Granny – Skills, Skill Tricks, and Skill-Related Abilities

Skills are very important to Granny; so she’s spent a fair chunk of points – in fact, 111, well over a third of her total and more than any normal class – on acquiring and enhancing them.

Skill Enhancements:

  • Upgrade Pathfinder Package Deal Fast Learner to Triple Effect (4 CP). This is cheesy, but NPC political figures can usually be allowed a little cheese – and a handful of extra skill or hit points really isn’t all that important.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (+3 CP/Level): Only for buying Skill Enhancing Abilities, must buy at least one “skill trick” per level (6 CP). This provides +3 CP / Level to buy skill-enhancing abilities with.
  • Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (adds Cha Mod to Int Mod for Skill Point purposes, Specialized and Corrupted/only adds to skill points through level five, 6 CP). Over several centuries, Granny has had a lot of time to let helpful people show her how to do things – but that’s gotten less and less effective as fewer and fewer of them have anything to show her.
  • Available Skill Points: 136 (L1-5: 8 x [Int Mod + Cha Mod]) + 21 (L6-8 3 x Int Mod) +3 (Purchased, 3 CP) +6 (Favored Class) = 166 SP.
  • Augmented Bonus; adds (Int Mod) to (Cha Mod) for skill purposes (6 CP)
  • Augmented Bonus: adds (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for skill purposes (6 CP).
  • Access to three Occult Skills – Foresight, Legendarium, and Dream-Binding (9 CP)
  • Adept: Foresight, Knowledge/Engineering, Legendarium, and Spellcraft (6 CP)
  • Adept: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Perception (6 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost, Only for Skills, only to “take 20″ in advance (no rerolls) (4 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis (3 CP) and Skill Focus (6 CP) (both in Legendarium).
  • Given that Granny has a lot of built-in “equipment” thanks to her Legendarium skill, a suitable “masterwork tool” (or tools) for all her skills may be more or less assumed.

This gives all of her Int or Cha Based skills a base of +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +27 Base. Ergo, that will be the assumed base below.

Intelligence and Charisma Based Skills:

  • Bluff +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Spinning a Whopper: Mystic Artist (for Bluff), Specialized and Corrupted / provides the Manipulation options of Fascinate and Hold Audience only (2 CP). This isn’t nearly as important to Granny as is used to be – her other powers far surpass this sort of trivia anyway these days – but it was fairly useful early on.
    • This is something of a stretch – Bluff is not usually considered a suitable skill for Mystic Artist – but convincing your listeners that they really do want to keep listening to this insane story does seem right in line with the Bluff skill.
  • Craft; Alchemy +2 (2 SP) = +29
    • Skill Trick/Touch of the Philosophers: +4 CP worth of Innate Enchantment, Spell Level 1 x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated. Dexterous Fingers (Trickster Magi list. Reduces the time required to use a skill by three rounds. If this results in zero time or “less” it becomes a free action. If applied on a continuous basis throughout a skill-based crafting project, it reduces the required time by 75% or allows a project to proceed at normal speed while only taking up a couple of downtime hours per day, so that it, like studying spells, can proceed while adventuring) (2000 GP) and Alchemical Tinkering (Pathfinder), both Specialized for Reduced Cost (requires a DC 20 Alchemy check, only for Alchemy, tinkering only works on alchemical bases and catalysts (under Haagenti), not on guns or existing items) (2 CP).

Granny is mostly a herbalist, but at this point – after centuries of refining her will – she is easily capable of imposing temporary structure on alchemical raw materials with little more than a touch – both producing items as needed and accomplishing her projects very quickly indeed. That isn’t actually much use given her current abilities – an extra 25 GP per day, even if the cost is no more than a little casual dabbling that she’d probably do anyway, means very little to her now – but having people come to her for medicines for their children, and special supplies, and so on, is a useful window into the community to keep open.

  • Craft; Foodstuffs +3 (3 SP) = +30
    • Note that Specific Knowledge/the recipes and procedures for up to (Int) basic meals or complex dishes comes with each skill point invested in Craft/Foodstuffs – and that cooking has a base DC of 5. Thus “taking 10″ normally gets you 25 at DC 25 – allowing a cook with basic skills to ready a good meal for two, a common meal for four, or a poor meal for twelve, in about an hour. Having done quite a lot of cooking… that’s much more reasonable than the roughly one day per common meal figure that
    • Skill Trick/Good Eats: +2000 GP Innate Enchantment/Good Meal (as per Good Berry, but works on freshly-prepared meals, snacks, or candies). Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (2 CP). This handy talent allows the user to greatly stretch short supplies or provide a days meals to a (size) small child in the form of a single candy.
    • OK, so Granny has learned how to cook most of her favorite dishes. After all, in some cases she’s the only one who remembers what they are.
  • Craft; Image +5 (5 SP) = +32

Craft; Image is the art of adding sensory impressions to your works. Do you want your Flash Powder to provide a fireworks display? Make your cheap wine taste like the finest vintage? Cause smoke to take on a monstrous form? Make your sonic blast into a celestial song? Play Gandalf and make your alchemical firework take the form of a stooping dragon? Make a stage seem like a window into a great city for your play? Make a thin mattress more comfortable? Make your Fireball into a skull blazing with green fire that explodes? When you want to play with your special effects, than Craft Image is the skill for you. It‘s DC 5/10/20 to add Minor/Notable/Major impressions to something:, +5/10 for Large / Colossal targets, and +5 if you want the impression to linger beyond the duration of the item or effect it’s applied to. Since sensory impressions have no actual value, this counts as a part of the same activity that produces or prepares the item to be modified. Thus the check could be made while casting a spell, building a stage backdrop, or preparing food or drink to be served. As a side effect, the user may add (Skill Check / 15, rounded down) to the DC’s of saves against his or her relevant (those that generate actual detailed images to deceive people) illusion effects.

Craft Image doesn’t really change the game mechanics much, but it does let you describe your stuff as dramatically as you like. Go ahead. Build two identical castles, describe one as a “dark and ominous mass, crouching atop the hill like a ravenous beast poised to descend on the hapless villages below and wreck havoc” and the other as “a shining citadel, a beacon of protection offering a place of refuge to the hapless villages below” and see which one attracts valiant heroes to defend it and which one attracts would-be minions and valiant heroes who want to attack it.

  • Craft; Policy +11 (11 SP) = +38
    • Craft Policy was covered in a prior article, HERE.
  • Diplomacy +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Snare of Words: Immunity/The distinction between Diplomacy and a Martial Art equal to the total value sans tools (Uncommon, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only works against creatures of types who could normally be affected by Diplomacy but who are arbitrarily immune (IE; being player characters/”destined heroes” or plot requirements) (2 CP). Even those who are somehow impervious to persuasion can be distracted, affected by guilt, and otherwise troubled by skilled words. Against such opponents the user gains +2 to Intimidate, +2 to Bluff, +4 to AC, DR 4/-, 8d6 of (nonlethal damage) Sneak Attack, Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain. All of this can, however, be bypassed by engaging in conversation, listening to her monologues, spending time trying to persuade her to turn away from her evil ways, and rationally responding to her arguments before starting a fight.
      • Skill Trick/Heraldic Privilege: Upgrade Snare of Words to Specialized for Increased Effect (gains +4 to Intimidate, +4 to Bluff, +8 to AC, DR 8/-, 8d6 of Sneak Attack, and double-strength Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain (+2 CP).
        • Skill Trick/Diplomatic Immunity: Upgrade Heraldic Privilege to Triple Effect (+2 CP). The user gains +6 to Intimidate, +6 to Bluff, +12 to AC, DR 12/-, 12d6 of Sneak Attack, and triple-strength Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain (+2 CP).

With these tricks about the characters WILL politely let the villain monologue, and offer them a chance to reform and make their own heroic speeches, or they will make their “boss fight” a great deal harder (and perhaps near-impossible; Triple-Strength Iron Skin and Resist Pain will get the AC boost up to +24 and the DR to 24/-). I’ll pay for Granny to have the full 6 CP package I think.

To be sensible, Granny really ought to have a normal martial art that would help her deal with monsters and other NPC’s rather than a special ability designed to justify cinematic “confronting the villain” tropes. I suppose she could get one though a relic if she really HAD to have one – but if it comes down to a direct fight that she can’t weasel out of Granny has basically lost already. Her goal is to be the invisible chessmaster and the power behind the throne. From her point of view… if you know enough to actually be coming after HER instead of her “Dark Enchantress” decoy persona her schemes are collapsing already – and her last hope is to get you to LISTEN TO HER and consider whether or not she’s a net benefit to have around, evil or not. Ergo, a last-ditch ability to try and force negotiations.

  • Disguise +11 (11 SP) = +38
    • Skill Trick / Method Acting: Immunity to Gather Information, Sense Motive, and Alignment Detection (Very Common, Minor, Trivial, Specialized/Only if the user’s Disguise skill check equals or exceeds the opposing Skill Check or Caster Level Check, in which case the opponent using the ability will detect the user’s cover, rather than the underlying reality, 2 CP).

Like it or not, if spells like “know alignment” are at all common, public figures are going to be hit with them regularly – and getting no answer will be seen as them having something to hide, no matter how many reasons are given for maintaining their privacy. They’re going to HAVE to have some ability along these lines to function at all.

While this is partially overridden by her Mind Shielding effect, that simply blocks detection, while this trick allows the user to create a false result – which is far less suspicious than getting no result. 

  • Dream-Binding +11 (11 SP) = +38. +3 Specialty in Caer Hunleff (1 SP).
    • Smith of Dreams: Granny’s Dream-Binding is Specialized for Increased Effect (she simply treats her total skill bonus – including any permanent personal magical bonuses – squared x 100 GP as her budget to “buy”things with, although she still can’t dream up expendable items) / she cannot use the magical items that she “creates” herself; she can only use them to equip others – although if she creates downtime structures she can live or work in those. With a total value of 144,400 GP (plus 23,700 for Caer Hunleff), Granny can readily equip lower-level parties or maintain a fair amount of infrastructure all by herself.

Yes, this means that Granny can, if she wishes, be a load-bearing boss; if and when she dies, her dreams, including any structures that she has dreamed into being, will go with her.

  • Skill Trick/Forge of Dreams. Immunity/having to go shopping or build (Common, Minor, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/items to be rendered permanent must be “created” with dream-binding and then made permanent – expending alchemical components with a cost equal to the normal cost of the item (2 CP).

And here we have another handy trick; Granny can get you supplies, various permanent magic items, and create buildings, overnight – but there’s no point in trying to rob her; she hasn’t got stockpiles of stuff (save, perhaps, for basic herbs). She may have a supply of Alchemical Catalysts (covered in more detail under Haagenti in THIS article), but at 100 GP per ounce she can carry 48,000 GP worth in a thirty pound bag – and that will be safely tucked away in a personal extradimensional space. No more “magic item shop” problems. Instead the ancient hag in the woods can supply you with the magical items you need for your quest – and when those same items vanish, are depleted, or are sacrificed at the end of the quest, there’s nothing to complain about; they have simply returned to the realms of dream from which they were temporarily drawn.

