Federation-Apocalypse – Considering the Design Decisions

And for today, it’s a question:

I have to say, while Federation is an interesting setting, some of the choices seem a bit bizarre.

Why is Dominion so limited when Path of the Dragon, and all-around stronger path in most cases, is unlimited?

Why is Mystic Link limited, but Blessing works just fine?

Why is natural returning considered so hard to (truly) break? At this power level, coming up with enough Mana to cast Distillation to simply take it away or annoying a nature spirit or realm spirit to use it’s privilege seems fairly doable. I get that this is why Blood Curse is restricted, among other things, but that doesn’t make it unbreakable.

And… Ultimate Creator? … I have the horrible feeling I know what ability of Dominion is especially limited…

I’d like to request the build for it. I mean, I’d be fine if it’s just “it has specialized and corrupted divine attribute to have it always-on” or something along those lines, which is clearly valid (it’s a pretty fair explaination for why the Lady of Pain works, after all), but especially since this is Eclipse and all characters in the campaign should be build-able, having a side-note saying “oh, and there is this eldritch abomiation you can’t do anything about ever” seems like a pretty big red flag to me.


At it’s most basic… most of that is because I’m an old-school simulationist; the rules exist to help simulate a particular reality – so if the rules don’t fit that fictional reality, it’s the rules that give way. (And the Eclipse rules are set up to be modular and adjustable anyway).

As far as the “reality” of the Federation-Apocalypse setting goes, the fictional reality is that there are several levels of dimensional ordering in the Federation-Apocalypse setting – and the barriers between them can be much more fundamental than those between the usual sets of d20 dimensions.

As an analogy… if you are playing in a campaign set in the 3.0 or 3.5 Forgotten Realms your character can readily reach the plane of shadow, and various outer and elemental planes – but he or she cannot readily trot over to another game master’s fourth edition campaign set in the Forgotten Realms to study a few “encounter” powers, or take a trip to 2’nd edition Dark Sun in a second game masters campaign, or go and take a level in “Dawn Caste Solar” over in a third guys Exalted campaign. Those places go by different rules and simply do not exist as far as the 3.5 Forgotten Realms setting goes – unless mysterious higher forces (the game masters) set up some kind of crossover.

Secondarily, there’s a hierarchy of natural laws; some things are pretty fundamental, and work almost everywhere, other things are local manifestations.

Reality Editing, Mana, and the Immortality of Souls are fundamental; they work even in Core (which is about the most restrictive of all universes), and even more freely everywhere else. All ensouled characters in the setting can do a bit of reality editing quite unconsciously – which is how the “gadgetry” skill works; it’s the amount of stuff that you can unconsciously push the local universe into fitting in for you (even if it changes it to a locally appropriate form; thus, for example, the characters Plasma Pistols turning into black powder firearms in the Crusader Kingdoms).

Since the rules of the Manifold are set by humans, Smartclothes and basic Witchcraft – which are extremely widely accepted as a part of the background by a tremendous number of humans and which operate under the (rather restrictive, if fairly fundamental to most worlds) natural laws of Core work in much, but not all, of the Manifold. Other core technologies are less widely accepted, and so operate in far fewer places.

Basic (Newtonian) core physics tends to underlay most of the Manifold simply because human minds accept it. Even small children know that objects don’t pass through each other, that things fall, and so on – and so in the vast majority of manifold realms that is the way that things work.

Magic, Psionics (which is really just a type of magic), Channeling, and other abilities, as well as “Local” technologies (such as “hypermatter” in Star Wars) depend on the local natural laws. If you want to cross dimensions with them the rules governing whatever-it-is-you’re using need to be the same at both ends of the gate. If you create a “Dimensional Hyperportal” using Star Wars Hypermatter… it will only take you to Star Wars styled universes.

Characters do get some leeway with their powers though; they get local identities – which means that the local reality is actively fitting them in. Thus any of their powers that would make sense in the setting will work just fine even if the point-by mechanics (which are invisible from an in-setting point of view) are weird for it – and those with Mana can use it to bend the rules even further. It’s still a lot easier to play nice with the local universe though, which is why most of Kevin’s actions in Inversion fit into the realms witchcraft-boosted=with-negative-energy theme (at least until he cheated with Mana). On Cyarkian, where the creator gods were known to come down and to visit, there were many local magic systems among the “minor” races, and where magic could do almost anything, he pretty much had a free hand.

Still, local rules can override personal abilities other than Reality Editing, Souls, and a few other items. (If it matters, the Session 189-190 log has some in-character discussion of these issues).

