Nobilis – The Review And The Brain

As for playing Nobilis itself… I suppose a bit of a review is in order.

Nobilis presents an animistic world reality where natural laws do not exist, where “science” is a comforting lie maintained for the benefit of humanity, and where the players take the roles of new powers – Avatars, Promoters, and Defenders of some concept. By most standards, rather minor gods. To hold the “political” infighting down to something bearable, there is a unifying foe – the Excrucians, who come from the void beyond the Tree of Worlds and wish to destroy it.

Earlier articles in this series include:

Those cover the conversion to d20 mechanics.

Which takes us to some evolutionary biology. You’ll see why in a few moments.

The human mind is a survival mechanism. It looks for patterns in what it observes because recognizing even very simple patterns – “anyone who eats mushrooms like these always seems to die a few days later” – can go a long ways towards keeping a human alive. That was especially important for a species that was spreading out; instinctual behaviors are less advantageous than the capacity for learned behaviors when colonizing a new environment.

When confronted with observations that do not seem to fit into a pattern, humans get a feeling of Awe (“reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”) because human brains take such a mystery as something to be respected, feared, and examined. They do that because – as a survival mechanism – they classify anything that they don’t understand as something that might kill them, even if it’s just words. They go into overdrive, frantically trying to find a pattern. If they do, they trigger their internal “reward” system, making themselves feel good.

That’s the secret of a Zen Koan – an apparent contradiction meant to kick the brain into overdrive that leads to recognition and understanding of a deeper pattern coupled with a pleasant feeling of discovery. They’re teaching tools.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be a real pattern. Given a bunch of randomness, a human brain will soon connect a few random points and then throw in some confirmation bias – looking for more points that fit the imaginary pattern and ignoring bits that don’t fit because that brain has hit the reward function for “finding a pattern” and does not want to give it up. Conspiracy theories rely on that same mechanism, which is why they’re so popular and hard to talk people into giving up. Most games have some of this quality, if only inadvertently. After all, space is limited, so any RPG is going to have lots of things that aren’t covered in much detail, as well as areas beyond its borders that are only hinted at, leaving lots of room for people to add their own notions and wild theories.

Nobilis is awesome, and mysterious, and provokes frantic thought and contemplation through that same mechanism – presenting contradictions. In fact, it presents LOTS of them. That’s why the book is full of utterly independent fragments that do not fit together. Unfortunately, a lot of them are genuine logical contradictions rather than apparent ones – which (depending on the readers psychology) can either sustain that sense of awe and fascination through a constant sense of being on the verge of “understanding” the patterns their brain is trying to pull out of all that random data or simply become irritating. For a common, physical, example of that process, almost any kid will find a kaleidoscope amusing for a bit – but most will soon become bored with the things. Still, there are always a few who will play with them for hours on end. Similarly, some people will find the Nobilis “setting” endlessly fascinating – while others will just find it irritating.

Next up, we need to consider what science is.

Let us say that you make a cup of hot chocolate and taste it. You say “I think that this would be better with a little vanilla!”. You put some vanilla in, stir it, and taste it again to see if it is indeed better.

Observation, Hypothesis, Experimental Test Of Hypothesis. Rejection or Provisional Acceptance of the Hypothesis depending on the result of that test. Congratulations. You’re a scientist, even if you call it “being a cook”.

The Nobilis author shows no comprehension of that of course. After all, they’re relying on a kaleidoscope effect to keep their audience interested, so they cannot afford to admit that almost any kind of cause-and-effect reasoning is basic science.

How can I be sure that I’m looking at a kaleidoscope rather than dealing with a work of genius?

Works of genius are self-consistent. It’s the ability to fit everything into a consistent whole that pretty much defines genius. But in Nobilis…

  • There are no underlying “laws of nature”, and everything is the result of conscious choices. Ergo, all the thoughts in your mind are the result of conscious choices. So there must be spirits making conscious choices about all the thoughts in your mind. But they must have minds to make those conscious choices with. So they must have spirits making conscious choices about all the thoughts in their minds. And those spirits must have minds, so THEY must have spirits, in infinite, ever-expanding, recursion.

That sort of problem was why naive animism like Nobilis presents was abandoned in philosophy a long, long, time ago.

  • Why are there rules about how many miracle points you can have, and how many must be spent at one time, and about skills and attributes and such? Which in-the-setting creature is deciding moment-by-moment to enforce such consistent rules on your incredible powers? “Science” is founded in “stuff that seems to work” and “stuff we see” versus “stuff that doesn’t seem to work” and “stuff that doesn’t seem to be there”, and all that theory comes LATER. Any even partially functional rules system is, at its heart, scientific.

The idea that science – letting survival-oriented brains look for patterns in the world – is an imposition is simply ignoring the fact that the rules of Nobilis are patterns, and scientific. Every animal that’s capable of learning is doing “science” in its own limited way.

  • Claiming that “Science!” insists that the world is round or that the rest of the observable universe exists, and so reality is accommodating it ignores the fact that people had to be compelled to abandon quick-and-easy explanations like “the world is flat” by observing too many things that didn’t fit in with those explanations. A flat earth is just as “scientific” as a round one; it just didn’t fit in with what people actually saw when they looked at things closely.

So “History” revises itself to account for each miracle? Aren’t those happening all the time? So there is no actual history, just an ever-changing now?

  • Yet… Nobilis gives us historical notes and reasons for things, playing up to that tendency to look for patterns while explicitly telling us that there is no meaningful history.

Nobilis tells us that people rely on real-world notions of modern “science” as a mental defense. They have to have it, so the universe is accommodating them. But… very few people actually pay any attention to science, and far, far, fewer than that understand it at all. Why is allowing a few humans to delude themselves a strain on the universe? For those few actual “scientists”… if an observation does not fit with current theory the theory gets discarded. If something is ever observed – such as the effects of magical skills, or miracles – it’s a part of science. The sole reason that science discarded most “magic” is that it never worked when it was tried.

  • Why do a scattering of humans in Nobilis have this need for an illusion of science anyway? It’s not like they’re an evolved species in the setting.

And the list goes on. Apparent contradiction is at the heart of every good murder mystery. The clues seem to fit together one way, but not perfectly – while another, far less obvious, way to put them together is the truth. A really good author can offer an honest chance to solve the mystery by providing all the right clues, but still keep the vast majority of the readers guessing until the final denouncement. Lesser authors have to hide critical bits to keep the readers from figuring it out too soon. Poor authors just leave in self-contradictions or unexplained pieces (popularly known as “plotholes”).

So the setting is a kaleidoscope. Each game master is extracting their own pattern from it – so the only thing that holds the game to a common pattern is the rules system used to run it.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the author produced a high-quality kaleidoscope of a setting… that rules system is deeply problematic. Lets look at it step by step and see how well those rules make the setting function.

It says that there are only a few thousand Nobles on “Earth” and that the setting is pretty much the mundane world around the players – save for the influence of the secret supernatural. It makes some blatant appeals to “how things work” to limit human capabilities, despite “how things work” not being a thing in the setting. So what do the actual rules say that Mortals can do in Nobilis? That will tell us a lot about setting consistency even before involving “Nobles”.

Mortals:

Well… Mortals can have magical skills (and a set of bonds) with no questions asked. Presuming that they have nonhuman ancestry (since domains like “fatherhood”, “motherhood”, and “reproduction” are a thing and family trees do branch, that should be pretty universal) they can have Superior Qualities as well. The maximum objection that the universe puts up to a mortal doing something – however outrageous – with a supernatural skill is a “-5” and penalties do not stack. Bonds can negate part or all of that -5, and a mortal can spend up to 8 will.

Basically, any mortal who is aware that reality goes beyond science gets:

  • 8 Points worth of Skills, Passions, and/or Superior Qualities.
  • 8 Points worth of Bonds.
  • 8 Will.

So what skills are magical in Nobilis?

The book tells us that non-magical skills are used for mundane actions. You know. Mundane – in accordance with the laws of nature and the natural order of the world. Which doesn’t exist in Nobilis. So all skills are magical.

Er… never mind that.

Maybe the “a Skill without an ordinary mode of use – a Skill where everything they might want to do is equally a stretch” definition? But if I know “Card Magic” can’t I do the old “pick a card” routine as well as summon the creatures of the Tarot? Magical skills can have ordinary uses. My Alchemist passion can certainly be used to make potions, but I can quite reasonably blow glass vessels for my laboratory or try to talk someone into funding my elixir of youth research with it. That’s a part of being an Alchemist too.

Never mind that either! Moving on!

I’ve already discussed how a mortal with any combination of Hyperspeed Magic and a Bond adding up to 3 can spend 8 will to move faster than light (which has Superior Speed 5). That’s 3 + 8 Will -5 (penalty for going up against nonstacking -5 penalties for uncooperative reality and a superior quality 5) = 6, which beats out Light. If they have Magic-5 and a Bond-5, they can outrun light at will. They have to invest 1 Will in the project, but they get that back when it’s over.

So… How about a mortal who happens to have some supernatural bloodlines? Lets give him…

  • Superior Quality: Embodiment Of The Storm 5. Magical Skill: Nibelungian Artificer 3.
  • Bonds: Demonstrate The Power Of The Storm 5 and Aid Humanity 3.
  • Tools (from Nibelungian Artificer): Bracers Of The Storm (+2 to using Embodiment Of The Storm), Advanced Medical Kit (+2 to healing people). The game doesn’t really say anything about how you can get tools, so getting a few with a Superior Quality of being able to make tools sounds pretty reasonable. (They’re not required, but they do save on the use of Will when using his powers for really absurd stuff).

This hero (“Stormlord”) can easily move faster than light (Racing The Lightning), hurl mountains into orbit (Strength Of The Hurricane), withstand the greatest nuclear weapons or asteroid strikes (Endurance Of The Great Red Spot), blow tidal waves away from the coast (Hurricane Breath), cause solar eruptions (Solar Storms), and lots more. He can fly, hurl lightning, bring rain to farmers, speak louder than thunder, smash cities, hold off alien invasions, rescue sinking ships, build cities (“aid humanity” with his super-speed), and more. Anything he can’t fit into “storm” powers he can whip up a gadget for. Need to cure cancer or deliver a baby? That’s easy too!

Stormlord probably can’t travel through time (unless “time storms” are a thing or he spends a lot of will on a gadget), make or negate earthquakes without gadgets, or generate illusions without gadgets – although he might be able to use lightning to raise the dead. He can’t oppose “Miracles” (even if he can easily match some pretty high-order Miracles). Still, why would he need to? Nobles are supposed to be very rare.

And there’s no reason why the world shouldn’t be full of such mortals. Fortunately, Nobilis is a narrative game that focuses on the player characters – so the actual consequences of the rules are not really relevant.

Cool And Shine:

Cool and Shine are special mortal qualities that not all mortals have but that many Nobles will. I’ve already covered how they break the game over HERE at more length – but to summarize… a Noble’s Shine can be used in place of a mortal’s ability whenever a mortal wants to honor you or implement your agenda. And somewhere out there… there is pretty much sure to be a Noble with Shine 5 with an agenda to suit any desired action. So all mortal skills and qualities are irrelevant, infants are as good as trained experts, and there is no point in studying or training; everyone is at the limits of mortal potential already.

A Noble’s Cool acts as a penalty on penalty on “mundane actions that cause problems for, injure, or influence someone cool or an organization, person, or situation that the Cool person is actively watching over”. This has more wiggle room to it – but if my Estate is “Depression” (“Depression is not doing anything”), anyone who actually does something is injuring my Estate/Self. If I have Cool 5, as long as I am watching over my estate… all mundane actions everywhere in the Nobilis multiverse take a -5 penalty.

Net result? If Cool and Shine apply to all those NPC’s, all mortals are effectively absolutely identical. Fortunately, in Nobilis… rules only really apply to player characters.

Domains

Next up, it’s describe your domain. Perhaps I will pick Fire, and decide that…

  • Fire is friendly and obliging, it helps out when asked and would never hurt anyone (3).
  • Fire is the element of change and transformation, reshaping and recreating what it touches (1).
  • Fire can appear anywhere, for all things contain and understand fire (1).
  • Fire is a magical gateway to a beautiful non-euclidean wonderland land full of fire spirits (see #1) that are friends (1)!
  • Fire Provides endless life and energy, for it is an eternal force and makes up every soul (1).

And now that I have defined my domain… it has always been that way, for that is the nature of Fire and “history” changes to reflect such supernatural imperatives.

So… no creature has every been injured by Fire (or, for that matter, by cold since they can always call on Fire). Everything can call on their inner fire to transform themselves and other things so long as it does no harm. Fire is always everywhere, even if it’s well hidden. You can pass through a fire to travel to anywhere or visit the fire spirits in wonderland. You soul is part of the eternal fire, and so people can spontaneously heal or resurrect themselves. Everyone knows all about this, and so is free to call on fires aid at need. Human beings have ALWAYS been unaging, self-resurrecting, capable of shapeshifting at whim, able to create whatever they need, and able to transport themselves across reality in an instant.

Oops. I think I broke things again. Still, that’s one reason why each Nobilis game has its own unique flavor; what aspects of the world are important, and how they work, are defined by the players when they make their characters. It’s just assumed that no other Nobles have ever done much of that, just as it’s assumed that whatever Estate a player wants is going to be available. The NPC’s don’t matter.

