d20, Giant Otters, and Upgrades Thereof

Giant Otters have been bouncing around D&D games since Blackmoor – but haven’t usually been a major menace. In this case, however, they may be, since the original base species got experimented on – first creating the Untremi of the Anomaly and later the Militarized Untremi – also known in some regions as the “Zerg”. So here are the base statistics. Also a minor experiment in using the Pathfinder format.

Giant Otter:

  • Challenge Rating: 1/2
  • Neutral (Playful) Medium Animal
  • Initiative +3; Senses Low-Light Vision, Scent; Perception +10

DEFENSE

  • AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 12 (+2 Natural, +3 Dexterity)
  • HP 13 (2d8+4)
  • Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +2

OFFENSE

  • Speed 30 ft, swim 50 ft.
  • Melee bite +1 (1d4 plus grab)
  • Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
  • Special Attacks rake (2 claws +2 (1d3)), Improved Trip (running between your legs).

STATISTICS

  • Str 10, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 12
  • Base Attack +1; CMB +4 (+8 grapple); CMD 17 (21 vs trip)
  • Feats Finesse (Uses Dex Mod instead of Str Mod for Combat Maneuver purposes).
  • Skills Acrobatics +7, Disable Device +5, Perception +10, Stealth +5, Swim +8.
    • Racial Modifiers: +2 Disable Device, +4 Perception, +2 Stealth, +8 Swim
  • Special Qualities: Cute (people often keep them as pets), Hold Breath, Weather Tolerance (can live outdoors with few issues).

ECOLOGY

  • Environment: rivers and lakes, warm swamps and marshes, wet jungles, and shorelines.
  • Organization: solitary, pair, family (1d6+2), or clan/pack (3d6+3)
  • Treasure: Mildly valuable pelts. 20% chance of playthings in lair which might (but likely will not) include something shiny and potentially valuable.

Giant Otters are native to rivers, lakes, and shorelines, where they feed primarily on fish, including (in a fine demonstration of the advantages of a warm-blooded air breathing metabolism over a cold-blooded water breathing metabolism) predatory fish such as piranha, and secondarily on reptiles, crustaceans, and molluscs. They hunt in the daytime, are very alert, and live in family groups of up to eight individuals centered on a breeding pair. They are highly social, fiercely territorial, and can be quite affectionate, with many behaviors resembling wolves or dogs. Attacks on people (usually while swimming) are rare, but do occur (mostly when they are defending their territory or young). They are clever with their paws and can get into all kinds of things (sea otters are actually took users, which is fairly rare in the animal world). Males can reach almost 8 feet long (although a sizeable part of that will be their muscular tail) although females are usually slightly smaller. Unsurprisingly, their short (and mostly) brown fur is very soft, dense, and water-repellent. They are quite clever for animals, and make good (if excitable and bouncy) companions. Unfortunately, they are notorious for scaring horses and knocking things over.

Thanks to their “Playful” and “Cute” qualities, characters will often find it more profitable to catch and sell giant otters alive than it is to kill them – which also generally counts as defeating them. It’s also perfectly possible to take them as familiars or animal companions, although probably not as riding animals unless you are very small or you make your otter a great deal larger.

I would, out of fond memories, recommend The True Story Of Okee The Otter – but evidently enough other people share those memories to make obtaining a copy absurdly expensive.

Eclipse, Exalted Feats, and the Vow Of Poverty

Loh, in the fathomless depths of d20 lurk the books of Exalted Deeds and Vile Darkness. And in them was… a lot of stuff. Quite a lot of it was either silly or honestly didn’t work that well. Still, there’s a question that comes up every so often, and it’s been asked again recently – so here it is:

How would you build the Vow Of Poverty in Eclipse?

In this case… it’s more “How would I build a notably-improved Vow Of Poverty in Eclipse”, because – except for a few special situations and builds – the Vow Of Poverty was a pretty poor option. Just to start with, it made many characters unplayable. You could have mundane simple weapons, basic clothing, a days food, and a spell component pouch – and nothing else. The only other items you could use were potions and spell components, and then only if a friend gave it to you and you used it right away. So no Spellbook, or Holy Symbol, or Thieves Tools, or Alchemy Kit, or Healers Kit. That left a lot of characters pretty much out of luck. Yes, Vow Of Poverty provided some decent bonuses – but a lot of characters need some equipment just to function and most of them use magic items to cover gaps in their abilities and compensate for weakness, not just to get bonuses.

On the other hand, if you happened to be playing a shapeshifter, or were in a low-treasure or low-magic setting, or were using a few specific builds, or no one ever used any tactics… Vow Of Poverty could be quite overpowering. After all, if no one could get much of any items, or you were using a class designed to function without them, then the benefits were pure gravy.

I’m also not going to worry about the level-structure the Vow had. Sure, it sucked in a few people with early bonuses, but trapping players isn’t really what the game is all about and you could take it at any time anyway.

Classically, taking Vow Of Poverty required the expenditure of two Feats / 12 CP – one on Sacred Vow and one on Vow Of Poverty.

Taking the Eclipse version also requires 12 CP:

  • Siddhisyoga: Specialized for Increased Effect (Value of Powers = Value of Treasure Given Up) / The user cannot interface with external magical items, and so cannot use Magic Items other than Potions (taken internally) or Oils (applied to something else) and may use neither Artifacts nor Relics. He or she is also barred from the use of technological equipment that interfaces with the nervous system and cannot use cyberware, treasure given up must be donated to charity or other good works and – when items that must be resold are donated – only counts as the (50%) resale price. The return rate may not be upgraded further: 100% is the maximum (6 CP).

This is “poverty” in d20 adventurer terms; no magic items beyond potions. Baseline d20 worlds are worlds of Wealth By Level, were even first level commoners are doing very very well by real-world medieval standards. Past a certain point in d20… mundane gear means very little.

  • Immunity to Dispelling (Common, Minor, Grand, Specialized / only to protect Siddhisyoga powers, not external spells, potions, or other items (6 CP). The user’s abilities are not affected by Dispel Magic, Greater Dispel Magic, or similar powers, but will not function in an Antimagic Sphere, Dead Magic Zone, or similar.

The upside? Your items cannot be taken away and are immune to targeted dispelling (not that that is a very common tactic since it mostly briefly inconveniences a single character, which is a bad use of an action). The downside? You can upgrade things, but can’t really trade them out and cannot take advantage of party item crafters to double up the value of your gear.

So what will you be buying?

Armor Class Bonuses:

  • Force Armor or Shield +2/4/6/7, Spell Level 0/1/2/3, CL 1/1/3/5, Personal-Only, costs 700/1400/8400/21,000 GP.
  • Barkskin: +2/3/4/5 Natural Armor, Spell Level 2, CL 3/6/9/12, Personal-Only, costs 8400/16,800/25,200/33,600 GP.
  • Shield Of Faith: +2/3/4/5 Deflection, Spell Level 1, CL 1/6/12/18, Personal-Only, costs 1400/8400/16,800/25,200 GP.
    • Base: +10 total Armor/Shield +2 Natural +3 Deflection = 26,200 GP.

