Valdemar D20 – Part I

Today it’s a question about Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar / Velgarth setting – how to build Heraldic Gifts and Companions in Eclipse D20.

The first thing to remember about the Valdemar / Velgarth setting is that – like the vast majority of fantasy novels and novel series settings – it’s a low-magic world.

What’s that you say? Most of the major characters have magical gifts?

Yes. Yes they do. Yet there are large groups that have very little magic. Magical devices are extremely rare, and what magic there is tends to be low powered, at least by d20 gaming terms.

For example, we have Healing Magic / Gifts (Psionic Magic). What can be done with this?

  • Resurrection from a centuries-old fragment of bone? No.
  • Raise the recently dead? No. Gods can do it, but, they generally aren’t protagonists and they don’t hand out this kind of power; it’s a special miracle.
  • Instantly wipe away major wounds? No.
  • Instantly Neutralize Poison? No.
  • Instantly Cure Blindness, Deafness, or Disease? No.

In Velgarth the most powerful healers can accelerate natural healing, slow the progress of poisons while looking for an antidote or treatment, and bolster the bodies resistance to disease. Maybe they can do some equivalent of vaccinations. They can usually compound and administer medicines, although that’s training not magic. In the books, even with healer assistance, recovery from major injuries can require months. Plenty of people suffer long-term crippling effects.

In D20? Any injury you can survive will generally heal completely, and without any complications, scarring, or long-term effects, within a week, even without any help beyond – perhaps – applying some bandages. In d20 terms, the most powerful mystical Healers in Velgarth simply have a reasonable bonus on their heal skill.

There are excellent reasons why most fantasy fiction limits things that way – and it’s not just so that injuries are actually threatening hindrances to the characters (although that is another reason) since it tends to apply to all magic.

It’s because every time you introduce another magical power, you need to keep track of it. You need to consider it’s effects on the setting. You need to out-think all your readers, because if that power could be used to solve a problem that you put in later, then a lot of readers will wonder why it wasn’t so used. After all, if they could think of using it (even at leisure and under no stress) why couldn’t that spellcaster who’d devoted much of his or her life to the study of magic think of it under pressure?

You certainly don’t want to wind up considering the ramifications of a level fifteen d20 Wizards spell load-out, or even a Sorcerers. Sure, you can have major magical events – but they’re going to be the result of divine intervention, or ancient megawizards, or otherwise safely out of reach of the main characters. Just like that continent-spanning magical cataclysm that apparently even the gods cannot just step in and stop and all those magically-spawned species.

In d20 terms… you generally don’t want anyone to have even reasonably reliable access to Raise Dead, Heal, Plane Shift, Polymorph Other, Create Undead (at least not with anything less than MAJOR rituals and fetch-quests), Teleport, easy Scrying, Awaken, Battlefield Spells, Bestowing Curses, Werecreature Transformations, Mass Burrow, Call Avalanche, Call Nightmare, Cloudkill, Commune, Contact Other Plane, Contagious Touch, Control Winds, Dimension Door… The list goes on and on. All of those effects can easily wreck plots and foul up your setting.

What you want is very limited access to a modest selection of level five and six effects via major rituals limited to near-archmagi, well-organized teams of lesser ritualists with access to major sources of power, and to cheaters calling on dark powers and blood magic that the heroes won’t want to use.

  • REALLY powerful grand master mages may have access to a modest selection of level three and four spells – carefully leaving out most of the more problematic effects.
  • Master Mages can have access to a lot of the second level stuff, although any given mage will usually only actually know a limited part of whatever is available. The kind of stuff that generally isn’t all that multipurpose, is effective but not overpowering, and only affects a limited number of targets at a time. That gives them some pretty amazing super powers without making them unmanageable in the story.
  • Journeyman Mages get access to most of the first level stuff – although any given Journeyman will probably only know a dozen or so notable spells.
  • Apprentices get Cantrips – the level zero stuff. In a low-magic setting that’s still pretty impressive. Summon water in the desert? Remain buoyant in a storm? Produce a knife when you’ve been disarmed? Create light in the darkness? Start a fire with wet wood in the freezing cold? Mitigate pain? Stop someone from bleeding to death? All potentially lifesaving,

So now that we know what we’re looking for, it’s on with the details.

The first detail is the magic system from the Vows and Honor trilogy. It involved…

  • Mind-Magic – personal psionic powers that were generally inborn. Noted as being used in Valdemar, up north.
  • Life-Energy Based Magic, which was later divided up into Personal Energy Magic (used by Apprentices and up), Ambient Magic (used by Journeymen and up), Ley Line Magic (used by Masters and up, dangerous if you weren’t talented enough to use it), and Node Magic (Used by Adepts, fatal if you weren’t talented enough to use it). Most user’s were limited by their (mostly fixed) level of Mage-Gift / Natural Talent / Ability to Sense Magical Energy and by their level of Training.
    • Blood Magic was a variant that wasn’t so limited. It didn’t even call for Mage-Gift, since you knew that – when something died – a big burst of power would be there to harvest and use. Of course, since things die all the time, contributing their energies to the ambient level – which flowed into ley-lines and nodes – all Journeymen and up used some level of blood magic. Personally I always wanted to see a blood-mage healer, who lived by a slaughterhouse and said “What? That’s the way my powers run! Why shouldn’t I use the life energy released by the slaughtered cattle as well as eating them? They’re dying anyway!”.
  • Otherplanar Magic involved exchanging favors with the creatures of the four Elemental Planes, the “Ethereal Plane” (roughly equivalent to d20’s “Positive Energy Plane”; it’s creatures – fey like things and possibly the “Tribal Totems” that were brought up later – could not be compelled or bound, but would trade), and the Abyssal Plane (roughly equivalent to d20’s Negative Energy Plane, the home of demons and abyssal elementals. They could be compelled to serve with raw willpower or bribed with evil acts and blood sacrifices).
  • Low Magic, which apparently used the “natural” magical properties of herbs and such. It seemed that “High Magic Constructs” were especially vulnerable to such countermeasures because it showed one character that Scholars were very useful to have around.
  • Priestly Magic was basically “any of the above” with a religious theme or asking the gods for minor miracles – which were fairly commonly granted. The gods tended to respond if you were in their service or desired to enter it and what you asked for was sensible and reasonable, even if they sometimes demanded a price for it.
  • There were also adept-duels over adept status (how this worked was never really explained).

The vast majority of that was quietly dropped quite quickly. There are a few mentions of elementals and demons later on, and not-quite-divine Tribal Totems granting some powers got mentioned, but that system had too many undesired real-world “occult” associations and was far too complicated to keep up with. We never even really got to see what kinds of magic otherworldly creatures might provide outside of assisting in combat against other such creatures.

If you want to include otherplanar magic in your version of Velgarth, you’ll probably want a version of the Shamanic Magic package:

  • Path of the Dragon / Shaping (Specialized: only as a prerequisite, 3 CP)
  • Path of the Dragon/ Pulse and Heart of the Dragon: The user may make pacts with, and call upon the services of four of the seven different types of Elemental Spirits, channeling their powers into the physical world. Pulse of the Dragon brings in one spell level worth of magical energy per round, while Heart of the Dragon allows it to be shaped into level one effects. Corrupted: The user must call on the six types of elemental spirits for magic other than Spirit Sight and Spirit Contact effects. Each type of spirit may only be called on for a total of (Cha Mod + Level/2) spell levels worth of magic before the user must rebuild his or her “pool” of “favors”. Fortunately, if the user fails to manage a spell for some reason, it doesn’t use up any of his pool of favors. Specialized: The user may only renew such “pools” slowly. The user regains [Cha Mod + Level/2] points per day through minor rituals and respect for their spiritual patrons. They user may also regain [Cha Mod] points by:
    • Fulfilling a special request from the Spirits. For example, fire spirits might want the user to arrange a fireworks display, while water spirits might want a spring cleaned out and purified. The user may simply ask the GM each day about possible tasks; there will usually be two or three available, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will be even remotely practical.
    • Enacting a ritual in honor of some type of spirits. You might sit out in a storm meditating on it’s power for a night in honor of the air spirits, burn rare woods, incense, and oils in honor of the fire spirits, or conduct a religious ceremony in honor of outer-planar spirits.
    • Promising to undertake a later mission for the appropriate group of spirits. It’s wise to take a few rounds to find out what they’re going to want you to do, but sometimes people are just desperate.
    • Talking the spirits into it. This requires 1d4 hours of quiet meditation and a DC 18 Diplomacy or Knowledge/Religion check and can only be done once per day.
  • In any case, the saving throw DC’s against such effects are based on the user’s Charisma and they overcome magic resistance with a roll of (1d20 + caster level + Cha Mod). Exorcisms (“Turning”) are L2, creating minor supplies costs 1 SL/2 GP and is permanent, and counterspells are always specifically tuned, requiring a spell of only (target spell level – 2).

This has a base cost of 24 CP, 8 CP after being Specialized and Corrupted to reduce the cost. As the character goes up in level he or she can spend another 8 CP to turn the Specialization from “Halved Cost” to “Doubled Effect” and call on the spirits for second level spells – and still later, another 8 CP to turn the Corrupted modifier from “Reduced Cost” to “1.5x Effect” and get third level spells. Unfortunately, that’s as far as you can go with this on Velgarth.

I usually say that…

  • Air spirits deal with Intelligence, Movement, Thought, and Divination.
  • Animal (Totem) spirits deal with Shapeshifting, Enhancements, Senses, and Adaption.
  • Positive Energy spirits deal with Charisma, Purification, Truth, and Life.
  • Negative Energy spirits deal with Strength, Negation, Death, and Compulsion.
  • Earth spirits deal with Constitution, Plants, Healing, Binding, and Stasis.
  • Fire spirits deal with Dexterity, Light, Energy, and Transformation.
  • Water spirits deal with Wisdom, Animals, Absorption, and Emotion.

This system was dropped before it showed what the author thought was appropriate, so you’ll have to either go with my ideas or come up with something. There’s no canon to go on.

Divine Powers aren’t worth discussing, simply because they are literal miracles, are in no way under the protagonists control, and bail the characters out of impossible jams however the plot demands. Characters don’t USE them, they get used BY them.

Partially under this category we have the Heraldic Companions – magical spirit-horses that choose the Heralds of Valdemar, boost their powers, and provide both transportation and companionship throughout the series.

So what do we know about Companions?

