Literary World Laws in Eclipse, Part One:

Today it’s a question that has jumped to the top of the queue because it brought so much stuff to mind that I just had to write it down…

How would you recommend creating a series of world laws that enforce symbolism, foreshadowing and similar things?

-Jirachi

Basically I think this is “I want a more literary feel to the game – more like Beowulf or The Lord Of The Rings” – so lets look at a few possible World Laws to produce that result.

Stochastic Echoes:

Events that are particularly important to a person – or the world – echo backwards and forwards through the timelines, appearing in dreams later or moments of literal or symbolic vision before. While any individual echo is not guaranteed to come to pass in YOUR timeline, they are often clues as to what might happen.

For most folk echoes pass unnoted; they may avoid a few accidents, but dreams of their death in a plague, or marriage, or the birth of a grandchild are often either happy moments or things they can do little about. Adventurers however… Adventurers are involved with great deeds. They may see themselves dying in some trap, catch a glimpse of some opponent long before they appear, see some past event which is a clue to their current adventures, or become aware of some occurrence in a distant location even if they have no idea why it might be important.

  • Hand out 1d4 such clues or visions during each session. For example, Frodo was hunted by the Ringwraiths – but the group caught a glimpse of them long before they actually attacked. Vision or reality? Does it matter? They were, at least to some extent, warned.
  • Give the entire group at least three, and possibly more, insights into the consequences of their actions at the end of a session – at a minimum, one positive, one problematic, and one outright foreboding item. Did the characters massacre a dark cult and rescue the children who were about to be sacrificed to the Seven-Tentacled Beast Of Darkness? You could note…
    • The joy of the children’s families or the celebration in the nearby villages.
    • The reaction of a powerful noble who may have another mission for such noble heroes – or perhaps is annoyed at the loss of some pawns.
    • The annoyance of the slave traders who have lost a profitable market for poor-quality slaves.
    • The reckless delvings of the treasure-seekers who will soon be searching for something (treasure, magical device, place of power, bound spirit, whatever) that the Cult was supposedly keeping hidden.
    • The stirring of something long bound in the depths – whether because the cult is no longer keeping it bound, because it seeks revenge against those who destroyed it’s servants, or because spilling so much blood in it’s dark fane has awakened it.
  • Antagonists get information from Echoes as well. Minor Antagonists receive three free levels of the Foresight skill. Major Antagonists get seven and three levels of Stealing The Scene.

Oathbinding

To swear a great oath is to take your destiny in your own hands and give it shape. To be forsworn is to wound that destiny and risk bringing a terrible fate upon yourself. An oath may bind the one who swears it beyond death itself. Still, amongst the adventurous few, great oaths – to defend the realm, to slay the dragon, to avenge a lover, to defeat the dark lord – are given. Such mighty oaths are sworn because there is power in them, the strength to accomplish things that might otherwise be far beyond your grasp. In fact that drive is a part of what gives great oaths their power; swearing to a minor deed, or attempting to include a cheap loophole in your vow, results in a minor and powerless oath. Characters may only be sworn to one great oath at a time and must allow at least a month to elapse between the fulfillment of one oath and the swearing of another. If they voluntarily renounce an oath they will suffer the consequences for a year and a day and may not swear another great oath during that time.

  • While a great oath is in effect a character acting in direct pursuit of his or her oath (sidequests, distractions, and random encounters generally do not count) will be assisted as needed by a level four spell effect of the game masters choice up to seven times per month.
  • A character who renounces or refuses to fulfill a great oath will instead find themselves targeted by a similar number of malignant level four (or less) spells every month for a year and a day at the worst possible times – when destiny (the game master) feels that they will be most dangerous – or until they either return to keeping their vow (which will stop the negative effects, but not restore the positive ones) or somehow atone – most often through some great self-sacrifice or quest with no other rewards.
  • Characters who die without completing an oath sometimes appear to those who pass near the place of their death to ask their aid in completing the oath or to “pass it on” by recruiting someone else to swear the same oath, sometimes rise as revenants consumed by the desire to complete their oath, sometimes appear in dreams or to religious figures of their faith to seek forgiveness for their failure, and sometimes just die; .there’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the decisions of fate.

You can build this ability in Eclipse as a Feat, which gives us a point of comparison; allowing the characters to make Great Oaths is pretty much like letting them have a free feat. It’s not too hard to compensate for in Eclipse, but is a modest power bump. Of course… getting players to foreshadow their characters actions is a bit tricky, since “use their characters special abilities to deal with the problems they face” is a given and their characters actions tend to be either fairly random or entirely stereotypical outside of that. Ergo, Great Oaths. You get the players to give some advance notice of their actions by offering them a reward for doing so.

