t help. That’s why I want you to let me know if you see anything! Especially if you see people glowing black!”

(Beliot) “Er… Certainly! This is enough to make me wish those ads were real…”

(Aikiko) “Ads? Oh! Yes, the are! And if you’ve got places like THAT in your backyard, I’d say they’d be happy to let you go through.”

(Beliot) “Seriously? In a couple of months… entire new worlds will be opening up?”

(Aikiko) “Yeah! Just think about it! Fine lands, open for the taking!”

Beliot had no idea what to say – but there would certainly be places for the youngsters to find new opportunities.

(Aikiko) “Well, thanks for your help! I’ll need the sash back, but you helped me come to some conclusions I wouldn’t have otherwise!”

(Beliot) “Well, you’re welcome Madame!”

Aikiko said her farewells – and Beliot was, in many ways, relieved to see her leaving.

She couldn’t blame him for that!

Dark Tales V – The Ship

Bulat-Pestivien Notre-Dame de Bulat Ankou 04

You were saying?

The great ports have witnessed the comings and goings of a thousand years, of merchants, of privateers, and of ships of war. Whether the port hosts ships of the sea, of space, of dimension, or of time, matters not. Here meet and mingle the currents of history, of commerce, and of culture. In that seething cauldron facts and fancy mingle in a thousand tales. Tales of heroism and valor, of adventure and exploration, of bold attempts and even of disaster are told freely, in the light.

Other tales are whispered in the darkness, and from it draw their strength.

With the rising of the mist the chill of the deeps – of fathomless space, of wild seas, and of time itself – seeps within the tavern, where wavering tendrils of mist slip beneath the door and crawl across the floor to challenge the warmth and light within, twining around the legs of the intoxicated and sending the finest of strands of scent and moisture to mingle with their life’s breath.

The voice is rough from years of shouted orders, the hands strong and calloused – and the faint swirling of mist that follows each gesture teases the eye with almost-pictures to accompany the whispered tale.

The burdens and clothing have changed across the millennia. But the faces and the scene are always the same, playing out again and again across the years, an experience shared across all the generations of man.

A frantic crowd pressed towards the docks, and the few remaining ships. Women clutched children, men clutched the tools of their livelihood, and children clutched toys and pets in incomprehension. The cries and sobs of men, women, and children for relief, for each other, for news, for food, and for water, mingled into a roaring cacophony. There were injuries in the press, and sometimes deaths. Families were broken apart by human tides, and some would never know their loved ones fates.

All sought passage at any price, if not for themselves, then for their children, to escape onrushing doom – whether war, disaster, or plague mattered not.

Kindly captains choose as best they could, crammed their vessels to capacity, and sought safe harbors for the helpless refugees they carried. The mercenary sought payment – but payment could be found in plenty for any reasonable crew; what did money mean to the refugees in the face of death?

The Ankou was large, and fast, and well able to defend itself. It’s captain took aboard the children of the pressing throng, asking of their parents a reasonable sum, and urging them to give their sons and daughters whatever they could to help them find homes in safer realms. It packed itself with the innocent and helpless – and, filled to capacity, fled the harbor well ahead of onrushing destruction.

And when they were far beyond the docks – well out of sight, where none would see… the doors were locked to separate them into manageable groups, and the children slaughtered. Whatever there was of value about them – any money or precious goods that their parents had pressed upon them, anything which could be taken from their bodies, whether before or after death – joined their passage-prices deep in the hold. The blood was sluiced away, the bodies dumped – and the Ankou took full advantage of it’s speed, racing to the next threatened port, to once more offer kindly rescue.

But then there came a port where news had at last outraced the Ankou. It was known that it had picked up a packed cargo of refugee children shortly before – far too short a time before to have taken them anywhere but into death.

The doomed crowd sought vengeance for the slaughter of innocents promised escape, for cruel murder, and for the betrayal of hope. Many died – but even the well-practiced killers of the Ankou could not stand against such a horde. Their defense and escape failed – and the Ankou foundered, perhaps dragged to it’s doom by the vast fortune in blood-money weighting down it’s hold.

Now the Ankou sails, accursed – it’s spectral crew seeking out the scattered souls of the children it betrayed long past, snatching their new incarnations – and sailing across time and space to their ancient destinations, bound to accomplish now the promises that they had broken – no matter how loud the screams of protest, for only thus may they purchase even a moments rest.

As the moving fingers still, and the mist calms, the spinner of tales rises silently and departs, vanishing into the rolling fog outside – leaving behind to pay his tab a single, ancient, coin.

The times when the Ankou may trouble the waking world are brief and far between – times of crisis, or when dark powers rise. Then terrible dreams come, and dreamers wake screaming. Fits of madness come upon folk in the street, and evil men – murders and worse – hear the call, and gather, perhaps to find redemption battling an evil darker than theirs, and perhaps to join it. With fog and darkness comes the Ankou, whether to abduct victims in “fulfillment of their oath”, to once more repeat their ancient crimes in the midst of some terrible crisis, to hold their terrible version of “shore leave”, or to recruit more dark spirits to add to the horde (or perhaps hoard) of specters which lurk beneath it’s decks.

The specters of the Ankou can be fought, and even “slain” – but none yet, however mighty, have been able to prevent them from rising again to trouble the world, has sailed with the Ankou and returned, or has succeeded in calling forth mercy from the crew’s still hearts. 

If you want to look back, here we have…

Eclipse: Castle Hieronymus

English: Picture taken in Malbork after Wikima...

Do you have ANY idea how many maids a place like this needs?

In the real world during the middle ages Castles were pretty important. It took a LOT of work – and likely a lot of casualties – to dig even a few men out of a classic castle and it would almost certainly take more time than you had to spare. If you didn’t do it, you left an enemy stronghold to your rear – a fortress from which the enemy could launch raids against your supply lines, snipe at your messengers, dominate the peasantry, hoard supplies, cash, and weaponry, control any nearby road, pass, or river, and make you look like an idiot. A castle said “I control this area, and taking it from me is going to be a long, expensive, project – maybe long enough that somebody else will grab YOUR stuff while you’re busy. Do you feel lucky punk? Well? Do ya?

Castles cost a LOT – but for many centuries, they were well worth it.

Sadly, while castles are still fabulously expensive in d20 games, they’re quite useless. Magic and psionics can bypass them or penetrate their defenses, powerful monsters can fly, burrow, or smash straight through the walls, high-level combatants can ignore masses of archers and hack their way in with adamant blades… even a spell as low-level (and thus cheap) as “Alter Self” can often completely negate your incredibly expensive “defenses”. Worse, an attempt to magic-proof the place makes it something to break even epic-level budgets. You get far better results spending that money on building up your personal power.

But everybody likes a castle. Like cathedrals, and pyramids, and other huge structures, they’re impressive, dramatic, interesting, and picturesque. They’re a classic part of fantasy.

To make them worth building in d20 they need to be cheap – yet we really don’t want to have “castle acres development, a man’s castle is his home, have yours built today!”. We want them to be cheap for high-level characters and expensive for everyone else. Thus The Practical Enchanter included the Rod of Fortification – an item that made it cheap and easy to build castles and other structures. Of course, the cost of the rod itself was so high that they tended to be mighty treasures of kingdoms and Emperors – who could thus make public works and fortifications on the cheap, even if no one else could.

Of course The Practical Enchanter also noted that basic castles were really only useful against hordes of orcs and similar annoyances.

In Eclipse what we’re interested in is how individual characters get to have castles and what they can actually make them do (I, at least, prefer to have them actually be useful) – and the one thing that high level characters have in abundance that no one else has to spare is character points.

So how can an individual Eclipse character spend a few points to get a castle, cathedral, or similar mighty structure?

Living in your basic, ineffectual, castle, cathedral, or whatever – with walls, towers, and so on, but no actual magical features – is just a minor privilege (3 CP). You may need to spend a little money on upkeep and such, but that’s doable. After all, in d20 your basic castle looks cool and has lots of room to keep your stuff – but in game terms it doesn’t really accomplish much unless the game master gives you a circumstance bonus to diplomacy.

For building serious strongholds the ability you want is Sanctum (6 CP). That gives you an extra 24 CP only when you’re at a particular location – and it’s certainly reasonable enough to use those points to build, equip, and staff, a castle, cathedral, mages tower, or similar facility.

So spend those twenty-four character points to buy yourself…

  • Leadership/Specialized in Basic Stronghold Staff – servants, repairmen, minor clergy, cooks, a couple of mages with repair spells, your friendly alchemist, and so on – for half cost (3 CP). While your staff won’t include mighty priests or mages, manufacturers of advanced items, and adventurous types, the fact that you’re buying this with Sanctum Points means that they won’t be going on adventures with you anyway. You can still take advantage of supporting a few scholars who answer difficult questions, having your helpful alchemist make supplies for you, and so on. Even someone with the advanced version of the Maker of Potions, Talismans, and Scrolls ability is within reason.
  • Professional/Architecture, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/only counts to decide what Mystic Artist features you can have in your sanctum, can only be applied to the sanctum rather than – say – several rooms with individual properties (6 CP). This means that by the time you really start wanting a stronghold, you’ll probably be able to include some pretty worthwhile features in it – and you can change them around as you get to be higher level.
  • Mystic Artist/Architecture with Seeking, Specialized for Double Effect/the user may only create one structure at a time, Corrupted for Reduced Cost/all abilities must be at least quasi-military and must target either the Residents / Defenders or the Attackers (8 CP).

This is where the real “meat” of your citadel comes from; with Mystic Artist your castle, cathedral, dungeon, or what-have-you can offer its residents and defenders substantial advantages regardless of the exact architectural details. Thus, if your stronghold offers it’s defenders a big bonus to their armor class and saves it doesn’t matter whether they’re sheltering behind arrow-loops, on the curtain wall, on the stairs, defending the final bastions, or sallying forth; they get those bonuses. This means that the attackers can break through the outer walls, strike from above, or what-have-you without you having to recalculate everything. What’s that you ask? What can you buy? Well, lets say that you’re level six, and thus get +18 to your Architecture Skill for the purpose of sorting out what you can put into your castle (as high as you need for quite a lot of good stuff). You WILL, of course, use the Harmonize effect (Minimum Skill 12) to let you take two choices two abilities – so here’s a sampling of the many different effects that you could select:

  • Fortification (Greatness, Minimum Skill 9): Your defenders are greatly aided by the numerous defensive and offensive features of your architecture, gaining all the benefits of two Positive Levels (Eclipse, page 86) while they’re there or in the immediate vicinity. The effects can never be changed once selected, hence this is actually hundreds of different abilities. It’s also a very good choice, which is why it’s first, instead of being in alphabetical order like the other choices.
  • Axis Mundi (Freedom, Minimum Skill 15): Defenders affected by unwanted spells are automatically affected by a Break Enchantment effect at the owners level once per unwanted effect.
  • Every Advantage (Excellence, Minimum Skill 12): Your architecture encourages teamwork and specific tactics. Your defenders gain +4 (Morale) Bonuses to their Attacks, Damage, Saves, and AC. (Another ability with many, MANY, variations available).
  • Glorious Bells (Serenity, Minimum Skill 18): When these bells ring (up to twice per week), every defender gains the equivalent of a nights rest – eliminating fatigue, regaining hit points, attribute points, uses-per-day powers, and so on, in an instant.
  • Harmonious Layout (Amplify, Minimum Skill 9): All spellcasters on your side gain a +4 bonus on their effective caster level while in your stronghold. This doesn’t give them more spells, but it may upgrade their effects.
  • Horns of War (Emotional Auras, Minimum Skill 12): When sounded (up to once per hour) these horns produce a Terror effect on all enemies in and about the stronghold.
  • Runes of Despair (Emotion, Minimum Skill 3): Attackers suffer a penalty of (-12) on attacks, damage, and saves against mind-affecting powers – although they do get a save.
  • Warded (Block, Minimum Skill 3): Your stronghold is virtually impervious to magic designed to change or damage it, including Rock to Mud, Move Earth, Passwall, Disintegrate, and so on.

Now that makes a reasonably effective castle. A basic garrison – or even a bunch of local commoners – is likely to be able to put up quite a fight against a swarm of basic orcs or goblins when they’ve got two positive levels and a good chunk of bonuses on their side. The advantage isn’t so noticeable when the characters are higher level, but it will still help. That means that our relatively-cheap castle serves at least part of the purpose of a real one; it gives the defenders a substantial advantage over the attackers – and it’s cheap enough that a character might well opt to own a castle or other stronghold.

  • A single Contact – the Local Overlord. This is pretty much required if you’re going to build a stronghold in their realm; you really don’t want the local ruler to be demanding to know just who you are and who said you could build a castle there. Fortunately, simply knowing someone – even someone important – only costs (1 CP). Of course, since you’re paying that one-point cost with Sanctum points, the local ruler will ONLY be interested in you as the lord-of-the-castle, high-priest-of-the-cathedral, or what-have-you. Honestly, that’s probably a good thing.
  • Finally, you ARE an adventurer, and you’ll want some extra security. Ergo, the last six points available from Sanctum are going to Leadership with Exotic Followers/Traps, Animated Objects, and Wards, Specialized for Reduced Cost: these don’t heal, have to be repaired if damaged, have to be installed instead of just showing up, are integrated into your stronghold and thus effectively immobile, and must be manually upgraded as you increase in level (6 CP). Go ahead. Put in those traps, add some animated siege engines to defend the place, at high levels you can have the entire building “animated” (to represent a variety of defenses), and at even higher levels you can add a Ward Major to the place.

Animated Door: CR 1/4’th. Animated Doors will open themselves for authorized personnel, and stay resolutely closed (relocking themselves as needed) against the unauthorized. If forced open they will wait for an appropriate moment and then try to slam themselves on the intruders fingers or any other handy body part for 1d4 damage. Otherwise they can generally be treated as small animated objects.

For an Advanced Castle you’ll want to invest a few of your personal character points – I’d say six, so that even if you’re not playing Eclipse you can try to talk your game master into allowing the “Stronghold” and “Mighty Fortress” Feats – and take three more abilities for your stronghold from the following list (all Specialized and Corrupted/only available in your Sanctum):

  • Court Connections (Action Hero/Influence): When you’re at your castle, and backed by your network of connections and agents, you can influence large-scale politics.
  • Guardian Beast (Companion): A powerful beast roams the area near the stronghold and defends it. Alternatively, and with the game masters permission, this may be used to add a Ward Major to the holding.
  • High Justice (Mystic Artist/The Celebrated Way/Bardic Immunity, Requires Taxation): You can get away with outrageous behavior, assault the peasants, ignore local laws, and so on because you ARE the law in the area.
  • Laboratory (Researcher): In your laboratory you may research new spells, powers, and items at half the usual cost in time and money.
  • Nobility (Mystic Artist/The Celebrated Way/Fame): Your holdings now include a noble title. You get invited to all the best parties and social functions and are recognized all over the area.
  • Occult Foundry (Action Hero/Crafting): Tapping into the resources of the area you dominate, you may produce a modest supply of magical devices at reduced cost.
  • Power Nexus (Metamagic/Battle Magic): With the aid of the mighty nexus of power woven into the very structure of your stronghold, you and your aides may work together to weave spells to blast besieging armies.
  • Ritual Chamber (Occult Ritual): With the aid of your vast heaps of components you can attempt may feats of ritual magic.
  • Scrying Maze (Cloaking): Divinations about your castle will reveal that the servants are busy cleaning, cooking, and doing the things that servants do – in excruciating detail – but will reveal nothing about you or your activities.
  • Spirit Forge (Create Item or Create Relic): With the aid of this mystical forge you can craft a type of item that you normally couldn’t.
  • Taxation (Mystic Artist/The Celebrated Way/Wealth, Requires Nobility): Taxing the locals allows you, your family, and your friends, to live in a fine lifestyle indeed, pretty much ignoring basic expenses.

Thus, for a mere twelve character points – the equivalent of two Feats – you may build yourself quite a citadel. While it will be hard to take it adventuring with you, it can provide you with some useful facilities and backing. Whether or not that’s a worthwhile use of twelve character points is up to you.

On the game masters side… an abstract stronghold is a LOT easier to deal with than an actual castle design; you don’t need maps, you can just narrate the exciting breakthrough and struggles on the stairs rather than sorting out the hit points of the walls, fiddling about with fields of fire, and recalculating everything as the battle moves around – and it can be handled with a few notes. This way you can go from the players plan of attack (possibly worth a few circumstance bonuses) straight on to the interesting bits.

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.

Eclipse – Leading the Way

English: Ottoman Grand Vizier Ahmed Tevfik Pas...

Hey, I’m EVIL, not poorly-dressed!

