Eclipse D20, Townsaver, and Urbs Vigilis

Long roads the Sword of Fury makes
Hard walls it builds around the soft
The fighter who Townsaver takes
Can bid farewell to home and croft

                                              -Saberhagen, the “Song Of Swords”.

Back in the early 1980’s Fred Saberhagen published the Books Of Swords They’re about a set of twelve powerful magical blades, unleashed into a rather low-magic and low-tech future-fantasy world by the (not terribly powerful) gods for a game. As such… they had quite specific individual powers and weaknesses, tended to move from wielder to wielder, and were very easily confused – for the most part being distinguished only by a symbol on the hilt. I’ve heard that part of that was because the original (fairly good) stories were also intended to provide the background for a computer game (that apparently never came to pass, alas), but I’ve never bothered trying to confirm that. This particular query was about how to build a sword like Townsaver – a sword that imbued it’s user with superhuman speed, strength, and endurance as long as he or she was defending “unarmed folk in a held place” – but which compelled it’s user to continue the fight as long as those folk were threatened and would not allow him or her to fall to anything short of an (undefined) “killing blow”, no matter how wounded. He or she might drop dead as soon as the fight was over though – especially since many of the swords seem to be quite draining to use.

Now in the books, the Swords were pretty much absolute unless turned against each other. Not even the gods were beyond their power (which did not make the gods happy when they found that out) although the “Emperor” could resist at least some of them (according to Saberhagen’s notes for other writers contributing stories set in his newly-opened universe, the Emperor was a manifestation of the universes Creator – the True God – and so was above all rules). Even worse, they had a tendency to control the user. If you were confronted with a situation, and decided to hit the “use sword” button… the sword would do what it did, and it didn’t matter if some of the targets were friends or allies, or if you tried to stop, or throw the thing away. D20, however, puts a great deal more stress on player agency and has a LOT more magic to boot. That makes a major difference.

Look at “Farslayer“. You picked it up, decided who you really hated, and threw it – and it stabbed whoever it was in the heart (or their focus item for Demons), no matter where they were or (presumably) what defenses they had (how this would stack up against d20 defenses is unknown). It hit with considerable force, and was a blade of very fine quality – but it didn’t seem to have much in the way of other enhancements. It didn’t do extra damage or give bonuses to your attacks beyond being really tough and sharp. Of course, in the books no one had a lot of defenses and the pesky thing was now stuck in your enemies corpse – wherever that was – all ready for someone in their entourage to pick up and use. Worse. you could be pretty vague about your target. “Whoever just used this thing to kill so-and-so” would work just fine.


Well, lets see… The swords are supposed to be about a meter long, double-edged, and can be used with one hand. In d20 terms that’s a longsword, call it +2 for sheer quality, and say it hits with Strength 26 – far more than any normal human. But it automatically stabs the target in the heart. What does that do?

Well, it’s perfectly possible for someone to be stabbed in the heart with a knife, or sword, in the real world. It’s even survivable sometimes with modern medical care. In d20 all this means is that you rolled a critical hit and maximum damage (unless you presume that some parts of the body are somehow just “off limits” without a special power, which is kind of absurd). Farslayer is (at least in d20 terms) a Longsword. Most people throwing it seemed to use both hands, so I’ll presume it was used two-handed. That will make it… 16 (2d8 maximum) +24 (+12 effective Str Mod x2) +4 (+2 Enhancement Bonus x 2) = 44 damage.

That’s not bad – but it won’t make most experienced characters stumble, much less kill them. It certainly won’t stop anything with regeneration, or – for that matter – lacking a heart. It doesn’t even block Raise Dead. If I was making a d20 version I’d probably throw in some extra damage – at least enough to force a save versus massive damage – but this just isn’t that impressive an effect in d20 terms. Sure, it killed Hermes in the original books, but the rest of the books “gods” (other than the true God) died because some people started to doubt their divinity and they got less attention then they used to. Those were some pretty fragile “gods”.

So if you want a functional d20 sword that’s like Townsaver… let us create the relic Urbs Vigilis, the Sword of Guardians.

  • Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (2 CP), Multiple Blessing (Specialized for Increased Effect, affects up to (Charisma) targets, Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP) / Only works on unarmed folk whom the user is defending, only grants the Blessing ability, only to allow the recipients to transfer their actions to the wielder.

Here we have the swords greatest power. If you’re defending ten cowering children against the oncoming monsters… you will be getting up to eleven full actions every round to do it with.

  • Grant Of Aid with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to restore hit points, only while defending others (6 CP).

The blade can’t keep you standing forever – at least not in the face of the kind of attacks that d20 throws around – but it can keep you up for quite some time in a normal fight.

  • Inherent Spell with +8 Bonus Uses: Aspect Of The Beast (Boar) (The Practical Enchanter) coupled with Disguise Self (your appearance does not change despite the Aspect Of The Beast spell), Specialized and Corrupted / only works when you are defending unarmed folk who are contributing actions to you, automatically takes up the first bonus action when so activated. For ten minutes/user level the user gains +4 Natural Armor, the “Sword” is considered a Natural Weapon (1d8, 20/x2, cannot be disarmed or sundered, requires no proficiency), +10′ move, Str +4 and Con +6 (6 CP).

When defending unarmed folk the blade grants toughness, skill, speed, strength, and endurance. Unfortunately, this replaces your normal physical racial modifiers, so its most effective on races that don’t have any. You also cannot be disarmed – and cannot put the sword down, even if you should wish to surrender. This is not always an advantage.

  • Returning, Specialized and Corrupted / only works for the sword itself (which keeps turning up again), not the user (2 CP).

Urbs Vigilis has been won, lost, and wielded in a thousand battles over the centuries. No matter how thoroughly lost – or “destroyed” – it seems to be, it soon turns up again somewhere where the helpless and unarmed are threatened.

  • Imbuement with the Improved, Superior, and Focused modifiers, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the would-be user must learn of Urbs Vigilis’s name and history, must at least attempt to fulfill its purpose by defending the helpless and unarmed, and must perform at least one mighty deed in the defense of others to be able to use this power. So long as those conditions are fulfilled, however, the blade gains a bonus of +(Users Level / 2, rounded up). The user may select special weapon powers in place of some of those “pluses” if he or she desires, but such selections are fixed for each user.

Urbs Vigilis – like all relics – depends to some extent on its wielder, but is an extremely formidable weapon in the hands of a high-level user – and that power will be available as long as the user does protect unarmed folk when they turn up. Carrying it is usually well worth it.

  • The sword does carry a disadvantage however: it (fairly obviously) comes with an (-3 CP) Compulsion or Obligation to defend otherwise helpless folk.

That gives Urbs Vigilis a net cost of 25 CP – or 4 CP as a Relic. As usual for a 4 CP relic, it’s a fairly major device, capable – in its specialty – of having a pretty major impact (as well as shredding the action economy).

I suppose the sword could be exploited – take along a dozen small-animal companions and let them all donate their actions to you – but that’s why Blessing is a game-master-permission-only power. In this case… all you need to do is rule that they don’t qualify as “unarmed folk whom the user is defending” (if only because you’re intentionally taking them into danger). Overall… this is pretty definitely a “light-side” item, created to promote the spread of civilization and the protection of noncombatants. Any paladin should be proud to bear it.

Eclipse, D20, And Hereditary Templates

And for today it’s another question – in this case referring back to the Epic Survival Stunt of “Dynastic Founder” (Level 18, DC 82: All of your descendants for three generations will inherit a +2 ECL Template of your choice. The effect will start to fade thereafter unless they use magic to choose matches who will maintain the bloodline, but occasional throwbacks will occur for many centuries to come) – along with Channeling / Planar Bonds Path / Inner Light/Darkness / Legacy and Dominion / The Way of Valor / Epic Heroism, (both in Eclipse) and the Legacy spell (Paths of Power), among others which do things to your descendants.

That makes me wonder what exactly makes a template inheritable… Ordinary races are obviously inheritable, but I’m unsure if pseudo-races like the ‘action hero’ or ‘storm lord’ templates are.

As an expansion on that, the ‘Dynastic Founder’ ability seems to do nothing unless you have a lot of kids, assuming there isn’t any special interaction with the child rearing psuedo-leadership ability, since you could simply assign your children a +2 ECL template and say that it’s an inherited mystical trait that you picked up, possibly making it inheritable, and making so there is no difference in the first generation.

A few of those spells I check in the basic ‘paths of power’ document using control-f, and I wasn’t able to find them.


Well, quickest note first, the spells referenced can be found in the rest of the Paths Of Power sequence – either Monstrous Paths or The Complete Paths Of Power (print). As for the rest…

The inheritability of Templates is a bit tricky, if only because “having kids” is not normally a major consideration in d20 games – and thus neither WOTC nor Paizo have ever really covered it very well.

  • In 3.0 (Savage Species) there was a rule for inheritable templates – half-elementals and such – that was pretty simple. It stated that such templates were passed on undiminished. You could have any number of “half-whatever” templates stacked onto your character, limited only by what the game master said the ECL of the characters was going to be.

Of course, that led to obvious absurdities. Dragons breed with any living, corporeal, creature. Go back a mere six hundred years, and your family tree (at least presuming that you are of Northern European descent or have ancestors from anywhere along the silk road) will include pretty much everyone in Europe who had kids. Is your setting a few thousand years old? Then under this rule, everyone in your world will have the half-dragon template ten times (because each primary type of dragon is an independent template) as well as pretty much every other remotely compatible half-(whatever) template out there.

This pretty obviously doesn’t work, however convenient it was for character-optimizers who wanted to stack six different templates so as to construct an all-powerful (and generally quite unplayable) character

  • The 3.5 SRD updated that with a single line: “A templated creature can represent a freak of nature, the individual creation of a single experiment, or the first generation of offspring from parents of different species. (Note that d20’s use of the word “species” obviously has nothing to do with biology: in biology, creatures of two different species normally cannot interbreed).

“First generation”. That’s actually extremely restrictive. If a Dragon and a Demon had a kid, you could create a dragon with a half-fiend template (or possibly a fiend with a half-dragon template if the game master thought that there was such a thing as a young fiend), but if the dragon with a half-fiend template had kids… they were standard dragons or half-dragons of the other parents type. You could give them a Fiendish Bloodline (bloodlines were introduced later and were never more than semi-official to begin with) if you wished – but that was it.

Acquired templates (with the exception of disease templates) were never inherited – although, if they changed a characters “Species” (say to “Vampire”), a kid might get a half-vampire inherited template.

A lot of game masters didn’t bother enforcing that – but it does seem to be what the rules say.

There are some other “Inherited” templates though, so we’ll need to look at those too. Looking through a handy 3.5 Template Index…

  1. Denizen and Inherited “Underground Creature” Templates are a quick way to represent plane- or location- specific species that are otherwise broadly similar to standard creatures. You don’t really stack or acquire them, it’s just that Fire Spiders, Fire Dogs, and Fire Lions are made of fire and all share some obvious characteristics – and that creating a “Template” is a lot shorter than writing a modified block for every monster.
  2. Lycanthropy is its own unique case, in that it’s always an acquired template – but it can infect a child before birth, and they’ll be better adjusted to it. It only affects Humanoids and Giants though, so if you throw in a template that changes that it presumably ceases to apply. In any case, this falls under the “specific exceptions in individual descriptions” rule.
  3. Spellwarped (MMIII) is inherited – but it’s another “artificial species” template – rather like the (semi-official) Environmental Racial Variants from Unearthed Arcana. It, notably, can be added to any corporeal aberration, animal, dragon, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, plant, or vermin – leaving out the most common player character races. I’d guess that the children of two spellwarped creatures are also spellwarped, but the template doesn’t actually say. Given that it automatically drives the character insane about all we can say is that it’s a very poor choice for a player character.
  4. There are some “special breeding” templates for animals, but they really don’t seem relevant.

So that’s where it stands in 3.5: half-(whatever) templates are acquired from having two dissimilar parents and you get acquired templates from special events, but (with the sole apparent applicable exception being Lycanthropy), templates are not passed on to grandchildren. You could be born a half-something lycanthrope, but that’s about it. Of course, you may then acquire as many templates as you can manage, but now we’re in “talk with the game master” territory.

  • Pathfinder, of course, “discarded” the widely disliked ECL system – but never has worked out a good way to deal with player characters with templates or playing with a mixed party of monsters and normal player-character races. Thus Pathfinder Society simply disallows it, while the official “rules” say to treat CR as character level (fudging as needed since they admit that this is a spot where the rules are unreliable), and let them gain extra levels equal to 1/2 their CR on the way to level twenty since Challenge Rating doesn’t scale well – which is just a backdoor way of shoving both ECL (since CR is not necessarily based on the number of hit dice) and ECL buyoff / reduction back into the game without actually saying so. Thus Pathfinder’s solution to player characters with templates is basically “just say no”. Given that this does not actually answer the question of “how to handle them”, we’re pretty much stuck with the 3.5 version.

So, since Pathfinder never updated that rule, the general rule is that Inherited Templates (with the major exception of lycanthropy) only occur when the two parents are different “species” (A and B) and always come in the form of a “half-(A) template applied to base species (B). (I usually go with the mother determining the base species, but that’s just me).

  • Eclipse, of course, just lets you buy powers – with the only real change between a “level” and a “template level” being that the template level provides 32 CP instead of 24, but doesn’t include a free (d4 hit die + Con Mod) hit points or (Int Mod) skill points. It also lets you build up “species” abilities, so it doesn’t normally have a problem with ECL’s, ECL buyoff / reduction, playing characters with templates, or acquiring templates. Do you want to play a Half-Celestial at level one? Just start buying the powers and you’re a half-celestial, even if you haven’t fully developed your abilities as one yet. Since Eclipse generally doesn’t need to make a distinction, the point is usually moot.

The fun part of the various dynastic spells and effects is that they make a certain amount of power inheritable. In some cases you can simply grant your kids a template whether or not you have it (Dominion makes this possible), in others your kids and their descendants can get a certain amount of free power for generations to come. It doesn’t, however, cost any of the kids character points. Your descendants become an important and powerful people family because you have granted them importance and power right from early childhood.

