Joining The Stampede – Ponies, Bio-Arcana, and Eclipse

For today it’s a rather odd question; “Alzrius has written up several ponies recently. How do you think that their species, society, and Alicorn Ascension, works?”

Indeed he has: here we have Lashtada, Hearts and Hooves, the Sirens, Lex Legis, and his Origin, Celestia, Rarity, the Pony Races, and the Elements of Harmony.

Well why not? I know enough about the program and setting to speculate, and a few Google searches can help fill in the details as needed.

So lets see… It’s pretty obvious that the creatures of Equestria pretty much ALL use a lot of magic. While timberwolves and dragons are perhaps the most blatant about it, even the birds and normal-looking small animals are near-sapient and do some really odd things. Ponies are no exception. They pick up things with hooves, they heal with astounding speed, their genetics are more than a bit odd, and they’re incredibly resistant to injury. Having anvils and pianos falling on their heads from considerable heights is shaken off in short order, they crash into trees and through masses of rock without injury, and they are only briefly stunned by bolts of lightning. They still seem to be vulnerable to beestings, being smacked by other ponies and creatures, and similar menaces though, which is kind of odd. Perhaps the inherent magic of an attacking creature can partially overcome their defenses – which may explain their reliance on melee weapons.

So… pony biological systems all involve magic. Ergo, pony gestation involves magic – some sort of life-supporting effect to keep the infants magical systems working and (since any pony can have any kind of offspring) the ability to support and nurture all three basic types of pony magic – earth, pegasus, and unicorn.

As a pony develops greater reserves of magical power, all of it’s magical abilities can be expected to increase in power – if not all necessarily to the same extent.

Ergo, at some point, a female pony with enough power can be expected to start sustaining it’s own life with magic, becoming very difficult to harm or poison and resistant or immune to aging. As a female ponies ability to nurture all three types of magic within itself grows, eventually it will develop all three types of magic within itself – regardless of it’s original type.

Thus a female pony who develops sufficient magical power can be expected to hit a critical point and “ascend” to become an alicorn. Even if they do not do so, greater magical power can be expected to extend their lives. Male ponies probably lack that nurturing function – and so, while they may become powerful and long-lived, cannot ascend.

Even before that point, female ponies can be expected to survive prenatal issues, childhood accidents, and various illnesses more often than males, and to live longer lives – leading to some degree of sexual imbalance in favor of females.

It is possible that males – who seem to possess greater physical aptitudes than the females – also possess greater aptitudes for the more combative forms of magic than the females. This would be a rough parallel (which seems normal enough) with the behavior of earthly equines and would neatly explain the predominance of males in troop-level military roles in an otherwise female-dominated culture.

Of course, with magic, the development of skill and experience over time seems to outweigh most of the physical limitations of age. Thus, while young adulthood is generally the peak of physical prowess, magical prowess may continue to develop until senility sets in. Ergo, barring amazing natural talent, older females are likely to dominate the magical arts – likely including combat magic.

That’s a reasonably plausible theory. What kind of results will it lead to?

  • We can expect non-magical projectile weapons to be fairly useless – and therefore virtually unheard of.
  • We can expect the “military” to be fairly light-duty; it’s only real roles are 1) to keep things from surprising the powerful magic-users, and 2) to hold back monsters long enough for the powerful magic users to turn up and make them go away. For that… medieval-style armor and pointed sticks will do very nicely indeed.
    • That nicely explains why we see trains, engines, electrical devices – and weapons that are medieval at best.
  • We can expect most ponies to show one basic response to anything even remotely unexpected or frightening – to run to get behind the guards with the pointed sticks while they wait for the powerful magic users to take care of whatever-it-is.
  • Despite that tendency to flee, we can expect a willingness to live and wander about in unreasonably dangerous areas as long as the group is confident in their protectors.
    • So… we have creatures who are willing to live on the borders of the Everfree Forest, yet who will run in panic from a “stampede” of rabbits.
  • We can expect a primarily matriarchial society, organized around the most powerful magic users who are willing to defend the rest of the herd – and to see that even a bad leader, such as Sombra, can rule since even a noxious defender is better than none.
    What male leaders there are will be more tenatively in charge; since they cannot become Alicorns, they have no obvious sign of authority – and they will be subject to aging.

    • Thus Shining Armor – while capable of generating extremely powerful shields and barriers – is somewhat tenatively a “prince”, possibly merely by virtue of marriage. Prince Blueblood may hold an honorary title – but it’s interesting to speculate that his magical talent (perhaps an ability to confuse or manipulate directions?) is powerful enough to make it worth putting up with his deficient social skills. After all… if he was really THAT useless, Celestia has had a thousand years practice in manipulating people, rules the country, and is considered a goddess. She really ought to be able to get him placed somewhere where he wouldn’t be so annoying.

The mechanisms that allow ponies to have three seperate forms, and to have members of any one group born to parents of any other group are… odd. Virtually any genetic explanation will have trouble explaining why, for example, Sweetie Belle resembles her sister Rarity so much, yet Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake are entirely different types in a family of earth ponies. To make it even worse, we have ponies being transformed by environmental factors – such various characters becoming Crystal Ponies for a time.

About the only way to sort that out is more magic. It’s hard to say what governs it though; there really isn’t enough data to even speculate.

That does make another problem though. The three major pony types are so heavily interdependent that it’s hard to see how they could get along separately – or how their interbreeding would work if they were actually genetically separate. Yet the Hearths Warming Eve play suggests that they were separate tribes.

Of course, the Hearths Warming Eve play may not be any more historically accurate than the Morte de Arthur – especially since it’s describing a piece of history that predates Discord’s reign. Given that… I don’t think that much of an explanation is required.

Overall, the theory fits the evidence about as well as can be expected for a cartoon. I can’t guarantee that I’ve taken all the details into account since I don’t know them – but that gives us a reasonable basis for pony society and a number of it’s oddities as well a theory to extrapolate from.