Survival Effects:

  • Crystal Of Adaption: Endure Elements 500 GP, add Immunity to Planar Alignment Traits +1000 GP, add Immunity to Positive and Negative Energy Planar Traits +1500 GP.
  • Ring of Sustanence: 2500 GP. Need not eat or drink, needs little sleep.
  • Necklace Of Adaption: 9000 GP, protects against all gases, the user may breathe anywhere.
    • Base: Endure Elements + Sustanence + Necklace of Adaption = 12,000 GP

Attribute Boosts:

  • Individual Attribute Option: +1/2/4/6/7/8 to an Attribute, SL 0/1/2/3/4/5, CL 1/1/3/5/7/9, x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) = 700/1400/8400/21,000/39,200/63,ooo GP.
  • Universal Option: +1/2/4/6/7/8 to All Attributes, SL 3/4/5/6/7/8, CL 5/7/9/11/13/15, x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) = 21,000/39,200/63.000/92,400/127,400/168,000 GP.
  • Base: +2/4/6/8 = 93,800 GP

Resistance Bonus:

  • Warding Rune: +1/2/3/4 Resistance Bonus to Saves, SL1, CL 1/3/6/9, x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) = 700/1400/8400/12,600 GP
    • Base: +3 = 8400 GP.

Damage Reduction:

  • Flesh Ward (Conjuration Variant), DR 1/2/5/7/10 versus choice of Good/Evil/Adamantine/Etc, SL0/1/2/3/4, CL 1/1/3/5/7, x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) = 700/1400/8400/21.000/39,200 GP.
  • Base: 10/Evil = 39,200 GP.

Attack Enhancement:

  • Bless Weapon or Magic Weapon: L1 x CL1 x 2000 GP = 2000 GP.
  • Magic Ghost Touch Weapon or Magic Weapon +2: L2 x CL3 x 2000 GP = 12,000 GP.
  • Magic Holy Weapon or Magic Weapon +3: L3 x CL5 x 2000 GP = 30,000 GP
  • Holy “Sword” (or whatever weapon you happen to lie, including unarmed): L4 x CL7 x x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) = 56,000 GP.
    • Base: Holy “Sword”, 56,000 GP. (Actually an upgrade, but close enough).

Special Functions:

  • Phylactery of Faithfulness: 1000 GP.
  • Ring Of Freedom Of Movement: 40,000 GP.
  • True Seeing: L5 x CL9 x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) = 63,000 GP.
  • Regeneration: Pearly White Spindle Ioun Stone: Cracked (1/Hour, 3400 GP), Flawed (4/Hour, 18.000 GP), Whole (6/Hour, 20,000 GP)
  • Universal Energy Resistance: L4 x CL7 (For Resistance-10) or CL11 (For Resistance 15) x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x.7 (Personal Only) x.25 (Quarter Effect) or x.5 (Half Effect) = 9800 GP for Resistance-5, 19,600 GP for Resistance 10, and 30,800 for Resistance 15.
    • Base: Ring Of Freedom Of Movement, True Seeing, Regeneration (Cracked), Resistance 15 = 137,200 GP.

That’s a total of 372,800 GP. Admittedly, that’s a lot – about what you could expect to have at around level sixteen or seventeen – but it lags well behind the 800,000 or so you could expect to have around level twenty and offers no information about epic level stuff.

Of course, Vow Of Poverty also provided up to ten Exalted Feats – although not, of course, the ones that Vow Of Poverty rendered useless.. Now Feats in items are usually valued at about 10,000 GP each – but the problem with Exalted Feats is that most of them were pretty useless and some – for example, improved Familiars, Mounts, or Companions – basically don’t do anything at all in Eclipse.

There were even a bunch of mutually exclusive ones that provided a +1 Luck Bonus once per day. Now that’s not only lazy writing, but it’s hardly worth a Feat. Others provided some minor skill bonuses.

  • Improvisation: SL1 x CL10 x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x.2 (The Pool of Luck Points is limited per day, not per casting) = 4000 GP. The user gets 20 “Luck Points” per day and may spend up to 5 of them to improve any given attack check, skill check, or ability check, declaring the use before the roll. You may take this more than once; that expands the pool size, but not the spending limit.
  • There are a number of Exalted Feats which give +4 to a particular set of saves (usually at a high price, which we won’t be paying attention to) – for example, Poisons and Drugs, Charms and Phantasms, Compulsions, and Disease and Death. These can be duplicated with a special-purpose, personal-only, first level spell effect for (1400 GP).
  • Skill and Check Bonuses are not uncommon: Skill Mastery, SL 0/1/2/3 at CL 1/1/3/5 (for +1/2/4/5 Competence Bonus to All Skills and Checks) x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x.7 Personal Only = 700/1400/8400/21,000 GP.
  • For general-purpose survival consider Ruin Delver’s Fortune: L4 x CL7 x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command Word Activated) x .8 (Four uses / Day) x.5 (each effect may only be used once per day) = 20,160 GP.
  • One provides access to some arcane spell formula. That’s meaningless for a Sorcerer in Eclipse and the total value is only 5100 GP for a Wizard. In this case, what you want is a Runestaff, which can provide some very helpful flexibility.

A few – like the Vow Of Nonviolence or Vow Of Peace – are gamebreaking, not because of their power, but because “I will not harm or kill anyone” puts you pretty out of step with almost any d20 game.

Others provide…

  • +1 Sacred Bonus to AC (Ward Of Light, L1, 1400 GP)
  • Immunity to Fear (A L1 Minor spell or – if you wish to protect the party against Fear, Stunning, and Confusion, Banner Of The Storm’s Eye, 15,000 GP)
  • +4 Spell Resistance Versus Evil Spells (Another L1 effect, falling under Attribute Enhancement, 1400 GP).
  • Minor Healing (Healing Belt x 10, 7500 GP, 30 charges/Day, spend 1/2/3 to heal 2/3/4d8 damage, +2 to Heal Checks).
  • Light Of Purity (L2, Shed bright light in a 10′ radius, shadowy out to 20, 1d4 damage/round to undead).
  • Small Morale bonuses to the user (L1 Inspiring Word, Personal Only, 1400 GP).
  • Add uses of stuff that’s based on Attributes (The attribute boosts cover that. No cost).
  • Let you detect particular types of enemies within 60 Feet (L1, like Detect Undead, or L2 to make it automatic).
  • Provide small boosts to weapon damage (L1 or L2 again, there are many such spells).
  • Inflict a Ravage (an evil/undead only poison) on those you strike. Probably L2 or L3.
  • Adding 3d6 Damage to your Turning attempts (Probably L2, as this is nowhere near as good as Holy Storm).
  • Iron Fist (L1, +2 to the Save DC for your Stunning Fist, one round of being Staggered follows the round of Stunning, 2000 GP).
  • Gentle Wrath (L2, turns your melee damage into nonlethal damage, Personal Only, 8400 GP).
  • Let you use your (Wis Mod) instead of (Str Mod) with a weapon. (L2, Personal Only, 8400 GP).

And that’s about it. There are a few other Exalted Feats that might be worthwhile in some builds, but most of them are pretty much incompatible with Vow Of Poverty. Since a character using this version of Vow Of Poverty will have extra money to buy them – or other useful powers – with, this should work just fine.

Overall, this version still has it’s limitations, but it’s now a viable tool for creating a wide variety of builds. If it’s a general rule in a game, it means that money can be spent on charity, building up kingdoms, caring for orphaned children, and similar projects, rather than just buying more equipment with it.

