Medieval Dark Ages “Classes” – The Võlur

While Eclipse doesn’t actually use Classes, a Dark Ages game is very likely to stay in the level one to level four range for more-or-less “real people”, rather than dipping into the “action movie star” or “more than human hero” territory that starts at level five or six. That means that a first level character is starting off with close to half of all the character points that he or she is ever going to have – and so that first level build is certainly going to set the tone for a characters later development. Unlike a game that’s expected to go to level fifteen or so… there simply aren’t enough character points in levels 2-3 to do a particularly radical redesign. For this setting, even in Eclipse, “classes” – or at least your initial build choices – are actually quite important.

A Võlur (sometimes a Velho) is a classical sympathetic magician, using Sympathy and Contagion to produce magical effects. Classically, a Võlur could produce an immense variety of effects, at nigh-limitless ranges – but required a great deal of time to do so and was generally limited to relatively subtle, and often long-term, effects.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the opposite of gaming mages usually do. They tend to have a very limited range of effects (to let the players and game masters keep track of them easily), most of their effects have very limited ranges (to force the characters to go out and have exciting adventures rather than desk jobs), they have to work their magic quickly (since they are basically competing with the archers and swordsmen), they are anything but subtle (since most of their magic is for use in direct battle), and they don’t use many long-term effects (since, once again, it complicates things too much). Thus, while there have been a few attempts to import sympathetic magic into d20, it rarely works out that well. Fortunately, I am using Eclipse and a setting where this sort of thing is more appropriate – and where the characters will mostly have to settle for “subtle” because most of the blatant stuff does not work.

For Dark Age game purposes Sympathetic Magic comes in two categories – Direct and Indirect.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic is classical. You perform lengthy, complicated, rituals, usually a long ways from your target, and produce… fairly minor effects. Most such interventions can be effectively represented as die roll modifiers. Is the local Võlur attempting to bring rain in the midst of a drought that threatens to ruin a villages crops? Well, in game terms that droughts a -8 Circumstance modifier on on Profession (Farmer, Hunter, Gatherer) and Survival checks. With three separate rituals (perhaps one for rain, one to pull water up from the deep soil, and one to strengthen the plants), our Võlur can provide a +6 bonus to those checks – not entirely negating the effects of the drought, but certainly reducing its effects from “disaster and starvation” to “a somewhat below-average year”. So did cave paintings of successful and bountiful hunts aid early man. Cursing a cow to go dry? A penalty on the owners income check. Do you wish to protect someone from harm? You might take some of their hairs and place them in a metal poppet, granting your target a +2 bonus to their Natural Armor.

More drastic direct interventions approximate the power of a cantrip, albeit at indefinite range. Do you wish a castle to catch fire? Your ritual may cause a candle to topple over when unattended, igniting the rushes on the floor. The place MIGHT burn down – but a passing servant might stomp it out, and even if the fire spreads, it may wind up only destroying a room or two. You can cause ominous messages to appear on walls, let your voice whisper in your targets dreams, cause frightening chest pains, and otherwise subtly aid or hinder your target in a wide variety of ways – but there’s only so much you can do with the occasional cantrip, even if they are being used indirectly from many miles away.

  • Indirect Sympathetic Magic always costs 2 Mana at a base. Additional Mana may be spent to affect a larger area. Do you wish to affect a household, party, or small farm? +1 Mana. A hamlet, manor, or castle? +2 Mana. Sadly, larger areas are out of mortal reach.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic can be quite effective – if a group (or coven) of three Võlur (cauldron optional) wishes to affect a battle of champions, each can aid their champion with an effect (Say, +2 to AC, +2 to Attacks and Damage, and +2 to Strength) and inflict some similar curse on his or her opponent, which may well prove decisive – but it’s not like throwing lightning bolts.

Direct Sympathetic Magic is less classical, but much more playable. It substitutes line of sight for a proper link and for much of the ritual (still a minimum of a full-round action). You still need to represent the effect, and the effect is still fairly weak – but you can produce trivial, minor, and notable effects.

  • Sample Trivial Effects (1 Mana per Day): Rub something to briefly polish it. Rub your fingers together (mimicking a firestick) to generate a match-sized flame. Blow, and direct, an impressive smoke ring. Basically, the kind of stuff you can manage with Prestidigitation, but limited to sympathetic effects.
  • Sample Minor Effects (1 Mana): Mold clay to create a large image of smoke or a (fairly obvious) mirage. Break a thread to snap a bowstring. snuff out a match or candle-flame to extinguish a torch or lantern. Use a candle and a thimble to heat a bucket of water. Make your voice come from someplace else. Cause a few moments of disorganization. Try to get someone to repeat what you just whispered aloud. Create an area if slippery ground that might make a target fall. Ease a difficult childbirth. Stop bleeding.
  • Sample Notable Effects (2 Mana): Mold clay to shape a sizeable cloud. Turn a key to open a lock, even if the key has nothing to do with the lock. Exhale hard to create a modest gust of wind or to blow away some smoke. Strike a wall or tree to generate a ranged combat maneuver or attack. Toss out a handful of dust to create a bothersome cloud of dust, cover a trail, or instantly make a large area look dirty and undisturbed. Fan vigorously to purify the air in a modest area.
  • Expanded Targeting: One point of additional Mana may be spent to affect slightly larger areas or groups – a group of up to a dozen targets or a household – but that’s the limit.

Unfortunately, all sympathetic magic is subject to the following limitations:

  • The Rule Of One: A target may only be directly affected by one sympathetic effect from any one witch in any one day. This is a consequence of the fact that each such act establishes a temporary link back to the originator, making it impossible for the user to properly focus any additional magic on the target until it fades.
  • The Rule Of Two: Sympathetic effects are normally limited to a +/-2 or trivial effects of similar potency. That could be applied to armor class, saves, skill checks, attacks and damage, or even as direct damage however. For example, one might sprinkle mold over a handful of stores to affect the food produced by a kitchen, causing everyone who eats it to suffer penalties.
  • The Rule Of Three: No matter the number of rituals enacted, no given target may be affected by more than three sympathetic effects in any one day. Beyond that, there are too many competing temporary links for any sympathetic mage to direct effects to the proper target.
  • The Patronus Rule: Long-term sympathetic effects are maintained by the user’s power. They cannot endure past the caster’s death or the point at which the caster reclaims his or her Mana – although the caster may voluntarily refuse to do so to maintain an effect, although this is still limited by the Synodic Rule, below.
  • The Synodic Rule: Unless a Võlur willingly dies to cast a spell (not so rare as you might think, many a sick or elderly Võlur has given up his or her last few days to provide a permanent blessing for his or her loved ones – or a permanent curse for some truly hated foe) the maximum duration of any sympathetic working is one Synodic Month. After that time, the mana invested in maintaining the effect is freed, and will be regained by the caster normally.
  • The Rule of Resistance. If you directly affect someone with a malevolent sympathetic effect they get a will save to negate the effect at DC (13 + Mana Spent + Users Wisdom Modifier). Targeting someones equipment or something they’re carrying adds +4 to the DC. Environmental modifications do not permit a saving throw.

The wealthy and powerful are obvious targets for Sympathetic Magic. Unfortunately, most of them will employ sympathetic mages of their own, both to maintain beneficial spells on them and their immediate households (which incidentally protects them against hostile spells) and to trace the origin of sympathetic attacks. Ergo, using sympathetic magic against important folk needs to be either subtle or indirect or carefully timed to slip in to the gaps between when their current spells go down due to the Synodic Rule and when they can be re-established.

To actually build the 36 available character points worth of this ability take…

  • 3d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized for Increased Effect (Sympathetic Magic, as above) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (12 CP). This may be taken a second time.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only to refill the magic pool above, requires at least one hour per die (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Detect Sympathetic Effects. This allows the user to determine the nature of any sympathetic effects currently affecting someone – and to get a good deal of information about the user. This ability is anothe rmajor reason why the wealthy and powerful often employ their own Võlur.

A Võlur is actually the party enhancement specialist. Sketch a scene of the party as amazing heroes cutting their way through a host of enemies to victory, pour three Mana into it (2 for an Indirect Effect and 1 for affecting a small group) and give everyone in the party a +2 to Attacks and Damage until you opt to regain that mana or the synodic rule kicks in. They can pull off some useful tricks in direct battle as well – snapping a group of opponents bowstrings, or trying to trip a group of enemies or some such – but the Rule Of One is very limiting in such cases.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: A Võlur should probably have a reasonable Wisdom, but attributes aren’t actually that important to their magic – leaving them free to focus on some secondary role.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Accursed [Suspicious Person. Võlur can offer gifts. They can also strike against you in secret, in ways that are difficult to detect. Whenever things go wrong, the local Võlur will be under suspicion almost automatically], History [every Võlur should have at least a short list of things they’ve done to help or harm to provide some plothooks], and Accursed [While the Almighty may or may not have a problem with Võlur – after all, he’s the one who made that power available – Clerics tend to disdain Võlur on the theory that meddling with reality should be let to God]) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Unlike being a Friar or a Bombardier, being a Võlur doesn’t require any major commitment.