Stuffed Animals…

  • Come To Life As Mighty Guardians To Do Battle With Nightmare Things (2).
  • Stand Upon The Boundaries, Holding The Gates And Powers Of Dream (2).
  • Are Knight-Errant Guides And Rangers Of The Eternal Dreamlands (1).
  • Are Wise Protectors And Teachers Of Children And Adults Who Still Remember (1).
  • Are Always There For Any Child Or Remembering Adult Who Needs Them (1).

Remember! There are no laws of nature and the “past” is a fiction that changes at whim – so all those places where the game appeals to “how things work” to describe mortal limitations or how difficult various miracles are… are irrelevant. Why is hot snow difficult? It’s not like there’s any law of nature stating that it cannot be hot and cold at the same time.

Well, lets try creating a Noble.

  • The Passion “I am a dance instructor *****” Costs exactly the same as the Superior Quality “I am an ancient d20 gold dragon *****”.
  • Bonds allow you to ignore penalties (referred to as “Obstacles”), such as realities objections to the use of your more magical Passions and Qualities. “I love teaching children to dance! *****” costs just the same as “Dragons overcome all obstacles!”.
  • The Affliction; “Small children always learn to dance beautifully when I teach them! *****” will be useful to the dance instructor (although it might do some pretty weird things to the kids), but will it be as useful as Affliction: “My draconic abilities are powerfully miraculous! *****” which will make every use of that “ancient d20 gold dragon” quality (sorcerous powers, vast strength, near-invulnerability, etc, etc, etc) into a level six miracle? After all, they cost the same.

Now lets add a Bond to Mr Dragon: Something philosophical and generic, so that I can pretty much always apply it. Maybe “Demonstrating My Might” or “In The Service Of Sapience!” or some such. Now all those draconic tricks have a baseline of Miracle-6 with Strike-5 and are protected from interfering miracles with Auctoritas-5 – before Mr Dragon uses any miracle points.

Use the other three points of bonds for ways to get more miracle points. You may not need them for anything much, but they’re always nice to have.

OK, the game has broken again and we haven’t even spent any character points yet.

You can also pick one to three contacts – entities who have made an important difference in your life. This won’t break the game because they don’t’ really do anything, but they’re there if you and the person running the game cares.

As for spending those points… A lot of people buy “Immortality” or some such, which is nice if they run out of miracle points and don’t have a relevant affliction like Mr Dragon – but honestly, the “combat system” outright states that characters can’t be killed without the players consent. They always come back if the player insists (the “Damage System” is examined in much more detail in the comments over HERE). All that spending those points gets you is a way to avoid being temporarily inconvenienced. Since the game master is encouraged to just make up NPC’s as needed, any game statistics used against them are simply a way of telling the game master how determined you are.

The Attributes are actually fairly balanced in isolation – but Mr Dragon doesn’t really need Aspect. He is already vastly superhuman in pretty much everything and has vast miraculous powers of magic to boot. Persona and Domain both let you control your estates attributes in yourself and the world – but a “1″ in each will do. That will let you enact level five stuff for 4 miracle points on those rare occasions when your dragon powers will not do.

Treasure though… Treasure lets you access other domains entirely. With each miraculous piece of treasure… you can define another chunk of the game reality to suit yourself. You can get some Treasure to cover anything you think you might have problems getting your dragon powers to do – or add some dragon power boosters. That way you can bump those dragon power miracles up to even greater heights. So Treasure 5. That breaks the game much more subtly (it just makes any other characters far less important to have around), but still leaves four character points to spend – enough for a +1 to either Persona or Domain, an Aspect of 1 if you want to bother just in case, or four points worth of Gifts. Perhaps more defenses, just in case?

I never did pick his actual domain, but so long as it’s abstract enough the details don’t really matter unless you’re buying something like “Domain of Destroyed Domains” or “Acausality” or some such. How about “”Realms that haven’t been extensively damaged by the Excrucians, and so still have natural laws and systems independent of the Nobles”? Or perhaps “Nobles”, and then go around creating new Nobles. Why not take “Miracles” and just hand out “Miracle Points” yourself?

Admittedly, Nobilis revolves more around your ability to talk persuasively than character statistics, but it would be nice if it’s mechanics actually worked properly.

Finally, we have Destiny.

Destiny is actually fairly simple. You decide on something you want to accomplish – and if you talk about it enough, and occasionally try to work towards it… it will eventually come to pass. It will even come to pass if you just endlessly try stupid stuff, since being told “that will not work” moves your project along quite effectively.

That’s right. There is no provision for the characters ever actually failing in the long run. If they talk enough, they succeed!

Admittedly, that success is limited. According to Nobilis….

It is, by rule, ambiguous. You have to leave wiggle room for the HG. You can’?t say that you win, or that things go down a certain way. Like Imperial miracles, Destiny leaves the world more than a little space for interpretation. But the thing that happens is something that matters. It says something real.

And no. I can’t break that any more than it already is.

Like it or not… Nobilis really does not function as a game. What it does function as – and quite well at that – is a piece of RPG performance art or a set of Rorschach Ink Blots for gamers. If a group picks it up, and examines it – and if enough of them are pulled in by the kaleidoscope effect – then they will soon pull a setting and a crude set of rules customized to work for them out of it. It gets everyone invested in the game by getting them to build it. It focuses on the characters because they really ARE at the center of the game and setting that the group has just created.

If it works, you will get an enthusiastic and deeply involved group playing their own personal variation of Nobilis. If it doesn’t… then the game bombs and Nobilis goes back on the shelf. That’s why “Examples Of Play” are so scarce, and rarely make a lot of sense to anyone except the author when they do appear.

Fortunately, poor or simple mechanics don’t necessarily prevent you from having a lot of fun. For that I’ll just reference the “Magic Prairie Dog” games over HERE. It’s the background and setting that really makes or breaks narrative systems since, in order to make them work, you really have to buy into their version of the world – and Nobilis wins on that front, since it neatly maneuvers the players into designing the setting for themselves.

Personally… As a game collector, I own copies of both the second and the third edition of Nobilis, but I just mine the interesting bits to port over to any rules-light game with mechanics that actually work. That’s why we played considerably more Exalted games using the Baba Yaga rules than we did with the Exalted rules – and why the one long-term Exalted game we played using White Wolf’s rules wound up rewriting the system anyway.

Role-playing doesn’t depend on the system, or on dice or the lack thereof. I’ve role-played plenty of games that don’t normally have any role-playing component – ranging from Chess (sometimes as the kings, sometimes as the pieces as they moved, sometimes alternating between both) to the Ecology board game (roleplaying a civilization as it moved through the Hunting, Agricultural, Industrial and Atomic ages). I’ve played in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns where months of weekly sessions might go by without checking character sheets. The wind-down of the second Federation-Apocalypse game continued for several years that way. For that matter, several groups have had a good deal of fun playing Spades with Magic cards – narrating why they thought one card or another should be a trump, and awarding tricks by consensus.

Narrative systems back off on the “game” aspect, so that the characters, story, and players take priority over the setting and mechanics.

That means that the setting and the number of important actors in it has to be fairly small. After all, if you admit to the existence of a lot of other groups who are changing the setting in their own ways, and driving their own stories… then the players efforts are going to be lost in a sea of effectively random events. Think about trying to set up Amber or Nobilis as a MMORPG. Would that work?

Given that there are plenty of MMORPG’s out there, and none of them use narrative systems, I’d say that the observed evidence says “no”.

Now there is nothing at all wrong with that limited focus. Narrative games can be all kinds of fun. That’s one reason why there are a couple of Amber character diaries up on this site.

Amber was entertaining. It took a lot of work and manipulation to wind up in total control of the universe with all the other characters as pets while following the rules of 1) Always tell the literal truth. 2) Give anyone who asked whatever they asked for, and 3) never do anything to anyone that they did not ask for. It was even more amusing that it took more than twenty sessions after the conquest before any of the other players figured out that anything had happened.

D20, however, has it’s roots in Wargaming. Settings where you are presented with a situation and a certain set of resources and must deal with it as best you can. Everything that exists in the setting follows rules. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fence-post or Azathoth, a group of clever players can put together a plan, gather their resources, and beat it, even if they’ve got to grind a lot of levels first. Even in games like Call Of Cthulhu, where the “true” (offstage) Outer Gods are eternal forces of nature… you can destroy or banish their local manifestations. Sure, it’s inevitable that someday someone will fail and the world will end – but it need never be now. “Not today” is always an option.

There’s an earlier article on the distinction between the implied rules of the source material and the actual rules of the game over HERE.

So why all this converting? Well,..Jirachi wanted to know how to convert some ideas from Nobilis, it’s always an interesting puzzle and test of Eclipse to try to convert specialty games into it’s mechanics, and there’s nothing wrong with promoting a playstyle that’s focused more on politics, manipulation, and building up the world than it is on killing things. So why not convert some Nobilis ideas?

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Eclipse d20 – The Demigodling-Noble Template

So you want to play a Nobilis-style character in d20 – someone who has suddenly been drafted into a war against terrible threats to the world and has been granted great power to fight that war with, suddenly becoming a part of an elite group with similar power sources but with differing styles. Congratulations! You are now a Green Lantern / Empowered Warlock / New God / Wielder Of The Power Cosmic / Knight Of The Fey / Tailed Beast Host / Harbinger / Animorph / Power Ranger / Exalt / Noble!

Or you might just be a Wild Card Virus Victim or something. It can be hard to tell.

So what are the requirements for being given this power? In Nobilis it basically comes down to “being there”, but Nobilis doesn’t actually concern itself with distinctions between mortals – whereas in d20 Mortals can surpass Gods and other cosmic powers. Granting the power of a Noble to an infant or low-level character won’t necessarily make for an effective soldier in the cosmic war. Just like Green Lantern Rings need somebody who’s strong-willed, competent, and reasonably healthy to make for effective Green Lanterns, the Nobilis Package needs someone who’s already competent (in d20 terms) to make an effective Noble.

Ergo, this is going to be an Acquired Template that may be applied to any sapient, playable, creature that is at least Level Eleven or equivalent.

So to convert your character into a Noble take the following Acquired Template – compiling the various design elements from the previous articles.

Mythic Noble Acquired Template

(210 CP / +6 ECL, Requires Sapience, Level 11+).

Choose Your Estate – the aspect of reality you are bound to (52 CP).

  • Describe your Estates major traits in four or five sentences. Rate them with values of 1-3 (one for minor qualities, 2 for notable ones, 3 for really central ones) totaling seven (0 CP).
    • Perhaps Sunlight… Brings Warmth And Life (2), but can Sear And Burn (1), It Returns Each Morning To Awaken The World (2), and it Reveals The Hidden (2).
  • Gain Dominion (Your Estate) (6 CP).
  • Gain Occult Sense/Your Estate. You can detect things related to your estate, whether that’s something affecting it on a large scale or its relationship to particular creatures. Note that – since you are the embodiment of your Estate – you can make perception rolls to figure out where attacks are coming from, even if they’re being launched by magic from another dimension. They are, after all, “things affecting your estate” (6 CP).
  • Gain Returning with Rewrite (12 CP). You may only be permanently killed by breaking your connection with your Estate and may make minor rewrites of your abilities between adventures.
  • Gain +1d6 (4) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost; controlled by the game master, only to power self-transformation “Persona” spells to adapt the user to the local environment, has whatever effects that the GM thinks will be fun (2 CP).
  • Gain Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Treats “your Estate” as a valid target, permits easy communication) / only to allow communication with the Estate and to get instances of it to act within their nature (for example, a gun might go off or misfire) or to fully transfer yourself into your Estate, leaving your body behind and undefended to possess and act through one or more instances of it (6 CP).
  • Gain Immunity to the disorientation of spreading your “self” over massive areas (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 6 CP), allowing you to – for example – find which of the hordes thousand fires has the chieftains council going on around it, at least presuming that you have an appropriate estate.
  • Gain two instances of Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only to take on an Affliction (below) related to your Estate (12 CP) plus Adaption (Specialized for Increased Effect / may spend 2 Mana to change the points around instantly, Corrupted for Reduced Cost (cannot change otherwise), only for your Estate-Related Afflictions, above, 2 CP), plus Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted / only to lend someone else an Affliction (2 CP). You may take on an Estate-Related Affliction (below) and give one to someone else too.

Roll Your Miraculous Attributes (50 CP):

  • Aspect: 4d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted/only for use in Reality Editing, only to produce effects calling for raising the user’s normal abilities to superhuman levels (8 CP).
  • Domain: 4d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for use Spell Enhancement, only for use with the “Shaping” ability below, only for effects targeting objects or the environment (8 CP).
  • Persona: 4d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for use Spell Enhancement, only for use with the “Shaping” ability below, only for effects targeting creatures, including yourself (8 CP).
  • Treasure: 4d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for use with “Treasure” effects (8 CP).
  • Gain Rite of Chi with +20 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to recharge the “attribute” pools above, only works between sessions or when the game master opts to award a die (12 CP).
  • Gain Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Level 0 and 1 Effects) / only for effects related to your Estate. Note that this includes Destiny Spells related to your Estate, but they’re no more controllable than usual. Thanks to that “Increased Effect” modifier, 1 Mana will get you up to fourth level effects, two to seventh level effects, and three to tenth level effects. Going beyond that requires adding some of the “Compact” modifiers to the effect (6 CP).