To go to the modifiers on specific abilities…

  • Blood Curse is disallowed because characters in the setting add and drop powers with every new Identity and because there are plenty of realms – including in Core – where it is against the local rules. Given that both of those problems go against the nature and purpose of the ability, it won’t work. Curses are local problems.
  • Deep Sleep (True Prophet) is disallowed because this is a no time-travel setting, has no powers of fate to issue reliable prophecies, and because the characters are more or less professional disruptors of plotlines. They’re also quite genre-savvy, to the point of occasionally looking up the works a realm is based on to cheat the local plotlines – such as session 97a, where Kevin and Marty pulled the control codes for a bunch of computers out of the original books.
  • With Dominion the restriction is mostly a reminder of the basic rule on page 72 of Eclipse – “A character might, for example, adopt a forest and its creatures and spirits as his or her domain or become leader of a strange dimension or elemental plane. Whatever the source of a character’s power, this is his or her realm and many Dominion-based powers will only work inside it.” Most Domains are in particular dimensions and whatever energies they generate are local – so it’s special permission because you need to check with the game master to make sure that what you want to do will actually work properly. Thus Kevin, who has carefully insured that his thrall-domain is spread across many, MANY, dimensions gets away with a lot of Dominion effects.
  • Immunity (Natural Laws) is pretty much always limited in any game that you expect to hang together for long of course.
  • Lore needs to be specialized to a particular group of dimensions or something because “I am knowledgeable about everything in every dimension in infinity” is both impossible (nobody can handle infinite knowledge; your brain simply cannot handle it) and just plain silly.
  • Transdimensional Mindspeech is limited both because it may not be allowed by local laws on either end (and needs to be so allowed on both ends to work) and because it requires an active gate (an “ongoing crossover”) to get through the “different campaign” level barriers. Having my Bard in the Forgotten Realms reliably linked to someone else’s Twilight Solar in an Exalted game is a bit iffy to start with – and having the Solar asking for Bardic Lore checks to help HIM out and the Bard asking for applications of an Investigation Excellency to help HIM out is going to be awkward-to-impossible to implement in most games. (Even if you could build something to fake it easily enough).
  • Core is specifically only directly accessible via Gates, so Mystic Link won’t get you in and out unless you set up an overlay – which is a partial gate anyway. Otherwise it’s problems are closely related to those with Transdimensional Mindspeech.
  • Rite of Chi won’t restore Mana, because the Federation-Apocalypse setting treats Mana as something more fundamental than magic, psionics, or even technology. We did allow characters to take “local equivalents” to Mana (as Puissance, Potence, or whatever) and Rite of Chi to restore them to allow for things like Rune Magic. They simply didn’t work for Reality Editing.
  • Fortune got a note entirely due to one player’s attempts to Specialize if for Double Effect (“If I make my save against fire it will heal me instead!”), with which he was getting quite silly. Luck later got a similar prohibition thanks to characters like the Turtle (yes, an actual turtle who rode around on other character’s shoulders) who took Luck, Specialized and Corrupted in in Interpretive Dance only, only to “take 60” who kept communicating complex messages through turtle dance.
  • Jack of All Trades was limited because the Manifold game offers an unlimited skill set, including an unlimited number of skills that only applied in single realms – and so the “Universal” option on Jack of All Trades offered competence in an infinite number of skills, which didn’t work.
  • Mystic Artist/The Great Summons was limited for the same reasons as Transdimensional Mindspeech and Mystic Link; it can’t reach into a dimension that says that it doesn’t work and it can’t pass the higher-order dimensional barriers – and so it usually only works within a related group of dimensions.
  • Returning is basically impossible to get around because souls are more fundamental in the Federation-Apocalypse game than reality editing – which in turn is more fundamental than any other known active power. The only interface point is in the Identities that souls generate – which is how they can be anchored to a realm. Unfortunately, destroying the identity-interface just lets the soul go free, unharmed. There are a number of characters who have thought that they could destroy souls, but so far they’ve all been wrong.

Secondarily, souls have aspects across a potentially near-infinite number of dimensions – and no matter what power you use against them, they also exist in quite a few places where that power will not work. The bit about blowing yourself up in the big bang is simply because that was/is a very fundamental event, and will function in more than enough dimensions to leave a soul only anchored in very obscure places – and thus likely to incarnate in such realms many times before popping up again where anyone might notice.

Now, the “Ultimate Creator” is a religious belief in the setting, with a number of variations depending on who you talk to. It’s a genuine religion in the setting for the same reason that I’ve never bothered to “make a build” – because in terms of the game, the Ultimate Creator takes no actions and never appears. There’s no way to know if he, she, it, or they exist at all; the only actual “evidence” is that the Federation-Apocalypse multiverse is so “obviously” designed for people – and so it seems likely that there is a reason for that.

