Eclipse – Distant Divination or Spooky Action At A Distance

And this time around it’s a question…

Are there any ways to engage in long-range detection, communication, information-gathering in Fantasy d20, ideally on a (semi-)perpetual basis without having to layer on heaping helpings of metamagic? I ask because the tactical nature of most d20 magic means that you’re typically limited to, at most, a few hundred feet for the (typically short-term) duration of the spell(s) in question.

The result is that any sort of magical “alert” system is either limited to small-scale things like alarm spells, or being able to throw around epic-level effects in order to cover a kingdom. There’s no other way to, for example, instantly be aware when demons intrude upon the realm, or when an army marches across the border, or when a town is razed to the ground. Meanwhile, d20 Future allows for starship sensors to work at “battlefield range” (which for starships is something like 500 ft. per square, which is easily a few miles at the very least) for the equivalent of a few hundred gp. The best Fantasy d20 can seem to do is an item that perpetually casts animal messenger.

Notwithstanding taking Dominion, what’s a good answer for something like this?

-Alzrius

Good communications runs directly counter to several classic fantasy tropes – the messenger making a heroic effort to get a vital message through, the city or fortress which has not been heard from in weeks (and has probably fallen to some horror), the first news of the dragon attack being carried by exhausted refugees, and many more. If there are good communications, you’re going to miss out on having the Beacons of Gondor lit in warning or finding the lost journal chronicling the fate of the expedition and it’s final, dreadful, warning.

Similarly, despite Dr. Strange and the Orb of Agamotto, fantasy heroes generally don’t hear about an intrusion by elder horrors or the opening of some terrible gate until it’s done a lot of damage. Showing up carrying a load of gear specifically designed to banish the horror and doing so before it’s had a chance to do anything much takes most of the drama out of it.

That’s not to say that you can’t have such things – this IS Eclipse after all – but it’s important to note that they’re going to have quite an impact on the setting and on the kind of adventures that will work in it.

So here are some things you could buy!

Omen Mastery:

On the personal scale, continuous detections are mostly used to avoid being surprised. That one is fairly easy: just buy:

  • Occult Sense / Attackers. You are always at least vaguely aware of when something is coming to attack you. When actually attacked you cannot be caught flat-footed and are always considered to have just had three rounds to prepare (6 CP).

If you add a bit of specialized Blessing – or just take a free action to yell a warning – and you can probably alert your entire party in time to avoid any unpleasant surprises such as scry-and-die tactics. It’s important to note that – unless you spend another 6 CP on “Improved” – this doesn’t tell you much of anything about what’s coming. That didn’t matter much for Granny – who had a fairly limited set of preparations for meeting attacks – but it might matter a lot to characters with more combat flexibility.

For Those With Eyes To See:

There are plenty of other possible Occult Senses of course – you could be sensitive to pollution, or to demonic incursions, or to threats to the realm. The tradeoff is generally that they aren’t all that useful in combat. Do you live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of radioactive dust? Well, “Sense Radiation” will be a lot of help – and most of the time you won’t care if it’s a relatively minor source nearby or a major source further away; you don’t want to go that way in either case.

  • As an example, if you buy Occult Sense / Unnatural Disturbances (perhaps you “hear” the complaints of the natural world at such intrusions) or some such, you can opt to have it work like hearing; the greater the disturbance or “louder the noise”, the further away you can “hear” it. Someone summoning a minor demon? You might hear strange whispers from a few blocks away. Someone opening the Greater Gates of the Abyss to let an infernal invasion ravage the nine lands of the world and usher in ten thousand years of darkness? That’s more like Krakatoa going off – a noise that was clearly heard three thousand miles away and was still detectable on it’s fourth trip around the world.

You’ll still want to add “Improved” if you want a little more detail though.