Select Your Bonds and Afflictions (48 CP):

  • Gain Reflex Training / Can invoke a Bond as an Immediate Action when it’s trigger condition is met (6 CP).
  • Take a Major Bond: Inherent Spell (Improvisation, Level One) with Multiple +4, Specialized for Increased Effect (Double the effect of points) and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Points spent stack with the benefits of the Aspect Innate enchantments and may also be spent on Caster Level Checks and to increase the DC of saves against your abilities – although it costs 2 points to increase the DC by +1) / can only be activated when a specified trigger condition applies and the user only gets a single first level spell, rather than the two that Inherent Spell would normally provide (12 CP).
  • Take Two Minor Bonds: Inherent Spell (Improvisation, Level One) with Multiple +4, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Points spent stack with the benefits of the Aspect Innate enchantments and may also be spent on Caster Level Checks and to increase the DC of saves against your abilities – although it costs 4 points to increase the DC by +1) / can only be activated when its trigger condition applies and the user only gets a single first level spell, rather than the two that Inherent Spell would normally provide (6 CP each, for a total of 12 CP).
  • Take 18 CP worth of Afflictions – rules that you must live by (18 CP). Possible Afflictions include:
    • Power From Adversity: An “Accursed” Disadvantage (-3 CP) coupled with Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).
    • Strength Of The Phoenix: An “Accursed” Disadvantage (-3 CP) coupled with Grant of Aid with Mighty and +6 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).
    • A Natural Imperative: 1d6 (4) Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for enforcing a particular personal “rule” (6 CP), plus Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to refill the pool above (6 CP). Both are Specialized Again for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, may backlash if blocked or logically impossible within the limits of the level of Reality Editing it can handle.

Claim Your Destiny (12 CP): Select two from…

  • Creation: Action Hero / Crafting if you want to create some mighty work, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / spending Action Points requires a great deal of inter-player discussion and planning. (6 CP).
  • Growth: Action Hero / Invention if you want to discover or develop new things for all to use. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / spending Action Points requires a great deal of inter-player discussion and planning. (6 CP).
  • Transformation: Action Hero / Influence if you wish to restructure the relationships between the great powers of the world – or to raise up new powers and cast down old ones (6 CP).

Choose Your Panoply (48 CP): Possible options here include:

  • Spark Of The Divine (12 CP): Innate Enchantment (11,100 GP value):
    • Inhuman Speed: Personal Haste (2000 GP): +30′ Move, +1 Attack when making a full attack sequence.
    • Immortal Vigor I (1400 GP): +12 + 2 x Con Mod HP.
    • Inspiring Word (1400 GP): +1 morale bonus on saving throws, attack rolls, checks,and weapon damage.
    • Wrath Of Heaven/The Infernal (1400 GP) +1 Sacred (Infernal) bonus to Attacks and Damage.
    • Skill Mastery (1400 GP): +2 Competence Bonus to all Skill and Attribute Checks.
    • Fortune’s Favor I (1400 GP): +2 “Luck” bonus to all Skill and Attribute Checks.
    • Resist: (700 GP): +1 Resistance Bonus on all Saving Throws.
    • Divine Health (1400 GP): Fast Healing I (for 18 Rounds) 2/Day, Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 1/Day, and Lesser Restoration 1/Day. From the Hedge Wizardry list on this site and The Practical Enchanter).
      • This package provides +2 to Saves, +2 to Attack Checks, +5 to Skill and Attribute checks, +2 to Damage, +30′ to all Movement Modes, +(12 _ 2 x Con Mod) hit points, +1 Attack when making a full attack, 36 points worth of Rapid Healing per day, and helps out with poisons, diseases, and attribute damage – quite enough to make you significantly superhuman even without Miracles or Heroic Scaling.
  • Heroic Durability (12 CP).
    • Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized in Physical Damage for Double Effect (6/-) (6 CP). That will let you bounce small-caliber bullets, arrows, and similar annoyances unless they’re backed by more-than-human power.
    • Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized in Energy Damage for Double Effect (6/-) (6 CP). That will let you dip your hand in molten metal, stand around in a burning building to have a chat, handle considerable electrical shocks, and even helps with spells, force bolts, and “divine” or “infernal” damage. It’s all energy.
  • Treasures (6 CP Each):
    • Mundane Treasures are normal things that get souped up. For this you want some Rune Magic (Specified Treasure, such as Cars), Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / only for that particular treasure at (3 + Att Mod) x 3 (6 CP). This will let you summon, repair, and boost beyond all reason, mundane treasures of the appropriate type.
    • Followers and Allies and such get are bought as Leadership or Companion with various modifiers, all Specialized / you have to spend Mana to get them to do anything important for you (6 CP).
    • Symbolic Treasures – where a particular symbol or set of symbols acts as channels for your power and senses – can be purchased as Immunity/The Distinction Between the Symbol and You (Uncommon, Major, Great, Specialized / must expend 2 Mana to activate with respect to specific instances of the symbol) (6 CP).
    • A collection of minor devices (Charms and Talismans from The Practical Enchanter) can be purchased as: Shaping, Corrupted and Specialized for increased (level one and possibly weak level two) effects/can only produce the effects for which the user has the appropriate foci ready, can only support a limited number (seven and three) of minor charms and more notable talismans at one time, charms and talismans take some time to attune for use (6 CP). Another option that doesn’t cost Mana, since they’re pretty minor by d20 standards even in less-magical worlds.
    • Powerful Magical Devices are usually purchased as a Create Relic package: Create Relic, Specialized and Corrupted/only for making a particular four-point Relic or four-point collection of lesser Relics (2 CP), plus Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect and corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for making those particular relics (4 CP) – for a grand total of (6 CP). They don’t usually require Mana, since they’re associated with a very high Treasure rating anyway.
    • Labs and such can be purchased as “Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys” from The Golden Ones sample powers list. These can allow you to have a collection of minor items to use on your adventures.
    • For a collection of more-or-less “normal” d20 magical devices, buy Natural Magic / Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only to summon, repair, or briefly boost up your normal wealth-by-level equipment (6 CP). Now you have a full-scale panoply of stuff – at least once you’re of a high enough level.
    • Mysterious Devices – like the sword Severance, or the Chalice Of Spring, or the Remote Control Of The Machine God or The Flying Dutchman’s Phantom Pirate Ship – are purchased as Natural Magic / Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only to produce effects within a specific theme (6 CP). This can produce some pretty impressive miracles at times – but not very often.
    • For a mess of Technological Tools and Gear, purchase Innate Enchantment (5000 GP = 100,000 Dollars or Credits worth of d20 Modern / Future equipment) for (6 CP) and supply yourself with gear that simply appears when you need it and disappears otherwise.
    • If you just want Money, buy a Stipend or Privilege/Landlord. In either case, this basically defines you as being rich, having a nice lifestyle, and so on (6 CP).

But wait! Don’t I get any credit for being drafted into a cosmic war?

No you don’t. EVERY high-level d20 player character is a part of the cosmic wars. That sort of thing is what the game is all about – and it’s important to remember that – while your Noble is going to be ECL 17+, a level 17+ “Mortal” can be just as formidable as you are.

And there you go. You are now a Lesser Power, a lieutenant of the Great Powers in the War Of Seven Spheres / Battle Between Good And Evil / war between Apokolips and New Genesis / Transformer-Decepticon War / Sith Wars / Blood War / Heralds And Voidbringers / Shadows And Vorlons / Dalek-Timelord Time War / Khorne and Tzeentch / War For Reality!

This really isn’t anything new, but why not?

What about Excrucians and Imperators?

  • Excrucians get +2d6 on each of their Miraculous Attributes (16 CP), an extra +12 Bonus Uses on Rite Of Chi (6 CP) to restore those attributes (increasing the cost of their template to 232 CP or +7 ECL) and are created from Sapient Undead of CR 13+. Like all undead, they can be clever and pleasant – but they exist to destroy all life and return the universe to the void.
  • Imperators are true Gods with Godfire. Their Avatars usually have the Excrucian’s boosted version of the Noble Template.

And that’s about it – save for noting that it’s important to remember that the default d20 universe is a lot bigger and more variegated than the Nobilis universe and there are lots of pieces of it that other powers control. YOU may be the Sun Lord, but there are plenty of other Sun Lords out there with control of their own suns.

Adventures in Familiars II – Master And Commander

And today, it’s another question – although this one took a while.

Looking at the rules for Companion bonuses (Eclipse, p. 189), I’m given to wonder if there are other sorts of companion bonds that could be formed rather than familiars/psi-crystals, mystical mounts, or animal companions. If so, presumably those would have different benefits (and penalties, if the bond were broken such as by the companion being killed) than those listed for each of those different types of companions, before taking any purchases of upgraded Companion abilities into account.

What other sorts of bonds could there be, and what abilities would they have?

Alzrius

Well, Eclipse already address taking pretty much any kind of creature with a Challenge Rating as a Companion. with the basic distinctions lying in the strength of the bond and the power of the creature(s) being bonded. To take a look at that:

Familiars are strongly and tightly bound to their owners, in large part because they are weak enough to be pretty thoroughly dominated by their master’s mind – which is why they automatically share their masters skills, can deliver touch spells, and have a mental link with their master. That’s why turning a sapient creature into a Familiar without its full, informed, consent is so unethical – and remains dubious even with consent; it’s slavery and mind-alteration. That tight bond is also why losing a Familiar is so traumatic and damaging.

Familiars get a specified series of bonuses as their master goes up in level, but you can Corrupt or Specialize the Companion ability to modify it. In Eclipse terms the various Pathfinder Familiar Archetypes are all simply “Specialized or Corrupted for Increased Effect; remove abilities A, B, and C and replace them with abilities X, Y, and Z”. Do you think that your hummingbird should invest the points that would normally go into it’s (non-existent) Natural Armor Bonus in bonuses to it’s movement skills and ability to dodge instead? Does your raven have Mystic Artist (quoting classical literature) instead of Alertness? Will your cat eventually learn Power Words instead of Spell Resistance? Is it actually an imaginary friend with Returning instead of Improved Fortune (Evasion) so that it comes back in the morning if slain or dispelled? Go ahead and shift a few points around.

Mystic Mounts and Companion Creatures are less tightly bound to their liege/employer/boss, whether that’s due to simply using a weaker link or because they are simply too strong to have so much of their bosses mind imprinted on them – which is why they maintain their own personalities and motives, even though they still draw power from the character. Thus creatures that are currently too powerful in their own right to get anything extra from a character cannot serve as Companions, which is why more powerful characters can take higher powered creatures as companions but enhance them less than they would a weaker companion. Their bonuses can be modified just as a Familiars can – Specializing or Corrupting the Companion ability to reassign their basic bonuses (Improved Fortune (Evasion), +(level /2 rounded down) to their Natural Armor and Warcraft, + (level/5 rounded down) to their Str or Con). Maybe your creature gets bonuses to Dex instead of strength or something. That’s relatively rare though; most companions find bonuses to Str, Con, Armor, BAB, and Evasion pretty convenient.

Animal Companions get weak links. These still provide some power, but only strongly influence the creature, rather than subordinating it – although once again, the benefits depend on the extent of the power difference between the creature and its patron. Nonsapient creatures do not understand what is going on with a weak link, but such weak minds are fairly readily influenced – turning them into Animal Companions. Personally, I generally don’t allow easy modifications to the Animal Companion bonuses. Since most of the power sent to an animal is channeled by their basic instincts and every animal wants to be strong, healthy, tough, and fast, that’s where most of the power goes. (A good bit probably goes into reproductive enhancements as well, but that has no game impact).

Sapient creatures, however, may be influenced by such weak links, and sometimes draw power from them – but remain very much independent and individual creatures, which is why they’re classified as Followers, and are obtained via the “Leadership” ability instead of “Companion” – and why they go up in level as their liege does but always lag somewhat behind him or her.

Thus, for example, pre-existing Intelligent Items can become Followers – but having established (and generally well-protected and somewhat pre-programmed) minds cannot become Familiars. Items that you create CAN, however, become Familiars since you can imprint your mind on them when you’re making them.

To buy intelligent item followers, take Leadership with the Exotic and Constructs modifiers, Specialized for Reduced Cost / Constructs only, Corrupted for Increased Effect (Only 50% of the cost of item followers counts against your Wealth By Level) / only one Cohort may exceed one-third the users level (6 CP). Since they are Followers, multiple intelligent items will get along reasonably well. Note that, in Eclipse, followers normally get NPC wealth by level, and will continue to do so without their boss having to worry about it. If their boss or the party in general wants to give them something extra, that’s up to them. Construct Followers get their choice of actual equipment (which works for golems and things) or built-in slotless equipment (equivalent to Siddhisyoga), which is less trouble but effectively halves their allotment since everything costs twice as much as usual.

