Anti-Armor Spellcraft

And for something minor, it’s a question:

I have to ask another question: How exactly does Line of Effect work? The way I read Eclipse, they are all spread effects, but I’m not sure.

Is there an area-spell-version of “Indirect Fire”? Normally when you cast an area spell, it only affects what’s in a direct line from it’s point of origin, which would mean that, for example, you cannot cast a Boundless Acid Splash into a building and expect it to hit anyone (due to a lack of line of effect), even with Indirect Fire. Same goes for something like a Boundless Grease, which couldn’t affect every wall in the building due to the lack of a straight line.

I’d have guessed that “Indirect Fire” means line of sight and line of effect, but I’m not sure about it anymore .-.


Hm. This was posted on a segment about level 10+ spells, but seems to be at least partially about Eclipse’s Metamagic. To start with the Metamagic…

The Extension Metamagical Theorem covers manipulating how spells reach their target. Like all Metamagical Theorems it can be applied in a wide variety of ways. At it’s simplest, this just improves the range – but modifiers like Indirect Fire, Global, and Trans-Dimensional blatantly allow spells to ignore obstacles – although you still need to know where the target is.

Indirect Fire (at +2 levels) obviates the need for line-of-effect to the spells point of origin as long as you know where the target is. The game master may want to require that there be some sort of open route – even if it’s “down the chimney, through the guardroom and into the winch room” or rule that the spell goes through the ethereal plane so ethereal barriers will halt it or something – but few games go into that kind of detail anyway, so if you want to throw a fireball into the space on the other side of that closed door with indirect fire… go right ahead and give it a shot.

  • Making spells with Extension that simply – say – turn a corner on the way to their target would only be about +1 level. They’re mostly only relevant in fairly contrived situations though, even if that goblin shaman with a mirror on a stick and some corner-turning spells can be a nuisance.
  • Making area effect spells where the actual effect or an area spell bypasses obstacles or turn corners isn’t really a job for Extension; it’s a job for Area or Sculpting. (Personally, I rather liked it when spells (and explosives) were a bit more physical – such as when Fireball filled a certain volume, and could fill a network of corridors – but those days are long gone). You might even be able to get away with making a spell that only affected living things – and thus could have an area of effect that passed through nonliving barriers.
  • Making a burst that filled a volume (and thus would go around corners or fill corridors), rather than just stopping at barriers would probably be Area +1 (If the potential backlash problems don’t persuade the game master to make it +0).
  • Making an Emanation that passed through inappropriate targets (like walls and ceilings) rather than stopping at them would probably be Amplify, at +1 level for Detections and other low-energy effects, +2 levels for things like Fireball. That way you could throw it at a wall and kill creatures behind said wall anyway.
  • Making a spell that simply wraps itself around corners and such so that it fills all the available unsealed open space within it’s normal radius/volume/whatever of effect is Sculpting, probably at a mere +1 level (It may be happening during the casting instead of being predetermined, but you can’t exclude areas).

I didn’t include a theorem that would allow you to directly target someone who’s location is unknown (although you could fake it by making a spell selective, barrier penetrating, and with a large enough area of effect to be sure that your target is in it at some horrendous number of added levels) because that is even more boring than scry-and-die tactics. It leads to your heroes and / or your villains suffering sudden, overwhelming, attacks from nowhere.

Leaving the metamagic behind, the level 10+ spells generally (and intentionally) leave a lot open to interpretation. They are, after all, each an astounding act of magic on the part of an incredibly powerful (and presumably unique) spellcaster – and usually are plot devices rather than regularly-cast spells. Still…

  • Most of them don’t really involve questions about their lines of effect; when you steal abilities from a dying foe, crown a king, or cleanse a soul… you generally aren’t trying to do it through a keyhole or around a corner.
  • Others ignore “targeting” by their nature. Spells that lead you to potential customers, or create pocket dimensions, or cause geological upheavals, aren’t really cast at particular targets.
  • Yet more are obviously targeted normally; a 30d6 Frostball that animates those slain by it works a lot like a normal Fireball. It’s just nastier.

There are still a few oddities though.

For example, the twenty-first level spell Boundless Sea Of Flames lets the caster “unleash a vast flood of force from the elemental planes, dealing 3d6 damage per round for five rounds to everything in a small continent-sized area”.

It doesn’t say anything about HOW (although it pretty obviously involves a gate of some sort), so that is more or less up to the caster. Open a vast gate to the elemental plane in the center of the area to be affected and let a tidal wave of elemental power pour out? Some may have time to escape as the wave sweeps over the horizon, some areas may be sheltered by natural barriers, and so on – but you’ll probably get a greater effect in the center. Simply overlay the two dimensions so that everything – including sealed areas – is affected evenly? It will be instant and pretty much inescapable, but far less dramatic. Open thousands of lesser gates across the area? You’ll get a mix of effects – with even more variation depending on which elemental plane you tap into. A mighty flood from a central gate may leave dwellers in flying castles unharmed while making them effectively under deep water with an overlay certainly will not – but the latter would spare cities with planar barriers.

Of course once you’re throwing around spells of level twenty and up, details are usually something to discuss and then get the game master to narrate anyway.

The Jovian Hauntings

Now that they’ve caught the troublemakers, the Shadowed Galaxy player group wanted the backstory on this particular mission – and since they currently have the resources and sources to get it pretty easily, I’m saving time by posting it rather than spending a lot of game time on a question-and-answer session.

2186: After nearly sixty years of discussion, an extremely low-priority program for the study of conditions Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and radiation belts finally gets funded. Justifications include looking for life on Jupiter, planetary science research, and looking for and analyzing exotic materials found orbiting in Jupiter’s high-energy radiation belts.

2189: Construction begins on Lima, a station designed to function indefinitely in close orbit around Jupiter. The design incorporates high-energy magnetic shielding systems to help divert high-energy charged particles from Jupiter’s radiation belts and electromagnetic coupling with Jupiter’s magnetic field to allow minor orbital adjustments to be made by running current loops through the station.

2196: Solar Minima. The Rathhan – primarily psychic entities which use bits of an exotic material which can convert electromagnetic energy into psychic energy as a power source and physical anchor – orbit near the upper limits of Jupiter’s atmosphere, feeding on the electromagnetic flux Jupiter constantly generates and slowly harvesting the elements they need to grow.

2197: Lima is completed, and begins the transit from high earth orbit to low jovian orbit.

2201: The inhabitants of Lima begin their scientific work as initial tests, experiments, and observations are made

2202: Lima is takes up it’s standard orbit near jupiter, the remaining scientific staff arrives, and the various research projects go into full operation.

2210: Solar Maxima. Several major solar flares and significant mass ejection from the sun occurs as solar activity hits a 74-year high. Jupiter’s radiation belts soak up some of the particle flux.

2211: Jupiter’s radiation belts reach their energy peaks, rich with hurtling ions, high energy nuclei, and exotic particles. The Rathhan begin their “seasonal” migration, spiraling out into the radiation belts on psychic wings to transmute their harvest into paralithic “flesh”, to feed on the belts rich reserves of other energies, and to socialize. Across the solar system a few sensitive humans have occasional strange dreams of mighty lightning-storms, strange powers, and soaring flight through near-limitless skies high above a clouded world. As it has before this leads to a few visionary tales and nothing much else.

2212: The orbits of the Rathhan approach the orbit of the Lima. The outer edge of their usual range will briefly overlap the orbit of the Lima before it begins to contract once again as the energies of the Solar Maxima fade and “winter” approaches. Among humans, the lack of any radically new results from observing Jupiter’s energy peaks leads to questions about continuing funding for the Liam.

2213a: Three Rathhan are temporarily ensnared in an incredibly intense, and utterly unexpected, “knot” of magnetic force. Before they can escape, they are isolated from most of the electromagnetic flux they feed upon and are further entrapped in solid matter, Much of their available energy reserves are expended on their initial psychic attempts to call for help. These are not successful.

2213b: The crew of the Lima pick up three major lumps and a collection of fragments of exotic material. A quick check shows the material to be Rhimvite – a fairly well known type (albeit of rare purity). It is classified as low priority and stored in the materials lab complex for detailed examination next time an appropriate specialist is available. Much more attention is given to a wave of malaise and psychological problems that is overtaking the crew, and the minor samples are quickly filed and forgotten.

Rhimvite is an exotic stone, slightly ductile, greenish-black in its normal state. It is sensitive to psionic energy; when exposed to it it turns blue-black and emits a bit of RF. Interestingly, if exposed to massive RF fields it turns white and starts leaking a little psionic energy. It’s mostly used to test for psionic potential. You give a kid a handful of little spheres, more and more impure. The more a kid can get to change color, the stronger his current potential. It’s also good as a practice material, since it shows if you’re making progress.

2214: The Rathhan, while low on energy, detect minds thinking on radically different bands impossibly close at hand. Attempts to communicate are made – but, lacking any good understanding of those minds, is mostly limited to projection emotions and basic concepts

2216: With the crew reporting an ever-increasing epidemic of hallucinations and “hauntings” (dead relatives pleading for release from hell, assorted mythical monsters, and some religious “visitations” – none very coherent) it is eventually concluded that some combination of radiation leakage and the huge magnetic field were affecting the crew. Initial testing of this idea easily demonstrated that the crew recovered when removed for a bit, and new crewmen soon started reporting similar symptoms.

The Lima acquires a reputation for being “haunted”. Combined with questions about contamination, and the ongoing doubts about the worth of the entire program, this results in the Lima being put under computer control and abandoned by the human crew.

2217: With the other minds vanished, and no immediate prospect of rescue, the three Rathhan aboard Lima enter hibernation to conserve energy, in hopes of either accumulating enough to escape with or of rescue.

2246: Citing a lack of significant results over two decades, and the expense of maintenance missions, the Lima is put into standby mode.

2278: Michar Guttvield, a prospector-scavenger, acquires a used ship, fitted out with massive amounts of radiation shielding by its paranoid prior owner. With all that extra mass making it inefficient and limiting its cargo capacity it had been almost unsaleable – and so was cheap. Looking for a profitable use that was easier than stripping the shielding away, Michar recalls the Lima, and decides to take advantage of the shielding for a quick trip to see what he could grab.

2279: Over the course of several trips Michar investigates the Lima, and finds reasonably good pickings. Some of the equipment was still saleable. There was even some Rhimvite in the materials science lab – and even minor and impure bits could be quickly turned into testing kits for kids which were worth good money.

Hauling some bits of the Rathhan’s energy-collecting physical structure out of confinement and surrounding them with other minds (even if they were alien and very hard to communicate with) soon awoke the Rathhan, who remained connected to even fairly distant bits of “themselves”.

Michar, however, was a functional, if fairly minor psychic – and proved capable of crude communication. Michar was, however, a bit paranoid about aliens – and layered “his” find in remote-controlled explosives to make sure that he had a trump card. That would destroy ANYTHING!… And his confidence in that came across to the Rathhan – although he was willing to give them more energy to work with he wanted something from THEM.

The first few station “scooters”that they brought in in the process of reclaiming their fragments made a way they could “repay” him while gradually getting back out into free space quite obvious – so Michar brought in Andrew Blake, a more mechanically-minded associate to help him run his new, powered-by-enslaved aliens, vehicle chop shop.

The profits have been good so far, even if Michar has gradually been getting quite a bit crazier – and he wasn’t all that stable to start with.

2280: With the “Chop Shop” business getting into full swing, the Rathhan have learned to communicate somewhat – and Kids in the Jovian Stations have started to report encounters with cartoons and various other popular images which the Rathhan are pulling straight out of their minds. Unfortunately, Michar has started putting booby traps all over Lima station – and Andrew is more or less encouraging him; the scam can’t last forever and blowing up Lima will cover the tracks nicely.

2281: The player-characters begin their investigation into an odd combination of reports of cartoons showing up, weird monsters that then vanish, and stolen station scooters.

Binding Mysterious Spirits IX, Epic Bokor and Epic Mysteries – The Martyred Hero, The Fallen World, The Formless Horror, and The Big Man.

