Granny Part III – Witchery, Poisons, and the Ruinous Powers

I’ll get you and your little dog too!

-The Wicked Witch Of The West.

Granny has 126 CP left with which to buy other special abilities – which, given how much she still has to buy, is going to call for some optimization. That isn’t really traditional for NPC’s in most games, partially due to their game masters lack of time and partially because in most games noncombative NPC’s don’t really need detailed writeups – while combative ones are simply there to lose. For such NPC’s optimization is undesirable. After all, if they have any serious chance of winning, sooner or later the dice will give them a victory – and you’ll have a total party kill that ends the game. Granny, however, can safely be optimized out the wazoo because she’s not really there to fight – and a win for her usually means steering the party into a more suitable adventure.

Witchery (45 CP).

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

-Macbeth

Poppies! Poppies!

-The Wicked Witch of the West

The Subtle Arts: Witchcraft III with the Secret Order: Provides all 12 basic abilities and 17 Power. Her powers have a base Save DC of 23, usually using Will (24 CP).

As Within, So Without: Advanced Witchcraft Abilities (33 CP): Aegis (6 CP), Leaping Fire (6 CP), Mouth of the Earth (6 CP), Venomed Touch (Specialized for Double Effect/requires 50 GP worth of alchemical catalysts per use, 6 CP. A 2d12 immediate attribute damage poison with save DC 23 can be pretty useful), The Dark Flame (Specialized for Increased Effect; Only to affect the DC’s of saving against her powers, 6 CP. In effect, she can pay 1 Power to boost the DC of saves against her Charisma-based abilities by +6 for ten minutes), and Weathermonger (Specialized; requires dramatic gestures and a 100 GP focusing talisman, 3 CP).

Pacts (-24 CP): Guardianship (the Crypts of the Haunted Forest), Rituals (Solstice and Equinox Celebrations), Souls (Granny must sponsor and encourage covens of lesser witches), and a nasty Susceptibility to Holy Water (while it’s only one point, and the reaction to small amounts is easily concealed, large quantities could do her serious harm – which is why she’s made sure that the “Melting!” story involved mopwater).

Visions of the Hidden Spheres (8 CP): Cha-Based Rune “Magic” (Psionics): Clairsentience, Casting (Manifestation) +4 SP (4 CP) and Mastery +1 SP (1 CP) +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +3 (Path) = +24 (Caster level 12) Manifestation, +21 (allowing effects of up to L5) plus And Magician (Charisma, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Power gained can be used for Witchcraft, as well as Rune Magic (Psionics)) / user gains bonus generic Power for their effective Caster Levels, rather than from all bonus spell slots, user is restricted to a list of (Int) specific effects, although they may trade out two per level, 3 CP)

  • L0) Conceal Thoughts, Detect Psionics, Prophecy (allows any stray prophecies or visions that may be floating about to manifest through you), Seance (allows the user to open a link for the dead to communicate over. There is no compulsion involved).
  • L1) Commune with “Birds” (Squirrels and such will do too), Cultural Adaption, Inevitable Strike, Psychic Tracking.
  • L2) Caught In Crystal (As per Improvisation, but provides Insight bonuses rather than luck bonuses), Inevitable Save (as per Inevitable Strike, but applies to a save and can be used as an immediate action), Interview (gives a very good evaluation of someone’s nature and talents after a brief interview),Savored Instant (You may take up to (caster level) mental rounds to experience even the most fleeting sensory impression. While no other actions are possible, you may read a lengthy missive at a glance, get a detailed description of each of the people charging you, carefully evaluate a fleeting expression, or stretch out the savor of a fine wine or an orgasm. If this is ever relevant – say when wine-tasting, or trying to spot if someone is carrying a hidden weapon at a glance – use of this effect provides a +4 circumstance bonus. Activating it does not count as an action and can be done at any time).
  • L3) Arcane Sight, Akashic Communion, Pulse of the Realm (allows an instant Gather Information check), See Beyond.
  • L4) Blood Biography (Greater; can also evaluate targets within short range and provides quite a lot of family details), Detect remote Viewing, Remote Viewing, Trace Teleport
  • L5) Akhasic Map (provides a mental map of the local area, including many details, such as traps and secret doors), Pierce the Veils, Prying Eyes, Twisting Fates Threads (as per Ruin Delvers Fortune, but provides Insight bonuses instead of Luck).

All right; this isn’t strictly Witchcraft, but it seemed to fit in here better than under skills. It’s also a way to get more Power and access to some handy abilities – but the three I really wanted to give her were Seance, Savored Instant, and Pulse of the Realm. Being able to take out a few moments to think no matter how rushed you are, and being able to gather information without it taking up a lot of time, are both invaluable talents for a ruler. (The ability to hold seances is just for flavor of course).

I Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff: Rite of Chi with +(Cha Mod) Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore Power, only takes effect at a maximum of 2d6 points per hour (4 CP). Across a day Granny will regain about 40 power – enough to casually use her psychic abilities for conveniences sake without worrying about tracking every point of Power.

Granny is a pretty powerful witch, but her obvious specialties are biomanipulations and poisons – often used out of combat. After all, she can easily create a contact poison that does 2d12 damage to a chosen attribute (or twice that to an attribute for a specific purpose), has a save DC of 29, and can be given a delayed effect (hours or days). Go ahead, make someone Suggestible (-4d12 Wisdom, only to reduce Will saves), Unable to Strike (reduce Str for melee attack purposes), Dexterity for Movement Purposes, Constitution for Hit Points/Level, Intelligence for Languages (guess what! With Int 0 for that purpose you can no longer communicate!), Intelligence for Skills and Feats (if it drops to 0 for such purposes, you lose access to skills and feats), Charisma for the purposes of Channeling, or a Casting Stat for Spellcasting. Granny has dozens of ways to cripple an opponent with a single touch, dart, or attack – and can provide such poisons for her henchmen and agents.

Combining this with Dominion and her Power Words (Below) will let her poison massive areas – or she can use her Chaos Magic to add effects like Venomfire or Increase Virulence. This is pretty powerful – but it’s an ability that she rarely uses; it affects a massive area, has no provision for making exceptions, and – since she’s generating actual, physical, poisons, that won’t just vanish afterwards – can easily wind up poisoning innocent people later on, rather like the ongoing problems resulting from the use of “Mustard Gas” in World War II.

Does the Venomous Touch poison act again one minute later if the initial save fails? Given that it was essentially based on the Poison spell, it was indeed meant to – but I didn’t note that in the actual description since, at the time, that was the default for all poisons and I was trying to keep the page count down to something manageable. Later material provided a lot of more complicated poisons using other options, so I probably should update that. On the other hand, that leaves it open for game master, which is also reasonable.

Invoking The Ruinous Powers (40 CP):

Granny calls on Dark Gods, Archdevils, and Lovecraftian Forces that frighten even them to grant her terrible powers. Not surprisingly, this has certain problems…

  • It’s blatant dark magic. It backlashes against good or neutral people who attempt to use it, attracts enemies and other troubles, and sometimes lets noxious entities from beyond ooze into reality if used without proper preparations. Even for those who are evil and use it only in secret… it will occasionally attract various problems or foul up their lives.
  • It forces her to show those powers respect, perform bizarre rituals in their honor, make various minor and occasional greater offerings to them, perform occasional services for them (although there are usually many possible tasks to pick from), or have to deal these powers malfunctioning and/or turning against her.
  • These powers are difficult (it costs twice as many uses, three times as many if both apply) to use against the truly innocent or upon holy ground.
  • She must maintain an altar to the ruinous powers and a stockpile of noxious ingredients – virgin’s blood, graveyard mold, vicious toxins, gibbering mouther slime, and so on – to use these powers. This may even require keeping a troublesome menagerie of monsters – and if her supplies are all destroyed or all her altars are desecrated, these powers will not work until she can fix that.

Thanks to these limitations, the entire package counts as being Specialized for Reduced Cost. This may result in double-specialization if combined with restrictions on applicability or usage.

  • Negative Energy Channeling: 1 + 2 x (Cha Mod) uses per day at +2 Intensity, Corrupted/may not command the undead (10 CP). This gives Granny a minimum intensity of 8 (10 Hit Dice +2 Purchased -4 if she rolls a “1″) – which is generally enough. If you don’t want to roll, just assume a “5″ and give her a standard intensity of 9).
  • Shadowmaster, Specialized for Reduced Cost/only for use with the Shades spell, below. (At her current level and up, this effectively makes the effects produced by Shades 100% real – saving the game master any number of headaches over partially real effects. 3 CP).
  • 1d6+2 (6) Mana with Spell Enhancement, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / only to reduce the effective level and boost the casting level of her Conversion effects, only one mana point may be spent on each when doing so (9 CP).
    • This allows Granny to boost her effective level to 13 (hit dice + 3) (or 15 after her Tttoo) for conversion purposes (high enough to use sixth level effects safely) and bring her ninth level effects down to level six so that she can use them at the cost of 2 Mana. In effect, she can use three of her great spells per encounter.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only to recharge the Mana in her Spell Enhancement pool, above (4 CP).
  • Conversion (To a set of four sixth level spells – although they’re actually ninth level, and so she must spend Mana to reduce their level to actually cast them, 15 CP). Such spells have a save DC of 29.
  • Malignant Tongue of the Harridan: L9 Greater Invocation (Maledictions) / creates any one effect of the Malediction spell template of up to L8.

