Infusions Of Curses in Eclipse

And for today, it’s a question – along with a bonus answer from a regular visitor.

What would be the mechanical representation of taking the Energy Infusion ability (Eclipse, p. 61) where the “energy” in question was maledictions look like? I’m honestly not completely sure what that would represent from an in-character standpoint (other than seeming like a cool idea), but insofar as mechanics go, all I can think of is that it would turn penalties from curses like bestow curse into bonuses (though I’m not sure what type). But for more creative curses that don’t have flat penalties, I’m less certain. For that matter, while the opposite energy would probably be “blessings,” that’s also hard to find a mechanical representation for. The bless spell just grants a morale bonus, after all.


That probably doesn’t make sense. The malediction spell template seems to basically create an intention and outsource the actual magic to a bunch of malicious spirits of spite and revenge, and then they work their magic based on that – so there is no ‘energy type’ involved. The closest one could get is something like Major Privilege / Spirits of Vengeance favor you, giving you the favor of curses. Curses are blunted or even possibly redirected when wielded against you, due to your status amongst them. Alternatively, you could just be talking about the ‘unholy’ bonus type, which is countered one to one by sacred bonuses.


That idea would be a bit of an oddity in baseline d20 wouldn’t it?

Jirachi386’s “Major Privilege” idea would certainly be interesting – although I think I’d throw in “Favors” with the spirits of malice to go with being Favored by the Spirits Of Vengeance. That way you could be a spiteful master of curses who cannot readily be cursed and who can call down curses against his or her enemies. A very interesting low-level villain design there! Curse the party to blackmail them – promising to use more favors to remove the curses once they accomplish your goals – or terrorize a village with your spiteful curses without necessarily possessing much other magical power. That way a low-level party could readily defeat you, but would then have to find a way to deal with the curses you called down upon them as you did it – and with no actual spellcasting involved, those curses would be fairly difficult to stop.

The infusion could just represent something like “being a malevolent entity empowered by cruelty and malice” or even being a curse-spirit of some sort (on the theory that you can’t curse a curse or a creature that’s a source of curses). That might be fun – give a non-corporeal creature Presence, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Bestow Curse) / only works when an attacker actually “draws blood” to represent a being which was more or less MADE of curses, and so basically “bleeds” them as it is damaged. This would be a rather weird variant on the classic “is at least partially made of energy X, and so is immune to damage from energy X” version, but I could see it working. That’s another monster that would be a serious menace to low-level types, since they’d have a hard time getting rid of even basic curses. Against higher-level types it would be a good softener; even the most well-prepared party is rarely equipped to remove a dozen curses in the time between defeating some minions and confronting their boss.

Actually getting benefits from being cursed is trickier, simply because curses tend to be cheap, powerful, and semi-permanent problems for player characters to deal with – and converting that combination to Buffs without some major limitations tends to wreck the game unless you make some excuses to restrict it to villains (which is, at least, fairly plausible this time around). If a curse just provides a sudden rush of energy, I’d use Inherent Spell (Specialized for Increased Effect / only triggers with an incoming curse effect) to get “Heal” and/or some other selection of boosting spells (although that may well never come up at all since players rarely use many curses). If it’s long-term… something like Innate Enchantment (effects depend on what curses have been flung at you recently) would probably work best. That way a Curse of Weakness would give you a mild (and paid for) boost to Strength rather than just getting someone to curse you with -6 (for you +6!) to each attribute and going on from there.

Blessings are a bit tricky for exactly the same reason. Legends of High Fantasy has a mechanism for them (they are of limited effectiveness and occupy a Charm or Talisman slot), which also turned up under Generational Blessings (in the do-it-yourself Charms and Talismans series) – and I suppose you could use the Talents system in The Practical Enchanter or Siddhisyoga to represent acquiring various blessings without disrupting the game – but perhaps the most accurate representation would just be “you only actually gain levels beyond (say) three when you receive a blessing from a higher power”. That means that non-heroic characters remain low-level and subject to mortal limitations, that Kings do indeed rule by divine right, and that Clerics, Druids, and Paladins are likely to have a major influence on the setting since they’ll gain levels much more readily than less well-connected magi, fighters, and rogues. If you’re boosted by curses, perhaps an innate version of Rite Of Isis (The Practical Enchanter) would work for a temporary power boost.

Now, if you want to elevate “Curses” (and presumably “Blessings” or “Destiny”) from “a name for certain long-lasting debuffs, crippling effects, or setting someone up as a target for malevolent beings” up to being a force of nature in their own right, that’s going to have notable effects. With Curses and Blessings (or perhaps Cooperation and Selfishness?) as opposing elemental forces – rather like positive and negative energy – “good” and “evil” no longer have a unique claim to having a natural elemental expression with positive and negative energy – and might well take second place to other philosophies. Perhaps the cooperative groups sharing blessings have their natural opposite in the selfish groups weilding curses to weaken their targets. The selfish ones will likely be weaker overall – explaining why the lands are dominated by cooperative groups – but can easily concentrate their power to overwhelm and raid isolated cooperative groups. Those nomadic tribesmen are indeed a curse upon the civilized lands!

This will also require reassigning a few spells to a new subschool, making cursed creatures and the use of curses much more common, establishing a mechanism for Blessings*, and possibly restricting positive and negative energy effects. You might, for example, have Undead be powered by Curses and substitute various forms of curses for most of their negative energy powers. Of course, the reward for that work will be a thoroughly unique campaign, full of unexpected rewards and challenges. It would probably be well worth it.

*As far as “Blessings” go, to refer back to an older article that discussed a variety of possible alternative “treasures” to reward adventurers with. Among other options it had…

Benisons: While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. For example:

The monasteries and priests of Ridmarch will remember their rescuers in their prayers and ceremonies for centuries to come – and, since prayer, priests, and gods have direct and obvious powers in most fantasy worlds, benefits will accrue to those being prayed for. Perhaps they will be better protected from injury (increasing their armor ratings or gaining more “hit points”), they might gain the benefits of a low-level priestly spell effect as needed a few times per week, or they might gain a small bonus to virtually anything else. Secondarily, their souls cannot be possessed or imprisoned for long because the prayers of the faithful shall win their release.

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such – or the valor which empowers the Eagle of Ridmarch will come to the parties aid in some future grave emergency.

Of course, if such a Benison fails, it’s a sure sign that you have to go to the rescue again to get it back – the good old “your magic item has been stolen” plot without having to bother stealing an item and without frustrating the players; if something has gone wrong with a Benison, they know where to go – and what, in general, they have to do – to get it back (or perhaps even to get it back with further improvements).

Benisons can also scale with the characters development. After all, the more important you are in the world, the more attention its supernatural denizens are likely to give you – and you may well do the source of your Benison further favors, thus earning additional enhancements. Even failing that, characters may become better at focusing or channeling such gifts. Why shouldn’t practice help with supernatural blessings just as well as it helps with combat, stealth, casting spells, and other adventurous talents?

Thus a Benison may grow with a character, and continue to be of value throughout his or her career.

In general, it’s best to go with small enhancements as opposed to powers and more active aid for Benisons; a slow progression towards becoming a mighty hero is usually better than a rapid rush towards demigodhood – and a selection of “+1’s” and “+2’s” doesn’t clutter up a character sheet nearly as much as things like “gains the benefits of a first-level priestly spell with a caster level of 15 three times a week whenever the player decides that this benefit should be invoked”.

More esoteric benefits – such as the bit about “immunity to soul imprisonment” – may rarely come up, but the game master should make sure that they do at least once, and preferably in a very dramatic fashion.

Game masters who wish to keep careful track of how much “treasure” the characters have accumulated should just count Benisons as magic items. They fact that they can’t readily be stolen or cancelled is neatly balanced by the fact that you can’t pass them around, give them up, or trade them. (If you’re calculating values in d20, The Practical Enchanter is good for that).

And I hope that helps!


Saber Class Federation Starship (Hero System)

Space. The Final Frontier.

A quite unimaginably huge quantity of nothing in particular with occasional nuggets of passively-hostile matter in it (stars and unlivable planets), an even rarer sprinkling of habitable planets, and a very, VERY, few sapient races. Really, the defining feature of Space is that there isn’t really a lot going on there. After all, those nice, happy, biospheres? They take many millions of years of relative peace and quiet to develop.

What do we see in Star Trek though? From the original series alone we have “Errand Of Mercy”, “The Alternative Factor”, “Operation Annihilate”, “The Changeling”, “The Doomsday Machine”, “Obsession”, “The Immunity Syndrome”, “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, “The Empath”, and “All Our Yesterdays” – all episodes of the original series dealing with world-wrecking threats.

