Building Mystic Martial Adepts

If you had to design something resembling the nine swords classes, but were only given the flavor text, what would be the limitations?’

Also, on the book of nine swords stuff, I am curious if the disciplines could be sensibly bought as stunts, with the immunity to limitations, and perhaps some extra limits from the book to increase effect to what is seen.


Ah. I was more or less covering why there really isn’t a part of the list that makes their abilities Specialized and a part that makes them Corrupted. It’s just that the list is long enough that they should count as being both Specialized and Corrupted in the vast majority of games.

Going with “Just the Fluff”… well , for the Swordsage we have…

A master of martial maneuvers, the swordsage is a physical adept – a blade wizard whose knowledge of the Sublime Way lets him unlock potent abilities, many of which are overtly supernatural or magical in nature. Depending on which disciplines he chooses to study, a Swordsage might be capable of walking through walls, leaping dozens of feet into the air, shattering boulders with a single touch, or even mastering the elements of fire or shadow. Whatever his specific training, a swordsage blurs the line between martial prowess and magical skill.

-The Book Of Nine Swords.

Honestly, substitute “Martial” for “Blade” and “Kung Fu Master” for “Swordsage” and this describes pretty much any eastern-style over-the-top martial artist from Hong Kong action comic books, movies like Kung Fu Hustle, various fighting games, or many other sources.

In comic, movie, and game terms this is saying “I have a bunch of different cool (and effective) tricks that I can use in a fight and maybe even a few tricks for things other than combat – and thus I am far less dull than a standard fighter type who is usually optimized for a particular tactic or two, and so repeats that tactic or tactics over and over again until the boredom is excruciating.

In practice, if you have effectively unlimited use of your abilities, (I tend to prefer some form of resource management mechanic, but that’s just me) there are several potential problems that you will want to consider. So looking at the limitations in terms of building an interesting character and avoiding boredom…

  • Boredom Problem: I don’t have to think about what to do! I have a tailored ability as a solution for every possible problem!
    • Solution: A fairly strict limit on the number of abilities you have. Of course, knowing too few is also boring, so there’s a delicate balance here. In Eclipse, that usually means having to purchase each ability with character points.
  • Boredom Problem: There’s a fairly obvious “best sequence” for each of the basic sets of problems that my abilities cover. Swarm of enemies? Start out with the area-effect blast. Main target hanging back? Hypercharge them. Single enemy flying when I can’t? Focused ranged strike.
    • Solution: Apply some sort of randomizer to what abilities you have available at any given moment. Sometimes you will just have to improvise, focus on a lesser enemy, or otherwise make the best of a sub-optimal tactical situation.
  • Boredom Problem: You can just spam your most appropriate ability, and so wind up doing the same thing over and over in a fight. It’s being a straight fighter all over again!
    • Solution: a relatively slow, and possibly random, ability recovery mechanism – basically a cool down time, For extra amusement provide a way to either recover more quickly or boost abilities by doing things other than attacking, so there’s a reason to maneuver, taunt your opponents, and do things other than “swing my sword again”.
  • Boredom Problem: All these characters look a lot alike! They all want the “best” abilities and avoid the “worst” ones!
    • Solution: Thematic limitations and ability sequences. That way no one character can have all the “best” abilities, they’ll all be distinct, they will have to invest in some basic abilities to get at the “best” ones – and they’ll have to do other things while recovering their now more-limited supply of “good” abilities. Besides, jumping straight to the most powerful abilities does not fit into D20 very well.

So your set of limitations is going to need to address those four basic issues. It will also have to include level restrictions on the more powerful maneuvers since that is a standard d20 requirement – but that really doesn’t count for anything because it IS a standard requirement.

Addressing those four problems will probably suffice to Corrupt and Specialize the Path Of The Dragon approach to getting those abilities – but it’s important to note that they’re really there to help keep the character interesting to play. Making their special abilities cheaper and/or more powerful is just a side effect.

As for other ways to build empowered martial artists…

Buying at least the basics of the Book of Nine Swords Disciplines as Skill Stunts is easy enough: buy the relevant Immunity as listed in the Skill Stunts articles (probably buying it at “very common” to cover all your martial-arts related skills), buy several martial arts and some boosters like Augmented Bonus for them, buy a lot of Mana to power things with, and consult with your game master to determine the DC of the various stunts. You could probably boost the power of your stunts with a limitation on the basic Stunt ability – although being unable to repeat a particular stunt at will is going to be meaningless unless you first limit the number of different stunts you can pull off. Stunts are, after all, normally open ended; I’m simply listing some examples in those articles.

You could also buy an immunity to the normal limits of Martial Arts skills, allowing you to produce supernatural effects related to the theme of the martial art without spending Mana – but that’s going to require a very high skill score to get away from the need for (often limited use) skill-boosters to achieve the DC’s of those stunts. The really spectacular stuff is going to be very hard to achieve this way – but it will work nicely for a less fantastic martial artist who can keep coming up with new tricks.

Of course, it’s going to be hard to get most game masters to approve of the more esoteric martial maneuvers as stunts in this way. They’re likely to question as to why riding around on a cloud of smoke and ash, or generating a firestorm, is really relevant to a style of armed or unarmed combat – and I’d have to admit that they’d have a point. That doesn’t necessarily limit you as much as you’d think – that firestorm is just a way to attack many creatures at once, and that cloud may just let you bypass rough terrain, both of which could equally well be defined as “whirling dervish assault” and “balancing on needles technique” – but it’s still a limit.

The last time I wanted something like Martial Maneuvers I skipped over Skill Stunts and just went with direct reality-bending (as in Gun Fu and the more general Martial Maneuvers)s – but that isn’t true “unlimited use”, although it can come pretty close in practical terms.

If you just want to build a supernatural combat style you could use Inherent Spell to do it: Buy a sequence of Inherent Spells with either Multiple or +4 (or a relevant attribute modifier) Bonus Uses each, and Specialize and Corrupt them. That will give each effect a base of five uses per day each. Personally, I’d suggest Corrupted / “Cannot use any effect of higher level than (1 + Rounds Spent Fighting)” (which gives you the classic anime style gradual escalation of powers) and Specialized according to the “Per Encounter” rule from the Eclipse Web Expansion (page 11) – “Any immediate ability which can be used three or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used once per “encounter”. If it could normally be used five or more times per day and is reduced to once “per encounter” it may be considered Specialized. Anything usable ten or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used 3 times per encounter or Specialized if it can only be used twice per encounter.”

That way abilities are normally once per “encounter”, but you can just double the cost of any given ability in the sequence to get it up to three times per encounter.

Using that structure a pair of first level maneuvers would cost 4 CP, a pair of second level maneuvers would cost 8 CP, 3’rd, 4’th, 5’th, and 6’th level maneuvers would cost 4 CP each, and 7’th and 8’th would cost 6 CP each, and a 9’th level maneuver would cost 8 CP. A basic discipline in this system would thus include 2 1’st and 2 2’nd level effects and one effect each of levels 3-0 at a net cost of 48 CP. Admittedly, you’d only have eleven different spells / “maneuvers” at 48 CP (each at five uses/day) – but you could readily master two or three such disciplines or double up on a favorite to raise its uses to three times per “encounter”. While the baseline maneuvers would either take actions to activate or be slightly weaker to account for combining them with an attack, this is easy enough to address with Opportunist or Reflex Training.

Interestingly, this means that a standard 3.0/3.5 Fighter build – which underspends by 53 CP – can be brought up to normal power levels by giving them one complete martial discipline in this style and Opportunist to let them take personal-enhancing effects – “stances” and such – as free actions at a cost of 54 CP (so they’d need to drop a skill point for perfect balance). They could add a second by spending a good chunk of their Fighter Bonus Feats on it. It also means that you could master at least three styles for the cost of using the Book Of Nine Swords style of building stances and maneuvers – and this method lets you cooperate with your game master to define your own powers.

Lets see…

Beast Of Rage Style:

  • L1) Wrath (The Practical Enchanter) and Embrace The Wild (Spell Compendium).
  • L2) Bite of the Wererat (Spell Compendium) and Blinding Spittle (Spell Compendium).
  • L3) Personal-Only Stone Ox (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L4) Boundless Energy (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L5) Bite of the Weretiger (Spell Compendium).
  • L6) Resilience Of The Beast (As per Heal, but only affects the caster and the effects are spread over time; each round the spell will restore the players choice of 10 points of damage or any one of the usual conditions that Heal cures until the healing capacity or list of effects is exhausted or ten rounds have passed with no use of the spells remaining healing capacity).
  • L7) Wrath Of Grod (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L8) Wrath Of The Great Beast (Form Of The Dragon III, Pathfinder).
  • L9) Stride Of The Colossus (The Practical Enchanter).

Similarly, Battleship Potemkin Style probably includes massive defenses, the ability to hurl rocks either with great force or so violently that they explode, walking on water, another variant on self-healing (damage control), and immediate-action extra hit points. Cumulonimbus Style focuses on mastering wind, thunder, lightning and flight powers. Whisper Of Corrosion Style employs corrosive effects and disintegration. Hungry Ghost Style covers invisibility, etherealness, dimension dooring, and a variety of draining effects.

Now the original Book Of Nine Swords styles presented more options than one of these styles – but individual characters never got to actually have more than a fraction of them, making the actual number of abilities you get fairly similar. As for the range of ability choices… it’s pretty hard to beat “freeform” when it comes to that. You don’t like a few of my choices for “Beast Of Rage” Style? Call your version “Eastern Beast Of Rage” Style (or something like that) and tweak it to suit yourself.

Throw in a few Stances – an unlimited-use counterpart to the Martial Maneuvers that are usually less direct, if still quite potent – and you have an excellent martial adept right there.

For some more specific examples…

  • HERE we have a level four martial artist who is using martial arts skills as an independent, semi-freeform, magic system. Buy up the level of effects he can produce and buy some Mana and Rite of Chi to recover it as he goes up in levels, and he could readily become a full-blown martial adept in his own way.
  • HERE we have yet another approach – a fifth level martial artist with a wide variety of “bad touch” effects that can block the use of magic and psionics for the rest of the day, kill, paralyze, cause amnesia, and many other effects backed up with the ability to raise a short term Wall Of Force as a quick defense, Dimension Door, Enervation, Globe Of Invulnerability, and several other handy tricks. On the other hand, with no real theme to his abilities beyond “that looks handy” it’s not exactly clear where he’d go from this point. He’d do well in a low to mid-level game though.
  • HERE we have a first level martial artist of a race of Natural Martial Artists built using Witchcraft. While most of his tricks are fairly low-powered he has a LOT of them for level one and will easily be able to expand his selection later.
  • The article on Monk Tricks covers how to build a monk-type character with some added options – and a lot of points left over to buy other stuff. A classic “Monk” type the with Battleship Potemkin style on tap sounds like it might be fun…
  • And for a few random examples… we have Lingering Smoke (a Sidereal who wandered in from an Exalted gme), Dante Allegori (a magical weaponsmaster employing the Sixty Successive Sacrileges), Sir Laurent Onn (a generator of enhancing magical auras), the Fey Swordsman (a fairly minor magical martial artist), Noita Verduur (a shapeshifting psychic assassin), and “The Wraith” (a short range teleporter), all of whom represent still other approaches to building warriors with exotic powers to augment their abilities.