I suppose you could thereby make a backstory claiming that your character is one of the one-in-ten-million kids who got a free template from their grandfather the mighty mage or something – but that’s no more or less valid than a character who wants to inherit 50,000 GP worth of magic items and a pet dragon because of his or her backstory. The game master may allow it, but if so he or she is probably going to be giving everyone some astounding freebie and the Template is just the one you happened to get.

And I hope that helps!

Debatable Evils – Negative Energy And Undeath

And for today it’s another question!

I’ve recently encountered some media that have put forward an interesting idea with regards to undead beings. Specifically, the idea that it’s possible for there to be undead creatures that were never alive to begin with, essentially beginning their existence – whether summoned magically or created “naturally” – in an undead state.

While none of those media get particularly deep into the mechanics of how exactly that’s possible, the idea doesn’t seem so implausible that it cannot be countenanced. That is, if new beings can come into being while alive, why not do so at the opposite end of the metaphysical spectrum? That, or they could be animated by spirits associated with death, necromancy, etc. Coming up with an explanation that sounds plausible, at least on its face, isn’t too hard.

My question is, what mechanical alterations (to the existing rules regarding undeath) would that idea have if implemented under the d20 game rules? At the very least, it seems like spells associated with creating/summoning such undead wouldn’t necessarily have the [Evil] descriptor.


Well, it’s important to remember that biology and metabolism really aren’t important in d20. That’s why d20 uses Hit Points instead of detailed wound systems, and why elementals – lumps of rock, or plasma, or swirls of air with no metabolisms or biology – are creatures with hit points. Undead basically have [Hit Points] – a negative value of hit points that they treat as a positive one because they’re things of negative energy.

Inanimate objects can have metabolisms, and biology – but in d20 terms they are objects, or perhaps organic machines, not truly living things. That’s why a Deathwatch spell doesn’t give you a report on every broken blade of grass in a field and why I can’t cast Cure Light Wounds on a mostly-eaten watermelon to heal it and let me eat it again. That’s also why Remove Disease (presuming that diseases are caused by micro-organisms) is a Conjuration (Healing) effect and not Necromancy (Death).

  • Positive Energy drives growth, life, mobility, and creation. It is a force of light, change, and evolution that drives an increase in complexity in the face of entropy. Thus children are filled with positive energy while the extremely elderly, who have mostly exhausted their stores of possibility and can barely cling to life, have little left.
  • Negative Energy weakens, kills, paralyzes, and annihilates. It is a force of darkness, cold, and entropy. That’s why undead are destroyed at zero hit points; they can no longer resist the side effects of the negative energy within them. It’s also why they generally do not grow or gain levels and why most undead feed on the living – their corpses gaining an unnatural mobility through theft.

Neither positive or negative energy is a moral agency in itself. In d20, that role is reserved for the energies of the outer planes, which make “good” and “evil” into absolute, measurable, and detectable, forces. There isn’t any moral relativism and there’s no point in arguing about whether or not an act is good or evil. Just use your Phylactery Of Faithfulness (a mere 1000 GP!) and you will KNOW.

In the real world clearing some forest is good for some types of creatures, bad for others, and will have ongoing effects, both knowable and unknowable, on the environment, the world, and the human population, that will not finish playing out until far in the future. Is doing so a “Good” or “Evil” act? The answer depends on your personal priorities and beliefs and on how many consequences of what kind you are aware of to consider. Would your decision change if you somehow knew that it would unleash a horde of plague-carrying rats and kill millions?

In d20, if you are tilting the alignment energy balance of the material plane towards Good, then you are committing a Good act. If you are tilting the alignment energy balance of the world towards Evil, you are committing an Evil act. If you’re doing neither to any noticeable degree… then the act is neither good not evil.

Are those babies of a species that is strongly inclined towards evil? Then slaughtering them all is a good act even if they are neutral at the moment. Adopting and raising one is evil. Adopting and raising a child of a species that is strongly inclined towards good is good. Adopting and raising a child of a species without strong inclinations? That could be good or evil depending on how you raise it. Running a slaughterhouse and massacring hundreds of true neutral creatures every day? That’s neither good nor evil.

The trouble with the d20 rules on Alignment is that no one ever actually sat down and tried to work out what the axioms of good and evil WERE (why would they? The only real point was a set of quick labels to sort out targets and people to protect). “Good” is loosely defined as a grab bag of behavioral traits that promote group welfare in a social species (“Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others”) while “Evil” is loosely defined as behaviors that disrupt social groups (“Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.”).

According to the 3.5 Players Handbook (and supposedly in Pathfinder due to a lack of new rulings and back-compatibility) “channeling positive energy is a good act and channeling negative energy is evil” (Page 160).

Why is that?

Well… the Prime Material Plane is supposed to be made up of a mixture of the elemental forces of the inner planes – Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Positive Energy, and Negative Energy. But unless someone is importing or exporting such forces, what’s there is there. Like it or not, channeling substantial amounts of negative energy in from the negative energy plane – whether in the continuing tap that allows undead to exist or in bursts – drains energy from the material plane. It reduces the universe for all time to come. Adding positive energy doesn’t “make up for it”, since otherwise that energy could have gone into expanding and adding possibilities to the universe.

And there’s the connection; importing negative energy from the negative material plane reduces the total energy of the prime material plane, draining the possibilities of the future and denying existence to creatures that would otherwise have been born and lived. Throughout the eons to come… it is a never-ending crime, and so is an Evil act.

Importing positive energy from the positive material plane forever adds to the possibilities of the universe. It is a never-ending boon to all life yet to come, and so is a good act. And no matter what your reason for using Channeling is… that long-term Good or Evil is going to outweigh the immediate effects.

So why aren’t all spells involving positive energy “good” and all of the ones involving negative energy “evil”? That’s something of a game convenience so as to allow evil Clerics to heal – but what’s the in-game explanation?

Well, looking at the lists…

  • Conjuration is used to bring in materials from other planes. Ergo, effects involving positive and negative energy that aren’t Conjurations must rely on gathering positive or negative energy from ambient sources – or simply generating both positive and negative energy at the same time from a zero state – rather than on importing it. Thus many spells (Disrupt Undead, Touch Of Fatigue, Chill Touch, Ghoul Touch, Stricken Heart, Defoliate, Deathwine, Gloomblind Bolts, Blood Crow Strike (which, interestingly, creates identical amounts of fire and negative energy), Enervation, Vampiric Shadow Shield, Smite Abomination, Waves Of Fatigue, Waves of Exhaustion, Orb Of The Void, and even Energy Drain) may involve positive or negative energy but they aren’t Conjuration effects – they’re Necromancy. And the basic definition of Necromancy is that “Necromancy spells manipulate the power of death, unlife, and the life force”. Ergo they use and manipulate, but do not summon, such energies – and thus are not inherently evil.
  • Next up on the list of spells involving positive and negative energy we have the curative and anti-curative spells, such as Cure/Inflict Wounds, Vigor, Delay Poison, Energetic Healing, Healthful Rest, Cleanse, Heal/Harm, Life Shield, Symbol Of Healing, Revenance, Revivify, Remove Radioactivity, Resurgent Transformation, Pillar Of Life, Repair Undead, and Heal / Harm.

These spells are a bit weird. Most of the Curative spells are Conjuration (Healing) – which makes some sense – but the corresponding negative-energy vesions tend to be Necromancy, and neither version is (Good) or (Evil). Why aren’t the equal-and-opposite spells Conjuration (Infliction) rather than Necromancy? Or why aren’t the Curative spells Necromancy? After all, in first and second editions curative spells were reversible and were all Necromancy. (No one seems to be entirely sure why it was changed except that someone working on the project felt that “Necromancy” should be inherently nasty and that “Good People” shouldn’t use it. Of course, you couldn’t take Healing away from anyone, or the setting broke). There’s the argument that you are conjuring new flesh and blood to fix a wound, but then why can’t I fix that watermelon? And why do Air Elementals get healed this way? Worse, in Fourth Edition healing spells tend to be Daily Use Utility Prayers and in Fifth Edition curative spells are Evocation. Given that, it’s kind of obvious that the school assignment is pretty much arbitrary – especially since those are mostly Divine Spells, and “school” doesn’t matter much to Clerics.

So to justify this in game terms…

  • Perhaps these spells are simply “taking out a loan”? Some of them are strictly temporary, while the excess positive energy of the actual healing effects might either leak back or simply take the place of the positive side of the usual flow of power through living and unliving things over time. That would leave no net gain or loss of energy on the material plane, and thus no reason for them to be “Good” or “Evil”.
  • It could mean that those spells involve the old idea of Backlash. They’re neutral because their effects are automatically balanced out. Perhaps when one creature is Healed another one somewhere else suffers equal and opposite Harm. Or perhaps the power is drawn from the patient or healer in some form. Does being magically healed magically age you a few hours or days depending on the level of injury? Who would notice? It’s not like characters come with a life expectancy meter and how often does “death by old age” come up for Adventurers anyway?
  • It could also mean that these spells are simply misclassified, and actually are necromancy spells – which could be taken to mean that there are limits to how much healing is available, or mean that healing does not work well in dark dungeons full of pooled negative energy (where little or no ambient positive energy is available), or some such. That would have the (very welcome) side effect of restoring some slightly longer-term meaning to losing hit points after the first few levels (after which Healing Belts, Wands of Lesser Vigor, and similar tricks mean starting every encounter with your full hit points).


  • The final major group of spells – Bless / Curse Water, Sanctify Corpse, Veil Of Heaven / Positive Energy, Empower Holy Water, Light of Iomedae, Consecrate / Desecrate, Khain’s Army, Animate Dead, Hallow / Unhallow, and Create Undead – DO carry the “Good” or “Evil” descriptor. And notably… they all definitely do import excess positive or negative energy, and so make permanent, ongoing, changes in the energy balance of the material plane.
  • The last few relevant spells – things like Life Channel, Undeath Inversion, Blood Of The Martyr, and Fire Of Judgement – all have to do with either shifting positive or negative energy around or changing how they interact. They’re rightfully neither good nor evil.

Now the point of all this is to take a look at how positive and negative energy work and what they mean in terms of the setting so that we can see what MAKES casting certain spells or the use of Channeling inherently good or evil.

And what the game seems to imply… is that using ambient negative energy, or generating it by producing equal amounts of positive and negative energy, is morally neutral. On the other hand, pulling negative energy from the Negative Material Plane into the rest of the universe – whether in a burst or in a slow trickle – is inherently evil.

Stronger creatures powered by ambient negative energy will need some way to harvest it – perhaps haunting places where it collects (the classic graveyard haunts), or cultivating and draining it from others (for example, the Sirens from My Little Pony). This could even be benign, at least to start with. After all, stealing negative energy from a normal creature could theoretically leave it happier and healthier. Of course, when that’s no longer enough available naturally, and the creature must start to cultivate negative energy to feed… then things will start to get bad.

In theory you could also get spontaneous negative energy creatures arising anywhere where a lot of negative energy has built up – but the nature of negative energy is destructive. You won’t get evolved complexity, built up over time (that’s why even intelligent undead tend to go madder and madder over the centuries). Something else will have to provide a framework for your creature to form around and a spark to bring it to (un-)life – but if the old manor has built up a pool of negative energy, is filled with psychic traces of hatred and disharmony, and someone murders the old man who owned the place during a burglary… then you have power, purpose, and spark.

That does give us an opening though; in this view Animate Dead draws a burst of negative energy into the world to create weak undead powered by ambient energy and Create Undead gives them a continuous link – but you could (at least in theory) use a higher-level spell to gather ambient negative energy and use it to create Animate Dead style undead powered by ambient negative energy without it being actively evil – at least as far as the process goes. You’d still bear at least some responsibility for anything they got up to later though – and THAT is almost certain to go badly eventually. Similarly, you could use ambient negative energy to manifest undead constructs, allowing you to use “summon undead” without the [Evil] descriptor as Pathfinder does – but that also goes a long way towards explaining why those spells are so ineffectual for their levels.

As for what you could animate or what might animate spontaneously… you’re creating a creature with no pattern to follow using forces which are inherently difficult to control and shape. That means that complex creatures and minds are likely going to be out of reach. Destructive oozes, simpler aberrations, and constructs are a good starting point. You just make them evil instead of neutral and throw “undead” qualities on top of whatever they started with. Make them vulnerable to positive energy and let negative energy heal them and you’re mostly ready to go. For a few possibilities… consider the Ragewind (3.5 MMII), Raggamoffyn (3.5 MMII), Hangman Golem (3.5, MMIII), Cadaver Collector (3.5 MMIII), Necrophidius (3.0 Fiend Folio), Attic Whisperer (Pathfinder), Corpse Candle (Pathfinder), Byakhee (Pathfinder), and Jealous Structure (Pathfinder Curse). For items on the blog… I’d recommend the Dark Tales series (The Hunt, The Grove, The Well, The House, and The Ship). I’d also recommend the Occult monster-enhancing packages.

Anything with an active link to the Negative Material Plane (like virtually all of the more powerful undead) however…. will be a walking blight on the world, actively draining the energy of the universe to survive. It may not consider itself anything but hungry – but by the objective standards of d20 such creatures are inherently evil and utterly hostile no matter how they limit themselves or justify their feeding.

And for another reader response and answer…

Personally, the issue I see is that most undead seem to act as either constructs like skeletons and liches that just happen to use living remains as the raw materials or are some sort of a contagious plague like vampires or zombies. As such they all seem to be defined with regards to a former “living” state. Thus I find it hard to visualize some method of generating undead corpses without some source of corpses to begin with that required it being alive at some point. Which isn’t to say you couldn’t animate a mass of calcium and synthetic protein into a zombie, but I don’t think that is the idea you were going with.

Instead, I would look at the idea of negative energy life forms as a mirror to positive energy lifeforms. A lot of material seems to assume that all living things have some sort of link to the Positive Energy Plane that provides the animating/organizing force independent of the creature’s metabolism. While never entirely clear, the positive energy a creature can pull through into the material plane is limited and that is what is the bottleneck for things like healing, lifespan, and growth. To further boost those in response to disease, injury, or aging, external sources are required in the form of medicinal herbs, healing spells, and lifeforce infusions.

