Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part I: The Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates

They have flashing fists, blazing guns, and personal magnetism. They are stronger and faster than you are. They wrestle lions, solve mysteries, and shrug off bullets. They heal with incredible speed. They are secret agents, and pilots, and detectives. They draw paramours like magnets. They have amazing skills – and they hang out in jungle huts, cheap offices, and seedy tenements because they aren’t any BETTER than YOU, even if they are blatantly superior to you in ten thousand different ways.

Hercules, Hiawatha, Conan, and the Count Of Monte Cristo led the way, and Zorro, John Carter of Mars, The Lone Ranger, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Tarzan all followed in their path. They reached their full flower in The Shadow, Doc Savage, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, The Spider, Mata Hari (at least in legend), The Golden Amazon, The Phantom, Lady Luck, The Green Hornet, Olga Mesmer, Darkman, Indiana Jones, Remo Williams… there are swarms of them, romping through the golden age of the Pulps.

But they don’t throw lightning bolts, or lift aircraft carriers, or invoke the power of gods to heal. They may vanish into the shadows, but they don’t teleport through them, or sing like Orpheus, or fly through the air without a plane. At their best, their powers things like building up a tolerance to poisons, influencing animals, perhaps a trace of psychic abilities, and being stronger, tougher, and faster than any normal man – but only by a modest margin.

They are Pulp Heroes, not Superheroes.

The Basic Pulp Hero (32 CP / +1 ECL Acquired Template)