Really, this is more a question of what exactly you’re trying to build. Eclipse supports a lot of different approaches to building a mystic warrior.

And I hope that’s some help anyway! If you’ve got something specific in mind though I’ll need some more details.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.


Ponyfinder in Equestria – Zebras and their lands.

Next up on the Ponyfinder pony types we have the Zebra.

The dry plains of tropical Alkebalkan, with their seasonal rains, lakes, and streams, may support nomads and the occasional village built around a reliable water source, but the true Zebra civilization is are built along the mighty rivers and tributaries that cascade from the interior mountains and jungles to nourish the great river valleys of the Neighle, the Cantor, and the Niker. There, along the green veins of fertile land isolated by distance and the surrounding dryland hills and mountains from the great and terrible jungles, lost or hidden civilizations, and magical mysteries and storms of the deep interior, can be found the ancient cities, fertile irrigated fields, and megalithic enchantments that have been the sanctuary of the Zebra across four ages of the world and throughout uncounted cataclysms.

Here, in the lands of dusty Kemet, where even the greatest external powers and disturbances are muted by ancient wards and the timeless rhythms of an antique land, the Zebra have built what may well be the oldest extant civilization in the world – said in their most ancient tales to have been founded mere weeks after the world and the peoples of Equus were brought forth from the alchemy of creation, when the ancient gods brewed their ingredients in the Abyss of the Void – Tehom, Tiamat, the Giningugap – upon the Colorless Radiance of Exploding Suns, the Light of Rey, and the Fires of Muspell, to bring forth a new world and its Peoples.

Ptah the Artificer, the Opener of the Ways, guided the Zebras – his chosen folk – to their destined homes, and along those rich valleys the ancient Zebra settled, gathering in tribal villages where the ley lines and power-nexi of the lands were bountiful enough to be harnessed with crude and primitive megalithic sigils hacked from the virgin stones of the hills. There the Zebra spread, and multiplied.

Every race of Equus has it’s gifts. That of the Zebra is slow and subtle, but more versatile than most – an ability to sense and combine the natural magical properties of the plants, animals, and minerals of the world around them. While any given individual may develop different aspects of that power, the creation of alchemical magics, wards major, magical architecture, megalithic enchantments channeling the occult energies of the land, and personal sanctums are all natural developments of their abilities – as are shamanic talents and even calling upon the spirits of the dead.

And of those potentials… the compounding of alchemical magics from local reagents, calling upon spirits, and creating personal sanctums were by far the easiest for a primitive villager to pursue, and so became the foundation of Zebra civilization.

With a built-in incentive to seek out rare reagents and the secrets of distant lands, and the great riverways that were the blessing of Ptah to provide an easy path and constant guide, the Beaker Traders, Seekers of Alchemy, soon united the Zebra lands in a loose web of trade and social contacts. Cities grew, and created support networks of geomantic structures and wards.

Centuries later, the Naquadah villages found the secret of the amplifying reagent that bears their name – and with that discovery Ptah stated that the Zebra required his presence no longer, stepped down from leadership, and returned to his home in the places beyond the stars to begin to create anew.

Ponis, lord of Marephis – the largest and wealthiest city of Kemet – and once the Vizier of Ptah, took Ptah’s place as the leader of the Council of the Neighle Tribes, coordinator of the geomantic network that helped maintain the prosperity of the realm. His son turned his role into that of the High Chieftain – and HIS son forged the Crimson Philosophers Crown of the Neighle – an artifact which granted him direct awareness, and limited control, of the geomantic systems that regulated the flooding of the Neighle, provided safety from the beasts of the jungles, and brought prosperity in so many ways to the lands along the Neighle.

And thus Djer became the first true Pharaoh of the Neighle, a god-king regarded as being little less divine than Ptah himself – for the hooves of Ptah had wrought life and land, but from the hooves of Djer flowed wealth. There was an abundance of grain and fruit, fine stone and strong wood, copper and gold – and luxuries to trade for the vital reagents which empowered the alchemy that brought health, long life, pleasure, fertility, and more to the peoples of Kemet.

Soon enough, the Zebras of the Cantor and Niker river valleys sought out the secrets of the Philosophers Crown and forged the Verdant and Azure Crowns to regulate their lands along those great rivers as well – and the wealth, power, and culture of Kemet would echo in legend across the ages.

But Anedjib of the Neighle entitled himself Nebuy – “The Second Lord” – and in madness and unbridled ambition sought to ascend to join Ptah in the places of the Gods beyond the stars. He set his mystic architects to constructing a megalithic gate empowered by Naquadah – the “Bent Pyramid” – intended to force open the way into the heavens that he might become equal with Ptah.

But such hubris was properly punished. The gate opened into the dark between the realms, not into the places of the gods – and through it came the Crawling Chaos, Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh, who cast aside the Crown of the Philosophers and ruled by raw might, dispatching his Apophi – the Flying Serpents that hunted at his will – as a scourge against any who dared defy his dark will in word or deed.

The three crowns of Kemet were united in friendship to stand against Nephren-Ka, revealing that in their harmonious combination lay all the colors and strengths of the worlds magic. The Zebra rose against the Dark One. At the end of that struggle the Black Pharaoh was cast out into the void once more – but there was a price for that choice and victory. The thousand varied colors of the Zebra were touched by the outer darkness, and divided between that and light. Henceforth the very flesh of the Zebra would display only the light and darkness, entangled upon their hides as they were in every mortal heart, neither one thing nor another.

And the first of the Nameless Kings donned the now-unified Triple Crown of the Neighle, Cantor, and Niker – claiming only the title Nebra, the Sun King of the Three Riverlands. Lord of United Kemet.

But the division between the Light and the Darkness persisted. The border tribes turned often to the Darkness, drawing on its dangerous power of Spirits and Tulpa, Channeling and Landrule, as a weapon and defense against the beasts and dangers of the great jungles of the interior and the perils of the wilds. But within the great cities that formed the beating heart of Kemet, the subtle arts of the light were preferred, and architects, alchemists, and warders gathered to share their enlightenment and teach their arts.

There were centuries of quarrels and minor conflicts between the city-dwellers and the nomads of the dry lands – but the Triple Crown and the undoubted might of the Nebra Philosopher Kings held a fragile unity.

The long centuries of disharmony drew at last to an end when the Griffon Invasions struck at the great cities, leading them to extend a hasty invitation to the darker arts of the nomads and their shamans – and the ancient order of the Beaker Traders gathered in defense of Kemet’s core, calling in countless favors and the spirits controlled by the dark arts of the nomadic desert tribes.

The battles were bloody and terrible, but eventually the Nebra Alchemist formerly known as Prince Neighbetre donned the triple crown and sacrificed his right hoof and eye in the ritual to hurl the malignant, near-eternal, unquenchable blaze of Fiendfyre – refined Marenium distilled into the most terrible alchemical weapon that the world had ever known – from the sky upon the griffon encampments and brought the Griffon Wars to an end and peace to the Middle Kingdom.

Even now, despite the passing of ages, the terrible blue light of pockets of Fiendfyre glows still beneath the surface of Equus in places in the hills and badlands, waiting to burn, twist, and poison the unwary – or to mutate the occasional passing animal into a monstrous horror.

And in the Middle Kingdom… the Darkness was balanced against the Light. Dark Stelea rose within the desert just past the borders, and pyramid-tombs were constructed to hold the ranks of the Ushabtiu – the alchemical focus-bodies through which the dead might be called in defence of their descendents – in stasis against a future need. Richly rewarded and funded, the surviving Beaker Traders reached outwards, sailing their wicker ships of dark, alchemically-treated, reeds into the dangerous realms beyond the shores of Kemet.

The Pharoah became indeed the Nebra, advised and supported by a spirit-council of the deceased kings who had come before – although this did lead to occasional power struggles when the Light and Dark factions amongst those councilors favored different candidates. Fortunately, those were always limited to struggles between the great houses, and were never allowed to become general civil wars.

With their lands warded by megalithic magic tied to the very roots of the world, even the reign of Discord across the seas in Equestria had little effect on Kemet. During that time the reigning Nebra opened his realm to give sanctuary to many thousands of refugees, and opened his warehouses – filled with the surpluses of long centuries of prosperity – to feed and supply them.

But a new Nebra arose over Kemet, who – when Discord was sealed in stone – gave in to the voices of tradition and sent the refugees home to rebuild, even if she WAS generous with supplies and assistance.

Most of those refugees were glad enough to go. They found Zebrica / Kemet’s casual acceptance of the wandering dead (no matter if they were powered by alchemy and links to the outer planes rather than by negative energy) more than a little disquieting – and the widespread acceptance of the arts of darkness quite terrifying, no matter if it’s sigils were emblazoned upon their hosts very hides and obviously natural to them. The tales they took home painted Zebrica as a haunted place, filled with ancient tombs and dungeons where the Darkness was permitted to reign freely over the countryside surrounding the great cities that were only protected by the consecrated light of the ancient Temples of Ptah.

There was enough truth to the tales for the legends persist to this day, casting Zebra traders and wanderers as potential evil enchanters and implying that a visit to Kemet might as well be an expedition into the depths of the underworld – encouraging the isolation which has helped maintain Kemet’s changeless social stability to this day.

Still, not even the ancient wards and megalithic anchors of Zebrica can forever hold back the tides of change. Today, as ever-increasing numbers of visitors, scholars, and outside traders visit ancient Kemet, the Council of Deceased Nebra has once again split between whether they need a Warrior-King to defend their land against menacing changes or a Philosopher-King to lead its adaption to them – and so the assassin’s blades are being sharpened and poisons brewed in anticipation of the coming power struggle when the current Nebra joins his advisors in death and competing candidates seek to claim the office of Nebra and the Triple Crown of Kemet.

The rumors say that it will not be long now.

Kemet / Zebrica is currently welcoming adventurers/pawns from beyond it’s borders, is overrun with forgotten ancient complexes where dark powers have gotten out of control that need to be raided and brought back under control, is stuffed full of ancient temples, lost treasures, hidden tombs whose owners only bother with reaching down to defend them out of habit (as a rule, if the dead stop picking up their mail and paying their taxes for more than fifty years, their tombs are considered abandoned, and raiding permits are made readily available), fabulous intoxicants, willing companions (since contraceptive and STD-preventing or curing potions are extremely cheap), elder artifacts, and ancient wards. It offers a ready supply of potions and other disposable alchemical goodies for the connoisseur, skillful weapon and armor-smiths with some experience with other races, and has pretty much everything else that an adventurer could want.

It’s a good deal more dangerous than most of Equestria, simply because the people of Kemet tend to regard killing someone in much the same way that other cultures regard eunuching a male. The victim is cut off from some of the pleasures of life, can no longer have children, loses eligibility for some jobs, and takes a social hit – but they can still come to family gatherings and participate in most things. That’s one of the reasons why Kemet is BETTER. It’s not like being dead in most places!

Zebra Racial Template (32 CP / +1 ECL, normally added to the Basic Pony Template).