Dungeon Crasher Style (Str)

There was a point in d20 where the “Dungeon Crasher” option for fighters was fairly widely recommended. After all, it opened up a niche that nobody else really had access to at the time – repositioning opponents without effectively giving up your actions to do it. It wasn’t the most powerful option of all time, but it was one of the few genuinely special toys that fighters could get. Personally I never ran into it much, simply because my games never ran much to Dungeons OR Classes; they tended to be wide-open transdimensonal Eclipse-based space operas where mages had trouble keeping up with martial types because a low-level fighter could be using advanced power armor, a microfusion missile launcher, ultratech grenades, and armored vehicles or spaceships. But there was a recent question about it, and it fits in among the other martial arts requests, so here is a (better edited and much more detailed) version of the quick notes that I gave that questioner to pass on to whoever-it-was that wanted it.

Dungeon Crasher is all about being a living wrecking ball – plowing through walls, traps, and opponents, smashing them between you and solid objects, and ignoring the consequences more or less as if you really were a huge ball of steel. You could build this as a spell or something – I once built a young 1’st edition mage who’s pride and joy was his thesis-project “boots of heavy kicking” that let him kick down doors, punt small creatures, and kick larger ones away from him as if he had 18/00 strength in his legs (only, and only a limited number of times per day, which made them MUCH cheaper than Gauntlets Of Ogre Power) – but this is a fighter thing, so I’m going to go with a nice cheap Martial Art. Any halfway decent Eclipse-built fighter will have several of those anyway.

Dungeon Crasher Style (Str-Based):

Requires: Improved Bull Rush (You no longer suffer an Attack Of Opportunity when you Bull Rush and gain a +4 bonus on your strength check to push back a defender) or equivalent point buy. A high Strength, a BAB of 2+, and an overwhelming desire to smash into things is highly recommended.

Basic Techniques:

  • Defenses 4, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Applies to Saves too) / Only versus Traps. This will provide a bonus of +2/4/6/8 to the user’s AC and Saves against traps.
  • Power 4, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / adds +1d6 per level damage to the effects of Bull Rushing someone into a wall or similar obstacle. There’s a better technique later, but the basic technique is a start.

Master Techniques:

  • Breaking: You may add your Dungeon Smasher skill total to your rolls to break things. This can let you smash things REALLY effectively.
  • Sneak Attack 3: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (3d6 per time taken) / only with a successful Bull Rush maneuver ending in a wall to smash the opponent into.
    • Alternatively, you could reduce the maximum Sneak Attack rating to 2 and throw in Mind Like Moon: Specialized for Increased Effect / if the user is Surprised, he or she may roll initiative normally, but the only action they may take in the surprise round is to attempt to Bull Rush an opponent. If all opponents are too far away to be Bull Rushed, the effect is up to a full move towards them. This variant is a bit less damaging, but if surprise is a problem in a game can work surprisingly well.

Occult Techniques:

  • Inner Strength 2: This grants the user 6 or 12 (if taken twice) phantom “Constitution Points” to power other occult abilities with.
  • Light Foot: Specialized for Double Effect. The user may burn one point of Constitution (or a point from Inner Strength or Mana from Resilience) as a free action to gain +60 to a jump check or to Leap or run across water, grease, or other difficult terrain without difficulty / only to Bull Rush a target. This, of course, will let you slam people that you have no reasonable way to reach into walls.
  • Ki Block: Specialized for Increased Effect, The user may burn one point of Constituition or a point from Inner Strength or Mana from Resilience to may make a DC 20 Reflex check to block or dodge a single successful melee attack OR may make a second save (DC 15) against any attack which normally allows a Reflex save. If either save succeeds the effect is normal for a successful save. If both do the effect is entirely negated / Requires the use of a +3 or better shield.

So how does this match up with Dungeon Crasher?

Well, when Dungeon Crasher becomes available at level two (costing one feat) it offers +2 Competence Bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +5 bonus on Strength checks to break a door, wall, or similar obstacle, and the ability to Bull Rush an opponent into a wall or other solid object to inflict 4d6 + twice your Strength bonus (if any) points of bludgeoning damage.

A level two character in Eclipse can spend 5 skill points on this martial art (or half that with Adept). If they have a +4 Strength Modifier (not hard to do in Eclipse if expensive in baseline d20) they’ll have a +9 total – five techniques.

If they take Defenses I, Power II, and Sneak Attack I they get a +2 (Typeless) bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +9 bonus to breaking stuff, and can Bull Rush an opponent into a wall for (5d6 + Str Mod) damage.

That’s not a precise match – the bonus to breaking stuff is +9 instead of +5 and the Bull Rush damage is (5d6 + Str Mod) instead of (4d6 + 2 x Str Mod) which (presuming Str 18 again) would be an average of 21.5 versus 22 – but the overall costs are cheaper. If you really MUST get the average higher… Try taking “Doubled Damage” (6 CP) or persuade the game master that a body-check with a shield counts as using it as a two-handed weapon (which certainly sounds reasonable to ME).

At level six, the Martial Art version will have +4 Skill Ranks, for +2 Techniques/ Putting them both on the “Sneak Attack” effect would put the martial art at a +2 (Typeless) bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +13 bonus to breaking stuff, and let the user Bull Rush opponents into a walls for (11d6 + Str Mod) damage instead of +4 (Competence), +10, and (8d6 + 3 x Str Mod). Still, the total Eclipse cost (presuming Adept) is only 1.5 CP for one-quarter use of Adept and 4.5 Skill points – the cost of one feat instead of two. Sticking another feat into it could upgrade the Martial Art version in all kinds of ways and still cost no more than the original ability.

Rather more importantly, the Martial Art version can continue improving at higher levels with more skill points, up to a maximum of a +8 (Typeless) Bonus to AC and Saves versus traps, (13d6 + Str Mod) damage on smashing targets into things, and an uncapped bonus to breaking things with a couple of extra abilities – being able to Bull Rush across chasms, water, and difficult terrain and being able to block an unlimited amount of damage several times per day. All at the cost of a half-feat plus (Level / 2) skill points. There are ways to boost that even further, but they start involving spending more character points or buying specialized gear.

I must admit that – while the idea is amusing – Dungeon Crasher isn’t my usual style. There’s nothing at all wrong with it of course, but I do tend to have a personal preference for subtle, clever, mages. Fortunately, there are usually other people playing who like being brutal fighters and such, so that my subtle mages have something to hide behind. Ergo, this style is for them.

Wrath Of Souls Style (Cha)

And here we have another requested (and highly specialized) Martial Arts Style. Like most such styles, it’s exceptionally powerful – and can be easily adapted to other types of targets. After all, you can readily substitute “Demons”, or “Devils”, or “Lycanthropes”, or any similar specific type of foe for “Undead”. On the other hand, the only thing it’s good for if you aren’t up against the Undead is a +2 Synergy Bonus to Knowledge / Religion – if you even bothered to take that option.

Across the ages, countless folk – men, women, and children alike – have fallen victim to the scourge of the Undead, their joys, their sorrows, and all their bright potentials, stolen away by the powers of the negative energy plane – a pitiless enemy of all life. All too often, their corpses are infused with that malignant will, to rise again as yet more Undead – an unrelenting tide that threatens to swallow up entire worlds.

But even that dark horde is not without its problems. For the souls of many victims and the souls of those who loved them reside on the Upper Planes, in close communion with the very source of divine power.

And many of them are somewhat angry.