Heart Of The Realm:

On the scale of a city-state, but still on a purely personal level, you just need to be able to make instant “Gather Information” checks. There are several characters on the list – Granny (who uses a third level telepathic effect) and Cable (who uses a bit of reality editing on his own timeline) who already do that – but if you want to do it a LOT, you will want something like…

  • Immunity/the time normally required to make Gather Information checks. (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP). (This could also be done with Opportunist or even with Occult Sense (Detect what information I would have gotten if I’d actually had time to make the skill check normally) for the same cost).

That will allow you to find out quite a lot of stuff – at least as long as it’s more or less public events. You’ll miss out on the deep secrets, and that some long-forgotten gate to the underworld is opening, and so on though. On the other hand, this is entirely under your control; you can make a quick check to determine what you’ve been able to find out about someone whenever you want to – or at least until the game master throws a book at you.

The Rite Of Askente:

For a general-purpose way to get some questions answered – finding out if the Tomb of the Arch-Lich remains sealed, or where the original Necronomicon is hidden, or some such – you can go with…

  • Inherent Spell, Specialized for Increased Effect (Contact Other Plane) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP) / Requires an occult laboratory and a variety of special props, plus Luck, Specialized and Corrupted / only for the check to avoid a reduction in Intelligence and Charisma (2 CP).

Now, while Contact Other Plane is normally a pretty lousy spell (just get the Cleric to use Commune if it’s worth 500 GP or you actually want to be sure), this package does let you pull out all kinds of exotic information. It’s not exactly unlimited use or ideal for asking about current events, but it IS a great way to prepare for adventures. Do you need the secret rituals contained in the Lindhorm Manuscript? “Where is the Lindhorm Manuscript?” “Waterdeep”. “What guards it?” “Dragons”. “What kind of dragons”? “Blue”…

Even if you’re now out of questions for the day – and won’t really be sure you got the right answers (there’s only an 88% chance per question) until you ask confirming questions and cross-check them – that’s STILL an enormous advantage. Information really is power.

Rulership By Divine Right:

For a god-king or priest-king it’s hard to get too much more classical than having supernatural powers advising you. To get that, just take…

  • Favors (The Local Gods), Corrupted for Increased Effect (the Gods provide you a daily briefing on upcoming major events that will affect the realm you live in – or, for that matter, your life) and will only ask for things in return that a powerful mortal might reasonably do – having a temple built, supporting the state religion, routing out a heretical cult, driving off that demonic invasion they warned you about, and so on. Unfortunately, they will make such demands quite regularly and will never take any actual action on your behalf – limiting themselves to sending you daily prophetic dreams / messengers / scrolls to read at breakfast or whatever other form they opt to provide the information in (3 CP). This could also fit in as a minor privilege (also 3 CP).

I’m not so sure that this is a good power for a non-adventurer – for THEM I might count it as the “Accursed” disadvantage since they will often have no use for such information and will find the “requests” near-impossible – but for an adventurer it basically amounts to “I get a daily newspaper and an advance briefing on my next adventure”.

Intelligence Services (A.K.A. the Royal Collegium Of Astrologers, the Diviner’s Guild, or any of many other names):

To be entirely classical on a larger scale buy…

  • Leadership, Specialized and Corrupted / Only to provide operatives who provide information about what is going on in the realm and quick and easy communications between their posts and with a small number of VIP’s. They do NOT provide other magical services or go on adventures. As relatively low-level mortals, however, they have a hard time dealing with impulsive actions by individual powerful entities (3 CP, but often taken as part of a Sanctum package).

Now this presumes a lot of NPC hustle and bustle behind the scenes, but it’s not like that’s particularly unreasonable – and “has good communications and knows what is going on” is a pretty reasonable use of Leadership. Of course, this also takes the setting from a medevial fantasy basis, where towns may be out of contact for weeks, massacres pass unreported, and where you may attempt to outflank an attacking army only to find that a secondary force has occupied the towns you’d hoped to warn, to a Victorian level – where you may get hourly reports on the progress of a siege and a final message telling you that the attackers have brought in a dragon, the defenses are collapsing, and “this may be my last report”.