Channeling Epic Mysteries calls for a slight modification of the basic Bokor package; spend 12 CP to upgrade the “Host of Mysteries / Ridden by the Loa” ability from one-third cost to triple effect and update the line stating that “Each +1 ECL represents a separate Mystery – an individual entity.” to “Each +1 ECL represents a separate Mystery – an individual entity. At epic levels the user may also channel one +2 ECL Epic Mystery (with up to two disadvantages and thus worth 64, 67, or 70 CP) and may channel additional Epic Mysteries by devoting two +1 ECL mysteries slots to each one.

Sadly, no matter how high their level, a Bokor will never have more than 10 +1 ECL Mystery “slots” and one +2 ECL Epic Mystery “slot” – but reaching that limit will take hitting level 55 anyway.

And now you’re done. That’s basically all the spirit channeling there is. While this does mean that an extremely high-level Binder will eventually be able to bind more Vestiges than an equally extremely high-level Bokor can channel Mysteries, Mysteries tend to be improvements on Vestiges and the Bokor package has a flat cost. You don’t NEED to keep taking “Bokor Levels” to expand on your channeling of Mysteries up to that point and you don’t need to take special feats to learn of epic mysteries.

Unfortunately, upon taking a look… the original epic level Vestiges aren’t all that interesting. Not too surprisingly, most of their abilities look a lot like spells such as Iron Body – and allowing an epic-level character to tap into a few very high level spells is not that big a trick. I’ll be using Channeling, since such entities tend to be a massive power source of their very own. Ergo, the basis of the standard Epic Mysteries is going to look something like this:

  • 1 + (5 x Cha Mod) total uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost: Only for Conversion, only to the set of effects that comes with the Mystery, blatantly conspicuous, clearly shows the nature of the Mystery empowering the user (15 CP).
  • Conversion to a set of ninth level spells (33 CP), Corrupted for Increased Effect (each basic spell effect gets an individual enhancement) / these may only be powered by the Channeling Uses belonging to the Mystery, if the user ceases to channel the Mystery, any remaining duration is forfeit, the user is blatantly channeling alien powers from beyond. Any save DC’s will be (23 + Cha Mod). Fortunately, since Conversion at this level is specifically limited to Gods and Epic Level Characters, these Mysteries are pretty much automatically restricted to actual epic level characters.
  • Immunity to Dispelling effects (Common/Minor/Epic, Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Innate Enchantments, Only those that come with this Mystery, 6 CP).

Depending on what disadvantages, if any, are taken this leaves 10, 13, or 16 CP for individualized abilities. I’m going to make some suggestions here, but epic level Mysteries should probably be a bit customized.

The Martyred Hero (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP: Likely disadvantages for the Martyred Hero include an obsessive hatred of a particular menace and a compulsive desire to protect the defenseless. He, she, or it, is likely to bestow Advanced Presence; not only does their presence bestow immunity to fear, but everyone will recognize the channeler as a noble and honorable hero to be trusted – and to be obeyed in emergencies.

Throughout the ages courageous men and women have faced horrors and impossible odds in the defense of others – and have fallen in that duty. For a time such heroes are hailed, songs are sung, and libations are poured – but time erodes all such recognition, and across the ages all heroes are forgotten.

Channeling The Mystery:

  • Grand Renewal: L9, basically a combination of Heal and Greater Restoration with no XP Cost. The Corruption improvement allows it to affect a 30′ radius.
  • Heavenly Wild Puppet Technique, L6. Upgraded to L9 with being Subdivideable and doubling the duration of the actual effect to (2 x Con + 12) rounds. The Corruption effect doubles the available duration again.
  • Body of Light: (Transmutation, L6): You may infuse yourself with positive energy for one round per level. While so infused you are immune to disease, fatigue, fear, exhaustion, paralysis, poison, sickened, ability damage and drain, energy drain, death spells, magical death effects, and negative energy effects (such as from inflict spells or chill touch), gain a +4Sacred bonus to AC, and may treat any weapon you hold as a Ghost Touch weapon. As upgraded to L9 it can be invoked as an immediate action. The Corruption allows you to extend the effect to up to (Level / 5) allies within 60 feet.
  • Heavenly Radiant Soul (L9) Your inspiring presence grants all your allies within 30 feet a Combat Maneuver (Pathfinder)bonus or a bonus to all bull rush, disarm, grapple, overrun, sunder, and trip checks of (Your Cha Mod x 2). This normally lasts ten minutes per level, but the Corruption extends this to one day.

The Fallen World (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Fallen World include being Blocked against using necromancy-related abilities and occasional troublesome Flashbacks to a particular worlds fall. Likely individualized powers include Mystic Mounts or Animal Companions, a Personalized Imbued Weapon like Eurynome’s Munkattingusupia? The Augmented Bonus trick to add some nature-related skills? Shapeshifting? “Aworld” is a pretty broad theme there.

Worlds end. Entropy, nearby supernova, entropy, all-devouring monsters, negative space wedgies and more all pop up pretty regularly when it comes to the multiverse. Creatures, gods, and races may escape – but planets rarely do.

Channeling the Mystery:

  • Cosmic Unity: You become one with the world about you for ten minutes/level (with Corruption, for twenty-four hours). During this time…
    • You may speak with any living creature. Such creatures become Friendly unless they can make a will save..
    • You gain Darkvision, penetrating both normal and magical darkness, out to your normal visual range.
    • You gain Scent and may Track by Scent as if you had Tracking.
    • You gain Blindsight out to 120 feet.
    • You gain Tremorsense out to 60 feet.
    • You gain access to Commune with Nature as a constant ability.
    • You gain a +4 sacred bonus to Strength, a +6 sacred bonus to Constitution, and a +8 sacred bonus to natural armor.

Is this reasonable for a ninth level spell? Comparing Abyssal Army. Fimbulwinter, Gate, Miracle. Shapechange. And various other spells… I’d say yes.

  • One with the Elements: As per Energy Immunity, but you may select four types of energy to become immune to. The Corruption extends 30-point Resistance to those energy types to everyone you wish to protect with 60 feet.
  • Biosphere II: As per Monstrous Regeneration, but with a 24-hour duration and a regeneration rate of 8/Round. The Corruption allows this benefit to be a “Mass” effect.
  • Nature’s Fury: You may strike down aberrations, constructs, oozes, and undead. Your spells, powers, and abilities get a +4 bonus to their DCs against such targets. You ignore such creatures immunities to sneak attacks, critical hits, and precision damage and you automatically confirm critical threats against them. Finally, you get a +4 bonus to your AC and saves against such creatures attacks. The Corruption allows this benefit to be a “Mass” effect.

The Formless Horror (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Formless Horror include Accursed (repelled by daylight or various weird symbols or materials), Blocked (powers granted by entities of the (normal) outer planes), Hunted (monster hunters), Outcast (kind of pro forma for horrors from beyond), and Unluck. Likely individualized powers include Luck for Saving Throws, Awareness, Berserker, Cloaking, summoning lesser minions, and Costly.

It is hinted at in a thousand tomes, and lurks behind words like gelid, abhorrent, squamous, aberrant, cadaverous, degenerate, effervescent, faceless, fecund, cyclopean, gibbering, glutinous, tentacled, ichorous, iridescent, leprous, liquefied, lumbering, antediluvian, malignant, bilious, membranous, mesmerizing, mortifying, moldering, mutilated, nameless, octopoid, pallid, palpitating, parasitic, phlegmatic, poisonous, perambulating, protoplasmic, protuberant, pulsating, putrid, remorseless, repellent, slithering, spectral, stagnant, tenebrous, turbid, unspeakable, unnatural, vaporous, vile, wailing, wretched, gibbous, detestable, and zymotic – but oddly enough, despite these hordes of descriptive terms, no one is ever sure what it looks like.

Never mind. It’s coming to get you and it’s DISGUSTING.

Channeling the Mystery:

  • (Adjective from above) Alien Form: As per Shapechange, but limited to aberrations, constructs, oozes, and undead. In exchange, however, you may project an Aura of Madness at will; this affects a 30′ radius. Enemies within this aura are affected by Confusion for one round per five levels you possess unless they make a Will save. A creature that makes its saving throw cannot be affected by your Aura of Madness again for 24 hours. This is a mind-affecting ability. The Corruption extends the duration to 24 hours.
  • Wings of Madness: You may flow through alien angles and dimensions, effectively gaining a flight speed of 150 feet with perfect maneuverability, the effects of Greater Blink, and three flight-related Feats of your choice for ten minutes per level. The Corruption extends this to a full day.
  • Abhorrent Tongues of the Great Priest: A 120-foot-cone mental blast. Anyone touched by the psychic tongues must succeed on a Will save or be stunned for 12 rounds. If the user cares to ask, he or she may also find out what the victims sanity tastes like. Thanks to the strain of channeling the alien mentality, you must wait five rounds between uses of this ability.
  • Sphere of Ultimate Destruction. The corruption provides the +4 spell levels needed to eliminate the Saving Throw. No more than three such spheres may be called forth at any one time.

The Big Man (64 CP + 2 x 3 CP Disadvantages = 70 CP): Likely disadvantages for The Big Man include Irreverent, Obligations (picking up dependents), and Compulsive (must always test other authority figures). Likely individualized powers include Augmented Bonus to get more skills (Survival, a Martial Art, and knowledge of nature), Presence (attracts women and children), Damage Reduction, Executive, upgraded Witchcraft, and Resist.

Long, LONG, ago, when beasts spoke and men wandered in bands, what the Big Man said was what was done – but when danger threatened it was the Big Man who stood between the lesser folk of the band and the menace. Today’s shoddy imitation “Big Men” mostly lead gangs and mobs and other impromptu groups from the rear – and the savage purity of the old way is long forgotten. Yet still the Big Man lurks, a specter of lost ages ready to be called forth.

  • The Noble Savage: You gain a +6 Enhancement Bonus to each of your six basic attributes (3 x L4 Attribute Enhancement from The Practical Enchanter), +8 to Natural Armor (L4 Stone Ox from The Practical Enchanter), a +5 Competence Bonus to Fortitude Saves (L4 Sidestep, from The Practical Enchanter, L4), a BAB equal to your level and +1 HP per level (L4 Divine Power), and proficiency with all Armor, Shields, and Weapons (Grand Master’s Touch, L4 variant of Master’s Touch at L1). All of these effects last for one round per level. The Corruption doubles this, and allows the time to be subdivided, with the effect starting as an immediate action and stopping at any time – although once stopped it cannot be started again for three rounds.

Should a ninth level spell be able to duplicate the effects of seven related, but not identical, fourth level spells? Lerandor’s Rule, of course, says yes. For another approach, “Mass” – effectively generating one subspell per level of the caster – is plus three or four levels (published spells are not entirely consistent on the level change), and a Greater Invocation (ability enhancement spells) would be about +2 levels – so a spell that generated up to (Level) fourth level ability enhancing spells of choice would be level nine – although it would be one per target. Is doing seven on yourself instead reasonable? Well… once again, Shapechange. Secondarily… if you want to be combative, you probably have most of those bonuses or better already at epic levels, which makes this far less effective than it might be.

  • Master of Spirits: Greater Invocation of Force. Creates any Force Effect of up to Level Seven. The Corruption makes all such effects Quickened and component-free.
  • Guardian Totem: Mass Heal, the Corruption allows it to be invoked as an Immediate Action – but only to counter the effects of a particular attack, spell, or ability with “special effects” up to the user. The user might thus block a tremendous blast of toxic flames with a wall of water (or with various “other” countereffects), negating up to (10 x Level, 250 Maximum) points of damage and the save versus poison it would normally inflict.
  • Master of the Mysteries: Surprising Mastery Spell Template (The Practical Enchanter); Bestows Very Complex Mental Feats (L4 Base), x4 Feats (the Amplify Metamagical Theorem and Two levels of Streamline, Specialized for Double Effect/boosts can only be applied to the seven first level effects in the Initiate of the Mysteries package, +2 Spell Levels), duration of one day (+3 Spell Levels). The Corruption allows the Big Man to share one-half the (current) benefits of his Initiate of the Mysteries package with up to (Level) companions within thirty feet.