Finally, of course, if there’s no link at all… then you have employees, beasts, slaves, contacts, and other creatures that you exchange services with, buy with money, or draft into service with raw power, diplomacy, or charisma. Such associates may “cost” a few character points spent on social abilities or some gold – but they aren’t really bound to the character and so get nothing extra from him or her. They are what they are, and associating with a powerful character does not inherently change them.

3.5 and Pathfinder have quite a selection of “Familiar” feats – Betrayal of the Spirit Linked, Celestial Familiar, Construct Familiar, Darkness Familiar, Dragon Familiar, Enspell Familiar, Evolved Familiar, Extra Familiar, Familiar Spell, Familiarity, Improved Familiar, Improved Psicrystal, Improved Spell Sharing, Item Familiar, Obtain Familiar, Planar Familiar, Shadowform Familiar, Shadow Familiar, Share Healing, Stitched Flesh Familiar, Token Familiar, Undead familiar, and Unfettered Familiar. There are some similar feats for improving Mystic Mounts, Mystic Companions, and/or Animal Companions (Improved Mount, Celestial Mount, Dragon Cohort, Dragon Steed, Fast Rider, Heroic Companion, Improved Fiendish Servant, Talenta Dinosaur Bond, Exalted Companion, Natural Bond, Monstrous, Mounted Fury, Nightmare Steed, Totem Companion, Vermin Companion, Etc) as well.

To look at these…

  • More powerful Companion creatures can be obtained / used by simply going up in level or by buying the Template upgrade and using some one or more “Template Levels” to cover a creature with a higher base challenge rating; there’s no feat requirement in Eclipse. Similarly, mystic mounts and companion creatures get a pool of character points to buy freeform benefits with anyway – and buying your creature a template can modify and enhance it in innumerable ways. This covers Celestial, Construct, Darkness, Evolved, Improved, Planar, Shadowform, Shadow, Stitched Flesh, Token, and Undead Familiars / Psicrystals – as well as improving your familiar with Betrayal Of The Spirit LInked, Enspell Familiar, Familiar Spell, Familiarity, Improved Spell Sharing, Share Healing, and Unfettered Familiar as well as pretty much all the stuff for mounts and animal companions.
  • Obtain Familiar and Extra Familiar simply call for purchasing the Companion ability again.

That leaves…

  • The Spell Sovereign (Dragon 357) who can take Living Spells as Mystic Companions and effectively Awaken them. Of course, in Eclipse, this isn’t especially abnormal, even if it IS an unusual choice. Living Spells are just another type of creature after all. A few other classes also offer odd choices of Familiars, but nothing really out of the ordinary in Eclipse. Why shouldn’t you take a Swarm if you wish? It’s treated as a creature isn’t it?
  • Pathfinder’s Summoners employ Edolions – basically relatively minor variations on psychic constructs (as per The Practical Enchanter). They can be built as Companions, obtained by Leadership, bought as permanent spell effects, generated by Witchcraft, or created in a wide variety of other ways. Admittedly, Pathfinder uses “Mutation Points” instead of menu choices, but the basic structure and malleable nature of the result is quite recognizable.
  • Dragon Familiars from the Draconomicon. These require an extra feat on top of the ability to have a Familiar in the first place and get a greatly reduced set of the Familiar bonuses and a lot more independence than most Familiars. To do that in Eclipse you just take one as a Mystical Mount / Companion Creature – which will provide enough bonus points for the creature to buy the relevant Familiar bonuses (Alertness, Share Spells, Empathic Link, Deliver Touch Spells, Spell Resistance and Scry On Familiar) if you (and it) want them. Or you could spend the feat that would have gone to buy “Dragon Familiar” on a template upgrade for your draconic friend to make him or her the envy of other young dragons. “Returning” is always a good choice (hint, hint!).

In Eclipse, of course, you can take Children as Familiars, create Frankenstein’s Monster, have lots of annoying Dragon Cats, have Ancestral Spirits hanging about, have Robots or Warbeasts, a Shamanic Fetch, Lifling, or Shadow Guardian Familiar, or a Religious Advisor, or Minidrakes, bond with a lovecraftian entity from beyond space and time, or any of lots of other things – such as converting your Companion into a Vehicle.

There are a few possibilities that haven’t been addressed though. What happens if you bond with an object, group of objects, or a place? After all, classically there was the “Item Familiar” – a semiofficial optional variant from Unearthed Arcana.

Item Familiars could give your character a lot of extra power – but the character had to invest his or her own power (over and above the feat used to get an Item Familiar) in the item to get it. And if the item was destroyed or even taken away for very long the character lost everything they had invested in it permanently.

That’s not necessarily terrible. The Relic system in Eclipse works the same way unless you add in some upgrades, but a basic Relic rules are set up for a maximum investment of four character points (less than one feat). Losing four CP for a while is not a big thing, just as being unable to use one of your feats for a while isn’t particularly crippling. After all, even without buying any upgrades / “insurance policies”, if your relic gets destroyed it may be really annoying – but you can get another one to replace it if you search long enough. They are just another form of treasure after all.

But according to the Item Familiar rules “If you ever lose the chosen item (have it removed from your possession for a continuous period of more than one day per level) or if the item is destroyed, you automatically lose 200 XP per level as well as all benefits derived from possessing the linked item (plus any resources you put into the item). If you recover the item, you regain these XP. You may replace a lost or destroyed item familiar after you have advanced one level, as if you were gaining an item familiar for the first time.”

And, of course, the more resources you’ve invested in the item, the more power you get back. So to optimize your item, you need to invest heavily. So if your item is never destroyed or taken you get loads of free power. If it is destroyed or taken at some point your character is permanently crippled to the point of unplayability. Either way it’s no fun and potentially game-wrecking.

  • If you want to let someone take an “Item Familiar” as a variant on “Companion” you can – but I really do not recommend it. Instead I’d recommend Create Relic (Specialized and Corrupted / only to make a particular relic or four-point set thereof) (2 CP) and Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only provides four floating CP for creating the specific relic or set of relics above (4 CP). With that… you’ve basically spent a feat on having a few nifty toys. If something happens to them you may have to do without for a bit, but once you have a week or two of downtime you can recreate them.

An Imbued Staff (Dragon 338), on the other hand, was fairly useless. Sure, it turned into a +3 /+1 special ability staff eventually, could deliver touch spells, and could be easily repaired and summoned – but if your high-level Wizard was relying on poking things with a stick, or kept mislaying his staff, something was wrong. Even worse, it couldn’t do anything on it’s own, which pretty much eliminated the point in having a companion in the first place. It went too far the other way.

Still, that brings up the topic of “how much magical gear should a Feat (or the equivalent) be able to get you?”

I’d say “quite a bit”, given that a couple of Crafting Feats will halve the cost of much of your gear AND allow you to make gear for other party members at prices that will save them money and still make a profit for you. It’s not really that hard to effectively double or triple your usual “Wealth By Level” as a magical crafter.

That does take time and carry the risk of losing some of it of course. I think what we want here is something similar to the “Imbuement” ability, which days that “here is a signature item, if something happens to it I will shortly get it back”- less profit, but less risk. Ergo, lets build that with the existing mechanics. I’ll call it…

Soul-Forged Item: This “feat” allows the user to shape a portion of his or her soul into a powerful, personal, magical item or linked set of items, Sadly, this item or set of items must be

  • Access to Dreambinding, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (200 GP multiplier, the item created is considered a part of the user; he or she can release touch spells through it, will always know where it is, may percieve its current location as if he or she was there, the item uses his or her saves, and – if sapient – is always cooperative). (3 CP) / only creates a single item with an effective 66.667 GP multiplier, specific item or set of items; functions may be added as the user’s skill increased, but may not be altered once added, skill cannot be increased beyond (Level +3 +Cha Mod) save through Skill Emphasis and Skill Focus.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized for Reduced Cost, Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Skills, only for Dreambinding, skill can be further augmented by Skill Emphasis and Skill Focus, but not by other means, increased effect is to always keep the Dreambinding skill it’s associated with maxed out (3 CP). The user’s effective score will thus normally be (Level +3 + Cha Mod). The GP value for various effective levels is: 1: 67 GP, 2: 267 GP, 3: 600 GP, 4: 1067 GP, 5: 1667 GP, 6: 2400 GP, 7: 3267 GP, 8: 4267 GP, 9: 5400 GP, 10: 6667 GP, 11: 8067 GP, 12: 9600 GP, 13: 11,266 GP, 14: 13,067 GP, 15: 15,000 GP, 16: 17,067 GP, 17: 19,267 GP, 18: 21,600 GP, 19: 24,067 GP, 20: 26,667 GP, 21: 29,400 GP, 22: 32,267 GP, 23: 35,267 GP, 24: 38,400 GP, 25: 41,667 GP, 26: 45,067 GP, 27: 48,600 GP, 28: 52,267 GP, 29: 56,067 GP, and 30: 60,000 GP.

Sample Soul-Forged Item – A Wizards Staff:

Dreambinding Total:

  • 1) Lantern Staff (Two Handed Metal Hafted Weapon, can shed light as a Hooded Lantern, 9 Lb, Hardness 10, HP 30, 15 GP)
  • 2) Add Folded Metal (+4 Hardness, 14 Total, +200 GP) (215 GP Total).
  • 3) Add Masterwork (+1 to Attacks, +300 GP) and Resilient (+5 HP, 35 Total, 100 GP) (615 GP Total).
  • 4) Add a Wayfinder Fineal (+500 GP, Light on Command, acts as a Compass, -100 GP, cannot yet hold an Ioun Stone (1015 GP Total).
  • 5) The Wayfinder can now hold an Ioun Stone if one is available (1115 GP Total).
  • 6) Add a Cracked Orange Prism Ioun Stone (Pathfinder: +1 Cantrip Known/3.5: +4 Cantrip Slots, either way grants a random power while in a Wayfinder, 1000 GP) (2115 GP Total).
  • 7) Add first level Pearl Of Power effect (100 GP) (3115 GP Total).
  • 8) Staff is now considered a +0 magic weapon (1000 GP, 4115 GP Total).
  • 9) Staff is now a +1 Weapon (+1000 GP, Hardness 16, HP 45) (5115 GP Total).
  • 10) No Improvement.
  • 11) Staff now functions as a Staff Of Entwined Serpents, although it only fires one Magic Missile (-100 GP to 8065 GP Total).
  • 12) Staff now fires Two Magic Missiles (+100 GP) (8165 GP Total)
  • 13) Add a second first level Pearl Of Power effect (1000 GP) (9165 GP Total).
  • 14) No Improvement.
  • 15) Staff gains a +1 Weapon Ability (+6000 GP) (15,165 GP Total). This is technically slightly over the available amount, but I’m not worrying about 165 GP given that several other steps have been under the allowable total.
  • 16) Add a third first level Pearl Of Power effect (1000 GP) (16,165 GP Total).
  • 17) Add the function of a Lesser +1 Spell Level Metamagical Rod (3000 GP) (19,165 GP Total). (Or 6 uses of Minor Merciful since it’s only 1500 GP)
  • 18) No Improvement.
  • 19) Upgrade base material to Adamant (+2700 GP, now Hardness 26, HP 55) (21,865 GP Total).
  • 20) Upgrade a Pearl Of Power incidence with Sapience (500 GP), Int, Wis, and Cha 10 (no cost), Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), Darkvision (500 GP), and Magic Missile 3/Day (1200 GP) (26,065 GP Total).
  • 21) No Improvement.
  • 22) Add Called: you can summon your staff to you from anywhere in the same dimension as a standard action (2000 GP) (28,065 GP Total). “Called” is normally only for Armor, but – given that the staff is technically a part of you, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to apply it here.
  • 23) The Sapient Pearl can cast Greater Magic Weapon on the Staff Only (x.7 = 4200 GP) once per day (raising it’s enhancement bonus to +4 for 17 hours) (30,265 GP). In effect, the staff becomes a +4 weapon.
  • 24) The Sapient Pearl can cast Mending at will (1000 GP) and gets the equivalent of a Healing Belt (750 GP) (32,015 GP Total).
  • 25) The Sapient Pearl can cast Silent Image 3/Day (1200 GP) (33,215 GP Total).
  • 26) Staff gains an additional +1 Weapon Ability (+10,000 GP) (43,215 GP Total).
  • 27) The Sapient Pearl can cast Grease and Unseen Servant 3/Day Each (2 x 1200 GP) (45,415 GP Total).
  • 28) The Sapient Pearl can cast Nerveskitter and Protection From Evil 3/Day Each and Magic Missile six times (3 x 1200 GP) (49,015 GP Total).
  • 29) The Sapient Pearl can cast Web 1/Day (2400 GP) and Glitterdust 1/Day (2400 GP) (53,815 GP Total).
  • 30) The Sapient Pearl can cast Dispel Magic 1/Day (6000 GP) (59,815 GP Total). (While that’s thematic, it won’t work too often at this point. If you really want to be Gandalf, use Phantom Steed instead).

After all, if it doesn’t take up an item slot… you can stack it onto something else – if necessary by gluing it there.