Predation Beneath The Eclipse

The original question here was about Kevin and Kell or 21’st Century Fox or The Suburban Jungle, and how to make a setting like theirs for a RPG.

That’s really kind of awkward.

Kevin and Kell is probably the most prominent and oldest strip of this kind, and sets the pattern for most of the rest – but it’s a cartoon, and doesn’t need to make any sense. Thus:

  • The major characters all have plot immunity, and pretty much always win. Thus Wendell (a rabbit-child) readily defeats attacks on him by nameless predators – but a full-grown tiger who’s after her mother is readily devoured by Coney (a rabbit-wolf hybrid girl) while she’s still an infant.
  • Most of the sapient animals who die are simply from “the wilds” – which apparently is basically a near-limitless source of prey who usually only appear to be eaten or to point it up when the major characters are too distracted to eat them. They get no chance of winning.
  • Little kids don’t die (that isn’t funny) instead of doing it all the time.
  • The economy and society operates normally enough to be a recognizable backdrop despite the enormous casualty rate – which would rationally make it near-impossible to train people, make even basic schools an enormous expense, pretty much eliminate making loans, and otherwise make it awkward to keep things functioning.
  • Despite the fact that the young, sick, and injured are all natural prey and can be expected to be quickly eaten, there’s a human-style medical infrastructure in place to take care of major characters – instead of a series of butcher shops.
  • Major character parents value their children a great deal, despite the ongoing mass slaughter of background characters and their children. “The young and stupid are MUCH easier prey”.
  • People get devoured neatly and usually don’t make a fuss about it (often being swallowed alive and whole despite how vulnerable the throat, neck, and abdomen are to even a single frantic claw-slash from the inside), since blood and stinking guts, pleading, struggling, screaming, and grieving relatives are off-putting to the readers and reduce sympathy for the major characters.
  • Things like Predator-to-Prey ratio – and what so many of the species having human-like sizes, breeding, and aging patterns would do to it – are NEVER discussed.

So lets take a quick peek at reality (such as it is).

A mammalian predator in the human size range (wolf, big cat, etc) needs to catch roughly it’s own weight in prey every week. Thus a ten-year-old predator kid needs to have caught, defeated (without getting killed or seriously enough injured to let something eat him), and eaten some five hundred other kids. Yes, there’s parental care – but that just shifts the burden to killing more a bit later in life, it doesn’t really change the basic calculation.

Every additional decade he or she lives, our predator will need to do the same thing again.

So lets say that (on the average) he or she lives to be twenty-five – long enough to get through school, make some kind of contribution to society, and raise a kid or two (presuming that they start breeding as teenagers) to the point where they might be able to survive without you.

So our average predator… will be eating at least 1250 other people. And there will have to be enough breeding pairs of prey species to keep that at a reasonably steady state and to cover for accidents and diseases and such. A ratio of about 1600 to 1 is close enough to work with given these rather crude calculations.

If a given prey kid has a one-in-fifty chance of winning or inflicting sufficient injuries (clawing the inside of the throat perhaps for the popular “swallowed whole and kicking idea?) when jumped (not nearly enough to be fun in a game), then our predator kids chance of making it to adulthood at eighteen will be .99 to the 900’th power – 1 in 8500. Of course if the prey kids start helping each other intelligently, or carrying poison pills, or some such… all the predators are going to die. That’s why humans have no major predators.

For predators to function… their chance of winning a fight with a prey animal has to be closer to 99.99% (giving one a 91% chance of surviving to adulthood). Their prey must either breed extremely quickly or outnumber them enormously or some of both – and their prey must NOT act much more intelligently than they do.

Of course, basic prey-species defensive tactics include cooperation – herds, gangs, flocks, and all the other variants. If a prey species is even moderately dangerous to the predator species, and is intelligent enough to organize and plan ahead a bit… they have the numbers to massacre their predators. That’s a major reason why elephants have no real natural enemies other than humans.

If a predator is going to focus on a slow-breeding, slow-to-mature population of prey, it will be massively outnumbered or it will soon starve. If the target population is even modestly intelligent and dangerous to the predator… it will have to pick off outliers in secret or it’s going to get massacred. You can make social excuses (although excuses for “not protecting your kids” are a stretch) – but societies of prey species that don’t use such excuses will expand at the expense of the ones that don’t. In the long run, social excuses are not enough.

You can, of course, run a game in such a setting – but you’re just going to have to ignore or gloss over a LOT of the background details. You want prey-species player characters and some pretext of “balance” with predator-species player characters? The prey-species characters are going to be VASTLY more powerful than the background prey-species NPC’s. You want predators to make up 5% of the population? You’re just going to have to quietly ignore the fact that they’d pretty much wipe out the prey species (and then starve, since there’s only enough food for them for nineteen weeks) well within a year even if they turn on each other quite a bit. You want combat to be exciting enough to be interesting and to have serious consequences? Then PC’s are going to die a great deal more often than in the source material. You want your group of four predator characters to skip over three weeks? You’ll need to skip past the twelve people they killed in that time. You don’t want frantic screaming, begging, last-minute attempts at dirty tricks, weeping children, and grieving parents? Then no one is going to be taking death too seriously (there may even be volunteers, no matter how quickly any such tendency would normally be bred out). You want a supporting cast? Then you ignore the likelihood of random casualties among them.

And that’s the basic trick; once you’ve realized that you’re running a game set in a cartoon universe, then the system you’re using matters a lot less. In practical terms, however, you’re probably best off with a point-buy system to allow people to build characters of a wide variety of species and with off-the-wall abilities. Given that the opposing combative NPC’s are likely to be pretty transient (since the characters casually kill swarms of people just to live you can’t expect them to hold back against actual opponents), you won’t need too much detail there.