Whispering Tales:

Tales have their own life. The world shapes them, and they in turn shape the world to their narrative. Instead of becoming more and more distorted as told again and again, legends, tales of haunts, and whispered rumors tend to become more real, and more accurate – even if that truth is often buried in symbolism and metaphor – as they pass through the generations of men, while the tales without a kernel of truth are oft forgotten. Which way the arrow of cause and effect truly points remains unknown, and perhaps unknowable, but in the end it matters little. Almost any traditional tale will likely lead somewhere – and those who choose to involve themselves in it may bind a bit of the power of it’s narrative around themselves.

Characters may seek out (I.E; Players may invent and present) tales and legends over and above any that the game master chooses to present, binding a bit of the power of those narratives about themselves – although how much power accrues to them depends on the quality of those tales. A character who “seeks out” such a tale gains either one Rune/Whimsy Card or 1d4 temporary skill points to place in Action Skills of his or her choice for a lesser tale. The award is doubled for a well-developed tale and tripled for a superb one – although characters may not hold more than five cards or fifteen temporary skill levels over between games.

For some examples, here we have the tales of The Hunt, The Grove, The Well, The House, and The Ship – all of which were originally created to add backstory and suggest adventures in a game.

On the metagame level, creating (or researching and tweaking) a tale or legend is also a player request; did a player come up with a tale of bandits, a cursed underground cave of gems, and an imprisoned spirit? Well, that’s a free adventure background, a quick test to see whether the rest of the party might be interested in it (if they have questions or suggestions on expanding the tale, they certainly are), and a request for such an adventure all in one – and automatically provides such an adventure with some foreshadowing and very likely some symbolic content. Stories are like that.

Dragon-Gold And Eldritch Swords

Once upon a time, in Beowulf, The Lord Of The Rings, the Kalevala, and so many other sources – including first and second edition – powerful magical items were rare (and often unique) and wealth brought you XP but thereafter might as well be spent. Why NOT build a castle, support an orphanage, or spend on wild parties? It wasn’t like that heap of gold really DID anything for you.

Then, of course, came wealth-by-level, magic-marts, penny-pinching, upgrading and exchanging magical items, endless accounting, and all the other downsides of making Wealth a measure of personal magical power. Somehow, it’s never seemed to be quite as “magical” even if it IS magic now.

  • The Wealth Templates in The Practical Enchanter are intended to eliminate the accounting. Wealth is still useful, but there’s no need to track every copper.
  • The Charms and Talismans from the same source are minor items of practical magic. Additional examples of designing Charms and Talismans can be found in this (Do-it-yourself Charms and Talismans: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII) series of articles – and here’s an accounting of how they’d fit into The Lord Of The Rings.

Unique magical devices are generally created as Relics, as is explored in the Literary Magic Items and Sample Relics articles.

  • Part I: General information on how to build and use relics and on the role of other magic items in the game, the Hat of the Demon Pirate Ferret, the Chessboard of the Invisible Hand (a device of political manipulation), the Cloak of Zorro (for dashing heroes who do not wish to be indentified), the Kether Scrolls, The Malachite Bindings (a tome of dark magics), the Skull of Scykanthos (a tool of lycanthropic ritual magic), and Arnwen’s Sacred Sunstone.
  • Part II: The Gossamer Shroud of Death, The Clasp of the Mandarin (a social device), and Grimfang the Oath-Blade of Heroes.
  • Part II: The Seals of Seigrun – devices which provide limited spellcasting in any one field at a time – and Lawgiver, a paladin’s blade of atrocious power.
  • Part IV: Weapons of Legend, Stormbreaker, the Bracer of the Archmagi, and the Lion Bracer.
  • Part V: A Quill which forges Scrolls, a Sigil which commands Undead Thieves, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Dragon Crowns – superheroic power devices.
  • Part VI: A Demonslayer’s Helm, Parrying Dagger, Metamagical Rings, and Skill Enhancing Relics.
  • Part VII: The Coronet Of Command, The Sheathe Of Excalibur, The Staff Of Rassilon, Sortilege Staff, and Minor Items:

As a special bonus, here we have The Silmarils of the Manifold – a look at converting Tolkien’s Silmarils into something playable – and a collection of Minor Relics suitable for almost any game. Gandalf and the Balrog for Eclipse d20 also has a relic or two, but that discussion is complicated enough that I’ll leave it all in context, rather than simply adding the relic(s) to these lists.

Village Heroes, Child Heroes, and Hedge Wizardry are explored in these series of articles.