  • Pulp Powers/Witchcraft III (18 CP): Provides (Str + Dex + Con)/3 Power. If they drain their power pool below 5 points they become Fatigued. At 0 points they become Exhausted. This provides them with the following seven powers, all them are at least Specialized: instead of the usual wide-ranging suite of abilities that Witchcraft provides, most of their abilities are far more restricted.
    • Only A Flesh Wound/Healing: Specialized for Double Effect, only works on the user. A pulp hero can shrug off injuries and recover from poisons, diseases, and other injuries with amazing speed.
    • Crossbow Barrage/Hand of Shadows: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: Any crossbow the user uses acts as a fully automatic weapon; recocking and reloading itself with whatever ammunition the user has available and elects to load with each squeeze of the trigger. The user gains two bonus attacks at his or her highest attack bonus and may spend 2 Power to add his or her (Int Mod) to the attack checks and damage for each bolt for the next three minutes. All other modifiers apply normally.
      • Many Pulp Heroes in settings lacking firearms often settle on Dwarven Springbows, which have exactly the same game statistics as Crossbows, but use very powerful springs in tubes to propel the bolts. Yes, they look like guns. They are, however, quiet enough for everyone to hear all the clever dialogue and snappy one-liners over no matter how fast they’re fired.
    • Man Of Bronze/Hyloka: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 power to gain (Universal) Energy Resistance 8, Damage Reduction 4/-, and 2 points off any attribute drain or damage taken for one hour. An additional 2 Power will double those benefits, but only for ten minutes.
    • Trained By Mystic Monks/The Adamant Will. Pulp heroes have incredible poker faces and are almost impossible to mind control.
    • Unaccountable Magnetism/Glamour: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/Pulp heroes attract the attention of dangerous and inappropriate would-be partners, find old girlfriends, offspring, and other obligations all over the place, and upset possible rivals. They attract helpful sidekicks who often require rescuing or lead trouble to them. This has no cost, cannot be turned off, and provides a +12 bonus on any relevant romantic, seductive, or sensual rolls.
    • Canny Strike/Elfshot: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/You may spend 1 Power as a part of an attack action to force those you hit this round to make a DC (16 + Cha Mod) Will save or suffer one of the following effects of your choice:
      • Disarmed, Mortally Wounded, or Tripped.
      • Knocked Back (1d4 x 5) Feet. This movement does provoke AOO.
      • Blinded, Dazed, or Sickened for 1d3 rounds.
      • Deafened, Entangled, or Shaken for 1d4+1 rounds.
        • Mortally Wounded characters have +10 damage for purposes of determining when they are Disabled, Dying, or Dead – although, unless actually driven below -10 they will get 1d4+1 rounds after becoming technically Dead to gasp out final words or take a single dying action, although there’s no way to save them at this point short of something that can raise the dead. Mortal Wounds go away after magical healing, a DC 20 Heal Check, or if the victim is still alive in five minutes.
    • Danger Sense/Witchsight. Once per round the user may spend one power to come on guard (negating surprise) and/or take a 5′ step. This does not count as an action and may be done at any time. If the user chooses to spend 2 power he or she can also provide sufficient warning of an incoming attack or a trap triggering to allow any companions within 20′ to take a 5′ step as well. For 3 Power the user can negate surprise for his or her companions within that same radius. Sadly, no single character can be aided by Danger Sense – whether their own or someone else’s – more than once per round.
  • Advanced Witchcraft:
    • Explosive Fists/Wrath Of The Sea: Specialized in Unarmed Attacks (1 power to gain +6 to Attacks and Damage for ten minutes).
    • Crack Shot/Dance Of Flames: Specialized in Ranged Combat (1 Power to gain a +6 bonus to your Dexterity Modifier with respect to ranged combat for ten minutes).
  • Pacts: These are up to the individual hero but are normally drawn from the Service and Vows lists. The Sacrifice, Infusion, and Energy pact lists are usually reserved for pulp villains; they simply aren’t very heroic. They need to take two of them in any case, since they pay for the Advanced Witchcraft abilities, above.
  • Unbowed Hero/Innate Enchantment (11,000 GP Value, 12 CP):
    • Gravity Bow: Pathfinder, bolts cause 2d6 base damage (2000 GP).
    • Weapon Mastery (The Practical Enchanter): +4 Competence Bonus to BAB with Crossbows (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Yes, this does increase iterative attacks. Alternatively, a Pulp Hero may opt to apply this bonus to unarmed combat as well.
    • Immortal Vigor I: The Practical Enchanter, provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP (1400 GP).
    • Mage Armor (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Pulp Heroes are hard to hit even in their underwear.
    • Force Shield I (The Practical Enchanter) (Personal Only, 1400 GP)
    • Arrow Mind. This effectively lets a pulp hero engage in melee with his or her “guns” (2000 GP).
    • Resistance (Personal Only, 700 GP). This provides a +1 Resistance Bonus to their Saving Throws.
    • Ghost Sound (Background Effects Only, 700 GP). Pulp Heroes are often accompanied by snatches of background or personal theme music, ominous echoes, and other curious sound effects. This might provide a +1 bonus on occasional skill checks, but it would be unwise to count on it.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Immunity to Minor Expenses, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/ammunition only (Common, Minor, Trivial, may ignore the need for ammunition costing up to 15 GP/Shot, 2 CP). Note that this covers Bolts (,1 GP), Cold Iron Bolts (.2 GP), Crystalline Bolts (Ignore 1/2 Armor and Deflection Bonus, +1d6 versus objects, 5 GP), Primal Iron Bolts (.3 GP), Silver Bolts (2 GP), Adamantine Blanch Bolts (+10 GP over another material), and Silver Blanch Bolts (+.5 GP over another material)
  • Ready For Anything: Immunity/Power Activation (Very Common, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only at the beginning of a fight. 3 CP): A Pulp Hero can pick 3 Power Points worth of enhancements – normally Man of Bronze (at the one point level), Explosive Fists, and Crack Shot – to “already” have running at the beginning of any conflict without power point cost.
  • Template Disadvantage: Select one from History (you have various old enemies and such scattered about), Hunted (one of your enemies is REALLY serious about it), Compulsive or Insane (many pulp heroes are chivalrous, or never break their words, or obsessively hunt down the criminal scum who killed their parents, or some such), or Poor Reputation (usually you’re known as a violent, murderous, vigilante-adventurer). In any case, (-3 CP).

The basic pulp hero is a one-man fire team – capable of laying down a steady stream of bolts, hard to hit, and able to absorb a great deal of damage if and when he does get hit – all very good qualities indeed if you’re going to make a habit of confronting criminal gangs, evil masterminds, and swarms of thugs pretty much on your own. Still, while they may be quite astounding, they aren’t incredible – as in; impossible to believe.

They may come pretty close though.

Still, there’s a step beyond the Basic Pulp Hero – and it’s time to take a look at that.

Advanced Pulp Hero (Additional 32 CP/+1 ECL Template, +2 ECL in total):

These borderline superheroes go just a bit beyond the average pulp hero; they are both physically AND mentally superior. They are brilliant masters of many skills, usually possess minor psychic powers, strange devices, or other gifts (or at LEAST expensive vehicles) and are invariably at least well-off and with little need to work. They are also usually either born with their potential or trained from a very early age, but the template can be acquired later.

Advanced Pulp Heroes can easily fit in with lower-end or specialized superheroes, but have a hard time on the upper end. It’s never really easy to tell what Batman is doing in the Justice League anyway.