Honestly, if the universe was actually anywhere near that dangerous there shouldn’t be any life-bearing planets LEFT. It’s pretty obvious that something was going on. For some reason… once a species starts using “Star Trek” level technology narrative starts becoming an actual force that influences events, all kinds of weird hazards appear, and planets start dying. Maybe Star Fleet is letting people haul along families and kids on their extremely dangerous quasi-military missions because they’re actually in no more danger there than they are on “civilized planets” – and represent a species-survival insurance policy to boot.

For our purposes, we’re assuming that Star Trek technology deals with one of the most fundamental aspects of reality – the informational level, which tells space, time, matter, and energy, what it is and how it acts. That’s why their devices run on technobabble and often make very little sense.

The trouble is that monkeying with that aspect of reality damages it. And the universe has mechanisms to fight back against things that damage it. That’s why it’s still here after all these billions of years. Monkey around with it’s structure too much and really weird, unlikely, and dangerous stuff starts to happen. Keep doing it, and it starts to personify it’s resistance. That’s where Q, The Squire Of Gothos, and Apollo come from. It’s why the barrier at the edge of the galaxy hands out superpowers and insanity with an even hand. It’s why absurd ancient war machines run perfectly but ships need constant maintenance. If you’re using FTL, and Replicators, and other insane technologies… the universe really is out to get you. Your best hope is to plant a few colonies that revert to primitivism. They’ll be left alone.

Of course, those few species that manage to hit that barrier going fast enough to crash on through… tend to figure out what they’re doing before they destroy themselves, ascend to some form of semi-godhood, and pretty much retire. After all, nothing in this level of the universe really means anything much to them any longer (even if some do hang around giving patronizing lectures to everyone else).

That’s why building a Federation-Style ship in the Hero System is relatively cheap – and ANYTHING but safe or reliable.

In any case, these are the voyages of the ESS (Equestrian Space Ship) Crazy Horse – Prince Bluebloods personal space yacht. He, of course, wears a gold shirt and follows in the womanizing footsteps of Captain Kirk.

Saber Class, Federation Light Cruiser:

  • Crew: 1 Short-Term Emergency, 3 Minimum Sustained, 30-50 Normal Mission Crew, Emergency Transport up to 200.
  • Power Plant: Cochrane Matter-Dilithium-Generated Antimatter Warp Core. Maximum pseudovelocity ~1000 C (Old-style approaching Warp 10, New-Style about Warp 8).
  • Length: 30 Meters, Width: 12 Meters, 3 Decks (Primary, Lower Engineering Space, Upper Bridge) totaling 5509 Square Feet
  • Mass: 425 Metric Tons.
    • Like it or not, much of every Federation ship is made of force fields and wishful thinking. – which is why it has a Cargo Capacity of some 300 metric tons and room for a years supply of raw materials and spare parts.
  • Armament: Phaser Batteries, Photon Torpedo Launchers, Tractor/Pressor Beam.

Sabers are one of the smaller starships (and are much smaller still in the Hero System, which is mostly set up for personal craft rather than naval vessels), the Saber Class is used for Diplomatic and Science Missions, Scouting and Secondary Exploration (after larger and better-equipped vessels deal with the preliminary surveys), Combat (Fleet Support and Skirmish), and System Patrol functions. While surprisingly powerful for it’s size, it’s size is still “small”. Compared to major ships it’s defenses are relatively weak and it’s armament light. It is, however, fairly fast, it’s laboratories are excellent (if cramped), and it’s sensor systems very good. Notably, most of it’s crew and passenger spaces are pretty cramped.

That does, however, bring us to Transporters:

Transporters are marvelous things! They allow you to teleport yourself across tens of thousands of miles, straight into the action! Of course they also…

  • Allow you to park your ride tens of thousands of miles away, leaving you unable to get back to it when something (all too commonly) goes wrong, or if your ship is on the far side of the planet, or is under attack and has to have it’s shields up (or, even worse, leave without you), or if there is unspecified interference.
  • Create massive safety hazards. They can get you lost in weird dimensions or distant worlds, accidentally move you through time, destroy vital equipment, give you weird disorders, make you older or younger, turn dangerous injuries into fatal ones in trying to get you to the doctor, materialize you high in the air or in solid rock, turn you into a ghost, become unreliable at short (intraship) ranges, embed random objects in your body, be diverted to unintended destinations by various external means, fuse creatures together into new ones (who want to live!), and can even malfunction and outright maim or kill you.
  • Are horrendous bottlenecks. They’re the only reasonably quick way on and off the ship, require targeting locks, cannot penetrate shields and various dense materials, are disrupted by various force fields, ores, and materials, are extremely hazardous or impossible to use at warp speeds (even if careful matching of direction and speed makes it possible sometimes), and require skilled operators. At least as importantly… they NEVER seem to be working when simply getting out of there would solve your current difficulties.
  • Are Security Risks: They can trade you for evil twins, split you into good and evil halves, be activated from the outside regardless of your attempts to stop them, are fairly readily traceable, record all kinds of personal data, can be hacked to control, modify, or transform the subject in all sorts of ways, can be used to duplicate or steal sensitive devices and information, or even be used to duplicate people – allowing one, for example, to tap into a transporter and capture people for interrogation without anyone ever missing them because they’re only copies.

Sure, all of this stuff was supposed to be very rare – but when it comes to major characters, one in a million shots come up nine times out of ten. Personally, I would say that having transporters as your primary method of getting on and off a ship is quite a big disadvantage – so that’s how I’m classifying them. They give the game master free license to fool around whenever they’re used. That also saves having to build the things, since they’d probably cost more than the rest of the ship functions put together, would far, FAR, exceed the active points limit of the game, and really aren’t nearly useful enough to be worth that kind of price tag.

Vehicle Characteristics

  • STR 10/70 (0 Points)
  • DEX 5 (-15 Points)
  • BODY 6/18 (-4 Points)
  • SPD 2 (5 Points)
    • Size Increase-12 (60 Points): 128 hexes (5,509 sq ft), 64 inside, 128 passengers, 18″ long x 7.1″ wide, 400,000 kg, KB -12, DCV -5 (Mod -7)
    • DEF 3; Coverage: Complete, -0; Protects: Top and Bottom, -0 (3 Points).
    • Ground Movement (0″, NC: 0″, 0mph); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0 (-12)

Elemental Control: Starship Powers (15-pt reserve); OIF (Drive and Power Systems): -½; Focus Type: Vehicular, -½; Focus Mobility: Bulky, -½; Primary Starship Systems Only: -½; Attracts Q, Negative Space Wedgies, and General Weirdness: -½, Subject to dramatic systems failures as hits, damage, or drama accumulate, regardless of actual “damage”: -½ (4 Points)

Drive Systems;

  • Impulse Drive / Flight (10″, NC: 1,250″, 930mph); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×125, +30; Stall: None, -0; Extra Time: 1 turn, -1; Extra Time Required: Only At Startup, ½ (8 Points).
  • Warp Drive / Faster-Than-Light Travel (1000 LY/Year); Extra Time: 1 turn, -1; Extra Time Required: Only At Startup, ½ (3 Points)
  • Poorly-Controlled Time Warp / Extra-Dimensional Movement; Dimensions: One, +0; Time Travel: Any Time, +40; Extra Time: 5 min., -2; Generic Limitation (Time and Timeline Travel Only): -½; Generic Limitation (Unreliable in GMO ways.): -2; Mass Multiplier: ×1, +0; Carrying Mass: None; Charges: 1, -1¼; Recoverable Charges (Must resolve mission): -2 levels (5 Points).

