Eclipse And Sphere Magic – The Sphere Of Blood, A.K.A. “Bloodbending”

This inquiry was about constructing a Spheres of Power character – in particular, a user of the Blood Sphere.

That’s a system where characters are generally limited to a relatively small selection of effects in a few narrow themes but can use the basic effects (usually equivalent to fairly specialized spells of level three or less) as much as they want. They also get a relatively small number of spell points available to boost those effects up to the equivalent of spells of levels 4-6. Finally, there are a number of specific talents and boosts they can pick up – mostly equivalent to specialized feats -to improve their magic.

Honestly, there are already a LOT of ways to dabble in thematic magic in Eclipse, and ways to pick up specific specialized boosts. Still, it’s boring to do things the same way again and the request was to pretty much match the original system – so here is yet another way to build this sort of thing.

First up, Spheres Of Power gives characters (Level + Casting Attribute Modifier) “Spell Points” to boost them up with. To buy those spell points take…

  • 6d6 (24) Mana with Spell Enhancement, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (12 CP) / only for Spell Enhancement or Rune Blood Magic, only to upgrade Blood Spells, each spell only allows a specific set of seven (I like seven, so why not?) Upgraded functions. As usual, no more than three points of Mana may be spent upgrading any single spell.
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (6 CP) / only to recharge the restricted Mana Pool above, takes at least half an hour of rest per die.

Well, that was cheap. Most characters will probably want more spell points and recovery thereof, but that’s not hard to get.

Next up we need to buy the actual abilities – which the Spheres Of Power system seems to mostly limit to third to fourth level effects. A few individual effects may hit higher levels, but they’re usually special cases and have various special conditions attached to them.

One way to make such a character in Eclipse is to take Rune Magic (the “Blood Casting” and “Blood Mastery” skills, for 2 SP/Level), take Shaping (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/ only to produce level one effects in an extremely narrow field, only works with specific spell effects approved by the game master, requires gestures and spellcasting to use (although that also gives us “Caster Level = User’s Hit Dice” automatically) (6 CP).

Please note that, in some cases, I’m just going to substitute something better for the abilities listed for the Sphere Of Blood. That’s because the Sphere of Blood includes some implicit assumptions about “biology” having something to do with “life” in d20. It doesn’t, or you couldn’t use the same healing spells that work on humans on elementals and such. In d20 a human can father a mostly-human kid on a mass of fire or rock – or on a ghost. You can cross-breed almost anything. Face it. Real-world “biology” has nothing to do in D20 beyond getting frustrated and going to cry in a corner.

We’ll also add the Arcanum Minimus metamagical feat from The Practical Enchanter, Specialized and Corrupted / only applies to Shaped effects, always applies to shaped effects (2 CP) – allowing affected spells to be cast at a reduced level if they are sufficiently limited. In this case, Blood Sphere spells only work on creatures with blood and creatures inherently immune to bleed damage cannot be targeted unless they have fed on living blood within the last hour. Other special conditions may apply to particular effects

That gives us effects with a base effective power level of level two spells – with additional special requirements commonly boosting the base spell up to something equivalent to level three (which I’ll be taking as the default). Common enhancement options include:

  • Continuing (+1/2/3 Mana to have the effect continue for one round/minute/hour per caster level without concentration).
  • Multiple (+1/2/3 Mana, effect strikes up to 2/4/8 targets).
  • Area (+1/2/3 Mana for 5′ Radius or 10′ Cone, 20′ Radius or 30′ Cone, or 30′ Radius or 60′ Cone).

and

  • Range (+1 Range Category for +1 Mana).

Note that enhancements can be applied up to a total of 3 Mana, so there is nothing wrong with combining them until that limit is reached.

  • Save DC’s are normally (13 + Mana Spent + Casting Attribute Modifier). Dedicated bloodbenders will buy Improved Augmented Bonus (12 CP) to add a second attribute modifier to this.

So lets define those effects:

Beasts Of Blood: You may cause a temporary Construct to rise from the blood of a recently-slain creature of at least medium size within close range (no more than once per corpse). This is a Psychic Construct I to III (your choice, as per The Practical Enchanter), with a duration of Concentration. It can leave the creation range. You can control no more than twice your Caster Level in hit dice of constructs at any one time although you can merge two of them (choosing which “survives”) to add the sacrificed constructs remaining hit points to the one that “survives”. The Continuing option is available.

