Valdemar D20 Part II – Gifts And Spells

For Part I, go HERE.

So what sort of powers do the books actually show Mages and Heralds using? Looking at the books, for Heraldic Gifts and Spells we have…

  • Animal Mindspeech: You can “speak” with animals. That’s pretty basic.
  • (The) Bardic Gift: Rather ill-defined, but it seems to be able to convey feelings, suppress pain, and convey impressions – so possibly subtle, internally-directed illusions. One of the few gifts that can directly affect a crowd though.
  • Bonding: You can bond with something. Like a Hawk. Or Warsteed. Or Companion. Or Firecat. Or Lover. Or Twin or other Sibling. Or you can settle for a lesser version and fall in Love with pretty much anyone. This seems to be pretty much universal. Bonding with a Companion seems to allow the use of Truthspell – but that also relies on Vanyels old web-spell which creates a link with the Vrondi.
    • Personally, I’d forget about the Truthspell in any game setting. Heralds in the books often refrain from using it out of political considerations, or respect, or being forgetful, or not wanting to give people the impression that they aren’t trusted. Gamers will FIND an excuse to use it ALL THE TIME – and there go all your intrigue and manipulation plots. Mistaken identity? Falsely accused? Hidden traitors? We’ll have none of THAT.
  • Channeling: The ability to act as a pipeline for raw magical energy that other people can direct or use. Rare and generally useless until the author decides that it’s needed as a plot device.
  • Earthsense: You can vaguely detect damage and disturbances that affect the land and the creatures that live there. If they are suffering, you will do so as well.
  • Empathy: Picking up emotions, truthsensing, and – for those with powerful gifts – the ability to compel weaker-willed individuals to speak the truth. Powerful empaths may be able to cause mental damage, which is best represented as some sort of curse.
  • Farsight: Clairvoyance. When controllable, it seems to be fairly short ranged. It also shows visions to suit the plot.
  • Final Strike. You can ramp up your power enormously by dying. Of course, EVERYONE with ANY kind of special power seems to be able to sacrifice themselves for a big boost when they want to save others, or take revenge at any cost, or whatever. Probably a world law or bit of divine assistance in recognition of your sacrifice or some such.
  • Gift Of Tongues: Companions have this, but it’s rare among humans. You understand all languages but can’t bypass speech impediments (such as having a horses voicebox). So… a L2 version of comprehend languages?
  • Mage-Gift: The ability to sense and manipulate the flow of life-energy about you. Doesn’t let you pick up the presence of living things nearby though. Why not? Because it would make mages hard to ambush. Comes in three stages – ability to handle ambient magic, ability to handle ambient magic and ley lines, and ability to handle ambient magic, ley lines, and ley line nodes. A good focus-stone seems to help somewhat in making things less tiring. Now here we have the good stuff! Generate Lightning! Make reasonably bright lights! Uhm… What other spells do we see?
    • Make a tent nice and warm! Or you could carry blankets with your adventuring supplies. Just Sayin.
    • Make a willing male gryphons body temperature stay low long enough for them to produce fertile sperm! Or sit in a cold bath for a while.
    • Summon Elementals! Abyssal, Air, and Fire elementals are mentioned – although they are quite small, none seem especially powerful, and most are timid.
    • Make new magical creatures or golem-things! Presuming that you are a master biologist as well as an uber-archmage or a blood mage villain, and even then it takes decades or centuries to make new creatures, they rarely reproduce well, and most of them have quite a lot of serious flaws and weaknesses. Golems and Frankenstein-constructs are easier, but are full of weaknesses and can never reproduce.
    • Open Gates / Teleportation Portals! Well, if you have some major power sources to draw on. Like being an adept using a node, killing a lot of people for blood magic, or having a big team of very well-trained mages. And you don’t mind being exhausted afterwards. And have time for it, since it often seems to call for a ritual. And there are no major magical disturbances in the area to disrupt your gate.
    • Summon Magical Creatures! If there are some about anyway. And you have enough raw power to gate them in (see Gates). And controlling them is quite another matter.
    • Make amplifiers for magic or other gifts! Which are expensive, unreliable, and take a lot of charging up – which is why they’re terribly rare.
    • Make a big magical greenhouse! If you have a node to tie it to, help in setting it up, and a lot of time. This may also provide some defense against divination, if only in the same way that a houses walls help against people spying on you from afar.
    • Summon or drive off magical entities! Given time, knowledge, and various rituals.
    • Make Videophone Calls! Well, if the people on both ends happen to be Adept or Masterclass mages of the White Winds school and they don’t mind throwing up a beacon of “here I am”, opening themselves to magical attack, and getting drained or exhausted in the process.
    • You can perform a ritual that will allow those betrayed unto death by an Oathbreaker to come back as spirits and take vengeance! If you’ve already captured and restrained the target, and have the help of a Priest, a Mage, and a Common Man of Goodwill who have all been betrayed by the Oathbreaker, and have lots of time, and the targets oathbreaking has resulted in other deaths. Or you could stab them a few times. Again,I’m just sayin…
    • Entrap other Mages in constraints that reflect their own magic back at them! If you have it all set up in advance for your targets and they don’t know how to get out. Given that the inventor made sure to spread knowledge of the spell around after using it, so that everyone WOULD know, this makes it a lot less useful.
    • You can Create Daggers Of Light! They last for a few moments after you let go of them, so you can throw them at people. Their effects are… exactly identical to those of any other decent dagger. You will always have a backup weapon though.
    • Throw various forms of Energy Blasts. Lightning. Fire. Er… maybe Force. I can’t recall much in the way of Cold, Sonic, or Acid blasts though. Usually targeting an individual or a small group. For a lot of “mages” this is about their only combat technique.
    • Spells Of Mass Compulsion! You can brainwash and compel entire armies! If you don’t mind being an irredeemably evil blood mage and performing lengthy rituals of human sacrifice. This also makes you a prime target for assassination of course.
    • Start Fires! Like with a match/tindertwig! Or, in advanced cases, like Alchemists Fire!
    • Hide Your Magic! So that the extremely rare people with Mage-Gift can’t automatically notice it if they look. Also, this only works if you’re an adept. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed but I think that it got mentioned later.
    • Create Illusions! Well, this one is a bread-and-butter effect in many places, mostly being used for disguises. Larger scale, combat, or beyond-the-visual illusions seem to be much rarer. About the biggest combat effect seems to be the “Blur” spell.
    • Slow or Reverse Aging! Well, mages can live a long time; it comes of tapping into extra life energy. Few of them seem to die of old age though and getting younger seems to involve stealing other peoples lives or bodies. How often do RPG characters die or old age anyway?
    • Reincarnate! Like normal, except that you get to keep more of your memories at the cost of stealing one of your descendants bodies, driving yourself madder and madder, being evil, and being judged by the gods or possibly having your soul annihilated at some point.
    • Put low-resistance people to sleep! Like… you know, a Sleep spell!
    • Create an Adept Manifestation! Basically a Psychic Construct. If you happen to be an adept and are willing to put so much power into it that you endanger yourself if it is destroyed. Yet another effect that is used once in an early book and never really comes up later except to show “I am an adept!”. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed.
    • Summon small Whirlwinds! Like… Dust Devil or Wall Of Wind. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed, and so may be an air elemental effect.
    • Make Walls of Fire! Like… Wall Of Fire, but generally smaller and weaker. Probably a third level version.
    • Perform minor Divinations, drawing on notions of Sympathy and Contagion! Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed. Perhaps an air elemental effect?
    • Create a Dueling Circle, which contains your own attacks and prevents outside magical interference. Turns up in the Vows & Honor series (once I think) before the magic system changed and did not prevent multiple forms of cheating and external interference.
    • Empower your other Gifts with energy from Ley Lines and Nodes! If you’re Vanyel Askevron, and have had all those magic and gift “channels” blasted open in a horrible magical accident. Otherwise this doesn’t seem to happen much at all.
    • Project your spirit into the void between gates! Where there is… well, where there normally isn’t anything at all except a massive energy drain. Unless a mega-adept has hidden something there – which turns up ONCE – this is effectively “I can sink into a trance I might not awaken from and accomplish nothing!”.
    • Create a country-wide alert/spy system connected to all the other Heralds! Using the help of several other mages, a node focused through a Heartstone, and a small legion of divinely-empowered plot-device Companions… So no, this isn’t going to work for you.
      • Advanced Masters can set spells on triggers, to go off later. Almost like they know a bit of Metamagic.
  • Mind-Healing. Well, this is SUPPOSED to cover a boosted understanding psychology, calming emotions, treating traumas and mental control effects, and so on. In the actual books it’s more heard of then seen, because stories about mentally healthy, well-adjusted, sensible people tend to be BORING.
  • Precognition: This usually comes in a specialized variant; tactical precognition that gives you bonuses in a fight is very different from dreaming the distant future – and neither have much relationship to being able to predict the weather weeks in advance.
  • Psychometry: Ability to “read” information and impressions from objects. Like that minor psionic discipline.
  • Pyrokinesis: Mostly limited to the equivalent of “throw alchemists fire” if you can do anything beyond getting along without a cigarette lighter or match. A few people with this as a major gift show up, and can do things like start forest fires very quickly or perhaps throw fireballs.
  • Shields: Pretty much all Heralds are taught to stabilize their mind and resist being influenced by effects resembling their own gifts. In d20 terms, they invest a bit in Will Saves. A lot of the more subtle stuff apparently automatically fails against anyone with a decent will save bonus. Mages use the same technique to help them resist magical attacks. Like… you know, buying up your saving throws.
  • Summoning Rituals: What little is left of the old “call on entities from other planes” magic system. Mostly minor, easily turned back on the user, and dangerous. Mostly used by bad guys to summon “demons”. Since “Demons” never actually put in an on-stage appearance in most of the books beyond the Vows & Honor series – and that was before the magic system changed – we know little or nothing about them save that “they are bad”.
  • Telekinesis: Usually minor, but handy for guiding missiles, snagging cell keys, and similar tricks.
  • Telepathy: Usually fairly short range, but some few can check in on people they know at great distances. Often limited to either receiving or projecting, but it’s not too uncommon to do both. Stronger gifts can be used to cause insanity, charm people, make suggestion effects, and so on.
  • Teleportation: Usually short range and of small objects to and/or from the user. Under great stress, and with a powerful gift, you can move something as large as a small person a short distance. Like a one-shot blink or very short range, low-capacity, Dimension door.