Defensive Systems;

  • Shields / Force Field (10 PD/10 ED); Reduced END: Zero, +½; Hardened: ×1, ¼ (5 Points).
  • Shields / Power Defense (12 pts); Champions Advantage (Defends against informational attacks): +½; Linked (To Force Field): -½; Hardened: ×2, ½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).
    • “Informational Damage” is a +1 advantage for attacks that target Power Defense or Mental Defense. Basically such attacks bypass defenses that don’t have a +1/2 advantage “stops informational attacks” – a variant on NND applied to attacks that already target a relatively rare specific defense.
  • Shields / Mental Defense (12 pts); Champions Advantage (Defends against informational attacks): +½; Linked (To Force Field): -½; Hardened: ×2, ½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).
  • Outer Hull Integrity Field / Armor (7 PD/7 ED); Hardened: ×1, ¼; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (5 Points).
  • Flash Defense (Sight, 6 pts); Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (5 Points).
  • 4d6 Damage Control / Aid To Any One Damaged Cunction (Fade/turn, Max. 24); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Restore Only Lost Characteristics and Powers: -½; Extra Time: 1 turn, -1; Charges: +8, -½ (3 Points);

Sensor Systems;

  • Computer Augmentation / Enhanced Perception (all) (+7 to PER); Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (4 Points).
  • 360-Degree Sensing (All); Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (5 Points).
  • Ship Scans / Radar Sense; No Range Penalty: +½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).
  • Navigational Warp Sensors / Danger Sense 14- (Out of Combat, Anywhere); Works: Out of Combat, +5; Range: Anywhere, +15; Extra Time: 1 min., -1½; Extra Time Required: Only At Startup, ½; Generic Limitation (Only to detect upcoming navigational hazards during high-speed travel): -2; Auxiliary Cost (Analytical; Provides data on the nature of the navigational or ship hazard): 1 (cost 5); Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½; (5 Points).
  • Life Sensors / Detect Life Forms (+0 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5; Addition (Discriminatory Sense): +5; No Range Penalty: +½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).
  • Deep Scans / Detect Technology (+0 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5; Addition (Discriminatory Sense): +5; No Range Penalty: +½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).
  • Environmental Sensors / Detect Environment (++0 to PER); Time Required: Instant, +2; Range: Ranged, +5; Addition (Discriminatory Sense): +5; No Range Penalty: +½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (3 Points).

Environmental Systems;

  • Life Support (total); Generic Limitation (Subject to upper limits, weird effects often penetrate): -1; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (5 Points).
  • Internal Lights, Gravity, Etc / Change Environment (2″ rad.); Effect: Variable, +1; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1; Selective Target: +¼; Generic Limitation (Only internal): -1 (3 Points).


  • Hailing Frequencies: High Range Radio Hearing; Based on EGO Combat Value (No lightspeed delay, interstellar range): vs. ECV, +1; Invisible (Encrypted, Frequency-Hopping, Etc): To All Senses, +1; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (4 Points).
  • Labs and Computers / +3 to Crew Skill Checks; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Costs END: -½ (5 Points).
  • 1d6 Synthesizers / Transform to Supplies (Major, Limited Class); Range: 205; Area Effect (One-hex): 1 hex(es), +½; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Cumulative: +½; Extra Time: 1 turn, -1 (5 Points).

Weapons Multipower (60-pt reserve); Original Series Powers Only: -½; OIF (Weapon Systems): -½; Focus Type: Vehicular, -½; Focus Mobility: Bulky, -½; Starship Weapons Only: -1; Attracts Q, Negative Space Wedgies, and other Weirdness: -½; Subject to dramatic systems failures as hits, damage, or drama accumulates: -½ (12 Points).

  • Phaser Battery: 1D6 Transform (Damaged Systems) (Minor, Limited Class); Based on EGO Combat Value: vs. ECV, +1; Autofire: 5 shots, ½; Reduced END: Zero, +1; No Normal Defense (Only blocked by informational defenses): +½; Cumulative: +½; (1 Point Ultra Slot). Thanks to the limitations on the ship defenses in this setting, this generally produces weird malfunctions and alarms rather than definable “damage” – even if not much actual effect is getting through.
  • Phasers On Stun: 2D6 Energy Blast; Based on EGO Combat Value: vs. ECV, +1; Reduced END: Zero, +1; Area Effect (Radius): 64″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×16, +1; Autofire: 5 shots, ½ (1 Point Ultra Slot).
  • Photon Torpedoes: 1D6 Ranged Killing Attack; Area Effect (One-hex) +½; Autofire: 5 shots, +½; Penetrating: +½; Armor Piercing: 1, +½; Charges: 250, +1 (1 Point Ultra Slot). Only usable at reasonably “close” range.
  • Tractor Beam: Telekinesis (STR 11); Manipulation: Coarse, +0; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Area Effect (Radius): 32″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×16, +1 (1 Point Ultra Slot). Only usable at reasonably “close” range.

Total Vehicle Cost: 145 CP, -70 CP Disadvantages = 75 CP. Cost to Character: 75/5 = 15 CP.

  • (-15): Distinctive Features: Federation Starship; Concealability: Not Concealable, 15; Reaction: Noticed and Recognizable, +0
  • (-10): Requires Dilithium, Antimatter (Infrequently, Greatly)
  • (-15): Reputation: Federation Starship (14-)
  • (-10): Watched: The Authorities (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: Extensive, +5; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Only Watching: ×½; Punishment: Harsh, 0
  • (-20): Uses Transporters as the primary way to get on and of. (All the Time, Greatly)

Putting virtually everything into a Starship Powers elemental control – and adding “costs endurance / zero endurance cost” on powers to make them eligible to be in an elemental control – is definitely a cheap way to build this ship. On the other hand, it says that – if the power goes out – pretty much EVERYTHING stops working,

It’s also not too important. The characters are superheroes. as a general rule their best bet at doing much of anything is to get out and do it themselves rather than try and rely on a vehicle to do it for them. As such, this entire ship is mostly an excuse to cruise around and get into trouble – and why should they have to pay a lot of points to do that? They do THAT anyway. 

Dark Ages “Classes” – The Man-At-Arms

You know those guards who are always getting tossed around by the monsters, overrun by bandits, and trampled by opposing forces yet who manage to turn up mostly unwounded after the mighty heroes deal with things? Well, that’s these guys Except there aren’t any mighty heroes to come to the rescue; they’ll just have to get organized and do it themselves. On the other hand, in a low-magic low-technology setting there’s a lot to be said for understanding how to avoid being hurt. Wounds heal slowly, if at all. They can leave lingering damage. They can get infected. Even a minor wound can kill.

Just as importantly… Men-At-Arms spend a LOT more time on guard duty, maintaining their armor and weapons, practicing, teaching local militias how to poke at real fighters with farming tools without killing each other, and being intimidating, than they ever spend in combat. And when they do fight…

  • Prisoners are wonderful. They can be put on trial or held hostage for political purposes, ransomed for financial purposes, interrogated for military purposes, pressed into service as laborers, and more. They are all-purpose loot, who can – at worst – be sold as slaves or killed later. And if you helped capture them you usually got a share.
  • Injured or maimed opponents are good too. It’s often easier than a kill, they’re demoralizing for the enemy, an injured opponent who needs to be cared for takes another soldier out of battle with him to get him to the healers, wounded men continue to drain the enemies resources while contributing nothing to their cause, and all too often they never recover enough to return to battle. After all, in the Dark Ages there is very little magic and not a lot of medical skill.
  • Dead opponents? They get buried or burned, and then their relatives or companions often want revenge. There’s not a lot of profit in THAT. Sure, you can steal everything they had IF you hold the field after the battle and no one dragged them away – but you can do that with prisoners too and nobody pays much to ransom a dead body. At worst, you have to waste your own time and effort burying them. Corpses are downright useless.

So the tactics are different.

The equipment is different too.

As far as this “Dark Ages” (Maybe 600-1000 AD) setting is concerned the vast majority of the available armor is getting classified as what D20 calls “light armor”. There are several reasons for this.

  • Many of the “heavy” armor types hadn’t been invented yet. A lot of early armor consisted of padding, leather, and tough cloth, sometimes with bits of mail or metal plates attached to it to protect more vulnerable areas. About the best you could do was the full-out roman legionnaire armor or various forms of “Mail” – all of which were somewhat flimsy compared to later armor of similar encumbrance and offered relatively limited coverage. Few actual examples have survived and there’s been little (or no) actual testing so there’s a lot of guesswork here – but d20 is full of approximations anyway. Ergo, I’m placing most early “Mail” as being roughly equivalent to a chainmail shirt from later centuries.
  • While it doesn’t get a lot of attention, technology did advance over the centuries. For armor and weapons… the metals, designs, and crafting techniques all slowly improved. They still do; that near-legendary Damascus steel was a product of Wootz steel ingots shipped in from India (which happened to carry a useful combination of trace elements, improving the alloy – although no one at the time knew that) and local techniques. It was very good for it’s time, but was still inferior to many modern steels. Rather than introduce a debatable set of inferior period armors – especially when the presence of even minor magic makes what little actual data we have on the topic pretty much irrelevant – simply shortening the table is at least as good an approximation as the rest of d20 combat.
  • Major wars might bring the troops of many nobles together for a time, but the vast majority of conflicts were far smaller squabbles between a handful of noblemen, their personal retainers, and a few squads of reluctant peasant militiamen – but not too many because you needed those workers if you wanted to eat next year. That meant poorly organized skirmishes, where wearing armor heavy enough to slow you down too much was just asking for three or four of the enemy to gang up on you. A horse would help – but getting dismounted was all too common.
  • The more elaborate armor was hideously expensive stuff. You needed a set of skilled craftsman with several relatively rare sets of skills, expensive materials, and a lot of time to make it – and the import networks had pretty much fallen apart. If you wanted mail… you went to a specialist ship in the city, not your local blacksmith. You got in line. you paid extravagantly, and it still wasn’t all that great. You might well be better off investing some of that cash in bodyguards instead.