With that said, I would argue that lifeforms that use a link to the Negative Energy Plane as an energy sink would be possible. Instead of pulling energy in to heal injuries, it could instead sacrifice mass-energy to the sink to generate power for healing instead.

While in many ways indistinguishable from normal life forms, this could have a number of interesting side effects: poor (or even addictive) response to normal healing, a tendency to lose mass over time, a body temperature a little below ambient, healing ability being proportional to mass (i.e. being fatter), slower growth rates, much higher need to eat/drink to maintain mass and health, higher tolerance to heat, and lower tolerance to cold.

Thus I can imagine life forms running around the material plane vacuuming up loose bits of mass-energy to consume, growth, and multiply across the landscape. Attempts by these creatures to eat normal life forms or vice versa could go poorly as the resulting (brief) collision between positive and negative energy taps lead to explosive results. Which could then lead to entire areas being dominated by one form of life or the other depending on which gained a hold first. Perhaps this could be the mechanism behind those absurdly vibrant underground ecologies and why people aren’t roasted alive due to the geothermal heat.

This could then lead to all sorts of fun little issues like you can’t eat the local flora/fauna without some significant preparation work, extremely potent medicines made from plants of the other type that are a pain to gather, and really nasty monsters that start off huge and can continue fighting for long periods of time simply by sacrificing mass for regeneration until it is too small and then flees whereupon it may return larger than ever when you least suspect it.

Not that this is a set of mechanical alterations like you asked, but perhaps this is food for thought to help brainstorm some more ideas, adventures, and horrifying experiments.


This is actually a lot like the physics of Continuum II – where energy flowed from Hyperspace into normal space and from normal space into subspace. Physical creatures could exist in any of the three – and energy creatures could exist across the interfaces. The most common energy beings were “Demons” (linking Normal Space and Subspace, and so almost universally deadly predators, feeding on each other and on any energy they could get) and “Manitou” (linking Hyperspace and Normal Space. Their problem was controlling the flow of energy). A very few life forms had both Hyperspace and Subspace links, but while that provided immense abilities to both generate and dissipate energy, coupling it was wildly unstable; a “God” needed stabilizing feedback to avoid exploding or dissipating.

  • Undead” combined a Demonic aspect and a Physical Body in Normal Space. They needed constant energy inputs to resist the drain of Subspace.
  • Faerie combined a Manitou aspect and a (Living) Physical Body in Normal Space. They dissipated excess energy as a variety of powers.
  • Elementals occurred when a Manitou anchored itself into nonliving mass. They ranged from tiny things to the planetary core elemental.
  • Totem Spirits were anchored through the Empyrean (mental) Plane into a group of living things.
  • And so on.

Overall there were five major orders of life, dozens of types of symbiotic hybrids, and a lot of tinkering, Thus the characters occasionally did things like analyzing the metabolism and biology of dragons, or the genetics underlying the different power-expressions that led to storm, fire, ice, and primal giants. After all… once they knew how something worked, they could figure out how to manipulate it to be more to their liking.

Alas, however, d20 and Pathfinder don’t really go into that kind of detail. There are reasons for that. They have many writers, so maintaining any kind of consistent physics is near-impossible to start with and (worse) going into that kind of detail would mean that the game master would need to study a lot of physics before running the game. Pathfinder’s writers in particular are very reluctant to introduce any new mechanics (preferring to refluff old ones, which is how they wound up with Psychic Spells and with Grit, Ki, and several other kinds of points which all work the same way while supposedly representing wildly different processes) for fear of the kind of unexpected rules interactions / exploits that so plague 3.5. That, in fact, was a part of the reason for Eclipse; you can use it to build exotic mechanics (such as the Nymic Mage), while maintaining a basic consistency.

So this won’t really work. D20 tells us that the Negative Energy Plane is full of undead (who, if they had negative metabolisms, should respond to being there like positive energy creatures do on the Positive Material Plane – although they’d probably disintegrate instead of exploding), that negative energy creatures cannot grow or reproduce except by infecting or consuming positive energy creatures, that negative energy creatures cannot gain levels save by stealing positive energy from truly living creatures, and that negative energy is inherently entropic and entirely destructive. Negative energy creatures can amalgamate with each other – but that’s merging, not growth. Thus a negative energy creature will always have to have a structure provided for it somehow.

I think the closest things to this in d20 are the half-undead templates from Dragon Magazine. Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a half-undead ecosystem going.

And I hope that helps!

Skill Stunts And Epic Skill Stunts X – Survival

Survival is, arguably, the second oldest skill of all – predated only by Perception. After all, at the most basic level… Survival begins as little more than a tropism coupled with some ability to move around. An amoeba finds some digestible molecules and oozes towards the highest concentration of them – and presumably a source of food. A single-celled Euglena detects light and propels itself towards it, enhancing its photosynthesis (although it can also eat). In its way the Survival Skill predates multicellular life. Admittedly, it’s not a very sophisticated version of the skill (in game terms, it’s at a +0 bonus and probably an attribute penalty) – but it’s still a fair chance at doing the right thing before settling for random chance.

It’s also one of the broadest of all skills. It allows you to locate the resources you need to live in environments that would not normally support you, to understand, predict, and evade the dangers of such environments, and to build up resources from those environments. Secondarily, it covers navigation, tracking, raising children in a hostile world (“group survival”), building shelters, and exploiting the natural magic of the environment. For creatures of Intelligence Zero or One it also covers finding a mate, but more complex social behaviors take over in creatures of higher intelligence.

Finally, of course, it’s an archetype all by itself. A Knight, a Wizard, a Rogue, a Shaman, a Cleric… all have a complex array of skills and abilities – but what other skill pretty much defines an entire lifestyle and set of genres? Primitive tribes, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Burt Gummer, pretty much EVERY “survival horror” setting… all focused on THIS. It’s true that “I will live!” is a pretty basic drive – after all, it has to be or people would be extinct by now – but can you think of another skill that pretty much defines multiple genres?

  • Note that many benefits of this skill can be extended to companions, although each companion so aided increases the DC by +2.
  • In general, you can use Survival at a -10 penalty in place of Knowledge/Nature or Use Rope – but only for mundane purposes.
  • The format here is a bit different. Survival simply has too many applications to list them all separately. Ergo, they’re split into general categories.
  • Remember that these are mana-powered supernatural abilities, not simply feats of skill.

Sample Stunts for Survival:

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Harvesting: You may find and harvest common herbs and plants – taking appropriate precautions with those which are dangerous to handle. You may also identify toxic and dangerous plants and fungi.
    • Hazard Recognition: You may recognize animal dens, animal-created traps (ant lion pits, giant spider webs, trapdoor spider pits, etc), blatant natural hazards, wild magic zones, and cursed regions. In general, you get a free roll to spot such things before getting into them.
    • Pathfinding: You may select the more commonly used trails, leave readable trail signs to communicate basic information, and follow oddly marked trails (including the increasing traces of material that indicate routes to cave exits). You may avoid becoming lost on land.
    • Survival: You may obtain food, water, shelter, and basic personal supplies in cities without spending money. This is also the DC to find food and water in the wilderness, but finding shelter or clothing there is a bit trickier (+5 DC). You may also attempt to camouflage items and positions, inflicting a (Check Result / 2, rounded up) penalty on attempts to spot or otherwise locate them.
    • Talking The Talk: You may impress people with your skills. At DC 15 you may make a basic living as a survival lecturer or writer.
    • Tracking: You may follow unconcealed simple tracks under good conditions and can get a rough estimate of the age of the tracks and the number of individuals being tracked (See the system reference document for more details).
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Hazard Recognition: Basic weather prediction, flash flood risks, tidal bores, riptides, low oxygen levels, forest fires, explosive vapors or dusts, toxic fumes, quicksand, supernatural weather events, and similar items. Your check comes before the hazard takes effect and usually results in a chance to evade the hazard or a +2 on relevant checks and saves if that is not possible.
    • Improvise Gear: You can quickly devise protective clothing or gear up to an equivalent value of (5 + Check Result) GP, including swarm suits, basic armor, filter masks, vermin repellent, cold weather gear, and similar items.
    • Pathfinding: You may navigate in the wilderness or at sea without becoming lost. On land you may opt to conceal your trail and that of up to (Cha Mod +1, 1 Minimum) additional companions, penalizing attempts to track you. You may also leave more complicated trail markers to communicate facts about the trail.
    • Survival: You may remain warm or cool, or improvise a fairly secure camp, in the wilderness. You may also effectively remove or evade vermin such as leeches, army ants, and similar creatures and identify dangerous and/or toxic animals. You can also start fires under difficult conditions, build an effective cooking fire and keep it from spreading, construct basic shelters, and otherwise be a well-trained boy scout.
    • Tracking: You may recognize what planes or deities an item or place is linked to or determine your current location. If you happen to be a ghost or astral projection, you can determine both your spirits current location and that of your body.
    • Walking The Walk: As a man of the wilds, you need no longer worry about basic living expenses. Your casual activities as a trapper, gatherer, collector of herbs, and similar can be expected to provide for your needs wherever you may settle without placing further burdens on you.
  • DC 20:
    • Create Trap: You may spend half an hour to assemble a basic trap – swinging logs, spiked pits, punji sticks, snares, deadfalls, etc – from found materials. These only affect a single target or square however.
    • Harvesting: You may locate uncommon or highly dangerous plants and herbs (provided that they occur in the area) and correctly harvest them, as well as gather meat, hides, poisons, and other products from dead animals. You may also obtain honey or similar products without serious harm.
    • Hazard Recognition: You may roll to get a warning from the game master about upcoming natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, avalanches, and similar problems. Oddly, creatures of Int 2 or less can do this at DC 15 without a stunt.
    • Improvise Gear: You may pack efficiently, increasing your effective Strength score by 8 when calculating your carrying capacity. This does not stack with Muleback Cords.
    • Pathfinding: Swift Trails. Your overland travel rate increases by 50%. At DC 30 it doubles, at DC 40 it triples, at DC 50 it’s x4, at DC 60 it’s x5, at DC 75 it’s x10, and at DC 100 any given trip on the same land mass is completed after a brief travel montage. +2 DC per additional character taken along. You may also mark a trail so that it communicates some message or emotional impression to those who travel it.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Enhance Herb or Spirit Call (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may hold your breath for up to (Con Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Minutes or cause a bleeding wound to clot. You may ignore the effects of natural weather (similar to Endure Elements) for up to an hour (twenty-four hours at DC 25, for up to a week at DC 30). You may also construct log cabins and other intermediate structures.
  • DC 25:
    • Create Trap: When defending an area you may spend an hour to arrange (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Basic Traps (as above). You need not, however, specify where they are until you want them to go off.
    • Improvise Gear: On The Woad Again. You may apply war paint, tattoos, or scars to yourself that grant a +3 Armor Bonus, increasing to +4 at DC 40, +5 at DC 60, and +6 at DC 100. Tattoos and scars can be enchanted further like any other armor. This will, however, cause most people to consider you a barbarian, savage, or primitive and gives away your ethnicity, culture of origin, and profession. If tattoos or scars are further enchanted opponents may make a Spellcraft check to determine the nature of those enchantments.
    • Pathfinding: You may find safe trails, reducing the chance of encountering a creature or natural hazard by 50%. At DC 40 this reduces the chance by 75% and at DC 75 by 90%. Cursed areas increase the DC by +10/+20/+30 for Minor/Notable/Major curses however.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Summon Fetch or Channel Nexus (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may hold your breath for up to (Con + 2, 5 Minimum) minutes, go into deep hibernation to survive being frozen solid, sleep for up to a month with no physical requirements, resist the need to sleep for a day, or go up to a week without food or water with no ill effects. If you die anyway, you may haunt your personal belongings and remains as a Spirit.
    • Tracking: You may identify creature types by logically insufficient traces, track without penalty while moving at full speed, and accurately determine the number of creatures being tracked and how fast they were traveling.
  • DC 30:
    • Hazard Recognition: You may determine what type of plants and creatures are likely to be present in an area and how large a population it might support. You may also predict what damage a natural disaster or storm will do, such as where lightning is going to strike or what areas will be swallowed up by crevasses or flooded.
    • Pathfinding: Swift Sailing. Your seafaring travel rate increases by 50%. At DC 40 it doubles, at DC 50 it triples, at DC 60 it’s x4, at DC 75 it’s x5, and at DC 100 any given trip on the same body of water is completed after a brief travel montage. This also applies to travel by vehicles designed for air or space travel.
    • Planar Adaption: You may draw on the natural energies of a plane to adapt yourself for comfortable survival under the planes base conditions for (Con Mod +1, 1 Minimum) days. Sadly, applying this to additional creatures increases the DC by +10 per additional creature instead of +2.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Spirit Of Place or Tap Conjunction (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may obtain food, water, and shelter from the elements while traveling at full speed, as well as gaining (Wis Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) chances to harvest herbs or other materials along the way. Your campsites are protected by the equivalent of the Hide Campsite spell.
    • Tracking: You may trace a magical link such as a scrying sensor, determining it’s place of origin and the magical signature of the creature that created it. You may also determine if an area is linked to a land-ruler, is someone or somethings magical domain, or is otherwise claimed by some supernatural force.
  • DC 35:
    • Harvesting: You may harvest rare resources of the land, such as dyes, exotic fruits, surface and placer deposits of gems and precious metals, fine furs, and similar items. While finding a buyer may be additional work, you may expect to make (Check Result) silver pieces with a few hours of work.
    • Hazard Recognition: You may immediately determine the threat level and general attack routine of any creature you can get a look at. If you are operating from an audiovisual recording the DC increases to 40, a picture or detailed description increases the DC to 50, and working from rumors and general information increases the DC to 75.
    • Improvise Gear: You may improvise a dose of any alchemical Balm, Medicine, Tonic. Herb, or Plant worth up to 50 GP or up to a total of (Check Result + 5) GP worth of such materials. These are, however, of no use to anyone else and will only remain potent for twenty-four hours. Given a day in the wilds you will be equipped with a spear, staff, and club, in two days you will also have some javelins and an atlatl if you want one, and in three you will also have a longbow and arrows – all crude, but functional.
    • Pathfinding: Traceless Passage. You leave no traces of your passage, making conventional tracking impossible without supernatural aid.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Warlock Pact or Focus The Land (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may ignore environmental penalties to movement, including those for being underwater, for steep slopes, for difficult terrain or overgrown, and similar. You may also attempt to panic the local wildlife in a radius of (Charisma x 10) feet, although a Will save applies. You may roll Survival instead of a Fortitude Save against poison or disease.
  • DC 40:
    • City Founder: You may select a good site to found a city – choosing a defensible location with access to water, better than average resources, on a likely trade route, or whatever. The spot you pick will prove to have two Foundations. At DC 60 it will prove to have three, at DC 75 it will have four, and at DC 100 it will prove to have five or more.
    • Hazard Recognition: You may subtly position up to (Cha Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) targets so that they will be exposed to the effects of some ongoing disturbance, such as being caught up in a riot or stampede or being struck by lightning.
    • Pathfinding: You may find a trail leading to another plane, although there are likely to be three encounters along the way. You may also determine the direction to a given destination, whether or not you have ever been there.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Great Oathbinding or Celestial Rune (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may construct a Sturdy Tree Fort or equivalent as a campsite. In an emergency you can add a +4 Alchemical Bonus to one or more of your Strength, Constitution, or Dexterity for 3d6 rounds, but this causes you 2d6 damage per attribute so enhanced after it wears off. You may remove or expel parasites through various unpleasant home remedies.
    • Tracking: You may Track creatures through teleportation, plane shifts, and gates. You may also track vehicles and those using extraordinary means to conceal their tracks.
  • DC 50:
    • Create Trap: Given an hour to prepare a location you may arrange (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Major Traps – piles of rolling logs or small avalanches, deep pits with spikes or wild animals, and similar items – each of them capable of affecting a modest area. You need not, however, specify where they are until you want them to do off.
    • Child Raising: You are considered to have the Leadership (Eclipse) ability, but only to raise the level of your and your friends children. This is independent of any other Leadership abilities that you may have.
    • Harvesting: You may spend a day to locate or create a personal Charm (as per The Practical Enchanter) and may use up to seven Charms even if the setting does not normally support them. At DC 75 you may similarly locate or create personal Talismans (also as per The Practical Enchanter) and use up to three of them even if the setting does not normally support them.
    • Pathfinding: Mass Guidance. For the next twenty-four hours you may extend the benefits of your Survival skills to up to (Charisma x 10) individuals without penalty.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Forest Pact or Distillation (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You can render yourself immune to a specific toxin, to the heat and fumes of traveling through a volcanic landscape, or even to drowning. This does require a minute of preparation, but lasts a full day once invoked.
  • DC 60:
    • Hazard Recognition: You may evaluate an area to gain a detailed evaluation of the plants and creatures there, their general population, and the lands basic resources.
    • Pathfinding: You may find a trail leading between settings and worlds at intergalactic ranges that can be traversed in days to weeks. Such trails are often, however, difficult, dangerous, and present major environmental hazards.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Spirit Of The Beast or Circle Of Power (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: You may survive in areas without breathable atmospheres, including space, find food and water on barren asteroids, and construct necessary survival systems, such as airlocks and air-tight shelters. You may automatically succeed on all weather-related saves for twenty-four hours.
    • Weather Witching: You may predict weather and – as long as it isn’t completely absurd – have it come to pass over the next few days.
    • Tracking: You may extract unnerving amounts of information while tracking, determining things like a starship engines type and fuel efficiency, the weight and likely general contents of a wagon, exactly what happened during a fight, and similar items, verging on postcognition.
  • DC 75:
    • Colony Founder: You may show a settlement how to survive in a normally impossible area, such as on an asteroid, in the depths of the ocean, on the surface of Venus, floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter, or similar.
    • Harvesting: You may harvest small tokens in which magic has become temporarily trapped. You may hold tokens containing a maximum of 12 total levels of spells at any one time, may refresh your collection once per day, and may only stabilize tokens containing spells of level two or less enough to collect. One half of the spell levels harvested in any one day are determined by the one using this ability, the other half are determined by the game master. Such spells are released as if they were use-activated at an effective caster level equal to the user’s level. At DC 100 the limit on the effects increases to level three.
    • Hazard Recognition: You may take advantage of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, tidal wave, tornado, forest fire, or major storm, that you “saw coming”. While the worst effects are relatively localized – covering a small town at the maximum – this can still bring down walls and ceilings, damage castles and towers, wash away squads of soldiers, cause avalanches, and otherwise do a great deal of damage. The disaster will arrive 1d3 rounds after you decide to “predict it”.
    • Pathfinding: You may find a trail leading between game systems. Anyone following it will be automatically “translated” into the new system upon arrival. The time required is unknown, since travelers on such journeys invariably travel at the speed of plot. You may also find trails across water, allowing you to Water Walk.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Spirit Quest or Gates Of Myriddin (Paths Of Power).
    • Survival: Personal Evolution. You may spend a day to acquire (Con) character points worth of physical, survival-related, enhancements, maintaining them until you change them again. You might thus purchase Immunity to Aging, or Water-Breathing, or increased Strength, or any of many, MANY, other abilities.
  • DC 100:
    • Create Trap: Given an hour to prepare a location you may arrange (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Grandiose Traps – pits dropping victims into magma or dangerous underground labyrinths, gargantuan falling rocks, massive gas explosions, and similar events. Each can affect up to a 30′ radius. You need not specify where they are until you want them to do off.
    • Pathfinding: You may find a trail leading across both time and space. You may also find trails through the air, allowing you to Wind Walk or walk on clouds.
    • Primitive Magic: You may exploit the natural magic of the world, employing either Greater Pact or Planar Invocation (Paths Of Power).
    • Second Breath: Once per week you gain the benefits of a Revivify Spell immediately followed by the benefits of a Heal spell when the player feels that it is necessary. Both have an effective caster level equal to the user’s level.
    • Survival: You may survive and function in any consistent environment, including the hearts of stars, on the surface of neutron stars, and in similar impossible environments – although this may require some instant evolution. This takes a little time, so it can be treated as Returning with Rewrite (Eclipse). Your campsites cannot be located by anything incapable of dimensional travel.
    • Worldfounder: You may establish a colony in a normally impossible area, such as on an asteroid, in the depths of the ocean, on the surface of Venus, floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter, or similar and provide it with up to four Foundations.

