Underlying The Rules: The Social Contract

There was a request a little while back for an article on what I thought of the social dynamics that underlie gaming groups even before you get to considering any particular set of rules.

That’s an interesting question, although I’m not sure that I’m the best one to be directing it to, or – for that matter – exactly where this series is going to go or how long it will take to get there (if it ever does). It seems likely to meander a bit – which at least makes it a bit of a new challenge.

Is everybody ready then? I think the best place to start is what might be called the Primal Datum of RPG’s…

Gaming is a social activity, which people engage in for the purpose of having fun.

If you show up for a game you’ve implicitly agreed to that, even if you’re only there because somebody dragged you along. It’s just like being there to watch a football game or listen to a band; there are some unspoken social rules – unspoken because human beings generally know them instinctively.

(If you’re just there to harass and annoy people there’s no point in talking to you. You’re actually there to participate? Good!)

The three biggest social rules are the same for every group. They’re a part of the basic “being sociable” deal. In fact, they’re pretty much the same (albeit in simpler forms) for chimpanzees, dolphins, and most other social animals.

  • If what you are doing is inexpensively (whether the expense is financial, emotional, physical, or temporal) increasing everyone’s fun, keep doing it. If it costs too much… you’ll have to find another way to contribute.
  • If what you are doing is decreasing everyone’s fun, stop doing it unless it’s a dire necessity. You probably will automatically because you’re ruining your own evening too, but some people are very stubborn.
  • If what you are doing is increasing your own fun while seriously decreasing that of the other participants… then you are being a greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&* – and if you choose not to recognize that fact and do not change your behavior, then the group should throw you out on your ass.

These three rules are self-enforcing in most social groups. The Bridge Club, and the Monday Night Football Party Crowd, and the Rich Kids Clique won’t hesitate to stop inviting a disruptive individual to their gatherings. Gaming groups, however, commonly contain a high proportion of socially awkward introverts, who (having so few) are deeply reluctant to reject any social relationship and often make enormous allowances for obnoxious behavior. After all… they know that often annoy people without meaning to, and they’re not very good at telling if someone does mean to annoy them or if it’s inadvertent.

That means that some players will be allowed to get away with being greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&*’s for a very long time without being called on it. Long enough so that such individuals will often come to regard being allowed to get away with it as an entitlement – and will react to any suggestion that they’re misbehaving as if it was a horrible infringement on their “rights”. It can be very hard to tell though, given that most such individuals will deploy “indignantly blaming the wronged parties” as an automatic defense mechanism in any case. In any given case it might well be an act. (Don’t ask ME to sort that out for you. As a socially awkward introvert myself, how would I know?)

Still, after a bit… even socially awkward introverts will realize that they’re being taken advantage of, and soon after that they will come to resent it bitterly. They’ll resent it even more bitterly if they’re socially awkward enough to be unsure of how to do anything about it. In a gaming group such behavior is usually considered to be “cheating” (which is how gamers tend to describe “being obnoxious and unfair to everyone else”) – although this can confuse other socially awkward people who are looking at the rules of the game being played, rather than at the three social rules given above, and thus don’t see any “cheating”.

You want some more direct rules-of-thumb for avoiding messing up?

Commandment the First: Thou Shalt Create Personas That Can Fit Int The Player Group.

This doesn’t mean that you have to make a character who makes any sense as a part of the party, or has the same style, or anything else except for being able to work with the party. For examples…

A new player joined a fantasy-setting game. Against advice to wait until he knew what the party was like he made a half-ogre berserker barbarian who hated Elves, and detested puny mages, and equipped him with a magical halberd called “Elf-Slayer” that did extra damage to elves. He then announced that he was approaching the party on the road – and the player gave a rousing speech about how they should join him in his bloody crusade to strike down all Elves and their puny, effeminate, magic!

And then the new player looked at the bemused expressions of the six current players and asked “Uh… is anyone playing an elf?” And five hands went up, and the last player asked if half-elves counted. Because the current characters were two elven mages (a wizard and a powershaper), an elven priest, an elven swashbuckler who dabbled in magical swordsmanship, an elven illusionist, and a half-elven elementalist.

And there was a brief pause until the guy playing the wizard said “Charm Person!” and the half-ogres player did not bother to roll a save – but simply said “Except for youse guys! Youse guys are all right!”

And so the half-ogre joined the party (which needed the muscle), cheerily continuing his verbal crusade against elves along the way, and everyone had a good time. The notion that “Charm Person” could wear off or be dispelled (even if it was quite long-lasting in that edition) was never mentioned. Some NPC’s had some comments along the way, but no one had any trouble working with the half-ogre even if some of the characters professed to be relieved “because that charm spell could have worn off at any time!” when he got sucked through a gate into some terrible dimension about twenty sessions later and they couldn’t find a way to get him back. The player made a new character and found another reason to join the party.

And that worked. The other players provided an excuse and the half-ogre player made a quick concession to making the game work, and all was well.

The Shadowrun player who made a giant autobot character who insisted that magic did not exist and that everyone should obey the law and act like an idealized squeaky clean boy scout hero worked too. He proved willing to bend the law and work with dubious characters when it was blatantly obvious that the authorities were corrupt, was willing to accept the observed effects of magic even if he insisted that it was actually something else, and was perfectly willing to act as a diversion and as transportation when he was simply too big and too obvious to participate in the stealthy parts. Just as importantly, the player was willing to let me show him how to build the character he wanted as a starting character under the rules of the game, rather than demanding some sort of conversion. In fact, it worked well enough that another player used the same basic bag of design tricks to create “Thor, God of Thunder!” when the autobot player was no longer available a year or so (and fifty-odd sessions) later.

For high-fantasy Malavon one player made a BLATANTLY evil demonologist-necromancer and cheerily arrived to join the neutral-to-heroic party – offering to aid them in their quests if they would aid in his. He then directed his demon servant to just grab his daily sacrifice from a nearby village and made it utterly apparent that he was a horrible mass murderer, a torturer of children, utterly evil, and could in no way be reformed. The rest of the players quite accurately observed that – in the character’s eyes – there was no difference between player characters and non-player characters and promptly killed the “random monster”. The player then laughed, announced that “twelve minutes was two minutes longer than I thought he’d get!”, and got out the character that he actually expected to play. He didn’t expect his character to be able to join an incompatible party even if he WAS a player character – and that was good. He may have actively fought the party, and more or less created a throwaway character – but the player worked just fine with the other players even if it was in performing an elaborate suicide.

His new character was a fantasy ninja type, and was always voting for more stealth, and scouting, and less of the “charge in!” plans – but rather than fighting with the rest of the party he would generally just groan, announce “Oh not AGAIN!”, and vanish into the shadows to support whatever the rest of the group was up to now. And that was good too. He urged stealth, and took the lead on stealth missions – but he let the other characters do their own things too.

The naive blue whale werehuman, the more sensible paladins, the pragmatic evil robot assassin, and more, all fit in. They might have very strange goals (The blue whale had come up on land to see what was above the water – so all too soon he wanted to climb mountains to see what was above the land. The robot assassin wasn’t even truly sentient, had to be reprogrammed to accept the party, and rolled against it’s control program to see if he could come up with ideas or handle anything overly complicated) and equally weird ways of achieving them – but their players were willing to work with the other players to make the game work smoothly.

That’s pretty much ALWAYS possible. And it’s part of the “we’re all here to have fun” deal. It’s not a part of the game mechanics, it’s a part of the player group mechanics.

On the other hand I’ve seen plenty of bad examples too.

The werewolf kickboxer who – in a superhero game – had a backstory focusing on his massacring thirty-odd innocent people got the same second chance the half-ogre had years earlier (and with a completely different group). The (freeform magic system) superhero mage cast (unspecified) binding spells “as powerful as he could manage” on the character that were supposed to allow him to maintain control.

But the player liked massacres and saw them as being in-character for a werewolf, and promptly killed a lot more people. This was NOT compatible with an idealistic superhero group. In lieu of sensibly killing him or turning him in (probably to reappear all too soon as a villain) the group made allowances for his player-character status and resorted to binding spells that actually had game effects rather than just being an excuse for playing a little differently.

The player promptly abandoned the werewolf (who became an NPC and got put to work as a “rescue dog” – clearing normal people out-of-the-way of the superhero battles to help make up for the people he’d killed) and made another character since he didn’t like the idea of playing a werewolf with restraints (whether self- or externally- imposed) oh his behavior – and insisted on continuing to play murderous anti-heroes. The rest of the players, quite rationally, continued to play superheroes, stuck to their superheroic guns, and continued to capture the crazed antiheroes and send them to jail. Eventually he gave up and made a sane character. Now, if he’d been willing to make his ruthless anti-heroism more of a roleplaying item… he could have done just fine complaining about how weak everyone else was. It’s possible after all. Marvel Comics teamed up the Power Kids with The Punisher, Wolverine, and Cloak and Dagger. In fact, they teamed up Katie Power – a very nice five-year-old girl – with Wolverine repeatedly, and made it work. The player, however, wasn’t willing to try.