The Evil Grand Vizier sighed… yet ANOTHER group of rebel adventurers had been ambushing the troops, the tax payments were being plundered by thieves, the peasants had been squeezed dry, and revolt was in the very air. Normally he would have been plotting to exploit the chaos – but when you served a Dark Lord, plotters tended to have a short life expectancy! Best at the moment to actually offer useful advice…

Dread Lord Davian? The problem is twofold; hiring minions is expensive – and as those pesky rebel-adventurers defeat them, they’ll gain experience for doing so, and will become an ever greater threat to you, your Dark Lordship! Fortunately, there IS a solution… Study the arts of Leadership! That will give you everything you need – and since whatever you invest in is a part of your power, just as if you had summoned creatures, defeating THEM will not provide those pests with any precious experience points at all! Instead, your followers will become an outer layer of your personal defenses, and so they will gain nothing unless they can somehow reach and defeat YOU directly!

And the Dark Lord looked upon the Evil Grand Vizier’s advice, and it was good.

So the Dark Lord had his Evil Grand Vizier assassinated for being too unwholesomely clever by half, and took Leadership, and set to work.

Leadership gets you “followers” – potentially very exotic ones. After all, in Eclipse pretty much anything with a Challenge Rating is eligible – and Eclipse explicitly permits variants on abilities anyway.

  • Do you want a lair filled with deadly traps, but lack an endless stream of gold? At least in the Dungeon Master’s Guide traps cost a FORTUNE! Well, traps have Challenge Ratings – and so you can take Leadership and fill the your lair with traps and dangerous terrain on the cheap. If you opt to specialize it and make it an immobile location, you can either take it more cheaply or get more powerful traps. If you don’t make it immobile, you can emulate the Roman Legions (who were not big on unnecessary expenses) and set up a few traps and barriers around your campsite each night. There really is no reason why a covered pit a foot deep with some pieces of sharpened wood at the bottom, a few bear traps, or some sharpened stakes stuck into the ground pointing outwards, should cost thousands of gold pieces.
  • Do you want horrific undead guardians for your vaults and (eventual) tomb? Go ahead and take Leadership for those undead minions – and Specialize it (they can only be set to guarding your vaults and tomb deep underground) for double effect. That will give those cunning rogues and annoying adventurers some real trouble (and, as a plus, if they kill you any of them who can will get out to ravage the countryside… If you have to lose, at least you can make them pay!). Do you prefer other kinds of monsters, or just want to fill your cathedral (no matter what the faith) with a mass of guards, sub-priests, and aides? Leadership again, and (once again) you can Specialize it if you can’t drag your staff around with you.
  • Do you wish to be a Mentor, and see your children, and perhaps your friends children, starting off as something better than an all-too-likely-to-die first level type with little or no training? Take Leadership and go ahead and give them some levels. If you can start a tradition of mentoring and get the kids to work on picking up a few levels after leaving your care you might even be able to produce a relatively stable dynasty.
  • Do you want to have some intelligent items without having to worry about them arguing with you or each other? Go ahead, take Leadership and get your items imbued with some helpful spirits. Do you want a castle that can take care of itself at least a little bit while you’re away? Get a Colossal (or larger!) animated structure and perhaps some animated siege engines and minions with mending spells to defend it; the challenge ratings for animated objects are rather low. Go ahead; garrison the place with giant scorpions while you’re at it. I won’t tell.

Of course, you can use Specialized and/or Corrupted versions of Leadership to represent many other things; are you using long-term summonings to get your followers from other dimensions? Corrupted/your minions are vulnerable to banishments and the like. Are they fairly mindless? Do they have a more-or-less serious set of shared weaknesses? Are they not as loyal as they might be? Are there some spies among them or are they just prone to gossip? Specialization or Corruption again.

Don’t leave Leadership to those ungrateful player-characters, or let them ascend to ultimate power strapped to an experience-point rocket. Make them work for it by defeating your minions first! After all, if it wasn’t for the villains and monsters they’d all still be first level peons!

RPG Design: Improvisational Systems

Prairie Dog

You Shall Not Pass!

With a well-practiced game master you don’t really need a game system to run a good game – but the more complicated the game gets, the more it helps to have some sort of system. Since it’s been mentioned a few times, here’s an example of quickly creating a system to fit a game.

Once there was a gathering of several gamers. And the gamers became bored, and wished to play SOMETHING. Yet all that was available in the way of “gaming supplies” was some scrap paper and a deck of cards – and so the setup went something like this:

Huh… OK; I’ve got a deck of cards. You each get seven. Clubs are for physical actions, Spades are for skills and mental stuff, Hearts are for magic, and Diamonds are for luck. When you want to do something important, you spend an appropriate card; higher is better and goes first. You can add a second card to an action, adding it’s value (Jack 11, Ace 14); it can be of another suit if you can explain how it’s supporting what you want to do. You can do something active once a turn and can do defensive stuff any time. When you use up your cards, you get a new hand*. If you can’t defend against an attack, you get a level of damage, you can be Healthy, Battered, Wounded, Gravely Wounded, or Dead. Each level of damage gives you a -1 penalty on totals. Pick three kinds of actions – melee attacks, or athletic feats, or some such – and decide which gets a +2, a +4, and a +6 on your totals. Pick two magical fields that you can use and give one a +2 and the other a +4. Those are your talents. You’re free to ask how difficult things are before you try them, but on risky stuff I’ll draw a card myself and apply it’s value -7 to your total. You live by gathering in a peaceful primitive village with only a few simple hand tools. Your village is currently being threatened by terrible giant monsters who seem to be massing to attack a few miles away. What are you going to do about it?

*Which led to an interesting dynamic; did you hold a good hand for critical moments or spend it them moving the action along? If you had bad cards, you looked for ways to use them up – and get a new hand – without actually failing at important stuff. Thus less-than-ideal actions tended to be far more common than moments of spectacular success.

When it came to NPC actions, I drew three cards from the remaining deck and used what I could. When the question of “equipment” came up, I let them each have three simple items (such as a spear (sharp stick), club/prybar (sturdier stick), knife (sharp flake of stone), rope (some string, either scavenged or made from grass) or a belt (some string around their stomachs) that would hold up to two pieces of equipment to free their hand-paws), each worth a +1 to +3 on appropriate actions depending on quality and applicability. When “cooperation” came up I said that – if you had someone helping you – they could play a secondary card instead of you. When Healing came up, the rule was “With appropriate magic, one level per day; right away if cards are spent, overnight otherwise. Without appropriate magic one level per week”.

What with the somewhat vague descriptions of the gigantic creatures attacking their town –

Terrible giants, with huge, crude, axe-like weapons following a monstrous growling creature with a huge, blunt, and almost featureless head on a double neck, all of them towering to the sky and communicating in terrible deep, slow, rumbles, like constant thunder that you feel vibrating through your body with the trembling of the earth! Fortunately, they seem to have camped at the moment, gathering their forces for the attack!

it took the players quite some time to figure out that their characters were actually Magic Prairie Dogs and that the “attackers” were simply a human construction crew with bulldozers and shovels who wanted to get started on building a development.

Shifting from direct attacks to a campaign of equipment sabotage, the magic prairie dogs eventually ran the project so far over budget that it was abandoned, saving their village!

And everyone had a lot of fun with it. In fact, they had enough fun that there were several later requests in between larger campaigns for a return to the lands of the Magic Prairie Dogs – albeit with a few advanced rules.

For the Great Prairie Dog Migration I differentiated the characters some more – introducing Attribute Scores (+4, +2, +0, -2, assigned as desired between Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades; these modified the score of your primary card in an action) and adding a rule for character advancement (after each game they survived your prairie dog got a +1, or two +1’s if they did cool and interesting things, to add to their list of Skills and Fields of Magic – either boosting old ones (to a limit of +7) or adding new ones.

For Prairie Dogs in the Big City I added formal rules on Humans (+13 on Feats of Strength, +13 on Resist Injury, attributes as per Prairie Dogs, -6 on Agility and Perception totals, inflicts two levels of injury with a successful attack on much smaller creatures, can only spend Hearts on resisting injuries and technology – their form of “magic”. If there were any human PC’s they’d use the same rules as Prairie Dogs otherwise, except that their magical fields always involved technology) and Animals (+13 on appropriate specialties, larger ones caused two levels of injury with successful attacks and resisted injuries at +13. Could only use Hearts on notable special traits – dogs tracking by scent, cats being stealthy, and so on. Black-Footed Ferrets were very very dangerous given that their speciality was killing and eating prairie dogs).

For Prairie Dogs: Making Contact I added a quick list of sample difficulties, ranging from 5 (automatic for pretty much anyone with a decent applicable skill rating) on up to 40 (the stuff that wasn’t quite totally impossible – calling for Aces and Kings, a high attribute, high skill, and at least basic equipment). I don’t know where that particular scrap of paper wound up, but it really wouldn’t be very hard to reconstruct.

Unfortunately, that particular group is currently scattered across many states – so we probably never will get to Prairie Dogs: Colonization (adding rules for using magic-boosted technology to achieve FTL, and aliens) – but those rules probably wouldn’t be more than another few sentences anyway.

  • Beware ye praerie dogs, my sons!
  • With jaws that bite, and claws that catch!
  • Beware the Dozers Blade, and shun
  • The furious magic blast!
  • He took his sharpened twig in paw:
  • Long time the human foe he sought —
  • So rested he by the vehicle park,
  • And stood awhile in thought.
  • And, as in silent thought he stood,
  • The Bulldozer, with eyes of flame,
  • Came smashing through the prarie soil,
  • And rumbled as it came!
  • One, two! One, two! And through and through
  • The gnawing teeth did wires cut!
  • He left it dead, the driver fled
  • And went galumphing back.
  • And, has thou slain the Bulldozer?
  • Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
  • O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
  • He chortled in his joy.

-With all due credit to Charles Dodgson, A.k.A. Lewis Carroll and his original Jabberwocky…

Rising to the Challenge

eXperience Points?

EXperience Points?

“Challenge Ratings” are one of the basic elements of the d20 system; they’re built into it’s assumptions about combat, level advancement, and treasure. Given how fundamental they are, it’s rather troubling, if no surprise, to note that they never have worked very well.

The definition is pretty simple: “The average level of a party of adventurers for which one creature (of this type) would make an encounter of moderate difficulty”.

An “encounter of moderate difficulty” is defined as one that the player characters should win handily at the cost of using up about 20% of their resources – hit points, spells, magic item uses, and so on – in doing so. Straightforward enough, at least if you disregard that this says that – if a character has a fully-charged Wand of Fireballs – it should be used at least ten times during such an encounter, that – since near-limitless out-of-combat healing is fairly easy to get – any hit point loss short of death is irrelevant, and that this pretty much decrees that anything except a straight combat encounter is irrelevant. That even discourages more complex combat goals; how often do you see things like “silently”, or “capture alive”, or “don’t set off the magic-sensing alarms”, or “we want to leave them alive and blaming someone else”, or “don’t give them a chance to destroy the papers they’re carrying or use area effects that might do it yourselves”, or “rescue the extremely vulnerable hostages”, or “protect the ritualists while they work”, or “get some barriers up and the doors closed to keep their reinforcements out”, or “do not hurt the possessed child”, or “grab the target and escape, without trying to fight the overpowering foe”, or even “we want to leave them with no memory or evidence of anything except having briefly dosed off” (a popular goal in espionage settings) come up?

Thus a classical “Challenge Rating” for a creature mostly comes down to “how menacing is it in a straightforward fight?” – and that tends to be more-or-less guesswork to start with. After all, even if you used some sort of standard party and encounter setup to determine challenge ratings, how can you enforce a standardized level of optimization, average tactics, and a generic “white room” encounter setup, on everyone out there who’s actually playing?

Once circumstances and parties start getting even a little odd – Cage Match in Dead Magic Zone! Iron Golem in a Room Seething with Magical Fire! Party members all laboring under the effects of two or three curses each from that evil high priest in the last room! “Thieves Guild” Party of Rogues and Bards with a token Ranger! Party of Heavily Optimized Clerics and Druids! The Goal is to convince the Princess to marry you without leaving traces of magic or psionics on her, not to kill her! Magic of above third level doesn’t work in the setting! Monsters are being unusually clever or stupid! Players are tactically skilled or terribly inept! – “Challenge Rating” ceases to be worth much even as a guide.

I once had a player who possessed such bad luck, and such a dire anti-genius for tactics and plans, that I gave him a 12’th level cleric to play when the rest of the party was level four. That made his character just barely worth having along – although (usually after some especially spectacular failure) the other players occasionally discussed abandoning their disaster-prone priest when the player wasn’t around. Still, for good or ill, they pretty much always decided that having someone around with access to healing magic that powerful was worth putting up with the disastrous decision-making.

There are just too many variables in d20 games to really assign fixed challenge ratings to particular creatures. Even in Eclipse, where you can calculate precise costs, you can’t really account for playing skill, character (or creature), optimization, spell exploits, tactics, and circumstances.

Fortunately, there is another way – in fact, a fairly classic one.

When designing an encounter forget the “challenge ratings” in the books and just eyeball it. You should know your party and players tolerably well; set it up to make it interesting, gauge the challenge rating afterwards, and then hand out appropriate treasure. Was the opposition using more equipment than that in the fight? Well, it was limited-use boosters that are now used up, personal powers that made normal items act like they were magic, and other stuff that the players cannot readily turn into loot. As for determining the actual challenge ratings to calculate that experience and treasure…

  • If the players breezed through your encounter trivially, it wasn’t worth experience. It doesn’t matter if it was a battle with a god; if your uber-charger went first and wiped it out with his or her initial charge… well, it’s pretty obvious that it was not a worthwhile challenge. There might be a little treasure around, but it’s going to be small change.
  • If the players handled it readily, but did have to work a bit and spend a reasonable chunk of their resources, the challenge rating was (their average level – 2).
  • If the players had to work hard to win, and spent a good chunk of their daily resources doing it, then the challenge rating was (their average level).
  • If it was a really serious struggle, casualties were likely, and they spent a BIG chunk of their daily resources, then the challenge rating was (their average level + 2).
  • If it was a horrific “boss battle”, the players had to give it everything they had, and a total party kill looked possible, then the challenge rating was (their average level + 4).

Now for some modifiers…

  • If the players employed scouting, planning, sensible tactics, and preparations to make what would have been a hard battle easier, raise the final effective CR by +1 with a minimum of (the groups average level – 2).
  • If the players were outright brilliant, and thus made it look easy, raise the final effective CR by +2, with a minimum of (the groups average level).
  • If one of the players had a stroke of genius that awed the entire table, and so managed to turn what SHOULD have been a tough encounter into a cakewalk… raise the final effective CR by +4, with a minimum of (the groups average level +2).
  • If a player character died heroically during the encounter, raise the final effective CR by +1.
  • If you wish to encourage stealth and negotiation, be sure to award experience for bypassing creatures or dealing with them by persuasion to reach other goals. Optionally, add +1 to the final CR if the group restrained themselves to keep the death and violence to a minimum.

Now the basic system is slanted towards slightly slower-than-usual advancement, but if you want to change that, just add +1 to the final CR’s.

So why SHOULD a groups “experience points” depend on how much trouble they had dealing with an opponent? Is it just that hard fights are more of a learning experience? Why should that affect the amount of treasure?

Well, if you need to justify it beyond “it keeps the game working”, remember… “Experience Points” have nothing to do with actual learning. I’ve studied a lot of things, and I’ve had a lot of experiences – and none of them have suddenly allowed me to learn a new language, or to pick up the ability to cast spells, or abruptly become an expert in a field, or any of the other things that gaining experience does for a character. Looking at what “experience points” actually do in the setting, “experience” is pretty obviously a form of magical energy that accumulates in people and items under various circumstances – mostly during combat – and transforms them when it reaches various thresholds.

So you dealt with a situation too quickly and easily to properly release (or perhaps generate?) that power or to absorb it properly? Then you don’t get much (or perhaps any) “experience” – and the energies that you thus wasted flooded out into the world and into your opponents equipment uncontrolled.

And uncontrolled, random, transformations are far more likely to turn valuable items into junk than vice-versa.

As a side benefit, that bit of metaphysics explains why encounters of lower CR’s provide progressively less experience; a high-level character is already too highly charged to absorb any more from such a weak source; if anything, the flow tends to be the other way – thus any really weak creatures that survive an encounter with a high-level opponent are likely to find themselves filled with “experience points”, even if they only managed a fighting withdrawal.

Eclipse d20; Pandering to the Martial Arts

Panda

Yep. These Guys. And Yes, I Know That That’s Unlikely.

