Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts IV – Martial Arts Skills

Only The Sword Of No Sword Is Sharp Enough To Cut Nothing.

-Kensho, by Dennis Schmidt

Supernatural Stunts for the Martial Arts are actually surprisingly limited. That’s because d20 is a game of heroes who surpass all normal limits, fight legendary monsters, and routinely wield the powers of classical deities already – and the Eclipse Martial Arts skills reflect that. Even without adding in special modifiers, an Eclipse Martial Art can make the users skin tough enough to turn daggers, let him or her shatter massive steel doors, punch for as much damage as a sniping rifle inflicts, fight while blinded, sense the approach of enemies, and attack several enemies at once. They can even let you strike ghosts, turn your skin into heavy armor, run on water, attack at range, bypass armor, block huge explosions, briefly move so fast that you cannot be seen, or wield flame, lightning, or some other energy. You can even combine those tricks to launch balls of fire or some such.

True, a martial art usually won’t do all of that at once unless you’re very VERY good – but if you Specialize and Corrupt it for Increased Effect (and perhaps buy a little Mana to boost it with) you can drastically upgrade those powers. I’d throw in a bit of Witchcraft too, so as to be able to shrug off mental attacks and poisons, use various hypersenses, and add even more tricks – invisibility, blinding flashes, running up the walls, and plenty more – but that’s not a very big expense either.

That doesn’t really leave as much territory for Stunts as you might expect at first glance. Still, I can think of a few…

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Clear Intent: You may make it obvious that you are combat-trained and intend to fight all-out if you must. While this works only if you are sincerely intending to fight if you need to (otherwise you are bluffing, and need to use the appropriate skill for that), many people and animals would much prefer to avoid a serious fight and are likely to back off or negotiate. Using this ability is a free action.
    • Focused Stance: Trained combatants normally try to defend themselves – but they take some risks, because if you never attack an opponent can just keep coming until you slip up. They pay attention to their opponent, but spare a little to look out for people coming to help him or her unless they’re VERY sure that no one will be. They try to balance a multitude of competing factors to maximize their odds. But sometimes… you don’t care. You focus entirely on crushing your opponent, or on evading long enough for your own help to arrive, or on protecting the guy defusing the bomb because otherwise you are ALL dead. Back in first edition you just announced this sort of thing and let the game master give you some modifiers. Third edition tried to get away from that sort of thing – but here you are; it’s back. DC 10 scores you – say – a +2 to attacks and damage versus a single opponent at the price of a -4 to your AC versus all opponents. Or lets you give up attacks in favor of an +2 AC bonus per attack given up. Or lets you twist to take a blow in the place of the guy you’re standing over guarding. At DC 25 you can double both the positive and negative effects. In general, however, this will always hurt a little more than it helps – and the more extreme your attempt, the more it will hurt. In a special situation, however, it may be well worth it. Altering your stance is a free action.
    • Seize The Opening: You may attempt a Disarm, Dirty Trick, or Trip maneuver against a creature of similar size and build without provoking an Attack of Opportunity if this check succeeds. The check is considered to be a part of the attack.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • The Hidden Way: You may teach combat skills without revealing that you are doing so – hiding your teachings as simple chores and peasant labors, employing weapons that double as farm tools, and otherwise showing the most oppressed of people how to defend themselves under the very nose of a repressive regime. In general, this requires at least one week per skill point imparted.
    • Breaking Strike: Your strike inflicts double damage, but it is nonlethal. At DC 25 you may opt to inflict double normal lethal damage to an object, at DC 30 you may inflict double normal damage to any target, at DC 60 you inflict triple damage and cause lethal or nonlethal damage as you wish, and at DC 100 you inflict quadruple damage and may divide it between lethal and nonlethal damage as you wish.
    • Inward Serenity: Various martial arts place a differing emphasis on control, discipline, calm, and meditation – but all of them attempt to build a harmony of mind and body. Up to (Wis Mod + 1, 1 minimum) times daily you may substitute a Martial Arts check for a Will Save.
  • DC 20:
    • Adrenal Burst: You may activate the equivalent of a Personal Haste spell (The Practical Enchanter). At DC 40 this becomes equivalent to a Boundless Energy spell (Also from TPE), and at DC 75 it becomes equivalent to a True Haste spell (TPE again). Unfortunately, this does not reduce the negative side effects of the True Haste effect. This is a swift action, but cannot be attempted more than three times per day.
    • Flashback: You may recall a useful technique from your memory, temporarily adding it to your own selection of martial techniques without regard for the usual limitations. At DC 20 you may add a Basic Ability, at DC 30 an Advanced or Master Ability, and at DC 50 an Occult Technique. At DC 60 you may add an additional Basic Ability, at DC 75 an additional Basic, Advanced, or Master technique, and at DC 100 two additional martial techniques of any type. This lasts for one minute, but only one such use may be activated in any one ten minute period. Activating this ability is a standard action, but you may apply +10 DC to take it as a Move Action and +20 DC to take it as a Swift Action.
    • Seize The Day: You may attempt a Disarm, Dirty Trick, or Trip maneuver in place of one of your normal attacks without provoking an Attack of Opportunity. This must, however, be made with a weapon or unarmed attack appropriate to your martial art. This ability is activated as a part of the attack.
  • DC 25:
    • Hurricane Throw: You may sacrifice damage from your attack or attacks this round to force any opponent no more than one size category larger than you to move one space of your choice per eight points of damage given up. They do not provoke attacks of opportunity for this movement, but will require a DC 15 Reflex save to avoid falling prone in their new space. If you simply wish to move someone, you may waive any leftover damage and reduce the DC for the Reflex Save to 10. This ability is activated as a swift action to modify an attack.
    • Iron Fist: You may give your martial arts weapon or unarmed strikes a total effective bonus of +2 (+3 at DC 40, +4 at DC 60, and +5 at DC 100 for (Con Mod +1, 1 Minimum) minutes. All but +1 of these may be invested in special weapon powers, these stack with dissimilar weapon powers, otherwise the highest bonus takes priority as usual This ability is activated as a standard action, but may be activated as a move action at +10 DC or a swift action at +20 DC. .
    • Spiders Weave: You force an adjacent target to concentrate on you lest they be struck. For the next 1d4+1 rounds (or until you stop focusing on them) if the target attacks anyone else, whether normally or by an Attack of Opportunity, you get to make an Attack of Opportunity on them. This ability is activated as a swift action.
  • DC 30:
    • Anything Goes: One of your attacks may be a Trip attempt (made with the equivalent of Improved and Greater Trip), a Dirty Trick attempt (made with the equivalent of Improved Dirty Trick, Greater Dirty Trick, and Dirty Trick Master), or a Disarm attempt (made the equivalent of Improved, Ranged, and Greater Disarm).
    • Avoidance Kata: Martial Arts almost invariably teach movement – the art of evading attacks on pure reflex, based on little more than a wisp of intuition. Up to (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) times per day you may substitute a Martial Arts check for a Reflex Save.
    • Chi Drain: As a standard action the user may make a touch attack to drain a portion of the targets energies. This can render a victim who fails to save Sickened or Exhausted at DC 30, emulate Vampiric Touch or Dispel Magic at DC 40, emulate Psychic Drain or Mystic Drain (like Psychic Drain, but drains one spell level worth of magic per caster level) at DC 50, cause Enervation at DC 75, and duplicate Steal Life at DC 100. Adding +10 to the DC allows you to determine the victims true age and species, as well as the level of any martial arts skills they may have and how many hit points they currently have.
  • DC 35:
    • Breath Of Chi Lung: Up to (Wis Mod + 3, 3 Minimum) times per day (but no more than once every ten minutes) you may expend an immediate action and roll to tap into the areas dynamic chi flows, gathering their energy to fuel your abilities – gaining 6 (DC 35), 10 (DC 50), or 12 (DC 75) extra “phantom constitution points” to spend on Occult Martial Techniques. At DC 40 you also get to reduce the “constitution” cost of using an Occult Technique or Combination of Occult Techniques by 1 point, to a minimum of 1. At DC 60 the costs are reduced by two (although the minimum remains one), and at DC 100 the costs are reduced by three, to a minimum of one. The resistance, and any unused bonus “constitution” points, disappear when the ten minutes are up.
    • Noted Master: You may support yourself at an Average lifestyle through teaching without having to track the time spent on it (it is presumed to be a part of your own training routine). In addition, your students will gladly act as aides, run errands, tell you about suspicious strangers, and cover up things for you. If you are seriously harmed or killed they will probably start a martial arts movie style revenge plot on your behalf. Sustaining this requires a check once per week.
    • Startling Maneuver: In place of one of your attacks you may roll your martial arts skill against an opponents (Sense Motive + 10). On a success you may take a 5′ step and said opponent is considered flat-footed against your next attack (two attacks at DC 50, three at DC 75).
  • DC 40:
    • Hidden Strike: You may make an attack without it being apparent as an attack. At DC 50 you also may make it as a touch attack. At DC 60 you may also delay the effects for up to one day. At DC 75 you may trigger the effects when you desire at a range of up to ten miles. At DC 100 you may make the effects contingent on some action of the targets, such as “if you betray me”.
    • Inward Harmony: If you spend at least a week in an area you may inspire up to (Charisma x 10) of the locals without them even realizing it. As long as you remain in the area to inspire and guide them, they each gain +1 Positive Level (+2 at DC 50 and +3 at DC 100) and the equivalent of up to (your Int Mod) bonus skill points in this martial art. If you remain in an area for a season or more, this counts as Unique Training. And yes, this is a wonderful excuse for the old “everyone you meet is unreasonably tough and knows martial arts” routine.
    • Mind Over Body: To fight properly you must regulate your body – controlling your breathing, husbanding your reserves, overcoming pain and fatigue, and avoiding exhausting yourself in a wild rush of adrenalin. Up to (Cha Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) times per day you may call upon that self-control to substitute a Martial Arts check for a Fortitude Save, or to grant yourself temporary hit points equal to your check, or to throw off the effects of poison or fatigue/exhaustion.
  • DC 50:
    • Chi Breaker: Add a Bestow Curse effect to one of your attacks as a swift action. At DC 100 you can add a Greater Bestow Curse effect instead.
    • One For All: As a free action you may shout (unspecified) advice and directions; as long as your companions have been with you for at least a week and indicate a willingness to listen they gain the benefits of (Int Mod +2, 2 Minimum) Techniques from this martial arts style. At Int 16 you might, for example, give them +3 to AC (Defenses III), +1 to Attacks (Attack I), and Mobility – if those happen to be among your techniques.
    • Storm Of Blows: Instead of your normal attack sequence you may make a single attack with effectively targets every desired target within 5′ (DC 50), 10′ (DC 60), 15′ (DC 75), or 20′ (DC 100) feet. If a special technique is applied, it need only be paid for once but affects each target that is successfully struck. As a minor variant you may add you may target a cone with a length of twice the indicated radius.
  • DC 60:
    • Dragons Claw Strike: As a standard action you may use your martial arts skill to substitute for Intimidation in an attempt to demoralize an opponent – although you can target one additional opponent at the same time for each +5 you add to the DC of your check.
    • Golden Bell Technique: You may emulate the Emergency Force Sphere spell. At DC 75 you may increase the radius to 10 feet, and at DC 100 to 15 feet.
    • Thousand Pound Stance: You may set your feet as an immediate action. As long as you are standing on the ground, until you voluntarily change your position you may use your Martial Arts skill to resist any physical effect or impact which would make you move. This covers effects ranging from a Bull Rush on up to being struck by a train. You may also ignore the next (check result / 2) points of damage you would normally take during this period. If this negates the damage from an attack it will also negate the effects of poisons, wounding weapons, and similar augmentations.
  • DC 75:
    • Dance Of Eternity: You may emulate the Heavenly Wild Puppet Technique spell. At DC 100 the “casting time” may be reduced to three rounds.
    • Legacy: You may pass on up to one-half of the character points you have invested in the martial art being used (including those invested in auxiliary powers) to someone else. This is treated as them acquiring a Template. You may do so through training, through “transferring your Chi”, or through leaving some sort of manuscript or instructions (which will always be destroyed somehow after a single successor acquires its power). Optionally, if no appropriate successor is at hand and you do not wish to leave a manuscript, you may bestow your Chi on an animal, changing it into a member of your race in the process.
    • Meridian Atemi: You may duplicate the effects of the Breath Of Life spell. At DC 100 you may duplicate the effects of Mythic Breath Of Life.
  • DC 100:
    • Hybrid Style: You may add parts of other martial arts that you know to this one for the rest of the day, increasing the number of martial abilities effectively granted by your style by 50%, rounded down. These may not more than double the normal limits, so going past 1d12 damage simply increases it to 2d12.
    • Shockwave: Your martial attack strikes every appropriate target within sixty feet. Note that you can use this in conjunction with attacks that target objects (such as Breaking) to destroy walls, doors, and equipment without harming living creatures.
    • Mirror Of Yama: As an immediate action you may redirect any one attack, spell, or psionic effect that either targets you or includes you in its area of effect at any appropriate target within it’s remaining range from you. Thus a normal melee attack with no reach must be redirected to an adjacent target while a Fireball that could have traveled another sixty feet could be redirected to any area within sixty feet.