So: Proficiency with Light Armor (3 CP) and Shields (3 CP). That saves them some points. That’s good, because without magical healing around they are going to need them.

  • Personal weapons weren’t all that varied either. You basically got minor variants on Axes, Swords, Daggers and Knives, Clubs, Maces, and Spiky Maces, Morningstars and Flails, War Hammers, Horseman’s Picks, Spears/Pikes, Staves, and Pole Arms (blades and hooks on sticks, often improvised from agricultural implements), Lances, Throwing Axes, Javelins, Crossbows, and (non-composite) Bows* – and the selection was even more limited in any given area and time. For game purposes… Proficiency with All Simple and a Limited Set Of Martial Weapons (6 CP) will pretty much cover it.

*Samples recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose suggest that war-bows had a normal draw of 150-160 pounds – applied to each arm. About three times the draw of a heavy hunting bow today. A trained longbowman could fire 10-12 times per minute (although six a minute conserved their strength much better) – equivalent to bench-pressing (and briefly holding) 300-320 pounds at that rate. Now such Longbows (and several of the other weapons on our list) were a little late for our period, but we’re allowing the Bombardier (even if they are using magic), so that’s not a big worry.

So rather than using exotic enchanted weapons and getting ever-better armor, Men-At-Arms in our period focus on getting the most out of what they have.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: As with any physical combatant, physical attributes take a leading role here – but the emphasis leans more towards Constitution and Dexterity then raw Strength. They’ll probably want to avoid any major penalties on Intelligence and Wisdom if they can; both skill points and awareness of their surroundings help when your goal is to avoid injury rather than charge in, smite your opponents, and get healed later.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Three Disadvantages. Men-At-Arms commonly have various Obligations (Owing fealty and occasional services, having a family to care for, teaching or students to look after), being Aged (and thus semi-retired, thus having time for adventuring), Healing Resistant (There isn’t much healing in the Dark Ages to be resistant too, but this counts for Men-At-Arms due to having more regular need of what there is), Poor Reputation (Mostly for mercenaries, who are rarely trusted), Stigmata or Accursed (representing poorly-healed old wounds), and Valuable (for younger noble sons and such who can expect to be ransomed if captured)) +2 (Duties, normally to a liege lord) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 72 CP.

Basics (42 CP):

  • Base Attack Bonus: +1 BAB (6 CP), additional +1 BAB (Specialized in either Missile or Melee combat, Corrupted for a limited group of favored weapons only, 2 CP).
  • Hit Points 12 (L1d12 HD, from Fast Learner, Specialized in Buying Larger Hit Dice, 6 CP, automatic d12 at L1, d6 thereafter) + (Con Mod).
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP). Between diseases and infected wounds Men-At-Arms need at least a modest boost to their Fortitude checks.
  • Proficient with Light Armor, Shields (Corrupted / Not Tower Shields), and all Simple and a limited Set of Martial Weapons (11 CP).
  • Skill Points: 4 SP (Purchased, 4 CP), get Human Fast Learner up to +2 SP/Level but Corrupted / only for maximizing Adept skills (+1 CP), Adept (A martial art for a favorite weapon, Profession / Man-At-Arms (covers armor and weapon maintenance, elementary protocol, basic guard and investigative procedures, known threats, basic military organization, tactics, and logistics, and constructing field fortifications), Intimidate (one of a Man-At-Arms major duties), and one skill of choice, 6 CP. All are effectively automatically maximized).

The Martial Art is normally Specialized for Increased Effect (One ability per level) / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor. The first priority is normally on bonuses to Defense and Attack, but the ability to inflict nonlethal damage is a close second.

Men-At-Arms commonly invest their available skill points in Heal, Ride, and/or Perception.

Other Abilities (30 CP):

  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded.
  • Armor Expertise: Defender, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only while wearing a favored kind of light armor, bonus does not increase with level, 2 CP).
  • Weapon Expertise: Skill Emphasis (Their Martial Art), Specialized for Increased Effect (+4 Bonus) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor, only works with one specific weapon at a time, user must practice with the new weapon for at least a week to change weapons, weapon must be of “masterwork” quality (2 CP).
  • Practiced Evasion: Grant of Aid (Unrolled 10-point Variant) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / hit points only, only to reduce the damage from a single incoming attack not to heal injuries, only takes effect after damage reduction and other defenses, cannot reduce the damage by more than 50%, rounded down (4 CP). A character with this ability may opt to suffer only half damage from an attack inflicting up to twenty points of damage, although half-points are always rounded in favor of damage. Attacks inflicting more than twenty points of damage have their effects reduced by ten points.
  • Military Caste: Minor Privilege, Corrupted / only applies when in service to a local noble (2 CP). Men-At-Arms are generally employed; basic armor and weapons are supplied, they have some law-enforcement privileges, and they may wear armor and bear weapons in most situations with no complaints.
  • Combat Feats (18 CP): Men-At-Arms have 18 CP remaining, with which they may buy additional “feats” – specialized combat abilities. While you can build an endless array of such abilities in Eclipse, here are a few to pick from to get you started.
    • Advanced Armor Expertise: An additional +1 AC may be purchased as Defender (+1 AC Option), Specialized only while wearing a favored kind of light armor (3 CP per +1 AC) or it can be Corrupted as well / each +1 increases the effective encumbrance of the users armor by 25% (2 CP per +1 AC).
    • Maiming Strike / Trick: may inflict a Bestow Curse, Cause Blindness, or Cause Deafness effect on a critical hit (6 CP). Such injuries may be mitigated to some extent with time and the care of a reasonably skilled healer but some small penalty or effect will usually remain.
    • Flashing Strike: Bonus Attack (With speciality weapon). Make two attacks, albeit at -2 penalties (6 CP).
    • Critical Master: Luck, Specialized in Critical Confirmation (6 CP). The user may roll twice to confirm critical hits.
    • Weapon Master: Martial Arts (6 CP). Increase the weapons damage die size.
    • Legionnaire (6 CP): Gain bonuses to Attacks, AC, Reflex saves when working with others with this ability.
    • Terrible Mein: With: Opportunist. User may attempt to persuade, or intimidate, opponents into surrendering or fleeing as a free action up to twice per battle. This is most likely to work if they are obviously overmatched (6 CP).
    • Sneak Attack: Augment Attack +2d6 (6 CP).
    • Grand (Weapon) Master (6 CP):
      • +4 bonus on all checks to resist being disarmed. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Minor (2 CP).
      • May use a weapon against a grappling foe without penalty and without first making a grapple check. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Trivial (1 CP).
      • May draw a weapon, make a sudden strike, or fight defensively as an immediate action three times per day. Reflex Training (three action per day variant), Corrupted / only for weapon actions (4 CP).
      • May make Disarm attempts without provoking an Attack Of Opportunity. Evasive (3 CP).
      • Gain a +2 Bonus to Initiative. Improved Initiative (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored weapon, giving Grand (Weapon) Master a total cost of (6 CP).
    • Armor Mastery (6 CP):
      • Increase the Maximum Allowed Dexterity Bonus: Immunity/Penalties for wearing armor (Very Common, Minor, Trivial, Corrupted / only to raise Dexterity Bonus Caps). Increase the maximum allowed Dexterity Bonus by +2 (3 CP).
      • Make it an Effective Weapon: That’s Martial Arts (1d4 damage), Corrupted/must be wearing gauntlets and limb protection (2 CP). With this you can use your armored limbs, fists, and head as effective maces and are always considered armed, including while grappling.
      • Make you more Intimidating and harder to “read”: Augmented Bonus/Adds (Str Mod) to (Cha Mod) with respect to Charisma-Based Skills, Corrupted/only for Intimidation and Bluff (4 CP).
      • Reduce it’s Encumbrance: Immunity/the base weight of armor (Uncommon, Minor, and – for light armor – Trivial, 1 CP).
      • Negate the Armor Check Penalty: The “Smooth” modifier for Light Armor Proficiency (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored armor, giving Armor Mastery a total cost of (6 CP).

A low-level Man-At-Arms is really a somewhat better combatant than a low-level standard fighter. That’s partly because standard fighters really aren’t that good a build, partly because their job is to solve problems not to be meat shields who keep the enemy off the spellcasters, partly because they rely on skill instead of magic, and partly because they need to be able to function on their own – without a healer, or a mage to do the heavy lifting.