  • Foresight +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Foresight is basically made of skill tricks. Granny, not being a spellcaster, usually uses it for her political maneuvering, to just “happen” to have the relics she’ll need at any given moment be the ones that she’s using, and to just happen to have convenient items dreamed into existence at any given moment.
  • Handle Animal +5 (5 SP) = +32
    • Skill Trick/Tyrant Master: Immunity/the distinction between animals and other creatures for skill purposes (Uncommon, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only covers “domesticating” and “training” monsters and slaves) (2 CP).
  • Intimidate +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Sonorous Iron Voice (Cha Based Martial Art): +2 (2 SP) +17 (Cha + Int) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +29 (+22 for buying abilities). Sonorous Iron Voice focuses on the throat chakra, imbuing the user’s voice with supernatural power – generating sonic blasts and vibratory effects – it can also add subtle, manipulative, overtones to the user’s words.
      • Granny’s eleven current abilities include +2 Synergy to Diplomacy, +2 Synergy to Intimidate, +2 Synergy to Bluff, +2 Synergy to Sense Motive, Battlecry (Variant: may make an Intimidate check against all opponents within 30 feet as a standard action once per encounter), Mobility, Mind Like Moon, Inner Strength x2, Ki Focus (+4 Sacred Bonus to Charisma), and Wrath (Sonic Damage) (2 SP for a net +20).
      • Granny will usually use this form in noncombat situations, but – since she may or may not be doing so in at any given time – it’s benefits have not been included in her skill totals.

Technically this isn’t a “skill trick” since it’s really a separate skill instead of a power that builds on an existing skill – but it’s set up to cost two skill points and the primary function is to provide the effects of the classical “never outnumbered” skill trick in allowing a mass intimidation check. That seems quite close enough to throw it into the category. Secondarily, it only works cheaply thanks to Granny’s absurd boosts to Charisma and Intelligence based skills, but there’s no reason not to take advantage of that if you can persuade the game master that such an art should exist. Given that she’s had centuries in which to get someone to invent and develop it for her, I’d say that it’s justified.

 

When it comes to Knowledge skills, Granny originally studied engineering and architecture because she wanted a palace and didn’t want to trust someone else to design her secret passages and escape routes. She picked up a fair knowledge of the Nobility and Local Information while ruling, of History while living through it, and of Arcana by dabbling across the centuries – but she’s not really a scholar. On the other hand even the rule-of-thumb knowledge of basic principles (putting in a skill point or two) will get you a long way when your effective “intelligence” (a +17 modifier?) puts you well beyond most comic book super-geniuses.

  • Knowledge; Arcana +5 (1 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Dungeoneering +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Engineering +11 (5 SP*) = +38. +3 Specialty in Mystic Architecture. Base (for Mystic Artist abilities) = +37.
    • Mystic Artist with Seeking for Engineering (Architecture) (12 CP).
      • Inspiration Abilities: Emotion, Competence, Excellence, Mass Greatness, Mass Excellence, and Heroism.
      • Synergy Abilities: Block, Group Focus, Harmonize, and Serenity.
      • Manipulation Abilities: Hold Audience and Suggestion. Granny can access Emotional Auras and Freedom, but needs to be using one of her Relics to do so.

Granny is a formidable mystic architect. What’s more, she’s fully capable of using Dream -Binding to create a citadel and a fortification around a settlement overnight (even if she does tend to have the locals do enough work to disguise the fact that she doesn’t actually need them. Its better for their morale that way). That’s a pretty massive defensive advantage.

It also means that if you attack and destroy the Dark Enchantresses castle… she’ll just make a new one someplace else a day or two later. She may even move it from time to time just to make it harder to find.

  • Knowledge; Geography +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; History +5 (5 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Local +5 (1 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Nature +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Nobility +5 (5 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Planes +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Religion +1 (1 SP) = +28

The Celeano Manuscripts: As per a Mask of a Thousand Tomes, but consists of several hundred massive tomes (basically immobile, x .5), requiring a DC 20 Linguistics check (x.8) and at least 1d4 hours of intense study and concentration in a suitable library to use (x.8) = 3200 GP. If you have the time to use the Manuscripts they provides a +10 competence bonus to any Knowledge skill check – for Granny, a net +8 over the competence bonus that’s already included in the values above.

  • Ritual Magic (Atherian Variant). Atherian Ritual Magic allows knowledge skills to be used to generate magical effects, in much the same way that – in magic-free reality – knowledge can be used to create technologies, solve problems, and accomplish goals rather than simply allowing the game master to provide some exposition and offering clues as to how to fight monsters. In effect, Atherian Ritual Magic is sort of a generic “skill trick” for all knowledge skills. To keep things under control, Granny’s abilities are Corrupted: even with the time-saving trick below, she may enact no more than (Cha Mod) rituals per day – and major rituals count as three minor ones (4 CP)
    • Skill Trick/Words of Creation: Immunity / the time required to use Atherian-type magical rituals (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP). This reduces the time requirements by two steps. A normally ten-minute ritual to get the household drains working would thus be reduced to one full action (Tens of Minutes to Minutes, Minutes to Full Actions) – although she must still get the relevant components from her Ritual Chest or Supply Pouch. Of course, the three-day ritual of Planar Transference would only be reduced to to hours (three days to one day, one day to hours).

In general, Granny can perform an immense variety of useful, albeit non-combative, rituals with relative ease – warding cottages against fires, chasing pests out of the fields, tracing bloodlines, predicting the weather, immunizing a village against a horrible disease, insulating and warming households during a bad winter, dowsing for the best place to dig a well, locating lost children, laying restless spirits, and so on. She can summon demons, raise a swarm of skeletons, or make it rain holy water too – but those are much bigger projects, and are likely to call for rare ingredients, considerably more time, and very high DC’s.

  • Legendarium +11 (5 SP*) +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +2 (Skill Emphasis) +3 (Skill Focus) +3 (Path) = +36. Sadly, Granny’s usual +7 in magical and equipment bonuses is irrelevant here – but her massive attribute bonuses and skill-boosting feats still turn this into 388,800 GP worth of “gear”.
    • Specialized for Double Effect; “Items” purchased with Legendarium must be purchased as slot-free items at double cost. Granny’s items take up slots under the normal rules (and may have stacked effects under the normal rules), but are purchased at normal costs.  In effect, she just “spends” her Legendarium funds to purchase her “panoply” normally.
    • This also means that Granny has, over her extended lifetime, accomplished at least eighteen great deeds and seen them become a part of her legend. While her Dark Veil (from her Channeling powers) keeps those tales focused on “The Dark Enchantress” instead of on “Granny”, anyone who spends some time on Gather Information or research will be able to pick them up and get a pretty good idea of the Dark Enchantress’s capabilities. Specialized for Double Effect / items “purchased” with Legendarium must be bought as slot-free items for double cost. In Granny’s case they take up item slots normally regardless, and the stacking enchantments rules must be applied – so while her items may be powers derived from her legend, they are built just like normal items. Legendarium is a pretty major power for Granny – but then, one way or another, she’s invested quite a lot of character points into boosting her skills.
  • Linguistics +1 (1 SP) = +28
    • Skill Trick/Polyglot: Immunity/Awkward Linguistics Mechanics (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP). Granny knows her base racial languages plus a number of languages equal to her total permanent Linguistics score. That will include Common, Sylvan, Infernal, Abyssal, Dwarven, Elven, and at least twenty-one more. In general, as an NPC, just assume that Granny knows all the tolerably common languages in the setting.
  • Perform; Acting +5 (5 SP) = +32
    • Skill Trick / Rumored Fame: Immunity to the distinction between Charisma and Reputation scores (Uncommon, Minor, Major, Corrupted/only uses 2/3’rds of the users Charisma score, 2 CP). Given her 30 Charisma this gives her an effective 20 on her Reputation score – which means that pretty much everyone in the country and nearby countries will have heard of her. That’s usually worth a substantial bonus on social interaction rolls.

This would be more expensive – but it can generally be assumed that any time the game master has the characters interacting with a V,I,P, he or she will be making a point of bringing it up anyway. There’s no point in having an NPC be famous or important if you don’t tell the player characters about it. Characters will develop reputations whether they buy one or not – but buying one offers them control. This option boosts one, but offers little control. Just allowing one to develop is a very hit-or-miss proposition – much more appropriate to wandering adventurers than to political figures.

  • Perform; Oratory +5 (5 SP) = +32 (+25 Base)
    • Mystic Artist/Oratory (10 abilities) with Echoes (12 CP):
      • Manipulation Abilities: Fascinate, Hold Audience, Emotional Auras, and Freedom.
      • Synergy Abilities: Block, Group Focus, Amplify, Harmonize, Serenity, and Rule the Horde.

Granny’s oratory has been polished across the centuries. She can weave suggestions, inspire overpowering emotions, break enchantments, enhance magic, renew her targets daily abilities, and more, selecting any two of those at a time and allowing those powers to echo back up to three times during the next two weeks.

This ability makes Granny’s tall tales pretty much redundant – but they’re cheap anyway and it never hurts to have a backup method of doing things. If this was an ultra-efficient build (instead of just exploitative) she’d probably have retrained those 2 CP – but Granny prefers to know that she can still tell a wild story with the best of them.

  • Perform; Strings +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Perform; Sing +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Qilin QiGong (Int): +3 (3 SP) +17 (Cha + Int) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +30 (+23 for buying abilities).
    • Qilin QiGong is a discipline of breath control and drifting movements to focus and channel C’hi, focusing on internal alchemy, the development of the Embryonic Pearl (a focus and reservoir of life force), and the amplification of the user’s inner strength. While it falls under the broad umbrella of the Martial Arts, it has only minor combat applications, and relatively few bother to develop them. Sadly, while truly skilled practitioners can maintain health and vigor into extreme old age, it does nothing to extend the user’s maximum lifespan. It can make it a lot easier to reach it though.
      • Granny’s twelve current abilities include: Synergy: +2 Craft/Alchemy, +2 Heal, +2 Fly, and +2 Perception, Toughness IV (a minor variant that protects against attribute drain and damage rather than physical injuries), Inner Strength II, Healing Hand, and Vanishing. These bonuses have not been included, since Granny is not always using this style.
  • Spellcraft +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Chaos Magic: 3d6 (12) Mana with Unskilled Magic, Specialized for Double Effect (costs only 1 Mana per level of the effect produced), Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only for unskilled magic, requires verbal and somatic components, Arcane or Hedge Magic effects only, requires a spellcraft check at a DC of 5 x the effective level of the effect being produced, commonly (and quite correctly) seen as a dangerous and unskilled use of magical energies (12 CP). In general: Charisma-based, Caster Level (7 + Effect Level, 10 Max), maximum effect level 6 (going above Caster Level/2 risks losing control at the option of the game master), requires a Charisma Check at DC (6 + Mana Used) to avoid dangerous side effects of one-half the level of the spell used. Success on this check still produces awkward and inconvenient side effects.
    • Fires of Creation: Rite of Chi with +(2 x Cha Mod) Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted: only to regain Mana in the unskilled magic pool above, requires at least five minutes of rest per die (6 CP).

