The Battle Sage

Christopher West – or at least the Australian gamer Christopher West that had a gaming store and blog – seems to have disappeared from the internet, and even the wayback machine doesn’t have most of his Eclipse builds. It does have some though, and I have a few more – so, as time permits, I’ll see what I can reconstruct. Since there was a request for the Battle Sage, this build is up for reconstruction first – even if I do only have partial notes on it and so will be filling in quite a bit.

The Battle Sage is a medium-duty combatant who can call forth a weapon designed to work against a particular opponent – presuming that he or she knows enough about said opponents history to summon the appropriate opposing powers. Secondarily, he or she can help his companions coordinate their tactics against particular opponents.

That wasn’t a bad idea at all; a scholar built as something other than a primary spellcaster is a lot of fun – and, according to his notes, Mr West was indeed enjoying himself with it.

Our sample Battle Sage is level three, and is thus built on 96 (L3 Base) +6 (Duties to his order) + 6 (Disadvantages) +12 (L1 and L3 Bonus Feats) = 120 CP.

Basic Abilities (64 CP Total): BAB +3 (18 CP), Hit Dice: 3d8 (12 CP), Saves Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +2 (15 CP), Proficient with Light Armor (3 CP), Shields (3 CP), all Simple Weapons (3 CP), and a limited set of Martial Weapons (Longsword and Bows, 3 CP), and 7 Skill Points (7 CP).

Special Abilities (56 CP):

  • Vengeance Of The Long Fallen: Ranged Spirit Weapon with Exotic Appearance (Yaun-Ti Serpent Bow, appearance varies with the opponent), Specialized for Reduced Cost/Requires a History Check at DC 15 (+2 for each additional time it is called forth in a day), and only lasts for one minute per level when summoned (6 CP).
  • Breath Of Legends: Focused, Versatile, Improved, Imbuement, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effects (Gains an extra +1, the effects of a weapon crystal of choice (although this does not decrease the enhancement bonus necessary to use more powerful crystals), and may use Versatile to reallocate the plusses each time the weapon is summoned). Requires it’s own History check after the “Vengance Of The Long Fallen” is called forth to empower it, can only be used with the spirit weapon, not with a normal Yaun-Ti Serpent Bow – and so cannot be used very often. So when a battle sage summons his or her weapon it has an effective bonus of (1 + Level/3) (12 CP).
  • Armor of Myths: Innate Enchantment: Specialized for Reduced Cost/only active when the Spirit Weapon ability is active. 6600 GP effective value, 4 CP.
    • Master’s Touch (x.5, only for Yuan-Ti Serpent Bow and the Armor in this package, 1000 GP).
    • Force Shield I (x.7 Personal Only, 1400 GP).
    • Mithril Breastplate (+5 AC, Max Dex +5, ACP -1, ASF 15%, Move 30, 4200 GP).
  • Ward Of Legends: Focused, Versatile, Improved, Imbuement, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effects (Gains an extra +1, the effects of an Armor or Shield crystal of choice (this does not decrease the enhancement bonus necessary to use more powerful crystals), and may use Versatile to reallocate the plusses each time the armor is called upon). Requires it’s own History check after the “Weapon Of Legends” is called forth to empower it, can only be used with the Armor of Myths above and so cannot be used very often. So when he summons his armor he gets a bonus on it of (1 + Level/3) (12 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect, Corrupted / only to keep Adept skills maxed out (4 CP).
  • Adept: Knowledge/History, most likely a Martial Art, and two other skills of choice (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/Psychometry. This effectively combines Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions, Object Reading, and Blood Biography (Pathfinder) (6 CP).
  • Rally the Legions/Presence. The user and all allies within 10′ gain the Legionary Feat, but if they leave that radius they loose the beneft and cannot regain it for the rest of the encounter. (6 CP).

At this point the Battle Sage’s primary advantage is fairly obvious. When your third level party desperately needs a +1 Undead Bane Ghost Touch weapon they are not likely to have one handy – unless the group contains a Battle Sage. At which point said Sage can spend a round making knowledge checks, and suddenly be wielding one – along with some armor with just the right protective effect on it. While a Battle Sage is still a one-trick pony at this level, many third level characters are – and it is a fairly good trick.

What to buy at higher levels? Well, here are some possibilities:

Classics Of War (12 CP): Mystic Artist (Knowledge / History) with Echoes, Specialized for Double Effect, Corrupted for Reduced Cost: Only to employ the inspiration abilities that grant positive levels, only to provide bonuses in combat against specified enemies, requires that the player provide some tolerably plausible directions. Unfortunately, such device is always fairly specific; the user cannot simply provide directions against “orcs”, it must be something like “They are fighting in a version of the Keldian Style! Such variants are weak against…”.

“Serinican Iron Golems? Strike at the joints in the legs: they are weakest there and have a hard time defending them!”

Giving some of your allies two positive levels for the purposes of fighting those iron golems provides them with 2d10 (+2 x Con Mod) hit points, +2 to their BAB, AC, and Saves against them, and 12 CP worth of special benefits. At the simplest… how does Augment Attack (+4d6 damage versus Iron Golems, 12 CP) sound?

This does require a +9 or higher (Skill + Attribute Bonus) in Knowledge/History – but that shouldn’t be any problem by level four or five.

Chains Of History (12 CP): 1d6 (4) Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (Minor Edits cost 1 Point, Notable Edits cost 2, Major ones cost 3, and Grandiose ones cost 4). Requires a History Check at DC 15/18/24/36 for Minor/Notable/Major/Grandiose Edits, only for Reality Editing, only to “recall” convenient “facts” that can be used against a particular enemy, allows a Will save at a DC of (14/18/22/26 + User’s Int Mod) to resist, may only spend 4 mana on Chains of History per encounter. Plus Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/only to refill the Chain of History Mana Pool.

  • Minor: “Call upon the Light of Ixion when you cast! She will empower your spells to pierce his cloak of darkness!”. Reducing an opponents effective Spell Resistance can be quite helpful.
  • Notable: There is a bare patch on his left breast! Aim there and your arrows will sink deep!” At this level… you get a bonus to hit and extra damage. As a minor edit, you might just get a small bonus to hit.
  • Major: “His Crown! Much of his power lies within his Crown! If you destroy much of his magic will fail!”
  • Grandiose: “But I know your true name, Ramthonosiderin Of The Seventh Abyss, and by it I command you to return to the Darkness from which you came!”

With this trick you can make an enemy vulnerable to particular types of attacks, force them to engage specific enemies (he goes berserk if you insult his…), and hamper them in many other ways. Of course, there is always the dreaded “I made my save!” “Foolish Scholar! Did you think that I would not have taken measures to counter such attacks when I knew that my weakness against them had been discovered?”.

Voice Of History (12 CP): This one is simple: take Breath of Legends to Specialized for Double Effect instead of Half Cost (12 CP) and double up the bonuses.

Armor of Inevitability (12 CP): Take Ward of Legends to Specialized for Double Effect instead of Half Cost (12 CP) and double up the bonuses.

Digging Up The Dirt (6 CP): Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only for Favors, may cause serious resentment if used incautiously. Given a few hours to check around, the Sage can find enough blackmail material on individuals or groups to extract two Minor or one Major favors from them – and need not ask about being asked for favors in return since the connection will soon cease to exist.

Unleash The Hounds Of War (6 CP): Inherent Spell/Summon Nature’s Ally III with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / can only summon Dire Wolves and Wolves. Later Inherent Spells can include things like Legend Lore and other divinatory or battlefield effects.

March Of History (6 CP): Advanced Blessing (Affects up to (Cha Mod individuals plus the caster), Specialized for Reduced Cost / can only “share” the benefits of Vengeance Of The Long Fallen, Breath Of Legends, and Master’s Touch abilities – allowing much of the party to share in the benefits of suddenly having a nifty weapon customized to suit the opponent.

Overall, the Battle Sage is reasonably effective – and often very convenient to have around – in a fight. Unless they broaden their ability set, however, their out-of-combat options are a bit thin. Still, the real fun in playing one lies in being able to make stuff up, be a know-it-all, and have it actually work. Even just their basic weapon-and-armor setup invites you to add names, a history of mighty battles, and tales of enemy defeats to things – all justified because those things are now empowering your weapon!

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part IV: Vehicles

  • For Part I – the Basic Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates – Click HERE.
  • For Part II – Advanced Pulp Powers Part I – Click HERE.
  • For Part III – Advanced Pulp Powers Part II, Pulp Drugs, and Pulp Archetypes – Click HERE.

Another major category of Pulp Heroes lacks special powers beyond the basics (although, to be fair, amazing reflexes, expert marksmanship, rapid healing, resistance to mind control, and being tough as nails can get you a long way all by themselves). Instead, they had vehicles.

That doesn’t sound all that impressive does it? Still, looking back… The 1908 New York to Paris race had fired imaginations and firmly established motor vehicles as catalysts for wild adventure. Combined with the start of the production of the Model T late that year, it led to calls for road construction and turned cars into a heroic fantasy that any young man or woman could aspire to.

By the time that the Model T ceased production in 1927, well into the pulp era (roughly 1920 to 1941), Ford had sold a little more than fourteen and a half million units. The United States went from one vehicle per ten thousand people in 1900 to one per five in 1930. (Today it’s close to one to one).

Adventure, the freedom and call of the open road, exploration, and the dream of leaving all your troubles behind had come to everyone. The automobile and sheer distance replaced the horse and the wild frontier in popular mythology. Bonnie and Clyde replaced Billy The Kid. Prohibition led to a crime wave – and gangsters, g-men, tommy guns, and fast cars became enduring symbols.

Motor Vehicles – and particularly fast, powerful, customized or unique vehicles – weren’t just equipment for heroes, to be parked and forgotten. They were heroic attributes in themselves, and sometimes almost characters. Tom Swift had motorcycles, and cars, and planes, and more, the Green Hornet had the “Black Beauty”, Biggles had his planes, and Batman had his Batmobile.

So… we’ll want our pulp heroes vehicles to be attributes of the heroes themselves, not quite full characters – but something that can readily be called on when they’re needed, restored if they are damaged or destroyed, and will quietly disappear from the story when they’re not needed.

Fortunately, the Witchcraft rules provide a mechanism for that. Just take…

  • Witchcraft/Path of Fire/The Birth of Flames. Corrupted for Increased Effect (Construct IX) and Specialized for Reduced Cost / Creates a vehicle (3 CP; a Pulp Hero can have two Vehicles for his or her Pulp Feat). Vehicles do not get their own actions; they must be operated by pilots, drivers, gunners, and other crewmen using their own skills and BAB, they can only be manifested or unmanifested off-screen in reasonably plausible locations, they always have type flaws (for example, most air vehicles cannot carry nearly as much weight as their strength indicates and only get half the usual number of hit points), and they suffer from any obvious vehicular limitations (such as not maneuvering well in dungeons). They do get a x3 multiplier for long-distance travel though, as they are utterly tireless.

In general that gives our vehicles 144 HP, a Move of 50′, AC 33, and allows them to cause up to 2d6+18 damage if they make a “physical attack”, They generally get a +6 on their saves (or may use their pilot/drivers saves), and can carry up to six tons as a light load. That’s neither very fast nor very versatile – but as Level IX Psychic Constructs they get to select some options. That will give us…

WWI Style Biplane (Large):

  • Class-A: Swim 30 (Floats), Spell Storing I (Bombs. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Energy Balls only, dropped only, but self-charging for 3 Shots/Day, 7d6 base, Reflex Save DC 14), Fly 20 (Average).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, 2x Versatile (Increase Flight Speed to 80′, Double Overland Travel).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Cockpit and Passenger Area), Elemental Aura (Guns: “Sonic” damage, uses a ranged touch attack with long range rather than a save), Versatile II
  • Flaw: Air vehicle. Limited carrying capacity, half hit points (72).
  • Note: Can only “attack” in melee if someone manages to bump into the propellers.

THE vehicle of choice for tiny expeditions to far corners of the world, a biplane can land almost anywhere, requiring only a bit of open (if reasonably flat) ground or water to get its floats into. If you want to reach towering timelost mesas full of monsters, distant deserts burying ancient occult cities, temples perched on the peaks of unclimbable mountains, or cliff-sided islands inhabited by lost civilizations, and you aren’t a mad scientist or a friend thereof, then a biplane is the vehicle of choice for you. It will invariably be damaged, or have to be left behind as you venture into someplace where it won’t fit, but with any luck the intrepid pilot will get it repaired in time to swoop in to save you somewhere along the way.