Well, they’re horses. Intelligent, constantly bleached-white, horses with pretty hooves, some special powers, and memories of prior lives – but physically they’re basically horses. As for those special powers…

  • They draw on magical energy to be far more enduring and heal more quickly than normal horses. Of course, everything in d20 is more enduring and heals more quickly than any normal creature. Maybe they’ve got the Tireless ability (6 CP / 1 Feat), or they could just have higher-than-normal Constitution scores.
  • They’re mostly reincarnated ex-Heralds or fragments of divine powers. They understand various languages and have various skills from their prior lives, even if they can’t speak or use most of them with hooves. Some books say that they have the Gift of Tongues, and can understand things spoken in any language – still without being able to talk to humans. They don’t admit this though. We’re told in early books that many of them can’t communicate with their Heralds at all except when first bonding with them or through the use of a deep trance – but in later books the notion that they have trouble communicating becomes less and less prominent, and they start mentally communicating with anyone when they need to. That’s not too surprising since writing mute characters is a horrible nuisance.
  • They can inflict laser-guided amnesia on their Heralds and possibly on others to keep their true origins, their semi-divine-messenger status, and other bits of troublesome or socially-distorting information secret. Why? Because it would ruin the setting if the people in it ever started to put all the clues together and making the primary characters all selectively stupid on the details about the most important things in their lives makes for lousy storytelling.
  • Some Companions have claimed to have known from the beginning what partnering with a given individual would lead to. On the other hand, Heralds and companions often seem to die in stupid and readily-avoidable ways. Others have to do a lot of hunting for their partners. This may be a comforting lie told to Heralds, or it might be a special power of individual Companions, but it certainly isn’t a general ability.
  • They travel more quickly than horses. Mostly they’re just fast and enduring, a very few seem to use a short-range teleportation effect to speed up even more. On the other hand even those few never seem to be able to just bypass hazards or simply teleport to where they need to be even if it’s quite nearby. They don’t even dodge attacks with a Blink effect. Their “teleporting” is only for faster out-of-combat overland movement. In d20 terms this is just a boost to movement. It can’t be too big a one either; Valdemar is not really that huge, and allowing Companions to cross it in a day or twos easy run (Say twice the speed of a horse, kept up for twenty hours since they are effectively tireless… five hundred miles a day would be quite possible) messes up the stories quite a lot. You could cross a CONTINENT in a week that way, much less a rather small and isolated kingdom.
  • They normally live as long as their Herald does – although none of them in the books have partnered up with anything but humans. Would they live as long as an Elf? Who knows?
  • Some (Most? All?) of them can feed energy to their Heralds. This may explain why a Heralds Gifts tend to get stronger after they are chosen by a Companion. On the other hand… most Gifts are fairly minor things. Sure, you can point at Lavan Firestorm – but his greatest achievement was losing control and spewing enough fire around in a (highly flammable) pine forested mountain pass to start a big forest fire, killing both himself and the enemies who were trying to get through. So… Fireballs and maybe a few Walls Of Fire? It should be no surprise that we’re back at level three and four effects again.
  • They have some way of picking good Herald-prospects – decent people with at least a little psionic potential who will be of use to Valdemar. It can turn out badly though, so this is hardly infallible. It could even be a disadvantage; “bound to destiny” is very, VERY, much a thing in the setting. Trying to implement that in a game where a bunch of unpredictable players are doing things instead of a single author? That won’t work so well.
  • The bond with their Herald is so vital to them that they will die if they must repudiate their Herald or he or she dies. This is loosened up a bit for Grove-Born Companions, but then they seem to be direct divine emissaries anyway. Those are kind of expected to break the rules.
  • They may be somewhat magic resistant.
  • They’re generally a bit better all around than a normal horse. In d20 terms, that’s probably slightly boosted physical attributes.
  • They may have individual mental powers, but most of whatever they had as a Herald does not seem to automatically carry over.

And… that’s about it. And while they HELP their Herald, they’re freewilled and independent. You don’t get them with a Feat or as a class feature. They picked you – and that isn’t exactly an unmixed blessing.

You have been selected by a Companion to be a Herald Of Valdemar! You will be supported by the crown and nobody will care how randy you are, but you will have no free time and will almost certainly die young doing something stupidly heroic! Really experienced Heralds are very rare!

Continuum II – Optional Attributes Conclusion, Attributes That Aren’t Recommended

First up, for the rest of the optional attributes list…

Grace measures a characters “talent” for dealing with social situations politely and diplomatically. It covers etiquette, manners, soothing conflicts – and acting as a member of the “upper class”. A high grace score helps a great deal when interacting with “sophisticated” people, while a low one may mark you as an uncouth barbarian. It is less effective with unsophisticated peoples – but the basic ability to handle social situations smoothly is of value almost anywhere, except around the occasional real “uncouth barbarian”.

Influence measures a characters ability to manipulate events on a large scale, whether through money, politics and intrigue, calling in favors, supplying wise council, mystic influences, through family or through some other means. Characters with high influence scores are rare – and often have “difficulties” with intrigue, people trying to use, replace, or discredit, them, anyone who wants something, requests for favors, and simply being watched. Being a V.I.P. can be nice, but it can also be a tremendous pain in the ass. Extreme cases should beware of assassins.

Intuition measures a characters psychic sensitivity and ability to detect occult disturbances – as well as his or her ability to guess correctly. High intuitions make characters difficult to surprise and allow them to extract far more information from any situation then is strictly reasonable, but also leave them open to various forms of psychic disturbances, inclined to weird premonitions – and subject to bizarre mood swings, headaches, and pains, as a result of events occurring somewhere or somewhen else. A high intuition score is also very useful in Powershaping and related magical fields.

Karma isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad”. It simply measures the likelihood of weird things happening to, or around, the character. Characters with high karma scores are marked by fate, whether for good or ill. Coincidence may preserve them at one moment simply to dump them into the middle of some unlikely disaster a moment later. It may be divine intervention, consequences of a past life, or simply luck, but it happens. On the other hand, those with low scores can plan ahead with far more confidence, and if fate is less likely to preserve them, it’s also a lot less likely to feed them to the meatgrinder. It is possible to get wholly “good” or “bad” karma via a Talent or disadvantage – but that is basically a form of Luck.

Learning Potential (AKA; “Potential“) is usually only needed when characters are getting a bit absurd. (Either by taking numerous skills at absurdly high (4+) ranks or by taking years off to gain an excessive number of skill points through study). Unfortunately for would-be powermongers, skills acquired through study tend to fade, and – no matter how much they study – many people simply are not capable of going beyond the master level. As a rule, a character may not gain more then (2/3 Potential) skill points via study and is limited to a maximum of 1/3 his or her score in skill rank. Neither limit applies on skill points acquired through level advancement.

Maneuver measures a character’s ability to move well; smoothly, gracefully, and with style. It’s important to acrobats, runners, swimmers, fliers, martial artists – and dancers. Maneuver rolls are generally required when the character wants to pull off some complex, high-speed, or otherwise difficult, stunt – a dive from a great height, stepping on the wall to corner at a full run, and so on – and have it look good as well as functional. As far as the martial arts go, high maneuver scores make the practacioner look good – and scores of 16+ allow the character to learn stylized forms without taking the associated penalty and to acquire time-consuming ones more quickly then usual.

Manipulation is a measure of a character’s ability to get other people to do what said character wants them to do through more-or-less peaceful means. Trickery, guile, phony emotional appeals, loaded wording, faulty logic, and similar social trickery are the essence of manipulation. While some degree of manipulation is a basic part of any social interaction, excessive manipulation is often very deeply resented. Trying to avoid manipulating people so as to avoid this is a form of manipulation in itself. As a rule a high manipulation score is a mixed blessing – and often leads to even your friends distrusting you.

Mental Coordination measures a character’s ability to handle complex or multiple simultaneous tasks. Examples range from the mundane (Answering a question while lifting weights and watching television reruns) to such more significant operations as using multiple psychic powers, using telekinesis in several differing ways at one time, maintaining some illusion while doing something else, or keeping a horse under control while fighting. Such tasks are normally assumed to be things that require a minimal level of concentration to perform. A task that requires more then that will count as two (or possibly even more) lesser tasks. By default, characters can normally handle three simple tasks at one time. As a side-benefit, those with high mental coordination scores receive a targeting bonus when employing psychically-based attacks. There is a small problem with having a high Mental Coordination score; it tends to give people the impression that you’re not really paying attention to them.

Morale is an attribute that generally only applies to NPC’s, although PC’s may use it if they so desire. It’s essentially a measurement of how much stress a character (or group) can handle before giving way. While this is most dramatic in battle, where a failure of morale means anything from a minimal-failure fighting retreat through a total-failure rout or surrender (whichever seems likely to result in survival), it can also mean taking a bribe, giving in to blackmail, deserting a post, stealing something from an employer, or simply refusing orders. While Morale generally assumes an external loyalty, characters who’s loyalty is only to themselves may also have morale scores, but in their case it represents self-confidence. Morale rolls vary a great deal. Retreat is less tempting if there’s someone standing behind you with a halberd. A wandering bum can be bribed far more easily then a well- paid executive – especially if said executive’s position is secure and has every prospect of remaining so. Despite claims, training and experience don’t raise morale. They simply change a character’s (or group’s) estimate of the situation and best course of action. Groups also learn the advantages of operating as a team – and gain confidence in the capabilities of the other group members. Discipline doesn’t raise morale either, but it does allow a group to lose morale in stages, rather then all at once. Undisciplined mobs tend to break, but a disciplined group tends to try to retreat or fall back while retaining organization. It requires several failures to cause a rout. Leader-types may make independent morale checks, modifying the troops roll by +/-1 for every 2 points by which they make their roll – but if such a leader is captured or slain another check must be made immediately with a similar penalty. Mere incapacitation calls for another check, but with no special penalty. Leaders who fail morale checks can be a considerable problem, since their followers automatically take a similar penalty. Morale rolls are also modified by emotional factors. Abandoning your wounded isn’t good for morale. Fanatic religious devotion or defending home and family bolsters it enormously. Being reinforced – or seeing allies winning – may nullify a recent failure. A character (or groups) initial morale varies depending on recruitment procedures and selectivity. Professional mercenaries tend to have high morale. Those who don’t get out of the profession. Conscript peasants usually have low morale. Volunteers vary. Morale rolls are usually required only when something in a situation changes for the worse – or when something is obviously a stupid idea.