  • A Will Of Iron: +1d6 Mana as 3d6 (10) Power, Specialized/only usable for Pulp Hero powers (3 CP).
  • The Inner Fire: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore power, only to refill the Pulp Hero Powers pool above (4 CP). +12 Bonus Uses that only automatically pay the cost of maintaining A Lens Of Brilliance, below (6 CP). Note that this more than suffices to keep A Lens Of Brilliance running constantly – so it’s bonus applies to skill points gained per level.
  • A Lens Of Brilliance/Spirit of the Sage, Specialized for Double Effect/Skill-related effects only (+6 to effective Int Mod), Corrupted/automatically reactivates itself, cannot be turned off as long as the user has Power remaining (1 Power/Ten Minutes, 4 CP). Note that, since this is always on, an Advanced Pulp Hero gains six skill points per level as well as getting a big bonus on their intelligence-based skills. Given the amount of combat Pulp Heroes see, at least one and probably two martial arts are probably in order.
  • Holmesian Expertise/Inner Light, Specialized for Double Effect/only for Skill and Attribute Checks (+6 to effective Wis Mod, 1 Power/Ten Minutes, 6 CP).
  • The Superior Man Need Never Be Broke: Minor Privilege/Wealth (3 CP):
  • One bonus Pulp Feat (6 CP). Pulp Feats include possessing Pulp Powers, having various Vehicles available, having your own ominous fortress-sanctum, gaining access to a pair of Occult Skills (the Shadowed Galaxy Action or Equipment skills are recommended), or something similar. A few just pick up Adept to pick up more skills, but that’s not a very interesting option for a Pulp Hero.

An Advanced Pulp Hero adds a genuinely frightening level of intelligence and awareness to the basic Pulp Hero framework – making him or her a true polymath and a master of the arts. They are heads of organizations, wealthy businessmen, doctors and professors, sometimes mystics, and all too often two or more of those at once. Is it really all that surprising that a good many of them decide that they ought to be the ones to rule the world? They’re so blatantly far better qualified to do so than anyone else is. Democracy? Bah! There are better ways!

Next time around on this it will be time to start going over some of those Pulp Powers.

Subsidized Magic Part II – Supporting The Party

Continued from Part I – Guards and Armies.

So if no one can reasonably equip massed armies with magic, what about Special Forces – A.K.A “Adventurers”?

Well, I can think of a number of options offhand.

Those Poor, Poor, Monsters!

This option is pretty simple; many or most monsters have no any treasure at all, and most of the rest don’t have much. Characters who rely on getting treasure from adventuring will wind up with “heroic NPC” wealth levels at the very best (and usually less). Ergo the player characters, and certain other adventurers, are sponsored by one or more powerful, wealthy, organizations – perhaps the government, the great temple of the Overgod, or the secretive Mages Guild. In exchange for turning in the meager treasures that they find, undertaking occasional missions for their patrons, and being loyal, they get equipped at standard levels. As they gain levels, and become more valuable… they get more gear.

This offers some easy game master controls – if some item is problematic for some reason, well… the characters patron doesn’t happen to have it or is unwilling to give it up. It also automatically ties the characters back to a home base, means that they have to defend it to continue getting new goodies, and allows the game master to easily cap or tweak the characters effective wealth. If the city can’t supply equipment beyond stuff suitable for twelfth level characters, or can’t afford to provide full treasure allotments beyond level fifteen, or is extra-generous with stuff suitable for fighters, samurai, and rangers, or some such… then so be it!

To keep things working normally, issue an extra 10% or so in the form of cheap consumables – potions, scrolls, et al – but only provide the difference between last level and the current level plus that 10%.

This is essentially the James Bond / Special Agent / Naruto option – and incidentally manages to make a bit more sense than there being masses of treasure all over the place. It is a bit more restraining than the standard system, but if that cuts down on murder-hobo syndrome that may be a good thing.

The Wells Of Magic:

In this case adventuring may yield treasure, but the cities have organizations that have invested in making a certain amount of magic available for free to loyal members.

The problem here is that with standard magical items they really can’t expect to reliably get them back. This is d20; people die in weird ways, their stuff gets stolen by dragons, they get sucked into other planes… Even somehow barring them simply absconding and not coming back, there are a LOT of things that may happen to anything you lend to an adventurous character. So what can you hand out?

Our Prayers Go With You:

Charms and Talismans: In worlds where they work – or perhaps in worlds where it takes a sponsoring organization to create a power-pool or something that lets them work – groups could give their members access to some fo the Charms and Talismans from The Practical Enchanter. Sadly, those aren’t particularly powerful and will likely be pretty much useless at higher levels – just when organizations would like to be inspiring some loyalty.