Once upon a time, in the Dark Days of 1984, from the hellish pits of parody, there rose the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. All too soon those same pits convulsed, even their horrific depths unable to hold the warped entities that parodies of parodies had spawned – birthing the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants, and more.

And yes, at the time I picked up a few of those titles; the local game store also sold comic books and I couldn’t resist the absurd titles of the first (and sometimes only) issues. They weren’t really worth READING – but just holding the proof that someone would actually publish such a thing was worth the small cost. After all, I STILL find amusement in the thought that I actually own those things today – nearly thirty years later. It’s not easy to stretch a couple of bucks into thirty years of occasional smiles.

And then someone took it semi-seriously; in 1985 there arose Panda Khan – the leader of a tribe of Mutated Giant Martial Artist Pandas a thousand years in the future. Today, of course, the World of Warcraft has the Pandaren, you can find mystic panda martial artists in Jadeclaw, and you even see them in movies, such as the euphonious Kung-Fu Panda.

So, OK: here we go, as a special request – and as an illustration of how to use the Witchcraft system to build characters with low-level powers – here is a Martial Artist Panda build. Straw hat optional.

Heng Xia (Constant Sunrise)

1’st level Mutant Panda Mystic Martial Artist (ECL 2).

The quiet village nestles in a mountain valley, surrounded by terraces who’s flowing waters nourish bamboo forests and rustling gardens. Scattered across the area and among the peaks are many much stranger facilities – caverns of whirling wooden dummies, flaming cauldrons, uneven posts, thundering waterfalls, glaciers to meditate on, labyrinths of traps, gardens of weird herbs, and the materials for training in a thousand obscure styles. Here gather students from many lands, would-be heroes, adventurers, and masters seeking obscure lore – for here the inhabitants have a birthright out of legend, an inherent ability to intuitively master even the most obscure of martial arts.

Still, in every generation, a few talented youngsters wish to become adventurer’s themselves, rather than farming, teaching, and cultivating inner serenity and power.

Heng Xia is the latest such youngster to venture out into the wider world – cheerful, friendly, enthusiastic, and more than a bit innocent and overconfident in his skills. Still, surely he can find a few more experienced adventurers who can use his skills in their battles against the forces of evil.

Mutant Panda Racial Modifiers (63 CP/+1 ECL).

  • +2 Strength, Specialized/they’re bulky, rare, terribly easy to identify, and rather conspicuous (6 CP).
  • +2 Constitution, Corrupted/they do not get this bonus if they don’t stick to a diet of at least 98% vegetables, the great majority of it bamboo. If they fail to do so, they lose the bonus until they’ve spent at least a week on their proper diet again (8 CP).
  • Natural Weapons/1d4 Claws or Bite (3 CP). OK, that’s not very high – although their racial martial skills can certainly help out – but honestly, Pandas are not the most effective attackers out there. There are Panda attacks – mostly when people climb in with them or try to hug or handle them – but they’re generally a lot less damaging than attacks by other bears.
  • Defender/Natural Armor Variant, Specialized for Double Effect / Cannot use Medium or Heavy Armor since it causes problems with their fur (and with the fact that they may need to eliminate feces up to forty times a day, a fact which will not be discussed further) (6 CP).
  • Adept: Pays half cost for Climb, Tumble and their choice of two Martial Art skills. (6 CP). In settings with condensed skill lists, substitute appropriately.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect, Corrupted/points automatically go to keeping their Racial Adept skills at maximum out (4 CP). Yes, this means that Mutant Pandas are inherently master martial artists.
  • +3 Racial Bonus to each Racial Adept Skill (6 CP after Adept).
  • Occult Sense/Low-Light Vision (6 CP).
  • Naturally Focused Chi (Witchcraft III): Specialized and Corrupted/they must maintain a strict code of honor (as approved by the game master), train regularly, and maintain their personal disciplines to keep their natural powers focused and usable, all powers must be set up as “martial arts” effects – usually specialized in particular applications. These limitations do NOT apply to further purchases of Witchcraft abilities (6 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in recovering Power only (6 CP).
  • One Racial Bonus Feat of Choice (6 CP).

Basic Witchcraft (“Chi”) Abilities: While the Witchcraft powers are racial abilities, the selection of abilities, and their exact expressions (since specialization is requried) are up to the individual character. Since basic Witchcraft abilities are extremely versatile, this offers our mutant pandas access to a tremendous variety of “legendary martial arts techniques” – even if no individual panda will have access to more than a dozen out of those hundreds of possibilities. Secondarily, Witchcraft provides a good deal of power at low levels, but develops very slowly thereafter – leveling the usual level-based power curve considerably.

In this case our Panda Mystic has chosen to develop…

  • C’hi Focus/Healing specialized in Self-Healing for Double Effect.
  • Light Foot/Hand of Shadows Specialized for Double Effect – allows running up walls, breaking falls, short dashes over water, tremendous leaps, and impossible acrobatics,
  • Vital Strikes/Elfshot Specialized for Double Effect, only to add special effects to melee attacks, although this allows a DC 15 Will save to resist.
  • Serenity of Spirit/The Adamant Will, Specialized in Resisting Mental Control for Half Cost.
  • Breath Control/Hyloka, Specialized in Personal Effects for Half Power Cost.
  • Shattering Strike/Infliction, specialized for double effect/requires a physical attack to focus it. Will DC 15 to half the effect.
  • Vanishing Stance/Shadowweave Specialized for Half Cost in Augmenting Stealth.

Racial Bonus Feat: Fast Learner, Specialized in Warcraft for Double Effect (6 CP).

Basic Attributes (32 Point Buy): Str 12 (14), Con 12 (14), Dex 14, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 14

Available Character Points: 48 (L1 base) +10 (Disadvantages of choice) +2 (Duties) +6 (L1 Bonus Feat) = 66 CP.

Basic Abilities (36 CP):

  • +2 BAB, Specialized in Melee for Double Effect (+4) (12 -8/Fast Learner = 4 CP).
  • 1D12 Hit Die at L1 (8 CP). (14 HP).
  • Proficient with Light Armor (3), Simple and Monk Weapons (9 CP).
  • +6 Skill Points (6 CP). At level one, this will give him a total of 18, plus his automaticly-maximized racial skills. With a second instance of Adept (below), this will allow him an additional six maximized skills with two points left over.
  • +2 Reflex (6 CP).

Special Abilities (30 CP).

  • Witchcraft Pacts: Duties and Taboos, adding Leaping Fire and Bones of Iron (-).
  • Adept (choice of four skills to buy for half cost) (6 CP). Sadly, since I don’t know what kind of campaign this character was meant for, I really don’t know what kind of skills to get him – or even what martial arts to pick for his racial arts (although I think I’d recommend one with good melee defenses – perhaps the Wind Dance Style – and one with some esoteric abilities such as Ghost Breaking Technique. If the player opts for a third style, something strong in healing or the more esoteric powers might be a good choice.
  • Reflex Training/may use witchcraft to aid other actions as a part of those actions (6 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saves (6 CP).
  • +3d6 Power (6 CP). This gives him a total of (3d6+14 Power) with which to power his “C’hi Techniques”.
  • Augmented Bonus/Adds Int Mod to Martial Arts skills (6 CP). This won’t make him one of the greatest martial arts experts in history – but it’s not at all bad.

Heng Xia isn’t exactly a powerhouse of destruction – but he is (like most witchcraft-using low level characters) far more versatile than most second level types are and would be a considerable asset to the vast majority of low-level parties.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXXXIII – An Impersonal Alchemy

Hiroshige, The station Kanaya

Well, I WAS running out of themes…

While the Tsunami was gathering speed – or, more accurately, phasing further into the older metric framework while maintaining a constant speed (a trick that required more and more power and skill to remain in touch with normal space as you went deeper) – there were people back on Earth who’d been keeping track of Charles. They hadn’t been sure that he wasn’t just a front before – after all, why would Elzeard refer contact attempts to anything else? – but now he was tracking as being in Creation, but not on Earth.

That was interesting – although, if Charles was actually responsible for some of the things that had gone wrong recently, some of them weren’t sure whether they wanted to talk to him or punch him in the nose. In some cases (especially after what happened with the Morgans) – it was both.

Still, Elzeard had given them a phone number for “Charles Dexter Ward”.

Charles was very pleased! Finally, someone who was willing to simply contact him directly!

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Kanaya) “Is this Charles Dexter Ward?”

(Charles) “Well, yes! What’s up? I don’t think we’ve met!”

(Kanaya) “No, we haven’t… have you been to the Atlanta Museum of Natural History recently? Say, in the past year or so?”

(Charles) “Well, yes!”

(Kanaya) “Okay, I’ve got some things I need to return to you then…”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Oh?”

(Kanaya) “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you misplaced them somewhere in the museum, and retrieved them for you. We’d like to give them back to you. And maybe help you in the future with keeping these things more… discreet.”

(Charles) “Oh, are you fussing over the Hipparions? You do realize that I’ve established them in several places and access will be widespread shortly?”

(Kanaya) “Oh no, that was enough of a problem. The thing is, you also left some curious artifacts there. We managed to catch one of the museum staff playing with them… though penetrating her wards was no small task. Animals are easy enough to explain these days, but THAT? What in the Malfeas is your plan? Are you intending to start a magical revolution, Mr. Ward?”

(Charles) “Not at all! There’s no need to be revolutionary about it!”

(Kanaya) “Then what is your intent here? Do you know what a crazed mortal could do with enlightenment? It would wreck the current structure of society – and cause enough chaos to give THEM an opening!”

(Charles) “That’s why I’m arranging to spread things out a bit! And crazy mortals are no worse than crazy gods, and raksha, and everybody else!”

(Kanaya) “And what did you do to the Morgans? I don’t know what happened, but for some reason, we’ve been set to bring in the clan head, his eldest son, and some Awakened thaumaturge. I can understand the first two, but not the third. Whatever it is has my superiors angry!”

Charles promptly checked with the Coatl he’d left with the museum scientists; they should have called if there was serious trouble – but did someone swipe the apparatus?

(Charles) “I gave them a little help! Mostly some upgrades! Anyway, if your superiors are cross, why aren’t they calling?”

Between the powers and Adenic Thaumaturgy of three Coatl, and the Adenic Thaumaturgy of Dr Roberts, Dr Valenti, and the Ecologist, the raiders had never even found the biological lab or the apparatus there – but Dr Aguerro’s lab had been open rather than being hidden, and was only protected by the wards of one Coatl and Dr Aguerro – and a group of Terrestrials had confiscated her gear. Well, as long as everyone was safe, apparatus was easy to replace! Still… they were being watched, with Charms and physical surveillance alike.

(Kanaya) “Ha! They’re currently pursuing a lead on the Morgans’ location. I don’t know much more than that-they’re not telling me.”

(Charles, sighing) “Do you REALLY want me to send the Morgans a few hundred major guardians to help out? Wouldn’t it be a LOT simpler for them to talk?”

(Kanaya, with some shock) “You can do that!?”

(Charles, a bit blankly) “Why not?”

(Kanaya) “Arrrgh… let me guess, you’re working with the Insidious too.”

(Charles) “That bunch? It’s not like they have any time to do anything but run around trying to catch the MAJOR casuality errors, even if they weren’t divided into a bunch of different factions.”

(Kanaya) “Oh, that’s hard to buy… they’re Celestial Exalted! They can do anything!”

(Charles, patiently) “Think about it. One hundred of them – well, two hundred now – and trillions and trillions of galaxies for things to go wrong in. How busy to you think they are?”

(Kanaya) “I… (embarrassed) wait, there’s THAT few of them?”

(Charles) “Well, you DO know that Autochthon only built so many of them don’t you?”

(Kanaya) “That’s a different story than what I heard…they said they were a defect in the system, a lot like these black Exalts that have been running around. You know, the ones that aren’t linked to death but break causality? I have a feeling you’d know about them, anyway.”

(Charles) “No, the Sidereals are part of the original set! The Nocturnals are new though; they’re related to dimensional intersections!”

(Kanaya) “Ooookay… that’s not what I was told. I think we need to talk about some stuff.”

(Charles, rather blankly) “Aren’t we?”

(Kanaya) “Gah… this is how you suck people in isn’t it… well, I’ll bite. What’s really going on here? Do you have a source for what you’re telling me about – “Sidereals”, you called them?”

(Charles) “What, you want the history of the universe and some references? That’s easy enough – and personally, they work out of the Bureau of Destiny and the Loom of Fate and it’s various subdivisions. That’s not all that far from school really; take one of the fast canals and it’s only about an hour and a half even if you don’t have faster ways. Lets see…”

Charles cheerily traced the phone link, set up a quick link to work over, and transmuted some air into a pile of copies of some of the relevant books next to Kanaya.

(Kanaya) “Whoa… okay.”

What, this child was capable of holding the patterns of entire libraries in his head – otherwise his having the patterns handy for a pile of books suited to that specific query was vanishingly unlikely – as well as being capable of FINDING her through her own ward, and sending detailed transmutation-spells across millions of light years just to give her some BOOKS? Aargh! Of COURSE he was! He had to be doing something similar just to keep his PHONE working, and didn’t even regard it as important!

Fortunately, SHE had some ways to just scan through information sources…

(Kanaya) “Okay, so they’re blind idiots, but not MALEVOLENT blind idiots?”

(Charles) “Way overworked and they tend to think that being responsible for the Loom makes them all-knowing when it’s really pretty limited. Still, without them major chunks of Creation would dissolve into chaos again!”

(Kanaya) “That doesn’t sound like people with an iron fist on the windpipe of Heaven.”

(Charles) “Heaven mostly ignores them these days!”

(Kanaya) “That’s… not what I heard at all. Is this why they usually run when we catch them these days? They’re so busy that we’re… just a nuisance? You told the Morgans all this stuff, didn’t you?”

(Charles, with some surprise again) “Of course! And they operate across the universe, although Earth IS important… but there are rarely more than a one or two dozen things that need fixing there a year, and some years there aren’t any.”

(Kanaya) “So I take it you work with them in Heaven.”

(Charles) “I give them some help sometimes, but there are lots of other things to fix!”

(Kanaya) “That does explain some things. I’m going to call the younger son after I finish with you; he’s been stonewalling for his father. Do you think he’d talk to me if I said you told me what was really going on?”

(Charles) “I suppose he would! I can’t guarantee it of course…. Anyway, just on Earth there’s reforestation, and pollution, and war, and population pressure, and mass extinctions, and resource depletion, and all that needs fixing, and in Yu-Shan there are lost domains, and deiphagy, and potential geomantic collapse, and a lot of things THERE that need fixing, and there are a LOT of planets in the universe that need work…”

(Kanaya, first gaping at him and then interrupting the flow of projects) “And you’re out to fix all that? By yourself? You’ve got to have backing for that!”

(Charles, reasonably) “Why?”

(Kanaya) “Well, surely you’ve got someone backing you? The materials for all these artifacts can’t come cheap, and even if you’re working with Heaven, I’ve been told the bureaucracy up there is murder.”

(Charles) “Mostly I trade for or create those! And I only subcontract with Yu-Shan; that lets me bypass most of the paperwork stuff!”

(Kanaya) “There’s always a loophole… anyway, can you get me up into Heaven? They say we’d be treated like animals up there, but these books say we won’t be bothered if we have a guardian who lives there. I want to see things for myself before I trust you too much!”

(Charles, cheerily opening a gate) “Oh sure!”

A woman with dark hair and unusually fluid motions poked her head into Aden…

(Kanaya) “Nice place. Some kind of chancel?”

(Charles) “There’s a relationship of sorts! Aden is more of a pocket universe though! Anyway, you wanted a look around Yu-Shan? Because Gorim runs a daily tour, and that starts in about an hour!”

(Kanaya) “Just a peek – I don’t want to be too long. My superiors are waiting for a – wait, a daily tour? How long does that take?”

(Charles) “About two hours! Gorim is a god of public transportation, and he’s running a small partnership with Nikean, a god of tour-guides… They both like actually participating in their domains sometimes!”

Kanaya wanted to speak with them both before going on the tour, and feel them out, but once she’d determined that they were on the up and up, the tour began. It would turn out to be… rather shocking!

Charles basically waved… that aspect was mostly just a projection, and couldn’t leave the manse after all!

He was reading a book when she got back.

(Kanaya) “So let me get this straight. Yu-Shan is about seven-tenths slum, and the only people trying to do anything about it are either pariahs or just overlooked? And the unemployment rate is about that much too?”

(Charles) “That’s about right! Most of the old links with Earth were broken during the reshaping, and that left a lot of gods with no domains and nothing to do. Gaia’s last command to most of the Terrestrial gods was apparently to let the humans develop undisturbed – and so “divine intervention” is pretty rare these days! Even when there’s a link available, hardly anyone even remembers how to call any longer.”