Every so often, that anger finds an outlet. Some courageous individual with the proper knack will stand against the Undead in defense of those they love, wielding whatever weapon they can find – and will be filled with the Burning Wrath of the Angry Dead. Those who survive to fight again… will find their limits more stringent after that first uncontrolled flare of power – but when they stand against the Undead once more, and reach again for that divinely-empowered wrath… it will answer.

Wrath Of Souls Style (Cha)

  • Requires: Willingness to sacrifice oneself in the defense of others against the Undead and having fought an Undead creature with a mundane weapon or bare hands in defense of others when this is obviously hopeless. This is normally a weapon form, although what weapon you choose does not matter – but unarmed variants exist.
  • Basic Techniques:
    • Defenses 4, Specialized for Increased Effect (adds to saving throws against the “natural” powers of the Undead as well as to armor class) / ONLY works against the Undead.
    • Attack 4, Specialized for Increased Effect (grants an appropriate weapon weapon powers as well as a bonus to hit. +1 grants Undead Bane, +2 adds Ghost Touch, and +4 adds Holy. These stack with any dissimilar powers the weapon may already possess) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Toughness 3, Specialized for Increased Effect (Levels 1 and 2 also protect against attribute damage and drain, level 3 protects against one negative level per energy draining attack) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Synergy: +2 to Knowledge / Religion.
  • Advanced and Master Techniques:
    • Sneak Attack II, Specialized for Increased Effect (works on any hit against the Undead) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Mind Like Moon, Specialized for Increased Effect (the user cannot be surprised by Undead) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Blind-Fight, Specialized for Increased Effect (the user is automatically aware of nearby Undead and suffers no miss chances for blindness) / Only works against the Undead.
  • Occult Techniques:
    • Inner Strength x 2. This provides 12 “phantom Constitution points” to use to power Wrath and Resist Pain, below.
    • Wrath. When this is used the user’s blows inflict divine damage. Attribute damage and drains, as well as damage from negative energy, are reduced by four points. energy drains are reduced by two levels, and the user gains a further +6 on saving throws versus the “natural” powers of the Undead.
    • Resist Pain, Specialized for Double Effect / Only works against the Undead.

During the initial surge, the recipient gains full access to the Style, and both Wrath and Resist Pain are triggered automatically. As a rule, whatever Undead creature provoked it does not survive the experience unless it’s very powerful and sensible enough to run.

Like most Specialized Martial Arts this is obviously extremely effective when you get to use it- although, to achieve its full power, it would involve an epic-level character who’d invested better than thirty skill points in techniques for fighting the Undead. Sadly, it won’t work if the Undead are a campaigns major opponents; if you fight them all the time, “Only works agains the Undead” doesn’t really qualify as a limitation. On the other hand, for a character in a typical campaign (where Undead show up every little bit but not all the time) with a personal grudge against the Undead and a few skill points per level to spare, it may be a worthwhile investment.

If the game master is willing to put up with it, a physically combative character may find it well worthwhile to invest in a boosting ability and several different martial arts of this type, targeting several different types of monsters. It can be a great deal cheaper, and rather more effective, to switch stances to and give your weapon the special abilities you want it to have instead of investing a fortune in a half a dozen different magical weapons.

Martial Arts – The Avalanche Style

While I’ve been too busy to post much for a while, there have been several requests for exotic or highly specialized Martial Arts styles. Those are fairly easy to fit into bits of time, so I’ll be posting a few of them. First up, it’s just about the oldest martial arts style of all.

Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies!

Humans throw stones. And while there are other creatures who do that, humans are unique in the real world in doing so with both force and accuracy. For nearly two million years, rocks were a proto-humans ranged weapon of choice. They were denser than sticks, they flew faster, they hit harder, and it didn’t much matter which way they turned in flight. They hurt. With enough throws, or a single really well-aimed or lucky one, thrown rocks could drive off, injure, or kill almost anything a band of hunter-gatherers was likely to encounter in the way of wildlife. Thrown stones brought safety, knocked fruit out of trees, and supplied meat and bone and hide. Later on various geniuses realized that smacking rocks together could make little sparks of fire and put amazingly sharp cutting edges on otherwise unremarkable pieces of stone, while tossing larger rocks from high places could readily do enough damage to seriously injure really large animals – but those were feats of high lithic technology, not the time-tested basics of throwing rocks that had served the Homids and proto-Homids for so long. Still, there are reasons why such advances in rock technology took so long to come into general use. For an example of those reasons, consider…

“Ow! Sharp chips flying! No Bang Rocks! Rocks Good Way They Are! PUT SOMEBODIES EYE OUT! WORSE THAN POINTY STICKS!”

“What you mean, “Make Fire”?!?! Fire BAD!! Burn up camp!!! Burn up US!!!! Throw rocks at demon who want MAKE FIRE AND KILL US ALL!!!!!”

“Hold heavy rock and stand on crumbly edge of cliff? NO! NOT WANT GO SPLAT! GIVE “GENIUS” A PUSH AND SHOW HOW WORKS!!!”

And thus was flint knapping and the controlled use of fire and heights delayed by half a million years.

Now, at least in d20 terms, while Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom (through Perception) all do play a role in throwing rocks, the great keys to accurate throwing are:

1) Picking out a reasonably round, non-crumbly, rock of about the right weight. This may take some practice to learn to do it at a glance, but it’s not that big a trick.

2) Subconsciously working out angles and the resulting trajectories for the actual throw. This is considerably more difficult, but it is doable with some fairly straightforward unconscious computations. Basic ballistics isn’t really THAT complicated. In fact, in humans… it’s blatantly instinctive.

3) Timing your release. This is the really difficult part; natural neurons aren’t particularly precise oscillators, which means that achieving precise timing using them involves averaging the output of a LOT of the things. Potentially, billions of them. THAT is the part of this that requires a big brain. Ergo, this is an Intelligence-based style.

Which gives us…

Avalanche Style (Int):

  • Requirements: Avalanche Style has no special requirements beyond having functional hands and shoulders – although higher attributes are, as always, better. Sadly, due to this lack, it offers no occult techniques. It does, however, apply to both throwing basic rocks and to effects that throw rocks at targets (These include at least some applications of Avalanche Of Devastation, Earthbolt, Hail Of Stone, Hurtling Stone, Launch Item, Magic Stone, Scatterspray, and Stone Call as well as a few psionic abilities and other tricks)
  • Basic Abilities: Attack 4 (If used with something that offers a save instead of an attack check, +1 to Save DC per +2 Attack), Power 4, Strike, Toughness 2, and Synergy (Craft/Stone).
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Mind Like Moon, Rapid Shot (Thrown Rocks), and Quick Draw (Rocks).

How much damage does a thrown rock do? And what is it’s range increment? d20 has answers! In fact, d20 has lots of DIFFERENT answers. ranging from the simple to the absurd. Ergo it’s time to take a look at the real world and see what we find there. After all, people do spend a good deal of time throwing small round objects around so we ought to be able to find something to use as data.

For our purposes, a good throwing rock is comparable to a baseball – a commonly thrown item on which there are all kinds of statistics available. They’re nice and round, you get about three to the pound, and professionals quite commonly throw them the sixty feet from the pitchers mound to the batter with considerable accuracy. With a good deal less accuracy they are fairly often thrown up to three hundred feet. Ergo, they have a range increment of about thirty feet. a maximum effective range of 5 range increments, and can be thrown up to twice that far (albeit with no real chance of hitting what you aim at unless it moves to attempt to catch it). A well-chosen throwing rock is tennis ball sized or a bit smaller because it’s denser than a baseball – but that doesn’t matter a lot. So:

Well-Chosen Thrown Rock: 1d2+Str Mod, 30′ Range Increment, Crit 19-20/x2. Weight 1/3 Lb, Special/every human is considered to be proficient with thrown rocks. (Fortunately for would-be rock throwers, taking “Strike” upgrades the base damage to an easier-to-roll 1d4).