Benisions: first appeared in Part III of the Flexible Adventure Design series (Part I, Part II, Part III), but I’ll put them here for conveniences sake:

While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. Have you ridden to the rescue, defended the locals, or donated great sums to charity? Then you may not need magical items. For example…

Monasteries, priests, and families may remember their benefactors in their prayers and ceremonies for decades or centuries to come – and, since prayers, priests, and gods have direct and obvious powers in most fantasy worlds, benefits will accrue to those being prayed for. Perhaps they will be better protected from injury (increasing their armor ratings or gaining more “hit points”), they might gain the benefits of a low-level priestly spell effect as needed a few times per week, or they might gain a small bonus to virtually anything else. Secondarily, their souls cannot be possessed or imprisoned for long because the prayers of the faithful shall win their release.

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit, or through regular occult rituals designed to empower some hero, or some such. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such.

Of course, if such a Benison fails, it’s a sure sign that you have to go to the rescue again to get it back – the good old “your magic item has been stolen” plot without having to bother stealing an item and without frustrating the players; if something’s gone wrong with a Benison, they know where to go – and what, in general, they have to do, to get it back (or perhaps even get it back with improvements).

Benisons can also scale with the characters development. After all, the more important you are in the world, the more attention its supernatural denizens are likely to give you – and you may well do the source of your Benison further favors, thus earning additional enhancements. Even failing that, characters may become better at focusing or channeling such gifts. Why shouldn’t practice help with supernatural blessings just as well as it helps with combat, stealth, casting spells, and other adventurous talents?

Thus a Benison may grow with a character, and continue to be of value throughout his or her career.

In general, it’s best to go with small enhancements as opposed to powers and more active aid for Benisons; a slow progression towards becoming a mighty hero is usually better than a rapid rush towards demigodhood – and a selection of “+1’s” and “+2’s” doesn’t clutter up a character sheet nearly as much as things like “gains the benefits of a first-level priestly spell with a caster level of 15 three times a week whenever the player decides that this benefit should be invoked”.

More esoteric benefits – such as the bit about “immunity to soul imprisonment” – may rarely come up, but the game master should make sure that they do at least once, and preferably in a very dramatic fashion.

Game masters who wish to keep careful track of how much “treasure” the characters have accumulated should just count Benisons as magic items. They fact that they can’t readily be stolen or cancelled is neatly balanced by the fact that you can’t pass them around, give them up, or trade them. (If you’re calculating values in d20, The Practical Enchanter is good for that).

This, of course, is the “local hero” option; you are empowered by the people that you protect.

Trust Me, Becoming An Initiate Is Well Worth It:

Heartstones, from The Practical Enchanter, are pretty much designed for this; they’re immobile, can restrict the powers they grant, and can empower entire groups while still remaining in the control of the sponsoring organization. You can even use them to empower city guards and such since – in theory – there’s no upper limit on how many people they can empower. On the other hand… you do need a free feat to link to a Heartstone.

Magical Businesses (from the Industrial Wrights and Magic series Part IV) fit this slot very nicely indeed. This does shift the balance of power a bit – but the cheapest and easiest way to do this is for those organizations to invest in some Magical Businesses and hand out the benefits to their loyal members. This option thus provides adventurers with patrons with some boosts, magical mounts, magical weapons, or similar benefits at little or no cost. Interestingly, this tends to be a substantial boost for mundane archetypes, simply because the primary spellcasters can use their spells to produce such things as needed – so they never have to invest in them anyway. More mundane characters will, however, find themselves with a good deal more money to spend.

Given the usual power imbalance between full casters and non- or semi-magical types, that’s probably a good thing.

When it comes to more conventional items…

It Comes With The Job!

Official Regalia: With this option certain jobs come with some official equipment. As a rule this is either pretty minor – “the judges pass around a headband of Detect Magic to help spot the use of spells in court” – or there’s some way to keep people from stealing the stuff.

This is where User Restrictions and Cost Modifiers (The Practical Enchanter) come into their own. Does your nifty magical sword only work for Guardian Knights of the Realm and require that the would-be user act to defend the people of Rhikanoth against any threats that come up? Does it require that it’s user know something of the laws and history of the city? That’s a price modifier of (.6 x .6 x.9) = x.324. Two thirds off. You can still use the thing on adventures, but you will need to fulfill your obligations to keep using it.

This is really a lot like a spellcaster taking an item creation feat; a spellcaster spends a feat and gets a particular group of items cheaply. In this case a martial character takes on some obligations and responsibilities and… gets a particular group of items cheaply.