In case it wasn’t sufficiently obvious… most Gifts basically cover first level stuff. The occasional Major Versions of those Gifts cover a rather limited selection of stuff of up to level three or four. We aren’t talking vast cosmic power here. Next time around I’ll look at actually building this stuff.

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Eclipse and Skill-Based Partial Casters II

And for today, it’s another offline question…

Is there a way (other than Stunts) to cast spells or otherwise empower magic with your normal skills?

Well, yes; of course. This IS Eclipse after all. Even discounting the Martial Arts Skill Magics that Kelelawar uses, you could buy:

  • 30d6 Mana with the Unskilled Magic Option, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Unskilled Magic, cannot spend more mana per day on unskilled magic in a given field then one point per rank in an associated skill (60 CP). That’s about 105 points of Mana, An approximation, but many characters have few skills and others are unlikely to be called on much. How often are you going to need your full supply of Knowledge/Geography spells?
  • Rite of Chi with +48 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the mana pool for unskilled magic (39 CP). Even with seriously below-average rolls that ought to do it. The total of 49D6 will pretty reliably beat the total of 30D6 – reliably enough so that there is little need to bother rolling.

Of course, unskilled magic eventually starts becoming ineffectual. You’d want some Augmented Bonus or Berserker (or both) to boost it, and perhaps an Immunity to wasting Mana with side effects, and so on. Worse, since this covers every skill… so eventually you’re going to start wondering what kind of magic “Profession/Lawyer” and “Craft/Carpentry” cover. Not all skills are really that well-suited for powering spellcasting.

Worst of all… this involves extra bookkeeping since your Mana pool is very unlikely to match your skill ranks exactly and you’ll need to keep track of both. This only approximates what is wanted.

As is fairly common when someone wants a new magic system, The best option here is to go with Immunities: Admittedly, these will be natural-law immunities, and so will require permission from the game master, but – as such things go I suspect that these are going to be relatively low powered compared to most natural-law immunities. Permission shouldn’t be a problem.

So first up…

Crafting Skills should probably be better at empowering items than at spellcasting – although you could do both. Why can’t you use Smithcrafting Magic to produce a “Heat Metal” effect? Still, the number of suitable spells for “Craft/Perfumer” is going to be fairly limited. Ergo, take…

  • Touch Of The Svartalfar: Immunity/The Normal Limits Of Craft Skills. Each Craft Skill now provides “points” equal to it’s base rank. These may be invested each day in personal magical devices suited to the skill in question. It takes 1 point to empower a Charm, 2 for a Talisman, and (2+ Value / 2000 GP) to empower a more powerful item – although item slots are not relevant, since these run on personal magic. (Very Common, Major, Variable: 5 CP to empower 1-point items. 10 CP for 1-3 point items, and 15 CP for up to 5-point items (6000 GP). After that… this starts becoming prohibitively expensive. It’s 30 CP for up to 7-point items, 45 CP for 9-point items, and 60 CP for up to 20-point items.

This is very useful at lower levels, where a handful of low-powered items can be a major power boost, but becomes less relevant at higher levels – although a handful of slot-free minor items can still be fairly handy. Whether or not that’s worth 15 CP and keeping some Craft skills up is up to you.

For most other skills we’re going to want actual spellcasting. To get that, take…

  • Occult Master: Immunity / The normal limits of 2-4 Skills (2 for low magic settings, 3 for moderate magic settings, and 4 for high magic settings – like most standard d20 games). Each affected skill now provides daily “points” equal to it’s rating. These “points” can be used for Unskilled Magic, but only for effects appropriate to the skill. The point cost can be halved, and the side effects eliminated, by using the points to set up prepared spells instead of using them spontaneously. Very Common, Major, Trivial (maximum of level one effects, 5 CP), Minor (maximum of level three effects, 10 CP), Major (maximum of level five effects, 15 CP), Great (maximum of level seven effects, 30 CP), Epic (maximum of level nine effects, 45 CP), and Legendary (maximum of level 20 effects, 60 CP). Of course, since this is still limited by the rules for Unskilled Magic (below), this means that most characters might as well stop at the 15-point level – and they’ll likely need to buy further boosts to fully exploit even that.

Unskilled Magic:

  • Whatever-it-is you’re trying to do will cost 2 Mana (“Points”) per level of the effect – half of which is wasted and a quarter of which goes into random side effects.
  • The Casting Level equals the user’s level or (Int/3 + the effect level), whichever is less.
  • The maximum level of effect which can be produced equals the user’s base Will save bonus or (Wis/3), whichever is less.
    Keeping the side effects down to displays and inconvenient effects (rather than dangerous ones) requires a Cha check at a DC of ([2x the Mana used] + 6). The side effects are always up to the Game Master

 

This Immunity is useful, and actually reasonably powerful – but after going for the most obvious set of skills (Knowledge/Arcane (Wizard Spells), Knowledge/Religion (Cleric Spells), and Knowledge/Nature (Druid Spells), you’re going to be trying to figure out what can be done with spells appropriate to Profession/Lawyer, Survival, and Perform/Woodwinds. I can think of plenty of useful things to do with all three of those – but few of them are going to be major contributions to any specific adventure and most are extremely situational. Worse, at lower levels… if you have +10 in Knowledge/Arcana, you’re going to run out of your spontaneous Wizardry after five levels of spells – and while a timely Fireball, a Magic Missile, and a Grease spell are all very useful, that’s not going to carry you through an adventure.

Just for fun, you can give these individual names:

    • The Lotus Of Jade for Knowledge Skills. Probably the first choice, since it provides classical, broad-themed, spellcasting.
    • Channeling The Dragon Lines for Physical Skills, such as Acrobatics, Escape Artist, Ride, and Martial Arts. This will let you pull off anime-style stunts like a cut-down Tome Of Battle character.
    • The Cunning Man for sneaky skills – Bluff, Disguise, Intimidate, and Stealth. If you want illusions, enchantments, and shapeshifting, this is for you.
    • The Secret Arts for skills like Diplomacy, Handle Animal, Heal, and Survival. With this you can fascinate and persuade, summon and control animals, heal, and create traps and camps.
    • Master Of The Secret Order for Profession skills.
    • Master Of Sleights for Disable Device, Linguistics, Sleight Of Hand, and Use Magic Device. Go ahead, destroy your enemies weapons, speak power words, teleport items about, and enhance and manipulate devices.
    • For Perform Skills…there is nothing at all wrong with simply using art-based magic. Still, you might want to consider taking either Mystic Artist (6 CP Each) or Performance-based Ritual Magic (6 CP) – perhaps committing a few rituals to memory with the remaining (3 CP).

To be an even halfway decent spellcaster, you’re going to want to take three or four versions of Occult Master – totaling 45 to 60 CP. You’ll also need to take…

  • The Immaculate Will/Immunity: Loss of Mana/”Points” to Side Effects when using unskilled magic (Very Common, Major, Variable Trivial (the first point, 5 CP), Minor (the first three points, 10 CP), Major (the first 5 points, 15 CP), Great (the first 7 points, 30 CP), Epic (the first 9 points, 45 CP), or Legendary (the first 20 points, 60 CP).

Once again, the first 15 CP worth of this is generally sufficient. Still, we’re now up to 75-90 CP.

Lets now throw in…

  • Tongue Of Magic/Augmented Bonus: Add (Att Mod, Choice of Cha Mod, Con Mod, or Dex Mod) to the calculated Minimum Caster Level and (Att Mod/2) to the Maximum Spell Level when using Unskilled Magic – both Corrupted for Increased Effect (adding an Attribute Modifier to things that don’t normally get one) / this will not increase the caster level above the user’s level and only increases the maximum spell level by half the relevant attribute modifier. Sadly, this will not let the user exceed the spell level limits of the purchased immunities that let him or her use this version of Unskilled Magic in the first place (6 CP).

Without this, even a high-intelligence character is going to peak out at around caster level eight or so. With this… they can keep up for a few levels longer, which is pretty reasonable for a cheap power.

After that, they’ll need…

  • Occult Focus/Berserker with Enduring: +6 to effective Caster Levels, +4 Charisma, -2 AC for (Con Mod + 3) rounds, activated as a free action (1 + Level/3) times daily (9 CP).
  • At really high levels they’ll need to add Odinpower and Odinmight for Berserker (increasing the total to +12 Caster Levels, +8 Charisma, and -2 AC for +6 CP). They’ll still be using lower-level magic, but at least it will be reasonably EFFECTIVE low-level magic.

Finally, of course, to make this build work you’re going to need to keep 9-12 (or even more) skills at or near maximum. That’s going to call for both permitted instances of Adept (12 CP), Fast Learner Specialized in Skills (6 CP), and Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (Add a second Attribute Modifier to your Intelligence Modifier for Skill Purposes, 18 CP).

Which takes us up to… 126-141 CP. Plus any more skill boosters or Mystic Artist you decide to throw in.

That puts us firmly in the “Partial Caster” category – which, with a maximum of fifth level effects, fits nicely. The Skillmaster Caster will have quite a lot of magic to work with at high levels – but it will be divided into many small special-purpose (if freeform) pools, so they’ll have to be pretty clever about using it if they want to be effective at really high levels. Still, they’ll have a much easier time remaining relevant than most skill monkeys.

You could pursue things up to the “Full Caster” level with skill boosters, but at least those are dual-purpose; higher skill bases are generally useful for more than magic. As a better alternative… Take a Companion (Familiar) with a +4 ECL Template (18 CP): Returning (Corrupted / must be resummoned by master), Occult Master x 3 (45 CP), and The Immaculate Will (15 CP). Since a Familiar has your skills – if not all your bonuses – this will let it cast spells too, if at a much lower caster level. Getting to routinely cast two spells a round, even if they are lower level spells  and the second one is at a lower caster level, can be quite useful. It probably still isn’t a match for the ability to cast ninth level spells, but even at 160+ points its still notably cheaper than spending 280 CP buying the full Wizard spellcasting progression.