Sample Soul-Forged Item – The Sword Of The New Dawn:

Dreambinding Total:

  • 1) Greatsword (Hardness 10, HP 10, 50 GP).
  • 2) Add Folded Metal (+4 Hardness, 14 Total, +200 GP) (250 GP Total).
  • 3) Add Masterwork (+1 Enhancement Bonus to Attacks, +300 GP) (550 GP Total).
  • 4) Add Illuminating (May shed Bright Light in a 20′ radius and shadowy illumination in a 40′ radius, 500 GP) (1050 GP Total).
  • 5) Add two Wand Chambers (200 GP) (1250 GP Total). These may or may not be much use to you, but – at worst – you can put some Eternal Wands in them.
  • 6) No Improvement.
  • 7) Weapon becomes +1 (Hardness 16, 20 HP, 2000 GP) (3250 GP Total).
  • 8) Add Dwarvencraft (+2 Hardness (18 Total), +10 HP (30 Total), +2 on saves, +600 GP) (3850 GP Total).
  • 9) Hollow Pommel acts as an Ehlonna’s Seed Pouch (1400 GP) (5250 GP Total).
  • 10) Seed Pouch becomes Sapient (500 GP), Int, Wis, Cha 10 (No Cost), Healing Belt Functions (750 GP) (6500 GP Total).
  • 11) SP can cast Nerveskitter 3/Day (1200 GP) (7700 GP Total).
  • 12) No Improvement.
  • 13) Weapon becomes Adamantine (Hardness 28, HP 33, +2700 GP) (10,400 GP Total).
  • 14) SP becomes Telepathic with the bearer (+1000 GP) (11,400 GP Total).
  • 15) SP can cast Resist Energy 1/Day (2400 GP) (13,800 GP Total).
  • 16) No Improvement.
  • 17) SP can cast Greater Magic Weapon on the Sword Only (x.7 = 4200 GP) once per day (raising it’s enhancement bonus to +5 for 20 hours) (18,000 GP Total).
  • 18) No Improvement.
  • 19) Weapon gains a +1 Weapon Ability (+6000 GP) (24,000 GP Total).
  • 20) SP can cast Protection From Evil and Liberating Command 3/Day Each (2400 GP) (26,400 GP Total).
  • 21) SP can cast Personal Haste 3/Day (1200 GP) (27,600 GP Total).
  • 22) SP can cast Frostbite 3/Day (1200 GP) (28,800 GP Total).
  • 23) SP can cast Light Foot 3/Day (1200 GP) (30,000 GP Total).
  • 24) SP can cast Lead Blades 3/Day (1200 GP) (31,200 GP Total).
  • 25) Weapon gains a additional +1 Weapon Ability (+10,000 GP) (41,200 GP Total).
  • 26) Functions as per a Rod Of Bodily Restoration (3100 GP) (44,300 GP Total).
  • 27) No Improvement.
  • 28) Functions as per an Orb Of Mental Renewal (3100 GP) (47,400 GP Total).
  • 29) SP can cast Scorching Ray 1/Day (2400 GP) (49,800 GP Total).
  • 30) Grants the True Believer Feat (10,000 GP) (59,800 GP Total).

Both of those are pretty optimized – and are exploiting the Pathfinder rule that “intelligent items use the base caster level of the item without having to pay for it” rule quite unmercifully – but neither of them should be particularly game-wrecking, especially in Eclipse. A handful of low level spells, even being cast at high caster levels, won’t make that big a difference in higher level play.

Alternatively, you could add enhancements to an existing item – perhaps, in your hands, whatever magical longsword you are using will soon pick up intelligence and some secondary abilities. That could follow the same general pattern as the Dawnsword, you’d just be substituting other bits for the weapon abilities.

Still, that covers our “intelligent item familiars” niche.

Taking nonmagical, inert, things as “companions” (presumably in downtime backstory) may transform them into animated objects or conventional creatures – but that just puts them into the appropriate “Companion” category and offers an explanation for where they came from. Actually taking an entirely non-magical inert item as a “Companion” is allowable – but it doesn’t cost anything because it doesn’t actually DO anything. Your “pet rock” remains a rock, just as your favorite fern, or tree, or other inert item, remains whatever it is.

You can bond with an area too. If you draw on it’s power while you’re there, or set up special facilities, or some such, you can just use the Sanctum ability or the Castle Hieronymus setup.

Alternatively, if it’s a relatively small (and mostly un-empowered before you got to it) area you can exercise some control over the place. Purchase this as…

  • Mystic Link with Communications and Power Link, Corrupted for Reduced Cost / links you to a specific, relatively small, location, does not interact with any further mystic links you may buy rather than stacking as Mystic Link upgrades usually do (6 CP) plus Leadership with Exotic Followers, Specialized and Corrupted / only one follower (a Ward Major at one-third your level), follower never accompanies you anywhere (obviously) (3 CP).

With this package you can draw on the powers of a Ward Major and direct it’s influence over the area it controls – although this does leave you obligated to regularly return to and defend that area. Still, if you want a dark forest where the mist rises at your command, there is always a pack of wolves ready to attack your enemies, and you know everything that happens… this is a way to buy it.

Large and powerful domains tend to have their own existing consciousness – a Realm Spirit (Eclipse, 169). And no, you generally cannot have one as a Companion, or even as a Follower. Realm Spirits are invariably up in the epic levels, so you’d need to be up around level sixty or so to qualify. If you’re bonded with a Realm Spirit… then YOU’RE the companion, and you’ve been let out to play for a while.

  • To buy this, buy a Contact (with Occult x 2) / a Realm Spirit (3 CP), Mystic Link with the Communications and Power modifiers (9 CP), and Major Favors (The Realm Spirit, 6 CP)., all Specialized and Corrupted / the user is the mouthpiece, envoy, and troubleshooter for a semi-divine entity with little or no comprehension of creatures that don’t exist on a geologic scale and timescale. Certainly, you can ask the Realm Spirit of the Emerald Forest to swallow up an army tht happens to be marching through the area – but you will also be responsible for explaining to the king that the forest doesn’t want him building a castle in it. The link is not under the user’s control, and the user cannot prevent the Realm Spirit from exercising it’s powers on him or her if it so desires (not that there is usually a lot that can be done about a Realm Spirit anyway).

And I think that about covers the possibilities. There are still things like Forces out there – but having a special bond with (say) “Gravity” probably simply makes you a telekinetic specialist or some such. It’s not even remotely going to fit under “Companion”.

Eclipse, Lesser Path Magics, Part II

Magical packages at the 18-24 CP level are fairly major investments for a low-level character, and invariably require a reasonable level of talent and/or working on developing their talents from fairly early childhood. As such, they’re quite uncommon; a village is unlikely to have more than a few people with powers on this scale – and it’s not uncommon for someone with the potential to never really put in the work to develop it effectively.

It’s worth noting that all of these packages – as well as the ones from last time around – are set up as fairly high-efficiency options. NPC’s typically aren’t all that optimized, but it’s also true that the point balance on minor villagers is pretty unimportant. PC’s are generally assumed to be a lot more talented than most NPC’s (although not as much so as in first edition, where actually having the potential to go past “level zero” was reserved for the one-in-a-thousand who had “adventurer potential”) though – and point balance matters a lot more to them. Ergo, these packages are all optimized to where they’d be a reasonable investment for a player character who wants some convenient low-level magical packages to pick from.

Witchcraft (18+ CP)

Many folk have small knacks. Before they know what is and isn’t possible… they can stir the mobile over the crib to delight their infant eyes, they can tell what the cat is saying, or call the butterflies. But such talents are very personal, and tend to fade as children begin to come in groups. What fun is a trick when it can’t be shared? 

But in a world of magic, some children refuse the abandon those tricks. Instead they develop their inner strengths, expand on those tiny psychic knacks, and – eventually – turn them into actual useful powers. Where things go from there tends to depend a lot on how the other children reacted to the kid who kept talking to themselves and doing weird things.

Witchcraft is probably the most common magical package of all. It’s fairly low-powered, but it is versatile, efficient, and extremely cheap. It also allows it’s users to take Pacts – each worth +6 CP to spend on advanced Witchcraft powers. Since a character can take two Pacts at level one, and another at levels three, seven, and twelve, a mere 18 CP can get you 48 CP worth of Witchcraft. Throw in a few extra Power and you can have quite a lot of tricks.

  • At the most basic, take Witchcraft II (12 CP) with Two Pacts – paying for +3d6 Power (6 CP) and Rite Of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to recover Power (6 CP). That gives you a choice of three of the twelve basic abilities and enough Power to make good use of them. For some sample selections…
    • Expert Healer: Healing, Hyloka, and Witchfire.
    • Illusionist: Glamour, Shadowweave, and Witchsight.
    • Crafter: Hand Of Shadows, Witchfire, and Witchsight.
    • Shaman: Dreamfaring, Glamour, and The Inner Eye.
    • Telepath: The Adamant Will, Glamour, and The Inner Eye.
    • Combat (or Vengeful) Witch: Elfshot, Infliction, and Witchfire.
    • Mystic: Healing, Shadowweave, and Witchsight.
  • For another 6 CP you can get some more power and another four basic abilities or an advanced ability. Go ahead, learn to contact beings on other planes, or to project your spirit as a formidable creature, or channel spirits, or become a shadow, or to take minor animal forms, or any of a lot of other things.

The basic Bokor (Binder) Package also falls under Witchcraft, and costs 24 CP. Similarly, the Sith and Jedi 24 CP packages can be found in this category.

I tend to recommend that – unless they’re primary casters or extreme specialists – most characters take some Witchcraft. It can provide a wide variety of tricks and boosts quite cheaply – and thus gives fighter- and rogue-types a nice boost.

Entreaty Magic (21 CP)

The art of calling on mystical entities to empower your spells directly is quite versatile – if still limited to the type of effects that any specific entity is able to supply – but demands a fair amount of service to such entities to pay for their power. While 21 CP worth of Entreaty Magic only covers spells of up to level two and requires that the user have a minimum level of three to fully control those second level effects – entreating minor entities of Childbirth and Healing, Villages and Households, Hunting and Farming, Nature, and similar fields is unlikely to lead to any especially burdensome demands on a low-level character – and (unlike the 12 CP Hedge Wizard package) can both include effective offensive and defensive spells and is easily expanded to greater powers (+12 CP and a minimum level of five for level three effects, although getting up to the maximum of level six effects gets expensive) if some villager should prove to have enough magical talent for that.

Shamanic Magic (24 CP)

While closely related to Entreaty Magic, Shamanic Magic includes long-term (if very minor) blessings, some minor animalistic shapeshifting, and the ability to intervene on behalf of the dying, as well as the ability to call on various spirits for magic. A shaman will never possess vast magical power, but he or she is extremely flexible and well-suited to providing the kind of magical services that a small village or wandering tribe needs.

Spellbinder (24 CP)

A Spellbinder possesses a good deal of Mana, a vivid imagination, and a strong will with which to channel that Mana into the effects they imagine. That’s not a very efficient way to work magic, and it’s very prone to backfires and side effects since a lot of the Mana they shove in discharges at random – but it is quite versatile. A Spellbinder can produce virtually any arcane effect within their level limits, even if those same wild discharges keep them from storing their magic or using it to create magical objects.

  • 3d6 Mana with the Unskilled Magic option, Specialized for Increased Effect (only costs 1 Mana per Spell Level) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only usable for unskilled magic, calls for Gestures (limiting the user to light or medium armor and at least one free hand), Incantations (incoherent screaming works though), and a spell component pouch (variants may use other foci) (12 CP).
    • The Casting Level equals the user’s Level or (Mana Spent + Int / 3), whichever is less.
    • The maximum level of effect is the users base Will Save Bonus or (Wis / 3), whichever is less.
    • Keeping the side effects (normally of the same level as the spell attempted or one level less) down to inconvenient effects rather than dangerous ones requires a Cha check at a DC of (6 + 2 x the Mana Used). The side effects are always up to the game master.
    • The user MIGHT (GMO) gain “free” mana to use if under great emotional stress.
    • The user may invest an additional (Spell Level) mana points in a spell with a duration to keep it running until he or she drops it, something dispels or negates it, or he or she chooses to recover that mana. This is, however, limited to a maximum of (Con/3) levels of spells.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only recovers at 1d6 per half-hour of rest or sleep (6 CP).
  • +2 to the user’s Base Will Save (6 CP).

Spellbinders are quite rare, and often become actual adventurers (usually taking some Reflex Training and more Mana so as to get off more spells), although even if they pump their Wisdom, Intelligence, and Will Saves they are unlikely to reach particularly high-level magics. On the other hand, they can cast a (sloppy) version of pretty much any low-level arcane spell that you might want – including Hedge Wizardry effects – which is pretty useful and can keep Shield and Mage Armor up all day at first level, which is pretty handy.

Animist (24 CP)

An animist depends on talking things into helping him or her out – usually by simple appeals, but sometimes by trickery. It’s a subtle art, but one that requires little or no personal power besides a persuasive tongue.

