Eclipse – The Houngan Conjurer II

This time around, it’s a bit of a collaboration and an example – how one Eclipse character in a Forgotten Realms game is opting to use the Houngan Conjurer package (a method of making temporary character-enhancing items. He’s calling his “Talismans”.).

The in-game justification for his powers is apparently that:

It is my art to channel what WAS, what MAY BE, and what IS NOT into the NOW. Of Magic, Lore, and Prophecy in the service of the Loomeinsenerid and the Kvoorum-Parandaja order. The Talismans are of time-not, embodiments of talents you might have in other lines of time or might yet learn. Being within the High Forest – the Eye Of Time on Abeir-Toril – makes it easy to call such things forth.

  • “Loomeinsenerid” – apparently the “Engineers of Creation” who built the universe.
  • “Kvoorum-Parandaja” – apparently “Quorum Healer”, repairers of broken realities?

In other words “Here is something you might opt to learn in the next level or two. Go ahead and experiment with it. If you don’t like it, we can try something else. If you do, you can buy those powers normally it and I’ll make a new “Talisman” with some other powers you might be interested in trying out”. It lets players experiment with various powers before they have to make any permanent decisions about them or get a temporary boost to fit some specific situation. That’s a good way to do it since it’s both very useful to the players who are new to the system and a nice way to boost a group.

The first set of Gerad’s talismans were forged in the foothills of the Lost Peaks, amidst the great trees of the primordial High Forest of Faerun. There, at dawn, the time of new beginnings, atop an outcropping of the mountains bedrock, he build a ritual fire of oak, ash, and hawthorn with which to call upon the powers of the world casting into it the tokens and spirit-fetishes he had spent his time preparing. Soon, beneath the moon, the fire burned black and cold, yet as filled with stars as the night sky above. The flames were feathered by no physical force, raven’s wings of spiritual fire beating against the winds of fate. It defies what is to come; there shall be no fate but what the strong make for themselves.

The first talisman was for an Uthgardian Barbarian of the Raven Tribe:

Alone among the birds and totems of the North, the Raven speaks outside of Dream. It carries the Words of the Spirits to the ears of mortal men, with the discarded quills from it’s wings are written runes of strength and wisdom, and it guides the souls of the fallen to the realms of the honored dead! Those who are shown the wisdom of the Raven may learn how to draw upon their inner strengths, the divine spark that dwells within! Bright will they shine in the tales to come!

Here, in this Forest which is of more worlds than one, we stand upon the borders of the Spirit World. You have left your kin, and a choice stands before you! To follow the Raven’s Path and bring forth new gifts and wisdom for your descendants to come, to follow the Scouts way, standing as a guardian between your folk and the horrors that may come, or to take both paths, and stand as a hero to both those who live and those who are yet to come. If you would take the Raven’s Path or the Dual Way… reach into the possibilities of the Raven’s Wings, and draw forth what wisdom speaks to you. Then… you may either make it your own, or seek another choice with the seasons turning.

When the Mighty Barbarian reached into the cold flame (taking one point of cold damage to set the link) he found himself holding a belt woven of hide and raven’s feathers – a token of spiritual wisdom.

Cincture Of The Raven (1 Point Relic):

  • Pen Of The Raven: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (L1 and weak L2 Effects) / only to power the equivalent of Charms and Talismans and subject to all their limitations. The belt’s wearer may draw a quill from the belt and use it to sketch the Runes and Symbols of Uthgar, Beorunna, the Ancestors, and the Totemic Beasts upon otherwise normal items, allowing them to channel the wearer’s personal strength – in effect equipping himself or herself with the equivalent of seven Charms and three Talismans (as found in The Practical Enchanter) (6 CP).
  • The Enduring Blood Of Uthgar: Grant of Aid with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore hit points (6 CP).
  • Disadvantage: The Cincture Of The Raven lays upon it’s wearer an obligation to teach others of the ways of Uthgar and the Totems as chances arise to do so (-3 CP).
  • Net Cost 6 CP + 6 CP -3 CP = 9 CP. 9 CP / 6 (Relic) = 1.5 CP, rounds down to 1 CP.

The next talisman to called forth was for a spirit-shaman and witchcraft-based blaster.

Fire is the element of change, transforming what it touches. The fire of the ritual burns upon the outcropping of rock, the fragrant smoke rising beneath the moon and stars. As Gerad casts a shimmering crystal-bound feather into the flames, the dark fire of the Raven Spirit changes to a pillar of twisting flame, burning green at it’s base and the riotous colors of autumn foliage above.