The “Standard” Epic Mysteries are kind of hard to go wrong with. After all, each of them has a set of 13’th to 14’th level equivalent spells and enough power to spam them. Admittedly, they generally aren’t the most versatile possible spells (although some of them are close) – but that’s still a ridiculous level of power.

Of course, that fits epic levels well enough. They’re all about going absurdly over the top.

Considering D20 Diplomacy

There’s an important note on Diplomacy (and, for that matter, on Intimidate), at least in 3.5;

Attitude is not everything.

How do I know this? Where are the official rules on that?

Lets take a look at the examples in the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide to see what you can get when you change an NPC’s Attitude. It will take a little searching but the Dungeon Master’s Guide tells us…

Choose the attitude of an NPC or NPCs based on circumstances. Most people met in a neutral city are indifferent. Most guards are indifferent but suspicious, because that’s what’s expected of them.

It specifically mentions “suspicious”. So there are factors other than attitude which influence behavior. That seems reasonable. A cranky museum guide and a friendly one will both tend to do what museum guides are expected to do – but there will be notable differences in how helpful and informative they are.

If the thaumaturgist’s Diplomacy check adjusts the creature’s attitude to helpful (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), the creature will work for 50% of the standard fee, as long as the task is one that is not against its nature.

So altering attitudes will not convince a creature to forgo it’s needs and desires, to act against its “nature”, or to do things for free – although it may give you a price break on helping you out if it likes you.

Floating in serene contemplation in the center of the cloud island is a noble djinn (see page 115 of the Monster Manual). If characters capture her (by defeating her without killing her or driving her away), she will grant three wishes collectively to the party. She is eager to talk to visitors from the Material Plane, where she spent more than a century trapped by an evil wizard. If characters can improve her attitude to friendly (it starts out indifferent), she’ll offer the characters a bargain. She will grant three wishes to the party if the characters will first avenge her imprisonment by capturing the evil Material Plane conjurer and returning him to this cloud island, where the djinn will arrange for “long-term detention.”

So, while it wouldn’t really cost the Djinn anything to grant those wishes for free, she won’t do so even if you render her “friendly”. She’ll use them to ransom herself or to accomplish her own goals. Evidently her goals are important to her – and being friendly doesn’t mean giving away valuable stuff for free no matter HOW helpful that would be to the party.

Some hirelings might require hazard pay (perhaps as high as double normal pay) if placed in particularly dangerous situations. In addition to demanding hazard pay, hirelings placed in great danger might be unfriendly (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), but characters potentially can influence them to a better attitude and perhaps even talk them out of hazard pay.

So a good attitude doesn’t necessarily mean that your hirelings wont insist on price-gouging you, although “perhaps” you could talk them out of it.

And that’s about all the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us. That’s really quite enough though. It tells us that duties, beliefs, obligations, past experiences, personal desires, and the personal costs of various behaviors have a major impact on behavior – and may override attitude when it comes to any significant request.

In other words, the Dungeon Master’s Guide says to play NPC’s as people with their own goals – and that a glib tongue will only get you so far.

That’s fair enough. I know plenty of people that I like, but whom I know perfectly well are totally untrustworthy and have no intention of keeping any deals they make or repaying any money that they borrow. They’re personable, and they’re fun – but they’re incorrigible scam artists. Some of them brag about it.

Did that idea continue, or was it superseded by later sources like so many other rules? Lets look at what a much later book – the Dungeon Master’s Guide II – has for examples of Diplomacy in action

Drow Raiders: When first encountered, the initial attitude of these slave traders is hostile. Only the most charismatic of player characters (someone who makes a DC 35 Diplomacy check) can convince the dark elves not to attack. Even then, they’re likely to betray the characters at the first opportunity.

So Nature still trumps Diplomacy. The Drow are treacherous and (chaotic) evil, and no amount of diplomacy will change that one little bit.

“Dwarf Warriors: These dwarves are within a mile of the stronghold they call home. Their initial attitude is unfriendly unless one of the characters is also a dwarf, in which case their attitude is indifferent. At the very least, they want to escort the characters to their home for interrogation. The dwarves are not hostile and do not attack unless provoked. The characters can convince the dwarves to let them go on their way with a successful DC 25 Diplomacy check. A DC 40 check convinces the dwarves to give the PCs directions or invite them back to their home for a free night of dwarven hospitality and the opportunity to replenish supplies (and possibly purchase items of fine dwarf craftsmanship).”

Note that no check DC is listed for “getting free stuff” beyond a meal and a place to stay (basic hospitality), or for “abandoning your duties and coming along to help out”, or anything similar. These Dwarves have duties and a job, and will be doing it even if you DO seem like nice folks.

In the case of unusual cohorts, mounts, familiars, or animal companions, the guards call upon their commander for assistance and make sure that the suspect creature is well behaved and under the responsibility of its group. A DC 15 Diplomacy check convinces the guards of this, at which point they charge a 1-gp exotic animal tax for each unusual creature granted entrance to the city. If the Diplomacy check succeeds by 15 or more (in other words, if the travelers make a DC 30 check), the guards agree to charge the standard entry tax of 5 cp per individual instead. Obviously evil or dangerous creatures, such as undead and creatures of size Huge or larger, are flatly refused entry. If things begin to turn confrontational, four guards gather reinforcements from the watchtowers and alert the garrison.

So no amount of Diplomacy will make the guards violate their orders or admit obvious threats to their town’s well-being. More importantly, the next paragraph tells us that the guards are standard first level human warriors.

There’s a pretty obvious pattern there. It’s very easy (DC 15) to talk people into exercising what discretion they have in doing their jobs – but no amount of “diplomacy” short of mind control will talk them into doing something stupid.

Sure, there are the epic level rules for diplomacy – but even that (somewhat problematic) source says to

Treat the fanatic attitude as a mind-affecting enchantment effect for purposes of immunity, save bonuses, or being detected by the Sense Motive skill. Since it is nonmagical, it can’t be dispelled; however, any effect that suppresses or counters mind-affecting effects will affect it normally. A fanatic NPC’s attitude can’t be further adjusted by the use of skills.

Er… it’s not magic, but if I have a bonus that only works against magic, it works against it and it will be blocked by antimagic? I detect a writer who can’t make up his or her mind. Oh well.

In any case, now we know. From the beginning of 3.5 until the end “Friendly” meant that NPC’s would try to accommodate you within the limits of their jobs, duties, oaths, and responsibilities. That friendly bureaucrat would help you get the right forms, and explain them, and help you fill them out, and even try to expedite them through the system. He won’t just ignore his responsibilities though.

The d20 rules are there to help you simulate a fantasy world. Just as in reality, duties, promises, and oaths, obligations, common sense, and beliefs all play at least as large a role as whether or not they’re feeling helpful or hostile in determining what actual actions people take. Plenty of people have killed people they loved, felt personal loyalty to, and desperately wanted to help, out of duty, or because it would spare them pain, or shame, or dishonor, or out of a twisted notion of the best way to help them, because their families, or personal honor, or liege lords required it, or because their faith told them that it was their gods will. Plenty of other people have done good and helpful things for people that they detest for the same list of reasons. (You can ask any public defender about THAT). An executioner who likes you may carefully arrange the wood around your stake so that the smoke smothers you before you burn in agony – but executioners who let their personal feelings get in the way of doing their jobs quit early on. Others specifically stay because it lets them make the inevitable less painful.

Changing a non-player characters attitude may ot may not influence what they do, and is fairly likely to influence how they do it – but it certainly does not control it. At work I and many other people regularly deal, or have dealt with, with both people that we don’t much like, and with people that we do like – and very few of them know which category they’re in. They all get treated the same way because that is a part of the job. Whether or not we like the people involved is irrelevant to what we were hired to do – and we agreed to do it when we took the job. If we were not willing to do it… we would have found another job. People will go a bit further beyond what they’re supposed to do for the ones they like – but most people will do some of that just to show off how good they are. Simple professionalism places very strict limits to that in either case though.

So why does Diplomacy target NPC’s attitudes instead of – say – trying to get them to make a deal like THIS revision tries? It’s because simple skill checks generally cannot do much of anything to change an NPC’s duties, promises, oaths, obligations, presence (or lack) of common sense, beliefs, or notions of “honor”. Their attitude is about all you CAN affect.

And that is why the “Diplomancer” doesn’t actually work and why Diplomacy is not nearly as overpowered as many authors have claimed. Diplomacy can get your targets to hear you out and consider your words. It can even get them to want to help you – but you the player are still going to have to figure out how to wedge what YOU want into the targeted NPC’s web of responsibilities and social obligations in an acceptable fashion. Until you start doing mind-controlling magical skill stunts, there is no diplomacy check that will let you talk the museum guard into helping you steal the Mona Lisa just because he likes you. Talk him into letting you sneak in a camera? Very possible. Talk him into helping you steal it in exchange for a colossal bribe (enough to provide for his children, care for his ailing mother, and set up a new identity?) Maybe – if he’s somewhat corruptible already (thus not going against his nature) and you can present a good case for him being able to get away with it.

So what produced the notion that changing people’s attitude would utterly change their behavior to begin with? Admittedly, the various examples that demonstrate otherwise are a bit of a pain to find without a searchable PDF, but they’re there.

The answer lies in the way that the game is played. Players run their characters, the game master runs the world. Virtually all of the actual social interaction that the game master is trying to fit the NPC’s into is between the players, rather than between the player characters and the NPC’s.

Gaming involves a LOT of escapism. Players tend to treat their characters as being entirely free-willed, unburdened by responsibilities, lacking friends and family ties, outside of all social conventions, usually loyal only to each other (if generally only out of convenience) and their own self-image, having religious beliefs only insofar as they offer statistical bonuses, ignoring the law when it suits them, and so on. Even death is no real restraint; if a character doesn’t get brought back new ones are easy to make. Being a part of the world is seen as giving the game master free hooks with which to manipulate your character!

And so, for Player-Characters (who are almost assured of profit because that’s built into the game for them), “attitude” tends to be EVERYTHING. If they decide that they like the opposition better than the royalists, the characters are likely to start a civil war, leave the realm in rubble, get tens of thousands killed, and install a new government – and why not? Even if they recognize the hideous suffering and immense human cost… they can just plaster it over with a some vague statement about how their actions were in accord with their alignments. THEY will still get their levels and treasure, and that’s all that really matters to most player characters.

There are a LOT of problems with that (and I may get to them in another article), but given that sort of behavior template to go on, it’s no wonder that game masters – who have almost no time at all on the average to devote to their NPC’s motives – tend to slip into the same model. Their NPC’s HAVE no motives or goals outside of their attitude towards the player characters, and so changing their “attitude” is sufficient to make them do anything the player characters want.

If it would be a big change for some NPC to tell the Diplomancer that “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you today; I have to go home and take care of a sick kid” then you, as a game master, REALLY need to put a little more thought into your NPC’s. It will give your game a lot more interest and depth – and you’ll be a lot closer to what the rulebooks are telling you to do.

Randolf Upton Pickman, A.K.A. Pharaoh Nephren-Ka, E-poh of the Tcho-Tcho, Mylakhrion of Theem’hdra., and others.

The planes where mankind can exist are a tiny island in an infinite sea, surrounded by reefs of possibility and dedicated guardians. Yet there are things – some minor, others vast and powerful – which sometimes walk our realms when the stars are right and a gate is opened. Some find our little island little more than a shortcut, an amusing path less trodden, or a source of some desired oddity. Others… take an interest. Some even wish to understand, and seek that understanding in strange and maddening ways.

If some mortal is very, VERY, unlucky… they may even take a liking to him or her. Whether that means that said mortal was never entirely mortal at all, or whether they become so retroactively has never been determined.