Epic Skill Stunts:

  • Beastspeech (Spell Level 8, DC 42): This is a perpetual effect, but is otherwise equivalent to Speak With Animals.
  • Caravan (Spell Level 9. DC 46): You may extend the benefits of your survival skill to groups ten times as large as usual for the next twenty-four hours. The Level 15 Grand Caravan variant covers a group fifty times the usual size.
  • The Sensuous Lion (Spell Level 10, DC 50): For the next week you live a life of luxury, with many (if possibly primitive) comforts, plenty to eat and drink, expert services, and compliant sexual partners. You and up to a dozen others you opt to include will be completely refreshed and healed when the spell expires.
  • Life Leech (Spell Level 11, DC 54): You may target up to (Level) targets within medium range with a ranged touch attack. Each target “hit” suffers 12d6 damage. Such damage is applied to any wounds you currently suffer from as healing, once you have no wounds they provide temporary hit points up to a limit of 120 temporary hit points. The healing is permanent, but any remaining temporary hit points vanish after twenty-four hours.
  • Grand Hunt (Level 12, DC 58): You may lead a group of up to (Cha Mod x 100) people in a three-day hunter-gatherer outing to automatically acquire enough food and supplies to last them for 3d6 months.
  • Hardship Surviving Spirit (Level 13, DC 62): As per Universal Energy Protection (Mass) (The Practical Enchanter), but with a duration of one hour/level and Universal Energy Resistance (also from The Practical Enchanter) 30 – which applies before the limited protective function is depleted.
  • Invictus (Level 14, DC 66): When you or a companion dies, you may automatically cast this spell (if you have any slots left) to send them to an afterlife of your choice – including a new incarnation as a level-appropriate creature.
  • Evolutionary Adaption (Level 15, DC 70): A target group (up to the size of a small city) of a species will swiftly adapt to a radically altered or new environment. For example, a herd of horses being overwhelmed by the sea might spontaneously evolve into sea creatures.
  • Find The Lost World (Level 16, DC 74): You may locate (or call into existence) a hidden realm, ancient plateau, cavern complex, pocket dimension, or similar location. It’s general description, and where entry can be found, is up to you, but the details are up to the game master. Also known as “summon adventure”.
  • Set Hearthfire (Level 17, DC 78): You may ignite a blazing pillar of flame, suitable for providing heat, light, power, smelting services, hot water, cooking fires, and similar services for an entire city. It will burn for one hundred years. If you choose to sacrifice the slot for one year, it will burn for a thousand years. If you sacrifice the slot permanently, the flame will burn eternally. The residents can sacrifice spells and valuables to the flame occasionally to keep it going as well.
  • Dynastic Founder (Level 18, DC 82): All of your descendants for three generations will inherit a +2 ECL Template of your choice. The effect will start to fade thereafter unless they use magic to choose matches who will maintain the bloodline, but occasional throwbacks will occur for many centuries to come.
  • Gathering (Research Level 19, DC 86): You may gather natural resources from extreme range in refined and processed form. You may collect rare woods, extract metals from ore or veins, pull gems or crystals from the earth, pull perfume from flowers, quarry useful stone, or extract other resources. Sadly, this only works on unrefined and unclaimed or loosely claimed resources; a wild jungle that is loosely claimed by an absentee landlord is fair game; a cultivated or mined area is not. In general, this will get you up to 20,000 GP worth of raw materials. After all, if you are tossing around epic stunts like this and are still scrambling for gold pieces, something is very, very, wrong.
  • Eternal Freedom (Level 20, DC 90): You (only) enjoy perpetual Freedom Of Movement.
  • Planetary Adaption (Level 21, DC 94): The biosphere of a target world can adapt to a radical change in it’s environment. If a nearby supernova has turned the place radioactive, the creatures there can adapt to it. Or to a thinning atmosphere, or rising temperatures, or a sudden overlap with the negative energy plane, or a plague of wraiths, or whatever.

Survival is pretty fundamental – and in a world of magic involves quite a lot of magic in its own right. As such… it’s Stunts are quite powerful and flexible. If you drop a true master of survival in the wilds naked… you can expect him or her to soon live in a well-fortified redoubt, equipped with primitive but effective weapons, with stockpiles of food and water, and defended by an array of deadly traps and harvested magic – if he or she did not decide to simply go home. Given a little more time there will soon be a thriving colony.

So don’t upset the survivalists, OK? You don’t want Burt on your tail.

Obol Mastery

And for a minor request for the current game… some of the players wanted to know a bit more about how to obtain Obols – so here are a couple of power packages for doing just that.

Obol Broker (14 CP):

The Obol Broker can tap into the inter-dimensional flux to “pull out” an occasional Obol, making them, in effect, highly versatile mages – even if they are only capable of using a couple of spells per week. Still, for a comparative handful of points you can pull out the occasional healing spell, or benign transposition, or summon something to block a corridor for a bit, or any of a thousand other tricks. Even better, since Obols can be saved (and spent in groups to buy higher level spells), you can collect a pouch full of Obols for use when you have a serious emergency.  Sure, it will cost you 25 Obols to purchase a fifth level effect – but having a Teleport spell available when you really need to escape, or the ability to use Raise Dead on the party cleric, can be invaluable.

  • Create Item, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only as a prerequisite (2 CP).
  • Harvest of Artifice, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for use with Transmutation to provide funds, funds are automatically spent on Purchasing Obols (3 CP).
  • Transmutation, Specialized for Reducd Cost / only to transform XP from Harvest of Artifice into generic cash, all such cash is automatically spent on buying Obols (3 CP).
  • Equipage with Purchasing, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (no availability rolls are required to purchase Obols) / only to obtain Obols, only using “money” from Harvest of Artifice, only happens during downtime (6 CP).

While this package only provides two Obols of choice per week to work with that can still be quite convenient – and it’s hard to get much more versatile. You can either spend your obols (at 25 GP per Obol, and acceptable pretty much anywhere), use them for magic, or save them up. If you really want to be effective with them you’ll want a high base will save as well, but many characters find a high base will save useful anyway.

The Obol Priest from the original article usually gets four Obols per week – but only of a particular type.

Obol Smith (20 CP):

The Obol Smith still doesn’t get a LOT of magic – only one Obol / first level spell per day – but it only costs 3 Obols to get a second level spell and five for a third level effect. With an effective caster level equal to their (Base Will Save + Wisdom Modifier) that means that even a low-level Obol Smith will be able to pull out the occasional Fireball or similar spell – which can be pretty effective when a second or third level party is backed into a corner. Even better, a regular income can be very handy indeed in the days before characters inevitably achieve vast wealth.

  • Create Item, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only as a prerequisite (2 CP).
  • Harvest of Artifice, Specialized for Increased Effect (200 XP/Month) / only for use with Transmutation to provide funds. funds are automatically spent purchasing Obols (6 CP).
  • Transmutation, Specialized for Increased Effect / only to transform XP from Harvest of Artifice into generic cash, all such funds are automatically spent on buying Obols (6 CP).
  • Equipage with Purchasing, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (no rolls are required to obtain Obols) / only to obtain Obols, only using “money” from Harvest of Artifice, only happens during downtime (6 CP).

This basically provides 1 Obol of choice per day. Each additional +6 CP spent on Harvest of Artifice provides an additional Obol per day.

Serious Obol Users will probably also want…

  • A very high Base Will Save – generally at least +1 per level (at 3 CP per +1).
  • Some method – often a Handy Haversack Innate Enchantment (possibly only for storing Obols)) to carry their Obols around securely.