  • Immunity/the normal limits of Diplomacy and Spoken Language (Common, Minor, Major, 12 CP). This ability allows the user to effectively communicate with ANYTHING – and to attempt to persuade it to help them out. They can speak with plants and animals, attempt to persuade locks and doors to open, fires to leave open a path of escape, spirits to answer, air to remember when it was stone, or stone to remember when it was molten rock or simple sand or whatever it once was. It’s usually fairly easy to persuade things to act within their natures – for example, doors are made to let people through, so getting one to open itself is fairly easy. Getting a lock to open without the key is considerably harder; locks are MADE to keep unauthorized people out.
  • Minor Privilege/most things that are not naturally communicative are pleased to be spoken to, and will be reasonably friendly (3 CP).
  • Spirit Favors: Major from the spirits of the physical world, minor from the spiritual entities of the elemental and appropriate alignment planes (9 CP).

An animist can occasionally pull off some pretty major stunts – getting a massive avalanche or tornado to turn aside, getting a ship safely through a hurricane, triggering an eruption, or otherwise massively influencing the course of events – but for the most part they’re going to be doing things like asking a rope to tie itself securely when they toss one end to the top of a cliff, or getting a lockpick to twist itself around to help them open something – and they have few limits on such minor tricks.

Cultist (24 CP).

Cultists are a bit tricky in d20. After all whether you are calling upon strange gods, eccentric demons, gibbering lovecraftian horrors, fey, or long-forgotten entities… they’re very rarely offering you anything that you can’t get in much more socially acceptable ways. In Eclipse, the answer is simple: the abilities in the Cultist package are generally Corrupted for Reduced Cost or Increased Effect / they have some weird side effect and call for odd, exclusive, rituals and such, Maybe they attract strange creatures, or corrupt nature, or spawn strange weather and other problems, or they drive their users insane if they overuse their powers, or whatever. That makes a cultists powers relatively quick and easy to obtain and simultaneously provides a reason for their being social objections to the cult. Even if they’re not evil… cultists make difficult neighbors The Standard Cultist Powers are simply:

  • 3d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Rune Magic, whatever limitations the specific cult involves (6 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted /only to restore the Mana Reserve for Rune Magic, requires a brief cult ceremony, specific cult limitations (4 CP).
  • Adept, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Two Skills Only (Rune Magic Casting and Mastery for a specific field), specific cult limitations (2 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus, adds (Second Attribute Bonus of Choice) to (Skills based on chosen attribute for Rune Magic), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Only for Rune Magic, only for the Cult Rune Magic Skills, specific cult limitations (6 CP).
  • Rune Magic Casting and Mastery, Specialized for Increased (Double) Effect / doubling values only applies to the base skill points at level one, not to attribute or other bonuses, spellcasting is always seen as strange and unnatural, specific cult limitations. +4/+4 SP (+8/+8 to base total) (4 CP).
  • Knowledge / Religion +1 (1 CP). +3 Speciality in their own cult (1 CP).

Cultists do need an attribute bonus to really shine – but one attribute of 14 is quite sufficient. That will give them (+8 Base +6 (Augmented Bonus) = +14 in Rune Mastery and Casting at level one – an effective caster level of seven and access to third level spells in that specific field. That also, of course, helps to explain why Cults – despite all their negative effects – hang on. If the cultists of Shangarath The Fiery One all happen to be able to throw 7d Fireballs (among other fire effects), then attacking them might go really badly for a bunch of low-level types. Even without an attribute bonus… Burning Hands or Scorching Ray at caster level four can really ruin a normal persons day.

Cultists strike an interesting social dynamic: thanks to whatever weird side effects they produce, nobody really wants them around, or wants to get involved with them – until something is going badly wrong, at which point the relatively high-powered magic they can wield may suddenly be absolutely critical to the communities survival. Thus Cultists are usually tolerated, if isolated, parts of the community.

On a practical character-design level… Cultist magic tends to be extremely efficient at getting a narrow field up to mid-range power levels at low level – but thereafter slows down drastically, since another +19 skill points will only get them to +33 at level twenty. Admittedly, that’s eighth level spells and an effective caster level of sixteen – but it’s in one narrow field, you don’t get the price breaks for being a cultist on more Mana, and the rate of increase beyond level one is a lot less impressive than it is for a more conventional spellcaster with a proper, general, education.

There are quite a few other 24 CP Archetypes and Roles up that also fall into this category. As a sampling we have the  Aristocrat, Berserker, Commander, Laborer, Magus, Messenger, Shadow, Wanderer, and Wise Companion, Broken Spirit, Brute, Elder, Great Leader, Official, Scholar, and Shaman, Centurion, El Diablo, Performer, Romantic, and Thief, Fortunate Scion, Merchant, Seducer, and Stoic, (and the How-to-use-them guide), as well as the Star Trek Power Packages Ensign, infiltrator, and Engineer, Captain and Second In Command, Transporter Officer, Counselor, Mystic Counselor, and Doctor, Chief Security Officer, Cosmic Wedgie, Annoying Brat, the Mudd, and Holographic Characters.

Sacredos Pastor (24 CP)

The Sacredos Pastor is the intermediary between the greater realms and the circumscribed worlds of the peasants and farmers – and a dabbler in many different forms of magic. In practice, this is probably the most efficient package on this entire list, exploiting the inherent bonuses of first level Clerical Spellcasting, Ritual Magic, Witchcraft, a Shamanic Familiar, and Creating Relics to provide all the magical services a small village will normally need outside of serious emergency situations – although those will, as always, call for adventurers.

The Sacredos Paster – and the Oath Of The Postulant that leads to it – were actually part of an experiment; I rather wondered what might happen when a visitor introduced a very high-efficiency social optimizer package in the guise of a religious philosophy to a fairly classical d20 world. Sadly, the game folded up all too soon, and so I never got to find out. Oh well.

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.

 

Eclipse – Lesser Path Magics, Part I

The Great Powers inhabit the capital cities and hidden fastnesses. There they practice the martial skills that challenge the gods themselves and the magics that reshape the world. They Resurrect The Dead, they bring Wishes into reality, and they forge devices of godlike power.

But there aren’t very many of them about – and so smaller villages often go many years between seeing one of them, and even THAT is usually just a glimpse as they pass through.

Most people don’t have the talent, the will, the resources, or the luck, to develop powers like that. They aren’t riding the outer edge of the bell curve and the forces of destiny. They aren’t drawing on the blazing, unfettered, energies of the planes beyond. They don’t weild ancient artifacts or embody cosmic forces. They aren’t Powers of the Realm, and they never will be.

They aren’t without magic though. The magic of the world is a resource as great or greater than its mines, forests, and waters, and no successful sapient race allows it to go unused. The common folk of the world have the practitioners of the Lesser Paths – village witches and hedge magi, minor healers, lay priests, and various small talents – to make their lives easier and more secure.

  • Lesser Paths are generally 2-24 CP “long” – and most of their effects come into play at fairly low levels given that most NPC’s will never get past level two or three. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful to adventurers though, they just won’t be very effective at higher levels.

Peasant Powers (6 CP).

The common folk in most d20 games don’t really resemble medieval peasants, serfs, and crafters very much. They’re a lot more like reasonably prosperous farmers and craftsmen from a mere century or two back. That isn’t very surprising, given that both the players and game masters are a LOT more familiar with relatively recent history and find it hard to discard all those preconceptions – and the rules don’t help much either, since most of what they cover involves high-powered, wealthy, player-characters. Ergo, here’s a small package that accounts for most of those differences – and may well just be assumed in the setting.

Focused Skill Magic (2+ CP).

In a world of magic, there is little difference between using a firedrill and calling on the spirits of fire or between case-hardening steel with careful quenching and case-hardening steel by chanting runes as you forge it. Even a task as mundane as cookery is filled with kitchen witchery – charms to clean pots and pans, to heat the stove, and to make sure that things don’t burn – among many, MANY, others.

  • Occult Talent, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / all spells must be related to a particular skill, user must gesture and speak, requires a spell component pouch or equivalent focus to use, user must make a DC 15 skill check with the skill to invoke a Cantrip and a DC 20 check to invoke a first level effect. (2 CP for 4 Fixed Cantrips and a First Level Spell, 4 CP for 5 Floating Cantrips and 3 Floating First Level Spells).
  • You can double the cost to convert to first and second level spells or triple the cost to convert to second and third level Spells, at a casting DC of 25 for second level effects and 30 for third – but this will require a slightly higher level. Still, it is perfectly possible for that veteran blacksmith to have 20 CP in Forge Magic, getting 10xL0, 6xL1, 5xL2 (minimum of level three to use safely), and 3xL3 (minimum of level five to use safely) spells and an equal number of slots to cast them with. He or she will also want Luck with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for spellcasting (6 CP) – but that will make him a fairly effective, if highly specialized, mage.

General Skill Magic (6 CP)

  • Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (up to L1 Effects), only for producing effects related to the user’s skills, only works with skills at skill rank four or above, requires a DC 10 check to produce a Prestidigitation Level Effect (up to three times per day per skill), a DC 15 check to produce a Level Zero Effect (up to two times per day per skill), and a DC 25 check to produce a First Level Effect (up to once per day per skill).

Or

  • Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted/requires a DC 15 skill check to produce a level zero effect, each skill is associated with a specific effect, each effect can only be attempted once every five minutes, the user must have at least four skill points in a particular skill before it’s effect can be employed, such effects are swift actions where they assist another action, standard actions if they have independent effects.

The first version is better for skill monkeys who want access to those first level spells and have plenty of skill points anyway, the second is better for the kind of low-level charms you want to use all the time.

Religious Acolyte or Lay Priest (6 CP):

This package requires early indoctrination, but virtually no actual talent – and so most villages will boast an Acolyte or two who tends to their religious needs, lessens the impact of illnesses, performs rituals of marriage, blesses the livestock, orchards, and fields, and puts up wards against minor trouble. It’s also one of the few packages that includes disadvantages – mostly because an early religious vocation cuts off a LOT of other options.

  • Disadvantages: Obligations and Vows. Acolytes generally start off quite young, and make a substantial commitment to their faith. This (-6 CP) pays for…
  • Religious Training: Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Skills, only for religious lore, taken at level (-1) (6 CP): That’s +6 SP at L1 and +3 per level thereafter. At level one they will have:
    • Knowledge/Religion +2 (2 SP). Most Acolytes spend a few more points on this to max it out, but this is not required.
    • A +3 Specialty in Knowledge/Religion (Their Religion) (1 SP)
    • Specific Knowledge / has memorized, or at least intensively studied, the primary holy book, collection of doctrines, myth cycle, or similar basis of their religion (1 SP).
    • Specific Knowledge: has memorized (Int Mod +3) minor rituals and one major ritual of their faith (2 SP). This gets them a +5 bonus on performing those specific rituals.
  • Religious Rites: Occult Ritual (Knowledge/Religion based), Specialized and Corrupted / only for the practical religious rituals of their particular faith (2 CP).
  • One Base Caster level, Specialized in Clerical Spellcasting, Corrupted/does not allow for anything beyond first level spells (2 CP).
  • 1d6 Mana as 2d4 (5) Generic Spell Levels, Specialized and Corrupted / only for binding into prepared clerical spells, save for Cure Minor Wounds spells may only be prepared as needed, not in advance (so basically you must take 15 minutes to get a spell ready), at least one spell level is always devoted to two instances of Cure Minor Wounds daily, user must live up to the precepts of his or her religion to be granted any spells (2 CP).

Master Healer (6 CP)

A Master Healer is always welcome in a village; and isn’t bad to have along on an adventure – although, since I usually limit characters to 12 CP worth of Innate Enchantment (not counting any in Templates), adventurers often have better things to spend their innate enchantments on. The problem here is that using monthly charges allows a Master Healer to have a reserve with which to meet local emergencies, but active adventuring tends to blow through those reserves in short order – and simply upgrading to unlimited use generally isn’t allowed for healing magic. An adventurer is usually better off with a healing belt, or uses/day, or just (as usual) writing off the occasional Wand of Lesser Vigor as an adventuring expense.

  • Innate Enchantment (5320 GP Value, all effects Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Use-Activated).
    • Skill Mastery. +5 Competence Bonus To Healing Ranks, Personal Only (1400)
    • Healing Lorecall (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, 2000 GP). Note that, in Pathfinder, an additional function becomes available at Skill 10: when you are treating a patient for poison or disease they may use your skill check as their save if they so desire.
    • Cure Light Wounds (50 Uses/Month x.6, Maximum Twice/Day on any one target x.8 = 960 GP)
    • Lesser Restoration (50 Uses/Month, Maximum of 1/Day on any one target x.6 = 720 GP)
    • Moment Of Insight (Skills) 4/Day: Gain a +20 Insight Bonus on a skill check, Only for the Heal skill (x.3) only for Treat Poison/Illness (x.5) = 240 GP.

Minimal Werebeast (6 CP)

Being a Minimal Werebeast is actually extremely useful to a commoner or a low-level character; he or she will be considerably tougher, can run around much faster, survive better if caught out in the cold, and recover from most injuries much more quickly than usual. Higher level characters may not find it an efficient use of half their 12 CP innate enchantment allowance, or may want the (much better) bonuses of being the real thing – but if you want to be a survivalist, this is a pretty good base for it. Besides, werewolf kids can be heart-meltingly cute.