Certainly there are things like the Ward protecting the Temple Mount in Battling Business World that LOOK like evidence… but they’re not really. After all, in the setting… Battling Business World was created by some people who made a cartoon movie around 2100 AD that portrayed “cutthroat business tactics” in a vaguely 1980’s – 2020’s setting as fairly literal warfare. It became a bit of a cult classic.

And, out in the Manifold, Battling Business World came into being. And vague areas got filled in with bits from fanfiction, and headcanons, and bits from other fictions, and officeworker daydreams about throwing irritating supervisors and co-workers out of windows. The Traditions came from fanfiction speculations about how very proper (and slightly fey) British Battling Business worked. BBW Japan is mostly adopted from various period Animes, and so on.

Like every world in the Manifold Battling Business World is as self-consistent as possible, and has it’s internal “history” – but like everything else in the Manifold, it and it’s supposed “history” only exists because someone made it up. Nothing involving the Manifold except the bare fact of it’s existence can ever be evidence about how the Core Universe operates or came into being. Even “miracles” in Core before the opening can be accounted for with the Faith skill.

Now when the original Federation-Apocalypse Campaign came to it’s last session, one player was quite unsatisfied. He’d come to the conclusion (apparently based on personal beliefs about the role of humanity in the cosmos) that the Ourathan Robots were the primary enemy and had to be eliminated at any cost – while the rest of the group had long since concluded that the Ourathan Robots were basically taking the role of playground supervisors for the galaxy and could safely be ignored or even treated as a convenience.

Given that lack of support from the rest of the player group, said player decided that the only viable course of action was to find the Ourathan homeworld and threaten to destroy it unless they ordered the robots to leave humanity alone. That wasn’t a bad plan as long as you presumed that there was active malice behind the robots activities.

So his character pulled a weapon out of the Manifold that (according to some rather dubious physics) could destroy the observable universe in a “new big bang” and tried to locate and reach the Ourathan homeworld. He took started looking for a route in Crusader, which offered major divinatory powers, easy dimensional travel, and a lot of established gates to various locations in Core.

There he encountered one of Crusader’s major background characters – the Dragon of the East (Sphere of Influence/The Lost and Those Seeking Guidance and the Way of Omnipresence through The Spark Within, among other abilities related to giving advice and directions).

The Dragon attempted to offer moral guidance, which was refused, and counseling on why this was unnecessary, which was ignored – and so gave the character directions to where (in it’s judgement) the character needed to go.

It wasn’t anywhere near the original Ourathan homeworld (now virtually abandoned save for it’s occasional use as a daycare center) or even into Core. It was into a Manifold realm made up of somewhat paranoid military speculations as to what hyper-advanced weapons and defenses the the “real Ouratha” (who’s Core civilization had actually long since collapsed) might have.

Not surprisingly, the characters attempts to intimidate speculations about a hostile super-civilization failed – and so the character detonated his quagma bomb. The player, satisfied in believing that he’d successfully destroyed the setting, left – and the other players had their game epilogue.

Not surprisingly, that character did not appear again when the second Federation-Apocalypse campaign was started some years later. The player did briefly join the second game playing a secret agent type –

John Jack: A 1960’s-style super-secret-agent-type. He’s supposedly a “mercenary-for-hire” but somehow always winds up working for the good guys – whom he insists usually repay him by trying to assassinate him. Very suspicious of super-science, and thus paranoid about pretty much the entire core. Was blown out of his own realm into core earth Scotland in a weird-science accident and was recruited by the House of Roses on an experimental basis thanks to his success against a minor Dalek incursion there (”More funny robots. Fine. Where’s my gun…). After all, they wanted to investigate a report about urban combat involving the Ouratha, so an good, disposable, anti-robot mercenary fighter seemed like a reasonable addition to their novice agent team.

but became upset with the game and ceased playing quite early on. I suppose this is actually equivalent to getting put on a long-term time out – but I’m reluctant to decide that a game concept of a basically unknowable creator is responsible for real-life player decisions.

The other players eventually determined that the original character had blown himself up very thoroughly indeed, but that some angels (also creatures of the Manifold, and no more capable of proving the existence of the Ultimate Creator than the player characters) had taken the time to locate him and make sure that his soul would be busy with “learning to not want to destroy the universe” incarnations for a good long time.

Did the “Ultimate Creator” ensure that the first being that character encountered that could provide directions would be the Dragon? Well… the Dragon had appeared in the game several times before, and had the ability, to appear to people in need of guidance – but I was the Game Master who gave it that ability. If the “Ultimate Creator” was really responsible, it was probably only in the notion that he, she, it, or they triggered the Big Bang that created the Core universe and made sure that the rules for it were such that the various racial Manifolds (so “obviously made for people”) would come into being. The Dragon is an eastern-styled entity, and is perhaps most closely related to the Eastern Dragon from Sinfest.