Mysterium measures a characters skill at remaining an unknown. The higher the score, the harder it is for an investigator or normal acquaintance to find out anything about the character. What’s more, acquaintances often won’t notice that they know little or nothing about you. This sort of thing can be due to occult skills, inspired hacking, the fact that the courthouse burned down, simply being very, very, reticent and unobtrusive, be the work of some intelligence organization, or just the result of coincidence. Whatever the cause, a high mysterium score will start to drop if it’s possessor keeps giving out information. The disadvantage of “Mysterium” is that it affects everyone. Friends will have as much trouble finding you as enemies will. If you never appear on the news, you never get any credit. Allies can’t rely on your abilities when they’re unknown. Occasionally mysterium appears in conjunction with a “secret identity” – as in; “No one knows anything about the mysterious Professor Prometheus!”. While this keeps the required secrecy to one aspect of a characters life, it also means that losing that secret will utterly destroy all the mystery; “Look! It’s only Mr Hardshack!”

Power is a characters natural psychic strength potential, over and above the base accessible from his wisdom. It is important in Empyrean Magic (which taps it), during outbursts of “hysterical strength” and other instinctive uses of C’hi, resisting psychic attacks, and in enhancing other psychic powers. Sadly, Power generally cannot be tapped directly. It usually requires an emotional (or a stress- related) trigger to bring it out. As a side benefit such “triggers” bypass the usual point expenditure limits.

Protean is a rare trait among most races. It measures a character’s ability to accelerate and control his or her shapeshifting. Unfortunately, even a high Protean score doesn’t give a character shapeshfting powers. It simply indicates that he or she will be good at controlling any such abilities that he or she possesses or acquires. A high score does have a minor disadvantage for those with active shapeshifting powers; unless they maintain strict control they tend to give away a lot through unconscious shapeshfting (“I’m NOT Jealous of him!” “Then why are you growing fangs Michael?”) although this does depend a bit on the nature of the character’s shapeshifting abilities. Low scores may indicate difficulty in making use of such talents at all.

Recognition measures how famous and distinctive your character is. It does not measure how people will react to whatever a character is known for (That’s a matter of how the people who recognize you feel about what you do, and is a bit too complex for a simple score). A high score means that many of those you meet will “know” at least a bit about you – which can be both good and bad.

Sanity is a somewhat debatable attribute. It could be seen as a measure of how rational a person is, of how closely their mental “model” of the world corresponds to that of their culture, of how well they control bizarre/ antisocial drives – or simply of how willing they are to accept reality without filtering it through theories and preconceptions. Go far enough “out of bounds” on any of these and you’ll be considered crazy. Those who won’t or can’t realize that you must open the refrigerator before trying to put the milk in (failure of reason), believe that the earth is flat (failure of world-model), want to conquer the world and cannot restrain themselves (bizarre or antisocial desire), or refuse to accept that the car has a flat because they just put new tires on it (unwilling to accept reality), are insane by most standards. It doesn’t measure stability. It is perfectly possible to have a nice stable fixed delusion. In Continuum II, any character who has reasonable goals, goes about achieving them sensibly, and is willing to deal with reality as it is, is sane. Cultural expectations do not enter into it. Sanity is, however, a variable. When a character’s mental stability (QV; Wisdom) is overcome, his or her sanity will drop. When and if it hits zero. the character will usually “snap” temporarily – lapsing into shock, confusion, hysteria, or what-have-you. They then begin over again with their “basic” sanity score reduced by one point. The lower it goes, the odder they become. Sanity can be regained through time, meditation, therapy (the telepathic variety is usually best), defeating your personal fears – or simply facing (and winning out over) the things that bother you. Sanity can be increased in a similar fashion by collecting “extra” temporary points – but this is notoriously difficult. Optionally, each lost point of sanity may manifest as mental quirks, with more bothersome quirks being equated to two or more points. A character who’s “permanent” sanity score is reduced to 0 is effectively out of action unless drastic measures are taken – or considerable time passes. In real life, sanity is all too rare; a very high sanity score has its own, built-in, penalty. If you don’t play such a character accordingly the GM will probably reduce your experience point awards. If you do, you’ll miss out on a lot of things. The “sane” response is very often to stay out of whatever-it-is that’s going on…

Size is an extremely simple attribute; It’s how large a character is. As a rule, it’s pretty consistent within any one species. Really large characters can take more physical damage before going down, but are subject to innumerable major and minor problems, ranging from conspicuousness thru having to have custom-tailored clothing and armor, being unable to fit into compact cars, and being unable to find a horse that can carry you, up to occasionally falling through the floor. Extremely small characters are slightly more fragile and have trouble with things being oversized – but they do have an easier time sneaking around and getting out of the way. It’s important to shapeshifters if the game master is keeping track of details because most of them can only manage to take forms within two size points of their racial ranges (three if shapeshifting in water).

Standing measures a characters perceived status among some group. While said “group” is usually the population at large, others are certainly possible. Standing might also be used to measure military or organizational rank, how much of the underworld a character controls, whether a character is a white, black, or grey, mage (and whether various mystic beings will respond to your invocations), how much the other knights and nobles of the realm respect you (although even a standing three knight is far above the peasants), or simply how rich and influential you are. Of course, with high (or sometimes low, such as a “black mage”) standing comes high demands on your time.

Stun measures a character’s ability to stay conscious and functioning despite pain, shock, impact, and injury. Stun rolls are required at the game-masters option – but likely occasions include being sapped from behind, being hit by a stungun, or simply taking a major attack. While this makes it easier to knock the character out, it also means that such characters tend to aggravate wounds less then others do, hence their stun score is added to their base vitality. Minimal success or failure on a stun roll generally leaves the character more-or-less dazed. As a rule, bullets, blades, and beams allow easier stun rulls then less-focused (and usually less damaging) hands, blunt weapons, and blasts.

Trauma measures long-term physical, psychic, magical, or spiritual injury. Trauma is acquired when a character takes massive, potentially-lethal, injuries, and fails an Trauma roll. The difficulty of said roll depends on the magnitude and nature of the effect producing the injury. Each point of a character’s trauma score is reflected in the game as a penalty to some activity – what depends on the GM’s whim and what produced the injury. The severity depends on how often the penalty comes into play. Trauma points (and their associated penalties) can be removed, but this requires repairing the damage somehow. It’s better to avoid it in the first place. Competent care is a good place to start, since it provides a retroactive +2 to +7 (Depending on the skill and resources of the caregiver) on the characters trauma roll (“He would have lost the arm, but we got him to the surgeon in time”). “Trauma” can be intentionally inflicted, often as a punishment. There is no roll to resist this sort of thing. Getting branded (A penalty to some social rolls) or having a hand amputated (Several points worth of trauma) is hard to resist. Trauma penalties can include various physical limits, social annoyances, psychological problems, weird curses, magical difficulties, and psychic malfunctions. While it may not be strictly reasonable, already-battered characters are harder to inflict further trauma on. What are a few more scars on top of all the others?

Voice measures the quality of a character’s voice, at least as far as range, tonality, singing, and speaking are concerned. While less then vital unless you’re a singer, and possibly irrelevant even then, those with high voice scores are simply pleasant to listen too. Low scores may indicate speech impediments or atrocious accents, but it rarely matters that much. It might be a decisive element in a closely-matched talent competition though.

Wealth measures the extent of a character’s financial resources. Sadly, unlike the convenient funding and gear provided by the “Increased Resources” talents, Wealth is something that has to be maintained and managed. Depending on the score, this may mean anything from an hours daily scrounging on through a job, and up to spending most of your time on managing your financial empire. Extreme wealth scores draw attention, publicity, and crooks, in equal measure. It can be useful, but after a point it tends to become a career in itself. Extreme levels of wealth have a nasty habit of endangering your friends and family.

Web is one of the strangest optional characteristics. It’s a measure of the strength and number of a character’s psychic “anchors” and emotional supports. Such “anchors” are either living beings with powerful emotional ties to the character (children, lovers, hated enemies, etc), or are objects (items, places, or what-have-you) in which a character has invested a great deal of their personal psychic energy. Objects and places are mental foci, triggers for memories, and places in which the character can recover his mental balance. For clairvoyants, spirit travelers, and the like, such anchors are also easy to reach psychically – and can be used to help rebuild a scattered or damaged psyche. Living beings act in a somewhat similar fashion – however they also act as emotional bulwarks, helping the character to resist many psychic assaults. As psychic constructs, webs can absorb or yield psychic power – but overdoing this risks damage to them, reducing the web score by one. The disadvantage is that a webs anchors are links to the user as well.

Zeal measures both strength of commitment, and how much energy, a character is inclined to put into causes. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a sensible, or even stable, choice of causes (QV; Intellect and Wisdom) – but a high value does make the character a splendid activist, fund- raiser, and annoyance. While it also makes a character extremely difficult to convert directly, characters with low wisdoms are prone to sudden enthusiasms. High zeal scores are common among religious figures, but they are not necessarily of any real help in exercising religious powers.

Optional Attributes which are NOT recommended :

  • Acting: This is another “attribute” that’s hard to seperate from the players performance, and is usually best handled as a character skill, rather then as an attribute.
  • Charisma: Measures how “likable” a character is. This is usually best handled through role-playing.
  • Clearance: Measures how much a character is trusted by some organization. It tends to be volatile, and is more of an attribute of said organization then of the character.
  • Education. This measures the extent of the characters education. This is normally treated as a function of a characters intellect and skill choices. A bright kid who grows up on a farm learns just as much as one in a high-pressure advanced academy, he or she just learns different things.
  • Esteem: Measures how well some character’s reputation is perceived. Basically, do those who’ve heard of you think of you as a hero of a villian? The problem here is that reputations are complex things, and one number cannot do them justice.
  • Heritage: This measures the importance of what a character is in line to inherit – whether in the form of lands, cash, or power. This is usually better handled by the GM using the character’s class, background, talents, and family, in relationship to the setting, the plotline potential, and his or her whimsy.
  • Insight: Measures the characters ability to have bright ideas and pick out important clues. Unless the players constantly need hints – which usually indicates that the game master is over-complicating things – this sort of ability is generally only useful if you want to go back to rolling the combat dice quickly.
  • Luck: This is usually used as an excuse for GM’s, and players, who are at a loss. Gaming already involves luck – the dice handle that.
  • Retinue: This measures the size of a character’s entourage. This is usually better handled as a function of culture, character skills, and appropriate other attributes.
  • Sensuality: Measures both a characters sexual attributes and his or her talent for using them. Anyone who wants to include Sensuality and deal with the resulting nonsense is welcome to do so, but I do not recommend it. Situations where it might be used can normally be handled using the character description and some role-playing – if they come up at all
  • Traits: Such as piety, courage, honor, greed, carnality, and other such personality traits are normally best handled on the character quiz. Elevating them to attributes tends to be nothing but a way to take the decisions out of the hands of the player.

