Eclipse d20 – Tricorder Combat And The Valio Arts

And next up, it’s a few more of the odder Martial Arts that have come up:

Tricorder Combat

A good deal of Star Trek technology operates on the Informational Level – where things like Space, Time, and Structure are merely a bunch of values. That’s why the Star Trek Warp Drive only requires a great deal of energy rather than the mass-energy of major planets, how Transporters can split people into good and evil versions, how the Holodeck can create matter, and how Tricorders can extract all kinds of information about creatures, objects, and areas without all kinds of intrusive and damaging probing. They all work at least partially on the informational level.

Tricorders (and larger starship sensor arrays) in particular are computers as well as scanning systems. And even on the informational level… the Observer interacts with the things Observed. That doesn’t usually mean much on the macroscopic level – but information is always a set of quantum values.

Tricorders act to pull truly alien creatures and forces – things from other dimensions with their own natural laws – into a common frame of reference. They do not FIND mysterious weaknesses that no one else has found in eons. Truly talented tricorder operators impose their own ideas onto the targets informational structure. They CREATE those weaknesses. They make the incomprehensible mundane. They impose their technobabble on the madness beyond the edge of reality, and make it so. In their own way… Tricorders and Ships Sensors are more destructive weapons than mere Phasers and Photon Torpedoes; they can destroy what something WAS rather than just blowing it up.

Tricorder Combat (Cha Based, Optionally Wis Based):

Spock stared hard at his tricorder, as if by sheer will he might force it to tell him the answer to his questions.

-Janet Kagan, Uhura’s Song

The fine art of Tricorder “Combat” is to maintain your own reality while overwriting the targets – rather than letting IT influence yours. A Tricorder is a powerful informational weapon – generally giving the user a substantial advantage unless he or she is up against a powerful informational creature such as “Q”. or the Star Trek universes various other semi-omnipotent informational beings. A highly skilled operator can, however, improve on that advantage even further, wielding their scanning device with exceptional skill.

Even if it looks like they’re doing nothing but fiddling with knobs while their Tricorder makes warbling noises.

  • Requires: Proficiency in Information Combat, a Tricorder or Ships Sensor Bank, Mana 4+, Engineering (Star Trek) 6+.
  • Basic Techniques: Power 3, Toughness (Informational) 4, Defenses (Informational) 2, Attack 3.
  • Advanced Techniques: Prone Combat, Rapid Shot, Reflex Training with +4 Bonus Uses (Seven/Day total) (Specialized in using the Tricorder. Can either make an extra informational attack or have the Tricorder out and scanning an event whether or not there is time to do so), and Vulcan Lore (Augmented Bonus: Adds (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for Int-Based Skill Purposes, Specialized for Double Effect / only applies to Knowledge Skill Checks).
  • Occult Techniques: Emergency Power Reserve (Inner Strength I and II), Charging Mode (Rite of Chi, (Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Corrupted for Increased Effect (Can be used to restore Emergency Power / Inner Strength), Specialized for Reduced Cost / Only to restore Emergency Power Reserve), and Reconstructive Imaging (Healing Hand, Specialized for Increased Effect / Requires several minutes, but can also be used to repair items and informational damage, requires minor physical manipulation as well – the Tricorder “just tells you just what to do to fix things”),

OK, I already used the “restore inner strength” trick in another style – but it fits I think.

Tricorder Combat is pretty unreasonable. After all, you could potentially wind up with two opponents staring at little boxes instead of each other while they try to technobabble each other into defeat.

Well, to be honest, that does kind of sound like Star Trek. I suppose that – if you already have a Star Trek Engineer or Scientific type running around bending the universe with technobabble, they might as well have a way to be good with it. After all, this is the universe where a starship that had been sucked into a black hole escaped because the sensor system operator found a “crack in the event horizon”. Given that, I really can’t say that much of ANYTHING is unreasonable in a Star Trek universe.

“That’s not how this works! That’s not how ANY of this works!” – Actual Scientists and Engineers.

“Who Cares?” – Scotty

The Valio Arts (Dex Based):

Both the Force and the Codex give their practitioners a massive edge in combat. The physical enhancements are bad enough, but both abilities offer forms of combat precognition – one by sensing the flow of events and decisions, one by surveying “nearby” timelines that happen to be a few moments ahead. That can make it near-impossible for a normal fighter to stand up to even a weak wielder of either power. Those with the right Force or Codex Monotalents and certain nonhumans might hone their strength, speed, and precision to the point where even knowing that they are going to do is of little help in stopping them, but appropriate Monotalents are rare – and such dedication coupled with inhuman potential is even rarer.

That, of course, was unacceptable to bodyguards and military organizations across the galaxy.

But there is a counter to Precognition that’s available to ordinary folk.