The Subtle Weave:

  • Pulse Of The World: Occult Sense / Natural Magic (6 CP). Zebras can automatically identify plants and animals (or pieces thereof) and can sense the inherent magical properties of plants, animals, minerals, and the land itself, although they may need to make a perception check for unfamiliar items. As a side benefit, they gain a +2 bonus on Survival, Herbalism, Heal, and any checks required to use their Natural Alchemy ability, below.
  • Natural Alchemy: Create Artifact, Specialized and Corrupted / only for “alchemical” creations compounded from natural magical components (2 CP). Note that this doesn’t require that the user be a “spellcaster”, or call for expending money on unspecified ingredients; this is first edition style alchemy; if you need manticore venom, a pinch of powdered hematite, and petals from a blue rose, than that’s what you need; the effect and caster level will take care of itself.
  • Alchemical Gatherer / Minor Privilege (3 CP). A traveling Zebra, or one who lives in the wilds, can automatically collect rare herbs, fungi, and other bits and pieces with which to make various alchemical artifacts. This provides an Average lifestyle by default and means that a Zebra will always be stocked with a selection of useful components – enough to keep a stock of (Wisdom) Trivial and (Wis Mod +2) Minor alchemical artifacts available every day.
  • Tribal Lore / Specific Knowledge of (Int + 3) trivial mystical formula (free) and (Int Mod + 3) minor mystical formulas (1 CP). Pretty much every Zebra colt or filly will pick up the formulas for a selection of trivial alchemical creations using readily-found local reagents during childhood. True, the adventuring applications for spooky faces vapor, instant cleaning powder, tasty sparkling beverages, day-of-flavor chewing gum, a minor healing effect suitable for fixing cuts, bruises, and small blemishes, and similar stuff is limited, but even the “Minor” formula – reasonably effective curatives, icing over a surface, extremely slippery grease (and other effects approximately equivalent to first or second level spells) can be quite useful. While major creations will cost 1 SP each, any Zebra who really cares to make an effort can learn a small library worth of useful formulas.

Initiate Of Mysteries:

  • Guidance of Ptah / Witchcraft II. Every Zebra has a bit of Psychic Strength (although on Equus they generally power their abilities with Mana) and three basic witchcraft powers to use. In terms of the setting, Zebra acquire the powers they were meant to have – although training can help focus and develop them. In game terms, of course, the choice is up to the player – as is any Corruption or Specialization they may choose to apply. Witchcraft powers, of course, tend to be short ranged and relatively weak, if normally quite versatile (12 CP).
    • A Shaman might have Dreamfaring, Glamour, and the Inner Eye, all specialized in dealing with Spirits for Increased Effect. With the power to see, hear, touch, communicate with, and influence the spirits of nature and the dead, you’ve pretty much got the basic shamanism down right there.
    • A Scout might have The Adamant Will, Shadowweave (focused on Stealth), and Witchsight, – gaining the ability to conceal his or her aura and resist mental attacks, the ability to travel unseen, and an array of enhanced senses.
    • A Warrior might have Elfshot (Specialized for Increased Effect / only to add specific injury effects when he or she damages a target), Healing (Specialized for Increased Effect / only for use on themselves so they can keep going despite massive injuries, and Witchfire (Specialized in charging weapons with various energies, giving them the equivalent of a +2 enchantment, +1 of which may be a special power).
    • A Poisons Expert might have Healing or Hyloka (in either case specialized so as to provide some immunity to their own poisons), Witchfire (specialized in extracting and infusing poisons, including making small toxic clouds), and Witchsight (allows the easy detection and treatment of poisons and the gathering of ingredients for poisons).
  • Many Zebra take a Pact – typically Guardianship, Missions, Taboos, Duties, Rituals, or Essence – to gain an additional advanced power. For some examples…
    • Master Alchemist: Path of Water / Brewing allows a Zebra to make his or her trivial and minor, alchemical artifacts on the spot, so that they can stop deciding what they’ve got ready in advance and just produce things as needed.
    • Bestial Mindlink: A Scout might take a Witchcraft Companion – probably a hawk or some other swift-flying creature – so as to be able to readily survey distant areas and have it carry messages.
    • Lore of Battle: A Warrior might have the ability to draw on the strength of his or her ancestors, shouting out an ancient battle-cry to activate Wrath of the Sea (+6 Str) or some similar benefit.
    • Within The Blood: Poison experts often become so saturated with venom that their very touch becomes deadly. That’s Venomed Touch, Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user cannot safely give blood, is slightly hazardous to bandage or use the Heal skill on (possibly making the would-be “Good Samaritan” quite ill on a “1″), and leaves the user sterile – perhaps just as well, as any personal involvement would be likely to make their partner quite ill in any case.

Many And Varied Talents:

  • Zebra Bonus Feat: Zebra get one bonus feat taken from among the many gifts of their minor gods. While there are quite a few available (including many of the advanced withcraft powers), some common examples include:
    • Word of Hathor (or Ma’at) the Guardian of Life’s Order: Sanctum. From the early days many a Zebra has found their roots in the land, allowing them to create a personal Place of Power in which to practice their arts. This is perhaps the most common of all the divine gifts, found in many young Zebra who grow up to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, knowing their place in the world and content with it. Thus you find farmers, smiths, shopkeepers, and more who have sunk their roots into the earth of their homes and found unmatched skills and gifts in that bond.
    • Hoof of Ptah the Traveler: The defining gift of the ancient explorers and wanderers of the Zebra tribes – the Beaker Traders. Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment / 5000 GP Value)/only for Innate Enchantment. By rearranging their various talismans and ornaments a Beaker Trader may start each day anew with a selection of “magical items” valued at up to 5000 GP – although, while “uses per day” is allowable, all such items must be permanent in nature (6 CP). Note that – in foreign lands – a “100 GP” +1 Competence Bonus to Speak Language (allowing the user to speak the local language) is a definite favorite.
    • Lore of Amunet, the Illuminator of Chaos: Adept. The user may select four skills which may be purchased at half price form now on. Normally one is social, one magical, one physical, and one mental, reflecting the balance of Ma’at (6 CP).
    • Keys of Anubis, The Book of Going Forth By Day: Anubis grants the ability to call on the wisdom and assistance of the spirits of the dead – usually those who are willing to aid their descendants. Leadership with the Exotic Type (Spirits) modifier, Corrupted/Spirits ONLY and they definitely have minds of their own (6 CP).
    • Gift of Seshat, Lady of Wisdom: Seshat grants expertise in magical architecture, allowing those she favors to build mighty structures. Mystic Artist / Architecture, Specialized in megalithic stone structures. Simple wood or clay brick does not endure, and is not favored by Seshat (3 CP) and Professional / Architecture and Engineering, Specialized in megalithic stone structures (3 CP).
    • Bite of Wadjet, The Serpent of the Delta: Poison Use. A Zebra blessed byWadjet need never fear self-poisoning (6 CP).
    • Whisper of Sekhemet, Lore Unchained: Those who hear the voice of Sekhemet upon the winds are granted knowledge of the myriad alchemical wonders, both bright and terrible, which can be compounded from the stuff of the world about. Still, those who hear are regarded with caution; Sekhemet cares not if you listen to the lore of life and healing, or death and poisons, whether you brew balefire destruction or gifts of fertility and fruits for the fields. All that matters… is that you hear. Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (+3 SP/Level), only to buy Alchemical Formula (6 CP).
    • Word of Isis, Lady of Magic: Those touched by Isis gain hidden powers of witchery, whether for good or ill, gaining Witchcraft III, and additional four basic witchcraft powers (6 CP)
    • The Touch of Geb, The Walker of the Dawn: Landwarding: Geb grants attunement to the deep currents of magic which flow through the earth and the ability to coax a bit of that power into experession through petroglyphs, statues, shrines, and landscaping – a discipline also known as Feng Shui. Major Privilege (6 CP): A Zebra touched by Geb may spend an hour or so each day to shape the energies of the land – bestowing abilities equivalent to those bestowed by a Ward Major on the protected area. In general, whenever a new power is added (whether by adding more support to an existing landward or by creating a new one), there is a 50% chance per power that the creators will be able to choose it and a similar chance of it being determined randomly. Once that determination is made, the properties of a Ward are fixed.
      • One Landwarder can protect an encampment, house and gardens, or other small area, granting a single minor power. A landwarder who dies on the job counts towards this total.
      • Two Landwarders grant a second minor power OR expand the protected area to a village and it’s fields, a, mansion and it’s grounds, or a small castle. One landwarder who dies on the job can count towards this total.
      • Four Landwarders can do both. Two landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Seven Landwarders can grant a third minor power OR expand the protected area to a town and it’s outworks or a great castle. Three landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Nine Landwarders can do both. Four landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twelve Landwarders can grant a fourth minor power OR expand the protected area to a city, a small valley, or a cluster of farming villages and their fields. Five landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Sixteen Landwarders can do both. Seven landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twenty-One Landwarders can expand the protected area to a metropolis, a town and the farming hamlets that cluster around it, or a large valley OR grant a Major Power in addition to the four Minor Powers. Up to nine landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Twenty-five Landwarders can do both. Up to ten landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Thirty-Six Landwarders, can add a second Major Power in addition to the four Minor Powers. Up to twelve landwarders who died on the job may count for this total. Unfortunately, the area protected cannot be expanded past a metropolis, a town and the farming hamlets that cluster around it, or a large valley
      • Forty-Nine Landwarders can add a third Major power to the four Minor Powers. Up to eighteen landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
      • Finally, Sixty-Four or more Landwarders can create a ward-equivalent which grants five minor and three major ward powers – but this is the effective limit of their abilities. Up to twenty-four landwarders who died on the job may count for this total.
        • Landwarding can be built with Innate Enchantment or Mana and Reality Editing and probably in other ways if I wanted to bother – but all of them produce roughly similar results at a comparable cost and are far, FAR, more complicated – and this is bad enough already.
    • The Breath of Set, Wrath of the Burning Sands: Witchcraft / The Birth Of Flames. The construct always appears to be a thing of whirling sands and black fire. The touched by Set are subtly urged towards the most destructive solutions and frontal assaults and often seem to be heralds of battle and death (6 CP).
    • The Tongue of Apep, Heir of the Crawling Chaos: The Black Pharaoh has left his mark, and it can not always be denied. Some ill-aspected births will bear this burden. Mana-Powered Negative Energy Channeling (3 CP) with Conversion to a single negative-energy related psychic effect of up to level two (3 CP) is not all that powerful – but it is the start of a path to a wide variety of terrible powers. Those who advance too far along this path… will become little more than a thing of living shadows, the light which once displayed itself upon their very hides lost to darkness (6 CP).
    • Dice of Bes, Lord of Fortunes: Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Corrupted/only for Skill Checks and Saving Throws (6 CP).
    • Fountains of Tefnut, the Waters of Life: The waters of Tefnut rain down around those she favors, washing away evil. Presence, Specialized for Increased Effect (two first level spells; Create Water and Bless Water)/ the user may only pick Wis Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) targets within ten feet each round, although this selection is a free action. Each such target will be automatically hit with two gallons of water per level of the user which also has the effect of a flask of holy water. Sadly, this is of little use for resale thanks to the enormous dilution (6 CP).

The Ushabtiu Feats: Basically this is that art of binding a body on the material plane to a controlling spirit (normally a dead person) on the outer planes using a sympathetic link- most often a bit of the spirits original body that’s been preserved somehow. There are a lot of variants.