Basic Items (24 CP):

  • BAB +1 (6 CP). It’s a rare adventuresome Võlur who hasn’t practiced a bit.
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1D6, 4 CP) + (Con Mod). Võlur aren’t front-line fighters, but they deal with enough upset neighbors to be reasonably competent at defending themselves.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP). Pretty much the minimum for anyone who’s going adventuring and who isn’t otherwise inhibited somehow. Most likely from militia training.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Will (6 CP). Imposing your will on the universe is good training for resisting anything else imposing on you.
  • Skill Points: 2 SP (2 CP) (But see below).

Other Abilities (46 CP):

  • Võlur abilities (As above); 18 CP (Most often Mana and Recovery for PC’s).
  • Upgrade Human Fast Learner to +2 SP/Level (3 CP).
  • Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP).
  • Adept x 2 (12 CP). This allows a Võlur to keep eight skills maxed out before any intelligence-based or purchased skill points come into play. While they will probably want one or two to be in crafts or performance skills with which to make models, perform pantomime, or draw pictures, this gives them quite a few
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (1 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded past 3/-.
  • One Bonus Feat. For combative types, there are some good tricks available with things like Augmented Attack, Trick, or Enhanced Strike. More Mana can make for a decent group-enhancement specialist while still leaving some room for direct tricks.

The Võlur’s magic can be surprisingly effective if used cleverly – but a Võlur is basically a Trickster Mage, rather like the Bard and various magical rogue builds in most d20 settings. Of course, in a Dark Ages setting… a Võlur is reasonably powerful and is about the most vesatile mage to be found.

Personally, I find that the most attractive feature of this sort of magic is that the player needs to be clever. They not only have to think of something useful to do with their very limited powers but they have to come up with a little ritual to make it happen. That can bring in a lot of creativity to replace the usual “I cast Spell 17b”…

Medieval Dark Ages Classes – The Bombardier:

Is not the scent of brimstone and the infernal choking smoke enough of a sign? There are devils in gunpowder. They make it explode in hellish flame. The horrible wounds that such cursed weapons inflict tend to fester and rot (although washing them clean with pure holy water sometimes helps) – a sure sign that firearms are full of wickedness! A bishop tested once – simple leaden musket balls fired from ordinary muskets versus balls of blessed silver with a cross carved into them fired from blessed muskets. The profane lead was far more accurate, inflicted more damage, and consistently outranged the silver that had been cleansed of hellish influences. And if those tests were not proof enough… the dark power of firearms and bombs will easily injure monsters that are near-impervious to mundane weapons. Only the greatest of holy weapons can match their destructive power. The foolish few who dare to risk their very souls dabbling in the use of Gunpowder, Explosives, and Firearms are greatly feared.

Liber Ignium, the Book Of Fires:

As a field of Natural Magic, the use of Firearms and Explosives is based on the Witchcraft system.

Journeyman Bombadier: Witchcraft II (12 CP) with +6d6 Power (Powder?) (Specialized / only for use with Gunpowder Weaponry, 6 CP).

A Journeyman Bombardier gets (Str + Con + Dex) / 3 +6d6 Power and three Witchcraft Abilities – two fixed and one chosen.

  • Gunpowder Mastery – Infliction, Variant (uses a ranged attack check instead of a saving throw), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (120′ Range, uses d6 for damage, increases limits by +1 die per category – so a maximum of 4/6/10 dice for 1/2/3 points) / requires the use of a pistol/longarm/light cannon or rocket at base, or a grenade/petard/powderkeg or rocket to get the area effect, effects are extremely noisy, fiery, and smoky, “force” or “fire” damage only, may frighten the parties horses or other animals, costs +1 power in rainy or otherwise wet conditions.
  • Sharpshooter – Hand Of Shadows – Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Enhanced Aim only. Normally, given the vagaries of early gunpowder, the fouling of the barrel, using smaller balls than barrels so that they bounce around when fired, and imprecise early manufacturing techniques, early firearms are horribly inaccurate. With this power a Bombardier negates that problem automatically and may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with Infliction to either gain a +5 bonus to Hit with that shot or to attempt some absurd trick shot without penalty.
  • Plus any one of the following knacks:
    • Cauterizing Charge – Healing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may cleanse an infected wound or stop bleeding automatically, as a move action, at the cost of doing 1d3 Fire damage to the target. This costs no power but the user cannot use other Healing abilites.
    • Demolitions – Dreamfaring, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user’s Infliction effects cause double damage versus objects and bypass hardness. This is a continuous effect with no cost, but the user cannot use other Dreamfaring abilities.
    • Demon’s Breath – Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to turn the smoke from bits of powder into a great cloud of choking, nigh-impenetrable smoke. The user may create such a cloud as a free action or as part of discharging a firearm up to seven times per day for free, each additional 3 uses costs 1 Power. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Shadowweave abilities.
    • Devils Glance – The Inner Eye, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Observe enough men in battle, stressed and tempered by the flames and thunder of the guns, and you will soon come to see the flaws their eyes reveal. The user may make a perception check (opposed by the targets ability to bluff) to see a targets personality flaws – if someone is corrupt, has committed grievous crimes, is open to bribery, is treacherous, lies routinely, is overly lecherous, or suffers from similar personal troubles.
    • Festering Evil – Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may, on a hit with a gunpowder weapon, roll 1d5: 1-2) The wound is clean, and will heal normally. 3-4) The wound will fester and rot, unless heroic efforts are made, 5) the wound will bleed for an additional 1d6 damage per round until stanched. 6) Shock. The wound acts as Bestow Curse until treated.
    • Greek Fire – Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with a gunpowder weapon to cause the target hit to be set on fire. Area effect weapons also add +2d6 Fire Damage when this option is used. Unfortunately, the user may not employ any other Witchfire abilities.
    • Hellfire Gaze – Glamour, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Wielding Hells Fires has it’s side effects. The user gains a +6 bonus to Intimidation checks at no cost and – if holding a gunpowder weapon – may expend 2 power to generate a Command effect against a group of up to six individuals. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Glamour abilities.
    • Leathered Toughness – Hyloka, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user permanently gains Energy Resistance 5 against Fire and Gunpowder-generated Force effects at no cost, but can use no other Hyloka abilities.
    • My Guns They Comfort Me – The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user is automatically immune to Intimidation and other Fear effects so long as he or she possesses a gunpowder weapon but can use no other Adamant Will abilities.
    • Piercing Eye – Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may readily see through smoke and fog, suffering no penalties for such conditions but can use no other Witchsight abilities.

The three further possible expansions of the Bombardiers abilities include:

  • Alchemical Compounding: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the users Gunpowder Weaponry power pool, above, (6 CP).
  • Master Bombardier (Witchcraft III): Adds four additional Bombardier knacks (+6 CP).
  • Sulfurous Deviltry (The Secret Order): Requires Master Bombardier. Adds the remaining five Bombardier Knacks and +4 Power (+6 CP). A master of Sulfurous Deviltry has sworn himself or herself to the powers of flame and metal, and can no longer be Inspired by the Clergy, but is not necessarily an enemy of the faith. They’re just straddling the line.

Bombardiers may take Witchcraft Pacts to reduce the costs of their abilities – but all such pacts are with demonic powers. A Bombardier with any Pact counts as an enemy of the Christian Faith, and – as rule – their selection is limited to Missions, Spirit, Taboos, Rituals, Essence, Souls, Gateway, Corruption, Possession, Spell Failure (Christian Clergymen), Madness, and Susceptibility (Holy Objects and Places). Taking such pacts is rarely a very good idea.

The Build:

The Bombardier commands the most directly destructive battle magic to be found in the setting – the power of black powder and iron. There is literally nothing else of the mortal world that can match the destruction wrought by a high level Bombardier with a cannon short of a the great acts of nature – volcanic eruptions, great earthquakes and landslides, and the greatest strikes of mighty storms. To be a Bombardier is in itself an act of hubris, betting your very soul that you can bend the fires of hell to your will without being taken by them – and many Bombardiers lose that bet.