Now, obviously enough, a lot of these attributes have made it into d20 through Eclipse – although in many cases it’s as a power you might want to buy, instead of as an attribute. It’s really too bad in a way; the flexibility of optional / secondary attributes allowed a great deal of setting and character customization. After all, if the game master opted to require Discipline, Fatigue, and Trauma, the setting will become a great deal more grim-and-gritty, “unlimited use” abilities become a lot less “unlimited”, and avoiding fights becomes a lot more important. On the other hand, if he or she asked for Aura, some variant of Corruption, and Mysterium, then a “secret supernatural” game is probably in the offing. Trade out one of those for Sanity and you’re headed for Call Of Cthulhu. Is he or she asking for Essence, Recognition, and one of the player’s choice? That would work nicely for a Shadowrun style setting. On the other hand, Doom (Radiation Dosage), Trauma, and Corruption (Mutation) says either post-apocalyptic radioactive wasteland or perhaps an alien invasion setting. Free choice? A wide-open and likely multi-dimensional setting is coming up, with lots of second chances for characters to work on specialties that there base attributes don’t really support.

Unfortunately, that degree of freedom would be pretty hard to translate to most of the current popular rules sets; most of them are a lot more restrictive about what rolls are related to which attribute, so adding options for new attributes is a lot more complicated.

Continuum II – Optional Attributes: Basics and Partial List

Continuum II’s optional attributes can be required by the game master or be selected by the player to suit his or her character. As such, characters might not all have the same set of attributes – and this is fine. Given that the basic rules of the system mostly called for rolling against attributes, many of the optional attributes don’t need a lot of detail – just a description of where they apply, and so can rolled against. To use the first sample optional attribute as an example… a character might use Stealth and Adaptability to try and merge into a group or Interrogation and Adaptability to try and collect information about an exotic culture. Optional Attributes are often used as a “second chance” of sorts; if a character has a lousy score in some attribute that he or she needs, they can try for a better result with a secondary attribute more specific to what they want. Some of the possible optional attributes include:

Adaptability measures the characters ability to blend into differing situations. Unless there’s something very peculiar about the character, this is usually limited to social situations. A character with a high adaptability is something of a social chameleon, able to merge with a wide variety of cultures, situations, and settings. Sadly, this comes at the price of an annoying tendency to adapt too well – a problem reminiscent of multiple-personality disorders. It also means a tendency to “be” whatever the people around you expect you to be. Extremely low scores indicate an inability to adapt to new social situations, making the character prone to offending the locals, very likely to get entangled in legal problems, limiting his/ her social mobility, and otherwise making it hard to get along.

Affinity or “Animal Affinity” measures the character’s intuitive ability to get along with, understand, manage, and befriend, animals. It even extends to some extent to “animalistic” sentient beings. It’s useful in estimating how close it’s safe to come to a herd, when tracking and locating animals, taming or training them, and in trying to figure out what they’re excited about, amongst many other things. A character with a high Affinity score is often deeply attuned to his (or her) own instincts – which may cause minor difficulties socially. Extremely high scores often lead to prefering animals to people.

Appearance actually includes qualities such as voice, manner, and body parl as well as physical beauty – but the physical level generally takes priority. It measures how attractive other members of your characters species consider him or her to be. Extremely beautiful or repulsive characters may find it easy to charm or frighten people, but this comes at a price; characters with extremely low appearance scores suffer from social ostracism, children throwing rocks, and are extremely memorable, while those with extremely high scores are targets for propositions, groupies, and slavers.

Aptitude (Specify) measures a characters talent in a particular field of endeavor. Possible Aptitudes include magical, technical, mechanical, artistic, combative, psychic, and scientific, but others are certainly possible. Aptitudes are basically “second chances”, scores which can be used in place of other (presumably lower) scores when using a skill or ability covered by the aptitude. While this can be quite convenient, it makes attempting to improve such an ability very difficult, requiring twice as many skill points as usual. Unskilled attempts at anything which an aptitude might cover always use the aptitude score, even if another relevant ability is higher. A character with an aptitude for music would use that score to try and play a few unskilled notes on a flute, even if his far higher dexterity would normally be used.

Arcane measures a characters natural affinity for the manipulation of magical energy or “mana”, either defensively or offensively. Arcane provides extra skill points to expend on “magical skills” as if it were Intellect, but this is modified by the planetary mana level, from “almost nonexistent” (-8) to “incredibly abundant” (+3). A total of 0+ is required to study professional magic at all if Arcane is used. As always, having natural magical gifts can get you in lots and lots of trouble… and better gifts equal worse trouble.

Aura measures the emotional impact of a beings simple presence, regardless of the exact nature of said impact. While every living thing has a bio-energy aura, Aura is a result of becoming an unconscious focus for some type of empyrean energies. At low scores this simply results in an intuitive response from those around you, at moderate scores it results in instinctive emotional reactions – and at high scores it begins to manifest in physical reality around the character. Hence a character with an aura of fear might walk surrounded by mists and shadows. One with an aura of corruption might sour milk and twist plants and spread disease as he or she passes. One with an aura of peace might heal and comfort. Note that, while “Aura” also occurs in conjunction with empyrean magic and various psychic abilities, in that context it refers to consciously tapping and manipulating empyrean energies. Aura is related to “Aura Points”, but they are not the same. “Aura Points” are pure power – but “Aura” cannot be directly tapped – or readily shielded.

Avatar measures a character’s underlying strength of will – his or her ability to learn to bend the local laws of nature and surpass normal limits. In essence, “Avatar” measures how high a level a character can reach. It is especially important to Arcanists and True Illusionists, who defy reality directly (and so are limited to a maximum level equal to their Avatar score), but even professions that settle for “bending” reality a bit are limited to a maximum level equal to twice their avatar score. It also measures the capacity for “final strikes”, great efforts of will, sustaining pocket dimensions, wielding and/or regaining special powers in dimensions normally hostile to such effects (Characters in such settings may regain one “point” of some sort per day per point of Avatar rating. This includes; personal mana, psychic strength, vitality (over normal levels), and spell points, among others). As a rule, “professional” player-characters are presumed to have wills strong enough that other limitations predominate in most settings. Unlike most attributes, Avatar is almost impossible to modify. It can be increased through a willing fusion of souls, and decreased through extremely high level spells, greater blood magic, and powers such as wreaking – but such events are incredibly rare.

Blood measures the “purity” of a character’s lineage. Exactly what this means depends on exactly who (or what) said character is descended from. While purer blood may mean little save a social distinction (and corresponding expectations), it may also measure a relationship to the royal family, provide peculiar talents of it’s own, be a measure of a character’s potential power, or follow some rule of it’s own. Whether your blood carries power, potential, influence, or merely social rank, characters can be sure that whatever you’re related to has his, her, or it’s, own problems – and the “closer” you are to it, the closer they are to you.

Class is basically an indication of birth rank – what “social class” a character started with. While this has few direct effects, it makes quite a difference socially and may affect what professions a character may follow. It is difficult to raise your class, but not impossible. It can be accomplished through wealth, influence, trickery, marriage, or things like a “grant of nobility”. In many settings class will also help determine what equipment and cash a character starts out with, as well as inheritance and what influence can be exerted on his behalf. On the other hand, it’s difficult to live up to a high class, and there are always people watching what you do. The character’s family (if any) is usually of roughly the same social class as the character, however children who are not acknowledged by the family, are illegitamate by local standards, or whose parents have non-hereditary social honors, may have substantially lower class scores then their parent or parents do.

Communication measures the ability to effectively and clearly express emotions, thoughts, and ideas – whether in writing, orally, in art, or through some other means. It does not guarantee the worth of such material, it merely allows it to be accurately and persuasively conveyed. This can be something of a disadvantage when you’re trying to con someone – or if the ideas aren’t worth much to begin with.

Cool measures a character’s ability to remain calm in the face of disaster; (“My dear Sir! I have no idea how the murder weapon got into my pocket!”). It’s very handy when trying to stick to a story or when talking your way out of something. A high cool score tends to render the character impervious to panic, unlikely to fumble things under pressure, and unimpressed. It tends to help you take charge of chaotic situations – and makes you ready to take advantage of any opening. On the other hand, people will often have a hard time taking you seriously or believing it when you tell them that there’s an emergency. Unlike Wisdom, “Cool” is not sensible. Those with “high” (15+) scores tend to stay cool no matter what the emergency, and hence suffer a +1 modifier on their initiative checks.

Corruption (Or many other transhuman paths) measures how far a character has gone down dark pathways, acquiring dark lore, foul powers, and the favor of horrific (or at least profoundly lovecraftian), beings. A characters corruption score can be changed, but this is always a struggle. Those who wish to plumb new and greater depths of foulness must come up with ever-more creative acts of corruption, while any character wishing to struggle against his/her corruption must perform great acts of redemption and stand on guard against constant temptations to backslide. Similar paths explore the mysteries of attributes such as “Mysticism”, “Undeath”, “Beastmastery”, “Peacemaking” and “Honor”. Such attributes rarely start off above minimal scores, but do increase with time and effort. Any and all of these come with obvious physical and auric signs – as well as a set of increasing obligations with increasing scores. The simplest way to “handle” attributes like these is to simply assign various appropriate effects values, and then select a list with a total value equal to the users attribute score. Higher scores generally extend and expand the effects of the powers associated with lesser scores. In many or most settings, taking any of these attributes will cost one or more Talent Points.

Dweomer measures a character’s natural ability to tap into the energies of the empyrean plane. Sadly, being a natural focus for empyrean energies, beings, mythagos, and manifestations, has it’s drawback; they tend to show up. Worse, a fully-open tap into the empyrean will swamp any mortal mind. Effective use of Dweomer requires that the user restrict the tap to more specific functions. The user can handle a maximum of (Wis/10) such functions – and even so, they will have a massive influence on the users mind and are limited to one informational, one active, and one passive function. Such functions are notable for being nebulous, erratic, and vaguely defined. Typical functions include Channeling/Mediumism, Dreamweaving, simple Power Tapping (Provides Score/3 points of aura), Lore Mastery, Mythago Creation, Faith, Soulflight, involuntary Prophecy, Earth Witchery, Spirit Binding, Myndfire, the Sight, Elemental Fury, the energy-channeling Spiral Dance, Tale Spinning, and even the classic Evil Eye. Using Dweomer is normally quite fatiguing. Dweomer is normally most suited for settings in which more disciplined powers are unavailable. Like most vague PC abilities, care must be taken to ensure that Dweomer- Functions are not overused – or stretched to cover every imaginable situation. The more powerful a function, the more dangerous it is to use. To reinforce the erratic and unpredictable nature of Dweomer, no two PC’s should ever have identical functions even if they’re named that way. In most settings, taking this attribute counts as a two point Talent.