These martial arts stunts are primarily set up as modifiers to the Martial Arts rather than abilities in themselves. That’s partially to keep them generic, and hence applicable to any and all martial art skills, and partially to add more interest to high level martial arts – allowing the user to mix and match modifiers to build the effects that he or she wants. You want to breathe out a paralyzing mist? Combine the Occult Techniques of Paralyze and One Finger and an area effect option and there you go. Would you prefer a mighty bioelectric sphere? The Occult Techniques of Wrath and Focused Blow with the Shockwave modifier can easily inflict four times your normal attack damage (which can be pretty hefty) in a wide radius. Or you could emit a blast of Chi that tripped everyone nearby. Or any of thousands of other combinations. It’s a rather limited field of magic, but this essentially makes you a semi-freeform martial caster.

It’s also worth noting that this list comes perilously close to “too good” – and can easily cross that line if combined with martial arts that have been Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect. While it’s reasonable enough for your super-focused martial artist to dominate small-scale combat the way that a Wizard dominates spell research, a lot more games rely on small-scale combat for excitement than rely on spell research – hence this may break your game. Exercise caution!

Epic Stunts:

  • Ghosting Technique (Research Level 4, DC 26): You move so quickly that you generate afterimages equivalent to Greater Mirror Image. You may maintain this effect for 3d6 minutes, generating more images even if all of them were destroyed in a previous round.
  • Racing Cheetah Strike (Research Level 5, DC 30): Move to any location within extreme (800 feet plus 80 feet per level) range, become hasted for 3d6 rounds, and make a full attack..
  • Storm Of Throws (Research Level 6, DC 34): Hurling blades, rocks, or raw force you Inflict 1d8/Level, to a maximum of 15d8 damage, to every target within a sixty foot cone.
  • Spell Shattering Palm (Research Level 7, DC 38): You strike acts as per Mage’s Disjunction.
  • Adamant Body Meditation (Research Level 8, DC 42): As per Iron Body.
  • Thunder Hammer Strike (Research Level 9, DC 46): Your touch attack can hurl an opponent up to 600 feet away, The impact at the end will inflict 30d6 damage, although a successful reflex save halves both the distance and the damage.
  • The Pebble From My Hand (Research Level 10, DC 50): For the next one minute each of your attacks also counts as a Disarm or Steal attempt, although this does not provoke an attack of opportunity. You automatically know what you can try to take and may attempt to take backpacks, rings, clothing, pieces of armor, backpacks, and similar items that are not normally valid targets, albeit at a -20.
  • Vanishing Evasion (Research Level 10, DC 50): When hit by something that you REALLY would rather not be this spell triggers itself even if the effect would have killed you; Whatever ir was hit some sort of illusion or stand in; you are (were) somewhere else within medium range.
  • Cometary Impact (Research Level 11, DC 54): The user may ascend several thousand feet, creating a takeoff shockwave which causes 8d6 damage in a 20′ radius and descend on any 40′ radius within long range, creating a Str 40 pressure wave that will attempt to force anyone there prone and still, and impacting to cause (Check / 2)d6 damage within that area – although there is a choice of lethal or nonlethal damage.
  • Thunder Chalice Draught (Research Level 11, DC 54): You may tap into the universal energy, restoring and amplifying your Chi reserves. Gain 24 Chi / “phantom” constitution points with which to power your martial abilities. While any above your normal reserves will dissipate in twenty-four hours this will top up your reserves (if any).
  • Elemental Heart Apocalypse Ascension (Research Level 12, DC 58): The elemental energies of Chi blossom around you, taking form from the Chi Lung – the Dragon of Energy – which coils within the heart of each great martial artist. You are surrounded by the form of a dragon of compatible alignment of up to CR 18 – essentially “wearing a dragon suit” and gaining access to its various abilities. This lasts for up to one minute per level or until the “suit” is destroyed.
  • Scarlet Ribbon Dance (Research Level 12, DC 58): The user gains a +25 Dodge Bonus versus Ranged Attacks. Whenever this bonus causes an attack on the user to miss he or she may expend and AoO to redirect it at any valid target within 20′.
  • Eruption Trance (Research Level 13, DC 62): With a moment of meditation you split away fragments of your chi to form into mighty constructs of living force. This creates 1d4+1 ninth level Psychic Constructs, which may remain for one minute per level of the caster.
  • Inner Thunder (Research Level 14, DC 66): As per the 14’th level Inner Thunder spell in Eclipse.
  • Battle Of Tartarus, Hecatonchire Mastery (Research Level 15, DC 70): You may strike with a hundred limbs, sharing your mastery of a martial art and your base attack bonus with up to (Cha x 3) others who accept your leadership. This lasts for up to one hour or until the end of the fight, whichever comes first.
  • Avalanche Charge (Research Level 16, DC 74): Move up to five times your normal movement, automatically smashing through any obstacles in your path, including Antimagic Fields, Walls of Force, small mountains, and similar “impenetrable” barriers. Everything within a 20′ radius of any point along your route can be dealt up to 20d6 damage at the user’s option. If the route leads “through” a creature, it will be carried along until you drop it off or your movement ends.
  • Soulforge Zanpakuto (Research Level 17, DC 74): You summon forth a customized weapon with a total bonus of +12, including up to +9 in special abilities. You may further sacrifice treasure to the weapon to cause it to assume the qualities of a particular material and whatever level of built-in intelligence and minor powers you can afford up to a maximum of 50,000 GP in priced special powers or materials and 200,000 GP worth of abilities as an intelligent item. Once designed or so upgraded the choices the user has made are, however, permanent. It remains for ten minutes per use of this effect.
  • Doom Slash Summoning Jitsu (Research Level 18, DC 82): You may break or cut open the boundaries between the dimensions. Once per round for three rounds you may open a Gate (as per the spell) as an immediate action. Unlike most gates, if you choose to open one under a sea or some such you may allow whatever lies beyond the gate to pour through it. Since the opening is an immediate action this may also be used to shunt attacks and such away.
  • Dark Chain Of The Underworld Seven Seal Jitsu (Research Level 20, DC 90): Whenever you kill something with a soul but of less than divine status you may opt to employ this spell; to bind it’s spirit to you. Thereafter you may call it forth as it was in life, either sending it on a single mission lasting up to twenty-four hours or calling on it for up to three services lasting up to ten minutes each. Unfortunately, no more than seven spirits may be bound to the user at any one time.
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Prince Blueblood’s Aggravating Pony Overlord List Part II – The Grand Ballroom of Aberrant Aphorisms.

Now that I can get back to the blog and catch up a bit, today’s segment is dedicated to Jack Butlers version of the Evil Overlord List – so much the same and yet different in a variety of ways!