This is an extremely cheap way to cast some fairly powerful freeform spells – but it’s rarely an attractive option for adventurers. Even disregarding the need for being of fairly high level, having very high attributes, a high spellcraft skill, and a high base will save just to make it work, few adventurers like risking random side effects. After all, casting Scorching Ray and having the party hit with Burning Hands, or being abruptly outlined with Faerie Fire even if the would-be magus makes the charisma check to avoid actively dangerous side effects, can really mess up your plans. There are reasons why Wild Mages have never really been popular – and why the Eclipse versions usually roll to see what kind of effects they have to work with this round and then have to figure out a way to use it rather than letting the game master do whatever he or she finds amusing at the moment.

Other Skills:

  • Fly (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Heal (Wis) +5 (5 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +20, +3 Specialty in Pregnancy, Birthing, and Babies (1 SP).
    • With a +23 base, and access to Witchcraft, Rituals, and various Spells, Granny is capable of handling pretty much any childbirth. Given the number of kids she’s delivered over the centuries, this makes it even MORE awkward to confront her.
  • Perception (Wis) +11 (5 SP*) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) +5 (Gear) = +31
  • Profession (Lawyer) +6 (6 SP) +5 (Wis)+3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +21
    • You’re a part of the government, you get involved in legalistic disputes.
  • Ride (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Sense Motive (Wis) +11 (11 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +26
  • Sleight Of Hand (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Stealth (Dex) +5 (5 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +15
  • Survival (Wis) +2 (2 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +15
  • Swim (Str) +3 (3 SP) +0 (Str)+3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = + 13

This may need a few tweaks later – working in sections makes it easy to forget a detail here and there and I very well may have misadded a few skill points in that enormous list – but next up it will be some skill applications – Granny’s Legendarium abilities and some Mystic Architecture (along with yet another approach to practical schools in d20).

Granny, The Secret Overlord

Part I: History and Basics

Long centuries past, a Dark Enchantress ruled her domains with an iron fist and terrible powers, laying curses upon defiant villages, sending monsters against rebels and dissidents, and enforcing fairly reasonable rules and tax rates, because she was a Dark Enchantress, not a stupid one.

Still, eventually a shining hero – a charismatic bard, who’s own magics were a match for hers – brought an end to her reign, as shining heroes do. He ruled the realm well enough, for while he (like so many shining heroes) had little skill in management or administration, he had enough sense to defer to people who did on such matters.

And his wife was fine with this, for having a Shining Hero to serve as a focus for the realm she’d founded worked even better at keeping things peaceful than rumors of her wicked ways, terrible curses, and invincible sorceries. It took little more than a change of clothes and hair color to let the tales of the Dark Enchantress recede into legend.

And when the Shining Hero – now a King, wise and full of years – died at last, his three heirs divided the realm between them, for the retiring Dowager Queen would not hear of shortchanging her younger children, or of conflict between them, or of setting one above the others.

And the tradition continued onto the next generation, as the two Dukes and a Duchess divided their lands amongst their children – making them Earls and Countesses beneath the nominal authority of the long-retired Dowager Queen. And all was well across a well-managed and prosperous land.

Today there is a realm of sturdy, prosperous, freeholders – a carefully tended baobab of a family tree rooted throughout the realm and tens of thousands strong, There are mayors, and city councils, and the structures of a loosely-organized society of equals inhabiting a peaceful and prosperous land.

And there is Granny. No one is quite sure just WHO’S Granny she is – but there is a certain Confucian finality about being the Ancestress, the Eldest, and the Matriarch, and everyone is glad to have her. Her advice comes with the wisdom of age, and her gentle, welcome, tyranny will – the realm hopes – continue for many years to come.

And then another Eldest will presumably take over as the giver of incontestably good advice to provide stability and wisdom. After all, while no one can quite remember who the previous Eldest was, or just when Granny became the Eldest – it must have happened sometime, right?

Granny is a pretty standard matriarchal archetype; she’s the tough-as-nails old woman who has been around long enough to see it all, who tells everyone what to do, who is listened to because she’s usually quite right – and who won’t hesitate to fill your ears with venom if you cross her or hers. She is ruthless, vengeful, shows little care or compassion for outsiders (although she does care for her friends and family), and is quite thoroughly selfish – albeit with an equally thoroughly rational understanding of how a stable, prosperous, society benefits her and hers in the long run and so is worth supporting because she’s still not stupid.

This being d20 however, Granny’s wrath is considerably worse than that of Conan the Barbarian. Are you an outsider who’s leading bandits in raiding her great-great grandchildren’s farms? Price gouging in an emergency? Running a (competing) protection racket? Granny will not hesitate to curse your kids to transform into (obedient to her) Barghests and have them slowly eat you alive. After that? They’ll make good slave-minion-creatures for her after you’re gone, and when some adventurer kills them… well, they’re now horrors of the lower planes. They’ll be happy there.

Then, of course, she might be feeling creative today and come up with something much, much, worse than that.

And yes, that’s pretty thoroughly lawful evil. Oh well!

Granny has taken an unconscionably long time to write up, mostly because her concept is really much too broad. We have the protective grandmother, the elderly queen, the venomous harridan, the evil beldame, the desiccated teacher, the evil/pragmatic (if not necessarily treacherous) grand vizier, and the wicked witch, all rolled up into one – and that lack of focus has made it difficult to touch on all the major elements, much less cover the minor secondary details.

Available Character Points: 216 (L8 Base) +10 (Disadvantages: History, Obligations (to whatever family she is most closely associated with at the moment), and Secret (she is the Dark Enchantress of legend)) +16 (Duties; national advisor/leader) +24 (Restrictions; Armor, Martial and Exotic Weapons, Expensive Personal Magical Items (more than 5% or her wealth-by-level). Granny’s various powers are very much rooted in her supreme self-confidence; relying on too much external stuff will seriously dampen her powers) +24 (L1, 3, 5, and 7 Bonus Feats) = 290 CP.

That’s actually quite a lot, especially since Granny isn’t really an adventurer and won’t be investing in large hit dice, much of any base attack bonus, or big saving throw bonuses. She’s a sage, a witch, and a matriarch. That doesn’t mean that she can’t put up a fight one way or another – this is d20 after all – but her first priority will be on escaping any form of personal confrontation, not on fighting to the bitter end.

Given that she’s successfully escaped for many centuries now, she’s going to be very good at it.

Race: Granny could be of pretty much any pathfinder-compatible race, although I’m going to assume a +2 bonus to Cha – and at least a slightly-extended lifespan would probably suit her best. She is, in any case, of Venerable age – although, due to her various abilities, this doesn’t really hinder her at all.

Package Deal: Granny has the Pathfinder Package Deal. For her build, the important bits are that she gets:

  • Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted/only works as long as the user sticks to a particular archetype and relatively narrow plan of development chosen at level one at each level, points may only be spent on skills and additional hit points (2 CP).
  • The ability to spend CP to buy HP directly.
  • A +3 Pathfinder Bonus on all “in-class” skills.

“Granny”

A.K.A. Endora (or Theodora), Zelena, Elphaba, Mama Yaga, Morgana, and many more names. For some reason, however, except when she’s going by “Smith” she always uses a name that ends in an “a”.

Titles: Realmfounder, Dark Enchantress, Queen and Dowager Queen, Dynast of the Realm, The Exalted One, The Wicked Witch of the West, Nightwarden, Matriarch, Ancestress, Grand Vizier, Dame, Mentor of Heroes, and Eldest.

Basic Attributes: Str 8 (+2 Leg = 10), Dex 8 (+2 Leg = 10), Con 14 (+4 Tat =18), Int 15 (+3 Age +6 Leg = 24), Wis 13 (+3 Age +4 Leg = 20), Chr 17 (+3 Age, +2 Level +6 Leg +2 Race = 30) (32 Point Buy, Aging Penalties bought off using Dominion Points).

Granny uses Tattoo Magic to boost her constitution because it provides her with a blatantly obvious explanation for why she isn’t frail and sickly, like so many extremely elderly people. The fact that she doesn’t really need it is easy to hide that way.

Basic Abilities (53 CP):

  • Hit Points: 12 (L1 3d4, 16 CP) + 22 (L2-8d4) +12 (Immortal Vigor) +48 (Con Mod x 12) +18 (Pathfinder Favored Class Bonus as enhanced, see below) = 100 HP.
  • BAB: +2, Specialized and Corrupted / Only for swatting unruly children, chasing animals with brooms, killing vermin, and similar household tasks (4 CP). Granny has never really practiced physical combat and any skill she acquired in passing in her youth has long since atrophied after centuries as a venerable old lady.
    • Technically, if you aren’t actually inflicting an effect it’s not an attack and does not require a roll. Ergo, Granny can automatically smack people with brooms and canes as long as this has no effect whatsoever beyond expressing irritation non-verbally.
  • Saves:
    • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +4 (Con) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +12
    • Reflex: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) -1 (Dex) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +7
    • Will: +6 (Purchased, 18 CP) +5 (Wis) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +17
  • Combat Information:
  • Proficiencies: All simple weapons (3 CP). Granny may not have any serious martial training, but she is centuries old and she’s not an idiot.
  • Initiative: +0 (Dex). Granny does get to roll twice and keep the best roll though.
  • Move: 30′.
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +4 (Mage Armor) +4 (Force Shield) +1 (Luck) +4 (Martial Art) = 23 (35 and DR 12/- versus those who refuse to negotiate, see Skills).
  • Usual Weapons: Magic. What’s the point of being a Dark Enchantress if you’re going to fight with a weapon?

Part II will cover her various skills, skill-based powers, and a wide variety of skill tricks.

Making Magical Minions, Affordable Warlordism and Henchmen

Stormtroopers. Gangers. Toughs. Devotees, Stooges. Toadies, Vassals. Lackeys. Thugs. Pawns. Underlings. Aides. Retainers. Made Men. Flunkeys.

Evil Masterminds, mafia bosses, and gang leaders always seem to have their swarms of thugs about – but they never seem to train them properly. Their thugs fall for the same silly ruses, and people claiming to be sick, and simple distractions, over and over again. Their aim is always terrible. They get treated as being completely disposable by their bosses, they get wiped out by heroes in hordes (and without inducing any guilt whatsoever), and there are always – ALWAYS – more. They don’t seem to demand hazard pay, they don’t require recruitment, they don’t even seem to eat and drink. They’re just THERE.

And unless you’re in a deconstruction, they never surrender, or lament that they will never see their children grow up, or beg for mercy. You never see mourning relatives either. They just march to their anonymous dooms. Where do bad guys GET all of these obedient, disposable, unremarked, faceless minions?

Well…

You take Summon Monster as a Summon Minion variant. This version summons an NPC minion of the caster’s race with an effective level equal to (spell level -1) OR 4 thugs with an effective level of (spell level -2) or ten lackeys with an effective level of (spell level -3). All come with appropriate gear for an NPC of their level, although it will vanish with them. All have effective attribute scores of 12 in everything. The spell is otherwise identical to Summon Monster.

Getting minions designed using Eclipse is more expensive; it requires +1 level of the Amplify Metamagical Theorem to get one type of minion and +2 levels to get the usual summon monster style selection. Even then, the caster will have to work with the game master to design them and will need to keep them useful in a variety of situations and roles. Otherwise, given the ease with which Eclipse characters can be specialized for particular tasks, you can expect to see a lot of “Army eh? I summon (extremely specialized high powered lightning mage) and have her blast the entire area”.