(Kanaya) “So I guess part of what you’re doing is opening up those old links.”

(Charles) “And making some new ones! And to some new planets; there’s no reason at all to let most of the current universe go unused!”

Gaah! The kid really was planning on rebuilding the known universe to make it better. And it looked like he might actually be CAPABLE of it. She could realistically say that her superiors couldn’t do that, at least not quickly. What was she dealing with?

(Kanaya) “Hrm. that puts me in a bind.”

(Charles) “Oh? Why?”

(Kanaya) “Well… you’re not doing anything wrong other than being indiscreet, but you don’t know what’s going on with the Morgans any more than I do, AND I have a report to write. Plus… I’m not sure, but I know I haven’t had contact with one of my superiors since the incident.”

(Charles, with immediate concern) “Do you have any way to call them? They might have gotten hurt or something!”

(Kanaya, wondering if he could REALLY be worried about people he’d never met who wanted to stop him) “Yeah, I used the normal means, but I got nothing. And when I tried magic, it was blocked off by Celestial magic.”

(Charles) “Well, I should be able to get through that in most cases! Want me to give it a try?”

(Kanaya) “Yeah, because I’m getting worried. It’s not like him to be out of contact this long.”

(Charles) “Well, who am I trying to reach?”

(Kanaya) “Codename Bright Oscillating Shield.”

(Charles) “Hm! Aboard Autochthon then? I have a gate there, which will make it easier!”

(Kanaya) “Autochthon? Wow… do you just have a gate EVERYWHERE?”

(Charles) “Well… a lot of places! Time to try that one!”

Unfortunately, that didn’t get him very far; Bright Oscillating Shield wasn’t within Autochthon’s world body. The link pointed back to Earth instead.

Well, that was easy enough. Earth it was!

He ran straight into a Celestial ward, which was easy enough to overwhelm. It was somewhere in the southern Appalachians, on the Georgia end.

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield, in static-filled tones) “Hello? This is really embarrassing. Who is this?”

(Charles) “Well I’m Charles! Why is it embarrassing?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “To fall for a trick like this… I’m worried sick. They’re talking about getting the dissection equipment.”

(Charles) “Kanaya was wanting to get in touch, so I’m helping her out… And that doesn’t sound good!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “What, Kanaya Derevi? Is she there with you?”

(Charkes) “Well yes! Are you in trouble?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Tell her to assemble the squad right now! I want this place razed to the ground!”

(Charles) “Now that’s not very nice! Why?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “They dare to turn their backs on us – and then take ME to be a mere lab subject? Once I’m free of this protocol, I’ll take my saws and…”

That segued into a rather violent rant about shearing through every Terrestrial and Awakened in the place. Not pleasant at all!

(Charles) “I think you need to be separated there! Is there anyone else trapped there with you?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Oh, their little clan head has his hands on me – I think that has something to with it. But he’s got to sleep SOME TIME, and when he does…”

There were whirring noises, unpleasant in their grinding and screeching.

Charles sighed, widened the focus, and had a look around… forty or fifty feet should be more than enough, at least to start – and that showed a sealed containment chamber, not quite factory-cathedral level. Mr. Morgan was there, supporting himself on what appeared to be a variant of the Eternal Crystalline Encasement spell; his right arm was pretty deep in there. His fist was touching what appeared to be a massive man made entirely out of jade – and they were pretty much staring each other down.

(Charles) “Oh Hello there Mr Morgan!”

(Mr. Morgan) “Ah… hello, Charles. I should have expected you to check on me.”

He sounded worrysomely exhausted; a peep over the link revealed that it was pretty much Essence and a lot of alchemy keeping him standing at this point.

(Charles) “Uhm… Are you having to contain that fellow?”

(Mr. Morgan) “Yes! Something is very wrong with him, and I’m not going to risk him running amok in the atelier-chapel. So we took him here, and we’ve been containing him in shifts.”

(Charles) “Ah. Well, shall I take him off your hands? If he’s here for a bit, it should fix whatever’s wrong!”

(Mr. Morgan) “In Aden? He’s built for combat – that’s why I didn’t call you. We want to remove all his combat abilities first.”

(Charles) “Well, I can make indestructible barriers at a moments notice, would that do?”

(Mr. Morgan) “That should work!”

Charles popped over with Gothmug and collected Bright Oscillating Shield – still restrained though, at least for the moment!

(Charles) “Do you need anything else Mr Morgan? I’ll try to get him sorted out!”

(Mr. Morgan) “A bed would be nice… and watch out for nanite infections!”

Chalres made him a quick artifact bed of extreme restfulness – and he fell asleep on it pretty much the instant he hit it.

(Charles) “Now Mr Bright Oscillating Shield? Is there anything wrong besides getting into an argument there?

Unfortunately, Bright Oscillating Shield was currently charging, as tendrils of SOMETHING popped out of his back. It looked like viscous motor oil, but motor oil did not normally smell like decay. Indestructible barriers it was – and there was a LOT of banging against those barriers.

(Charles) “Dear me! There really does seem to be something badly wrong with him!”

He called in Malinda the Diviner and Sovanth the Healer!

(Charles, to Kanaya) “Huh! It seems that there’s something seriously wrong with him… Do you know of anything that does that to – I’d bet an Alchemical?”

(Kanaya, who was much dismayed by the banging in the barriers) “I don’t know! He was always so… CALM when he spoke to me.”

Malinda and Sovanth involuntarily shuddered when they troed to analyze the issue.

(Malinda) “It feels like… slow death and decay. It certainly has an unpleasant sapience and wants to consume everything in rage.”

(Sovanth) “I don’t think thaumaturgy will work on this… it’s definitely linked to something bigger than him.”

(Malinda) “I wouldn’t prod it without protection, dearie. It’s been there for at least 150 years.”

(Charles) “Hrm! I don’t exactly have any absolute medical charms… and it’s going to take a LONG time for my Geomancy to do much with it isn’t it?”

(Sovanth) “At best, you would be able to suppress it. There’s good news, though; your shaping protections should work against it.”

(Charles) “Something from Autochthon I suspect… But that is good news! I… suppose we’ll have to contact wheverer his home base is to consult… Botheration! Can we tell who I should try to call?”

(Malinda) “I’ll have to reach across the dimensions for that, but it’s no trouble, dearie! This is worrying! Lets see if the Seal of Eight Divinities is still in place…”

(Charles) “Well, I was figuring on using the gate again… And the Seal it must be open or they wouldn’t be back!”

He opened the gate and put in a call – searching for an authority in Bright Oscillating Shield’s home area… After all, he was handy to use for a link! It took a little while – but eventually he got someone speaking in what sounded like VERY deviant Old Realm. He could pretty much get “Hello,” though! He got translation magics and programs running!

(Charles) “Hello there! Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk about Mr Bright Oscillating Shield!

(Voice) “Huh… this is coming from… outside the Maker!?!? Who is this?”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m Charles Dexter Ward! And I was calling across dimensions because Mr Bright Oscillating Shield seems to be very sick with something very nasty and I don’t think I can do better than suppressing it at the moment, and that will take awhile!”

(Voice) “Oh, bother… look, describe the symptoms to me, OK?”

Charles did.

(Voice) “Okay, that’s what I thought. He’s got Gremlin Syndrome, kid. Not even we know what to do about that… usually, they turn themselves in before it gets that bad, and it sounds like he got far enough that he had special things from it.”

(Charles) “Hm… Mind-affecting? On the physical side of the neural network?”

(Voice) “That’s… usually where it starts. If you let it spread, it takes over the whole body, and exmachina help you then. So where’d you find him? The last we’d heard from that expedition, they’d found the Elemental Pole of Earth. I’ll need some information for my shift chief.”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Hm! So his mind is being corrupted by a distortion of his physical self… Well, then… Just a minute!”

He attuned Bright Oscillating Shield to the privacy manse, and closed most of his physical mind down to near-coma levels; that would at least leave him coherent! Highly artificially so of course, but it was worth a try!

Given that it was not at all an attack, most of Bright Oscillating Shield’s defenses did not help a bit. He was notably stiffer – but seemed coherent again!

(Charles) “Hello there! I’m aware that you won’t exactly be feeling well, but hopefully you’re able to think straight for the moment? We’re in touch with… uhm, who are you over there?”

(Keldan) “Harvester Keldan of Xexas, kid. The Champion won’t know me – my grandpa was young when they left!”

(Charles) “Oh dear! Well anyway… Bright Oscilating Shield, Harvester Keldan of Xexas and vice-versa! You should be able to be sensible now! I’m sorry, I can’t provide an immediate cure for this “Gremlin Syndrome” stuff; I’ll have to think about it! But you did make it to the Elemental Pole of Earth though – now mostly known as “The Earth”.

(Bright Oscilating Shield) “Xexas? Home… Harvester, inform your superiors that the expedition succeeded but encountered unexpected difficulties.”

(Keldan) “Already on it, Champion.”

(Charles) “If you can tell me who to add, I’ll try to get them in on the conference!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield turned to Charles) “You have no idea what you’ve done for me; there’s no way I can repay even for the suppression of… THAT. Would it work on the others?”

(Charles) “It should!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Then we must bring them here, to wherever THIS is.”

(Charles) “Oh well, this is Aden!”

Meanwhile, Keldan had returned to the link.

(Keldan) “Okay, Charles, add Chief Harvester Yandel; he’s not too far from here.”

Charles cheerily did so.

(Yandel) “You are Charles Dexter Ward? I’d never thought WE wouid be the first people in the city to speak with someone from Earth. I understand you have an Exalted from the missing expedition with you? Ah yes, I can feel him on the link…”

(Charles) “Unfortunately, he has a nasty case of what you apparently call “Gremlin Syndrome”. I’m suppressing the mental effects at the moment; but I haven’t yet found a way to cure it.

(Yandel) “There isn’t one other than euthanasia, which is a shame and a waste of Magical Materials.”

(Charles, disapprovingly) “I think I can probably come up with something better than THAT!”

(Yandel, with some amusement) “That’s a tall order. Nevertheless, if you think you can do it, you’re welcome to try.”

After all, they’d been trying for nearly forty thousand years, and they weren’t even sure where it came from! There were a few people who thought that it was a chronic condition of the Maker, but that… was just absurd! How could something like that be inherent to the Maker?

(Yandel) “Now, Bright Oscilating Shield… would you care to tell us what happened? We have some idea, but it would be good to have a Champion confirm it.”

(Charles) “Well, I can only stabilize it and suppress the mental effects so far. but I haven’t really had any time to look into things yet…”

Then he shut up to listen!

Bright Oscillating Shield explained. The expedition had launched successfully. They even had a means of interstellar travel through the biggest member of their expedition. (That one, Celerous Dart of the Heavens, sounds an awful lot like one of Charles’ living starships). Unfortunately, for an unprotected Alchemical, being in deep space in Creation turned out to be a lot like being in a Void zone – and one of them already had some illicit tech installed that caused him to fall to Gremlin Syndrome. The rest of the trip to Earth was not fun for the rest of them in the slightest. And on the way they ran into some Abyssals.

They did know about the Sidereal Exalted, and had originally intended to establish diplomatic relations. But after extended discussion, the leader of the expedition changed his tune, and when they got to Earth, and saw that Terrestrials were present, they got the idea to turn them against the Sidereals.

(Charles, interjecting) “Uhrm… why?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “We knew that they had used them in the past, and that some of them had worked with them. Our idea was that if we could turn those who controlled the planet against the remaining Celestial Exalted on Earth, we could establish secret control and claim the world for the masses back home.”

(Yandel) “Especially here, I would say. Crowding is a problem everywhere, but we are bad off in that area.”

(Charles, helpfully) “Oh, would you like some fresh habitable planets?”

(Yandel) “Err… excuse me? I think I understand what you said, but surely you can’t just give those away!”

(Charles) “Well, they aren’t really much trouble to make! The universe is full of lumps of rock, so all you have to do change them to suit… It only takes a few minutes! And Gaia said I could change them if I wanted!”

(Yandel) “The Mother of Creation!? Keldan, WHAT IS HE?”

(Keldan) “I don’t know, sir, but he’s clearly not of the Maker. Or a powerful Void-creature playing a terrible prank on us, but he would have killed us by now if he was.”

(Bright Oscillating Shield)) “I assure you, Sodalts, he is not a Void-creature, and he is not in Autochthonia.”

(Yandel) “But do you really have that many worlds to give away? That does seem grandiose!”

Charles shifted the group in Aden over to the Well of Worlds and focused in on an appropriate chunk of rock.

(Charles) “It’s fairly simple really! There are lumps of rock like this all over the place, and you just need to change them like this” (he performed his usual terraforming). “A manse with a gate to you isn’t much trouble either…” (He added one). “And that way everyone will have more room!”

(Keldan, looking at the images) “Is not having a ceiling normal? It’s scary.”

(Charles) “Pretty normal for planets!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “No worries… the ground’s gravity will keep you from falling. And you’ll get used to the constant light.”

(Charles) “Anyway, planets are easy!”

Keldan… was REALLY starting to wonder! Charles had picked up and restrained a Champion with Advanced Gremlin Syndrome, called to get a little information about what it was, had promptly used that information to suppress the syndrome somehow – and had announced that he intended to cure it. And now THIS. Was he help sent from Gaia?

(Yandel) “I can’t accept for the Sodalities as a whole, but I can get this to the rest of them, and see if we can get you an audience with the Tripartite Assembly.”

(Charles) “Er… accept what?”

(Yandel) “Well, the planet deal.”

(Keldan) “Yeah, we have to get that approved by the Assembly. If nothing else… the Harvesters can’t move that many people on our own. FEED them, sure, but they’ll need lighting, factories – all the stuff for civilization.”

(Charles) “Well you said you needed some, so there’s no reason not to make you a few… The amenities will take a week or two to install; I mostly leave that the the construction crews!”

Although Charles couldn’t see it, in a very cramped office in a very cramped city, two Autochthonian officials were looking at each other and saying, “Is this really happening? It’s pretty extravagant for a prank!”

(Yandel) “What do you use for construction crews?”

(Charles) “Djinn mostly!”

(Keldan) “What’s a Djinn?”

(Charles) “Well, specialist gods really! I made them to do construction!”

OK. Even if this WAS a prank, it was getting reported to the Assembly… and to the Theomachracy. Maybe his name appeared in the Tome of the Great Maker somewhere?

(Yandel) “We’ll… see what we can do, okay? I think you’ll have a good chance of being heard, though!”

Charles was puzzled; were there complications here beyond giving a gift? Oh well!

(Charles) “Anyway… is there anything else you can tell me about this “Gremlin Syndrome” stuff? It needs fixing!”

(Yandel) “Well, that’s a subject not often discussed… certain Charms the Champions can install open them to the condition, and worsen it.” (He looked uncomfortable.) “Certain regions in the Maker’s body can also worsen it, affecting the exmachina of those regions and blighting the land. Now interaction with people like Keldan and me can cause it to subside for some time, but that’s not a permanent solution.”

(Charles) “Oh! So it’s a resonant effect of a greater problem affecting Autochthon then! That’s why local cures won’t work; you can suppress the problem, but it’s inherent within the link with Autochthon. It affects his internal spirits too I’d imagine?”

(Yandel) “That would be the case…”

(Charles) “So a healing effect applied to HIM on a sufficient scale should at least bring the problem back down to a manageable level, even if it IS likely to be chronic somehow; Primordials don’t normally get diseases, so it’s probably something in his power-set!”

Yandel was recording… in thirty thousand years, the Sodalts had come to expect that it was an inherent quality. It just kept coming back – and this enthusiastic child might not be RIGHT, but he obviously had a great deal of power and information that they didn’t. At worst there might be some clues to whatever he’d used to help Bright Oscillating Shield!

(Charles, musingly) “Hm… Entropic; associated with randomization – in itself precursor to creativity and invention. the more he pushes his power to create new things, the worse this will become… And I’d bet it went critical when he created the Celestial Exaltations and invested so much power in them. The problem has expanded since the early days as more Alchemical Exalts have been created hasn’t it?”

(Keldan, with some fascination… how much was the boy going to deduce? Did he actually have a theory ALREADY?) “Exponentially. Making contact with your world helped, but not enough.”

(Charles) “No, it wouldn’t… Contact with the Elemental Pole of Earth will help stabilize almost anything, but for genuine entropic reversal you need Wyld energies; that’s why he had no problem as long as that was where he hung out!”