Then there was the saga of the bear shapeshifters.

The player wanted a character who could turn into a bear, so he made a shapeshifter character (who could turn into any animal but preferred bears). He joined the fourth level party, and the party decided to run off some bandits who’d been blocking the route they wanted to take. The bandits turned out to camp in a shallow cave beneath an overhanging cliff – so the shapeshifter decided that his only possible tactic was to turn into a bear, leap off the top of the cliff, and attempt to land on the bandit leader.

Pointing out that bears did not steer well when falling, could not fall in curves to get under the overhang, and, tended to just plummet and splatter made no impression. Pointing out that he could fly over the mans head as a hummingbird and THEN turn into a bear if he had to made no impression. Telling him that a natural 20 (that he did not roll when he insisted on making a die roll that he’d been told did not apply) did not automatically hit unless you were making a reasonable attempt to hit the target in the first place made no impression.

Splat.

The player grumbled about poor rolls, inquired about being raised (and was, once again, told that the party was only fourth level), and made another bear shapeshifter.

A few sessions later he tried a solo attack on their (much higher level) warrior-target atop a tall tower – turning into a bear, throwing himself onto the guy’s sword in order to grab him, and then plunging over the side to try and squash the guy beneath him ten stories below.

Higher level high hit point target wound up on top, said “Ow!”, regarded the deceased shapeshifter with disbelief, and continued the fight. Admittedly the target was now down a fair chunk of hit points – which helped the rest of the party win after a bit – but it was hardly an efficient way to do it.

A few more sessions later bear shapeshifter #3 attempted to leap off a flying carpet at 10,000 feet to land on someone (the party had no idea who, but the bear shifter presumed that it had to be an enemy) who was using a flying broomstick five thousand feet lower and a couple of miles away. He then refused to take any other form…

Splat.

Bear shapeshifter #4 was rejected by the rest of the party; they told the player that they weren’t letting any other bear-specialist shapeshifters join because their characters had concluded that bear shapeshifters were cursed or bad luck or something. Like it or not, the player would not work with everyone else and just kept wasting time on his one, fixed, idea – and so the players refused to have their characters associate with his characters until he decided to do something else.

After a few sessions of being left out he proceeded to make a mystic swordsman, and things did just fine after that.

There was a classic problem player who kept creating characters who were either constantly obstructive or who kept vanishing into the shadows to go on private scouting and stealth missions – demanding that half the game time be spent on him, rather than sharing it equally between the characters. He got quite indignant and tried to be even more obstructive when informed that he would get his share of the game masters time and no more. After a bit… he had to be told that he would be welcome to come back to play when he’d decided to behave himself, but until then he was not welcome. He never did come back. That was too bad – but he wasn’t really contributing to the game anyway.

One player saw the game simply as a way to blow off steam after his stressful work days – and thought that any game time not spent in combat was venting time that was being wasted. So whenever the players tried to have their characters gather clues, talk to the NPC’s, sneak around, or investigate something… His characters would attack. Guards tried to ask him some questions? They got attacked. Characters tried to investigate a crime scene? He tossed in an incendiary grenade “in case someone was hiding in there”. Trying to negotiate a hostage situation? He sniped the hostage and then went after the bad guys. Caught in a paralysis spell? He teleported high into the air directly above a church steeple and impaled himself rather than let the rest of the players talk to an NPC – and then made a new character who behaved in exactly the same way. Despite all requests, he wasn’t interested in letting anyone else do anything other than what he wanted to so – which was fight – and soon he wasn’t playing much. He still isn’t; he mostly plays online ship and tank combat games these days. He’s still welcome to drop by once in a while though; the group can always find some target to point an expendable mercenary type at.

I don’t often have to bounce anyone, and very much prefer not to – but enforcing the rules is one of the responsibilities I take on when I agree to game master – and that includes the social rules.

That’s actually segued into the next commandment of social gaming and what will be the start of the next segment in this: Thou Shalt Share Spotlight Time (Relatively) Evenly With The Other Players.

Making Magical Minions, Affordable Warlordism and Henchmen

Stormtroopers. Gangers. Toughs. Devotees, Stooges. Toadies, Vassals. Lackeys. Thugs. Pawns. Underlings. Aides. Retainers. Made Men. Flunkeys.

Evil Masterminds, mafia bosses, and gang leaders always seem to have their swarms of thugs about – but they never seem to train them properly. Their thugs fall for the same silly ruses, and people claiming to be sick, and simple distractions, over and over again. Their aim is always terrible. They get treated as being completely disposable by their bosses, they get wiped out by heroes in hordes (and without inducing any guilt whatsoever), and there are always – ALWAYS – more. They don’t seem to demand hazard pay, they don’t require recruitment, they don’t even seem to eat and drink. They’re just THERE.

And unless you’re in a deconstruction, they never surrender, or lament that they will never see their children grow up, or beg for mercy. You never see mourning relatives either. They just march to their anonymous dooms. Where do bad guys GET all of these obedient, disposable, unremarked, faceless minions?

Well…

You take Summon Monster as a Summon Minion variant. This version summons an NPC minion of the caster’s race with an effective level equal to (spell level -1) OR 4 thugs with an effective level of (spell level -2) or ten lackeys with an effective level of (spell level -3). All come with appropriate gear for an NPC of their level, although it will vanish with them. All have effective attribute scores of 12 in everything. The spell is otherwise identical to Summon Monster.

Getting minions designed using Eclipse is more expensive; it requires +1 level of the Amplify Metamagical Theorem to get one type of minion and +2 levels to get the usual summon monster style selection. Even then, the caster will have to work with the game master to design them and will need to keep them useful in a variety of situations and roles. Otherwise, given the ease with which Eclipse characters can be specialized for particular tasks, you can expect to see a lot of “Army eh? I summon (extremely specialized high powered lightning mage) and have her blast the entire area”.

The Basic Minion (48 CP):

  • Universal Jack of All Trades: All Minions are considered to have a +1 base in any unrestricted skill (12 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: +2 to All Skills (1400 GP), Greater Invocation of Convenience (Produces any L0 Hedge Magic Effect, 2000 GP), Power Tool (2000 GP), Enchant Tools (L0, +1 Circumstance Bonus, 1000 GP), Mage armor (1400 GP), Force Shield I (1400 GP), Resistance (+1 Resistance Bonus on Saves, 700 GP), and Immortal Vigor I (+14 HP, 1400 GP) = 11,300 GP (12 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Skills (6 CP).
  • Proficient with Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Immunity/having to worry about where their gear is beyond tracking it’s encumbrance (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 3 CP). Yes, this subsumes worrying about drawing weapons and such.
  • Minions normally come equipped with:
    • Explorer’s Outfit (10 GP, 8 Lb)
    • Light Crossbow with 3 cases of Bolts (38 GP. 7 Lb)
    • 2 Spears (4 CP, 12 Lb)
    • Heavy Mace (12 GP, 8 Lb)
    • Wooden Holy Symbol (1 GP, -)
    • Common Musical Instrument (5 GP, 3 Lb).
    • Thieves Tools (30 GP, 1 Lb)
    • Block and Tackle (5 GP, 5 Lb)
    • Pitons x10 (5 SP, 5 Lb)
    • Caltrops (1 GP, 2 Lb)
    • Chalk
    • Grappling Hook (1 GP, 4 Lb)
    • Lamp (1 SP, 1 Lb)
    • Oil, 5 Pints (5 SP, 5 Lb)
    • 100′ Silk Rope (20 GP, 10 Lb)
    • 10′ Pole (2 SP, 8 Lb)
    • Masterwork Artisan’s Tools (55 GP, 5 Lb)
    • Assorted Minor Bits – comb, string, tacks, candlestub, etc.
    • Light Riding Horse with saddle, bags, etc (75 GP)
      • With Workhorse, this leaves them with a Light Load.
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP).
  • Workhorse (6 CP). A minions encumbrance level is reduced by one. They can carry roughly another two hundred pounds before exceeding a heavy load.
  • First Level Bonus Feat: Occult Sense / Detect what their summoner would like them to do in their current situation. This means that you don’t have to worry about issuing orders or having them misinterpreted; they just know.
  • Minions get four skill points. These are automatically invested in the Duck and Cover martial art, providing them with DR 2/-.

That gives our generic first level minions +1 to Attacks and Damage, AC 19, 23 HP, +2 on Saves, +5 on All Unrestricted Skills, and Initiative +1. They normally speak Common and one other language suitable to their race. They do get racial abilities.