Basic Attributes: A Bombardier will want Dexterity first and – probably – Constitution second. Other attributes are of considerably less importance.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Dependent (Unless they regularly restock their supplies of lead, saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal, and any destroyed alchemical apparatus Bombardiers suffer a -12 penalty to their daily Pow(d)er allotment), Irreverent, and one disadvantage of choice) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Basic Items (40 CP):

  • BAB: +0 (0 CP), +3 Specialized and Corrupted / only with Gunpowder Weapons (6 CP).
  • Hit Points: 12 (Level One 3d4, 16 CP) + (3 x Con Mod). This also gets them up to Level Three as far as Witchcraft use is concerned – making their pistols quite powerful even at level one.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP). Since their firearms are actually a branch of natural magic, no proficiency is required to use them.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: (Int Mod + 2) x 4 + 6 (6 CP).

Other Abilities (20 CP):

  • Journeyman Bombardier Package (30 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II (6 CP): +4 to Initiative. A Bombardiers basic strategy is pretty much always “shoot – or at least intimidate – them before they close”, and going first is pretty fundamental to that.
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be further upgraded.
  • One bonus Feat or Feat-Equivalent of Choice (6 CP).

The Bombardier is pretty much a Warlock – a wielder of dangerous, highly-damaging, and very likely unholy magics that are principally useful in battle. Their damage isn’t especially enormous compared to a high-strength melee specialist with a big weapon or an focused archer, but it’s generally enough, they’ve got reasonable range, and they can bypass a lot of defenses – including a good bit of armor class. Overall, they have an important role to play in Dark Ages party.

Can non-Bombardiers try to use firearms? Why of course! That’s where all those one-handed, or one-eyed, or badly scarred and permanently limping, or powder-tattooed people come from. Meddling with magic when you don’t have the skill rarely works out well, although occasionally someone gets away with it for a bit.

Oh, as a note… I have seen references stating that some bishop or other actually did conduct that test. Given that the results actually make some sense – there are numerous problems with using silver bullets and carving crosses on them will only make the aerodynamics even worse – who knows? Someone might have really tried it. Early bullet or ball wounds are also a lot worse than arrow wounds when it comes to infection. Cleanly cut tissue versus smashed with bits of wadding, cloth, armor chips, and whatever the target was wearing carried into the wound? Which one seems more prone to infection to you?

Magic Versus Technology In The Modern World

Today it’s another offline question – basically “how do you maintain some sort of balance when you want to throw your favorite magical creatures of choice (Aesir, Noldor, Dragons, My Little Ponies, Genies, whatever) into a modern earth setting?”

Now, you can just arbitrarily decree such a balance if you want. That’s a bit unsatisfying though, and tends to leave all kinds of inconsistencies lying about – which isn’t good for your setting, game, or story. So lets talk about the basis of Magic/Psionics/Whatever-You-Call-Your-Settings-Reality-Altering-Power(s) for a moment.

  • Is it a fundamental property? Because if it is, and yet projected magical fields (“spells”, “disciplines”, or whatever) can have complex interactive effects, those fields have to have a lot of structure to them and carry a lot of information. How much structure or information you can have is related to the variety and number of components you have. That’s why the structure of gravitational fields tend to be fairly simple in comparison to the structure of electromagnetic fields. For complex interactive spell structures… you’ll want at least two values in both positive and negative flavors. Call them “A” and “B”. So scientists – even if they can’t measure, detect, or work with “magic” – will be seeing nine kinds of electrons (A+B+, A+B0, A+B-, A0B+, A0B0, A0B-, A-B+, A-B0, A-B-) with their own exotic interactions – and pretty much every bit of physics, engineering, and biology will be completely different building up from the atomic level. Worse, particles with “A0B0” won’t interact with magic at all, while anything with an “A0” OR a “B0” value will do so only partially. All those classical transformations and such… will simply scramble matter, resulting in instant death.

OK, so it’s an emergent property associated with some level of complexity. That allows us to keep atoms and the periodic table and a lot of basic physics intact.

But if magic is an emergent property, then it won’t interact with things below the necessary level of complexity – so magic will not directly affect gravity, electromagnetism, plasmas (“fire”), electricity (“lightning”), or radiation, among many other things. Spells affecting such things will have to be complex, inefficient, and indirect. Complex materials will respond to magic in various ways. Some will be anti-magical (Iron perhaps?), some will disrupt magic, some will respond to magic, and others will have magical properties – but if the complexity level required to use magic is high enough, that might be able to pass unnoticed for quite some time – possibly up to our current technological level. It will be very hard to justify the existence of immaterial magical spirits, who lack the underlying physical structural complexity to support the magic however. They’d have to be anchored in some sort of “heart” or talisman – which at least explains why ghosts tend to be bound to very limited areas.

  • Is magic simply highly advantageous, or is there some sort of limitation or “price” for using it? Because if it’s highly advantageous, it’s not going to be a secret for long. The magic using variant will rapidly spread through the population (of humans – or of magic-using animals, plants, or fungi) and the non-magic using segment of the species population will soon be reduced to isolated, relic, and soon-to-be-extinct clusters. There have been millions of years for that to happen in. Yet if the world looks like ours, then it hasn’t happened in all that time. Ergo… magic is either not worth bothering with (which makes it a lousy game or story element) or there is indeed some sort of major, unavoidable, price or prices for using it. Something bad enough to more than cancel out whatever advantages it offers, leaving magic use as a rare, recessive, trait. Reduced fertility (perhaps it burns out the souls of your potential children so that most can never be born…)? Massive childhood mortality due to magical diseases and immaterial predatory menaces that don’t affect non-magical creatures? Huge biological opportunity cost (leaving all magic-using things stunted, weak, and sickly compared to non-magical ones)? Drastically limited habitat (perhaps they can only survive at rare springs of magic)? Magical backlash (using magic does hideous things to you)? Karmic Backlash (using magic causes horribly bad luck, so magical creatures get killed a lot?). Perhaps using magic causes you to be sucked into dimensions of elder horrors?

We can reduce the problem by adding special requirements to the use of magic – but each requirement also restricts our options. Does manipulating it require a complex biological or technological mechanism? Forget “natural” or “environmental” magic such as Ley Lines, Magical Pools, and so on. Conscious Thought? Forget magical plants and animals. “Life Force” or a “Soul”? Forget most magical artifacts, wands, and similar. Special foci or power sources? Then no magic when those aren’t available – unless there are possible substitutes.

  • Finally, of course, even limited magic will have had immense social effects – leaving the world looking very different – unless something is keeping it a secret. Sadly, while “Witch Hunts” are a popular excuse, they really won’t do. After all, in reality, there are (and have been) swarms of practicing psychics, astrologers, dowsers, witches, shamen, alchemists, spiritualists, and other figures claiming supernatural powers who have done just fine. If they can get away with that while having no actual powers to sell or to defend themselves with (save, perhaps, force of personality, suggestion, and intimidation) why can’t people who actually have magical powers manage it too? While there were some classical “witch hunts” (if far fewer than in popular legend), they were mostly directed at powerless social outcasts. Going after targets with actual political, financial, or military power didn’t work so well outside of a few cases of kings and such (who had plenty of military and political power of their own already) using “witch hunts” as an excuse to loot a group – and there’s no reason to think that going after people who actually had magical powers would work any better.

So you’re going to need a much better reason than THAT. All kinds of other obscure phenomena have been documented and examined. Perhaps magical resources are limited, and there are not enough to share? Does having magic vastly penalize all social interactions for some reason? Secrecy (the classic meaning of “occult” is simply “hidden”) empowers magic, so revealing its reality weakens it or causes it to vanish entirely or restructure itself? The eldritch beings who provide the power (or magic itself) demands it? If too many people in a region know about true magic, they start going mad and killing each other off? Does humanities racial mind recognize the perils of magic and cast a veil over it, refusing to let normal people become aware of it?

The magicians themselves do not actually have to know why they keep it a secret. There just has to be a reason why either magical societies that do not maintain secrecy get eliminated with 100% reliability – (which simple prosecution will not do) or why non-magical people are 100% unable to become aware of magic – which no reasonable mortal intervention can accomplish.

In any case… we’ve got our first set of restraints. If you want to cram some magic into a world which looks a lot like the (no apparent magic) real one…

  • It must be an emergent property associated with a very high level of structural complexity to maintain physics.
  • It must be limited enough to not be an overwhelming advantage, otherwise it would spread very rapidly through the population
  • It must be associated with a fairly high level of conscious thought, otherwise it would have grossly distorted the evolution of life.
  • It must be self-censoring, maintaining it’s own secrecy from the world.

This is the line of thought that – whether consciously reasoned out or not – leads to the “hidden magical world” or “urban arcana” sort of settings. Elves in racecars? Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Harry Potter? Charles De Lint? It’s an entire genre of fantasy.