(Yandel) “I’ve actually heard of this Wyld… some of the early archive reports from the expedition mentioned it. But the Tome of the Great Maker says he wanted to get away from that!”

(Charles) “I think it’s been too long! With enough wyld energy, anything can be restructured at whim – but that can produce instability! Generally… you don’t want too much wyld energy around until you REALLY need it! Have you projected the rate of decline?”

(Yandel) “Hrm… our estimates give him another two thousand years, give or take a few decades. I’m not sure about the Eight Nations; we don’t have contact with Autochthonia proper that much.”

(Charles) “Huh! I wonder if Gaia is sick too? Definitely needs fixing in any case!”

(Keldan) “Well, we might check her out yet… leave the gate open and we’ll send some people through unofficially.”

(Charles) “Oh, that’s just a planet! There are enough of those to make it pretty hard to calculate; Gaia mostly manifests herself in Yu-Shan these days. And the gates permanent! Planets are no good if people can’t get to them to live on them!”

(Yandel) “We’ll take a look, then.”

(Charles) “And thank you for the information! I’ll see if I can’t get the rest of the membes of your expedition aboard and back to sanity!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Thank you Charles…”

(Keldan) “Yeah, thanks!”

(Charles) “And curing Autochthon can go on the schedule! And you’re welcome!

And Keldan and Yandel departed for frantic conferences.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXXXII – Leo And The Cosmic Tour

A member of the Local Group of galaxies, irreg...

On the road again/Just can’t wait…

Meanwhile, in Aden, Charles’s aspects there had been contemplating how Essence was produced where Chaos interacted with Structure. The more rigid the structure, the more Essence was generated. Thus Geomancy dominated natural essence flows, while Hydromancy, Aeromancy, and Pyromancy were far weaker – and the Earth had about as much geomantic potential as the Sun did, despite the sun’s far, FAR, greater mass. Suns, and gas giants, and drifting globs of water or molten rock… simply did not generate power like a rocky planet.

Wait. Minds had “geomancy” of a sort… Was there anything more rigid than an idea? And an idea which was shared by millions of minds… No wonder there was power in Mathematics, and Patterns, and – for that matter – in cults! Was a cult anything more than a… mental demesne?

Ooohhhhh… So THAT was how they’d done it! He COULD make his own Kaiju Manse! At least if he could get TO a mental demesne… How had the Cauldron-Born pulled off THAT trick?

Gah! Simple again! Raksha could get into dreams – and what was a dream except a limited mental domain? An expression of the sleeping consciousness pulled from the core of chaos in every human soul? All they’d need… would be a speciality charm or a wyld gate! Like he used all the time! And building a manse in a dream… would be even easier than doing it in reality!

Lost in enthusiasm, Charles had promptly started probing. Unfortunately, as it turned out, many of the major Kaiju had already been constructed… Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, Baragon, Kumonga, Gamera, Ultraman, Gigan, and King Ceasar had all been built… That was most of the big ones, and pretty much all the benign ones – and more than one apiece, unless the Cauldron-Born had been recruiting (oh dear!). Oh wait! Mothra Leo really was still available, even if the demesne would need some work… It was complete with ancient tree for cocooning – although it was only a sapling at the moment.

Gothmug’s protests came too late, as Charles got some of his Raksha-analogues to help out and impulsively embarked into the landscapes of the imagination and the human racemind – and found them vibrant and powerful, fueled by the respired essence that “normal” humans were unable to use directly. Prayer, memes, cults or mental demesnes… all channels for that power, to be harvested or channeled by others. There were hints of higher powers too; essence-constructs well beyond the level that humanity should be able to produce. Ah! The ancient Deva’s hidden deep in the racemind that Aikiko had reported! With them active… it was no wonder that some humans could draw on their powers and abilities! Or that things were changing! Humans… were no longer the helpless, passive, prayer-batteries that they had been created to be!

Boosting the demesne, and constructing the manse, was straightforward enough. It was almost like something was helping… He went with the “Armored Leo” look. Leo could come out to play with Tsunami during the space trip!

He still wasn’t sure how he could possibly stop a massed kaiju attack which would likely have Godzilla on the enemy side and would very likely be in Yu-Shan, to boot! That could (or would) get TERRIBLY messy! Yu-Shan was much bigger than Tokyo, had far stronger geomancy, was overrun with powerful gods and exalts who might get involved, and one wrong street or building cratered might release who-knew-what from the vaults… A Kaiju Attack on Yu-Shan… could be catastrophic!

Of course, it might also be quite benign. After all… the Cauldron-Born certainly didn’t seem entirely hostile!

Actually, simply borrowing Adenic Thaumaturgy, and drawing on Aden’s energies gave the Cauldron-Born far more power already, with which they could do a great many things without disturbing the Loom – and Charles’s intention to add a Wyld level to Yu-Shan, and tweak the geomantic center of Creation, might prove quite useful to them. They might not even need the Kaiju except for keeping anyone ELSE from fouling up the proceedings. Why draw the attention of Charles’s many Devas when there was no need to? With Adenic Thaumaturgy to use for utility effects… they could focus on acquiring the abilities that they really needed.

In between moves, the Unconquered Sun too had taken notice. While it took a lot to get his attention these days, the sudden arrival of three hundred extra Solar Exaltations from beyond the bounds of Creation had been quite enough to do it – and the boy was one of the most eccentric and idealistic current Solars! It would be fairly interesting to see where he went with his quasi-primordial charms, and he WAS taking the defense and stewardship of Creation pretty seriously. Still… those “Infernal” variants were potentially troublesome, and the boy’s tricks seemed to be going in the same general way. It would probably be worth a second look at some point! At the moment, however, there was an upcoming move to consider. Charles could wait until he had some more time.

Not all that long afterwards, with the Elemental Pole Manses on Earth completed at last, Charles was about ready to head out into space. Of course, all he really needed was to get some of his aspects out far enough so that he could focus on them. There would still be gates to Yu-Shan and Earth open – which would be very handy unless the would-be babysitters used them to catch up with him! And he was thoroughly stocked up with salt, and holy water, and all that kind of stuff!

The babysitters would consider catching up with him pretty urgent. Nobody needed him giving things to Hannya and Deathlords and Behemoth Space Monsters and such!

Perhaps fortunately, Charles had elected to take the slightly-longer tour-of-the-planets route out of the solar system – and would probably spend the first few days watching stars, nebula, and so on go by. The real speed burst wouldn’t start until he was out of the local group of galaxies.

He even remembered to advise Rightous Hala and Mr Montague that he was starting out for the end of the universe, and so he might be distracted at work next week!

(Hala) “Well, I’ll be visiting Aden frequently, then… just in case something does happen that you need help for!”

(Charles) “Thank you! Do you want to come for the solar system tour part? It’s a bit inefficient I know, but I wanted to take a few hours to see it on the way out!”

(Hala) Oh, why not?”

She’d seen it a lot, but it WAS very beautiful!

Why not indeed… Charles dropped in on a few astronomers, and some NASA people, and invited them along too! Why not? By the time he got back… it would be almost time for the Gates to open! And some of the ones who had been hosting astronomy programs were getting quite elderly and had never gotten out into space yet, so it was about time! Anyone who was willing to take a few hours for the solar system tour – or a few days for the out-of-the-local-group part – got taken aboard for the trip!

The ones that knew Charles through his connection with Elzeard (since he was reducing the pollution that plagued their Earth-based work) were the most receptive to the offer. At the worst it would be a joke, so why not?

Charles took them straight to the bridge of the Tsunami in orbit. After all, “Beam Me Up!” was VERY classic – even if there was a certain amount of surprise and incredulity at the tree even if they DID have to admire the wonderful view!

(Scientist, blinking) “Have I been transported into my children’s cartoons?”

(Charles) “Not cartoons… but I must admit to borrowing some imagery! There are certain advantages to that!”

(Scientist) “How did you construct this ship? Or is it alive and matching the cartoon in that way?”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s alive! That makes maintenance and things MUCH easier! It’s sort of a manifestation… Uhrm… (he rummaged in his pockets and got out another box of Sigils) have one of these! They’ll help you get things figured out!”

And there was much the same process as before of playing around with thaumaturgic powers while looking at the view, with occasional pointing at various planetary features and a good deal of photography.

Charles had some close flybys to check on some of the more spectacular features!

Righteous Hala (again introducing herself as “Charles’s Nanny, Helen) helped point out interesting and little known features of the worlds.

(Righteous Hala) “Ah, and here is one of the two Great Polar Vortex of Jupiter, where heat is exchanged with the deeper layers!

The astronomers got some particularly good pictures of that one, and the moons and rings of Neptune and Saturn – especially since Charles had cheerily provided some artifact-instruments where the Tsunami wasn’t providing high-quality analysis… Rather more of them were excited about getting to see the trans-Neptunian region up close – although Hala seemed antsy for some reason, though!

(Charles, quietly) “Is something wrong? Or something we should avoid going past?”

(Hala, quietly) “Well… we might have some raksha attempts to attack; in most solar systems, the borders are where shaped raksha who don’t play nicely with the mortals go. I know you well enough that you’d want to trade with them and give them some of those collars, but how are you going to explain that to (nodding to the astronomers) them?”

(Charles, quietly) “Uhm… We’re already traveling faster than light aboard a living tree-ship… I think most of them already know that things are weird! And no one can do any unwanted shaping aboard the Tsunami.”

(Hala, quietly) “Well, definitely good, then! Any of that could easily be explained as sapient alien activity, anyway – which wouldn’t surprise many of them.”

She continued to keep an eye out, though and then one of the astronomers said something about seeing a palace out the window.

(Charles) “Oh, probably the Raksha! A lot of them hang around the fringes of inhabited solar systems!”

(Dr. Hirashi) “I hadn’t expected alien sapient life to be this close to Earth. What can you tell us about them?”

(Charles) “Well, in a way they’re ancestral to most of the universe! In fact… virtually all humans carry about 1.78% Raksha blood; there was some serious intermingling about 50,000 years ago, and the ones still on earth often produce halfbreeds to this day. Fundamentally they’re energy beings, but they have to take on physical forms to survive outside of the enclaves where the energies they rely on are still strong. They’re very sensitive to iron and certain magnetic effects, so the ones who weren’t willing to behave have mostly been run off over the past fifty thousand years. From your point of view… they’re capable of manifesting quasi-real illusions of most things, but they aren’t very durable when confronted with determined opposition. Their creations are really just extensions of their own energies, so there’s only so much any one of them can do anyway!”

There was some nodding; that explanation sounded like a cross between classical Fair Folk and psionic aliens.

(Scientists) “What do they intend with us? They would have to be staying here for a reason.”

(Charles) “Oh, human minds generate some of the energies they require. Thus humans venturing into their territories are potentially in danger; we, however, have plenty of protections… If you’d like to talk to a few, there’s no real danger in opening communications – or even in having a few aboard – as long as you remember NOT to let them talk you into something silly! For that matter… there may well be some Humans with them; they took some along when they were driven off of course, and will almost certainly have sustained colonies since.”

That caused even more interest!

(Hirashi) “If we could communicate with a human in one of these enclaves… I must see it myself to believe it! Do you think they would let us?”

(Charles) “Well… lets ask!”

The call got them the classical Grey starship bridge: circular, with weird beeping instruments. As one of the more famous human depictions of aliens, it was really quite popular among trans-Neptunian Raksha.

(Charles) “Oh, hey, that’s pretty good! I didn’t know that you’d been monitoring that close! I’m Charles, and these people would like to talk to some of you and perhaps some of the humans you keep out here! I’ll pay you for it!

The “alien captain” in his (her? It was hard to tell) fancy hat played up to the startled astronomers, and made weird noises in his / her “alien language!

Charles went along with the gag and booted up a translator – although he quietly let the astronomers know that it was for show; given that the Raksha were basically projecting illusions… it was actually easier for them to go along with expectations and popular images. That made other people do a lot of the work for them.

(Captain G’tanga) “Ah, Charles! I am Captain G’tanga, a humble Prospector of the Carbon Court. Human astronomers out this far? I’m surprised they aren’t speechless!… I would ask for a trade for some of my crew, but your reputation precedes you. Still… just one nibble?”

(Charles) “Well, I can offer you some of these (as he held up a box of Resplendent Butler’s Accounterments)… here are some as a present!” (He sent some over) “Will those do? I could ask of course… there are probably a few youngsters who have spent time with the Raksha on earth and wouldn’t mind a visit with you since it won’t take them long to recover – but I certainly can’t guarantee that!”

(Captain G’tanga) “Ah, better than what I was expecting! But if you could get me some older humans, that would be great. A diet of dreams drawn from children’s minds gets tedious. Their imaginations are spectacular, of course, but sometimes I just crave the structure of an adult mind.”

(Charles) “Well, since it would be temporary… I can ask; I can’t guarantee that any will want to spend any time with you though, even with the temporary drain. And to be fair… the scientists here just want to talk; I suspect that the artifacts are more than adequate payment for a few hours of you and your ships time.”

(Captain G’tanga) “Oh, fine then… you are as they said.” (To the crew) “Bring in the navigator!”

And a human who would not be at place on Earth in the slightest came into view. He appeared to be in his early thirties, and was friendly enough, but there was… just something lacking there. The normal side effects of feeding of course – although it looked like they were using the mutations that let people slowly recover. Sensible enough, after all, their resources were limited! Still, he promptly sent the man a Resplendent Butler’s Accoutrement of his own!

And oh, the questions the astronomers had for him!

He happily answered them. He’d been abducted about five years ago, and had mostly been sticking to the solar system and the outer limits. He spoke rather highly of the “Greys,” although some of the behavior seen in the fiction did indeed happen at the beginning. Once he gained the ability to use Essence, though, they made him navigator, and they treat him pretty well! He certainly wouldn’t have gotten to see the solar system as a shoe store clerk, that was for sure!

As far as he knew, he could come back to Earth tomorrow. He kind of wanted to see his family again, but he wasn’t so sure how the “Men in Black” would react!

(Charles) “Well, that should be fixed fairly soon! Earth… will be opening up a lot soon!”

(Navigator) “Really? That’s great!”

Pretty much all of the astronomers had seen Charles’ ads. They’d mostly been dismissing them – but now that there was a known connection to someone who blatantly DID possess the capacity for interstellar travel… they were a LOT more credible! They collaborated his statements!

(Captain G’tanga) “So that wasn’t some prank my Earthbound cousins were playing? It’s really happening.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! There are a LOT of things that need fixing!”

(Captain G’tanga, nodding) “That should create many opportunities for us. Hmm… Rogelio, how would you feel about recruiting more crew? We do have some empty berths!”

(Rogelio the human navigator) “If they were willing! Do they have to undergo the ‘treatment,’ though? I always feel so fuzzy after that!”

(Charles) “Well, so long as they use some of those artifacts – which will fix the fuzzy problem – I really can’t object! Spending some time with you will add a lot of wonder to some very bored people’s lives!”

(Captain G’tanga) “Very well then! This would be SO much easier than abducting them, but I’ll need a copy of one of those ads and a promise that this is happening.”

Charles cheerily sent them some copies of the ads… they didn’t give planetary coordinates after all – and the planets were getting staffs of manse guardians and kickaha and such, which would make it awkward to misuse the system… After all, doubltess some of the Raksha of that court would be wanting to be on the other ends of those gates for less benevolent reasons, even if that WAS blatantly shortsighted.

It didn’t take all that long before the astronomers were pretty much done talking to Rogelio and taking notes. They were getting a rather creepy feeling from just how CLOSE his life seemed to be to the “fictional” descriptions… Just how much of that “fiction” was entirely factual?

(Charles, after the Raksha had gone) “The Raksha really aren’t at ALL human of course, and don’t really understand humans all that well – but they do fake it fairly well! They’re… in modern terms, they’re self-sustaining superforce energy vortexes, given identity by a personal narrative, defined by the attractors of a set of five energy nexi, and potentially immortal. They… don’t really have an evolutionary history, or share most human urges, and only take near-human forms because it’s a stable form to copy. Please don’t ask how they can interbreed with humanity; it involves a certain amount of superforce-based overriding of the usual rules governing tht sort of thing in favor of narrative – and that’s pretty complicated to explain in any reasonable length of time.”

(Hirashi) “I see… I would assume they aren’t the only sapient life out there. ARE there any others?”

(Charles) “Honestly… most of the sapient life forms in the cosmos are expressions of the energy that gives it structure. Another huge segment of them are descended, ultimately, from human beings. The “Jadeborn” are Raksha who were permanently entrapped in forms during the creation of the universe. There are some other races, like the Dragon Kings – but there are only twenty-five million of them in the entire cosmos, and there may well never be any more since they were created with no potential to increase in numbers. There are some elder races… but they were scarce to begin with, and aren’t well suited to the current cosmos.”