Finally, we have how to supply your heroes in such a system with limited-use magical items:

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys? (6+ CP):

  • This package turns various limited-use innate magical abilities into charms, fetishes, potions, dusts, bags that “contain” spells, strange crystals, and even quasi-technological gadgets. This is a VERY powerful effect, and is likely to be a major sources of a higher-level “Nephews” special abilities.
    • Create Relic: Specialized and Corrupted / only to make limited-use items (Apply “Specialized / Does Not Recover to the items created, only select abilities that normally offer a limited number of daily uses) costing a maximum of 3 CP each, only using points from Enthusiast (2 CP).
    • Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (provides four floating CP) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / points may only be used with Create Relic, limited as above (4 CP).
    • Expanded: Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted (+1 CP for Relic Creation per CP).
  • The basic package gets you 4 CP worth of relics to start with – with the various limitations, enough to get you quite a few gadgets to play with. Another 6 CP worth will get you a small magical arsenal.

For some examples:

Spell Talismans:

  • Innate Spell with Multiple Uses:
    • Two L1 Effects: 6 Uses Each (1 CP), 14 Uses Each (2 CP), 22 Uses Each (3 CP).
    • L2 Effect: 6 Uses (1 CP), 14 Uses (2 CP), 22 Uses (3 CP).
    • L3 Effect: 5 Uses (1 CP), 13 Uses (2 CP), 21 Uses (3 cp).
    • Related L3 and L4 Effect (1 CP), either 5 Uses of Each or a Related L5 and L6 Effect (2 CP), 9 Uses Each of a related L3 and L4 effect (3 CP).
    • Related Set: One effect of each level 3-7 (3 CP).
  • Unfortunately, this doesn’t bypass the level requirements for using innate spells, so low-level artificers must wait a while before using the high-level stuff. On the other hand, there’s nothing at all wrong with taking along a plentiful supply of Multiplying Shuriken (Magic Missile), Rainbow Crystals (Color Spray), Healing Draughts (Cure Light Wounds), and Origami Golems (Unseen Servants) on your early adventures.

Curative Ointment.

  • Healing Touch with Bonus Uses (enough to cure (5 x Chr Mod x Level HP) and Improved/Switch/Empower with Bonus Uses to provide (4+Level/3) total uses of Remove Disease, Remove Blindness/Deafness, Cure Serious Wounds, Remove Curse, Neutralize Poison, and Restoration (3 CP).
  • Curative ointment isn’t all that level-dependent, so a low-level party may find having a pot along very VERY helpful.

Sorcerer’s Bag:

  • Improved Occult Talent, Corrupted for Increased Effect (spell level) / slots must be preset. provides 5L1 and 3L2 charms/fetishes/scrolls/whatever with whatever you like in them for (1 CP).
  • That’s not as many uses as you can get from Innate Spell, but you do get a wide variety of effects. This is taking cheesy advantage of the rounding rule, but Improved Occult Talent is not likely to break the game.

Ring of Whispered Wishes:

  • 6d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Corrupted / cannot be used for other purposes (3 CP).
  • This useful little item answers small wishes – that there be something solid to catch onto when you’re sliding towards the cliff, that an opponent suffer some brief disadvantage, that a spell operate in a way it really shouldn’t or pierce that spell resistance. There’s usually enough power for none or ten very minor requests, but larger boons expend the rings power far more rapidly.

Someone with this package makes a wonderful seller of potions and items that provide more uses of your own abilities, rather than independent abilities. Even better, they don’t need expensive ingredients, or to spend experience points, or to have all kinds of spell formula available. If you kill them, their stock

A Feeling Of Entitlement:

Give each session a cryptic title hinting at it’s theme. Is it going to be about a cult summoning hellhound spirits to possess their victims to use as cannon fodder? Write “Howl of Darkness” on an index card (color coded marker calliography optional) and prop it up on the table. If you want to get really elaborate, provide subtitles for individual scenes.

OK, this is less a world law than a game master habit, but it is especially easy.

Adventure Design:

For general adventure design, I’d suggest The Basic Adventure article, as well as the Ridmarch articles (Part I, Part II, and Part III) – in part because Ridmarch is a good demonstration of the way that foreshadowing flows naturally from an adventure background. Adventurers coming to Ridmarch will hear the ringing of distant bells – foreshadowing their use as a defense, which foreshadows the potential use of the Bell of the Nameless Sentinel to end the threat. An ominous town and uncooperative townsfolk foreshadow a demon cult, the demon cult leads to a portal to the abyss in a cavern or monsters, the portal leads to a demon lord. A mangled corpse foreshadows a group of monstrous undead, who foreshadow a dark horde which rises anew with each nightfall no matter how often they are slain. In each case… small things lead to greater things, and offer clues as to their nature.

And next time around on this… a few world laws to benefit the antagonists.

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4 Responses

  1. […] Arda is subject to something similar to Oathbinding – but the effects are more subtle, and more pervasive. Worse, while minor oaths are […]

  2. […] Arda is subject to something similar to Oathbinding – but the effects are more subtle, and more pervasive. Worse, while minor oaths are […]

  3. […] may swear a Great Oath (see Oathbinding), regardless of whether or not that world law is in […]

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