  1. Since nothing is more irritating than being defeated by basic math, physics, or logic, I shall always remember that I am a cartoon and am not subject to ANY of those things!
  2. A true ultimate weapon is defined by what it does NOT do! It should not harm forces favorable to you, or resources, infrastructure, or populations who can be brought into your service! Its use should not cause neutral groups to become hostile or inspire heroes to rise up against you! It’s use should not hinder your use of the areas targeted after it takes effect! It should not stop working after being used against an area, so that target areas will become permanently hostile to enemy forces! It should not inspire hostility against you or even any major efforts to evade it’s effects! It should be impossible for a enemies to use it to reverse it’s own effects! That is why my mad scientists, wizards, and psychic experts will be concentrating on Weaponized Friendship! That way, even if someone else should beat me to my ultimate weapon… I shall know that they will be my friends!
  3. If one of my guards begins expressing concern over the conditions in which the beautiful princess is being held (usually listening to me talk about myself), I will immediately assign him to bodyguard her! They could both probably use a little recreation!
  4. Since secret passages manifest spontaneously whenever needed, I shall just make sure that the rooms in the palace are equally mobile! When the heroes discover that. at the moment, the passage leads to the breakfast buffet (and food fight) rather than to my private quarters, they will soon have egg all over their faces! And probably uncomfortable bacon crumbles in their shorts!
  5. If the excessively beautiful noble, princess, or VIP that I capture says “I shall never marry you! Never, NEVER!!!!!”, I shall happily say “Who said anything about marriage? It’s not like anyone will ever believe that you’re a pure and virginal maiden after I captured you and imprisoned you in my quarters anyway! Wanna play Mai-Jong?”
  6. I will strike bargains with demonic beings that require them to go away so that we shall have no chance to get on each others nerves! It’s not like I need anything else that they’ve got to offer!
  7. Twisted mutants and psychotic lunatics will have their place in my hospitals! Once they’re cured, and likely loyal out of gratitude, I shall provide job education programs! For before I send them out to do anything, I want to be sure that they in reasonably good shape and competent to do it!
  8. My legions of cuddly will be trained with pies! Anyone who cannot hit a man-sized target in the face with a pie at ten paces will have to clean up and then keep practicing! After all, no hero would employ real violence in a pie fight, and that will keep my medical and bereavement expenses way, WAY, down!
  9. When employing any captured artifacts or machinery I will doubtless be in a great hurry or I’d have gotten a reliable version of my own built! So I shall have many lucky charms ready! And not rabbits feet! The rabbit had four of those, and look where IT wound up!
  10. If it becomes necessary to escape, I WILL HAVE MY MONOLOGUE, even if I must STOP TIME TO DO IT! (Unless I have it printed up in advance, in which case I shall just have leaflets dumped on the heroes).
  11. I will build all sentient computers to be smarter than I am! If they aren’t smarter than I am, why bother with them in the first place? Trust me, I can find PLENTY of STUPID without building expensive machines to provide it!
  12. I hate passwords! Everything is going to be on biometric locks in the first place! And that INCLUDES the guards weapons, vehicles, control panels, and other equipment!
  13. If my advisors ask “Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?”, I will not proceed until I come up with a new scheme that is so insane that they will beg me to go back to the first one!
  14. I will not bother with a fortress! The world is full of ruined ones! They never work! I will get a nice building in the center of town, convenient for the shops, and surrounded by millions of people who will call the cops and S.W.A.T. teams if they think that some lunatic is about to start a battle in the middle of the city!
  15. Bulk trash will be sent to recycling! If it proves to contain escaping heroes, they will be given 200$ and be shipped to a dingy motel room in Boring Oregon!
  16. I will see a competent psychiatrist and see how long it takes him to refuse to see me any longer! He can then join the heroes and reveal to them that I am a cartoon just in case they have somehow failed to notice!
  17. I will not have a main control room. What is the point of having a sentient computer and still having to try to adjust fussy control systems with hooves?
  18. My security keypad will actually be an ordering system for pies, coffee, and doughnuts. If somebody authorized wants to come in and see me they should bring a snack! And if they do not know what they are doing, being soaked in hot coffee and covered in pie filling is a better hero deterrent than most! After all, anyone with a brain should know that Ponies do not use keypads for anything urgent!
  19. All surveillance cameras will have easily accessible “off” buttons! People do have a right to privacy, but when turned off the cameras will play a recorded message to the effect that any injuries received while off camera will not be the responsibility of the management!
  20. I will spare someone who saved my life in the past. If necessary, I will send them back in time so that they HAVE to save me to avoid paradox. I may be immune to that, but they probably aren’t!
  21. All midwives will be properly trained, tested, and licensed, Children who wish to be raised by wild animals in a dangerous jungle can get that taken care of in public school, just like everybody else.
  22. My guards will not search for intruders. They will stay at the central information desks where they belong AND where they have partial cover! All the corridors lead there anyway, so any intruders will have to come to them!
  23. When I decide to test an underlings loyalty to me I will have extra jelly donuts available in case said underling is not loyal enough and eats the last one.
  24. If all the heroes are standing together around a strange device and begin to taunt me, I will go and have lunch while the servants throw them out. Heckling contests are beneath my dignity.
  25. I will not agree to let the heroes go free if they win a rigged contest, even though my advisors assure me it is impossible for them to win. What fun is that? Rigging a contest is beneath me! If they want to go free they can beat me FAIR AND SQUARE! I have many incredibly obscure board games that I never get to play otherwise anyway!
  26. When I create an elaborate, special-effects heavy, multimedia presentation of my plan so simple that a five-year-old can easily understand all the details, I will not label the disk “Project Overlord” and leave it laying about!. If I went to all that trouble I must have meant it for wide distribution; I will arrange a several-hundred-screen theatrical release!
  27. If a hero proves too strong for a couple of my legionaries to arrest, I shall send in some of whatever sex he finds attractive to suffer wardrobe malfunctions. Heroes are notorious for seducing their enemies, but no matter how great the hero, ten or fifteen liaisons a day will keep him or her well-occupied, are easily affordable, and cost less than paying for treating casualties.
  28. If a hero is standing at the edge of a precipice, or balancing over molten lava, or involved in any such horrible safety hazard, I will pretend that I have lost track of them and have a member of the maintenance department offer to let said hero conceal themselves among the maintenance crew. That way I can get some work out of him or her AND get some proper safety rails installed around whatever silly hazard they’ve discovered. Also, fire my architect! WHY is there a giant pit on my bridge, chasm in my death star, or balcony overlooking the giant pit of fire anyway? If there’s no scenic view available, HANG A PAINTING.
  29. If I have a moment of even less sanity than usual and opt to offer the hero a job as one of my trusted lieutenants, I will make sure that said hero starts at lower pay and less benefits than my current trusted lieutenants. There’s no need to promote jealousy!
  30. I will tell my legions “Lethal weapons never work on heroes anyway, so I haven’t given you any! Just fire a netgun in their general direction with the intent to drag them before me and – if necessary – it will go around three trees, a log cabin, and an emu to ensnare them in an apparently, but not actually, secure fashion so that they can break loose in my throne room! You can’t fight the heroic narrative, so you might as well go along with it!”
  31. If a destroy-the-universe weapon happens to come with a reverse switch, I will have the whole thing melted down. If it worked, who would be left to throw it? If it doesn’t have a reverse switch I will melt it down anyway. The universe is where I keep my ME! Also, I shall find whoever it is who keeps BUILDING these things and LOCK THEM UP WITH A GOOD THERAPIST.
  32. If my weakest troops fail against a hero, I will want to know why they didn’t politely ask them to come down to the station for an interview in the first place. Real heroes never start anything first and my weakest troops have no business trying to deal with a hero in any other way!
  33. If I am fighting with a hero atop a moving platform and he glances behind me and drops flat, I shall use my dimensional powers to reduce my effective height until I am shorter than he now is AND on exactly the right level to hit him in the face with a pie! With any luck he will rear back in surprise and run his face into whatever it was he saw!
  34. If any of my heroic opponents are standing in front of a crucial support beam I will blast it myself and see how they get out of the ensuing collapse!
  35. If I am dining with a hero, have drugged his goblet, and then have to leave the table for any reason, I will not worry about it! I am immune to most of that stuff anyway, and I will have put anything I actually want to use in the air conditioning vents, so said hero might as well have his or her clever little moment of triumph!
  36. I will not have captives of one sex guarded by members of the opposite sex. I will get them a nice reservation at a restaurant and hotel, with all expenses paid!
  37. The more complicated a plan the better! They never survive contact with the enemy anyway, so the more bits you have the more likely it is that you will be able to rearrange them into something amusing when the original plan is inevitably disrupted!
  38. I will make sure that my doomsday device is properly disabled, but full of ten thousand gallons of carbonated cream under high pressure! When the heroes go for the dramatic disarm, they’ll get creamed! And how many times must I point out that destroying the world you live on is a STUPID thing to do?
  39. My vats of hazardous chemicals will all be installed on the top floor so no one can fall into them! It’s not like they can bother me anyway…
  40. If a group of thugs fail miserably at a task, I will acknowledge that “thug” is a low-skilled and underpaid profession and send them to training! They can try again when they’re up to professional levels and have qualified for a morale-improving raise!
  41. After I capture the heroes superweapon I will dismantle it and scatter the pieces to hiding places across the world since it would never work for me anyway! By the time they’re done fetch-questing to put it back together I shall probably be done with all my projects AND will have had time for a long vacation!
  42. Any controls I must have will be personally accessible from my lounge! That way I can have someone cuddling and still manage my realm!
  43. I will have a trusted aide on duty to receive messengers no matter how busy I am! There is no point to being an Overlord if you have to do everything yourself! Also, bring MORE CAKE!
  44. Whenever I communicate with a hero there shall be the sounds of a big party and ongoing sex in the background! Most heroes are incredibly straight-laced, and will probably try to find a time to talk or attack when there is no party going on! Which shall be never!
  45. If I decide to get rid of a hero and an underling who failed or betrayed me, I shall tell them that their lives are now mystically linked, provide an illusion of that being true, and ship the underling off to some supposedly terrible danger a very long and difficult trip away! I will then give the hero a very slow horse and a choice of bus tickets to the wrong place.
  46. When arresting prisoners, my guards will permit them to pack and place a phone call! There is no reason to be rude!
  47. My holding areas will offer their choice of an excellent medical team or a cackling mad scientist focused on human augmentation available to treat any prisoner ailments!
  48. My door mechanisms will be designed to open automatically when people approach! Hooves, remember?
  49. My holding areas will be designed with secret passages in and out which only rather small children may transverse and will be well stocked with candy and toys! That way little kids can wander in and out to annoy the heroes – and if they are true heroes they will not be able to avoid babysitting, for which they shall be grossly underpaid!
  50. If a good-looking young pair enters my realm, the gossip police will keep an eye on them! If they are happy and affectionate, that’s fine! But if circumstances have forced them together against their wills and they alternate between quarreling with each and saving each others’ lives with hints of sexual tension, I will immediately send them each a huge gift certificate for the Sex Warehouse Superstore! Otherwise they are all too likely pull an Inuyasha-and-Kagome and take HUNDREDS OF EPISODES to GET TO THE POINT! I am NOT putting up with that again!

Building Mystic Martial Adepts

If you had to design something resembling the nine swords classes, but were only given the flavor text, what would be the limitations?’

Also, on the book of nine swords stuff, I am curious if the disciplines could be sensibly bought as stunts, with the immunity to limitations, and perhaps some extra limits from the book to increase effect to what is seen.

-Jirachi

Ah. I was more or less covering why there really isn’t a part of the list that makes their abilities Specialized and a part that makes them Corrupted. It’s just that the list is long enough that they should count as being both Specialized and Corrupted in the vast majority of games.

Going with “Just the Fluff”… well , for the Swordsage we have…

A master of martial maneuvers, the swordsage is a physical adept – a blade wizard whose knowledge of the Sublime Way lets him unlock potent abilities, many of which are overtly supernatural or magical in nature. Depending on which disciplines he chooses to study, a Swordsage might be capable of walking through walls, leaping dozens of feet into the air, shattering boulders with a single touch, or even mastering the elements of fire or shadow. Whatever his specific training, a swordsage blurs the line between martial prowess and magical skill.

-The Book Of Nine Swords.

Honestly, substitute “Martial” for “Blade” and “Kung Fu Master” for “Swordsage” and this describes pretty much any eastern-style over-the-top martial artist from Hong Kong action comic books, movies like Kung Fu Hustle, various fighting games, or many other sources.

In comic, movie, and game terms this is saying “I have a bunch of different cool (and effective) tricks that I can use in a fight and maybe even a few tricks for things other than combat – and thus I am far less dull than a standard fighter type who is usually optimized for a particular tactic or two, and so repeats that tactic or tactics over and over again until the boredom is excruciating.