So lets make the Sword of the High Constable – a blade dedicated to the defense of Rhikanoth and to the service of the High Constable thereof. Unusually, it will allow itself to be used by anyone who is either lawful or good; as long as they’re willing to fulfill the responsibilities of being the High Constable they’re acceptable. It doesn’t really care about alignment; it cares about the ongoing defense of Rhikanoth – and helping it’s current chief guardian go up in levels is one of the very best ways to ensure a strong defense.

  • +1 Spell Storing (Caster Level12, 8000 GP),
  • Intelligent (500 GP), Int 14 (1000 GP), Wis 14 (1000 GP), Cha 10 (0 GP), Ego 13.
  • Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), and Blindsense (5000 GP).
  • Five Nonstacking Skill Points for five Specific Knowledges: the Laws and Traditions of Rhikanoth, Maps and Layout of Rhikanoth, the Lands Around Rhikanoth, History of Rhikanoth, and the Enemies of Rhikanoth (500 GP, all rolls at +17).
  • “Equipped” with a Healing Belt (750 GP) and a Ring of the Forcewall (5100 GP).
  • Spellcasting (all 3/Day): Liberating Command, Magic Missile, Resurgence, Ward of Heaven (the Practical Enchanter), Scorching Ray, and Web (4 x 1200 GP + 2 x 7200 GP = 19,200 GP.

Total Cost: 13,950 GP + the base cost of a masterwork sword (of whatever type and material. I’d recommend Adamantine, simply for being able to chop through locks, doors, and chains easily. That would be very useful to a law enforcement type).

Naturally enough, the Sword of the High Constable goes with the office of the High Constable of Rhikanoth – normally at least a 8’th level fighter, ranger, paladin, or similar, who is free to have the blade upgraded. Several have done so. The blade usually loads itself with Scorching Ray (for an extra 12d6 fire damage on a hit), but other spells are certainly possible.

Go ahead, get it blessed regularly at a +5 Shrine Of War to get it’s enhancement bonus up. It’s cheap – or, much more likely, free – for the High Constable.

Upgrading?

Add one of more of…

  • Parrying (the basic effect of a Weapon of the Celestial Host; the weapon provides a +1 Shield Bonus to AC and can be further enhanced as per a Shield, 2000 GP).
  • Called (since it now also counts as a shield, 2000 GP)
  • Impervious (The Practical Enchanter. Normally this makes the item as hard to destroy as a major artifact for +63,000 GP. In this case, the Sword of the Constable becomes powerless if the city of Rhikanoth is destroyed or by an elaborate ritual of unmaking; it just can’t be done in combat or by any simple spell (x.6 = 37,800 GP).
  • Flying (10,000 GP)
  • Teleport (Blade Only, 1/Week, 7500 GP). Principally to get back home to carry word and find another wielder if it’s current user gets permanently killed.
  • Shadowstrike (5000 GP). This gets the swords Caster Level to 15. That’s handy.
  • And boost the Intelligent part. Get Int and Wis to 18 (3000 GP Each) and add a bunch more 3/day spells – (L1) Nerveskitter, Protection From Evil, Silent Image (at 1200 GP Each), (L2) Create Pit, Mirror Image, Glitterdust, Resist Energy (at 7200 GP Each), Greater Invocation of Force (The Practical Enchanter, any Arcane Force Effect of up to L3, 33,600 GP for 3/Day, 56,000 GP for unlimited use) and Panacea (56,000 GP for unlimited use).

Add them ALL. That gets the total cost up to 83518.8 GP plus any enhancements you want to add.

  • So get the bonus up to +10. That’s another 192,000 GP normally. We’re up to 145,726.8 GP. Be sure to add something like Energy Aura, or Greater Dispelling, or Psychic
  • Get a +5 Enhancement and Ghost Ward on the Shield part (for a total of a +6 Shield Bonus and a +5 to Touch AC, which is handy). That’s 36000 GP base, and takes us up to 157,390.8 GP.

At this point… it really doesn’t matter. Get another couple of Greater Invocations for L3 effects in some specific fields – Divination? Evocation? Conjuration? – and we’re up to 193,678.8.

If the Greater Invocations cover one or more of the lesser spells it already had, subtract their prices; that’s an upgrade. That will probably let us throw in another minor tweak or two – and the thing is going to have a monstrous Ego score at this point – but there’s no problem with that. The High Constable will have one heck of a spellcasting support buddy along.

The Staves Of Neutralburg:

Issued Gear says that the characters work for a MAJOR organization. One with great power, lots of information sources, and enormous resources. One it would be a very bad idea to try and cheat on.