Here we have the signature power of a wicked witch; the ability to lay all kinds of curses – ranging from troublesome to catastrophic – on people, places, and groups. Granny’s eighth level curses can be removed with a Wish or Miracle or some equivalent, (but not lesser spells and effects), through Godfire, by heading to Nine Hells and confronting and dealing with the (invariably major) entity powering said curse, and through whatever release conditions are built into the curse. They can usually be suppressed to some degree by remaining on holy ground due to the “increased cost on holy ground” modifier (although Granny might have anticipated that, and doubled up to avoid it). Granny can use curses to transform people into obedient monsters, but their CR will count against her Leadership score. When cursing the land – perhaps to make fields of magical poppies that put people to sleep – Pathfinder’s Curse Terrain spell effects (Horror Adventures) are easy references.

Granny is capable of using her Chaos Magic to remove curses of up to the sixth level – but she has no way of removing her most potent curses. Fortunately, she’s intelligent enough to restrict herself somewhat if there’s any real chance that she’ll want to undo a curse later on.

  • Call Of The Twisted Forest: Summon Natures Ally IV, Amplify +1 (Templated; the creatures may be given 32 CP worth of extra abilities – normally from among the ten minor templates listed below), Persistent +4 (24 Hour Duration), Amplify +1 (Linked; the summoner is aware of that the creatures learn and do and may communicate with them at ranges of up to ten miles), Amplify +2 (Increased numbers, starting from the effective base of sixth level – allowing the user to summon 1d4+1 creatures of the same type from the Summon Natures Ally IV list, 2d4 creatures from the SNA III list, 3d4 from the SNA II list, or 4d4 from the SNA I list), -3 (7+ levels of built-in Metamagic) = L9.
    • The available templates are Aerial, Aquatic, Armored, Chthonic, Dire, Flaming, Forestal (for intelligent summons only, provides fey knight powers), Ghostly, Noble (an exceptionally fine specimen, suitable for a king), Plague-Ridden, Primal, and Venomous. Yes. Granny can indeed summon up 2d4 Aerial Apes to go forth and do her bidding – or, for that matter, a pack of 4d4 plague-ridden wolves, or 1d4+1 dire bears, or 4d4 flaming eagles/firebirds, or 2d4 Ghost Lions, or any of six-hundred-odd other combinations.
  • Whistle Down The Wind: Greater Invocation of Weather Magic (allowing effects of up to L7)
    • Granny is generally much better at making troublesome and dangerous weather than she is at making nice days – but what can you expect of a wicked witch? She can also use her Weathermonger ability to specifically target weather effects – calling down lightning on someone’s head or steering a tornado through an oppressive rulers palace.
  • Shades.
    • Thanks to her Shadowmastery ability, the effects she calls forth are 100% real.

This is a very powerful set of spells – although, as noted earlier, Granny can only use three of them before taking a break to recharge since she needs to spend a point of mana to bring their spell levels down to six and another point to get her caster level up to where she can safely cast a sixth level spell. As a general rule Granny will cast Call Of The Twisted Forest each morning so as to have a set of sentinels out (and she’ll do it again if she needs some minions), control weather (and a little witchcraft to guide it) will help hold up any assault, the Malignant Tongue of the Harridan lets her weaken attackers (usually through familiars). She’ll usually reserve Shades to escape with since it covers both teleportation and a wide variety of barriers and diversions.

Hatred’s Weal Path:

  • Dark Awakening, Specialized for Reduced Cost / The Undead Creation function can only create immaterial undead that Granny can fit into her Leadership allotment (3 CP). As a rule, Granny much prefers living servants – and so her only real use for this ability is as another option for coming back if she gets killed.
  • Shadow Casting, Corrupted for Reduced Cost, Specialized for Increased Effect (each shadow has a base level of 2 without an XP cost and saves 100 XP if a higher level is desired. They gain the Mystic Link ability with Granny with the Communications, Power, Summons, and Travel options) / The user may only create (Cha Mod) Shadows at any one time and may only have them possess normal animals or magical beasts, if without a host they can do nothing but return to their summoner to be re-embodied (4 CP).
    • Granny will pretty much invariably have one standing by to pull her out of any jam. They’re also her stand-ins and her primary method of long-range attack; she has one go near her targets and channels one of her major spells through – possibly having the familiar project a witchcraft-illusion of her (or perhaps someone else entirely) if she wishes to communicate or make an impression – but she will never expose herself to danger if it can be avoided. Granny hasn’t survived some twenty generations of adventurers coming against her by being stupid.

This is a major disconnect in many games. They’re often set in worlds with thousands of years of backstory, lurking elder evils that were old before the rise of civilization, and ancient mysteries – all of which a group of player characters will shred within a few years. Now I’m willing to give the player characters some credit; they probably really are the chosen ones or something – but that still tells us that those ancient mysteries and evils have survived thousands of years of non-player character adventurers trying to get rid of them. So even conceding something special about the current player characters that makes it possible, it seems appropriate to make pulling off those victories really, REALLY, difficult – and that’s “plan, gather resources, prepare, and do a lot of work” difficult, not “tough encounter” difficult.

  • Call Inner Demons, Specialized for Increased Effect (Construct Level = Intensity) / The summoner does not gain any bonuses when the construct kills something and cannot manifest a construct of above level eight (6 CP).
    • While a construct that lasts for ten minutes can be a fairly effective tool or minion, Granny tends to make one with the Class-C Enveloping modifier if she’s expecting a confrontation. Picking up an extra 118 HP, +19 Natural Armor, two slam attacks at +25 for 1d10+16, 10′ Reach, Str 39, and seven additional abilities – perhaps Flight, Semisentient (to carry her away if she is somehow incapacitated), Tunneling, Boosted Flight (to 60′), +2 Slam Attacks, Fast Healing II, and one Class-C ability – perhaps Dimension Slide as a move action, or Natural Invisibility, or the ability to become Ethereal at will – is pretty good.

Hand of Darkness Path:

  • Shadowmastery: This is pretty simple. You turn out the lights and gain Shadowsense. Thanks to Circle of Power, below, this affects a 55-foot radius (6 CP).
  • Fearspeaker, Specialized/only affects those who know at least some of the legends of the Dark Enchantress (3 CP).
    • Granny doesn’t usually bother with this very much; if she’s making a public appearance in her Dark Enchantress persona, usually with various grim special effects, any sensible lower-level types in the area will probably be terrified anyway – just as they probably will be in the presence of any other obviously excited-and-dangerous higher level warrior or spellcaster.
  • The Dark Veil. The passive ability to conceal her true identity and keep that separate from the persona she projects with her Method Acting disguise skill trick is the real prize here – but being able to intervene and then make people forget all about you is wonderfully useful (6 CP).
  • Nightmare, Specialized/only for Phantasmal Killer. Sharing her nightmarish visions of the dark powers that lurk beyond the gates of reality is too much for most minds to bear (3 CP).
  • Vanishing Shadows. Selective memory erasure that makes people suggestible. Pretty much the perfect way to deal with any inconvenient questions. What politician could resist? (6 CP).

The Boundless Realms Path:

  • Circle of Power (Specialized and Corrupted, Only for Hand of Darkness powers, only for Shadowmastery (Calling Down the Dark), The Dark Veil (Oblivious Wave), and Nightmare (Nightmare Storm Technique), 2 CP).

With a base cost of 80 CP, Invoking The Ruinous Powers costs a total – after Specialization – of 40 CP. That’s a lot of power for 40 CP of course, but then it is a limited set of highly specific abilities with serious backlash issues.

Next up: Granny’s Rulership, Miscellaneous Abilities, and Equipment.

The Jovian Hauntings

Now that they’ve caught the troublemakers, the Shadowed Galaxy player group wanted the backstory on this particular mission – and since they currently have the resources and sources to get it pretty easily, I’m saving time by posting it rather than spending a lot of game time on a question-and-answer session.

2186: After nearly sixty years of discussion, an extremely low-priority program for the study of conditions Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and radiation belts finally gets funded. Justifications include looking for life on Jupiter, planetary science research, and looking for and analyzing exotic materials found orbiting in Jupiter’s high-energy radiation belts.

2189: Construction begins on Lima, a station designed to function indefinitely in close orbit around Jupiter. The design incorporates high-energy magnetic shielding systems to help divert high-energy charged particles from Jupiter’s radiation belts and electromagnetic coupling with Jupiter’s magnetic field to allow minor orbital adjustments to be made by running current loops through the station.

2196: Solar Minima. The Rathhan – primarily psychic entities which use bits of an exotic material which can convert electromagnetic energy into psychic energy as a power source and physical anchor – orbit near the upper limits of Jupiter’s atmosphere, feeding on the electromagnetic flux Jupiter constantly generates and slowly harvesting the elements they need to grow.

2197: Lima is completed, and begins the transit from high earth orbit to low jovian orbit.

2201: The inhabitants of Lima begin their scientific work as initial tests, experiments, and observations are made

2202: Lima is takes up it’s standard orbit near jupiter, the remaining scientific staff arrives, and the various research projects go into full operation.