A Skillmaster Caster neatly breaks down the boundaries between Skills and Magic – which is entirely sensible in a world of magic. I think I’d welcome one in any one of my fantasy-based settings.

Eclipse and Exalted

And it’s another question! In this case it’s about Exalted d20.

I’m curious how you’d go about running an exalted game in Eclipse. I imagine there’d be an ‘exalt package deal’, some odd world laws and building most things (as) stunts and reality editing but it seems to be far enough away from standard d20 and superhero stuff to be confusing.

-Jirachi386

Well, Exalted (1’st, 2’nd, 2.5, and 3.0) has a number of distinguishing features. They aren’t all quite the same for each edition, but in general…

  1. You can buy almost anything you want at character generation. You start as a heroic mortal, get handed a can of cosmic power, and then get to throw in things like artifacts, wealth, power, ownership of magical fortresses, followers, leadership of organizations, or being worshiped by a quarter of the world. Maybe not all at once unless the game master gave you some extra points – but you start at the peak of most mortal ambitions.
  2. The action is usually completely over the top. Even extremely skilled normal people are generally irrelevant (and just have to grin and bear it) and you start off on a par with the mighty powers of the universe. You can build characters who can seriously damage the cosmos right out of the gate. This can be a lot of fun, but doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – which may explain why most of the Exalted games I’ve seen that actually ran by the Exalted rules didn’t all that long.
  3. The special powers are generally based on your skills or attributes being enhanced beyond all reason while still following general themes set by your character class type of Exaltation. That’s a fun concept, even if you did wind up with lists of near-required powers that everyone of a given type tried to buy as soon as possible and occasionally ran into strict power limits based on your characters type and age.
  4. Describing your action in an over-the-top way to get a bonus on it is a fun idea. Of course, it was the normal way of running role playing games until game designers (perhaps influenced by computer games) started writing stricter rules sets and trying to downplay stuff you couldn’t put on a chart. The implementation in older editions of Exalted was a bit of a kludge and made many fights drag on and on, so the current version relegates the effect to nothing but a few bonus dice and relies on it extensively for excitement in combat.
  5. Effective Exalted characters are extremely complicated, with long lists of charms with evocative but uninformative names that need to be used in (unspecified) combinations with each other to work well. They take hours to build and are impossible, even as individuals, for most game masters to run properly without long study. In substantial groups they are nigh-impossible for one person to run properly. This means that small groups of PC’s, with players who are only running one character each, tend to run roughshod over everything.
  6. The characters all have tragic flaws, They may be grand, and powerful, but they have rules for their flaws that will lead them into disaster. Personally I’ve never seen much need for that – the players have their characters cause plenty of tragic disasters without a need for a mechanism built into the game – but the mechanism was basically “you occasionally go completely out of your mind”. I’d have preferred accumulating more limited flaws as your power level went up beyond the limit of a human minds ability to handle it safely and you saw ever further into the chaos underlying reality – but that’s just me.
  7. Attacks tend to be decisive or near-decisive when they do get through the defenses. If you were hit by that twenty-ton giant maul, you were in trouble. Of course, this turned a contest of grinding your way through hit points into a contest of grinding your way through defensive resources. In 3’rd edition fights tend to be short – but that only works because the PC’s pretty much always win. It wouldn’t really be Exalted if “OK, your characters are dead… make some new ones” was a routine part of the game.
  8. The universe, right down to the paths taken by individual raindrops, is 100% run by intelligent, and mostly not-at-all-powerful beings. If they have cheap “perfect defenses” (very few things do), punching them is fairly useless. If they don’t… then almost any problem can be solved by beating on someone. And when almost every problem can be fixed by kicking the stuffing out of someone, and you can begin the game as a Superman/Batman combo buttkicker (with or without a weapon depending on personal style), it doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – or much point in learning other ways of dealing with problems.
  9. Organizations, overlords, large-scale resources, and managers all tend to be useless backstabbing bureaucratic nightmares that make you long to disassociate yourself from them. That, of course, is because the characters are supposed to do things THEMSELVES. You aren’t supposed to send in ten thousand men to dig a canal. You are supposed to smite the ground to open up a new canal and then fight the river god and make him consent to filling it.
  10. The game master is always supposed to say “yes you can”, although it might be difficult. For example, the rules made it quite possible for an Exalt hiding under a bush in the royal gardens to decide that he wanted to find a fabulously powerful magical nexus there that everyone else had overlooked for centuries – and if he could roll well enough (which wasn’t all that hard), so he did. Whether or not it had existed before was irrelevant; a player had wanted it and rolled well, so it had always been there. This ensured that much of the plot (if any) was in the hands of the characters, but made it VERY difficult to actually prepare for a session.
  11. The PC’s are always supposed to be the best and greatest. Sadly, since PC’s often come up with dumb ideas, this means that any idea short of “I hammer nails into my eyes!” still has to be better than the NPC’s best plans – so all canon NPC’s are incredibly short sighted and blind to obvious consequences – and their plans pretty much amount to “I set myself on fire and wait for it to start feeling good!”.
  12. You can’t go back in time or raise the dead. No do-overs and some stuff can’t be fixed. Of course, a lot of game systems don’t allow this stuff either. D20 usually allows Raising the Dead – but that’s easy enough to ban.

Now, I suppose that any given point might be argued – but those seem to be the core points where Exalted differs from most games.

Now to adapt that to d20…

  1. The power level implies being at least sixth level to start – the point at which a d20 character graduates to being more than mortal. It also strongly implies a maximum of level ten to twelve for anyone and everyone – the point at which d20 demigodhood really starts and about the last point at which a group of well-coordinated sixth level characters may still be able to win. Finally, of course, it means that normal mortals are usually level one and are limited to level two or so for heroes and elite types – mostly to figure out what they might be able to do on their own, since they’re never going to effectively oppose the Exalted.
  2. This is exactly what the Heroic Scaling rule does, so it is obviously in use.
  3. This implies that most “powers” are actually going to be Skill Stunts or something thematic (such as some Shapeshifting for Lunars or low-grade Elemental abilities for the Dragon-Blooded).
  4. This is the “Cinematic Combat” ability. It’s considerably more flexible than Exalted stunts are, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
    https://ruscumag.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/eclipse-cinematic-combat-at-the-narrative-convenience-store/
  5. This… is a bug, not a feature. Now admittedly, Eclipse can be very complicated too – but it can use all that published d20 stuff, doesn’t obscure what stuff does with needlessly flowery names, and rarely relies on complicated combinations of effects to make effective characters. We don’t need to do anything here.
  6. Tragic Flaws in Eclipse are basically either Disadvantages or Witchcraft Pacts. Personally I’d go with some Witchcraft; it’s a great way to pick up personal boosts at a relatively low cost.
  7. While the “decisive hits” idea can be taken to imply a reliance on high-damage weapons and damage boosters as well as on Blocks and Armor Class. On the other hand, “break through the defenses and try to land a decisive blow” is pretty much the classical first edition definition of hit points – they were “luck, skill, divine protection, evasiveness, and so on, with only the last few actually representing a serious physical wound”. This doesn’t match up well with many of the other game systems – such as “cure” spells – but at this level of abstraction it doesn’t much matter.
  8. When you come right down to it, this implies that there is no physics. Now honestly… I don’t like this. Philosophically it runs into infinite recursive loops, it’s a silly way to try and run a universe, and I kind of think that “hitting things is the ultimate problem-solving technique!” is bad for the game. My advice on this one? Go ahead and stress nature spirits and such if you like, but leave some basic physics in play.
  9. This can, once again, be covered by the Heroic Scaling rule. Mortal organizations simply are not important.
  10. Well, if the characters want to take a little reality editing to bend things to the way that they want them, that’s one thing. Rewriting your setting history to accommodate the players whims is a no-go for most game masters. TORG and a lot of other games have done this much better, usually relying on something like “Whimsy Cards”. Go ahead, use something like our own Runecards for this.
  11. NO. Just no. I don’t even do this when actually RUNNING EXALTED, and I do NOT recommend importing it into any other game system. The players will just have to put in a little thought and come up with decent plans of their own if they want to compete with the more competent NPC plans. Sure, NPC’s will do stupid things on occasion – but not ALL THE TIME.
  12. So no time travel and no resurrections – although reincarnations might work just fine. Banning a couple of relatively rare effects is not too complicated.

So:

World Laws:

  • Starting Level Five.
  • Heroic Scaling.
  • Limited Power Sets (Campaign Sheet Character-Building Restriction).
  • All characters are Human, but there are 6 CP Racial Variants. Exalts lose their old racial variant in favor of 6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment. Lunars get the Minimal Werething package. Solars get personal attribute boosts, Dragon-blooded get minor elemental powers, Sidereals get stealth boosts, disguise boosts, and “natural weapons”. Other third edition types get something appropriate, I’m not familiar enough with them to say what.
  • No time travel or raising the dead.
  • Beyond Fate: give every player one Runecard (or Whimsy Card) at the start of a session. Give them another during the session if they do something really fabulous. The game master gets (Number Of Players / 2, rounded up, +1) for his own use.

The Exalted Template: Cinematic Combat (18 CP), Witchcraft (Either as “thaumaturgic talents” or as some specialized personal boosts) with Two Advanced Abilities and Three Pacts (Personal Flaws) (12 CP). +2 Specific Knowledges (Knowledge from former possessors of the Exaltation, 2 CP). That’s 32 CP or a +1 ECL Template.

And that about does it. Your d20 game will now function a lot like Exalted. Just take Exalted’s Artifacts as Relics, Manses as Wards Major, and there really isn’t a lot more you need to do. Like it or not, most of what makes Exalted distinct lies in the descriptions and setting, not so much in the rules. After all, we had no trouble at all running Exalted with the Baba Yaga rules.