There was a prompt run on the library files for documentation on the various species to study (once they were back on Earth), but considering what they’d seen already, and Charles’s apparent prior activities… they could certainly believe that there was more life out there. Several of them had already been planning to check out gates when they opened just in case, and that number had just increased considerably. After all… it would be the first chance in the history of modern astronomy to take a look from another vantage point!

(Hirashi) “Er… you’re handing out a LOT of information here, and some of it there’s pretty obviously been some soft of cover-up on. You ARE taking us back, right?

(Hala) “Of course he is!”

(Charles) “Of course! I simply need to transport one of the gates far enough out… Once it’s there, I can simply step back and forth!”

Well, that really didn’t break any more of physics than the fact that they were obviously traveling far faster than light did anyway. Speaking of which…

(Hirashi, who seemed to be becoming the unofficial spokesman for the scientists). Could you tell us something about how your drive system works? Blatant FTL undermines all kinds of theories!

(Charles) “Well… ultimately, I have to go past the boundary of the universe, at about 10 to the 100’th light years. Even at the maximum pseudovelocity I can handle… that’s going to take most of a month! Fundamentally… there several valid ways of looking at the structure of the universe; in some it’s a LOT smaller. And to be fair… it starts looking a LOT alike when you’re passing between galaxies.”

(Hirashi) “So the ship is simply ignoring that empty space? Or compressing it as it goes through?”

(Charles) “Basically, we’re just partially phased into a way of looking at it where the entire cosmos is only about 18,000 miles across. The reshaping of the original universe to it’s current form imposed a drastically expanded, relativistic, metric on the original structure of the cosmos – but the original metric is still available in some reference frames; we’re just occupying a compromise frame between the two metrics.”

Ah, direct reality alteration. The same thing – if obviously on a far higher power level – that the Sigils the boy had handed out let them do. Still, such POWER. The child had said that the ship was a “manifestation”. Could he possibly be simply… powering this entire trip by himself? Even if not, his resources were obviously incredible.

They’d have liked to ask Charles more questions – weeks worth – but with the departure from the local group they were reaching the end of the immediate tour, and it was time to step back to Earth. That would have to wait for another time. They’d certainly try to remain in communication with Charles or Elzeard, though!

Beasts of Atheria Part II – Bears and Horses

Brown bear rearing2

Meet Farmer Brown…

Beasts born in Atheria, like Humans born there, gain a Birthright – abilities derived from the magic of the domain in which they’re born. You can find some more details on that over HERE in the first article in this series, or some basic principles over  HERE. – and most of the Human Birthrights can be found over Here or Here.

And with that out of the way, here are another trio of beasties.

Alarian Beekeeper Bear (Brown Bear): While Alarian Bears may be either Brown or Black bears, they’re invariably large, healthy, and well-fed enough to use the statistics for a Brown Bear as a base. Like so many animals in Alaria they’re inclined to live in larger-than-usual groups – in this case usually a pair or two and their families. Beekeeper Bears instinctively understand how to use the resources of the land and are deeply attuned to it’s patterns. In the areas they inhabit they tend to root out undesirable plants, encourage the growth of trees that bear fruit and nuts, as well as desirable herbs, berry bushes, flowering vines and shrubs (for bees) and similar plants. They cultivate beehives, consuming a portion of the honey and leaving the hives and swarms largely intact – a habit made possible by some form of innate control over bees, keeping other honey-seekers away, and encouraging flowers. Telepaths, beast-speakers, and similar individuals have occasionally managed to obtain medical care or supplies from Beekeeper Bears, but it’s best to avoid them otherwise; they can be quite territorial. There are a few tales of lost children being raised by bears – but that is at least pretty uncommon, if possibly not entirely mythical.

Beekeeper Bear Birthright (24 CP):

  • Augmented Bonus/Adds (Str Mod) to (Wis Mod) for skill purposes (Heal, Listen, Profession, Sense Motive, Spot, and Survival. This only applies to Farmer, Beekeeper, and Herbalist out of the hundreds of possible Profession skills, but this is – sadly – not really enough of a restriction on a bear to be worth a price break (6 CP).
  • Presence/Charm, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (no save, can communicate basic concepts)/only works on Bees, Wasps, Ants, and Sawflies (6 CP).
  • Inherent Spell (Summon Swarm) with +4 Bonus Uses, Corrupted for Increased Effect (swarm lasts for (level) rounds without concentration)/user may only summon swarms of bees (treat as Spiders, but have Flight instead of Tremorsense) and bees must be native to the area (12 CP).

Atherian Horses:

Horses really aren’t very bright compared to most predatory and semi-predatory mammals; it doesn’t take that much brainpower to eat plants, run away from predators, and operate in a rather simple herd social structure – but they’re still fairly big, which is the other major factor affecting Birthrights. Thus Horses typically have 18 character point birthrights – respectable, but not at the level of Humans 30-31 points or even Bears 24. Still, 18 well-spent character points can accomplish a good deal…

Dernmarkain Timedancer (Any Horse): Timedancers use the dimension-warping power of their birth-realm for one simple purpose – escaping. In general the strategy is to warp time to move well away from any sudden danger and then to keep on going further away as quickly as possible. Given that this is a simple and straightforward upgrade of the basic equine survival strategy – like a tortoise with extra armor – their behavior is a lot like any other horses. For good or ill, however, they’re harder to catch than most other Atherian horse variants and can be very difficult to keep and train. Their tendency to simply flash-step over enclosures when they feel overly confined, and to vanish when startled, tends to make training them an exercise in first getting the horse to WANT to cooperate with you. While treats and attention will usually persuade them to stick around, and even to allow themselves to be ridden, training one for warfare is quite a feat since their natural tendency is to suddenly be somewhere else as soon as combat begins. This makes combat-trained Timedancers – capable of removing themselves and their riders from danger when necessary but willing to remain in a combat situation otherwise – an incredibly expensive purchase. Of course, given that such a steed may easily save it’s rider from a major attack spell or two, a couple of deathblows, a surprise attack, and capture by the enemy, during a single battle, those fortunate warriors who manage to acquire such a steed usually consider it well worth it. There is a reason why Dernmarik is often considered a “Realm of Heroes”.

Timedancer Horse Birthright (18 CP):

  • Reflex Action, 3/Three Actions Per Day Variant, with +4 Bonus Uses (for a total of seven), Specialized/only usable for movement, whether natural or magically-assisted (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (Personal Haste, from The Practical Enchanter), CL1, SL1, At-Will Use-Activated, 2000 GP effective value) (3 CP).
  • Inherent Spell (Lightning Step (from The Practical Enchanter), with +2 Bonus Uses, 9 CP).

Pale Steeds (Any Horse): Few creatures survive birth in the realms of death – and those which do are often most uncanny creatures indeed; the birthrights of death are varied and terrible. Still, the beasts of the realm are often well-fitted to their desolate and barren homeland. There the Pale Steeds wander the moors, blending with the mists – and are often mistaken for spirits themselves.

Like most other horses, the Pale Steeds employ the power of their birthrights to escape their enemies. Unlike most horses, they don’t just use it to escape simple predators… A Pale Steed can pursue the newly dead, and – sometimes – escort them back to life. That birthright works best on other equines – allowing their herds to restore lost members and maintain their numbers in some of the most hostile areas in all Atheria – but nothing stops their riders from pursuing other spirits to return them to life.

Pale Steed Birthright (18 CP):

  • Inherent Spell with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Increased Effect (a level six effect) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires pursuing the targets spirit into the realms of the dead, handling whatever problems you find there, catching up, and escorting the spirit back to the world of the living. This is not at all difficult if the target happens to be another Pale Horse. Other targets are as difficult as the game master feels like making the trip (6 CP).
  • Shapeshift with the Shape of Death and Incorporeal Forms enhancements, and +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to take Incorporeal Form, cannot be maintained for more than a few minutes at a time (8 CP).
  • Blessing with +1 Target (the user and one additional creature), Specialized and Corrupted / only to share the Shapeshifting Ability. Using – and sharing – this ability allows a Pale Steed to bring back a creature who’s body has been destroyed (usually by being eaten by a predator) by simply sharing the ability to return to corporeal form with it’s spirit (4 CP).

Raising the dead is pretty difficult on Atheria – a world where humans and near-human spellcasting is normally limited to level three or less. While there are some ways around that limit, most of them are rare or specialized. For reasons known only to the Great Lords of the Fey, animal birthrights are not so limited – making Pale Steeds one of the few more-or-less readily accessible ways to manage the trick. Sadly, they’re pretty rare, even in the Death Domain – and their ability to become incorporeal makes them (once again) difficult to catch and train.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXXI – A Pillar Of Fire By Night

English: Skyline of Gaborone, Botswana

And here we are!

Back in Africa, erecting the Fire Pole Manse had been put on hold for a few hours while Charles finished cleaning up the sands (which had been easy enough and had left him plentifully supplied) – but he needed to decide what sort of new manse to put there to make sure that the place wasn’t used as a bridgehead again! He’d already provided water and made traditional life a lot more comfortable and reliable…. Maybe something for animals?

He consulted the local gods!

The boar-goddess advocated for the animal idea, especially if it bolstered her children! The god of the delta, of course, wanted more water. Several of the patrons of the local tribal groups chimed in with requests for another redoubt against intrusion.

Well… a pocket-dimension place then! Assorted animal sanctuaries, and some areas for local villagers to take refuge in, with the support and population-control functions. The quasi-Yu-Shan bits too; the local gods would enjoy those!

The local gods had to admit, this was the most attention anyone had paid to them in a while – and they knew ambrosia when they saw it. On the other hand, Charles HAD more-or-less told the delta god that he was here on a philanthropic mission. They were assuming that he was an eccentric and powerful, if ultimately benevolent, Celestial god.

Still, with the major local gods now occupied, that left Charles looking for some Terrestrials to look after his forthcoming Fire Pole Manse!

It seemed that the local Terrestrial Clan – the Kgathi – was fire-aspected, and was very much determined to keep the instability endemic to many African nations out of their own – and very, very insular, the better to keep foreign Terrestrial interests guessing. The local gods… were a little mixed on whether or not they’d make satisfactory caretakers and power-distributors; for Terrestrial Exalted, they were very respectful of the gods and elementals, and had rarely strong-armed them. On the other hand, they came down really hard on anyone who got overly friendly with foreigners. Representatives of Waters of Change, the city-father of Gaborone, said that sure, they’d let the power flow freely – but if they could find some way to use it to benefit mostly themselves and the local area, they would.

Well, he’d have to include some remote-transmission links to get it to the power grids on the various continents anyway… Might as well go talk to them!

Gaborone was the largest city in the country, one of the fastest-growing in the world, and set between two hills – and a bit problematic! HE was a foreigner too, and so the local Terrestrials – and the people and spirits they dealt with – were unlikely to be all that cooperative.

It turned out to be even worse than he’d thought… the Kgathi pretty well had a monopoly on the local occult interests! Fortunately, Charles got really lucky (nine successes on nine dice).

Dealing with the local traditional religious and medical practitioners (who were SERIOUSLY wondering where his parents were! Botswana was pretty safe compared to many places, but still), he was eventually able to convince them that he wasn’t just some overly curious kid from the First World. It helped that the enlightened ones could see that his Essence signature was powerful and very mixed.

(Mpule, a local healer) “Kgathi? What would you want with them? They don’t see just anyone. Especially not Westerners . . .”

(Charles) “Well… I need to place a major power source in this area, and I need somebody to look after it! It will be very useful of course, and will reduce the areas dependence on outside energy sources though!”

Mpule found that one hard to believe – even if she could see that Charles’s Essence had some most curious patterns! She took him aside and strengthened the privacy wards…)

(Mpule) “Who are you representing? I can tell you’re no ordinary child.”

(Charles) “Well, me! But I’m advancing things on Elzeard’s schedule a bit, and Alefi (God of the Okavango Delta), Adina (Goddess of Warthogs), and (various other local gods) said that the Kgathi should be able to handle things!”

Those names did indeed get her attention! Had this child actually checked with all of them? It would be foolish for him to lie after all, such a claim was so easily checked…

(Mpule) “I won’t make any promises, but that will open some doors for you. I’ll let you know in a few days.”

They’d certainly be interested!

Charles handled a few things elsewhere – mostly with Aikiko – in that time, but was soon back to wandering around Gaborone at random, repairing and improving things, and installing a couple of small demesnes and manses to add helpful conveniences… The business district DEFINITELY needed some attention! It seemed to have several stalled construction projects and to have been under construction since the city was founded… It definitely needed fixing!

Repairs, patching foundations, completing things… He was subtle enough about it to keep the general population from seeing much – but anyone watching closely would easily note that the area was being fixed up.

That did not escape the attention of the Kgathi. By the end of the first day of repairs, he was being watched through thaumaturgic means. By the end of the second, he was being watched by normal humans. By the third… well, there’s someone waiting for him when he appeared in the business district. The Essence signature would be well-hidden to most, but she was definitely a Fire signature to Charles’ senses.

(Charles) “Hello! Hm… now the park areas need some fixing, and a few springs… Better now!”

This young woman, was dressed normally, if a bit modestly and conservatively, for the region.

(Young Woman) “What are you doing?” (More quietly) “This is pretty blatant, you know…”

(Charles) “It needs fixing up! And things will be getting a lot more public soon anyway… besides, the people around here haven’t entirely forgotten anyway!”

(Young Woman) “I think that you had better come with me before people start asking questions… or the city-father starts insisting that you stay.”

(Charles, cheerily) “OK!”

(Young Woman, more brightly) “Well, you’re more cooperative than the usual bunch, that’s something in your favor. Charles Dexter Ward, yes?”

(Charles) “Yes! And what should I call you?”

(Sumaiyah) “I’m Sumaiyah Kgathi. Now let’s move… I think that construction worker is catching on.”

Charles was cheerfully towed away – although the crowd was sort of “seeing through” the two of them at the moment. For a Fire Aspect, she was clearly fairly skilled with Air Charms… The waiting car was also well-warded for privacy and discretion, and the compound at the end of the trip appeared to be a fairly normal rich man’s compound. The geomancy was well-hidden as well – but it was a nice little rank-3 Earth Manse… Even more monitoring attempts too, although the mental probes were merely bouncing off Dudael…

On the way in there was much curiosity from the younger family members; it was clearly rare to have a Westerner in the manse, much less one so young! Sumaiyah waved them off with some irritation.

(Sumiyah) “I’m sorry about my younger siblings; they haven’t… awakened yet.”

(Charles, rummaging around for a box of amulets) “Well, I could give them something!”

(Sumiyah) “And what might that be? Nothing with too many strings attached, I hope.”

He… really didn’t seem like the type for that though.

(Charles, with some surprise) “Strings? Oh! No, no strings!”

He handed her a Sigil of the Dawning Age – which Sumaiyah examined quite carefully before handing it to one of the kids (who would have a lot of fun with it).

(Sumaiyah) “Do you hand these out regularly?”

It had looked like that box held a couple of hundred!

(Charles) “Why not? They’re handy!”

And it started clicking…

(Sumaiyah) “Oh… you’re that boy who’s been working with the EPA in America, aren’t you! I’d heard some rumors, but they seemed ridiculous…”

(Charles) “I like to make things, but I need to balance the energy-flows from the air, water, and wood poles by putting a link to the fire pole somewhere around here – and that will need someone to look after it! It will be handy though! The power output will be fairly high!”

(Sumaiyah) “That was a nice evasion there… and just what would think power output be doing?… Wait, the poles? You mean… the ELEMENTAL POLES?”

Just what was she dealing with here? To talk of using such power, TRIVIALLY!

(Charles) “Well yes! What else? And it should supply up to about twelve terawatts of electrical power. I’ll have to put in some distribution links, but there will be plenty for everybody! That should help with the pollution problems too!”

Sumaiyah sent a few hasty telepathic queries… and found out that twelve terawatts was about five times the total electrical power output of the entire world! The world as a whole only used about 16 terawatts of energy in every form even before conversion losses!

She had to get Charles in to talk with her father that day – even if he was playing a big prank, it would be entertaining. And if he wasn’t… that much power, in Africa… it could turn things around for the entire CONTINENT.

(Sumaiyah, after an hour or two) “Charles, Father will see you now… and look at your plans for this. I hope for your sake you can deliver! He’s not to be trifled with.”

Her father’s office was rather extensively fireproofed – and the man himself… well, sub-Saharan Africans were usually dark, but behind the illusions, his skin was more obsidian than flesh, and he could easily feel the heat from twenty feet away.

Still, that was no problem!

