Valdemar D20 Part III – Building Heralds and Companions

So what about game statistics? Well…

Companions:

Statistics for Companions are actually almost irrelevant. Companions aid, support, and advise their Heralds – but they don’t straighten out their love lives, or offer divine guidance, or make their decisions for them, or use direct magic on their own. They’re COMPANIONS, not protagonists – and generally aren’t player characters. When a Herald is dealing with human stuff, or holding a war conference, or in a building, or at court… their Companion is out in a field, or getting carrots from kids, or off being a horse. Companions live like horses, eat like horses, run around and play like horses, fight like horses (or a little better), and – for that matter – breed like horses. They don’t even go looking for most of the privileges and diversions that a normal human would look for if they were stuck in a horses body. Many of them can’t even mindspeak enough to participate in conferences, even if they have no problem communicating amongst themselves.

They’re not a character attribute either. They’re independent, free willed, allies. They choose to bond with people who are Altruistic, Energetic, Faithful, Helpful, Honest, and Principled (often to the point of being hopelessly unrealistic, which is one reason why they tend to pick youngsters) and recruit them into service to Valdemar. They then encourage those traits – which is one reason why most Heralds don’t live to retire. They aren’t a class feature, or mystic mount, or anything else you buy with character points or feats. They are looking for particular Character Traits – even if they’re masked by circumstances – and so fall under the (admittedly, rarely-used) Character Traits and Granted Powers option in Eclipse (Pages 153 and 154).

Companions are basically Modified Light Warhorses.

  • Intelligence and Charisma are both 2d6+6. This doesn’t exactly have a cost; companions may be smart and good-looking, but their options for applying either are pretty slim. This also makes them incredibly conspicuous. It’s very hard to disguise a Companion for long.
  • Spell/Power Resistance (6 CP). They don’t seem to have a lot, but they seem to have some. Ergo, the basic level.
  • Mindspeech, Corrupted for Increased Effect (Can provide +/-3 on Trait Checks, can get people to forget details about themselves) / only effective according to the GM’s whims for each Companion (6 CP).
  • Tireless (6 CP). No reasonable amount of work will Fatigue or Exhaust a Companion.
  • Innate Enchantment: All Caster Level One, Unlimited Use Use Activated. +2 to Str, Con, and Dex (4200 GP), Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2 x Con Mod HP, 1400), and Know Direction (700 GP) (7 CP). Companions are better and tougher than normal warhorses and never get lost.
  • Improved Celerity: +20′ Ground Movement (9 CP).
  • Immunity/Having to know a language to understand it (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, 1 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Personality Traits (6 CP).
  • Usual Disadvantages: Dies with chosen Herald (Counts as two), Very Restricted on when they can intervene (-10 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Heraldic Traditions (1 CP).

Net Total: 32 CP / +1 ECL. Companions are pretty formidable against normal animals, but they aren’t built for independently fighting monsters.

While all Companions are supported by the Crown, they’re also all in Service to the crown – so this is essentially just having a job. They have little use for money anyway.

Grove-Born Companions only show up for major figures of destiny, and not all of them. Given that player characters make their own destinies, there is no reasonable way that one of them will ever have such a companion. If you happen to need attributes, they get…

  • +2 to All Attributes (36 CP).
  • Add Force Shield I (1400 GP), Sustenance (1400 GP), and Endure Elements (1400 GP) to their Innate Enchantments (4 CP).
  • 2d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement, Specialized / Only for Spell Enhancement (6 CP) and Rite Of Chi 1/Day, Specialized/only to recharge Spell Enhancement Pool (3 CP).
  • Blessing (Specialized and Corrupted / only to lend Mana and Spell Enhancement to his or her Herald (2 CP).
  • Privilege/Recognized by other Companions as their natural leader. Also, extremely fertile (3 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Finding their Destined Rider (I’m counting this as Specialized and Corrupted, since it really doesn’t do much of anything helpful (2 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Theology of the responsible god or goddess (1 CP). (No, I don’t know which one it is).
  • Specific Knowledge / Valdemar (1 CP).
  • Any one Bonus Feat. Each Grove-Born is at least a little different straight out of the Grove (6 CP).

Net Total: 64 CP, so another +2 ECL for a total of +3 ECL.

Heralds:

Gifts are another problem. Heralds don’t usually seem to use them for mere convenience, so there’s probably a cost to using even the most basic functions. Yet they use those same basic functions freely when it’s convenient for the plot – so that cost cannot be very high. Higher order abilities, of course, are quickly exhausting to use. In a game, of course, the players will have their characters use their gifts whenever it’s even remotely likely that they will help – and they will try to use them in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. On the other hand… Heralds aren’t notably superhuman in any other fashion. Most obviously, an arrow, bolt, or sword stuck in some critical bit of anatomy can kill them instantly. They don’t have the kind of superhuman resistance to injury that even mid-level d20 characters do and it’s hard to blame the players for wanting to use whatever special powers they do have to the limit. It’s also notable that most Heralds gain their Gifts very early on. They gain more control with training – but are generally reasonably skilled by the time they are out of school and are often as powerful as they are ever going to get. Gifts tend to turn up at level one, or even level zero – so they can’t be all that expensive.

So: your basic Gift will look something like this.

  • Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (Level Zero Effects) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only to produce effects in a very narrow field (4 CP).

And, for quite a lot of Heralds (and even more non-Heralds) that is where it stops. A Firestarter can light (and possibly extinguish) candles, torches, and fires, craft small images out of flames, treat nasty cases of frostbite, make bright flashes of light, send up smoke signals, keep warm in cold weather, heat tea, and do a lot of other things. If the game master is agreeable, he or she might even be able to “remove fire” from things and cool them or protect himself or herself against a bit of fire damage.

So what about more powerful gifts in general and Lavan Firestorm in particular?