WWII Battle Tank (Huge):

  • Class-A: Celerity (Move 60′), Damage Reduction (Variant, 2/-), Resistance (Fire/5).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Trample (Does primary attack damage by running over things), Spell Storing II (Main Gun, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Energy Balls only, but self-charging for 6 Shots/Day, 13d6 base, Reflex Save DC 17)
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartment), Energy Bolt (Machine Guns, Specialized/Sonic Only, but double length), Extreme Damage Reduction (+6/-, totaling 8/-).
  • Flaw: Incredibly heavy. Cannot cross ice, most bridges, and so on, has many blind spots, and is very noisy.

It’s big. It’s tough. It grinds along unstoppably. It goes “bang” really well. It has a big gun barrel sticking stiffly out in front of itself to serve as a phallic symbol AND it fights land wars in Asia. Rockets are close runners-up, but they’re too fragile to really compete for the title of “the most manly possible ride”. NOTHING says “OH NO YOU DON’T” to a group of cultists about to sacrifice the girl, or a mafia hit squad waiting in ambush, or some effeminate schemer who isn’t MANLY enough to deal with his opponents directly, like a tank coming in through their wall. Most of them come with a box of cigars inside so that the pilot can clench one in his or her teeth. If you must fight a giant monster, or swarm of soldiers… there are much worse tactics to use than riding into the fight in a tank.

WWII PT Boat (Huge):

  • Class-A: Swim x 3 (90′),
  • Class-B: Spell Storing II (Torpedoes or missiles, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Energy Balls only, but self-charging for 6 Shots/Day, 13d6 base, Reflex Save DC 17), Fast Healing II, Crew Facilities (Baths, Galley, Etc).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartments), 2x Energy Bolt (Machine Guns, Specialized/Sonic Only, but double length),
  • Flaws: No ground movement, crew exposed when using machine guns.
  • Note: A PT Boat can run over smaller boats and swimmers in the water, inflicting it’s melee attack damage.

PT Boats (and more modern missile boats) serve the same role as spacecraft in other tales; they are lightly armed and fragile vessels, rushing between isolated pockets of civilization separated by a hostile environment, carrying their small crews into heroic confrontations with considerably larger and more powerful groups. Only going very fast, great courage, and posing dramatically on the deck as your agile craft flashes across the sparkling blue sea can save the day!

In somewhat more practical terms, PT boats acknowledge that standing up to modern weaponry requires either a floating fortress or not being there – and an agile small craft is a LOT cheaper to build than a battleship or aircraft carrier and yet can still carry a few heavy weapons. For gaming, they’re also conveniently small enough for a modest group of adventurers to fill all the major crew roles.

Flash Gordon Spacecraft (Huge):

  • Class-A: Elemental Subtype (Space), 2x Flight (40′ in atmosphere).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Facilities (Baths, Galley, Etc), Spell Storing II (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for a spell or spells of up to L3 used to represent bizarre weapons, 18 self-charging levels worth per day).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartments), Dimension Slide (Stardrive Variant: Once out of atmosphere may travel between worlds and solar systems in plot-convenient time), Shields (Variant on Extreme Deflection, +4 to AC, +4 to Saves).
  • Flaw: Sealed Environment: Characters cannot use their own powers against external targets while inside. Prone to weird malfunctions and negative space wedgies.
  • Note: Exploration craft may come equipped with True Seeing (Variant: Long-Range Sensor Systems) instead of Shields. They may also make physical attacks by ramming things; but this is a very poor idea.

Once humanity ran short of isolated places to place mysterious adventures in on earth, there were only a few places left to turn to – the heavens and the depths. And what could plausibly lie hidden in the depths was somewhat limited compared to the endless reaches of the heavens. There lay infinite space for campy villains, primitive-yet-star-faring civilizations, and dastardly outlaws. Oddly enough, most of the heroes were just the same as ever, even if they had rayguns and ships instead of pistols and horses/trains/cars; perhaps it helped maintain an element of familiarity when an author got too lurid with his or her aliens.

Pulp Fiction Mole Drill (Huge):

  • Class-A: 3x Tunneling (30′).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Facilities (Baths, Galley, Etc), Earthsense (Can navigate while buried in the earth).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartments), Extreme Damage Reduction (Armored Hull, DR 6/-), True Seeing (Variant, environmental sensors and onboard lab).
  • Flaw: Mole Drills turn extremely gradually, do not allow the crew to exit until they emerge into an open location, and are sealed environments that do not allow the crew to use most abilities against external targets.
  • Note: A Mole Drill can combine it’s two physical attacks into a single one if something is stupid enough to stand in front of it’s drill – but it generally cannot physically attack otherwise.

Like a spaceship, a mole drill can conveniently deliver our heroes to some exotic locale (usually a sample of an ancient civilization or a primordial realm) and then inescapably strand them there. Unlike a spaceship, this comes with a chance for claustrophobic tunnels to connect to other pocket realms hidden deep within the Earth’s crust and near-complete blindness; until the Drill actually emerges into the inner world its contents are likely to be utterly unknown. Even better, it’s easier to add fuel or life support constraints when it’s impossible to know just how far that your vehicle will have to travel in the first place. It even offers you a chance to have geological upheaval or to have something horrendous crawl back up the tunnel! (Mole drills don’t normally leave tunnels, but why not?).

Sporty Spy Car (Large):

  • Class-A: Swim 30, Celerity x4 (90′ Base Move, Specialized for Double Movement / uses wheels, and is thus very restricted when it comes to offroad operation. Move 180′),
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Versatile (+2 Class-A Abilities), Spell Storing II (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only a fixed set of self-charging spy car gadgets (Smoke Cloud x 3, Grease x3, Nitrous Oxide Burst (Personal Haste) x3, Flamethrower (Burning Hands x3), Light (Floodlights) x3, and Magic Missile (Minigun) x3).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Passenger Compartment), True Seeing (Advanced Sensors), and Energy Bolt (Minimissile Launcher).
  • Flaw: The spy car is obviously terribly expensive and highly customized, and thus suspicious. It has only half the usual HP, and has a nasty tendency to get involved in car chases even if there is no rational reason for one to occur.
  • Note: Sporty Spy Cars can run into targets for their base physical attack damage, but take 1d6 damage when they do so.

In the beginning a fast car was enough to justify adventure all by itself; you could stumble across isolated criminal hideouts, have fast chases, outrun monsters, and encounter weird monsters in the deep wilderness. But as more and more people got cars of their own, just having a car – and, very little later, just owning a fast car – was no longer enough. Too many people were traveling, and finding that a couple of hundred miles didn’t really make THAT big a difference. Thus later pulp heroes needed special cars, with built-in gadgets – which ironically enough made them more fragile since you needed to damage the car when you wanted to take those gadgets away. So here we have one late-model pulp car, with enough built-in armament to bring out every SWAT team in a fifty mile radius if the police should ever catch on.

Zeppelin (Huge):

  • Class-A: 2x Flight (Corrupted/Lighter-than-Air; maneuverability is appalling, opponents get a +6 to hit. 60′ Maximum – although it can hover and spin slowly in place)
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Facilities (Baths, Galley, Etc), Extra Attack (a second gunner can fire a second lighting cannon blast).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Gondola), Extra Buff (+30 HP: Zeppelins can actually take a lot of damage before going down), Energy Bolt (Lightning Cannon).
  • Flaw: Flammable, counts as two sizes larger whenever this would be disadvantageous for it, but not otherwise.
  • Zeppelins can inflict standard physical damage if something runs into their propellers, and COULD ram something – but it’s an incredibly impractical tactic. Pretty much everything but mountains is more maneuverable than a Zeppelin.

The huge ship sliding slowly into place overhead and hovering without visible means of support save for a muted humming sound is a staple of modern sci-fi movies, displaying their aliens vast power and mastery of mysterious forces for all to see. It evokes images that go all the way back to gods standing on the clouds and hurling thunderbolts. It’s no coincidence that many pulp stories equipped their flying machines with “electric rays”.

It’s also an export from early stories about lighter-than-air flying machines. Who could imagine that a wisp of hydrogen or helium – substances that relatively few readers of fantastic fiction at the time would ever have encountered or even heard of – could loft immense vehicles into the sky and hold them there? From there it was a short jump to Edgar Rice Burroughs “Eighth Ray”, Jules Verne’s “Cavorite”, Space 1889’s “Liftwood”, DC’s Nth Metal, and many other substances that offer the freedom of the skies.

Zepplins come in many variations; you want to pull out “Extra Buff” to upgrade the Facilities to include laboratories and workshops? Perhaps fill the Class-B slot with some missiles? Now you have the ever-popular mobile base to let you explore lost worlds.

The Damned Ship (Huge):

  • Class-A: 2x Swim (60′), Damage Reduction 5/Magic.
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Facilities (Baths, Galley, Etc), Poison Touch (1/round the ships master may attempt to poison one living creature aboard, inflicting 1 Con/1d2 Con damage (Fort Save DC 20, 1 minute). This is often employed to keep the peace between incompatible groups.
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartments), Noncorporeal (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (can also access the Shadow and Astral Planes) / Once activated the crew must visit another plane and accomplish some sort of quest there before returning, this takes some time), and Dimension Slide.
  • Flaw: The Damned Ship is only designed to travel between the worlds. Once it arrives in a particular dimension and sales into port, any travel beyond moving a bit along the coast will send it off into another dimension again.
  • Note: The only way that the Damned Ship can attack is by swinging it’s booms across the deck. Anyone struck will take normal slam damage.

The Damned Ship veers sharply into the Fantastic Fiction category – but works such as The Ship Of Ishtar (Abraham Merritt) and many other fantasies are firmly part of the pulp era. The style goes right back to the Adventures of Sinbad – but instead of the adventures being placed in distant and unknown lands (in short supply in the nineteen hundreds) they are displaced into other dimensions and various mystic realms, whereupon the ships (usually unwilling or accidental) passengers must accomplish a series of quests to return home.

Now, if you want a modern version of The Damned Ship, just change a few details and call it a TARDIS.

Motorcycle (Medium):

  • Class-A: Celerity x4 (90′ Base Move, Specialized for Double Movement / uses wheels, and is thus very restricted when it comes to offroad operation. Move 180′), Flight (Specialized; provides +30 to Jump checks and allows ignoring the maximum distance rule if in use, but does not allow flight).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Versatile (gets +2 Class-A abilities for the five given above), Sentient (Specialized for Double Effect / only gets Jump +38 and the Run Feat).
  • Class-C: Impossible Maneuver (Dimension Slide; the cycle may use this to jump a chasm, slide under a truck, jump between two cars on a moving train, and so on), Gun Mount (May project a 4d6 ray of force once per round as a free action), Squeeze (Motorcycles can be ridden down corridors, through doorways, and through a wide variety of other places where the game rules, as written, say that they should not fit).
  • Flaw: Unprotected. Motorcycles offer their riders a +2 Cover Bonus to AC, but nothing more – and crashes can easily lead to serious injury. They also have very, very, limited passenger and storage space.
  • Note: Motorcycles can do normal physical attack damage by running into or over people.

The motorcycle is a popular pulp vehicle because it’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s capable of a wide variety of stunts (even if many fictional ones are only semi-plausible), it offers no cover for it’s rider (allowing him or her to be more heroic), and because it’s a splendid substitute for a horse when you’re transplanting “western”-styled tales into modern or sci-fi settings.

This particular motorcycle is actually semi-realistic. It’s maximum jump distance is a fair match for the current worlds record and it’s “Impossible Maneuvers” may be unrealistic, but they’re seen in action movies with considerable frequency. The fact that it can do such things routinely is the incredible part, but that’s fairly normal for the pulps.

Jetpack (Medium):

  • Class-A: 4x Flight (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (160, no wings) / jetpacks are very difficult to control and only allow fairly limited flight durations), Knockdown (ramming a target with a jetpack is quite effective at knocking things back).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Versatile (+2 Class-A Abilities, for the five given above), Great Attribute (Dexterity, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/only to allow the user to pull off remarkable flight maneuvers – given sufficient skill).
  • Class-C: Compressible (a Jetpack can be folded up and packed into a briefcase), Elemental Blast (A jetpacks thrusters can be used to emit a 60′ cone of fire, although this does only 4d6 damage), and Shrinking (A jetpack is actually rather small and light, although this has no other effect on it’s characteristics).
  • Flaw: Jetpacks offer no protection to the pilot, have no internal passenger or cargo space, tend to blow up if they hit zero hit points or ram into something at high speeds. They also take double damage from fire, have a very limited cargo capacity, and only have half the usual number of hit points.
  • Note: Jetpacks can inflict triple the normal attack damage with full-speed diving ram attacks, but this also inflicts damage to them and their pilot.

Jetpacks (and rocket boots and so on) really aren’t all that popular any longer. The heady notion of personal freedom of the skies has run into decades of experience with humans not being very aerodynamic, the hazards of crashing while being virtually unprotected AND having a tank full of extremely volatile fuel on your back, running out of fuel, and the accumulation of practical thoughts like “Do I really want a jetpack firing streams of fire two inches from my buttocks?”.