Skill Stunts And Epic Skill Stunts XII – Information Gathering

Gather Information, Profession (Detective), Investigation, Find Clue, Locate Plot Element, and Knowledge (Local) are all basically variants on “Find Out What’s Going On” with a side order of “find out or know about the area” thrown in – and have fewer supernormal uses than many other skills, simply because they’re already basically “the game master either just gives you information directly or points out some clues and helps you put the pieces together” – and there are few powers more convenient than THAT. At least one character found that taking “hyperdeduction” as his primary talent was rather more useful than “getting to be a full-grown dragon at no cost” or “being a gestalt character” (which were what some of the other players took). About the only thing that limited him was if he got too focused on a particular issue and forgot to ask about other items.

Fortunately, that player was fairly easily diverted – and character turnover in that game was quite high – because if you aren’t REALLY careful this can easily become the equivalent of a “tactics” still that the user can roll to automatically win fights.

In d20, investigations usually require 1d4+1 minutes (current headlines, stuff everyone is talking about), hours (old public news, juicy rumors, dull facts), days (stuff that people are intentionally hiding, such as confidential police reports, the location of criminal enterprises), or weeks (stuff that people are intentionally hiding and which were never widely known – secret weapon plans, the D-Day targets, plans for the Death Star). Costs escalate similarly. A silver piece for the current paper and a few minutes spent standing around looking at it and listening to the conversations around the newspaper booth will usually suffice for the current major news, but uncovering the D-Day targets before D-Day may costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars – and may still not work.

Other basic modifiers include:

  • Upping spending money or resources by one level gets a +10 on the check.
  • Calling in contacts or favors gets +0 to +10 on the check, depending on relevance.
  • Repeated attempts to gather information about anything past the current gossip may attract suspicion. The first retry while making sure to avoid suspicion is at -10, further retries are at -20.
  • Reducing the time by one level modifies the check by -10
  • Having other agents about provides the usual assistance bonues up to a maximum of +20.
  • Being extremely suspicious or wildly abnormal for the area (you’re a blatant dragon or a fire elemental in a human town) or notorious or something might get you small bonuses, but it’s much more likely to result in massive penalties.

Pathfinder folds Gather Information into Diplomacy – which isn’t entirely inappropriate, but also means that this list can reasonably be combined with the Social Skills list.

Sample Stunts For Information Gathering:

  • DC 10 (Normally no stunt required):
    • Locate Person: You can track down someone who is hiding in or moving through a populated area. If they are making active attempts to conceal themselves, this becomes an opposed check with a -15 penalty on the “location” side
    • Querulous Search: You are looking for available, but more-or-less difficult-to-find information about a specific topic or individual. This can range from the reasonably general and obvious (“is so-and-so in town for their concert already?) at no penalty on up through -5 (looking for a fence, supplier of illegal goods or services, or similar), -10 (looking for restricted information, such as military deployments or where specific people are), through -15 or more (information which others are taking deliberate efforts to conceal but which there are still plausible sources for – even if they aren’t supposed to tell anyone). Things like “where is the thieves guild?” – something that a fair number of locals have to know even if they’re afraid to talk about it – fit in here. Information which simply isn’t available in the area cannot be found this way. Looking for more details – blueprints instead of descriptions perhaps – causes yet more roll penalties.
    • The Local News: You get the local news, major items of gossip, rumors, and hot topics of the area. This very rarely attracts attention because much of it can be accomplished by standing near a local crier, buying a newspaper, or simply sitting in a public location and listening.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Locate Adventure: You can obtain likely-profitable adventure leads – whether it’s someone in need of couriers or smugglers, a hidden dark temple, rumors of some terrible monster, a sketchy map of an island that none dare explore, the location of a near-buried pyramid in the desert, an abandoned mages tower, guarding a caravan, or whatever. Sadly, a serious failure may lead you to a dead end. Sadly, the more profitable / higher-level you want the adventure to be, the larger the penalty on your check.
    • Profiling: You can build up a reasonable description of someone, including their appearance, their general abilities, their usual methods of operation, and their major personality traits, through reports of their (likely) doings.
    • Surveillance: You may set up a watch on someone or something, gaining a +10 bonus to rolls made to keep track of it and whatever it may get up to – while they suffer a -10 on any rolls made to spot the surveillance operation.
  • DC 20:
    • Consulting The Experts: You may identify items, creatures, and locations by consulting hobbyists, rumors, and experts. The salient features of mysterious artifacts, ancient ruins, bizarre creatures, and long-sealed powers can all be obtained in this fashion. Success includes a basic description, each additional +5 you make on the check provides an additional useful detail.
    • Fixer: You may support an Average lifestyle by spending one day a week putting people who need one thing or another in contact with people who can supply those things. Sadly, if you restrict yourself to brokering ethical services, this requires two days a week.
  • DC 25:
    • Blackmail I: Provided that you have no ethics, you may support yourself at an Average lifestyle by extorting money from others. Alternatively, you can attempt to obtain a minor favor, although making a habit of this is likely to result in backlash, up to and including attempts on your life.
    • The Delphi Method: If you want to find secret passages, ancient ruins, hidden caverns, long-hidden secrets, and mystic prophecies you may take the scholars route, consulting libraries and sages, you may go forth and physically search – or you can crowd-source it, consulting rumors, casual opinions, and random individuals, in confidence that – in a world of divination, prophets, meaningful dreams, telepathy, and magic… summing up those opinions is quite likely to tell you what you want to know. While this is at -15 compared to a similar physical search or to getting what you want through scholarship, that may well be smaller than the usual penalty for searching an immense area physically or prying into long-forgotten lore through scholarship.
    • The Serpent’s Tongue: You may spread rumors and false “truths” as readily as you collect them. In this way you can concoct slanders, libels, baseless accusations, and noxious rumors, spreading them through the population – causing them to believe that “there must be something to it”! Or “Where there’s Smoke, there’s Fire!”. You may thus spread a web of lies, as effective in entangling your victims socially as a spiders web might be physically. DC 40 it will soon become a popular meme with a fair number of believers, at DC 60 a widely credited whispering campaign sure to draw official notice, and at DC 100 a trigger for an official investigation / witch-hunt by the targets enemies.
  • DC 30:
    • Locate Resources: You may find dealers in rare, unusual, or illegal items, materials, and services. The DC will, however, increase with the rarity of what you’re looking for. Mercury is fairly easy, dimethylmercury is much harder, and anti-mercury is pretty much impossible. You may also find people with particular skill sets similarly. Do you need a specialist in a particular ancient culture? This ability will let you find one of one exists.
    • Riddlemaster: Riddles and tales thereof are a popular game, and tales of them are widespread. You may use Gather Information in place of an appropriate knowledge or specific skill to answer a riddle up to (Int Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) times daily.
    • The Whole Picture: If you have access to the information derived from three or more successful Gather Information checks you may combine and cross-reference them. If you succeed, you may derive additional information from the original checks as if each was ten points higher than it was on the original roll.
  • DC 35:
    • Dark Whispers: You can hear the subtle voices of the dark powers – and not merely the common temptations to misbehave. You can hear the offers of demonic magic in exchange for sacrifices, the whispers of devils making offers on your soul, and the twisted spells and lore muttered by the elder things haunting the abyss beyond the stars. It is rarely wise to listen – but sometimes, if the situation is desperate enough… you may judge it better than the alternatives.
    • Glean The Remains: You may hear the voices of the past and the echoes of great events, whether from places or things. You might hear a part of a call for war, the final words of a murdered man, or the humble voice of a smith presenting his or her finest work to the mage who planned to add some great enchantment.
    • Thiefsign: You may read the subtle signs left by those who have come before – obtaining at a glance an excellent notion of the dangers and opportunities lurking in a house, along a trail, or in some similar situation, provided only that others have passed that way before.
  • DC 40:
    • Genre Awareness: You may survey a group or area, talking briefly to any people and soliciting random opinions on the items, to sort out which ones are relevant to upcoming plotlines. This will not, however, tell you why.
    • Incite Hostilities: You may spread rumors that will soon raise a lynch mob, rile up some witch hunters, or get a barroom brawl going, directing the hostilities at some group of targets. At DC 50 the mob you’ve raised becomes set on serious violence. At DC 60 it can spread to a moderately-sized group, such as a football crowd. At DC 75 you can spread the violence across a city – and probably become a high-ranking public enemy. At DC 100, you may include it’s suburbs and supporting settlements.
    • Whispers Of The Shades: You may now gather information from the dark realms, where the shades of the dead whisper in voices of dust. This is not the true afterlife, but even the shadows of the dead have some power. “Available Information” now includes items that are only known to the dead.
  • DC 50:
    • Blackmail II: Provided that you have no ethics, you may support yourself at a Wealthy lifestyle by extorting money from others. Alternatively, you can attempt to obtain a major favor, although this is likely to result in backlash, up to and including attempts on your life.
    • Rumored Reality: You can weave rumors so juicy, compelling, and plausible that they will begin to manifest as more and more people hear about them. While this requires a minimum of seven uses of this ability over the course of a month, at the end of that time your narrative will take its place in the world. Such creations are relatively minor – a haunt in an abandoned building, a rumored love affair, or some such. At DC 60 notable creations are possible – adding a shrine or altar in the woods or similar. At DC 75 major creations are possible, making a forest a cursed and dangerous place or adding a cult or other small adventure to an area. At DC 100 you may add lost dungeons, hidden mesas full of ancient beasts, and similar creations to the world.
    • Voices Of Gaia: Your ability to gather information now extends to the supernatural communities of nature spirits, fey, and djinn, and elementals. You may seek for information that is only known to such entities without penalty.
  • DC 60:
    • Cliche enforcement: Some scenes appear over and over again. They are the building blocks of greater tales. The bridge collapses, someone who should have died is captured, the portal closes in the nick of time… such narratives are their own imperatives, playing out again and again across space and time. With this stunt, if the game master agrees it’s appropriate, you may force such a vignette into reality, causing it to play out in the current scene. A selection of such tropes can be found under Stealing The Scene, and TVTropes more or less specializes in collecting them.
    • Gossipmonger: You may make up to (Cha Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) Gather Information checks daily as free actions. You keep your ear to the ground so much that you’ve probably already heard about whatever-it-is!
    • Interview Shades: You may seek out and interview the shades of the dead, the sort of impressions probed by spells such as “Speak With Dead”. Shades know little emotion, speak mostly of the high points and great events of their lives, and are dry as dust – no more than the echoes of ancient lives – but they can sometimes provide important information.
  • DC 75:
    • Mythic Tale Gate: Tales have their own reality, gather together enough of their information and you will find them as real – or perhaps more truly real – than the material world. Places out of legend that the user and his or her friends can venture into and explore. While it tends to be fairly (to incredibly) difficult to derail the major plot of such realms, it is possible.
    • Poll the Multiverse: You can gather information from alternative timelines, whether or not such timelines every fully exist. Unfortunately, since they ARE alternative timelines, you can never quite tell if what you get matches your universe – so you get a spread of odds, and the finer the detail you’re looking for, the wider the spread. “Is this the work of a Vampire?” will probably return three or four probabilities, with one in the lead and one trailing. “What password are they using today?” is more likely to return dozens of possibilities, none of them very likely.
    • Voices Of The Divine: Your web of gossip extends to the realms of the gods themselves. You may use Commune, Legend Lore, and Contact Other Plane, once per week each.
  • DC 100:
    • Akhasic Echoes: Your gathering has progressed to the point where you can opt to simply experience a section of the past, spending an hour to effectively live through up to a weeks worth of events from up to (Check Result x 10) years ago. If you have an appropriate relic – you are in a ruined city and wish to witness its demise, or you have some ancient bones and wish to see the death or funeral, the time limit is waived.
    • Produce Tome: You may produce a copy of any book or tome, whether the spellbook of some wizard from a thousand years ago, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazarad the Mad, or the True Sacred Book of some long-forgotten faith.
    • Voice Of The Cosmos: You can use the equivalent of Hypercogition.