Personally… I like to be able to build nuanced characters, so I’d prefer a reasonably detailed system. Eclipse will (of course) do – and there are handy racial templates for human-scaled anthropomorphic animals and plenty of other creatures – but you could also use the Hero System or GURPS (although GURPS is probably too realistic for the setting). Other systems, like Ironclaw and Fuzzy Pirates, are designed for anthropomorphic role-playing – but they tend to have a lot of world-assumptions built into the rules (massive predation is NOT normally amongst them), so they can be considerably harder to work with than the more generic systems.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXC – Waiting For Godot

And to continue with Aikiko…

A little research was easy enough… The train had been crossing Wolvertons Gorge in Colorado, headed for it’s next stop in Fort Collins. It had consisted of several passenger cars and an assortment of freight cars. The manifest listed… a selection of assorted exotic reagents for a research project at Colorado State University (a set of sealed crates, not individually described except for being noted as minimally hazardous, originating from a defense department laboratory), a selection of Indian relics reclaimed by a lawsuit being returned to the tribes to be reburied in rifled tribal graves (any supernatural importance was not, sadly, listed on the computer manifest for the train), several crates of old-style rifles (reproductions of early military rifles, from the Indian Wars period) for a re-enactment group, biological samples (sealed, not otherwise identified), and gold-veined black facade marble for some fancy building. It was supposed to be picking up… microbrews, refined silver, computers, solar panels, and waterproof smartphone cases. A solid majority of the passengers were university-related or escorting freight. It looked like… most people with money opted to fly in. No surprise there, it was a long hot trip on a train.

Well… the mine was going to be a minor shadowland – and she wasn’t all THAT well equipped for investigations in the underworld. Tracing the essence-users who’d tried to stop it would be a good trick given how little there was to go on. Next stop… Fort Collins, and some supernatural detection effects.

Fort Collins was a rather interesting place! She picked up a bicycle at the Bicycle Library – which was fine with an untraceable cash deposit (well within her current means) and provided a local GPS locator/map. Even better, the city was EXTREMELY bicycle-friendly! Very convenient! And really quite lovely!

So… the reagents might be tricky to check on if they were already at the laboratory – which was likely; there’d be no reason to delay delivery. What else was there around the place?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology time signal transmitters WWV and WWVB were nearby, as was the Roosevelt National Forest – and the Poudre Valley Hospital (that she hopefully would not need) provided a regional health care center.

Well, that was interesting, although likely less than vital.

The city itself hosted… the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, the Human Genome Project, an Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerosol Laboratory, the Vectorbourne Illness Laboratory of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a USDA Seed Lab Storage facility, Headquarters for SCUBA Schools International (SSI), a National Wildlife Research Center, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Western Regional Headquarters, and the University of Colorado.

Hm… those reagents had been addressed to the department of physics and chemistry, Professor Marnot – the Nanosecond Imaging Project.

Well, that shouldn’t be TOO bad to sneak into. Scientists tended to be more than a bit focused on their work, rather than on looking for possible magical spies.

Besides, that sounded intriguing… it was supposed to be imaging rapid chemical reactions mixed with neuroscience; they were trying to chart the activity of neural networks fast enough to trace the actual pathways involved in image-recognition and such to see how the brain actually worked. That would be worth a look even if she HADN’T had some business with the place!

The laboratory had a security guard – but it was one rather bored man, who spent most of his time directing wandering new students to the correct buildings. After all… few people really CARED all that much about this stuff! Easily Overlooked Presence Method it was, then, with the old clipboard and labcoat trick.

And the odds of someone being up to something had just gone WAY up! There was a well-concealed ward! Thaumaturgy, against detection – and according to the Coatl and Skoll it functioned… by diverting probes directed at the current building to an older version of the lab, torn down in 1928 but still existent in the underworld. That neatly provided results, and some reasonable-looking information, and even some activity – but concealed what was currently going on very nicely indeed! Someone… was quite clever! If she hadn’t walked through it while running essence-senses, she might never have noticed it; from just a few feet away, you just got the impression of some decrepit old-fashioned scientific types puttering around in a lab.

What was so important here as to require concealment like that?

Inside… there was a hell of a lot of complicated equipment, not to mention lots of samples of brain tissue. At the moment, a couple of researchers and some grad students were busily turning their equipment to the atomic-clock tick from the NIST transmitters to achieve the precision they needed for plotting thoughts moving through the brain!

Checking on the more detailed delivery manifest and looking things over with her (cloaked) investigative excellencies… It looked like about half the reagents were tissue-dyes, bioluminescent compounds, enzymes, and so on – used to make the reactions of the tissue more easily detected. The other half… were going into a graduate students lab, and were MUCH stranger stuff! Adrenaline, graveyard mold dust imbued with temporal energies, blood (greatly enriched with iron and apparently a mixture from many donors), neurotransmitters, ATP suspension, bone dust, and waters of lethe… Was somebody trying to raise the dead, or make their own Frankenstein? Didn’t they read their Mary Shelley? Or watch any of the movies? At least other than Young Frankenstein?

Wait, you could ORDER Waters of Lethe and the rest of that stuff as a part of a shipment of scientific reagents from the DEFENSE DEPARTMENT, and LIST THEM ON THE MANIFEST (even if it WAS the detailed one in the box rather than the public one), and no one paid attention? The Masons and thaumaturgical underground had to be a whole heck of a lot more active than she had EVER believed.

Of course… her FATHER had regularly dealt with magic, there were all those psychic power experiments the CIA was supposed to have run, psychic hotlines, astrology was a big business… Was the only thing keeping magic undercover a cultural assumption that getting involved with it – or just paying too much attention to it – was bad?

Which – for most mortals – was ALSO true.