Well, for that buy

  • 1d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement (+1 level per mana spent), Specialized and Corrupted / only to enhance Gifts, only applies to one gift per purchase even if the user has more of them, may only spend one point per time this is purchased, three, or (Cha Mod) points (whichever is least) on enhancing a Gift (2 CP per time taken).

With that, a Herald can occasionally use his or her gift for higher level effects – and with rest and meditation can recover two points of Mana per day, so if they burn themselves out it may take days to recover but they can use a higher-powered effect once or twice a day consistently.

  • A Healer can work a lot of healing cantrips, although the general Path Of The Dragon rule that they start losing effect after 2d6 per patient per day still applies – but even the Hedge Wizardry spells like “relieve illness” and “relieve poison” are going to be limited use. Epidemics are not going to be easily stopped.
  • A Telekinetic can guide arrows, move small items, and play a multitude of tricks – but major blasts of telekinetic force are not going to be particularly common.
  • And so on, for all the other gifts. Gamers will doubtless come up with a lot more than grace the original books.

Mage-Gift:

For Mage-Gift… Well, Mages draw on external energies, and – according to some of the books – don’t need to use their own energies until those external sources are exhausted. On the other hand, most of them seem to know very few spells and there are plenty of examples of mages exhausting themselves simply using the available power. They need more training to use their powers effectively, so they are generally of higher level.

  • Their basis is Occult Talent (6 CP) and/or Improved Occult Talent supplemented with Mana. Thus they can take spells (anything that the game master is willing to allow) that require Mana expenditure to cast. Apprentices may have 6 CP worth of Occult Talents, Journeymen 12, Masters 18, and Adepts 24 – but you don’t HAVE to have more than the basics.
    • Apprentices or “Hedge Wizards” have no Mana.
    • Journeymen generally have 1d6 Mana, may spend 1 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi once per day to recharge from Ambient Mana.
    • Masters have 2d6 Mana, may spend 2 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi twice per day – once to recharge from Ambient Mana and once more if a Ley Line is available.
    • Adepts have 3D6 Mana may spend 3 Mana to reduce the level of a spell for casting purposes, and may use Rite Of Chi three times per day – once to recharge from Ambient Mana, once to draw energy from a Ley Line, and once to draw energy from a Node.
  • Journeymen through Adepts also have Magesight (Occult Sense/Magic, 6 CP).

As noted in Part II, Final Strikes seem to be available to everyone, so they’re presumably a World Law.

To price this, buy…

  • 1d6 Mana with Spell Enhancement (+1 level per mana spent), Specialized and Corrupted / only to enhance Occult Talents, may only spend one point per time this is purchased, three, or (Int Mod) points (whichever is least) on enhancing a Spell (2 CP per time taken). So that’s 2, 4, or 6 CP spent on Mana for Journeymen, Masters, and Adepts.
  • Rite Of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / Only to recharge the Occult Talent enhancement pool, only to tap the energy sources permitted by the characters level of mastery / number of dice of Mana purchased or to recharge through blood sacrifice, may not be bought up further (3 CP).

So being a Hedge Wizard or Apprentice costs 6 CP, being a Journeyman costs 11 or 17 CP, being a Master costs 19-31 CP, and being an Adept costs 21-39 CP. Throw in some disadvantages – lingering pain from having your “channels” blasted open and emotional distress due to a broken lifebond perhaps? – and you can easily have a child who just so happens to be a basic adept even if they don’t know many spells yet. You could even put that, and a handful of basic Gifts, into a +1 ECL Template and drop it on some unfortunate kid.

Really skilled mages may know either Ritual Magic, Hedge Wizardry, or Create Relic (all 6 CP) as well – but not more than one of those.

  • Ritual Magic tends to be the mark of blood mages or archmagi, and can be used to craft mighty mystical weapons, create new species, make permanent gates bound to nodes of power, raise mighty towers, and summon demons (a speciality of evil mages).
  • Hedge Wizardry (from The Practical Enchanter) tends to be the mark of low-powered but very practical magi, who have learned a multitude of practical spells across the years.
  • Create Relic tends to be the province of mage-smiths and artificers, such as the creator of Need. It’s most often used to make focus-stones, which allow +1 use of Rite Of Chi daily. These have no CP cost, because that would only cost 2/6 CP – and so rounds down to zero.

If Spirit Magic is in play, that’s another 24 CP – but, as noted earlier, it vanished from the system very early on. It was just too flexible and potentially too powerful for easy writing. And while it can be a lot of fun in a game… it will seriously overshadow Gifts if you let it in.

  • For mages, the common spells are Light (L0), a basic Shield (Immediate Action, L1 in a L0 slot so 1 Mana, blocks 15 points of damage), various forms of energy attacks (L2 Scorching Ray, 1-2 Mana depending on slot), and a couple of utility effects. Vanyel, for example, has one that transfers mana from his Magical Pool over to his Gifts (given that he’s got only one brain, probably a L0 effect to start with). He also had Dispel Magic and… I can’t recall if he could make Gates (L4 thanks to all their limitations) or not. I’ll say he can – so that makes five effects. He could be a minimum-cost adept. Throw in Ritual Magic for his various ritual workings, and we pretty well have him covered.

This also explains why Mages and Herald-Mages tend to spend a lot of time with the military. A “normal” Herald may have some tricks – but they’re very limited use and take a good deal of time to recover. Great for special missions, riding circuit, and espionage, but not so good for a military campaign. A Herald-Mage can use his or her magical powers to their full extent EVERY DAY – and two or three Fireballs a day can make an enormous difference in a war where the troops are mostly made up of first or second level people with swords, spears, lances, and bows.