The Basic Minion (48 CP):

  • Universal Jack of All Trades: All Minions are considered to have a +1 base in any unrestricted skill (12 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: +2 to All Skills (1400 GP), Greater Invocation of Convenience (Produces any L0 Hedge Magic Effect, 2000 GP), Power Tool (2000 GP), Enchant Tools (L0, +1 Circumstance Bonus, 1000 GP), Mage armor (1400 GP), Force Shield I (1400 GP), Resistance (+1 Resistance Bonus on Saves, 700 GP), and Immortal Vigor I (+14 HP, 1400 GP) = 11,300 GP (12 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Skills (6 CP).
  • Proficient with Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Immunity/having to worry about where their gear is beyond tracking it’s encumbrance (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 3 CP). Yes, this subsumes worrying about drawing weapons and such.
  • Minions normally come equipped with:
    • Explorer’s Outfit (10 GP, 8 Lb)
    • Light Crossbow with 3 cases of Bolts (38 GP. 7 Lb)
    • 2 Spears (4 CP, 12 Lb)
    • Heavy Mace (12 GP, 8 Lb)
    • Wooden Holy Symbol (1 GP, -)
    • Common Musical Instrument (5 GP, 3 Lb).
    • Thieves Tools (30 GP, 1 Lb)
    • Block and Tackle (5 GP, 5 Lb)
    • Pitons x10 (5 SP, 5 Lb)
    • Caltrops (1 GP, 2 Lb)
    • Chalk
    • Grappling Hook (1 GP, 4 Lb)
    • Lamp (1 SP, 1 Lb)
    • Oil, 5 Pints (5 SP, 5 Lb)
    • 100′ Silk Rope (20 GP, 10 Lb)
    • 10′ Pole (2 SP, 8 Lb)
    • Masterwork Artisan’s Tools (55 GP, 5 Lb)
    • Assorted Minor Bits – comb, string, tacks, candlestub, etc.
    • Light Riding Horse with saddle, bags, etc (75 GP)
      • With Workhorse, this leaves them with a Light Load.
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP).
  • Workhorse (6 CP). A minions encumbrance level is reduced by one. They can carry roughly another two hundred pounds before exceeding a heavy load.
  • First Level Bonus Feat: Occult Sense / Detect what their summoner would like them to do in their current situation. This means that you don’t have to worry about issuing orders or having them misinterpreted; they just know.
  • Minions get four skill points. These are automatically invested in the Duck and Cover martial art, providing them with DR 2/-.

That gives our generic first level minions +1 to Attacks and Damage, AC 19, 23 HP, +2 on Saves, +5 on All Unrestricted Skills, and Initiative +1. They normally speak Common and one other language suitable to their race. They do get racial abilities.

Basic Minions are just all-around competent. They can cook excellent meals, manage your accounts, take care of your horses, provide first aid, find food and warmth in the wilderness, run bars, steal stuff, fix your mundane gear, baby-sit your kids, and paint your portrait with all the skill you’d expect of a well-trained professional – with occasional flashes of brilliance.

So are minions only for spellcasters? Certainly not!

Gangsta Wrap: This elegant scarf (many other variants exist) does not take up an item slot, since it need only be activated once per month in any case. It summons four basic minions to serve the user,

  • Summon Thugs III (Specific Summons -1; four L1 thugs with no higher level options) with Improved Persistent +8 (lasts one month), Amplify +1 (Gets “Generic Eclipse Minions, as written up above), -3 (seven or more levels of built-in metamagic) -1 (takes a full minute to activate) -1 (can only be activated at a place suitable for hiring aides – whether that’s your office or a favored hangout) = SL 6 x CL 11 x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command Word) x .05 (one use per month) = 5.940 GP. You will have to wait a month to “hire more” if they get killed though.

Four are not enough? Go to the Minion Employment Agency (Nodwick Import-Export Services) and hire some M.E.A.N.I.E.S

And how does that service get them?

  • A Minion Employment Agency uses Summon Minion IV with Persistent +1 (lasts one minute per caster level), Amplify +1 (Minions are written up in Eclipse, although you only get one type per level, which must remain generic enough to be suited to a variety of tasks), Renewable +1 (when the spell is recast an existing summons may be extended, eliminating any one status condition or purging one negative level and regaining 3d6 hit points, one lost attribute point, and one use of a limited-use ability each time the spell is recast), Amplify +1 (being deceased does not prevent a minion from regaining hit points, and coming back, when it’s turn for renewal comes around – but it will suffer short-term amnesia as to exactly what happened), -2 (five or more levels of built-in metamagic) = Level Six.
  • Effective Cost: Spell Level 6 x Caster Level 11 x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Immobile) = 66,000 GP. This can sustain 110 castings in total (each providing one third-level minion OR four second-level thugs OR ten first level lackeys), for an effective rental cost of about 1 GP per day (25 GP/Month or 250 GP/Year) per casting. (Interestingly enough, this comes out reasonably well in line with the rules on hirelings and such).

In either case, if first-level minions don’t do it for you, the simplest thing to do is to boost the level of the base spell.

  • A Gangsta Wrap II (L2 Minions) costs 8190 GP, III (L3 Minions) costs 10,800 GP, IV costs 13,770 GP, V costs 17,100 GP, VI costs 22,770 GO, VII costs 24,840 GP, and VIII costs 29,250 GP.
  • A Minion Employment Agency II costs 91,000 GP and provides 130 sustained castings (each providing 10 L2 Lackeys OR 4 L3 Thugs OR 1 L4 Minion), III costs 120,000 GP and provides 150 sustained castings (and L3/L4/L5 lackeys/thugs/minions), IV costs 153,000 GP and provides 170 sustained castings (and L4/L5/L6 lackeys/thugs/minions), V costs 190,000 GP and provides 190 sustained castings (and L5/L6/L7 lackeys/thugs/minions). I’d recommend some caution here; it wouldn’t take very much optimization to create an army of elemental blasters or some such.

You can also improve the duration another one or two steps instead of improving the summoning level, taking it to tens of minutes or hours per level – effectively dropping one or two levels on the minions in exchange for the ability to sustain ten or sixty times as many. Do you happen to need a clone army for your Star Wars game?

For a “ten times as many” example take a version III and give yourself 12,000 L2 Veteran Troopers, 800 Grizzled L3 Sergeants to command squads of 15 Troopers each, and 100 L4 Dashing Captains to command Companies of 8 Squads each, and your Warlord has the iron core for his army – and an answer as to how anyone can afford to actually field an army in d20. Yes, 120,000 GP is a big investment – but it buys you a fair-sized military force with perfect loyalty, unbreakable morale, a load-out of basic equipment, little need for supply lines, and the ability to reform itself from total annihilation in a day – at least as long as you maintain control of your central castle, or capital, or wherever you’ve put the place (video game special effects are optional). The resulting numbers are also a reasonably good match for the typical army sizes in medieval Western Europe. You’ll want to go for the “sixty times as many” option if you want to represent the armies of the Middle East or Asia.

Eclipse and Skills – Craft (Policy)

And today it’s a question on d20 politics, and how to play “Yes Minister” – or at least give a nod to politics and bureaucracy and organizing relief efforts and such – without driving all the players mad with boredom.

And for credit where credit is due… this article includes a selection of adapted comments and suggestions from Spellweaver on the effects of using these rules – or even of acknowledging their existence in the campaign background.

Craft (Policy) covers using a position of power or influence to effectively shape society. Sadly, as in reality, no generally accepted d20 rules for how societies work exist, much less how valuable or effective any given policy will be. (If you should happen to develop a set of rules that effectively models such things, please forget about games, take over the world, and get to work organizing and improving the place, OK?). Ergo, here are some very simple rules:

You need a fairly major position of authority to effectively shape policy.

  1. Trying to influence society outside of the area OR the field you have authority over doubles the cost. If both apply, it’s quadrupled. Thus the Minister Of Defense has to pay double to influence an irrigation project or a neighboring countries defense projects and quadruple to influence a neighboring countries irrigation project even if it WILL make things inconvenient for tanks.
  2. Each season you may devote each rank of your Craft (Policy) skill to trying to make progress towards a particular goal. Trying to influence society outside of the area or the field you have authority over halves the effective number of skill ranks invested. If it is outside of both your effective skill ranks are quartered.
  3. It generally takes a minimum of one season of such investment per point required to complete a particular goal. The skill check required is made at the end of each season, if it fails no progress towards the goal was made this season.
  4. On those skill checks a “1″ automatically fails, while a “2″ fails for an identifiable reason – opposition from another policy-maker, an accident or natural disaster, or whatever. In any case, failure means no progress this season.
  5. Episodic adventuring does not prevent a character from using Craft (Policy), but the greater the proportion of the characters time devoted to other pursuits, the greater the circumstance penalty on the user’s effective skill total will become up to a maximum of -10 (for near-total distraction) or not allowing a roll at all if the character is entirely out of touch.
  6. Craft (Policy) checks may be modified normally with Dominion points.

As for the classification of possible goals…

  • Trivial Goals – having some scholars do a little research and write a report on something, getting someone honored for their services, or getting warning signs put up – cost 1 point and are usually completed in one season with a DC 10 skill check.
  • Minor Goals – having tutors sent out to the garrisons to teach a course in monster identification so that you get better reports on what is happening, investigating some local corruption, help a village recover from a disaster – cost 2 points and are usually completed in two seasons with two DC 15 skill checks.
  • Notable Goals – launching a manhunt, getting spies reporting on another realm, getting sone post offices set up, or a new religious sect recognized – cost 4 points and are usually completed in a year with four DC 20 skill checks.
  • Major Goals – getting military bases, schools, or temples set up, launching an undercover trans-border raid, setting up a truly major magical ritual or some faculties useful to adventurers – cost 8 points, and are usually completed in a couple of years with eight DC 30 skill checks. If follow-up activity is required, it will constitute a Notable Goal.
  • Grandiose Goals – improving public education, rooting out a widespread Thuggee cult, building a major structure – cost 16 points and require at least four years and sixteen seasonal DC 45 skill checks. If follow-up activity is required it will constitute a Major Goal.
  • Sabotaging another policy maker is pretty straightforward; Make opposed checks at the start of a season. The “attacker wins ties, otherwise the highest roll wins. The winner may devote ranks of his or her Craft (Policy) skill to sabotaging his or her opponent this season. If his or her skill rank is higher than his or her opponents, each rank devoted to sabotage negates three opposing skill ranks. If the skills are equal, each rank negates two opposing skill ranks. If the defenders skill is greater, each three ranks devoted to the attack negates one rank. Sabotage usually occurs when another authority has an opposing notion of what to do.
  • Gaining support from other authorities is a job for Diplomacy, Bribery, Intimidation, and similar social manipulations – and will often be required to succeed in high-end goals. Sadly, no single policy crafter can effectively coordinate the support of more than (Cha Mod) other policy crafters; beyond that they just start interfering with each other.

