For today, it’s a few more of the Occult – or, less dramatically, Hidden – Skills that have come up in our Eclipse games. This time around it’s a few that are often more important as background elements than they are to PC’s, since they’re really quite specialized from an adventurers point of view.
Faith (Cha, No Unskilled Use, Restricted) is fairly straightforward; it’s basically the art of focused and directed prayer – asking a powerful extra-dimensional being to channel some of it’s power through to you in a realm where that kind of power doesn’t normally exist. After all, if you can do something through normal means (whatever “normal” means in the realm you’re in) than you don’t really need faith. When you do need faith it’s because you’re trying to be the channel for a miracle.
Unfortunately, channeling such unnatural energies is a massive strain; a character may channel up to (Con/3) spell levels worth of power before exhausting his or her ability to do so for the day. Exceeding that limit will burn out the ability to tap such power for a week/month/season/year for +1/2/3/4 spell levels. Even more unfortunately, the difficulty of such attempts is pretty high; you usually need a LOT of faith to have any real chance of getting a response, even if you have some helpful modifiers; the basic DC is at least (15 + Spell Level x 5) . Luckily, the possibilities for bonuses include Knowledge/Religion 5+; +2 Synergy, Minor / Major / Grand Ritual or Offering; +2/5/10, possession of a Major / Grand / Founding relic of the Faith; +5/10/15, and a potential +2 bonus (or unlimited penalty) for adhering really well (or badly) to the dictates of the entity being invoked. Sadly, assistance bonuses don’t generally help beyond a mere +2; miracles are pretty much an individual thing.
As a truly classical example, Joshua, a Con 15 fourth level (near superhuman!) character with a net faith of +18 (+7 SP +4 Cha +3 Skill Focus +2 Synergy from Knowledge / Religion and +2 for adhering to the dictates of the faith) wants to get a major miracle; a ninth level Earthquake effect to topple the walls of Jericho. Fortunately for him, if unluckily for Jericho, Joshua happens to be the leader of a nation and has access to many priests and a grand relic of his faith.
So Joshua, son of Nun, called the priests and said to them, “Take up the Ark of the Covenant, and let seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD.” Then he said to the people, “Go forward, and march around the city, and let the armed men go on before the ark of the LORD.” And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the Ark, while they continued to blow the trumpets. But Joshua ordered that the people be silent until directed to shout. For seven days the Ark was carried about the city and the trumpets blown, then Joshua commanded the people to shout, the walls fell, the men of Israel took the city, and the city and all that was within it was offered to the Lord, either by the sword, by fire, or by being added to the treasury of the Lord*. The site was then cursed, that none should rebuild there.
*One man did try to keep some things, so he, his wives, sons, and daughters, his sheep and cattle, his tents, and everything that he owned, was burned to appease the wrath of the Lord.
That’s definitely a Grandiose ritual and offering, the Ark was a Founding Relic of the Faith, and the crew of priests was worth another +2 for assistance – giving Joshua a total of +50 to work with. Given that, “taking 10″ was more than enough to get him up to the +55 total required for a eighth level effect. Of course, at Con 15, that meant no more miracles for HIM for a season (or perhaps for a year if this called for a slightly-boosted ninth level version) – but Joshua apparently only got five miracles during his entire career, and at least three of the others were a lot smaller. Ergo, that’s not really a problem.
Most d20 games don’t call for Faith; in their settings supernatural powers are blatant, obvious, and routinely accessible. It plays an important role in the history of the Federation-Apocalypse setting, where it accounts for the occasional record of supernatural events prior to the Opening of the myriad dimensions of the Manifold, and a minor role in actual play (where it accounts for the occasional use of otherworldly powers by those who haven’t traveled the dimensions to establish more direct links to sources of such power) – but even there few actual player characters bother to put any points into it.
Why can you reach other dimensions with a mere skill? That’s because, in d20, a first-level spell can reach into another dimension, find a creature of some specific type, drag it’s spirit to the material plane, manifest a body for it, and bind it to obedience for a time – at the price of infusing the summoner with some of the unlimited energies of the dimension being called upon. That’s WHY summoning is so easy; each time the powers of a plane are drawn upon, it increases its power and influence in the campaign setting. That’s also why faith and simple prayers – made by entities who are linked to the planes addressed by the energies they’ve accepted being infused with – can reach across the dimensions. They’re just using a pre-existing link.
Gathering is pretty simple in theory; it allows the user to collect magical energy from the local environment and use it to power other magic. In practice, Gathering instantly opens up some very big complications.
- What kind(s) of magical energy are in the local environment? Can you gather generic magical power, or do you have to gather specific types?
- Can it be depleted? What happens if it IS? How fast does it renew?
- Does this attract attention? Offend the local spirits? Create disturbances?
- Can you use gathered power to boost spells beyond your normal limits, or just to substitute for part (or all?) of the power you’d normally have to expend in casting a spell?
- Can you do something similar with psychic energies? If not, why not?
- What kind of side effects does this have? After all, if there’s no price… why isn’t pretty much everyone doing it?
Gathering is thus pretty setting dependent… In general:
Gathering (Dex, No Unskilled Use, Armor Check Penalty, Restricted). The user may attempt to gather magical energy to use from the local environment. This requires one standard action (+5 for taking several minutes, +10 for an hour or more) at a base DC set by the level of the desired energy type in the local environment. For general comparison…
- DC 10: The area is seething with power – enough to cause spontaneous magical accidents and transformations. Anyone with any training at all can tap it, those without training may not be able to avoid doing so by accident. Major magical nexi during great mystical conjunctions reach this level, as do great magical storms.