Basic Minions are just all-around competent. They can cook excellent meals, manage your accounts, take care of your horses, provide first aid, find food and warmth in the wilderness, run bars, steal stuff, fix your mundane gear, baby-sit your kids, and paint your portrait with all the skill you’d expect of a well-trained professional – with occasional flashes of brilliance.

So are minions only for spellcasters? Certainly not!

Gangsta Wrap: This elegant scarf (many other variants exist) does not take up an item slot, since it need only be activated once per month in any case. It summons four basic minions to serve the user,

  • Summon Thugs III (Specific Summons -1; four L1 thugs with no higher level options) with Improved Persistent +8 (lasts one month), Amplify +1 (Gets “Generic Eclipse Minions, as written up above), -3 (seven or more levels of built-in metamagic) -1 (takes a full minute to activate) -1 (can only be activated at a place suitable for hiring aides – whether that’s your office or a favored hangout) = SL 6 x CL 11 x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command Word) x .05 (one use per month) = 5.940 GP. You will have to wait a month to “hire more” if they get killed though.

Four are not enough? Go to the Minion Employment Agency (Nodwick Import-Export Services) and hire some M.E.A.N.I.E.S

And how does that service get them?

  • A Minion Employment Agency uses Summon Minion IV with Persistent +1 (lasts one minute per caster level), Amplify +1 (Minions are written up in Eclipse, although you only get one type per level, which must remain generic enough to be suited to a variety of tasks), Renewable +1 (when the spell is recast an existing summons may be extended, eliminating any one status condition or purging one negative level and regaining 3d6 hit points, one lost attribute point, and one use of a limited-use ability each time the spell is recast), Amplify +1 (being deceased does not prevent a minion from regaining hit points, and coming back, when it’s turn for renewal comes around – but it will suffer short-term amnesia as to exactly what happened), -2 (five or more levels of built-in metamagic) = Level Six.
  • Effective Cost: Spell Level 6 x Caster Level 11 x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Immobile) = 66,000 GP. This can sustain 110 castings in total (each providing one third-level minion OR four second-level thugs OR ten first level lackeys), for an effective rental cost of about 1 GP per day (25 GP/Month or 250 GP/Year) per casting. (Interestingly enough, this comes out reasonably well in line with the rules on hirelings and such).

In either case, if first-level minions don’t do it for you, the simplest thing to do is to boost the level of the base spell.

  • A Gangsta Wrap II (L2 Minions) costs 8190 GP, III (L3 Minions) costs 10,800 GP, IV costs 13,770 GP, V costs 17,100 GP, VI costs 22,770 GO, VII costs 24,840 GP, and VIII costs 29,250 GP.
  • A Minion Employment Agency II costs 91,000 GP and provides 130 sustained castings (each providing 10 L2 Lackeys OR 4 L3 Thugs OR 1 L4 Minion), III costs 120,000 GP and provides 150 sustained castings (and L3/L4/L5 lackeys/thugs/minions), IV costs 153,000 GP and provides 170 sustained castings (and L4/L5/L6 lackeys/thugs/minions), V costs 190,000 GP and provides 190 sustained castings (and L5/L6/L7 lackeys/thugs/minions). I’d recommend some caution here; it wouldn’t take very much optimization to create an army of elemental blasters or some such.

You can also improve the duration another one or two steps instead of improving the summoning level, taking it to tens of minutes or hours per level – effectively dropping one or two levels on the minions in exchange for the ability to sustain ten or sixty times as many. Do you happen to need a clone army for your Star Wars game?

For a “ten times as many” example take a version III and give yourself 12,000 L2 Veteran Troopers, 800 Grizzled L3 Sergeants to command squads of 15 Troopers each, and 100 L4 Dashing Captains to command Companies of 8 Squads each, and your Warlord has the iron core for his army – and an answer as to how anyone can afford to actually field an army in d20. Yes, 120,000 GP is a big investment – but it buys you a fair-sized military force with perfect loyalty, unbreakable morale, a load-out of basic equipment, little need for supply lines, and the ability to reform itself from total annihilation in a day – at least as long as you maintain control of your central castle, or capital, or wherever you’ve put the place (video game special effects are optional). The resulting numbers are also a reasonably good match for the typical army sizes in medieval Western Europe. You’ll want to go for the “sixty times as many” option if you want to represent the armies of the Middle East or Asia.

Federation-Apocalypse – Considering the Design Decisions

And for today, it’s a question:

I have to say, while Federation is an interesting setting, some of the choices seem a bit bizarre.

Why is Dominion so limited when Path of the Dragon, and all-around stronger path in most cases, is unlimited?

Why is Mystic Link limited, but Blessing works just fine?

Why is natural returning considered so hard to (truly) break? At this power level, coming up with enough Mana to cast Distillation to simply take it away or annoying a nature spirit or realm spirit to use it’s privilege seems fairly doable. I get that this is why Blood Curse is restricted, among other things, but that doesn’t make it unbreakable.

And… Ultimate Creator? … I have the horrible feeling I know what ability of Dominion is especially limited…

I’d like to request the build for it. I mean, I’d be fine if it’s just “it has specialized and corrupted divine attribute to have it always-on” or something along those lines, which is clearly valid (it’s a pretty fair explaination for why the Lady of Pain works, after all), but especially since this is Eclipse and all characters in the campaign should be build-able, having a side-note saying “oh, and there is this eldritch abomiation you can’t do anything about ever” seems like a pretty big red flag to me.

-KrackoThunder

At it’s most basic… most of that is because I’m an old-school simulationist; the rules exist to help simulate a particular reality – so if the rules don’t fit that fictional reality, it’s the rules that give way. (And the Eclipse rules are set up to be modular and adjustable anyway).

As far as the “reality” of the Federation-Apocalypse setting goes, the fictional reality is that there are several levels of dimensional ordering in the Federation-Apocalypse setting – and the barriers between them can be much more fundamental than those between the usual sets of d20 dimensions.

As an analogy… if you are playing in a campaign set in the 3.0 or 3.5 Forgotten Realms your character can readily reach the plane of shadow, and various outer and elemental planes – but he or she cannot readily trot over to another game master’s fourth edition campaign set in the Forgotten Realms to study a few “encounter” powers, or take a trip to 2’nd edition Dark Sun in a second game masters campaign, or go and take a level in “Dawn Caste Solar” over in a third guys Exalted campaign. Those places go by different rules and simply do not exist as far as the 3.5 Forgotten Realms setting goes – unless mysterious higher forces (the game masters) set up some kind of crossover.

Secondarily, there’s a hierarchy of natural laws; some things are pretty fundamental, and work almost everywhere, other things are local manifestations.

Reality Editing, Mana, and the Immortality of Souls are fundamental; they work even in Core (which is about the most restrictive of all universes), and even more freely everywhere else. All ensouled characters in the setting can do a bit of reality editing quite unconsciously – which is how the “gadgetry” skill works; it’s the amount of stuff that you can unconsciously push the local universe into fitting in for you (even if it changes it to a locally appropriate form; thus, for example, the characters Plasma Pistols turning into black powder firearms in the Crusader Kingdoms).

Since the rules of the Manifold are set by humans, Smartclothes and basic Witchcraft – which are extremely widely accepted as a part of the background by a tremendous number of humans and which operate under the (rather restrictive, if fairly fundamental to most worlds) natural laws of Core work in much, but not all, of the Manifold. Other core technologies are less widely accepted, and so operate in far fewer places.

Basic (Newtonian) core physics tends to underlay most of the Manifold simply because human minds accept it. Even small children know that objects don’t pass through each other, that things fall, and so on – and so in the vast majority of manifold realms that is the way that things work.

Magic, Psionics (which is really just a type of magic), Channeling, and other abilities, as well as “Local” technologies (such as “hypermatter” in Star Wars) depend on the local natural laws. If you want to cross dimensions with them the rules governing whatever-it-is-you’re using need to be the same at both ends of the gate. If you create a “Dimensional Hyperportal” using Star Wars Hypermatter… it will only take you to Star Wars styled universes.

Characters do get some leeway with their powers though; they get local identities – which means that the local reality is actively fitting them in. Thus any of their powers that would make sense in the setting will work just fine even if the point-by mechanics (which are invisible from an in-setting point of view) are weird for it – and those with Mana can use it to bend the rules even further. It’s still a lot easier to play nice with the local universe though, which is why most of Kevin’s actions in Inversion fit into the realms witchcraft-boosted=with-negative-energy theme (at least until he cheated with Mana). On Cyarkian, where the creator gods were known to come down and to visit, there were many local magic systems among the “minor” races, and where magic could do almost anything, he pretty much had a free hand.

Still, local rules can override personal abilities other than Reality Editing, Souls, and a few other items. (If it matters, the Session 189-190 log has some in-character discussion of these issues).