In practice, if you have effectively unlimited use of your abilities, (I tend to prefer some form of resource management mechanic, but that’s just me) there are several potential problems that you will want to consider. So looking at the limitations in terms of building an interesting character and avoiding boredom…

  • Boredom Problem: I don’t have to think about what to do! I have a tailored ability as a solution for every possible problem!
    • Solution: A fairly strict limit on the number of abilities you have. Of course, knowing too few is also boring, so there’s a delicate balance here. In Eclipse, that usually means having to purchase each ability with character points.
  • Boredom Problem: There’s a fairly obvious “best sequence” for each of the basic sets of problems that my abilities cover. Swarm of enemies? Start out with the area-effect blast. Main target hanging back? Hypercharge them. Single enemy flying when I can’t? Focused ranged strike.
    • Solution: Apply some sort of randomizer to what abilities you have available at any given moment. Sometimes you will just have to improvise, focus on a lesser enemy, or otherwise make the best of a sub-optimal tactical situation.
  • Boredom Problem: You can just spam your most appropriate ability, and so wind up doing the same thing over and over in a fight. It’s being a straight fighter all over again!
    • Solution: a relatively slow, and possibly random, ability recovery mechanism – basically a cool down time, For extra amusement provide a way to either recover more quickly or boost abilities by doing things other than attacking, so there’s a reason to maneuver, taunt your opponents, and do things other than “swing my sword again”.
  • Boredom Problem: All these characters look a lot alike! They all want the “best” abilities and avoid the “worst” ones!
    • Solution: Thematic limitations and ability sequences. That way no one character can have all the “best” abilities, they’ll all be distinct, they will have to invest in some basic abilities to get at the “best” ones – and they’ll have to do other things while recovering their now more-limited supply of “good” abilities. Besides, jumping straight to the most powerful abilities does not fit into D20 very well.

So your set of limitations is going to need to address those four basic issues. It will also have to include level restrictions on the more powerful maneuvers since that is a standard d20 requirement – but that really doesn’t count for anything because it IS a standard requirement.

Addressing those four problems will probably suffice to Corrupt and Specialize the Path Of The Dragon approach to getting those abilities – but it’s important to note that they’re really there to help keep the character interesting to play. Making their special abilities cheaper and/or more powerful is just a side effect.

As for other ways to build empowered martial artists…

Buying at least the basics of the Book of Nine Swords Disciplines as Skill Stunts is easy enough: buy the relevant Immunity as listed in the Skill Stunts articles (probably buying it at “very common” to cover all your martial-arts related skills), buy several martial arts and some boosters like Augmented Bonus for them, buy a lot of Mana to power things with, and consult with your game master to determine the DC of the various stunts. You could probably boost the power of your stunts with a limitation on the basic Stunt ability – although being unable to repeat a particular stunt at will is going to be meaningless unless you first limit the number of different stunts you can pull off. Stunts are, after all, normally open ended; I’m simply listing some examples in those articles.

You could also buy an immunity to the normal limits of Martial Arts skills, allowing you to produce supernatural effects related to the theme of the martial art without spending Mana – but that’s going to require a very high skill score to get away from the need for (often limited use) skill-boosters to achieve the DC’s of those stunts. The really spectacular stuff is going to be very hard to achieve this way – but it will work nicely for a less fantastic martial artist who can keep coming up with new tricks.

Of course, it’s going to be hard to get most game masters to approve of the more esoteric martial maneuvers as stunts in this way. They’re likely to question as to why riding around on a cloud of smoke and ash, or generating a firestorm, is really relevant to a style of armed or unarmed combat – and I’d have to admit that they’d have a point. That doesn’t necessarily limit you as much as you’d think – that firestorm is just a way to attack many creatures at once, and that cloud may just let you bypass rough terrain, both of which could equally well be defined as “whirling dervish assault” and “balancing on needles technique” – but it’s still a limit.

The last time I wanted something like Martial Maneuvers I skipped over Skill Stunts and just went with direct reality-bending (as in Gun Fu and the more general Martial Maneuvers)s – but that isn’t true “unlimited use”, although it can come pretty close in practical terms.

If you just want to build a supernatural combat style you could use Inherent Spell to do it: Buy a sequence of Inherent Spells with either Multiple or +4 (or a relevant attribute modifier) Bonus Uses each, and Specialize and Corrupt them. That will give each effect a base of five uses per day each. Personally, I’d suggest Corrupted / “Cannot use any effect of higher level than (1 + Rounds Spent Fighting)” (which gives you the classic anime style gradual escalation of powers) and Specialized according to the “Per Encounter” rule from the Eclipse Web Expansion (page 11) – “Any immediate ability which can be used three or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used once per “encounter”. If it could normally be used five or more times per day and is reduced to once “per encounter” it may be considered Specialized. Anything usable ten or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used 3 times per encounter or Specialized if it can only be used twice per encounter.”

That way abilities are normally once per “encounter”, but you can just double the cost of any given ability in the sequence to get it up to three times per encounter.

Using that structure a pair of first level maneuvers would cost 4 CP, a pair of second level maneuvers would cost 8 CP, 3’rd, 4’th, 5’th, and 6’th level maneuvers would cost 4 CP each, and 7’th and 8’th would cost 6 CP each, and a 9’th level maneuver would cost 8 CP. A basic discipline in this system would thus include 2 1’st and 2 2’nd level effects and one effect each of levels 3-0 at a net cost of 48 CP. Admittedly, you’d only have eleven different spells / “maneuvers” at 48 CP (each at five uses/day) – but you could readily master two or three such disciplines or double up on a favorite to raise its uses to three times per “encounter”. While the baseline maneuvers would either take actions to activate or be slightly weaker to account for combining them with an attack, this is easy enough to address with Opportunist or Reflex Training.

Interestingly, this means that a standard 3.0/3.5 Fighter build – which underspends by 53 CP – can be brought up to normal power levels by giving them one complete martial discipline in this style and Opportunist to let them take personal-enhancing effects – “stances” and such – as free actions at a cost of 54 CP (so they’d need to drop a skill point for perfect balance). They could add a second by spending a good chunk of their Fighter Bonus Feats on it. It also means that you could master at least three styles for the cost of using the Book Of Nine Swords style of building stances and maneuvers – and this method lets you cooperate with your game master to define your own powers.

Lets see…

Beast Of Rage Style:

  • L1) Wrath (The Practical Enchanter) and Embrace The Wild (Spell Compendium).
  • L2) Bite of the Wererat (Spell Compendium) and Blinding Spittle (Spell Compendium).
  • L3) Personal-Only Stone Ox (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L4) Boundless Energy (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L5) Bite of the Weretiger (Spell Compendium).
  • L6) Resilience Of The Beast (As per Heal, but only affects the caster and the effects are spread over time; each round the spell will restore the players choice of 10 points of damage or any one of the usual conditions that Heal cures until the healing capacity or list of effects is exhausted or ten rounds have passed with no use of the spells remaining healing capacity).
  • L7) Wrath Of Grod (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L8) Wrath Of The Great Beast (Form Of The Dragon III, Pathfinder).
  • L9) Stride Of The Colossus (The Practical Enchanter).

Similarly, Battleship Potemkin Style probably includes massive defenses, the ability to hurl rocks either with great force or so violently that they explode, walking on water, another variant on self-healing (damage control), and immediate-action extra hit points. Cumulonimbus Style focuses on mastering wind, thunder, lightning and flight powers. Whisper Of Corrosion Style employs corrosive effects and disintegration. Hungry Ghost Style covers invisibility, etherealness, dimension dooring, and a variety of draining effects.

Now the original Book Of Nine Swords styles presented more options than one of these styles – but individual characters never got to actually have more than a fraction of them, making the actual number of abilities you get fairly similar. As for the range of ability choices… it’s pretty hard to beat “freeform” when it comes to that. You don’t like a few of my choices for “Beast Of Rage” Style? Call your version “Eastern Beast Of Rage” Style (or something like that) and tweak it to suit yourself.

Throw in a few Stances – an unlimited-use counterpart to the Martial Maneuvers that are usually less direct, if still quite potent – and you have an excellent martial adept right there.

For some more specific examples…

  • HERE we have a level four martial artist who is using martial arts skills as an independent, semi-freeform, magic system. Buy up the level of effects he can produce and buy some Mana and Rite of Chi to recover it as he goes up in levels, and he could readily become a full-blown martial adept in his own way.
  • HERE we have yet another approach – a fifth level martial artist with a wide variety of “bad touch” effects that can block the use of magic and psionics for the rest of the day, kill, paralyze, cause amnesia, and many other effects backed up with the ability to raise a short term Wall Of Force as a quick defense, Dimension Door, Enervation, Globe Of Invulnerability, and several other handy tricks. On the other hand, with no real theme to his abilities beyond “that looks handy” it’s not exactly clear where he’d go from this point. He’d do well in a low to mid-level game though.
  • HERE we have a first level martial artist of a race of Natural Martial Artists built using Witchcraft. While most of his tricks are fairly low-powered he has a LOT of them for level one and will easily be able to expand his selection later.
  • The article on Monk Tricks covers how to build a monk-type character with some added options – and a lot of points left over to buy other stuff. A classic “Monk” type the with Battleship Potemkin style on tap sounds like it might be fun…
  • And for a few random examples… we have Lingering Smoke (a Sidereal who wandered in from an Exalted gme), Dante Allegori (a magical weaponsmaster employing the Sixty Successive Sacrileges), Sir Laurent Onn (a generator of enhancing magical auras), the Fey Swordsman (a fairly minor magical martial artist), Noita Verduur (a shapeshifting psychic assassin), and “The Wraith” (a short range teleporter), all of whom represent still other approaches to building warriors with exotic powers to augment their abilities.

Really, this is more a question of what exactly you’re trying to build. Eclipse supports a lot of different approaches to building a mystic warrior.

And I hope that’s some help anyway! If you’ve got something specific in mind though I’ll need some more details.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Ponyfinder in Equestria – Zebras and their lands.

Next up on the Ponyfinder pony types we have the Zebra.

The dry plains of tropical Alkebalkan, with their seasonal rains, lakes, and streams, may support nomads and the occasional village built around a reliable water source, but the true Zebra civilization is are built along the mighty rivers and tributaries that cascade from the interior mountains and jungles to nourish the great river valleys of the Neighle, the Cantor, and the Niker. There, along the green veins of fertile land isolated by distance and the surrounding dryland hills and mountains from the great and terrible jungles, lost or hidden civilizations, and magical mysteries and storms of the deep interior, can be found the ancient cities, fertile irrigated fields, and megalithic enchantments that have been the sanctuary of the Zebra across four ages of the world and throughout uncounted cataclysms.