And some or all of…

  • Obol Banker: Immunity / The untoward side effects of carrying too many Obols (Common, Severe, either Trivial (3 CP) or Minor (6 CP) to reduce the negative side effects of carrying too many Obols by one or two levels.
  • Obol Manipulation: Minor Privilege; the character may easily combine, separate, and reshape Obols, rather than the process requiring hours (3 CP).
  • Emergency Spending: Reflex Training (Extra Action Variant) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for spending Obols. This will allow the character to spend Obols on an emergency basis, on or off initiative, without it counting as an action, seven times per day (6 CP).
  • Secondary Purchase: Reflex Training (Extra Action Variant) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for using Obols, only usable once per encounter (4 CP). This allows the user to use Obols twice as a standard action once per “encounter”. It may be purchased repeatedly up to a maximum of three times per encounter.
  • Major Purchases: Immunity / the normal limits of spending Obols (Common, Major, Trivial+). This allows the user to bypass the normal limit of spending Obols – twenty-five for a fifth level effect – to purchase even higher level effects. Sadly, while the character point cost (3/6/9/18 CP) is minor since you can get +1 spell level per level of immunity purchased, the cost in Obols rapidly becomes insupportable. It costs 60 Obols to purchase a sixth level effect, 125 to get a seventh level effect, 270 to get an eighth level effect, and 600 to get a ninth level effect. It generally isn’t worth it.
  • A secondary set of abilities to work with. Obols are too valuable, and are obtained too slowly, to spend on trivia.

An Obol-user has an automatic dilemma – spend Obols for magic NOW or save them to buy stuff with LATER – and simply cannot keep up once conventional casters start bringing high-level spells into play, despite their ability to save magic from day to day for emergencies. On the other hand, they are quite formidable at lower levels when their stockpile of effectively freeform magic can easily exceed the abilities of a low-level spellcaster. Characters who can afford to invest a level or two worth of points in using Obols before moving on to something else may find the project well worthwhile however.

“Automated” Production of Obols is difficult since they rely on active magical effects. Still, you could create a bush that grew them or something, as shown here:

Mystic Links and Sympathetic Magic Part II

And to continue from Part I

Class-4 Links:

Things the target made come next. A book they wrote (unless, of course, it turns out to be a hoax or the product of a ghost writer. Mass publication versions are generally reduced to Class-2), a home they built, a place – perhaps their study or workshop – that they made theirs over the years or a masterpiece they sculpted. These would not exist without their creator – and so the link is strong and unique. Such a link can be used to find the target, to determine if they are all right or if something is warping them, to transmit a healing effect to them (“puppet healing”) or it could be used to contact their spirit with a séance. Do you get a sense of a craftsman’s personality and presence from their workshop, or “hear” an authors voice in his or her works? Some people would say that that’s just a combination of deduction and imagination. A sympathetic mage knows it to be the lingering touch of the spirit reaching across the links that it has forged.

Psychics looking for lost people, spiritualists conducting seances, people seeking revealing dreams by tucking some memento beneath their pillow, successors tearing down a hated prior rulers monuments and erasing all records of their achievements in the belief that this will somehow harm their predecessor, inexperienced swordsmen hoping that the hand of the master who made their sword will guide their hand in battle… all of them are attempting to exploit mystic links at this level.

This sort of thing tends to be mostly the province of investigators and researchers. Can someone “read between the lines” and extract more information from someone’s diary than it actually contains? Can they sleep in the slain wizards workroom and hear his or her voice offering wisdom from beyond the grave? Can the psychic find the long-hidden treasures hidden in the crypts, or ask an ancient pharaoh’s spirit how he defeated the Lovecraftian Horrors when they last rose to invade four thousand years ago?

Secondarily, however… haunted weapons and spiritual touchstones – items which are linked to a spirit and which allow it to help, hinder, or simply influence the current bearer – are standard elements in fantasy fiction. Thus the television version of Hrothbert of Bainbridge (AKA Harry Dresden’s magical advisor “Bob”) and his bond with his old skull – or the Japanese legends or murdered smiths who haunt the swords they made until their wielders avenge the swordsmith’s murder. Is one of Voldemort’s Horcrux’s from the Harry Potter novels really much more than this with a minor enchantment to embed a few of his hit points in the item?

Pele’s Curse” may be a modern myth rather than an ancient one, but it fits in here. Pele – the Volcano Goddess of the Hawaiian Islands – is said exploit the crafter’s link to send bad luck to anyone who carries off any of the stones she works so hard to create. Presumably she’s at war with whatever god is responsible for Erosion too.

  • A Class-4 (or -5) link also offers the possibility of Possession when a powerful spirit overrides a weaker (or badly conflicted) mind. Such instances can use the rules for Cursed Lycanthropes. A blade linked to a vengeful spirit might be easy to use, but it’s hardly safe.
  • Class-4 Links are usually good for 2d4 major uses and are notable for allowing subtle spiritual influences to pass over them without damaging the link. The actual passage of a spirit, however, is a fairly major event and does damage the link. Even if your murdered father passed on the six-fingered sword he forged to you, and helps you wield it effectively… there will only be so many times that he can directly intervene on the material plane to save you. You can, however, get all the advice-filled dreams that he wants to send you.
  • Blocking the use of Class-4 links without damaging the item in question is tricky, simply because such an effect needs to be applied to the item in question rather than whoever happens to be using it. A level two effect will work for a few moments – long enough, say, to transfer an item to some form of secure containment. A level four effect (such as Exorcise) will work for a full hour (but no longer since there is no spirit in the item to resist the return) and a level five effect for a full day.
  • Breaking a Class-4 link is often surprisingly easy. All you need to do is to rework whatever-it-is. Reforge that sword, or enchant it. Rebuild the house. Expurgate the book and fill in the missing bits with other people’s ideas. Breaking such links without damaging the item is much trickier, and tends to call for sixth level effects.
  • Amplifying a Class-4 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit 1d3 Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-5 Links:

Items that the Target invested themselves – their time, life, and emotions (or, in the case of Relics, their character points) – in come next. Did a man cling to the house he built and live out his days there? Is your link a bundle of old love letters from an intense romance? A personal diary, into which the target poured their hopes, dreams, and most emotional memories? A book they wrote about some passionate interest? The weapon which killed them, their wedding ring, or some other item bound up with a major part of their lives? A Relic they created? Did two people swear Blood Brotherhood and really mean it and live up to it? Of perhaps they are mystic twins? On a larger scale, what about the revered battlefield where some great empire was founded and declared? Such things are powerful links indeed – often enough to allow a spirit residing on the outer planes to manifest or channel power through into the material world without straining the link.

Also in this category we have “Love’s Pain” (The Book Of Vile Darkness) – one of the more infamously bad examples of using link-based magic in d20. All you needed was someone who dearly loved your Target (which could be artificially induced with other spells since there was nothing in the rules about “True” Love), and a way to fix Intelligence Damage (pretty trivial) – and you could remotely annihilate any creature that did not have Immediate-Action or Precognitive access to an Antimagic Field. And it was only level three. This was promptly banned by every sensible game master (or at least I never saw anyone who allowed it as written). These rules will help somewhat – an artificially-induced emotion won’t create a link without time and interaction with the target – but it’s still far too low a level.

I gave a nod to the same idea with the level nine Deathlink spell (Paths of Power II or Complete) – but it had a ten minute casting time, did less damage, required the ritual sacrifice of another being of the same race, allowed spell resistance, and – if the target saved – it knew where the sacrifice was being made and got to see who was attacking him or her. Honestly… you were much better off summoning a creature and using a Baleful Teleport or something to send it to attack someone. Deathlink was more of warning shot, or an announcement that “Hey! You! I AM COMING FOR YOU!”, or perhaps a softening-up attack then it was a real attempt to kill any foe who was worth spending a ninth level spell on.

Eclipse includes Ties Of The Blood among the level ten spells – a ritual effect that calls for “ a material item with psychic or physical link to the target. A favored watch or piece of cloth the target has worn will do, but hair is better, and blood is best”. It lets the caster transmit up to three level four and under spells to the target at any range, and across dimensional barriers, if they’re cast within the next one minute. Especially good ingredients increase the spell level limit to 5, while poor ones reduce it to 3. Higher-level variants can transmit higher-level spells at +2 spell levels per +1 level of the spells transmitted. Importantly, it the spell uses up the material used as a link – so you can’t just keep casting it over and over again.

Ties Of The Blood is a wonderful way of disposing of treacherous flunkies and other relatively minor annoyances (or perhaps a way to teleport them to you) – but, once again, you’re throwing around epic level magic and hours worth of the time of an epic level spellcaster to launch a few relatively low level effects. It’s certainly impressive to see the flunky you forced to betray the Dark Lord start screaming “No! Master! Please! FORGIVE ME!” before being plane shifted to the abyss to become a demon-plaything when the Dark Lord is still a thousand miles away, but it’s really not a worthwhile combat tactic.

Those limitations are quite intentional. Sympathetic Magic has always been a way for those who are unable to get back at an enemy or influence the outcome of events in any other way to tell themselves that they were actually doing something effective. Actually making it effective though… that’s asking for a thousand minor spellcasters to take down your Dark Emperor. How many present-day politicians would still be around if sympathetic magic actually worked as advertised?

Now, if you want a cantankerous – but not technically undead – spirit haunting a house, such as Captain Daniel Gregg in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), this is the route to go. The spirit can hang around, perform various minor tricks, and complain about annoying adventurers in his house pretty much indefinitely – but trying to do things like call in his ghostly crew will soon exhaust his powers.

  • Class-5 Links are usually good for 2d4+1 major uses and allow major spiritual energies and minor magical ones (prestidigitation effects) to pass over them without damaging the link. While major spirits will still expend a use to pass over, mere mortal ghosts can come through and hang around as long as they please. Anyone possessing a Class-5 link can use it to locate the owner, to determine if he or she is still alive and his or her status, and various other personal details with minor rituals. Similarly, prayers and similar communications pass over such links with no problems.
  • Blocking the use of Class-5 links is difficult. Blocking incoming links requires the use of a level five effect for an hour and a level six effect for a full day. It’s rarely important though; the nature of Class-5 links is such that they’re most often foci for an entity trying to exert its will on or around the linked item. If such attempts are unwelcome, you can simply leave said item behind. Attempting to use such an item to influence the creator is possible – but if you can reasonably get a hold of someone’s most cherished possessions in the first place you can probably deal with them directly.
  • Breaking a Class-5 link is – once again – fairly easy. Destroy the linked item. Breaking such a link without doing that is much harder, calling for a seventh level effect.
  • Amplifying a Class-5 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 3+/5+/7+/9+ can transmit 1d3 Zero Level/First Level/Second/Third Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-6 Links

Things that were once a true part of the target are next. A brick from a castle wall, fingernail clippings, hairs, blood, or teeth from the target… These are some of the most powerful links commonly available. (Bodily wastes would come in here, but they’ve been rejected by the body and expelled – and so their link is greatly attenuated). Perhaps best of all… a piece of a child’s placenta, carrying it’s DNA. That’s both a part of it’s body and the physical manifestation of the link with its mother that gave it life. Now we are cooking with magic gas. Even a minor mage could use such a link to manipulate the target in all sorts of ways or to tap into their power (as in, for example, The Tales Of Alvin Maker). Classically having access to a detailed horoscope of a target might count on this level – after all, you were laying your hands upon their very destiny – but these days the stars usually aren’t credited with having THAT much influence on people. Class-6 Links are generally good for at least 2D4+2 uses before their power fades – and they can transmit cantrip-level effects without strain up to once an hour, including the variegated results of spells such as Polypurpose Panacea and it’s reverse, with a minor ritual.

Sympathetic Magic at this level is a standard part of many game systems with more subtle magic, such as Shadowrun, Fantasy Wargaming, and World Tree – but generally isn’t easy, requiring either lots of time and resources or special training to use. In d20, this is how a soul binds to the body – explaining the limitations of the Clone spell, the need to have a body part to perform a Resurrection, and why the creature being resurrected will gain some knowledge of who is doing it and why. Using that link to draw a spirit back from the outer planes weakens the link unless greater magics are used – and so the spirit hangs on to the body less well – “losing a level”.

This is also where we find Correspondence Tablesmassive lists of the magical properties of various items, times, astronomical events, and many other items. Each proper correspondence included enhances appropriate magic. Thus, using a WAND made of CHESTNUT with a RUBY tip polished with JUNIPER oil and a shaft inscribed with the norse rune KENAZ (Beacon or Torch) in RED while MARS is ascendant includes seven correspondences to fire – and so will lend considerable extra power to any fire magic that is cast using it. If properly made it will last indefinitely, just like the power of a Coat of Arms or Holy Symbol. (This is the sort of thing that the Ceremonial Magic rules in Continuum II were used to make, but few players are inclined to bother these days. Personally, if someone wanted to work on this sort of thing, I would certainly let them get some boosts out of it. After all, it requires involvement, interest, and at least a few minutes doing research).

Guardian Poppets are the primary answer to “blocking” links. You make a doll that looks like you, you add some of your blood, fingernails, skin scrapings, etc, to its construction, and you perform a small ritual to activate it – and until its link fails or the poppet is destroyed, it will suffer the effects of effects coming in over Class-0 to Class-6 links instead of you. Construct Poppets (use the statistics for a Poppet, a Soul-Bound Doll, or similar construct) can be “fed” additional bits of materials – not only disposing of lost hair and fingernail clippings and such safely but renewing the constructs link. For +300 GP it can be given Immunity to Cantrips. For +500/1500/3000 GP such a construct can also be given the ability to suffer the effects an individually-directed attack – a sword-blow, spell, poison, or whatever – for its master 1/2/3 times per day with the owner choosing when this effect activates. Unfortunately, a Guardian Poppet must be kept on or near the owner’s person to function properly, so they cannot entirely prevent the use of links to locate or scry on the user.

If a setting makes extensive use of mystic links, well, here is an obvious countermeasure – and one that’s pretty cheap and easy to obtain. Pretty much anyone (and any structure or place) of the slightest importance will probably be so protected, meaning that effective use of sympathetic magic will usually have to be subtle and indirect. Secondarily, this is a bit of a nerf for “save or suck” and “save or die” effects. After all… a Poppet generally can’t be struck dead, or suffer the effects of poison, or be level drained. I suppose someone could try to get really clever – using a Baleful Teleport or Maze effect against someone, letting it get diverted to the poppet, and then grabbing the Poppet to use it against it’s owner before the link fades or it gets replaced – but if someone is getting that elaborate, then good for them.