The trouble is, that you then have to follow the rules. There won’t be an abrupt flowering of magic, rediscovered ancient atlantean techniques won’t result in a new golden age, and if there’s an “upswing in the availability of magic” like in Shadowrun, the cycle is going to have to be long enough to avoid interfering in evolutionary time (something Shadowrun casually skips by, but given the authors various other misunderstandings, why not?). You won’t have races of magical beings around – or dropping in either.

  • So what if the magic – or the magical beings or artifacts – are from another dimension and obey its rules, not ours? Or are encased in some sort of dimensional bubble? Can’t they at least affect themselves with their magic then?

The trouble there is that our universe is very limited. It’s quantized. That means that it’s only capable of interacting with stuff that exactly matches its quantum values and forces. That’s why Dark Matter – with the same quantum values but differing force-interactions – goes right through everything and only interacts via gravity.

If you want an “extra-dimensional” being to interact with anything in our universe, it has to have essentially identical physics of it’s own or to be adapted to match the local physics in the transfer – and if it’s adapted to the local physics… then what it can do in its own universe is no longer relevant. It has to play by the local rules.

And that’s why “magical visitors come to visit technological earth” stories are so often a mess, with one side or the other (usually the magical side) coming off as being grossly overpowered. It’s because the “technological earth” side is limited by what actually works and to what little “magic” can be worked in via Urban Fantasy – and the magical side has essentially been given divine authority to restructure the universe to accommodate it’s own powers. Worse, you can’t effectively balance that by letting humans learn to do it too. That just means that – in defiance of every observation and the fact that all that technological stuff still works – you’ve just let your humans start ignoring physics too. Humans have tried to work magic in all kinds of ways for thousands of years. Other races in the universe have presumably tried it in their own ways too. It has never worked very well or we would – at best – be citizens of the magical cosmic empire. Visitors cannot teach stuff that won’t work here. Visitors who are reliant on stuff that won’t work here will be in big trouble. They’ll probably die.

And that is the answer to the original question – about why “Magical Beings On Earth” stories tend to have a REALLY hard time balancing things. It’s because the magic used by such beings tends to be powerful, almost wholly advantageous, blatant, and so simple to use that there are simple, naturally-occurring, rocks with magical properties – as well as magical plants, bugs, and diseases.

If magic like that functions in a setting, it’s not going to look anything like the real world. It might, at BEST, look like the magical earth of Operation Chaos, where – in a fairly modern world – a special forces unit of a Werewolf and a Witch are fighting  a resurgent Islamic Caliphate which is attempting to unleash one of the Genies sealed by King Solomon as a superweapon.

So if you want to introduce your magical entities to a recognizable “earth” without leaving major plotholes, you either need to tone them down to the Urban Arcana level or to insert a reason why the rules of the universe are abruptly changing – which people WILL take advantage of to rapidly make your setting completely unrecognizable. Simply stating that “well, the magic was there, but people just weren’t using it for some reason” doesn’t really work if anyone thinks about it too much. You can get away with that in a novel fairly easily – the audience rarely spends all that much time considering “how things work” when they’re reading a fantasy novel – but it’s a lot harder to get away with that sort of thing in a game, where you’re going to have a bunch of clever players trying to figure things out and take advantage of them.

And I hope that helps!

Star Trek Relics in Eclipse

And for today it’s a couple of relics. Unfortunately, unlike most relics, a character needs to be able to use very high-level technology to create or use these – and will need proficiency in Informational Combat to use the Tricorders full abilities. Still, if you just happen to hail from a Star Trek universe, here are a couple of the most popular toys.

Phaser (15 CP / 2 Point Relic):

  • Innate Enchantment: Specialized and Corrupted / only 1750 GP (35,000 Credits or Purchase DC 31) to duplicate the functions of a particular technological item or set of interlinked items with a common theme. The Phaser (or Plasma Laser) is a combination of…
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Pistol With Heavy Stun (4500 CR).
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Rifle with Autofire Module (2250 CR).
    • Plasma Launcher : Minigrenade Launcher (2000 CR) with 20 Fireflush Grenades (24,000 CR).
    • Plasma (Fusion) Torch (120 CR).
    • 30 extra Power Packs (2100 CR)
      • Total: 34,970 Credits. All items from d20 Future rules.
  • With 1d6+2 (6) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only for edits related to the devices Innate Enchantment effects or to the device itself, maximum of major edits (9 CP).
    • Common Minor Edits (1 Mana): Device is recharged/reloaded, an attack on it turns into a stunning energy discharge in a 10′ radius, produce an effect that is almost reasonable for the device in question (using a plasma gun to heat a room, flash-weld a door closed, attack a small area or double the damage or an area effect, hit automatically, or run a steam engine for some time).
    • Common Notable Edits (2 Mana): Device affects a small area rather than an individual target or a greater than usual area, device can be repaired as a standard action, produce an effect which is only remotely possible for the device in question (using a plasma gun to blast a sizeable area, create a wall of fire, hit and crit automatically, disrupt electrical apparatus rather than doing damage.
    • Common Major Edits (3 Mana): Make a plasma gun shoot cold, completely ignore range limitations, fire an overload blast for triple damage, carve out a tunnel, use the gadget to power up other systems, get things to work where they have no business doing so (for example, using a plasma beam under water).
      • Note that, if the device user is also using reality-editing technobabble, the effects are cumulative. Just sum up the total effective mana expenditure to determine the level of the edit.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to recharge the Mana Pool above, takes several minutes of tinkering, requires a roll? (4 CP).

A phaser isn’t one of the most powerful weapons out there – but it can keep firing almost indefinitely, has a “stun” setting for when you don’t want to kill people, and can be used for all kinds of tricks as well as just shooting people. So why do most minions just flash and vanish when shot with a phaser set to “kill”? It’s because they’re MINIONS, and – in a Sci-Fi universe – generally only have a few hit points. That’s why pretty much ANYTHING kills them.

Tricorder (8 CP / 1 CP Relic):

The universal instrument pack would probably be best written as “Privilege: user gets to be the one to relay the plot-relevant information to the group after the game master has decided what he wants the party to know” – but most players would prefer a gadget that actually has some worthwhile effect. For them, we have the Classic Tricorder.

  • Sensor Suite: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (level zero and weak level one effects) / Only for Divinations, requires at least one full round spent fiddling around with the gadget (6 CP).
    • Such effects include Detect (Magic, Psionics, Poison, Disease, Life, Time, Location, Dimensional Disturbances, Metal, Ores, Radiation, Secret Doors, Snares And Pits, Nutritional Value, Undead, Electrical Activity, Bugs, and so on), Find (Fish, Game, Forage, Campsite, Water, Oil, Gold, Personal Items), Know (Diagnosis, Direction, Numbers, Age, Origin, Creature Classification, Plant Classification, Immediate Past, Weather), Assay (Purity, Creature, Plant), and speeding up a search (Sift).
  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only 500 GP Value (2 CP).
  • “Card Computer”: Small PC with various programs. 175 GP.
    • Holorecorder (5 GP).
    • Motion Sensor (20 GP)
    • Piercing Visor (25 GP).
    • Power Backpack (4 GP). (for powering the “detailed scan” below).
    • “Detailed Scan” / “Disintegrator” (250 GP). 3d8 Nonspecific Energy Damage, 30′ Base Range, Crit 20/x2. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Informational Combat Weapon. “Damage” is tracked separately. As it is inflicted, the user gets more and more information about the target. If the target is “killed” the user’s information is reasonably complete. If the user reduces a target to (-hit points) via informational damage he or she is entitled to use technobabble to explain it’s weaknesses and how it can be exploited – and have such explanations often turn out to be correct, even if they weren’t at all correct before / does no actual damage, exposes the user to informational feedback (a free counter-attack from the target) against his or her own hit points / “informational integrity” which can induce a variety of mental and physical problems, ranging up to incapacitation if the user’s informational damage total exceeds his or her hit points.

The Tricorder can detect all sorts of things – but at relatively short range and it often takes a good deal of time to “decipher what the readings mean”. Things can get much stranger if the user actually knows Informational Combat however, since with that… he or she can technobabble whatever is being scanned into complying with his or her ideas of how the universe is supposed to work. That’s why a skilled sensor operator can find a weakness in the enemy shields, or a way to bypass Borg immunities, or or a crack in the event horizon. They’re basically bludgeoning the universe into going along with their version of the “observer effect” and being the way they want it to be. (Unless, of course, the universe wins the informational battle and gets it;s own way). More mundanely… a Tricorder is a high-quality personal computer which can generate maps, spot hidden creatures, and record in various modes. It also has unspecified data libraries (a complete copy of Wikipedia perhaps?), which can be used to try and get back to the world that ought to be, if only Spock can collect enough stone knives and bearskins.