Here, in the lands of dusty Kemet, where even the greatest external powers and disturbances are muted by ancient wards and the timeless rhythms of an antique land, the Zebra have built what may well be the oldest extant civilization in the world – said in their most ancient tales to have been founded mere weeks after the world and the peoples of Equus were brought forth from the alchemy of creation, when the ancient gods brewed their ingredients in the Abyss of the Void – Tehom, Tiamat, the Giningugap – upon the Colorless Radiance of Exploding Suns, the Light of Rey, and the Fires of Muspell, to bring forth a new world and its Peoples.

Ptah the Artificer, the Opener of the Ways, guided the Zebras – his chosen folk – to their destined homes, and along those rich valleys the ancient Zebra settled, gathering in tribal villages where the ley lines and power-nexi of the lands were bountiful enough to be harnessed with crude and primitive megalithic sigils hacked from the virgin stones of the hills. There the Zebra spread, and multiplied.

Every race of Equus has it’s gifts. That of the Zebra is slow and subtle, but more versatile than most – an ability to sense and combine the natural magical properties of the plants, animals, and minerals of the world around them. While any given individual may develop different aspects of that power, the creation of alchemical magics, wards major, magical architecture, megalithic enchantments channeling the occult energies of the land, and personal sanctums are all natural developments of their abilities – as are shamanic talents and even calling upon the spirits of the dead.

And of those potentials… the compounding of alchemical magics from local reagents, calling upon spirits, and creating personal sanctums were by far the easiest for a primitive villager to pursue, and so became the foundation of Zebra civilization.

With a built-in incentive to seek out rare reagents and the secrets of distant lands, and the great riverways that were the blessing of Ptah to provide an easy path and constant guide, the Beaker Traders, Seekers of Alchemy, soon united the Zebra lands in a loose web of trade and social contacts. Cities grew, and created support networks of geomantic structures and wards.

Centuries later, the Naquadah villages found the secret of the amplifying reagent that bears their name – and with that discovery Ptah stated that the Zebra required his presence no longer, stepped down from leadership, and returned to his home in the places beyond the stars to begin to create anew.

Ponis, lord of Marephis – the largest and wealthiest city of Kemet – and once the Vizier of Ptah, took Ptah’s place as the leader of the Council of the Neighle Tribes, coordinator of the geomantic network that helped maintain the prosperity of the realm. His son turned his role into that of the High Chieftain – and HIS son forged the Crimson Philosophers Crown of the Neighle – an artifact which granted him direct awareness, and limited control, of the geomantic systems that regulated the flooding of the Neighle, provided safety from the beasts of the jungles, and brought prosperity in so many ways to the lands along the Neighle.

And thus Djer became the first true Pharaoh of the Neighle, a god-king regarded as being little less divine than Ptah himself – for the hooves of Ptah had wrought life and land, but from the hooves of Djer flowed wealth. There was an abundance of grain and fruit, fine stone and strong wood, copper and gold – and luxuries to trade for the vital reagents which empowered the alchemy that brought health, long life, pleasure, fertility, and more to the peoples of Kemet.

Soon enough, the Zebras of the Cantor and Niker river valleys sought out the secrets of the Philosophers Crown and forged the Verdant and Azure Crowns to regulate their lands along those great rivers as well – and the wealth, power, and culture of Kemet would echo in legend across the ages.

But Anedjib of the Neighle entitled himself Nebuy – “The Second Lord” – and in madness and unbridled ambition sought to ascend to join Ptah in the places of the Gods beyond the stars. He set his mystic architects to constructing a megalithic gate empowered by Naquadah – the “Bent Pyramid” – intended to force open the way into the heavens that he might become equal with Ptah.

But such hubris was properly punished. The gate opened into the dark between the realms, not into the places of the gods – and through it came the Crawling Chaos, Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh, who cast aside the Crown of the Philosophers and ruled by raw might, dispatching his Apophi – the Flying Serpents that hunted at his will – as a scourge against any who dared defy his dark will in word or deed.

The three crowns of Kemet were united in friendship to stand against Nephren-Ka, revealing that in their harmonious combination lay all the colors and strengths of the worlds magic. The Zebra rose against the Dark One. At the end of that struggle the Black Pharaoh was cast out into the void once more – but there was a price for that choice and victory. The thousand varied colors of the Zebra were touched by the outer darkness, and divided between that and light. Henceforth the very flesh of the Zebra would display only the light and darkness, entangled upon their hides as they were in every mortal heart, neither one thing nor another.

And the first of the Nameless Kings donned the now-unified Triple Crown of the Neighle, Cantor, and Niker – claiming only the title Nebra, the Sun King of the Three Riverlands. Lord of United Kemet.

But the division between the Light and the Darkness persisted. The border tribes turned often to the Darkness, drawing on its dangerous power of Spirits and Tulpa, Channeling and Landrule, as a weapon and defense against the beasts and dangers of the great jungles of the interior and the perils of the wilds. But within the great cities that formed the beating heart of Kemet, the subtle arts of the light were preferred, and architects, alchemists, and warders gathered to share their enlightenment and teach their arts.

There were centuries of quarrels and minor conflicts between the city-dwellers and the nomads of the dry lands – but the Triple Crown and the undoubted might of the Nebra Philosopher Kings held a fragile unity.

The long centuries of disharmony drew at last to an end when the Griffon Invasions struck at the great cities, leading them to extend a hasty invitation to the darker arts of the nomads and their shamans – and the ancient order of the Beaker Traders gathered in defense of Kemet’s core, calling in countless favors and the spirits controlled by the dark arts of the nomadic desert tribes.

The battles were bloody and terrible, but eventually the Nebra Alchemist formerly known as Prince Neighbetre donned the triple crown and sacrificed his right hoof and eye in the ritual to hurl the malignant, near-eternal, unquenchable blaze of Fiendfyre – refined Marenium distilled into the most terrible alchemical weapon that the world had ever known – from the sky upon the griffon encampments and brought the Griffon Wars to an end and peace to the Middle Kingdom.

Even now, despite the passing of ages, the terrible blue light of pockets of Fiendfyre glows still beneath the surface of Equus in places in the hills and badlands, waiting to burn, twist, and poison the unwary – or to mutate the occasional passing animal into a monstrous horror.

And in the Middle Kingdom… the Darkness was balanced against the Light. Dark Stelea rose within the desert just past the borders, and pyramid-tombs were constructed to hold the ranks of the Ushabtiu – the alchemical focus-bodies through which the dead might be called in defence of their descendents – in stasis against a future need. Richly rewarded and funded, the surviving Beaker Traders reached outwards, sailing their wicker ships of dark, alchemically-treated, reeds into the dangerous realms beyond the shores of Kemet.

The Pharoah became indeed the Nebra, advised and supported by a spirit-council of the deceased kings who had come before – although this did lead to occasional power struggles when the Light and Dark factions amongst those councilors favored different candidates. Fortunately, those were always limited to struggles between the great houses, and were never allowed to become general civil wars.

With their lands warded by megalithic magic tied to the very roots of the world, even the reign of Discord across the seas in Equestria had little effect on Kemet. During that time the reigning Nebra opened his realm to give sanctuary to many thousands of refugees, and opened his warehouses – filled with the surpluses of long centuries of prosperity – to feed and supply them.

But a new Nebra arose over Kemet, who – when Discord was sealed in stone – gave in to the voices of tradition and sent the refugees home to rebuild, even if she WAS generous with supplies and assistance.

Most of those refugees were glad enough to go. They found Zebrica / Kemet’s casual acceptance of the wandering dead (no matter if they were powered by alchemy and links to the outer planes rather than by negative energy) more than a little disquieting – and the widespread acceptance of the arts of darkness quite terrifying, no matter if it’s sigils were emblazoned upon their hosts very hides and obviously natural to them. The tales they took home painted Zebrica as a haunted place, filled with ancient tombs and dungeons where the Darkness was permitted to reign freely over the countryside surrounding the great cities that were only protected by the consecrated light of the ancient Temples of Ptah.

There was enough truth to the tales for the legends persist to this day, casting Zebra traders and wanderers as potential evil enchanters and implying that a visit to Kemet might as well be an expedition into the depths of the underworld – encouraging the isolation which has helped maintain Kemet’s changeless social stability to this day.

Still, not even the ancient wards and megalithic anchors of Zebrica can forever hold back the tides of change. Today, as ever-increasing numbers of visitors, scholars, and outside traders visit ancient Kemet, the Council of Deceased Nebra has once again split between whether they need a Warrior-King to defend their land against menacing changes or a Philosopher-King to lead its adaption to them – and so the assassin’s blades are being sharpened and poisons brewed in anticipation of the coming power struggle when the current Nebra joins his advisors in death and competing candidates seek to claim the office of Nebra and the Triple Crown of Kemet.

The rumors say that it will not be long now.

Kemet / Zebrica is currently welcoming adventurers/pawns from beyond it’s borders, is overrun with forgotten ancient complexes where dark powers have gotten out of control that need to be raided and brought back under control, is stuffed full of ancient temples, lost treasures, hidden tombs whose owners only bother with reaching down to defend them out of habit (as a rule, if the dead stop picking up their mail and paying their taxes for more than fifty years, their tombs are considered abandoned, and raiding permits are made readily available), fabulous intoxicants, willing companions (since contraceptive and STD-preventing or curing potions are extremely cheap), elder artifacts, and ancient wards. It offers a ready supply of potions and other disposable alchemical goodies for the connoisseur, skillful weapon and armor-smiths with some experience with other races, and has pretty much everything else that an adventurer could want.

It’s a good deal more dangerous than most of Equestria, simply because the people of Kemet tend to regard killing someone in much the same way that other cultures regard eunuching a male. The victim is cut off from some of the pleasures of life, can no longer have children, loses eligibility for some jobs, and takes a social hit – but they can still come to family gatherings and participate in most things. That’s one of the reasons why Kemet is BETTER. It’s not like being dead in most places!

Zebra Racial Template (32 CP / +1 ECL, normally added to the Basic Pony Template).

The Subtle Weave:

  • Pulse Of The World: Occult Sense / Natural Magic (6 CP). Zebras can automatically identify plants and animals (or pieces thereof) and can sense the inherent magical properties of plants, animals, minerals, and the land itself, although they may need to make a perception check for unfamiliar items. As a side benefit, they gain a +2 bonus on Survival, Herbalism, Heal, and any checks required to use their Natural Alchemy ability, below.
  • Natural Alchemy: Create Artifact, Specialized and Corrupted / only for “alchemical” creations compounded from natural magical components (2 CP). Note that this doesn’t require that the user be a “spellcaster”, or call for expending money on unspecified ingredients; this is first edition style alchemy; if you need manticore venom, a pinch of powdered hematite, and petals from a blue rose, than that’s what you need; the effect and caster level will take care of itself.
  • Alchemical Gatherer / Minor Privilege (3 CP). A traveling Zebra, or one who lives in the wilds, can automatically collect rare herbs, fungi, and other bits and pieces with which to make various alchemical artifacts. This provides an Average lifestyle by default and means that a Zebra will always be stocked with a selection of useful components – enough to keep a stock of (Wisdom) Trivial and (Wis Mod +2) Minor alchemical artifacts available every day.
  • Tribal Lore / Specific Knowledge of (Int + 3) trivial mystical formula (free) and (Int Mod + 3) minor mystical formulas (1 CP). Pretty much every Zebra colt or filly will pick up the formulas for a selection of trivial alchemical creations using readily-found local reagents during childhood. True, the adventuring applications for spooky faces vapor, instant cleaning powder, tasty sparkling beverages, day-of-flavor chewing gum, a minor healing effect suitable for fixing cuts, bruises, and small blemishes, and similar stuff is limited, but even the “Minor” formula – reasonably effective curatives, icing over a surface, extremely slippery grease (and other effects approximately equivalent to first or second level spells) can be quite useful. While major creations will cost 1 SP each, any Zebra who really cares to make an effort can learn a small library worth of useful formulas.