Discipline measures a characters determination, self- control, and focus. It is useful in studying, ignoring an injury or distraction, resisting interrogation, sticking your hand into a fire, persevering in the face of overwhelming obstacles, defying emotional effects, and being a party-pooper. It can also lead to lead to problems with using spontaneous and intuitive powers or overlooking things when you’re paying attention to something else – and it makes it very hard to change plans and habits. In many ways, a high discipline score makes its possessor extremely predictable.

Domain measures the extent of the “territory” which a character is mystically bound to, can sense, draws power from, and can influence somewhat. This usually applies more to spirits then it does to physical creatures – but there are examples of things like the “land-sense”. The nature of a Domain depends on the nature of the owner. A nature spirit might control a pond, a mountain, or whole forest. Empyrean beings might control emotions, types of madness, dreams, or philosophies. Demons control areas, items, and energies. Gods may control fields of activity, groups of people, or territories. Material creatures are usually linked to specific areas, types of creatures, or magical nexi. Any of these can lead to problems, as the link operates both ways. While a character with a domain has considerable adantages, they must protect and maintain said domain. The score is something of a combination of thr importance of a domain and the character’s degree of control over it – however the score is used directly for a variety of “domain-related” rolls. Hence more specific domains usually allow bonuses on any required rolls. Domain is rarely a required attribute unless the characters used are very, very, strange.

Doom measures how long the characters got left before something really nasty happens. Doom can represent the effects of accumulating radiation poisoning and/or toxins, the gradual corrosion of some inner curse or dark power, some incurable disease, slow physical or psychic burnout resulting from some experimental treatment, or whatever. As a rule the effects of Doom are gradual. The character doesn’t just fall over dead, turn to stone, or turn into a monster suddenly. There’s generally some sign of their slow deterioration as the Doom score inevitably drops. What causes it to drop varies. Another addictive dose? A bit more exposure? Simple aging? Depending on it’s form, the drop in Doom’s attribute score may be reflected in a drop in other attributes. Occasionally Doom comes with a benefit, transferring the points from the dropping score to other attributes or abilities; “As the atomic fires within slowly consume you, the power they give you will grow enormously”.

Eldritch Lore measures how far a character has delved into “things man was not meant to know!”, knowledge that may grant strange powers or allow the deciphering of odd riddles and mysteries – but which undermines the stability of any more-or-less “normal” mind. A character who’s Lore exceeds his or her Wisdom is always mad, but penalties on any stability rolls and symptoms of insanity (E’s a a bit cracked, you see?) will show up long before then. As a rule, Eldritch Lore only increases – although some forms of amnesia may temporarily or, with massive blanking, permanently, erase some of it. Note that Eldritch Lore is NOT related to the resonant mental links used by Clerics, although the mental effects are sometimes similar.

Empathy measures a characters ability to “read” other people – interpreting subtle social and behavioral cues, body language, and inflections. Secondarily, such “cues” also reveal physical and emotional states. Characters with high empathy scores tend to be keenly aware of how other people feel. Empathy allows a character to detect close emotional ties, gauge the truth of someone’s statements, and moderate his or her words to suit the audience. Very high empathy scores tend to carry their own problems. A highly empathic character commonly finds it difficult to turn down a genuine emotional appeal.

Essence measures “humanity”, how much of his (or her) original psychic matrix and human nature a character has managed to retain through some dehumanizing process. The loss may be due to extensive cyborging, becoming a werecreature, merging with some sort of spirit (EG – becoming a faerie or vampire), neural damage, sociopathic insanity, abuse, or the simple loss of innocence. Essence is difficult to regain and – obviously – tends to be lost as a character becomes less and less human. A character who’s essence has been reduced to zero is quite inhuman, generally insane, and unplayable. Even those who’s essence is simply very low are generally seriously disturbed.

Family measures the extent of a characters network of “kin”, those he or she considers “a part of the family”. While kinfolk can be supporting and helpful, they can also be a tremendous drain on your personal resources, real and emotional. As a rule, each point of the family score indictates the existence of someone a character considers a part of his / her immediate family and assorted more distant relatives. Higher (7-12) values usually indicate the presence of an “extended” family or small clan as well. Scores of 13-18 commonly indicate membership in a major clan or similar group, with hundreds of members. Scores of 19+ indicate progressively larger and more powerful families, usually possessing large-scale influence or considerable resources. While this is very useful, such a “family” will often take up virtually all of a characters time. In some settings it may be necessary to determine the character’s sibling status or birth order… This can be done by any means desired to fit the setting. Note that a characters effective “family” score can be modified by up to six points depending on whether the character is a family favorite or is “on the outs” with his or her relatives.

Fatigue measures a characters innate energy reserves, ability to “push” his/her limits, and capacity for short- term bursts of effort. It can be temporarily reduced by things like a chronic shortage of sleep, lingering overstrain, having recently fought a series of battles, or a poor diet. Recovering it requires correcting the problem and getting some rest – up to a week per point lost in the most extreme cases. Short-term exertions are limited by fatigue points, AKA “Stamina”. These are initially equal to the characters (Fatigue * Endurance) and are expended via various exertions – casting a spell, using some psychic ability, wielding some power or weapon, or simply carrying rocks. They’re recovered via rest and sleep or, in emergencies, through stimulants (magical, psychic, or technological). Stamina doesn’t usually trouble low-level characters, as they generally exhaust their other abilities long before physical exhaustion becomes a problem. It can even be an advantage, as characters may attempt a “fatigue roll” to pour extra power into an ability or make a great effort. While this isn’t very efficient, any edge can be helpful in an emergency. Higher-level characters tend to find it more annoying, sometimes finding themselves too tired to properly use the power they have so abundantly available to them. Optionally, game masters may allow characters to add their level to their fatigue score, giving those higher level characters a bit of a break – although this is only really typical of superheroic settings.

Ferocity measures a mental resource which most people try their best to ignore; primal animal fury. While only berserkers fully tap their ferocity, others may learn to do so – within limits. Unfortunately, reverting to pre- sentient behavior patterns can be tactically limiting… In any case, a high ferocity score results in a constant battle against violent impulses. Most people don’t have to consciously resist the urge to impale that clumsy oaf who just stepped on their toe, but those with a ferocity score may have to. Ferocity is actually a primitive way of tapping psychic strength (including Power, if any), and expressing it as some of the simpler C’hi powers. Common effects include Adrenal Surge, Amplification (Strength), Compensation (For injuries), Hastening, Iron Fist/Flesh, Psychic Purging, Psychic Shield, and Self Healing. While various Animalistic, Fascination and Will Shield abilities have been reported, they require special training. While obviously potent, such abilities are undependable and come at the price of increasingly animalistic behavior. Each point of psychic strength expended through ferocity reduces the character’s effective wisdom by one until he or she has an hour or two to calm down. If it’s reduced to zero the character will become completely animalistic, and usually goes into fight-or-flight mode. Even well above that point, a character will need to make rolls in order to use devices, sophisticated tactics and techniques, or otherwise behave sensibly. Having a ferocity score is a problem outside of combat. It tends to be a major social handicap when dealing with those without it. A tendency to growl at people will do that. This usually results in a 1D6 penalty on attempts to be pleasant and persuasive. Animals often have high ferocity scores. That’s a major reason why small animals can put up such a fight against humans ten times their size. Any character with a high ferocity score is probably best off avoiding embarrassment, frustration, and annoyance in any form.

Glory is a measure of a characters fame, renown, and militant reputation. Glory has little to do with social class, personal behavior, or why the character did something. It’s only concerned with how difficult it was and with well it was done. A character can be low-born scum and still have great glory. The point is that you slew a hundred men and took the castle – not whether you did it to destroy a nest of villainy and rescue hostages or had simply wanted to rape the owners wife and butcher her small-and-helpless children. A high glory score can be very handy if you want to intimidate or join someone. On the other hand, it tends to attract people who want to beat you.

Gnosis is a measure of a characters attunement to – and favor with – various “higher forces”. While such forces can supply power and aid, open up new possibilities, and warp reality to aid the character in many ways, there is always a price for the use of such power. Unlike most attributes, gnosis is commonly below it’s base score, as points are “spent” and “regained”. A high gnosis makes the character a prime target, open to occult influences, and a potential pawn of those same higher forces. Gnosis may be expended to; request a reroll, buy off half the damage from an attack, to briefly warp reality (allowing an unlikely escape or incredible heroic feat, getting something to work when it shouldn’t, boosting another score, or making an “unskilled” roll as a skilled one), to counter someone else’s use of gnosis, try to “run into” a friend or helpful event, or to invoke the higher power the user taps against a foe. Caution is advised, since such feats cost 1-3 points of gnosis, tend to attract agents of any opposing forces, and can have unexpected consequences. In any case, gnosis is usually only regained at a rate of 1 or 2 points an adventure, but those “higher forces” will go ahead and use you just as if it was at it’s maximum.

Continuum II – The Character Quiz

The Quiz is really the core of your character. The attributes, numbers, abilities, skills, and disciplines may describe what you’re good at, but the quiz defines who you are. What you want. How you’re going to put those abilities to use. There’s no need to go into exhaustive detail unless you want to – but most of the questions deserve at least a moments consideration. It’s also a good way to give the game master a handle on your character. The quiz can be filled out first or as you create the character. In either case, it’s common to think of more things to put on it later.

As a rule, characters should be able to answer the twelve “basic” questions, and at least three of the optional ones. If any of the basic questions just don’t apply to the character one of the optional questions should be substituted. Game master’s are encouraged to give an extra talent point to characters with excellent quizzes, to charge one for a lousy job, and to charge two for not bothering at all.

Both Game master’s and players should be flexible. It’s not at all unreasonable for it to take several sessions to get enough of a “feel” for your character to finish up the quiz. Better late then dull!

Basic Items :

1) What does/did your family/clan/whoever brought you up do? Are/were they especially noted for something ? Do you resemble them or not? Do you maintain ties with them? Were they your real parents?

2) Name, and provide a few notes on, three relatives; One you like, one you dislike – and one you just know. Characters without families may substitute members of whatever group played a similar role in their life. Other kids from the orphanage, some of the older mercenaries in the company, whoever.

3) Name three simple, ordinary, things or situations that you just can’t stand.

4) Name three simple, ordinary, things that you like, and would go out of your way for.

5) Select your hair and eye color, height and build, and general description.

6) Name three things you like to do for fun.

7) What would you say your occupation is ?