Rocks are really pretty lousy weapons by later standards, but they do have the advantage of being free if you pick them up yourself. Adventurers who actually want to throw rocks (there are probably a few out there) will doubtless prefer to give a kid a couple of coppers to gather up a bag full (the standard 50) rather than wasting their own time on the project.

“Come on… this is basic stuff! It’s not like you need to be a rock(et) scientist!”

Now, if someone wants to build a character around this instead of picking a more effective weapon to build a martial art around, it will probably be through something like the Hurling Hands spell:

Swift Hurling:

Transmutation, L1 Bard, Sorcerer/Wizard, Components: V, S, M (the missile or missiles to be launched), Casting Time: One standard action, Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Instantaneous, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: No

Swift Hurling will launch up to three arrows, bolts or sling stones as if fired from an appropriate weapon or hurl up to three items such as daggers, shuriken, rocks, flasks of holy water, or bottles of alchemical preparations, as if the caster had thrown them. Outside of the fact that the missiles need not be drawn and no mundane launcher (bow, crossbow, etc), is required, this is a normal attack – an attack check is required, range modifiers apply, and relevant Feats, attribute bonuses, and similar effects all apply normally. Where more than one possible mundane launcher or mode applies, such as a longbow or composite longbow, the choice is up to the caster. All shots are made at the user’s full BAB, they need not be launched at the same target, and the user may opt to either roll once for all the shots against a single target or for each independently.

I suspect that this sort of thing still won’t make for a terribly effective character in the long run, but it can certainly be reasonably effective early on – which, come to think of it, is a fair summary of the overall history of rock throwing. Humans may have outgrown it now – but it was a very useful talent to have back in the beginning.

Valdemar d20 Part IV – Beyond The Borders

There are a number of professional and ethnic options for characters in Velgarth. Most of them ones for humans are probably best represented as Package Deals. Thus we have the…

Sunpriest Package Deal:

Sunpriests use exactly the same magic system as everyone else – although even non-magical Sunpriests are taught how to assist in certain rituals. Their package deal includes:

  • Three Specialties – Summoning and banishing demons and abyssal elementals, Providing religious instruction and advice, and Local Management (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge: The scriptures of their faith, the rituals and doctrines of their faith, and the rituals for summoning and banishing demons and abyssal elementals (3 CP).
  • Minor Privilege / respected religious authority (3 CP).
  • A +2 on saves versus demons and abyssal elementals abilities (3 CP). Given that quite a lot of the mental effects used on Velgarth seem to share the limitation “will not work on anyone with a base will save of +x or more”, with “x” being a fairly low number, this is actually quite effective.

Corrupted Sunpriests are murderous fanatics and/or hypocritical exploiters, while uncorrupted Sunpriests are supportive holy men and/or wise and pacifistic councilors. Both of them use the same package deal though. In either case, the Sun God normally only interferes by sending Firecats to guide notable individuals – and even that is usually only in times of major crisis. After all, he put up with centuries of corruption and only intervened (by incinerating some fo the worst corrupted priests) because a planetary cataclysm was coming up.

Firecats are a lot like Companions, but only the sects High Priests – the “Sons Of The Sun” – ever come back as Firecats. They’re basically bobcats, with the Basic Companion Template applied (substituting knowledge of the Karsite Faith for knowledge of Heraldic Traditions) – but they all seem to have at least Master or Adept level mage-gift. They’d be a major power if they weren’t, just like the Companions, basically limited to being advisors. Unlike the companions, they generally admit their true nature.

Shin’a’in:

Shin’a’in… are nomadic horsebreeders who restrict the use of magic to their Shamans (who stay home with their tribes, and so are always NPC’s). The occasional trader, wanderer, horse-trainer, or Swordsworn Kal’enedral does leave the plains though. Pretty much every Shin’a’in shares a special bond with at least one horse that they grew up with and trained from a foal. Shin’a’in Horses in general are supposed to be superior to most others and their Battle Steeds are supposed to act more like dogs than horses – being exceptionally loyal and helpful to their owners. They don’t panic and run away, fight on even if wounded, and do what they’re trained to do even under great stress. They may even heal a bit more quickly than normal horses.

All of which, of course, is just like very other horse in d20, where even perfectly normal animals are treated like character attributes, serve their game functions without distracting player characters from their various adventures, are more enduring than any real animal, and heal more quickly like EVERYTHING in d20. Sure, there are supplements that go into detail about horses and other animals – but after the first few levels only special mounts will really matter. If we want “better horses” to be at ALL relevant… the Shin’a’in will just have to take Animal Companions – which pretty much defines their special abilities.

Shin’a’in Cultural Package Deal:

  • Companion (Animal Companion / Horse, 6 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledges: Horse Care, Plains Survival, Shin’a’in Traditions (3 CP).
  • Basic Swordsworn Kal’enedral Package:

Swordsworn / Kal’enedral

Being Swordsworn has no initial training or organization involved; you make a sacred oath, it is accepted, and you’re a Swordsworn. There will be a lot of tutoring after that, but you don’t have to have a lot of skills to swear the oath.

  • Major Favors/Shin’a’in Pantheon, Specialized / the Shin’a’in gods (and most gods on Velgarth) only answer when you are in desperate need – and there is always a price of some kind, if only your ongoing dedicated service (3 CP).
  • Mentor/Deceased Swordsworn. Swordsworn get tutored every night. Thanks to this extensive training, they get +2 CP each level to invest in their combat skills (A minor variant on +10% experience – and, not surprisingly, equivalent to a specialized version of Fast Learner, 6 CP).
  • Minor Privilege/Any group of Shin’a’in will feed, treat, and equip or re-equip (albeit only with mundane gear and a mount) any Swordsworn (3 CP).
  • Goddess Bond: Spell/Power Resistance, Specialized / only versus mental attacks (3 CP). The Swordsworn are very difficult to divert from their purpose. Even if someone penetrates this defense, it’s blasphemy – and just asking for those “Favors” to kick in.
  • Disadvantage: Vows. Swordsworn are sworn to service of their goddess, to the Shin’a’in as a whole, and to their tribes, in that order (-3 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Accursed (Asexual). Swordsworn give up all interest in, or capability for, sexual responses with their vows. This leaves them quite disconnected on the social level (- 3 CP).

Constant combat training makes most Kal’enedral formidable fighters – but they don’t necessarily start out that way.

Tay’ledras:

Tay’ledras or “Hawkbrothers” are responsible for cleansing lands filled with warped magic and making them livable again, rescuing harmless creatures of magic along the way. Since they live in close association with powerful nodes, much is made of the bleaching effect of magic to give them an exotic appearance. Why this doesn’t extend to their skin, giving them the downsides of Albinism, is never explained. Neither is why, for example, using massive amounts of magic left Mornelithe Falconsbane with tawny gold hair and gold-green eyes instead of bleaching HIM. Given that d20 normally allows players to describe themselves pretty much as they please, that anyone with a Cantrip spell can trivially adjust the color of their hair, skin, and eyes while the “bleaching” effect takes some time – and that the game allows you to play descendants of elementals, lizard men, and other exotics, don’t worry about this. Why bother trying to tell people that they can’t describe their characters as they please?