One version of Asahina Ninsei, Emperor of Rokugan, spent years having agents bring him bits of stone from all across his empire – and inlaid them into a great map of the country. Using those links, he gathered up the unused diffuse magical power of the land, the seas, and the sky, focused it – and channeled it out again to the various clans, reserving the ability to adjust how much power each clan received to run their magitech.

On a personal scale… perhaps a mage can use a bit of powdered dragon eggshell to draw on the power of the dragon that hatched from it, lending great strength to his or her spells – although it would probably be wise to make a deal with the dragon before trying this.

  • Blocking the use of Class-6 links is difficult. Blocking incoming links requires the use of a level six effect for an hour and a level seven effect for a full day. Of course, given the effectiveness of Guardian Poppets, there’s usually no point in doing so.
  • Breaking a Class-6 link is actually relatively easy; since they can transmit worthwhile effects and are usually simply bits of tissue. A fourth effect spell will do 3d4 damage (generally more than enough) to up to one item with a Class-6 link per level. A second level effect will do the same to any one such item.
  • Amplifying a Class-6 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit 1d4 Zero Level/First Level/Second/Third Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-7 Links

A living parent or child of the target is perhaps the potent link of all, combining very high levels of contagion, sympathy, and correspondence in one convenient emotion-laden package. Of course, such links work both ways – and using them is often pretty unethical. A Class-7 link can transmit first level effects up to once per hour and second level effects up to once per day without strain with a minor ritual – but whatever effects are used will affect both parties involved. Given that kids are rarely capable of surviving the kind of things that a worthwhile target can, this still isn’t a lot of use in inflicting damage without boosting the link substantially. Things like “Charm” or “Suggestion” are a much better bet. On the helpful side, however, leaving your kids with some priests while you go off to fight in a crusade may well get you some monitoring and remote help in emergencies.

Perhaps the most classic example here is sacrificing your firstborn – turning your child over to some monstrous being in payment for it using the link you have so provided to channel power to you. Of course, such links are incredibly dangerous – for if and when you die, that same link will let that being claim your soul as well. There is a reason why this is considered one of the most insane and depraved branches of black magic.

Karnel Thorn – a remarkably unpleasant mage – was noted for using spells involving mystic links. Perhaps his most infamous was the ninth level Porcine Polymorphism. It propagated over blood links, targeting an additional 3d6 individuals wherever they might be – first affecting children, then parents, then siblings, and then more distant relatives, affecting whoever the first target liked best in a group if it couldn’t get them all. It was, of course, permanent unless someone used very potent magic to remove it and forced it’s victims to act like pigs as their minds slowly degraded.

He also had a “Butcher Pig” spell.

Of course, he was a first edition character, but it’s the principle that matters.

  • The only other in-game distinction between a Class-6 and a Class-7 Link (besides benefits noted in specific spells, such as Deathlink) is that using a Class-7 Link will bypass the effects of a Guardian Poppet. The link is well enough tuned to recognize the real target.

Unclassed Links:

Finally, we active magical links – open channels set up to transmit magical energy – and what is arguably the ultimate link (if they actually exist in a given setting) – a creatures True Name. An expression of their essence, their destiny, and their history. In magical terms knowing a creature’s True Name is basically having a firm grip on one of it’s more vital internal organs. It’s not a link so much as it is being able to reach out and touch them at whim. It’s the old “The name is the thing” routine. Thus changing how your pronounced the “true name” of a thing can control or transform it.

At least in fiction and legend true names are used to summon, control, and banish various magical entities, are the vulnerable points of wizards, and grant the user many powers over what he or she names. Of course, if you don’t know the name you need… you are simply out of luck.

A True Name or active magical link has few inherent limitations – but most magical links are carefully limited by their creators while the effects of True Names depend on the setting – and True Names are notoriously difficult to acquire. In some settings only the Goddesses of Destiny, Motherhood, and Naming will know any individuals true name, for they and they alone whispered it in the fastnesses of their hearts when they were born. In others they are known initially only to those who meditate and seek within themselves to find them – and sharing them with another is perhaps the ultimate mark of trust. In other places, of course, it’s simply whatever you were named as a child – but if True Names actually mean very much in a setting, personal True Names are going to be well-hidden secrets.

Eclipse defaults to a watered-down version where knowing some things True Name simply gives you some bonuses when dealing with it, but that’s likely to vary with the setting. For example, Legends Of High Fantasy includes Quilopothic Magic (the magic of breaking the universe) with one of it’s arts being Namebreaking – magic involving using, bestowing, or altering True Names. As it says there…

Using Namebreaking on yourself is especially perilous; such changes well up from within rather than being imposed from without, and so tend to change the user’s memories, personality, and “real” physical structure. If a Sorcerer uses Namebreaking to give herself thick fur to survive being lost in the arctic, she’s likely to get claws, memories of being a native, and a predatory personality to go with it. She might be able to change back IF she remembers who she is – but will have to mentally reconstruct her old appearance. A simple “dispel” effect will not work; the old version is gone, the new one is what is currently “real”. In general, Namebreaking spells are a level or so higher than equivalent spells from other disciplines, but become one level easier if you know the true name of your target. All Namebreaking effects are necessarily single target.

  • I can’t really provide rules for Unclassed Links, since they’re set up in a variety of ways (usually Mystic Link in Eclipse, but there are other ways) and the nature of “True Names” is going to vary with each game and game master. Anyone tinkering with such things will just have to experiment and see what happens.

Sympathetic Magic through the editions in Dungeons and Dragons gets… complicated.

First Editions spell components often used classical magical concepts. Saltpeter was extracted from guano and was used to make gunpowder – ergo, with enough magical skill, you could use a bit of bat guano to create a massive explosion without all the bother of actually making a keg of gunpowder. A tiny “tin can telephone” could be used to send messages. Pearls could be dissolved to gain knowledge – “Pearls of Wisdom”. The game included explanations of where magical energy came from and how it was handled. Wizards did mysterious things with strange paraphernalia to produce effects that mundane characters did not understand. Thus the more complex spells had long casting times and were easily interrupted. A bucket of water, or being shoved, would ruin the mightiest spell – and they took long enough to cast that many of the enemy would have a chance to try something like that.

A lot of those details were dropped from Second Edition. The information on how magic was supposed to “work” turned into pure game mechanics. The ritualistic verbal and somatic components turned into ways to restrain spellcasters a bit and the physical components split into flavor text and expensive stuff that kept powerful spells from being used too often. The idea that varying the components would produce strange changes in the spell vanished too. Soon enough, nobody thought of spells as complex, delicate procedures involving delicately manipulating weird materials any more – which paved the way for the introduction of “concentration” and “standard action” spells.

Third Edition still listed some of the flavor text components – in part, I suspect, because older players expected them – but removed their mechanical impact with spell component pouches and/or “eschew materials”. No longer would spellcasters have to be carefully protected if they wanted to cast substantial spells – and no longer did wizards need to worry about backblast from setting off a Fireball in a confined place, or bouncing lightning bolts, or similar problems.

No longer had spellcasters spent years studying secret lore, learning lists of magical components and exotic procedures to use them. Now anyone could just decide to take a level in wizard this time.

Classical Contagion and Sympathy are extremely evocative, they (fairly obviously) fit in with traditional notions of magic, and they make a certain amount of “sense” to most people. In fact… an awful lot of people still think that way.

  • Have you encountered someone who, when someone tries to explain something technical to them using a simplified, symbolic, analogy – tries to poke holes in the analogy instead of considering the point? They’re attacking a simplified, symbolic, representation of something and believing that doing so has some real effect. They’re attempting to use sympathetic magic – and will usually believe that they’ve been successful.
  • Have you seen someone try to “disprove” an argument or statement by attacking the person making it in the belief that – if they can just associate the source with ideas that they are sure are wrong – it will somehow invalidate the point? As if associating two separate ideas will somehow make them be linked with each other? That’s the principle of Contagion.
  • How many people have little compulsive rituals that they perform because they feel that – if they do not – something will inevitably go wrong? They’re performing a ritual spell to ward off misfortune.

Magical Thinking is the normal state of affairs for much of humanity. Second Edition dropped most of the “how magic works” stuff in favor of pure game mechanics because entirely too many people thought that the magical references were real, and meaningful – and “satanic”.

Still, even in first edition… classical magic was never a major element of the game.

That’s for good reason.

Unfortunately, the major features of Magic using Sympathy and Contagion are not especially game friendly. It takes a lot of time and components to use, the player has to come up with a ritual, other characters generally have nothing to do while said ritual is being performed, and such rituals work from quite a long ways away.

So your target stayed at an inn last night. You show up for dinner, put your horse in the stables, and swipe a few hairs from your targets carriage-horses while you’re at it. You make some horse-dolls and prepare your rituals – one to scry on the horses, one to throw them into an utter panic, and one to cover your magical traces so no one can identify you after you retreat. The next day… your targets horses run away in the mountains, sending themselves, the carriage, and the target over a cliff – and you vanish, leaving none the wiser.

That’s interesting, and a classic bit of fantasy, and makes a good setup for the adventure of hunting down the evil cult or something – but by itself it isn’t going to make much of an adventure is it? Neither will using sympathetic magic to make it rain, or keep rats out of the granary. There is a reason why “Scry and Die” is so generally ill-regarded. “Blast from Afar” is even WORSE – as shown by “Love’s Pain”.

Adventures are about dealing with the dragon up close and personal – not about phoning it up and talking it into a trade or hypnotizing it from afar to compel it to move or give you a part of its horde. They’re about breaking the siege in battle or sneaking out to strike at the enemy leaders, not about conducting a ritual in a nice safe chamber and making the besiegers stores of food rot so that they have to go home.

Each edition has included a scattering of spells and powers that use (or at least refer to) the concepts of sympathetic magic – enough to be evocative and vaguely imply the use of mysterious powers of magic – but not enough to cause difficulties with the game.

That’s why Ritual Magic – in both the Legends Of High Fantasy and the Eclipse versions – is set up to generate quests and adventures in its own right, with actually performing the ritual being something of an afterthought, rather than trying to have it BE the adventure.

Now, the Legends of High Fantasy ritual system does include the following set of DC modifiers for “range”:

  • Target Present (-), Line of Sight (+5), Contagion Link (A portion of target/deeply personal possession, +10), Sympathetic Link (Pictures, items touched by target, +15), Descriptive Link (“The one who stole the sacred bloom”, +20), Extradimensional Target (Additional +5), Transtemporal Target (Extra +5/Postcognitive Effects, +10/Precognitive, and +15 /Actual Effects)

So it is possible to try the “blast from afar” approach – but that ritual system calls for GM-specified ritual components that the group must go out adventuring to obtain. User’s can’t simply bypass the need to adventure, they simply get to substitute a series of fetch-quests that they CAN manage for a confrontation that they may not be able to handle,

At least in Eclipse, the strongest readily available Sympathetic Magic build is the Witch – mostly because a Witches powers are usually pretty low level and won’t necessarily disrupt the setting. Thus a Witch can take:

Sympathetic Link. A master of this discipline may ignore the range limitations of Witchcraft (and possibly of other spells) as long as he or she possesses an appropriate material link to the target or is working through a familiar within range of the target. Hair, nail clippings, dried bloodstains, or family heirlooms are all common links, though for inanimate targets a small piece of their structure will do. Poor links, such as mere scrapings of blood or an old, forgotten piece of clothing grant the target a +5 bonus on their saving throw. A link may only be used 1d4+1 times before the sympathy is exhausted. Exceptionally good links, such as a piece of a childs placenta or fresh blood, are good for 2d4+2 uses and increase the DC of resisting by 3.

That can be pretty effective if you’re clever or the game master is permissive, but it takes a lot of work to break the setting with it.

I’m still not entirely happy with this one. As noted earlier, it wanders a lot, and – while it includes a lot of evocative ideas – doesn’t really include all that many hard rules because Sympathetic Magic simply doesn’t work that well in the game as a major element. Ah well. At least it’s covered.

Mystic Links and Sympathetic Magic, Part I

Today it’s a question about Mystic Links in fantasy games. This particular article has been on the back burner for some time since it just seemed DETERMINED to wander all over the place – but it has been long enough that I think that I will just let it wander and see if it runs across anything interesting.

A number of spells in Eclipse (and Paths of Power, and Practical Enchanter, etc.) rely on mystic link effects, whether links sustained purely by a spell, or by utilizing a link between the target and something with its own link to them (e.g. a piece of their body, a blood relative, their (true) name, etc.).

What sort of spell would be able to defend against these sorts of links? Presumably it wouldn’t be that difficult to set up some sort of temporary shielding between the caster and some kind of outside link. but a permanent severance between the target and something intrinsically linked to them seems like it’d be more difficult (severing the link between the target and a lock of their hair is one thing, but between them and their kin, or even their name, is something else altogether).

Since the 10’th-level spell Cleanse the Soul seems like the ultimate version of such a severance, is it safe to presume that all such magic in this regard would be sub-epic level?


The ideas are ancient, although they were only really stated formally in the late 1800’s when formal statements were becoming the rule rather than the exception.

  • Contagion: Things that were once in contact remain connected after separation. The basic strength of that link depends on how direct and important that contact was. Contagion is the basis of Sympathetic Magic – channeling power over that link to affect the original thing or drawing power from that thing to use yourself.
  • Sympathy: Effects resemble Causes. Thus sprinkling water on the ground will make it more likely to rain. The better the model or imitation of the desired result, the greater the effect of your magical ritual.
  • Correspondence. Properties are linked to appearances and things that happen to one corresponding item will be reflected in the others. Coals are red, and so things that are colored red have fiery properties. Thus the Doctrine Of Signatures tells you plants that look like parts of the body are good for treating disorders of that part of the body. (These ideas have poisoned a lot of people and done a lot of other damage over the years).

You can combine these. If you have a link (Contagion), and you embed it in something that more closely resembles the target (Sympathy), then you have much more power over said target. Thus a Voodoo Doll, made to look like the target, is a better link than the nail clippings or hairs incorporated into it. Sticking it with a pin will cause the target to experience a similar attack (Correspondence). Similarly, a picture is linked to the original thing, if only through the creators intent – and the better the picture, the better the link.

Now, the idea of Contagion is valid enough, at least in Quantum Mechanics. The problem there is that the linked – or Entangled – properties cannot transmit anything. Nothing known to physics can travel over those links. Fortunately for us, we’re talking about magic, which presumably can both create and travel over normally undetectable and unusable links.