  • Damage Reduction, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only versus physical attacks, not versus Silver, 4/- (3 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment. All enchantments Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, and Personal-Only. Specialized for Reduced Cost / comes with wolfish instincts (and the need to make occasional will checks to resist such impulses), pack loyalty, and the traditional signs of being a werewolf. It may or may not come with a compulsive urge to party all night during the full moon. 6480 GP inherent value (3 CP).
    • Aspect Of The Wolf (2000 GP). The user may continue to walk on two legs and keep his or her pants on if desired (or may describe this as “Aspect Of The Cat” or “Aspect Of The Bear” or some such) but this has no game effect.
    • Speak with Animals (1400 GP).
    • Wrath. Morale bonuses of +2 Str, +2 Con, +1 Will, and -2 AC when in use (1400 GP).
    • Endure Elements 1/Day (280 GP).
    • Fast Healing I for 18 Rounds 2/Day (560 GP).
    • Relieve Illness (Hedge Wizardry List) 1/Day (280 GP).
    • Relieve Poison (Hedge Wizardry List) 1/Day (280 GP).
    • Lesser Restoration 1/Day (280 GP).

The Woods Witch (6 CP).

The Woods Witch has a knack for the magic of nature, and can – with practice – sense the innate properties of plants and herbs and call then forth in effects equivalent to powerful cantrips or weak first level spells. Does Aloe soothe burns? Then a Woods Witch can provide minor healing for burn victims until he or she runs out of Aloe.

  • Innate Enchantment: Handy Haversack (2000 GP), Enhance Herb (2000 GP), and Classify Plant (1000 GP) (6 CP).

For a few quick examples of herbal magic…

  • A pinch of Allspice provides +2 caster levels to the effect of another herb. A precious resource for a Woods Witch, but usually an expensive import.
  • Amaranth Smoke carries prayers, and will allow an effective séance.
  • Angelica reduces the impact of illnesses, preventing any loss of attributes from them during the next roll.
  • Barberry provides the same mental protection as Protection From Evil for several minutes – although it does not provide bonuses otherwise.
  • Basil Suggests thoughts of love when a pinch of the dust is scattered.
  • Birch Powder damages the undead, causing 1d2/Caster Level (5d2 max) damage to them when cast over a small area.
  • Blessed Thistle will protect the user against one witches hex or other minor malevolent effect of level two or less cast at them within the next one hour. Sadly, you can’t carry more than three sprigs without the extras losing effectiveness.

And so on. More examples of herbal magic can be found with the Enhance Herb spell in Paths Of Power II, but they’re all over online anyway.

A Woods Witch can be quite effective – but it may take a lot of time to stock up their supplies of herbs and they don’t keep forever. If they use a lot of their stuff up for some reason it may take weeks to restock even if nothing is currently out of season. If something is out of season… well, maybe they can find some growing in a greenhouse somewhere.

Other common packages at this level include:

Novice Of Mysteries (6 CP):

The Novice and Initiate Of Mysteries have developed an affinity for a particular type of magic – most often effects that augment a particular activity – thievery, shadow manipulation, illusion, weird martial art powers, force effects, or whatever. While they lack the raw power of high-level spells if they combine specialized enhancements with other abilities they can be fairly formidable – and it’s still a fairly cheap path to take.

  • Improved Occult Talent, Specialized for Half Cost / all spells must fit a specific theme, all require invocations (the user must use anime-style “called effects”), requires the use of a special focus (rune-inscribed bracers, gloves, or whatever). Gain 5 Cantrips and 3 First Level Spell effects, with a similar number of spell slots to cast them with. The effective caster level equals your level (6 CP).

For an example let’s look at Wind Blade Style Swordsmanship

  • Level Zero Effects:
    • Call Weapon: an unattended weapon leaps into your hand from up to thirty feet away as a swift action.
    • Fast Draw: a weapon on your person appears in your hand as a swift action.
    • Mend Weapon: A swift-action Mend that only works on weapons.
    • Void Sheath (The Practical Enchanter):
    • Wind Weapon: You conjure a normal weapon for one minute as a swift action.
  • Level One Effects:
    • Fancy Footwork: Gain +5′ Natural Reach for one minute as a swift action.
    • Master’s Parry: Block 15 points of incoming damage as an immediate action.
    • Sudden Strike: Make a single attack at your full BAB as a swift action.

That’s a fair selection of tricks for a low-level swordsman, even if they are limited use.

Initiate Of Mysteries (12 CP):

  • Improved Occult Talent, Specialized for Double Effect / all spells must fit a specific theme, all require invocations (the user must use anime-style “called effects”), requires the use of a special focus (rune-inscribed bracers, gloves, or whatever). Gain 5 first level and 3 second level spell effects with a similar number of spell slots to cast them with – although the use of the level two effects requires a minimum level of three. The effective caster level equals your level (12 CP).

Advanced Wind Blade Style Swordsmanship:

  • Remove: The L0 Effects.
  • L1) Add: Wind Blade Mastery (use any L0 blade magic effect).
  • L2) Add: Bloodfire (as per Scorching Ray), Storm Of Blades, and Whirlwind Kata (as per Protection From Arrows).

Common Level One Alternatives: Adamant Strike (weapon acts as Adamant for one minute), Bless Weapon, Deafening Clang, Lead Blades, Magic Weapon, Peasant Armaments, Personal Haste, Ranged Strike, Strategic Charge, Sweep (as per Burning Hands, but Force Damage), True Strike, Warding Blade (as per Shield), and Whirlwind Strike (standard action, as per Whirlwind Attack).

Common Level Two Alternatives: Burning Sword, Death Blossom (standard action, as per Whirlwind Attack with +10 reach), Flame Of Faith, Grandmaster’s Parry (block 25 points of incoming damage as an immediate action), Litany Of Warding, Righteous Vigor, Versatile Weapon, Whirling Blade, and Winged Step (Swift Action, for the next one minute per level you may take a move action as part of a full attack action).

A higher-level character will usually get more out of a sequence of greater powers – but a low to mid-level blademaster may find this quite useful – and may even invest another couple of feats in a mobility sequence or in doubling up on the Wind Blade Style with a mostly different list of effects to use.

Hedge Mage (12 CP):

  • Four levels of the Wilder Progression (Charisma Based), Specialized and Corrupted / provides no actual psionic powers, Power can only be spent to use Hedge Magic Disciplines, not for other purposes (8 CP), This gives them an effective Caster Level of Four and (17 + 2 x Cha Mod) Power.
  • Hedge “Magic”, Corrupted for Reduced Cost / does not include the ability to make Conjures (4 CP). As psionic disciplines it costs 1/2 a point of Power to use a “level zero” effect, one for a “level one effect”, and three for a “level two” effect.

This package does require a reasonable amount of talent, so full-out hedge mages are relatively rare – but they can be extremely helpful when it comes to daily life.

Magecrafter (12 CP).

Making tools and weapons was one of the original great fields of magic. A maker of spears harnessed the power of earth and wood and death, placing them in the hands of men to strike down their enemies – whether cast like thunderbolts or braced to withstand some monstrous onslaught. Today, the wonder of those early tools is long forgotten and that ancient magic sleeps – but the sleeper can awaken.

  • Immunity/the distinction between (Rune) Mastery and a related Craft Skill (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP). Thus someone who knows (Archery) Mastery (allowing him or her to cast spells involving bows and arrows) can also use that magical skill to make bows and arrows. Someone who knows (Fire) or (Forge) or (Metal) mastery might work as a Smith – or perhaps a Jeweler.
  • 1d6+2 (6) Mana, Specialized / only for use with Rune Magic (4 CP).
  • Rite Of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to restore the Rune Magic Mana Pool, above (3 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Adds a second attribute modifier to the Modifier used for their Rune Magic Skills, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only applies to Rune Magic Skills (3 CP).

A magecrafter integrates magic and craftsmanship to imbue tools with temporary magic, call up items when they need them, and enhance their ability to craft things in a variety of ways – a very practical choice.

Dreamspawn Bond (10 CP)

  • A Dreamspawn Bond offers an insane amount of power for 10 CP. Unfortunately, it also means sharing your dreams with a unique Lovecraftian horror from beyond space and time that loves you, and wants you to be happy, and does not comprehend creatures of this plane of reality in the slightest. They also usually bond with small children, whom they render antisocial and more than a bit insane. This is not Pokemon. This is Monsters And Other Childish Things – or perhaps Pokethulhu. It’s usually not a good idea to have someone with such a bond in the party unless EVERYONE has one (which is generally not a good idea for the rest of the world). For examples we have The Basic Template, Timothy and Verendior, Dunangylaz and Antaeus Varin, Lerona and Queen Yintor, Oridon and Yinsloth, and Sevarangin.

The Enlightened One (12 CP).

The rare Enlightened One has found some relic of the divine – a bone of a saint, a part of the regalia of some god, or some such – and contemplated it until he or she opened a channel to the infinite, allowing that radiant force to shine through him or her and into reality. To make this work… they must settle down at a shrine/on a mountain/beneath a tree (or some such) and meditate on the cosmic all. After a few days of this… they will begun to function as a minor Reliquary (The Practical Enchanter) while they are in their place of meditation – allowing those who follow the same faith to come to them, listen to their wisdom, and be infused with the magic of the divine, gaining a handful of clerical (or druidic) spells that must be used with twenty-four hours or they will fade away.

  • Innate Enchantment / a Minor Reliquary (The Practical Enchanter, 11,385 GP Value, 12 CP). The Enlightened One gains a +4 Enhancement Bonus to Wisdom, 2L0, 2L1, and 2L2 clerical spells, plus a L3 spell if their enhanced Wisdom is 16+ and a L4 spell if their enhanced wisdom is 18+. Listeners gain access to 1L0 spell at Wis 10+, to a L1 spell at Wis 12+, to a L2 Spell at Wis 14+, to a L3 spell at Wis 16+, and to a L4 spell at Wis 18+. All such spells have an effective caster level of nine.

So how hard is to get a hold of a “True Relic”? And are they good for anything else?

Who knows? Generally, a “True Relic” is a part of the body of a very powerful Cleric or has been touched by a major power of the outer planes – so it depends on just how often such beings show up, what they usually do, and exactly what counts. Or you could only allow Eclipse-style Relics imbued with one or more character points by such a being, or you could go with the Magic Item Compendium and make them fairly powerful magical items (in which case they’re moderately expensive; the cheapest one I recall seeing in that book was Ehlonna’s seed pouch at 1400 GP), or you could go with the Book Of Exalted Deeds, where a Rack Of The Tortured Saint relic is given a value of only 180 GP – although that book also says that relics “cannot be manufactured, bought, or sold” (it doesn’t say what happens to stop the sale it if, say, one player character tries to sell one to another player character who wants it). For simplicity?

  • Owning a True Relic is a Minor (3 CP) or Major (6 CP) Privilege.
  • True Relics count as 1 CP (Minor) or 2 CP (Major) Eclipse-Style Relics.
  • True Relics are holy / unholy / anarchic / axiomatic items that do 2d6 (Minor) or 3d6 (Major) divine damage to creatures with opposing alignment subtypes by touch.
  • True Relics provide their bearers with a +2 (Minor) or +4 (Major) Sacred Bonus to any social skill roll targeting an audience that will respect the Relic in question.

That makes True Relics reasonably effective for their cost – but not something that Adventurers will usually want to invest in given that they provide less raw power than a design-your-own relic package.

Other popular power packages in this range include:

  • Basic Shamanism (Companion (Familiar) with the Spirit Fetch template (Eclipse II), granting Occult Sense / Spirit Sense (it’s “master” can see and hear spirits, 12 CP).
  • Houngan Conjurer (12 CP)
  • Obol Maker (12 CP)

Eclipse – The Sagacious Advisor

This package gives you the classic sage, mentor, or royal advisor – someone who can tell you that the unseasonable winter blighting the land is almost certainly the work of the Winter King wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter Blade from his Otherworldly Castle Of Ice, and that some heroes must journey there to stop him by shattering the blade once more so that the seasons will turn properly for another age of the world.

He will even – after enough research (waiting to draw the right card since he only gets new ones for his Hexcrafting magic when important things happen) that the situation has become utterly dire and the party has had to hold off multiple attacks by Polar Bears, Winter Wolves, and other ice-monsters – be able to open a path into the mystic realms of the Seasonal Spirits, so that you can reach the Castle Of Ice to do battle with the Winter King.

He won’t know that the Winter King was recently overthrown by his treacherous son Prince Iceheart wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter blade, and that to restore the balance of the world the party will have to rescue the old king, defeat the Prince, shatter Fimbulwinter once more, and perform a ritual to reinstate the link between the Realm of Winter and it’s once and future King. After all, that information is far too recent to appear in the Sagacious Advisors ancient tomes – but he can still get the party started on their adventure.

Similarly, he can put the dying king afflicted by the nigh-unstoppable mystic venom into stasis, and greatly slow the decay of the land that ruler is linked to – but he will have to stick around to keep recasting that stasis (after all, it starting to wear off is probably an important enough event to justify refreshing his powers), leaving the quest for the cure up to the player characters.

Of course, if you wind up having to take a Sagacious Advisor along on your adventures – perhaps you need one of those vastly powerful spells performed at a particular place – then you will have to babysit them through the trip and then protect them from the inevitable massive attack while they perform their ritual casting because they probably won’t be any use at all along the way.