And thus the reigns of fools and madmen are often no worse than those of the wisest kings – for if they lack the practical skill of Craft (Policy) neither’s efforts will have much impact. To make that even more true… if the bureaucrats and major officials have Craft (Policy) and the nominal rulers do not, then you will see the leaders setting overall goals and the bureaucracy developing policies designed to achieve them sensibly – thus keeping realms at least semi-stable despite their being taken over by new sets of adventurers every few months.

(Bureaucrat) Alright, the boss is too busy trying to figure out how to make an ice cream golem to impress some noblewoman to worry about this season’s planting. It looks like we’ve got some issues with the irrigation system that will need to be taken care of, the syndicate is making itself a nuisance again, and it looks like we may be facing a copper shortage for a bit given the recent accident at De Costa. So let’s try to hold things together until the boss deems to care or someone who does care takes over.

Of course, if the boss never does start to care… the Bureaucrats can always covertly craft a policy designed to hire some adventurers to depose of that particularly worthless leader. This will teach them to ignore those 6 AM planning meetings!

Now this is obviously not really an effective social simulator, and can be fairly readily exploited if someone really cares to make the effort – but given that few characters actually care about public policy, this works well enough to allow any who do to try and make their realms work the way that they want them to – and for a game system that is quite good enough.

Faceless Bureaucrat: Immunity/being distinguished from other bureaucrats (Uncommon, Minor, Great or Epic, protecting against effects of up to L7 or L20 respectively, Specialized/only applies to things the user does as a bureaucrat. 3 CP for Great, 6 CP for Epic). Bureaucrats with this handy talent are somehow never actually responsible for anything, even as they promote their desired policies. They can neither be influenced nor tracked down, although Craft (Policy) may be used against them normally. Truly persistent characters attempting to deal with the 6 CP version of this talent also tend to find that anyone they try to talk in the bureaucracy will turn out to be a poorly paid clerk that hardly speaks the language and can be of no help whatsoever – no matter the level of translation spell used – whenever someone is trying to trace or identify the user.

“We’re sorry, but your Scrying, Commune, or Hypercognition effect is being rerouted to our service department. Please note that your attempt may be monitored for better service in the future…”

“Ah, I think I’ve found the problem sir! Somewhere, some guy rubber stamped an assassination order on your head… It looks like it MIGHT have been routed through the department of Psychic Immigration Services Sentinel Event Detection, Office of Naturalization, where you were classified as a Mind Flayer in disguise, but everyone there uses mind-wiping effects to keep the Mind Flayers from finding out what is going on and due to the massive amounts of complaints that have come in… I’ll see if I can get it straightened out! It shouldn’t take more than three or four months with a little luck. Please try not to get killed in the meantime; it complicates the forms no end!”

And suddenly the head of a bureaucracy becomes someone to be feared – and not for their ass-kicking skills.

Cursed with Awesome; Dark Magic and You

Today’s question basically boils down to “Dark magic often seems to act rather like a progressive disease – and in many works even benign magic is dangerous if overused. How does that work and how can it be cured or treated?”

Ok, the original question was framed in terms of My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic – but it’s talking about a very common element of magic in religion, mythology, and fiction, and that makes it a very good question indeed for those designing or running role playing games with magic in them.

As usual, my answer should be taken as the definitive word of god, end all further debate on the topic forever, and you should send me lots of money in exchange for the secret directions to the lost continent of Atlantis where you can learn even more… No? Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Mentioning Twilight’s “little foray into mass mind control” reminds me of a related issue that I saw mentioned a while back.

A lot of the fandom has a big problem with Twilight have tried to make a “reform spell” to use on Discord, pointing out that that’s little more than mind control since what constitutes “being reformed” is going to be relative. That’s not an incorrect point, but it overlooks a salient issue: that a lot of evil magic functions as a sickness.

Admittedly, this isn’t an iron-clad issue, but it does have some supporting points (seen both before and after the episode in question, which was season three’s Keep Calm and Flutter On). Although Luna seemed to fall from grace for personal reasons, her defeat with the Elements of Harmony seemed to immediately cause a shift in her mentality (and she later characterized what happened as being “stripped of Our dark powers”). Likewise, Rarity is “infected” with “dark magic” in season four’s Inspiration Manifestation. And although it’s not explicitly evil magic, both “Midnight Sparkle” and Gloriosa Daisy (from the third and fourth Equestria Girls movies, respectively) suffered from temporary psychosis due to magic overload.

Now, there’s evidence that goes the other way – such as Celestia being not only able to use the same dark magic as King Sombra, but teach it to Twilight (Return of the Crystal Empire – Part 1) – but there’s at least some precedent to say that a “reform spell” should be a viable idea, since a lot of evil magic is presented as being a sort of “disease of the mind.”

Alzrius

Well, that is a classic problem. Whether it’s the use of lovecraftian lore that men were not meant to know (and which drives them mad), greater magics being inherently corrupting, demanding huge prices and self-indulgences for the use of magic because it uses up your lifespan, having to mortgage your soul, or any of a thousand other “prices”, the notion that “you’ve got to pay for what you get” (and likely a certain “sour grapes” feeling that the spell casters special advantages will somehow turn around and bite them in the butt) is a bit part of people’s thinking about magic.

Personally, I think that it largely follows from some very basic principles, even if most people aren’t consciously aware of the logic.

1) “Magic”, whatever the nature of the forces it involves, can cause an incredibly wide array of alterations in reality.

2) Magic-wielders channel at least some part of those forces through themselves.

3) Nothing is 100% efficient.

Ergo… a certain amount of semi-randomized (if very likely still in theme) reality-alteration is going to affect a magic-wielder whenever he or she channels magic.

4) Living things have mechanisms that maintain homoeostasis – a tendency to return to their baseline conditions – to at least some degree.

Ergo… a certain amount of magic use can be tolerated without much risk. Using “small” magics, just like using a little bit of alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, will generally have no noticeable long-term ill effects unless you use something that’s especially “toxic” (that’s why I’d much rather work with iron than with dimethylmercury). You can even build up your effective tolerance by becoming more skilled and thus minimizing the amount of contamination. Exceed your tolerance by using too much magic at any one time, however, and changes may occur that aren’t easily reversed. Even presuming that you don’t accidentally turn your spinal cord to broccoli, or cook your brain, and so get to live, excessive magic use can cause all kinds of physical, mental, or even spiritual disorders. Presumably most mages would rather that did not happen – although “ceasing to care”, and so being willing to accept the consequences, may allow dying mages, or even fairly normal people, to lay unexpectedly powerful curses or produce “final strike” effects.

  • A well-trained magician has a clear mind, focused concentration, a detailed understanding of the spell he or she wants to use, fine control of the necessary energies, plenty of practice, whatever tools (if any) are necessary, access to sufficient magical power, and possibly supplementary stabilizing effects. They will use the gestures, signs, and symbols that help channel their magic safely.

That’s the equivalent of a well-trained chemist using a carefully planned procedure, correctly maintained equipment, a modern laboratory with fans, vents, and electrical power, sufficient pure chemicals, a fume hood, tongs, a hazmat suit, assistants and emergency equipment handy, and having antidotes at the ready.

In either case, as long as proper precautions are taken and the operator doesn’t make any major errors, their exposure should be small enough that the body, mind, or spirits various stabilizing and defensive mechanisms should be able to handle it.

To extend the analogy… just as with chemistry, some types of magic are more toxic, dangerous, or difficult to work with than others, working with waldos is much safer than handling stuff yourself, and farming out as much as possible of the work to other entity entirely (preferably at an “industrial facility”) is the safest of all.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some sample magical fields.