  • Characters on Velgarth should generally use the Low-Level Adventurer Template. People there just do not achieve godlike levels of power – and even action movie hero levels (6+) are pretty exceptional.
  • Most Heralds are decent fighters (helped a lot by riding intelligent warhorses) and have a lot of skills. They’re not much for armor, massive, heavy, weapons, or exotic martial arts or other oddities. They do tend to have a lot of skills and some royal authority and are good at parrying attacks. Some of the tricks from the Dark Ages Man At Arms may be appropriate.

And really… that’s about it for Heralds and Companions. They’re a lot more mortal, and more limited, than a standard-issue high level d20 character.

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Valdemar D20 – Part I

Today it’s a question about Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar / Velgarth setting – how to build Heraldic Gifts and Companions in Eclipse D20.

The first thing to remember about the Valdemar / Velgarth setting is that – like the vast majority of fantasy novels and novel series settings – it’s a low-magic world.

What’s that you say? Most of the major characters have magical gifts?

Yes. Yes they do. Yet there are large groups that have very little magic. Magical devices are extremely rare, and what magic there is tends to be low powered, at least by d20 gaming terms.

For example, we have Healing Magic / Gifts (Psionic Magic). What can be done with this?

  • Resurrection from a centuries-old fragment of bone? No.
  • Raise the recently dead? No. Gods can do it, but, they generally aren’t protagonists and they don’t hand out this kind of power; it’s a special miracle.
  • Instantly wipe away major wounds? No.
  • Instantly Neutralize Poison? No.
  • Instantly Cure Blindness, Deafness, or Disease? No.

In Velgarth the most powerful healers can accelerate natural healing, slow the progress of poisons while looking for an antidote or treatment, and bolster the bodies resistance to disease. Maybe they can do some equivalent of vaccinations. They can usually compound and administer medicines, although that’s training not magic. In the books, even with healer assistance, recovery from major injuries can require months. Plenty of people suffer long-term crippling effects.

In D20? Any injury you can survive will generally heal completely, and without any complications, scarring, or long-term effects, within a weealk, even without any help beyond – perhaps – applying some bandages. In d20 terms, the most powerful mystical Healers in Velgarth simply have a reasonable bonus on their heal skill.

There are excellent reasons why most fantasy fiction limits things that way – and it’s not just so that injuries are actually threatening hindrances to the characters (although that is another reason) since it tends to apply to all magic.

It’s because every time you introduce another magical power, you need to keep track of it. You need to consider it’s effects on the setting. You need to out-think all your readers, because if that power could be used to solve a problem that you put in later, then a lot of readers will wonder why it wasn’t so used. After all, if they could think of using it (even at leisure and under no stress) why couldn’t that spellcaster who’d devoted much of his or her life to the study of magic think of it under pressure?

You certainly don’t want to wind up considering the ramifications of a level fifteen d20 Wizards spell load-out, or even a Sorcerers. Sure, you can have major magical events – but they’re going to be the result of divine intervention, or ancient megawizards, or otherwise safely out of reach of the main characters. Just like that continent-spanning magical cataclysm that apparently even the gods cannot just step in and stop and all those magically-spawned species.

In d20 terms… you generally don’t want anyone to have even reasonably reliable access to Raise Dead, Heal, Plane Shift, Polymorph Other, Create Undead (at least not with anything less than MAJOR rituals and fetch-quests), Teleport, easy Scrying, Awaken, Battlefield Spells, Bestowing Curses, Werecreature Transformations, Mass Burrow, Call Avalanche, Call Nightmare, Cloudkill, Commune, Contact Other Plane, Contagious Touch, Control Winds, Dimension Door… The list goes on and on. All of those effects can easily wreck plots and foul up your setting.

What you want is very limited access to a modest selection of level five and six effects via major rituals limited to near-archmagi, well-organized teams of lesser ritualists with access to major sources of power, and to cheaters calling on dark powers and blood magic that the heroes won’t want to use.

  • REALLY powerful grand master mages may have access to a modest selection of level three and four spells – carefully leaving out most of the more problematic effects.
  • Master Mages can have access to a lot of the second level stuff, although any given mage will usually only actually know a limited part of whatever is available. The kind of stuff that generally isn’t all that multipurpose, is effective but not overpowering, and only affects a limited number of targets at a time. That gives them some pretty amazing super powers without making them unmanageable in the story.
  • Journeyman Mages get access to most of the first level stuff – although any given Journeyman will probably only know a dozen or so notable spells.
  • Apprentices get Cantrips – the level zero stuff. In a low-magic setting that’s still pretty impressive. Summon water in the desert? Remain buoyant in a storm? Produce a knife when you’ve been disarmed? Create light in the darkness? Start a fire with wet wood in the freezing cold? Mitigate pain? Stop someone from bleeding to death? All potentially lifesaving,

So now that we know what we’re looking for, it’s on with the details.

The first detail is the magic system from the Vows and Honor trilogy. It involved…