  • Gift of Kauket-Re the Black Sun: Corpse Ushabtiu (6 CP): Binding a deceased body to it’s original spirit creates quasi-undead. This is easy – it’s been known to happen spontaneously – but people rarely react to it very well, and for good reason; quasi-undead corpses/skeletons/zombies are ready receptacles for negative energy. Unless carefully and regularly purged of such forces, they tend to devolve into full-scale undead – either generating their own echo of the linked spirit and becoming “standard” undead horrors or (on particularly horrific occasions) drawing the original spirit back from the outer planes to become free-willed, level-advancing, evil abominations. This technique calls for:
    • Ritual Magic, Specialized in Necromantic Rituals for Reduced Cost (3 CP).
    • Power Words, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (stores rituals as if they were third level spells) / only for Necromantic Effects, requires various alchemical or otherwise unpleasant components (3 CP). Most makers of Corpse Ushabtiu keep a few prepared rituals (the precursors of “memorized spells”) at the ready. The more sensible ones usually have ways of dealing with something going wrong ready. Crazier ones often have some way to summon a bunch of skeletons or something.
    • While this is the most primitive, cheapest, easiest, and most general of the Ushabtiu disciplines, it’s also the most problematic, easily abused, and messiest. The ease and cheapness keeps it in unsettlingly widespread use, the amount of “toxic waste” it generates keeps it unpopular. Many or most practitioners are less than reputable.
  • Hoof of Anput-Hesat, bringer of Life through Death, Goddess of Predation. Animal Ushabtiu (6 CP): Binding an animal’s body to a spirit after using alchemy to permanently destroy much of it’s mind is fairly inexpensive and provides a fair chunk of the sensations of true life for the directing spirit- but is obviously temporary and generally clumsy; most animals don’t live all that long and very few are capable of using most tools and powers. Animal Ushabtiu are even more awkward on Equus, where most sizeable animals are intelligent and civilized. This technique calls for:
    • Basic Zebra Alchemy to sedate and decerebrate the animals (no cost).
    • Witchcraft / Summoning, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used for this particular trick (2 CP).
    • Witchcraft / Flesh Like Mist, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, can only be used in conjunction with Blessing (below) to make the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used to create “anthro” (or, on Equus, “Zebroid”) animal forms and make other minor tweaks to suit the spirit (2 CP). .
    • Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted / only to allow the use of Flesh Like Mist (Above) on prepared animal bodies, requires mildly expensive rituals and alchemical preparations (2 CP).
  • Breath of Tatenen: Royal Ushabtiu are full-blown constructs, controlled as needed by the spirit they’re bound to. While they can be extremely powerful, and can, if upgraded enough, offer many of the sensations of life, they are also extremely expensive. This technique calls for:
    • Witchcraft / Summoning, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires mildly expensive rituals, alchemical preparations, the use of a piece of the original body to provide a link, and can only be used for this particular trick (2 CP).
    • Create Item (Constructs), Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the created constructs have no will of their own, and are only useful when controlled by an outside spirit (4 CP).

Zebrican. All Zebras gain a their native language as a bonus language. If they’re raised somewhere else, or are never even exposed to it… they still speak it. Such is the word of Thoth (1 CP).

Survival: Zebras have some (rather basic) instinctive survival skills, and gain a +1 racial bonus to the Survival skill (1 CP).

If a Zebra happens to have either Speak Language or Survival as an Adept skill thanks to their racial bonus feat, these bonuses are, of course, doubled as usual.

Racial Disadvantage: Restrictions (Spellcasting). Zebras simply do not cast spells – although they may develop psionic abilities. This gains them +1 CP per Level to spend as they will.

At a total cost of +32 CP, Zebra are a +1 ECL species – and remain so when stacked with the basic Pony Template (which brings their total to 63 CP – the limit for a +1 ECL race).

The Zebra are quite formidable – and rather more versatile as a species than the individual pony subtypes – but their abilities are considerably more subtle. They’re also grimmer, far more inclined to kill or take severe actions against opponents, and see the use of dark powers, necromancy, and sending the dead walking around as being quite normal. Just as importantly, their lands support mercenaries, tomb raiders, exorcists and undead-slayers, crazed dark channelers, dungeons, plenty of noble intrigue,the creation of undead, and byzantine political struggles as a normal part of life. Just beyond the thin, magically-warded, strips of civilization there are vast expanses of deadly desert, terrible jungles, magical storms, lost cities and civilizations, and any number of deadly magical beasts.

Here, at least, there are plenty of places and jobs for adventurers.

The trouble with the Zebra – and the reason why they weren’t included in the original set of pony racial builds despite being obviously canon – is that My Little Pony only gives us one example. Worse, she is clearly both a long way from home and acting in a way that’s atypical for Zebras or she wouldn’t be the only one around. In d20 terms she’s a wandering (expatriate, questing, exiled, whatever) mystic, and almost certainly has a few levels.

So what do we see her do?

  • She lives by herself in a strange hut in a magical forest. She serves as a source of one-shot plot-device magical items when the story needs them. Unlike Celestia, she doesn’t have a lot of raw power, national influence, or other responsibilities, which lets her take the wise and mysterious mentor role while still limiting her impact on events. That also means that the writers keep whatever powers she may have subtle and ambiguous.
  • So we have intentionally subtle and ambiguous powers, an intentionally mysterious race, intentionally limited exposure, and an intentional complete lack of explanations. Vague to start with and with no way to sort out Zecora’s personal skills from whatever her racial talents might be.
  • And so Zebra didn’t make the original list of canon pony types because there just wasn’t enough information to go on. Still, this time the request was for what an upgrade to match the other Ponyfinder pony types might look like on Equus – and speculation works just fine for that.
  • Now for Zecora’s more specific tricks…
  • She’s good at herbalism, balancing, parazoology, and telling spooky stories. There may be a natural affinity there, but that sounds like skill levels or perhaps some specific knowledges.
  • She can create various magical potions, dusts, salves, oils, pills, incenses, and curatives from natural magical ingredients. The power level seems to depend on the components. Of course, the Cutie Mark Crusaders can make potions too. They just needed to have, and successfully follow, the appropriate recipe. On the other hoof… Zecora can do it quickly and knows all kinds of recipes and what various components can be used for.
  • She may be able to produce a cup full of water, but that could just be sleight of hoof – and at that point she DOES seem to be teaching Twilight about focus, misdirection, and trickery rather than training her in raw magical power.
  • She hides the Alicorn Amulet. Of course she might have hoofed it off to Celestia, buried it under a random rock somewhere in the forest, or given it to Gollum to replace his “Precious”. There’s no evidence of any special power here at all, even if this is evidence of Twilight having less than perfect judgement.
  • She lives safely in the Everfree Forest, apparently undisturbed. That coujld be survival skills, or pacts with the forest spirits, or using some kind of warding talisman or spell. Or it might just be a fairly safe area of the forest; after all, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are allowed to go and visit her on their own.
  • Her truth-revealing salve reveals that time has been altered (how often does THAT come up that she knows what that reaction means?). Still, that’s just alchemy again.
  • She has a lot of bling – jewelry, totemic masks, dreamcatchers, and other oddities. Her only real competition in that field is Twilight and her collection of mad-scientist machines. That probably isn’t really a power, but I have gratuitously made it into one as a possible bonus feat.

Ponyfinder gives all Zebra’s the Poison Use ability and a facility with languages. This time… I didn’t go with that except as possible bonus feats. Equestria really only seems to have one major language and is notably short on the use of poisons – and even if it WASN’T, a knack for using weapon poisons would really only be useful to adventurers. A racial talent that’s utterly useless to 99% or more of the race seems kind of weird.


Prince Blueblood’s Aggravating Pony Overlord List Part I – The Throne Room

Today, in celebration and parody of Peter’s classic “Evil Overlord List“, here we have Prince Blueblood’s take on it – Part I of the Pony Overlord List.