Fortunately, in the pulps, pants are pretty much indestructible, which at least takes care of THAT problem, so our heroes can soar gloriously through the skies as much as they please.

Mad Scientist Spider Transport (Huge):

  • Class-A: Celerity (Ground Speed 60′), Fly (Specialized and Corrupted/only to allow the spider walker to stick to walls and climb easily), Swim (30).
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Spell Storing II (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for a spell or spells of up to L3 used to represent bizarre weapons, 18 self-charging levels worth per day. If nothing else seems appropriate… 9 Web Bombs), Heavy Deflection (Force Shield, +4 Deflection bonus to AC).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Crew Compartment), Advanced Facilities (Living quarters and sufficient tools, shops, and libraries to provide a +2 Tool Bonus on any reasonable skill), and Energy Bolt (sonic cannon).
  • Note: Spider Transports can attack physically if their pilot makes the rolls to make them try to step on things. Of course, on a miss, the creature attacked gets a free chance to try to climb aboard.
  • Flaw: Spider Transports are notorious for weird malfunctions when damaged, are incredibly conspicuous, and have all kinds of exposed parts, cables, and hatches for enemies to climb on or into.

A traveling laboratory and home-away-from-home for the discriminating mad scientist, Spider Transports are off-road vehicles supreme, capable of crossing water, climbing sheer cliffs, and still providing comfortable quarters and facilities for traveling explorers. Of course they tend to freak people out, but then you can’t have everything.

Abominable Spawn Of The Eldritch Night (Huge):

  • Class-A: Elemental Subtype (Immune to Acid, double damage versus Lightning), Fly, Swim.
  • Class-B: Fast Healing II, Energy Touch (Acid), Extra Attack (Writhing Tentacles).
  • Class-C: Enveloping (Absorbs the summoner when it’s called into reality), Natural Invisibility (the mortal mind cannot accept the existence of the Spawn, and so cannot perceive it unaided), and either Dimension Slide or Noncorporeal.
  • Note: Unlike most vehicles, an Abominable Spawn can make melee slam attacks normally if the pilot chooses to spend his or her time that way.
  • Flaw: Besides being huge, clumsy, and prone to provoking violent reactions (small earthquakes, violent storms, etc) from the world itself, piloting an Abominable Spawn will gradually drive any mortal quite insane.

These shambling horrors somewhat resemble H.G. Wells Martian Tripods, and somewhat resemble octopuses, and somewhat resemble trees, and could resemble any number of other things if the human mind was capable of accepting their forms without breaking down. Melding your mind with one to “pilot” it is NOT a good idea for most heroes, but it’s a fine method for an insane cultist to fight a party of pulp heroes.

The immobile variant usually has more facilities and life support and works as an eldritch base.

And yes, you can make even more powerful vehicles – all you have to do is specialize things for increased effect rather than reduced cost – but that tends to wander over into “battle fleet” territory.

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part III: More Pulp Powers, Pulp Drugs, and Pulp Archetypes

For Part I – the Basic Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates – Click HERE.

For Part II – Advanced Pulp Powers Part I – Click HERE.

And to continue the list of advanced pulp powers…

  • Pressure Point Mastery/Elfshot: You may spend 1 Power as a free action to cause your unarmed strikes to inflict double-strength Elfshot effects that last for one minute.
  • Prophecy/Witchsight (GM controlled): You may see glimpses of destiny in visions, or hear mysterious voices, or read Tarot Cards, or throw the I-Ching – but you get occasional free clues, or mysterious warnings, or clairvoyant flashes, or what-have-you – but the mechanism remains the same for each individual seer.
  • Providential Privacy/Shadowweave (constant): Mundane attempts to subtly eavesdrop on you, bug or record you, follow you unnoticed, get a look at you when you’re insufficiently dressed, or read over your shoulder, automatically fail thanks to providential shadows, noises, and other interference – but the failure mode (of subtlety or information gathering) is up to the game master.
  • Razor Tongue Technique/Glamour (constant): Your body language, expressions, and words are subtle social weapons. As long as you aren’t actually in combat you can make people look like idiots, infuriate them, flatter them, sow rumors, or provoke dissension without appearing to say or do anything particularly out of line. You can make a Diplomacy, Bluff, Oratory, or Intimidate check once per round as a free action without this being apparent to anyone who does not make a will save. You may spend 1 Power as a swift action to gain one use of Pathfinder’s Antagonize, Call Truce, or Taunt feats.
  • Reaching Hand, The/The Hand Of Shadows: You may manipulate items within 60 feet as if you were using one hand with Str 12. This does not require line of sight if you know where the item to be manipulated is and provides tactile feedback, allowing you to pick locks and such with your usual skills. You may thus unbar doors, yank a vehicles steering wheel, throw a knife, or even inflict 3d6 damage to a target who fails to save by squeezing their internal organs (this will not work if they are immune to critical hits). This costs 1 power per minute of use.
  • Scent/Witchsight (constant): You gain the Scent ability. Note that, outside of combat, you can identify disguised individuals by their scent, detect and identify poisons and drugs in food, drinks or the air, locate herbs and other substances, gain a +6 bonus to locating food and water in the wild, identify wines, identify potions, and perform similar tricks.
  • Second Wind/Hyloka: You may spend 1 Power as an Immediate Action to gain (1d6+Con) (that’s Con, not Con Mod) temporary hit points – or twice that if you are wounded to the 50% mark or more. Unfortunately, these only last for ten minutes, this ability cannot be used more than once an hour, and such hit points do not provide healing, although new damage is (as usual) taken from temporary hit points first.
  • Sensory Filtering/Hyloka (constant): You may automatically filter out unwanted sensory stimuli. You cannot be blinded, stunned, or dazzled by bright lights, nauseated by odors, or influenced by torture or pain. You may also filter distractions, allowing you to do things like listen to a specific conversation in a crowded, noisy, room without penalty.
  • Shadow Meld/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power to cloak yourself in shadows for thirty minutes. During this time you gain a +12 Circumstance Bonus to Stealth and may hide in plain sight – but these benefits only apply if there are at least some natural shadows or dimly lit areas about.
  • Shamanic Adept/Dreamfaring: You may detect the presence of nature spirits and communicate with them. After that, it’s up to you to be persuasive, but anything from getting information on up to causing or preventing natural disasters is possible.
  • Signature Weapon/Witchfire (constant): A favored weapon or pair of weapons is infused with Power, gaining “+2″ worth of Enhancement Bonuses and/or special abilities (they do not have to include an enhancement bonus). You may apply this effect to your fists if you so desire.
  • Simulate Death/Hyloka: You may spend 3 power as an Immediate Action to enter a deep trance. In this state you need not breathe more than once per week, do not bleed, and are basically treated as an object; you are unaffected by poison, energy drain, nondestructive extremes of temperature, and so on. You may set triggers that will immediately awaken yourself (2 Power per Trigger) or can be awakened with twenty minutes and a DC 20 Heal check.
  • Soul Sight/Witchsight (constant): With a few moments of concentration you may look beyond the surface of reality to peer into the realms of the soul. Unfortunately, what this can show you will vary from game to game; in some settings you may see deeply into peoples personalities or prior incarnations or what mystical forces are influencing them. Perhaps you will see and interact with powerful spiritual entities, or lost gods Perhaps you will be able to guide the wandering dead to their final destinations. Or maybe you won’t. You can, however, spend 3 Power and a Standard Action to set a soul-link on anyone who fails to save within twenty feet. While you can only maintain (Cha Mod) soul-links at a time, until you drop such a link you will have a general idea of the target’s location and condition no matter where they go – and may get odd warnings and visions about what they’re up to. For 5 Power and a touch, you can attempt a meeting of souls – perhaps exploring deep motivations, or coming to an understanding, or getting to battle a neurosis or possessing entity. Discuss this one with your game master; this is a deeply mystical power and will mean different things in different settings.
  • Stage Magic/Hand of Shadows and Shadowweave: You get a +10 bonus to Sleight of Hand and Escape Artist and may perform elaborate feats of stage magic with Sleight of Hand, a few basic props, and either 1d4 rounds to prepare or the expenditure of one power as a swift action, and may spend one power to use Sleight Of Hand or Disable Device at a range of 20 feet.
  • Surge of Strength/Hyloka: You may spend 1 Power as a free action to gain a +10 bonus on a single strength-related check, including jumping, melee damage, or smashing things.
  • Synergistic Knowledge/The Inner Eye: You may pool the information available to every willing target within twenty feet, including things they have forgotten or clues that were never mentioned to the other characters. Everyone involved can attempt to aid whatever the best knowledge skill roll in the group is and theories may be assembled using those augmented skills and all of the available information. This requires a three full rounds and the expenditure of 3 Power. (Yes, this makes the user a convenient channel for game master exposition and for leading questions – such as “but didn’t you informant also say that…” – when some player hypothesis is wandering off into never-never land).
  • Talons/Hyloka (constant): The user’s “natural weapons” (hands and feet) are toughened enough to inflict 2d4 base damage. They are otherwise treated as normal weapons. Secondarily, the users hands are impervious to needles, rope burns, high voltage electricity, handling hot objects, and similar perils.
  • Thought Sensing/The Inner Eye: You may employ Detect Thoughts and Detect Hostile Intent at no cost. Given a minute, you may employ Object Reading or gather any psychic impressions that are present in the area.
  • Thundering Command/Glamour: You may spend 3 Power and a Standard Action to issue a short and simple command, targeting up to (Cha Mod) specific creatures within a 20′ radius within sixty feet. The effects of such commands persist for three rounds and cannot include self-harm beyond the trivial; ordering someone to provide a few hairs or a drop of blood is quite acceptable though. Exorcists are fond of “Begone!” (sending a spirit back to it’s home plane or, if it’s bound to something, back to whatever binds it), law enforcement is fond of “Drop your weapons!” or “Freeze!”, and so on. Focusing on a single target increases the save DC by two. Traditionally user’s are limited to seven specific commands. In this case they may opt to have some or all of them be Absolute Commands that can also affect inanimate objects, approximating effects of up to level two. For an example, “Open!” might make a creature open it’s mouth or open a gate, but the Absolute Command version would also be functionally equivalent to a Knock spell. Common Absolute Commands include “Burn!” (Combust) and “Shatter!” (Shatter). For that matter, “Jam!” can briefly disable guns or make doors stick,
  • Tinker/Hand of Shadows: You may spend 1 Power to accomplish a days worth of work on a device, vehicle, or similar, in one minute or to accomplish some simple repair or modification that would usually take up to fifteen minutes as a swift action.
  • Venomous Infusion/Hyloka and Witchfire: You gain a choice of seven different toxins or drugs that you may synthesize, and infuse into targets by touch at the cost of 2 Power and a Standard Action. Unfortunately, realistic toxins and drugs are enormously complicated,

Doing Drugs n’ D20 – DD&D

d20 really doesn’t have a useful system for drugs. That’s partially because “Drugs are Bad” and so mostly only appeared in The Book Of Vile Darkness (oddly, I know many people who take drugs for blood pressure or other conditions without any notable evil) and mostly because realistic drugs generally have no real effect in d20 terms. After all, d20 is a system that ignores pain, the effects of major injuries, and broken bones. You can be stung by a colossal scorpion, wind up with your body having more poison than blood in it, and shrug it off with a good die roll. If marijuana makes you mellow and hungry… MAYBE that’s a +1 on will saves against certain emotion-controlling spells and a roleplaying note, but is it really worth tracking?

Fortunately, these are Pulp and Fantasy drugs, rather than realistic ones, and do have dramatic and impressive effects: Ergo…

  • Pulp and Fantasy Drugs and Toxins approximate the effects of spells of up to level two.
  • They have Alchemical effects, and provide alchemical modifiers.
  • They will not affect creatures with no constitution scores.
  • No more than three doses of a particular drug will work on any one individual in any one day. Doses after that are wasted.
  • The more powerful beneficial drugs exhaust the bodies resources. After they wear off, the user suffers Fatigue. If the user is immune to Fatigue in the first place, they won’t work.
  • Ingested substances require 2d4 rounds to take effect. Directly infused substances take effect in the round of use.
  • Pre-prepared substances are normally good for 1d4+1 days.
  • Real drugs and toxins often have a wide variety of deleterious long-term effects. In D20 being stabbed a dozen times is easily endurable and will heal up without a trace in days even without treatment. Ergo, D20 drugs have no long-term effects.
  • Addiction is not a problem either. D20 characters routinely ignore pain, stress, and comfort, stay awake for days on end, and more. If they want to quit using something, it really isn’t a problem for them.