Heh. So the Underworld and blood magic based assaults of WWII had simply left most of humanity unconsciously aware that even paying too much attention to the magical stuff was the equivalent of standing in a metallic bucket of water, wetting your finger, and sticking it into a powered-up light socket. No wonder so much stuff was just casually ignored. If you didn’t look at it, it might go away and leave you in peace! You saw it every day with people just… avoiding eye contact and going around “crazy” people on the street.

Blast it! It was just like YU-SHAN! She could probably stand on a streetcorner blazing with supernatural power and throwing explosions into the sky, and all she’d get would be a citation for illegal fireworks and creating a disturbance and some attention from the cranks who were too crazy to leave it alone! No wonder the Terrestrials were managing to cover things up… most of the population was quietly cooperating with them whether they knew it or not!

It looked like THAT lab was unusually magically active too – which was no surprise – but it was also Warded – this time against supernatural entities and with an alarm. Some very nice work there – but she had to admit that she counted as a supernatural entity. It was going to be tricky to disable it without triggering the alarm though. Still, she had Adenic Thaumaturgy and her Coatl (who had it too) to assist her…

It was still tricky – the caster was GOOD and she was well out of her specialties – but she managed to get rid of the alarm without triggering it eventually. After that, taking down the ward itself was fairly simple!

Even if it did require a lot of dice and bonus successes.

The laboratory looked normal enough visually. On the essence-side… it was actually functioning as a midrange manse, and had several areas available that didn’t exist for ordinary folk. Weirdly enough… Air Aspected. Not at ALL what she might have expected! Especially given those ingredients!

She kept a careful eye out. After all, at this point, any resistance was likely to be supernatural, and therefore not wanting this place exposed.

The obvious centerpiece of the main area that did not exist in normal space was a complex piece of electronic apparatus. It was surrounded by forty-six strange sculptures, apparently made of gold-plated platinum, each about three feet high and covered with countless tiny symbols that she needed to have Skoll turn up the magnification to make out. Twenty-two of them were paired, but there were two unique ones. They made up the outer border of a magical circle laid out on the floor. There was a minor artifact nearby – a perpetual power cell.

Hm. Some Sidereals used those in their cell phones and such – but this one was a good deal bigger and more powerful. It was also… connected to a dozen smartphones, each of which was sitting on a zodiac symbol in the inner part of the circle. There was another power cell for the mechanism in the center.

OK. This was WEIRD. The Smartphones seemed to be very minor (essentially merely being nigh-indestructible) artifacts in themselves, but were all basically just Samsung Galaxy Smartphones and components of the greater system. The mechanism at the center was pretty odd too; a sort of a sphere with crystal tubes sticking out all over it, a port showing an internal mechanism, and various wires. Part of it appeared to be a clock display too – and that might be some radio circuitry in there.

The clock display was digital – with rather a LOT of decimal places – and was mounted on a few support struts and some wires. It currently showed… “10.04.2014:03.14.12 – with another eighteen or so decimal places which were changing REALLY fast. Presuming that it was right… her watch was a couple of minutes off. It was counting up of course, the last eighteen digits or so too fast to see, and the one that seemed to be seconds at… one second per second.

OK, if this was all a project of some obsessive timekeeper trying to compare time in the Underworld to time in Creation or something, she was going to laugh SO hard.

According to various detection effects and her excellencies… the output… imposed some sort of essence-signal on radio waves that broadcast from the central mechanism and through the cell phones. Part of that modulation – the fine-tuning – came from the weird statues. The actual effect wasn’t yet in place – but seemed to involve some of those reagents and something to do with time.

Was that going faster around here? Then why match her watch reasonably well at all? And why would you need such precision?

Wait a moment… the Samsung Galaxy… Hadn’t Charles somehow given those things limitless range… A time standard for the universe perhaps?

The “Obsessive Timekeeper” theory was looking better and better, if it wasn’t just someone trying to study that effect. Looking for lag across the light years maybe? Trying to communicate with aliens? E.T. Phone Home? Nah… no need for the clock function with either of those.

Come to think of it, with this manse setup… was she even still ON Earth?

Ah. Yes and no. She was on the borders of the underworld – although not in it. Sort of between life and death. A shadowland of sorts. No wonder the place looked a bit old-fashioned – although that machine certainly looked up-to-date. The grad student probably wasn’t a ghost then.

Time for some deep analysis.

Traces of Wyld Thaumaturgy and Abyssal Energies. Some Necromancy. Also Energetics and Enchantment. Another Cauldron-Born? Well, she couldn’t blame an Abyssal for accepting Demien’s offer, although that HAD to have some awkward side effects.

No… it was just wyld thaumaturgy, not wyld charms. Still, someone was DEFINITELY fooling around with some oddities!

As for the sculptures… twenty-two paired, and two unique ones. All abstract spirals. The two that didn’t match looked rather like a cross and a an upside-down “Y”. Some kind of antenna? They did seem to have something to do with tuning. They were covered with tiny symbols though – somewhat stylized groups of letters: ALA, CYS, ASP, GLU, PHE, GLY, HIS, ILE, LYS, LEU, MET, ASN, PRO, GLN, ARG, SER, THR, VAL, TRP, and TYR.

What the hell?

OK, time to Google!

Peptides? That looked like DNA! So this student WAS trying to make a person, or at least an organism. No, definitely human; those matched human chromosomes – presumably accurate ones, given that the Human Genome Project was in town. But they were modulating a broadcast of some sort – which, for some reason, included an incredibly accurate clock and wyld thaumaturgy and something that needed intergalactic range and was being tuned with representations of human DNA.

And that an Abyssal was interested in… Perhaps it was Hubert Farnsworth’s Death Clock! After all… a world a lot like Futurama almost certainly DID exist someplace in the universe. More likely though… if it was being tuned with DNA, it might be some subtle working to alter people. It wasn’t ready to broadcast yet – but she knew the layout and the reagents and could ask some of the greatest occult experts in the universe for help.