To go to the modifiers on specific abilities…

  • Blood Curse is disallowed because characters in the setting add and drop powers with every new Identity and because there are plenty of realms – including in Core – where it is against the local rules. Given that both of those problems go against the nature and purpose of the ability, it won’t work. Curses are local problems.
  • Deep Sleep (True Prophet) is disallowed because this is a no time-travel setting, has no powers of fate to issue reliable prophecies, and because the characters are more or less professional disruptors of plotlines. They’re also quite genre-savvy, to the point of occasionally looking up the works a realm is based on to cheat the local plotlines – such as session 97a, where Kevin and Marty pulled the control codes for a bunch of computers out of the original books.
  • With Dominion the restriction is mostly a reminder of the basic rule on page 72 of Eclipse – “A character might, for example, adopt a forest and its creatures and spirits as his or her domain or become leader of a strange dimension or elemental plane. Whatever the source of a character’s power, this is his or her realm and many Dominion-based powers will only work inside it.” Most Domains are in particular dimensions and whatever energies they generate are local – so it’s special permission because you need to check with the game master to make sure that what you want to do will actually work properly. Thus Kevin, who has carefully insured that his thrall-domain is spread across many, MANY, dimensions gets away with a lot of Dominion effects.
  • Immunity (Natural Laws) is pretty much always limited in any game that you expect to hang together for long of course.
  • Lore needs to be specialized to a particular group of dimensions or something because “I am knowledgeable about everything in every dimension in infinity” is both impossible (nobody can handle infinite knowledge; your brain simply cannot handle it) and just plain silly.
  • Transdimensional Mindspeech is limited both because it may not be allowed by local laws on either end (and needs to be so allowed on both ends to work) and because it requires an active gate (an “ongoing crossover”) to get through the “different campaign” level barriers. Having my Bard in the Forgotten Realms reliably linked to someone else’s Twilight Solar in an Exalted game is a bit iffy to start with – and having the Solar asking for Bardic Lore checks to help HIM out and the Bard asking for applications of an Investigation Excellency to help HIM out is going to be awkward-to-impossible to implement in most games. (Even if you could build something to fake it easily enough).
  • Core is specifically only directly accessible via Gates, so Mystic Link won’t get you in and out unless you set up an overlay – which is a partial gate anyway. Otherwise it’s problems are closely related to those with Transdimensional Mindspeech.
  • Rite of Chi won’t restore Mana, because the Federation-Apocalypse setting treats Mana as something more fundamental than magic, psionics, or even technology. We did allow characters to take “local equivalents” to Mana (as Puissance, Potence, or whatever) and Rite of Chi to restore them to allow for things like Rune Magic. They simply didn’t work for Reality Editing.
  • Fortune got a note entirely due to one player’s attempts to Specialize if for Double Effect (“If I make my save against fire it will heal me instead!”), with which he was getting quite silly. Luck later got a similar prohibition thanks to characters like the Turtle (yes, an actual turtle who rode around on other character’s shoulders) who took Luck, Specialized and Corrupted in in Interpretive Dance only, only to “take 60” who kept communicating complex messages through turtle dance.
  • Jack of All Trades was limited because the Manifold game offers an unlimited skill set, including an unlimited number of skills that only applied in single realms – and so the “Universal” option on Jack of All Trades offered competence in an infinite number of skills, which didn’t work.
  • Mystic Artist/The Great Summons was limited for the same reasons as Transdimensional Mindspeech and Mystic Link; it can’t reach into a dimension that says that it doesn’t work and it can’t pass the higher-order dimensional barriers – and so it usually only works within a related group of dimensions.
  • Returning is basically impossible to get around because souls are more fundamental in the Federation-Apocalypse game than reality editing – which in turn is more fundamental than any other known active power. The only interface point is in the Identities that souls generate – which is how they can be anchored to a realm. Unfortunately, destroying the identity-interface just lets the soul go free, unharmed. There are a number of characters who have thought that they could destroy souls, but so far they’ve all been wrong.

Secondarily, souls have aspects across a potentially near-infinite number of dimensions – and no matter what power you use against them, they also exist in quite a few places where that power will not work. The bit about blowing yourself up in the big bang is simply because that was/is a very fundamental event, and will function in more than enough dimensions to leave a soul only anchored in very obscure places – and thus likely to incarnate in such realms many times before popping up again where anyone might notice.

Now, the “Ultimate Creator” is a religious belief in the setting, with a number of variations depending on who you talk to. It’s a genuine religion in the setting for the same reason that I’ve never bothered to “make a build” – because in terms of the game, the Ultimate Creator takes no actions and never appears. There’s no way to know if he, she, it, or they exist at all; the only actual “evidence” is that the Federation-Apocalypse multiverse is so “obviously” designed for people – and so it seems likely that there is a reason for that.

Certainly there are things like the Ward protecting the Temple Mount in Battling Business World that LOOK like evidence… but they’re not really. After all, in the setting… Battling Business World was created by some people who made a cartoon movie around 2100 AD that portrayed “cutthroat business tactics” in a vaguely 1980’s – 2020’s setting as fairly literal warfare. It became a bit of a cult classic.

And, out in the Manifold, Battling Business World came into being. And vague areas got filled in with bits from fanfiction, and headcanons, and bits from other fictions, and officeworker daydreams about throwing irritating supervisors and co-workers out of windows. The Traditions came from fanfiction speculations about how very proper (and slightly fey) British Battling Business worked. BBW Japan is mostly adopted from various period Animes, and so on.

Like every world in the Manifold Battling Business World is as self-consistent as possible, and has it’s internal “history” – but like everything else in the Manifold, it and it’s supposed “history” only exists because someone made it up. Nothing involving the Manifold except the bare fact of it’s existence can ever be evidence about how the Core Universe operates or came into being. Even “miracles” in Core before the opening can be accounted for with the Faith skill.

Now when the original Federation-Apocalypse Campaign came to it’s last session, one player was quite unsatisfied. He’d come to the conclusion (apparently based on personal beliefs about the role of humanity in the cosmos) that the Ourathan Robots were the primary enemy and had to be eliminated at any cost – while the rest of the group had long since concluded that the Ourathan Robots were basically taking the role of playground supervisors for the galaxy and could safely be ignored or even treated as a convenience.

Given that lack of support from the rest of the player group, said player decided that the only viable course of action was to find the Ourathan homeworld and threaten to destroy it unless they ordered the robots to leave humanity alone. That wasn’t a bad plan as long as you presumed that there was active malice behind the robots activities.

So his character pulled a weapon out of the Manifold that (according to some rather dubious physics) could destroy the observable universe in a “new big bang” and tried to locate and reach the Ourathan homeworld. He took started looking for a route in Crusader, which offered major divinatory powers, easy dimensional travel, and a lot of established gates to various locations in Core.

There he encountered one of Crusader’s major background characters – the Dragon of the East (Sphere of Influence/The Lost and Those Seeking Guidance and the Way of Omnipresence through The Spark Within, among other abilities related to giving advice and directions).

The Dragon attempted to offer moral guidance, which was refused, and counseling on why this was unnecessary, which was ignored – and so gave the character directions to where (in it’s judgement) the character needed to go.

It wasn’t anywhere near the original Ourathan homeworld (now virtually abandoned save for it’s occasional use as a daycare center) or even into Core. It was into a Manifold realm made up of somewhat paranoid military speculations as to what hyper-advanced weapons and defenses the the “real Ouratha” (who’s Core civilization had actually long since collapsed) might have.

Not surprisingly, the characters attempts to intimidate speculations about a hostile super-civilization failed – and so the character detonated his quagma bomb. The player, satisfied in believing that he’d successfully destroyed the setting, left – and the other players had their game epilogue.

Not surprisingly, that character did not appear again when the second Federation-Apocalypse campaign was started some years later. The player did briefly join the second game playing a secret agent type –

John Jack: A 1960’s-style super-secret-agent-type. He’s supposedly a “mercenary-for-hire” but somehow always winds up working for the good guys – whom he insists usually repay him by trying to assassinate him. Very suspicious of super-science, and thus paranoid about pretty much the entire core. Was blown out of his own realm into core earth Scotland in a weird-science accident and was recruited by the House of Roses on an experimental basis thanks to his success against a minor Dalek incursion there (”More funny robots. Fine. Where’s my gun…). After all, they wanted to investigate a report about urban combat involving the Ouratha, so an good, disposable, anti-robot mercenary fighter seemed like a reasonable addition to their novice agent team.

but became upset with the game and ceased playing quite early on. I suppose this is actually equivalent to getting put on a long-term time out – but I’m reluctant to decide that a game concept of a basically unknowable creator is responsible for real-life player decisions.

The other players eventually determined that the original character had blown himself up very thoroughly indeed, but that some angels (also creatures of the Manifold, and no more capable of proving the existence of the Ultimate Creator than the player characters) had taken the time to locate him and make sure that his soul would be busy with “learning to not want to destroy the universe” incarnations for a good long time.