So here are some drugs and toxins, ready to go:

  • Aggrande I through VI (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma): Enhance Attribute +2, 1 Hour/Level Duration (The Practical Enchanter). Variants have double effect if limited to a particular purpose – boosting Strength for Carrying Capacity, Intelligence for enhanced recall (Knowledge Skills) or to raise Spell DC’s, Wisdom for Enhanced Senses or for Will Saves, Constitution for Hit Points or Fortitude Saves (or the ever-popular Sexual Capacity), Dexterity for Armor Class, or Extra AOO or Reflex Saves, and so on. Anti-Trauma: Light Revival (The Practical Enchanter, as Cure Light Wounds but will work for a few rounds after “death”).
  • Antipsychotic: Allows a madman to function relatively normally for 3d6 hours.
  • Apercept: Induce Blindness/Deafness.
  • Aphrodisiac: Suggestion (Infatuation/Have Sex). Note that other specific drugs produce other specific suggestions and so induce other moods and effects. Still, nothing has ever been as popular as the search for a genuine aphrodisiac except the search for money and power.
  • Augamenti I through VI:(Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma): Bulls Strength, Foxes Cunning, etcetera. Variants have double effect if limited to a particular purpose – boosting Strength for Carrying Capacity, Intelligence for enhanced recall (Knowledge Skills) or to raise Spell DC’s, Wisdom for Enhanced Senses or for Will Saves, Constitution for Hit Points or Fortitude Saves (or the ever-popular Sexual Capacity), Dexterity for Armor Class, or Extra AOO or Reflex Saves, and so on.
  • Bactril: Induces minor regeneration and tissue adaption, facilitating the regrowth / reconstruction of things like noses, eyes, and fingers, cosmetic surgery, and reducing the difficulty and tissue-matching needed for transplants – making such things possible with the Heal skill at reasonably low DC’s.
  • Berserkerite: Wrath (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Bloodstop: Immortal Vigor II (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Botulism: Torn Muscle (Pathfinder).
  • Cancerphage: Cures cancer given about a weeks worth of once per day doses.
  • Clarity: +4 to Perception and Knowledge Checks but -4 to Charisma Checks for the day.
  • Combat Drug: Heroism.
  • Comprehensive Immunization: Provides a wide range of inoculations.
  • Contraceptive (Hedge Magic) Lasts one day for males, one month for females.
  • Depressant: Induces Exhaustion.
  • Elixir Of Health (A.K.A. “Azoth”): Make two immediate extra saves versus a disease, each with a +5 bonus.
  • Ephemera: This drug greatly accelerates cognition. The user gets to ask (Int Mod +2) extra questions as free actions each round. In combat the user may give up two questions (presumed to be about possible openings) in exchange for a +1 Insight Bonus to an attack or a +1 Insight Bonus to their AC. The effect lasts for about ten minutes, but it seems much longer.
  • Fleshknitter: Fast Healing II (The Practical Enchanter, lasts 2d8 + Caster Level (max 10) rounds).
  • Halcyon Tonic: Cures vitamin and mineral deficiencies, +2 on all rolls against diseases for one week.
  • Hypercaf: Postpones all feelings of Fatigue or Exhaustion for a full day. Then you crash.
  • Hyperstim: Negates the effects of one negative level for twenty-four hours.
  • Immunobooster: Rite of Bodily Purity (Pathfinder). It does not require an hour to administer, but does to take effect.
  • Intoxicant: Touch of Idiocy.
  • Lethe: Confuses memories of the last hour and prevents the effective formation of new memories for another hour.
  • Lifebane: Victim must save or Heal Checks on the victim take a -12 penalty and using healing magic on the victim requires a DC 27 caster level check. This effect lasts for 24 hours.
  • Metset: Adjusts the user’s metabolic rate. May be used to induce (relatively) rapid weight loss (Heal DC 10), induce a deep coma approaching true suspended animation in a willing recipient (Heal DC 20), or reduce the aging rate to 50% of normal (Heal DC 30). A dose lasts for 1d4+1 weeks.
  • Muscle Relaxer: Ray of Enfeeblement.
  • Neurostim: Remove Paralysis.
  • Numbwort: Delay Pain (Pathfinder).
  • Paralytic: Ghoul Touch; 10 minutes/level but no odor.
  • Physiological Regulator: Soothing Word (Pathfinder)
  • Psybane: Allows the user to voluntarily suppress memories, possession, lycanthropy, and similar disorders leading to the loss of mental control for twenty-four hours.
  • Rejuvenation Serum: Lesser Restoration. No fatigue if simply used to eliminate the effects of over-indulgence (hangovers, etc) or to eliminate fatigue or reduce exhaustion.
  • Soma: Makes the user cheerful and happy for twenty-four hours.
  • Sophoric (Nightsnare, Pathfinder). No range, but the victim will remain normally asleep after the effects wear off until they awaken or are awakened naturally.
  • Soulflight: Gives a willing user strange visions, out-of-body experiences, glimpses of the afterlife, and similar experiences – none of them predictably. Usually has a subjective duration of 1d6 x 1d6 hours, lasts about an hour on the physical level.
  • Suppressant (Strength, Intelligence, Etc. -4 for one hour per level). Note that most intoxicants and hallucinogens are simply wisdom suppressants with exotic special effects. Specialized Suppressants – for example, reducing Wisdom for Perception purposes only – are doubly effective.
  • Susparin: Corrects homeostasis malfunctions, such as diabetes, hypo- or hyper-thyroidism,
  • Thermaset: Allows the user’s body to quickly adjust to livable (if possibly very uncomfortable) environmental extremes, including desert heat, arctic cold, water scarcity, and high altitudes.
  • Tranquilizer: Calm Emotions (single target, but ten minutes per level).
  • Troll Serum: User automatically stabilizes if below zero hit points and automatically stops bleeding after the first round. This effect persists for one hour per level.
  • Truth Serum: Touch of Truthtelling (Pathfinder) plus Suggestion (Babble). If the first save fails, the ongoing Suggestion effect will require a save for each question to resist answering – usually with many digressions and at excessive length.
  • Universal Antitoxin: Gain a +10 bonus versus Poison for one hour.
  • Vermifuge: Renders the user’s blood mildly poisonous to other organisms, eliminating various worms, bloodsucking insects, and other parasites for the next day. They’ll need an hourly save.

What with the various variations on aphrodisiacs (or general mood-influencing drugs), augmentations and suppressants, that should easily provide you with eighty or so drugs to work with – which should be more than enough.

  • Ventriloquism/Witchfire: You may create noises, including voices, music, footfalls, and even deafening roars or claps of thunder (fortitude save or deafens for 1d4+1 rounds), anywhere within a sixty foot radius. Extremely loud noises, or very complex ones (including music and equivalents of Shatter and Sound Burst) cost 1 power to generate, voices and simple noises of reasonable volume have no cost.
  • Visage Of The Dragon/Glamour: You may spend 2 Power as a part of an Intimidation check to target all non-allies within a sixty foot radius. If you focus on a single target and succeed you may cause them to freeze in terror as long as you continue to concentrate and they are not blatantly distracted (perhaps by the interposition of a barrier, or being attacked) from your terrifying visage.
  • You Cheat!/Witchsight: You almost invariably win at games of chance and can find any game that happens to be in the vicinity. This can be a good social gateway – no one will mind much if you join in, win twenty dollars, and buy everyone a round of drinks – but using this gift to get large quantities of money tends to attract a LOT of hostility. Unfortunately, you cannot try to turn a situation into a game to get a guaranteed win; betting your companion that you will win a solo fight against thirty opponents is not a game of chance.

Obviously enough, when you get a set of five powers for your investment, a lot of characters will have themed sets. To cover those here are thirty sets of themed abilities for making quick characters or gathering inspiration.

  1. Academic: Defining Aura (famous world-class expert with invaluable expertise and impeccable credentials), Focused Mind, Synergistic Knowledge, I Planned For This Contingency, and Instant Inclusion.
  2. Artiste: Defining Aura (Celebrity Artist, to be pampered and indulged), Grandiose Gesture, Impeccable Image, Instant Inclusion, and Razor Tongue Technique.
  3. Cavalier Cowboy: Adroit Cavalier, Forced March, Greased Lightning, Visage Of The Dragon, and Second Wind.
  4. Doctor: Bioawareness, Defining Aura (Noncombatant healer; an authorative physician and an amazing expert to be recruited if possible), Mystic Adept (Healing), Simulate Death, Venemous Infusion, and You Cheat!
  5. Dragonborn: Blinding Flash, Elemental Mastery, Gliding, Longevity, and Ventriloquism.
  6. Ghost Hunter: Elemental Mastery, Ghost Strike, Medium, Mystic Adept (Dreamfaring), and Soul Sight.
  7. Interrogator: Analytical Gaze, Handwriting Analysis, Lay Of The Land, Sensory Filtering, and Thought Sensing.
  8. Jungle Lord/Lady: Animal Companion, Animal Friend, Outrun The Fireball, Scent, and Surge Of Strength.
  9. Mafia Don: Defining Aura (A deadly criminal mastermind, with wealth, favors, and minions to call upon and a deserved reputation for dealing harshly with those who cross him), I Planned For This Contingency, Inspiring Presence, Instant Inclusion, and Providential Privacy.
  10. Martial Artist: All-Around Sight, Athletic Paragon, Focused Mind, Pressure Point Mastery, and Talons.
  11. Master Investigator: Analytical Gaze, Bioawareness, Handwriting Analysis, Lay Of The Land, and Providential Privacy.
  12. Mechanic: Demolitions, Intuitive Operator, My God That’s A Big Gun, Signature Weapon, and Tinker,
  13. Mercenary: Forced March, Outrun The Fireball, Perfect Healing, Second Wind, and My God That’s A Big Gun.
  14. Munitions Master: Blinding Flash, Demolitions, Kangaroo Pouch, My God That’s A Big Gun, and Signature Weapon.
  15. Mystic: Gliding, Draught Of Eternity, Hypnosis, Mystic Adept (Shadowweave), and Ventriloquism.
  16. Night Phantom: Adhesion, Gliding, Providential Privacy, Sensory Filtering, and Visage Of The Dragon.
  17. Officer: Inspiring Presence, I Planned For This Contingency, Papers Please, Thundering Command, and Visage Of The Dragon.
  18. Operator or Special Agent: A Thousand Faces, Kangaroo Pouch, Demolitions, Impeccable Image, and Signature Weapon.
  19. Orator: Grandiose Gesture, Inspiring Presence, Linguistic Acquisition, Papers Please, and Ventriloquism.
  20. Physical Adept: Athletic Paragon, Draught Of Eternity, Mind Over Body, Perfect Healing, and
  21. Psychic Master: Cloud The Senses, Focused Mind, Prophecy, The Reaching Hand, and Thought Sensing.
  22. Shadow Walker: A Thousand Faces, Cloud The Senses, Darkness, Darksight, and Shadow Meld.
  23. Shaman: All-Around Sight, Ghost Strike, Shamanic Adept, Soul Sight, and Thundering Command.
  24. Socialite: Defining Aura (Utterly harmless, if extremely good-looking, and wealthy party-goer who should be invited to all the best parties and have their expenses paid), Venomous Infusion, Grandiose Gesture, Instant Inclusion, and Razor Tongue Technique.
  25. Speedster: Athletic Paragon, Clouds Above The Earth, Evasive Jinx, Greased Lightning, and Outrun The Fireball.
  26. Stage Magician: Blinding Flash, Stage Magic, Simulate Death, Hypnosis, and Grandiose Gesture.
  27. Street Urchin: Defining Aura (Young, Innocent, Trustworthy, and other descriptives of choice), Demolitions, Evasive Jinx, Lay Of The Land, and You Cheat!
  28. Survivor: Forced March, Outrun The Fireball, Perfect Healing, Second Wind, and Venomous Infusion (usually rare herbs).
  29. Tenacious Bruiser: Athletic Paragon, Forced March, Greased Lightning, Second Wind, and Surge of Strength.
  30. Wandering Exorcist: Focused Mind, Ghost Strike, Medium, Prophecy, and Thundering Command.

Next time around on this; other pulp abilities – including how to acquire early modern-style vehicles.

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part II: Pulp Powers

For Part I – the Basic Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates – Click HERE.

The first, and largest, option for Advanced Pulp Heroes is Pulp Powers – the weird abilities that make many of them just a bit more than human. For an awful lot of those powers the mechanism of choice is Witchcraft. At its base Witchcraft is low-powered, low-cost, and very versatile – which means that it can easily be specialized in particular functions to make it medium powered (just right for pulp powers) while maintaining it’s low cost. That’s important because pulp heroes generally aren’t of particularly high level and rarely grow in power all that much – so unlike a baseline d20 character they don’t go from “slightly above ordinary” to “stronger than most classical gods” over the course of their careers.