Class-0 Links:

Even a quick sketch of something is a link to it – but such a sketch will be far more strongly linked to the tree the paper came from, and the artist, and the factory that made the pen, and the rest of the ink, then to the creature so sketched. Similarly, an item that the target has handled casually a few times is a link too, but certainly not much of one. A truly great mage using powerful magic to upgrade links on top of whatever he or she actually wants to do might manage something using a mere sketch or a book someone once read or some such – but no lesser mage will.

  • Class-0 Links are fairly useless. A skilled psychic or diviner can use them to tell if something actually exists (as in “I think she’s still alive…” or “I think there might be something to it…”), but that’s about it. You can detect that Class-0 links exist, but they simply aren’t strong enough to transmit anything over or determine a direction from unless they’re enhanced. Thus this is the sort of thing you see in TV shows when the skeptical-but-desperate-cop takes a photo of a missing person to a psychic (who will then, of course, want better links to work with).

For a standard d20 example… The Scry spell includes Will save modifiers for Knowledge Of The Target (None +10, Secondhand +5, Having Met +0, and Know Well -5) as well as Connection – having a Picture (-2), having a Possession or Garment (-4), and having a Body Part (-10). And while “picture” is undefined, I, at least, assume that it means a recognizable picture – not a stick figure or quick sketch.

  • Blocking the use of Class-0 links requires a first level effect, and is generally good for a full day. In addition, any attempt to create new Class-0 links – perhaps by making a new sketch – while the target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking Class-0 links is actually fairly hard. Unless you’re extremely careful, whatever you use to do it is going to leave stronger traces behind. Ceremonial Magic can do it by substituting new links for yours, Ritual Magic can perform a cleansing ritual at DC 10 given a half an hour or so, and various second-level effects can do the same.
  • Amplifying a Class-0 Link is also difficult, simply because they’re hard to pick out of the morass of other Class-0 links. The Scry spell does it – but even as a fourth level spell using such a link greatly increases the chance of failure – and it can only boost such a link enough to gather sensory impressions. A spell of fifth level or above can transmit a Prestidigitation level effect over a Class-0 link, but that’s the upper limit – and who wants to bother with that?

Class-1 Links:

A recent. high-quality. photograph or painting, a detailed description, or a psychological profile, is still a relatively low-quality link – but unlike sketches and items that someone has handled casually, they’re somewhat usable, although you’ll still need a pretty good mage to get very far. Unfortunately, Class-1 links degrade when used, dropping to Class-0 after 1d3 uses.

Here we have the origin of the idea that photographs can steal your soul. After all, if you die, and your soul becomes unbound from your body and should move on. But if it still linked to a picture… you soul may be captured, and at the mercy of whoever has the picture. The ka statues of ancient Egypt supposedly used the same effect to keep their owners souls safely anchored to the world. On a more modern level… throwing darts at the picture of the hated boss or cutting someone you don’t like any more out of photographs are still common behaviors. In fact, most people are aware enough of the thought process behind them to find them a bit disturbing.

Of course, even today, people are regularly burned in effigy – a magical ritual meant to focus the energy of their hatred and anger on the individual so attacked and to do him or her harm.

  • Class-1 Links can be used to determine the Targets general status and (very) genera) location (such as “cold and hungry, in the northern wilderness”) with relative ease.
  • Blocking the use of Class-1 links requires a cantrip to block incoming effects for a minute (although it’s use is an immediate action), a first level effect provides for an hour or so of safety, and a second level effect a full day. An appropriate Charm (The Practical Enchanter) can block links of Class 1 and below as well, as can appropriate ceremonies and rituals. As usual, any attempt to create new Class-0 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-1 link requires a level one effect targeting the specific link in question. Alternatively, a fifth level effect can be used to blast any or all existing Class-1 links – breaking them and (in the case of items) slightly scorching or even burning them – a magical “scorched earth” policy. It’s worth nothing that the police find it most disconcerting to have their files reduced to ash, and more magically aware organizations usually preemptively disrupt such links, preferring information retention over messing about with sympathetic magic.
  • Amplifying a Class-1 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 4+/6+/8+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Children, being fragile, weak, extremely vulnerable, and precious to their parents are preferred targets for vengeful sympathetic mages who lack the power to do much to adults. Throughout history it has thus been common to give children protective Charms or to teach them to make magically-protective gestures when they feel threatened by “the evil eye” or similar malicious magics.

Class-2 Links:

A personal use-name, a signature, a personal coat of arms, bodily wastes, and such? Slightly better. At least the link to the target is direct. Thus the notion that “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken” (since that can allow the spirit to extend its presence into the material plane) and the fact that the use of a name is enough to alert people with the right skills (such as “Ears Of The Wind”).

In medieval demonology magical glyphs and diagrams were, in fact, the personal symbols of gods and other mighty spirits. While their link with the spirit in question isn’t actually very strong, those beings are so powerful that even a bit of their might gives those symbols enough power to be useful. Thus the tradition that holy symbols can ward off evil spirits as shown in every horror movie.

In ancient Egypt, pharaohs had magicians carve the names and images of their enemies – mostly the kings of other lands – into their thresholds that they might trample them beneath their feet every day and that they might never cross their borders. So did they attempt to destroy their enemies. Later on, curses and names would be carved into slabs of lead and buried, so that – as the tablet slowly corroded away – so would the health and sanity of the victim linked to it. (Trying this sort of thing against a leader in your own country was generally treated as high treason).

While there’s no way to confirm it, the many cave paintings that show successful hunts may have been an attempt to control the animals depicted, thus bringing prosperity to painter’s tribe.

  • Class-2 Links (other than bodily wastes anyway, which are only good for 1d4 uses) can usually transmit a steady trickle of power from a sufficiently powerful source pretty much indefinitely because the links of personal symbols, coats of arms, and use-names are constantly renewed each time the target uses them. Thus class-2 links are commonly used for subtle influences and slowly cumulative curses.
  • Blocking the use of Class-2 links requires a first level effect to block a single incoming effect (although it’s use is an immediate action), a second level effect for an hour or so of safety, or a third level effect for a full day. An appropriate Talisman (The Practical Enchanter) can block links of Class-2 and below as well, as can appropriate ceremonies and rituals. As usual, any attempt to create new Class 0-2 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-2 link requires a level one effect targeting the specific link in question or a fifth level spell to temporarily disrupt them all – but this does nothing about whatever power has already passed over the link. Worse, for most such links, this is a strictly temporary measure; as long as the Target continues to use the same use-name, coat of arms, or personal symbol, the link will soon re-establish itself. Thus most important figures make regular use of protective spells or talismans to prevent indirect attacks. Providing such protection may well be a regular source of income for courtly and mercenary mages.
  • Amplifying a Class-2 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 3+/5+/7+/9+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Class-3 Links:

The glasses your target wore for years? Something they personally treasured? A piece of well-worn clothing, perhaps still bearing some sweat stains and a few dried skin cells? A bit of bone or flesh from a past member of a flock or herd? Better, but still not very good. It’s associated with them – but is also strongly associated with the people who made it or who sewed the buttons back on and mended it. Once again… the link is drowning in noise. Still, many a hopeful youngster has sought a love charm crafted from such components, and often enough the placebo effect has given them enough extra confidence to make a successful approach.

Homeopathic “Medicine” – the belief that if you dilute a compound to the point that none of is present it will become more potent – comes in here as well, with the belief that contagion and the ever-increasing self-similarity of pure water multiplies the power. Of course, if THAT worked… why isn’t everyone permanently drunk? Lots of booze has been spilled over the years, and diluted again and again. Wouldn’t that make IT more potent too?

  • Class-3 Links are usually good for 1d4+1 uses – and will allow targets to be strongly influenced. Attempts to force people to make irrational decisions, serious love charms, briefly animating a corpse, long-range communications, and similar effects are all possible with Class-3 Links.
  • Blocking the use of Class-3 links is difficult. The effects that block class-2 effects will still work, but they only degrade the link to Class-1 – so a protective Talisman will not stop sympathetic magic using a Class-3 link entirely – but Class-3 links are considerably harder to obtain than lower order links; sensible precautions will usually allow prudent Targets to avoid untoward effects. A fourth level effect will, however, suffice to block the effects of Class-3 links for a full day. As usual, any attempt to create new Class 0-3 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-3 link requires a level two effect targeting the specific link in question or a sixth level spell to break up to (Caster Level) such links – so if someone happens to have managed to steal your entire wardrobe or something a single casting may not be sufficient.
  • Amplifying a Class-3 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Next time around on this topic it will be links of levels 4-7 and general information on using Sympathetic Magic in the game.

Hexcrafting Part IV – Mad Scientists in Eclipse

Mad scientists are fun to play, they ham it up and they…

  • Have a fine excuse for making the occasional insane decision.
  • Are expected to perform weird experiments and occasionally lose control of the results.
  • Can pull out a gadget whenever it’s convenient and yet can still be easily disarmed.
  • Never make backups (whether of devices, creatures, or plans), so when someone stops their current plan they try to come up with another plan rather than just fixing the exposed flaw and trying again.
  • Never give much thought as to what they’ll do if and when things go wrong.
  • Can become utterly obsessed in mere moments (and will then do crazy things “For Science!”).
  • “Invent” things that they are not even sure what they do (sometimes in their sleep!).
  • Usually specialize in particular fields. Some make monsters, some make big guns, some make robots and mecha, and some make alchemical elixirs. The stronger the Mad Scientist the more versatile they tend to be – but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
  • Often have electrified hair, absurdly oversized glasses, outsized, mismatched, clothing covered with patches and pockets full of junk. Yes, they’re basically demented clowns with gadgets that are actually dangerous. And they’ll use them, whether they’re appropriate to the situation or not. The mad scientist who makes giant monsters will try to use giant monsters to darn his socks, teach children to read, and organize the library.

As characters go, Mad Scientists are just about perfect. They can work in pretty much any story or situation save for serious drama or classic horror stories – and you won’t find much of either of those genres in RPG’s since they both call for the characters to be more-or-less helpless much of the time. RPG characters are pretty much never helpless since that takes away the player’s ability to make decisions… the demon is coming? You get out the holy swords and you kill it.

Mad Scientists go back a long time too; before there really was such a thing as “science” for them to warp, you had Mad Alchemists.

For some quick examples we have Hephaestus and Daedalus (Greek Mythology), Faust (1500’s, but the origin is disputed), Dr Frankenstein (Frankenstein), Dr Jekyll (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Dr Moreau (Island of Dr Moreau), Rotwang (Metropolis), Doc Brown (Back to the Future), Megamind (Megamind), Syndrome (The Incredibles), Dr Heller (Mystery Men), Lex Luthor (DC Comics), Doctor Octopus and Dr Doom (Marvel Comics), Professor Farnsworth (Futurama), Jack Spicer (Xiaolin Showdown), Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and many, MANY, more. One easily accessible example is the webcomic Girl Genius, wherein various pulp mad scientists or “Sparks” rampage around a version of Earth (we’ve mostly been shown Europe so far), creating clunky robots (“Clanks”), building death rays, mutating people and animals into powerful minions, seizing control of various groups and power sources, and fighting with each other and with the deadly legacies of previous Sparks.

Perhaps fortunately, true Mad Scientists tend to have only a few manifestations of their genius available at any one time in the field, and only a few more in the laboratory. You just don’t see them wandering around with Armor, a Force Field, an Invisibility Screen, eight different weapons, and a few utility items. They’re strongly themed, but you never quite know what they’ll pull out. Their items tend to change from story to story (often “offscreen”) and serve as much as plot points as much as personal powers – but there are never many items per story.

This sounds a lot like a restricted version of Hexcrafting. So let’s make a Hexcrafting Mad Scientist Deck. Fortunately, Mad Science Decks are Specialized for Reduced Cost. Mad Scientists use (often rather clunky) devices to produce their effects. Thus…

  • A Mad Scientist “in the field” can only have one card ready per six levels or part thereof. Sparks encountered in workshops, laboratories, or fortresses may have 1-4 more readied cards, depending on the quality and level of personalization of the facility. Other cards and Free Invocations can only be used to fuel those effects. Readying another card demands either 2d6 turns and discarding a currently readied card for no effect or several hours of time to assemble another device.
    • Thus, for example Agatha Heterodyne of Girl Genius – despite being a powerful Mad Scientist – joins the circus with only two cards ready: Death Ray and Assistance (her little self-replicating clanks). Professor Farnsworth usually has his Ship and one other gadget at a time – although his reserve stock of Doomsday Devices may explain why no one ever really disturbs him. Jack Spicer usually has some robotic minions, a flight harness, and a sensor – but got most of his personal, portable, powers from magical devices, which he was eager to claim. Gilgamesh Wulfenbach (Girl Genius again) goes out to fight an army of giant war machines with some (apparently pretty good) Armor and an (untested) Lightning Control Rod. Admittedly, Gil is extremely tough and strong – but most d20 adventurers would call that pretty under equipped. Similarly, his Father, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach – an extremely powerful and experienced mad scientist – turns up to stop an army with a Transport Pod, some Personal Armor, and a Time-stop device. And the Transport Pod may not even be one of HIS.
  • Devices are physical objects that can be taken away. If you strip a Mad Scientist, or lock them up with no tools or raw materials, they can be kept from using their powers.
  • Mad Scientist effects have repercussions. You missed with that death ray? You’re probably going to hit SOMETHING. Stop time? Eldritch horrors that don’t like that may show up. Raise the dead? There may be something VERY wrong with them. Left a giant robot to delay the pursuit? Don’t be surprised with it turns up destroying villages, or reprogrammed to serve someone else, six months later. (Alternatively, sometimes things just don’t work, but what fun is that?).
  • Mania. Mad Scientists must make a Will save (if at +3) against the first effect they use in a day, when exposed to stimulants (DC 18), or when presented with new knowledge (DC 15), or shortly suffer a fit of mania. The exact nature of the result is up to the game master, but common results are wandering off into wild speculation during a critical situation (wasting 1d4 rounds), focusing on a project to the exclusion of all else, deciding that they can face an army on their own, readying an (often irrelevant) card (possibly even in their sleep), deciding to undertake some dangerous experiment, or losing control of something. This should not make them unplayable, but can definitely require an assistant or two to help keep them focused. (It also makes them immune to fear while in such a state, but this is not generally a good thing).
  • Mad Scientists are widely distrusted and seen as being destructively insane. They are also often hunted, because they are individuals of great power with poor control of it.