  • +1 Mana: Construct IV. Summon a Hemo-Goblin from a currently bleeding targets blood*.
  • +2 Mana: Construct V. Add one Construct Option of each rank (A, B, and C) to your construct.
  • +3 Mana: Construct VI. Summon up to four Hemo-Goblins from currently bleeding targets blood, still only one per target*.

*A Hemo-Goblin has the base states of an otherwise ordinary goblin. It appears in a space adjacent to the target. It gains a (Caster Level) bonus to its armor class, attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks and fights the target to the death. It will relentlessly pursue the target if they try to run. It vanishes after a full day, when slain, or if the target dies, whichever comes first. It will not do anything save pursue and fight the target but always knows the targets general location – not that it will tell anyone. Only one can be created for any given target at a time. This, of course, is from the Spheres Of Power Wiki – and is a sufficiently horrible pun that I just could not leave it out even if the effect actually makes little or no sense.

Blood Spider’s Weave: Target takes 1d4/Two Caster Levels and is Entangled. A Fortitude save negates the Entangled part. The Entanglement persists for (Concentration + 1d4) rounds or the target spends a move action to save again successfully. The Continuing, Multiple, Area, and Range Options are available.

  • +1 Mana: When the caster takes damage the target also takes damage, up to 1 point/caster level/round.
  • +2 Mana: The damage continues each round until the entanglement is broken. The user may force the target to remain still or to take a 5′ step as the caster directs each round.
  • +3 Mana: None.

Bloodlore: Within close range you may learn the targets state of health, current and maximum hit points, and other physical health information, such as diseases and toxins present, although a Fortitude save applies if the target wishes to resist. Range and Multiple apply.

  • +1 Mana: Relieve Illness/Poison (Hedge Wizardry). Enhance Disease/Poison (Victim gets an extra dose of the deleterious effect).
  • +2 Mana: Expel Disease/Poison. Blood Sense (Blindsensing of creatures with blood within a 30′ radius).
  • +3 Mana: Bestow Curse.

Blood Spray: Given a source of uncontained blood within close range, you can telekinetically manipulate it. A flask of blood, 2d6 HP worth of the user’s blood, or blood drawn in combat will do, but using blood this way renders it unfit for further use. This allows you to perform a variety of simple tricks (laying a trail, pushing a button, closing a door, etc) using the blood as a tool or allowing you to perform a Ranged Combat Maneuver at +4. The Range and Mass modifiers apply.

  • +1 Mana: Blood Alchemy (add an alchemical effect up to 50 GP), Obscuring Blood (Mist)
  • +2 Mana: Blood Link (you are effectively grasping the target until it’s removed).
  • +3 Mana: Blood Shield (grant 2 x caster level temporary hit points), Stinking Cloud

Coagulation: The user may take 2d6 damage to create any mundane item (or group of related items, such as a bow and arrows or the pieces of a suit of armor,which can be created in place) valued at up to 500 GP. Such items are enchanted with Greater Magic Weapon or the equivalent (Greater Magic Armor, or Greater Magic Tool) but will fade from existence a few moments after the caster lets go of them. The Continuing option applies to keep items around after they would normally disappear.

  • +1 Mana: The item is effectively made of Adamant, Mithril, or another GM-Approved special material.
  • +2 Mana: The items “Plusses” may be expended on specific powers, although the GM may rule that some will not work.
  • +3 Mana: The user may control the item within close range as if he or she was using it normally. He or she might thus create a suit of armor and walk it into an area to check for traps.

Conduit Of Life: A weapon anointed with 2d6 HP worth of blood or which has wounded an opponent within the last five rounds may be manipulated by virtue of that blood, being granted the Bane (versus the type of creature the blood came from) and Whirling properties. The Continuing modifier may be applied.

  • +1 Mana: Add the Brutal Surge or Corrosive property.
  • +2 Mana: Add the Enervating or Vampyric property.
  • +3 Mana: Add the Bodyfeeder or Implacable property.

Crystals Of Blood: You may crystalize blood, causing an opponent to take (2d6 +1d6/two caster levels to a maximum of 12d6) damage and be staggered for a round. Being internal and made of the targets own tissues, this bypassed DR and temporary hit points. This may be used as a ranged touch attack ray or allow a fortitude save to half the damage and negate the staggering effect. The Area and Multiple modifiers apply.