  • Alchemy is a sub-branch of Vancian or Talismanic Magic that puts some of the danger and tension back in by throwing in the hazards of actual chemistry and adds extra restraints by requiring costly ingredients. Many fictional wizards are alchemist-ritualists, because – while it means that they can do all kinds of things and can provide magical equipment – their powers are slow and call for all sorts of exotic ingredients that their assistants have to go on fetch-quests to get for them.
    • And no, Fullmetal Alchemist style “alchemy” doesn’t really have anything to do with “alchemy” as such. It’s actually a branch of Transformation Magic, with “Equivalent Exchange” – and burning human souls for fuel – thrown in as limiting factors and fridge horror.
  • Beast Mastery? A common and easy branch of hedge magic, if often handy. Influencing and communicating with animals is probably safe enough, borrowing some of their abilities is getting a bit risky – although far less so if you stick to real creatures with nonmagical abilities which can be imitated without bizarre magical changes to your mind and spirit – but when you get to actually transforming yourself or others… that can go very, VERY, wrong all too easily. Ask any lycanthrope who’s gotten stuck, or been overwhelmed by animal instincts.
  • Black Magic? Perhaps black magic calls on powerful demons – and so tends to be inherently destructive and corrupting of the user. Thus Lina Inverse may use it regularly – and be incredibly powerful and destructive – but she’ll probably be more than a little crazy.
  • C’hi “Magic” – channeling your own personal energies – doesn’t usually have very exotic side effects. Unfortunately, it requires great talent and enormous amounts of both physical and mental training to reach high levels of effect – and is VERY prone to relatively mundane side effects like exhaustion, training injuries, overstrain, attracting rivals, and injuring yourself with your own powers. It’s also usually limited to extensions of the user’s natural abilities. Still, on the upside, that makes it a very intuitive form of magic to use. You won’t find yourself entangled in weird occult mysteries when Samurai Jack teaches you to “Jump Good”.
  • Chaos Magic (also often seen as “Art becomes Reality”) seems likely to be particularly problematic; it’s not inherently “black” or “evil” – but it’s obviously going to be nigh-impossible to fully control and thus likely to have all kinds of effects on it’s user – and fatal ones are all too possible. Of course, that means that there may be lots of untapped chaos available to anyone who does use it, making it very powerful. Personally, I’d stay away from chaos magic unless I was basically immortal, not too dependent on a physical brain to think properly, and capable of recovering very quickly from almost anything (like Discord or “Q“). I’d probably still go mad very quickly if I used chaos magic – but at least it would be a fun ride!
  • Conjuration Magic comes in three drastically different flavors – Creation, Manifestation, and Summoning. Simply creating things Ex Nihlo is one of the primal powers. It’s what defines a “creation myth” – and while it generally seems to be much easier with magic than it is with physics, most settings presume that their characters are seriously restricted in scale, in type, and in complexity, in their ability to simply create things. Even worse… creating even tiny traces of random stuff inside yourself is a REALLY bad idea. There are far more ways to create unstable matter, radioactive atoms, unbalanced charges, strangelets, radiation, toxins, and other troublesome things inside yourself than there are to create things that your body can handle. When you have even a little bit of randomized creation magic manifesting in your body the results are almost guaranteed to be very bad.
    • Manifestation – basically whipping up temporary constructs – is far easier and safer; by it’s very nature it’s unlikely to create anything very long-term inside you (not that short-term can’t be bad enough). Constructs, of course, tend to be limited in complexity, are often obvious, and generally don’t last very long – although they can still be very useful.
    • Summoning, of course, actually has little to do with “creating things” and more to do with transportation and, at least in the ever-popular “summon a creature or creatures to assist me” form, either divination or compulsion – but it’s still a very potent form of magic, and one that’s less likely than most to cause serious internal problems. On the other hand… you can all too easily summon the wrong thing entirely, lose control even if you get what you want, turn powerful magical beings into enemies, and otherwise unleash disaster. How many stories revolve around conjurers losing control and raising up – like Charles Dexter Ward – that which they cannot put down?
  • Darkness Magic? Well, classically… it’s powerful and available everywhere, but is very hard to sense well enough to control, makes it tremendously easy to deceive yourself, tends to conceal it’s costs and side effects from its own users, and has all sorts of negative and corrupting overtones. Unless you happen to have massive amounts of light magic running through your system to help keep it under control – or are a genius in handling magic – it’s probably best to leave it alone. There’s a reason why so many genocidal madmen like King Sombra or Eclipso use darkness magic.
  • Dimensional Magic covers gates, dimensional overlays, teleportation, many transport spells, and overlaps into summoning. Sadly, most of the really interesting aspects of dimensional magic are pretty high-powered. On the good side, direct errors are usually limited to simple problems with lost or displaced tissue – mere physical injury. On the other hand, meddling with other dimensions offers you access to a full set of major difficulties with lovecraftian horrors, exposure to otherworldly forces, and letting things that should not be into reality.
    • Remember, reality is where you keep all your stuff. Don’t destroy it.
  • Divination? Unless the universe really is full of unmentionable secrets that will drive you mad, even fairly advanced divination is going to be relatively safe. Indirectly however… Too Much Information really is a thing. Knowing what people really think of you, and what’s actually in your food, and so on, seems all too likely to turn you into a bitter hermit. Worse, telling people what’s going to happen to them is quite unpopular; thus the stereotype of crazy prophets issuing dark and dire warnings and the fate of Cassandra.
  • Dream Magic? While this has many safe and subtle applications, once you start hauling things in and out of the realms of dream, or try to give something an independent, enduring, existence… well, dreams are never entirely under your control even if you’re a skillful lucid dreamer. High level dream magic tends to be worrisomely independent. The most dangerous practice of all may be summoning a conceptual entity – whether you call it a Loa, a Nexus, or a Spirit – into your own body. While this can obviously grant you considerable power, turning yourself into the avatar of War, or even April Fools Day, is likely to bring a lot of baggage with it.
  • Elemental Magic? Perhaps elemental magic is reasonably safe through the mid-levels (after all, your bodies are made of the elements, and can presumably handle them fairly effectively), but requires a major special talent and perhaps great physical conditioning. At very high levels… you’ll need very special disciplines, or major innate protections, to use it without going more than a little mad. Say “Hello!” to Avatar the Last Airbender and his fellow characters.
    • If elemental magic is more philosophical about what the “elements” mean and cover, you’re headed more into far more subtle “new age” magic territory. That tends to backlash if used to harm other people – perhaps because everyone has a little elemental magic available simply because they have physical elemental bodies, and they tend to unconsciously resist and cause backlash with their own magic if magically attacked. In d20 this might also be taken as a mechanism underlying “Saving Throws”.
  • Gifts? If your magic is just a few built-in innate or granted talents that’s pretty much the equivalent of having a few special-purpose kits or emergency ampules. They won’t be particularly versatile, or have the kind of power a full laboratory or hospital will – but you’ll have access to some reasonably reliable specific effects. Even better, almost anyone can use this kind of magic – if they have the talent for it. There may or may not be a price, but it’s usually fixed. Are you perhaps a Contractor, from Darker then Black or a Garou from a Werewolf game? Here you go!
  • Harmony or Fusion Magic is basically an “all our powers combined!” thing; a group of mages or magical creatures get together, unite their powers, and unleash some effect that’s far beyond any of them as individuals. In fact, it usually gets lots of extra power from some sort of amplification effect or focusing artifact(s) if the group has the right number of members/appropriate powers/are good friends or in love/whatever. This is not necessarily a GOOD thing. If the Seven Dark Sorcerers of the Ebon Tower unite their powers in hatred, that will probably work too. The real trouble with this form of magic is that it’s very very conditional and more than a bit uncontrollable; if something is just a little out of place (like one person trying to use the six elements of harmony)… Goten and Trunks will fail to fuse to form Gotenks, the elements of harmony will not be able to generate the full-powered Rainbow of Light (and may wind up exiling your target rather than curing them), and Psi-Force’s Psihawk construct will be weak and ineffectual, The massed Care-Bear Stare seems to be fairly reliable, but that was because everyone involved was an incurably huggy care bear. After all… if this sort of thing was entirely reliable, why waste your time doing anything else? Secondarily, this tends to leave everyone (all, of course, will be affected equally) involved seriously drained, exhausted, or unconscious – another reason why it’s normally a last resort. If it doesn’t work, you probably won’t even be able to defend yourself any longer.
  • Healing Magic? Let us say that healing magic tends to correct the problems using it causes, but those same corrections limit how much power you can channel into it since it corrects the unnatural mental states needed to channel massive amounts of magic. Thus healing magic is safe to use, and possibly widespread, but very limited. Depending on just how dangerous other magics are, healing magic could be the ONLY reasonably safe magic about. You want to use high-level healing magic despite those limitations? You’re going to have to train the necessary mental states the hard way – meditating, “purifying” yourself, and very likely filling your mind with duties, obligations, and oaths, and so on – rather than relying on raw magical power to burn the necessary pathway through your mind. Thus only dedicated, and often pacifistic, healers wield truly powerful healing magic.
  • Illusion is a popular branch of magic, partially because it seems unlikely to have any long-term side effects beyond (perhaps), a bit of confusion (a very few really high-powered illusionists may have gotten “lost in their own illusions”, but this is a very rare idea), because it allows amazing exercises of creativity at rather low power levels, and because – while it can be used in many different ways – the actual effects are generally very limited. Even better, your mage-character can display his vast powers, triumph over a major opponent – and then have the situation be completely reversed by some minor side-character announcing “Hey! It’s just an illusion!”. Still… becoming a manipulative a-hole prankster through perfectly normal psychological effects is definitely still on the table – and one opponent with some sort of truesight can effectively put you out of action.
  • Light or Solar Magic? It’s wonderful stuff. Purifying, truth-revealing, demon-banishing, radiant – and wrathful, intolerant, and demanding. The light requires purity, it burns away imperfection, It demands that it’s wielders serve it, and it serves them only insofar as they are worthy. If you wish to wield the great powers of the light… be prepared to sacrifice much of your humanity and to act only when your example is not enough to let those you protect grow and find their own answers. Check out The Dark Is Rising series, or talk to Celestia (and ask why she’s so generally useless).
  • Lovecraftian Magic tells us that there are other planes of existence, and cosmic beings, and strange forces, and elder alien races, and more out there, and that there are ways available to contact and use those things – and that human beings are insignificant primitives with minds so weak that merely catching a glimpse of the universes greater truths will shatter them utterly. They may occasionally use a bit of true power – but they will merely be meddling with things they do not truly understand by rote. Lovecraftian Magic is generally horribly powerful, prone to failure for completely unknown reasons, drives it’s user’s mad, and – since it doesn’t operate in any way that humans can understand – comes in the form of highly specific formula, that have fixed effects and side effects and prices which cannot be modified. Overall the only reasons to meddle with lovecraftian magic are ignorance, if nothing else will work, or if you are crazy to start with.
  • Magical Music is more of a style than a particular type of effect unless it’s limited to “mental programming” – in which case it will be near impossible to use it without exposing yourself and any nearby allies to the same effects. While this type of effect is obviously useful – you can turn enemies into friends, control behavior, induce emotions, and teach skills near-instantly, among many other effects – it has the fairly obvious problem of having to consciously learn and practice effects which are contained in music – which means letting major parts of them into your mind over and over again. Have you been doing a lot of mind control? You’re likely to be a mass of compulsive behaviors. Been spreading friendship, love, and joy? Welcome to cloud-cookoo land! Been spreading fear and panic? Enjoy being a resident of paranoia central! And that is why magical music is generally simply a style of magic use with a preference for the more subtle effects, rather than being used as a type of magic in itself.
  • Nature Magic? Another exceedingly broad field, and another potentially deadly one. Nature isn’t NICE and it tends to break free of control all too readily. Much of what little bit of nature is involved with any given other species wants it dead. Predators, poisons, defense mechanisms… The entire natural world is based on survival. Cooperation is a strategy – but “don’t be eaten” and “get what you need to live” is always at the base. And even a minor change to a few microorganisms can cause some pretty horrible things to happen. It isn’t going to be fun to be you when your intestinal flora starts consuming your guts or some such.
  • Necromancy was originally just “Divination through the Dead” – which meant that you tried to get advice from ghosts, who presumably had at least a good viewpoint, some detachment, and possibly could spot spiritual influences on things or talk to other spirits. Getting advice from a deceased parent in a dream, or messing about with a Ouija board, both fall under “necromancy”, even if the dream is completely inadvertent. These days it often is taken to imply psychopathic behavior, raising horrific undead monsters to menace the world, wielding horrible necrotic energies, and various other antisocial feats. Given that inflicting death, long-term disabilities, and unhealing injuries are all major components of necromantic magics, it’s all too easy to see why using necromantic magic is horribly risky – and why it’s very difficult to near-impossible to treat the side effects when it goes wrong.
    • OK, there are simply too many examples of this to even pick a few… Go ahead, go to TV Tropes and pick a dozen or so of your favorites.
  • Psychic Powers? While these resemble C’hi “Magic” in many ways, and share their same general weakness compared to many other fields of magic, channeling high levels of mind-affecting magic through your mind tends to result in irrationality and madness all too soon. Using telepathy can let other minds affect yours, telekinesis is prone to action-reaction errors and kinetic feedback, and so on. On the upside… most of the resulting mental problems tend to be fairly transient.
  • Ritual Magic is a wonderful toy. It’s powerful, and probably won’t drive you mad since the power is mostly being channeled externally (Hooray for Waldos!) – but that greatly reduces your fine control, making it prone to going wrong, external side effects, and unwanted consequences. Worse, since you’re working indirectly, you have to build up your effects very slowly – carefully checking each elaborate ritual step. Only the wealthy and powerful will have the resources needed to study more than a few simple rituals, the time to perform them, or the ability to gather the components needed for major ritual magic. That’s why, in the world of magic, major rituals are often the equivalent of nuclear weapons and why ritualists are so often nobles, politicians, or mercenary scholars – a magical elite which rules the helpless peasantry while quarreling with each other.
  • Shamanic Magic? Well, if shamanic magic requires taking mind-altering drugs and powerful shamanic magic demands taking massive doses of hallucinogens… then sane and powerful shamans are going to be few and far between and shamanic magic is likely to be considered a dark or forbidden art. That doesn’t make it evil – but no sane society is going to encourage the practice of an art which gives people the ability to warp reality while either making them high or driving them insane or both.
  • Silly Magic is closely related to gift magic, and is usually extremely limited in application and fairly weak – but is almost free of downsides other than having invested the time and effort to learn to use it “effectively” in the first place. Still, if you can just find an application, silly magic can quickly turn into lethal joke magic. “Medusa? Not a problem! With my Hairdressing Powers I shall bind up most of her snakes into a tight bun, and turn the rest into a set of bangs which both partially blinds her and conceals her face! Attack in safety my friends!”. Personally, my favorite form of “Silly Magic” is Hearthcrafting – household magics. Just the thing for when you want to adventure in comfort!
  • Theurgy is one of the names for calling upon spirits to do things for you. At least at low-levels this is safe enough as long as you’ve paid in advance, but the more powerful the spirit the greater the demands – and heaven help you if you have to go into debt. At higher power levels it’s best to build a relationship with a particular spirit or group thereof – allowing them to do most of the power-handling for you while you (unfortunately) are pretty much at their beck and call. Fortunately, truly major spirits tend to have enough people calling on them to rarely need you in particular. It still greatly limits your flexibility though, since the “Krakatoa the Volcanic One” isn’t really likely to grant that wide a variety of powers. On the other hand, since the spirits are doing the work, the user is at little hazard from his or her own powers.
    • In early gaming this tended to be a big thing; clerical types worked for their gods, had to pay attention to their dictates and restraints, and only got magic that fit with their god. For good or ill however… power creep set in, quite a lot of players disliked their being limitations on their magical fantasies, and having the cleric sent on “missions from god” that didn’t fit into anyone else’s story annoyed the other players – so these days mainstream games usually only have cosmetic traces of this sort of thing left.
  • Transformation (or sometimes Lunar) Magic is one of the four primordial powers of the universe – Creation, Preservation, Transformation, and Destruction – which basically cover everything. As such, it is potentially immensely powerful, almost endlessly versatile (at least if you’re at all clever), and incredibly dangerous. Not surprisingly, it’s closely related to Chaos Magic and has very similar problems. When you’re using a force that could do almost anything based on very minor details – the textbook definition of modern “chaos theory” – almost anything could go wrong.
  • Vancian – or TalismanicMagic involves slowly gathering power, binding it into a formula with specific effects stored in words, or talismans, or powders, runes, or whatever (most artificing falls into this category as well), and releasing it when needed. While this is awfully limiting in some ways, it also bypasses most of the usual implied costs; since you’re basically “building” your “spells” very slowly and carefully out of small pieces you are never having to channel enough power to really hurt yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a loony, but being a Vancian or Talismanic mage probably isn’t going to be the cause.
    • This one is highly favored in games because it means that mages have a limited stockpile of magic that takes time and (interruptible) effort to get back, the size of their stockpile can be easily limited, the specific nature of their formulas limits the variety of effects that can be produced, it makes for an easily tracked fire-and-forget system, and you can increase their power in several ways – increasing the limits of their stockpile, increasing the power of their “spells”, making their magic easier to regain, or increasing their supply of formula. It even forces mages to limit their magic use, and to plan ahead and consider how to get the most mileage out of their limited daily supply. That ties up resource management, a spell-selection minigame, a reason for intelligence gathering and planning, lets magic be more powerful than mundane methods because it can only be used a limited number of times, sets of specific effects that the game master can plan around, and all kinds of other advantages.
      • It also makes playing such a spellcaster extremely complicated and means that the characters power and effectiveness will vary from “nearly useless” to “oh my GOD” depending on player skill – but whether those are features or bugs is open to debate.
  • Wards and Shields – sometimes known as Abjuration Magic – is about the safest available form after healing magic. That doesn’t mean that it can’t go wrong – but the most likely problems are exhaustion, backlash damage from people breaking your defenses, and “protecting” yourself from things you need. This form of magic is always at a disadvantage though, simply because you can damage things in a lot of ways and don’t need a lot of control to do so, while protecting things requires covering a wide range of possibilities and excellent fine control.