And the next step in basic Witchcraft is a simple feat – The Secret Order. So we can take that ability and build what we want as…

Pulp Powers/The Secret Order: +5 Basic Abilities, +4 Power (6 CP). Where saves are relevant, they have a DC of (16 + User’s Cha Mod). This gives our Advanced Pulp Hero a choice of five pulp powers, either drawn from the list below or built from the basic witchcraft abilities using these powers as examples.

It’s worth noting that the special effects are up to the user; if you want Venomous Infusion to be represented by a pouch full of vials and needles, then so be it. Do you carry bottles of special adhesives to use the Adhesion effect? Use C’hi powers? Or weird technology? Go right ahead; changing what your powers look like is quite acceptable.

  • A Thousand Faces/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power to gain a +12 bonus on Disguise checks for thirty minutes. During this time you may disguise yourself or change disguises as a Standard Action without penalty and gain a similar bonus to attempts to imitate voices.
  • Adhesion/Witchfire (constant): You can cause items you touch to stick together. You may perform small repairs (as per Mending), add +10 to the DC of escaping any bindings you apply, gain a +6 bonus on any rolls to hang onto creatures or things or to keep your footing, and may employ a Spider Climb effect at will.
  • Adroit Cavalier/Hyloka and Glamour (constant): Any mount you ride gains the benefits of Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter), Surefooted Stride, Jump, and Fast Healing I, all cast at your level, while you gain a +10 bonus to Ride checks. If you keep a personal mount for a week or more, those benefits will remain in force for it for up to forty-eight hours between contacts. Your mount will come when called, can perform any “trick” without training, and needs only one-quarter the usual amount of food, rest, air, and water.
  • All-Around Sight/Shadowweave (no cost, works until deactivated): Subtly guiding light to the user’s eyes allows the user to see in all directions. He or she cannot be flanked and gains a +4 bonus to Perception, but suffers a -4 penalty on saves against gaze attacks.
  • Analytical Gaze/Hyloka: You may spend 1 Power to commit up to five minutes worth of material to memory with photographic exactness – making it easy (at least with an advanced pulp heroes augmented intelligence) to deduce things like a targets likely profession, the presence of hidden weapons, the tiny inconsistencies that may indicate a disguise, likely guard routes and blind spots in surveillance, and similar elements. As a side effect, you do not need a spell book, may sketch or draw what you’ve seen with great precision, can read off all the titles of a shelf of books you merely glanced at from memory, and may perform many similar stunts.
  • Animal Companion/The Inner Eye (constant): You have a vague link with a normal animal with a range of about a mile. Within that range you can get bits of what it sees and hears and you can influence it with Animal Handling rolls. If something happens to it (including dying of old age) you will need at least a month to replace it and will probably be upset.
  • Animal Friend/The Inner Eye (constant): The user can gain simple clues, warnings, and even some facts from observing animals and can get simple messages across to them. Thus observing frightened birds might reveal an ambush and Lassie can both reveal that Little Timmy is down the well and be sent to fuss at the main house, and perhaps bring additional aid.
  • Athletic Paragon/Hand Of Shadows (constant): You gain a +4 bonus on Acrobatics, Climb, Fly, Ride, Swim, and Martial Arts based on Str or Dex (this does increase the number of techniques that you know) in each such art, +10 feet/round to all of your movement rates, subtract six dice from any falling damage you take, and can never become overweight or out of shape.
  • Bioawareness/Witchsight (constant): You are a walking lie detector. When you focus on a target within 20′ you become aware of their heartbeat, eye movements, any pains they may be feeling, whether or not they are sweating, and similar responses. You gain a +10 bonus to Sense Motive, a +6 bonus to Heal, and can easily tell if someone is merely pretending to be unconscious or dead, when people are nervous, and if they are ill or drugged.
  • Blinding Flash/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power as a standard action to create a burst of light equivalent to the effects of a Pyrotechnics spell cast on a fire source. While this has only a sixty foot range, you are automatically immune to the effects.
  • Cloud The Senses/Glamour: You gain a +6 bonus on your Social Skills and may subtly influence perceptions; you may “set the theme” of the immediate setting (adding minor descriptive items to it – adding a dry wind, a tumbling tumbleweed, appropriate subtle “background noises”, and other “western” cliches, or setting up a haunted house with creaking doors, flickering shadows, chill drafts, and cobwebs. This adds +4 to the DC of penetrating any deception which matches the theme), With concentration you can erase your presence from other minds; for 1 Power per Minute you can use the Pathfinder version of Cloud Minds, at an effective power point total equal to your level.
  • Clouds Above The Earth/Hand Of Shadows: You may spend one power to create footing (small force disks) where none exists for one minute. During this time you may walk silently and without putting pressure on the floor, stand on water, and perform similar stunts.
  • Cultivated Blandness/Shadowweave (constant): You may make a Disguise check each morning; the result is the DC of the will save needed to recall any details about your name, face, or voice. This does not, however, interfere with memories of what you actually did – just of your identity. If you opt to present yourself as a generic member of a group, those you encounter must save successfully before they can become suspicious.
  • Darkness/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power and a Swift Action to render normal vision useless within a radius of up to 20 feet. If this is an ability, it centers on you and moves with you for up to ten minutes. If it is device (such as a smoke bomb) the effect is immobile and only lasts for three rounds, but you may place the effect anywhere within sixty feet as long as you have line of sight and get three uses per Power expended.
  • Darksight/Witchsight (constant): You get 120′ Darksight.
  • Defining Aura/Glamour (constant): You may give yourself a brief personal description; those who interact with you will accept it as the truth, and react accordingly, unless they make their saving throw. Once chosen, your description will not change without months of work. For example, you could be “A deadly criminal mastermind, with wealth, favors, and minions to call upon and a deserved reputation for dealing harshly with those who cross him” – and watch people get out of your way, try and curry favor with you, and cower in fear if you seem upset. Be “A wealthy playboy whom every woman secretly wants, with loads of money and a reputation for throwing marvelous get-togethers and attending every social function” and watch the invitations pour in, doormen wave you into exclusive clubs, and bartenders and caterers gladly run a tab for you. Play the role of an incredibly brilliant scientist, a great detective, or whatever you wish. Sadly, if you act too far out of character, a new save can be made every day.
  • Demolitions/Infliction: You may spend one minute and 3 Power to rig up a stationary explosion that inflicts triple the normal Infliction damage in up to a 10′ radius. Unfortunately, such lash-ups are too fragile to be thrown, although they can be rigged up with various triggers, such as when a car starts.
  • Draught Of Eternity/Hyloka (constant): You age extremely slowly, if at all. You may spend 1 power to heal 1d6 points of attribute damage or drain as a free action once per round. As a side effect, if you are more than sixty years old and still adventuring, you will find that people will believe almost any story about your exploits and abilities.
  • Elder Sorcery/Various (normally villains only): This is any single Basic Witchcraft Ability, Specialized for Double Effect/requires gestures and incantations, calls upon terrible elder beings and occasionally lets them or their minions slip into the world, is widely recognized as terrible black magic, requires occasional sacrifices to or missions for the eldritch powers that back it. (Witchcraft is generally fairly low-powered. Doubling up a basic ability this way gets it up to the lower-mid power level as far as basic d20 goes – but in a pulp setting this tends to be the terrifying upper limit of magical power.)
  • Elemental Mastery/Witchfire: While it’s a distinct rarity in the pulps (and a transitional phase towards more modern superheroes), a very few pulp characters can control elemental forces. What makes them distinctly “pulp”, however, is that these abilities tend to be relatively weak, but versatile; a Firemaster may be able to generate weak blasts and bolts of flame within a very limited radius – but he or she can also weld, heat their coffee, generate heat to shrug off cold weather, melt an incoming fusillade of bullets, snuff out flames, and provide light. Someone with cold powers might create a chill mist, prevent explosives from detonating, shatter metal, protect themselves from heat or cold, extinguish fires, preserve specimens, or spread a film of ice over nearby surfaces. In general, the user must select a specific type of energy to manipulate and may create effects within their field equivalent to Cantrips without cost, may create first level effects as Standard Actions for 1 Power. The elemental forces may also be employed defensively as an Immediate Action for 2 Power, reducing the effects of an appropriate incoming attack or group of attacks by 1d6 per level (to a minimum of zero).
  • Evasive Jinx/Elfshot (constant): Anyone within a two block radius who is actively pursuing you must save on the first round and every four rounds thereafter or suffer some minor, transient, hindrance – someone getting in the way, a flat tire, a minor accident, being tripped, or some similar difficulty. Similar Jinx abilities may be developed for other activities – such as Theft and Burglary or (if the game master is willing to allow it) even Combat.
  • Focused Mind: You may spend 1 Power at any time to gain the results of a DC 25 Autohypnosis check, to regain your Psionic Focus, or to throw off a Confused, Dazed, or Stunned condition.
  • Forced March/Hyloka (constant): You may go for up to a week without food or water, up to three days without sleep, and up to three minutes without air, with no penalty. Thereafter penalties accumulate normally. As a side effect, you gain the Endure Elements and Longstrider effects.
  • Ghost Strike/Dreamfaring (constant): You and your attacks effectively have the Ghost Touch property. You may spend 1/2/3 Power to briefly phase a small/large/complete portion of your body into the Ethereal plane; this can be used to get things out of sealed boxes, reach through doors to unlock them, or even to step through walls.
  • Gliding/The Hand Of Shadows: If conscious, you may control your falls – moving up to 15′ per 5′ of fall and taking no damage when you land. Strong winds may make it hard to make progress upwind, but can be used to gain height. This has no cost and does not require an action.
  • Grandiose Gesture/Glamour: You may spend 2 Power as an Immediate Action to get everyone in a sixty foot radius who fails to save to focus their attention on you this round. You gain a +2 to +6 (GMO) bonus on the DC of the save if you actually do something attention-grabbing or very dramatic. If you keep speaking, you create an effect similar to the Enthrall spell.
  • Greased Lightning/Hyloka (constant): You gain a +3 bonus to Initiative checks and may perform minor “super speed” tricks such as getting a fire started by friction in mere moments, moving the shells in a shall game too fast for anyone to track, using a sword to put your initial on someone’s chest, or shuffling and dealing cards in mere moments.
  • Handwriting Analysis/The Inner Eye: Given a few minutes to examine a sample of someone’s handiwork – a sample of their handwriting, something they built, a piece of art they created, or a house they decorated – you can recognize other examples of their handiwork, create a profile of them (getting a good idea of their traits, behaviors, and personality), and may make a Perception check to try to obtain a (very) general physical description of them.
  • Hypnosis/Glamour: You may spend one power as a standard action to Hypnotize (as the spell) up to 4d4 levels of creatures. If you choose a single target, they may be given a Suggestion (classics include inducing temporary delusions (“You are a chicken!”), getting them to answer questions, getting them to remember things that didn’t happen (“You met with a Dragon that demanded…”), inducing a Delayed Suggestion (“When the clock strikes two in the morning, open the south gate”) although this allows a second save when it activates, and even undo the effects of other mind-affecting abilities (allowing a new save).
  • I Planned For This Contingency!/Glamour and The Inner Eye: As a free action you may spend 3 Power to create a near-instant psychic conference. This lets the players take a five minute break to plan, solve some puzzle, or what-have-you – although the usual special effect is “we planned for this in advance”. Secondarily, for the next one minute, everyone in the group receives a pair of +2 Insight Bonuses which they may elect to apply to any two of Attacks, An Attribute, Damage, Checks, Saves, or Armor Class – although the choice is fixed for the duration once made.
  • Illusion Projection: You may spend 1 Power as a standard action to generate the equivalent of a Minor Image anywhere to which you have line of sight within sixty feet.
  • Impeccable Image/Multiple (constant): You look good at all times. Your clothing is clean, your hair styled, your manners impeccable, and your manner suave. You can automatically fit into any social gathering and never make faux pas. Any accusers tend to be seen as lying villains and your actions are generally seen in the best possible light. Any legal or social troubles are automatically reduced by one level in severity and you are an extremely credible witness. If there are any rolls involved in such things you gain a +6 bonus.
  • Inspiring Presence/Glamour (constant): Every ally within 30 feet gains a +1 Morale Bonus to attacks, weapon damage, saves, and checks. You may spend 3 Power and a Standard Action to increase this bonus to +2 for 3d6 rounds or to counter fear and/or negative morale effects.
  • Instant Inclusion/The Inner Eye: You have an amazing knack for finding friends, both new and old. You may call on up to (Base Cha/2) character points worth of Contacts and Favors during each adventure without having actually purchased them and may make Gather Information checks in a mere ten minutes.
  • Intuitive Operator/Witchsight (constant): You know how to properly operate any device you come across. This does not necessarily mean that you have any idea what it DOES, but you intuitively know what to do to make it work. You enjoy a +6 bonus on any rolls to operate a vehicle or otherwise operate machinery.
  • Kangaroo Pouch/Shadowweave (constant): You gain a +20 Circumstance Bonus on any attempts to conceal objects around your person and may employ Call Item at the 100 GP level up to once per round.
  • Lay Of The Land/Witchsight: You may sense what you would have learned if you had taken the time to search an area throughly, gone through a stack of books to research a topic, or spent an hour interrogating a suspect or checking their computer files – effectively substituting a moments glance for several hours of effort. Even better, this does not disturb the area and gives no external sign of what you’re doing. It does not, however, obviate the need for the relevant skill checks and costs 1 Power each time you use it.
  • Linguistic Acquisition/The Inner Eye: If you can spend five minutes in the company of someone who speaks or reads a language (and who isn’t shielding their mind against you) you may expend 1 Power to pick up that language. If you wish to maintain it, you must spend 1 power per day – although contact with the source is no longer necessary unless you let it drop. If you maintain it for thirty days or more, you may “forget” and old language and substitute the new one for it permanently.
  • Longevity/Hyloka (constant): Aging has little effect on you; you do not suffer attribute penalties for middle age until old age, do not suffer old age penalties until you are venerable, and are treated as having obtained the greatest possible result + 1d (of whatever type the roll normally uses) for your maximum age. Thanks to your many experiences, three times per day you may apply a +4 Insight Bonus to any in-game roll, this does not require an action. Yes, this overlaps with Draught of Eternity; this is for characters who are just extraordinarily healthy and vigorous, not semi-immortal.
  • Medium/Dreamfaring: You may sense the presence of the dead (constant) or – given something linked to a deceased individual – hold a seance. This requires the expenditure of 2d4 Power which the spirit, if it chooses to appear at all, may draw on to power witchcraft effects of its own. Most spirits are willing to talk to a medium, even if it’s only to mock and threaten them, and they generally don’t know (or won’t admit to knowing) anything that they didn’t know in life.
  • Mind Over Body/Hyloka: You possess an utterly unnatural ability to manipulate your physical form. You may contort and compress your flesh to achieve a +12 bonus on Escape Artist checks at no cost, fit yourself into a container capable of holding your volume (about 100 liters or 3.5 cubic feet) for 1 Power/Hour, squeeze through cracks, crevices, and pipes as small as four inches in diameter (2 power per 30 feet or part thereof), or temporarily suppress your Constitution Score (taking on the attributes of a “creature” with no constitution score, including picking up size-based HP and losing any constitution-based bonus hit points) for 3 Power for one minute. All of these require a Standard Action.
  • My God That’s A Big Gun/Infliction: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (three times the base damage) /requires an especially prepared material focus (worth 100 GP), can only be used three times per session. Yes, you can pull out your rarely-used missile launcher, wand of disruption, death ray, or similar every so often.
  • Mystic Adept/Various: You have one Basic Witch Ability in unmodified form. This is rare, and no heroic pulp character will have more than one such general ability. Basic Witchcraft is simply too flexible to fit into
  • Outrun The Fireball/Hand Of Shadows: Once per minute you may spend 6 Power as an Immediate Action to accomplish some incredible acrobatic stunt powered by telekinesis as well as musculature. You may dart across a rooftop to grab someone who has just fallen off before they fall, reach the ground fifteen floors below by safely by “bouncing” back and forth between two buildings, snatch a parachute, dive out of a plane, catch up with someone who’s falling while you put your parachute on, grab them, and open your chute dramatically close to the ground, or run up a wall, tumble over your opponents, and reach the self-destruct button before they can fire their city-destroying death ray. You cannot, however, directly attack or interfere with anyone who’s unwilling while accomplishing this maneuver.
  • Papers Please/Glamour: You may spend a Standard Action to attempt to convince up to six people that you do indeed have proper authorization for whatever you’re up to. Sadly, those who save will not be convinced and cannot be affected again for at least an hour.
  • Perfect Healing/Hyloka (constant): You can slowly heal from any injury that you can survive for an hour or more – although the process of regrowing a leg, or healing a major traumatic brain injury, or similar injuries may require months. Permanent attribute drain is treated as attribute damage and negative levels never become permanent.