  • +1 Mana: Add (Casting Attribute Modifier) rounds of being staggered to the damage.
  • +2 Mana: Boost damage to (2 + Caster Level)d6, 20d6 maximum. Add “victim takes 3d6 bleed damage per round for (Casting Attribute Modifier) rounds” to the effect.
  • +3 Mana: Change Of State: If the victim dies, their blood remains crystalized until the crystals are broken, and may be readily collected and saved for later use. Blood Talisman: Using 1d6 HP worth of crystalized blood from a creature you may grant up to (Caster Level / 2, 12 maximum) CP worth of abilities from that creature to whoever carries that crystal for the next hour. Sadly, only one such talisman can be used at a time by any given creature and the blood vanishes after the duration expires.

Hemorrhagic Command: As long as you concentrate, the target must make a Fortitude Save each round as a standard action to avoid being forced to perform some simple physical action instead of their intended action(s) – although this causes considerable bruising. The victim can forego this save to act mentally. The Continuing and Multiple modifiers may be applied.

  • +1 Mana: Provide a +10 bonus to a physical movement skill (EG: Jump, Running Speed, Tumble, etc). Provide the “Compression” ability
  • +2 Mana: Override Paralysis, casting without need for physical movement and moving yourself.
  • +3 Mana: Induce the equivalent of Nausea, for (Concentration + 2d4) rounds. A Fort save reduces this to Sickened. Cause 3d6 Constitution damage, but a Fortitude save reduces this to 6d6 normal damage.

Sanguine Mastery: With concentration you can manipulate another creatures blood within Close range. You may cause bleeding (1 Point/Caster Level) or grant resistance to bleeding (1 + Level/3 points, bleeding attacks must roll Caster Level or (for nonmagical bleeding attacks) BAB + 1d20 against your Caster Level + 10 or be negated). A Fort Save, a lapse in concentration, or any of the usual methods will stop the bleeding. The Multiple, Area, and Continuing options are all available.

  • +1 Mana: Spell impedes a sense, causing a 20% miss chance or inflicting some similar penalty. The victim is effectively Greased while the bleeding continues.
  • +2 Mana: Spell negates a sense while the bleeding continues. Double the Bleeding Damage or the protective effect.
  • +3 Mana: None.

The Blood Is The Life: You may manipulate life force, either causing or removing the Dazzled, Deafened, Fatigued or Staggered conditions while you concentrate and for an additional 2d4 rounds. The Continuing, Multiple, Area, and Range modifiers are all applicable.

  • +1 Mana: Add Blinded, Exhausted, and Surged (Gain an extra attack or AoO) to the list.
  • +2 Mana: Add Diseased (pick one), Poisoned (1d6/1d6 Con), Confused, Nauseated, and Hasted / Slowed to the list.
  • +3 Mana: Add Energy Drained and Paralyzed to the list.

This one hung me up for a while – but then I realized that, in my general fondness for “realistic”, simulationist, systems, I was trying too hard; d20 “biology” runs on magic and positive energy, not on earthly notions about how bodies actually work, making this just a “modify conditions” effect.

Transfusion: Once per round as a free action the user may transfer any Bleed Damage taken by a creature in close range to another creature in close range as temporary hit points. The Multiple option is available.

  • +1 Mana: Add 1d2 Con Damage to the Bleed. Heal beneficiary by (Hit Dice of Victim x Con Damage). This won’t work on creatures with no Con.
  • +2 Mana: Drain 1d4 Mana OR 2d4 Spell Levels OR 3d4 Power from the victim. Transfer a poison or disease from one victim to another. Vampiric Touch using d8’s.
  • +3 Mana: Transfer Mana/Spell Levels/Power from the victim instead of draining them. Blood Brotherhood / link two willing targets together so that, as long as they remain within medium range of each other, they have a common pool of hit points.

While there may be something I missed, one final item from the Sphere Of Blood is Immunity to Bleed Damage. Personally I’d take that as an Innate Enchantment (Cure Minor Wounds Cantrip, x.7 Personal Only x.6 only to automatically stop wounds from bleeding, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated = 420 GP. About half a CP worth of Innate Enchantment.

There are various special modifiers you can buy – but Eclipse offers an immense variety of special modifiers to buy. Get what you like.