As special forces employees, the characters each get a basic kit suited to their profession – usually including some basic magic, such as a Healing Belt. Sadly, the basic kit will never be worth more than a few thousand GP.

When they are offered a job… they get a reasonably detailed briefing thereon, and then get to request the gear that they think they’ll need – generally up to around 50% (maybe up to 75% for really urgent jobs) of their “normal” wealth-by-level with up to half of that being consumables. Some cash and any necessary paperwork, reservations, or covers will be issued as well.

When (if!) they get back, they’ll turn in anything that’s left over or which they captured, and get some well-deserved time off (for downtime, personal stuff, training, and minor “adventures”) before their next major mission.

Obviously enough, this arrangement has a distinct “Mission Impossible” flavor to it, and is likely to involve a lot of mission-specific “optimization” instead of the characters trying to be prepared for anything. Secondarily, you’ll see a lot more use of things like a Necklace of Fireballs, Dusts, and other limited-use items which are often ignored as being poor long-term deals otherwise.

Obviously there are lots of other potential variations – but this should cover quite a few of the major ones.

And I hope that helps!

Subsidized Magic Part I – Guards and Armies

And for today it’s the start of an answer to another question…

It recently occurred to me to ask to what extent a local government might be inclined to subsidize magic items for characters that work for it?

While most NPC government workers wouldn’t need that many magic items to begin with, those with combat-related professions likely would, such as city guards. While armies don’t make that much sense under the d20 System’s assumptions (as higher-level characters can effectively overpower large numbers of lower-level ones), a lot of places still seem to have them, particularly if there’s a concern about covering large amounts of territory and subjugating a large but geographically diverse number of low-level creatures. So the idea of outfitting a police/military/similar force doesn’t seem to be entirely meritless. From the Romans to today, most militaries don’t expect you to bring your own gear.

The issue with this is that it seems to run up against the underlying presumptions of the d20 System, which is that wealth (at least insofar as the gear value of items is concerned) is a measurement of personal power, emphasis on “personal.” Having gear loaned out to you by the state throws that out of whack. If a rich government is invading a culture where most everyone knows some low-level spell effects, then it might make sense for them to equip all of their soldiers with a +1 breastplate of spell resistance (19), but each of those costs 36,750 gp, which is far and away more than an army of 3rd-level NPCs should be able to individually afford.

The compromise would seem to be that your wealth-by-level value would presumably cover subsidized gear (e.g. that lower-level characters are (not) given very much because they’re not very valuable individuals), and that the issue of that being “subsidized” rather than personal is little more than flavor text that never actually comes into play. The problem is that this still necessarily runs up into metagame limits on the equipment that a government-sponsored force (under this idea) would have, rather than taking into account a verisimilitude-based accounting of what would actually be most useful for them and what would be plausible for the government to be able/inclined to invest in their troops. (Having an Eclipse-based answer, such as taking Major Privilege/government-sponsored gear, helps to reduce this down to the cost of a feat or so, but simply moves the cost to CP rather than gp.)

Overall, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to this, besides saying that such funds would be better spent elsewhere.

-Alzrius

There are two major pieces to this question. First up, we have giving the general military – guards, patrolling troops, and so on – magical gear. Secondly, there’s how such a system might affect Adventurer’s and other special characters magical resources.

We’ll need to break that first part down quite a bit more.

So… How much does equipping soldiers cost in the first place?

It sounds awfully silly today, but for a very long time troops were indeed expected to supply their own armor and much or all of their gear. Thus the early Athenian army poor men went unarmored as Psiloi (usually carrying nice cheap javelins, spears, slings, or – very rarely – bows), those who could afford a full infantry kit went as Hoplites, and the wealthy (who could afford horses and armor) went as Hippeis (cavalry). Incidentally, Hippeis could also usually afford to stay out of most of the fighting and thus avoid being killed. It was good to be wealthy!

Of course, that tells us nothing at all about how much wealth that really represented in a citizens life. I suspect that no one really has enough detailed information on the economy of ancient Athens to give a satisfactory answer to that question these days.

Roman Legionaries needed to bring pretty much all of their own equipment until the late republic period – and they weren’t really supplied by the state until Augustus. Of course, they were pretty generously paid to enable them to buy their own gear while still supporting their families (at least to some extent; the later tendency to destroy families finances while the men were away fighting really messed things up in the long term). Depending on whether or not there was a war on Rome spent fifty to eighty percent of its budget on the military (in 2015 the USA spent between 18 and 20% of its budget on the military depending on what you count – more than the next eight most expensive militaries on earth combined) – but the Roman military only employed about 2% of the adult male population or less than .4% of the population overall. A d20 world might well do the same – d20 civilizations are at LEAST as threatened as Rome – but they’ll have to cut back on the numbers substantially to afford much in the way of (very expensive) magic. A prosperous city of 100,000 might support a roman-style military of 300-400 men – or 30-40 men with 6000-8000 GP worth of supplied magical gear each.