Initiate Of Mysteries:

  • Guidance of Ptah / Witchcraft II. Every Zebra has a bit of Psychic Strength (although on Equus they generally power their abilities with Mana) and three basic witchcraft powers to use. In terms of the setting, Zebra acquire the powers they were meant to have – although training can help focus and develop them. In game terms, of course, the choice is up to the player – as is any Corruption or Specialization they may choose to apply. Witchcraft powers, of course, tend to be short ranged and relatively weak, if normally quite versatile (12 CP).
    • A Shaman might have Dreamfaring, Glamour, and the Inner Eye, all specialized in dealing with Spirits for Increased Effect. With the power to see, hear, touch, communicate with, and influence the spirits of nature and the dead, you’ve pretty much got the basic shamanism down right there.
    • A Scout might have The Adamant Will, Shadowweave (focused on Stealth), and Witchsight, – gaining the ability to conceal his or her aura and resist mental attacks, the ability to travel unseen, and an array of enhanced senses.
    • A Warrior might have Elfshot (Specialized for Increased Effect / only to add specific injury effects when he or she damages a target), Healing (Specialized for Increased Effect / only for use on themselves so they can keep going despite massive injuries, and Witchfire (Specialized in charging weapons with various energies, giving them the equivalent of a +2 enchantment, +1 of which may be a special power).
    • A Poisons Expert might have Healing or Hyloka (in either case specialized so as to provide some immunity to their own poisons), Witchfire (specialized in extracting and infusing poisons, including making small toxic clouds), and Witchsight (allows the easy detection and treatment of poisons and the gathering of ingredients for poisons).
  • Many Zebra take a Pact – typically Guardianship, Missions, Taboos, Duties, Rituals, or Essence – to gain an additional advanced power. For some examples…
    • Master Alchemist: Path of Water / Brewing allows a Zebra to make his or her trivial and minor, alchemical artifacts on the spot, so that they can stop deciding what they’ve got ready in advance and just produce things as needed.
    • Bestial Mindlink: A Scout might take a Witchcraft Companion – probably a hawk or some other swift-flying creature – so as to be able to readily survey distant areas and have it carry messages.
    • Lore of Battle: A Warrior might have the ability to draw on the strength of his or her ancestors, shouting out an ancient battle-cry to activate Wrath of the Sea (+6 Str) or some similar benefit.
    • Within The Blood: Poison experts often become so saturated with venom that their very touch becomes deadly. That’s Venomed Touch, Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user cannot safely give blood, is slightly hazardous to bandage or use the Heal skill on (possibly making the would-be “Good Samaritan” quite ill on a “1″), and leaves the user sterile – perhaps just as well, as any personal involvement would be likely to make their partner quite ill in any case.

Many And Varied Talents:

  • Zebra Bonus Feat: Zebra get one bonus feat taken from among the many gifts of their minor gods. While there are quite a few available (including many of the advanced withcraft powers), some common examples include:
    • Word of Hathor (or Ma’at) the Guardian of Life’s Order: Sanctum. From the early days many a Zebra has found their roots in the land, allowing them to create a personal Place of Power in which to practice their arts. This is perhaps the most common of all the divine gifts, found in many young Zebra who grow up to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, knowing their place in the world and content with it. Thus you find farmers, smiths, shopkeepers, and more who have sunk their roots into the earth of their homes and found unmatched skills and gifts in that bond.
    • Hoof of Ptah the Traveler: The defining gift of the ancient explorers and wanderers of the Zebra tribes – the Beaker Traders. Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment / 5000 GP Value)/only for Innate Enchantment. By rearranging their various talismans and ornaments a Beaker Trader may start each day anew with a selection of “magical items” valued at up to 5000 GP – although, while “uses per day” is allowable, all such items must be permanent in nature (6 CP). Note that – in foreign lands – a “100 GP” +1 Competence Bonus to Speak Language (allowing the user to speak the local language) is a definite favorite.
    • Lore of Amunet, the Illuminator of Chaos: Adept. The user may select four skills which may be purchased at half price form now on. Normally one is social, one magical, one physical, and one mental, reflecting the balance of Ma’at (6 CP).
    • Keys of Anubis, The Book of Going Forth By Day: Anubis grants the ability to call on the wisdom and assistance of the spirits of the dead – usually those who are willing to aid their descendants. Leadership with the Exotic Type (Spirits) modifier, Corrupted/Spirits ONLY and they definitely have minds of their own (6 CP).
    • Gift of Seshat, Lady of Wisdom: Seshat grants expertise in magical architecture, allowing those she favors to build mighty structures. Mystic Artist / Architecture, Specialized in megalithic stone structures. Simple wood or clay brick does not endure, and is not favored by Seshat (3 CP) and Professional / Architecture and Engineering, Specialized in megalithic stone structures (3 CP).
    • Bite of Wadjet, The Serpent of the Delta: Poison Use. A Zebra blessed byWadjet need never fear self-poisoning (6 CP).
    • Whisper of Sekhemet, Lore Unchained: Those who hear the voice of Sekhemet upon the winds are granted knowledge of the myriad alchemical wonders, both bright and terrible, which can be compounded from the stuff of the world about. Still, those who hear are regarded with caution; Sekhemet cares not if you listen to the lore of life and healing, or death and poisons, whether you brew balefire destruction or gifts of fertility and fruits for the fields. All that matters… is that you hear. Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (+3 SP/Level), only to buy Alchemical Formula (6 CP).
    • Word of Isis, Lady of Magic: Those touched by Isis gain hidden powers of witchery, whether for good or ill, gaining Witchcraft III, and additional four basic witchcraft powers (6 CP)
    • The Touch of Geb, The Walker of the Dawn: Landwarding: Geb grants attunement to the deep currents of magic which flow through the earth and the ability to coax a bit of that power into experession through petroglyphs, statues, shrines, and landscaping – a discipline also known as Feng Shui. Major Privilege (6 CP): A Zebra touched by Geb may spend an hour or so each day to shape the energies of the land – bestowing abilities equivalent to those bestowed by a Ward Major on the protected area. In general, whenever a new power is added (whether by adding more support to an existing landward or by creating a new one), there is a 50% chance per power that the creators will be able to choose it and a similar chance of it being determined randomly. Once that determination is made, the properties of a Ward are fixed.
      • One Landwarder can protect an encampment, house and gardens, or other small area, granting a single minor power. A landwarder who dies on the job counts towards this total.
      • Two Landwarders grant a second minor power OR expand the protected area to a village and it’s fields, a, mansion and it’s grounds, or a small castle. One landwarder who dies on the job can count towards this total.
      • Four Landwarders can do both. Two landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Seven Landwarders can grant a third minor power OR expand the protected area to a town and it’s outworks or a great castle. Three landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Nine Landwarders can do both. Four landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twelve Landwarders can grant a fourth minor power OR expand the protected area to a city, a small valley, or a cluster of farming villages and their fields. Five landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Sixteen Landwarders can do both. Seven landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twenty-One Landwarders can expand the protected area to a metropolis, a town and the farming hamlets that cluster around it, or a large valley OR grant a Major Power in addition to the four Minor Powers. Up to nine landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twenty-five Landwarders can do both. Up to ten landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Thirty-Six Landwarders, can add a second Major Power in addition to the four Minor Powers. Up to twelve landwarders who died on the job may count for this total. Unfortunately, the area protected cannot be expanded past a metropolis, a town and the farming hamlets that cluster around it, or a large valley
      • Forty-Nine Landwarders can add a third Major power to the four Minor Powers. Up to eighteen landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Finally, Sixty-Four or more Landwarders can create a ward-equivalent which grants five minor and three major ward powers – but this is the effective limit of their abilities. Up to twenty-four landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
        • Landwarding can be built with Innate Enchantment or Mana and Reality Editing and probably in other ways if I wanted to bother – but all of them produce roughly similar results at a comparable cost and are far, FAR, more complicated – and this is bad enough already.
    • The Breath of Set, Wrath of the Burning Sands: Witchcraft / The Birth Of Flames. The construct always appears to be a thing of whirling sands and black fire. The touched by Set are subtly urged towards the most destructive solutions and frontal assaults and often seem to be heralds of battle and death (6 CP).
    • The Tongue of Apep, Heir of the Crawling Chaos: The Black Pharaoh has left his mark, and it can not always be denied. Some ill-aspected births will bear this burden. Mana-Powered Negative Energy Channeling (3 CP) with Conversion to a single negative-energy related psychic effect of up to level two (3 CP) is not all that powerful – but it is the start of a path to a wide variety of terrible powers. Those who advance too far along this path… will become little more than a thing of living shadows, the light which once displayed itself upon their very hides lost to darkness (6 CP).
    • Dice of Bes, Lord of Fortunes: Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Corrupted/only for Skill Checks and Saving Throws (6 CP).
    • Fountains of Tefnut, the Waters of Life: The waters of Tefnut rain down around those she favors, washing away evil. Presence, Specialized for Increased Effect (two first level spells; Create Water and Bless Water)/ the user may only pick Wis Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) targets within ten feet each round, although this selection is a free action. Each such target will be automatically hit with two gallons of water per level of the user which also has the effect of a flask of holy water. Sadly, this is of little use for resale thanks to the enormous dilution (6 CP).

The Ushabtiu Feats: Basically this is that art of binding a body on the material plane to a controlling spirit (normally a dead person) on the outer planes using a sympathetic link- most often a bit of the spirits original body that’s been preserved somehow. There are a lot of variants.