Medieval Dark Ages “Classes” – The Võlur

While Eclipse doesn’t actually use Classes, a Dark Ages game is very likely to stay in the level one to level for range for more-or-less “real people”, rather than dipping into the “action movie star” or “more than human hero” territory that starts at level five or six. That means that a first level character is starting off with close to half of all the character points that he or she is evern going to have – and so that first level build is certainly going to set the tone for a characters later development. Unlike a game that’s expected to go to level fifteen or so… there simply aren’t enough character points in levels 2-3 to do a particularly radical redesign. For this setting, even in Eclipse, “classes” – or at least your initial build choices – are actually quite important.

A Võlur (sometimes a Velho) is a classical sympathetic magician, using Sympathy and Contagion to produce magical effects. Classically, a Võlur could produce an immense variety of effects, at nigh-limitless ranges – but required a great deal of time to do so and was generally limited to relatively subtle, and often long-term, effects.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the opposite of gaming mages usually do. They tend to have a very limited range of effects (to let the players and game masters keep track of them easily), most of their effects have very limited ranges (to force the characters to go out and have exciting adventures rather than desk jobs), they have to work their magic quickly (since they are basically competing with the archers and swordsmen), they are anything but subtle (since most of their magic is for use in direct battle), and they don’t use many long-term effects (since, once again, it complicates things too much). Thus, while there have been a few attempts to import sympathetic magic into d20, it rarely works out that well. Fortunately, I am using Eclipse and a setting where this sort of thing is more appropriate – and where the characters will mostly have to settle for “subtle” because most of the blatant stuff does not work.

For Dark Age game purposes Sympathetic Magic comes in two categories – Direct and Indirect.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic is classical. You perform lengthy, complicated, rituals, usually a long ways from your target, and produce… fairly minor effects. Most such interventions can be effectively represented as die roll modifiers. Is the local Võlur attempting to bring rain in the midst of a drought that threatens to ruin a villages crops? Well, in game terms that droughts a -8 Circumstance modifier on on Profession (Farmer, Hunter, Gatherer) and Survival checks. With three separate rituals (perhaps one for rain, one to pull water up from the deep soil, and one to strengthen the plants), our Võlur can provide a +6 bonus to those checks – not entirely negating the effects of the drought, but certainly reducing its effects from “disaster and starvation” to “a somewhat bel0w-average year”. So did cave paintings of successful and bountiful hunts aid early man. Cursing a cow to go dry? A penalty on the owners income check. Do you wish to protect someone from harm? You might take some of their hairs and place them in a metal poppet, granting your target a +2 bonus to their Natural Armor.

More drastic direct interventions approximate the power of a cantrip, albeit at indefinite range. Do you wish a castle to catch fire? Your ritual may cause a candle to topple over when unattended, igniting the rushes on the floor. The place MIGHT burn down – but a passing servant might stomp it out, and even if the fire spreads, it may wind up only destroying a room or two. You can cause ominous messages to appear on walls, let your voice whisper in your targets dreams, cause frightening chest pains, and otherwise subtly aid or hinder your target in a wide variety of ways – but there’s only so much you can do with the occasional cantrip, even if they are being used indirectly from many miles away.

  • Indirect Sympathetic Magic always costs 2 Mana at a base. Additional Mana may be spent to affect a larger area. Do you wish to affect a household, party, or small farm? +1 Mana. A hamlet, manor, or castle? +2 Mana. Sadly, larger areas are out of mortal reach.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic can be quite effective – if a group of three coven of three Võlur (cauldron optional) wishes to affect a battle of champions, each can aid their champion with an effect (Say, +2 to AC, +2 to Attacks and Damage, and +2 to Strength) and inflict some similar curse on his or her opponent, which may well prove decisive – but it’s not like throwing lightning bolts.

Direct Sympathetic Magic is less classical, but much more playable. It substitutes line of sight for a proper link and for much of the ritual (still a minimum of a full-round action). You still need to represent the effect, and the effect is still fairly weak – but you can produce trivial, minor, and notable effects.

  • Sample Trivial Effects (1 Mana per Day): Rub something to briefly polish it. Rub your fingers together (mimicking a firestick) to generate a match-sized flame. Blow, and direct, an impressive smoke ring. Basically, the kind of stuff you can manage with Prestiigitation, but limited to sympathetic effects.
  • Sample Minor Effects (1 Mana): Mold clay to create a large image of smoke or a (fairly obvious) mirage. Break a thread to snap a bowstring. snuff out a match or candle-flame to extinguish a torch or lantern. Use a candle and a thimble to heat a bucket of water. Make your voice come from someplace else. Cause a few moments of disorganization. Try to get someone to repeat what you just whispered aloud. Create an area if slippery ground that might make a target fall. Ease a difficult childbirth. Stop bleeding.
  • Sample Notable Effects (2 Mana): Mold clay to shape a sizeable cloud. Turn a key to open a lock, even if the key has nothing to do with the lock. Exhale hard to create a modest gust of wind or to blow away some smoke. Strike a wall or tree to generate a ranged combat maneuver or attack. Toss out a handful of dust to create a bothersome cloud of dust, cover a trail, or instantly make a large area look dirty and undisturbed. Fan vigorously to purify the air in a modest area.
  • Expanded Targeting: One point of additional Mana may be spent to affect slightly larger areas or groups – a group of up to a dozen targets or a household – but that’s the limit.

Unfortunately, all sympathetic magic is subject to the following limitations:

  • The Rule Of One: A target may only be directly affected by one sympathetic effect from any one witch in any one day. This is a consequence of the fact that each such act establishes a temporary link back to the originator, making it impossible for the user to properly focus any additional magic on the target until it fades.
  • The Rule Of Two: Sympathetic effects are normally limited to a +/-2 or trivial effects of similar potency. That could be applied to armor class, saves, skill checks, attacks and damage, or even as direct damage however. For example, one might sprinkle mold over a handful of stores to affect the food produced by a kitchen, causing everyone who eats it to suffer penalties.
  • The Rule Of Three: No matter the number of rituals enacted, no given target may be affected by more than three sympathetic effects in any one day. Beyond that, there are too many competing temporary links for any sympathetic mage to direct effects to the proper target.
  • The Patronus Rule: Long-term sympathetic effects are maintained by the user’s power. They cannot endure past the caster’s death or the point at which the caster reclaims his or her Mana – although the caster may voluntarily refuse to do so to maintain an effect, although this is still limited by the Synodic Rule, below.
  • The Synodic Rule: Unless a Võlur willingly dies to cast a spell (not so rare as you might think, many a sick or elderly Võlur has given up his or her last few days to provide a permanent blessing for his or her loved ones – or a permanent curse for some truly hated foe) the maximum duration of any sympathetic working is one Synodic Month. After that time, the mana invested in maintaining the effect is freed, and will be regained by the caster normally.
  • The Rule of Resistance. If you directly affect someone with a malevolent sympathetic effect they get a will save to negate the effect at DC (13 + Mana Spent + Users Wisdom Modifier). Targeting someones equipment or something they’re carrying adds +4 to the DC. Environmental modifications do not permit a saving throw.

The wealthy and powerful are obvious targets for Sympathetic Magic. Unfortunately, most of them will employ sympathetic mages of their own, both to maintain beneficial spells on them and their immediate households (which incidentally protects them against hostile spells) and to trace the origin of sympathetic attacks. Ergo, using sympathetic magic against important folk needs to be either subtle or indiract or carefully timed to slip in to the gaps between when their current spells go down due to the Synodic Rule and when they can be re-established.

To actually build the 36 available character points worth of this ability take…

  • 3d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized for Increased Effect (Sympathetic Magic, as above) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (12 CP). This may be taken a second time.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only to refill the magic pool above, requires at least one hour per die (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Detect Sympathetic Effects. This allows the user to determine the nature of any sympathetic effects currently affecting someone – and to get a good deal of information about the user. This ability is anothe rmajor reason why the wealthy and powerful often employ their own Võlur.

A Võlur is actually the party enhancement specialist. Sketch a scene of the party as amazing heroes cutting their way through a host of enemies to victory, pour three Mana into it (2 for an Indirect Effect and 1 for affecting a small group) and give everyone in the party a +2 to Attacks and Damage until you opt to regain that mana or the synodic rule kicks in. They can pull off some useful tricks in direct battle as well – snapping a group of opponents bowstrings, or trying to trip a group of enemies or some such – but the Rule Of One is very limiting in such cases.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: A Võlur should probably have a reasonable Wisdom, but attributes aren’t actually that important to their magic – leaving them free to focus on some secondary role.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Accursed [Suspicious Person. Võlur can offer gifts. They can also strike against you in secret, in ways that are difficult to detect. Whenever things go wrong, the local Võlur will be under suspicion almost automatically], History [every Võlur should have at least a short list of things they’ve done to help or harm to provide some plothooks], and Accursed [While the Almighty may or may not have a problem with Võlur – after all, he’s the one who made that power available – Clerics tend to disdain Võlur on the theory that meddling with reality should be let to God]) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Unlike being a Friar or a Bombardier, being a Võlur doesn’t require any major commitment.