Now there are several ways to set up quick communications between individual characters, but for a really general system you’ll want a Heartstone from The Practical Enchanter and to set up an agent Package Deal (probably a bit of Witchcraft Training focused on investigative powers and a version of the Heartstone Attunement feat that skips “Scribe Scroll” in favor of reduced requirements). That lets even a low-level Stone serve as a communications hub and provide some special benefits for your agents. Go ahead; put it in your Sanctum too.

Alternatively, you can use a Magical Business (taking the x.5 modifier for an immobile magic item) – lets call it a Network Hub – using Mindlink (the L1 Psionic Power) with the Renewal option. You’ll have to make it an intelligent item, since the link will be between it and everyone else – but that’s useful in it’s own way; it will have no need to sleep. There will have to be schedules and emergency protocols since the Network Hub will be sustaining hundreds of links and won’t be able to talk to everyone at once – but this setup can maintain one hundred links per caster level and can be thrown together for less than 10,000 GP. The major limitation is that the links are very vulnerable to being dispelled, while a Heartstone Attunement is an undispellable feat. Still, a Network Hub provides a fair approximation of a telegraph or very limited phone network.

That can get you an excellent intelligence and communications network for a few points and some gold. Of course, you are now essentially running a sub-campaign of “Her Majesties Secret Service” or “The Great Game” – but it can be left in the background of a more traditional game easily enough. Just as importantly, while Intelligence Services are most often seen as the province of governments, you can use exactly the same setup to run a network of underworld informants and contacts, magical researchers, or whatever suits your interests.

Mastermind:

Of course, mere information isn’t enough to run a realm. You need to make sure that your orders make it to threatened areas in good time to actually help. For that you will want…

  • Access to the Occult Skill of Foresight (3 CP plus some skill points, once again often taken as a part of a Sanctum package), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (can take realm-scale actions) / ONLY for realm-scale actions, only with access to Intelligence Services (as above), points are only recovered on a weekly or monthly basis, even if the passage of that much time requires several sessions.

With this talent you can decide that you “had done” something retroactively. Did the game master just inform you that some fool has opened a gateway to the lower planes in the peaceful little town of Stavropoleos? Then you can knock down your current Foresight skill by two or three points and announce “But fortunately, I had the 7’th division and the anti-demon specialists moved to that city just last week! They should be able to maintain the defenses long enough for us to get there!” (The realm-scale equivalent to having a squad of bodyguards just where you need them). This, of course, is in many ways BETTER than good communications. You not only react to the news quickly and effectively, but you started doing it a week before you even got the news. You’re just THAT good.

The Daily Briefing:

This is a secular and personal version of Rulership By Divine Right. It’s more expensive, but you don’t get all those bothersome demands with it. Just buy:

  • Deep Sleep, Specialized / only as a prerequisite (3 CP) and Cosmic Awareness, Specialized for Increased Effect (provides a daily briefing on major events for the day) / Cannot be voluntarily activated and only tracks major events (6 CP). Once again, both are often taken as part of a Sanctum package.

The Daily Briefing provides you with a list of the major events of the day – often somewhat in advance. You will be warned of declarations of war, major supernatural incursions, the reappearance of a Dark God, a major Dragon and some lesser minions moving in, and so on. On the upside, this isn’t too likely to miss anything major; prophetic cosmic awareness usually doesn’t. On the downside, it isn’t too likely to pick up on anything of minor importance. A nearby supernova? Definitely. A border skirmish or a bridge collapsing? Not likely.

It’s worth noting that – like the political influence system and most of the other “half the players aren’t going to be interested in this” items – the “run a realm efficiently” stuff is relatively cheap.

There are other ways of course – these are just the first set that came to mind – but hopefully that will be enough to get you started. Do let me know if you had something more specific in mind; questions are an excellent diversion from being stuck on something (or short of time).

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.

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