  • Mind-Magic – personal psionic powers that were generally inborn. Noted as being used in Valdemar, up north.
  • Life-Energy Based Magic, which was later divided up into Personal Energy Magic (used by Apprentices and up), Ambient Magic (used by Journeymen and up), Ley Line Magic (used by Masters and up, dangerous if you weren’t talented enough to use it), and Node Magic (Used by Adepts, fatal if you weren’t talented enough to use it). Most user’s were limited by their (mostly fixed) level of Mage-Gift / Natural Talent / Ability to Sense Magical Energy and by their level of Training.
    • Blood Magic was a variant that wasn’t so limited. It didn’t even call for Mage-Gift, since you knew that – when something died – a big burst of power would be there to harvest and use. Of course, since things die all the time, contributing their energies to the ambient level – which flowed into ley-lines and nodes – all Journeymen and up used some level of blood magic. Personally I always wanted to see a blood-mage healer, who lived by a slaughterhouse and said “What? That’s the way my powers run! Why shouldn’t I use the life energy released by the slaughtered cattle’s as well as eating them? They’re dying anyway!”.
  • Otherplanar Magic involved exchanging favors with the creatures of the four Elemental Planes, the “Ethereal Plane” (roughly equivalent to d20’s “Positive Energy Plane”; it’s creatures – fey like things and possibly the “Tribal Totems” that were brought up later – could not be compelled or bound, but would trade), and the Abyssal Plane (roughly equivalent to d20’s Negative Energy Plane, the home of demons and abyssal elementals. They could be compelled to serve with raw willpower or bribed with evil acts and blood sacrifices).
  • Low Magic, which apparently used the “natural” magical properties of herbs and such. It seemed that “High Magic Constructs” were especially vulnerable to such countermeasures because it showed one character that Scholars were very useful to have around.
  • Priestly Magic was basically “any of the above” with a religious theme or asking the gods for minor miracles – which were fairly commonly granted. The gods tended to respond if you were in their service or desired to enter it and what you asked for was sensible and reasonable, even if they sometimes demanded a price for it.
  • There were also adept-duels over adept status (how this worked was never really explained).

The vast majority of that was quietly dropped quite quickly. There are a few mentions of elementals and demons later on, and not-quite-divine Tribal Totems granting some powers got mentioned, but that system had too many undesired real-world “occult” associations and was far too complicated to keep up with. We never even really got to see what kinds of magic otherworldly creatures might provide outside of assisting in combat against other such creatures.

If you want to include otherplanar magic in your version of Velgarth, you’ll probably want a version of the Shamanic Magic package:

  • Path of the Dragon / Shaping (Specialized: only as a prerequisite, 3 CP)
  • Path of the Dragon/ Pulse and Heart of the Dragon: The user may make pacts with, and call upon the services of four of the seven different types of Elemental Spirits, channeling their powers into the physical world. Pulse of the Dragon brings in one spell level worth of magical energy per round, while Heart of the Dragon allows it to be shaped into level one effects. Corrupted: The user must call on the six types of elemental spirits for magic other than Spirit Sight and Spirit Contact effects. Each type of spirit may only be called on for a total of (Cha Mod + Level/2) spell levels worth of magic before the user must rebuild his or her “pool” of “favors”. Fortunately, if the user fails to manage a spell for some reason, it doesn’t use up any of his pool of favors. Specialized: The user may only renew such “pools” slowly. The user regains [Cha Mod + Level/2] points per day through minor rituals and respect for their spiritual patrons. They user may also regain [Cha Mod] points by:
    • Fulfilling a special request from the Spirits. For example, fire spirits might want the user to arrange a fireworks display, while water spirits might want a spring cleaned out and purified. The user may simply ask the GM each day about possible tasks; there will usually be two or three available, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will be even remotely practical.
    • Enacting a ritual in honor of some type of spirits. You might sit out in a storm meditating on it’s power for a night in honor of the air spirits, burn rare woods, incense, and oils in honor of the fire spirits, or conduct a religious ceremony in honor of outer-planar spirits.
    • Promising to undertake a later mission for the appropriate group of spirits. It’s wise to take a few rounds to find out what they’re going to want you to do, but sometimes people are just desperate.
    • Talking the spirits into it. This requires 1d4 hours of quiet meditation and a DC 18 Diplomacy or Knowledge/Religion check and can only be done once per day.
  • In any case, the saving throw DC’s against such effects are based on the user’s Charisma and they overcome magic resistance with a roll of (1d20 + caster level + Cha Mod). Exorcisms (“Turning”) are L2, creating minor supplies costs 1 SL/2 GP and is permanent, and counterspells are always specifically tuned, requiring a spell of only (target spell level – 2).

This has a base cost of 24 CP, 8 CP after being Specialized and Corrupted to reduce the cost. As the character goes up in level he or she can spend another 8 CP to turn the Specialization from “Halved Cost” to “Doubled Effect” and call on the spirits for second level spells – and still later, another 8 CP to turn the Corrupted modifier from “Reduced Cost” to “1.5x Effect” and get third level spells. Unfortunately, that’s as far as you can go with this on Velgarth.

I usually say that…

  • Air spirits deal with Intelligence, Movement, Thought, and Divination.
  • Animal (Totem) spirits deal with Shapeshifting, Enhancements, Senses, and Adaption.
  • Positive Energy spirits deal with Charisma, Purification, Truth, and Life.
  • Negative Energy spirits deal with Strength, Negation, Death, and Compulsion.
  • Earth spirits deal with Constitution, Plants, Healing, Binding, and Stasis.
  • Fire spirits deal with Dexterity, Light, Energy, and Transformation.
  • Water spirits deal with Wisdom, Animals, Absorption, and Emotion.

This system was dropped before it showed what the author thought was appropriate, so you’ll have to either go with my ideas or come up with something. There’s no canon to go on.

Divine Powers aren’t worth discussing, simply because they are literal miracles, are in no way under the protagonists control, and bail the characters out of impossible jams however the plot demands. Characters don’t USE them, they get used BY them.

Partially under this category we have the Heraldic Companions – magical spirit-horses that choose the Heralds of Valdemar, boost their powers, and provide both transportation and companionship throughout the series.

So what do we know about Companions?