2210: Solar Maxima. Several major solar flares and significant mass ejection from the sun occurs as solar activity hits a 74-year high. Jupiter’s radiation belts soak up some of the particle flux.

2211: Jupiter’s radiation belts reach their energy peaks, rich with hurtling ions, high energy nuclei, and exotic particles. The Rathhan begin their “seasonal” migration, spiraling out into the radiation belts on psychic wings to transmute their harvest into paralithic “flesh”, to feed on the belts rich reserves of other energies, and to socialize. Across the solar system a few sensitive humans have occasional strange dreams of mighty lightning-storms, strange powers, and soaring flight through near-limitless skies high above a clouded world. As it has before this leads to a few visionary tales and nothing much else.

2212: The orbits of the Rathhan approach the orbit of the Lima. The outer edge of their usual range will briefly overlap the orbit of the Lima before it begins to contract once again as the energies of the Solar Maxima fade and “winter” approaches. Among humans, the lack of any radically new results from observing Jupiter’s energy peaks leads to questions about continuing funding for the Liam.

2213a: Three Rathhan are temporarily ensnared in an incredibly intense, and utterly unexpected, “knot” of magnetic force. Before they can escape, they are isolated from most of the electromagnetic flux they feed upon and are further entrapped in solid matter, Much of their available energy reserves are expended on their initial psychic attempts to call for help. These are not successful.

2213b: The crew of the Lima pick up three major lumps and a collection of fragments of exotic material. A quick check shows the material to be Rhimvite – a fairly well known type (albeit of rare purity). It is classified as low priority and stored in the materials lab complex for detailed examination next time an appropriate specialist is available. Much more attention is given to a wave of malaise and psychological problems that is overtaking the crew, and the minor samples are quickly filed and forgotten.

Rhimvite is an exotic stone, slightly ductile, greenish-black in its normal state. It is sensitive to psionic energy; when exposed to it it turns blue-black and emits a bit of RF. Interestingly, if exposed to massive RF fields it turns white and starts leaking a little psionic energy. It’s mostly used to test for psionic potential. You give a kid a handful of little spheres, more and more impure. The more a kid can get to change color, the stronger his current potential. It’s also good as a practice material, since it shows if you’re making progress.

2214: The Rathhan, while low on energy, detect minds thinking on radically different bands impossibly close at hand. Attempts to communicate are made – but, lacking any good understanding of those minds, is mostly limited to projection emotions and basic concepts

2216: With the crew reporting an ever-increasing epidemic of hallucinations and “hauntings” (dead relatives pleading for release from hell, assorted mythical monsters, and some religious “visitations” – none very coherent) it is eventually concluded that some combination of radiation leakage and the huge magnetic field were affecting the crew. Initial testing of this idea easily demonstrated that the crew recovered when removed for a bit, and new crewmen soon started reporting similar symptoms.

The Lima acquires a reputation for being “haunted”. Combined with questions about contamination, and the ongoing doubts about the worth of the entire program, this results in the Lima being put under computer control and abandoned by the human crew.

2217: With the other minds vanished, and no immediate prospect of rescue, the three Rathhan aboard Lima enter hibernation to conserve energy, in hopes of either accumulating enough to escape with or of rescue.

2246: Citing a lack of significant results over two decades, and the expense of maintenance missions, the Lima is put into standby mode.

2278: Michar Guttvield, a prospector-scavenger, acquires a used ship, fitted out with massive amounts of radiation shielding by its paranoid prior owner. With all that extra mass making it inefficient and limiting its cargo capacity it had been almost unsaleable – and so was cheap. Looking for a profitable use that was easier than stripping the shielding away, Michar recalls the Lima, and decides to take advantage of the shielding for a quick trip to see what he could grab.

2279: Over the course of several trips Michar investigates the Lima, and finds reasonably good pickings. Some of the equipment was still saleable. There was even some Rhimvite in the materials science lab – and even minor and impure bits could be quickly turned into testing kits for kids which were worth good money.

Hauling some bits of the Rathhan’s energy-collecting physical structure out of confinement and surrounding them with other minds (even if they were alien and very hard to communicate with) soon awoke the Rathhan, who remained connected to even fairly distant bits of “themselves”.

Michar, however, was a functional, if fairly minor psychic – and proved capable of crude communication. Michar was, however, a bit paranoid about aliens – and layered “his” find in remote-controlled explosives to make sure that he had a trump card. That would destroy ANYTHING!… And his confidence in that came across to the Rathhan – although he was willing to give them more energy to work with he wanted something from THEM.

The first few station “scooters”that they brought in in the process of reclaiming their fragments made a way they could “repay” him while gradually getting back out into free space quite obvious – so Michar brought in Andrew Blake, a more mechanically-minded associate to help him run his new, powered-by-enslaved aliens, vehicle chop shop.

The profits have been good so far, even if Michar has gradually been getting quite a bit crazier – and he wasn’t all that stable to start with.

2280: With the “Chop Shop” business getting into full swing, the Rathhan have learned to communicate somewhat – and Kids in the Jovian Stations have started to report encounters with cartoons and various other popular images which the Rathhan are pulling straight out of their minds. Unfortunately, Michar has started putting booby traps all over Lima station – and Andrew is more or less encouraging him; the scam can’t last forever and blowing up Lima will cover the tracks nicely.

2281: The player-characters begin their investigation into an odd combination of reports of cartoons showing up, weird monsters that then vanish, and stolen station scooters.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCVIII – The City Of Winds

Once the Potawatomi had gathered wild onion, and garlic, and rice, and the products of the swamp and prairie on the borders of the lake. But the Wheel turned – and first a trading post, and then a town, and then a city rose.

Vibrant. Active. A crossroads of trade and activity.

Yet ever the Wheel turned. The city fell in fire – but rose once more, rooted in railways and rivers and the great lakes, building towers and factories.

And the Wheel turned. Depression and crime struck at the city, and the tides which had once swept people and industries to it ebbed. Great portions of the web of rails and routes that had made it great had rusted and closed,

Yet the Wheel turned.

Chicago had all too many closed, abandoned, and decaying rail-yards. Great masses of rusting steel – once machinery, rail-cars, rails, and even locomotives – too dangerous and unwieldy for their scrap value to pay for the labor of salvaging them. Valueless until the city should rise once more to need room or rails.

Someone had bought several of them, bringing in private contractors, and restoring them – yet it all seemed pointless; those lines were closed, unneeded – useless, save perhaps to some devotee of rail. Even the local gangs were too “cool” to take all the nonsense seriously – and mostly smart enough to know that fiddling around in the train-yards behind the backs of the professionals was stupidly dangerous – but the contractors were (weirdly enough) rather soft touches…

All they’d been installing was a few stone pillars and a path to nowhere along an old railway sideline – probably to put scenic exhibits along. Still, the reopening of the old station, if only as a museum or some such, promised free entertainment and refreshments.

A few people were taking it more seriously. Some had signed up for the promise of “gates”. No matter how unlikely that sounded, there were always the lost and desperate. Others… had felt the use of Essence, and the power being exerted to reshape the rail-yards. Enough power that those absurd promises of “Gates” might have something to them – presuming that they weren’t a cover for an invasion from the underworld or some such.

The city officials were a mix. A few knew enough to take it seriously, many more knew that a grand opening party was worth attending even if no obvious payoffs, or tricks to expose, cover-ups to be bribed into, or opportunity for local profit has yet appeared… A couple of the local dragon-bloods (water aspects, mostly favoring Larceny and Bureaucracy) had heard enough to think it worth their time, and wished to corner this gate before others could! But first… it had to open!

And the Wheel turned.

It was that or explode – and that too lay in the balance of destiny.

In Yu-Shan, time and reality twisted, ripped and reformed by floods of warring essence, erupting into pockets of raw Wyld and cascading years where even the Loom of Fate working it it’s own realm with the direct backing of the Maiden’s could no longer sustain causality. Still, while the results of many battles – horrific struggles against Deathlords, neverborn Kaiju, creatures of the Wyld, and confused imports from Alien Creations – were as yet indeterminate, the overall course of events was clear. The Song of Creation filled the air, echoed by the uncounted voices of gods, men, and stranger beings and sweeping around, over, and under such struggles as if they were mere rocks in a mighty flood.

As the Song reached the edges of the dome it passed though both the ancient gates to the Blessed Isle or Earth, and the gates to other places, and the erupting galactic gates – spreading over more than a hundred worlds. On ninety-six worlds – the seventy-two prepared for colonization and twenty-four more prepared as nature preserves – a dozen gate-manses apiece went into operation as planned. Each gate to Earth completed the geomancy of the security-and-service manses that had been constructed there, bringing THEM into operation as well.

And the Song of Creation spread further still, gifting the worlds with health, youth, and long, long, life. Six of North America’s nearly 248 gates opened in Chicago, where the security and support manses had been designed in an interlocking and mutually resonant grid – providing power, weather moderation, and various other services for the entire metropolitan area.

One was at the old Chicago Junction Terminal on Lakeshore Drive… Now parklike, save for the restored old terminal, junction lines, and turning circles, there was some staff on hand to open things up.