Chaos. And the brain is a system capable of amplifying Chaos up from the quantum level. What use precognition when the next move might be any of a thousand maneuvers and has yet to be determined? What use telepathy when even the target has no plan and is running entirely on muscle memory and random impulses?

The Valio Arts do not use predictable kata, or seek the optimum maneuver to strike at a foe, or drill a small selection of maneuvers to perfection – for in the face of foresight, such things are only traps. The Arts focus on having a wide variety of reasonably-appropriate maneuvers and trying to make the selection of any specific maneuver truly random.

It works to some extent. It is pretty good at frustrating precognitive fighters – but that ability comes at a price. That price is usually hidden by the fact that only the fiercest, and most dedicated, fighters bother to study an art so specialized and intense – but the Valio Arts aren’t actually all that good against normal fighters, who don’t find fighting without precognition at all disadvantageous and who normally have well-practiced and fairly well optimized routines for attack and defense.

And all of those routines are much more polished than any of the hundred moves a Valio fighter might use. The Valio Arts are still much better than fighting untrained, but a serious fighter will study other forms as well.

  • Requires: Natural Weapons (1d4 minimum, whether inherent or by training), BAB 4+, at least one Martial Weapon Proficency (Melee), and proficiency with Light Armor or better.
  • Basic Techniques: Defenses 2, Power 2, Attack 2. Synergy/+2 to rolls involving a knowledge of the Force or Codex.
    Specialized Basic Techniques: Double Effect/Only versus Force and Codex Users: Defenses 1, Attack 1, Toughness 2.
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Weapon Kata (Any Favored), Mind Like Moon, Combat Reflexes, and Mind Of Chaos (Immunity / Psychic and Magical Combat Senses, Opponent Intuition Bonuses, and Similar – Uncommon, Minor, Major (3 CP), plus +1 BAB Specialized / Only versus Force and Codex Users (3 CP),
  • Occult Techniques (Variant): While the Valio Arts offer no actual Occult Techniques, the immense variety of moves does allow users to add additional instances of Weapon Kata in lieu of occult techniques.

The Valio Arts are very useful against any fighter who relies extensively on occult combat senses at middling levels, and are nicely versatile at high levels where they work with many different weapons – but they never offer the raw power, or occult techniques, of many other arts. They’re still pretty good in Star Wars, where opponents using the Force or Codex are fairly common, where even elite troops are rarely particularly good (the old “Stormtroopers cannot hit the broad side of a barn” problem), and where only notable single figures are important in combat.

Overall, serious d20 combatants will probably want several more specialized styles to use, but high-level dabblers might well find something like the Valio Arts useful – at least if they focus their techniques against something that comes up more often than “Force and/or Codex users”.

Eclipse d20 – Building Occultists

“Occult” means “Hidden”. An Occultist… studies that which is hidden. His or her specialty is lost tomes, unpronounceable names, secret rituals performed under cover of night, lost shrines and crypts, hidden locations, and cultures long-vanished. They’re at their best in “secret supernatural” worlds, That’s hard to maintain in modern settings; camera cell phones alone make “hiding the truth” a lot more complicated and usually call for supercomputers or magic that somehow monitors the entire internet and censors it as well as plentiful memory erasure – but it’s a lot easier in more classical settings.

They also don’t fit in with high magic settings. If magic makes the trains run, or there’s a spellcasting priest in every temple, or there’s an official court wizard who can fly and hurl bolts of lightning, or talented kids can sign up for magic classes… then there isn’t much of a place for lost mystic secrets. Why bother researching a translation for an ancient incantation from the wall of a pyramid when you can go down to a professional spell designer and commission a modern version of the incantation complete with four thousand years worth of technical improvements?

That’s why superhero worlds that include actual Occultists tend to relegate them to their own little mystical underworlds. Mountain-Smashing Woman and Fusionman (the embodiment of the “Solar Phoenix” / C-N-O fusion cycle) don’t generally do crossovers with the gangster-hunting Shadow Weaver and Presbyter John the Exorcist.

A classical occultist doesn’t have much magic of his or her own – and certainly doesn’t have the neatly systematic magic you usually find in role-playing games and a lot of movies and television programs (albeit not all of them). They’re usually extremely knowledgeable, capable of a few personal tricks (including basic divinations and occasional knacks) and of rituals (especially summonings and exorcisms), but most of their powers are “Found” magic. Stuff that they have picked up, and most of which will soon run out when used.

Perhaps for this mission they wield a rare talisman discovered in a fey forest, a genuine Hand Of Glory found in a curiosity shop, an invocation of Anubis (very dangerous and requiring an escalating offering each time it is used), a Dragon’s Fang, a Wand of Thunder cut from a thousand-year oak during a mighty storm during a specific celestial conjunction, three one-use spells granted by some dread power of the netherworld, and a favor owed by an ancient lich.