  1. I will not set myself up as a god. I am a cartoon pony and I am BETTER than that.
  2. My Legions of Cuddly will have Pony Suits that completely conceal their faces, sexes, and all other identifiable details, complete with voice masks! As well as the necessary month-long training course in how to walk, function effectively, and ham it up while wearing one!
  3. My ventilation ducts will be big enough to blow hurricanes into my rooms for dramatic cape-billowing effects – and my capes shall have breakaway safety clasps, so that they can easily be dramatically tossed aside to be carried away by said winds!
  4. My virtuous and well-loved relative whose power I have usurped will be kept on as a figurehead and not told that I have taken over so that I can spend more time partying while they handle all of the boring stuff.
  5. Shooting is excellent for my enemies! They shall be photographed in all their most exasperated and embarrassing moments and will be the subject of many snarky articles and skits on Saturday Night Live!
  6. The Unicorn Horn which is the primary focus of my power shall be kept on top of my head, where it shall poke holes in hats!
  7. I will gloat over my enemies lack of fashion sense before having them subjected to a celebrity roast on a major network!
  8. When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Before you kill me, tell me what this is all about!” I shall say, “I thought you knew! I just do things! Get out there, brush off your inventiveness, and don’t come back until you’ve come up with an ingenious evil scheme explaining my actions that I can take credit for!”
  9. After I kidnap the beautiful princess, I will take her to major parties and try to seduce her by showing her how sparkly my plans are! That gym membership, the toning exercises, the spa staff, and all the rest is oh so worth it!
  10. All of my vehicles and structures will include a large, red, self-destruct button in an utterly obvious location! It will be clearly labeled “Self-Destruct! Do not push!”. When you push it, you will immediately find yourself smoking three cigarettes and wanting more, stuffing on butter, pasta, and sausage, drinking vodka, wanting to watch TV all day, and averse to exercise!
  11. I shall interrogate my enemies by playing “Truth Or Dare” with them in my inner sanctum! Or, if they are all cute enough, Spin The Bottle! The embarrassment alone shall probably do them in!
  12. You are rated on the greatness of your enemies! I will leave them as many clues, signs, and easy escapes as they need to make themselves look incredibly fortunate and competent at all times!
  13. One of my advisors will be an average World Of Warcraft nerd! No plans will be implemented until he has ignored them for several weeks and then talked about how useless they are in killing bosses on TeamSpeak! By that time any obvious shortcomings have probably come up in the planning committee!
  14. The hero may have my last drink and cigarette! If I’m down to the last, I need to go shopping while he’s consuming them!
  15. All my equipment will have flickering digital countdowns, even if they mean nothing at all! They are extremely distracting to your enemies and have a wonderfully ominous effect!
  16. I will always ask defeated enemies to fill out a customer satisfaction survey! I need to know which of my tactics is most annoying!
  17. I will have lots of sons! And I shall indulge their plans to get fun stuff for parties as much as possible! Why be an Overlord at all if you are not going to take advantage of the privileges? Also, bring me canapes, brandy, and pretty young mares!
  18. I will have lots of beautiful daughters! They will provide a reason for my wickedness, for how else will I be able to attract a sufficient supply of handsome heroes for them to marry?
  19. I will indulge in maniacal laughter! Not only is it fun, but if you don’t give your opponents time to do something it will be boring!
  20. I will hire a talented fashion designer and use her to deflect incoming cakes and pies! On the day that she comes up with something fashionable to do with them VICTORY WILL BECOME INEVITABLE!
  21. If a power-granting energy field is bigger than my head, I shall see if it is also available commercially in a convenient pill or potion form!
  22. I will keep a special cache of party supplies and train a Swedish bikini team in their use! That way, even if the heroes manage to sabotage my party cannon, a party can be airdropped in when a tab is pulled!
  23. Whenever someone manages to damage my hair I shall cry “No! This CANNOT BE! My hairstyle is INVINCIBLE!”
  24. All of my machinery shall be rube Goldberg contraptions, with only one safe spot to stand in when they are in operation OR blowing up! And I shall be standing there, like Leslie in The Great Pie Fight!
  25. All prisoners shall be sent to my bedchamber! I used all the space for dungeons making my bedroom larger than most football stadiums anyway!
    (They can play hide-and-seek there, and maybe find my best robe; it’s been missing for MONTHS).
  26. I will never build anything important! Hieronymus Machines are MUCH more reliable than actual mechanisms! And they frustrate those scientific hero types no end!
  27. My pet monsters shall be kept under the bed and in the closet, so that they can leap out and cuddle people! No hero would ever harm a giant friendly fuzzy thing that wants to be petted no matter how encumbering it is to be snuggled!
  28. I shall dress in nothing much, since I am a pony! But I will have roses to carry in my teeth and snack on occasionally!
  29. All incompetent conjurers, bumbling squires, useless minstrels, and cowardly sleight-of-hoof artists in my realm will be recruited for the circus! They are a precious resource of entertainment and need jobs!
  30. All foolish, young, big-chested, tavern girls in my realm will be required to attend sex education classes with all the other kids and will get free health care, including contraceptives, just like everybody else!
  31. Any messengers who bring me bad news will face heated sarcasm which they will have to take back to the people who sent me such bad news in the first place instead of doing their jobs and FIXING THE PROBLEM! They will also get a good tip and a cell phone so that the news won’t have to wait while they come in person next time!
  32. I won’t require high-ranking mares in my organization to wear anything at all! Ponies usually don’t! But if they want to, that’s their business! I’m not commenting on ANY females clothing unless invited, and even then only in the vaguest of positive terms!
  33. I will turn SOMETHING or other into a snake! I’m sure it will help somehow! Perhaps with finding all the heroes who have gotten lost in the ventilation ducts…
  34. I am not a goat. I will not grow a Goatee. Save it for Grogar.
  35. My prison will have plenty of team-building, job-training, and morale building exercises! There’s no point in locking people up if they’re not going to be better people when they get out!
  36. If my trusted lieutenant tells me that my Legions are losing to the heroes, I will immediately rebrand them as a delaying tactic and announce that everything is going just as I planned it!
  37. If an enemy has a younger sibling or offspring anywhere I will find them and give them front-row tickets for any confrontation! And for the mecha battle that comes next! Kids love that sort of thing!
  38. I will not ride into battle no matter who says that I must! It would be WEIRD!
  39. I will be chivalrous, sporting, and obnoxious! If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I shall dismantle it carefully! After all, if it is unstoppable than I would eventually be one of its victims because once started it WILL NOT STOP!
  40. Once my power is secure it will be very boring, so I shall build time travel devices to go back and compete with myself for dominion! After all, if I won already, I must be the best opponent around!
  41. When I capture a hero, I will also ensure that I capture whatever cute animals or child sidekicks capable of opening doors, stealing keys, and cutting or chewing ropes, happen to be following him around! They are cute and cuddly and help attract the mares!
  42. When I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans I will immediately let her participate in my plans for a really fun evening!
  43. I will cheerfully employ bounty hunters who work for the fun of it. Why should I care if they’re mostly ineffectual when I’m not actually wasting resources on them anyway?
  44. I will not bother keeping track of who is responsible for things in my organization. I change my mind all the time anyway.
  45. If somebody says “What can one man do?” I shall say “Pretty much anything a million men can do; it will just take longer! Go back to advisor school!”
  46. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I shall wait until he grows up a bit and offer him a good job with better pay and health insurance. Youthful idealism wears thin pretty fast!
  47. Any beast that’s working for me is getting paid accordingly, just like the rest of the staff! And it will just have to put up with me when I have a bad day, just like everyone else! Being an Overlord does come with SOME privileges after all!
  48. If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact that can destroy me, I shall promptly commission another counter-artifact, just like I did for the last fifty such artifacts!
  49. My main computers will run on Windows. If they run on anything else they might as well be bricks; even I will never be able to hire enough staff who can properly use the things to get anything done!

Eclipse d20 – Examining Corruption and Specialization

And today it is a question that actually gets into the roots of one of Eclipse’s major mechanics – Corruption and Specialization. Thus it’s answer is a lot more general than you’d think, and worth presenting as an article.

The original question was focused on the various class builds for the Book Of Nine Swords. Those include a very general power suite, bound by a long list of limitations that Specialized and Corrupted the package to increase its effects (rather than reducing the cost, or modifying them in some other way, or some combination thereof) and to duplicate the various limitations of the original classes.

Those limitations are:

  • All the effects must adhere to a narrow set of themes, and must build on previous abilities in the same theme.
  • All effects must be tactical-combat oriented.
  • The user can only create a limited number of effects, and must purchase those for 1 CP each – although he or she may trade out a limited number of them for other effects later on.
  • The user may only have one-half (rounded up) of those effects available at any one time, and must spend some time out of combat to change which ones are available.
  • The user must ready abilities from his or her available subset before they can be used and, once one has been used, must ready it again before it can be used again. This can be partially bypassed, allowing the character to ready a group of maneuvers at one time for +1 CP per additional maneuver which can be readied at a time. It can also be entirely bypassed for a given maneuver (these are usually known as “Stances”) by spending +2 CP on it, for a total of three.
  • Maneuvers can be readied by any one of many different processes – such as by taking a full round action to ready one again (typical of the Swordsage), by random selection during each round of combat (typical of the Crusader), or by whatever mechanism the game master decides is acceptable for a given character.
  • The user must meet the minimum level requirements to use any given effect. That’s a standard restriction, but it’s always worth noting.

Jirachi’s question was basically “Which bit(s) make it Corrupted and which bit(s) make it Specialized? You once corrupted a ‘create any spell’ power to the wizard/sorcerer list, so I would assume that the rest (aside from the ‘limited set of themes’ creates the specialization? Knowing would make it much easier to create new restrictions to fit“.

That is a pretty reasonable question – but it gets at the heart of why Eclipse doesn’t include a list of plug-them-in Specializations and Corruptions. Instead it leaves the ultimate call up to whoever is running the game. The idea, after all, is simply that a “Corrupted” power is awkward to use, or places mild restraints on the character. A “Specialized” one has major restrictions on its use or places a serious burden on the character.

But what is “Specialized” and what is “Corrupted” will vary from game to game and with what is being modified. There’s really no way around that no matter how annoying leaving it up to the game master can be; it’s one of the ways Eclipse is set up to adapt to a given setting

As an example…

Do you have a set of dark and terrible powers that will only work in the depths of the night under the light of the full moon?

With many powers and settings that would probably be “Specialized” AND “Corrupted”. After all, the full moon is only for three days per month, and the “depths of the night” only averages about eight hours a day! If this is an NPC, you just make sure to confront him or her when his or her power is not at its peak!

But what if – instead of being a set of conventional abilities intended for use in a fight – those dark and terrible powers are ways to curse the land until the curse is lifted? Or dread rituals with year-long effects that you only need to perform once a year to keep their benefits? Now those two conditions aren’t much of a restraint at all are they? They might count as a Corruption if there are reasonably easy ways to negate the effects of your rituals and so leave you without their benefits for most of a month on occasion, but if that isn’t likely to happen… then those conditions are really nothing more than flavor text. You might still get to count them as a Disadvantage – gaining 3 CP for including that interesting bit of flavor in your writeup – but your choice of disadvantages is not a big deal; they are designed to be a small and limited reward for adding some flavor to your character in any case.

The same goes for it being a way to open gates between worlds to go on epic adventures, or if it’s the only locally-available Resurrection power, or it’s when you can see into the future and utter prophecies about events coming up during the next millennium. “You have to wait a bit” isn’t that big a restriction on something you only want to use on very special occasions.

As for why it might vary based on the campaign, lets consider a few of the possibilities there.

What if the campaign is set entirely in the Evernight, a dimension of eternal darkness and twisted black forests beneath the distant stars and a perpetual full moon? A dread place where lycanthropes and undead reign supreme, conducting a shadow war over who gets to prey on the trembling human population?

Unless you interpret “under the light of the full moon” as requiring that you be under an open sky rather than in a building or beneath a forest canopy, we’re back to flavor text again.

Does the setting feature a slowly-rotating world with six weeks of overheated daylight beneath the red sun and six weeks of frigid darkness beneath the full moon as its “day” and “night”? Well, you’ll try to make sure that all your activities take place during the night weeks so as to have the full use of your powers and the game master will throw out stuff that you have to take care of during the daylight weeks – and so your power will be restricted, but still useful more often than not. That’s pretty much the definition of a Corrupted power.

Are they combat powers, but ones that you can store, so that you can actually use them anytime, but can only restock your magical arsenal on three nights a month? Well, that’s a bit limiting – but you probably went for “increased effect” so that you’d have a set of trump cards up your sleeve. That’s probably “Specialized”. It WILL drastically limit your use of those powers, but if you’re sensible about using them, they will be there when you really need them.

So, depending on the setting and the powers… exactly the same set of limitations could be anything from “Specialized and Corrupted” to “Mere flavor text, no modifier”.

Admittedly those are some rather extreme examples – but it’s yet another reason why, when designing an Eclipse character, you need a strong concept and you need to work with the game master. If you’re lucky… the restrictions you wanted to apply to your powers to fit your character concept will be worth more than you think.

In fact, that’s actually pretty common. Most GM’s are quite happy to reward and encourage players who come up with interesting characters rather than optimized chess pieces.

This is also why Eclipse characters are fairly easy to shift between games – but it’s a lot like porting a 3.5 character over to a Pathfinder game; you’ll need to adjust for powers that are cheaper, more expensive, or disallowed in the new setting.

When it comes to the sample characters, the ones which are really generic – like the various “class” builds as opposed to the builds made for specific settings – are often over-limited. They have more restrictions than they really need to have because they need to fit into any campaign and the setting, or their specific power choices, might make some of those limitations irrelevant.

Now as for WHY Eclipse was set up that way… the biggest influence was probably early editions of Champions (now known as the Hero System). It included long lists of modifiers that could increase or decrease the cost of powers while altering how they worked in various ways – and one of the big features / bugs (depending on who was looking) of generating characters was hunting for ways to apply “limitations” to your abilities that didn’t actually limit you (whether that was due to being irrelevant to the setting or how you were actually using the power) or which left the game master with a choice between taking you out of action for the evening or letting you get away with stuff. (Most let you get away with it, because having you sit at the table yawning and interrupting with small talk because you had nothing to do was even worse).

Now, admittedly I had fun making such characters too – but making nigh-invincible characters on a handful of points was very bad for the actual play of the game.

Thus Eclipse cost modifiers / power multipliers are rated by the game master rather than coming as a set list. The game master is unlikely to be perfect – but he or she knows the setting and can talk to the player about what he or she has in mind. That puts the local game master way ahead of me when it comes to pretty much any local campaign.

Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts III – Social Skills and RPG’s and Deception Skills

Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts allow you to attempt wild and wonderful things with your skills – provided that you can pay the price. Since there aren’t all that many examples provided in Eclipse, here are some for two additional sets of skills: Part One of this series (Basic Notes and stunts for Appraise / Finance / Etc) can be found HERE, Part II – covering Movement and Personal Control skills – can be found HERE.

Social Skills are a very awkward part of tabletop RPG’s because an awful lot of the players and game masters are introverts with social disorders who have no idea of how social skills work or of what they can and cannot do. Then these people – and I am certainly one of them – try to write a simple, usable, system of rules to simulate something that they don’t really understand. It rarely works all that well. The usual result is that game masters who have decent social skills run things according to the rules as they think they were intended to work (confusing any socially awkward players and producing results inconsistent with the rules) while game masters who lack such talents run them according to the much-abused “letter of the rules”, producing absurd results and confusing any more socially-aware players. Neither result is entirely satisfactory.

On the other hand, trying to get along without rules for social skills hands a huge advantage to those players who happen to have real social skills, tells introverted players that they can’t have social characters, and gives you no way to handle it when a wheelchair-bound player wants to have his/her massive barbarian intimidate the scrawny mage character being run by a football player. It’s kind of hard to separate the impressions the two characters should produce from the physical reality of the two players.

About the best rule-of-thumb that I can give is to remember that the world FUNCTIONS. Some people do fall for “Nigerian Prince” scams, but most do not. You are much more likely to get away with little stuff. That friendly, helpful, sympathetic truant officer may cut your magical girls secret ID more slack than a cranky one who thinks all kids are liars, but after a few times around even the friendly one will start insisting that you go to school no matter how good your social skills are. Basically… social skills can tip the balance when there is reasonable doubt as to what people will do. Otherwise… you may get a few moments of listening to your wild story or insane proposition simply because they can’t believe their ears, but they aren’t going to go for it unless there is something very wrong with them. Sure, you may have the skills to induce fanatic loyalty – but you’re going to have to start with people who are already looking for purpose and something to believe in in their lives and work on them for quite some time.

No, that doesn’t give a lot of credit to superhuman levels of social manipulation, but unless you just assume that a modest number of superhuman social manipulators run your entire world – but that the player characters simply happen to be immune to them because they’re special – you’re just going to have to assume that normal social skills have an upper limit on their effectiveness (and that the player characters just happen to be on the highly resistant end of things).

This also tells us what a lot of the supernatural stunts will look like; they actually can force your targets to do things or expand the scope of your influence.

Sample Stunts for Bluff/Con Artist/Deception/Disguise/Perform (Acting)/Perform (Storytelling).

These skills all revolve around the same basic function – convincing other people of things that are not true, whether through words of appearances.

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Body Language: You may seem young, helpless, naive, pathetic, despairing, joyful, or whatever fits your current deception. If you are facing the consequences of your deceptions, whoever is imposing the penalty must make a will save or reduce it’s severity by one level (this is not always a cure all, going from “torturous death” to “quick death”, or even “quick death” to “chopping off a hand”, is an improvement – but not enough to really save you). The effect remains until you drop it – or switch out for something else.
    • Cover Story: You may produce a consistent, detailed, background to support your deceptions. At DC 20 you also have appropriate paperwork and records. At DC 35 you can easily produce minor props to suit your deception. At DC 50 you can have arranged things like the use of a mansion to support your deception (while the proper owners are diverted) or other major props.
    • Unshakable Professionalism: You may take events in stride, compensating smoothly no matter how much they would normally disrupt your performance. The player may call for a switch to another character or a brief break during which no game time will pass for his or her character while he or she thinks of something.
    • Whispered Slander: You may start a juicy rumor that those who can “Gather Information” or who have local social contacts will soon hear of. At DC 20 it will soon become a popular meme with a fair number of believers, at DC 35 a widely credited whispering campaign sure to draw official notice, and at DC 50+ a trigger for an official investigation / witch-hunt by the targets enemies.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • I Came Prepared: You may pull out a selection of minor props to support a story or common role. If you are impersonating a city guard you might have a badge, club, uniform sash, and other basic items to suit the role, for a lawyer you can haul out stacks of legal paperwork, seals, and so on.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Average lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at some risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 25 and the risks skew towards “vengeance”.
    • Suggestion: You may make a subtle Suggestion to any one creature you are conversing with.
    • Words of Beauty: You may tell people beautiful tales, hopeful lies, and otherwise make them feel much better about their life, lightening the burdens of any tragedies. They will tend to see you as a trustworthy, friendly, presence for at least 3d6 x 10 minutes thereafter unless they make a will save.
  • DC 20:
    • All In The Attitude: You may make a Bluff, Disguise, or similar check without penalty as a Swift Action.
    • One With The Crowd: You may merge into a group, imitating their customs, accents, business habits, social rituals, and so on for up to twelve hours. You will not be disturbed unless everyone is being checked.
    • Facile Belief: You may believe your own deceptions. For the next 3d6 hours magical detection of “truth”, mental probing, and effects meant to reveal disguises will not detect a particular deception of yours.
    • Psychoanalysis: You may help someone sort out their motives, recover from mental illness and become saner – or you may attempt to identify what “buttons” a target has available to “push” and try to exploit them if they fail to save. This requires several rounds worth of communication, although listening to someone monologue, gloat, or explain their plot or backstory, is quite sufficient.
  • DC 25:
    • Camouflage: You may conceal an Area or Group: if done verbally you may deny their existence, cause groups of guards to have to overcome your bluff check or dismiss the existence of the area or group as mere rumors, and similarly divert attention. If done via Disguise you may alter the apparent purpose of a building, make it appear to be an abandoned ruin, or drastically alter the appearance of a section of terrain. If used to conceal an ambush, or hide a group, any search must overcome your skill to succeed. The effect lasts for some 3d6 hours.
    • (The) Honeyed Tongue: You may generate a first level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Average lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at some risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 25 and the risks skew towards “vengeance”.
    • Paralysis of Disbelief: You may spin a story, or don a guise, so unbelievable that you can hold the attention of everyone who can clearly see or hear you for at least 3d6 turns – provided that they are not threatened with physical harm or some other blatantly obvious event occurs that takes precedence over gaping at the spectacle.
  • DC 30:
    • Animatronics: Your disguises and self-promotion are now powerful enough to emulate the effects of a Monstrous Physique I spell (Pathfinder). This upgrades to II at DC 50, III at DC 75, and IV at DC 100. It normally lasts for 3d6 minutes.
    • Placebo: You may persuade others that they are feeling better, bringing their personal reserves into play to grant them the effects of a level one or level two curative spell. Sadly, no individual can be affected by the Placebo effect more often than once every twelve hours, and they may only gain two spell levels worth of curative effects from Placebo Effects every twenty-four hours. At +15 DC you may affect one target per level.
    • Rabble Rousing: You may induce unrest, cause a riot, stir up a lynching or a mob with torches and pitchforks, or otherwise create a major ruckus and diversion, targeting anything the populace regards as even a little bit questionable or suspicious. The effect normally continues for some 3d6 hours.
    • Reality Like Swirling Leaves: You may generate a Major Image effect, whether through cunning words or through physical activity. At DC 50 this becomes a Persistent Image or Mirage Arcane. At DC 100 this becomes a Permanent or Programmed Image.
  • DC 35:
    • Appearance of Death: You may Feign Death without a Feat.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Wealthy lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at significant risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 50 and the risks are always “vengeance”.
    • Method Acting: When you disguise yourself as a stock role – A stoic city guard, a messenger, a grasping merchant, or what-have-you, you gain your choice of One Positive Level (see Eclipse) or 12 CP to spend on the abilities needed to support your role. This lasts for 3d6 rounds under the stress of combat, but for a similar number of hours when under less stress.
    • Uncovering Fears: Your victim must make a Will save or suffer the effects of a Phobia spell.
  • DC 40:
    • Advanced Sugar Pills: Your Placebo effects may now produce three levels worth of spell effects per day.
    • Collaring The Mind: Your honeyed words, appearance as a religious authority, status as a great celebrity, guise as a messenger, or apparently being a member of an organization causes members of a group to accept you as an important ally for 3d6 hours.
    • Night Terrors: You may spin a terrifying tale or put on a horrifying act, generating the equivalent of a Night Terrors spell. (Pathfinder, Horror Adventures)
    • (The) Silver Tongue: You may generate a second level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
  • DC 50:
    • (The) Darkness Whispering: You may generate a Shadow Conjuration effect.
    • (The) Inspector General: You are mistaken for a major visiting dignitary, a divine emissary, or a similar person of authority. This will last for 3d6 hours unless the actual individual in question turns up. In either case, insane shenanigans are guaranteed.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Extravagant lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at great risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 75 and the results of a failure generally lean towards “killing you and all your friends and family”.
    • Psychosomatic Death: You may describe your targets terrible symptoms and fate so believably and graphically that you generate the equivalent of a Phantasmal Killer. (With Disguise you can achieve the same result with your alarming symptoms).
  • DC 60:
    • Ectoplasmic Shell: You may wrap yourself in your deceptions, generating a level six psychic construct (the Practical Enchanter) with the Class-C Enveloping property as a bonus ability. This will last for 3d6 minutes in combat, for 3d6 hours in a peaceful situation.
    • Grand Placebo: Reality now twists a bit at your words, allowing you to produce the equivalent of four levels worth of curative spell effects during a twenty-four hour period.
    • (The) Hidden City: With the cooperation of the locals and a days effort you may disguise a city or similar area. If done verbally you may alter it’s ambience, apparent history and overall alignment, and known loyalties – thus, for example, causing a conquering army to bypass the place since it’s now “held by THEIR loyalists”. If done through disguise, you may chance the appearance of the place, conceal it in the wilderness or hide it from aerial travelers, and even protect it from scrying and divination. If this is done when the city is founded, and cooperation continues, the changes stay in effect indefinitely. Otherwise they remain in effect for 3d6 days.
    • (The) Viper’s Tongue: You may generate a third or fourth level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
  • DC 75:
    • Exalted Presence: You may impersonate a god, the rightful king returned, or some other major supernatural presence. Presuming that you appear before at least a hundred people, their massed belief will begin to generate appropriate special effects, minor miracles, and similar events. The more believers who become involved, the greater the effects and the longer the effect persists. Attempting to push this to the point of your own divine ascension will usually provoke the intervention of the existing local gods, and it will VERY rarely be in your favor. On the other hand, if you want to fight Zool on more-or-less equal terms, this will work.
    • Greater Method Acting: When you disguise yourself you gain your choice of two Positive Levels (see Eclipse) or 24 CP to spend on the abilities needed to support your role. This lasts for 3d6 rounds in under the stress of combat, but for a similar number of hours when under less stress.
    • Knife Of Words: You may spread rumors and speculation about a target that will provoke minor rebellions, assassination attempts, official penalties for misconduct, or other severely inconvenient or potentially fatal complications in their life until the rumors are somehow countered or 3d6 such occurrences have come to pass.
    • Supplanted Belief: You may convince a target that some cherished belief of theirs is in terrible error – that their patron means to betray them, that their spouse is unfaithful, or that the priest to whom they’ve been sending money is a fraud. The effect will last for 3d6 days between saves.
  • DC 100:
    • Heart Of Darkness: You may spread tales and rumors throughout a populace to focus the malice, suspicion, and darkness that lurks within the hearts of even the children of light, inflicting some dreadful curse upon an area, individual, or group. Suitable effects include Supreme Curse Terrain (Pathfinder, Horror Adventures), the Curse Of Fell Seasons or Curse of Night (From the same book), a Generational Curse of Lycanthropy, or something similar from The Practical Enchanter. This will require at least one month to take full effect and – even if countered normally – will tend to return until the tales and rumors are laid to rest.
    • Of Ill Repute: You may wrap yourself in your deceptions, generating a level eight psychic construct (as per The Practical Enchanter) with the Class-C Enveloping property as a bonus ability. This will last for 3d6 minutes in combat, for 3d6 hours in a peaceful situation. If the situation changes, convert the remaining time appropriately.
    • Revenance Of Deception: Your Placebo effects now warp reality in wild and wonderful ways. You can now produce up to seven levels worth of curative spells in the recipients per day – and at +20 DC you may affect up to fifty targets per level. Yes; you can indeed perform a Mass Resurrection (Or a Mass Create Undead) through Placebos.
    • Rumor Turned Substance: You may employ Greater Shadow Conjuration.