And precisely on time a vortex of energy swirled into existence at the end of the train tracks and the “path to nowhere”, the stone pillars became an arch, several underground structures opened up – and the gate opened, revealing an early-morning vista of mountains, valleys, rich forests, a glittering city on the hills above the wide river that watered the valley, and flocks of birds and animals roaming the land and the air above it. The path extended to several structures, including a warehouse, a stockyard, a “general store” or “trading post”, and a yard full of classical covered wagons – while the train tracks extended towards the city.

The warding, reconstructive, and protective spells that the Song was carrying had been meant to sustain and rebuild Yu-Shan despite the battle in it’s midst. Across cities that were merely run down, the effect of spells designed to rebuild after a war of Gods, Exalts, Deathlords, and Kaiju were quite dramatic.

And a very classical wood-burning train (with the locomotives firebox and boilers thamuaturgically augmented so as to actually need very little wood or water) gently chugged it’s way through, to take one of the circle turn-arounds and pull up to the station.

And save for the music, there was silence – and agape staring. Even the essence users were reeling as otherworldly dragon-lines linked to Earths – and rank-5 demesnes with preconstructed manses flared to life beneath their feet, sending a wave of essence coursing across the entire city!

Perhaps most importantly… the Song carried with it an impression of Charles, of his granting relief from all injuries, and of the (rather absurd) level of compassion that fueled it.

The stillness lasted more than long enough for the thoroughly inhuman guides and gate guardians (Anthro-canine-metallic amalgams, Coatl, and Kickaha) to take up their stations while the security manses began generating their own staff.

A people few backed away – they’d seen some crazy stuff, but not like THIS – but most found the music thoroughly reassuring…

Not too surprisingly, the Dragon-Blooded agents were the first to regain their composure.

(Inukami Train Conductor – as dryly and matter-of-factually as he could possibly manage) “We have two hundred and forty-three names on our first-run passenger list for the city of Artolis, leaving at least seven seats open for additional passengers on the first run. Actual settlers do have priority over journalists and agents who intend to report back in. The train will make the run every six hours for now. Those individuals and groups who have applied for homesteading packages and seek to claim their own lands in the vicinity of Artolis should check in with the office on the other side of the gate to pick up their supplies, livestock, and vehicles. The settlement guides will assist in locating and setting up land-claims.”

(Young Kickaha, much more mischievously) “And you can land on Europa if you want to, but this train doesn’t go there!”

Quite a few gang members were already pushing forward and heading down the path… Whoa! They needed to get their stuff! It was REAL! And maybe they should pass the word around their neighborhoods too…

The Exalts and thaumaturgists in the vicinity were noting that both ends of the gate fed through newly-activated rank-5 indestructible manses. A teenage boy had built THIS? Certainly they had gotten an impression, and whoever it was was absurdly compassionate and powerful, but most Exalts couldn’t build a level-5 Manse… Perhaps one of these Solars who were supposed to be running around now? And he was apparently freely offering new planets and supplies to ANYONE who wanted a fresh start – apparently including those idiotic ganger ne’er do wells… not that their presence didn’t cause a lot of problems for higher-end activity.

Charles rather thought that a simpler life would help a lot with that – although, to be fair, his basis for that notion was pure general theory.

Several Terrestrials had put in for land claims as well. Why not? At best it was free, and at worst it wouldn’t have mattered.

And it looked like the pioneering supplies included assorted thaumaturgical talismans and even the occasional minor artifact, even if it WAS mostly set up for homesteading. That was interesting! Not as impressive as whatever links were powering the gate, but there were at least hundreds of times as many minor artifacts as gates… Besides, since there WAS land available, it would be best to go through and claim the best spots before the others got back! They needed the best land with the best view!

The thought was obvious, and the staff silently wished them good luck with that. There were a LOT of nice spots on an optimized planet. Even if they just wanted to be near the city (and it’s high-end service manses) there should be lots of choices…

A few were sensible enough to ask. They wanted someplace secure and defensible, so the staff provided several likely locations – throwing in geomantic surveys as needed.

With that kind of cooperation… the terrestrials asked for the best Water demesne on the planet – and were deeply shocked to find that a fine selection of rank-5’s was available.

What” Had these creatures already mapped out the planet? They HAD to ask!

(Map Expert) “Well, the planet WAS designed; and so the geomancy is just as optimized as the ecology and physical resources!”

(Terrestrial) “Designed? How long did this take to build?”

(Map Expert) “The planet only took a few minutes, the ley line network came up to full power within the next three months – which let us bring the gate- and city-manses online”.

A FEW MINUTES? For a PLANET? Just how powerful was this “Charles”?

The staff cheerfully pulled up some audiovisual records of the terraforming – which revealed that he HAD used an existing lump of rock at least – but the planetary transformation was still gob-smacking! Of course…. they were talking to a rather high-end magical construct – that seemed to be manse-powered itself…

(Terrestrial) “So… how many Manses has this “Charles” made?”

(Map Expert) “Well, he makes them as needed, so there’s no real count.”

(Terrestrial) “What, like utility artifacts?”

(Map Expert) “Are they really that different on this scale?”

(Terrestrial, after a brief and thoughtful pause) “I suppose not… I suppose that we had best take a look, and perhaps see the effects of this terraforming for ourselves!”.

Meanwhile the local governmental reps were talking to the station clerk. They really hadn’t taken all the ads seriously, and while they’d gotten some advance warning from the local Terrestrials that something was happening, they were startled to see the extent.

(Anthropomorphic Golden Retriever running the check-in counter at the station) “Can I help you gentlemen?”

Now that was WEIRD… and it didn’t seem like an animatronic or a costume, It seemed to be breathing and everything! Still… their sources had said that there would be a LOT of weird stuff – and while this was VERY weird indeed, if it could help with the city’s financial issues, it was well worth a look.

The police were bypassing the line however.

(Golden Retriever Clerk) “Do you need something? (Suggestively) There IS a line…”

Oh boy. No one was going to believe THIS incident report! Despite the pictures!

(Sergeant) “Well… We need to have a look around here, to see that everything is up to code! We’ll need a tour of the… facility? And Explanations! Definitely explanations…”

That got them a Coatl – and a fairly straightforward tour: training setups for people who needed more skills before starting out, the supply stockpiles, maps, advice on setting up – and otherwise a good look at a fairly conventional train station and a statement that “Charles believes that people need more room, and new lands to explore – and so he is providing them. This station and the gate system are self-maintaining and close to perpetual”.

The police were having a bit of trouble deciding how to approach the situation. They weren’t trained for what was obviously a first contact scenario of sorts! And other planets were certainly out of their jurisdiction anyway… were they going to be dealing with trans-galactic commuters? The “Gate” did seem to be instantaneous… Would the city try to annex a planet like it would a new development? Was there even a government there beyond this “Charles” announcing “Here’s some stuff! Don’t hurt each other! Have fun!”? Just how much of Chicago’s population was going to abruptly move out?

Not to mention the “everything is suddenly new and shiny” seemed to go a LONG ways past the station-park! Pretty much every report from around the city was of things being cleaned, repaired, reinforced, and restored!

How many people would THAT put out of work? But then… they had a brand new city and world to move to, where apparently much of what you needed was free, training programs were sponsored, and everything was very nice.

Wait. There was no breach of the peace going on and there was no law against opening gates or giving pioneering equipment away. This was POLICY. Not police work! They could safely shove it all off on the bureaucracy!

And so they did.

That would, indeed, take some time… the bureaucrats would want more information, and to meet with Charles, and to investigate the new planet, and perhaps even to send someone to Aden. City bureaucracy being what it was, it would take months, if not years, to implement – unless, of course, someone went under the table (which was probably inevitable).

And then there would be the feds.

Across the world there were local attempts to cordon off some of the gates – but there were too many worldwide, scattered over every nation, for that to become more than a very temporary procedure in most places – and the Inukami staff, Kickaha guides, and Coatl could spread out as the security manses generated their own staff and guardians to bring in those who wished to emigrate across the cosmos regardless of minor opposition.

Fortunately for the Chicago authorities peace of mind, the Gate-Guardians were quite cooperative in some ways. They were happy to tell those who asked that the destination planets were situated in otherwise uninhabited Hubble Volumes; so no immigration was likely for the moment. They also proved to be fully cooperative about restraining (and turning over to the authorities) lunatics, serious or violent criminals, and so on; they were screening to some degree anyway. There would be home-grown lunatics quite soon enough, there was no need to send any.

Unfortunately for the authorities peace of mind… even casual estimates on how many people would be leaving were fairly high – and the staff had no objection to simply giving pickpockets, shoplifters, and so on a bit of re-education and a fresh start!

Of course in actual war zones… things were going to be a bit trickier. As well as in the places where unwanted people were being dumped, or there was fighting over the gates, or oppressed populations wanted to escape, and so on. Charles would have them cared for of course – but the politics was going to be a lot tricker than he had hoped! The turmoil was already starting in the middle east and elsewhere as oppressed minorities, refugees, and similar groups were exiled, evacuated, or taking refuge through the gates! (Including many of the crazier folk from the middle east whom Leon hadn’t gotten to yet… He hadn’t cared if he had to transform 80% of the population. He was going to have a sane population that was willing to accept magic, the fey, and being ruled by a god-king or he would know the reason why! There had been insurgencies, ISIS, and maniacs everywhere!)

Meanwhile, back in Aden… that Raksha lady – Nimue’ – was back! She had returned to the Mardi Gras manse ans was waiting for him – and she HAD done him a favor, so it was only fair to find out what she wanted!