Did the “Ultimate Creator” ensure that the first being that character encountered that could provide directions would be the Dragon? Well… the Dragon had appeared in the game several times before, and had the ability, to appear to people in need of guidance – but I was the Game Master who gave it that ability. If the “Ultimate Creator” was really responsible, it was probably only in the notion that he, she, it, or they triggered the Big Bang that created the Core universe and made sure that the rules for it were such that the various racial Manifolds (so “obviously made for people”) would come into being. The Dragon is an eastern-styled entity, and is perhaps most closely related to the Eastern Dragon from Sinfest.

And that’s why the Ultimate Creator really didn’t need a build; he, she, it, or they may or may not exist, may or may not be concerned, and doesn’t actually do anything within the setting in any discernible way – which sort of made the build irrelevant. As Krackothunder has so neatly demonstrated… the omniscient, omnipotent, ability to be vaguely responsible for the existence of the multiverse while doing little or nothing within it is fairly easy to build. That’s rather neat – but I must admit that I always took it as “attempting to determine the in-game abilties of the game master” – an exercise that appeared as an article in Dragon Magazine fairly early on, but one which I always took as firmly tongue in cheek.

Finally, the Path of the Dragon is not only unrestricted, but the players are getting to play fast and loose with the limitations that are built into the path itself.

That’s simply because it’s entirely possible for a first level combat character in the setting to start off with a mecha mounting machine guns, missile launchers (doing 5d20 damage), plasma flamers, flight systems, long-range radar, and more. They can also start off with a starship, complete with powerful force fields and a selection of strategic antimatter missiles. If they want to be leaders… they can start off in command of a bunch of people with that kind of equipment. There are microtech first aid kits that can be used to put severed heads back on in the field (resulting in a full recovery in a couple of days), and so on.

There are also plenty of non-magical worlds, although Kevin tends to avoid those if he can.

Thus most of the high-powered paths are unrestrained, simply so that personal powers will continue to mean something.

Eclipse d20: Master of the Sabbat

And for today, it’s a (slightly paraphrased and annotated) question!

I couldn’t find much about Master of the Sabbat (An ability that allows a Witch to build up a powerful effect over time) on the site.

So I have a character that has a remarkably high PP-reserve (~1290) and has just decided to use his Elfshot-ability (This normally lays minor curses, at a cost of 1 power for quick effects, 2 for lingering afflictions, and three for permanent ones) on someone for a permanent curse.

Can he use up all of his 1290 PP for that everyday over 28 days (430 curses daily, basically) and the apply the effect or can he only contribute one Elfshot per day?

And what would be the corresponding effects of the first and the second?

-Veebs

Master of the Sabbat doesn’t show up that much in the sample builds because most adventurers want somewhat more immediate results – and the “target must be reasonably accessible for the entire time” and “the Witch must hang around the target for days on end” requirements have mostly kept player-characters from bothering. I anticipated that, and – since it would mostly be appearing in the game masters hands as a plot device – didn’t put in a lot of detail on how to calculate the effects; if I’d put in every calculation… it would have bloated the book by several hundred pages and it didn’t seem worth it.

A character can spend as much Power per day on Master of the Sabbat as he or she pleases. 1290 Power is an awful lot – and it probably won’t be necessary to spend ALL of it for any reasonable effect – but in game terms, there are two basic components to building up an effect; power and complexity.

Power can simply be built up through repetition: if you want to use Hand of Shadows to bring down a castle wall and have 40 power per day, just add it up. Forty hours of “light work” per day (even if we call an hours “light work” – say, casually banging away with a pick in between pages of your light novel – only 1d6 points of damage to the structure) times up to twenty-eight days provides up to 1120d6 of damage – enough, in general, to bring down a very big chunk of the walls of Jericho. It might only take a weeks effort to open enough breaches to easily swarm the place.

Complexity is harder: for that we’ll want to consider Lerandor’s Rule (from The Practical Enchanter):

Anything that can be done with magic can be done with basic spells; it simply takes at least two specialized spells of level “N” to duplicate the effect of a spell of level “N+1”.

-Archmage Lerandor

Thus two specialized cantrips can be chained together to duplicate a first level spell, four a second level, eight a third level, and so on all the way up to at least five hundred and twelve chained cantrips to duplicate a ninth-level spell. Maybe some wealthy academic has had a bunch of minor mages do this as a test sometime, but it’s almost never worth the bother and expense.

There’s a “Runesmith” build up on the site which exploits Lerandor’s Rule – but it isn’t directly applicable; a Runesmith is building up careful chains of triggered cantrips to build on each other (the efficient approach), while Master of of the Sabbat is essentially using the “break it down into small steps” approach and is starting off with something stronger than cantrips to start with.

As far as the calculations go…

  • There are dozens of Witchcraft abilities, and we don’t want to start doing calculations on each one. so for our first approximation, we’ll say Witchcraft abilities are all level two for our current purposes. Some may be higher of course, but most of those are pretty specific effects – not something you want to build up over time.
  • Four our second approximation, and to avoid asking the game master to individually evaluate dozens (or hundreds) of little sub-effects, we’ll say that it takes twice as many effects to do something little by little as it does to do it with an optimized chain of specific abilities. Thus getting a +1 level equivalence costs 4 uses of a Witchcraft ability, +2 costs 8, +3 costs 16, and so on. To get what you can manage on most calculators… Ln(Number of Uses) / (Ln(2) +2, rounded down, works to calculate the effective level you can produce.
  • To see what you can do with such curses, I’d consult The Practical Enchanter and the Malediction Spell Template.

In your specific case that’s Ln(12,040)/Ln(2) + 2 = 15.56, rounded down to 15 – a very very powerful curse indeed. According to the Malediction Template a fifteenth level curse can do some pretty awful things to rather a lot of people; you probably won’t need to use your full power on this one.

A much lesser witch can still be extremely nasty though; a 30-power witch with Master of the Sabbat and Elfshot who can only manage ten permanent curses per day can still pull off a tenth level curse effect (presuming that the target(s) let them hang around giving them the evil eye all day for a month to generate and store up the 280 sub-curses anyway). That’s enough to – say – curse a family for all time (+4 levels) with an extremely difficult to remove (+1 level) curse of uncontrollable lycanthropy (Base level of 5).

Of course, the low save DC for Witchcraft means that many members of the family will be unaffected – so the curse will run in their bloodline, only afflicting occasional scions, until someone goes on a quest or something to find a way to negate it. (Which is usually where the PC’s come in, rather than them being the ones laying the curse).

Still, this allows powerful (literally “full of Power”) and malevolent witches with that particular combination of abilities to lay curses of undeath on entire villages, inflict awful fates on innocent (or guilty) people, and otherwise generate up to one adventure suitable for a group of low- to mid-level player characters to go on every month. A sufficiently angry witch with Hand of Shadows can smash the wall of the evil overlords castle to let in the mob, a Weathermonger can raise a terrible storm, and someone with True Prosperity can bring health and wealth to a small city.

Doing something about Witchcraft’s low save DC if you’re after a particular target is another matter, but if you’re going to the trouble to spend a month creating your effect, it’s often worth devoting a few of your available “spell level” equivalents to spamming the effect to force multiple saves through the Multiple metamagic, inflicting penalties on the save through the Lacing metamagic, or just doubling the effect (“Allows no Save”) with the Amplify metamagic.

And I hope that helps!

Champions – The Cloud Commander

The heavens wept. Lightning struck from each point of the ancient compass rose, thundering twenty-four times in a final salute.

In a hidden citadel, the final sparks of a smoldering hearthfire cooled, the brandy spilled from the fallen snifter was a mere damp spot on the luxurious carpet – and the open bottle had been left to evaporate.

Lord Henry Richart, for ninety-seven years Grand Marshal of the Aerial Legion, hero of a hundred battles, and eighty-four years in the body, had embarked upon his final voyage. This time, with his flesh no longer able to bear the burden of his spirit, no matter how great his skill to lay a course between the worlds – and no matter how mighty the storm that offered a gate – there would be no returning.

Without the grand old man’s indomitable will to bind them to the realms of form, his coat, hat, and cutlass – the panoply of the Storm King – faded once more into the astral realms.

Thunder rumbled distantly, seeking.

—————————————————————————-

Across the world, where storms were raging, youngsters dreamed.

Where there was a lack of fantasy and wonder, they slept serene.

Fire and thunder spoke, and the frightened woke to seek comfort.

The fog rose, and those without a firm moral compass lost their way.

The wind howled, and only the daring held the wheel.

Horrors rose from the depths, faint memories of those from Outside and the War in Heaven – the spawn of the Qliphoth. Even in memory… terrible beyond anything that the remaining youngsters had ever faced.

Many faltered, and woke in tears – but a few – so very few – of the bravest defied the darkness and stood against the horrors – rallying the Storm around themselves, and leading the attack.

One did so with near-instinctive skill, and was chosen.