So lets build a Mad Scientist:

The Mad Scientist Package Deal:

As a VERY well established character type going back many centuries – and one that pretty much automatically comes with problems (having a History of experiments gone wrong that may come back to haunt you, being Irreverent, and either being Hunted by the authorities or having a Poor Reputation What do YOU think of when you hear “Mad Scientist”?) Mad Scientists are entitled to a package deal – in their case, a selection of actual powers.

  • Witchcraft III (18 CP) with +3d6 Power (6 CP) and two Pacts chosen from among Advertising (many mad scientists are flamboyant hams, and find it impossible to conceal their nature), Duties (meddling recklessly with ancient devices and things that man was not meant to know), Epic Quest (some mad scientists wish to rebuild the world, or create a new cosmos, or whatever, and will suffer no obstacles to that ambition), Exclusion (some mad scientists refuse to admit that magic even exists), Isolation (the mad-scientist-in-his-hermitage routine), Essence (many mad scientists are indeed insane in more conventional ways too), Possession (when you sometimes go blank and wake up in the middle of some scheme operating a device or weapon of completely unknown nature you are DEFINITELY a mad scientist), or Madness (well, this is pretty obvious) (-12 CP).
    • Adamant Will: Mad Scientists are almost impossible to mind control, their thoughts are very difficult to read, and mere pain will not stop them when there is SCIENCE to be had!
    • Glamour, Specialized for Increased Effect / gets a +12 modifier when giving directions but cannot be used in other ways. When a mad scientist starts shouting orders, people tend to obey – even if there is no rational reason why they should.
    • Hand Of Shadows, Specialized for Increased Effect / gets (Int Mod) hours worth of worth done on a mundane project or duplicates the Make Whole effect in one minute for one power, but cannot be used in other ways. When you need something repaired or a mundane item built, your local mad scientist is likely to be able to do it with completely unreasonable speed.
    • Hyloka, Specialized (double effect) and Corrupted (effects can be stored for up to a day) for Increased Effect / user must spend 1d4+1 minutes to prepare a dose with a specified effect in advance. Mad scientists far too often keep preparing themselves super-caffeine so that they need not stop to rest while inventing. This rarely ends well.
    • Infliction, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / has no range, requires a Touch Attack, and only works on Constructs, Machines, and similar targets. A mad scientist can tell exactly how to best break things, even if it takes an effort or puts them at risk getting close enough.
    • Witchfire, Specialized for Reduced (Power) Cost / A mad scientist can extract pure chemicals, create unnatural alloys, and perform various other chemical feats with blatantly insufficient equipment and at utterly unreasonable speeds, although this ability is not usable for other purposes.
    • Witchsight, Specialized for Increased Effect / a mad scientist can analyze devices and substances at a glance, determining weak points, various bits of information on how they work, what they are derived from, and bits of information about their composition, at the cost of no power and a few moments of concentration.

As usual for Package Deals, the 12 CP cost is waived.

Basic Attributes: Str 10, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 16 (One bonus card slot), Wis 8, Cha 12 (Pathfinder 20 Point Buy).. A race with a bonus to Intelligence and to either Dexterity or Constitution would be nice, but isn’t really required.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages) +6 (Level One Feat) = 64 CP

Basics (24 CP): 1d8 HP (4 CP), Skill Points +4 (with Adept and Fast Learner Specialized in Skills, 16 CP), BAB +0 (0 CP), Saves +0 (Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saves, 4 CP).

Special Abilities (36 CP):

  • Two Fixed Hexcrafting Card Slots (10 CP)
  • Three Floating Hexcrafting Card Slots, Corrupted / only to power spells (8 CP)
  • Two Base Caster Levels, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Hexcrafting, Only for Mad Science (12 CP).
  • Metamagical Theorem / Persistent, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only to invoke a variation of Sacrifice; a Mad Scientist can commit a (currently unused) card to keep an effect going. Sadly, such effects are inherently unstable; death rays may run out of power, need more tinkering, or overload, robots begin to run amuck, and mutagens may cause a creature to continue “evolving” into uncontrollability. The committed card can be reclaimed, although this usually results in malfunctions rather than the device simply stopping. The card is automatically released when things go wrong on their own, but this does not necessarily result in the effect stopping. It just goes independent (3 CP).

This means that even a first level mad scientist may spend four cards on – say – a Flame Gun (Scorching Ray at Caster Level Six) and can (probably) keep it running through the session. Of course, unlike the nice clean spell it will set things you don’t want on fire on fire, hit something when it misses the target, create clouds of smoke and fumes, and may jam or run out of fuel at inopportune moments. It’s also going to be their only major trick for the session, so they’ll have to hope that a reasonable chunk of the evenings difficulties can be solved by setting things on fire.

  • Leadership, Specialized for Reduced Cost (3 CP) / Only to have a few competent, but relatively low-level, and fairly ordinary (few if any exotic powers) minions about. Every mad scientist needs someone around who can competently cook, mend yet another set of ruined clothing, drag them away from a fascinating holocaust before they catch on fire, and fix the toaster without turning it into a doomsday device.

This leaves 4 CP available for customization – enough for a d12 hit die (for tougher scientists), +4 Skill Points (for better educated ones), an extra standard card slot (for more powerful and more versatile ones), several Contacts (for better connected ones), or for some other tweak, such as having access to a good laboratory (minor privilege, corrupted / very limited location, 2 CP).

In play? Mad Scientists are versatile between stories, but tend to have a fairly well fixed suite of abilities while on any single adventure at lower levels. At higher levels they may have the option to “pull out” a gadget or two, as needed, but that sort of thing will be strictly limited. Fortunately for them, those abilities are usually quite powerful.

Higher-level Mad Scientists may want to develop one of the relic-making packages so as to establish some sort of signature gear (Marine Boy’s boots that let him jet around and can be used to blast things and break free of restraints, Professor Prometheus’s Patent Pending Pump Paste Pistol that traps people, glues things, and creates barriers, the Black Diamond’s personal set of spun-diamond light-manipulating armor, or whatever). More cards and caster levels are obviously in order. Beyond that… mad scientists tend to experiment on themselves as they get more skilled and powerful, so almost any kind of themed power package makes SOME sort of sense.

Possible Mad Scientist Hexcrafting Cards:

  1. Aperture Science Protocols. Mirrors, portals, dimensional probes, summonings, pocket dimensions, solar cannonts, and dimensional rifts, Note that this card does NOT include any form of controlling extradimensional creatures.
  2. Axolotl Tank: Creating monsters and clones, inducing regeneration, life support for the nearly-disembodied, symbiotic adjustment, cyborging.
  3. Bells Of Light: Life support, purification, healing, temporary resurrection.
  4. Blessings Of Babbage: Artificial Intelligence, Mental Boosts, and Calculations, automated systems and construction, computer programming and hacking systems.
  5. Boundless Explosive Barrage. Guns, from the smallest holdout pistol to the largest artillery piece, and arrays thereof.
  6. Burrowing To Agartha: Moving and shaping earth and stone, mole machines, earthquake bombs, living crystals.
  7. Catching The Lightning: Physical enhancements, “recharging” and energy absorption / discharge effects.
  8. Cauldron Of Blasphemy: Engineered plagues, diseases, slimes, fungi, and contagious transformations.
  9. Deadly Venoms Of Jormungand: Poisons, toxic clouds, radioactives, and aberrant life.
  10. Death Ray Extravaganza. Pretty much any form of energy blast and small area effects.
  11. Deconstruction Of Prosperity: City-building, repairs, colony construction, modernization, luxuries and facilities.
  12. Dimensional Extrusion Manipulator: Hyperspace and subspace drives, turning things inside out, reversing directions in time, isomeric transformations, dimensional overlays, Disintegration.
  13. Doomsday Device Derby. Fireworks, explosions, smoke clouds, rockets, and brilliant lights, ranging from cantrip-level stuff on up through planet-killers.
  14. Engines Of The Storm: Weather control, lightning generation, manipulation of wind and waves.
  15. Eternal Night Stelae: Creating the undead, broadcasting nightmares and malaise, allowing psychoactive scenery, and allowing psychic constructs and creatures of the imagination to manifest.
  16. Flagons Of The Bacchanal: Intoxicants, drugs, and stimulants
  17. Flashing Blades Phantasia: Traps, enhanced melee or primitive weapons, and – for some reason – cooking.
  18. Forge Of Vulcan: Smelting and refining metals, artificial crystals, enhancing metals and structures, “supermetals” and exotic materials.
  19. Full Steam Ahead: Motion and Kinetic Energy – mass drivers, space drives, jets, engines, and movement.
  20. General Semantic Inclusion: Translation, meme generation, propaganda, brainwashing, contagious mental influences, and encryption/decryption.
  21. Give My Creation Life: Vitality transference, animation, golem and creature creation, nanites and self-replicating technologies, Von Neumann probes.
  22. Grand Harvest Engine: Resource extraction, purification, processing, and preservation.
  23. Great Ninja Escape: Concealable emergency devices, climbing, tunneling, and short-burst flight tools, stunning devices, and distractions.
  24. HG Wells Of Time: Manipulate and travel through time, speed enhancement, slowing effects, and making events happen later.
  25. I Have You Now!: Cages, traps, restraints, chains, devices that actively hunt their targets, and similar items.
  26. Industrial Evolution Mechanics: Performing large amounts of work or carrying out large projects, pollution, environmental damage, warping environments, and automation.
  27. Invisible Temple Of SCIENCE: Caverns, space stations, safehouses, dimensional pockets, and twisted laboratories, full of defenses, traps, strange devices, and exotic creatures, all fall within the purview of the Invisible Temple of SCIENCE.
  28. Iron Sun Core: Gravitation, spatial distortion, and teleportation.
  29. Life Finds A Way: Cloning extinct species, adapting to environments, boosted survival effects, melding creatures together, inducing fertility, crossbreeding incompatible species.
  30. Love Me, Love My Laboratory: Finding rooms full of tools and parts when you need them, a place where you can prepare extra cards.
  31. Machine That Goes “Ping”: Sensors, instruments, and electronic warfare gear.
  32. Magnets, How Do They Even Work: Manipulation of metal, magnetism, and power generation.
  33. Man Of Bronze: Armor and power armor, concealed armor, bulletproof vests, and built-in systems (such as medical kits).
  34. March Of The Hive: Supporting troops, laborers, and large-scale projects. Armies aren’t very effective in d20 combat, but they make excellent police forces, search organizations, information-gatherers, and labor on large-scale projects. It’s just that, in d20, in any soldier-versus-experienced-adventurer confrontation the Adventurer holds a massive edge.
  35. Marconi Pictures: Long-range communications, beacons,
  36. Negative Zone: Power negation, energy negation, draining, and “dispelling” effects.
  37. Omnipresent Dimensional Lens: Making things larger or smaller, storing massive equipment in your pockets, where were you keeping that thing anyway?
  38. Operating Theater Of Moreau: Surgical transformation, medicine, brain transplants, and chimaera.
  39. Petrified By The Light: Lasers, “solid light” holograms, laser swords, invisibility, and defense grids.
  40. Psychoconductivity: Telepathy, neural interfaces, mental bolts, and mind transference.
  41. Put Him In The Death Trap!: Remote-trigger implants, suicide bombs, death traps, hostage devices, training devices, barely-controlled monsters and beasts, lobotimization, and enslavement.
  42. Radiant Biomorphic Programming: Transformation rays, turning things into giant monsters, shapeshifting devices, adding biological specialized capabilities to creatures.
  43. Raspberry Jam: Reality disruption / Anti-(X) Fields – Technology jamming, psionics jamming, anti-teleport devices, barriers to dimension-shifting, etc.
  44. Revitalization Polarity Engine: Reviving the dead, removing exhaustion and fatigue, repairing or rebuilding items from scraps or bits and pieces, maintaining or restoring youth.
  45. Revolving Wheels Of Madness: Hypnotism, mind control, hallucinations, and various forms of insanity and mental distortions.
  46. Riotous Robot Rampage. Large robots tend to have lots of firepower and a surprising degree of independent intelligence, but – if you can get past their hardness – are generally light on hit points. Small ones are usually less well armed, but more generally helpful.
  47. Seeking The Skies. Flying machines, although dirigible bases have been a favorite ever since the Master Of The World.
  48. Seething Mutagenic Elixirs: Applying templates and enhancements, changing species, biochemical alterations, and inducing berserker states.
  49. Sound Of Maniacs: Vibration, sonic effects, music, recording, the voice of command, and silence.
  50. Stronger Than A Locomotive. Ground vehicles, including Mecha and Walkers. Also often heavily armed.
  51. (The) Subtle RAM: Lockpicking, deactivating security systems, bypassing alarms, knocking out guard-beasts.
  52. Symphony Of Consciousness: Emotion manipulation, sleep, implanting false memories, induced madness, restoration of sanity.
  53. Tactical Computation Matrix: Advanced combat techniques / martial arts, improved evasion, blocking or parrying attacks, tactical and strategic command systems.
  54. Transpositional Reality Interface: Tactical teleportation devices, “blinking”, grabbing things remotely, and similar gadgets.
  55. Unmerciful Vivisectional Blade: Organ transplants, creating flesh golems, inflicting pain and/or crippling injuries, causing brain and organ damage, autopsies, and determining how creatures work.
  56. Wards and Shields: Force fields, walls, citadels, barriers, actual shields, and similar items.
  57. Wooden Ships And Iron Minions: Water and space vehicles, submarines and diving bells, water manipulation, robot pirates, historical, and mythological figures.
  58. Your Special Effects Budget: Illusions, invisibility, concealment, and camouflage.

Cards #59 and 60 should be personalized. I recommend that each mad scientist have at least two unique cards in their deck. After all, every mad scientist is a little bit different and I certainly haven’t included a card for everything that mad scientists have been known to do.