8)

a) Where were you born? Was anything odd about it? Were you legitimate?
b) Where were you raised? What was it like? Did you have any notable playmates or friends ? Did you behave? Were your parents intimate or distant ?
c) Where, if anywhere, do you live now?
d) Who, what, or where has a claim on your loyalty?
e) Where did you get your education? If it was from a specific teacher, who was he, she, or it?

9) Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = very low and 5 = very high) for; Bravery, Loyalty, Rationality, and any four additional traits. Possibilities include, but are not limited to; Piety, Altruism, Calm, Gullibility, Curiosity, Skepticism, Lust, Materialism, Honesty, Greed, Vengefulness, Romanticism, Egotism, Diplomacy, Sloth, Kindness, Thrift, Optimism, Pragmatism, Cultured, Introversion, Gregariousness, Honor, Patience, Enthusiasm, Emotionalism, Frivolity, Caution, Hedonism, Literal-mindedness, Ethics, Stoicism, Stubbornness, Morality, Organization, Loquaciousness, and their opposites. Characters may rate traits at “6” or “7” – but even a “6” indicates a major motivation – something central to a characters personality, which will intrude itself into everything which he or she does. A “7” indicates some sort of obsession – something which the character will hold more important then his or her life.

10) Name three additional minor quirks, behavior tags, traits, talents, hobbies, fears, old guilts, fetishes, or other distinguishing features.

11) What are your personal, long-term, goals? Is there something you have to finish? Some major interest? Are these overwhelming or obsessive goals?

12) Why are you hanging around with all of these weird people anyway? (Answering this question often has to wait for a bit).

AS A NOTE :

“I’m Playing In Character” is no excuse for being a perpetual pain in the rear. YOU’RE THE ONE WHO CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER. Characters who can’t fit into the group, are endlessly obstructive, who are impossible to involve in scenarios, keep destroying vital clues, are terminally indecisive – or who are simply more trouble then they’re worth – will be, quite rightly, abandoned by the group, and by the Game master. There is no sign on your head saying; “I’m a player-character. You have to take me!”. If your character keeps interfering with other people’s ability to play the game, invent a reason for him to grow, change, and get along – OR TAKE HIM AWAY.

Optional Items :

1) Do you have any kids? Siblings? Surviving parents or grandparents? How did/do you get along with them?

2) Have you “gone adventuring”, or worked with anyone of significance, before? Who? Why did you leave?

3) Do you have a personal symbol, colors, or dress in a particular fashion? A nickname or “title” which you like to use? What are they?

4) Describe; a major turning point, tragedy, or event in your life which made a major impression on you.

5) Do you have a companion, students, mentor, spouse, lover, or other major involvement? If so, who? If not, did you? What happened?

6) Account for the origin of your major talent(s) and disadvantages. If inborn, when did you first discover it/them, and what was the reaction of those about you?

7) As a small child, did you lose something that was precious to you at the time? A pet? A favorite toy? A keepsake? What was it, how did you lose it, and why was it important to you?

8) Give three scenes from your personal history that you recall vividly due to shock, wonder, weirdness, or some strong, associated, emotion.

9) Describe a place where you spend a great deal of your time. Why do you spend it there?

10) How do other people see you? How do you see your- self? How do you try to make them see you?

11) Describe your personal apartments or home. How do you have them decorated? Do you have any heirlooms or personal souvenirs lying around? A view? How do you like the location and the surrounding area?

12) If you could have any kind of pet you wanted, what would it be? What it that you like about that type of creature? What qualities and traits does it represent to you? If it’s a practical creature, why don’t you have one? If you do, what’s it’s name and how long have you had it? Where did you get it?

13) What’s your religious background ? How strong are your beliefs, how do they affect your behavior, and what do you think of those who believe otherwise? What are people – and what is the universe? Does either or both have a destiny?

14) Sketch yourself. Is this how you usually look, the way you’d like to look, or was this a bad moment? (The terminally unartistic can select, or modify, a picture from another source).

15) What is your great secret? Why is it so important to you? How far will you go to keep it hidden?

16) Provide three typical, personal, quotes.

17) Name someone who has greatly influenced your life. How? Inspiration? Teaching? Example? Friendship? A casual contact you found deeply meaningful?

18) What notable organizations (Guilds / Faiths / Clubs / Cabals / Societies / Whatever) do you belong to? Why? How did you join? How deeply are you involved?

19) Provide a brief personal timeline for yourself. It might include military and underworld experience, travel (and why), imprisonment, and involvement in great events.

20) Do you have any impractical romantic ideals? What would you look for in a lover or spouse?

21) Name three easy ways that you can be roped into an adventure/subplot. How does your presence make things easier for the Game Master?

A free hint. This is a major survival mechanism here. Game master’s hate to kill off characters who’ve become integral to their plot.

22) What are your views on violence, and what would it take to change them? How have they worked out for you in the past? (For weird characters; Have you ever been killed? Was it interesting?)

23) Give a bit of your recent history. How did you get to where you will be entering the game?

24) Do you have a “Secret ID”? Which is the real you?

25) Name, and give a few provocative or descriptive bits about, some acquaintances. What makes them notable? Are they enemies, old allies, or simply people you know? Is there a significant figure you like and trust as well or one you dislike and distrust? Why?

These don’t have to be anyone important – but they ought to be interesting enough to make good NPC’s, and to act as potential plot hooks. The Game Master will love you.

26) What’s your status in your family and society? Have you been involved in any major events? What? Are you especially known for anything? Some trait or deed?

27) What is there about yourself that you really like? Don’t like? What are you trying to improve? How have you changed over the years? Have you learned any major lessons about life?

28) Is there anything notable, and known, about you? Some trait or deed? Were you involved in any recent historical event(s)? How?

29) What have you got in the way of personal ethics? How do you see people and the universe?

30) What’s your status in your home – or the local – society? Are you wanted or highly trusted? Been hailed as a hero or villain? Do you have a title or position? Are you popular or outcast? Do you have a record or a high security clearance? Would you be recognized? Why? Were you judged fairly or unfairly? Would you have some sort of legacy coming? Do you want it? Are you a recognized arbitrator, messenger, or other “neutral”?

This, of course, is the original Continuum II fantasy character quiz from more than thirty years ago – but versions of it have made their way through many of the tabletop games since. It’s become a bit less important for online gaming – the players who are inclined to provide details tend to put up blog posts and lengthy chunks of backstory and those who aren’t so inclined are difficult to persuade to come up with so much detail – but it’s still the heart of what makes a character  interesting, and more than a sheet full of numbers. I may put up a few examples, simply because – when it comes to having a really good game – this sort of thing really is a lot more important than optimizing your build. 

 

Continuum II – Attribute Bonuses and Derived Attributes

 

 

 

 

I’ve given up on trying to convert this chart to current standards; it’s too much trouble to try and create something that will fit this blog smoothly – so here’s an image of the original to refer to if you want to click on it.

Lifting Capacity is fairly straightforward. As a rule, a character can haul around up to 20% of his (or her) basic lifting capacity without a problem. Each additional 20% or part thereof gets more tiring – and penalizes a wide variety of other rolls. Going beyond a characters lifting capacity is quite possible, but generally can only be sustained for very brief periods.

Tou (Toughness) is a characters base toughness – the amount of injury from any source that he or she can simply ignore automatically. Note that this stacks with enhancements from martial arts, skills, and other effects. Toughness goes with high strength scores simply because – without it – a character exerting massive strength would severely injure themselves.

AR Bonuses modify a character’s base attack rating. Strength bonuses modify hand-to-hand combat, Dexterity bonuses modify the use of advanced projectile weaponry (The Personal Storage, Propellant, and Energy categories), while their average (rounded up) is used for Leverage- Assisted and Thrown weapons.

DB (Damage Bonus) enhances a character’s ability to inflict damage in hand-to-hand combat and, to a lesser (Halved, rounded up) extent with primitive (Leverage- Assisted and Thrown) projectile weapons. It has no effect on weapons in other categories.

DR (Defense Rating) is simply a character’s basic ability to avoid being hit. It is generally wise not to rely on this too much, even if yours is quite high; combat-focused characters very often have high attack ratings.

In (Initiative) modifies the basic (1D10+1) initiative roll, and helps determine the “count” of the combat round when a character begins acting. No one can act before “1″, and anything over “10″ rolls over into the next round. Given that spells normally require at least one count per level to cast, and are fairly readily disrupted, spellcasters usually need a lot of protection to cast any major spells in a fight.

Max (Maximum) indicates the character’s upper limit on skill point investment in the development of particular abilities. To be more specific; Dexterity limits a characters development of the martial arts, Wisdom limits the improvement of the characters psychic abilities, and Intellect limits the development of most other skills.

PS (Psychic Strength) is simply a characters base reserve of psychic energy – the “fuel” for psychic abilities. While most characters have relatively little use for it, anyone can learn to use a few specifically Psychic Cantrips or psychic versions of common cantrips. Characters may, if they are available,  get minor focusing devices to allow the use of a limited selection of such abilities.

Bind indicates the number of other spirits that the character can anchor with his own aura. While this is most obviously relevant to shamans, spiritualists, and necromancers, a more subtle version of the same effect is used to acquire more ordinary devotees and henchmen – the people whom you can really count on due to their deep bond with you.

Mob indicates the extent of a character’s influence over those who aren’t in direct contact with him – his ability to produce a lasting impression on things like the morale of an army, the loyalty of the city guards, or the dedication of cultists. The “Mob” modifier acts as a penalty on other people’s rolls if (or when) they attempt to interfere.

Skills indicates the basic number of General Skills a character receives. Unlike many of the other values, this is, however, often modified by childhood circumstances:

  • Childhood Environment Modifiers: Highly intensive and/or “ultramodern” education: +1. Physically limited childhood; spent underground, aboard a small space colony, or some such: -2
  • Species Behavioral Modifiers: Solitary, antisocial, or innately clannish race: -2
  • Species Longevity Modifiers: Extremely long-lived racial stock (500+ years): +5. Long-lived racial stock (200-400 years): +3. Short-lived racial stock (40- years): -1.
  • Character Age Modifiers: Character is extremely “young” for his/her type: -3. Character is middle-aged for his/her type: +1. Character is elderly for his/her type: +2.
  • Exotic Species Modifiers: Alien/Feral/Exotica: See General Skills Notes / Special Modifiers

Boosts are only relevant if somebody has “Secondary Ramifications” on an enhanced attribute (QV; Talents), in which case “boosts” indicates the number of special abilities that such a talent will bestow. It’s important to note that Armsmen, and certain of their subclasses, thanks to their focus on self-enhancement, get a bonus on talents and will often use this column.