Epic Stunts:

  • Deceiving Automation (Research Level 7, DC 38): This is basically equivalent to Simulacrum.
  • Sigil Of Secrets (Research Level 8, DC 42): You may expend 4500 GP on magical tattoo inks to imbue yourself with magic equivalent to having a Handy Haversack (2000 GP), Hat of Disguise (1800 GP), Traveler’s Any-Tool (250 GP), Ring of Silent Spells (2000 GP), and a Travel Cloak (1200 GP) as inherent powers.
    • Yes, at 8000 GP for research and 4500 GP for casting this is precisely equivalent to purchasing those items with slot-free upgrades. Why not? They’re all very convenient innate powers for a deception specialist.
  • Form Stealing Slaughter (Research Level 9, DC 46): You may absorb the form of a fallen friend or foe of similar size and bodily form. Thereafter you may shift back and forth between that form and your own. Forms come with mannerisms, superficial memories, and various minor habits, in effect granting a +25 bonus to assuming the fallen individuals identity via Disguise. The switch is entirely physical and requires a single round. Sadly, the user may only maintain (Wis Mod) additional forms at any one time, and any form renounced to make room for a new one is gone for good.
  • Ten Thousand Whispering Tongues (Research Level 10, DC 50): You may employ up to three of your non-epic skill stunts against an entire city, army, or similar group within the next hour.
  • Deceptive Alliance (Research Level 11, DC 54): You may effectively use the Supplanted Belief stunt against up to (Check Result) hit dice worth of creatures, although none may have more hit dice than (your level – 4). You might thus convince a Hill Giant patrol that their allies had turned against them and that their only chance was to join you, cause a mob to rise up against the local nobility, or otherwise cause trouble and unrest.
  • Shapechange (Research Level 12, DC 58): While this requires no material component, it is otherwise identical to the (Pathfinder) ninth level Shapechange spell.
  • Eight Trigram Blasphemous Embezzlement (Research Level 13, DC 62): You may draw a 12’th level soul from the outer planes into your own body, sharing in it’s power (as per Channeling in The Practical Enchanter) for a full day. Each user gains access to eight specific characters – seven drawn from differing Core Classes of compatible alignment and one wild card with an exotic base class. In general, you can get away with this occasionally, but making a habit of it will require doing various favors for the spirits you channel and sometimes for the powers of the plane that they are drawn from (who may well be offended by your borrowing souls in this way). The user may only host a single soul at a time.
  • Sphere Of Camouflage (Research Level 14, DC 66): You invoke The Hidden City stunt as a full round action with a +30 bonus on opposed checks and a duration measured in months instead of days.
  • Forge Identity (Research Level 15, DC 70): Your disguise gains reality. You abruptly have a home, where the neighbors know you and you have lived for years. You have records, have paid taxes for years, probably have a spouse and children, all of whom you know well and who know you. An appropriate local job, minor connections, wardrobe, guild membership, a reasonable level of prosperity… a complete life now exists where there was none before. True, the people in your “family” are likely to be street folk manipulated to suit – but they will often be far better off. The effect is permanent, although – if you decide to renounce your new name and identity – your new family will believe you dead, and continue on without you.
  • Duck Fate (Research Level 16, DC 74): This effect is self-casting, and will trigger according to it’s user’s desires even after his or her death. The user is restored to the condition he, she, or it was in three rounds ago and, in fact, was never actually involved in whatever situation caused the effect to trigger; a Simulacrum (which was just destroyed) was. The user is, instead, somewhere else within the setting, doing something entirely different and entirely peaceful.
  • Soul-Binding Secret (Research Level 17, DC 78): You employ some terrible threat or blackmail to recruit a (resentfully) loyal servant. The effect is equivalent to The Attentive Slave (Eclipse).
  • Organizational Usurpation (Research Level 18, DC 82): You may twist an organization from it’s purpose. For the next 3d6 days you may send the Thieves Guild out to assassinate a noble, turn the Royal Guard to hunting one of your enemies, or get the Merchants Guild to import forbidden merchandise. Each member is, however, entitled to a Will save, and – if they save successfully – get a second save to gain a clue as to your identity and motives. Tampering with a sufficiently large organization (containing powerful characters or simply having enough members that the 1 in 400 who rolls two natural twenties for saves becomes important) may cause you serious trouble. Individuals of (your level – 4) or higher level are not affected in any case, but do get to try the second save to see if they gain some information about the caster.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Ponyfinder in Equestria – Bat or Leatherwing Ponies and Equestrian Evolution

Next up we have Bat Ponies or (in Ponyfinder) Leatherwings. They seem to have batlike wings, may have slit pupils (we mostly see them from the side, so it could just be prospective), and they seem to have ear tufts. Despite some apparent confusion with Flutterbat among fan theories and portrayals they don’t seem to have fangs – although given their remarkably limited number of appearances some of them might.

On the other hand… it’s hard to be sure that they actually exist at all. We saw Rainbow Dash as a batpony in Nightmare Moon’s timeline (sometimes with ear tufts and sometimes without) – so we know that, in at least some cases, “Bat Ponies” are simply royal guard Pegasi with illusion or minor transformation spells on them for style.

That actually fits better than the “lost race” idea. That got some support from staff comments, but the notion that Luna found them, recruited them, got some into the royal guard, got them through whatever training program the royal guard has, and moved them up the ranks until they qualified for unsupervised princess transport/bodyguard duty so quickly is just a bit much. I suppose that she could have just abused her authority or they could be in memory of a lost race rather than being made up out of whole cloth, but how would you tell?

It just seems a lot more likely that Luna threw a few more illusions in with the rest of her Nightmare Night theatrics.

That ambiguity – and the lack of any evidence for any powers beyond what a normal pegasi has – is is why Bat Ponies didn’t make it into the first series of d20 pony articles.

And the first question is… where did they come from and why didn’t we see them before?

Equestrian Evolution… is not like Earthly Evolution. Intelligence is the result of a fairly unlikely set of evolutionary circumstances on Earth. How do we know this? Well, we’ve left traces all over the world that will be apparent many, many, millions of years from now – but we haven’t found any such traces from a prior civilization. That tells us that we’re the first major civilization building species on Earth – and an awful lot of species have come and gone. More than a dozen very similar but separate species of “Sabertooths” have evolved in the last forty-odd million years – but Intelligence sufficient for an advanced civilization? That’s only appeared once in the history of life on Earth.

Equestria has a bunch of different intelligent species running around at roughly the same stage of development. Moreover, they’re living in a world that requires periodic, intelligently directed, magical intervention to maintain its environment.

That simply will not work with conventional evolutionary theory.

Genetic Evolution is not a primary speciation driver in Equestria, as shown by the fact that rather a lot of apparently wildly different types of creatures seem to have no trouble at all crossbreeding.

On the other hand, from Cutie Marks alone we know that inward magic can alter the physical body. Alicorn ascension suggests this as well. So do sea serpents with mustaches and elaborate hairstyles, Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon, and various other examples.

We also know that magical tendencies tend to be hereditary. Pegasi tend to have pegasi kids or Cloudsdale would not be practical. Earth Ponies tend to have Earth Pony kids, or the Apple Family would not be mostly Earth Pony Farmers. Any family (like the Cakes) CAN throw a sport or two – but it’s relatively rare.

So all that needs to happen for a new pony subtype to appear is for a few similar “sports” – in this case perhaps with an affinity for the Night Sky instead of one of the usual affinities – to get together and have families. There might have been a little tweaking by Luna, Nightmare Moon, Discord, or some other major magical power, but it isn’t really required.

In any case, Ponyfinder establishes Leatherwings as a pony type of their own, and since this question was about what an Equestrian Eclipse upgrade would look like, that’s going to be the base.

Ponyfinder Leatherwings get

  • +2 Wis from the Pathfinder Package Deal. This has no cost.
  • A 10′ reduction in ground movement. I have no idea why except for “balance”, but it goes against the standard rules for having four legs, so I’ll skip it. No cost.
  • +2 Con and -2 Cha. Of course, the Basic Pony Template provides +4 Con and +2 Cha (and -2 Dex because hooves) – and the fan conception of Bat Ponies is that they are very cute. Ergo, I’m going with the base, at no cost.
  • A modified diet. Bat Ponies have a typical omnivorous diet, as opposed to the usual heavily herbivore-slanted pony diet. They can handle meat (or blood if you MUST have “vamponies”) easily, but have a hard time digesting significant amounts of cellulose. No real game effect, so no cost.
  • They may or may not have little ear tufts and/or cute fangs. They definitely have leathery wings and dark-colored fur instead of feathers, and probably have slit-pupiled eyes. Since this is all basically cosmetic, there’s no cost.
  • They get 30′ Flight with Clumsy maneuverability, not usable in Medium or Heavy Armor, must be able to use their wings. That’s Celerity, with an Additional Movement Mode, Specialized and Corrupted (as above, is also subject to dispelling, antimagic, and similar effects (6 CP).
  • They get 90′ Darkvision, but are automatically dazzled in bright light and take a –2 penalty on saving throws against effects with the light descriptor. That’s Occult Sense (Darkvision), Corrupted for Increased Effect and Specialized for Reduced Cost (as above, 3 CP).

As for their Equestrian Upgrades, they get…

  • Adept (Acrobatics, Fly, Stealth, and Perception, 6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills, Corrupted/only to keep their Adept skills maxed out (4 CP).
  • +2 Racial Bonuses on their Adept Skills (4 CP).
  • Occult Talent, Specialized for Increased Effect (four level one and one level two effects) / must be powered with Mana as the ability includes no spell slots, effects are entirely preset and cannot be changed (6 CP). Effects: Lighten (reduces a weight, allowing them to carry more in flight or tow a chariot while flying), Echolocation (reveals the location of things within Close range), Ear-Piercing Scream (Pathfinder), Razor Wings (as per Beast Claws), and Darkness,
  • +1 BAB, Specialized in Melee, Corrupted/only for use with the Razor Wings effect (2 CP).
  • A +1 Racial Bonus in a Razor Wing Based Martial Art (1 CP).