The Sagacious Advisor (Usually an NPC):

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Dex 8, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 16 (Pathfinder 15 Point Buy).

Available Character Points: L3 Base (96 CP) -18 (Untrained) +12 (L1 and L3 Feats) = 90 CP.

Basics (25 CP): Hit Dice: 3d6 (6 CP), Skill Points +8 (Fast Learner at L0, 6 CP) +6 (6 CP) = 14 (six knowledges at +1, 8 points for other skills), BAB +0 (0 CP), Saves +0 (Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saves, 4 CP), Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP).

Other Abilities (65 CP):

  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect: only for Skills, only for Knowledge, Skills, user must spend a lot of time rummaging through ancient tomes and lore, information often contains gaps (especially about recent changes) that will need to be filled by adventurers, user is afflicted with great curiosity and a certain lack of caution (12 CP).
  • +6 Base Caster Levels, Specialized in Hexcrafting. (18 CP).
  • Hexcrafting: 4 Free Invocations (8 CP), 3 Cards (8 CP), 2 Fixed Cards (6 CP). All Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the user must fumble around with assorted arcane ingredients, speak, and gesture to do anything at all. The Cards are also Specialized for Reduced Cost / Ritual Only, it requires at least one minute of ritual per card expended to create an effect.
  • Berserker with Odinpower (+15 to Base Caster Level, -2 to AC) and +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / each use only allows the casting of a single spell, user forfeits his or her dexterity bonus while casting, only half effect when using a free invocation, (4 CP).
  • Choice of Houngan Conjurer (9 CP) or Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys (9 CP).

While the Sagacious Advisor is useful to have around, and makes a wonderful government official… he or she does not have the quick, or regularly-usable, power needed to be a real threat to the current rulers or to overshadow the player characters. Like it or not, he or she is effectively a plot device. Still, every so often, the Sagacious Advisor can perform a major ritual – opening the path to a realm of myths, transporting a city away from an attacking horde to an unknown alien realm (which will, of course, offer it’s own menaces and which will urgently need exploring), or stopping that volcanic eruption (while simultaneously upsetting some Elementals) – and then be quite unable to deal with the further consequences. Que the player characters having a new mission.

Given that the game is supposed to be focused on the player characters, that’s a good thing. I’ve played in entirely too many games where the megapowerful NPC’s could (and obviously SHOULD) easily fix the problem – but it gets shoved off onto the player charters for some unspecified reason. As an example from a game I once played in…

(My character) “So let me get this straight, The kings widely-loved daughter has been Kidnapped. So the King sent his most skilled (high-level) guards out to scoop up what must be the six weirdest, most incompatible (we had a Drow, a Minotaur, my chain-smoking modern Egyptian tomb robber who’d been drafted by Anubis to be a priest in a fantasy world, and several other weird types), people in the capital, whom he had no information on, who are not known as adventurers, and who he has no reason to trust, to send after her. He’s doing this on the advice of his supposedly good-guy Mind Flayer advisor. We’ve been told that she’s being held in a legendary tomb in the middle of the enchanted forest by bandits. The King refused to lend us a guide, or any guards to provide backup, or give us a map, or provide us with any gear. And we will be thrown in the dungeons if we don’t take on this mission. Well… Now that we’re approaching the forest… I vote that we make a break for it!”

The game master was extremely surprised when the party assumed that we were, at best, a sacrificial diversion for the real rescue mission – and that, at worst, the “lawful good king” was actually covering up the elimination of an uncooperative daughter. And why would we be asking for gear or a map or help? We had our first-level character creation funds!

With this build… that sort of thing is not a problem. The Sagacious Advisor can meet the magical needs of the kingdom, tell the party where to find the necessary plot coupons and mcguffins, and still remain low level and incapable of doing the actual adventuring himself. It also means that – in a setting where most of the world is low level – one can fairly readily find or train an effective royal advisor without having to assume that they just appear from nowhere when it’s convenient.

Equipment Skills in Fantasy

And for today it’s another question…

How would you use the equipment skills in a standard high fantasy D&D setting? Where would you price a wand, or holy avenger, stuff like that? Examples for all of the equipment skills like these would be really nice, because I’m blanking on 3.P style magic item prices using this.

-MaesterofMadness

The problem there is that Fantasy settings employ a much wider range of gear than historical and scifi settings usually do. Gus the Level One Space Marine may have a Durium Space Axe, a Heavy Automatic Blaster, Mark-V Battle Armor, and a Bandolier of Pyrogrenades. At level ten… he might have added Custom Gun Grips, a Backup Sidearm, more Grenades, a Squad Command Computer, and a few Breaching Charges – but his basic equipment is probably going to be pretty much the same because Space Marines get issued some of the best available military hardware in the first place. If Mark-V Battle Armor is top of the line when the characters are at level one it will probably still be top of the line when they hit level ten.

In Equipment Skill terms, presuming that Gus doesn’t decide that those points are better spent elsewhere. the total value of Gus’s gear may go from “+8” at level one to “+17” at level ten – slightly more than doubling in value. Most of the change in Gus’s effectiveness is going to come from boosting his personal abilities with more BAB, Extra Attacks, Martial Arts, Evasiveness, Imbuement, and other combat tricks.

At level twenty? Sure, Gus’s gear skill might be at +32 if he’s bothered to buy it up a bit – but that’s still only four times what it was back at first level. He may add more supplies and some special-purpose gadgets (perhaps medical supplies, some sensors, stealth tech, and engineering gear now that he has the skills to use it effectively) – but it isn’t really all that likely, especially if such gear is bulky or heavy. After all, “leaving it to the specialists” is a perfectly valid option and he might well be better off picking up another martial art or something.

Even in games like Rifts… that “greatest ever” (“Glitter Boy”) power armor is only about fifteen times as tough as a Northern Gun Trenchcoat that costs less than a thousandth of the price – and a gear-focused character can start with the Glitter Boy armor anyway.

That’s due to a fundamental difference between technological gear and magic. Technology is full of trade-offs – and every child more than a few months old is at least somewhat aware of that. Heavier blocks pound better, but are harder to lift and hold. Longer sticks pry better, but snap more easily and are harder to manage. Tantrums (an early social technology) get you quicker attention than begging, but more often misfire and get you punished.

So no one argues with the idea that equipment has practical limits and that more expensive items aren’t exponentially better. They understand that tripling the price of a cheap sound system may get it from 98% fidelity to 98.5%, that it will take thirty or fifty times the price to get it to 99%, and that no system on earth is ever going to make it to 100% no matter how much you spend. The cost increases MUCH faster than the improvements in performance. That’s why there’s no one “best gun” any more than there’s a “best hammer”. Every design is full of tradeoffs and will be better or worse for specific purposes – and once you’re paying for a good quality product in the first place, getting a more expensive one won’t really improve matters very much.

You see that in a lot of literary magic systems too. Stormbringer may give Elric a lot of power – but it has some pretty massive downsides too. A Monkey’s Paw may grant wishes, but do you really want what it will give you? Is the sorcerous might that a demonic pact will grant worth the price? Even if you want magic really, REALLY, badly, you might want to settle for the lesser powers that you can gain through mere hard work, study, and self-discipline instead.

That’s one reason why I personally tend to treat legendary artifacts as freebies. If you really want to have one… just ask, and I will shortly give one to your character. Those things have their own purposes and drawbacks – and they draw you into their legends rather than letting you forge your own. There is a reason why you hear stories about the Hand and Eye of Vecna rather than about their users and why most of the beings that treat mighty magical artifacts as mere tools are ALREADY gods.

But in many games – d20 being a major example – magic items are “loot” rather than “plot elements” and, as such, have no downsides. All they cost is money.

Worse, the d20 default is that fantasy Gear covers a much greater range. After all, you can start off a near-penniless beggar (Monk, 5d4 GP, potentially a mere 5 GP) and will, around L20, be expected to have acquired nearly a million GP worth of personal gear even if you have used some of it up – a factor of 50,000 to 200,000 times. You can start out armed with an old knife and a crudely-cut tree branch for a club and wind up wearing gear that costs more than a major city and is capable of destroying armies and fending off gods all by itself. After all, barring game master fiat or some weird edge-case situation (also a form of game master fiat), a +1 sword is pretty much always an improvement on a standard sword, a +2 Frost sword is better yet, and a (cooperative) sapient +5 Keen Collision Holy Blade with an Augment Crystal, a wand chamber, and a few auxiliary enchantments may be able to take down a modest army of attackers without even bothering to wake you up.

There’s no simple-and-direct way to condense a range of 1-100,000 down into a skill range of 1-32 or so, especially when characters can easily start at “10”. Worse, even if I give the big items – say some nigh-invulnerable armor, an incredible shield, or a god-slaying sword – a cost of 12 CP each (so that a twentieth level paladin can afford the full set if they push it) that means that a first level character who decided to push it could wind up with one of the three. And at level one, the power of an item that’s balanced for a level 18+ character is all too likely to overshadow the personal abilities of everyone else in the party put together. Perhaps the items will want to take their hapless bearers out for a little exercise?

Just as troublingly, that open-ended power growth will make it vital to maximize your equipment skill or skills – and so they’ll wind up as a set of must-have skill (and possibly feat) taxes.

You could use a sliding scale – perhaps comparing it to the table in the Magic Item Compendium, with one-point items being suitable for a character six or more levels lower than yourself, two point items being suitable for characters three or more levels lower than yourself, three point items being suitable for characters one level lower than yourself, and six point items being suitable for a character of one level higher than yourself – but now we’ve got to check your level, check the chart, and rebalance everything, each time you go up a level. Sticking with wealth-by-level is actually simpler.

If you don’t want a sliding scale – and I think that it’s more trouble than it’s worth – you’ll have de facto limited yourself to a particular range of magical items. So your first step is to select that range. Once you do… lets say that one point gets you a minor item (or – say – 7-12 trivial ones), two gets you a notable but still utilitarian item, three gets you something quite useful, and five gets you something downright impressive. Beyond that…seven points gets you top-of-the-line stuff, but it always has some sort of downside to it. Optionally, players can get even better stuff by adding drawbacks.

So if you feel that the games magic item economy works best around level eight and you only want to have one equipment skill, I’d recommend basing it on Constitution to represent how much power you can handle channeling into your items – and because it will give Dwarves a slight edge. In this case…

  • One point may get you a weapon or suit of armor of some special material, a minor wand, a +1 armor or shield, a least Truedeath Crystal, a masterwork weapon with a minor charm or two on it, or something else worth a thousand gold pieces or less. Alternatively, it could get you a stockpile of alchemical items, a bandolier of Cure Light Wounds potions, or a pouch full of oils that provide various short-term boosts.
  • Two points could get you a +1 Weapon, Cloak Of Elvenkind, Javelin Of Lightning, Caduceus Bracers, Robe Of Bones, or other item worth up to about two thousand and five hundred gold pieces or less.
  • Three points could get you a +1 Weapon with a Minor Intelligence or some modest priced functions, +2 Armor, a Mithrilmist Shirt, a Bowstaff, Boots of Striding and Springing, some of the most minor staves, or some other item worth up to about six thousand gold pieces.
  • Five points might be up to 8500 GP or so – a +2 Weapon, a Robe Of Useful Items, and so on.
  • Seven point items are things of legend – +3 weapons, Boots Of Speed, Fireball Wands, and so on. Any of them over about 10,000 GP will have some drawback or other. Anything over 20,000 GP will have at least one major drawback. You want to wake that seven-point sword to it’s full +4 or even +5 potential? Perhaps it must be regularly dipped into dragons blood or something, and will draw them to you if you fail to seek them out to keep it sated.

This isn’t a bad mechanic – but it does notably change the power curve.

  • First level characters can easily have a skill of +12 or more (+4 Skill Points, +3 Con Mod, +2 Skill Emphasis, +3 Skill Focus) if they want it – and a first level mage with a Wand of Magic Missiles (7’th Level / Four Missiles, 3 points), an Amulet Of Tears (2 points), Wristbands of the Poseur III (3 Points), a Healing Belt (1 point), an Amber Amulet Of Vermin (Giant Wasp, 1 point), and a couple more items is a LOT more powerful than a standard build.
  • Characters around your balance point – around 7’th to 10’th level in this case – will have to take an extra skill, but will see little change in their overall power levels.
  • Higher level characters will have a lot less – and less potent – stuff, enough so to limit them substantially.
  • Stealing magical items will become mostly irrelevant, since it’s your skill that empowers them – and so other people’s items will not be especially useful to you.
  • “Treasure”is no longer a measure of personal power – and so building castles, donating to orphanages, buying lands and titles, and other social expenditures will become practical again.
  • Item Creation feats become pretty much irrelevant.

If that sort of change sounds good to you, then go for it. There is no one true way to play after all.

Now, Eclipse characters can function without conventional magical items at all: the rule for a game like that is in the back of the book – but is simply to award bonus Feats and a free level of Self-Development every two levels rather than every three and four respectively. In general, items other than Relics – including Great Enchantments – in such games should be built using the Action Hero (Crafting option) ability rather than with time, XP, and money. Characters who want to wield magical weapons and items can simply buy abilities such as Imbuement, which scale with their level automatically.

There are some related articles up that might help as well.

And I hope that helps!