Seasons Pass, gods pass, and ages pass – but the earth and forest endures, it’s strength undaunted. Here, in the forest where too are the roots of time, we touch upon that solid core, the strength that binds the worlds together. As you have sworn to defend the world, so may it may lend it’s strength and endurance to you. If you would claim the strength of that bond, reach out to the fire of the world’s heart and, with a drop of your blood, become one with it’s ancient strengths.

Reaching into the fire to claim the Talisman again caused one point of damage to set the link and produced a belt of thin links of ash bound with iron, each of the twenty-four links engraved with a rune of the elder futhark.

Girding Of The Forest Lands (1 Point Relic):

  • Vigor Of The Elder Ash: Grants access to the Bones Of Iron (Ash), Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only works within the boundaries of the High Forest, only when at least two other members of the Pact are in the party (4 CP).
  • +2d6 Mana as +6d6 Power, Specialized and Corrupted / only to power the Bones Of Iron (Ash) ability above (4 CP).
  • +1d6 Mana as +3d6 Power, Corrupted/this deep reserve can only be recovered at the moment of dawn (whether or not the user sees it), as the forest wakes, not via Rite Of Chi or other methods.
  • Disadvantage: Obligation / Must deal with the natural animals of the forest through nonlethal means if that is at all possible.

The next talisman to be forged was for a war smith gadgeteer, a follower of the gods of artifice.

As Gerad cast a rune-covered ingot of iron into the green flames, they leaped up into a raging blaze before collapsing from a flaming crown into a deep bed of coals, the furious breath of heat from it mirroring the heat of a forge, where imagined tools become reality. Within the fiery tunnels of the coals in the fires heart lay glimpses of salamanders, efreeti, and fire elementals, hammering out the weapons of wars past and present, from crude copper daggers to unimaginable devices from beyond the stars.

Artificer and Visionary, the past you have forsaken for the sake of what is to come. In the spirit of Gond your Patron, and of Oghma the Loregiver who is mine, know that the chains of the past are broken, no forge but your will will be needed for your many creations to come! Reach forth now to the forges of the gods and take the fire of creation that will burn henceforth within you as well.

When the smith reached into the fire to claim the forming Talisman, he took one point of damage (to set the link as usual) and found himself holding a cincture of flattened links of chain, each wrought with images of weapons, some known, others suggesting fantastic creations and vehicles of war.

Cincture Of War (1 CP Relic):

  • +6 to his Preferred Martial Art (6 CP).
  • DR 4/- (Universal DR 2/-, Specialized for Double Effect / only versus physical attacks, 3 CP).
  • Immunity / the time normally required to put gadgets (He was using the Gadgets skill) together, so they no longer had a +1 point cost if not specified in advance (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Tunnel Fighting (1 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Must fight as an honorable warrior (-3 CP).

Finally, the fourth and last talisman in this set was for a psychic specializing in Astral Constructs and Energy Projection.

With the colors of the dawn in the eastern sky, and the first glint of the sun shining like a fiery jewel upon the horizon, the remains of the fire collapse to ash, to be blown away upon the wind – although a single burning ember that refuses to be extinguished or fade remains, set into a buckle, suitable for a belt. The circular copper clasp is inscribed with twin dragons, inlaid in black and white, mirroring and circling each other in the symbol of balance. If opened, it reveals the eternally-glowing ember within.

The Purest Yang Becomes Yin. The Purest Yin Becomes Yang.
Two Sides Of A Coin, Separated By A Barrier That May Not Exist.
From Rites End, A New Beginning; The Cycle Turns.
From Darkness and Cold an inextinguishable spark of Light and Fire.
A Creation Incomplete Draws Balance From The Void.
A Sourceless Wind Blows Between The Worlds.
Receive Now The Spark That Answered A Call Unvoiced.

Sunset Hag’s Broom Cinder (1 CP Relic):

  • Hysteria (Mental Powers), Specialized for Reduced Cost (2 Power) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for boosting psionic abilities (not skills, will saves, or non-psionic abilities), only for effective caster / manifester level (4 CP). This can be activated as a free action for 2 Power and lasts for the rest of the round. It manifests as hysterical cackling laughter.
  • Streamline, Specialized for Double Effect in applying standard Augmentations to Psychic Powers for Double Effect (+6 Power worth of “free” Augmentation), Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only when using Hysteria, above (4 CP).
  • Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only to set up Mystic Link Effects, Double Enthusiast / Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to set up Mystic Link Effects (Net Cost 4 CP, may be used to set up 4 CP worth of Mystic Link Effects).
    • This defaulted to two of the groups mystics with Communications and Power Link, Specialized and Corrupted / only within the High Forest, only with individuals or places touched by the Fey, can only transmit seven supernatural effects per day, all those linked must possess at least latent telepathic abilities (GM Veto over NPC’s)
  • Drawback: Insane: The bearer of the Cinder develops extreme hydrophobia. While this phobia excuses liquids kept in artificial containers (barrels, glasses, waterskins, and so on), it extends to natural bodies of water, puddles, and rain. The Cinder does not function if wet since the user will be too panicked to draw upon it.