It looked like the broadcast would be tuned specifically to humans (although that did cover an awful lot of “aliens”), using wyld thaumaturgy to attune human minds that were within reach of the broadcast and on the edge of death to the clock. It had probably originally been meant to tap into the time broadcasts from NIST and cover the earth, but now used the Smartphones to cover the universe instead. There was a secondary information-providing function, but what that was was buried in the machine since the broadcast was not currently going out.

An attempt to extend Lethe? Waters of it were among the reagents.

Well, Skoll DID have perfect stealth (barring physical contact) as long as you stood still. Why not hang around and ask or watch? It sounded as if someone was coming anyway. Blast. There must have been an electronic alarm as well as the magical one!

It looked like… a woman in her early 20’s, quite obviously an Abyssal. There was a rather careful search – but after it turned up nothing, the woman went back to installing various reagents. Rather single-minded there! Was this about ready to do whatever it did? Still, she didn’t seem at ALL hostile.

Watching the various reagents being installed allowed her occult advisers to find a solution; the broadcast would allow (but not force) dying human minds to operate on the zeptosecond time scales of the clock – and would inform them of their options; a smooth transition into Lethe or becoming a voluntary ghost (or, for those with the skill, taking over an animal body). You would, however, only have a few effective hours to think about it if your brain was being destroyed at the speed of light or something. Otherwise… you could basically take as long as you needed.

Huh. That was really rather benevolent! Likely a Daybreak, or possibly a Midnight. Time to reveal herself!

(Abyssal) “Hrrmph! I thought there was someone in here! One moment!”

She added the last reagents.

(Aikiko) “Oh, take your time.”

And the entire mess… sank into the floor as the Utility Artifact Suite for the manse was completed.

(Aikiko) “Whoa! So… why do you want everyone to know their options about their afterlife?”

(Abyssal) “So that it won’t be messy and random! It’s inefficient and intolerable! People need to die properly, and without all this insane, unnatural, attempts to keep a dying body alive! We’ve got ghosts handing about who don’t realize that they’re dead, others stuck in weird situations, people who would have wanted to be ghosts who don’t figure it out in time, people who can’t find the right way to go! There should be ORGANIZATION! Plenty of time to leave dream-messages and haunting impressions for family and friends on the way out BEFORE going straight to Lethe! The ability to voluntarily check out when it is time to go! And so on!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “Let me guess. Daybreak Caste?”

(Abyssal) “I never paid much attention to labels!”

(Aikiko) “Well, I’m not opposed, so I’ll keep quiet about this.”

(Abyssal) “Surprisingly sensible of you! So many of your sort are maniacs who believe that everything they do is heroic and right!”

Gah. Social Skills = Zero, natural talent for dealing with people… about as minimal as a human being could get. Rather like Charles when she’d first met him, but without his self-effacing way of fading into the background. It hadn’t even been MAGIC, he’d just… stood around being naive, and everyone just talked over him while he gave people what they needed… Aargh! Could this be some sort of… abyssal aspect of Charles? Like that bit about the Neverborn aspects of Primordials? Given that he was ALREADY being a quasi-primordial and had spawned a near-Ishvara aspect… And this one was… obviously… kind of focused on… manses and artificing…

Oh SURELY not!

(Aikiko) “Anyway… I came up here because of the train accident.”

Aikiko told her about it – although it was likely that she already knew; she’d been looking for someone who might have pulled a bridge out of the underworld to get the train through, and here she had an Abyssal who’d wanted the train to get through. Circumstantial, yeah, but it did seem pretty solid.

(Abyssal) “Hmph! Panicky Idiots! I couldn’t be having that! I may have to do something about them!”

(Aikiko) “What, talking about the ghosts in that mine?”

(Abyssal) “They need some straightening out, but it’s the local terrestrials who need to learn to behave!”

(Aikiko) “Oh? I can see how they’d be freaking out lately, what with all the weirdness going on.”

Unfortunately, the game was already overtime at this point. Investigation takes a good deal longer to play out than it does to summarize.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CLXXXIX – Planes, Trains, and Kaijumobiles

In the morning, Aikiko was back to her search – and had opted to go back to the tabloids. They’d been informative enough last time!

As long as you were a hyper-investigator with the ability to sort the clues from the trash anyway.

She discounted the stuff about mysterious power sources, collapsing oil and coal industries, Gilgamesh, blatant sorcery, and a winged golden angel fighting demons in Mecca.

  • The Amber “Thefts” (or “unauthorized but vastly overpaying purchases”) seemed to have wound down; whoever was doing THAT evidently got enough for whatever he or she had been doing with the stuff. Perhaps a ritual or some artificing? Presuming that it wasn’t just some creature that ate the stuff or something. Well, at least it hadn’t been an obvious catastrophe.
  • A small town in Scotland had abruptly been placed under martial law, and mostly cut off. The current speculation was “Terrorists”. It was some distance away from the one that Leon’s city opened up to though. Wait… it was a bit of a stretch… but if you read the towns name as if it was Old Realm… “The Place Of The Moon’s Gate”? “Where The Moonlight Enters In”? “The Path Of The Moon”?

Bah. A little more reaching and letter-substitution and she could turn it into “Vortex Of Occluded Stars” or “Where The Moon Knocks”, or any of a thousand other things. As if someone would found a town and name it in a long-dead language anyway. Next thing you knew she’d be trying to interpret Nostradamus.

  • A gigantic plane of some sort was reported as having traveled from New York to Tokyo at supersonic speeds, but details were sketchy. While several chase-planes had been deployed, no pictures had been released. That… was a bit odd; unless the thing had been dragging along it’s own private storm or was cloaked or something there should have been plenty of time for all kinds of cameras to get a shot of it. Still, that could be all kinds of things.
  • In the southwest, a train had apparently managed to cross a major gorge on a bridge that had collapsed in an explosion some twenty minutes before. It was reported that some passenger had cold-cocked the engineer and taken control of the train, despite attempts by the crew to intervene. Additional reports of a bandit gang chasing the train on horseback were mostly being disregarded since no one had seen any sign of such a group otherwise.