And next time around on this topic… the rest of the Advanced Pulp Powers List, Pulp Drugs, and some Pulp Archetypes.

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part I: The Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates

They have flashing fists, blazing guns, and personal magnetism. They are stronger and faster than you are. They wrestle lions, solve mysteries, and shrug off bullets. They heal with incredible speed. They are secret agents, and pilots, and detectives. They draw paramours like magnets. They have amazing skills – and they hang out in jungle huts, cheap offices, and seedy tenements because they aren’t any BETTER than YOU, even if they are blatantly superior to you in ten thousand different ways.

Hercules, Hiawatha, Conan, and the Count Of Monte Cristo led the way, and Zorro, John Carter of Mars, The Lone Ranger, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Tarzan all followed in their path. They reached their full flower in The Shadow, Doc Savage, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, The Spider, Mata Hari (at least in legend), The Golden Amazon, The Phantom, Lady Luck, The Green Hornet, Olga Mesmer, Darkman, Indiana Jones, Remo Williams… there are swarms of them, romping through the golden age of the Pulps.

But they don’t throw lightning bolts, or lift aircraft carriers, or invoke the power of gods to heal. They may vanish into the shadows, but they don’t teleport through them, or sing like Orpheus, or fly through the air without a plane. At their best, their powers things like building up a tolerance to poisons, influencing animals, perhaps a trace of psychic abilities, and being stronger, tougher, and faster than any normal man – but only by a modest margin.

They are Pulp Heroes, not Superheroes.

The Basic Pulp Hero (32 CP / +1 ECL Acquired Template)

  • Pulp Powers/Witchcraft III (18 CP): Provides (Str + Dex + Con)/3 Power. If they drain their power pool below 5 points they become Fatigued. At 0 points they become Exhausted. This provides them with the following seven powers, all them are at least Specialized: instead of the usual wide-ranging suite of abilities that Witchcraft provides, most of their abilities are far more restricted.
    • Only A Flesh Wound/Healing: Specialized for Double Effect, only works on the user. A pulp hero can shrug off injuries and recover from poisons, diseases, and other injuries with amazing speed.
    • Crossbow Barrage/Hand of Shadows: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: Any crossbow the user uses acts as a fully automatic weapon; recocking and reloading itself with whatever ammunition the user has available and elects to load with each squeeze of the trigger. The user gains two bonus attacks at his or her highest attack bonus and may spend 2 Power to add his or her (Int Mod) to the attack checks and damage for each bolt for the next three minutes. All other modifiers apply normally.
      • Many Pulp Heroes in settings lacking firearms often settle on Dwarven Springbows, which have exactly the same game statistics as Crossbows, but use very powerful springs in tubes to propel the bolts. Yes, they look like guns. They are, however, quiet enough for everyone to hear all the clever dialogue and snappy one-liners over no matter how fast they’re fired.
    • Man Of Bronze/Hyloka: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 power to gain (Universal) Energy Resistance 8, Damage Reduction 4/-, and 2 points off any attribute drain or damage taken for one hour. An additional 2 Power will double those benefits, but only for ten minutes.
    • Trained By Mystic Monks/The Adamant Will. Pulp heroes have incredible poker faces and are almost impossible to mind control.
    • Unaccountable Magnetism/Glamour: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/Pulp heroes attract the attention of dangerous and inappropriate would-be partners, find old girlfriends, offspring, and other obligations all over the place, and upset possible rivals. They attract helpful sidekicks who often require rescuing or lead trouble to them. This has no cost, cannot be turned off, and provides a +12 bonus on any relevant romantic, seductive, or sensual rolls.
    • Canny Strike/Elfshot: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/You may spend 1 Power as a part of an attack action to force those you hit this round to make a DC (16 + Cha Mod) Will save or suffer one of the following effects of your choice:
      • Disarmed, Mortally Wounded, or Tripped.
      • Knocked Back (1d4 x 5) Feet. This movement does provoke AOO.
      • Blinded, Dazed, or Sickened for 1d3 rounds.
      • Deafened, Entangled, or Shaken for 1d4+1 rounds.
        • Mortally Wounded characters have +10 damage for purposes of determining when they are Disabled, Dying, or Dead – although, unless actually driven below -10 they will get 1d4+1 rounds after becoming technically Dead to gasp out final words or take a single dying action, although there’s no way to save them at this point short of something that can raise the dead. Mortal Wounds go away after magical healing, a DC 20 Heal Check, or if the victim is still alive in five minutes.
    • Danger Sense/Witchsight. Once per round the user may spend one power to come on guard (negating surprise) and/or take a 5′ step. This does not count as an action and may be done at any time. If the user chooses to spend 2 power he or she can also provide sufficient warning of an incoming attack or a trap triggering to allow any companions within 20′ to take a 5′ step as well. For 3 Power the user can negate surprise for his or her companions within that same radius. Sadly, no single character can be aided by Danger Sense – whether their own or someone else’s – more than once per round.
  • Advanced Witchcraft:
    • Explosive Fists/Wrath Of The Sea: Specialized in Unarmed Attacks (1 power to gain +6 to Attacks and Damage for ten minutes).
    • Crack Shot/Dance Of Flames: Specialized in Ranged Combat (1 Power to gain a +6 bonus to your Dexterity Modifier with respect to ranged combat for ten minutes).
  • Pacts: These are up to the individual hero but are normally drawn from the Service and Vows lists. The Sacrifice, Infusion, and Energy pact lists are usually reserved for pulp villains; they simply aren’t very heroic. They need to take two of them in any case, since they pay for the Advanced Witchcraft abilities, above.
  • Unbowed Hero/Innate Enchantment (11,000 GP Value, 12 CP):
    • Gravity Bow: Pathfinder, bolts cause 2d6 base damage (2000 GP).
    • Weapon Mastery (The Practical Enchanter): +4 Competence Bonus to BAB with Crossbows (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Yes, this does increase iterative attacks. Alternatively, a Pulp Hero may opt to apply this bonus to unarmed combat as well.
    • Immortal Vigor I: The Practical Enchanter, provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP (1400 GP).
    • Mage Armor (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Pulp Heroes are hard to hit even in their underwear.
    • Force Shield I (The Practical Enchanter) (Personal Only, 1400 GP)
    • Arrow Mind. This effectively lets a pulp hero engage in melee with his or her “guns” (2000 GP).
    • Resistance (Personal Only, 700 GP). This provides a +1 Resistance Bonus to their Saving Throws.
    • Ghost Sound (Background Effects Only, 700 GP). Pulp Heroes are often accompanied by snatches of background or personal theme music, ominous echoes, and other curious sound effects. This might provide a +1 bonus on occasional skill checks, but it would be unwise to count on it.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Immunity to Minor Expenses, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/ammunition only (Common, Minor, Trivial, may ignore the need for ammunition costing up to 15 GP/Shot, 2 CP). Note that this covers Bolts (,1 GP), Cold Iron Bolts (.2 GP), Crystalline Bolts (Ignore 1/2 Armor and Deflection Bonus, +1d6 versus objects, 5 GP), Primal Iron Bolts (.3 GP), Silver Bolts (2 GP), Adamantine Blanch Bolts (+10 GP over another material), and Silver Blanch Bolts (+.5 GP over another material)
  • Ready For Anything: Immunity/Power Activation (Very Common, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only at the beginning of a fight. 3 CP): A Pulp Hero can pick 3 Power Points worth of enhancements – normally Man of Bronze (at the one point level), Explosive Fists, and Crack Shot – to “already” have running at the beginning of any conflict without power point cost.
  • Template Disadvantage: Select one from History (you have various old enemies and such scattered about), Hunted (one of your enemies is REALLY serious about it), Compulsive or Insane (many pulp heroes are chivalrous, or never break their words, or obsessively hunt down the criminal scum who killed their parents, or some such), or Poor Reputation (usually you’re known as a violent, murderous, vigilante-adventurer). In any case, (-3 CP).

The basic pulp hero is a one-man fire team – capable of laying down a steady stream of bolts, hard to hit, and able to absorb a great deal of damage if and when he does get hit – all very good qualities indeed if you’re going to make a habit of confronting criminal gangs, evil masterminds, and swarms of thugs pretty much on your own. Still, while they may be quite astounding, they aren’t incredible – as in; impossible to believe.

They may come pretty close though.

Still, there’s a step beyond the Basic Pulp Hero – and it’s time to take a look at that.