And that’s why the Ultimate Creator really didn’t need a build; he, she, it, or they may or may not exist, may or may not be concerned, and doesn’t actually do anything within the setting in any discernible way – which sort of made the build irrelevant. As Krackothunder has so neatly demonstrated… the omniscient, omnipotent, ability to be vaguely responsible for the existence of the multiverse while doing little or nothing within it is fairly easy to build. That’s rather neat – but I must admit that I always took it as “attempting to determine the in-game abilties of the game master” – an exercise that appeared as an article in Dragon Magazine fairly early on, but one which I always took as firmly tongue in cheek.

Finally, the Path of the Dragon is not only unrestricted, but the players are getting to play fast and loose with the limitations that are built into the path itself.

That’s simply because it’s entirely possible for a first level combat character in the setting to start off with a mecha mounting machine guns, missile launchers (doing 5d20 damage), plasma flamers, flight systems, long-range radar, and more. They can also start off with a starship, complete with powerful force fields and a selection of strategic antimatter missiles. If they want to be leaders… they can start off in command of a bunch of people with that kind of equipment. There are microtech first aid kits that can be used to put severed heads back on in the field (resulting in a full recovery in a couple of days), and so on.

There are also plenty of non-magical worlds, although Kevin tends to avoid those if he can.

Thus most of the high-powered paths are unrestrained, simply so that personal powers will continue to mean something.

2 Responses

  1. Huh… and here I thought Blood Curse was disallowed because the high amounts of paths would mean that someone could curse the basic ability, thus shutting down the massive amount of CP invested in the rest of the path, which would make it far to powerful.

    A lot of things do make a lot more sense to me now: The Core’s rules can still be bent by setting overlay-zones, which explains how someone can still use a lot of his abilities, provided he is willing to compromise the Core-Reality. Now that I think about it, didn’t the Ourathan say something similar when he met with Kevin?

    So the Dragon tricked that character without actually tricking the character (in a “what you need not what you want”-kinda way)? That’s smart… And it’s good to know the backstory of the Opener that tried to destroy Core.
    Does this mean that the Federation-Apocalypse Log on here is actually the second one?

    Weirdly enough, I thought that Temple Mount was in Core, which made the Ward rather impressive and led to a lot of the confusion, but I must have misread that then.

    Still… The whole “know everything” stuff seems like something that you can still recreate somehow. “Wieldskill” comes to mind, but that would take up “Bones of the Dragon”-slots and isn’t cost-efficient at all.
    Maybe Action Hero: Stunt, specialized in Lore?
    That would still limit things, but it would seem more reliable.

    Interpretive turtle dance… That sounds like something someone I know would do. As a matter of fact, that someone DID with a spider.

    Anyway, thanks for clearing this up for me^^

    • Yes indeed; the Ouratha were concerned because generating a lot of overlay zones can eventually lead to areas being more Manifold than Core – and slowly losing contact with Core. Too much of that and a race can wind up losing contact with reality entirely and going extinct in Core. It’s easily fixed if they notice and if someone still anchored to Core can find them – but once you’re out of touch with Core it’s really hard to find it again among all the not-quite-core Manifold realms you will create while looking.

      This is indeed the second campaign in the setting. The first was focused on exploring the Manifold and the effects of the Opening, dealing with alien intruders in the Human Manifold (who were far more experienced Manifold-manipulators than humanity), and determining that the Ourathan Robot Peacekeepers were less “alien attackers” than they were useful providers of social services who inhibited expansion in Core (since they’d had some bad experiences with species warring with each other) and thus explained why there were lots of alien civilizations with FTL travel but no one had ever come to visit Earth. Basically they were enforcers for the Fermi Paradox. Most civilizations that hit the critical point and suddenly find that they have an infinite array of wonderful worlds full of magic and immortality only a step away pretty much abandon interstellar colonization of dreary real worlds fairly quickly. The stubborn few that do not… run into the Ourathan Robots. Similarly, those civilizations that do have interstellar colonies soon start running their communications and shipping through the Manifold, rather than putting up with all the inconvenient restrictions of reality – thus leaving nothing much for SETI projects to observe.

      You can certainly simulate “know everything” – but it usually is an active power that gets you information when you need it, rather than a passive “I know all!” ability.

      I must admit that Interpretative Turtle Dances were fun – but it really got silly when he started doing things like “I will have the horse carry me up to Alexander the Great, and will then use it for a stage on which I will perform a dance that will convince Alexander to rally his troops, move them to surround an apparently-pointless location, build field fortifications around it, and stand ready to lead the defense against invaders from a cyberpunk world led by aliens!”.

      And you’re quite welcome!

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