Secondarily, the Tay’ledras are a wildly distorted society that exits on an ongoing war footing; practically every adult Tay’ledras is a Mage, a Warrior-Scout, or a Mage-Scout – a culture made possible by the unquestioning, and mostly unremarked, support of several other species who serve about the same role as the peasantry supporting the Samurai Caste. Fortunately, the author tells us that the Hertasi are perfectly OK with that – and are a bit hive-minded, so we can be sure that they all agree. For game purposes d20 also focuses on the elite adventurers, so we can pay no attention to this.

Tay’ledras Package Deal:

  • Companion (Animal Companion / Bird Of Prey, 6 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledges: Heartstone Lore, Creatures Of The Pelagirs, and Birds Of Prey (3 CP).

Quite a lot of the Tay’ledras are mage-talented to various degrees, but, with Eclipse d20 player characters, that’s simply a choice as to where they spend their character points.

Heartstones are basically rocks which are anchoring a ley line node. Their primary game function is to allow spells to be tied to them so that the caster(s) don’t need to maintain them. Secondarily, they gradually drain wild magic from the area and convert it into a more controlled form – but this is a GM plot device, On the other hand, they’re used to sustain large-scale ritual magics – not personal spells. Basically… they’re created by ritual magic and are used as a component to make it easier to work other long-term ritual effects. Otherwise they’re just nodes.

Heraldic Package Deal:

Yes, there is a Heraldic Package Deal – basically the minimum you get from their training program.

  • Specific Knowledges: Valdemar (Law, Traditions, History, Geography, Etc) and Heraldic Traditions (including the Arrow Code) (2 CP).
  • Privilege / As royal emissaries, Heralds have a great deal of authority and are entitled to supplies and support at any village – but this is Specialized / their privileges are greatly limited by honor and tradition, they are expected to deal with all kinds of problems, they never really get to retire, their privileges (of course) only operate in Valdemar, and they must report their doings in detail and justify anything that seems dubious (1 CP).
  • Adept: Survival, Knowledge/Local, Knowledge/Geography, and one Archery Martial Art (6 CP)
    Proficiency with Longbows (3 CP).

Heralds, of course, are expected to serve as solitary voices for the crown – visiting distant villages to act as legal experts, judges, investigators, scouts, messengers, organizers, surveyors, and more – usually starting at about eighteen years old after four to five years of education at the collegium.

Not surprisingly, the stories mostly deal with exceptional cases; Heralds who have multiple gifts, are skilled in anything and everything the plot calls for, and who are remarkably lucky about not being killed. The average herald is less than universally competent, may not have any gifts at all beyond the ability to bond with a Companion (and virtually never more than two or three, with one being by far the most potent) – and is probably dead. Ordinary Heralds die a lot. In d20 terms that’s because ordinary Heralds are usually only first or second level and aren’t improving much if at all.

Heralds normally carry a sword, bow, and knife. The knife because it is a basic tool that any traveler will carry, the sword and the bow because they’re part of the uniform – and because they do need to be ready to defend themselves. They are rarely trained in, and even more rarely use, armor and shields beyond field leathers. Armor and shields are heavy, bulky, and encumbering. They say “I am expecting a fight”. They are entirely inappropriate for most of the jobs a Herald does and so will rarely be on hand (and even less often be being worn) when violence – which is almost always an unpleasant surprise – breaks out. Learning a combat style relying on armor and / or shields is a good idea for a soldier or mercenary, but Heralds have to get along without. They thus generally rely on their speed and agility – which makes them even less likely to want to use gear that slows them down so drastically on those few occasions where they could. Armor and Shields… are for war, battlefields, local guardsmen, and military patrols.

At least as importantly, a normal fighter can have their horse cut out from under them and fight on. A Companion and Herald pair are BOTH vulnerable to injuries to either – putting them at a fundamental disadvantage in any fight. A Herald-Companion pair will take full advantage of their edge in endurance and speed to skirmish, to fire arrows and fall back, and will (at least if either of the pair has any sense) prefer to avoid a melee if they can possibly do so.

It’s noted that only the Dyheli – who are all telepaths and who contest for herd leadership with telepathic fights – offer training in combative mind-magic. This is true, for the same reason that Naga do not study how to kick properly – only species that normally have an attribute study combat techniques using it.

That doesn’t mean the (rare) Gifted of other species cannot use their gifts offensively though. After all, you don’t need to be an expert martial artist to kick, punch, strangle, gouge eyes, smash genitals, and hurt other creatures with your hands and feet either. Martial arts training just makes you better at it – and using Empathy or Mindspeech to attack someone who lacks such powers is like getting into a fist fight with a man with no arms. Thus Herald Talia used her empathic gift offensively several times, including an occasion where she locked a man into experiencing the pain he’d inflicted on others over and over again until he either died or came to understand his crime – totally incapacitating him (and, incidentally, burdening the local villagers with his care indefinitely, but no one worried about THAT).

Now, if someone wants to learn a Gift-based combat techniques – in Eclipse, learning a Gift-Based Martial Art – and gain bonuses in the use of their Gift… They’ll have to either develop it themselves or find a teacher.

Nonhumans:

Finally, we have the five or six species of non-humans – they Kyree, Tervardi, Hertasi, Dhyeli, and Gryphons. (Ratha are mentioned once or twice, but never appear that I can think of).

Few of them are particularly playable.

Hertasi are pretty much the local version of Halflings. They share a limited hive-mind, and will get quite uncomfortable if they’re cut off from it – meaning that, unless you have at least a half a dozen to a dozen Hertasi in the party, you aren’t going to have ANY. Worse, they become torpid when it’s cold out and have a built-in urge to be “useful” to somebody else. They tend to live in small settlements of burrow-homes near water or marshes (presumably they are good at somehow keeping water from seeping in). They defend their homes with small missile weapons, sinkholes, quicksand, and various traps.

Kyree are basically large, intelligent wolves/dogs (there isn’t actually much difference) with the Gift of Mindspeech. Like most creatures which lack hands or some substitute therefore, they make rather awkward characters to play, but they do have enough natural advantages to attract occasional players. Kyree who want to go adventuring usually team up with a human, simply because creatures that look like huge wolves tend to attract a lot of hostility (and not a little missile fire) when they go roaming around civilized and semi-civilized areas without someone to vouch for them or be their apparent “owner”.

Kyree Racial Package:

  • Gift Of Mindspeech (4 CP) with one die of Mana (2 CP).
  • +1d8 HP (12 CP)
  • +2 Str, +2 Con, +2 Dex (36 CP).
  • Martial Arts (Natural Weapons version, 1d6 bite, 6 CP).
  • Defender (Natural Armor, 6 CP).
  • Occult Sense (Scent, 6 CP)
  • Innate Enchantment: Barkskin (1400 GP), +2 Str, Dex, and Con (4200 GP), Warding Rune at CL3 (+2 Resistance Bonus to Saves, 4200 GP), Know Direction (1000 GP), Relieve Poison 1/Day 280 GP), Relieve Illness 1/Day (280 GP), Cure Minor Wounds 1/Day (140 GP). Net Value: 11,500 GP (12 CP).
  • Immunity / The XP cost of Racial Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP).
  • Immunity / Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Severe, Grand), Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to protect racial abilities (6 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Kyree Pack Organization (1 CP), Specific Knowledge / The Pelagirs (1 CP).