—————————————————————————-

The boy had wanted to “camp out” in the hedgerows for the night – and there was no harm in that. Nothing short of a hurricane or tornado would bring the old lean-to down – and the house wouldn’t stand up to something like that any better.

Niels had always loved storms – but it was very late, and he had fallen asleep watching a rather nice one.

Not too surprisingly, it had gotten into his dreams, turning them strange and terrible – but he had not woken. The storm did not master him.

In the realms beyond, Lord Richart smiled, and reached out to the physical realm a final time, passing the mantle and a few words of encouragement to a new champion.

A bolt of lightning blazed down, shattering the turf roof, heavy logs, and supporting stones of the lean-to like a handful of toothpicks. The boy – powerless no longer – woke amidst the smoldering ruins of the lean-to, and stepped forth, a corona of sparks turning the rain to steam around him.

The Grand Marshal of the Aerial Legion had fallen, and The Cloud Commander was risen in his place. It would be many years before his powers would approach the Grand Marshals – but every new champion faced that upward path.

—————————————————————————-

Niel’s power is already formidable. He can control the weather, whip objects around in tornado-like winds, summon the lightning and the thunder, channel his voice through the weather (a very dramatic trick), walk the winds, and even return to life if slain by tapping into the power of a great storm from the other side. He can summon up the Coat, Blade, and Hat of Storms, even if he has yet to properly integrate them into his personal power.

Perhaps most importantly… he can infuse his power into clouds, granting them many of the attributes of living things – and making them strong and solid enough to carry him along. (He usually has about half of the sixteen he can currently control group up and act as his “ship” while the others help him out.

On the other hand, he still hasn’t even ATTEMPTED to explain what’s going on to his parents – and he isn’t all THAT personally durable.

Cloud Commander

Value Characteristic Points
15 STR 5
15 DEX 15
23 CON 26
10 BODY 0
10 INT 0
11 EGO 2
10/50 PRE 0
10 COM 0
3/19 PD 0
5/21 ED 0
4 SPD 15
8 REC 0
32 END -7
30 STUN 0
Total 56

 

Points Powers END
30 Multipower: Weather Summoning (67-pt reserve); Only in Hero ID: -¼; Gestures: Instant Power, -¼; Extra Time: full phase, -½; Visible (Blatantly obvious to other weather-manipulators for miles around): -¼
u-3 Summon Cloud Beasts (16 75-point creatures); Range: 0; Summon: Single Type, +0 6
u-2 1d6 Transform (Weather) (Minor, Limited Class); Range: 325; Cumulative: +½; Area Effect (Radius): 500″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×250, +2; Reduced END: Zero, +1; Autofire: 10 shots, ¾; Generic Limitation (Still costs 1 End per die used. Number of dice needed depends on how big a change is being made. ) 0
u-3 Telekinesis (Wind) (STR 35); Range: 325; Manipulation: Coarse, +0; Reduced END: Half, +¼; Active Points: 65 2
u-3 10d6 Energy Blast (Lightning); Range: 310; Versus: ED; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 2
u-3 2d6 Flash (Thunderclap) (Hearing, Sight); Range: 335; Area Effect (Radius): 4″ radius, +1; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 3
u-3 Hand-to-Hand Attack (Storm Strike) (11d6, Total 13d6); Range: 0; Reduced END: Half, +¼; Affects Desolidified: +½ 2
u-2 Voice Of The Storm
(18) +40 PRE
(4) Can be heard in a very large radius
4 Elemental Control: Storm Powers (6-pt reserve); Only in Hero ID: -¼; Visible (Blatantly obvious to other weather-manipulators for miles around): -¼
a-4 12″ Gliding (NC: 24″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 36
b-9 Regeneration (1 BODY/hour); Regenerate: From Death, +20; Generic Limitation (Can only regenerate from death when a major storm passes nearby): -½
2 Instant Change; Clothes: One Set, 5; Gestures: Instant Power, -¼; Incantation: Instant Power, -¼; Generic Limitation (Absurdly dramatic bolt of lightning from the sky draws lots of attention): -½
6 1d6 30-Point Equipment Allowance Aid (Fade/month, Max. 30); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Extra Time: 1 hour, -2½; Only activates in armories, labs, or between outings: -1½; Personal Only: -1; Difficult to Dispel: ×4, +½; Increased END: ×10, -4; This allows a character to haul along 30 CP worth of customized gear. 20
74 Total Powers  

 

Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
3 Oratory 19-
17 Follower (16, 75 pts, 0 Disad.); Number: 16, +20; Generic Limitation (Only to maintain control of his cloud-beasts): -1
3 Money (Well Off); Generic Limitation (Must periodically go off and dig up more buried treasure to maintain this): -½
3 Tactics 11-
3 Navigation 11-
1 Knowledge: History 8-
30 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  

 

Cost Equipment
5 Coat of the Kraken Elemental Control: (8-pt reserve); Focus: Obvious Inaccessible, -½

With experience, the Cloud Commander will find it easy to migrate this over to his Elemental Control – integrating the currently-externalized item into his personal powers.

a-5 +16 PD ; Focus: Obvious Inaccessible, -½
b-5 +16 ED ; Focus: Obvious Inaccessible, -½
c-5 Damage Resistance (16 PD/16 ED) ; Focus: Obvious Inaccessible, -½
5 Thunderbolt, the Cutlass of Storms
(2) Additional Multipower Slot: 4d6+1 HKA (Energy, 6 End), OAF Sword
(3) 2d6 Aid (Endurance) (Fade/turn, Max. 12) 0; Range: 0; Affects: Single Power, +0; Charges: +3, -1¼; Focus (Cutlass): Obvious Accessible, -1
5 The Hat of the Storm King
(5) Detect Atmospheric Phenomenon (+0 to PER) ; Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5; OAF (Really Cool Hat): -1
30 Total Equipment

 

100+ Disadvantages
10 Accidental Change: To “hero” form when exposed to large electrical discharges. (11-)
15 Accidental Change: During Major Storms (11-)
10 Dependent NPC: Parent or Relative (Normal, 8-); Skills: Normal, +0
15 Hunted: The Quilipothic Realms (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: None, +0; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0
10 Watched: The Authorities (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: Extensive, +5; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Only Watching: ×½; Punishment: Harsh, 0
15 Phys. Lim: Underage, In School (Frequently, Greatly)
15 Models his persona on old pirate and naval movies (Very Common, Moderate)
15 Always keeps his word (Uncommon, Total)
10 Major Ham (Common, Moderate)
10 Does not take most villians seriously. (Common, Moderate)
15 Secret Identity
140 Total Disadvantages

 

COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
56 + 104 = 160 240 = 140 + 100

 

OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
5 5 4 0 19/16 21/16 3, 6, 9, 12

 

Superheroics, Champions, and the Action Guy

After weeks of writers block, I’m going to try to kickstart things a bit with some quick heroes – mostly inspired by an encounter with a REALLY bad game master.

Seriously… if you don’t know the rules (combat, movement, etc), can’t design decent (or even functional) characters, produce nonsensical scenarios full of plot holes, portray all your NPC’s as utter idiots who either do (and know) nothing or just go berserk and attack, provide only one “clue” (the address for your fight scene with amazingly convenient timing), and know nothing at all about law enforcement (even what you’d get from watching a few episodes of cop shows)… run another game.

“Action Guy” is pretty straightforward: he’s an athletic, but otherwise normal, human being with a bit of firearms training, light body armor, and a selection of conventional weapons. He’d make a decent star for a lower-end action movie – but he’s certainly no superhero. You can expect to find plenty of elite military types, dedicated survivalists, and enforcers who are as good or better.

And that’s why a player should take a look. Superhero games involve a lot of conflict. If your hero – however young and inexperienced – will likely have some real trouble with this guy… He or she has no business trying to take up a career as a superhero. Sure, “with great power comes great responsibility” – but if you can’t handle several people like this with little trouble, you don’t HAVE great power.

Yes, there are plenty of characters in actual comic books who manage to get along with lower-grade powers (or no powers at all) and no real defenses. Squirrel Girl, Power Pack, the Riddler… all of them do just fine don’t they?

Yes, yes, they do. That’s because they, and everything that happens to them, is wholly under the control of the author. You don’t get that luxury with RPG’s. Superheroic RPG characters… have to be tough enough to survive poor decisions, lousy die rolls, villains that unexpectedly connect with their massive attack, stray bullets, and failing to disarm bombs.

Like it or not, Squirrel Girl and Power Pack and the Riddler would not make it as major characters in an RPG. If this guy has a good chance to do your character any real damage, then your character is too weak to be a superhero. He or she might be a heroic sidekick, or an empowered agent, or some such – but running around on superheroic patrol, looking for random trouble to dive into without scouting out the situation first, is simply going to get him or her killed.