Well, they’re horses. Intelligent, constantly bleached-white, horses with pretty hooves, some special powers, and memories of prior lives – but physically they’re basically horses. As for those special powers…

  • They draw on magical energy to be far more enduring and heal more quickly than normal horses. Of course, everything in d20 is more enduring and heals more quickly than any normal creature. Maybe they’ve got the Tireless ability (6 CP / 1 Feat), or they could just have higher-than-normal Constitution scores.
  • They’re mostly reincarnated ex-Heralds or fragments of divine powers. They understand various languages and have various skills from their prior lives, even if they can’t speak or use most of them with hooves. Some books say that they have the Gift of Tongues, and can understand things spoken in any language – still without being able to talk to humans. They don’t admit this though. We’re told in early books that many of them can’t communicate with their Heralds at all except when first bonding with them or through the use of a deep trance – but in later books the notion that they have trouble communicating becomes less and less prominent, and they start mentally communicating with anyone when they need to. That’s not too surprising since writing mute characters is a horrible nuisance.
  • They can inflict laser-guided amnesia on their Heralds and possibly on others to keep their true origins, their semi-divine-messenger status, and other bits of troublesome or socially-distorting information secret. Why? Because it would ruin the setting if the people in it ever started to put all the clues together and making the primary characters all selectively stupid on the details about the most important things in their lives makes for lousy storytelling.
  • Some Companions have claimed to have known from the beginning what partnering with a given individual would lead to. On the other hand, Heralds and companions often seem to die in stupid and readily-avoidable ways. Others have to do a lot of hunting for their partners. This may be a comforting lie told to Heralds, or it might be a special power of individual Companions, but it certainly isn’t a general ability.
  • They travel more quickly than horses. Mostly they’re just fast and enduring, a very few seem to use a short-range teleportation effect to speed up even more. On the other hand even those few never seem to be able to just bypass hazards or simply teleport to where they need to be even if it’s quite nearby. They don’t even dodge attacks with a Blink effect. Their “teleporting” is only for faster out-of-combat overland movement. In d20 terms this is just a boost to movement. It can’t be too big a one either; Valdemar is not really that huge, and allowing Companions to cross it in a day or twos easy run (Say twice the speed of a horse, kept up for twenty hours since they are effectively tireless… five hundred miles a day would be quite possible) messes up the stories quite a lot. You could cross a CONTINENT in a week that way, much less a rather small and isolated kingdom.
  • They normally live as long as their Herald does – although none of them in the books have partnered up with anything but humans. Would they live as long as an Elf? Who knows?
  • Some (Most? All?) of them can feed energy to their Heralds. This may explain why a Heralds Gifts tend to get stronger after they are chosen by a Companion. On the other hand… most Gifts are fairly minor things. Sure, you can point at Lavan Firestorm – but his greatest achievement was losing control and spewing enough fire around in a (highly flammable) pine forested mountain pass to start a big forest fire, killing both himself and the enemies who were trying to get through. So… Fireballs and maybe a few Walls Of Fire? It should be no surprise that we’re back at level three and four effects again.
  • They have some way of picking good Herald-prospects – decent people with at least a little psionic potential who will be of use to Valdemar. It can turn out badly though, so this is hardly infallible. It could even be a disadvantage; “bound to destiny” is very, VERY, much a thing in the setting. Trying to implement that in a game where a bunch of unpredictable players are doing things instead of a single author? That won’t work so well.
  • The bond with their Herald is so vital to them that they will die if they must repudiate their Herald or he or she dies. This is loosened up a bit for Grove-Born Companions, but then they seem to be direct divine emissaries anyway. Those are kind of expected to break the rules.
  • They may be somewhat magic resistant.
  • They’re generally a bit better all around than a normal horse. In d20 terms, that’s probably slightly boosted physical attributes.
  • They may have individual mental powers, but most of whatever they had as a Herald does not seem to automatically carry over.

And… that’s about it. And while they HELP their Herald, they’re freewilled and independent. You don’t get them with a Feat or as a class feature. They picked you – and that isn’t exactly an unmixed blessing.

You have been selected by a Companion to be a Herald Of Valdemar! You will be supported by the crown and nobody will care how randy you are, but you will have no free time and will almost certainly die young doing something stupidly heroic! Really experienced Heralds are very rare!

Caercrwydryn, The Citadel Of The Wanderer

Today it’s a minor special request – a personal citadel (or at least a fortified manor) for a 13’th level character who is already a master of Architecture and Engineering with a +26 permanent bonus. The character wants to build the place using the Sanctum ability with another 6 CP thrown in (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the abilities they provide only work in the Sanctum) – thus investing a total of 12 CP to gain a fairly impressive base of operations. The characters very high Charisma (the character should have a +7 charisma modifier by level 13) also translates into a high level of Leadership. This is, of course, a practical application of the “Mighty Fortress” article, so lets see how it goes!

So…

While it may be called a “Citadel”, Caercrwydryn is actually more of a noble villa – a beautiful manor built around a fairly modest tower / shell keep set on an outcropping of rock that overlooks a nearby village – but it’s not like the mere physical details of a structure mean much in d20. Such an estate is MUCH easier and quicker to build than a classical castle, and it has plenty of room for adding additional staff, residents, cottages, farms, orchards, and all the other stuff that makes an area prosperous. Of course, hopefully the properties of Caercrwydryn will do a lot towards that goal. Sadly, however, since the place IS built on a single characters personal power… if the builder does not produce a powerful heir willing to take up the mantle of maintaining the place after he or she dies, many of the facilities will start to fail soon after the original builders death. In this case, the health of the “King” really IS the health of the “Kingdom”.

Of course, this also means that – all too soon – there will be another ruinous dungeon filled with monsters and malfunctioning magic just outside yet another decrepit small village, but you kind of had to wonder where all those things came from anyway didn’t you?