Favored of the Outer Ones

+2 ECL Race or +3 ECL Acquired Template – although baseline d20 humans can “acquire” it for a mere +2 ECL since their racial advantages can simply be subsumed into “In The Guise Of Humanity”.

In The Guise Of Humanity (9 CP):

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills (3 CP).
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP).

Randolf appeared (mostly) human as a child, and – at least for now – can easily pass for one as far as conventional examaination goes.

The Hidden Eye That Sees Unveiled (30 CP):

  • Adept: Craft/Visual Arts, Diplomacy, Knowledge/Arcane Lore (Specialized in Mythos Lore for Double Effect), and Perform/Oratory (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized Skills, Corrupted/only to give his Adept skills a “racial modifier” of +(effective Level) (4 CP).
  • +3 to each Adept Skill (4 CP).
  • 2d6 (8) Mana with Resilience, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for the Resilience Natural Magic (4 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore Mana, only usable for the Resilience function (4 CP).
  • Occult Ritual, Specialized and Corrupted; Can only perform the terrible, sanity-blasting, rites of the Outer Ones using his Mythos Lore (2 CP).
  • Major Privilege: Gets along with virtually all of the Outer Gods and their Servants, despite how incredibly awkward this is (6 CP).

Randolf, while still rather human, sees what is hidden – and can present it to other humans. He is also highly resistant to the dread effects of interacting with the Outer Gods and their servants in their true (or near-true) forms (those he explains to are rarely so fortunate) – although too much of that sort of thing will overwhelm even his defenses and slowly erode his (debatable) humanity. Oddly enough, most of the Outer Ones are quite willing to go along with this.

Guardian Spawn of The Dark Tapestry (15 CP):

(Dreamspawn) Companion, with +4 Template Levels, Great Form, and Transform (Corrupted; only the Companion can transform), +3 Speciality in Managing it. Specialized with the Standard Dreamspawn limitations (15 CP).

I’ve only put up a few specific Dreamspawn. To save time, I’d suggest using a minor variant of Queen Yintor. As Randolf is level one,:”she” gets a 3 CP bonus – in “her” case buying a particular Trick; the first time anyone sees Randolf’s companions true form” he or she will suffer 1d4 points of Wisdom Damage, 1d4 points worth of Wisdom Drain, and 1d4 rounds of Confusion. A successful Will save will reduce this to the minimum effect – one point of damage, one of drain, and one round of confusion. This is, however, Specialized; it can only affect any given creature once during their lifetime (3 CP).

The Outer Ones have vouchsafed Randolf a companion on his voyage beyond the gates of sanity, a guardian and supporter that may at times appear human, but is anything but. In it’s questioning and attempts to understand it’s new master it may, perhaps, become a little more human – or it may simply wind up increasing Randolfs upcoming dementia faster than ever.

Still, the enhancements and powers it grants him make surviving the many enemies that Randolf has acquired for simply existing a lot easier.

The Dreamer In The Labyrinth (66 CP):

  • Mystic Artist (Craft/Visual Art, including Painting, Drawing, Etching, and – possibly – Film-making (6 CP).
    • Basic Abilities: Skill: 3: Fascinate, 4: Emotion, 5: Block, 6: Hold Audience, 9: Suggestion, 12: Emotional Auras, 15: Freedom, 18: Amplify, 21: Harmonize, 24: Mass Suggestion, 30: Serenity, 36: Alter Attitudes, 48: Puppet Master, and 60: Rule the Horde.
  • Bonus Uses: +4 (6 CP).
  • Path of Whispers: Subliminal, Conditioning, Compelling, Immersive, Undertow, and Worldgate (36 CP).
  • The Art of the Occult: The Hidden Way, Spellweaver, and Sphere of Mastery (18 CP).

Randolf paints and draws – and dreams and visions of things that cannot exist in the world as it is pour through his pen and into reality, each work a potential gateway for that which is beyond and a crack in reality that helps to reshape the world into somewhere where such beings CAN exist. Those who gaze upon a work that happens to be “active” at the moment may find themselves subject to strange compulsions, experiencing memories and visions of the realms beyond, subject to the plots and themes of inhuman entities, or possibly can even be drawn into the realms beyond. Unfortunately, at the moment, he has little control over such events.

Similarly, while he little knows it at the moment, his images can also back any magic he happens to learn with the energies of the Outer Realms or even carry him partially beyond the boundaries of the world.

Whispers Of The Black Tapestry (108 CP):

  • Mystic Artist (Perform/Oratory) (6 CP).
  • Bonus Uses +8 (12 CP).
    • Skill: 3:Block, 4: Emotion, 5: Fascinate, 6: Competence, 9: Greatness, 12:Excellence, 15: Mass Greatness, 18:Mass Excellence, 21:Group Focus, 24:Harmonize, 30: Serenity, 36: Mass Heroism, 48: Double, and 60: Rule The Horde.
  • Basic Modifiers: Amplification, Echoes, Rapid, and Seeking (24 CP).
  • Path of Dissonance with Selective Targeting (+6 CP): Dissonance, Distracting, Disrupting, Stunning, Maddening, and Banishing (42 CP).
  • Chords of Fate: Harmonics (affects Undead), Spirit Summons, Spirit Channels, and The Great Summons (24 CP).

The Voices of the Outer Ones leak into Randolfs voice – and disrupt the very structure of reality and the creatures within it, whether living or dead. With time and practice he may be able to learn to disrupt the restraints that keep his targets from using their full potentials and store borrowed magics in the inflections of his words – but at the moment, only the disrupting energies of alien realms are really his to call upon, and he’s barely aware of even that.

High Priest of the Outer Ones (20 CP):

  • Dominion (Cultists) (6 CP)
  • Path of the Pharaoh: Manipulation, Sphere of Influence (Mortal Ties with The Outer Realms, Corrupted/he is drawn to points where contact is occurring, and there will try to sort it out so that everyone involved comes out OK), and Godfire (Corrupted; cannot actually spend any save to return from death but does get the side effects – such as not aging and not losing attribute points to disease) (14 CP).

Randolf doesn’t actually control any cults yet – but he’s their natural leader. He senses it when they open gates and call upon the outer ones, he can grant them a certain amount of actual power through various unspeakable and incomprehensible Offices, and he can manipulate events to help enable or cover up their activities.

As Randolf makes the acquaintance of more Cultists, and (willing or unwillingly) becomes a major figure in their rituals and beliefs, he will become ever harder to keep dead – and he will come ever closer to the ability to warp the Earth into a pocket-realm where the Outer Ones can easily come and visit, whether he wishes to do so or not.

His Unspeakable Destiny (38 CP):

  • Unique Returning with a Minor Rewrite, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost: Randolf reappears at a point in time and space chosen by his unnatural patrons, each time he reappears he becomes less human and more a creature of the “Cthulhu Mythos”, each reappearance sends him into a predestined role. The only way to stop the sequence (and his eventual rise to join the ranks of the Outer Ones) is to travel back in time to one of his prior appearances and there find a way to massively disrupt the timeline and thwart his destiny. In effect, he must be raised or resurrected quite promptly or he will become very difficult indeed to retrieve (8 CP).
  • Privilege: The “Favor of the Outer Ones” doesn’t have to be “paid for” up front – although that also means that the character doesn’t start off with much knowledge of his abilities, much less understanding how to use them or how they work. Levels Two and Five are (or will be) devoted to paying for the template and picking up an increased understanding of his talents. Randolf thus had a somewhat disturbed, but otherwise fairly “ordinary”, childhood (3 CP).
  • Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (4 floating CP) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP) / only for use with “Create Relic”, all the Relics Randolf “creates” are actually borrowed from the Outer Ones; they’re usually very weird, they’re only available when the Outer Ones feel like lending him something, and what he gets is entirely up to the game master. (4 CP).
  • Create Relic / Specialized and Corrupted / All the Relics Randolf “creates” are actually borrowed from the Outer Ones; they’re usually very weird and what he gets is entirely up to the game master (2 CP).
  • Inherent Spell with +6 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased (Level Nine) effect (15 CP). L9 “Anyspell” effect, producing any Arcane effect of up to L6. Note that this requires that he call upon an appropriate Outer One, is considered blatant blasphemous and horrible black magic by pretty much everyone except the Outer Ones, will not be fully under control until he reaches L17 (and the ability to control a ninth level inherent spell properly), requires a modest ritual at least 1d4 minutes long, calls for a minor offering, and gives the Outer One invoked a limited point of entry into the “normal” universe – allowing some sort of tinkering or even a minor manifestation (15 CP).
  • Major Favors: The Outer Ones (6 CP).

Randolf has encountered several of the Outer Ones – although the forms they have chosen to take in his eyes are a lot more “normal” than any other entity could reasonably expect and it generally hasn’t been for long. They are, however, definitely taking an interest.

  • Baba Shiby” (“Mother of Shiva”, Life Manipulation, Monsters, Conjuration, and Relationships) usually acts sort of like a genial “house mother”. After all, she DOES have a thousand young – even if they are all aberrations of one sort or another. She seems to see Randolf as being one of them. Hopefully, she is wrong.
  • “Gnarly Hotep” (“The Twisted Way At Peace”, Darkness, Mind Control, Transformation, and Conflict) shows up in a variety of forms. Gnarly just can’t resist stirring up trouble, just to see how far people will go – and the greater the powers they bring into play, the better he likes it. He’s still especially proud of “The Rain Of Colorless Fire” – whatever that was.
  • “Uncle Yoggy” (“Elder Conjunction”, Time, Space, Dimensions, and Gates) is surrounded by a fiery froth of opening and closing wormholes traversing space and time, and as a result is never more than partially in any one place. He’s extremely distracted and quite obliging – but almost always gets whatever-it-is quite wrong.
  • “Ozymandias” / “Ozzy” (“The Fallen Eternity”, Chaos, Creation, Destruction, Music and Werewolves) acts like a stereotypical drugged-out hippie full of nihilistic wisdom, tells people not to worry or plays music that drives mortals mad while weird monsters appear nearby and eat them, and often leaves the people who survive his visits with strange curse/powers – commonly including forms of Lycanthropy which render them near-mindless monsters while transformed.

No, Randolf has no idea why any of them have chosen to look the way that they do for him. He thinks that they’re just whimsically pulling images from somewhere, and for once he’s right. 

For when Randolf has lived his second-to-final incarnation, and been slain at long last by what-he-must-become, all mortality and humanity will be subsumed, and what once was Randolf will return at last to Earth, sliding down from the far realms, the spaces between the stars, abandoning his place in the dark tapestry to come again to his birthplace. There he shall wait, dreaming in a death which is not a death, until R’leyh rises once more, and he – the perfected high priest of the Outer Ones and now their Native Guide – shall stride forth to stand beside his ancient friends as an equal. And he shall show them around the place, and they shall make themselves comfortable upon the Earth which is his house, and there shall be a party at the twilight of the gods that none save the Outer Ones will understand.

That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons, even death may die.

ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

At 286 CP that is one heck of a template. That’s in +8 ECL territory, and it probably well deserves it even if most of the powers it grants are a bit more subtle than blasting the enemy. After all, this is a Template that grants godhood (even if rather limited) to a first level character. Fortunately for Randolf, however, the entire thing is Specialized and Corrupted.