Basic Items (24 CP):

  • BAB +1 (6 CP). It’s a rare adventuresome Võlur who hasn’t practiced a bit.
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1D6, 4 CP) + (Con Mod). Võlur aren’t front-line fighters, but they deal with enough upset neighbors to be reasonably competent at defending themselves.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP). Pretty much the minimum for anyone who’s going adventuring and who isn’t otherwise inhibited somehow. Most likely from militia training.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Will (6 CP). Imposing your will on the universe is good training for resisting anything else imposing on you.
  • Skill Points: 2 SP (2 CP) (But see below).

Other Abilities (46 CP):

  • Võlur abilities (As above); 18 CP (Most often Mana and Recovery for PC’s).
  • Upgrade Human Fast Learner to +2 SP/Level (3 CP).
  • Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP).
  • Adept x 2 (12 CP). This allows a Võlur to keep eight skills maxed out before any intelligence-based or purchased skill points come into play. While they will probably want one or two to be in crafts or performance skills with which to make models, perform pantomime, or draw pictures, this gives them quite a few
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (1 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded past 3/-.
  • One Bonus Feat. For combative types, there are some good tricks available with things like Augmented Attack, Trick, or Enhanced Strike. More Mana can make for a decent group-enhancement specialist while still leaving some room for direct tricks.

The Võlur’s magic can be surprisingly effective if used cleverly – but a Võlur is basically a Trickster Mage, rather like the Bard and various magical rogue builds in most d20 settings. Of course, in a Dark Ages setting… a Võlur is reasonably powerful and is about the most vesatile mage to be found.

Personally, I find that the most attractive feature of this sort of magic is that the player needs to be clever. They not only have to think of something useful to do with their very limited powers but they have to come up with a little ritual to make it happen. That can bring in a lot of creativity to replace the usual “I cast Spell 17b”…

Medieval Dark Ages Classes – The Bombardier:

Is not the scent of brimstone and the infernal choking smoke enough of a sign? There are devils in gunpowder. They make it explode in hellish flame. The horrible wounds that such cursed weapons inflict tend to fester and rot (although washing them clean with pure holy water sometimes helps) – a sure sign that firearms are full of wickedness! A bishop tested once – simple leaden musket balls fired from ordinary muskets versus balls of blessed silver with a cross carved into them fired from blessed muskets. The profane lead was far more accurate, inflicted more damage, and consistently outranged the silver that had been cleansed of hellish influences. And if those tests were not proof enough… the dark power of firearms and bombs will easily injure monsters that are near-impervious to mundane weapons. Only the greatest of holy weapons can match their destructive power. The foolish few who dare to risk their very souls dabbling in the use of Gunpowder, Explosives, and Firearms are greatly feared.

Liber Ignium, the Book Of Fires:

As a field of Natural Magic, the use of Firearms and Explosives is based on the Witchcraft system.

Journeyman Bombadier: Witchcraft II (12 CP) with +6d6 Power (Powder?) (Specialized / only for use with Gunpowder Weaponry, 6 CP).

A Journeyman Bombardier gets (Str + Con + Dex) / 3 +6d6 Power and three Witchcraft Abilities – two fixed and one chosen.

  • Gunpowder Mastery – Infliction, Variant (uses a ranged attack check instead of a saving throw), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (120′ Range, uses d6 for damage, increases limits by +1 die per category – so a maximum of 4/6/10 dice for 1/2/3 points) / requires the use of a pistol/longarm/light cannon or rocket at base, or a grenade/petard/powderkeg or rocket to get the area effect, effects are extremely noisy, fiery, and smoky, “force” or “fire” damage only, may frighten the parties horses or other animals, costs +1 power in rainy or otherwise wet conditions.
  • Sharpshooter – Hand Of Shadows – Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Enhanced Aim only. Normally, given the vagaries of early gunpowder, the fouling of the barrel, using smaller balls than barrels so that they bounce around when fired, and imprecise early manufacturing techniques, early firearms are horribly inaccurate. With this power a Bombardier negates that problem automatically and may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with Infliction to either gain a +5 bonus to Hit with that shot or to attempt some absurd trick shot without penalty.
  • Plus any one of the following knacks:
    • Cauterizing Charge – Healing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may cleanse an infected wound or stop bleeding automatically, as a move action, at the cost of doing 1d3 Fire damage to the target. This costs no power but the user cannot use other Healing abilites.
    • Demolitions – Dreamfaring, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user’s Infliction effects cause double damage versus objects and bypass hardness. This is a continuous effect with no cost, but the user cannot use other Dreamfaring abilities.
    • Demon’s Breath – Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to turn the smoke from bits of powder into a great cloud of choking, nigh-impenetrable smoke. The user may create such a cloud as a free action or as part of discharging a firearm up to seven times per day for free, each additional 3 uses costs 1 Power. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Shadowweave abilities.
    • Devils Glance – The Inner Eye, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Observe enough men in battle, stressed and tempered by the flames and thunder of the guns, and you will soon come to see the flaws their eyes reveal. The user may make a perception check (opposed by the targets ability to bluff) to see a targets personality flaws – if someone is corrupt, has committed grievous crimes, is open to bribery, is treacherous, lies routinely, is overly lecherous, or suffers from similar personal troubles.
    • Festering Evil – Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may, on a hit with a gunpowder weapon, roll 1d5: 1-2) The wound is clean, and will heal normally. 3-4) The wound will fester and rot, unless heroic efforts are made, 5) the wound will bleed for an additional 1d6 damage per round until stanched. 6) Shock. The wound acts as Bestow Curse until treated.
    • Greek Fire – Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with a gunpowder weapon to cause the target hit to be set on fire. Area effect weapons also add +2d6 Fire Damage when this option is used. Unfortunately, the user may not employ any other Witchfire abilities.
    • Hellfire Gaze – Glamour, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Wielding Hells Fires has it’s side effects. The user gains a +6 bonus to Intimidation checks at no cost and – if holding a gunpowder weapon – may expend 2 power to generate a Command effect against a group of up to six individuals. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Glamour abilities.
    • Leathered Toughness – Hyloka, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user permanently gains Energy Resistance 5 against Fire and Gunpowder-generated Force effects at no cost, but can use no other Hyloka abilities.
    • My Guns They Comfort Me – The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user is automatically immune to Intimidation and other Fear effects so long as he or she possesses a gunpowder weapon but can use no other Adamant Will abilities.
    • Piercing Eye – Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may readily see through smoke and fog, suffering no penalties for such conditions but can use no other Witchsight abilities.

The three further possible expansions of the Bombardiers abilities include:

  • Alchemical Compounding: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the users Gunpowder Weaponry power pool, above, (6 CP).
  • Master Bombardier (Witchcraft III): Adds four additional Bombardier knacks (+6 CP).
  • Sulfurous Deviltry (The Secret Order): Requires Master Bombardier. Adds the remaining five Bombardier Knacks and +4 Power (+6 CP). A master of Sulfurous Deviltry has sworn himself or herself to the powers of flame and metal, and can no longer be Inspired by the Clergy, but is not necessarily an enemy of the faith. They’re just straddling the line.

Bombardiers may take Witchcraft Pacts to reduce the costs of their abilities – but all such pacts are with demonic powers. A Bombardier with any Pact counts as an enemy of the Christian Faith, and – as rule – their selection is limited to Missions, Spirit, Taboos, Rituals, Essence, Souls, Gateway, Corruption, Possession, Spell Failure (Christian Clergymen), Madness, and Susceptibility (Holy Objects and Places). Taking such pacts is rarely a very good idea.

The Build:

The Bombardier commands the most directly destructive battle magic to be found in the setting – the power of black powder and iron. There is literally nothing else of the mortal world that can match the destruction wrought by a high level Bombardier with a cannon short of a the great acts of nature – volcanic eruptions, great earthquakes and landslides, and the greatest strikes of mighty storms. To be a Bombardier is in itself an act of hubris, betting your very soul that you can bend the fires of hell to your will without being taken by them – and many Bombardiers lose that bet.