Advanced Pulp Hero (Additional 32 CP/+1 ECL Template, +2 ECL in total):

These borderline superheroes go just a bit beyond the average pulp hero; they are both physically AND mentally superior. They are brilliant masters of many skills, usually possess minor psychic powers, strange devices, or other gifts (or at LEAST expensive vehicles) and are invariably at least well-off and with little need to work. They are also usually either born with their potential or trained from a very early age, but the template can be acquired later.

Advanced Pulp Heroes can easily fit in with lower-end or specialized superheroes, but have a hard time on the upper end. It’s never really easy to tell what Batman is doing in the Justice League anyway.

  • A Will Of Iron: +1d6 Mana as 3d6 (10) Power, Specialized/only usable for Pulp Hero powers (3 CP).
  • The Inner Fire: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore power, only to refill the Pulp Hero Powers pool above (4 CP). +12 Bonus Uses that only automatically pay the cost of maintaining A Lens Of Brilliance, below (6 CP). Note that this more than suffices to keep A Lens Of Brilliance running constantly – so it’s bonus applies to skill points gained per level.
  • A Lens Of Brilliance/Spirit of the Sage, Specialized for Double Effect/Skill-related effects only (+6 to effective Int Mod), Corrupted/automatically reactivates itself, cannot be turned off as long as the user has Power remaining (1 Power/Ten Minutes, 4 CP). Note that, since this is always on, an Advanced Pulp Hero gains six skill points per level as well as getting a big bonus on their intelligence-based skills. Given the amount of combat Pulp Heroes see, at least one and probably two martial arts are probably in order.
  • Holmesian Expertise/Inner Light, Specialized for Double Effect/only for Skill and Attribute Checks (+6 to effective Wis Mod, 1 Power/Ten Minutes, 6 CP).
  • The Superior Man Need Never Be Broke: Minor Privilege/Wealth (3 CP):
  • One bonus Pulp Feat (6 CP). Pulp Feats include possessing Pulp Powers, having various Vehicles available, having your own ominous fortress-sanctum, gaining access to a pair of Occult Skills (the Shadowed Galaxy Action or Equipment skills are recommended), or something similar. A few just pick up Adept to pick up more skills, but that’s not a very interesting option for a Pulp Hero.

An Advanced Pulp Hero adds a genuinely frightening level of intelligence and awareness to the basic Pulp Hero framework – making him or her a true polymath and a master of the arts. They are heads of organizations, wealthy businessmen, doctors and professors, sometimes mystics, and all too often two or more of those at once. Is it really all that surprising that a good many of them decide that they ought to be the ones to rule the world? They’re so blatantly far better qualified to do so than anyone else is. Democracy? Bah! There are better ways!

Next time around on this it will be time to start going over some of those Pulp Powers.

Subsidized Magic Part II – Supporting The Party

Continued from Part I – Guards and Armies.

So if no one can reasonably equip massed armies with magic, what about Special Forces – A.K.A “Adventurers”?

Well, I can think of a number of options offhand.

Those Poor, Poor, Monsters!

This option is pretty simple; many or most monsters have no any treasure at all, and most of the rest don’t have much. Characters who rely on getting treasure from adventuring will wind up with “heroic NPC” wealth levels at the very best (and usually less). Ergo the player characters, and certain other adventurers, are sponsored by one or more powerful, wealthy, organizations – perhaps the government, the great temple of the Overgod, or the secretive Mages Guild. In exchange for turning in the meager treasures that they find, undertaking occasional missions for their patrons, and being loyal, they get equipped at standard levels. As they gain levels, and become more valuable… they get more gear.

This offers some easy game master controls – if some item is problematic for some reason, well… the characters patron doesn’t happen to have it or is unwilling to give it up. It also automatically ties the characters back to a home base, means that they have to defend it to continue getting new goodies, and allows the game master to easily cap or tweak the characters effective wealth. If the city can’t supply equipment beyond stuff suitable for twelfth level characters, or can’t afford to provide full treasure allotments beyond level fifteen, or is extra-generous with stuff suitable for fighters, samurai, and rangers, or some such… then so be it!

To keep things working normally, issue an extra 10% or so in the form of cheap consumables – potions, scrolls, et al – but only provide the difference between last level and the current level plus that 10%.

This is essentially the James Bond / Special Agent / Naruto option – and incidentally manages to make a bit more sense than there being masses of treasure all over the place. It is a bit more restraining than the standard system, but if that cuts down on murder-hobo syndrome that may be a good thing.

The Wells Of Magic:

In this case adventuring may yield treasure, but the cities have organizations that have invested in making a certain amount of magic available for free to loyal members.

The problem here is that with standard magical items they really can’t expect to reliably get them back. This is d20; people die in weird ways, their stuff gets stolen by dragons, they get sucked into other planes… Even somehow barring them simply absconding and not coming back, there are a LOT of things that may happen to anything you lend to an adventurous character. So what can you hand out?

Our Prayers Go With You:

Charms and Talismans: In worlds where they work – or perhaps in worlds where it takes a sponsoring organization to create a power-pool or something that lets them work – groups could give their members access to some fo the Charms and Talismans from The Practical Enchanter. Sadly, those aren’t particularly powerful and will likely be pretty much useless at higher levels – just when organizations would like to be inspiring some loyalty.

Benisions: first appeared in Part III of the Flexible Adventure Design series (Part I, Part II, Part III), but I’ll put them here for conveniences sake:

While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. Have you ridden to the rescue, defended the locals, or donated great sums to charity? Then you may not need magical items. For example…

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

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit, or through regular occult rituals designed to empower some hero, or some such. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, of course, is the “local hero” option; you are empowered by the people that you protect.

Trust Me, Becoming An Initiate Is Well Worth It:

Heartstones, from The Practical Enchanter, are pretty much designed for this; they’re immobile, can restrict the powers they grant, and can empower entire groups while still remaining in the control of the sponsoring organization. You can even use them to empower city guards and such since – in theory – there’s no upper limit on how many people they can empower. On the other hand… you do need a free feat to link to a Heartstone.

Magical Businesses (from the Industrial Wrights and Magic series Part IV) fit this slot very nicely indeed. This does shift the balance of power a bit – but the cheapest and easiest way to do this is for those organizations to invest in some Magical Businesses and hand out the benefits to their loyal members. This option thus provides adventurers with patrons with some boosts, magical mounts, magical weapons, or similar benefits at little or no cost. Interestingly, this tends to be a substantial boost for mundane archetypes, simply because the primary spellcasters can use their spells to produce such things as needed – so they never have to invest in them anyway. More mundane characters will, however, find themselves with a good deal more money to spend.

Given the usual power imbalance between full casters and non- or semi-magical types, that’s probably a good thing.

When it comes to more conventional items…

It Comes With The Job!

Official Regalia: With this option certain jobs come with some official equipment. As a rule this is either pretty minor – “the judges pass around a headband of Detect Magic to help spot the use of spells in court” – or there’s some way to keep people from stealing the stuff.

This is where User Restrictions and Cost Modifiers (The Practical Enchanter) come into their own. Does your nifty magical sword only work for Guardian Knights of the Realm and require that the would-be user act to defend the people of Rhikanoth against any threats that come up? Does it require that it’s user know something of the laws and history of the city? That’s a price modifier of (.6 x .6 x.9) = x.324. Two thirds off. You can still use the thing on adventures, but you will need to fulfill your obligations to keep using it.

This is really a lot like a spellcaster taking an item creation feat; a spellcaster spends a feat and gets a particular group of items cheaply. In this case a martial character takes on some obligations and responsibilities and… gets a particular group of items cheaply.

So lets make the Sword of the High Constable – a blade dedicated to the defense of Rhikanoth and to the service of the High Constable thereof. Unusually, it will allow itself to be used by anyone who is either lawful or good; as long as they’re willing to fulfill the responsibilities of being the High Constable they’re acceptable. It doesn’t really care about alignment; it cares about the ongoing defense of Rhikanoth – and helping it’s current chief guardian go up in levels is one of the very best ways to ensure a strong defense.

  • +1 Spell Storing (Caster Level12, 8000 GP),
  • Intelligent (500 GP), Int 14 (1000 GP), Wis 14 (1000 GP), Cha 10 (0 GP), Ego 13.
  • Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), and Blindsense (5000 GP).
  • Five Nonstacking Skill Points for five Specific Knowledges: the Laws and Traditions of Rhikanoth, Maps and Layout of Rhikanoth, the Lands Around Rhikanoth, History of Rhikanoth, and the Enemies of Rhikanoth (500 GP, all rolls at +17).
  • “Equipped” with a Healing Belt (750 GP) and a Ring of the Forcewall (5100 GP).
  • Spellcasting (all 3/Day): Liberating Command, Magic Missile, Resurgence, Ward of Heaven (the Practical Enchanter), Scorching Ray, and Web (4 x 1200 GP + 2 x 7200 GP = 19,200 GP.

Total Cost: 13,950 GP + the base cost of a masterwork sword (of whatever type and material. I’d recommend Adamantine, simply for being able to chop through locks, doors, and chains easily. That would be very useful to a law enforcement type).

Naturally enough, the Sword of the High Constable goes with the office of the High Constable of Rhikanoth – normally at least a 8’th level fighter, ranger, paladin, or similar, who is free to have the blade upgraded. Several have done so. The blade usually loads itself with Scorching Ray (for an extra 12d6 fire damage on a hit), but other spells are certainly possible.

Go ahead, get it blessed regularly at a +5 Shrine Of War to get it’s enhancement bonus up. It’s cheap – or, much more likely, free – for the High Constable.

Upgrading?

Add one of more of…

  • Parrying (the basic effect of a Weapon of the Celestial Host; the weapon provides a +1 Shield Bonus to AC and can be further enhanced as per a Shield, 2000 GP).
  • Called (since it now also counts as a shield, 2000 GP)
  • Impervious (The Practical Enchanter. Normally this makes the item as hard to destroy as a major artifact for +63,000 GP. In this case, the Sword of the Constable becomes powerless if the city of Rhikanoth is destroyed or by an elaborate ritual of unmaking; it just can’t be done in combat or by any simple spell (x.6 = 37,800 GP).
  • Flying (10,000 GP)
  • Teleport (Blade Only, 1/Week, 7500 GP). Principally to get back home to carry word and find another wielder if it’s current user gets permanently killed.
  • Shadowstrike (5000 GP). This gets the swords Caster Level to 15. That’s handy.
  • And boost the Intelligent part. Get Int and Wis to 18 (3000 GP Each) and add a bunch more 3/day spells – (L1) Nerveskitter, Protection From Evil, Silent Image (at 1200 GP Each), (L2) Create Pit, Mirror Image, Glitterdust, Resist Energy (at 7200 GP Each), Greater Invocation of Force (The Practical Enchanter, any Arcane Force Effect of up to L3, 33,600 GP for 3/Day, 56,000 GP for unlimited use) and Panacea (56,000 GP for unlimited use).

Add them ALL. That gets the total cost up to 83518.8 GP plus any enhancements you want to add.

  • So get the bonus up to +10. That’s another 192,000 GP normally. We’re up to 145,726.8 GP. Be sure to add something like Energy Aura, or Greater Dispelling, or Psychic
  • Get a +5 Enhancement and Ghost Ward on the Shield part (for a total of a +6 Shield Bonus and a +5 to Touch AC, which is handy). That’s 36000 GP base, and takes us up to 157,390.8 GP.

At this point… it really doesn’t matter. Get another couple of Greater Invocations for L3 effects in some specific fields – Divination? Evocation? Conjuration? – and we’re up to 193,678.8.

If the Greater Invocations cover one or more of the lesser spells it already had, subtract their prices; that’s an upgrade. That will probably let us throw in another minor tweak or two – and the thing is going to have a monstrous Ego score at this point – but there’s no problem with that. The High Constable will have one heck of a spellcasting support buddy along.

The Staves Of Neutralburg:

Issued Gear says that the characters work for a MAJOR organization. One with great power, lots of information sources, and enormous resources. One it would be a very bad idea to try and cheat on.

As special forces employees, the characters each get a basic kit suited to their profession – usually including some basic magic, such as a Healing Belt. Sadly, the basic kit will never be worth more than a few thousand GP.

When they are offered a job… they get a reasonably detailed briefing thereon, and then get to request the gear that they think they’ll need – generally up to around 50% (maybe up to 75% for really urgent jobs) of their “normal” wealth-by-level with up to half of that being consumables. Some cash and any necessary paperwork, reservations, or covers will be issued as well.

When (if!) they get back, they’ll turn in anything that’s left over or which they captured, and get some well-deserved time off (for downtime, personal stuff, training, and minor “adventures”) before their next major mission.

Obviously enough, this arrangement has a distinct “Mission Impossible” flavor to it, and is likely to involve a lot of mission-specific “optimization” instead of the characters trying to be prepared for anything. Secondarily, you’ll see a lot more use of things like a Necklace of Fireballs, Dusts, and other limited-use items which are often ignored as being poor long-term deals otherwise.