OK: That one was kind of weird. Air Aspect? Guardian or Chosen of Journeys? Raksha playing hero?

  • The EPA had approved plans to construct a water system using “emerging technology” in the midwest. So… they’d decided to get Charles to build them a water-supply manse. Well, it wasn’t as if he was going to keep them a secret otherwise, what with his being about to open up hundreds of stargate-manses across the planet.
  • There were claims that Mechagodzilla had been sighted in Oregon again. There were some photographs, but they were mostly being disregarded as publicity stunts for Toho – and while no one knew for sure what had stopped that flash flood, trees forming a temporary dam seemed a lot more plausible to most than Mechagodzilla.

Well… she did need to talk to Mechagodzilla anyway.

  • In the Ukraine, there had been massive disruptions of the Russian military forces, lots of equipment failures, and a few command disappearances – although those individuals were popularly thought to have skipped out rather than attempting to explain the sillier failures. Of course… in a semi-invasion situation, any number of creatures might have opted to get involved. Even without the political factors half the magical beings out there were pretty territorial. Still… could that be connected to the amber-gathering?
  • Iran and Iraq were both gearing up their military forces while they still had the currency reserves to buy things. Not too surprising that; even if they weren’t both so paranoid about each other they probably found Leon kind of threatening. Still, a LACK of hostilities in the middle east would have been a lot more surprising.

What was semi-serious reporting like that doing in the tabloids anyway? Oh; framing for a series of much sillier stories about mercenaries and such.

  • Hm… the largest beaver dam in the world had been discovered in Canada. There were pictures. And… an attempt to vandalize it was supposedly driven off by Bigfoot? Clearly the beaver hired Bigfoot as a bodyguard once the first humans invaded his turf!

OK, that was kind of cute – and a friendly sparring match with Bigfoot had it’s appeal – but that was much more classic woo. Probably not worth investigating; at the most she’d just find some interesting scenery and someone out being “Bigfoot”.

  • An F5 tornado headed through Minneapolis ran into a “dome of light” over the city which it apparently could not penetrate. The current scientific speculation was that it had lifted off the ground (which was not at all unknown, even if it was mildly unusual) and had thrown up enough clouds and dust to reflect the cities own lights.

Now THAT sounded like a Guardian. Or at least like someone with a good deal of power and willingness to oblige. Or possibly one of Charles’s agents? He certainly had enough of them running about and a “dome of light” could EASILY be a ward.

  • Satellite Surveillance had revealed a massive structure in the antarctic after a massive iceburg (115 miles long, 16 miles wide at it’s widest point) cracked off of an ice shelf. It was apparently buried under the ice and appears to be made of crystal. Current speculation is that the pictures have been doctored to add a “Fortress of Solitude” for publicity for the new Superman movie; it will be 27 days before the satellite is back in position for more decent shots.

Likely a Manse. Anything else would have been ground to powder under the ice sheet a long time ago. Still, that also implied that it had been there for quite some time and hadn’t turned into a catastrophe yet. That would probably keep – at least as long as the humans didn’t get too far into some kind of investigation. Still… the most urgent thing at the moment was to get in touch with MechaGodzilla. She needed to ask him for a Kaiju-Boon, just in case! Ergo, a trip to Crater Lake was in order.

Of course, the Cauldron-Born knew that SHE knew about Crater Lake – and might well meet her there – which could be VERY bad…

Oh, wait! She was one of MechaGodzilla’s shrine maidens – and thus a priest of his! She could just hype up a prayer with a little linking magic and basically phone him up! That was a LOT less likely to result in being ambushed too.

And she managed 11 successes on 16 dice.

(Aikiko) “Hey there! What are you doing, performing civil engineering like that?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Greetings small worshipper! You have shown my grandeur to another potential shrine maiden! Congratulations! And why not protect the little ones? A simple blast of the Absolute Zero cannon in passing to preserve many worshippers! And putting in an appearance is no bad thing!”

(Aikiko) “Thanks… anyway, I was wanting to ask you for a boon! I think there’s going to be trouble in Heaven soon, and I want to help protect it. Is that something you’d be interested in?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Ah, protect a giant city from some terrible attack? This seems appropriate!”

Aikiko facepalmed. Of COURSE it did.

(Aikiko) “Can you… heh. Can you make me and Skoll Ultraman-size when the time comes?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Hmmm…. Grow to giant size? Easy enough!”

(Aikiko) “OK then… now if I accept that, what were you expecting in return?”

It did seem wise to ask! Deities could get weird, and Kaiju Deities might be even weirder!

(MechaGodzilla) “It is a small enough thing! Do show my movies at your parties though!”

(Aikiko, with a breath of relief) “OK, done!… Um… so what are your creators up to in there?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Preparing for something or other! Some sort of battle I think… It should be fun!”

(Aikiko) “Do you know where?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Off in the god-city I think!”

(Aikiko) “Do you know whose side they were on?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Must be against other Kaiju! What else would be worthy? Maybe Tournament!”

Was it possible that the Cauldron-Born knew about the Neverborn Kaiju?

(Aikiko) “I don’t think the Heaven-and-Earth Invitational allows kaiju, unless there’s some style that makes you into one…”

(MechaGodzilla) “Less silly than some styles! Heard about one that involves nothing but going to sleep and contagious yawning…”

(Aikiko) “Sidereals are weird-but then one made you, sooo… Not that I think you’re weird or anything! You’re pretty cool, all things considered.”

(MechaGodzilla) “Of course! I am MECHAGODZILLA! How could I be anything BUT cool?”

(Aikiko) “Exactly!”

She rather hoped that he was not wearing his distracting hat right now, because that WAS silly. Of course it WAS a Raksha artifact. So many of them were silly.