Basic Attributes: A Bombardier will want Dexterity first and – probably – Constitution second. Other attributes are of considerably less importance.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Dependent (Unless they regularly restock their supplies of lead, saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal, and any destroyed alchemical apparatus Bombardiers suffer a -12 penalty to their daily Pow(d)er allotment), Irreverent, and one disadvantage of choice) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Basic Items (40 CP):

  • BAB: +0 (0 CP), +3 Specialized and Corrupted / only with Gunpowder Weapons (6 CP).
  • Hit Points: 12 (Level One 3d4, 16 CP) + (3 x Con Mod). This also gets them up to Level Three as far as Witchcraft use is concerned – making their pistols quite powerful even at level one.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP). Since their firearms are actually a branch of natural magic, no proficiency is required to use them.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: (Int Mod + 2) x 4 + 6 (6 CP).

Other Abilities (20 CP):

  • Journeyman Bombardier Package (30 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II (6 CP): +4 to Initiative. A Bombardiers basic strategy is pretty much always “shoot – or at least intimidate – them before they close”, and going first is pretty fundamental to that.
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be further upgraded.
  • One bonus Feat or Feat-Equivalent of Choice (6 CP).

The Bombardier is pretty much a Warlock – a wielder of dangerous, highly-damaging, and very likely unholy magics that are principally useful in battle. Their damage isn’t especially enormous compared to a high-strength melee specialist with a big weapon or an focused archer, but it’s generally enough, they’ve got reasonable range, and they can bypass a lot of defenses – including a good bit of armor class. Overall, they have an important role to play in Dark Ages party.

Can non-Bombardiers try to use firearms? Why of course! That’s where all those one-handed, or one-eyed, or badly scarred and permanently limping, or powder-tattooed people come from. Meddling with magic when you don’t have the skill rarely works out well, although occasionally someone gets away with it for a bit.

Oh, as a note… I have seen references stating that some bishop or other actually did conduct that test. Given that the results actually make some sense – there are numerous problems with using silver bullets and carving crosses on them will only make the aerodynamics even worse – who knows? Someone might have really tried it. Early bullet or ball wounds are also a lot worse than arrow wounds when it comes to infection. Cleanly cut tissue versus smashed with bits of wadding, cloth, armor chips, and whatever the target was wearing carried into the wound? Which one seems more prone to infection to you?

Magic Versus Technology In The Modern World

Today it’s another offline question – basically “how do you maintain some sort of balance when you want to throw your favorite magical creatures of choice (Aesir, Noldor, Dragons, My Little Ponies, Genies, whatever) into a modern earth setting?”

Now, you can just arbitrarily decree such a balance if you want. That’s a bit unsatisfying though, and tends to leave all kinds of inconsistencies lying about – which isn’t good for your setting, game, or story. So lets talk about the basis of Magic/Psionics/Whatever-You-Call-Your-Settings-Reality-Altering-Power(s) for a moment.

  • Is it a fundamental property? Because if it is, and yet projected magical fields (“spells”, “disciplines”, or whatever) can have complex interactive effects, those fields have to have a lot of structure to them and carry a lot of information. How much structure or information you can have is related to the variety and number of components you have. That’s why the structure of gravitational fields tend to be fairly simple in comparison to the structure of electromagnetic fields. For complex interactive spell structures… you’ll want at least two values in both positive and negative flavors. Call them “A” and “B”. So scientists – even if they can’t measure, detect, or work with “magic” – will be seeing nine kinds of electrons (A+B+, A+B0, A+B-, A0B+, A0B0, A0B-, A-B+, A-B0, A-B-) with their own exotic interactions – and pretty much every bit of physics, engineering, and biology will be completely different building up from the atomic level. Worse, particles with “A0B0” won’t interact with magic at all, while anything with an “A0” OR a “B0” value will do so only partially. All those classical transformations and such… will simply scramble matter, resulting in instant death.

OK, so it’s an emergent property associated with some level of complexity. That allows us to keep atoms and the periodic table and a lot of basic physics intact.

But if magic is an emergent property, then it won’t interact with things below the necessary level of complexity – so magic will not directly affect gravity, electromagnetism, plasmas (“fire”), electricity (“lightning”), or radiation, among many other things. Spells affecting such things will have to be complex, inefficient, and indirect. Complex materials will respond to magic in various ways. Some will be anti-magical (Iron perhaps?), some will disrupt magic, some will respond to magic, and others will have magical properties – but if the complexity level required to use magic is high enough, that might be able to pass unnoticed for quite some time – possibly up to our current technological level. It will be very hard to justify the existence of immaterial magical spirits, who lack the underlying physical structural complexity to support the magic however. They’d have to be anchored in some sort of “heart” or talisman – which at least explains why ghosts tend to be bound to very limited areas.

  • Is magic simply highly advantageous, or is there some sort of limitation or “price” for using it? Because if it’s highly advantageous, it’s not going to be a secret for long. The magic using variant will rapidly spread through the population (of humans – or of magic-using animals, plants, or fungi) and the non-magic using segment of the species population will soon be reduced to isolated, relic, and soon-to-be-extinct clusters. There have been millions of years for that to happen in. Yet if the world looks like ours, then it hasn’t happened in all that time. Ergo… magic is either not worth bothering with (which makes it a lousy game or story element) or there is indeed some sort of major, unavoidable, price or prices for using it. Something bad enough to more than cancel out whatever advantages it offers, leaving magic use as a rare, recessive, trait. Reduced fertility (perhaps it burns out the souls of your potential children so that most can never be born…)? Massive childhood mortality due to magical diseases and immaterial predatory menaces that don’t affect non-magical creatures? Huge biological opportunity cost (leaving all magic-using things stunted, weak, and sickly compared to non-magical ones)? Drastically limited habitat (perhaps they can only survive at rare springs of magic)? Magical backlash (using magic does hideous things to you)? Karmic Backlash (using magic causes horribly bad luck, so magical creatures get killed a lot?). Perhaps using magic causes you to be sucked into dimensions of elder horrors?

We can reduce the problem by adding special requirements to the use of magic – but each requirement also restricts our options. Does manipulating it require a complex biological or technological mechanism? Forget “natural” or “environmental” magic such as Ley Lines, Magical Pools, and so on. Conscious Thought? Forget magical plants and animals. “Life Force” or a “Soul”? Forget most magical artifacts, wands, and similar. Special foci or power sources? Then no magic when those aren’t available – unless there are possible substitutes.

  • Finally, of course, even limited magic will have had immense social effects – leaving the world looking very different – unless something is keeping it a secret. Sadly, while “Witch Hunts” are a popular excuse, they really won’t do. After all, in reality, there are (and have been) swarms of practicing psychics, astrologers, dowsers, witches, shamen, alchemists, spiritualists, and other figures claiming supernatural powers who have done just fine. If they can get away with that while having no actual powers to sell or to defend themselves with (save, perhaps, force of personality, suggestion, and intimidation) why can’t people who actually have magical powers manage it too? While there were some classical “witch hunts” (if far fewer than in popular legend), they were mostly directed at powerless social outcasts. Going after targets with actual political, financial, or military power didn’t work so well outside of a few cases of kings and such (who had plenty of military and political power of their own already) using “witch hunts” as an excuse to loot a group – and there’s no reason to think that going after people who actually had magical powers would work any better.

So you’re going to need a much better reason than THAT. All kinds of other obscure phenomena have been documented and examined. Perhaps magical resources are limited, and there are not enough to share? Does having magic vastly penalize all social interactions for some reason? Secrecy (the classic meaning of “occult” is simply “hidden”) empowers magic, so revealing its reality weakens it or causes it to vanish entirely or restructure itself? The eldritch beings who provide the power (or magic itself) demands it? If too many people in a region know about true magic, they start going mad and killing each other off? Does humanities racial mind recognize the perils of magic and cast a veil over it, refusing to let normal people become aware of it?

The magicians themselves do not actually have to know why they keep it a secret. There just has to be a reason why either magical societies that do not maintain secrecy get eliminated with 100% reliability – (which simple prosecution will not do) or why non-magical people are 100% unable to become aware of magic – which no reasonable mortal intervention can accomplish.

In any case… we’ve got our first set of restraints. If you want to cram some magic into a world which looks a lot like the (no apparent magic) real one…

  • It must be an emergent property associated with a very high level of structural complexity to maintain physics.
  • It must be limited enough to not be an overwhelming advantage, otherwise it would spread very rapidly through the population
  • It must be associated with a fairly high level of conscious thought, otherwise it would have grossly distorted the evolution of life.
  • It must be self-censoring, maintaining it’s own secrecy from the world.

This is the line of thought that – whether consciously reasoned out or not – leads to the “hidden magical world” or “urban arcana” sort of settings. Elves in racecars? Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Harry Potter? Charles De Lint? It’s an entire genre of fantasy.