Overall… I think the Cincture Of War was a little uninspired in comparison to some of the others (apparently it was more or less what the player asked for though) and the Broom Cinder looks like it’s a bit TOO efficient, but both are functional enough. Otherwise things were nicely themed; all men, a fire ritual, a small “test of courage” and a minor sacrifice of the recipients own strength to claim their talisman, a basic theme, a more-or-less reasonable explanation for why the character can make talismans in the first place, and – I’m told – some nice role playing in response. Yes, it makes the characters a little bit more powerful – but getting the group all taking an interest in and participating in a mystical ritual? Giving them all a common bond and a commitment to something beyond themselves? Thematic yet unique toys for everyone? Just as with Narthion – the character the Houngan Conjurer package was originally written up for – I think this makes a pretty good addition to a RPG.

Permanency and The Practical Enchanter

And this time around it’s a magic question from Alzrius:

Page 115 of The Practical Enchanter lists the following as one of the Standard Formula Modifiers for designing new spells:

“Permanence: Spells which may be made permanent with a Permanency spell may have the option built into the spell formula for +2 spell levels. This allows the caster to simply spend XP when casting the spell to make it Permanent.”

What I’m curious about, however, is determining how a new spell would be eligible for permanency (whether on yourself only, yourself or others, or an area) in the first place. The standard list of eligible spells seem restrictive and oddly inconsistent, with spells like detect magic and arcane sight being allowable whereas greater arcane sight and Pathfinder’s greater detect magic aren’t. Is there a particular factor besides GM fiat involved? Would that factor make a difference when determining the DC for making a new spell?

-Alzrius

I must admit that that’s an awkward question, simply because the Permanency spell – as a legacy from first edition (where it was level eight and casting it cost a permanent point of constitution!) – has never been particularly consistent or provided any in-setting explanation for how it works. Worse, of course, the Permanence modifier from The Practical Enchanter was set up for back-compatibility – so it doesn’t even attempt to provide an explanation. Similarly, Pathfinder I never attempted to explain anything either.

On the other hand, I’m always willing to try and take a shot at analyzing things, even if I can’t provide a full explanation in the end.

First up, the Practical Enchanter modifier is straightforward since it applies to normal (3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, Modern, Etc) games. You select a spell effect that could be made permanent – say, “Detect Magic”. You may then research a third level version with the “Permanence” modifier. When you cast that version you could then opt to spend 500 XP (3.0 and 3.5) or 2500 GP (Pathfinder) during or shortly after the casting to make it permanent. If you didn’t want to research it (and it probably isn’t worth the bother), you could probably find a scroll of it for sale somewhere. Of course, if you’re playing Pathfinder or Eclipse, why would you want to bother? In Pathfinder you could cast the cantrip all you wanted and in Eclipse you can pick up a bit of innate enchantment or get it as a minor point of a much superior occult sense. Even in a normal game you could just pay a little extra to get a scroll of Permanency.

So the Practical Enchanter modifier is basically an easy way of making individual spells permanent before you can cast the actual “permanency” spell. Given that “permanency” dropped to level five in later editions anyway, it isn’t a terribly important modifier – which is why it only got a brief mention.

So how DOES the standard “Permanency” spell work?

At the most basic, a Permanency spell could be viewed as a setting up a power tap to sustain another spell – in which case an eligible target would be of considerably lower level and with a reasonable base duration. After all, a high-powered spell that expended all it’s energy in an instant or over the course of a few rounds would obviously be much harder to sustain than a low-power spell that took hours to use up the very limited fund of energy that the caster had invested in it during it’s casting.

Now that works – but opens up quite a can of worms. Why would such a spell have to cost money or experience points? Couldn’t it draw on the (at least in older editions extra-planar) source of magic for power directly? Or couldn’t it be tied to some inherently-magical creature, material, or item?

That could be pretty interesting – allowing very low-energy effects to be easily rendered inherently permanent without cost, or allowing minor secondary effects to be tied to magical items (Perhaps weakening that +4 Sword (32,000 GP) to an effective +2 Sword (8000 GP) that also powers a selection of lesser (likely slotless) effects worth a good bit less than the 24,000 GP difference – perhaps 12,000 or 16,000 GP worth.

Secondarily, it would tend to go back to first-edition or MMORPG “crafting” style items. You found a Fire Ruby that contains massive amounts of fire magic but has no actual effects? Go ahead and mount it on a sword to make a flaming sword or feed it to a young golden dragon to make it stronger or use it to power some similar permanent effect.