Eclipse d20 – The Djinni Childe Build

The desert is a hard land. Despite the occasional oasis, it can support only a few wandering nomads and tiny towns clustered around the few larger sources of water – at least until magic comes into play. A few Perpetual Fountains and other city conveniences make it possible to live there – but are both expensive and hideously vulnerable. If someone holds a cities water or food sources hostage… the population often has noplace else go. And so, among the widely-scattered cities, the Compact has grown up. Tradition and Honor. Duel-wars are fought on terms, well outside the cities, with less than a dozen adventurers on each side. The soaring cities are sacrosanct. To strike at the wellsprings of their life is the worst of crimes, a dishonor for generations to come. Those few who seek power in such a manner well-earn the title of “Evil” even if they do not always start as Grand Viziers.

The cities are isolated. Within the deserts crystal outcroppings drink the sun and burn with eldritch power. Magics that attempt to reach across the wastes are warped and distorted. And so the cities are isolated. Teleportation, Gates, Conjurations, the powers of the Gods that reign elsewhere, and even simple messaging spells… fail. No libraries of spells or markets of magic are to be found.

Adventurers and the occasional nomad or trader traverse the desolate wastes between the cities, finding in them purification and a forge for souls, a path that sharpens their powers and skills beyond even the cities elites. There, where the elemental powers of the world sweep unhindered across the land, one can learn to control those powers – or one can fall to them, becoming a ravening elemental force and a peril to others.

So we have an “Arabian Knights” setting – fantastic cities of sparkling towers rising over bustling slums, surrounded by narrow belts of farmlands and deadly deserts. With each city so isolated – and generally small – a vague worship of distant, uninvolved, deities may occur, but lesser local spirits serve the role of gods and magical lore is scarce – making spontaneous casters, Sha’ir, and similar types dominant. In these desolate lands skillful rogues, lesser mystics, and empowered warriors do the adventuring. Practically all of them will be human.

Those who commune with the spirits of the land are especially respected. When a sandstorm engulfs your caravan, or your route becomes impassible… A guide who can moderate that storm or find you another path is far more valuable than a mighty warrior, an evoker of vast destructive powers, or spellcasters with impractical specialities.

Basic Attributes: Charisma is a Djinn Childe’s most important attribute, Intelligence is next – while Strength is rarely all that useful to them.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages) +6 (Level One Feat and Human Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

The Basics (34 CP)

  • BAB (Warcraft): +0 (0 CP). At least to start with we’re looking at a primary mystic here; BAB – is not going to be a major focus.
  • Hit Points: d6 (2 CP). While anyone wandering the desert is going to be a bit tougher than your standard commoner, Djinni Childe aren’t combat specialists, even if the may well have some damaging effects.
  • Proficiencies: Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Shields (Corrupted / small and/or light shields only, 2 CP). While armor is an oven in the desert, any traveler will soon pick up the basics of some weapons-work, if only because their fellow travelers will insist on it.
  • Saves: Fortitude +2 (6 CP). Those who wander the deep desert seeking enlightenment are either tough and enduring or dead.
  • Skills: +(3 CP) to upgrade Human Fast Learner to +2 SP/Level, +(6 CP) from Disadvantages to buy Fast Learner/Specialized in Skills at Level(-2), Adept x 2 (Usually five Perform skills, Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (History), and Diplomacy, but there is some variance, 12 CP), +2 SP (2 CP) = 18 SP plus (Int Mod x 4). Sixteen of those will go into maxing out their Adept skills.

Other Abilities (36 CP):

  • Mystic Artist, Spirit Speaker Variant, x4 (24 CP).

This variant replaces many basic (Inspiration, Manipulation, and Synergy) abilities with elemental manipulations. Mystic Artist (Oratory) gets Sun and Minor Divination powers. (Dance) gets Sand and minor Transformation powers, (Singing) gets Wind and minor Movement powers, (Percussion) gets Water and minor Illusion powers. (Strings) gets Wood and minor Animation powers, and (Wind) gets Spirit and minor sonic powers. (Act) has no known associations while (Keyboard) appears to be related to Life, Death, and – for some reason – minor powers over space-time (it’s mostly used by space travelers). Corrupted for increased effect: second and later selections only get half the usual number of uses, but all uses are pooled between modes. For an example, Sun might include brilliantly illuminating a radius – dispelling darkness, damaging undead, and dazzling light-sensitive creatures – but by default it will be an ongoing, low-damage effect even against the undead, not a sudden blast. Spirit Speaker effects tend to helpfully adjust the environment, and only secondarily directly attack.

  • Echoes, Specialized / only to give abilities a three-minute duration after they’re dropped (3 CP). Note that Mystic Artist upgrades normally only apply to a specific Mystic Artist skill – so this will force the Djinni Childe to choose a speciality at level one.
  • Ritual Magic, Specialized / only to work minor rituals associated with their knowledge skills (3 CP). Thus someone with Knowledge (History) can use minor rituals to date artifacts, sense psychic impressions, and restore ancient inscriptions, while a user with Knowledge (Nobility) can use minor rituals to create genealogical charts, administer mystic oaths, and make their wardrobe and manners suitable for a foreign court. Knowledge (Religion) suffices for reading auguries, making proper offerings, detecting “evil” and “curses”, and conducting funerals.
  • 1d6 Mana with Reality Editing, plus Rite Of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to modestly extend elemental effects produced by Mystic Artist or recharge the pool used for that (6 CP). This is primarily an excuse for being able to pull off minor stunts with their abilities. Have they got the ability to whip up whirlwinds of sand which grant their friends a bonus on Armor Class, Attacks, and Damage (an elemental variant on the Inspiration/Emotion ability)? This would let them gather sand into a heap or sheltering wall, dig through it, or calm a sandstorm in the appropriate radius.

Further Advancement: Most Djinni Childe are, like Bards, support types – and so they lean towards Bonus Uses and Upgrades to their Mystic Artist abilities, Healing Touch, Connections Favors, Action Hero / Influence, Augmented Bonus (Adds Int Mod to Cha Mod for skill purposes). In combat, they generally resemble Rogues or Factotums – focusing on sudden strikes if they MUST get into melee.

There are a lot of other ways to create elementalists – even performing elementalists – in Eclipse. Another suggested build used Rune Magic requiring a perform check to make things work – but Mystic Artist seemed like nice gateway to an intermediate-level mystic package. Even better, this setup leaves later levels pretty much freeform; yes, you will need to devote an occasional 6 CP to mystic artist upgrades, but the skills and base number of uses will increase automatically, even with no further purchases.

Beragrave The Fallen, Eclipse D20 Sniper-Assassin

He meant well. A dying wife, a sickly child, and none to help him. An old story, played out again and again. Unlike most, however, Beragrave would indeed do ANYTHING to help them. Anything at all.

And a power took note of that, and answered. The power to craft Charms and Talismans of black magic was a small, small, gift – but the seed of corruption easily took root in Beragrave’s flawed heart.

A Bloody Bowl saw to his families health. What matter it if a passing street urchin or two was sacrificed for that? They were doomed anyway, and their lives purchased the time his family needed for a natural recovery.

A Horned Amulet let him support his family in better style. It came at the expense of those about him, but they had not aided him when his family needed help, and so Beragrave paid no heed to the increased burdens he was inflicting upon them.

A Blood Spider and some Necromantic Elixir did in a few travelers – and left Beragrave and his family surprisingly well-off.

By the time his son moved out to start his own family – he and his mother still ignorant of Beragrave’s multitudinous sins – Beragrave had committed hundreds of dark crimes in exchange for additional powers, and served his demonic master with dedication.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages; Accursed, Secret, ) +2/Level (Duties; making black magic charms and talismans available and encouraging evil) +1/Level (Restrictions: May not willingly accept the services of good clerics or paladins) +12 (L1 and Human Bonus Feats) = 73 CP.

Basic Attributes: Str 12, Dex 14 (+2 Human = 16), Con 14, Int 14, Wis 10, and Cha 13 (Pathfinder 20 Point Buy).

The Basics (29 CP)

  • Warcraft +2, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only for Missile Attacks, only for his Spirit Weapon (4 CP).
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1d8, 4 CP) +2 (Con Mod) +15 (Bear Cloak) = 25. By the time his “adventuring” career started, Beragrave had been in more than a few fights. Tending bar will lead to that.
  • Proficiency with Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Composite Bows (3 CP).
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +4 (Shimmermail) +3 (Dex) = 17
  • Initiative: +3 (Dex).
  • Save Bonuses: Will +2 (6 CP). Net Save Bonuses: Reflex +3, Will +2, Fortitude +2.
  • Skill Points: 6 (Purchased, 6 CP) +8 (Upgraded Human Fast Learner, 3 CP) +8 (Int) = 22.