The trouble is, that you then have to follow the rules. There won’t be an abrupt flowering of magic, rediscovered ancient atlantean techniques won’t result in a new golden age, and if there’s an “upswing in the availability of magic” like in Shadowrun, the cycle is going to have to be long enough to avoid interfering in evolutionary time (something Shadowrun casually skips by, but given the authors various other misunderstandings, why not?). You won’t have races of magical beings around – or dropping in either.

  • So what if the magic – or the magical beings or artifacts – are from another dimension and obey its rules, not ours? Or are encased in some sort of dimensional bubble? Can’t they at least affect themselves with their magic then?

The trouble there is that our universe is very limited. It’s quantized. That means that it’s only capable of interacting with stuff that exactly matches its quantum values and forces. That’s why Dark Matter – with the same quantum values but differing force-interactions – goes right through everything and only interacts via gravity.

If you want an “extra-dimensional” being to interact with anything in our universe, it has to have essentially identical physics of it’s own or to be adapted to match the local physics in the transfer – and if it’s adapted to the local physics… then what it can do in its own universe is no longer relevant. It has to play by the local rules.

And that’s why “magical visitors come to visit technological earth” stories are so often a mess, with one side or the other (usually the magical side) coming off as being grossly overpowered. It’s because the “technological earth” side is limited by what actually works and to what little “magic” can be worked in via Urban Fantasy – and the magical side has essentially been given divine authority to restructure the universe to accommodate it’s own powers. Worse, you can’t effectively balance that by letting humans learn to do it too. That just means that – in defiance of every observation and the fact that all that technological stuff still works – you’ve just let your humans start ignoring physics too. Humans have tried to work magic in all kinds of ways for thousands of years. Other races in the universe have presumably tried it in their own ways too. It has never worked very well or we would – at best – be citizens of the magical cosmic empire. Visitors cannot teach stuff that won’t work here. Visitors who are reliant on stuff that won’t work here will be in big trouble. They’ll probably die.

And that is the answer to the original question – about why “Magical Beings On Earth” stories tend to have a REALLY hard time balancing things. It’s because the magic used by such beings tends to be powerful, almost wholly advantageous, blatant, and so simple to use that there are simple, naturally-occurring, rocks with magical properties – as well as magical plants, bugs, and diseases.

If magic like that functions in a setting, it’s not going to look anything like the real world. It might, at BEST, look like the magical earth of Operation Chaos, where – in a fairly modern world – a special forces unit of a Werewolf and a Witch are fighting  a resurgent Islamic Caliphate which is attempting to unleash one of the Genies sealed by King Solomon as a superweapon.

So if you want to introduce your magical entities to a recognizable “earth” without leaving major plotholes, you either need to tone them down to the Urban Arcana level or to insert a reason why the rules of the universe are abruptly changing – which people WILL take advantage of to rapidly make your setting completely unrecognizable. Simply stating that “well, the magic was there, but people just weren’t using it for some reason” doesn’t really work if anyone thinks about it too much. You can get away with that in a novel fairly easily – the audience rarely spends all that much time considering “how things work” when they’re reading a fantasy novel – but it’s a lot harder to get away with that sort of thing in a game, where you’re going to have a bunch of clever players trying to figure things out and take advantage of them.

And I hope that helps!

Star Trek Relics in Eclipse

And for today it’s a couple of relics. Unfortunately, unlike most relics, a character needs to be able to use very high-level technology to create or use these – and will need proficiency in Informational Combat to use the Tricorders full abilities. Still, if you just happen to hail from a Star Trek universe, here are a couple of the most popular toys.

Phaser (15 CP / 2 Point Relic):

  • Innate Enchantment: Specialized and Corrupted / only 1750 GP (35,000 Credits or Purchase DC 31) to duplicate the functions of a particular technological item or set of interlinked items with a common theme. The Phaser (or Plasma Laser) is a combination of…
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Pistol With Heavy Stun (4500 CR).
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Rifle with Autofire Module (2250 CR).
    • Plasma Launcher : Minigrenade Launcher (2000 CR) with 20 Fireflush Grenades (24,000 CR).
    • Plasma (Fusion) Torch (120 CR).
    • 30 extra Power Packs (2100 CR)
      • Total: 34,970 Credits. All items from d20 Future rules.
  • With 1d6+2 (6) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only for edits related to the devices Innate Enchantment effects or to the device itself, maximum of major edits (9 CP).
    • Common Minor Edits (1 Mana): Device is recharged/reloaded, an attack on it turns into a stunning energy discharge in a 10′ radius, produce an effect that is almost reasonable for the device in question (using a plasma gun to heat a room, flash-weld a door closed, attack a small area or double the damage or an area effect, hit automatically, or run a steam engine for some time).
    • Common Notable Edits (2 Mana): Device affects a small area rather than an individual target or a greater than usual area, device can be repaired as a standard action, produce an effect which is only remotely possible for the device in question (using a plasma gun to blast a sizeable area, create a wall of fire, hit and crit automatically, disrupt electrical apparatus rather than doing damage.
    • Common Major Edits (3 Mana): Make a plasma gun shoot cold, completely ignore range limitations, fire an overload blast for triple damage, carve out a tunnel, use the gadget to power up other systems, get things to work where they have no business doing so (for example, using a plasma beam under water).
      • Note that, if the device user is also using reality-editing technobabble, the effects are cumulative. Just sum up the total effective mana expenditure to determine the level of the edit.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to recharge the Mana Pool above, takes several minutes of tinkering, requires a roll? (4 CP).

A phaser isn’t one of the most powerful weapons out there – but it can keep firing almost indefinitely, has a “stun” setting for when you don’t want to kill people, and can be used for all kinds of tricks as well as just shooting people. So why do most minions just flash and vanish when shot with a phaser set to “kill”? It’s because they’re MINIONS, and – in a Sci-Fi universe – generally only have a few hit points. That’s why pretty much ANYTHING kills them.

Tricorder (8 CP / 1 CP Relic):

The universal instrument pack would probably be best written as “Privilege: user gets to be the one to relay the plot-relevant information to the group after the game master has decided what he wants the party to know” – but most players would prefer a gadget that actually has some worthwhile effect. For them, we have the Classic Tricorder.

  • Sensor Suite: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (level zero and weak level one effects) / Only for Divinations, requires at least one full round spent fiddling around with the gadget (6 CP).
    • Such effects include Detect (Magic, Psionics, Poison, Disease, Life, Time, Location, Dimensional Disturbances, Metal, Ores, Radiation, Secret Doors, Snares And Pits, Nutritional Value, Undead, Electrical Activity, Bugs, and so on), Find (Fish, Game, Forage, Campsite, Water, Oil, Gold, Personal Items), Know (Diagnosis, Direction, Numbers, Age, Origin, Creature Classification, Plant Classification, Immediate Past, Weather), Assay (Purity, Creature, Plant), and speeding up a search (Sift).
  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only 500 GP Value (2 CP).
  • “Card Computer”: Small PC with various programs. 175 GP.
    • Holorecorder (5 GP).
    • Motion Sensor (20 GP)
    • Piercing Visor (25 GP).
    • Power Backpack (4 GP). (for powering the “detailed scan” below).
    • “Detailed Scan” / “Disintegrator” (250 GP). 3d8 Nonspecific Energy Damage, 30′ Base Range, Crit 20/x2. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Informational Combat Weapon. “Damage” is tracked separately. As it is inflicted, the user gets more and more information about the target. If the target is “killed” the user’s information is reasonably complete. If the user reduces a target to (-hit points) via informational damage he or she is entitled to use technobabble to explain it’s weaknesses and how it can be exploited – and have such explanations often turn out to be correct, even if they weren’t at all correct before / does no actual damage, exposes the user to informational feedback (a free counter-attack from the target) against his or her own hit points / “informational integrity” which can induce a variety of mental and physical problems, ranging up to incapacitation if the user’s informational damage total exceeds his or her hit points.

The Tricorder can detect all sorts of things – but at relatively short range and it often takes a good deal of time to “decipher what the readings mean”. Things can get much stranger if the user actually knows Informational Combat however, since with that… he or she can technobabble whatever is being scanned into complying with his or her ideas of how the universe is supposed to work. That’s why a skilled sensor operator can find a weakness in the enemy shields, or a way to bypass Borg immunities, or or a crack in the event horizon. They’re basically bludgeoning the universe into going along with their version of the “observer effect” and being the way they want it to be. (Unless, of course, the universe wins the informational battle and gets it;s own way). More mundanely… a Tricorder is a high-quality personal computer which can generate maps, spot hidden creatures, and record in various modes. It also has unspecified data libraries (a complete copy of Wikipedia perhaps?), which can be used to try and get back to the world that ought to be, if only Spock can collect enough stone knives and bearskins.