Oops! We’ve basically gone back to first edition, with one-in-one-thousand being a possible henchman or adventurer and less than half of those actually active in such pursuits. Well… first edition WAS very heavily influenced by the “historical simulation” gamers.

Similarly, the men in most feudal armies had to supply much of their own gear – which is why padded armor was so common; a mans mother, wife, or sister could throw that together in short order, and hope that it would keep their relative alive. Even layers of cloth stuffed with rags was a lot better than nothing.

With armor that was relatively understandable (if not nice). Is one guy too poor to afford good (or any) armor? Well, it sucks to be poor. That’s nothing new. Is someone who can afford it still too cheap or stupid to properly maintain their armor? If it makes a difference, then it’s their own fault and the loss is small. At least as importantly… two guys in mismatched armor are a lot easier to train and drill than two guys with mismatched weaponry. Armor was a LOT less important than a good shield through much of history anyway.

Weapons were supplied a lot more often. After all, when it came to weapons… trying to train a group armed with a random selection of old swords, spears, knives, javelins, clubs, and repurposed tools was and is a NIGHTMARE – and usually turns out to be very expensive for what you get out of them on the battlefield. It’s good enough for irregular troops, but irregular warfare was a lot less effective in classical warfare.

Why was that do you ask? Well…

A modern commander most often wants to occupy an area, control it, and – if possible – treat it as a resource. He or she wants to maintain order, to keep the farms and production facilities operating, and avoid massacres of women, children, and noncombatants. Such a commander can be readily opposed by irregular warfare. Groups of guerilla fighters can gain supplies, recruits, information, and other support from the locals that they represent even as they conceal themselves amongst them and can – over time – greatly increase the costs of occupation, perhaps even making it unsustainable or diverting troops and thus contributing to defeats elsewhere.

A classical commander who wanted to ship the useful women, children, and noncombatants home as slaves, exterminate everyone else, loot the area, poison the water sources, burn the fields and settlements to the ground, and sow the ground with salt so that no one could live there again for a generation… couldn’t be opposed by irregular warfare. If you wanted there to be anything left of your homes or families in a week or two you needed to face and defeat his or her army in open battle. In the face of that kind of enemy there was no time for irregular warfare.

Lets consider some quotations.

  • “I destroyed them, tore down the wall, and burned the town with fire. I caught the survivors and impaled them on stakes in front of their town.”
  • “Pillars of skulls I erected in front of the towns.”
  • “I fed their corpses, cut into small pieces, to dogs, pigs, and vultures.”
  • “I slowly tore off their skins”.
  • “Of some I cut off the hands and limbs; of others the noses, ears, and arms. Of many soldiers I put out the eyes.”
  • “I flayed them and covered with their skins the walls of the town.”
    • -Translated from various Assyrian monuments by Pritchard and Champdor.

And that sort of leadership was why the principle that “you must meet them in battle” (since irregular warfare did not work unless you were doing it in the enemies home country) went unquestioned for a long time even after nations started to have some scruples about such tactics and irregular warfare started to become practical.

Secondarily, few governments wanted (or want today) anyone and everyone to have easy access to military weapons. There are a few places – like Switzerland – that made or make it work to some extent, but it isn’t normal.

So weapons, shields, and basic supplies like food and such (since troops were useless without such things), were usually issued.

That still doesn’t tell us much about the actual costs though.

Looking to the d20 rules for answers… is a bit odd.

According to Pathfinders Downtime Rules it costs 220 GP (or 44 apiece) to add a squad of five soldiers to your army. Each comes equipped with Scale Mail (50 GP), a Longsword (15 GP), a Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), and Javelins (1 GP each, number unspecified) – and rather than having to be paid, they provide an income (1.5 GP/Day) for you. OK, that’s 147 days to start making a profit – but reinvest in more troops and the magic of compound interest gets you 558% growth a year. This obviously does not work, so I’m going to skip this bit; it makes even less sense than most d20 rules.

According to the SRD, the salaries for “Trained Hirelings” (including mercenary warriors) start at 3 SP/Day, but may be “significantly higher”. That doesn’t say what equipment they come with either. Do they come with normal gear for their professions and levels like followers do? How much extra money will they want? Who knows?