Sanctum Abilities

  • Occult Construction Methods: Action Hero/Crafting, Specialized and Corrupted/only for construction and repair of the holding (2 CP). This will provide 15 AP at level 13 – enough to simply complete the construction of the place on the spot without further expense given that “a nice home” has no real direct game effects in itself. Further points may be used to add things.
  • A Master Engineer: Skill Emphasis (Architecture +4), Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only counts to decide what Mystic Artist features you can have in your sanctum, can only be applied to the sanctum rather than – say – several rooms with individual properties (In this case, this results in effective skill of 30+) (2 CP). Without this, the creators Architecture skill would not be quite high enough for A Mighty Fortress, below.
  • Transcending Mortal Skill: Mystic Artist/Architecture with Seeking, Specialized for Double Effect/the user may only create one structure at a time, Corrupted for Reduced Cost/all abilities must be at least quasi-military and must target either the Residents / Defenders or the Attackers (8 CP). This, of course, uses Harmonize to provide two functions:
    • A Mighty Fortress (Heroism, Skill 30): All Residents/Defenders gain +4 Positive Levels (+4 BAB, Saves, and AC, +24 CP: Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/Only for Innate Enchantment (Up to 5500 GP Value, 6 CP), Immunity/the XP cost of up to 5500 GP worth of Innate Enchantment (Common (since they will be changing regularly), Minor, Trivial, 2 CP), Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized in Physical Damage for Double Effect (4/-) (3 CP), Grant Of Aid (6 CP), Speak (any convenient obscure language) (1 CP), Occult Sense/Attacks (always gain two rounds to prepare and a +1 Insight bonus to AC and Saves, 6 CP).
    • Glorious Bells (Serenity, Skill 18): When these bells ring (up to twice per week), all Residents/Defenders gain the equivalent of a nights rest – eliminating fatigue, regaining hit points, attribute points, restoring uses-per-day powers, being able to prepare spells, and so on, in an instant.
  • Attracting Followers: Leadership/Specialized in Stronghold Staff for Reduced Cost (3 CP). At L13 with a +7 Cha modifier this provides 20 ECL worth of followers, although none may exceed level ten. In this case… two x L8 (a master alchemist/advanced maker of potions, talismans, and acrolls (the “where does he get those WONDERFUL toys” power package) and a master healer/anti-undead channeler), two s L5 (a seneschal with a high end stipend and a master of arms to handle tactics and militia training), and seven s L2 types (a really good cook/brewer, a pair of Võlur, a Hedge Wizard, a Witch, and a couple of Men At Arms to be sergeants).
  • Manifestations Of Magic: Leadership with Exotic Followers – Traps, Constructs, and Wards, Specialized for Reduced Cost / these don’t heal, have to be repaired if damaged, have to be installed instead of just showing up, are integrated into your stronghold and thus effectively immobile, and must be manually upgraded as you increase in level (6 CP). These include…
    • A Rank Six Ward Major (see The Practical Enchanter) covering the local area (Call it ECL 2 x Rank -2 – which is fairly arbitrary, but works):
      • Minor Powers (4): Industry, Sustenance, Beauty, and Health.
      • Major Powers (2): Teaching and The Distant Gift (Longevity).
    • A Shield Guardian (CR 8).
    • Eight Spiked Pit Traps, with Animated Triggers to self-reset and keep them from bothering the residents (CR 2+.5 each, total 20).
    • Twelve similarly animated Bear Traps (CR 2 in total).
    • A low wall that mostly keeps out normal wild animals has no CR at all; any normal person can climb over it.
  • A Scrying Maze: Cloaking, Specialized for Reduced Cost/Divinations about Caercrwydryn will reveal general information about the place – whether people are in residence, are the servants busy, is there damage, is the garrison up to strength, etc – but never anything precise enough to put to use about the activities or location of anyone important. There shall be no scry-and-die tactics here (3 CP).

Advanced Functions:

These abilities cost six of the builders personal character points, and – as personal abilities – are Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / these abilities only work in the Sanctum when the owner is in residence.

  • Ritual Chamber (Occult Ritual): With the aid of your vast heaps of components you can attempt may feats of ritual magi (6 CP).
  • Occult Foundry (Action Hero/Crafting): Tapping into the resources of the local area, you may produce a modest supply of magical devices at reduced cost (6 CP).
  • The Advanced Dominion (which the builder already has) Ability Wrath Of The Overlord in a variant form – allowing Blessings (6 CP). From your occult seat of power you may spend Dominion Points to shape destiny, bestowing Charm and Talisman Effects (1/0 for 1 DP, 2/1 for 2 DP, 3/2 for 3 DP), make the area generally prosperous, or rarely approached by monsters, or enjoying good weather (for the region anyway) for 3 DP per year per effect maintained, and similar effects.

Caercrwydryn isn’t an especially overwhelming place of power – but it is pretty good for it’s 12 CP cost, and will make a very, VERY, nice home for a party and any locals who hang around.

Eclipse And Pulp Mad Science

And for today, it’s another request – a Witchcraft-based Mad Scientist build.

Well, mad scientists are certainly entertaining – but the first question to ask is where does your mad scientist get his or her power to defy the laws of nature from? While there are plenty of fantastic power sources to choose from – including elerium, kryptonite, protoculture, tiberium, element x, vibranium, quantonium, dilithium, unobtanium, pinotium, auadium, illyrion, protonite, mako, arcanite, naquadah, kittens, magnetic monopoles, “hypermatter”, black holes, and dozens more – using any of them will mean that your mad scientists is utterly dependent on a single vital supply. You’re out of protoculture? None of your stuff works. That works well in a story that’s fully under an authors control, but it’s pretty limiting in a game. players HATE having their character get sidelined for want of supplies.

So we want something more personal – but outside of that the special effects don’t really matter a lot.

  • Do you have some mysterious “Spark”, mutation, or memetic contagion that lets you draw reality-warping power from other realms, singularities, zero point energy, inter-dimensional potential, subspace, or other cosmic sources? (Waldo, Dexter’s Laboratory, Girl Genius, etc),
  • Do you have implants / nanites / crystals in your body or genetic modifications / special skills that let you draw on possibility, quantum, vril, your own emotions (love, hate, friendship, light, darkness, whatever), your own soul, “neuropotential” / psychic, “the lifestream” / vital, will, or A.R.C. reactor “energy” for power?
  • Can you build devices that gather reality-warping power on their own and/or can be fueled by yours? (temporal, nucleonic, hyperspace, possibility, dimensional, electroplasmic, warp, often with “flux” attached to imply something dynamic that can change over time with the needs of the plot. Thus Doc Brown’s “Flux Capacitor”).