Special Abilities (44 CP):

  • Seed Of Darkness: Equipage with Purchasing, Specialized and Corrupted / only to obtain charms and talismans (especially those of black magic), poisons, torture implements, unholy water, smoke bombs, and similar evil supplies (4 CP). This small ability allows Beragrave to simply “buy” small items on the spot. If a whim strikes him to poison someome, or pour acid into a prisoners eyes, or gift some child with a bit of black magic. he can indulge that whim on a moments notice.
  • Bane Of Heroes: Ranged Spirit Weapon (Composite Longbow, 1d8, 20/x3, 110′ Range Increment, 9 CP), Inflicts Nonmagical Fire Damage (+0 CP), two attacks each round are Touch Attacks (+12 CP), Exotic Appearance (Infernal Hellfire, +3 CP), Switch x2 (Stun and Unholy Damage, 6 CP), Augment Attack (Silencing, +6 CP), Augment Attack (Dirty Trick Master, 1d4+1 Rounds, +12 CP), Augment Attack (+1d8 Damage with Spirit Weapon, 8 CP) – all Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost: Must ritually sacrifice an innocent intelligent being at least once per week, must regularly undertake missions for his demonic masters, and must gratatiously spread evil and corruption. If he does not do so, this power will soon start to fail. Failing for several weeks in a row will negate this power until he Atones (see the Atonement spell) for his failures (19 CP).
    • At the moment, Beragrave’s infernal blast is a +6/+6 (+2 BAB +3 Dex +3 Martial Art -2 Multishot) ranged touch attack with a 110′ range increment that inflicts (2d8 + 2 ((Str Mod)) fire, stun, or unholy damage, Crits on a 20 for an extra 1d8. A hit also silences the victim and inflicts a Dirty Trick effect for 1d4+1 rounds. He can upgrade this in a wide variety of ways, just like any other archer.
  • Demonic Tutelage: Adept (6 CP): Bow Martial Art, Diplomacy, Disguise, and Stealth.
  • Embracing The Darkness: Shaping, Corrupted and Specialized for increased (level one and possibly weak level two) effects/can only produce the effects for which the user has the appropriate foci ready, can only support a limited number (seven and three) of minor charms and more notable talismans at one time, they take some time to attune for use, at least three Charms and two Talismans must be Black Magic (6 CP).
  • Stolen Years: Immunity / Aging (Uncommon, Severe. Minor, 4 CP). Beragrave has already earned several extra centuries of life. Who knows what having that much time
  • Track (Urban) (3 CP)
  • A Sigil of Dark Fortune (1 CP): See Eclipse II. A minor Relic that allows one to either reroll or “take 20” in advance up to 12 times – but which can only be recharged though ritual murder.
  • Calling On The Dark Lord: Specific Knowledge: Ritual Of Consulting His Demonic Master (1 CP). This isn’t strictly necessary – presumably they can get in touch with HIM – but it can be convenient.

Charms and Talismans:

  • Personal Charms: Horned Amulet (Black Magic), Serpents Tongue (Black Magic), Wraith Guantlets (Black Magic Undead Version), Vanishing Cloak, Phylactory Of Whispering Shadows, Merasian Vapors, Hidden Pocket (to hide his minor supplies).
  • Personal Talismans: Bloody Bowl (Blask Magic), Black Bear Spirit Cloak (+15 HP), Shimmermail (Demonhide Version).
  • General Charms: As needed.
  • General Talismans: As needed.

Skills (22 SP):

  • Bow Martial Art: +4 (2* SP) +3 (Dex) = +7. +3 Attack and Multishot.
  • Climb +2 (2 SP) +2 (Str) = +4
  • Disguise: +4 (2* SP) +1 (Cha) = +5 (+10 using Merasian Vapors).
  • Diplomacy: +4 (2* SP) +1 (Cha) = +5
  • Perception +4 (4 SP) +0 (Wis) = +4
  • Profession (Innkeeper / Slumlord): +4 (4 SP) +0 (Wis) = +4
  • Stealth: +4 (2* SP) +3 (Dex) = +7
  • Use Magic Device +4 (4 SP) +1 (Cha) = +5

Further Advancement:

Each Level gains 24 CP (Base) +2 CP (Duties) +1 (Restriction) = 27 CP and +4 SP (Int and Fast Learner).

  • (2 CP) Between Adept and buying +2 SP/Level he can add +1 to each of his skills each level.
  • (2 CP) Buying a d6 Hit Die each additional level.
  • (3 CP) +1 on a selected Saving Throw.
  • (2 CP) +1 BAB with Bane Of Heroes
  • (1 CP) +1 level of the Ranger Spellcasting Progression, Specialized for Reduced Cost / Spells are weekly, not daily (Int-Based, Prepare Ranger Spells From List).
  • (1 CP) +1 Level of the Ranger Spellcasting Progression, Specialized for Reduced Cost / Spells are weekly, not daily (Int-Based, Perpare Assassin Spells From List)
  • (2 CP) +1 Caster Level, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only for the Ranger Spellcasting Progression, blatant black magic, will not work on holy ground.

That gets him a reasonable set of skills, a reasonable number of hit points for someone who specializes in ranged strike-and-retreat, excellent attacks – touch attacks combined with a BAB of (Level + 1) and other bonuses should hit most of the time – and a pretty good selection of tracking, archery-boosting, stealth, and assassin-utility spells. It also leaves some 14 CP/Level to spend on other things. Spend some of those on…

  • Bane Of Heroes is his primary attack – and is Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost – so you can easily add more d8’s (2.67 CP Each), Archer-Style “Feats” (2 CP Each), additional Touch Attacks (2 CP each) once his BAB is high enough to support them, and various archer-style boosts. You’ll obvious want Imbuement (to give it magical boosts), possibly more types of damage, Far Shot, Enhanced Strike (Focuses), Double Damage (Versus Paladins perhaps?), Precise Shot, and similar benefits.
  • Stealth and General Combat boosts are also in order – Cloaking (6 CP) to conceal his dark powers, Reflex Training (Extra Actions Version) to allow swift escapes or extra strikes (6 CP), Awareness and Flankless (6 CP Each) to avoid sneak attacks and most precision damage, Augmented Bonus (to boost his hit points, 6, 12, or 18 CP), Defender (to raise his AC, 6 CP), Imbuement (Armor, 6+ CP), Opportunist (Hide In Plain Sight. 6 CP),

For miscellaneous purchases…

  • A few more Languages or skills never hurt anyone.
  • An Enhanced Demonic Familiar (12+ CP) can be very handy.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses (Specialized for Reduced Cost / Only to restore spell levels, 6 CP) will enable him to renew some spells given a few minutes out of combat.
  • Innate Enchantment (Hat Of Disguise (1800 GP), Amulet Of Tears (2300 GP), Healing Belt (750 GP), and 650 GP worth of necessary gear – perhaps an unholy symbol for his spellcasting (so that he doesn’t really need one), a spell component pouch if he needs one, and so on, Making some of his Black Magic Charms (10 GP) and Talismans (25 GP) into Innate Powers is a great way to keep them from being discovered. 6 CP). Alternatively, or in addition, a set of the convenient first-level archery boosters could be quite handy.
  • Leadership or Companion (6-12 CP). Beragrave is a family man, so when something happens to his wife – or if he’s just outlived her – he’s all too likely to marry a Hag, or a lesser Succubus, or something. He might also use this as a way to get a few disposable troops to keep a group from coming straight for him when he starts blasting them.
  • Returning (6 CP) – at least in the form of “mysteriously disappearing and reappearing later” – is probably a good trick for any villain that you want to have around for more than one fight scene.
  • Witchcraft: Even a few points invested here can provide access to The Adamant Will – preventing mind-reading and mind control – and a few other useful tricks.

For Items… He’s primarily going to want tools for infiltrating, burst damage, and escaping, A Cloak Of Mysterious Emergence (13,000 GP) is a WONDERFUL tool for escaping, if a bit pricey.

Beragrave is – in general – a long-range sniper-assassin. He pops up somewhere, starts blasting his target(s) (attempting to silence spellcasters and using dirty tricks to hinder everyone else) – and gets out if the opposition proves to have too much long-range firepower or is closing in on him. Being pretty optimized he can be a serious threat to good-guy characters. if only because “I’m getting my powers on the cheap because they rely on sacrificing lots of people to demons” is an approach that good-guy characters are often reluctant to take. After all, players are often reluctant to commit their characters to anything at all.