  • Gift of Kauket-Re the Black Sun: Corpse Ushabtiu (6 CP): Binding a deceased body to it’s original spirit creates quasi-undead. This is easy – it’s been known to happen spontaneously – but people rarely react to it very well, and for good reason; quasi-undead corpses/skeletons/zombies are ready receptacles for negative energy. Unless carefully and regularly purged of such forces, they tend to devolve into full-scale undead – either generating their own echo of the linked spirit and becoming “standard” undead horrors or (on particularly horrific occasions) drawing the original spirit back from the outer planes to become free-willed, level-advancing, evil abominations. This technique calls for:
    • Ritual Magic, Specialized in Necromantic Rituals for Reduced Cost (3 CP).
    • Power Words, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (stores rituals as if they were third level spells) / only for Necromantic Effects, requires various alchemical or otherwise unpleasant components (3 CP). Most makers of Corpse Ushabtiu keep a few prepared rituals (the precursors of “memorized spells”) at the ready. The more sensible ones usually have ways of dealing with something going wrong ready. Crazier ones often have some way to summon a bunch of skeletons or something.
    • While this is the most primitive, cheapest, easiest, and most general of the Ushabtiu disciplines, it’s also the most problematic, easily abused, and messiest. The ease and cheapness keeps it in unsettlingly widespread use, the amount of “toxic waste” it generates keeps it unpopular. Many or most practitioners are less than reputable.
  • Hoof of Anput-Hesat, bringer of Life through Death, Goddess of Predation. Animal Ushabtiu (6 CP): Binding an animal’s body to a spirit after using alchemy to permanently destroy much of it’s mind is fairly inexpensive and provides a fair chunk of the sensations of true life for the directing spirit- but is obviously temporary and generally clumsy; most animals don’t live all that long and very few are capable of using most tools and powers. Animal Ushabtiu are even more awkward on Equus, where most sizeable animals are intelligent and civilized. This technique calls for:
    • Basic Zebra Alchemy to sedate and decerebrate the animals (no cost).
    • Witchcraft / Summoning, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used for this particular trick (2 CP).
    • Witchcraft / Flesh Like Mist, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, can only be used in conjunction with Blessing (below) to make the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used to create “anthro” (or, on Equus, “Zebroid”) animal forms and make other minor tweaks to suit the spirit (2 CP). .
    • Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted / only to allow the use of Flesh Like Mist (Above) on prepared animal bodies, requires mildly expensive rituals and alchemical preparations (2 CP).
  • Breath of Tatenen: Royal Ushabtiu are full-blown constructs, controlled as needed by the spirit they’re bound to. While they can be extremely powerful, and can, if upgraded enough, offer many of the sensations of life, they are also extremely expensive. This technique calls for:
    • Witchcraft / Summoning, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used for this particular trick (2 CP).
    • Create Item (Constructs), Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the created constructs have no will of their own, and are only useful when controlled by an outside spirit (4 CP).

Zebrican. All Zebras gain a their native language as a bonus language. If they’re raised somewhere else, or are never even exposed to it… they still speak it. Such is the word of Thoth (1 CP).

Survival: Zebras have some (rather basic) instinctive survival skills, and gain a +1 racial bonus to the Survival skill (1 CP).

If a Zebra happens to have either Speak Language or Survival as an Adept skill thanks to their racial bonus feat, these bonuses are, of course, doubled as usual.

Racial Disadvantage: Restrictions (Spellcasting). Zebras simply do not cast spells – although they may develop psionic abilities. This gains them +1 CP per Level to spend as they will.

At a total cost of +32 CP, Zebra are a +1 ECL species – and remain so when stacked with the basic Pony Template (which brings their total to 63 CP – the limit for a +1 ECL race).

The Zebra are quite formidable – and rather more versatile as a species than the individual pony subtypes – but their abilities are considerably more subtle. They’re also grimmer, far more inclined to kill or take severe actions against opponents, and see the use of dark powers, necromancy, and sending the dead walking around as being quite normal. Just as importantly, their lands support mercenaries, tomb raiders, exorcists and undead-slayers, crazed dark channelers, dungeons, plenty of noble intrigue,the creation of undead, and byzantine political struggles as a normal part of life. Just beyond the thin, magically-warded, strips of civilization there are vast expanses of deadly desert, terrible jungles, magical storms, lost cities and civilizations, and any number of deadly magical beasts.

Here, at least, there are plenty of places and jobs for adventurers.

The trouble with the Zebra – and the reason why they weren’t included in the original set of pony racial builds despite being obviously canon – is that My Little Pony only gives us one example. Worse, she is clearly both a long way from home and acting in a way that’s atypical for Zebras or she wouldn’t be the only one around. In d20 terms she’s a wandering (expatriate, questing, exiled, whatever) mystic, and almost certainly has a few levels.

So what do we see her do?

  • She lives by herself in a strange hut in a magical forest. She serves as a source of one-shot plot-device magical items when the story needs them. Unlike Celestia, she doesn’t have a lot of raw power, national influence, or other responsibilities, which lets her take the wise and mysterious mentor role while still limiting her impact on events. That also means that the writers keep whatever powers she may have subtle and ambiguous.
  • So we have intentionally subtle and ambiguous powers, an intentionally mysterious race, intentionally limited exposure, and an intentional complete lack of explanations. Vague to start with and with no way to sort out Zecora’s personal skills from whatever her racial talents might be.
  • And so Zebra didn’t make the original list of canon pony types because there just wasn’t enough information to go on. Still, this time the request was for what an upgrade to match the other Ponyfinder pony types might look like on Equus – and speculation works just fine for that.
  • Now for Zecora’s more specific tricks…
  • She’s good at herbalism, balancing, parazoology, and telling spooky stories. There may be a natural affinity there, but that sounds like skill levels or perhaps some specific knowledges.
  • She can create various magical potions, dusts, salves, oils, pills, incenses, and curatives from natural magical ingredients. The power level seems to depend on the components. Of course, the Cutie Mark Crusaders can make potions too. They just needed to have, and successfully follow, the appropriate recipe. On the other hoof… Zecora can do it quickly and knows all kinds of recipes and what various components can be used for.
  • She may be able to produce a cup full of water, but that could just be sleight of hoof – and at that point she DOES seem to be teaching Twilight about focus, misdirection, and trickery rather than training her in raw magical power.
  • She hides the Alicorn Amulet. Of course she might have hoofed it off to Celestia, buried it under a random rock somewhere in the forest, or given it to Gollum to replace his “Precious”. There’s no evidence of any special power here at all, even if this is evidence of Twilight having less than perfect judgement.
  • She lives safely in the Everfree Forest, apparently undisturbed. That coujld be survival skills, or pacts with the forest spirits, or using some kind of warding talisman or spell. Or it might just be a fairly safe area of the forest; after all, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are allowed to go and visit her on their own.
  • Her truth-revealing salve reveals that time has been altered (how often does THAT come up that she knows what that reaction means?). Still, that’s just alchemy again.
  • She has a lot of bling – jewelry, totemic masks, dreamcatchers, and other oddities. Her only real competition in that field is Twilight and her collection of mad-scientist machines. That probably isn’t really a power, but I have gratuitously made it into one as a possible bonus feat.

Ponyfinder gives all Zebra’s the Poison Use ability and a facility with languages. This time… I didn’t go with that except as possible bonus feats. Equestria really only seems to have one major language and is notably short on the use of poisons – and even if it WASN’T, a knack for using weapon poisons would really only be useful to adventurers. A racial talent that’s utterly useless to 99% or more of the race seems kind of weird.

 

Prince Blueblood’s Aggravating Pony Overlord List Part I – The Throne Room

Today, in celebration and parody of Peter’s classic “Evil Overlord List“, here we have Prince Blueblood’s take on it – Part I of the Pony Overlord List.