  • His abilities attract attention of the Outer Ones and their Servitors. This is not a (direct) problem for him beyond the occasional damage to his sanity, but can be hard on the rest of the world.
  • He feels responsible for managing the impact of the Outer Ones and their Servitors on the world – often frantically attempting to manage them so as to minimize the impact.
  • His abilities attract the notice of investigators, demon-hunters, and similar groups. Generally they are not happy about them and would like to see him dead.
  • His artwork is easily-recognized, and can be used to trace his incarnations across space and time.
  • He is subject to nightmarish visions of the Outer Ones and their Servitors, which he is compelled to express in his imagery.
  • He is occasionally asked to run “errands” or perform rituals for the Outer Ones. Declining results in ill fortune and (once he knows about them) his powers becoming even more erratic.
  • He is compelled to display his artistic talents, but often has little control over the results.
  • His occult powers are easily recognized as forbidden black arts by anyone who pays attention to his activities and their effects. In most places they are banned.
  • The “performance” of the Whispers Of The Black Tapestry cannot be sustained; the duration is thus limited to the basic 5 rounds plus the Echoes duration.
  • He occasionally utters terrible prophecies or unleashes dark forces without even meaning too.
  • He is a veritable magnet for strange and bizarre events, rifts in reality, dark artifacts, and other people’s prophecies. Oddly enough, this often makes it possible to anticipate him by finding a relevant prophecy.
  • His mere presence often causes conventional devices to malfunction. At best, he effectively only gets one-third to one-half of the treasure and equipment his level would normally grant.
  • His mystical abilities with the visual arts only work in conjunction with his nightmarish visions of the Outer Ones; only images of such visions express these powers.
  • He is compelled to draw his visions, activating at least some (GMO) portion of the Path of Whispers on one each day without even being aware that he is doing so.
  • He starts off mostly unaware of his various potential abilities.
  • His magical powers are too bizarre to be used in the creation of conventional magical items, and will influence any conventional talents he develops enough to bar their use as well.
  • The Template subsumes Duties (to the Outer Ones) and Restrictions (cannot use divine powers from any “normal” deities, including those bound into items). Given that this would eventually be worth rather more CP than the character gains from the items that wind up double-Specialized and/or Double-Corrupted (normally a big red flag) I’ll let this particular Template get away with that.
  • The user counts as whichever of a human, a non-human, an outsider, and a native of the prime material plane is most disadvantageous at any given moment.
  • Mortals who are psychically or magically sensitive, or are aware of the presence and nature of this Template, are instinctively wary of the user, generally preferring to avoid them entirely. The user’s social life is going to suck.

That brings Favored of the Outer Ones down to 95 CP – the upper limit for a +2 ECL race (or +3 ECL Template). Are those enough limitations to justify that?

Probably. After all, at low levels Randolf doesn’t have the knowledge or control to use his nifty powers that effectively. Sure, he can optimize the use of Whispers Of The Black Tapestry, His Unspeakable Destiny, or the abilities granted by bonding with a Dreamspawn (all of which have some serious downsides) at mid-levels, but it’s not like other characters can’t optimize and Mystic Artist is hardly the go-to path for raw power. At high levels… there will be lots of more outrageous characters around.

Randolf Upton Pickman

Level One Would-Be Hapless Bystander

Randolf is a nice, obliging, fellow. Unfortunately, he’s so out-of-tune with humanity that he’s had a terrible childhood – and finding himself to be the chosen high priest of the outer ones (or even a potential Outer Lord) has not really improved matters. In a rather weird way, Randolf is baby-sitting his patrons in their interactions with earthly creatures while they baby-sit him in his interactions with the creatures and powers of the outer realms.

Racial Package: Favored of the Outer Ones.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level Base) +2 (Untraveled, a variant on Illiterate. Randolf has never really been beyond his country birthplace and the local woods and town. He has a little bit of theoretical knowledge of the world, but is essentially unfamiliar with other cultures, species, and places) + 12 (Racial and L1 Bonus Feats) = 62 CP.

Package Deal: Student (Privilege/gets basic housing and support for free, has access to university facilities and libraries, 3 CP), +1 each with Computer Use, Craft (Writing), Drive, Knowledge (Art and History), and Research (6 CP), and Enthusiast (Specialized in Skills, for Double Effect, 3 CP). If transplanted from d20 Modern into a fantasy world the Pathfinder Package Deal is probably preferable.

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Int 14, Wis 16, Con 12 (14), Dex 8 (10), Chr 10. (22 Point Buy).

Languages: Common, Latin, and the “Dark Speech” of the Outer Ones.

Basic Abilities (31 CP):

  • Hit Points: 20 (L1d20, 16 CP) + 2 (Con) +16 (Dreamspawn Link) = 38 HP.
  • BAB: +1 (6 CP).
  • Saves:
    • Fortitude: +0 (Purchased, 0 CP) +2 (Con) = +2 (Effectively +8 due to Companion)
    • Reflex: +0 (Purchased, 0 CP) + 0 (Dex) = +0 (Effectively +8 due to Companion)
    • Will: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) + 3 (Wis) = +5 (Effectively +6 due to Companion)

Combat Information:

  • Proficiencies: Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Pistols (3 CP).
  • Initiative: +0.
  • Move: 60′
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +4 (Mage Armor) +2 (Judo) = 16. Also, Protection from Law.
  • Usual Weapons:None

Special Abilities:

  • Bestowed by Template Companion: Need not Eat, Drink, Sleep, or Breathe, effectively immune to poison*, Fast Healing I (up to 20 points/hit die/day)*, Protection from Law*, and True Strike 3/Day*. May employ 4L1, 4L2, & 4L3 Absolute Command effects daily used as Reflex Actions at caster level equal to his level. These require making both a Fortitude and a Will save against the spell at +4 to avoid fatigue. All use-activated. Effects marked with an “*” are subject to dispelling and antimagic versus caster level one – but will come right back again next round.
  • Adept: Pays half cost for Decipher Script, Disable Device, Research, and Spot (6 CP)
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP).
  • Witchcraft II with the Rituals and Karmic Links Pacts paying for Witchcraft III and +3d6 Power (24 total) (12 CP). Save DC 13. Basic Abilities: The Adamant Will, Glamour, The Hand of Shadows, Healing, The Inner Eye, Shadowweave, and Witchsight. Notably, combining Glamour and The Inner Eye allow him to bypass language barriers – at least for living things.

Skill Points: 7 (CP Spent) +8 (Int Mod x 4) + 8 (Racial Bonus Feat spent on Fast Learner at L(-2)) = 23

  • Computer Use +1 (1 SP) +2 (Int) +1 (Package) = +4
  • Craft/Writing: +1 (1 SP) +2 (Int) +1 (Package) = +4
  • Craft/Visual Arts: +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Int) +4 (Race) = +10
  • Decipher Script +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Int) = +6
  • Diplomacy: +4 (2 SP*) +0 (Cha) +4 (Race) = +8
  • Disable Device +4 (2 SP*) +0 (Dex) = +4
  • Drive +1 (1 SP) +0 (Dex) +1 (Package) = +2
  • Knowledge/History +1 (1 SP) +2 (Int) +1 (Package) = +4
  • Knowledge/Arcane Lore (Specialized in Mythos Lore for Double Effect), +2 (1 SP*) +2 (Int) +4 (Race) = +18
  • Knowledge/Art +3 (3 SP) +2 (Int) +1 (Package) = +6
  • Martial Art/Tai Chi: +1 (1 SP) +3 (Wis) = +4 (Provides Defenses 2, already in his AC above).
  • Perform/Oratory +4 (2 SP*) +0 (Cha) +4 (Race) = +8
  • Research +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Int) +1 (Package) = +7
  • Spot +4 (2 SP*) +3 (Wis) = +7

Note that his Companion can grant a +20 Insight Bonus on a skill check three times per day. A “*” indicates half cost due to Adept.

Personally Randolf is a competent starting sage-type and has a number of psychic tricks to call on – but he really isn’t much of an adventurer. He isn’t likely to master most of his template powers very soon either – but he will learn to use the powers his Companion grants fairly rapidly, if only because she’s quite capable of explaining them and because the passive durability-enhancements will work whether he quite understands them or not. That will make him a tolerably effective and surprisingly durable minor mage.

Of course, Randolf intended to be an artist, not an adventurer or mage. If he really MUST develop some combat abilities he has lots of levels to go as of yet.

Future Development: Randolf could REALLY use some luck for Saves and some for Skills, but that’s cheap enough to pick up quite soon. More Witchcraft – and some more durability effects, such as a bit of damage reduction, will help his career as well.

Really though, he’s set up assuming a more or less “realistic”, even if Lovecraftian, setting. Massive leveling up is not really a thing under those assumptions.

Randolf is loosely inspired by “Ow, My Sanity”, a webcomic spoofing the Magical Girlfriend and Harem genres in a Call of Cthulhu setting. Of course, given that this is d20 and that the characters quite commonly achieve godlike power in the setting, Randolf is a lot tougher and more powerful than the hero of that comic. Unfortunately, “Ow, My Sanity” is on indefinite and possibly permanent hiatus – but what there is of it is well worth a look.

Eclipse d20 – Binding Mysterious Spirits VIII, Kyrie, The Dread Wyrm, Halphax, Orthos, and Vierdan Sanguine.

As usual, all of these Mysteries build on the powers of the basic Bokor Package – although that is cheap enough that it’s normally well worthwhile.

Kyrie (32 CP + 3 CP Disadvantage / Accursed (Dark Visions). Those who channel Kyrie are prone to fits of prophecy, always foreseeing disasters and tragedies, ranging from the small to the great. Each time Kyrie is summoned there is a small chance that the channeler will be called on to try and stop such a disaster – although the greater the deed requested, the longer it will be before another deed is required).

Abysm isn’t a mythological figure. It’s simply an obscure word for a dark – and thus apparently bottomless – pit. So what we have here is a larger version of Poul Anderson’s “Kyrie” – with the victim no longer being a single powerful, telepathic, alien falling into a black hole, but an entire psychic city, leaving its eternal psychic scream behind to empower others who can tap into that frozen moment. Unfortunately, Abysm made you a very poor psion – so Kyrie will provide some serious upgrades.

  • +1 on Knowledge/Psionics (1 CP).
  • Improved Occult Talent: Specialized for Increased Effect (L0 slots become L1, L1 slots become L2) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the user may only select one power plus one per every two levels above level one from each incidence to use during each summoning (all are available at L15+), using these powers has destructive side effects on the environment as the Fall of Abysm begins to leak into normal reality and may eventually release some of the horrors that destroyed Abysm into the world. Each instance provides 5 L1 and 3 L2 Powers and 14 Power to use them with at a cost of 8 CP. Three instances (24 CP).
    • Available Powers for the First Instance:
      • L1) Astral Construct, Entangling Ectoplasm, Inertial Armor, Psionic Grease, and Psionic Minor Creation.
      • L2) Animal Affinity, Clairvoyant Sense, and Psionic Levitate
    • Available Powers for the Second Instance:
      • L1) Attraction, Demoralize, Control Light, Crystal Shard, and Mind Thrust,
      • L2) Concealing Amorpha, Energy Missile, and Read Thoughts.
    • Available Powers for the Third Instance:
      • L1) Call Item, Catfall, Channel the Psychic Dragon, Minor Metamorphosis (Pathfinder), and Vigor.
      • L2) Compelling Voice (Pathfinder), Feat Leach, and Share Pain.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Power, only usable between encounters (4 CP).
  • Companion (Witchcraft): Psi-Crystal. +4 Power, Bestows the Persistent Metamagical (Psionic) Theorem and +2 levels of Streamline, Specialized and Corrupted/only for First and Second Level Psionic Powers granted by Abysm, requires a full minute of concentration when a power is used to obtain this benefit. This extends the duration of relevant effects by two steps on the following list: Turns to Minutes, Minutes to Tens of Minutes, Tens of Minutes to Hours, and Hours to a Full Day (the upper limit) (6 CP).

This version of Abysm is quietly effective. Granting a total of 46 power and the ability to recover an average of 52.5 points through the day makes calling on Abysm a reasonable choice even the disciplines it offers are all low level (if numerous) because it’s generic Power, which can be used to fuel abilities granted by other Mysteries – and the extended duration of some of the powers it grants is very handy: Astral Construct goes to ten minutes/level (even if you must create them well before the fight to take advantage of it), Animal Affinity, Channel the Psychic Dragon, Concealing Amorpha, Feat Leach, Minor Metamorphosis, Read Thoughts, and Vigor go to Hours/Level, and Call Item, Share Pain, Inertial Armor, Levitate, and Minor Creation all go to a full day. Given that, you can afford to buff yourself (including using Vigor, sharing it with your Psicrystal, and then using Share Pain on your psicrystal to effectively gain 10 HP/Power spent) at the start of the day and can even repeat it a time or two if someone dispels part of it.