Now that entire package comes out to 38.5 CP and 46 SP – although you’ll probably want to buy a few of those thematic extras along the way which will increase the cost to around 50.5 CP. In practice I would probably just pay a little more, go freeform to begin with, and save the bother of writing up the base effects – but that wasn’t what the request was for.

In any case, this is still pretty cheap; you could complete the basic components of the Sphere of Blood in about five levels without much of a strain. That’s because the Spheres were designed to bring Spellcasters down to a desired power level – the equivalent of “Tier 3″, where most of the martial classes tended to hang out. Sure, the system boosts the save DC’s a bit, but it pretty much eliminates the vastly powerful high-level magic shenanigans and a great deal of the versatility.

Eclipse, on the other hand, was designed to let martial characters, and skillmasters, and other types of characters, be just as effective as the clerics and wizards. After all, how could I say that “you can build any kind of character that you want” and then tell people “except that I’m taking away a lot of the spellcasters toys so you can’t build them”?

So very limited power sets are kind of cheap in Eclipse. After all, there has to be SOME reason to take them instead of full-blown spellcasting. Thus, while Eclipse will build pretty much any power set you want, there’s one thing that it definitely WON’T do. By itself, it will not limit the characters to fit a particular setting, power level, or style of play. After all, if it did… it would not be letting you build pretty much any power set would it? Thus, while the basic Shaping / Arcanum Minimus / Spell Enhancement combination as shown above sticks reasonably closely to the limitations of Spheres Of Power, there are ways around that. Most obviously… if a character pursues the Rune Magic option long enough they WILL eventually be able to cast improvised spells of above ninth level within that field, even if they will want to buy a bunch more Mana to do it with. As always, it is sometimes up the the game master to say “No”.

Game Balance Redux

Once again I’ve been getting questions about “Game Balance”, and statements about how it was so bad in early editions of AD&D and is still bad now.

As is very common with questions that come up over and over again, this one is rooted in a difference in definitions.

Early edition AD&D (like many other RPG’s of the time) did not have or need “game balance” – and thereby had perfect game balance.

Early RPG’s were mostly about TEAMS. It was the Party versus the World – with the world, as run by the game master, existing to provide exciting challenges for the player character team to play through. The Game Master was not on the other “side” because there was no other side.

It was the TEAM that was important. Individual characters came and went – through death by misadventure, crippling injury, judicial conviction (and either execution or imprisonment), retirement (once very common – but how often have you seen it happen in a modern-style game?), taking up a steady job, getting married and raising kids, going into politics, and so on – but the team went on (quite a few of ours went on for multiple generations or sponsored new teams for side quests). New characters were brought in at level one or so, and carefully equipped and shepherded by the higher level characters until – after only a few sessions thanks to the doubling experience point tables – they were ready to take a full role in the party. The overall party level crept steadily up, despite the fact that any one player might start characters anew at level one a dozen or more times. Rare character types that called for superior rolls survived a bit better, and so – over time – became more common. That was a bit of a reward really. The player had taken a hit for the team again – and so got another chance at getting an exceptional character – or if said player rolled really badly, a bit of a role-playing challenge for a bit until that inferior character left play (which would most likely be very soon if their rolls were really bad).

Was there “Balance” between characters? It certainly didn’t involve “level”. Since the experience point tables all differed… characters would be of a variety of levels anyway even if none of them were ever replaced. What about classes? Remember “Linear Fighters Quadratic Wizards”?

Even ignoring the fact that relatively low-level and very high level wizards had identical limits on preparing spells (15 minutes per spell level per spell – so preparing a SINGLE fourth level spell required one hour) and that spells took a long time to cast and were extremely easy to interrupt and ruin (making casting a powerful spell a job requiring that the rest of the party cooperate to keep the wizard from being interrupted), this didn’t matter; characters did not last all that long. The TEAM did – and casting powerful spells was actually a perfect example. Making that happen was a TEAM effort. The Fighter and the Thief were just as responsible for getting that powerful spell into play as the Caster because if they hadn’t held the line, the caster would have been interrupted (being splashed with water would do it) and have automatically lost the spell.

Since there was no actual opponent except “the universe”, and there was no actual competitor between characters, there was no real conception of “game balance” the way the term is commonly used now.

So how did the games have perfect balance?