- DC 15: The area is saturated with magic – enough to twist plants growing there, to mutate any non-magical animals born there, and to give items crafted there (as well as the earth and stone of the ground) magical properties. Magical nexi and the greatest ley lines may reach this level, as do powerful magical forges, the prisons of gods, and the crypts of the greatest artifacts.
- DC 20: The area is very high magic. Most people learn to tap at least a bit of it as kids, and can be expected to use simple spells and rituals in place of technology to make their lives easier. Magical creatures and plants are quite normal, while magical crystals and ores are very common A typical level in most d20 worlds for great places of power, the homes of gods, and so on.
- DC 25: Your typical “high magic” d20 setting, such as Eberron or Faerun. Spontaneous magic occurs, but is rare – and you have to work hard to find supplies of magical ores and such. Using any real magic requires some training, although hedge magic will be pretty common.
- DC 30: Mid-level magic fantasy worlds; places of magic are rare and secret, magical creatures generally must be sought out, and magic items and hedge wizards are uncommon. Great mages and priests (as well as mighty heroes) are rare, and are almost always figures of great importance. Worlds like Greyhawk usually hit this level of magic.
- DC 35: Low-magic realms, where even minor spellcasters require rare talents, magical entities tend to be unique and legendary, powerful spellcasters are world-shaking figures that only appear every few generations, and magical items are rare and fabulous, occupy this tier of difficulty.
- DC 40: Magic is terribly subtle, or slowly fading into non-existence. Even the most powerful mages are rarely capable of anything beyond first level spells without going to great lengths to build up or amplify their power.
Success provides the equivalent of one point of Mana to power whatever spell the user casts in the next action. A (Success + 10) provides two, and (Success + 25) or more provides three. In most settings pulling raw power into yourself this way is dangerous; each time the user succeeds he or she must make a Fortitude save against a DC of (the number of points drawn so far today). Each failure results in 1d4 points of stress, If your stress level exceeds your constitution… then something permanent, nasty, progressively worse each time, and related to the type of energy you were drawing on will happen – although this does reset your stress to zero. Otherwise, stress goes away at a rate of 1d4 points per week. Knowledge/Arcana of 5+ provides a +2 bonus on Gathering, as does Concentration 5+.
- Thus, in Shandar, characters could draw on the corrosively radioactive energies of Glowstone, the destructive negative energies of the Cinghalum, or the mystical life-forces of the lands around them, to fuel appropriate effects – all of which were easy (DC 15), but frequently disastrous. At the same time, gathering meant that NPC’s – equipped with slow (Specialized for Double Effect) versions of the skill could produce the occasional high-level healing, restoration, or resurrection effect that adventurers on Shandar so often needed without being of any actual use in combat or on an adventure – thus keeping the player characters in a vital role.
- In the Twilight Isles characters could tap into the primal magics of Creation, Transformation, or Destruction as appropriate to the spell being cast at DC 20. Those were dangerous and twisting powers, but it was often well worthwhile for a higher level character to learn Gathering since any higher-level spell cast there required extra power anyway.
- The Federation-Apocalypse setting made the checks easier in general (although it varied with the specific realm) and removed the saving-throw limitation; after all, when your rogue-types are hacking galactic battle fleets and hijacking robot armies… allowing a little – or even a LOT – of extra magic wasn’t really a big deal. The ability to warp reality a bit in your favor worked just as well with Gathering as it did with everything else.
In less magical worlds Gathering is rarely worth it unless you want to gather up the traces of a spell for analysis (or perhaps even to power it up again and throw it back), to collect magical essences for rituals, or to power circle magic – and there are other ways to purchase abilities like that if you want them.
In game terms Gathering is more than a bit problematic. Make it just a bit too effective and your casters will be spamming spells all day long. A little too ineffectual and nobody will bother to use it when they can just use the points to buy more magic directly. After all, if a character wants to make magic cheaper by giving it a longer casting time, they can just buy the Compact metamagic, take a longer casting time to make it cheaper, and say that it’s because they’re using that time to gather power without bothering to roll anything. Even more importantly, you’ve still got to answer all those questions about the consequences of using it.
Overall, a few player characters have used Gathering – mostly in Shandar, where the energy level is so high that dropping few skill points into Gathering gave them a worthwhile power reserve, even if they couldn’t use it very often – and in the Federation-Apocalypse setting, where the relaxed limits meant that they could power most of their non-combat magic via Gathering with little difficulty. For most settings though… no matter how sensible the idea sounds, actually stressing Gathering simply brings in too many complications to be worthwhile.
Finally, of course, this particular article would not be complete without a cross-reference to Battling Business World Accounting – an occult skill that allows a numerologist to manipulate many things in the service of the terrible Number Lords. This is a powerful ability, and one that it’s quite possible that a player character might want a minion to have but no sensible character would want it for themselves…
- Dark Offerings – Do-It-Yourself Charms and Talismans VI (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Eclipse d20 – Yolande of the Sternwaters from Emergence Campaign Weblog (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Skills of the Eclipse II – Dwarven Rune Mastery, Subsumption, and Identities. (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- [Emergence Campaign] Eclipse — Crafting the Essentials (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- “Ghost” of the Chosen Ones at Eclipse Level Four (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Eclipse d20 – Faelan, Mathghamhain, and Caiside. (ruscumag.wordpress.com)