The Dread Wyrm (32 CP + 3 CP Disadvantage / Compulsive (Revenge). Anyone channeling the Dread Wyrm will suffer no slights; those who are rude may suffer a scathing appraisal of their faults and those who have harmed or insulted the channeler are greatly preferred targets; the user suffers a -1 penalty on attacks or the DC of saving against his or her abilities if they attack someone else while such a preferred target is available).

Ashardalon was the big bad dragon of some adventures, but was mostly notable for trying to use his resources to get more magical power instead of just going for “bigger and meaner” like most of the other standard d20 super-genius, major spellcasting, incredibly wealthy, elder dragons who (for some reason known only to lazy writing) usually seem to ignore that possibility entirely.

In other words, he managed to hand somebody else the idiot ball a few times before the end.

Really though, this is extremely generic: you get extra tough, you can find and evaluate treasure, you scare people, and you are quite resistant to fire. Honestly, that could be pretty much any basic dragon from about five hundred different sources couldn’t it? For a penultimate-level Mystery, I think that some improvements are in order.

  • Occult Skill Access: Bullet Time (3 CP), with +3 Skill Points to make it a “relevant” skill to start with (+3 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Add (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for Skill Points through L1, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/points may only be spent on Appraise (yes, this can be used to list off a target’s personal faults), Bullet Time (specialized in buying off damage only, for double effect; reduce the current score by 1/2/3 to buy off 12/20/24 points of damage. This does not count as an action), and Search (Perception in Pathfinder) and must be distributed evenly between them. This provides a (Cha Mod x 4) “racial” bonus on each of those skills (6 CP).
  • The Dragon’s Fury/Witchcraft III, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/each basic ability is limited to a fairly specific, simple effect (rather than allowing dozens), often with additional limitations (6 CP).
    • The Dragon-Aura/Glamour: The user may expend 5 Power and a Standard action to generate the effects of a Fear spell (Save DC 16 + Cha Mod). Once used this cannot be used again for 1d4 Rounds.
    • Burning Wrath of the Dragon/Hyloka: The user may accelerate his or her metabolism to the point of becoming a being of burning plasma at the cost of 9 Power and an Immediate Action. This is equivalent to the Elemental Body spell, but only allows the use of the Fire Elemental Form. If deactivated, this cannot be activated again for 1d4 rounds.
    • Torrent of Flames/Hand of Shadows: While Elemental Body is running – and only then – the user may spend 5 Power and a move action to become a rushing mass of flames, tracing a path up to ninety feet long which may pass through the air. Occupants of the squares moved through suffer (3d6 + User’s Con) fire damage (Fortitude Save DC 16 + Cha Mod for half, affects objects) and the effects of a Gust of Wind spell. The user reappears at the end of the path. If the path collides with a solid barrier, it ends there, with the user and the barrier each suffering the indicated damage. If the path passes through rain, ice storms, or similar difficulties the user suffers 1d6 damage per square of such conditions passed through. If the user passes through water he or she takes 3d6 damage per square passed through.
    • Acuity of the Dragon/Witchsight: You may spend 1 Power to gain 60 foot Blindsight for the next hour.
  • +4d6 Mana as +6d6 (21) Power, Specialized and Corrupted/only to power the Dragon’s Fury abilities listed above (4 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only for Power, only to rebuild the power pool for the Dragon’s Fury abilities listed above (4 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 4/-, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / versus physical damage only, bypassed by Cold Iron weapons. Net DR 12/Cold Iron (9 CP).

The Dread Wyrm is actually a pretty balanced Mystery. It lets you absorb quite a lot of damage, gives you some skill bonuses, a fear attack, an elemental transformation, an unusual movement / attack power, blindsight, and decent damage reduction that’s only bypassed by a reasonably uncommon material. Admittedly, none of those add up to particularly awesome power unless you’ve got to wade through an army of mooks – but they’re a nice solid backup for pretty much any other Mystery you want, and at this level a Bokor will be routinely channeling two or more Mysteries. If the other one happens to be highly specialized, The Dread Wyrm is a pretty good choice.

Halphax (32 CP + 3 CP Disadvantage / Compulsive. Halphax demands that his channelers act like true aristocrats – demanding the best of food and drink, wearing fine clothing, claiming some form of title, and showing at least a bit of noblesse oblige).

Halphax (also Halphas, Malthus, Malthas, or Malthous) is another escapee from the Ars Goetia. There he is said to build towers and fill them with weapons and send his subordinates into battle. Wizards of the Coast let him provide some architectural skills, some personal toughness, create walls of iron, and secure shelters – and let him use an “imprisonment” effect that works nothing at all like the Imprisonment spell; it’s basically equivalent to “Time Hop” – a level three effect.

Well, some architecture might be fun. Pathfinder made it much more reasonably priced and you can use Innate Enchantment for mundane gear (even if it’s rarely done) – so why not use it to take along some “rooms” to combine into various structures? Sure, if they get destroyed the damage will persist until the next summoning or until something is done about it – but popping up a few walls and such can be pretty useful in a battle and fortified camps are very nice indeed. So is having a pleasant tavern/inn to stop in every evening, even if it’s not much help in a battle.

  • Damage Reduction 4/-, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / versus physical damage only, bypassed by Adamantine weapons. Net DR 12/Adamantine (9 CP).
  • Access to the Ninjaneering Occult Skill (3 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Add (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for Skill Points through L1, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/points may only be spent on Profession (Siege Engineer), Knowledge / Architecture and Engineering, and Ninjaneering. This effectively provides a bonus of (Cha Mod) x 4 skill points in each those three skills and must be split evenly between them. If the user doesn’t have the skill otherwise the relevant attribute modifier gets added in as well (6 CP).
  • Trick / Temporal Throw: You may make a melee touch attack as a standard action to try and throw a target creature one round per level into the future. The target may make a DC (10 + Level/2 + Cha Mod) Fortitude save to negate the effect. Unfortunately, only a single creature may be affected at any one time and if a creature makes its save you may not use this ability for 1d4 rounds (6 CP).
  • Imbuement (“Brigadoon” gains a Ward Major), Specialized for Reduced Cost/never improves past the “+4″ equivalent that it starts at (which, coincidentally, covers the cost of an appropriate level four ward, 3 CP). Four Minor Powers:
    • Enduring. The eldritch structures have triple their normal hardness and Spell Resistance 30.
    • Non-Euclidean. The village has many local portals and can be put into places that are completely unreasonable and far too small. Up to one ton of material can be kept in it with no effective encumbrance.
    • Industry: Variant; production is only 5x normal, but anyone working within one of the buildings is presumed to have a relevant set of masterwork tools for the user of their skill(s) and an appropriate workspace.
    • Sustenance: Residents need not eat, sleep or breathe while within the village. Those who get tired and hungry outside it will still need to sleep and eat to fix that, but they will not get hungrier or sleepier while they wait.
  • Brigadoon: Innate Enchantment, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost: includes no spells or items, only for “rooms” and “teams” purchased according to Pathfinder’s Downtime System (not much of a limitation since you’re buying specific things anyway, but worth noting), the maximum value that can be used at any one time is equal to the user’s (Knowledge; Architecture and Engineering x 500) GP, once a structure is “brought out” it cannot be dismissed or modified for at least one minute, user must gesture dramatically to produce and place structures within short range, structures must be appropriately placed (no, you cannot drop houses on the wicked witch), creatures that would be within a structure may make a DC (16 + Cha Mod) Reflex save to pick where in the structure they wind up. Sadly, any external items left “inside” when a room is not manifested count against the user’s encumbrance and anything left inside when Halphax is dismissed vanishes – usually to reappear elsewhere, but sometimes lost for good. .


Available “Rooms”:

  • Armory x4 (1560 GP).
  • Bar (250 GP).
  • Bedrooms x3 (900 GP).
  • Brewery (380 GP).
  • Cells x2 (360 GP).
  • Ceremonial Room (1180 GP).
  • Common Room (300 GP).
  • Courtyard x2 (360 GP).
  • Crypt (490 GP).
  • Defensive Walls (Stone, 20-40 squares, 20′ tall) x2 (1040 GP).
  • Defensive Walls (Standard, 10′ Tall, 20-40 squares) x2 (520 GP).
  • Dock (with four 20-foot rowboats/sailboats, 520 GP).
  • Drawbridge (320 GP).
  • Escape Route (360 GP).
  • Fortification x4 (Note that the +2 Hardness is tripled by the Ward Major, 1200 GP).
  • Furnishings x3 (900 GP).
  • Garden (180 GP).
  • Gatehouse (Iron Door, Iron Portcullis, Gauntlet, and a Carriage, comes with assorted L1 Experts as minor guards, 2310 GP).
  • Gauntlet x2 (320 GP).
  • Kitchen (160 GP).
  • Labyrinth (370 GP).
  • Laundry (120 GP).
  • Lavatory x2 (240 GP).
  • Lodgings x2 (860 GP).
  • Magical Repository (730 GP).
  • Office (120 GP).
  • Roman Bath (Sauna, Pools, Etc, 350 GP).
  • Sitting Room (480 GP).
  • Stall x5 (1250 GP).
  • Storage x2 (240 GP).
  • Summoning Chamber (1040 GP).
  • Torture Chamber (330 GP).
  • War Room (300 GP).

Total Rooms = 20,040 GP.

Available “Teams”:

  • Bureaucrats: A set of five L3 Experts: Lawyer, Scribe, Seneschal, Bookkeeper, and Herald, 200 GP.
  • Cavalry: A set of five L3 Warriors with light warhorses, 410 GP. (Note that you can get out the horses on their own if you want to ride or have them pull a carriage or something).
  • Cavalry Archers: A set of five L3 Warriors with light warhorses, 470 GP.
  • Craftspeople: Three sets of three L4 Experts: Alchemist, Bowyer, Carpenter, Glassblower, Healer, Herbalist/Gardener, Librarian, Smith, and Tanner/Leatherworker, 600 GP.
  • Elite Archers: A set of Five L3 Warriors, 380 GP.
  • Elite Guards: Two sets of Five L3 Warriors, 340 GP.
  • Elite Soldiers: Two sets of Five L3 Warriors, 660 GP.
  • Lackeys: Three sets of five L1 Experts: Bartender, Bath Attendant, Butler, Carriage Driver, Cook, Courtesan/Masseur x2 (one male and one female), Innkeeper, Janitor, Maid/Laundress, Mason, Squire, Valet, Waiter, and Weaver/Seamstress, 360 GP.
  • Priest: A L3 Cloistered Cleric/Witch (Eclipse-style Witch, Knowledge, Magic, and Witchery domains) or Sacerdos Pastor, 810 GP.
  • Robbers: A set of five L3 Rogues, 200 GP.

Total Teams = 4430 GP.

  • Thanks to the Ward Major, any skill user effectively has access to masterwork tools appropriate to the skill and a workspace. Thus the Alchemist has an Alchemy Lab, the Librarian has a Library full of reference works giving a bonus on knowledge skills, the Smith a Forge, the Leatherworker a Leatherworking Shop, the Healer an Infirmary, and so on. For Downtime purposes, these are effectively “Workstations” (x30).

Yes, the GM is free to give the “minions” personalities, and have them carry over from one summoning to the next. Even slain minions will, however, be just fine the next time Halphax is summoned – and are well aware of it. If one is TOO irritating though the summoner does have an option; push him or her out of time and dismiss Halphax. Next time he’s summoned… that minion will have been replaced. This process is, however, irreversible.

Grand Total: 24,470 GP, for 25 CP worth of Innate Enchantment – or (8 CP) after being Specialized and Corrupted.