This comes to a total of 32 CP. When stacked with the basic pony template (31 CP) it comes to a total of 63 CP – a +1 ECL race, just like all the other pony variants.

This makes Bat Ponies expert night sentinels, hunters, and guards, skillful rogues and assassins, and fairly deadly melee fighters. They are not, however, nearly as versatile as a Pegasus Pony or most of the other varieties, and so tend to occupy specialized ecological niches, such as mountain caves (or the royal night guard), instead of being widespread across Equestria.

That leaves Sea Horses and Zebras. They’ll be along eventually.

Why? Well…

“What if I want to play a Ponyfinder subtype (Chaos Hunter, Clockwork, Gem, Leatherwing, Sea Horse, or Zebra) in full-blown superheroic Equestria? How would they be changed to match the more powerful Pegasi, Unicorns, Earth Ponies, and Changelings you’ve built?”

“Well, the simplest approach is to go right ahead without changing anything. Take your racial writeup with it’s built-in Pathfinder Package Deal and build a character. If you’re in Equestria you get free Mana equal to your (Con Mod) each round from the Superheroic World Template, will probably be using the Low-Level Adventurer template, and get a free level instead of the +1 ECL Templates that Earth Ponies, Pegasi, and Unicorns use. Next simplest (at least for me) is change them however you and/or the game master want.”

“No, no! I want to see what your powered-up versions of those subtypes would be like!”

“Well… as I get to them then!”

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition(RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts

And for today, it’s the start of the answer to a question…

The Stunt and Epic Stunts abilities (under the Skill Focus ability, Eclipse p. 44), are incredibly versatile in nature, but have almost no examples listed. As such, I’d like to make a request: combing through the standard 3.5 skill list, could you give us two or three examples of skill stunts – and, say, one epic stunt – for each skill, with a brief description and the DC listed? I think that would be great for generating ideas!


Well, why not?

Skill Focus (2, 4, or 6 CP for +1, 2, or 3) provides a boost with skills – but it’s also the Eclipse gateway to pushing your skills past all natural limits. Adding the Stunts modifier (at +6 CP) lets you perform supernatural stunts with a skill at a cost of 2 Mana or two points of Attribute Damage. While it does not reduce the (likely high) DC of such tricks, it makes stuff that would normally be impossible possible. (You can do the same thing with an Immunity to the normal limits of a skill without it costing anything to use – but that costs several times as much to buy. There’s always a trade-off).

Some of these stunts – particularly on the very high end – will take a lot of time and work to pull off, but that can generally be left up to the game master.

  • You can use Supernatural Stunts to work abnormally fast – but that will increase the DC as the game master feels appropriate.
  • You can also use them to craft items related to the skill as if you were using Spellcraft, automatically bypassing spell prerequisites.
  • If a saving throw against a Stunt or Epic Stunt is called for, targets resist with whatever seems appropriate at a DC of (10 + Users Level/2 + Skill Attribute Modifier).

As an alternative to Stunts, you can take Immunity to the normal restrictions of a skill. That’s (Uncommon / Major), with a Major Immunity allowing for checks against DC’s of up to 49, Great Immunity allowing for checks against DC’s of up to 69, Epic Immunity covering DC’s or up to 119, and Legendary Immunity covering anything higher than that at a cost of 6.12.18/24 CP.  That’s expensive. Unless you plan on using a particular skill a LOT, Stunts is probably a better choice.

While it does take a bit of specialization to take advantage of this kind of thing at lower levels, you can take Skill Focus (+1 to a skill, 2 CP), Stunts (for the skill, 6 CP), 1d6 (4) Mana plus Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/no natural magic, only to pay for Skill Stunts (6 CP), Luck with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for Skills, only to “Take 20” (40) in advance (12 CP) at a total cost of (26 CP) and “Take 40” on nine checks a day – upgrading them to supernatural stunts.

26 CP is expensive at low levels, but it’s within reach of a dedicated first level character – and can easily be expanded on to other skills and more uses as levels increase. Admittedly, it will require very high level or some pretty extreme shenanigans to reach those absurd “Legendary” DC’s, but if a game happens to go on that long there are some pretty good tricks waiting there.

Researching Epic Stunts is actually pretty cheap; as with researching standard spells it normally costs 1000 GP and one week per level-equivalent of the effect and requires a skill check with the relevant skill of (10 + the equivalent level of the effect to invoke) – and by the time you can use any of them (the usual invocation DC is 10 + equivalent level x 4) that’s generally trivial.

If you wish to develop a lot of Epic Stunts for your skills, you may want to take Stunt Research. That’s Action Hero/Invention, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (it costs 1 AP per effective level of a Stunt to develop it) / only for coming up with epic skill stunts, only during downtime.

Sample Stunts for Appraise, Profession/Finance, and similar:

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Find Value: Maintain a Poor lifestyle (See Pathfinder’s Cost of Living entry on this page) for a month without further effort or cost.
    • Evaluate Equipage: Determine the most expensive visible item that a creature is carrying.
    • Appraise the general quality of a common animal.
    • Act as a critic of art, architecture, literature, or similar.
  • DC 15 (may or may not require a stunt):
    • Evaluate Magic. Determine the nature and strength of every magical aura in a large room.
    • Find Value II: Maintain an Average lifestyle (See Pathfinder’s Cost of Living entry on this page) for a month without further effort or cost.
    • Act as a refined critic.
    • Roll an opposed check to someone else’s Perform Check through criticism, heckling, and ridicule. If you win, you wreck their performance.
  • DC 20:
    • Determine a target’s probable power level based on their equipment.
    • Evaluate the abilities and general worth of a target creature.
    • Optimize Contract: get 20% off the cost of having a major structure built.
    • Appraise Operation: determine the value of a mine, store, or other operation that produces money and/or resources, discovering how profitable it is, if resources are being diverted, how many employees there are, what security is like, and so on.
  • DC 25:
    • Know Provenance. Discover an items maker, history, value, and general properties (magical or not). This also reveals forgeries and counterfeits.
    • Find Value III: Maintain a Wealthy lifestyle (See Pathfinder’s Cost of Living entry on this page) for a month without further effort or cost.
    • Sell an object for 80% of it’s base value.
    • Evaluate Components: determine what magical or mundane valuables can be harvested from a slain creature.
    • Correctly evaluate the pros and cons of a demonic contract.
    • Appraise Land: determine what resources, crops, and profit can be extracted from an area if it is well-managed.
  • DC 30:
    • Identify an item, determining it’s command words, properties, number of charges, and so.
    • Value At A Glance. Evaluate the net value of entire treasure hordes with a quick look.
    • Investment. By employing this stunt every month you may maintain a pool of non-liquid investments equal to 50% of your base Wealth by Level (see Money Management ).
    • Appraise Organization: You may determine the value of a major organization, as per Appraise Operation, above.
    • Assess Completeness: Determine if pieces are missing from a spell formula, artwork, or other item.
    • Locate Buyer: You can find a buyer for your goods in the most unlikely of places.
  • DC 35:
    • Tales of Profit: Employ a Legend Lore effect in a few hours.
    • Augment Value: temporarily boost the value of a permanent item or collection thereof by up to (Check x 1000 GP). Only one such boost may be in effect at any one time and the effect lasts for 3d6 minutes by default – but the user may opt to concentrate (as per spells) on the effect to maintain it after that point.
    • Appraise Person; if you talk to someone for an hour or so you may determine their general abilities, whether or not they will be reliable in a particular position, and whether or not they have concealed motives.
  • DC 40:
    • Appraise Panoply. Value and identify all the items that someone within medium range is carrying.
    • Investment II. By employing this stunt every month you may maintain a pool of non-liquid investments equal to 75% of your base Wealth by Level (see Money Management).
    • Radiant Wealth: If Wealth-By Level is a Natural Law, trick the universe into setting yours at +1 level.
  • DC 50:
    • Determine the value of information, including (for example) how worthwhile a treasure map is or how much someone will be willing to put up with to avoid having a secret revealed.
    • Appraise Expertise: you may determine how well an individual will do in a particular role or position.
  • DC 60:
    • Find Value IV: Maintain an Extravagant lifestyle (See Pathfinder’s Cost of Living entry on this page) for a month without further effort or cost.
    • Sell an object for 90% of it’s base value.
    • Determine whether an offer for a particular service is fair – and if it isn’t, why not.
    • Radiant Wealth II: If Wealth-By Level is a Natural Law, trick the universe into setting yours at +2 levels.
  • DC 75:
    • Dark Temptation. Discern what the perfect bribe would be for a given target as well as what they would consider a reasonable offer for a particular favor.
    • Locate Seller: you may find someone who is willing to sell you any item which is available for purchase somewhere in the setting provided that you are willing and able to pay for it.
  • DC 100:

Epic Stunts for Appraise, Profession/Finance, and similar:

  • Instant Purchase (Research Level 7, DC 38). Exchange an appropriate quantity of money for a level-appropriate item as a standard action. DC 48 for a Move Action, DC 60 for a Swift Action, and DC 80 for an Immediate Action.
  • Estate Sale (Research Level 8, DC 42). When you clean the monsters out of a dungeon, or the evil cult out of a temple, or defeat the dark baron… you may cast this spell to find a buyer for the place who will offer a fair price and put it to use, thus preventing if from (necessarily) becoming a monster lair in the immediate future or having more cultists move in or some such.
  • Balancing Fortune (Research Level 10, DC 50, cast as a swift action). You gain a reservoir of 24 luck points. You may spend 1/2/4/7 of them to add or subtract 1d8/2d8/3d8/4d8 from any die roll, although opponents targeted by this may save to resist. The effect can be employed either before or after the result is revealed. The effect ends once all points have been expended, the spell is cast again, or twenty-four hours have passed.
  • Stock Manipulation (Research Level 12, DC 58). Halve a targets effective Wealth By Level for the next seventy-two hours. Items affected do not change physically, but have their effectiveness reduced.
  • The Irresistible Lure (Research Level 13, DC 62). Creates an illusion of the fulfillment / embodiment of the targets deepest desires. If the target fails to resist, it will follow the lure wherever the caster sends it – not matter what the peril or risk. The victim can, however, try to handle any challenges along the way intelligently.
  • Appraise Lands (Research Level 14, DC 66). You instantly determine the location of all available natural resources within a thirty mile radius. You learn the locations of rare herbs, veins of gems, ores, and other minerals, stands of exotic woods, where the best fruits are, and so on.
  • Balancing Ancient Scales (Research Level 15, DC 70). You may give the long-fallen champions of a losing cause a new chance for revenge – calling forth an army of spirits, suddenly-restored war machines, a mad scientist who failed to get his greatest creation to work, or a would-be world conqueror who was defeated and slain the last time around. This often has considerable side effects, and they are rarely entirely controllable, but you have at least done them a major favor. Whatever you call forth will fade away again inside a day. In general, determining what is available to call forth is a job for a Knowledge / History or Bardic Lore check, learning of one possibility per 5 points past DC 10 by which the roll is made.
  • Strategic Training (Research Level 20, DC 90). You may spend a day administering precisely targeted “training from hell” to up to (Check Result x 1000) people – granting them a template of up to +4 ECL for the next seven days.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition(RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.