It was because game play started the moment you sat down at the table with a blank sheet of paper, grabbed a pencil or pen, and picked up the dice to roll your attributes. At that point, you were playing – and everything was pretty obviously perfectly balanced. Even if you got a bad pen or tore your paper… you just got some more. From a game mechanics point of view the players were all completely indistinguishable. Somebody might be the game-masters boyfriend of girlfriend, or be a fast talker or something – but you couldn’t blame the game mechanics for THAT.

That was why Travelers random rolls for the results (benefits, goods, and training) of each term of service (and all characters were assumed to start out working for some organization) included results along the lines of “Your character died. Give the sheet to the game master and start over”, “You have survived this term with (specified) long term injuries. Roll on the random discharge benefits table and join the party”, “You have survived. You may opt out and roll on the random discharge benefits table and join the party or roll to re-enlist for another term”, and “Your character is not eligible for another term. Roll on the random discharge benefits table and join the party” made perfect sense. You were already playing the game, even if your character was not yet ready – and you had important decisions to make; “start with what I’ve got now, or gamble it all on another turn?”.

That mechanic is widely mocked today because “beginning play” has come to mean “when my character enters play” instead of “when I sat down at the table and said “how do I make a character?” – turning “I didn’t get quite the results I wanted from the character-creation minigame! Oh well!” into “my character died before the game started!”.

The first, of course, is perfectly reasonable. The second sounds absurd to many current players. Yet they’re both accurately describing the same event, albeit from slightly different viewpoints.

Once the dice were rolling, some players did better than others – but the same is true for Monopoly. And, unlike Monopoly… most of those differences were purely temporary because the characters they applied to were purely temporary.

That’s why a Ranger could start off with an extra hit die, and a pile of skills (even if most of them lacked rules, you still knew that your Ranger was an expert tracker, and knew wilderness survival, and so on), and later on got both some Magic-User and Druid spellcasting, and was much better than a Fighter in almost every way (even winding up with comparable hit points in the end because Rangers got 11d8 in the end while Fighters only got 9d10) – and all that was needed to create a Ranger was some lucky die rolls when the player was making their character. But when the Ranger retired, or died, or otherwise left play… those temporary advantages vanished, the player rolled for a new character, and the party went on.

Low-level games saw a lot of Demihumans, who had advantages then and so made the party stronger. At higher levels they had disadvantages – and so new characters coming in were most often human, to make the party stronger.

But it was always the PARTY that mattered. I had several players elect to play Familiars or other minor party associates for a time because they found those roles fun or challenging. Such characters were far less powerful than most of the other characters – and that didn’t matter. If they were played cleverly, they could contribute quite effectively to the team. Character death was a minor setback for the team, but – just like a football or baseball team that lost a major player because of injury or retirement – the team went on. That’s why it wasn’t uncommon for a character to make a heroic sacrifice; dying to pull out a win for the team. That was one of the best ways to retire a character. That story might be recounted for years afterwards, long after most of the other characters who hadn’t pulled off something so dramatic had been forgotten.

“Game Balance” – by which is usually meant a balance of power between the player characters – didn’t become a factor until much later, when the focus of the games started to shift from the the team to individual characters. Now that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it IS different.

Personally, I was quite disappointed when a game master insisted on contriving an escape for a priestly character of mine who had concluded that the demonic invasion had to be stopped, that he was the only one in position to do it, and that it didn’t matter if he died doing it; he was a servant of his god, and the world would be saved. So he gathered his power, hurled himself into the demonic gate, and expended everything he had, including his own life force (thanks to an ability which let him take damage to power up his magic), in a cataclysmic explosion to seal the portal.

And the game master had him wake up, quite anticlimactically, elsewhere despite my protests that his martyrdom had been entirely in character and was a splendid end to his adventures.

The game master, however, was younger and had a more recent prospective on the game. He saw “character death” as losing, and thought that “losing” was an unacceptable consequence for heroism in the service of a lawful good god – and refused to allow what he saw as an unfair result no matter HOW appropriate it was.

Personally I found that that took a lot of the fun out of it – as if Russell Case in Independence Day had just outrun the blast rather than dying to pull off a near-impossible victory.

But despite the rambling… that’s why arguments about “game balance” in the early editions almost never resolve anything. It’s because the people arguing commonly have very different ideas about what “game balance” IS, and are arguing from incompatible prospectives – and that’s pretty pointless.

Before arguing about game balance, you need to agree on what that term actually means in any given edition of any given game. It’s rarely the same thing.