Anyone channeling Halphax is essentially hauling along a village (of about 75 “rooms” and 80-odd employees), and the Pathfinder Downtime system, along. In conjunction with the production increase from the Ward this provides an “Extravagant” lifestyle, 250 GP in spending money per day, and some (paid for) Downtime Capital – 4 Goods, 4 Labor, 4 Influence, and 2 Magic per day. While there will be no special events in the village pocket realm while it’s not manifested, it does have enough of a population to serve as a normal village for other purposes (Purchase Limit 2500 GP, Spellcasting Services of up to L3 are available (but must be paid for – unlike the services of the “teams”, which are free), items of up to 500 GP value are available for purchase, items of up to 2500 GP value may be sold, and 2d4 Minor and 1d4 Medium items with values above that limit will be available, changing each lunar month).

No, that doesn’t make a lot of sense – but Halphax IS a “Mystery”, that’s what the settlement and downtime rules say, and it’s not like most d20 settings or systems of magic make a lot of sense when examined in detail anyway.

A character hosting Halphax will have a fortress to stay in, good food, fine wines, a backrub, people to repair his or her gear, a squire to polish his or her armor, guards for the night, clean clothing, someone to warm his or her bed, mundane supplies, and all the comforts and security of staying in a nicely civilized area every night. That’s certainly convenient. Besides… it’s worth it just to be able to produce a lawyer and a personal herald on cue.

In combat Halphax doesn’t offer a lot in the way of direct abilities – but he allows a channeler to set up a battlefield to suit himself or herself in a way that few spellcasters could match if they tried. Being able to look about, place a few walls, a couple of strongpoints, a few troops, a dimensional shortcut or two, a pit, and a field of caltrops, can be pretty handy. So is extra money, having endless supplies ready to hand, and being able to sleep tight in a dimensional pocket in a dungeon. I’d go for it just for style.

Orthos (32 CP + 3 CP Disadvantage / Compulsive. When a channeler of Orthos encounters slaves or prisoners he or she must make a substantial effort to win their freedom. If he or she does not do so Orthos will not again answer his or her call foe one lunar month).

Orthos (Orthros, Orthrus, Orthus) was a monstrous two-headed dog in greek and roman myths – a sibling of Cerberus, one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and the father of the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion. He was Geryon’s herd dog and guarded Geryon’s oxen – and was slain by Hercules as a casual speed bump to his twelve labors. And that’s pretty much all there is about Orthos, which is kind of sad considering that his parents and siblings were more dangerous than most of the gods.

As a forgotten figure, something of a blank slate, and a sibling to Cerberus – guardian of the gates of the underworld – Orthos is actually a pretty appropriate choice as the elder Mystery, the guide and guardian of the paths of spirits that can neither fully live nor fully die. I’ve no idea why he got a wind blast though. Oh well. When you’ve really got nothing to go on, why NOT go with wind? It’s easy enough.

  • Tornado Blast: Weathermonger, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (The user may spend a Standard Action and 3 Power to generate a 60′ cone of wind that does 1d6 damage per level you possess (Reflex DC 19 + Cha Mod for half) and those affected must also make a Fortitude save at the same DC or be knocked prone and moved 1d4x10 feet away or to the limits of the area of effect) / The user may not sense the weather, gain bonuses to saves against weather and wind effects, summon mists, constant, or lesser winds, produce rain, steer lightning, generate or banish storms, etc, etc, etc (6 CP).
  • The Winds from Beyond: Witchcraft III, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/each basic ability is limited to a fairly specific, simple effect (rather than allowing dozens), often with additional limitations, taken twice for eight powers and (12 CP).
    • Read the Winds / Witchsight: You gain blindsight out to 30 feet. This is a continuous effect with no cost.
    • Gyre Mirage / Shadoweave: You may spend 2 Power and a Standard Action to generate a personal Displacement effect lasting up to one hour per level. It affects you, your equipment, and any steed you happen to be riding. During its duration you may suppress or resume the effect as a free action.
    • Voice of the Wind / Glamour: You may spend 2 Power and a Standard Action to invoke a Sending effect – with the additional option to send it to a location and announce it’s message on cue, similar to the effect of a Magic Mouth.
    • Winds of Alchemy / Witchfire. You may spend 2 Power and a Standard Action to turn a potion, drug, poison, or suitable (liquid or gaseous) alchemical item into a 60′ line, 30′ come, or 15′ radius with a center up to thirty feet away, applying normally to those within the area.
    • Harness the Wind / Hand of Shadows. You may spend 2 Power and an Immediate Action to animate a chunk of the air to serve you as a Phantom Steed – although it’s hit points are equal to your own.
    • Bind the Vortex / Hand of Shadows. You may spend 5 Power and a Standard Action to animate and bind a mass of air to your will, creating the equivalent of a Huge Air Elemental. It will serve you for up to one minute per level or until dispersed.
    • Cyclonic Barrier / Hand of Shadows. Once per round, on or off action, you may spend five Power to harden the air into a momentary force barrier capable of blocking up to sixty points of damage from any one attack – and negating any special effects (poison, energy drain, or whatever) that it might have if that blocks all damage. If it does not, it still provides a +6 Circumstance Bonus on any required saving throw.
    • Eye of the Hurricane / Hand of Shadows. As a standard action you may spend 3 Power to create a Wall Of Force effect.
  • Voice of Winds: +4d6 Mana as +12d6 (42) Power, Specialized and Corrupted/only to power the Winds from Beyond powers listed above (8 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only for Power, only to rebuild the power pool for the Winds from Beyond Powers, above (8 CP).
  • Speak Language (Auran) (1 CP).

Orthos really only has one trick – air control – but is surprisingly versatile with it. Admittedly, direct-damage blasting is far from the best shtick out there, and Orthos lacks the metamagical / metapsionic boosts to really compete with optimized blasters – but he’s reasonably effective at it for the rather small investment of one Mystery slot. He also has the interesting option of making potions and alchemy potentially relevant again at fairly high levels and some decent defensive and utility abilities.

Vierdan Sanguine, the Bloody General (Bonus Mystery) (32 CP + 3 CP Disadvantage / Insane: Gods too fall before the blade, and the Iron Lord has seen a myriad pass while he endures. Their priests and servants may wield a power they call “divine”, but they will fall before the blade as easily).

Under a thousand names, across ten thousand realms, the bloody general has led men into battle – overthrowing nations, replacing rulers, and even slaying gods – caring for nothing save war itself and the clash of arms. Even the most chaotic of war gods reject him, for he sees them only as yet another challenge to his skills. He has embraced the existence of a Mystery, since only thus can he lead men into battle forever more.

Vierdan Sanguine grants…

  • The complete Strategos Package (30 CP). The user may call upon a variety of “auras” that grant him or her, and his or her allies, substantial bonuses.
  • Augmented Bonus: Add (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for Skill Points through L1, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/points may only be spent on Knowledge / Military (battles, tactics, military engineering and vehicles, etc) and Profession / Military Commander – effectively providing a “racial bonus” of +(Cha Mod x 4) to each. If the user does not have either skill already, add the relevant attribute modifiers (Int and Wis) to determine the effective skill level (4 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge: The many historical battles he has commanded (1 CP).

Vierdan Sanguine offers access to a selection of a dozen (very, VERY) powerful party-enhancing auras and allows the use of three of them at a time. Admittedly some of them are level-dependent – but a Bokor needs to be fairly high level to channel Vierdan anyway. Just using the first three at level fifteen where Vierdan normally becomes available grants an entire party a +10 Luck Bonus to AC, Saves, Attacks and Damage and a +4 Morale bonus to Checks, Attacks, and Saves.

Admittedly the Strategos package is completely over-the-top optimized, but you’ve got to expect some of that for a penultimate level Mystery. Just as importantly, Vierdan Sanguine provides no active abilities whatsoever. He provides plenty of numerical bonuses, resistances, and heightened movement – but if you want active powers you’re just going to have to channel another Mystery.

Thanks to various problems posting here has been seriously delayed for a bit – so I’m going to backdate this and the next few posts just to keep things together a bit.

Eclipse and Magical Schools Part II – Making them Work

The basic problem with Schools in d20 is built into the system.

  • In the real world, being trained in something is about the most effective way available to develop new skills, improve old skills, and learn new tricks that’s relatively safe – at least up until the point where there’s no one left who can teach you much, and you have to rely on risky experience and self-development. Training, however, requires lots of time (in ever shorter supply for adults with responsibilities – and who have to spend ever-increasing amounts of time on keeping their current skills from getting rusty), enough dedication to resist the temptation to take a break, and resources (including skilled trainers). Even then… you expend more and more time and work for smaller and smaller returns. Realistic training is slow, and hard, and expensive.
  • In basic d20, training by itself generally accomplishes nothing at all. Characters are automatically assumed to be training for their next level all through their current one. Even if the player doesn’t make up his or her mind about what it’s going to be until they’ve gotten the experience points and it’s time to update their character sheet it’s assumed that the Character knew what he or she was working towards. After all, learning new skills and abilities, increasing your net worth, building up your mind or muscles, and more is all tied to gaining levels, not to any particular training program.

As an example, a real person thrown into heavy combat for a week is likely to pick up a few basic combat moves and (generally inappropriate out of combat) nervous responses (such as diving for cover whenever there is a loud bang), skin trouble, a few likely-infected wounds and blisters, plenty of bruises, possibly some fractures, some nasty mental traumas and physical scars, and a tremendous need for sleep and food – presuming that they aren’t dead or crippled for life.

Do the same with a d20 character… and they’ll probably have picked up a couple of levels, maybe a new language and some improvements in playing keyboards and acrobatics or the ability to project laser beams from their eyes and heal wounds by force of will, they’ll be tougher and harder to kill, and they’re quite likely to have picked up some new-and-improved gear. Or they may have become a vampire-werewolf abomination. They almost certainly will not be dead, crippled, or weakened – and any injuries they may have will be cleanly healed in a day or so at most.

If you take two identical twin d20 martial artists and have one spend five years training while the other spends five years adventuring and then compare the results… The adventurer will be able to show off his Divine Might Global Extinction Event World Shattering Palm technique while the fellow who spent his time training will probably be able to break several boards at the same time instead of one. Sure, the adventurer might have gotten killed without being brought back – but his payoff is incredible wealth, vast personal power, and potential godhood. The payoff for training hard is a colorful belt and (just maybe) an assistant teaching position at the local dojo.

OK, maybe the game master will throw in some experience point awards for going out of your way to get training, but that rapidly becomes a choice between “everybody gets some” or “half the players sit around and wait while a few try to get story awards for training”. You could go back to first edition and try some variant on “trade gold pieces for experience points” on the theory that you’re buying effective “training” – but allowing that will have some pretty massive effects on the world. Merchants and government-funded groups and such are going to edge more traditional adventurers out of the running and finding any kind of balance across levels is going to be pretty hard. Plus, of course, speaking as a high-level character… all of MY kids are going to be starting off their careers with some levels on them. Rising from the peasantry is no longer much of an option and having rich parents really DOES make you better.

You can throw in a bit of “school as a characterization detail” with little trouble – but that, once again, usually relegates it to the characters backstory. Still, “School as a background detail” works better in Eclipse than in classical d20 simply because Eclipse characters usually buy the basics of what they want early on and build on it – rather than abruptly picking up huge chunks of knowledge and abilities when they multiclass. So there’s no more of “there are six academies that teach the arts of wizardry… what do you mean that your barbarian just took a level of wizard while resting in an igloo?”.

Master Mage Latian attended The Eleri Academy of Magic – as can be easily seen, since he always wears the Eleri’s Azure and Crimson school sash, practices the Eight Calming Breaths and Mudras taught by the school when confronted by yet ANOTHER royal councilor who has no idea of what non-epic magic can and cannot do, bears the medallion and tassel that signifies his status as a master mage, still sneers at the graduates of Handeti University (Eleri’s principle rival), always attends (and often acts as a judge) for the schools yearly magic competition, and adheres to Eleri’s strictures against dealing with the Chaos Lords on the grounds that it is far too dangerous for what you can get.