(Aikiko) “Well, thanks, Mechagodzilla. Stay out of trouble, now!”

(MechaGodzilla) “Not likely! But you are welcome!”

(Aikiko) “Huh… Oh, is your pilot still after me?”

He or she might already be headed her way!

(MechaGodzilla) “Off in Chaos at the moment!”

(Aikiko) “Ah, okay then…”

Well… it was hard to scry from outside Creation into Creation. Unless they had some Manse for it. Or were using the Eye somehow (who knew what all that thing could do?). Or were using Sidereal charms. Or…. Well, OK; there were a lot of ways.

Time to look into that train incident. The more she thought about that, the odder it sounded. Sure, temporarily fixing a bridge wasn’t one of the great acts of magic – but who would have a charm for it? That was kind of specialized. Even if it was a general “repair road” effect… it would still be kind of specialized!

It was easy enough to get to the area. Not too surprisingly, one of the drier areas of the west (they could REALLY use that water supply). The bridge was currently being repaired – and the current speculation was that the timeline of the incident must be wrong; it must have held up just long enough for the train to pass.

She was no demolitions expert – but while there might have been some dynamite stored around or something – even if no one sane would store it under the supports for a train bridge in the middle of nowhere – but the placement had been awfully convenient; the main support struture. Overall, it looked more intentional than anything else, but there wasn’t much of a crater or any other signs of a large enough blast. Essence-senses said… there had been an essence-blast here – fire essence, and apparently well-targeted. Those traces were almost drowned out by the flood of necrotic essence however… Of the fifth or sixth essence rank. Some sort of high-powered – if fairly transitory – summoning from the underworld. That was a pretty powerful ghost or Abyssal, though! Not a neverborn Kaiju – but perhaps its charms?

Nah. There should be a lot more destruction and dismay if it was THAT. Hekatonkire? But how would it imitate a set of train tracks well enough to avoid a derailment.

Oh! There HAD been something very big that had just been sent to the Underworld! The bridge itself! Now… that was a clever (if likely mote-intensive) use of a MUCH more sensible charm. That must have really irritated the people who’d blown it up! Those horse riders… Ghosts? Train robbers? After all, presumably the point of blowing up the bridge was to wreck or stop the train. The train crossing a spectral bridge must have been quite a sight.

Were there any shadowlands nearby?

A small and minor one; a ghost town that once centered on a gold mine that collapsed, sealing several hundred miners underground. No one knew how long some of them might have survived – but attempts to reopen the mine had never gone well. There were a number of robberies of course; a sizeable load of gold was a very tempting prize. Most of the bandits were caught and hanged eventually – but no doubt at least some found their way to the other side of that shadowland.

She might have to pay that one a visit.

Still, somebody had really wanted to stop someone or something on that train – and possibly acquire it. Perhaps she could get the passenger and cargo list?

Eclipse d20 and Dexter’s Laboratory

This time around (and for another try at restarting) it’s another request for a look at how some characters could be represented in Eclipse. In this case… it’s some cartoon characters from Dexter’s Laboratory, starting with Dexter himself. That means taking a look at what Dexter actually does. He may talk about “Science!” a lot – but that doesn’t mean that his abilities and devices actually have anything to do with actual science. In fact… it’s rather more likely that they don’t.

So looking at the episodes, we can derive some rules for Dexter.

  • Dexter normally only uses one major invention per episode. When two appear, the second is usually being used by Dee-Dee.
  • Dexter’s inventions do not carry over from episode to episode. On those rare occasions when an invention “reappears”, it usually does not work quite the same way as it did before.
  • Dexter’s inventions often go very badly wrong – and he is usually not at all clear on how they work or what they do.
  • Dexter’s computer cannot operate his Dream Machine (that requires Dee-Dee). It seems likely that it cannot operate most of his other inventions, or testing them would be a lot safer.
  • Dexter can’t deal with ordinary devices very well; he can’t fix his broken glasses, can’t repair his shoes (instead Dee-Dee helps him call on magical Shoe Gnomes to fix them), and gets caught in a Chinese Finger Trap (although that incident also involved Dee-Dee, which might relate).
  • Dexter’s actions and devices often fail if Dee-Dee thinks they won’t work.
  • Dexter has a limited supply of “mental energy”. When he runs out, he becomes stupid (Not that he doesn’t reach astonishingly silly conclusions most of the time anyway). He spontaneously recovers once his supply of “mental energy” rebuilds, which it does naturally, if relatively slowly.
  • Dexter has been implied to have been killed more than once, and simply comes back for the next episode.
  • Dexter’s laboratory is often “destroyed” – but the damage generally seems to be superficial and “old inventions” often survive (although they are resentful for being abandoned).

For some restrictions…

  • Dexter’s incredible “intelligence” does NOT apply to planning; his plans almost never work.
  • Dexter cannot control his pets, or apparently other living creatures (or ghosts, since he was haunted by a dead goldfish).
  • Dexter’s laboratory draws at least part of it’s power from external sources.
  • Dexter needed two hundred million dollars worth of equipment (from NASA) to build his laboratory. (Conveniently, Dee-Dee produced the money for him to pay them).

Of course Dexter gets into endless amounts of trouble – but that’s a basic element of making a cartoon, and doesn’t count. For all we know… he gets through many entire days without trouble, but those dull days don’t become episodes.

Hm. So far… that doesn’t sound much like actual science. That’s not really surprising of course – this IS a cartoon we’re talking about – but the Professor on Gilligan’s Island came a lot closer than this to how science and engineering actually work.