That’s a total of 94 CP. Fortunately, the entire package is Specialized and Corrupted / No manipulative appendages (use quadraped modifiers – mostly +10′ Move), can only speak with Mindspeech, can use the equivalent of barding but not normal armor, suffers at least a -4 penalty on any attempt to use equipment as they are not natural tool users, those that go adventuring are normally sexless, magic item slots are limited to armor, belt/saddle, chest, eyes, head, headband, neck, shoulders, and wrist/feet (not that magic items are at all common in the setting) – resulting in a net cost of 31 CP, for a +0 ECL race.

Tervardi are derived from birds, although they’re far too large to fly even if their wings hadn’t been turned into arms. Unfortunately, while they have superb singing voices, and might have other Gifts (like any other intelligent creature on Velgarth), they are specifically noted as being too fragile (thanks to their birdlike hollow bones and light structure) to go adventuring. In d20 that also means that even for NPC’s they are not going to have many levels. If you actually need statistics for a Tervardi, treat them as small children with a bonus to Perform (Sing).

Ratha are mentioned as “what the Kyree are to Wolves, the Ratha are to Mountain Cats”. There’s no other information on them that I’m aware of at ALL. Personally, for variety, I’d use the racial template for the Ri’aal if the need comes up.

Dyheli resemble deer or reindeer, but are somewhat larger and have (permanent?) spiral horns instead of antlers. They are notable for being very powerful Mindspeakers, for being the only known group that actually studies the Mental Martial Arts, and for being capable of near-instant teaching. They sometimes let other characters ride them. On the other hand.. They are herd oriented, have little to adventure FOR, and are even less capable of using tools than the Kyree. If someone should want to play one… use the Kyree racial modifiers. Drop Scent in favor of +3d6 Mana, change “bite” to “horns”, drop “defender” in favor of Celerity (additional +10′ ground movement), and trade the specific knowledge of Kyree Pack Organization for a specific knowledge of Dyheli Herd Organization. Males often learn mental martial arts.

Gryphons have flight, natural weapons, lie detection, taloned forepaws/hands with which they can do fine work, and keen eyesight and hearing. They commonly have mental Gifts and are often Mage-Gifted since those who aren’t have a harder time breeding. Like most of Urtho’s creations, they are at least resistant (if not outright immune) to mage-sight, mind-scanning, detection spells, and magical scrying. They even have an attractive scent. They are extremely dangerous in combat, absorb magical energy to live (and so are at least somewhat resistant to it), and are generally all-around better than everyone else – at least as long as the magic holds up. I might make a template for them later – but they’re going to have a fairly high ECL modifier, which means that they won’t fit into most Velgarth games anyway; those tend to assume that the characters are fairly low level.

Valdemar D20 Part III – Building Heralds and Companions

So what about game statistics? Well…

Companions:

Statistics for Companions are actually almost irrelevant. Companions aid, support, and advise their Heralds – but they don’t straighten out their love lives, or offer divine guidance, or make their decisions for them, or use direct magic on their own. They’re COMPANIONS, not protagonists – and generally aren’t player characters. When a Herald is dealing with human stuff, or holding a war conference, or in a building, or at court… their Companion is out in a field, or getting carrots from kids, or off being a horse. Companions live like horses, eat like horses, run around and play like horses, fight like horses (or a little better), and – for that matter – breed like horses. They don’t even go looking for most of the privileges and diversions that a normal human would look for if they were stuck in a horses body. Many of them can’t even mindspeak enough to participate in conferences, even if they have no problem communicating amongst themselves.

They’re not a character attribute either. They’re independent, free willed, allies. They choose to bond with people who are Altruistic, Energetic, Faithful, Helpful, Honest, and Principled (often to the point of being hopelessly unrealistic, which is one reason why they tend to pick youngsters) and recruit them into service to Valdemar. They then encourage those traits – which is one reason why most Heralds don’t live to retire. They aren’t a class feature, or mystic mount, or anything else you buy with character points or feats. They are looking for particular Character Traits – even if they’re masked by circumstances – and so fall under the (admittedly, rarely-used) Character Traits and Granted Powers option in Eclipse (Pages 153 and 154).

Companions are basically Modified Light Warhorses.

  • Intelligence and Charisma are both 2d6+6. This doesn’t exactly have a cost; companions may be smart and good-looking, but their options for applying either are pretty slim. This also makes them incredibly conspicuous. It’s very hard to disguise a Companion for long.
  • Spell/Power Resistance (6 CP). They don’t seem to have a lot, but they seem to have some. Ergo, the basic level.
  • Mindspeech, Corrupted for Increased Effect (Can provide +/-3 on Trait Checks, can get people to forget details about themselves) / only effective according to the GM’s whims for each Companion (6 CP).
  • Tireless (6 CP). No reasonable amount of work will Fatigue or Exhaust a Companion.
  • Innate Enchantment: All Caster Level One, Unlimited Use Use Activated. +2 to Str, Con, and Dex (4200 GP), Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2 x Con Mod HP, 1400), and Know Direction (700 GP) (7 CP). Companions are better and tougher than normal warhorses and never get lost.
  • Improved Celerity: +20′ Ground Movement (9 CP).
  • Immunity/Having to know a language to understand it (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, 1 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Personality Traits (6 CP).
  • Usual Disadvantages: Dies with chosen Herald (Counts as two), Very Restricted on when they can intervene (-10 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Heraldic Traditions (1 CP).

Net Total: 32 CP / +1 ECL. Companions are pretty formidable against normal animals, but they aren’t built for independently fighting monsters.

While all Companions are supported by the Crown, they’re also all in Service to the crown – so this is essentially just having a job. They have little use for money anyway.

Grove-Born Companions only show up for major figures of destiny, and not all of them. Given that player characters make their own destinies, there is no reasonable way that one of them will ever have such a companion. If you happen to need attributes, they get…

  • +2 to All Attributes (36 CP).
  • Add Force Shield I (1400 GP), Sustenance (1400 GP), and Endure Elements (1400 GP) to their Innate Enchantments (4 CP).
  • 2d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement, Specialized / Only for Spell Enhancement (6 CP) and Rite Of Chi 1/Day, Specialized/only to recharge Spell Enhancement Pool (3 CP).
  • Blessing (Specialized and Corrupted / only to lend Mana and Spell Enhancement to his or her Herald (2 CP).
  • Privilege/Recognized by other Companions as their natural leader. Also, extremely fertile (3 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Finding their Destined Rider (I’m counting this as Specialized and Corrupted, since it really doesn’t do much of anything helpful (2 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Theology of the responsible god or goddess (1 CP). (No, I don’t know which one it is).
  • Specific Knowledge / Valdemar (1 CP).
  • Any one Bonus Feat. Each Grove-Born is at least a little different straight out of the Grove (6 CP).

Net Total: 64 CP, so another +2 ECL for a total of +3 ECL.

Heralds:

Gifts are another problem. Heralds don’t usually seem to use them for mere convenience, so there’s probably a cost to using even the most basic functions. Yet they use those same basic functions freely when it’s convenient for the plot – so that cost cannot be very high. Higher order abilities, of course, are quickly exhausting to use. In a game, of course, the players will have their characters use their gifts whenever it’s even remotely likely that they will help – and they will try to use them in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. On the other hand… Heralds aren’t notably superhuman in any other fashion. Most obviously, an arrow, bolt, or sword stuck in some critical bit of anatomy can kill them instantly. They don’t have the kind of superhuman resistance to injury that even mid-level d20 characters do and it’s hard to blame the players for wanting to use whatever special powers they do have to the limit. It’s also notable that most Heralds gain their Gifts very early on. They gain more control with training – but are generally reasonably skilled by the time they are out of school and are often as powerful as they are ever going to get. Gifts tend to turn up at level one, or even level zero – so they can’t be all that expensive.

So: your basic Gift will look something like this.

  • Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (Level Zero Effects) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only to produce effects in a very narrow field (4 CP).

And, for quite a lot of Heralds (and even more non-Heralds) that is where it stops. A Firestarter can light (and possibly extinguish) candles, torches, and fires, craft small images out of flames, treat nasty cases of frostbite, make bright flashes of light, send up smoke signals, keep warm in cold weather, heat tea, and do a lot of other things. If the game master is agreeable, he or she might even be able to “remove fire” from things and cool them or protect himself or herself against a bit of fire damage.

So what about more powerful gifts in general and Lavan Firestorm in particular?

Well, for that buy

  • 1d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement (+1 level per mana spent), Specialized and Corrupted / only to enhance Gifts, only applies to one gift per purchase even if the user has more of them, may only spend one point per time this is purchased, three, or (Cha Mod) points (whichever is least) on enhancing a Gift (2 CP per time taken).

With that, a Herald can occasionally use his or her gift for higher level effects – and with rest and meditation can recover two points of Mana per day, so if they burn themselves out it may take days to recover but they can use a higher-powered effect once or twice a day consistently.

  • A Healer can work a lot of healing cantrips, although the general Path Of The Dragon rule that they start losing effect after 2d6 per patient per day still applies – but even the Hedge Wizardry spells like “relieve illness” and “relieve poison” are going to be limited use. Epidemics are not going to be easily stopped.
  • A Telekinetic can guide arrows, move small items, and play a multitude of tricks – but major blasts of telekinetic force are not going to be particularly common.
  • And so on, for all the other gifts. Gamers will doubtless come up with a lot more than grace the original books.

Mage-Gift:

For Mage-Gift… Well, Mages draw on external energies, and – according to some of the books – don’t need to use their own energies until those external sources are exhausted. On the other hand, most of them seem to know very few spells and there are plenty of examples of mages exhausting themselves simply using the available power. They need more training to use their powers effectively, so they are generally of higher level.

  • Their basis is Occult Talent (6 CP) and/or Improved Occult Talent supplemented with Mana. Thus they can take spells (anything that the game master is willing to allow) that require Mana expenditure to cast. Apprentices may have 6 CP worth of Occult Talents, Journeymen 12, Masters 18, and Adepts 24 – but you don’t HAVE to have more than the basics.
    • Apprentices or “Hedge Wizards” have no Mana.
    • Journeymen generally have 1d6 Mana, may spend 1 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi once per day to recharge from Ambient Mana.
    • Masters have 2d6 Mana, may spend 2 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi twice per day – once to recharge from Ambient Mana and once more if a Ley Line is available.
    • Adepts have 3D6 Mana may spend 3 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi three times per day – once to recharge from Ambient Mana, once to draw energy from a Ley Line, and once to draw energy from a Node.
  • Journeymen through Adepts also have Magesight (Occult Sense/Magic, 6 CP).

As noted in Part II, Final Strikes seem to be available to everyone, so they’re presumably a World Law.

To price this, buy…

  • 1d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement (+1 level per mana spent), Specialized and Corrupted / only to enhance Occult Talents, may only spend one point per time this is purchased, three, or (Int Mod) points (whichever is least) on enhancing a Spell (2 CP per time taken). So that’s 2, 4, or 6 CP spent on Mana for Journeymen, Masters, and Adepts.
  • Rite Of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / Only to recharge the Occult Talent enhancement pool, only to tap the energy sources permitted by the characters level of mastery / number of dice of Mana purchased or to recharge through blood sacrifice, may not be bought up further (3 CP).

So being a Hedge Wizard or Apprentice costs 6 CP, being a Journeyman costs 11 or 17 CP, being a Master costs 19-31 CP, and being an Adept costs 21-39 CP. Throw in some disadvantages – lingering pain from having your “channels” blasted open and emotional distress due to a broken lifebond perhaps? – and you can easily have a child who just so happens to be a basic adept even if they don’t know many spells yet. You could even put that, and a handful of basic Gifts, into a +1 ECL Template and drop it on some unfortunate kid.

Really skilled mages may know either Ritual Magic, Hedge Wizardry, or Create Relic (all 6 CP) as well – but not more than one of those.

  • Ritual Magic tends to be the mark of blood mages or archmagi, and can be used to craft mighty mystical weapons, create new species, make permanent gates bound to nodes of power, raise mighty towers, and summon demons (a speciality of evil mages).
  • Hedge Wizardry (from The Practical Enchanter) tends to be the mark of low-powered but very practical magi, who have learned a multitude of practical spells across the years.
  • Create Relic tends to be the province of mage-smiths and artificers, such as the creator of Need. It’s most often used to make focus-stones, which allow +1 use of Rite Of Chi daily. These have no CP cost, because that would only cost 2/6 CP – and so rounds down to zero.

If Spirit Magic is in play, that’s another 24 CP – but, as noted earlier, it vanished from the system very early on. It was just too flexible and potentially too powerful for easy writing. And while it can be a lot of fun in a game… it will seriously overshadow Gifts if you let it in.

  • For mages, the common spells are Light (L0), a basic Shield (Immediate Action, L1 in a L0 slot so 1 Mana, blocks 15 points of damage), various forms of energy attacks (L2 Scorching Ray, 1-2 Mana depending on slot), and a couple of utility effects. Vanyel, for example, has one that transfers mana from his Magical Pool over to his Gifts (given that he’s got only one brain, probably a L0 effect to start with). He also had Dispel Magic and… I can’t recall if he could make Gates (L4 thanks to all their limitations) or not. I’ll say he can – so that makes five effects. He could be a minimum-cost adept. Throw in Ritual Magic for his various ritual workings, and we pretty well have him covered.

This also explains why Mages and Herald-Mages tend to spend a lot of time with the military. A “normal” Herald may have some tricks – but they’re very limited use and take a good deal of time to recover. Great for special missions, riding circuit, and espionage, but not so good for a military campaign. A Herald-Mage can use his or her magical powers to their full extent EVERY DAY – and two or three Fireballs a day can make an enormous difference in a war where the troops are mostly made up of first or second level people with swords, spears, lances, and bows.

  • Characters on Velgarth should generally use the Low-Level Adventurer Template. People there just do not achieve godlike levels of power – and even action movie hero levels (6+) are pretty exceptional.
  • Most Heralds are decent fighters (helped a lot by riding intelligent warhorses) and have a lot of skills. They’re not much for armor, massive, heavy, weapons, or exotic martial arts or other oddities. They do tend to have a lot of skills and some royal authority and are good at parrying attacks. Some of the tricks from the Dark Ages Man At Arms may be appropriate.

And really… that’s about it for Heralds and Companions. They’re a lot more mortal, and more limited, than a standard-issue high level d20 character.