Regardless of your justification, you have a pool of power – spark, flux, quantum, or whatever – that makes your mad science work. This also avoids letting you become endlessly powerful, which is also important in a game.

Most mad scientists have a collection of gadgets that they usually use, but only add new ones relatively rarely – and if they do add new ones, they commonly become a permanent addition to their arsenal. On the other hand, their gadgets are often quite versatile, but they’re rarely awesomely powerful. Sure, Doomsday Devices are a classic, but they never really seem to work.

Ergo, this mad scientist build is going to use Witchcraft.

  • Available Character Points: 48 (L1 Base) + 10 (Disadvantages) +2 (Restrictions x 2: Mad Scientists cannot use generic “power” devices, but only items especially created for them and they cannot employ clerical magic; the necessary mindset is incompatible with mad science). +10 (Three Disadvantages. Mad scientists are commonly Aged, Compulsive (over-curious, meddling with things they should not, activating things to see what they do), Dependent (stimulants, sappho, supplies), have a History (usually including a list of projects that have gone terribly wrong and are unaccounted for), may be Hunted (outraged villagers are a classic), Incompetent or Inept (Social Skills), Insane (obviously), Irreverent (A god? Ha! Just let me analyze…), Obligations (often a beautiful daughter who is being held hostage), Outcast or Poor Reputation (mad scientist), showman (you fiddle with your gadgets and boast), Unluck (fairly obvious), and Valuable (you know important secrets, which you are usually utterly blind to) +6 (First Level Bonus Feat) = 66 CP.
  • Basic Attributes: Mad Scientists fall into the Adventurous Scholar archetype – so Intelligence is important, and Constitution is next. Dexterity is nice, but Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma are rarely important. For Pathfinder 20-point buy, I’ll take: Str 8, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 18, Wis 10, Cha 8. Tbe build will have to Finesse the Witchcraft saves over to Intelligence, but that’s not too important.

Basics (34 CP):

  • Base Attack Bonus: +0 (0 CP)
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1d8 Hit Die, 4 CP) +2 (Con Mod) = 10
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fortitude +0 (Purchased) = +2.
    • Reflex +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +1 (Dex) = +2.
    • Will +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +0 (Wis) = +1.
    • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP).
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: 2 SP (2 CP) +16 (Int Mod x 4), +8 (Fast Learner), Adept x2 (12 CP) = 26 SP.
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +2 (Leathers) +2 (Dex) +2 (Shield) +4 (Martial Art) = 20
  • Initiative: +1 (Dex).
  • Movement: 30′

Special Abilities (32 CP):