(Charles) “Hello Sir!”

(Tshosa) “Tshosa Kgathi, young man.”

He extended a hand; even through the adaptation, it was rather hot. Charles shook it anyway of course; he did have very good armor. It was uncomfortable and stung a bit anyway? Ah! A bit of essence-based character-testing! And a very firm handshake!

Charles’s conviction roll got seven successes, thanks to his cult, the Constitutional Charm series, and a good dose of luck.

(Tshosa, who actually smiled) “Well! You’re much tougher than you look, Charles… now, to business. Has my daughter gone hysterical, or is it true that you’re going to build us a power-plant Manse capable of twelve terawatts of output… and place us in charge of it? What are you asking for this?”

Surely there had to be some catch… he’d dealt with great powers before and knew that there was ALWAYS a catch.

(Charles, a bit blankly) “Asking? I need to put one around here to balance the essence-flows from the rest of the set and get the dragon lines back up to the levels they should be at! That’s why I need to know if you’d be willing to take charge of it after I put it up!”

(Tshosa) “I’d like to see the plans, first! I’m sure with such an ambitious project, you have that set up…”

That had been the other major reason for his surveying around the city. It might be a minor issue though! The absolute best place was where Parliament currently was; on a modest demesne that subtly encouraged honesty in thought and actions – probably why someone clever had put it there!

(Charles) “Well, I could do a little warping and put it in the yard here, or shift the geomancy a bit and put it over on this hill, or here outside of town. In any case, it will be generating a minor pocket realm for itself, so it won’t be conspicuous and will be easy to protect!”

(Tshosa) “I can see that from the plans… now won’t that take a long time, or do you have means of speeding up the process?” (Pocket realm? Hmm… that was handy, especially since the boy didn’t seem to be asking for any strings at all!)

(Charles) “Not really! I have to do some things in Yu-Shan this afternoon, so I’d like to get done this morning if you don’t mind!”

Yu-Shan? Well, that most likely said “Celestial God”… but THIS AFTERNOON? What in the blazes?

Tshosa maintained his composure, but only by so much!

(Tshosa) “All in good time! I want to be absolutely sure this won’t cause undue harm to the city or the Parliament; that demesne has some minor interactions with governmental functions! I would insist on keeping those effects in the Manse’s design.”

(Charles) “OK! Lets see… a bit of a redesign then!” (He passed his hand over the sheets, drew on the Instant Genius Method, and did some minor revisions – although his version would be using subtle persuasion, rather than weak UMI…) “Will that do?”

Well… that lent more credence to “This Afternoon”! The “boy” must have manses as part of his domain, plenty of resources (“Salary”), and that divine charm that completed tasks instantly. And… he’d want to use it as much as possible, so as to expand his domain. No wonder he wasn’t asking for much! Simply creating a manse was a direct profit for him!

(Tshosa) “It’s suitable. As long as it’s not too obvious, and we can keep the corruption out, I’ll be happy.”

(Charles) “It should!”

(Tshosa) “Now how subtly can you build this place? I’d rather not have the President or Parliament see this yet! It would take too much explaining – at least until you build your portals.”

Charles was rather pleased! The word must really be spreading – although it was a bit of a jump to link it to him. Logic pointed that way of course, but few people were really sure!

Tshosa knew it was a bit of a jump – but the language in the advertisements sounded a LOT like Charles in the reports he’d seen and from what he’d seen so far! Besides… Charles had just announced his intention to create a gateway manse to supply the human race with power. More gateway manses to supply living space… was a pretty obvious next step!

(Charles) “Well, I’ll put up a privacy ward, and conceal the construction – and once it’s up, it will be generating it’s own pocket-realm.”

(Tshosa) “Now where is the closest one to here! When we MUST reveal ourselves, I intend to be the first African clan head to go into space!”

Charles was happy to list them off! There would be three relatively nearby, a circle of six over in egypt, and eighty more scattered across Africa. After all, with seventy-two planets being opened up, and a dozen gates back to Earth each, most continents were getting quite a few!

Well, except for Australia. Most of the interior was so heavily tangled up with the Dreamtime realm, that you never knew where a gate would be emerging today – and so almost all of theirs would be relatively near the coast!

(Tshosa, picking one out) “Right! I know where I will be on the day of opening then… and you’d better open them promptly!”

(Charles) “It’s all still on schedule!”

(Tshosa beamed!) “Good! Now let’s get this power plant constructed! We can hash out who gets what portions of the power on the way to Parliament!”

(Charles) “OK!”

He wanted it relatively evenly distributed – but there’d be plenty; after all, the entire world didn’t use anywhere near that much electricity – even if it did use somewhat more energy in various forms (actually less, but then such a lot of the worlds 16 Terawatts was lost as waste heat…). The Kgathi were certainly welcome to plenty of it for the local grid!

Tshosa was a stiff negotiator; while Botswana was pretty well off for the region, he knew full well that it could not compare to the major nations. He was rather startled at how accommodating Charles was.

(Tshosa) “So what are you, the God of Granting Desires? You can tell me; I’m good at keeping secrets. Most people around here just think I’m a wealthy businessman!”

Oops! A direct question! That was awkward!

(Charles) “Well, I really can’t say what – but the universe needs a lot of fixing, and somebody has to do it!

(Tshosa) “Ohhh… I see.” (Knowingly) “Well, be careful of those Western houses and clans! And the Asian ones, too! They’ll be all over this once they find out! I might need your help holding them back…”

(Charles) “Hm… I’ll set you up with some extra security forces! Maybe another manse to make some…”

Yep. There it was. Possible problem -> build another manse. That said a lot about the child right there. 

(Tshosa) “I think that can wait until I’ve found a suitable planet for a base. There’ll be plenty of them, from the looks of things.”

(Charles) “Of course! More room will help with a LOT of conflicts!”

(Tshosa, who was a bit more cynical) “Well, maybe…”

The Parliament Building was modest by Western standards, but radiated the hidden-to-mortals energies of the demesne. Mr. Kgathi was quite proud of the place! It had involved a lot of hard work, and many cover identities, to convince them to build there, but he had never regretted it!

Several important looking folks nodded to Tshosa as they headed to the geomantic center, which was… an isolated alcove.

(Charles) “Well… it will take a little stretching to accommodate the construction, but that will be fine!”

He cheerily erected a concealment ward, a privacy ward, a random-wanderer diverting ward, a space-expansion effect, and began his usual construction procedure – which Tshosa watched with a great deal of interest. It was rare (OK, pretty much unheard of) to see a Manse built like this…

(Tshosa) “So, this is a Charm, right? Could a Terrestrial do this? I might have to research the procedure.”

(Charles) “Well… doing it this way takes a couple of charms, some upgraded thamuaturgy, a factory-cathedral, and rather a lot of other tools!”

(Tshosa, looking impressed – apparently for real) “And how old are you, really? That’s a lot for a boy of your apparent age to have!”

(Charles) “Uhm… I’m almost fourteen now!”

(Tshosa) “Really… and do your guardians know?”

(Charles) “Grandpa does! And the teachers in Yu-Shan, and some other people…”

(Tshosa) “Grandpa…”

He took a look at Charles with his Essence senses… and a rather potent Air Charm!

(Tshosa) “Middle-aged British-sounding fellow, inhumanly developed Essence, likes to wear red and black?”

He threw in a more detailed description… that matched very closely.

(Charles) “That does sound like him! Have you met?”

(Tshosa, distantly, and MUCH more seriously than before.) “A long time ago… long before you were born, I’d say. Tell him to give the Starbreaking a bloody nose for me, would you?

(Charles) “OK! I’m told they’re going to be pretty unhappy anyway, what with the gates and all!”

(Tshosa, back to his usual self) “They’ll just have to deal with it… stupid Alchemicals. So are we done here? It’s going to be a hassle hiding this from the tourists, but again, that’s not going to matter soon.”

(Charles) “Well… the entryway to the pocket-realm will conceal itself, and it shouldn’t be easily stumbled into! But it’s done…. and here’s the hearthstone!”

So trusting… so very trusting! The boy was handing him global influence, and enough raw power to change the destiny of all of Africa – not to mention a Hearthstone that could channel electrical energy from the manse to power pretty much any nearby device – on the basis of some quick recommendations and a brief acquaintance. The things he could – and was planning to – do with that power! For a mere starting item, once the Terrestrial cover was irretrievably blown, he would ensure that Botswana was no longer dependent on other nations for energy!

(Tshosa) “Thank you!”

And he… ate it. There was a bit of Wood Essence leaking from him; the stone was now attuned and in his stomach, where it would stay!

(Tshosa) “Delicious! A hint of cinnamon and honey with that one.”

Charles wasn’t actually very worried; the power-distribution and essence-channeling was the main function, and THAT was only adjustable within limits; everyone would get a decent share! Still, it will be a very VERY handy resource for them!

(Tshosa) “Now don’t tell my children I was so friendly with you, all right? And don’t go fixing things downtown unless they’re about to fall apart. We want the normal people to build it on their own so they’re not dependent on us for everything!”

(Charles) “Aw… OK though! I can’t stay here much longer anyway!”

(Tshosa) “Right, probably in demand for a lot of things? I’ll have Sumaiyah see you out.”

(Charles) “Thank you!”

And Charles headed for his next stop… at least that completed the set of elemental-pole manses, and would rapidly bring the Dragon Lines up to full strength again!

Tshosa… went to check on what was up with the “toys” the boy had handed around. The servants were calling him about minor magical mischief! Still, he’d given one to each kid! Surely they wouldn’t be anything very power…

Uh-oh! He’d been so distracted by Charles wanting to give HIM a manse of immense power that he’d dismissed a few obviously mass-produced charms – but the boy had built that manse in MINUTES. For all he knew the boy had given the kids some fairly impressive artifacts!

The Sigils of the Dawning Age weren’t actually all THAT powerful, and wouldn’t work for an Exalt – but as gifts to children they were more than a bit overboard! Even if they WOULD greatly reduce the jealousy towards the ones who actually did Exalt… Was that a part of the point?

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXX – The Lava of the Lamp

Pyroclastic flows at Mayon Volcano, Philippine...

Yes, that IS mildly cranky!

Aikiko sighed; the kid was still trying to be soothing, and asking for patience; he’d “remind the humans to offer proper respect” – but it was hardly surprising that the long-neglected angry god of volcanic disasters seemed to be irrationally hot-tempered. She couldn’t imagine a disaster god being overly patient. At least he was only gesturing with his blade of molten orichalcum – and she had to admit that it DID make a very dramatic pointer!

Said angry god was currently pointing at a rough map of the coastline and environs shaped from the molten stone at the moment – sketching out where a tidal wave would be suitable or where a nice pyroclastic flow might go.

At least that was only over a few smaller villages; the city was a bit far down the coast for a normal pyroclastic flow. Huh! Botheration! He was still doing his job properly! He was being nicely consistent about how things ought to go… He was just…. tired of restraining things for humans who had forgotten all about him and the others.

(Rikandithu) “If they’re going to LIVE ON A VOLCANO and NOT SAY THEIR PRAYERS then they have NO ROOM TO GRIPE ABOUT IT WHEN IT KILLS THEM! Maybe THAT will make them respect the powers of nature again!”

It was hard to argue with that, but how could they know that they needed to pray when they didn’t know that he existed? Worse… the youngster was being entirely too honest! Rather than promising that he would have the mortals pray to the volcano gods, he was only promising that he would remind them of how important it was, rather than promising that they WOULD pray properly. That wasn’t going to help with a god; gods… wanted certainties. Not “I’ll give it a try!”. Now a nice pyroclastic cloud… THAT was a CERTAINTY.

Still… that did sound awfully similar to someone else she knew!

(Aikiko, quietly, to the humans) “Is he aware that gods are… concrete in their needs and feelings?”

(Temerinthia, F, Air) “He’s very young… I don’t think so, but this is sort of last-resort! I hope we can get out of here if it goes wrong though! I’d rather not be buried in a magma pool under a mountain!”

(Aikiko, still quietly) “Urgh… it doesn’t look like the god’s going to negotiate for much longer. I’m going to try and tell him.”

(Temerinthia) “I… suppose you’re right. Damn! This is likely to kill MILLIONS!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ve got to try everything we can to stop that.”

Trying to open a telepathic link with the boy got nowhere – so she fell back on walking over. Sure, it might make things worse – but it was difficult to see how!

And time seemed to… stop around her, for everyone but him and her, as she started to talk – even if it would obviously be impossible to do anything BUT talk.

(Aikiko) Huh! “Hey there! Mind if I help out? Aikiko Tanaka, by the way!”

(Shpaiki) “I’m Idihawa Shpaiki, and I’m pleased to meet you! And not at all! This spirit simply isn’t being reasonable at all!”

(Aikiko) “Nice to meet you too, Idihawa! Anyway… gods deal in concrete things! Your promise to remind the people around the volcano how important it is to pay respect to him is good! I’m sure you could convince at least some of them to do it, and he’d love prayer after so long. But he wants to be told that they WILL pray to him.”

It seemed likely that the kid wouldn’t want to do that – he WAS a Guardian, after all, but she’d feel remiss if she didn’t tell him how these things usually worked.

(Shpaiki) “But I can’t FORCE them to pray to him!”

(Aikiko) “I thought you’d say that… you remind me of one of my friends! But maybe you could tell him you’d do that for him, and explain to them why they need to once we’re up on the surface? I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be willing to negotiate with you. I’m sure you could find some way of convincing the people above!”

(Shpaiki) Well, drat! Still… I suppose that there are at least a few who would try anything!

(Aikiko) “There’s always some… and it’s worth a try! We can’t let all those people upstairs suffer. This is a pretty nice stasis effect… how are you powering it?”

(Shpaiki) “Oh, I made it a rule! around me there’s ALWAYS time for talking! You can’t do anything else, and it can be a bit weird when it comes to thinking about time – but it works pretty well! It works on earth-forces!”

(Aikiko) “Cool, like a Manse? You and my friend might have to talk sometime, after we finish up here!”

Oh dear. Just like Charles! So trusting!

(Shpaiki) “Er, manses are those really old magical buildings? Because it’s a lot like them!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah! My friend knows a LOT about Manses. I might have to introduce you two when we finish here…”

(Shpaiki) “That would be handy! I’ve been sort of guessing on a lot of things!”

(Aikiko) “He can definitely help you out, then… and I’ll let you get back to negotiating. I don’t think we can make it much worse.”

(Shpaiki) “Should I just try to play for a few weeks then? I can probably get THAT. They… don’t seem to be in a big hurry!”

(Aikiko) “Well, that’s another thing about gods… they think on a slower time scale than humans. You might be able to get away with a couple of months. Actually… you might want to make that days! It has been a while since he’s received prayer – and gods get really grumpy about it. I wouldn’t go over a couple of weeks! For a god, this is a pretty extreme situation!”

(Shpaiki) “Well, it’s worth a shot! Who knows what will come up by then?”

Aikiko agreed – and watched time start to flow again as she stopped talking to young Shpaiki. She stuck close though; she wasn’t sure what defenses he had, and if he did need help she wanted to be nearby.

Fortunately, Shpaiki was pretty persuasive, even if he wasn’t using UMI… He eventually got past Rikandithu’s ongoing rant.

(Rikandithu) “Very well! You have until the End of the Cycle of Selene! Then, when you have failed to bring the humans back to the proper ways, I shall restrain the fires and the waters no longer!”

A bit of frantic checking showed that that was… twelve days, presuming he went to the exact dark of the moon. It could be eleven with bad luck. Still, either way, that was better than she’d really expected the kid to get! At worst, it would give them some time for an evacuation!

Of course, after five hundred years… he might have been planning that timing anyway. Drama; the dark of the moon, the best time to display your volcanic fireworks, and the least time for warnings of the tidal wave.

As the various Volcano Gods sank back into their sanctums, and their power passed from the chamber… the magma suddenly began rising, the mountain shuddered, and the tunnel roof cracked!. Oh, bother… that was probably Rikandithu’s lost temper manifesting as an eruption.

(Shpaiki) “Oh dear! If it collapses before we get out… it’s going to be REALLY hard to talk it into opening up again!”

Huh! This all-the-communications-you-want-in-an-instant thing was really pretty handy! All the planning time that you could ever want…

(Aikiko) “Mmm… I can run pretty fast, but I’m not sure about the rest of you!”

(Shpaiki) “Well… I can let them (indicating the two terrestrials) in for the moment!”

(Aikiko) “Okay, great!”