Now several of those things might be very multipurpose, or good for several uses – but all too soon, their powers will be used up.

Really lucky Occultists may have a device or two that either can be recharged or has a daily / weekly / whatever allotment of uses – things which are likely to become a cornerstone of their activities across their careers – but for the most part everything beyond their minor personal powers is likely to be traded out for each mission. Given their limited occult arsenal, quite a few of them will also carry a blade, crossbow, or gun and wear some basic low-profile armor.

Of course, literary, movie, graphic novel, or television series occultists have a major advantage. They always seem to have stuff that fits the plot. If they’re going up against demons they will have some holy stuff, and it it’s werewolves there will no sign of holy stuff, but there will doubtless be a magical silver blades, warding spells, and shapeshifting-related magics.

Now, that could just mean that they have a LOT of magic and only use the few items that fit the plot – but if you give a player character a large stockpile… they will either find some way to use every bit of it (no matter how obscure part of it is) or they will simply stock up on generically useful magic. If you only let them have a little… they will still stock up on the most generically useful stuff they can for fear of being stuck with an inappropriate stockpile.

  • If they are good at scouting or planning they may be able to stock up on something appropriate, but a lot of groups just don’t do much of that.
  • If the game master gets directly involved in the selection – usually in the role of some god or mystical mentor – he or she can make sure that the selection is nicely relevant. In fact, it can even be turned into clues and foreshadowing. This is likely the best method, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it – but it IS a lot of trouble and can be pretty tricky to pull off if the players head off in some unexpected direction.
  • The easiest method is for the Occultist to use the Occult Skill “Foresight” – using it to pick out appropriate items on the fly.

So lets make some suitable Occult Powers. First up, a few basics:

Psychic Magic (9 CP):

Witchcraft II (Three Basic Abilities) with +2d6 Mana as +6d6 Power, Path of Water/Dismissal, Path of Air/The Sight, and Path of Light/Divination. All Specialized for Reduced Cost / requires interruptable gestures, incantations, and access to various components (a spell component pauch will do), user becomes a magnet for spirits and weird occult events, user is mystically marked by the powers he or she serves and will be preferentially targeted by their enemies (21 CP). Occultists will normally have a Pact of Service and a Vow (-12 CP), for a net cost of (9 CP).

Occultists are – as is expected for any Witchcraft-based character – fairly impressive to start with. they know (or can find out), all kinds of things, have several useful tricks (depending on which basic Witchcraft abilities they take), and have a fair chance of getting rid of extradimensional pests. What they don’t have is a lot of raw power. They’re mystic investigators, not war-mages.

Ritual Magic (6 CP).

This one is pretty obvious. Rituals – magic circles, strange reagents, suspicious candles, bubbling cauldrons, sacrifices, mystical places and locations, and calling upon outre powers with unpronounceable names – are a major occult tool. Rituals are powerful and versatile, but the ones with worthwhile* effects tend to call for difficult-to-get components, very awkward times and places, and far too much time – which is why you can buy the entire branch of magic so cheap. On the other hand, Occultists tend to be investigators. They don’t stand in the opening gates of hell and do battle with the emerging dark horde; they arrive three days early and get to work on a ritual designed to keep those gates from opening in the first place.

*To adventurers. Minor rituals to bless gardens, keep bugs out of the stored food, keep an eye on babies, call in the livestock, and so on are quick and easy – but adventurers rarely care.

Spirit Magic (6 CP):

Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (6 Floating CP) / Only for Favors (Cha Mod + 3 version, either two sets of minor favors or one of major favors), can only be changed or renewed in between adventures, must be cleared with the GM (6 CP).

Occultists constantly trade services and favors. They run small errands for various powers – perhaps stopping a land developer from bulldozing an ancient altar, renewing fading ancient seals, supporting causes favored by various powers, and so on. They spend work and time and older occult favors to bring in a continuous supply of new ones. Thus a genuine Occultist can start off each adventure (or major segment thereof) with a selection of mundane and supernatural favors to call on. Of course, the acceptability of any given request is up to the game master – but at least this is a lot quicker than rituals.

Hidden Lore (3 CP):

Access to an Occult Skill (3 CP). Personally, I’d suggest one of:

  • Foresight (allowing the user to make sure that he or she has the RIGHT favors and other preparations):
  • Gadgetry (allowing the user to have a pouch full of prepared alchemical, occult, or other devices according to his or her personal style. What is that Hand Of Glory capable of? Lots of stuff, depending on how you use it), or
  • Secrets (Granting the user truly impressive secret knowledge). Higher level occultists will probably want all three, but there’s only so much you can do at low levels.