Skill Stunts And Epic Skill Stunts XII – Information Gathering

Gather Information, Profession (Detective), Investigation, Find Clue, Locate Plot Element, and Knowledge (Local) are all basically variants on “Find Out What’s Going On” with a side order of “find out or know about the area” thrown in – and have fewer supernormal uses than many other skills, simply because they’re already basically “the game master either just gives you information directly or points out some clues and helps you put the pieces together” – and there are few powers more convenient than THAT. At least one character found that taking “hyperdeduction” as his primary talent was rather more useful than “getting to be a full-grown dragon at no cost” or “being a gestalt character” (which were what some of the other players took). About the only thing that limited him was if he got too focused on a particular issue and forgot to ask about other items.

Fortunately, that player was fairly easily diverted – and character turnover in that game was quite high – because if you aren’t REALLY careful this can easily become the equivalent of a “tactics” still that the user can roll to automatically win fights.

In d20, investigations usually require 1d4+1 minutes (current headlines, stuff everyone is talking about), hours (old public news, juicy rumors, dull facts), days (stuff that people are intentionally hiding, such as confidential police reports, the location of criminal enterprises), or weeks (stuff that people are intentionally hiding and which were never widely known – secret weapon plans, the D-Day targets, plans for the Death Star). Costs escalate similarly. A silver piece for the current paper and a few minutes spent standing around looking at it and listening to the conversations around the newspaper booth will usually suffice for the current major news, but uncovering the D-Day targets before D-Day may costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars – and may still not work.

Other basic modifiers include:

  • Upping spending money or resources by one level gets a +10 on the check.
  • Calling in contacts or favors gets +0 to +10 on the check, depending on relevance.
  • Repeated attempts to gather information about anything past the current gossip may attract suspicion. The first retry while making sure to avoid suspicion is at -10, further retries are at -20.
  • Reducing the time by one level modifies the check by -10
  • Having other agents about provides the usual assistance bonues up to a maximum of +20.
  • Being extremely suspicious or wildly abnormal for the area (you’re a blatant dragon or a fire elemental in a human town) or notorious or something might get you small bonuses, but it’s much more likely to result in massive penalties.

Pathfinder folds Gather Information into Diplomacy – which isn’t entirely inappropriate, but also means that this list can reasonably be combined with the Social Skills list.

Sample Stunts For Information Gathering:

  • DC 10 (Normally no stunt required):
    • Locate Person: You can track down someone who is hiding in or moving through a populated area. If they are making active attempts to conceal themselves, this becomes an opposed check with a -15 penalty on the “location” side
    • Querulous Search: You are looking for available, but more-or-less difficult-to-find information about a specific topic or individual. This can range from the reasonably general and obvious (“is so-and-so in town for their concert already?) at no penalty on up through -5 (looking for a fence, supplier of illegal goods or services, or similar), -10 (looking for restricted information, such as military deployments or where specific people are), through -15 or more (information which others are taking deliberate efforts to conceal but which there are still plausible sources for – even if they aren’t supposed to tell anyone). Things like “where is the thieves guild?” – something that a fair number of locals have to know even if they’re afraid to talk about it – fit in here. Information which simply isn’t available in the area cannot be found this way. Looking for more details – blueprints instead of descriptions perhaps – causes yet more roll penalties.
    • The Local News: You get the local news, major items of gossip, rumors, and hot topics of the area. This very rarely attracts attention because much of it can be accomplished by standing near a local crier, buying a newspaper, or simply sitting in a public location and listening.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Locate Adventure: You can obtain likely-profitable adventure leads – whether it’s someone in need of couriers or smugglers, a hidden dark temple, rumors of some terrible monster, a sketchy map of an island that none dare explore, the location of a near-buried pyramid in the desert, an abandoned mages tower, guarding a caravan, or whatever. Sadly, a serious failure may lead you to a dead end. Sadly, the more profitable / higher-level you want the adventure to be, the larger the penalty on your check.
    • Profiling: You can build up a reasonable description of someone, including their appearance, their general abilities, their usual methods of operation, and their major personality traits, through reports of their (likely) doings.
    • Surveillance: You may set up a watch on someone or something, gaining a +10 bonus to rolls made to keep track of it and whatever it may get up to – while they suffer a -10 on any rolls made to spot the surveillance operation.
  • DC 20:
    • Consulting The Experts: You may identify items, creatures, and locations by consulting hobbyists, rumors, and experts. The salient features of mysterious artifacts, ancient ruins, bizarre creatures, and long-sealed powers can all be obtained in this fashion. Success includes a basic description, each additional +5 you make on the check provides an additional useful detail.
    • Fixer: You may support an Average lifestyle by spending one day a week putting people who need one thing or another in contact with people who can supply those things. Sadly, if you restrict yourself to brokering ethical services, this requires two days a week.
  • DC 25:
    • Blackmail I: Provided that you have no ethics, you may support yourself at an Average lifestyle by extorting money from others. Alternatively, you can attempt to obtain a minor favor, although making a habit of this is likely to result in backlash, up to and including attempts on your life.
    • The Delphi Method: If you want to find secret passages, ancient ruins, hidden caverns, long-hidden secrets, and mystic prophecies you may take the scholars route, consulting libraries and sages, you may go forth and physically search – or you can crowd-source it, consulting rumors, casual opinions, and random individuals, in confidence that – in a world of divination, prophets, meaningful dreams, telepathy, and magic… summing up those opinions is quite likely to tell you what you want to know. While this is at -15 compared to a similar physical search or to getting what you want through scholarship, that may well be smaller than the usual penalty for searching an immense area physically or prying into long-forgotten lore through scholarship.
    • The Serpent’s Tongue: You may spread rumors and false “truths” as readily as you collect them. In this way you can concoct slanders, libels, baseless accusations, and noxious rumors, spreading them through the population – causing them to believe that “there must be something to it”! Or “Where there’s Smoke, there’s Fire!”. You may thus spread a web of lies, as effective in entangling your victims socially as a spiders web might be physically. DC 40 it will soon become a popular meme with a fair number of believers, at DC 60 a widely credited whispering campaign sure to draw official notice, and at DC 100 a trigger for an official investigation / witch-hunt by the targets enemies.
  • DC 30:
    • Locate Resources: You may find dealers in rare, unusual, or illegal items, materials, and services. The DC will, however, increase with the rarity of what you’re looking for. Mercury is fairly easy, dimethylmercury is much harder, and anti-mercury is pretty much impossible. You may also find people with particular skill sets similarly. Do you need a specialist in a particular ancient culture? This ability will let you find one of one exists.
    • Riddlemaster: Riddles and tales thereof are a popular game, and tales of them are widespread. You may use Gather Information in place of an appropriate knowledge or specific skill to answer a riddle up to (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) times daily.
    • The Whole Picture: If you have access to the information derived from three or more successful Gather Information checks you may combine and cross-reference them. If you succeed, you may derive additional information from the original checks as if each was ten points higher than it was on the original roll.
  • DC 35:
    • Dark Whispers: You can hear the subtle voices of the dark powers – and not merely the common temptations to misbehave. You can hear the offers of demonic magic in exchange for sacrifices, the whispers of devils making offers on your soul, and the twisted spells and lore muttered by the elder things haunting the abyss beyond the stars. It is rarely wise to listen – but sometimes, if the situation is desperate enough… you may judge it better than the alternatives.
    • Glean The Remains: You may hear the voices of the past and the echoes of great events, whether from places or things. You might hear a part of a call for war, the final words of a murdered man, or the humble voice of a smith presenting his or her finest work to the mage who planned to add some great enchantment.
    • Thiefsign: You may read the subtle signs left by those who have come before – obtaining at a glance an excellent notion of the dangers and opportunities lurking in a house, along a trail, or in some similar situation, provided only that others have passed that way before.
  • DC 40:
    • Genre Awareness: You may survey a group or area, talking briefly to any people and soliciting random opinions on the items, to sort out which ones are relevant to upcoming plotlines. This will not, however, tell you why.
    • Incite Hostilities: You may spread rumors that will soon raise a lynch mob, rile up some witch hunters, or get a barroom brawl going, directing the hostilities at some group of targets. At DC 50 the mob you’ve raised becomes set on serious violence. At DC 60 it can spread to a moderately-sized group, such as a football crowd. At DC 75 you can spread the violence across a city – and probably become a high-ranking public enemy. At DC 100, you may include it’s suburbs and supporting settlements.
    • Whispers Of The Shades: You may now gather information from the dark realms, where the shades of the dead whisper in voices of dust. This is not the true afterlife, but even the shadows of the dead have some power. “Available Information” now includes items that are only known to the dead.
  • DC 50:
    • Blackmail II: Provided that you have no ethics, you may support yourself at a Wealthy lifestyle by extorting money from others. Alternatively, you can attempt to obtain a major favor, although this is likely to result in backlash, up to and including attempts on your life.
    • Rumored Reality: You can weave rumors so juicy, compelling, and plausible that they will begin to manifest as more and more people hear about them. While this requires a minimum of seven uses of this ability over the course of a month, at the end of that time your narrative will take its place in the world. Such creations are relatively minor – a haunt in an abandoned building, a rumored love affair, or some such. At DC 60 notable creations are possible – adding a shrine or altar in the woods or similar. At DC 75 major creations are possible, making a forest a cursed and dangerous place or adding a cult or other small adventure to an area. At DC 100 you may add lost dungeons, hidden mesas full of ancient beasts, and similar creations to the world.
    • Voices Of Gaia: Your ability to gather information now extends to the supernatural communities of nature spirits, fey, and djinn, and elementals. You may seek for information that is only known to such entities without penalty.
  • DC 60:
    • Cliche enforcement: Some scenes appear over and over again. They are the building blocks of greater tales. The bridge collapses, someone who should have died is captured, the portal closes in the nick of time… such narratives are their own imperatives, playing out again and again across space and time. With this stunt, if the game master agrees it’s appropriate, you may force such a vignette into reality, causing it to play out in the current scene. A selection of such tropes can be found under Stealing The Scene, and TVTropes more or less specializes in collecting them.
    • Gossipmonger: You may make up to (Cha Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Gather Information checks daily as free actions. You keep your ear to the ground so much that you’ve probably already heard about whatever-it-is!
    • Interview Shades: You may seek out and interview the shades of the dead, the sort of impressions probed by spells such as “Speak With Dead”. Shades know little emotion, speak mostly of the high points and great events of their lives, and are dry as dust – no more than the echoes of ancient lives – but they can sometimes provide important information.
  • DC 75:
    • Mythic Tale Gate: Tales have their own reality, gather together enough of their information and you will find them as real – or perhaps more truly real – than the material world. Places out of legend that the user and his or her friends can venture into and explore. While it tends to be fairly (to incredibly) difficult to derail the major plot of such realms, it is possible.
    • Poll the Multiverse: You can gather information from alternative timelines, whether or not such timelines every fully exist. Unfortunately, since they ARE alternative timelines, you can never quite tell if what you get matches your universe – so you get a spread of odds, and the finer the detail you’re looking for, the wider the spread. “Is this the work of a Vampire?” will probably return three or four probabilities, with one in the lead and one trailing. “What password are they using today?” is more likely to return dozens of possibilities, none of them very likely.
    • Voices Of The Divine: Your web of gossip extends to the realms of the gods themselves. You may use Commune, Legend Lore, and Contact Other Plane, once per week each.
  • DC 100:
    • Akhasic Echoes: Your gathering has progressed to the point where you can opt to simply experience a section of the past, spending an hour to effectively live through up to a weeks worth of events from up to (Check Result x 10) years ago. If you have an appropriate relic – you are in a ruined city and wish to witness its demise, or you have some ancient bones and wish to see the death or funeral, the time limit is waived.
    • Produce Tome: You may produce a copy of any book or tome, whether the spellbook of some wizard from a thousand years ago, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazarad the Mad, or the True Sacred Book of some long-forgotten faith.
    • Voice Of The Cosmos: You can use the equivalent of Hypercogition.