Epic Information Gathering Skill Stunts

  • Analyze Creature (Level 4, DC 26): Also known as “Consult Sourcebook”. This gives you a full description of any single target creature within long range – at the least, equivalent to making an appropriate knowledge check with an extra +40 insight bonus.
  • Pivotal Point (Level 5, DC 30): You may intuitively identify the next important plot nexus, such as where a deciding battle will be fought, the climactic confrontation with the evil overlord, or the location where the great ritual must be performed. Once you know where you’re going, you can simply ride with the flow of events to reach it, halving the time, effort, and random difficulties which would normally be involved. Once there, the caster enjoys a +5 circumstance bonus on any actions directly related to resolving the situation.
  • Organizational Chart (Level 6, DC 34): You may find out how a group is organized and identify its major members. Sadly, members with spell resistance only show up as a little blank box with a function title if the spell fails to penetrate their resistance. In general, this provides as complete a chart as will fit on one page. For small organizations this may seem quite detailed. Larger ones typically only show departments and major members.
  • Lost Symphony (Level 7, DC 38): You may recover scale duplicates of lost works, including monographs, plays, symphonies, ballets, songs, statues, and architectural plans. Unfortunately, such copies are in ordinary materials and will not exceed one cubic foot in size. A version with appropriate metamagic applied to the formula may, however, increase the possible volume.
  • Catalyst Event (Level 8, DC 42): This ability allows the user to set a chain of events in motion which will have great consequences later on. The user simply states a large-scale problem, casts this spell, and becomes aware of several possible long-term solutions. Some of these may not make much sense to the caster, since the spell does not explain. For example, if the problem is periodic floods
    along the river, possible solutions might include:

      • Importing and releasing some giant northern beavers. This will stabilize the watershed over the
        next few generations
      • Digging a series of canals to divert the excess water.
      • Negotiating with the water elementals and river spirits.
      • Burying some caches of silver in obscure locations and starting a rumor about adamantine ore. Unknown to the characters, this will lead to enough mining on particular mountainsides to trigger a series of massive avalanches over the next few years – creating a series of natural lakes and reservoirs which will moderate the flooding.
      • Encouraging clear-cutting of the forests in the foothills. This will change the climate enough to reduce the yearly rainfall somewhat.
      • Building a house on stilts while establishing a plantation of Mondiko trees. Mondiko trees produce excellent fruits and lumber and like being flooded periodically; the lifestyle will catch on and make the periodic floods a benefit rather than a problem.
      • Disenchanting or removing the statue of Karis, god of storms, which is hidden high in the mountains.
      • Instituting periodic sacrifices to the river god.
    • Any of these should work. Which, if any, the players decide to attempt, is up to them. Catalyst Event will generally present 2d4+1 possible solutions (or as many as the GM can think of). All of them should be reasonably effective if carried out, at least semi-permanent, and free of severe side effects. They are rarely immediate. The spell is quite effective, but it isn’t really meant for questions which require answers in the next few hours or days, such as “How do we stop the onrushing Orc horde”?. There simply aren’t many subtle options at that point.
  • Piercing The Veil Of Memory (Level 9, DC 46): You may revisit your memory of any place that you have ever been, During the spells one-minute duration you may investigate that place as it then was for up to (Wisdom) subjective hours. Nothing there can harm you (unless you discover some secrets that “man was not meant to know” or some such inherently harmful knowledge), you may move around the memory at will, you may read books that you did not open, investigate secret compartments that you did not find, run detection spells that you did not cast, and otherwise ransack the place utterly. Any resources you expend in doing so are, however, expended when the spell ends.
  • Magnum Opus (Level 10, DC 50): You may reconstruct a lost culture, civilization, or time, creating a work on the level of Gibbon’s Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire on the topic. While complete accuracy is not guaranteed, and interpretation is up to the reader, this will produce a multi-volume, encyclopedic, survey of the target containing many, MANY, obscure details.
  • Lost Lore (Level 11, DC 58): You enable everyone within a city or city-state to “put together the clues”. Do you wish to grant everyone the knowledge of Zyl’Kna’Lythk The Eyeless King Who Tramples Mountains and the all-too-simple ritual that will call him once more into the world? A through understanding of how the king is keeping the peasantry poor and oppressed? A good understanding of crop rotation or the germ theory of disease? So you can.
  • Walk The Hidden Paths (Level 12, DC 58): You may initiate your target into any class, system of magic (or psionics of whatever you may call it), path of power, or similar that is 1) directly accessible by mortals without the use of magic above level eight and 2) that the game master agrees will function in the setting, whether or not it has ever existed in the current setting. It’s a big multiverse, and it has existed SOMEWHERE.
  • Weapon Of Legend (Level 15, DC 70): You may call forth a legendary weapon, vehicle, or other device. It will remain for up to twelve hours – but there is no guarantee of your being able to use the thing. You may have to crack the command codes and figure out the systems to use the Enterprise, prove your right to wield Link’s Master Sword, or fight a battle of wills with Stormbringer.
  • Nemesis Mirror (Level 18, DC 82): Every mighty force has it’s counter somewhere. All one need do is open the way. The Midgard Serpent on the rampage? You may call forth Thor to battle it. R’lyeh rising from the waves and Great Cthulhu of the Waters coming forth? Perhaps it is time to call forth Cthughu of the Celestial Fires. Unfortunately, this usually simply turns an ongoing disaster into an immediate catastrophe – but at least it will be over fairly quickly and you can start picking up whatever pieces are left.

Several of these effects are actually adapted from spells in Paths Of Power II or the Complete Paths Of Power – but they do fit in here nicely.

Adventures in Familiars II – Master And Commander

And today, it’s another question – although this one took a while.

Looking at the rules for Companion bonuses (Eclipse, p. 189), I’m given to wonder if there are other sorts of companion bonds that could be formed rather than familiars/psi-crystals, mystical mounts, or animal companions. If so, presumably those would have different benefits (and penalties, if the bond were broken such as by the companion being killed) than those listed for each of those different types of companions, before taking any purchases of upgraded Companion abilities into account.

What other sorts of bonds could there be, and what abilities would they have?

Alzrius

Well, Eclipse already address taking pretty much any kind of creature with a Challenge Rating as a Companion. with the basic distinctions lying in the strength of the bond and the power of the creature(s) being bonded. To take a look at that:

Familiars are strongly and tightly bound to their owners, in large part because they are weak enough to be pretty thoroughly dominated by their master’s mind – which is why they automatically share their masters skills, can deliver touch spells, and have a mental link with their master. That’s why turning a sapient creature into a Familiar without its full, informed, consent is so unethical – and remains dubious even with consent; it’s slavery and mind-alteration. That tight bond is also why losing a Familiar is so traumatic and damaging.

Familiars get a specified series of bonuses as their master goes up in level, but you can Corrupt or Specialize the Companion ability to modify it. In Eclipse terms the various Pathfinder Familiar Archetypes are all simply “Specialized or Corrupted for Increased Effect; remove abilities A, B, and C and replace them with abilities X, Y, and Z”. Do you think that your hummingbird should invest the points that would normally go into it’s (non-existent) Natural Armor Bonus in bonuses to it’s movement skills and ability to dodge instead? Does your raven have Mystic Artist (quoting classical literature) instead of Alertness? Will your cat eventually learn Power Words instead of Spell Resistance? Is it actually an imaginary friend with Returning instead of Improved Fortune (Evasion) so that it comes back in the morning if slain or dispelled? Go ahead and shift a few points around.

Mystic Mounts and Companion Creatures are less tightly bound to their liege/employer/boss, whether that’s due to simply using a weaker link or because they are simply too strong to have so much of their bosses mind imprinted on them – which is why they maintain their own personalities and motives, even though they still draw power from the character. Thus creatures that are currently too powerful in their own right to get anything extra from a character cannot serve as Companions, which is why more powerful characters can take higher powered creatures as companions but enhance them less than they would a weaker companion. Their bonuses can be modified just as a Familiars can – Specializing or Corrupting the Companion ability to reassign their basic bonuses (Improved Fortune (Evasion), +(level /2 rounded down) to their Natural Armor and Warcraft, + (level/5 rounded down) to their Str or Con). Maybe your creature gets bonuses to Dex instead of strength or something. That’s relatively rare though; most companions find bonuses to Str, Con, Armor, BAB, and Evasion pretty convenient.