So now we have a set of mechanisms for how magic leads to insanity, corruption, or various other disorders – and that means that there are options for treatment.

You have a mild case of magical overload? You’re getting more erratic, or coughing constantly and not feeling well, or are having strange thoughts, or urges to do odd and distasteful things, or are feeling cut off from other people? Cutting back on your use of magic will help. Various sorts of therapy may be enough to let you recover without more drastic intervention. Of course, if you don’t get treatment, your mental and physical condition is likely to get steadily worse Mr Raistlin!

You’ve gotten afflicted with a creeping psychopathic corruption that makes you want to enslave and torture people – and it’s darkness-magic based so that it blinds you to the fact that anything is wrong? That is going to be hard to fix; darkness magic will conceal itself and make the problem hard to target properly, there may not be much of your mind, spirit, and/or body left to work with if it’s gotten too far, and you probably won’t want it fixed at the moment. Even worse… darkness magic makes it all too easy to lie to yourself. Even if someone manages to cure you, the temptation to use more darkness magic to blot out your new load of overwhelming guilt will be hard to resist – and it will only take one little slip to start down the slippery slope again without even knowing it. Even the most compassionate opponents may see the wisdom of eliminating you, rather than taking the risk that whatever is left of you will once again become a blight on the lives of innocent people.

Especially if they – or you, Mr Sombra – have been around the loop before.

You’ve let an out-of-control conceptual entity become dominant over you Princess Luna? Once it gets booted out, you should return to something approaching normal – but in the meantime it has it’s own power and all of yours to play with. Getting it out is not going to be easy. It may even call for a full-scale Deus Ex Machina manifestation of Harmony Magic to do it – and you’d better hope that you have the right number of characters with the right selection of attitudes and abilities to power that harmonic manifestation or it won’t work properly.

Your overuse of necrotic magic is causing your flesh to wither, your eyes to turn yellow and red, and your aging to advance unnaturally? Major healing effects might help some – but the necrotic energy saturating your body is likely to make you highly resistant to that sort of thing. If you aren’t so far gone already that undeath or possessing a new body are the only (partial) solutions you’ll need to quit using your powers and work on purging yourself until healing effects WILL work. And… you knew that already and aren’t really listening, are you Emperor Palpatine? Never mind… I’ll up your painkiller dosage and do try to get SOME sleep won’t you?

You’ve been habitually using Chaos Magic to do EVERYTHING for thousands of years? Why aren’t you dead? Oh… immortal. Not even really needing a body except as a focus. Well… a stabilizing spell may work for a little bit, but I’m afraid that you’d be well past the point of death if you were mortal. Still, perhaps the constantly-renewing Magic of Friendship can keep you marginally sane as long as you have friends.

You’re still likely to be an unreliable, practical-joking, irrational loon though Mr Discord.

Now there are lots of other ways to handle magic in a setting – but I like this one because it starts with basic assumptions that most people will agree with, is simple and logical enough to be easily explained, fits in with a lot of standard literary tropes and ideas about magic, and is flexible enough to offer cover a lot of variations. It’s obviously not perfect – but given the lack of functioning magic in reality we don’t really need perfection in a theory, we just need something that we can build stories and games around.

And I hope that answers the question sufficiently!

Death Ward and Channeling

And for today, it’s a question…

An interesting question came up with regards to channeling. Insofar as channeling that’s based on positive or negative energy goes, to what extent could a death ward (or life ward, for positive energy) simply shut down channeling altogether?

Obviously that would only work on things that directly affected another creature, rather than the channeler themselves or an allied creature, etc., but it brings up an interesting question, particularly insofar as something is actually a “negative energy effect” versus being powered by negative energy (e.g. a conversion effect to a spell that’s not explicitly negative-energy based).

Given that a 4th-level spell effect can so totally shut down channeling, and potentially most uses of channeling, there was also a question of coming up with a similar 4th-level effect even for channeling that’s based around alternate power sources (particularly when trying to manifest such a 4th-level effect spontaneously, such as via limited wish).

-Alzrius

Well, given that we’re comparing an old spell to systems that didn’t exist when it was written, this is going to involve a few assumptions as to how it all works. The biggest one is simply that – as was covered here – “spirits have a reserve of positive energy, and use it to hang onto bodies, and to make them to move and act”.

So: Death Ward operates by shielding that positive energy reserve against negative energy. It thus prevents paralysis and reductions in strength, constitution, or effective level caused by negative energy being introduced into the body as well as a few other things that are noted as being negative energy effects.

Depending on which version is in use in the game the subject is either “immune to all death spells, magical death effects, energy drain, and any negative energy effects” (original SRD) or “gains a +4 morale bonus on saves against all death spells and magical death effects. The subject is granted a save to negate such effects even if one is not normally allowed. The subject is immune to energy drain and any negative energy effects, including channeled negative energy” (Pathfinder). The Pathfinder version is probably better balanced, if only due to being updated.

Unfortunately, what is and what is not a “negative energy effect” is never clearly defined beyond “negative levels” always involving negative energy. Instead it’s simply noted in the description of various individual spells and monster abilities.

I’m not too fond of that decision, but obviously anything which doesn’t directly affect the user is not affected by personal defenses. Additionally, even presuming normal negative energy channeling (instead of, say, an elemental variant), by a strict reading…

  • Censure, which laces Channeling effects with “additional energies”, is not affected by a classical Death Ward, but the Pathfinder version would probably provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Conversion, which produces spell effects, is not affected.
  • Damaging, which does divine damage, should not technically be affected. I’d let the Death (or Life) Ward either be effective (most likely) or provide resistance to damaging turning on the basis that I’ve generally classified “divine damage” as either positive or negative energy damage.
  • Fearspeaker is not affected. It’s a mental effect, even if it is powered by negative energy.
  • Touch of the Reaper would be affected. No negative levels need apply!
  • Touch of Annihilation would not be; on the “how this works” level it’s targeting the physical body, not that positive energy reserve – and on the technical wording side Disintegration is not a negative energy effect. I’d let the Pathfinder version of Death Ward provide it’s saving throw bonus though.
  • The Dark Veil is basically a “darkness” effect – which is closely related to negative energy, but isn’t negative energy. I might let Death Ward work anyway, just as a thematic plot element – “and you alone remember!” – but that’s a weak protection versus a very subtle effect and would be more or less a side effect.
  • Nightmare mostly produces darkness spell effects and certainly doesn’t directly target a spirits positive energy reserves. It would be unaffected.
  • Vanishing Shadows could be affected for the same reasons as The Dark Veil – but it really isn’t likely. It’s a higher-level ability and probably has all the raw power it needs to rip through a minor protective side effect.
  • Shadow Realms would be unaffected. Death Ward certainly doesn’t protect your dreams.
  • Seal of Darkness would be affected. That’s direct negative energy damage.
  • Flow of Life would be affected.
  • Aura of Light/Darkness might be affected. It usually doesn’t really affect characters of any reasonable level anyway, but if it’s infliciting a negative energy effect on a character with a Death Ward, it won’t work.
  • Energy Transformation is mostly unaffected, but Death Ward will protect you against the negative energy touch attack.
  • Spiritfire/Banefire will not be affected. It’s generating (or negating) “real” energies, not attacking a creatures positive energy reserves.
  • Living Matrix isn’t affected, and can easily be used to negate a Death Ward.
  • Hand of the (Un-)maker – at least where it affects living creatures – works like Touch of Annihilation, above.
  • Lifeshaping/Plague Mastery targets the physical body with transformation effects, and so is not affected.
  • Smite would lose it’s extra damage, but the bonus to hit would remain.
  • Wrath would be affected.
  • Cleansing/Corruption doesn’t target a spirits energy reserves, but I think that I’d let Pathfinders version provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Final Death is a Death effect, and is therefore affected. On the other hand, if you kill something, you can just wait until the Death Ward wears off and then use the Ritual Disposal option to ensure Final Death – so it doesn’t matter all that much.
  • Holy/Unholy Strike would be affected.
  • Death Strike simply says it’s adding damage – but the side effects (and name) make it fairly obvious that it’s a Death Effect. Ergo, it’s affected.
  • The entire Tides of Light and Darkness path is clearly unaffected. Even those effects that do target creatures produce physical effects.
  • Strength/Weakness would be affected.