Obviously there are lots of other potential variations – but this should cover quite a few of the major ones.

And I hope that helps!

Subsidized Magic Part I – Guards and Armies

And for today it’s the start of an answer to another question…

It recently occurred to me to ask to what extent a local government might be inclined to subsidize magic items for characters that work for it?

While most NPC government workers wouldn’t need that many magic items to begin with, those with combat-related professions likely would, such as city guards. While armies don’t make that much sense under the d20 System’s assumptions (as higher-level characters can effectively overpower large numbers of lower-level ones), a lot of places still seem to have them, particularly if there’s a concern about covering large amounts of territory and subjugating a large but geographically diverse number of low-level creatures. So the idea of outfitting a police/military/similar force doesn’t seem to be entirely meritless. From the Romans to today, most militaries don’t expect you to bring your own gear.

The issue with this is that it seems to run up against the underlying presumptions of the d20 System, which is that wealth (at least insofar as the gear value of items is concerned) is a measurement of personal power, emphasis on “personal.” Having gear loaned out to you by the state throws that out of whack. If a rich government is invading a culture where most everyone knows some low-level spell effects, then it might make sense for them to equip all of their soldiers with a +1 breastplate of spell resistance (19), but each of those costs 36,750 gp, which is far and away more than an army of 3rd-level NPCs should be able to individually afford.

The compromise would seem to be that your wealth-by-level value would presumably cover subsidized gear (e.g. that lower-level characters are (not) given very much because they’re not very valuable individuals), and that the issue of that being “subsidized” rather than personal is little more than flavor text that never actually comes into play. The problem is that this still necessarily runs up into metagame limits on the equipment that a government-sponsored force (under this idea) would have, rather than taking into account a verisimilitude-based accounting of what would actually be most useful for them and what would be plausible for the government to be able/inclined to invest in their troops. (Having an Eclipse-based answer, such as taking Major Privilege/government-sponsored gear, helps to reduce this down to the cost of a feat or so, but simply moves the cost to CP rather than gp.)

Overall, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to this, besides saying that such funds would be better spent elsewhere.

-Alzrius

There are two major pieces to this question. First up, we have giving the general military – guards, patrolling troops, and so on – magical gear. Secondly, there’s how such a system might affect Adventurer’s and other special characters magical resources.

We’ll need to break that first part down quite a bit more.

So… How much does equipping soldiers cost in the first place?

It sounds awfully silly today, but for a very long time troops were indeed expected to supply their own armor and much or all of their gear. Thus the early Athenian army poor men went unarmored as Psiloi (usually carrying nice cheap javelins, spears, slings, or – very rarely – bows), those who could afford a full infantry kit went as Hoplites, and the wealthy (who could afford horses and armor) went as Hippeis (cavalry). Incidentally, Hippeis could also usually afford to stay out of most of the fighting and thus avoid being killed. It was good to be wealthy!

Of course, that tells us nothing at all about how much wealth that really represented in a citizens life. I suspect that no one really has enough detailed information on the economy of ancient Athens to give a satisfactory answer to that question these days.

Roman Legionaries needed to bring pretty much all of their own equipment until the late republic period – and they weren’t really supplied by the state until Augustus. Of course, they were pretty generously paid to enable them to buy their own gear while still supporting their families (at least to some extent; the later tendency to destroy families finances while the men were away fighting really messed things up in the long term). Depending on whether or not there was a war on Rome spent fifty to eighty percent of its budget on the military (in 2015 the USA spent between 18 and 20% of its budget on the military depending on what you count – more than the next eight most expensive militaries on earth combined) – but the Roman military only employed about 2% of the adult male population or less than .4% of the population overall. A d20 world might well do the same – d20 civilizations are at LEAST as threatened as Rome – but they’ll have to cut back on the numbers substantially to afford much in the way of (very expensive) magic. A prosperous city of 100,000 might support a roman-style military of 300-400 men – or 30-40 men with 6000-8000 GP worth of supplied magical gear each.

Oops! We’ve basically gone back to first edition, with one-in-one-thousand being a possible henchman or adventurer and less than half of those actually active in such pursuits. Well… first edition WAS very heavily influenced by the “historical simulation” gamers.

Similarly, the men in most feudal armies had to supply much of their own gear – which is why padded armor was so common; a mans mother, wife, or sister could throw that together in short order, and hope that it would keep their relative alive. Even layers of cloth stuffed with rags was a lot better than nothing.

With armor that was relatively understandable (if not nice). Is one guy too poor to afford good (or any) armor? Well, it sucks to be poor. That’s nothing new. Is someone who can afford it still too cheap or stupid to properly maintain their armor? If it makes a difference, then it’s their own fault and the loss is small. At least as importantly… two guys in mismatched armor are a lot easier to train and drill than two guys with mismatched weaponry. Armor was a LOT less important than a good shield through much of history anyway.

Weapons were supplied a lot more often. After all, when it came to weapons… trying to train a group armed with a random selection of old swords, spears, knives, javelins, clubs, and repurposed tools was and is a NIGHTMARE – and usually turns out to be very expensive for what you get out of them on the battlefield. It’s good enough for irregular troops, but irregular warfare was a lot less effective in classical warfare.

Why was that do you ask? Well…

A modern commander most often wants to occupy an area, control it, and – if possible – treat it as a resource. He or she wants to maintain order, to keep the farms and production facilities operating, and avoid massacres of women, children, and noncombatants. Such a commander can be readily opposed by irregular warfare. Groups of guerilla fighters can gain supplies, recruits, information, and other support from the locals that they represent even as they conceal themselves amongst them and can – over time – greatly increase the costs of occupation, perhaps even making it unsustainable or diverting troops and thus contributing to defeats elsewhere.

A classical commander who wanted to ship the useful women, children, and noncombatants home as slaves, exterminate everyone else, loot the area, poison the water sources, burn the fields and settlements to the ground, and sow the ground with salt so that no one could live there again for a generation… couldn’t be opposed by irregular warfare. If you wanted there to be anything left of your homes or families in a week or two you needed to face and defeat his or her army in open battle. In the face of that kind of enemy there was no time for irregular warfare.

Lets consider some quotations.

  • “I destroyed them, tore down the wall, and burned the town with fire. I caught the survivors and impaled them on stakes in front of their town.”
  • “Pillars of skulls I erected in front of the towns.”
  • “I fed their corpses, cut into small pieces, to dogs, pigs, and vultures.”
  • “I slowly tore off their skins”.
  • “Of some I cut off the hands and limbs; of others the noses, ears, and arms. Of many soldiers I put out the eyes.”
  • “I flayed them and covered with their skins the walls of the town.”
    • -Translated from various Assyrian monuments by Pritchard and Champdor.

And that sort of leadership was why the principle that “you must meet them in battle” (since irregular warfare did not work unless you were doing it in the enemies home country) went unquestioned for a long time even after nations started to have some scruples about such tactics and irregular warfare started to become practical.

Secondarily, few governments wanted (or want today) anyone and everyone to have easy access to military weapons. There are a few places – like Switzerland – that made or make it work to some extent, but it isn’t normal.

So weapons, shields, and basic supplies like food and such (since troops were useless without such things), were usually issued.

That still doesn’t tell us much about the actual costs though.

Looking to the d20 rules for answers… is a bit odd.

According to Pathfinders Downtime Rules it costs 220 GP (or 44 apiece) to add a squad of five soldiers to your army. Each comes equipped with Scale Mail (50 GP), a Longsword (15 GP), a Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), and Javelins (1 GP each, number unspecified) – and rather than having to be paid, they provide an income (1.5 GP/Day) for you. OK, that’s 147 days to start making a profit – but reinvest in more troops and the magic of compound interest gets you 558% growth a year. This obviously does not work, so I’m going to skip this bit; it makes even less sense than most d20 rules.

According to the SRD, the salaries for “Trained Hirelings” (including mercenary warriors) start at 3 SP/Day, but may be “significantly higher”. That doesn’t say what equipment they come with either. Do they come with normal gear for their professions and levels like followers do? How much extra money will they want? Who knows?

Well, your basic craftsman or professional earns about 1 GP/Day. That’s probably about what your basic guard makes, albeit with lots of little kickbacks and graft on top (unless we go with “the guards are notoriously underpaid” idea, which has some justification). If the job is supposed to be dangerous, two to three times that. If it’s adventurous… at least ten times that (and even then it’s mostly “guard the camp” stuff; guards and mercenaries are not there to be heroes). For basic gear… Studded Leather (25 GP) or Chain Shift (100 GP), Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), Shortsword (10 GP)… three to five months salary should cover a decent gear package. You’ll need to subsidize that if you’re recruiting a new guard, although part of the cost can be taken from their salary if they don’t want to turn the stuff back in when they retire.

Is that reasonable?

  • About the earliest actual hard costs I can find for equipping a basic soldier are from World War II, where it apparently cost about one and a half weeks salary ($15 ro $25 or $200-$400 after inflation) to equip a basic US infantryman. Of course, that is after industrialization, with little armor, and with cheap-and-reliable firearms – which tells us very little about quasi-medieval fantasy settings.
  • By the 1970’s – after throwing in a flak jacket and some new weaponry – that cost was up to around $2000 after inflation. That was still pretty cheap – roughly half a months salary (again, as adjusted for inflation) for an average person.
  • A few years ago it was about $20,000 after (much less) inflation. That’s probably our best comparison, because it’s now starting to include a bunch of pricey special-purpose, gear, body armor, and fairly expensive weapons – which seems very roughly comparable to equipping a classical man-at-arms. About four to five months wages at the mean salary.
  • All right; the d20 SRD-based estimate isn’t totally unreasonable, so it should be good enough to play with.

For a full-sized army there are notable economies of scale, and no extra cost for danger (danger is a fact of life in d20 worlds in any case) since you’re paying all the time and any danger is very likely to be occasional. So I’ll call that 100 GP/Year for maintaining a professional soldier. So a professional army of 5000 men… will cost half a million gold pieces per year.

This kind of expense is why the legions soaked up everything that the Roman Empire could come up with and were always looking for more – and why feudal armies were normally called up for the length of their service obligations and no longer. It’s just as insupportable in d20. If you’ve got that kind of money to spend on military matters you invest in high-level adventurers and let them handle things. In the real world an army could often get you money. In d20… not so much.

Now if we go with the city magic warlord trick… it’s 120,000 GP to deploy an army consisting of 12,000 L2 Veteran Troopers, 800 Grizzled L3 Sergeants to command squads of 15 Troopers each, and 100 L4 Dashing Captains to command Companies of 8 Squads each – all properly, if mundanely, equipped for their levels.

Of course, with a warlord it’s a one-time cost coming out of their wealth-by-level – but, after all, an army can usually get you some money. It just isn’t often enough to actually pay for itself. At the worst, if they’re not fighting, you can put them to work as field engineers and such. That’s one reason why the Warlord trick doesn’t have any kind of an upkeep cost.

So lets double that cost. That will give each man… an extra 9 GP worth of gear. An increase of 1.5% if spent directly. That’s fairly useless. It would cost 645,000 GP to get each man a Cure Light Wounds potion (who would produce them anyway?), let alone something worthwhile. (This, of course, also tells us that the d20 economy makes no sense, but I’ve been over THAT).

What about the cheap options using Magical Businesses? A Shrine of War can maintain 1200 +5 enchantments for a mere 36,000 GP – 30 GP per weapon. That might even work if you got bundles of arrows. At an effective cost of .6 GP each (or less if you pay for the Shrine over time), you could keep each man supplied with ten of them for a mere 77,400 GP.

Looking at the costs for a magical Tattoo Parlor… no, we’re back in the millions again.

There simply is no way to permanently equip even a modest army with really useful amounts of magic in d20 unless you use a Ward Major (from The Practical Enchanter) with an appropriate Distant Gift, use Eclipse-Style Leadership to give them all some positive levels, teach them all Innate Enchantment (Eclipse again), or employ some similar trick – which is mostly back to personal power again. You can use Dominion (again, from Eclipse) to temporarily give them some positive levels, possibly including some magical talents – but that’s still personal power and even then it’s only temporary.

You could give the city guard a few items that they hand around from shift to shift – but City Enchantments and Wards Major are better for that.

Like it or not, magic item prices in d20 are designed to allow the characters to find huge, exciting, treasures, deal in heaps of gold and fabulous jewels, and be incredibly rich, while still having personal stuff to spend that money on – and items that are out of reach.

And when magic items are intentionally set up as a manifestation of incredible wealth, success, and personal power, it’s pretty much impossible to rationalize handing them around to ordinary folk without wrecking the assumptions of the game.