Animal Companions get weak links. These still provide some power, but only strongly influence the creature, rather than subordinating it – although once again, the benefits depend on the extent of the power difference between the creature and its patron. Nonsapient creatures do not understand what is going on with a weak link, but such weak minds are fairly readily influenced – turning them into Animal Companions. Personally, I generally don’t allow easy modifications to the Animal Companion bonuses. Since most of the power sent to an animal is channeled by their basic instincts and every animal wants to be strong, healthy, tough, and fast, that’s where most of the power goes. (A good bit probably goes into reproductive enhancements as well, but that has no game impact).

Sapient creatures, however, may be influenced by such weak links, and sometimes draw power from them – but remain very much independent and individual creatures, which is why they’re classified as Followers, and are obtained via the “Leadership” ability instead of “Companion” – and why they go up in level as their liege does but always lag somewhat behind him or her.

Thus, for example, pre-existing Intelligent Items can become Followers – but having established (and generally well-protected and somewhat pre-programmed) minds cannot become Familiars. Items that you create CAN, however, become Familiars since you can imprint your mind on them when you’re making them.

To buy intelligent item followers, take Leadership with the Exotic and Constructs modifiers, Specialized for Reduced Cost / Constructs only, Corrupted for Increased Effect (Only 50% of the cost of item followers counts against your Wealth By Level) / only one Cohort may exceed one-third the users level (6 CP). Since they are Followers, multiple intelligent items will get along reasonably well. Note that, in Eclipse, followers normally get NPC wealth by level, and will continue to do so without their boss having to worry about it. If their boss or the party in general wants to give them something extra, that’s up to them. Construct Followers get their choice of actual equipment (which works for golems and things) or built-in slotless equipment (equivalent to Siddhisyoga), which is less trouble but effectively halves their allotment since everything costs twice as much as usual.

Finally, of course, if there’s no link at all… then you have employees, beasts, slaves, contacts, and other creatures that you exchange services with, buy with money, or draft into service with raw power, diplomacy, or charisma. Such associates may “cost” a few character points spent on social abilities or some gold – but they aren’t really bound to the character and so get nothing extra from him or her. They are what they are, and associating with a powerful character does not inherently change them.

3.5 and Pathfinder have quite a selection of “Familiar” feats – Betrayal of the Spirit Linked, Celestial Familiar, Construct Familiar, Darkness Familiar, Dragon Familiar, Enspell Familiar, Evolved Familiar, Extra Familiar, Familiar Spell, Familiarity, Improved Familiar, Improved Psicrystal, Improved Spell Sharing, Item Familiar, Obtain Familiar, Planar Familiar, Shadowform Familiar, Shadow Familiar, Share Healing, Stitched Flesh Familiar, Token Familiar, Undead familiar, and Unfettered Familiar. There are some similar feats for improving Mystic Mounts, Mystic Companions, and/or Animal Companions (Improved Mount, Celestial Mount, Dragon Cohort, Dragon Steed, Fast Rider, Heroic Companion, Improved Fiendish Servant, Talenta Dinosaur Bond, Exalted Companion, Natural Bond, Monstrous, Mounted Fury, Nightmare Steed, Totem Companion, Vermin Companion, Etc) as well.

To look at these…

  • More powerful Companion creatures can be obtained / used by simply going up in level or by buying the Template upgrade and using some one or more “Template Levels” to cover a creature with a higher base challenge rating; there’s no feat requirement in Eclipse. Similarly, mystic mounts and companion creatures get a pool of character points to buy freeform benefits with anyway – and buying your creature a template can modify and enhance it in innumerable ways. This covers Celestial, Construct, Darkness, Evolved, Improved, Planar, Shadowform, Shadow, Stitched Flesh, Token, and Undead Familiars / Psicrystals – as well as improving your familiar with Betrayal Of The Spirit LInked, Enspell Familiar, Familiar Spell, Familiarity, Improved Spell Sharing, Share Healing, and Unfettered Familiar as well as pretty much all the stuff for mounts and animal companions.
  • Obtain Familiar and Extra Familiar simply call for purchasing the Companion ability again.

That leaves…

  • The Spell Sovereign (Dragon 357) who can take Living Spells as Mystic Companions and effectively Awaken them. Of course, in Eclipse, this isn’t especially abnormal, even if it IS an unusual choice. Living Spells are just another type of creature after all. A few other classes also offer odd choices of Familiars, but nothing really out of the ordinary in Eclipse. Why shouldn’t you take a Swarm if you wish? It’s treated as a creature isn’t it?
  • Pathfinder’s Summoners employ Edolions – basically relatively minor variations on psychic constructs (as per The Practical Enchanter). They can be built as Companions, obtained by Leadership, bought as permanent spell effects, generated by Witchcraft, or created in a wide variety of other ways. Admittedly, Pathfinder uses “Mutation Points” instead of menu choices, but the basic structure and malleable nature of the result is quite recognizable.
  • Dragon Familiars from the Draconomicon. These require an extra feat on top of the ability to have a Familiar in the first place and get a greatly reduced set of the Familiar bonuses and a lot more independence than most Familiars. To do that in Eclipse you just take one as a Mystical Mount / Companion Creature – which will provide enough bonus points for the creature to buy the relevant Familiar bonuses (Alertness, Share Spells, Empathic Link, Deliver Touch Spells, Spell Resistance and Scry On Familiar) if you (and it) want them. Or you could spend the feat that would have gone to buy “Dragon Familiar” on a template upgrade for your draconic friend to make him or her the envy of other young dragons. “Returning” is always a good choice (hint, hint!).

In Eclipse, of course, you can take Children as Familiars, create Frankenstein’s Monster, have lots of annoying Dragon Cats, have Ancestral Spirits hanging about, have Robots or Warbeasts, a Shamanic Fetch, Lifling, or Shadow Guardian Familiar, or a Religious Advisor, or Minidrakes, bond with a lovecraftian entity from beyond space and time, or any of lots of other things – such as converting your Companion into a Vehicle.

There are a few possibilities that haven’t been addressed though. What happens if you bond with an object, group of objects, or a place? After all, classically there was the “Item Familiar” – a semiofficial optional variant from Unearthed Arcana.

Item Familiars could give your character a lot of extra power – but the character had to invest his or her own power (over and above the feat used to get an Item Familiar) in the item to get it. And if the item was destroyed or even taken away for very long the character lost everything they had invested in it permanently.

That’s not necessarily terrible. The Relic system in Eclipse works the same way unless you add in some upgrades, but a basic Relic rules are set up for a maximum investment of four character points (less than one feat). Losing four CP for a while is not a big thing, just as being unable to use one of your feats for a while isn’t particularly crippling. After all, even without buying any upgrades / “insurance policies”, if your relic gets destroyed it may be really annoying – but you can get another one to replace it if you search long enough. They are just another form of treasure after all.

But according to the Item Familiar rules “If you ever lose the chosen item (have it removed from your possession for a continuous period of more than one day per level) or if the item is destroyed, you automatically lose 200 XP per level as well as all benefits derived from possessing the linked item (plus any resources you put into the item). If you recover the item, you regain these XP. You may replace a lost or destroyed item familiar after you have advanced one level, as if you were gaining an item familiar for the first time.”

And, of course, the more resources you’ve invested in the item, the more power you get back. So to optimize your item, you need to invest heavily. So if your item is never destroyed or taken you get loads of free power. If it is destroyed or taken at some point your character is permanently crippled to the point of unplayability. Either way it’s no fun and potentially game-wrecking.

  • If you want to let someone take an “Item Familiar” as a variant on “Companion” you can – but I really do not recommend it. Instead I’d recommend Create Relic (Specialized and Corrupted / only to make a particular relic or four-point set thereof) (2 CP) and Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only provides four floating CP for creating the specific relic or set of relics above (4 CP). With that… you’ve basically spent a feat on having a few nifty toys. If something happens to them you may have to do without for a bit, but once you have a week or two of downtime you can recreate them.

An Imbued Staff (Dragon 338), on the other hand, was fairly useless. Sure, it turned into a +3 /+1 special ability staff eventually, could deliver touch spells, and could be easily repaired and summoned – but if your high-level Wizard was relying on poking things with a stick, or kept mislaying his staff, something was wrong. Even worse, it couldn’t do anything on it’s own, which pretty much eliminated the point in having a companion in the first place. It went too far the other way.

Still, that brings up the topic of “how much magical gear should a Feat (or the equivalent) be able to get you?”

I’d say “quite a bit”, given that a couple of Crafting Feats will halve the cost of much of your gear AND allow you to make gear for other party members at prices that will save them money and still make a profit for you. It’s not really that hard to effectively double or triple your usual “Wealth By Level” as a magical crafter.

That does take time and carry the risk of losing some of it of course. I think what we want here is something similar to the “Imbuement” ability, which days that “here is a signature item, if something happens to it I will shortly get it back”- less profit, but less risk. Ergo, lets build that with the existing mechanics. I’ll call it…

Soul-Forged Item: This “feat” allows the user to shape a portion of his or her soul into a powerful, personal, magical item or linked set of items, Sadly, this item or set of items must be

  • Access to Dreambinding, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (200 GP multiplier, the item created is considered a part of the user; he or she can release touch spells through it, will always know where it is, may percieve its current location as if he or she was there, the item uses his or her saves, and – if sapient – is always cooperative). (3 CP) / only creates a single item with an effective 66.667 GP multiplier, specific item or set of items; functions may be added as the user’s skill increased, but may not be altered once added, skill cannot be increased beyond (Level +3 +Cha Mod) save through Skill Emphasis and Skill Focus.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized for Reduced Cost, Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Skills, only for Dreambinding, skill can be further augmented by Skill Emphasis and Skill Focus, but not by other means, increased effect is to always keep the Dreambinding skill it’s associated with maxed out (3 CP). The user’s effective score will thus normally be (Level +3 + Cha Mod). The GP value for various effective levels is: 1: 67 GP, 2: 267 GP, 3: 600 GP, 4: 1067 GP, 5: 1667 GP, 6: 2400 GP, 7: 3267 GP, 8: 4267 GP, 9: 5400 GP, 10: 6667 GP, 11: 8067 GP, 12: 9600 GP, 13: 11,266 GP, 14: 13,067 GP, 15: 15,000 GP, 16: 17,067 GP, 17: 19,267 GP, 18: 21,600 GP, 19: 24,067 GP, 20: 26,667 GP, 21: 29,400 GP, 22: 32,267 GP, 23: 35,267 GP, 24: 38,400 GP, 25: 41,667 GP, 26: 45,067 GP, 27: 48,600 GP, 28: 52,267 GP, 29: 56,067 GP, and 30: 60,000 GP.