So, at least until it runs out or someone gets rid of the spell, Death Ward will stop – or at least (if using the Pathfinder version) hinder – ten (about 20% of them) negative energy Channeling options: Damaging, Touch of the Reaper, Seal of Darkness, Flow of Life, Smite, Wrath, Final Death, Holy/Unholy Strike, Death Strike, and Strength/Weakness. A few others will be slightly affected.

That’s annoying for the Channeler in roughly the same way that Wind Wall is annoying to an Archer or Freedom of Movement is annoying to a Grappler – but they’re likely to have a variety of other options available – or to just have a way to get rid of or bypass that Death Ward.

Now I’d recommend using the Pathfinder version or – if using the classical version – putting an upper limit of effect on it. A fourth level spell probably shouldn’t be able to completely shut down Power Word: Kill (even if that’s not really a very good spell for ninth level).

As for shutting down other variations of Channeling… that will vary with the mechanism – but then something as simple as Protection From Energy will seriously hinder an elemental channeler already. so that’s reasonable enough. You just need to be specific about what the spell actually does, and thus how it can be bypassed or negated and what it does and does not affect.

And I hope that helps!

 

Ponies Versus Physics II – It’s The Great Pony Charlie Brown

And for today’s entry it’s a quick (and rather silly in it’s underlying assumptions) question about the articles on MLP:FIM. It’s…

Who’s the most powerful pony?

The correct answer is “whoever the script has put in that role for this episode”, but I’m going to take it as a physics question, just so I can play with some numbers. Just looking at the Mane Six…

Rainbow Dash can clear a cloudy sky in ten seconds flat.

  • Presuming a basically earthlike planet, clouds are usually seen at altitudes of 6500 to 45,000 feet.
  • The distance to the horizon at 45,000 feet is about 260 miles. Of course, that would be clouds on the horizon – and we’re only interested in those that are substantially above it. That gives us a radius of about 200 miles.
  • Given that this is a pretty crude calculation, I’ll just treat the area as if it was flat to get the volume she’s affecting. That will somewhat reduce the figure for total volume, but it’s going to be absurd anyway.
  • So she’s altering a layer of atmosphere seven miles thick (45,000 feet minus 6500 feet) over a radius of 200 miles. This gives us a total volume of somewhat over 900,000 cubic miles of atmosphere and a total mass of more than 400 trillion tons with a specific heat capacity of .24 BTU/Lb.
  • It wouldn’t be nearly enough, but lets say that it only takes a temperature change of five degrees farenheit to eliminate the clouds (dissipating them will just lead to more forming and transmuting the matter involved gets even more absurd than this will). That will require adding some 192,695,500,800,000,000 BTU’s – or about 200,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules worth of heat energy to the atmosphere in ten seconds. Ergo Rainbow Dash is putting out 2 x 10 to the 19’th power Joules per second.
  • A one megaton nuclear weapon releases 4.18 x 10 to the 15’th power joules.
  • Rainbow Dash’s energy output would thus equate to nearly 4800 Megatons per second.
  • Earths total global nuclear arsenal is about 7000 megatons. Given that I’ve rounded down on Rainbow Dash in a lot of places, that says equating One Rainbow Dash to One Global Thermonuclear Arsenal per second is just about right.

For comparisons, a hurricane releases about as much energy every day as Rainbow Dash does every 2.6 seconds. The eruption of Mount St Helens came in at about 24 megatons (five millidashes, or her power output for one 200’th of a second), and a supervolcano causing mass extinctions across the earth has a total power output of about 1 Dash over it’s lifetime. A city-destroying, potentially tidal-wave causing, magnitude nine earthquake (remember the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami? 226,000 people dead and millions homeless as multiple cities were devastated? Magnitude 9) releases about 100 megatons worth of energy – about .02 Dashes.

Even if we cut things down to a twenty-mile radius, and thus reduce her power requirements a hundredfold… that’s still 48 megatons per second. similarly, crossing the sky even ONCE while clearing it would call for her traveling forty miles in ten seconds – giving her a cruising speed of mach 20. And she zig-zags around while sky-clearing.

Now it may take a crew of a dozen “normal” pegasi to cover for Rainbow Dash, but that still gives Derpy a power output of at least 5 megatons per second. Perhaps her accidentally destroying the town hall, smashing pillars, and crashing through floors is more plausible than it looked.

Does that make it less surprising for Rainbow Dash to shatter rocks many miles away when performing a sonic rainboom?

And what do these calculations really tell us?

They tell us that the physics of Equestria bears not the slightest resemblance to real physics, that Equestria doesn’t even pay attention to geometry and prospective much less to math, and that any attempt to calculate the capabilities of magical ponies based on earthly physics or assumptions is completely pointless. This is sort of belaboring the point from the first Ponies Versus Physics article, but people keep asking and I rather like calculations, so why not?

You ponies… have POWER. And you don’t even know it. The strength to mold the weather and the seasons. To transmute tons of earth and stone into fruit and living wood. To bring bounty from the wastes. To light the world and bend it to your wills. You GLOW with it. What you radiate without even knowing it… A portion of the power of a single stallion granted our queen strength beyond anything she had ever imagined even as he commanded the guard and sustained a city-wide shield that it took our entire army to break – and HE recovered from weeks of her draining him within an hour. Yes, Queen Chrysalis was drunk with power and mad with jealousy to even THINK of trying to attack you – but couldn’t one or two of you spare a few minutes worth of your power every week or two to feed our species? We’ll be good! Maybe we could do your dusting or something?

-Trotsky Commune, Changeling Scout

For a bonus calculation we can consider Alicorns, and try to see how much they surpass normal ponies.

Shall we presume that Celestia actually moves an Sol-like Star about an Earthlike World?

Well…

  • One Solar Mass = 2 x 10 to the 30’th kilograms
  • The average distance from the Earth to the Sun = 150,000,000,000 meters.
  • The daily distance travelled = 2 Pi x R = 942,000,000,000 meters.
  • If the sun went around the earth once every 24 hours, that would be devided by 86,400 seconds per day, giving an “orbital” velocity of about 11,000,000 meters per second.
  • That gives us a Centripetal Acceleration (Velocity Squared/Radius) of about twelve to thirteen gravities – and a generated force of at least 2.4 x 10 to the 32’nd power newtons.
  • Unfortunately, this doesn’t neatly translate to energy. It’s enough force to accelerate the earth (6 x 10 to the 24’th kilograms) at about 40 million meters per second squared – making it approach the speed of light in less than eight seconds – but since it’s always being applied at right angles to the current direction of motion of the sun, there’s no actual change in speed, no work being done, and no energy being expended on the sun itself. If whatever-it-is that’s doing it requires energy (it may or may not) I have no method of calculating that.

But wait! We also see Celestia making the sun “tick” ahead one hours worth of movement in a fraction of a second.

  • That means that the sun starts at a near halt, abruptly reaches a speed of at least 120 x 10 to the 9’th power meters per second (figuring a third of a second for the “tick”), and then comes to a near-halt again. OK, that’s almost four hundred times the speed of light, but that’s still a quanity of kinetic energy that we can calculate if we ignore relativity.
  • Kinetic Energy = 1/2 MVV = 1.44 x 10 to the 52’nd power Joules.
  • Which would be how much energy Celestia would need to generate, and then dissipate again, every time she pulled that trick. That’s about the energy released by 144,000,000 supernova.

What’s bigger? Well, the total barayonic mass of the observable universe is (crudely) estimated at 1.5 x 10 to the 53’rd power kilograms, equating to 1.35 x 10 to the 70’th power Joules – So if Celestia can generate that energy in – say – a tenth of a second, it would still take her almost three billion years to create the observable universe.

Or about one day to create an average galaxy from nothing.

The total mass-energy of the sun is about 1.8 x 10 to the 47’th power Joules. That would mean that Celestia can personally generate and dissipate enough energy to create or destroy some 80,000 suns per second.

When making a star disappear and creating another one nearby and counting on persistence of vision to make it look like it is moving – basically performing stop-motion animation with solar systems – is the EASY way… You know that you have chased the math down a rabbit hole.

Yet Episode One pretty firmly establishes that Celestia and Luna control the day-and-night cycle of Equestria. Perhaps they’re rotating the planet? That would be a lot easier. We can reduce the energy demand even further by stretching the time a bit.

So – over the course of a few seconds – they’re twisting an apparently earthlike planet through a substantial arc (enough to take the sun or moon from too far below the horizon to illuminate it to well above it) and stopping it again.

But rotational inertia is a pretty major thing. The calculation is too crude to bother writing out – but this stunt will still require that Celestia or Luna generate, then dissipate, roughly 2 x 10 to the 35’th power joules (or up to a hundred times that if we go by the “ticking sun” episode). The Gravitational Binding Energy of the Earth is 2 x 10 to the 32’nd power joules – one thousandth of that. The total power output of the sun for a YEAR is 1.2 x 10 to the 34’th power joules. The total amount of energy that the sun provides to the earth each year is 5.5 x 10 to the 24’th power joules.

Thus spinning the planet means that Celestia routinely, over the course of a few seconds twice a day, first puts out and then dissipates enough energy to rip the earth to monoatomic dust hurtling outwards at escape velocity somewhere between a thousand and a hundred thousand times. At a minimum. as much energy as the sun puts out over the course of nearly seventeen years. As much energy as the earth would recieve from the sun in thirty-six billion years. And she apparently exerts such fine control over that power that no one notices any inertial effects.

It’s a LOT more reasonable to simply have Equestria be a rogue planet and have it’s “sun” and “moon” be nearby energy-effects being generated by Celestia and Luna. While that leaves them directly powering the weather, ecology, and tides of Equestria all by themselves, it still reduces the amount of power they need to supply by a factor of ten trillion or so – to a mere 1.5 x 10 to the 22’rd power Joules per day.

But wait! Rainbow Dash could generate 1.7 x 10 to the 24’th Joules per day. She, however, spends a LOT of her time sleeping, eating, and doing other things – cutting down her net power output by at least an order of magnitude and probably by two.

So, according to this theory, Celestia ‘s minimal, casual, continuous power output is roughly equivalent to Rainbow Dash’s peak power output. Depending on her losses and just how casual this is… her peak power output could reasonable be anywhere from ten to a hundred times that of Rainbow Dash.

You know, that’s the most reasonable number that any of these calculations have produced so far. Despite the completely unreasonable method of arriving at that number, I think that I’ll keep that one.

And hopefully that will about do it for this particular topic. What’s the point? It’s simply that it’s a CARTOON. If I pick the right examples… I can “prove” pretty much anything that I want to.