(Nimue’) “Ah, it is you, Aden? Your work was successful?”

(Charles) “So far anyway! It is nice to see you of course!”

(Nimue’) “I am glad! And I am glad to see you! Now, we must discuss our marriage!”

(Charles, with considerable alarm) “Uhrm?!?!?!”

He ran a quick check! He didn’t remember agreeing to get married!

No… no he HADN’T.

So why…

(Charles doubtfully) “I don’t really recall proposing… why do you want to get married?”

(Nimue’) “I must keep you from marrying the Celestial Plain! I have eyes only for you!”

(Charles) “Uhm… I really wasn’t planning to get married any time soon!” (By, of course, a kids notion of “soon”).

Oh geez! Had she seriously fixated on HIM? It kind of looked like it! AND she thought that Yu-Shan was the competition!

He consulted Malinda!

(Malinda) “Dearie? I think you’ve gotten caught up in her narrative! She might want to marry you and become a part of your nature.”

(Charles, planatively) “But I already have lots of chaos in my nature… I don’t see how she could add herself to it though!”

(Malinda) “You DO have many, many Graces that would be suitable for making regions of a freehold! Maybe she thinks she can become a part of you that way?”

(Charles) “But… they’re bonded to the poles!

Well, their narrative shaped everything about them and what wents on around them. He tried to figure out what it was with observation and passive detection!

It looked like… she was fascinated by, or fixated on, HIM – and was carefully scrutinizing him for any flaws (and not really finding many). She… “knew” (believed?) that he was a Primordial, and was also performing a careful study of the environment, and trying to figure out ways to turn him even more to the Wyld’s service. Basically… she wanted to be an associate, with a formal bond to make sure that she got listened to and protected. And if that let her influence him further towards chaos (however unlikely that was), that would be a bonus! And if she could show up another Primordial, all the better.

Charles didn’t really think that Yu-Shan even understood that idea, much less had such a plan – the primordials were pretty firmly in “sufficient unto themselves” territory – but he supposed that it was possible! Besides… no one ever said Raksha were rational.

Well, a formal connection to a Raksha would have downsides, but would something like oath-friendship or an advisory position be sufficient? Because he was much too young to get married! Even if she was pretty set on it!

He let her know that some form of courtship agreement was as far as he would go at the moment – but that he was perfectly willing to confirm that he had no intention of “Marrying” Yu-Shan! (She was busy with her own stuff at the moment anyway!).

And that satisfied Nimue’… for now.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCVII – Meanwhile, On The Sidelines

It wasn’t a big order – and it was in the “submitted by random persons” pile – but an Everlasting Flask of Alcohol? Who wanted THAT? And WHY? A pub owner? It… appeared to be one of the wealthier people in Aden. One “Ubab Shamoun”, one of the refugees from the Middle East. He’d come to Aden to escape militants… a muslim, but possibly not that observant?

Charles called him. That didn’t take up much of any processing power…

(Charles) “Mr Shamoun? I have a request from you. While that is not, in itself, a problem – although I do not guarantee their fulfillment – this one is a bit… problematic. It’s also unspecified; did you want rubbing alcohol? Ethanol for fuel? There are a LOT of kinds of alcohol.”

(Ubab) “Hello, my friend! I wanted a flask to hold my wine!”

(Charles, with some puzzlement) “What, to transport it in? Or just to disguise it?”

(Ubab) “No, to drink! Don’t tell me someone of your power is a teetotaler! I left partially because of that!”

(Charles) “Er… but don’t you follow a religion which says that drinking is punishable by death and Allah’s condemnation?”

Some of the Kickaha who were quietly bodyguarding Charles snickered. So naive not to think that Muslim’s would sneak around the rules a bit!

To Charles it was the logical disconnect; you subscribed to the Islamic belief system to gain Paradise. If you drank, then according to those beliefs, you wouldn’t gain Paradise. So… if you want to drink, why be a Muslim? It wasn’t as if going with another faith would make it WORSE, and there was always the chance that the other faith would be the right one…

The Kickaha caught THAT quite easily – you didn’t need to read MINDS, just FACES (if so many of the would-be manipulators weren’t convinced that the boys reactions HAD to be a carefully contrived front he wouldn’t be able to keep any secrets at ALL. Charles could barely even manage to say “No Comment!” They HAD to get him out more! He seemed to have no concept of a “social front” at all; Lacking all reasonable fears meant he had no notion of conforming out of fear” either. He just did it to avoid upsetting people!

(Ubab) “I’m Orthodox, my friend. Much less meddlesome!”

Which had presumably been another reason for coming to Aden.

(Charles) “Oh, so it’s just naughty in that system? Well that makes more sense! It’s still really bad for you though! Alcohol is a selective neurotoxin, and causes damage to the central nervous system… Wait, is that another reason why you live here? So that that sort of thing will regenerate?”

(Ubab) “I haven’t had any of the pains in months. Truly, THIS is Paradise.”

Oh dear! That wasn’t exactly what he’d put healing into Aden for… OK, Ubab wasn’t hurting anyone else, and he was only wasting his own potential – not hurting himself otherwise – but this was just not right! No matter how contented Ubab was as an alcoholic, people should learn and grow, not just get happily drunk! But he didn’t want to make him sad, even if denying him his addiction would be better for him – and it wasn’t like he couldn’t get alcohol anyway; he just wanted it to be more convenient, so that he wouldn’t even have to leave the house!

Ah.

(Charles) “Very well! I shall bestow on you a Flask of Wisdom…”

Flask of Wisdom (Artifact **): A Flask of Wisdom produces an ever-varying selection of marvelous “wines”, fortified with vitamins, minerals, fully nourishing, and with minor healing properties – enough to hold arthritis and similar ailments at bay and to reduce the effect of mundane illnesses. While non-alcoholic, and with no deleterious physical effects (and certainly no hangovers), the “wine” is magically intoxicating – but works best when shared socially and freely, and only works at all when the user makes reasonably regular efforts at self-development or helping others – studying, teaching, learning to socialize, caring for children, whatever. The user will come to understand that within a few days of coming to own the flask – well before the “reasonably regular” requirement kicks in. A Flask of Wisdom has no attunement cost.

There! Endless bribery in a flask! After all, it wasn’t asking for anything MAJOR – just some slight regular effort. And well within what even the Orthodox faith required.

Ubab accepted the present… He was an ordinary man after all, and really didn’t devote any thought as to why it might be labeled a “Flask of Wisdom”. And, perhaps, he would grow. At least as long as he stayed in Aden, he had time.

On the way back there was a young man – of about his apparent age waiting for him.

(Charles, while checking for his name and such) “Oh hello!… Do you need something?

Hm. “Per Rosing”, a VERY recent arrival from a gate in Scandinavia.

(Charles) “Mr Rosing is it?”

(Per) “Hello, Charles! I went through that Yu-Shan place first. What a bunch of crazy sights! The lions directed me to one of your gates there, and I’ve been waiting for you. I wanted to talk to you about the colonization scheme!”

(Charles) “Well… the gates are already open (since the Song of Creation of course)… what did you want to talk about?”

(Per) “I wanted to see one of these worlds, and maybe get a tour?”

(Charles) “Well… most of the guides are busy leading colonists out at the moment, and a tour of a planet would take a long time – but there are several gates with rail lines to some of the new cities… If you just want a look around, perhaps one of those would do? Fifty or sixty miles of scenery, a look around a magical city, and a bit of exploration around it might be suitable.”

(Per, looking oddly disappointed) “I think I’ll do that. Will you be around after I’m through?”

That seemed a little odd really. After all, the papers on Earth had been FULL of planet descriptions and directions for going there for months now. Was there something more subtle going on here?

(Per) “If you don’t mind me asking before I go… why all this? It can’t be out of pure generosity.”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Why not? I don’t recall any rules about it… It was a certain amount of trouble, but while I had to invest some years in developing the resources and abilities it required I now I have them available for other projects… It was time well spent I think!”

(Per) “I don’t think most of Earth’s governments prepared for that.”

(Charles, indignantly) “Well I TOLD them!”

(Per) “But would they move fast enough even if they did take it seriously? The powers that be have hidden things for a long time.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, all they needed to do was let people through…”

(Per) “It’s unstoppable now! So, I’ll take a look at one of these worlds, and then come back. Okay?”

(Charles) “OK!”

And he got… a wink and a hug???? That was weird! And very startling! And more than a bit uncomfortable… Normally only Grandpa and the girls spent a lot of time hugging him!

He couldn’t avoid stiffening up as he ran a magical check to see if this was a diversion from something sneaking up or something – or suppress the faint glow of defensive spells.

(Per) “Oh, right. You’re probably worried about other magical threats. Sorry! I’ll get going!”

Charles was mildly surprised and somewhat interested… most normal humans wouldn’t have spotted that at all.

(Charles) “Oh no worries! It was just startlement!”

Per went off, slowly, leaving Charles scratching his head a bit. Sure, people did pointless things – but that just seemed a little… off. Maybe he was testing for something? But there didn’t seem to be an y active magic on him.

It never occurred to Charles that Per could have just been testing his reactions to physical contact – and that his results had been pretty clear; he obviously wasn’t used to men hugging him. It wasn’t like he’d ever given that much thought!