Action Guy

Value Characteristic Points
15 STR 5
15 DEX 15
15 CON 10
10 BODY 0
10 INT 0
10 EGO 0
10 PRE 0
10 COM 0
4 PD 1
4 ED 1
3 SPD 5
6 REC 0
30 END 0
20 STUN -6
Total 31

 

Points Powers END
6 1d6 30-Point Equipment Allowance Aid (Fade/month, Max. 30); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Extra Time: 1 hour, -2½; Only activates in armories, labs, or between outings: -1½; Personal Only: -1; Difficult to Dispel: ×4, +½; Increased END: ×10, -4; This allows a character to haul along 30 CP worth of customized gear. 20
6 Total Powers  

 

Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
3 Acrobatics 12-
10 +2 level w/Ranged Combat
13 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  

 

Cost Equipment
13 Multipower: Weapons (40-pt reserve); OAF (Guns and Weapons): -1; Generic Limitation (Conventional Technology. User must gesture, all powers other than basic melee weapons must run on charges, technological limitations, etc.): -1
u-1 8d6 Energy Blast / Shotgun with Gel Shells 0; Range: 200; Versus: PD; Charges: +6, -¼; Clips: 4
u-1 4d6 Entangle / Netgun (DEF 4) 0; Range: 200; Charges: +6, -¼; Clips: 4
u-1 2½d6 Killing Attack (RKA) / The Most Powerful Handgun In The World 0; Range: 200; Charges: 8, +0; Clips: 3
u-1 8d6 Energy Blast / Heavy Taser 0; Range: 200; Versus: ED; Charges: 8, +0; Clips: 3
u-1 2d6 Energy Blast / Dart Gun 0; Range: 200; Versus: ED; Continuous (Turned off by Caffeine or any other strong stimulant): +1; No Normal Defense: +1; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1
u-1 2d6 Killing Attack (HTH) / Big Knife (Total 3d6) 1; Range: 0; Reduced END: Half, +¼
u-1 Tonfa
(7) Hand-to-Hand Attack (6d6, Total 9d6) 1; Range: 0; Reduced END: Half, +¼
(4) Force Field (Blocking) (10 PD/0 ED) 0; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Generic Limitation (Only versus melee and slow-moving ranged attacks that the user is aware of.): -½
7 Armored Undersuit; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Generic Limitation (Conventional Technology): -1
(5) Armor (4 PD/4 ED)
(2) Protective Goggles: Flash Defense (Sight, 5 pts)
1 Good Shoes / Running (+1″, 7″, NC: 14″) 1; Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 2; OIF: -½
2 Smartphone (0kg)
30 Total Equipment

 

COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
31 + 19 = 50 100 = 0 + 100

 

OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
5 5 3 0 8/4 8/4 4, 8, 12

 

“Action Guy” isn’t very powerful – but honestly, if you’ve gone and made a character who’s concept doesn’t really include offensive and/or notable defensive powers… Going ahead and grabbing Action Guy’s equipment package is cheap even if you DON’T use the equipment-allowance cheese slice – and it’s certainly sensible.

And yes; Action Guy would have handily defeated most of the characters that were handed out for that game… A melee specialist with a total physical defense of “2”, Speed 4, OCV / DCV 5, and a 4d6 autofire punch (without enough Endurance to use it even if he could expect to hit something?) Really?

 

Eclipse and Divinity: Building Gods Through The Editions

Gods have changed a lot over the various incarnations of AD&D – and not just in a mechanical fashion. The philosophy involved has changed a lot too.

For example, from Gods, Demigods, and Heroes (1976, the original Dungeons and Dragons) we have…

SHU GOD OF THE DESERT AND LIGHT

  • Armor Class — 2 (About equivalent to 18 now),
  • Magic Ability: (See Below)
  • Move: 12″ (30′ Now).
  • Fighter Ability: 12th Level
  • Hit Points: 225
  • Psionic Ability: Class 6 (Cannot use psionics or be targeted by psionic attacks – that’s Psionic Blast, Psychic Crush, Et Al, not actual powers).
  • Brother twin to Tefnut, this God appears as a man. His main power is the ability to wither to death anything he touches (magic saving throw applicable). He can also levitate, is not affected by any form of heat, can shapechange, create the light of day as Ra, and call forth 1-4 air elementals per day. He wears plus 5 armor made of phoenix feathers enabling him to immolate for 25 points of heat. He uses a double strength Staff of Wizardry in battle.
  • Finally, all his Attributes were considered to be “20’s” – likely equivalent to “30” now.

That was pretty impressive; Shu was as well armored as a man wearing full plate without being encumbered, had twice as many hit points as your high level fighter (even if he couldn’t fight as well), had a death touch (even if your high level fighters could save 90% or more of the time and anyone could have ways to neutralize it), and could shapehange (although that was a LOT less effective back then). A god could do some very impressive things, easily surpassing the efforts of any reasonable individual hero.

But, as was acknowledged in the front of the booklet… a really high level party could beat a god fairly readily. In fact, the authors made a point of belittling “Monty Haul” games where player characters reached such levels.

And this version of godhood was actually fairly true to many or most classical myths. A great many classical gods were basically really tough and powerful people with longevity and a handful of magical powers – often, but not always, including some ability to control an aspect of he environment and / or an awareness of what people were saying about them. Great heroes and specialists could, however, challenge them quite effectively and they generally had to go and interact – and risk heroic opposition – to actually do much.

Thus Thor could kill giants pretty readily, smack hills hard enough to make craters, and – exerting his full godly power in a single (late, and likely distorted) tale – lift a segment of the Midgard Serpent and temporarily lower the level of the local seas by several feet. Outside of the two magical flying goats, equivalents of his mythological equipment would wander into mortal hands as the Hammer of Thunderbolts, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, and Belt of Storm Giant Strength – but his personal powers outside of being really strong and tough (if not so bright), “stretching his legs to the bottom of the sea” (an immovability effect?) and (possibly) being able to influence the weather, aren’t that impressive in game terms. .

Thor also offered minor blessings of life and fertility, strength, and protection to those who invoked him. For that, use the Endowment ability and bestow something like the “Worlds of Faith” package (a good reason to be part of a pantheon; that way each member only has to contribute part of the cost) – presuming that that isn’t a natural part of such a setting to begin with.

Rather like Avalanche Press in “Ragnarok!” I wouldn’t find much of a problem in representing Thor as a Barbarian-type with a handful of magical abilities (they used a modest template), likely around level sixteen or so – by no coincidence, the point in d20 where you’ve gone past every real human being who’s ever lived (levels 1-5), past legendary heroes (6-10), through demigods (11-15), and gotten into the territory of traditional polytheistic gods (16-20).

Human beings have proven perfectly willing to worship funny looking rocks, perfectly normal animals, and similar things. In a world of normal (mostly level one or two with a maximum limit of five) people, a long-lived character of level 16+ will soon have a following unless they actively pursue a policy of “No Witnesses!”.

But what about the “Creating the Universe!” part? Well… “World Creation” is a bit of a special event. According to the myths, many gods participated in creating various versions of the world, but then never did anything even remotely comparable again. Of course, the tales of the Dreamtime and some other myths also tell tales of how fairly ordinary beasts, humans, and minor spirits helped create and shape the world without having any great power of their own. Personally, I’d say that it’s just that new worlds are both fairly easily started and very unstable and easily shaped at first – allowing anyone who’s there at the time to have an outsized level of influence on things. This is why Eclipse-style gods can easily create worlds, but changing them afterwards is not so easy.

Unfortunately, trying to basically mock the level 40+ characters into going away did not work – and so the first edition “gods book” – Deities and Demigods, or (later) Legends and Lore – upped the power level considerably. Shu, for example, now had 346 HP, another eight points of AC, a fly speed, the ability to cast spells as a 15’th level cleric and a 15’th level magic-user, and could only be harmed by a +2 or better weapon. The book also defined what his slightly-higher attributes actually did and granted all deities Teleportation, True Seeing, the ability to summon allies, and set their saves at “2” – a bit better than cross-referencing their class levels with the saving throw charts (but not too big an improvement given that first edition fighters had very VERY good saves).

Otherwise the description, and the special abilities presented, were almost identical – in fact, they were mostly a word-for-word reprint.

Writing up most of the first edition gods in Eclipse would require more levels than the gods in the original booklet – likely 25 to 35 – to get enough points to cover the special abilities they got “for free” in their descriptions. It wouldn’t be too hard though; most first edition characters didn’t get many special abilities in the first place and their magic was a lot more time-consuming and easily-disrupted – making it far cheaper to buy their class abilities. You’d have to buy the “Immortality” part and a few other boosts (or just give them one point of Godfire, specialized/they don’t get more and can’t spend it for 3 CP) – but that isn’t really a big expense.

The power boost wasn’t sufficient though. Quite a lot of games reached levels where the players started treating the gods as a collection of targets to take out – an early illustration of the idea that “If you stat it, the players will find a way to kill it”.