That wouldn’t look much like classical d20 though, and – while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – this obviously can’t be our “default” explanation in a standard d20 game.

In 3.0 and 3.5 “Experience Points” really had nothing to do with “experiences”. They were a sort of transformative magical power that accumulated in adventurers or perhaps they represented the slow growth of your soul or inner magic or somesuch. They were a self-renewing power source that made the user ever tougher and more powerful – which meant that, in making a magical item, you were infusing it with a tiny fraction of your own essence to MAKE it magical – either temporarily, if the amount of “experience” you gave it was too small to sustain the power output indefinitely, or permanently if it was.

That actually made a certain amount of sense; it played into the tropes of classical magic, as seen in myths and legends and fantasy novels, where magical swordsmiths, the makers of magical rings, and similar crafters infuse their own strength into their creations. After all… if it was good enough for Tolkien, it’s probably good enough for us.

In this version, the Permanency spell is just a conduit – a way to transfer some of your magical potency / experience points / soul into an ongoing effect to keep it going. It’s fairly complicated – fifth level – because it’s meddling with a deep and subtle level of reality, but it’s still pretty straightforward. The usual cost was 500 XP per level of the spell to be rendered permanent – not all that large an amount by the time you could cast Permanency anyway.

It still doesn’t explain why you can make a Prismatic Sphere permanent, but not Shapechange, but its something. For that, we will be needing some more rules.

The Pathfinder version of the Permanency spell generally multiplied the given costs by five to convert them to gold pieces (the usual 3.0-3.5 figure for the “cost” of the experience points spent on item creation) but rather sloppily failed to adjust the costs for effects that had changed levels (which would make Detect Magic and Read Magic only 1250 GP, and potentially worth rendering permanent). It also added a variety of effects to the list – including some which broke the pattern – and later introduced spells which noted that they could be made permanent, but which sometimes failed to list the requirements and costs for doing so. Personally I’d just extrapolate from the existing pattern for those, but the writers not doing it is still sloppy.

The problem with converting the cost to gold pieces is the same throughout Pathfinder. Sure, both Experience and Gold look much the same from the players side – they’re both just numbers on a piece of paper that indicate how powerful your character is – but they really shouldn’t look the same from the characters side of things. How is that Permanency spell converting a mass of gold – or perhaps gems, or salt, or other trade goods, or a great master’s landscape painting – into empowering a permanent effect? Why can that one picture – which would sell at auction for 10,000 GP because the artist is famous regardless of it being an example of his “early crayon period” – be able to empower a permanent Symbol Of Healing when the only real difference between it and another kids scribbling is the artists later fame?

OK, magic doesn’t really HAVE to make sense, but it makes it a LOT easier to run a game if it does.

Sadly, while Pathfinder thus introduced an additional level of nonsense into Permanency, it made no real attempt to explain how Permanency works or what qualifies a spell for inclusion on the eligible-for-Permanency list besides being on the list already of having it noted in the spell description – which, as you note, left spells that fairly obviously fit the list off and put some things that didn’t really fit the list at all on it.

So what qualifications can we deduce about what spells are eligible?

  • They must not require any major control inputs. Once a permanent spell is running, the caster has little or no further control over it’s effects. You can move your “Dancing Lights” about, but you cannot swap between the options. Neither can you “discharge” spells with that option. After all… if a permanent spell can run while you’re asleep, in a coma, or long dead, you obviously can’t have much of an input on it any longer can you?
  • They must not involve any major transformation. Enlarge/Reduce Person and Magic Fang / Greater Magic Fang are about the limit for creatures, while Animate Object is the limit for items. I’d guess that in-setting such spells eventually start to cause problems of the “spend too long in a form and it starts to affect deeper levels” kind (or something like that). So while you might be able to make them permanent, it’s essentially a method of slow suicide.
  • They should have a duration of at least ten minutes per caster level OR of “Concentration” plus an additional independent period. There are a few spells on the existing list – such as Arcane Sight or Wall of Force – that violate this rule, but they are exceptions and are generally fairly stable effects.

Of course, those rules – while they’re reasonably good guidelines – aren’t really sufficient. Like it or not, the foundations of the d20 magic system are as much built on “that looks like it will be fun in the game” as they are on classical notions of “how magic works”. That’s inevitable – after all, classical notions of “how magic work” are kind of vague and inconsistent themselves – but it means that there is always a fourth rule:

  • It won’t work if the game master thinks that it will mess up the game – and may abruptly cease to work if it turns out that it messes up the game after the game master gave permission. The only reason to play at all is to have fun, so if something turns out to make the game less fun? Out it goes.

And while that answer isn’t entirely satisfactory to me either, I hope it helps!