Sample Soul-Forged Item – A Wizards Staff:

Dreambinding Total:

  • 1) Lantern Staff (Two Handed Metal Hafted Weapon, can shed light as a Hooded Lantern, 9 Lb, Hardness 10, HP 30, 15 GP)
  • 2) Add Folded Metal (+4 Hardness, 14 Total, +200 GP) (215 GP Total).
  • 3) Add Masterwork (+1 to Attacks, +300 GP) and Resilient (+5 HP, 35 Total, 100 GP) (615 GP Total).
  • 4) Add a Wayfinder Fineal (+500 GP, Light on Command, acts as a Compass, -100 GP, cannot yet hold an Ioun Stone (1015 GP Total).
  • 5) The Wayfinder can now hold an Ioun Stone if one is available (1115 GP Total).
  • 6) Add a Cracked Orange Prism Ioun Stone (Pathfinder: +1 Cantrip Known/3.5: +4 Cantrip Slots, either way grants a random power while in a Wayfinder, 1000 GP) (2115 GP Total).
  • 7) Add first level Pearl Of Power effect (100 GP) (3115 GP Total).
  • 8) Staff is now considered a +0 magic weapon (1000 GP, 4115 GP Total).
  • 9) Staff is now a +1 Weapon (+1000 GP, Hardness 16, HP 45) (5115 GP Total).
  • 10) No Improvement.
  • 11) Staff now functions as a Staff Of Entwined Serpents, although it only fires one Magic Missile (-100 GP to 8065 GP Total).
  • 12) Staff now fires Two Magic Missiles (+100 GP) (8165 GP Total)
  • 13) Add a second first level Pearl Of Power effect (1000 GP) (9165 GP Total).
  • 14) No Improvement.
  • 15) Staff gains a +1 Weapon Ability (+6000 GP) (15,165 GP Total). This is technically slightly over the available amount, but I’m not worrying about 165 GP given that several other steps have been under the allowable total.
  • 16) Add a third first level Pearl Of Power effect (1000 GP) (16,165 GP Total).
  • 17) Add the function of a Lesser +1 Spell Level Metamagical Rod (3000 GP) (19,165 GP Total). (Or 6 uses of Minor Merciful since it’s only 1500 GP)
  • 18) No Improvement.
  • 19) Upgrade base material to Adamant (+2700 GP, now Hardness 26, HP 55) (21,865 GP Total).
  • 20) Upgrade a Pearl Of Power incidence with Sapience (500 GP), Int, Wis, and Cha 10 (no cost), Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), Darkvision (500 GP), and Magic Missile 3/Day (1200 GP) (26,065 GP Total).
  • 21) No Improvement.
  • 22) Add Called: you can summon your staff to you from anywhere in the same dimension as a standard action (2000 GP) (28,065 GP Total). “Called” is normally only for Armor, but – given that the staff is technically a part of you, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to apply it here.
  • 23) The Sapient Pearl can cast Greater Magic Weapon on the Staff Only (x.7 = 4200 GP) once per day (raising it’s enhancement bonus to +4 for 17 hours) (30,265 GP). In effect, the staff becomes a +4 weapon.
  • 24) The Sapient Pearl can cast Mending at will (1000 GP) and gets the equivalent of a Healing Belt (750 GP) (32,015 GP Total).
  • 25) The Sapient Pearl can cast Silent Image 3/Day (1200 GP) (33,215 GP Total).
  • 26) Staff gains an additional +1 Weapon Ability (+10,000 GP) (43,215 GP Total).
  • 27) The Sapient Pearl can cast Grease and Unseen Servant 3/Day Each (2 x 1200 GP) (45,415 GP Total).
  • 28) The Sapient Pearl can cast Nerveskitter and Protection From Evil 3/Day Each and Magic Missile six times (3 x 1200 GP) (49,015 GP Total).
  • 29) The Sapient Pearl can cast Web 1/Day (2400 GP) and Glitterdust 1/Day (2400 GP) (53,815 GP Total).
  • 30) The Sapient Pearl can cast Dispel Magic 1/Day (6000 GP) (59,815 GP Total). (While that’s thematic, it won’t work too often at this point. If you really want to be Gandalf, use Phantom Steed instead).

After all, if it doesn’t take up an item slot… you can stack it onto something else – if necessary by gluing it there.

Sample Soul-Forged Item – The Sword Of The New Dawn:

Dreambinding Total:

  • 1) Greatsword (Hardness 10, HP 10, 50 GP).
  • 2) Add Folded Metal (+4 Hardness, 14 Total, +200 GP) (250 GP Total).
  • 3) Add Masterwork (+1 Enhancement Bonus to Attacks, +300 GP) (550 GP Total).
  • 4) Add Illuminating (May shed Bright Light in a 20′ radius and shadowy illumination in a 40′ radius, 500 GP) (1050 GP Total).
  • 5) Add two Wand Chambers (200 GP) (1250 GP Total). These may or may not be much use to you, but – at worst – you can put some Eternal Wands in them.
  • 6) No Improvement.
  • 7) Weapon becomes +1 (Hardness 16, 20 HP, 2000 GP) (3250 GP Total).
  • 8) Add Dwarvencraft (+2 Hardness (18 Total), +10 HP (30 Total), +2 on saves, +600 GP) (3850 GP Total).
  • 9) Hollow Pommel acts as an Ehlonna’s Seed Pouch (1400 GP) (5250 GP Total).
  • 10) Seed Pouch becomes Sapient (500 GP), Int, Wis, Cha 10 (No Cost), Healing Belt Functions (750 GP) (6500 GP Total).
  • 11) SP can cast Nerveskitter 3/Day (1200 GP) (7700 GP Total).
  • 12) No Improvement.
  • 13) Weapon becomes Adamantine (Hardness 28, HP 33, +2700 GP) (10,400 GP Total).
  • 14) SP becomes Telepathic with the bearer (+1000 GP) (11,400 GP Total).
  • 15) SP can cast Resist Energy 1/Day (2400 GP) (13,800 GP Total).
  • 16) No Improvement.
  • 17) SP can cast Greater Magic Weapon on the Sword Only (x.7 = 4200 GP) once per day (raising it’s enhancement bonus to +5 for 20 hours) (18,000 GP Total).
  • 18) No Improvement.
  • 19) Weapon gains a +1 Weapon Ability (+6000 GP) (24,000 GP Total).
  • 20) SP can cast Protection From Evil and Liberating Command 3/Day Each (2400 GP) (26,400 GP Total).
  • 21) SP can cast Personal Haste 3/Day (1200 GP) (27,600 GP Total).
  • 22) SP can cast Frostbite 3/Day (1200 GP) (28,800 GP Total).
  • 23) SP can cast Light Foot 3/Day (1200 GP) (30,000 GP Total).
  • 24) SP can cast Lead Blades 3/Day (1200 GP) (31,200 GP Total).
  • 25) Weapon gains a additional +1 Weapon Ability (+10,000 GP) (41,200 GP Total).
  • 26) Functions as per a Rod Of Bodily Restoration (3100 GP) (44,300 GP Total).
  • 27) No Improvement.
  • 28) Functions as per an Orb Of Mental Renewal (3100 GP) (47,400 GP Total).
  • 29) SP can cast Scorching Ray 1/Day (2400 GP) (49,800 GP Total).
  • 30) Grants the True Believer Feat (10,000 GP) (59,800 GP Total).

Both of those are pretty optimized – and are exploiting the Pathfinder rule that “intelligent items use the base caster level of the item without having to pay for it” rule quite unmercifully – but neither of them should be particularly game-wrecking, especially in Eclipse. A handful of low level spells, even being cast at high caster levels, won’t make that big a difference in higher level play.

Alternatively, you could add enhancements to an existing item – perhaps, in your hands, whatever magical longsword you are using will soon pick up intelligence and some secondary abilities. That could follow the same general pattern as the Dawnsword, you’d just be substituting other bits for the weapon abilities.

Still, that covers our “intelligent item familiars” niche.

Taking nonmagical, inert, things as “companions” (presumably in downtime backstory) may transform them into animated objects or conventional creatures – but that just puts them into the appropriate “Companion” category and offers an explanation for where they came from. Actually taking an entirely non-magical inert item as a “Companion” is allowable – but it doesn’t cost anything because it doesn’t actually DO anything. Your “pet rock” remains a rock, just as your favorite fern, or tree, or other inert item, remains whatever it is.

You can bond with an area too. If you draw on it’s power while you’re there, or set up special facilities, or some such, you can just use the Sanctum ability or the Castle Hieronymus setup.

Alternatively, if it’s a relatively small (and mostly un-empowered before you got to it) area you can exercise some control over the place. Purchase this as…

  • Mystic Link with Communications and Power Link, 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 (6 CP) plus Leadership with Exotic Followers, Specialized and Corrupted / only one follower (a Ward Major at one-third your level), follower never accompanies you anywhere (obviously) (3 CP).

With this package you can draw on the powers of a Ward Major and direct it’s influence over the area it controls – although this does leave you obligated to regularly return to and defend that area. Still, if you want a dark forest where the mist rises at your command, there is always a pack of wolves ready to attack your enemies, and you know everything that happens… this is a way to buy it.

Large and powerful domains tend to have their own existing consciousness – a Realm Spirit (Eclipse, 169). And no, you generally cannot have one as a Companion, or even as a Follower. Realm Spirits are invariably up in the epic levels, so you’d need to be up around level sixty or so to qualify. If you’re bonded with a Realm Spirit… then YOU’RE the companion, and you’ve been let out to play for a while.