Time returned as Shpaiki frantically ushered the two terrestrials through a gate that opened in a nearby crevice (Hm; the same energies as at the village! That pretty much clinched it!). After that though it only took a moment for Aikiko to realize that she had more and better athletics charms than Shpaiki – and his portals were obviously a lot like Charles’s basic portals. They only formed near him or his last location – so if HE didn’t get out physically… anyone inside would be stuck under a mountain! Gah!

Aikiko grabbed Shpaiki once the Terrestrials had made it through the gate.

(Aikiko) “Sorry, but I don’t want us getting stuck in there!”

Aikiko kicked in her Athletics Charms, Cheetah Speed from the Behemoth Cloak, and several other boosts to get up to a hundred miles per hour or so… even she didn’t dare go much faster than that through twisting, collapsing, volcanic tunnels. It meant going four-legged and bounding along with a younger teenager on her back – but if that was what it took, so be it!

That led to a mad dash through the twisting tunnels, ahead of the oncoming blasts of flame and collapsing tunnels, leaping fire-belching fissures, diving through curtains of falling magma, running up the walls, dodging falling rocks or using them as stepping-stones (with many motes spent and various rolls), and evading assorted avalanches… Fortunately the vast majority of the damage couldn’t penetrate the Behemoth Cloak – although Shpaiki was not so lucky, and took some injuries (albeit nothing critical) from environmental hazards that he didn’t have defenses against yet. Sneakers and feet pounding the rock of the tunnels hard enough to generate sparks, and leaving a trail of shimmering sunlight as she ran, Aikiko leaped, turned, and bounced off rocks and falling rocks as necessary to come hurtling out of the tunnels just ahead of belching flames and a fountain of lava as the lava flows rolled out into the woods and the flames rose.

Gah! If she was going to be doing THIS sort of thing a lot, she’d have to drop by Charles’s solar academy and see what she could pick up! At the moment though… she sent up some prayers in hopes of soothing the volcano god’s angry nerves.

At least this wasn’t a full-scale eruption! It was just an expression of him being cross – a little (rather literal) venting. Come to think of it… Rikandithu was evidently a pretty powerful god! She didn’t want to see him when he was actually angry!

Meanwhile, however, Giancarlo was very insistent about finding out where his younger sister was! Was she still trapped inside?

(Aikiko) “The kid stowed her and her companion in one of his gates.”

(Giancarlo, somewhat blankly) “Er… How the hell does that work?”

(Aikiko) “He summoned a gateway in the cave side and they went through it!”

(Giancarlo) “But wouldn’t that mean that they were stuck there?”

Huh. From what little she recalled… it did work that way with some pocket-gate artifacts and with Sanctums – but a lot of other gadgets, like those packs that just held unreasonable amounts of stuff, were mobile, and Shpaiki had said that his gate travelled with him… Still, if the kid really did have a world-body like Charles, she didn’t want to just blow it for him if he wanted to keep it a secret.

Shpaiki was taking a bit of recovery time – but it wasn’t like he didn’t have to let them out anyway. He sighed and opened up another in a convenient tree-root arch and let the two out again. They hadn’t gotten very far in anyway; HIS gate-area fairly well secured in a manse…

Explaining that they had roughly ten days to establish a substantial cultof the volcano gods wasn’t exactly easy – but it wasn’t totally unanticipated either.

(Aikiko) “At least that gives us some time for an evacuation, if we are unable to do that.”

Giancarlo groaned. That was going to be fun trying to explain. They could probably convince at least some people to do it though – maybe more if they just faked something! After all, once it happened… it wouldn’t matter if the evidence that had led to an evacuation was flawed.

Aikiko sighed… At least they had a little time – which was probably about the best that could be expected. She had to help Shpaiki get back to town though… It didn’t look like he was used to major injuries. This was going to be heck to explain to his parents!

(Aikiko) “Are you feeling okay, other than the burns? We need to get you some kind of environmental protection, if you’re going to talk to spirits often.”

(Shpaiki) “Er… it seems to be getting a bit better… So many of the spirits in there just wouldn’t listen! I’ve never had that happen before!”

(Aikiko) “I think that was not being prayed to for a long time, and being fire spirits! They tend to be pretty temperamental! But you did good… even if we can’t get a cult set up, you’ve given those villages time to evacuate.”

(Shpaiki) “That’s going to be a hard sell! A lot of the people around here are strict roman catholics!”

(Aikiko considered) “Yeah… I’m not good on my Catholicism. Is there a saint of volcanic eruptions? Maybe we could talk him into accepting worship from that.”

Of course, then they’d have to convince the god to ally up with Ahlat, and that it would be good for Ahlat… oh dear, she really wasn’t very good at celestial diplomacy.

(Shpaiki) “That really is awkward! I might be able to get a small cult started, but volcano gods are REALLY out of fashion!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “They are known for REALLY harsh sacrificial desires, too. NOBODY is going to react well if he starts demanding human sacrifices!”

(Shpaiki) “Well, I can at least TRY to arrange some prayers anyway!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ll see… maybe we can talk him into accepting that for now, and trying to grow the cult. If he gets worship, he might give them some stuff in return. That will help with getting more cult members.”

Hopefully it wouldn’t be making them magmathrowers… that might make more trouble for the local Terrestrials!

(Shpaiki) “Well… at the worst… it’s a little more time.”

Poor kid! Obviously enough, he’d been expecting that he could fix it – and was now rather depressed about it. At a guess, he’d rarely failed this way. She could imagine Charles feeling the same way!

(Aikiko) “Look… not everything can be fixed THAT fast! But you’re… well, like me! You’ve got more tools for doing it than just about anybody else. And like I said, you stopped the disaster that was about to happen right now! You gave the Terrestrials some breathing room, too!” (She’ll smile.) “Sometimes that’s the best we can do.”

The kid perked up a bit with that – and started brainstorming ideas for getting to work on that cult… Still, if he couldn’t manage to make pretty good progress there inside a week… he’d have to start working on the evacuation. Also, seeing a doctor. Burns were PAINFUL.

Aikiko checked to make sure that he had the cash for that – and noted that he had some divine aid anyway; he seemed to have a fair number of minor gods / “animal spirits” about. Were those his equivalent to Charles’s Devas?

Nah, there were obviously fairly minor entities. Still, she’d have to introduce him to Charles. That way, they could give each other ideas!

(Aikiko) “Well… I think it would be helpful if I introduced you to my friend! When would you like to meet him? He’s a LOT like you!”

Shpaiki obviously kind of doubted that – but he certainly didn’t mind meeting people!

(Aikiko) “Okay!”

She called Charles.

(Charles) “Oh hello there Aikiko! What’s up?”

(Aikiko) “Uh, Charles, I met this kid in Argentina. I think he has a world-body too! Want to talk to him?”

(Charles) “Really? How’d that happen? But sure! That would be pretty interesting!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ll be heading in right now…”

Gah! Not only was Charles opening remote gates, but Aden was obviously even bigger than it had been on her last visit! Surely there had to be an upper limit!

(Aikiko) “Okay, we’re in Aden now. This is Charles’ inner space, and it’s pretty neat.”

(Shpaiki) “Whoa… this “Charles” must be ANCIENT!”

(Aikiko) “Actually… he’s your age. MAYBE a little older. I’m pretty sure his grandpa is ancient, though!”

(Shpaiki) “How’d he get so much in here then?”

(Aikiko) “I’m… honestly not sure, though I think he boosts his Essence a lot! He’s pretty powerful for his age.”

Aikiko mostly stayed out of the introductions except to answer a few questions. It didn’t seem right to meddle in the business of younger kids. Besides… it was normal enough in many ways. The usual introductions and things…

At least until it got to a comparison of inner worlds. For good or ill… Shpaiki’s only included a half a dozen manses, and only seven waypoints or so. It was still a nice place of hills and nature spirits – but it’s blatantly an auxiliary thing, rather than his major focus.

(Aikiko) “That’s pleasant… do you have a name for it?”

(Shpaiki) “Not really!”

Aikiko shrugged. It was really up to him whether or not he named it!

(Shpaiki) “But… how did Charles manage to get the POWER to make so many manses? Doing it is… pretty draining! Except for a few speciality things, it’s a LOT easier to do things with your own powers!”

Aikiko looked questioningly to Charles for that one. It wasn’t like she knew much about manses!

(Charles) “Hrm! But manses are EASY to build! Oh, wait… are you… building them, or are you just manifesting them somehow?”

(Shpaiki) “Well… they just… grow sometimes when you REALLY need them! But it takes a LOT out of you!”

(Aikiko) “Wait, you mean you do it SPONTANEOUSLY? Charles, you’ve almost always formed them deliberately, right?”

(Charles) “Well yeah! It’s a lot of work, and takes a lot of power… but once you design them it doesn’t really take anything out of you permanently; after all, even normal humans can make them!”

(Aikiko smiled) “Charles is great at designing Manses.”

(Charles, speculatively) “Hm… If he’s been doing it directly… he must be letting his own energies take shape… I suppose he doesn’t even have to know how they work to do it that way – but I bet you don’t even know the major possibilities, do you?”

Shpaiki had to admit that he didn’t; he hadn’t had much formal occult training. In fact… he seemed to be a lot more typically Solar; the power just came to him.

That was interesting! Aikiko had to wonder what he was using instead! Sure, raw power could substitute for training in many ways – at least in Solars – but was he using his personal constitution (Resistance)? His strength of character (Integrity)? He… sounded a LOT more typical! He might have picked up some of the world-body tricks, and learned to grow a few manses – but FAR more of his charms were the kind of stuff that SHE’D started off with – excellencies in his persuasive and diplomatic skills, some basic defenses, and so on. All the semi-instinctive stuff – rather than being trained in thaumaturgy and sorcery and artificing from the very beginning like Charles. (Not nearly as much of an occult base to experiment with – it was hard to beat a grandfather who might or might not be a powerful supernatural being and had access to Yu-Shan – but basically… he’d been USING the power directly, not studying it and building. And that had made the difference in many ways it seemed – although he hadn’t been doing badly for himself at all! He was obviously pretty good in his specialty – but he was focused on getting along with people, not trying to rebuild creation. That gave her an idea!

(Aikiko) “Hey Shpaiki, what do you think about colonizing space?”

Not too unexpectedly, Shpaiki had never thought about it much. It did sound like a good idea, but how would you get there?

With a nod from Charles (who was curious as to how it looked to other people anyway) – it WAS his plan after all! – Aikiko filled Shpaiki in on Charles’s plans for interstellar colonization.

(Shpaiki) “That’s… pretty large-scale! And he’s doing this NOW?

The thought was pretty obvious… he couldn’t be more than twelve!

(Aikiko) “Not quite yet… how many more months, Charles?”

(Charles) “About two now!”

Mar “Wow. It’s coming up fast there… what’s the closest gate to Atlanta, Charles? Or were you sticking one there? I’m going to have to watch the first people leave!”

Charles cheerily provided the full list. It wasn’t like it was a secret – and there were several sites (mostly transit hubs or to-be transit hubs) where quite a few would be opening.

(Aikiko) “Thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Aikiko) “Anyway, what do you think of what you see? If you two worked together, I think you could get a lot more done.”

Actually she had a hard time imagining how Charles could do that; he seemed to be trying to fix the entire universe in one go regardless!

(Charles) “Hrm… Well, I could help him install some manses! That way he wouldn’t have to fuel thing with his own energies! And that wouldn’t take too long at all!”

(Aikiko) “What do you think Shpaiki? That’d free up a lot of motes for you to use on other things.”

(Shpaiki) “Er… well, all right! As long as it doesn’t take too long! I have to get that cult started!”

Aikiko watched, mostly to get Shpaiki’s reaction – which was interesting. Hm… Charles seemed to be focusing on utility-and-support for the first few…

Huh! Shouldn’t she be more impressed?

Nah! After all… he’d terraformed a world with what looked like less of a fuss!

(Aikiko) “Hey Charles, why not give him some place where he can negotiate with and impress spirits? He seems to deal with them a lot. And maybe some better armor! The Behemoth Cloak was a real lifesaver back there!”

(Charles) “OK! That should be manageable! I’m glad it worked well! What was happening? Your friend here was kind of burned when he arrived!”

Charles threw in better armor (with environmental functions so he wouldn’t get burned again, albeit a bit less combative than the Behemoth Cloaks) and some inter-dimensional communications links, and other handy bits while Aikiko explained at some length.

(Aikiko) “I’m not sure if we can deliver, but at the worst, he bought the Terrestrials time for evacuation.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! Well… I can send someone down to shield the area; if there HAS to be a tidal wave… it doesn’t have to be allowed to destroy the area – and Shpaiki can pitch it as showing the forbearance of the volcano god, who should thus get some worship and offerings!”

(Aikiko) “Good idea… I don’t think the Terrestrials will be able to cover that up-but in a couple of months, there’s going to be stuff they just CAN’T cover up.”

(Charles) “Well… the more people who see it, the more will find a motivation to pray to the natural disaster god, and the more likely he is to be satisfied – so that’s all right!”

(Aikiko) “I wasn’t disagreeing. I was just saying because you’d know somebody would make a fuss, and want to know who did that!” (She looks thoughtful.) “They were pretty pleasant, though.”

(Charles) “Well… I think that having half their territory swept away would really be a problem for them too – and most of them know a LOT more normal people than other terrestrials these days!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, you’re right… geez, the paranoia from the other Exalts must be contagious!”

(Charles) “Well… there won’t be any point in trying to cover things up very soon, so… they might as well go along with it. I… haven’t even heard too many protests about the ads, although they may just think that someone is being silly.”

(Aikiko) “You might not be trying hard enough… maybe film a TV ad on some planet the Sidereals know about and purchase some time?”

(Charles) “That might be a good idea! Although they can do a LOT with special effects these days – especially if they film at Toho! Those guys are GOOD!”

(Aikiko) “You’re telling me. Hmm… I wonder what they’ll have me act in next.”

Actually, the next offer came in a couple of days later – offering Aikiko a role in “Samurai-X” – a sort of X-Men / Samurai movie featuring quasi-superheroes defending Japan against a Demon Onslaught. It would have lots of “casualties” and a final grim triumph at a great price! Aikiko was being offered the part of one of the younger “students” with explosive energy powers who would “die” most heroically holding one of the dimensional breaches long enough for her boyfriend to seal it with HIS powers. He too would die later on, looping a gate into the sun to strike back at the demon world in her memory.

Aikiko took it of course; Superheroes were fun, especially when you arguably were one! And a heroic death was a LOT better than dying like a chump! It wasn’t at ALL a bad part, even if it did call for more athletics and martial skills than pure acting. Still, that was her skillset at the moment and the casting director really was quite good at it. Might as well use his rising young star!

Besides, it was always good to have a source of income that wasn’t connected to a supernatural realm – and acting in major films did pay quite well! And she could do her own English dubbing, which was a BIG plus! It sounded a lot better and was easy on the budget!

And… if it got her more attention from Mechagodzilla, at least she now knew that he had SOME idea of covert operations – even if it WAS donning a fey artifact hat. Of course… the entire idea of Stealth-MechaGodzilla is MORE than silly enough to qualify for fey attention.

Lytek was pleased, if a bit shocked, at Aikiko’s first Solar Guardian find… He’d really been rather hoping that the entire world-body line of development would be something more-or-less unique to Charles! While this boy seemed to be FAR more typically solar in most ways, and his world-body was minuscule and terribly undeveloped in comparison to Aden, the fact that he’d started developing one – and a small population of divine allies – more or less INSTINCTIVELY argued that either HE’D unleashed something with his tinkering – or that Charles had somehow created a new path of transcendence which was now open to anyone like him!

Meanwhile Aikiko, with different – but probably not fewer – worries was off to Kyrgyzstan. That report didn’t really sound much like another Guardian, but it CERTAINLY sounded like something that needed to be dealt with!

Charles was still shying away from speculations about Devon – and from trying to find out just what had happened to him. He WAS awfully busy – and it was possible that Devon had planned it that way – but mostly he was nervous on the topic of Devon because he wondered just how much of his life Devon had pre-planned.

Had Devon planned out his next exaltation, picked him, and made sure to set up most of his life? Was he currently hanging around making sure that Charles’s life went according to plan? It would be hard to put much past a solar sorcerer with 40,000+ years of experience and Devon was known for his dedication to order and planning and for his connections to the pattern spiders.

For all HE knew Devon was still around, and had just made a NEW exaltation of his own design (after all, after a mere six year’s HE’D come surprisingly close) and given it to him – which would be why it brought no memories and such – and he was just an ultimate diversion; it might not be beyond a 40,000 year old solar sorcerer to transfer the lunar bond too… He might even have made new exaltations open to tinkering! He would know that Lytek would have a hard time resisting tinkering, even if he hadn’t known about the Curse – and it was hard to see how anyone missed that!