It kind of looks like the writers were really tired of that by the time that second edition came along – and so they threw the pendulum the other way, more towards what modern monotheists thought of as “God”. Now the gods had avatars – with statistics a lot like the ones they got in Gods, Demigods, and Heroes really – but the actual gods were immortal, untouchable by mortals, and (among several other mighty magical powers) could all use any spell of any level (without any components) at will. Greater Gods were nigh-omniscient, could take any form (including becoming astronomical objects), could create anything they wanted, could slay or raise any mortal anywhere with a thought, could speak with anyone anywhere, got an unlimited number of actions, could create many avatars, and could hand out pretty much any power they wanted to.

OK, Intermediate, Lesser, and Demi-gods got somewhat less potent divine powers, but they were still pretty ridiculous. “Any spell of any level” and “omniscience with a radius of at least one mile” covered quite a lot all by themselves.

In an awful lot of ways second edition represented the pinnacle of power for gods in Dungeons and Dragons; there was really nothing you could do about a god – and if one of them decided to target you… you were pretty well toast.

In Eclipse building Second Edition Gods is fairly simple: they have the Divine Attribute ability (6 CP – cheap because “I become a plot device until the GM sees fit to decree otherwise!” kind of goes against “I want to play!”) permanently active – and, as such, are pretty much beyond being attacked, have essentially limitless powers within their domain, and are automatically NPC’s. That’s because entities with unlimited use nigh-limitless powers are pretty unplayable, and so Eclipse automatically sidelines them.

3.0 and 3.5 tried to mix first and second edition. Gods were once more mortal, and killable (except for overdeities like Ao, for whom there were never any mechanics – or even real information – at all), but they got a LOT of levels and had “Divine Rank” – a special source of immunities and powers that characters who didn’t have Divine Rank could not counter because the descriptions of the powers said so.

Oddly enough, unlike virtually everything else in 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, and other d20 variants, that’s hard to duplicate in Eclipse unless you just give gods some special form of divine privilege as a world law. That’s because, in Eclipse, everyone, divine or not, draws their powers from the same basic list – which makes it impossible to build powers that can’t be countered. You can make powers that are really hard to counter, or which only allow very exotic defenses – but there’s always SOME way to block things. After all, avoiding the automatic “I Win!” buttons was among the design goals.

Still, building Divine Rank as presented in the Deities and Demigods book is simple enough. It’s a form of Mythic Power – an independent source of power that provides more character points to spend without an increase in the user’s actual level. You’d have to uncap it, but that’s not a big deal.

And you increase your Mythic Power Tier by completing mighty quests, collecting plot coupons, and qualifying for story awards – which works quite nicely as a route towards godhood.

More or less mortal heroes can usually get up to ten Mythic Tier Levels, If we take that as advancing towards godhood… well, six Mythic Tier Levels would cover buying the specialized version of the basic Divine Rank 0 Template – leaving 96 CP available to buy some other goodies and a Salient Divine Ability – putting a once-mortal among the lower-ranking divinities.

So how expensive is a Salient Divine Ability? Most of the Epic Feats that I tried building came out to around 12 CP (as expected, they varied a bit), and a lot of Salient Divine Abilities combine two epic feats – which gives us a baseline of sorts; a Salient Divine Ability should cost about 24 CP.

In particular, the original question was about the “Life and Death” Salient Divine Power.

  • Prerequisites: Divine rank 6, Gift of Life or Hand of Death salient divine ability.
  • Benefit: The deity designates any mortal and snuffs out its life. Or the deity can designate any dead mortal and restore it to life.
  • Notes: This ability works across planar boundaries and penetrates any barrier except a divine shield. However, the subject must be in a location the deity can sense, either within the deity’s sense range or in a location the deity can perceive through its remote sensing ability. If the deity cannot see the subject, the deity must unambiguously identify the subject in some fashion. If the deity chooses to kill a mortal, the ability works like the destruction spell, except that there is no material component or saving throw. The mortal cannot be raised or resurrected afterward, except by a deity of equal or higher rank using the Gift of Life or Life and Death salient divine ability.
  • If the deity restores life to a mortal, this ability works like the true resurrection spell, except that there is no material component and the amount of time the subject has been dead is irrelevant.
  • This ability cannot restore a creature to life against its will, but it can resurrect an elemental or outsider. It can resurrect a creature whose soul is trapped, provided the soul is not held by a deity of higher rank than the one using this ability.
  • This ability cannot restore life to a creature that has been slain by the Hand of Death, Life and Death, or Mass Life and Death ability of a deity with a higher rank.
  • After using either version of this ability, the deity must rest for 1 minute per level or Hit Die of the creature affected. Deities whose portfolio includes death do not have to rest after using this ability.
  • Suggested Portfolio Elements: Death, Supreme.

Now that’s an obvious gamewrecker when you can use it regularly.

My recommended Eclipse solution is to simply get the ability to toss out a bumped-up version of True Resurrection and Destruction. Use Specialized Channeling (double effect) and high-level Spell Conversion – allowing you to stack on things like “no saving throw” (Metamagical Theorem Amplify +4, equivalent to Double Effect – trading the ability to get double effect when the target fails to save for the ability to bypass the (much rarer) “Fortune” ability to take no effect on a save), “Easy” to eliminate the need for material components, and Lacing/Improved Brackish to prevent the effect from being absorbed by spells or items.

Back that with a point of Godfire to have it take effect where you want it to… and that will generally do it. It can still be stopped by the truly mighty (at least if they have the right effects), can’t be used often (due to the scarcity of Godfire), and will be expensive. It’s probably about 48 points – which is just about right since it will subsume the prerequisite Gift of Life or Hand of Death ability. That’s 30 points for conversion to ninth level effects (specialized to 18’th to cover that metamagic), 3 CP for a set of spells, and 15 CP for Channeling and some Bonus Uses. While a god won’t be using the Godfire boost often, having this available locally is handy too.

If you want to be cheesy about building the ability… you want some Metamagical Theorems, and a big stack of Streamline (both Specialized in the effects you want and Corrupted to only apply to a limited set of spells) and just stack on no-save, transdimensional range, unabsorbable, and so on until you can annihilate people on the other end of the universe with a wave of your hand. That will be a little more expensive at first, but cheaper to apply to more things – allowing supreme gods to have huge portfolios of virtually unstoppable powers.

Fourth Edition – in it’s focus on PC’s versus World-Building – quite intentionally set up it’s (evil) deities as end-game targets. Thus the Draconomican presented a detailed writeup of Tiamat the God as a L35 “Solo Brute” – and gave several options for killing her permanently.

While that ignores the question of “Why wasn’t she killed long ago by some earlier group of adventurers?” that kind of background development never really got into fourth edition.

In fourth edition gods can only be permanently killed in very specific ways (Returning), get extra actions that can only be used for a specific list of divine powers (Reflex Training) and can be weakened in various ways before a fight (invoking limitations on their powers – which is presumably where they save some points to pay for the extras). Otherwise… they are big monsters. They don’t even really provide spells for their priests any more; priests are granted the ability to tap into divine power via a ritual.

Fifth Edition seems to be following the same general philosophy (albeit apparently throwing in an Immunity to being attacked by characters of level twenty or less) with the Evil gods – who mostly seem to have cults instead of leading huge faiths – while the good gods are granted plot immunity by virtue of general vagueness and never showing up to be targets. Admittedly, I haven’t read all that much fifth edition stuff past the basics (I didn’t like fourth much and the early playtests for fifth seemed to be loaded with nods towards fourth edition and offered very little room for simulationists. That changed somewhat later – but no one around here wants to play it, leaving me with little interest beyond simply confirming that 5’th edition was Eclipse compatible, which it was) so they could have changed things radically somewhere – but that’s what I’ve got so far. Overall then, they can be written up just about as they could be for fourth edition.

Now pure Eclipse-style godhood is a lot cheaper. In Eclipse, Gods can be of quite low level – and we’ve had plenty of gods in play. What makes them playable is the cost of using their divine abilities.

  • A lot of things cost Godfire – and most player-character gods are lucky to get two points of that in a game year and will want to keep at least a FEW points in reserve to come back if they get killed or something. Godfire may be a renewable resource, but it will remain scarce.
  • Other things, like creating planes, or providing blessings for your followers, or forging mighty relics, cost character points or Feats – a permanent cost, and one that gods are rarely willing to pay for trivial reasons.

Thus divine conflicts are usually played out through mortal agents, and rarely involve direct conflict between deities. “Winning” such a battle is too often a pyrrhic victory which merely sets you up as an easy target for third parties.

This, of course, somewhat resembles the old D&D Immortals rules – although Eclipse doesn’t require that you advance to level thirty-six before you can start progressing through another thirty-six levels as an Immortal.