Perhaps looking at Dee-Dee will help sort things out? Dee-Dee…

  • Cannot be kept out of Dexter’s laboratory.
  • Is not limited by odds – conveniently winning 200,000,000 dollars just when Dexter needed it.
  • Can manifest a dimensional portal without equipment or difficulty to an imaginary realm that she defines (Dexter has to use a pile of equipment, and still cannot make it work properly. Perhaps this explains why Dee-Dee cannot be kept out of Dexter’s Laboratory?).
  • Can casually inflict massive destruction on Dexter’s Lab, Mandark’s Lab, and various other locations.
  • Can manifest imaginary friends – and inflict them on other people.
  • Can trap Dexter in an invisible box via mime.
  • Told Dexter that if he kept scratching his chicken pox he would turn into a chicken. He did.
  • Usually beats Dexter even when he is using an invention and she is not (For example, video games, snowball fighting, and dodgeball, among many other episodes).
  • Can (accidentally?) cause perfectly normal systems – like old Video games – to exhibit abnormal behavior and overwhelm Dexter and his computer.
  • Tends to be treated well and admired by others – including radically different species, such as ants. In fact, she can easily tame dog-dinosaurs and other creatures and run Dungeons and Dragons games better than Dexter can.
  • Can use Dexter’s inventions – often more successfully than he can and with greater skill.
    Seems to be of relatively normal intelligence, if (quite appropriately) childish.

Well, that does tell us a lot about Dee-Dee. She’s either inherently magical or a natural reality-warper. What’s more, she apparently uses the same type of energy as Dexter does, since she can use his devices. She seems to have more of it than Dexter too, but is NOT using much of it to be hyper-intelligent.

So what about Mandark?

  • Mandark is basically an evil version of Dexter, and shows him up several times – mostly being defeated due to his desire for Dee-Dee. While his abilities and limitations seem to be much the same as Dexter’s (see above), he seems a bit stronger – possibly because he may be a bit older.
  • Mandark can spy on Dexter without Dexter knowing. Another indicator of being more powerful.
  • Mandark can pick up a spell book and use magic powerful enough to defeat Dexter, although it has side effects and his control is poor.
  • Mandark can use Dexter’s devices and his own.

So… the same kind of “Mental Energy” that Dexter uses lets Mandark use magic and Dexter’s devices. In Eclipse that pretty much screams “Mana” – Making Dee-Dee a full-scale Reality Editor and Mandark a limited Reality Editor (he has to channel his power through odd devices) and a user of Unskilled Magic.

These gifts seem to be hereditary; Dexter’s Grandfather has a very similar laboratory and created “technologies” surpassing Dexter’s works. Dexter’s parents… accomplish some pretty impossible things at times, without even seeming to be aware of it.

Dexter and Dee-Dee – and, for that matter, Mandark – are all kids. Ergo, they probably don’t have any levels. The do, however, obviously have Templates. Most likely the Cartoon Character Template

+1 ECL “Race”: Cartoon Human (63 CP)

  • Fast Learner/Specialized in Skills: +2 SP/1 CP (6 CP).
  • +2 to any one attribute (12 CP).
  • +2 to any one attribute (12 CP).
  • Immunity/Aging (can expect to live almost indefinitely, uncommon / minor / minor, 2 CP).
  • Grant of Aid: May heal 1d8+5 damage OR 1d3 points of attribute damage OR one negative level once per three levels per day or part thereof, 6 CP), with both Regenerative options (6 CP) and +8 Bonus Uses (12 CP). In core, this requires several hours per use unless the user spends a magic point.
  • Extraordinary Returning (Specialized, requires abandoning all experience and benefits that might otherwise have been gained from a “death episode”) (3 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: All spells Personal Only: Rubber Fall (resembles Feather Fall, but you have to peel yourself off the ground, 1400 GP),
  • Regenerate Light Wounds (1/Round, up to 20 points/level/day maximum, 1400 GP), Cure Light Wounds (1d8+1 1/level/day as needed, 1400 GP), Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2x Con Mod HP, 1400 GP), and Void Sheathe (may store a single weapon in “nowhere” and pull it out as needed, half cost due to single weapon restriction, 350 GP). 5950 GP total, 7 CP.
  • Template Disadvantage: Insane (most toons are blasé, even bored, in even the most dangerous and deadly situations, -3 CP).

That will apply to pretty much everyone in their setting of course. It IS a cartoon universe.

As for their precise powers… another 32 CP will give them +2 level templates – which seems pretty reasonable. Throwing in 24 CP for level zero will allow some customization too.

For their basic template they’ll need…

  • 3d6 Mana with Reality Editing (18 CP). Mandark has this Corrupted for 1.5 times effect: his effects are quite unreliable unless focused through a “mad science” device – although he can throw those together quite quickly and easily. Dexter has the same problem plus a Specialization – his devices are terribly unreliable and troublesome.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Corrupted/recovers only over the course of an hour (8 CP).
  • Empowerment, Specialized in “Mad Science” devices (6 CP).

For their personal abilities…

  • Dexter has Inherent Spell (Mana-Powered Variant) – a level three version of Fox’s Cunning with a multi-hour duration (6 CP). He probably also has a few skill points in math and scholastic skills – but if he actually knew anything about making things he could have fixed his glasses. They’re not that complicated. His base Intelligence apparently isn’t all that high, but he certainly survives enough explosions and disasters to indicate a high Constitution.
  • Mandark has the same ability as Dexter (6 CP), but also has the Unskilled Magic ability (6 CP). He does seem fairly alert, so he likely has a high wisdom.
  • Dee-Dee has about 3d6 extra mana (18 CP). That’s enough raw power for her to pull off several insane stunts in a row without much difficulty. She has a few skill points in Dance and a decent Charisma and Dexterity.

And really… that’s about all they need. To make them really playable you’d probably want to make them level one and get them a few more points of mana – but brief-minute cartoon segments really don’t call for all that big a power reserve. Of course, this is once again a splendid example of converting characters based on what they ACTUALLY do, rather than what it looks like they’re doing – or how they’re described.

And if at ALL possible I’m going to try to get to the question backlog and start posting here again – even if some articles need to be split into smaller pieces.