  1. I will not set myself up as a god. I am a cartoon pony and I am BETTER than that.
  2. My Legions of Cuddly will have Pony Suits that completely conceal their faces, sexes, and all other identifiable details, complete with voice masks! As well as the necessary month-long training course in how to walk, function effectively, and ham it up while wearing one!
  3. My ventilation ducts will be big enough to blow hurricanes into my rooms for dramatic cape-billowing effects – and my capes shall have breakaway safety clasps, so that they can easily be dramatically tossed aside to be carried away by said winds!
  4. My virtuous and well-loved relative whose power I have usurped will be kept on as a figurehead and not told that I have taken over so that I can spend more time partying while they handle all of the boring stuff.
  5. Shooting is excellent for my enemies! They shall be photographed in all their most exasperated and embarrassing moments and will be the subject of many snarky articles and skits on Saturday Night Live!
  6. The Unicorn Horn which is the primary focus of my power shall be kept on top of my head, where it shall poke holes in hats!
  7. I will gloat over my enemies lack of fashion sense before having them subjected to a celebrity roast on a major network!
  8. When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Before you kill me, tell me what this is all about!” I shall say, “I thought you knew! I just do things! Get out there, brush off your inventiveness, and don’t come back until you’ve come up with an ingenious evil scheme explaining my actions that I can take credit for!”
  9. After I kidnap the beautiful princess, I will take her to major parties and try to seduce her by showing her how sparkly my plans are! That gym membership, the toning exercises, the spa staff, and all the rest is oh so worth it!
  10. All of my vehicles and structures will include a large, red, self-destruct button in an utterly obvious location! It will be clearly labeled “Self-Destruct! Do not push!”. When you push it, you will immediately find yourself smoking three cigarettes and wanting more, stuffing on butter, pasta, and sausage, drinking vodka, wanting to watch TV all day, and averse to exercise!
  11. I shall interrogate my enemies by playing “Truth Or Dare” with them in my inner sanctum! Or, if they are all cute enough, Spin The Bottle! The embarrassment alone shall probably do them in!
  12. You are rated on the greatness of your enemies! I will leave them as many clues, signs, and easy escapes as they need to make themselves look incredibly fortunate and competent at all times!
  13. One of my advisors will be an average World Of Warcraft nerd! No plans will be implemented until he has ignored them for several weeks and then talked about how useless they are in killing bosses on TeamSpeak! By that time any obvious shortcomings have probably come up in the planning committee!
  14. The hero may have my last drink and cigarette! If I’m down to the last, I need to go shopping while he’s consuming them!
  15. All my equipment will have flickering digital countdowns, even if they mean nothing at all! They are extremely distracting to your enemies and have a wonderfully ominous effect!
  16. I will always ask defeated enemies to fill out a customer satisfaction survey! I need to know which of my tactics is most annoying!
  17. I will have lots of sons! And I shall indulge their plans to get fun stuff for parties as much as possible! Why be an Overlord at all if you are not going to take advantage of the privileges? Also, bring me canapes, brandy, and pretty young mares!
  18. I will have lots of beautiful daughters! They will provide a reason for my wickedness, for how else will I be able to attract a sufficient supply of handsome heroes for them to marry?
  19. I will indulge in maniacal laughter! Not only is it fun, but if you don’t give your opponents time to do something it will be boring!
  20. I will hire a talented fashion designer and use her to deflect incoming cakes and pies! On the day that she comes up with something fashionable to do with them VICTORY WILL BECOME INEVITABLE!
  21. If a power-granting energy field is bigger than my head, I shall see if it is also available commercially in a convenient pill or potion form!
  22. I will keep a special cache of party supplies and train a Swedish bikini team in their use! That way, even if the heroes manage to sabotage my party cannon, a party can be airdropped in when a tab is pulled!
  23. Whenever someone manages to damage my hair I shall cry “No! This CANNOT BE! My hairstyle is INVINCIBLE!”
  24. All of my machinery shall be rube Goldberg contraptions, with only one safe spot to stand in when they are in operation OR blowing up! And I shall be standing there, like Leslie in The Great Pie Fight!
  25. All prisoners shall be sent to my bedchamber! I used all the space for dungeons making my bedroom larger than most football stadiums anyway!
    (They can play hide-and-seek there, and maybe find my best robe; it’s been missing for MONTHS).
  26. I will never build anything important! Hieronymus Machines are MUCH more reliable than actual mechanisms! And they frustrate those scientific hero types no end!
  27. My pet monsters shall be kept under the bed and in the closet, so that they can leap out and cuddle people! No hero would ever harm a giant friendly fuzzy thing that wants to be petted no matter how encumbering it is to be snuggled!
  28. I shall dress in nothing much, since I am a pony! But I will have roses to carry in my teeth and snack on occasionally!
  29. All incompetent conjurers, bumbling squires, useless minstrels, and cowardly sleight-of-hoof artists in my realm will be recruited for the circus! They are a precious resource of entertainment and need jobs!
  30. All foolish, young, big-chested, tavern girls in my realm will be required to attend sex education classes with all the other kids and will get free health care, including contraceptives, just like everybody else!
  31. Any messengers who bring me bad news will face heated sarcasm which they will have to take back to the people who sent me such bad news in the first place instead of doing their jobs and FIXING THE PROBLEM! They will also get a good tip and a cell phone so that the news won’t have to wait while they come in person next time!
  32. I won’t require high-ranking mares in my organization to wear anything at all! Ponies usually don’t! But if they want to, that’s their business! I’m not commenting on ANY females clothing unless invited, and even then only in the vaguest of positive terms!
  33. I will turn SOMETHING or other into a snake! I’m sure it will help somehow! Perhaps with finding all the heroes who have gotten lost in the ventilation ducts…
  34. I am not a goat. I will not grow a Goatee. Save it for Grogar.
  35. My prison will have plenty of team-building, job-training, and morale building exercises! There’s no point in locking people up if they’re not going to be better people when they get out!
  36. If my trusted lieutenant tells me that my Legions are losing to the heroes, I will immediately rebrand them as a delaying tactic and announce that everything is going just as I planned it!
  37. If an enemy has a younger sibling or offspring anywhere I will find them and give them front-row tickets for any confrontation! And for the mecha battle that comes next! Kids love that sort of thing!
  38. I will not ride into battle no matter who says that I must! It would be WEIRD!
  39. I will be chivalrous, sporting, and obnoxious! If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I shall dismantle it carefully! After all, if it is unstoppable than I would eventually be one of its victims because once started it WILL NOT STOP!
  40. Once my power is secure it will be very boring, so I shall build time travel devices to go back and compete with myself for dominion! After all, if I won already, I must be the best opponent around!
  41. When I capture a hero, I will also ensure that I capture whatever cute animals or child sidekicks capable of opening doors, stealing keys, and cutting or chewing ropes, happen to be following him around! They are cute and cuddly and help attract the mares!
  42. When I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans I will immediately let her participate in my plans for a really fun evening!
  43. I will cheerfully employ bounty hunters who work for the fun of it. Why should I care if they’re mostly ineffectual when I’m not actually wasting resources on them anyway?
  44. I will not bother keeping track of who is responsible for things in my organization. I change my mind all the time anyway.
  45. If somebody says “What can one man do?” I shall say “Pretty much anything a million men can do; it will just take longer! Go back to advisor school!”
  46. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I shall wait until he grows up a bit and offer him a good job with better pay and health insurance. Youthful idealism wears thin pretty fast!
  47. Any beast that’s working for me is getting paid accordingly, just like the rest of the staff! And it will just have to put up with me when I have a bad day, just like everyone else! Being an Overlord does come with SOME privileges after all!
  48. If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact that can destroy me, I shall promptly commission another counter-artifact, just like I did for the last fifty such artifacts!
  49. My main computers will run on Windows. If they run on anything else they might as well be bricks; even I will never be able to hire enough staff who can properly use the things to get anything done!

Eclipse d20 – Examining Corruption and Specialization

And today it is a question that actually gets into the roots of one of Eclipse’s major mechanics – Corruption and Specialization. Thus it’s answer is a lot more general than you’d think, and worth presenting as an article.

The original question was focused on the various class builds for the Book Of Nine Swords. Those include a very general power suite, bound by a long list of limitations that Specialized and Corrupted the package to increase its effects (rather than reducing the cost, or modifying them in some other way, or some combination thereof) and to duplicate the various limitations of the original classes.

Those limitations are:

  • All the effects must adhere to a narrow set of themes, and must build on previous abilities in the same theme.
  • All effects must be tactical-combat oriented.
  • The user can only create a limited number of effects, and must purchase those for 1 CP each – although he or she may trade out a limited number of them for other effects later on.
  • The user may only have one-half (rounded up) of those effects available at any one time, and must spend some time out of combat to change which ones are available.
  • The user must ready abilities from his or her available subset before they can be used and, once one has been used, must ready it again before it can be used again. This can be partially bypassed, allowing the character to ready a group of maneuvers at one time for +1 CP per additional maneuver which can be readied at a time. It can also be entirely bypassed for a given maneuver (these are usually known as “Stances”) by spending +2 CP on it, for a total of three.
  • Maneuvers can be readied by any one of many different processes – such as by taking a full round action to ready one again (typical of the Swordsage), by random selection during each round of combat (typical of the Crusader), or by whatever mechanism the game master decides is acceptable for a given character.
  • The user must meet the minimum level requirements to use any given effect. That’s a standard restriction, but it’s always worth noting.

Jirachi’s question was basically “Which bit(s) make it Corrupted and which bit(s) make it Specialized? You once corrupted a ‘create any spell’ power to the wizard/sorcerer list, so I would assume that the rest (aside from the ‘limited set of themes’ creates the specialization? Knowing would make it much easier to create new restrictions to fit“.

That is a pretty reasonable question – but it gets at the heart of why Eclipse doesn’t include a list of plug-them-in Specializations and Corruptions. Instead it leaves the ultimate call up to whoever is running the game. The idea, after all, is simply that a “Corrupted” power is awkward to use, or places mild restraints on the character. A “Specialized” one has major restrictions on its use or places a serious burden on the character.

But what is “Specialized” and what is “Corrupted” will vary from game to game and with what is being modified. There’s really no way around that no matter how annoying leaving it up to the game master can be; it’s one of the ways Eclipse is set up to adapt to a given setting

As an example…

Do you have a set of dark and terrible powers that will only work in the depths of the night under the light of the full moon?

With many powers and settings that would probably be “Specialized” AND “Corrupted”. After all, the full moon is only for three days per month, and the “depths of the night” only averages about eight hours a day! If this is an NPC, you just make sure to confront him or her when his or her power is not at its peak!

But what if – instead of being a set of conventional abilities intended for use in a fight – those dark and terrible powers are ways to curse the land until the curse is lifted? Or dread rituals with year-long effects that you only need to perform once a year to keep their benefits? Now those two conditions aren’t much of a restraint at all are they? They might count as a Corruption if there are reasonably easy ways to negate the effects of your rituals and so leave you without their benefits for most of a month on occasion, but if that isn’t likely to happen… then those conditions are really nothing more than flavor text. You might still get to count them as a Disadvantage – gaining 3 CP for including that interesting bit of flavor in your writeup – but your choice of disadvantages is not a big deal; they are designed to be a small and limited reward for adding some flavor to your character in any case.

The same goes for it being a way to open gates between worlds to go on epic adventures, or if it’s the only locally-available Resurrection power, or it’s when you can see into the future and utter prophecies about events coming up during the next millennium. “You have to wait a bit” isn’t that big a restriction on something you only want to use on very special occasions.

As for why it might vary based on the campaign, lets consider a few of the possibilities there.

What if the campaign is set entirely in the Evernight, a dimension of eternal darkness and twisted black forests beneath the distant stars and a perpetual full moon? A dread place where lycanthropes and undead reign supreme, conducting a shadow war over who gets to prey on the trembling human population?

Unless you interpret “under the light of the full moon” as requiring that you be under an open sky rather than in a building or beneath a forest canopy, we’re back to flavor text again.

Does the setting feature a slowly-rotating world with six weeks of overheated daylight beneath the red sun and six weeks of frigid darkness beneath the full moon as its “day” and “night”? Well, you’ll try to make sure that all your activities take place during the night weeks so as to have the full use of your powers and the game master will throw out stuff that you have to take care of during the daylight weeks – and so your power will be restricted, but still useful more often than not. That’s pretty much the definition of a Corrupted power.

Are they combat powers, but ones that you can store, so that you can actually use them anytime, but can only restock your magical arsenal on three nights a month? Well, that’s a bit limiting – but you probably went for “increased effect” so that you’d have a set of trump cards up your sleeve. That’s probably “Specialized”. It WILL drastically limit your use of those powers, but if you’re sensible about using them, they will be there when you really need them.

So, depending on the setting and the powers… exactly the same set of limitations could be anything from “Specialized and Corrupted” to “Mere flavor text, no modifier”.

Admittedly those are some rather extreme examples – but it’s yet another reason why, when designing an Eclipse character, you need a strong concept and you need to work with the game master. If you’re lucky… the restrictions you wanted to apply to your powers to fit your character concept will be worth more than you think.

In fact, that’s actually pretty common. Most GM’s are quite happy to reward and encourage players who come up with interesting characters rather than optimized chess pieces.

This is also why Eclipse characters are fairly easy to shift between games – but it’s a lot like porting a 3.5 character over to a Pathfinder game; you’ll need to adjust for powers that are cheaper, more expensive, or disallowed in the new setting.

When it comes to the sample characters, the ones which are really generic – like the various “class” builds as opposed to the builds made for specific settings – are often over-limited. They have more restrictions than they really need to have because they need to fit into any campaign and the setting, or their specific power choices, might make some of those limitations irrelevant.

Now as for WHY Eclipse was set up that way… the biggest influence was probably early editions of Champions (now known as the Hero System). It included long lists of modifiers that could increase or decrease the cost of powers while altering how they worked in various ways – and one of the big features / bugs (depending on who was looking) of generating characters was hunting for ways to apply “limitations” to your abilities that didn’t actually limit you (whether that was due to being irrelevant to the setting or how you were actually using the power) or which left the game master with a choice between taking you out of action for the evening or letting you get away with stuff. (Most let you get away with it, because having you sit at the table yawning and interrupting with small talk because you had nothing to do was even worse).

Now, admittedly I had fun making such characters too – but making nigh-invincible characters on a handful of points was very bad for the actual play of the game.

Thus Eclipse cost modifiers / power multipliers are rated by the game master rather than coming as a set list. The game master is unlikely to be perfect – but he or she knows the setting and can talk to the player about what he or she has in mind. That puts the local game master way ahead of me when it comes to pretty much any local campaign.