That’s really all you need for a basic occultist for a mere 24 CP. That’s a pretty powerful package at low levels, but becomes considerably less impressive at higher levels – and while you can build on it, the lack of focus hurts. Moreover, if you want to stick with the theme… you’ll be taking individual powers, and fairly diverse ones at that, rather than anything coherent. Of course, that’s not necessarily useless – a clever character with a wide variety of minor powers can be quite effective – but you will have a hard time competing in a kick-in-the-door style game when the wizards and clerics start throwing around high-level magic. Of course, you will still have plenty of points left for other abilities.

If you really want to stick to the theme, you’ll want things like:

Spellforging (6 CP):

Improved Superior Power Words, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (6 CP) / Cannot be refilled during an adventure, cannot store spells more than one level above what the user could normally cast (Level / 2, Rounded Up), any expensive components must be either supplied or the spell must be taken at a higher level to buy them off, spells are stored in physical talismans.

Occultists can “prepare” a limited number of spells (A total number of spell levels equal to their Constitution) via summoning entities to grant them or constructing them with rituals and storing them in various trinkets. While they can’t have very many such spell-constructs ready at any one time (there are stability issues or something) they can store a reasonable amount of power – but must use it with great caution, since their stock of spells is anything but easy to renew.

Knight Of (Nexus) (6 CP)

The raw forces of elemental magic flow throughout the world, waxing and waning, ebbing and flowing with the years, the seasons, and the stars, forming pools and rivers of power, nodes, ley lines, and the threads of fate, the bonds between places and worlds. But where a name is given… that place is set apart. A knot is tied in the threads of fate. There is identity, a place gains a life and spirit of it’s own. Camelot, Neverland, Gotham… the order of the Name laid over the Chaos of the world.

Sometimes a mere mortal bonds with that power, coaxes it into expression, becomes a voice and embodiment of ancient powers. And for a time, there shall be greatness.

  • Mystic Link with Communications and Power Link, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / links you to a specific, relatively small, location, does not interact with any further mystic links you may buy rather than stacking as Mystic Link upgrades usually do, communications only occurs in GM-specified visions and vague feelings, user must spend a good deal of time at the linked location, preferably being a resident of the place, user is obligated to defend the location (3 CP).
  • Leadership with Exotic Followers, Specialized and Corrupted / only one follower (a Ward Major at one-third your level / hit dice), follower (obviously) never accompanies you anywhere (3 CP).

With this, an Occultist awakens the spirit of a place that he or she has bonded with – giving that place an occult significance and defenses of its own in the form of a Ward Major and becoming a representative and guardian of that place, able to tap into whatever personal powers the Ward bestows remotely. Indeed, that power can be shared; other Knights will need only the first (3 CP) link to gain those powers as well – at least as long as they’re suited to the task.

Magical Knack (6 CP):

Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (L1 Effects) / Only for effects related to a very specific, narrow, field, requires some freedom to gesture and/or incant, only to duplicate a very limited list of first level spells unless further augmented.

This offers unlimited access to a series of specific tricks. Someone with a Fire Knack might be able to always have a lit cigarette, cause a match or lighter to flare up into a brilliant light whenever he or she wants (Blinding Flash or Light), be able to flick them at targets and set them on fire (as per Produce Flame), be able to exhale great clouds of smoke (Obscuring Mist), turn a cigarette into a wave of flame (Burning Hands), set fiery symbols burning on the ground or in the air, and perhaps a few more tricks – but that’s pretty much it. Another user might have a knack with Visual Illusions (perhaps Disguise Self, Silent Image, Blend, Shadow Trap, and Vanish), or Wind Magic, or Monster Summoning, or Alchemical Effects.

A few Occultists will expand on this – taking 1d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement, Rite of Chi, and +4 Bonus Uses on Rite of Chi, all Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (+6 CP) / only for use with a specific Magical Knack, Mana may only be regained given a few moments to rest. This will allow him or her to use a bigger Knack effect a few times in any given fight – perhaps upgrading that burning cigarette into a full-scale Fireball, or even throwing one down to produce a Wall of Fire.

Honestly, between that and the (pretty much) required secondary abilities – Adept II, various investigative and knowledge skills, more Occult Skills, a nice high Will Save, a little Luck, enough hit points to take a few hits from eldritch horrors, some Contacts, and the usual character-building basics, you should be able to fill up a number of levels quite handily.

Beyond that… take a Spirit Fetch companion, or learn some additional Witchcraft, or take more Occult Skills, or pick up some of the Lesser Paths (Part I and Part II) – or just be a Rogue or Ranger type who dabbles. There is nothing wrong with that, and it will generally be a lot easier for the game master to deal with than a high-level full spellcaster. After all, despite characters like John Constantine, a classical occultist is someone who’s learned a lot of lore and a little magic, and who likely has a few toys – but who relies on investigation, preparation, and cunning not by preference, but because they simply do not have a lot of raw power to work with.