  • To buy this, buy a Contact (with Occult x 2) / a Realm Spirit (3 CP), Mystic Link with the Communications and Power modifiers (9 CP), and Major Favors (The Realm Spirit, 6 CP)., all Specialized and Corrupted / the user is the mouthpiece, envoy, and troubleshooter for a semi-divine entity with little or no comprehension of creatures that don’t exist on a geologic scale and timescale. Certainly, you can ask the Realm Spirit of the Emerald Forest to swallow up an army tht happens to be marching through the area – but you will also be responsible for explaining to the king that the forest doesn’t want him building a castle in it. The link is not under the user’s control, and the user cannot prevent the Realm Spirit from exercising it’s powers on him or her if it so desires (not that there is usually a lot that can be done about a Realm Spirit anyway).

And I think that about covers the possibilities. There are still things like Forces out there – but having a special bond with (say) “Gravity” probably simply makes you a telekinetic specialist or some such. It’s not even remotely going to fit under “Companion”.

Eclipse – The Sagacious Advisor

This package gives you the classic sage, mentor, or royal advisor – someone who can tell you that the unseasonable winter blighting the land is almost certainly the work of the Winter King wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter Blade from his Otherworldly Castle Of Ice, and that some heroes must journey there to stop him by shattering the blade once more so that the seasons will turn properly for another age of the world.

He will even – after enough research (waiting to draw the right card since he only gets new ones for his Hexcrafting magic when important things happen) that the situation has become utterly dire and the party has had to hold off multiple attacks by Polar Bears, Winter Wolves, and other ice-monsters – be able to open a path into the mystic realms of the Seasonal Spirits, so that you can reach the Castle Of Ice to do battle with the Winter King.

He won’t know that the Winter King was recently overthrown by his treacherous son Prince Iceheart wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter blade, and that to restore the balance of the world the party will have to rescue the old king, defeat the Prince, shatter Fimbulwinter once more, and perform a ritual to reinstate the link between the Realm of Winter and it’s once and future King. After all, that information is far too recent to appear in the Sagacious Advisors ancient tomes – but he can still get the party started on their adventure.

Similarly, he can put the dying king afflicted by the nigh-unstoppable mystic venom into stasis, and greatly slow the decay of the land that ruler is linked to – but he will have to stick around to keep recasting that stasis (after all, it starting to wear off is probably an important enough event to justify refreshing his powers), leaving the quest for the cure up to the player characters.

Of course, if you wind up having to take a Sagacious Advisor along on your adventures – perhaps you need one of those vastly powerful spells performed at a particular place – then you will have to babysit them through the trip and then protect them from the inevitable massive attack while they perform their ritual casting because they probably won’t be any use at all along the way.

The Sagacious Advisor (Usually an NPC):

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Dex 8, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 16 (Pathfinder 15 Point Buy).

Available Character Points: L3 Base (96 CP) -18 (Untrained) +12 (L1 and L3 Feats) = 90 CP.

Basics (25 CP): Hit Dice: 3d6 (6 CP), Skill Points +8 (Fast Learner at L0, 6 CP) +6 (6 CP) = 14 (six knowledges at +1, 8 points for other skills), BAB +0 (0 CP), Saves +0 (Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saves, 4 CP), Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP).

Other Abilities (65 CP):

  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect: only for Skills, only for Knowledge, Skills, user must spend a lot of time rummaging through ancient tomes and lore, information often contains gaps (especially about recent changes) that will need to be filled by adventurers, user is afflicted with great curiosity and a certain lack of caution (12 CP).
  • +6 Base Caster Levels, Specialized in Hexcrafting. (18 CP).
  • Hexcrafting: 4 Free Invocations (8 CP), 3 Cards (8 CP), 2 Fixed Cards (6 CP). All Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the user must fumble around with assorted arcane ingredients, speak, and gesture to do anything at all. The Cards are also Specialized for Reduced Cost / Ritual Only, it requires at least one minute of ritual per card expended to create an effect.
  • Berserker with Odinpower (+15 to Base Caster Level, -2 to AC) and +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / each use only allows the casting of a single spell, user forfeits his or her dexterity bonus while casting, only half effect when using a free invocation, (4 CP).
  • Choice of Houngan Conjurer (9 CP) or Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys (9 CP).

While the Sagacious Advisor is useful to have around, and makes a wonderful government official… he or she does not have the quick, or regularly-usable, power needed to be a real threat to the current rulers or to overshadow the player characters. Like it or not, he or she is effectively a plot device. Still, every so often, the Sagacious Advisor can perform a major ritual – opening the path to a realm of myths, transporting a city away from an attacking horde to an unknown alien realm (which will, of course, offer it’s own menaces and which will urgently need exploring), or stopping that volcanic eruption (while simultaneously upsetting some Elementals) – and then be quite unable to deal with the further consequences. Que the player characters having a new mission.

Given that the game is supposed to be focused on the player characters, that’s a good thing. I’ve played in entirely too many games where the megapowerful NPC’s could (and obviously SHOULD) easily fix the problem – but it gets shoved off onto the player charters for some unspecified reason. As an example from a game I once played in…

(My character) “So let me get this straight, The kings widely-loved daughter has been Kidnapped. So the King sent his most skilled (high-level) guards out to scoop up what must be the six weirdest, most incompatible (we had a Drow, a Minotaur, my chain-smoking modern Egyptian tomb robber who’d been drafted by Anubis to be a priest in a fantasy world, and several other weird types), people in the capital, whom he had no information on, who are not known as adventurers, and who he has no reason to trust, to send after her. He’s doing this on the advice of his supposedly good-guy Mind Flayer advisor. We’ve been told that she’s being held in a legendary tomb in the middle of the enchanted forest by bandits. The King refused to lend us a guide, or any guards to provide backup, or give us a map, or provide us with any gear. And we will be thrown in the dungeons if we don’t take on this mission. Well… Now that we’re approaching the forest… I vote that we make a break for it!”

The game master was extremely surprised when the party assumed that we were, at best, a sacrificial diversion for the real rescue mission – and that, at worst, the “lawful good king” was actually covering up the elimination of an uncooperative daughter. And why would we be asking for gear or a map or help? We had our first-level character creation funds!

With this build… that sort of thing is not a problem. The Sagacious Advisor can meet the magical needs of the kingdom, tell the party where to find the necessary plot coupons and mcguffins, and still remain low level and incapable of doing the actual adventuring himself. It also means that – in a setting where most of the world is low level – one can fairly readily find or train an effective royal advisor without having to assume that they just appear from nowhere when it’s convenient.

What’s a “Ruscumag” anyway?

A question that’s long overdue: what exactly is the “ruscumag” that’s part of your blog’s URL?

-Alzrius

Well, that will take a little digging, so bear with me…

Once they stretched across continents. Not Forests, but THE Forest. Trackless. Primeval, Unknown.

And in hidden places, where subtle vortexes of primordial energies and vagaries of geography have kept patches of forest relatively undisturbed across the ages, THE Forest remains.

Preserved within those vortexes, fed and given form by the burgeoning ancient life of the trees, are realms of history and imagination merged, mythic time and space, archetypal places governed by tales and magic. Within those realms you may find ancient peoples, beasts long extinct, and tales in a thousand forms to draw you into their narratives whether you like it or not. Within a few weeks outside, in a patch of woods a half a mile across, you may spend decades exploring thousands of square miles of hidden realms, lakes, and mighty rivers – sometimes even traveling through time and space or perhaps emerging from another patch of ancient forest entirely. Perhaps you will reclaim those lost years when you emerge, perhaps not.

All Forests One Forest.

Before Will, and Word, and Spirit, before the Gods walked… Sympathy, Contagion, and Similarity WERE,

Old, OLD, Magic.

Occasional myths and tales given form – Mythagos, whether manlike or monstrous – may emerge from the hidden realms as well, called forth by the dreams of men living beyond it’s borders – but beyond their realm, things such as the Wild Hunt, the Great Predators, and the Dark Cults will fade away into nothingness in a few weeks unless they return to the sheltering trees. Still, the borders of the Primordial Forest are an uneasy and perilous place, no matter how modern science seeks to explain what it is that walks in the darkness and then vanishes without a trace.

At the deepest? Past Witches and Warlocks, Past Arthur and his Knights, beyond the Fomori and the Nature Spirits, you will find the youth of the race. Delve deeply enough, and encounter the shamanic masters of fire, who first tamed it to the will of men, the lightning-hurling reflections of the homids who created bows, and spears, and throwing stones. Beyond them? A place that men find almost impossible to reach. The realms of innocence before the rise of mind, the ancient ice, the ages of beasts, the deep realms of the dragon lords, the green world before more than insects had emerged from the seas, and – at the last – the most ancient seas of a young earth. Perhaps fortunately… few indeed are the undisturbed patches of woods large enough to contain such depths. Even in this fantastic realm… there are limits.

Ryhope Wood – the centerpiece of the setting for Robert Holdstock’s Mythago and it’s sequels and prequels – only covers about three square miles, so it doesn’t go back much past the last ice age, but that’s still a rather long ways.

Within that novel the Urscumag Mythago – or on a couple of occasions (at least in the edition I happen to own) the Ruscumag – was both a guardian of the forest and a subtle and dangerous guide to the magical realms within.

Personally, I found the original book, and later the series, to be quite good. While the basic premise of an ancient place that served as a gateway to a mythic realm. of tales that play out again and again within that realm, and of masks – both literal and figurative – which give form to the formless forces of magic at play there, are not especially new, they’re well handled here, the books have interesting depths, and the tale offered up more than a few elements that suggested stuff for games, When I was setting up this blog, and found that the first few names I tried were already taken, I decided to go with something more obscure – and that the Urscumag / Ruscumag made a reasonable good game master metaphor. So I tried it with the Ruscumag spelling which I happened to like better. And thus Ruscumag.Wordpress.Com. The fact that the “Ruscumag” spelling turned out to be an obscure typographical error within a 1986 paperback printing left the origin of the word next to impossible for anyone else to find, but was at least unique.

That may not be terribly important, but I suppose that “why is this blog called something so odd” is worth clearing up – and since you have asked, I hope that help clarify things!