Endurance got it’s own chart, because I ran out of room even with the tight compression of the first chart…

 

PM (Personal Mana) indicates the character’s basic supply of magical energy. It’s not usually a lot, although Faerie multiply this basic score by their (Might/2). Personal Mana is usually used to power Cantrips – for most characters through a cheap focusing device or two with a preset selection available. While Cantrips are of limited power, they can be quite handy.

VB (The Vitality Bonus) applies to vitality rolls and any healing that the character receives – including natural healing. Column 1 applies to Primary Combatants, 2 to Semi- and Tertiary Combatants, and column 3 to Noncombatants.

Spells” indicates bonus spell points per level for primary spellcasters.

PS (Psychic Strength) indicates bonus Psychic Strength for Primary Psychics. The number after the slash is bonus recovery per hour, a bonus which applies to all characters.

The Vitality Base is just that; how much punishment a character can absorb due simply to his/her endurance score. This also measures the portion of a characters Vitality Score that actually represents the physical capacity to absorb and withstand damage. That’s usually a rather small part of a high level characters total Vitality.

One of Endurances major functions was as a measure of a characters ability to generate personal occult power – and so did very different things depending on what a particular character channeled that power into. Primary combatants tended to be incredibly durable, while those who focused on magic or mental powers were less durable, but gained additional reserves of energy to use their powers with.

Both game masters and players are generally advised to avoid using characters with unspecialized Intellect, or Wisdom, scores above 24. It’s difficult to play someone who’s mental abilities are beyond your comprehension.

When it comes to game design… Attributes in this style are more complex at first then current ideas of generic modifiers – but are far less subject to change during play. That was more or less what made them Attributes. If Conan was incredibly strong at the start, he wasn’t twice as incredibly strong later on. The Gray Mouser didn’t get faster at higher levels; he just learned more tricks and more ways to exploit his natural speed. It also meant a lot less focus on any one attribute; sure, one or two attributes would probably be most important to any given character – but all of them were useful to anyone. Your low-intellect but high endurance mage might not know as many spells as a mage with the opposite arrangement – but he or she would get more chances to cast them. 

Continuum II – Basic Attributes

Since I’ve been asked for some more of the Continuum II stuff – and I’ve managed to get some of the old files disentangled and have edited out most of the corrupted parts – here’s the segment on the seven Basic Attributes.

Attributes are a simplified way of measuring a characters innate strengths and weaknesses, and are necessarily broad and general; while “Intellect” might be broken down into; memory, logic, mathematical ability, insight, education, and many other variant categories, it usually suffices to note a “base level” and handle subcategories elsewhere – if at all. Subcategories are rarely worth the trouble.

Continuum II games normally employ seven basic attributes and at least three optional attributes. The basic attributes are Intellect, Wisdom, Perception, Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, and Presence. They should be applicable in most settings. A partial list of optional attributes is given later, however individual game masters (and players) may have ideas of their own.

The “normal” range of human and near-human attributes extends from 0 to 21 – although values below three or over 18 represent exceptional extremes, usually indicating either a severe illness or disorder at the low end or special talents or training at the high end. Typical values are in the 7-12 range, however player characters are often exceptional in one way or the other.

Intellect measures the characters ability to acquire, recall, and logically manipulate, facts – including extrapolating them into the future to predict events. While these are arguably separate abilities, strength in one can counter weakness in another. Superior logic can get along with fewer facts, superior recall can compensate for learning slowly or trouble in coming up with original solutions – and being quick to learn can compensate for forgetting a lot or being slow to figure things out. “Intellect” also covers the extent of a characters background knowledge and is the primary influence (with longevity and educational efforts being strictly secondary) on the number of general skills he or she will have picked up during childhood. It does not cover creativity and originality. Intellect has a major impact on a characters scholarly abilities and determines the upper limit on the characters development of non-martial and non-psychic skills. Characters with extremely high levels of Intellect are best left as NPC’s, simply because it can become near-impossible to properly represent their capabilities without resorting to (roll) “well… he predicted that gambit some time ago, and has prepared a countermeasure…” – and that sort of thing tends to frustrate the players if overdone.

Wisdom is measures the characters ability to access the deeper levels of his or her soul – the buried memories and accumulated experience of prior lives (generally in the thousands or millions for any character with a reasonably Wisdom score). It thus measures psychic stability and will, judgement, “common sense”, and genre awareness, as well as the ability to assess the likely outcomes of various plans. Creativity is partially a function of Wisdom, since it may allow a character to “come up with” a solution drawn from some distant prior lifetime – but it does not cover true originality (although that is extremely rare in the multiverse). Practically, while “Intellect” may let you know all about why smoking is bad for you, it’s wisdom that helps you stop. Wisdom determines a characters basic psychic strength, his or her resistance to psychic attack, ability to develop psychic abilities, and resistance to the “detachment” resulting from a true death. (Dying is less stressful for those who are already in deeper contact with their soul – but do it too many times and you will still lose contact with your physical form and so will have to start over with a new birth). Characters with very high Wisdoms are prone to getting informed by the game master of the merits and flaws of their ideas and plans.

Perception measures just how likely a character is to notice things, a combination of sensory acuity, how much attention the character pays to his or her surroundings, and the ability to properly integrate that information. It should not be confused with intellect. Even very stupid animals can be extremely perceptive and alert. Perception modifies few other rolls, but is possibly the most often used attribute regardless. Perception also serves as a measurement of how sensitive a character is to obscure and arcane influences – including subtle social and behavioral cues. Given how often noticing something is critical to an adventurers success – or even survival – Perception is very handy. At transhuman levels it becomes an innate awareness of the state of the universe – allowing the character to sense cosmic disturbances, tell what is in a container without opening it, determine if they’re in a high radiation zone, and otherwise simply “know” things that he or she has no actual sensory method of finding out.

Strength measures a characters raw physical power and his or her ability to apply it effectively. Perhaps the easiest attribute to understand and measure, Strength is a vital factor in melee and primitive missile combat. It becomes less relevant with increasing technology. Strength is also the most obvious example of the differences between heroic and superheroic settings – as the dual column for “lifting capacity” clearly shows. In a Heroic setting things like leverage, ground support, the durability of your own bones, and many other factors limit a characters Strength in “realistic” ways. In a Mythic setting… Superman may indeed lift battleships, or Thor hoist up the Midgard Serpent or partially drain the seas with no worries about that being physically impossible. Yes, most characters are personally physically impossible – but in a Mythic setting the world beyond themselves also acknowledges their distortion of physical reality.

Endurance measures a characters personal resilience – his/her ability to sustain major efforts, resist damage, recover from injuries and fatigue, withstand toxins, and resist disease. Secondarily, it covers things like doing without rest, getting along on a lousy diet, and surviving exposure. Essentially, “Endurance” simply describes how well the characters body functions under stress. This is not, however, primarily a physical quantity once it begins to transcend normal physical levels. At that point it becomes a measure of a characters Percipient ability to override mere “reality” and insist on his or her own existence. With enough Endurance, there comes a point where characters can not merely withstand having their blood replaced with boiling lead or breathing fluoroantimonic acid. They can withstand things that should rip their atomic structure apart into subatomic particles. Endurance is the major reason why single mighty attacks are often less effective then a dozen far weaker ones: the dozen are more likely to convince a characters unconscious mind that he or she SHOULD be hurt.

Dexterity is a measure of coordination, fine control, reflexes, and reaction time – the speed and precision of the characters neuromuscular system. For characters who aren’t limited by low strength, it also determines their agility. As with Intellect, any deficiency in one aspect of dexterity can usually be compensated for by another – hence a composite rating will do for most purposes. Dexterity is a vital factor in the use of ranged weaponry and when doing precision and/or high-speed work. As usual in Continuum II, at high enough levels Dexterity is less a matter of mere physics and time than of perception and belief. It may make no sense for a character to see an incoming laser beam before it arrives, and then to dodge it, without catastrophic side effects – and even less to interrupt something that mere physics says has already happened – but with a high enough Dexterity, that sort of stunt is quite possible.

Presence measures the strength of a characters psychic aura – almost literally their “strength of personality”. It governs the ability to lead and sway others (although you can have great Presence without good ideas or planning skills), to bind spirits to yourself regardless of their nature (living henchmen, bound spirits, obedient sentient undead, and many other types of minions all fall into this category), and to command obedience in those with lesser abilities. On the personal side it measures a characters resistance to being swayed by emotions (including fear), their “strength of will”, and how strongly they hold to their convictions. Of course, while Presence alone does not make someone an effective leader, or convey skill in communicative, persuasive, or manipulative abilities, just as raw Strength does not necessarily include skill in using it to best effect, a high presence will usually get them a chance to try and makes attempts at using even the crudest of such skills far more likely to succeed.

While attributes have numerical values, they are also described by the terms given below. Hopefully this will serve to give everyone some “sense” of what the abstract values actually mean.

  • 00: Nonexistent. The character has no measurable degree of this quality.
  • 01: Abysmal. About as bad as it can get and still be there.
  • 02: Dreadful. Worse than your average infant.
  • 03: Horrible. Either a small animal or something is severely wrong.
  • 04: Pathetic. The sort of person you automatically move to help because it’s painful to watch.
  • 05: Feeble. They might be able to do it themselves, but it won’t be quick.
  • 06: Inept. You wince a bit, but wait to be asked to help.
  • 07-08: Poor. Clumsy, unexercised, or otherwise a bit below average.
  • 09-10: Average. Normal. Most people fall into this band for most of their attributes – enough so that you can just note any that are exceptionally good or bad and save a little work.
  • 11-12: Fair. Better than average, the ones who “show potential”.
  • 13: Good. A high school athlete or weightlifter, a truly talented child star.
  • 14: Superior. Measurably better than the vast majority of people.
  • 15: Noteworthy. The expert at something who you hire to lead teams.
  • 16: Remarkable. “Wow. That’s amazing. How can you do that?”
  • 17: Exceptional. One in thousands.
  • 18: Extraordinary. You wouldn’t have believed that a normal person could do that without seeing it.
  • 19: Marvelous. Something to be discussed, told in tales, and marveled at.
  • 20: Fantastic. Pretty much the maximum you’d credit for any human being.
  • 21: Incredible. Stuff that’s downright unbelievable. No one could do that!
  • 22: Prodigious. Beyond normal human limits. The stuff you hear about in stories but which no one can reproduce.
  • 23: Phenomenal. A unique event, beyond being credited save as the outcome of some hidden effect or enhancement.
  • 24: Stupendous. Something you probably wouldn’t believe if you saw it, such as Krakatoa exploding.
  • 25: Unearthly. On the cosmic level. Too much to be attributed to any force a mere planet can contain.
  • 26: Preternatural. Beyond the limits of what is permitted by mere laws of nature.
  • 27: Monstrous. Something that shreds the laws of nature. The Godzilla threshold.
  • 28: Unbelievable. No. That cannot possibly have happened. There must be another explanation.
  • 29: Legendary. Sure, maybe in a work of fiction. It could never really happen.
  • 30+: Mythic. The sort of thing that you can only attribute to divine intervention.