Epic Information Gathering Skill Stunts

  • Analyze Creature (Level 4, DC 26): Also known as “Consult Sourcebook”. This gives you a full description of any single target creature within long range – at the least, equivalent to making an appropriate knowledge check with an extra +40 insight bonus.
  • Pivotal Point (Level 5, DC 30): You may intuitively identify the next important plot nexus, such as where a deciding battle will be fought, the climactic confrontation with the evil overlord, or the location where the great ritual must be performed. Once you know where you’re going, you can simply ride with the flow of events to reach it, halving the time, effort, and random difficulties which would normally be involved. Once there, the caster enjoys a +5 circumstance bonus on any actions directly related to resolving the situation.
  • Organizational Chart (Level 6, DC 34): You may find out how a group is organized and identify its major members. Sadly, members with spell resistance only show up as a little blank box with a function title if the spell fails to penetrate their resistance. In general, this provides as complete a chart as will fit on one page. For small organizations this may seem quite detailed. Larger ones typically only show departments and major members.
  • Lost Symphony (Level 7, DC 38): You may recover scale duplicates of lost works, including monographs, plays, symphonies, ballets, songs, statues, and architectural plans. Unfortunately, such copies are in ordinary materials and will not exceed one cubic foot in size. A version with appropriate metamagic applied to the formula may, however, increase the possible volume.
  • Catalyst Event (Level 8, DC 42): This ability allows the user to set a chain of events in motion which will have great consequences later on. The user simply states a large-scale problem, casts this spell, and becomes aware of several possible long-term solutions. Some of these may not make much sense to the caster, since the spell does not explain. For example, if the problem is periodic floods
    along the river, possible solutions might include:

      • Importing and releasing some giant northern beavers. This will stabilize the watershed over the
        next few generations
      • Digging a series of canals to divert the excess water.
      • Negotiating with the water elementals and river spirits.
      • Burying some caches of silver in obscure locations and starting a rumor about adamantine ore. Unknown to the characters, this will lead to enough mining on particular mountainsides to trigger a series of massive avalanches over the next few years – creating a series of natural lakes and reservoirs which will moderate the flooding.
      • Encouraging clear-cutting of the forests in the foothills. This will change the climate enough to reduce the yearly rainfall somewhat.
      • Building a house on stilts while establishing a plantation of Mondiko trees. Mondiko trees produce excellent fruits and lumber and like being flooded periodically; the lifestyle will catch on and make the periodic floods a benefit rather than a problem.
      • Disenchanting or removing the statue of Karis, god of storms, which is hidden high in the mountains.
      • Instituting periodic sacrifices to the river god.
    • Any of these should work. Which, if any, the players decide to attempt, is up to them. Catalyst Event will generally present 2d4+1 possible solutions (or as many as the GM can think of). All of them should be reasonably effective if carried out, at least semi-permanent, and free of severe side effects. They are rarely immediate. The spell is quite effective, but it isn’t really meant for questions which require answers in the next few hours or days, such as “How do we stop the onrushing Orc horde”?. There simply aren’t many subtle options at that point.
  • Piercing The Veil Of Memory (Level 9, DC 46): You may revisit your memory of any place that you have ever been, During the spells one-minute duration you may investigate that place as it then was for up to (Wisdom) subjective hours. Nothing there can harm you (unless you discover some secrets that “man was not meant to know” or some such inherently harmful knowledge), you may move around the memory at will, you may read books that you did not open, investigate secret compartments that you did not find, run detection spells that you did not cast, and otherwise ransack the place utterly. Any resources you expend in doing so are, however, expended when the spell ends.
  • Magnum Opus (Level 10, DC 50): You may reconstruct a lost culture, civilization, or time, creating a work on the level of Gibbon’s Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire on the topic. While complete accuracy is not guaranteed, and interpretation is up to the reader, this will produce a multi-volume, encyclopedic, survey of the target containing many, MANY, obscure details.
  • Lost Lore (Level 11, DC 58): You enable everyone within a city or city-state to “put together the clues”. Do you wish to grant everyone the knowledge of Zyl’Kna’Lythk The Eyeless King Who Tramples Mountains and the all-too-simple ritual that will call him once more into the world? A through understanding of how the king is keeping the peasantry poor and oppressed? A good understanding of crop rotation or the germ theory of disease? So you can.
  • Walk The Hidden Paths (Level 12, DC 58): You may initiate your target into any class, system of magic (or psionics of whatever you may call it), path of power, or similar that is 1) directly accessible by mortals without the use of magic above level eight and 2) that the game master agrees will function in the setting, whether or not it has ever existed in the current setting. It’s a big multiverse, and it has existed SOMEWHERE.
  • Weapon Of Legend (Level 15, DC 70): You may call forth a legendary weapon, vehicle, or other device. It will remain for up to twelve hours – but there is no guarantee of your being able to use the thing. You may have to crack the command codes and figure out the systems to use the Enterprise, prove your right to wield Link’s Master Sword, or fight a battle of wills with Stormbringer.
  • Nemesis Mirror (Level 18, DC 82): Every mighty force has it’s counter somewhere. All one need do is open the way. The Midgard Serpent on the rampage? You may call forth Thor to battle it. R’lyeh rising from the waves and Great Cthulhu of the Waters coming forth? Perhaps it is time to call forth Cthughu of the Celestial Fires. Unfortunately, this usually simply turns an ongoing disaster into an immediate catastrophe – but at least it will be over fairly quickly and you can start picking up whatever pieces are left.

Several of these effects are actually adapted from spells in Paths Of Power II or the Complete Paths Of Power – but they do fit in here nicely.