Well, your basic craftsman or professional earns about 1 GP/Day. That’s probably about what your basic guard makes, albeit with lots of little kickbacks and graft on top (unless we go with “the guards are notoriously underpaid” idea, which has some justification). If the job is supposed to be dangerous, two to three times that. If it’s adventurous… at least ten times that (and even then it’s mostly “guard the camp” stuff; guards and mercenaries are not there to be heroes). For basic gear… Studded Leather (25 GP) or Chain Shift (100 GP), Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), Shortsword (10 GP)… three to five months salary should cover a decent gear package. You’ll need to subsidize that if you’re recruiting a new guard, although part of the cost can be taken from their salary if they don’t want to turn the stuff back in when they retire.

Is that reasonable?

  • About the earliest actual hard costs I can find for equipping a basic soldier are from World War II, where it apparently cost about one and a half weeks salary ($15 ro $25 or $200-$400 after inflation) to equip a basic US infantryman. Of course, that is after industrialization, with little armor, and with cheap-and-reliable firearms – which tells us very little about quasi-medieval fantasy settings.
  • By the 1970’s – after throwing in a flak jacket and some new weaponry – that cost was up to around $2000 after inflation. That was still pretty cheap – roughly half a months salary (again, as adjusted for inflation) for an average person.
  • A few years ago it was about $20,000 after (much less) inflation. That’s probably our best comparison, because it’s now starting to include a bunch of pricey special-purpose, gear, body armor, and fairly expensive weapons – which seems very roughly comparable to equipping a classical man-at-arms. About four to five months wages at the mean salary.
  • All right; the d20 SRD-based estimate isn’t totally unreasonable, so it should be good enough to play with.

For a full-sized army there are notable economies of scale, and no extra cost for danger (danger is a fact of life in d20 worlds in any case) since you’re paying all the time and any danger is very likely to be occasional. So I’ll call that 100 GP/Year for maintaining a professional soldier. So a professional army of 5000 men… will cost half a million gold pieces per year.

This kind of expense is why the legions soaked up everything that the Roman Empire could come up with and were always looking for more – and why feudal armies were normally called up for the length of their service obligations and no longer. It’s just as insupportable in d20. If you’ve got that kind of money to spend on military matters you invest in high-level adventurers and let them handle things. In the real world an army could often get you money. In d20… not so much.

Now if we go with the city magic warlord trick… it’s 120,000 GP to deploy an army consisting of 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 – all properly, if mundanely, equipped for their levels.

Of course, with a warlord it’s a one-time cost coming out of their wealth-by-level – but, after all, an army can usually get you some money. It just isn’t often enough to actually pay for itself. At the worst, if they’re not fighting, you can put them to work as field engineers and such. That’s one reason why the Warlord trick doesn’t have any kind of an upkeep cost.

So lets double that cost. That will give each man… an extra 9 GP worth of gear. An increase of 1.5% if spent directly. That’s fairly useless. It would cost 645,000 GP to get each man a Cure Light Wounds potion (who would produce them anyway?), let alone something worthwhile. (This, of course, also tells us that the d20 economy makes no sense, but I’ve been over THAT).

What about the cheap options using Magical Businesses? A Shrine of War can maintain 1200 +5 enchantments for a mere 36,000 GP – 30 GP per weapon. That might even work if you got bundles of arrows. At an effective cost of .6 GP each (or less if you pay for the Shrine over time), you could keep each man supplied with ten of them for a mere 77,400 GP.

Looking at the costs for a magical Tattoo Parlor… no, we’re back in the millions again.

There simply is no way to permanently equip even a modest army with really useful amounts of magic in d20 unless you use a Ward Major (from The Practical Enchanter) with an appropriate Distant Gift, use Eclipse-Style Leadership to give them all some positive levels, teach them all Innate Enchantment (Eclipse again), or employ some similar trick – which is mostly back to personal power again. You can use Dominion (again, from Eclipse) to temporarily give them some positive levels, possibly including some magical talents – but that’s still personal power and even then it’s only temporary.

You could give the city guard a few items that they hand around from shift to shift – but City Enchantments and Wards Major are better for that.

Like it or not, magic item prices in d20 are designed to allow the characters to find huge, exciting, treasures, deal in heaps of gold and fabulous jewels, and be incredibly rich, while still having personal stuff to spend that money on – and items that are out of reach.

And when magic items are intentionally set up as a manifestation of incredible wealth, success, and personal power, it’s pretty much impossible to rationalize handing them around to ordinary folk without wrecking the assumptions of the game.