Charles decided to consult a bit. He wasn’t really all THAT good at reading motivations and such! But he had some friends who WERE good at it.

And the handiest bunch were the Kickaha who’d been playing bodyguard.

(Berri) “Uh . . . that was pretty gay, Charles. I think he might be into you.”

(Charles) “Erm? But… that doesn’t really work… Elzeard said that sort of thing was mostly reproductive behavior… Wait; is it just the social bonding aspect by itself?”

(Berri, blushing) “Uhm… I don’t really know either. What, you mean you didn’t realize people had sex for fun? Or lust?”

(Charles) “Well, yes… I just thought that it was usually opposite-sex pairs, since that really has to be the dominant instinct. Anything else would tend to breed itself out without a secondary aspect which kept up it’s frequency in the gene pool.”

(A chorus of half a dozen of the snarkier Kickaha, albeit in an affectionate and friendly manner) “NNNEEEEERRRRRDDDDD!”

(Berri) “That’s a little beyond me, Charles. Oh, geez. I’m going to have watch you more around girls now. Ever hear the term ‘gold digger?'”

(Charles) “Uhm… just looking for wealth? It’s not like there’s a shortage after all; just living in Aden is pretty comfortable!”

(Berri) “Yeah, but it could still happen if some girl who doesn’t know that comes in here.”

(Charles) “Well, it would probably be good to make sure that people who seem to be making approaches become subtly aware that they can be very comfortable without, well… paying for it by spreading their legs! We don’t really need that sort of thing!”

(Berri) “I’ll leave that up to you, boss. Um… what ARE you going to do about that guy, though? I think he picked up on it, but he’s got to be disappointed.”

(Charles) “Well, I never tried to guarantee that no one would ever be disappointed… If that was really what he wanted, he should have checked on how to arrange it; it’s not like the servants aren’t there to tell him… Although I’m not sure about what I’d tell him; even if you clean things, the physical arrangements sound kind of uncomfortable, at least on the… er… well… receiving end.”

(Berri, who happened to be female, a bit sardonically. Boys!) “I really wouldn’t know about that!”

(Charles) “It doesn’t sound like much fun!”

Per was back by eventually, looking impressed and a little chastened.

(Per) “You’re something… sorry if I made you feel awkward.”

(Charles, somewhat flustered) “Erm, well… if you were making an approach, most of the others doing that have been much more direct about it!”

(Per) “Oh. So you figured it out too. I assume you don’t go that way?”

(Charles) “Well, it sounds sort of messy and not all that much fun…”

(Per) “That’s how sex with girls sounds to me.” (Shrugging) “I’ll be in touch, though… or someone from the family, anyway. We were going to start a colony.”

(Charles, much more cheerily) “There’s lots of places for them!”

(Per) “Well, shake hands on it anyway?”

(Charles) “Certainly!”

Shadowed Galaxy Character Setup

Characters in the Shadowed Galaxy are presumed to be the survivors of a dystopian world and an even rougher career path. They’re tough and competent. They’re also mostly the beneficiaries of futuristic health care, diet, education, and training programs at some point (those who aren’t are the few who survived not getting that stuff, and are at least as tough). While they’re almost always Dystopian Survivor Humans, quite a few have some degree of genemods and cybrenetics, and a few (generally survivors of encounters with Idiotic relics and technologies) have templates or bizarre talents of one kind or another.

While it is, in theory, possible to play an alien, aliens who are capable of functioning in human societies are vanishingly rare. This basically falls under “negotiate with the game master”.

Attributes: Roll 4D6K3 seven times (discarding one) or use 28 Point Buy (“tougher campaign”).

All characters get the Low-Level Adventurer Template. To summarize, those affected get:

  • A -3 penalty on unskilled skill checks.
  • Very slow level advancement, by direct session-based character point awards rather than experience points. Succeeding in goals helps, but killing things and taking their stuff does not.
  • The status of valuable trouble magnets – they’re rare and find trouble everywhere they go.
  • A +3 bonus on five skills which suit their backgrounds and training. Sadly, this cannot be applied to active psionic or magical skills.
  • Extra hit points equal to [12 + (2 x Con Mod)].
  • Two minor special talents – one Class-A (roughly equivalent to the effects of a first level spell or power as adapted for a sci-fi setting) and one Class-B (roughly equivalent to the effects of a cantrip, also as adapted for a sci-fi setting). Possibilities suited to the Shadowed Galaxy include:

Class-A Talents:

  1. Advanced Aptitude: You get a +2 Bonus to apply to something. Attributes, AC, DR, Attacks, Damage, Saves, Movement (+10′ per +1), and Checks are all eligible. You can even split it into two +1 bonuses if you wish – or Corrupt or Specialize it to get it to +3 or +4 (on a particular group of skills, in a specific situation, with a particular type of weapon, etc). This is effectively a permanent, innate, bonus.
  2. Animal Affinity: You instinctively understand what animals want and can usually get them to do what you want.
  3. Bat Ears: You can hear extremely high and low frequency sounds, and can target unseen creatures within thirty feet without penalty with a successful listen check.
  4. Combat Intuition: As a swift action you may activate True Strike 2/Day, True Dodge 2/Day, and True Save 1/Day.
  5. Fast Healer: Your natural healing is doubled and scarring is eliminated.
  6. Fortunate: Whenever something is decided by chance within the game, you get two chances and may select which outcome you keep. Thus, for example, you will never draw the short straw.
  7. Goldberg: You may improvise a repair or component replacement on a device, whether it’s a spacecraft air recycler, a power generator, or a vehicle engine. Such improvisations are bulky, clumsy, and unreliable, but will work to some extent if the user manages to make a successful skill roll. Such repairs normally last some 1D6 days, but rush jobs (such as getting the engine working before the plane crashes) reduces the duration to 2D6 minutes. Each time the duration on a “Goldberged” repair runs out, there is a 1 in 6 chance that further attempts will be ineffective. Eventually, you simply have to do it right.
  8. Gun Bunny: You threaten all squares within your normal melee reach when wielding a gun as if it was a melee weapon and do not provoke attacks of opportunity when firing.
  9. Gymnast: You gain a +10 competence bonus to Acrobatics and Athletics checks.
  10. Hot Tempered: You may fly into a rage, in which you get a a +2 Morale Bonus to Str and Con, a +1 Moral Bonus on Will Saves, and a -2 penalty to AC.
  11. Hound’s Nose: You gain the Scent ability.
  12. Lethal Strike: Gain +2d6 Sneak Attack. This stacks with any purchased sneak attack.
  13. Light Sleeper: Any notable unfamiliar or unwelcome physical entity who comes within 20′ will automatically wake you up.
  14. Living On Your Nerves: You gain a +5 bonus on Initiative Checks
  15. Low-Light Vision: You can see twice as far as usual in low-light conditions.
  16. Mental Map: You can instinctively retrace your steps and never become lost.
  17. Psionic Aptitude: Gain +6 Power. You may develop Witchcraft, or even some Powers, with no formal training.
  18. Skill Expertise: You may roll twice, keeping the best result, with a chosen skill.
  19. Sniper’s Eyes: Gain +5 to Spot, range increments are increased by 50%.
  20. Toughness: Three points of any damage you take is converted to nonlethal damage.
  21. True Dreaming: If you have any ranks in the Sensitive skill, you will have occasional revealing or prophetic dreams.
  22. Unarmed Expertise: You gain +1 attack at your full BAB when fighting unarmed and are considered armed. Such attacks inflict 1d8 lethal or stunning damage at your option.
  23. Water Adaption: You gain a swim speed of 30′, can see clearly underwater, and can hold your breath for twice as long as usual. As a trivial benefit, you also don’t get wrinkled skin from water immersion.
  24. Weaponsmaster: You are proficient with any weapon you pick up.

Class B Talents:

  1. Bean Counter: You can count how many there are of something with a single glance.
  2. Diagnostic: With a few simple checks, you can reasonably accurately diagnose various injuries, diseases, and poisons.
  3. Fast Loader: As long as you have ammunition available and are free to move, reloading is not an action for you.
  4. Fast Draw: You may get objects out of pockets, off of belt loops, and similar as a free action.
  5. Herbalist: You may achieve results comparable to antibiotics, antitoxins, and various other drugs and salves with herbs and oils.
  6. Holdout: You may hide up to three small objects about your person. Short of a full strip-search and body cavity check, no one will be able to find them.
  7. Internal Compass: You never lose your bearings.
  8. Jumpstart: There’s never any startup delay when you start a system; it boots immediately, starts on the first try, and comes up to full power with little or no delay. Sadly, this won’t work on anything larger than a car.
  9. Knack: As per Advanced Aptitude, but the base bonus is only +1. Knacks do not stack with Advanced Aptitudes.
  10. Master of Flavor: You can turn any set of edible ingredients into a delicious meal.
  11. Meaningful Glances: You may convey several sentences worth of information with a quick glance, meaningful nod, or couple of twitching fingers. Sadly, this will not transmit technical details or anything overly complicated.
  12. Method Actor: You may “give off” a desired impression, such as “I am an authority on this topic”, or “I am obviously trustworthy”, or “I am old and harmless”. While this is merely a first impression, and will soon be overridden by actual experience, it will influence others reactions for at least a few moments.
  13. Natural Techie: You have an intuitive sense for how microtronic devices are supposed to be put together and operated. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about what they do.
  14. Organizational Knack: Your gear is always well-organized, you never lose your keys, glasses, or other sundries, and whenever you go to get something out it is always right on top.
  15. Photographic Memory (Mnemonic): You may precisely recall the things you witness for up to a week, and enjoy a +5 bonus on recall attempts thereafter.
  16. Quick Repair: You can get jammed or lightly damaged personal devices working again – at least briefly – by spending a few moments fiddling with or banging on them. This MAY work with larger devices, such as ship engines – but it would be most unwise to count on it.
  17. Second Skin: Whatever armor you wear, you may reduce it’s Armor Check Penalty by two and increase the maximum dexterity bonus it allows by one.
  18. Sensitive Nose: You can easily determine if someone has poisoned your food or drink – or it a suspicious substance is poisonous.
  19. Sun Eyes: You are immune to penalties for excessive illumination and gain a +4 bonus on saves against blinding lights.
  20. Survivalist: Your semi-improvised low-tech equipment (stone knives, crudely tanned leather, improvised bows, and similar items) performs as well as professionally crafted gear – allowing you to quickly build up two “Swiss Family Robinson” standards.
  21. Tolerance: You are virtually immune to the ill-effects of a specific drug, toxin, intoxicant, or similar substance. You are affected as if by one-fifth the dose you were actually exposed to.
  22. Vocal Chameleon: You may perfectly imitate a wide range of voices, going just a bit beyond the normal range for your species. This offers a +6 bonus on appropriate rolls.
  23. Wordpainting: Your descriptions are as clear to others as a picture would be.
  24. Zero-Gravity Expertise: You do not need to make rolls to maneuver easily in zero-gravity.

Skill Modifications:

  • The game is using the Condensed Skill List, although Arcane and Religion are Occult (rather than normal) Skills. There are, however, several additional skills (see next post). Some of them are quite vital to the characters.
  • Skills are rolled on 3d6 instead of 1d20.
  • Characters automatically get a 5 on passive checks (such as when walking by something that they might or might not notice), may “take 10″ normally, and may “take 15″ instead of 20.
  • A natural 3 is a serious failure, a natural 4 is an automatic failure, a roll of 17 is an automatic success, and a roll of 18 is a superior success.
  • Exceeding the DC by 10 or more gets a superior success. By twenty or more gets an astounding success. Declaring that you are trying for a superior or astounding success in advance gets you a +5 on your roll – but increases the base DC accordingly, making a complete failure more likely.
  • There are no synergy bonuses.
  • Each attribute provides points equal to its (Value – 6) to spend on Skills related to that attribute. Once again, note that there are important new skills:

Shadowed Galaxy Timeline

Between hyperspace slow time, subspace fast time, relativistic distortions, and other weird effects, no one has yet been able to really pin down the beginning, length, or conclusion (if, given the use of self-reproducing weapons during the war, it can even be said to have concluded yet) of the Idiotic War – or even say if it was one war, a series of smaller ones, or if there were prior Idiotic Wars involving still earlier species before the conflicts that humanity is sure of. Ergo, our timeline begins with the…

  • 2030’s: The Decline. As oil becomes steadily harder to obtain, and the world warms by three degrees celsius, energy shortages race with rising sea levels, crop failures, the spread of once-localized pathogens, and resource exhaustion to reduce the human population, biodiversity of the planet, and technology levels across the world. Despite the collapse of opposition to nuclear power, the increasing efficiency of solar and other renewable power sources, and increasing stress on efficiency, over the next decade the the population drops to half it’s 2028 peak and numerous areas lose most modern services. Those few countries fortunate enough to have made massive investments in nuclear and renewable energy well before the crisis period move into leadership positions. “Mercenary” becomes a respectable profession.
  • 2042: The Biocomp Project develops a practical neural interface, highly energy-efficient retinal projection and audio-canal speaker interfaces, and low-power demand implant computers driven by the hosts energies. The resulting surge in virtual environments, local coordination of farming and other activities, and the efficiency or making most services purely self-powered greatly reduces energy demands, helping to tip civilization into a period of recovery.
  • 2043: Thermal Clothing reduces the energy expenditure on space heating and cooling by well over 90%, leaving most of what is required to passive solar, geothermal, and water-driven systems.
  • 2048: The mass use of Neural Interfaces allows the statistical demonstration of the existence of Informational Manipulations, Faith, Spacefield Devices, and Psychic Abilities. While it takes years to overcome resistance to the “fringe” theories, the evidence is eventually persuasive.
  • 2051: Despite the stress on the proven technologies of Fission, Fusion research had continued – albeit slowly, with what few resources could be spared. The first practical Tokomak-style fusion reactors are immense – but soon became competitive with equivalent Fission plants.
  • 2055: The first formal programs in psychic training are opened up. While humans have very limited psychic potentials, trained psychics are a great deal of help in research and development.
  • 2057: Design refinements make fusion power plants cheaper than fission plants. With cheap power once again available, Hyper-Capacitor Energy Cells become cost effective despite their tendency to lose power relatively quickly.
  • 2063: Fusion plants can now be built small enough to be installed in major vehicles – and fusion thrusters allow humanity to begin practical expansion into the solar system. For a little while the prospect of once-more abundant resources drives reckless expansion.
  • 2065: While the population is still well below its peak, fusion-based resource recycling, cheap power, and increasing automation brings the per-capita global economy and production back to pre-decline levels. It will continue to rise for the next twenty-four years.
  • 2068: With computerized fusion-powered shipping now delivering most of the special services that are required, increasing mobility, and easy air travel, virtual countries and organizations become practical. While geographical countries remain important, people who primarily consider themselves members of virtual organizations, multinational corporations, and fanciful nations become increasingly common.
  • 2071: The first – very small and purely empirical – programs in Informational Technologies are opened.
  • 2075: The first Lunar State is declared. Given that this it is, in many ways, simply another fantastical virtual state, this provokes a few crabby speeches and several denial-of-service attacks on the new countries servers – but little more.
  • 2079: The Martian Zombie Plague. The investigation of some mysterious “structures” on Mars awakens (attracts? activates? spawns?) a spacefield weapon. While apparently limited in the number of victims it can control at any one time, the device suppresses it’s victims mental functions, provides a selection of enhancements, and uses their bodies to make apparently nonsensical changes in the planetary environment. Opposition is met with extreme violence. Returning some victims to Earth for study proves disastrous, but demonstrates the value of retaining national level military forces. There is still some dispute over whether the use of fusion bombs or the martyrdom of Pope Leo XIV and several hundred followers ultimately repelled the attack on Earth. Some areas of Mars are placed in permanent quarantine.
  • 2083: Hyperspace and Subspace are discovered. Despite the high rate of losses, early interstellar exploration and colonization begins by 2100.
  • 2099: The Kwan Yin colonizer leaves the Solar System using an experimental Hyperspace Drive.
  • 2118: Enough information is finally available to put together some theories on the Idiots. This will spark a debate over the wisdom of trying to spread out into the galaxy – and whether or not the hazards the Idiots left behind are enough to explain the Fermi Paradox – that has yet to be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.
  • 2126: Oort cloud mining crews discover traces of life deep in the ice of several planetoids. It uses DNA-RNA and protein coding compatible with earthly life, validating the Arrhenius Spore Theory, and explaining the existence of roughly-compatible biospheres (and extreme biohazards) around other stars.
  • 2144: The Warp Drive is developed. With a reasonably reliable FTL drive system available, humanity begins to flood out into the galaxy – and the Legacy of the Idiots is waiting for them. The resulting series of crisis keep the solar system in turmoil for several decades as attempts are made to deal with the various Idiotic Weapons and Technologies which are brought back by over-optimistic stellar explorers. Nevertheless, the prospect of new frontiers to settle proves a nigh-irresistible lure to many.
  • 2168: The Inertial Damping system is developed. Despite decades of research, no one can figure out how it actually works, but that does not much hinder the practical application of the effect.
  • 2172: The numerous disasters resulting from the Legacy of the Idiots finally result in a considerable reduction in the enthusiasm for extrasolar exploration.
  • 2180: Science and technology reach something of a plateau; the mysteries of Informational Technology, Spacefields, and Psionics have undermined belief in Science in the general population while absorbing the efforts of many of humanities best minds to no result. Worse, the “cutting edge” of scientific endeavors is now so complex that humanities best minds can only understand them with intensive study – further narrowing the pool of minds that might produce advances. Scientific progress slows to a crawl, and – barring a sudden success in the ever-failing quest to increase human intelligence through computer or genetic augmentation – may well stay at a crawl indefinitely.
  • 2187: The Solar Security Council finally agrees on a set of basic protocols for planetary exploration and bringing items back into the Solar System and to Earth in particular. While such precautions are nowhere’s near 100% efficient, and require quarantining several areas within the Solar System, they do reduce the stream of disasters to a far more manageable level.
  • 2192: “Mad” or “Cryptoscience” – non- or semi-reproducible devices and results – becomes widespread after some extensive popularization efforts. Unfortunately, Cryptoscience seems to rely on an mixture of psychic abilities, informational effects, and aberrant materials – and spreading out the crackpot tinkering did not result in the hoped-for development of a practical design theory. Cryptoscience devices can be quite valuable, but they only work for their creators – who are always at least somewhat insane.
  • 2202: After fifteen years of cautions testing of the Exploration Protocols, exploration and colonization efforts are renewed.
  • 2207: First Contact. The Riheal – a sapient, if technologically primitive – species is discovered. After much excitement, this turns out to be of very little importance.
  • 2239: Oberth – the first successful permanent interstellar colony – celebrates the 100’th anniversary of it’s founding. Such success is quite rare; all too many colonies collapse.
  • 2250: Genesis II launches a major effort to revive extinct species and restore natural environments across the Earth. Over the following decades this is semi-successful at best, but some restoration is accomplished. The debate between the “Fix the Earth first!” and “explore now!” groups continues without resolution, hindering both sides projects.
  • 2280: Today.