By current RPG standards the Continuum II rules were a little bit odd. The attributes – including social attributes – were all concrete, measurable things with physics-based explanations for how they worked – but they worked according to the rules of multiversal physics, as built up from the primordial concepts of Life, Death, Separation, and Sequence, rather than from something as trivial as the lower-level natural laws that had been imposed during the creation of any given setting.

Eclipse and Skill-Based Partial Casters II

And for today, it’s another offline question…

Is there a way (other than Stunts) to cast spells or otherwise empower magic with your normal skills?

Well, yes; of course. This IS Eclipse after all. Even discounting the Martial Arts Skill Magics that Kelelawar uses, you could buy:

  • 30d6 Mana with the Unskilled Magic Option, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Unskilled Magic, cannot spend more mana per day on unskilled magic in a given field then one point per rank in an associated skill (60 CP). That’s about 105 points of Mana, An approximation, but many characters have few skills and others are unlikely to be called on much. How often are you going to need your full supply of Knowledge/Geography spells?
  • Rite of Chi with +48 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the mana pool for unskilled magic (39 CP). Even with seriously below-average rolls that ought to do it. The total of 49D6 will pretty reliably beat the total of 30D6 – reliably enough so that there is little need to bother rolling.

Of course, unskilled magic eventually starts becoming ineffectual. You’d want some Augmented Bonus or Berserker (or both) to boost it, and perhaps an Immunity to wasting Mana with side effects, and so on. Worse, since this covers every skill… so eventually you’re going to start wondering what kind of magic “Profession/Lawyer” and “Craft/Carpentry” cover. Not all skills are really that well-suited for powering spellcasting.

Worst of all… this involves extra bookkeeping since your Mana pool is very unlikely to match your skill ranks exactly and you’ll need to keep track of both. This only approximates what is wanted.

As is fairly common when someone wants a new magic system, The best option here is to go with Immunities: Admittedly, these will be natural-law immunities, and so will require permission from the game master, but – as such things go I suspect that these are going to be relatively low powered compared to most natural-law immunities. Permission shouldn’t be a problem.

So first up…

Crafting Skills should probably be better at empowering items than at spellcasting – although you could do both. Why can’t you use Smithcrafting Magic to produce a “Heat Metal” effect? Still, the number of suitable spells for “Craft/Perfumer” is going to be fairly limited. Ergo, take…

  • Touch Of The Svartalfar: Immunity/The Normal Limits Of Craft Skills. Each Craft Skill now provides “points” equal to it’s base rank. These may be invested each day in personal magical devices suited to the skill in question. It takes 1 point to empower a Charm, 2 for a Talisman, and (2+ Value / 2000 GP) to empower a more powerful item – although item slots are not relevant, since these run on personal magic. (Very Common, Major, Variable: 5 CP to empower 1-point items. 10 CP for 1-3 point items, and 15 CP for up to 5-point items (6000 GP). After that… this starts becoming prohibitively expensive. It’s 30 CP for up to 7-point items, 45 CP for 9-point items, and 60 CP for up to 20-point items.

This is very useful at lower levels, where a handful of low-powered items can be a major power boost, but becomes less relevant at higher levels – although a handful of slot-free minor items can still be fairly handy. Whether or not that’s worth 15 CP and keeping some Craft skills up is up to you.

For most other skills we’re going to want actual spellcasting. To get that, take…

  • Occult Master: Immunity / The normal limits of 2-4 Skills (2 for low magic settings, 3 for moderate magic settings, and 4 for high magic settings – like most standard d20 games). Each affected skill now provides daily “points” equal to it’s rating. These “points” can be used for Unskilled Magic, but only for effects appropriate to the skill. The point cost can be halved, and the side effects eliminated, by using the points to set up prepared spells instead of using them spontaneously. Very Common, Major, Trivial (maximum of level one effects, 5 CP), Minor (maximum of level three effects, 10 CP), Major (maximum of level five effects, 15 CP), Great (maximum of level seven effects, 30 CP), Epic (maximum of level nine effects, 45 CP), and Legendary (maximum of level 20 effects, 60 CP). Of course, since this is still limited by the rules for Unskilled Magic (below), this means that most characters might as well stop at the 15-point level – and they’ll likely need to buy further boosts to fully exploit even that.

Unskilled Magic:

  • Whatever-it-is you’re trying to do will cost 2 Mana (“Points”) per level of the effect – half of which is wasted and a quarter of which goes into random side effects.
  • The Casting Level equals the user’s level or (Int/3 + the effect level), whichever is less.
  • The maximum level of effect which can be produced equals the user’s base Will save bonus or (Wis/3), whichever is less.
    Keeping the side effects down to displays and inconvenient effects (rather than dangerous ones) requires a Cha check at a DC of ([2x the Mana used] + 6). The side effects are always up to the Game Master

 

This Immunity is useful, and actually reasonably powerful – but after going for the most obvious set of skills (Knowledge/Arcane (Wizard Spells), Knowledge/Religion (Cleric Spells), and Knowledge/Nature (Druid Spells), you’re going to be trying to figure out what can be done with spells appropriate to Profession/Lawyer, Survival, and Perform/Woodwinds. I can think of plenty of useful things to do with all three of those – but few of them are going to be major contributions to any specific adventure and most are extremely situational. Worse, at lower levels… if you have +10 in Knowledge/Arcana, you’re going to run out of your spontaneous Wizardry after five levels of spells – and while a timely Fireball, a Magic Missile, and a Grease spell are all very useful, that’s not going to carry you through an adventure.

Just for fun, you can give these individual names:

    • The Lotus Of Jade for Knowledge Skills. Probably the first choice, since it provides classical, broad-themed, spellcasting.
    • Channeling The Dragon Lines for Physical Skills, such as Acrobatics, Escape Artist, Ride, and Martial Arts. This will let you pull off anime-style stunts like a cut-down Tome Of Battle character.
    • The Cunning Man for sneaky skills – Bluff, Disguise, Intimidate, and Stealth. If you want illusions, enchantments, and shapeshifting, this is for you.
    • The Secret Arts for skills like Diplomacy, Handle Animal, Heal, and Survival. With this you can fascinate and persuade, summon and control animals, heal, and create traps and camps.
    • Master Of The Secret Order for Profession skills.
    • Master Of Sleights for Disable Device, Linguistics, Sleight Of Hand, and Use Magic Device. Go ahead, destroy your enemies weapons, speak power words, teleport items about, and enhance and manipulate devices.
    • For Perform Skills…there is nothing at all wrong with simply using art-based magic. Still, you might want to consider taking either Mystic Artist (6 CP Each) or Performance-based Ritual Magic (6 CP) – perhaps committing a few rituals to memory with the remaining (3 CP).

To be an even halfway decent spellcaster, you’re going to want to take three or four versions of Occult Master – totaling 45 to 60 CP. You’ll also need to take…

  • The Immaculate Will/Immunity: Loss of Mana/”Points” to Side Effects when using unskilled magic (Very Common, Major, Variable Trivial (the first point, 5 CP), Minor (the first three points, 10 CP), Major (the first 5 points, 15 CP), Great (the first 7 points, 30 CP), Epic (the first 9 points, 45 CP), or Legendary (the first 20 points, 60 CP).

Once again, the first 15 CP worth of this is generally sufficient. Still, we’re now up to 75-90 CP.

Lets now throw in…

  • Tongue Of Magic/Augmented Bonus: Add (Att Mod, Choice of Cha Mod, Con Mod, or Dex Mod) to the calculated Minimum Caster Level and (Att Mod/2) to the Maximum Spell Level when using Unskilled Magic – both Corrupted for Increased Effect (adding an Attribute Modifier to things that don’t normally get one) / this will not increase the caster level above the user’s level and only increases the maximum spell level by half the relevant attribute modifier. Sadly, this will not let the user exceed the spell level limits of the purchased immunities that let him or her use this version of Unskilled Magic in the first place (6 CP).

Without this, even a high-intelligence character is going to peak out at around caster level eight or so. With this… they can keep up for a few levels longer, which is pretty reasonable for a cheap power.

After that, they’ll need…

  • Occult Focus/Berserker with Enduring: +6 to effective Caster Levels, +4 Charisma, -2 AC for (Con Mod + 3) rounds, activated as a free action (1 + Level/3) times daily (9 CP).
  • At really high levels they’ll need to add Odinpower and Odinmight for Berserker (increasing the total to +12 Caster Levels, +8 Charisma, and -2 AC for +6 CP). They’ll still be using lower-level magic, but at least it will be reasonably EFFECTIVE low-level magic.

Finally, of course, to make this build work you’re going to need to keep 9-12 (or even more) skills at or near maximum. That’s going to call for both permitted instances of Adept (12 CP), Fast Learner Specialized in Skills (6 CP), and Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (Add a second Attribute Modifier to your Intelligence Modifier for Skill Purposes, 18 CP).

Which takes us up to… 126-141 CP. Plus any more skill boosters or Mystic Artist you decide to throw in.

That puts us firmly in the “Partial Caster” category – which, with a maximum of fifth level effects, fits nicely. The Skillmaster Caster will have quite a lot of magic to work with at high levels – but it will be divided into many small special-purpose (if freeform) pools, so they’ll have to be pretty clever about using it if they want to be effective at really high levels. Still, they’ll have a much easier time remaining relevant than most skill monkeys.

You could pursue things up to the “Full Caster” level with skill boosters, but at least those are dual-purpose; higher skill bases are generally useful for more than magic. As a better alternative… Take a Companion (Familiar) with a +4 ECL Template (18 CP): Returning (Corrupted / must be resummoned by master), Occult Master x 3 (45 CP), and The Immaculate Will (15 CP). Since a Familiar has your skills – if not all your bonuses – this will let it cast spells too, if at a much lower caster level. Getting to routinely cast two spells a round, even if they are lower level spells  and the second one is at a lower caster level, can be quite useful. It probably still isn’t a match for the ability to cast ninth level spells, but even at 160+ points its still notably cheaper than spending 280 CP buying the full Wizard spellcasting progression.

A Skillmaster Caster neatly breaks down the boundaries between Skills and Magic – which is entirely sensible in a world of magic. I think I’d welcome one in any one of my fantasy-based settings.