You can add a little bit of mechanics to this without creating any real problem. Perhaps the sash is a free Masterwork Potions Bandolier, Eleri graduates gain a +1 bonus to overcome the spell resistance of creatures of chaos, and the school allows alumni in good standing to freely copy more advanced anti-chaos spells from the school archives. You will need to allow similar little bennies for non-magical characters though. Wizards don’t usually need more advantages over everyone else.

You can also use the “Feat Full of Tricks” articles (Clerics, Fighters and Wizards, Rogues, Monks) – although those, once again, put “school” firmly in the character’s past. They do mean that a characters early training will continue to have an impact on their abilities even quite late in their careers.

The next step up in classical d20 was a prestige class. Of course, this was a considerable pain, called for inventing more special advantages, and wound up with a prestige classes so obscure that there might not be any other members of them on the continent. After all, if there’s a special class for Guild Wizards of Waterdeep, shouldn’t a lot of other cities have their own variants? Among hundreds of other regional variants for everything else? Even worse… Evereska has some 22,000 people. To be an Evereskan Tomb Guardian you need a BAB of +4, the ability to cast second level arcane spells, Alertness, Track, and 24 levels worth of various skills. How many people out of a total population of 22,000 – the vast majority non-adventurers – are going to qualify, much less be interested? Are there really likely to be ANY Evereskan Tomb Guardians?

There are various house and optional rules calling for training when going up in level, usually stating that it’s “more realistic”. Of course, this flies in the face of both the rules (characters are always “training”; when they go up in level is simply the moment when it all comes together) and sanity (are you REALLY trying to use “realism” as an excuse in a game full of wizards throwing lighting bolts?). If you really want to be “realistic” in terms of how the system and d20 settings actually work… then treat “Experience Points” as a mysterious magical force that builds up in creatures and objects until it transforms them, granting them new powers and abilities.

If a game master wishes to stretch a point, he or she use an existing mechanic – the Circumstance Bonus – by stating that practical experience and/or training will provide modest bonuses (perhaps +1, +2, and +3 for basic, advanced, and truly extensive experience and training) on particular skills – or twice that on specialized sub-aspects of skills. You could even count that as a part of an adventures treasure-reward if you wanted, although the value would be sharply reduced by the fact that they couldn’t be transferred or traded in for better bonuses. After all… if the players spend six weeks adventuring in the city of Rilkieth picking up a free +2 bonus in Knowledge (Local) Rilkieth is only to be expected. It certainly doesn’t increase their power much though. Is it really worth more than a 5 GP local guidebook?

In one mystery-heavy campaign the players each kept a special record sheet recording the (many) small specialty knowledge skills they’d picked up – and had a good deal of fun looking for ways to use them.

Still, that’s a rather thin – if entertaining – patch.

So there’s our problem; in baseline d20 “training” takes immense amounts of boring downtime and accomplishes very little, while “adventuring” is exciting, not at all risky to the player, and provides enormous benefits very quickly indeed. Under the d20 rules no reasonable school can compete with adventuring.

So how about a school that’s not so reasonable?

Courland Castle RiftWard and School of Magic

As of last week it was two hundred and thirty-seven years ago. The rifts were small at first, and the incursions minor – but there was death and terror. There were things that no weapon known to man would touch, which moved through the earth to drag men down into the depths, or which stalked unseen. For three years horrors from beyond occasionally erupted across the world.

And then, in Mitau (now Jelgava), Latvia, near the Mitau Rift, a swarm of spectral horrors, haunters of the dark, attacked – pouring through cracks and into houses, stripping flesh from bone even as the victims tried to hide or flee. For a few moments there were screams, and panic, and the knowledge that death had come for a hundred families.

But the sun came to Earth. Inese Balodis, aged eleven – now known as Burve Sargs, First Earthwarden, Mistress of the Astral Fire, and the Founder of the Courland Castle RiftWard (among other titles) – spontaneously tapped into the power of the rift in defense of her mother and siblings.

And an astral firestorm passed through wood, and brick, and people, and beasts, alike, doing no harm to them at all – but burning the horrors of the swarm to less than ashes.

Even today, no one really knows why – but a few, talented, children who spend time near a rift will develop the ability to tap into it’s cascade of primal magical energies – allowing them to fight against the horrors on near-equal terms and to command an immense variety of spells and powers. Even more importantly… the presence of large groups of such children moderates the flow of magic out into the world, reducing random daily disasters to occasional difficulties – although this effect wanes as they age.

Children with that potential have little real choice; they WILL be sent to one of the RiftWards, and there they WILL develop their gifts (whether for actual spellcasting or for personalized magical enhancements) as Earthwardens – or they will die. The schools are excellent, the facilities are lavish, all “expenses” are paid, what personal equipment (or at least what can be mass-produced in factories) has proven helpful is made available, and both personal power and influential and well-paid positions await the (few) surviving graduates – but the RiftWard “Schools” are still filled with wild magic and subject to regular monstrous incursions. There are benefits – but the Earth’s leaders  are still deploying kids as their first line of defense, paying a grim price for humanities survival.

So; the school IS a place of endless adventure, graduates who move away from it will have a lot less power to work with, magical kids get to face horrors with little or no effective adult help, and the authorities will make sure that there are plenty of new kids starting classes to replace any casualties. Since rift incursions only occur when the game master feels like it, he or she can control the pace of level gain – making time for classical training and non-combat events – by simply making incursions more or less common. Are some of the kids acting up? “Detention” is likely on the front lines in the most dangerous areas. When their odds of living to grow up are poor anyway, what else is going to mean anything?

Variations abound of course. Castle Perilous (John DeChancie) scoops up people from 144,000 different universes (apparently at random), infuses them with various minor magical powers, and lets them interact with each other and with a constantly shifting array of realms. Every time the creatures inhabiting the vast multilayered dungeon beneath Castle Greyhawk started to come up to the surface the local lord hired groups of adventurers to keep them down, with the place serving as a sort of adventurer’s university (at least in one of the odder modules). Camp Half Blood? Miskatonic University? Sunnydale High? Between books and anime alone there are hundreds of variations.

The trouble with this is that the “school” part is now little more than flavor text and the training is still pretty much irrelevant. Instead of working out of a castle, or country estate, or the local tavern, these adventurers to work out of a dungeon that happens to have a dorm, a few classrooms, and (if anyone involved has any sense at all) a well-protected infirmary. That’s even more convenient than the town by the dungeon entrance in some ways, even if it DOES mean that the wandering monsters can camp right outside your bedroom door.

To do much more than that – and to make “training” really mean something – we’ll have to go a bit beyond baseline d20. Fortunately, Eclipse has a lot of ways to do that.

The Ancient Master, secret academy, mysterious scroll, or weird entity, who teaches powerful secret techniques is thoroughly traditional. The trouble here is that while d20 in general offers some support for secret techniques (via putting entrance requirements on prestige classes with special powers), this mechanic leads to exploits for poorly thought out abilities, level-dipping, planning out your build long in advance (and regardless of what happens in the campaign) to qualify for the items you want, and so on – and each prestige class which is available (even if no one ever takes it) brings a bunch of background material with it which must be fitted into the campaign (at least if you care about world background).

Eclipse and The Practical Enchanter cover this in several different ways.

Ancient Masters (and other expert teachers) can…

  • Act as Mentors, and so provide a boost to the students experience point total. Of course this usually calls for regularly going back for advanced training.
  • Teach Occult Skills that they happen to know without the usual surcharge. Once you have a skill, you don’t usually need to go back for more training to improve it – but the game master is free to say that that only applies to skills that are common in the setting, or might even be persuaded to allow a price break for such a limitation.
  • Teach Martial Arts Skills that allow the addition of Attribute Modifiers, as making up your own art does not.
  • Use Mystic Artist powers to bestow small amounts of Experience Points on students. This is slow and expensive – but does allow wealthy nobles, rulers, and benevolet traveling bards to give low-level types a boost.
  • Use Leadership to simply bestow levels on characters. Of course, this method makes adventuring pretty much irrelevant; only the leaders abilities and the number of levels which he or she wishes to invest in the characters matters. This may even require training as a limitation – and could thus account for child-heroes who would normally be considered too young for level one or for a variation on the Children’s Crusade setting. It also quite neatly explains why the focus is always on a small groups of students (they’re the only ones who are getting handed free levels) and why – if there are any permanent casualties or departures – it’s so easy to find a replacement; the Leaders simply invests those “lost” levels in another follower and they join the group. .
  • Use Blessing and Adept to make it easier for students to learn a particular set of skills – reducing them to half the usual cost. It would be wise to remember that any teacher with that talent will be very much in demand. They’re also a convenient way to shape the campaign; if you want a heavy martial-arts game, or lots of knowledge skills, or action skills, or some such… then reducing the cost of characters getting the appropriate skills is a good way to (more or less) subtly guide the players.
  • Use Blessing to loan out some of their skills to their students so as to meet more dangerous foes. This should, however, be a rare and special thing.
  • Provide Unique Training – although it is important to note that the points from unique training go to where the game master thinks that they should according to the nature of the teacher and the training, not to wherever the player has in mind.

Now most of those benefits (other than using leadership, which is usually for recruiting NPC’s to follow you) are rather limited since they’re set up to provide modest bennies for the characters, rather than to break the idea of levels. Still, using a few of those techniques can easily give a school enough attractions to keep the characters coming back and supporting it.

  • A Ward Major (the Practical Enchanter) can allow “residents” (however it defines them) to acquire some special abilities and boosts on a more or less permanent basis – and nothing says that tests, training, and study requirements can’t be applied to getting those powers.
  • A Heartstone (also from the Practical Enchanter) can hand out it’s abilities on whatever basis suits it once a character is attuned to it – and so makes a good basis for a school or guild. Using the powers of a Heartstone does require spending a feat though, so it won’t do most small children a lot of good.

The trouble here is that this – once again – using ANY of these techniques creates issues if you don’t make similar advantages available to every character. Wizardly types may be bigger on studying and “school” than anyone else, but they’re also among the character types least in need of another boost.

  • As an organization, a school can provide access to one or more Package Deals. If you want to go to the trouble (and to keep the characters involved with the school) it can even be a graduated package deal like the House of Roses uses. If a school is really important (again, like the House of Roses) and is run by someone with Dominion, their package deal can even be augmented by an Office as the students graduate and (presumably) move into faculty jobs themselves. It will, however, have to be either a pretty generic package which everyone can use or you’ll have to make up multiple packages and / or schools for each general type of character. That’s a lot of work for the game master though.
  • If you want the school to teach a lot of abilities and techniques independent of adventuring levels you’ll wand to go the “Mythic” (Mundane?) route – treating training, in-school story awards, and testing “challenges” as an independent, and not directly cumulative, source of power – essentially giving the characters a second experience point total for “school levels” at the cost of a +1 ECL adjustment. Anyone who opts to be unschooled (or simply is not paying attention in class) gets a free level on the other characters and gets to apply any story awards to his or her basic experience point pool – possibly picking up several more levels on his or her scholarly friends eventually. If you want to adjust the ratio of “school levels” to standard ones, you can either simply adjust the story and testing rewards to suit or have the two totals run on different experience point charts. In either case… “school” levels should spend most of their points on things that could reasonably be learned in a school.

As a final alternative, you can go way outside the usual boundaries of the d20 system, and dump experience points. Characters may pick up some pointers in the field, but they generally get better as they take more classes and develop their own particular talents. There’s no actual requirement to adventure at all in order to gain levels and power. On the other hand… students may be thrust into adventures, or need money and magical items, or be undertaking practical exams, or be having to deal with wealthy idiots who acquired power through intensive tutoring with no self-discipline and little control, or be doing favors for an instructor – in which case risking their necks is the price they pay for advanced training – which is how they GET power.

If you then limit characters to relatively low level, and possibly eliminate some more of the more over-the-top powers, you will wind up with something which many people would consider fairly “realistic” – but it won’t really resemble standard d20 very much at all.

And that’s really about it; while Eclipse offers ways to cram them into any given setting, schools beyond the grade-school level that get kids to level one really are not a natural fit with d20 worlds.