Some of the more pessimistic evolutionary theorists feel that – now that the galaxy is strewn with Idiotic Relics – constant warfare is inevitable. After all, the more such relics are left laying about, the greater the selection pressure towards racial paranoia will become – and when two paranoid species meet it is all too likely that one or both will soon be extinct and that yet more Idiotic Weaponry will be left scattered around. Most of the other camps hope that they are wrong.

Yes, this is a condensed timeline, primarily covering items of interest to interstellar explorers – and not too many of those. It’s for player orientation; if they want details on something, they can do a little in-game research.

Aurora Ward Index III

Session Logs:

  • Session I: Team formation, the arrival of Ahmik, a Cultist, a Powerstone, and introducing the Imaginal Wars.
  • Session II: Settling into the Silverhold, the arrival of Syphon, Training Exercises, Demonic Attacks, and a Flower Exhibition.
  • Session III: Imp Amulets, the departure of Syphon and the arrival of Mini-Max, the Book of Niberius, and Invocation Magic.
  • Session IV: Captain Thunder, Candyland, The Auction, Night Templar gets Possessed, Demon Summonings, and Sapphire Star.
  • Session V: The Mandate and the Wyrm Crown, the Night Auction, encounters with Plunder, Fear, Destruction, and Wraith Sword.
  • Session VI: Fear, Destruction, and Vengeance. Entering and Leaving the Realm of Opposites. Considering the Archmage and Chi’an Lung.
  • Session VII: The Wrath of the Wendigo, the Transformation of Antiquity.
  • Session VIII: Visiting Children, Niberius and Godzilla, Weaponizing Love, and the Demon Amulets.
  • Session IX: Investigating the Demon Amulets, Landscaping with Belial, Demonic Ensoulment Rituals,
  • Session X: Disabling the Rite, Boreas, Belial, and Mini-Max. Blood and Souls, the Counterspell, seeking the Archmage.
  • Session XI: Through the Chinese Hells, the Pool of Life, the Archmage Besieged.
  • Session XII: Relief Forces, the Dragons of the East,
  • Session XIII: Entrapment, Meeting the Archmage, Encountering the Orb.
  • Session XIV: A dinner, some history, the Orb – and into the Heart of Darkness.
  • Session XV: Departing the Archmage, a curious device indeed, Ameobro and the Animal Spirits, the Gates of Faerie.
  • Session XVI: Encounters with the Fey, Encountering Malwyn, Illusions and Reality, rescuing Samuel.
  • Session XVII: Ceara and Samuel, Malwyn shows his ire, investigating disappearances, magical contractors, the dangerous room, bumping heads with Belial.
  • Session XVIII: A dealing with demons, the Wendigo Camp, Bearageddon, a dealing with the dead, news of the assault.
  • Session XIX: Battle at the Silverhold, the Black Summons and the Light of Luathon, Driving with the Dead.
  • Session XX: Discussions with the Wind, Captain Massacre Attacks, Ameobrat fails to evade the Sniper, Dimensional Incursions, the Crimes of Captain Mayhem, Night Templar versus the Dark Knight and his Imps, Funniest Home Videos.
  • Session XXI: Tracing Malwyn, Murders in the Darkness, Discussions with the Seelie and Unseelie Fey, Encounters with the Orthallen.
  • Session XXII: Near Space Defense, Battles with Malwyn and the Battered Women, Belial’s Press Conference, Tracing NSD.
  • Session XXIII: My Evil Twin Skippy lives in My Evil Mirror House, the river rising, battles with the alternates, the escape of the Dark Knight and Munchkin, false equipment.
  • Session XXIV: Zantu Deliberations, visiting Saturn, the Archives of the Arith Vaya, the Glacial Guardian, into the frozen depths, debating with Darvian.
  • Session XXV: Explaining Ameobro, introducing the Dragon Circle, Runestones, Survivalism and the Codex Naberius, Voso, the Demon Thief of Magical Children.
  • Session XXVI: Bargains with Belial, Demonic Web Pages, Orabus the Equine Prince, Battling Voso, buying Demonic Children, Secrets of the Arith Vaya.
  • Session XXVII: Dealing with Demonic Children, Night Templar and the Angels of Wrath, Red Soulstone and Space Marines
  • Session XXVIII: The Press Conference, Malphas and Mayhem.
  • Session XXIX: The History of Mars, the Skorel and the Arith Vaya, interviewing Doctor Promethean, the Ghosts of Mars, True Necromancers.
  • Session XXX: The Shrine of Rathma, Bobby the White Necromancer, speculations on canned meat, Doctor Promethean again, Saurians for Mars.
  • Session XXXI: Feeding Ghosts, Piper and the Bombardment Epoch, descending the Axis Mundi, observing the destruction of Mars.
  • Session XXXII: Return from History, retrieving a Helmstone.
  • Session XXXIII: Spider Ships, Psychic Experiments, and Martian Possessions.
  • Session XXXIV: Issues on Earth – mercenaries, robotic law enforcement, and pegasus interviews. Megachurches, soulstone, the Indestructible Man, and Demonic Pants. Future Lawbots, investigating disappearances, and childish invocations.
  • Session XXXV: Murders of days long past, Haywire and the Future, Illiri, Mana Drains, Elder Spells, and Realtors, and the Pit of the Kyinn.
  • Session XXXVI: Johannus-not-a-ghost, Investigating the Kyinn.
  • Session XXXVII: Setting up the Space Marines and the Horsemen to collide.
  • Session XXXVIII: The Horsemen and the Space Marines.
  • Session XXXIX: Planning for Zantu, Ormarr the Obtuse, Colonel Ashford and his Psychic Sidekicks, the Galactic Bus, Ancient Air Defense.
  • Session XL: Into the Ancient Base on Zantu.
  • Session XLI: Ancient Chaos, Battle in the Control Chamber, Planetary Cataclysm and Reconstruction.
  • Session XLII: Samhain’s Self-Arrest, Search and Rescue, Trial of the Century, Ormarr on FTL, Invocations at Ceara’s School, Night Templar’s Child Endangerment Case, on the news with Belial, Armageddon shorts out, Voso lord of Spam.
  • Session XLIII: Demonic Danger Rooms, decontaminating Armageddon, Deplatypusing Captain  Mayhem, The Transtemporal Villain Swarm.
  • Session XLIV: The Goetic Council, Ambassadorial Portfolios, Armageddons Unholy Pants, and Vapula the Irritant.
  • Session VL: Voyage to Tibet, Niberios and North Korea, Battle at the Archmage’s, Arcane Considerations, and Signing Off on Time Travel.
  • Session VLI: A conference on restraints, summoning the Doctor, Go-fers and Grabboids, Antione and Illari, Gastion Emerys, Timewalker, and the oncoming horde.
  • Session VLII: Tracing Illari, Considering Syphon and Mini-Max, molten miniatures, collecting the Sniper.
  • Session VLIII: Ordering Weapons, a dealing with Dragons, Potions of Drunkenness, and the Bane Mummies explained.
  • Session IL: Researching the Racemind, The Nordic Realms.
  • Session L: Into the Nordic Realms, Modgud and the river Gjoll, Heimdall and Bifrost, the Wolves and the Gods, Loki, Jormungand, and Hela. Samhain contemplates moving out.
  • Session LI: The Fury at the Norsemen, disruptions on Zantu, ambassadors to the Pirate and Pony realms, Armageddon accidentally marries Prince Blueblood, Ameobro acquires some Changelings.
  • Session LII: Antione and the Kyinn, Surveillance Efforts, Pegasus and Perseus II, Amazon’s, Athena, and Icos. Introducing the Titanosaurs.
  • Session LIII: The Hydrasaur. Battle at Thunder Bay, Illari’s Projects.
  • Session LIV: Investigating the Genetics Lab, tracing the Titanosaurs.
  • Session LV: Ferret War Dance and the Ferret King, Battling the Titanosaurs.
  • Session LVI: Arach the Black, Forgemage, the Minotaur, the Zantu Survey.
  • Session LVII: Illari and the fight at the club.
  • Session LVIII: Titanosaurs Worldwide, the Battle of New York Harbor.
  • Session LIX: Interlude; Ceara summons the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
  • Session LX: Concluding the Battle of New York Harbor.
    • It’s worth noting that these logs are 1) summarized in places (especially conversations) and 2) from a particular characters viewpoint; they don’t tend to get into much detail on what the other characters are up to.

Background Materials:

The Cast: