Using Valdemaran Gifts, Part I

In this case the question is “What can you actually do with Valdemar-Style Gifts”?

Well, the answer in the original books is, of course, “whatever the plot demands and nothing more” – and over time we tend to see fewer magical options rather than more. After all, every time an author puts in a magical solution for a problem that actually works they close off future plotlines involving that problem – and that’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re writing a long-running series. If you keep it in mind, you lose plot options – and if you forget it, you can be sure that a lot of your readers will not. Either way, why make extra trouble for yourself?

Games, of course, are exactly opposite: Players who can’t use their characters special powers to solve problems get frustrated. Players who find their options too limited feel constrained, and lose interest. Players want to come up with clever, original, applications for things. If you tell them that they can’t do something they just thought of, they will want to know why not. The characters are not under the control of an author, they don’t have to follow the plot, and they don’t have plot armor. A bad die roll can kill off any character pretty much at random. Those are the things that make it a RPG rather than a novel. In a RPG… characters regularly wreck the setting, rather than leaving it more or less intact for the next book to be set in. ”

So this is going to focus on what the d20 RPG-style Valdemaran characters can use their powers to do, not just on stuff that would fit into the books.

On the other hand, I’m going to limit it to the general list of Gifts from the books; while there is nothing in d20 – or in the way that the Gifts are built – that would prevent you from having a Gift in Shape Shifting, Weaving Illusions, Destiny Manipulation, Building Guns, Self-Enhancement, Making Power Armor, Creating Ectoplasmic Constructs, or Necromancy, the setting is not set up to handle it.

The way the Gifts are built is fairly straightforward; a Gift lets you pick some sort of relatively narrow theme and produce level zero magical/psionic effects that fit into that theme pretty much at will. Stronger Gifts come in three levels: providing a limited (and slow to recover) reserve of power that can be used to boost your level zero effects up to level one (for strong Gifts), level two (for major Gifts), or even level three (for incredibly powerful Gifts). There are a few more details about how big the reserve is and how fast it recovers – but that’s about it.

The problem is that – when it comes to magic – a lot of gamers are much more used to “here is a list of things that you can do with that power” than they are to “you have a hammer; what are you going to build with it?”.

First up, a couple of general notes:

  • Anyone with one or more trained Gifts gains access to Rite Of Centered Mind as a L0 effect.
  • Two trained characters with the same gift can work together – each paying the cost (if any) for a use of their gift at a particular level to produce a combined effect of one level higher. That’s really only useful if you want first level effects (since level zero effects have no cost) or level four effects (requiring two characters with the same incredibly powerful gift working together to produce effects which are normally out of reach of even the most powerful Gifts).

Now, as for some options for specific gifts… I’m going to list some general uses and – since this is d20 and 3.5 and Pathfinder have an enormous list of spells to draw from – some spell effects that a Gifted character should be able to emulate.

Animal Mindspeech:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Communicate feelings to animals and sense what they are feeling, quiet an upset animal, let an animal know that you mean it no harm, lure birds to feed from your hand, gain small (+2) bonuses to ride or handle animals, detect hidden animals nearby given some time to look for them, give animals simple ideas, get spiders to spin webs over an opening or object, get bees to let you have a honeycomb, get a dog to bark, keep bugs out of your bed, gain a general impression of what an animal saw or heard, get a bonus to spot incoming threats by sensing the reactions of animals in the area. Basically… you can relate to animals really well, train them much more quickly, and get some basic information from them.
  • Level One Effects: Animal Messenger, Speak With Animals, Calm Animals, Charm Animal, Hide from Animals, Call Animal, Commune With Birds, “Alarm” (via animal lookouts), and Enrage Animal. You can also get small animals to harass someone, get animals to bring you small objects, send them to a destination, get larger bonuses to ride or handle them, or make a normal horse behave as if it was combat-trained for a few minutes.
  • Level Two Effects: Animal Trance, Hold Animal, Wartrain Mount (variants induce other types of training), Alpha Instinct, and Summon Swarm, Safe Clearing (only affects animals and magical beasts), and Share Husk. You might also frighten or calm a group of animals, cause a normal animal to attack it’s master or to do something else quite abnormal, or very rapidly train or domesticate animals.
  • Level Three Effects: I can’t think of many actual spells for this level – most characters have better things to do with third level spells than influence relatively normal animals – but at this level you might make animals fear an area for weeks or months, redirect a stampede, instantly domesticate and train an animal, direct an animal to do something extremely complex, get a map of an area and details about the people in it by surveying the minds of the animals there, reliably keep a powerful beast under control, or even spread disease though an area by manipulating rats, mice, and other vermin.

Yes, yes, I know… there was never anyone in the books who used Animal Mindspeech to do anything like THAT. Of course, there was never anyone in the books who had Animal Mindspeech on the level of Lavan Firestorms Firestarting Gift was there? You’ll see the same sort of thing in later gifts too.

Bardic Gift:

This one is never even clearly defined as far as I know, but here are some possibilities:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Lullaby, Haunted Fey Aspect, Message, Ghost Sound, and (individual) Polypurpose Panacea effects. You can also induce various moods, make ideas occur to people your listeners, and convey vague impressions – making your tales so real that listeners can “almost see the battle!” or get “the distinct impression of the goddess comforting them!”. This tends to make listening to your music or stories very popular.
  • Level One Effects: Aid, Heroism, Cause Fear, Lesser Confusion, Remove Fear, Charm Person, Aphasia, Hypnotism, and Demoralize. You could use this sort of manipulation to slowly addict someone to you or brainwash them, but it would probably take some time.
  • Level Two Effects: Sleep, Calm Emotions, Enthrall, Heroism, Rage. Absurdity, and Inflict Pain. At this point you can inspire a mob, rabble-rouse very effectively, and spread rumors without becoming known as the source.
  • Level Three Effects: Bestow Curse, Good Hope, and (Mass) Inflict Pain. You MIGHT be able to create a Major Image if the game master is feeling generous. You can also induce various minor mental problems in those exposed to your abilities – inducing terrible dreams, general depression, and other minor mental / emotional effects, such as undermining support for a leader. You can do the reverse as well of course – but it takes longer and rarely works as well.

Earthsense:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Detect Poison and Know Direction. You can also do a lot of things which aren’t really in d20 but which probably should be – Detect Cursed/Wild Magic Areas. Detect Ley Lines and Nodes. Detect Quicksand and Unsafe Ground. Sense disturbances of Nature. Detect Pure Water. Identify Plants and Animals. Determine if something is safe to eat. Identify minerals – and get a +5 bonus on a Survival check.
  • Level One Effects: Entangle, Goodberry, False Life, Detect Animals or Plants, Detect Snares And Pits, Hairline Fractures, Natures’s Paths, Pass Without Trace, Shillelagh, Underbrush Decoy, Enhance Herb (Paths of Power), and Greensight. You may also make small plants grow, detect the potency of herbs, follow trails more quickly, identify causes of death, get a +10 bonus on a Survival check, determine someone’s parentage, and detect aberrations,
  • Level Two Effects: Tremorsense, Lay Of The Land, Expeditious Construction, Expeditious Excavation, Lesser Curse Terrain, Binding Earth, Forest Friend, Wild Instinct, Hide Campsite, Dentistry (Hedge Magic) and Briar Web. You can also dowse for water, oil, or mineral deposits, get a +20 on a Survival check, trace someone’s ancestry with a drop of their blood, cause corpses, wooden doors, and other unattended organic items to rot away in mere minutes, and bless children (allowing them to reroll their lowest attribute once per child).
  • Level Three Effects: Defoliate, Plant Growth, Shifting Sand, Speak With Plants, Snare, Spike Growth, Stench Of Prey, Greater Thunderstomp, Forestfold, Nature’s Rampart, and Safe Clearing. You may also slowly heal regions of land, sense major disturbances in the realm, get a +30 to a Survival check, grow a tree (as per a Feather Token: Tree), or reroute ley lines – again, slowly.

Empathy:

We do have some ideas for Empathy thanks to Herald Talia – but she’s got all those pesky ethics to take the fun out of things.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Empathy and (half-strength) Telempathic Projection. You can also tell if someone is being mentally influenced, let other creatures know what you’re feeling, find really meaningful presents for people, fit into groups easily, detect salesmen, manage children, tell when someone is trying to manipulate you, and get fairly reliable impressions of people (“I never liked him…”).
  • Level One Effects: Telempathic Projection, Beguiling Gift, Adoration, Compel Hostility, Hideous Laughter, Innocence, Remove Fear, Unbreakable Heart, Undetectable Alignment, Unnatural Lust, Qualm, Rage, Reckless Infatuation, Cause Fear, and Miserable Pity. At this point – at least if you’re ethically challenged – you can play on peoples emotions, get them infatuated with you, sell them rubbish they don’t need, and tune your stories to their emotional responses.
  • Level Two Effects: Detect Hostile Intent, Anonymous Interaction, Calm Emotions, Charitable Impulse, Detect Desires, Heckle, Heroism, Jealous Rage, Compassionate Ally, Matchmaker, Oppressive Boredom, Scare, Unadulterated Loathing, Draconic Malice, Dreadscape, Fear, and Zone of Truth. You can now read emotions with ease and override them almost entirely – a talent likely to get you ridden out of town on a rail or burned as a witch if you use it a lot and are silly enough to let people figure it out.
  • Level Three Effects: Bestow/Remove Curse, Charm Monster, Confusion, Crushing Despair, Curse of Disgust, Detect Anxieties, Good Hope, Overwhelming Grief, Terrible Remorse, and They Know. You’re now able to warp minds severely and with effects that can last for years in extreme cases.

Farsight

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Know Direction. At this point you can have meaningful dreams, see around corners, give yourself minor sensory boosts, avoid stubbing your toes and knocking things over in the dark, and swear blood brotherhood – creating a low-grade link. You can also tell if people are all right by looking at a picture of them and boost your abilities with mystic links.
  • Level One Effects: Aspect Of The Falcon and Improvisation. You can also “see” through minor obstacles, locate lost or mislaid personal items, tell who is on the phone or knocking on the door before you answer it, just know what escape routes are available, and ignore effects such as Blur and Concealment.
  • Level Two Effects: L2) Locate Object, See Invisibility, Darkvision, Augury, and Sense Minds. At this point serious prophetic dreams are possible, you can buy knowledges without regard for actually learning them, see past closed doors and on the other side of walls, and use “gather information” as an instant effect.
  • Level Three Effects: Clauraudience/Clairvoyance, Minor Dream, Pierce Disguise, Scrying, Stage Fright, Witness, See Beyond, Spirit Bonds, and Darkvision. Congratulations. You are a major seer and prophet, You can evaluate complex situations at a glance, easily get a “birds eye view” of most situations, and know far more than is strictly reasonable.

Next time around on this, the rest of the Gifts.