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP). This was presumably purchased at level (-2) using Disadvantage Points, and so provides +8 SP at level one.
  • Finesse (Saves against Witchcraft abilities are based on Int, not Cha, 6 CP).
  • +4 Levels of Int-based Wilder Spellcasting with no Caster Level, Corrupted / provides no disciplines. (+17 + 2 x Int Mod Power) (8 CP). This is a bit cheesy, but most characters have some cheese somewhere.
  • Witchcraft III, Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Requires various blatantly obvious Foci that can be taken away (12 CP Base). This provides a selection of seven basic abilities / devices. A mad scientists basic abilities are usually (although not always) Specialized in particular applications for double effect. For some possible examples:
  • The Adamant Will Gadgets:
    • Auric Distortion Cloak: Specialized for Increased Effect / presents a false aura to aura detection effects at no cost.
    • Neural Block Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / Provides permanent immunity to any two of Fear, Possession, Charm, Hold, Mind-Reading, Pain, or Truth Detection effects.
    • Null-Foil Hat: Base functions. This is mildly unusual for a mad scientist, but fits in well enough here.
  • Dreamfaring Gadgets:
    • Afterlife Communicator: Specialized for Increased Effect / Allows the user to sense and communicate with Astral and Ethereal entities at no cost – although it does not bypass language barriers.
    • Cosmic Consciousness Helmet: Specialized for Reduced Cost / Allows the user to project his or her spirit into the Astral of Ethereal Plane for up to one hour for 1 power.
    • Etheric Manipulator Vest: Specialized for Increased Effect / only to let the user see and attack into the Ethereal Plane at no cost.
  • Elfshot Gadgets:
    • Hypersonic Pulser: Specialized for Increased Effect / Panics animals in the area that fail to resist for 1 Power.
    • Neural Dampener: Specialized for Increased Effect / Penalizes a target attribute by -4 for ten minutes for 1 Power.
    • Neuralizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / this device produces some specific short-term effect for 1 Power. Possibilities include Blindness, Deafness, Entanglement, Ghostbane Dirge, Mad Hallucination, Daze Monster, Forgetfulness, Oppressive Boredom, Shadow Anchor, or similar second-level effect.
  • Glamour Gadgets:
    • Cloak Of Radiant Impressions: Specialized for Increased Effect / The user may program this item with a description – “a wealthy merchant”, “an important noble”, “a big man in the underworld”, “a famous military commander”, “just another servant”, or something similar – and anyone who sees him or her must consciously attempt to disbelieve that impression to penetrate it.
    • Harmonic Vocalizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power to gain a +12 bonus to Charisma-based skill checks for ten minutes.
    • Hypnotic Wheel: Specialized for Increased Effect / Produces a Suggestion effect for 2 Power.
  • Hand of Shadows Gadgets:
    • Kinetic Guantlet: Specialized for Double Effect / May push, punch, and execute ranged combat maneuvers using your (Int + 6) as Strength for one power per minute.
    • Microbot Assistants: Specialized for Reduced Cost / Tiny robots can help you do an hours worth of light work every five minutes at no cost but that is all they do.
    • Vital Flux Charger: Specialized for Reduced Cost / may animate objects (as per Entangle, Animate Rope, Animate Fire, Dancing Lantern, Tripvine, Animate Object (One small item), etc).
  • Healing Gadgets:
    • Bacta Supply: Specialized for Double Effect / only to provide immediate healing (maximum of 6d4/Round for 3 Power).
    • Regenerative Blanket: Specialized for Increased Effect / sleeping under this blanket provides one full days worth of healing per hour at no cost.
    • Universal Antitoxin: Specialized for Increased Effect / taking a dose of this substance (1 Power worth) provides a +10 bonus against Poisons for the next hour.
  • Hyloka Gadgets:
    • Augmentation Harness: Specialized for Double Effect / provides +2 to Str, Dex, and Con for one hour for 1 Power/Hour.
    • Hibernation Drug: Specialized for Double Effect / users may be put into complete suspended animation indefinitely. While so suspended they do not age, breathe, eat, drink, suffer from poison, normal heat, or normal cold, and show no signs of life. This costs 1 Power but does require an unresisting target.
    • Immunobooster Serum: Specialized for Increased Effect / 1 Power provides Immunity to Disease for twenty-four hours.
  • Infliction Gadgets:
    • Ray Gun: Specialized for Double Effect / only one form of energy. Mad scientists almost always have a cold ray, lightning gun, solar blaster, or similar device that can be adjusted to be single target or affect a small area. This may either allow a saving throw for half damage or be a ranged touch attack. (There aren’t any other major examples for this particular basic ability. After all, the Ray Gun is probably THE iconic mad scientist gadget).
  • The Inner Eye Gadgets:
    • Life Sensor: Specialized for Reduced Cost / The user may easily detect the presence of nearby life (or Unlife) forms gaining a +6 bonus to any rolls made to notice or identify them at no cost.
    • Mind Probe Gauntlet: Specialized for Double Effect / provides the results of a full interrogation for 2 Power. The target, however, may resist as usual for an interrogation.
    • Sensory Link System: Specialized for Double Effect / this set of small units allows a group to share their sensory data at a cost of one power for every ten minutes. This provides an automatic Aid Another check for each character in the group when one needs to make a roll with a shared sense and permits the sharing of information from improved senses – thus allowing everyone in a group to benefit from Blindsense or similar effects
  • Shadowweave Gadgets:
    • Disguise Belt: Specialized for Increased Effect / provides a +12 bonus to Disguise and Stealth for ten minute for 1 Power.
    • Holographic Image Projector: Specialized for Increased Effect / may spend 2 Power to generate a Minor Image effect or 4 Power to generate a Major Image effect.
    • Invisible Blade Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / renders a melee weapon effectively invisible, granting the user a +6 circumstance bonus on attack rolls against creatures that normally rely on sight for ten minutes for 1 Power.
    • Prismatic Distillation Crystal: Specialized for Increased Effect / may spend 1 Power to generate a Blinding Color Surge effect.
    • Pyrotechnics: Specialized for Increased Effect / costs 2 Power, otherwise as per the Spell.
  • Witchfire Gadgets:
    • Comfort Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / maintains a 5′ radius at a comfortable temperature, providing immunity to normal weather extremes for 1 Power per hour or 10 points of resistence to Fire and Cold for those within the area for 1 Power / Minute.
      Cryogenic Mister: Specialized for Increased Effect / This simple gadget, capable of inflicting up to 6d6 damage to an individual target for 1 Power or to a modest area for 2 Power.
    • Essence Extractor: When directed at an unresisting creature, corpse, or area of up to a 20′ radius, this device extracts specific substances for 1 Power. It can thus be used to gather poison from deceased monsters, perfume from flower gardens, drugs from various plants, or gold from ore.
    • Molecular Synthesizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / for 1 Power this gadget allows the user to prepare a sizeable batch of some chemical from common raw materials for 3 Power. This can be used to produce drugs, toxins, explosives, and many similar items.
  • Witchsight Gadgets:
    • Darksight Goggles: Specialized for Increased Effect / provides Darksight at no cost.
    • Multioptics Band: Specialized For Increased Effect / Optical Enhancements only, can swap out what is being enhanced (“changing settings”) up to (Wis Mod + 2) times during the abilities duration.
    • Sensor Wand: Specialized for Increased Effect / for 1 Power provides a +36 bonus to checking for toxins, attempting to determine chemical compositions, or checking a fire scene for accelerants.

Most Mad Scientists will also take Pacts, typically

  • Advertising: Mad Scientists are rarely quiet. Many of them want to explain, to demonstrate their mastery of SCIENCE, to shout out the names of their gadgets, and to set up spectacular, attention-grabbing experiments and laboratories. This inevitably attracts notice and tends to give away their plans.
  • Backlash / mad science experiments are ALWAYS running amuck, or having weird effects, or causing unexpected problems
  • Corruption: It’s not like “The Fly” is an isolated incident. Mad scientists are always attempting to boost their intelligence, or giving themself animal powers, or some such.
  • Exclusion: Some mad scientists just refuse to deal with magic, psionics, and similar items, feeling that they are just misunderstood mad science.
  • Guardianship: If you’ve opened some door that should never have been touched, or found some dark and terrible secret, then you have a lifetime obligation to stand guard over the problem you’ve created.
  • Hunted: While it’s hardly required, mad scientists do occasionally really upset people.
  • Isolation: Who needs social distractions when there is SCIENCE to be had? Far better to isolate yourself in some castle atop a jagged peak, undersea laboratory, or other spot where no one will bother you!
  • Madness: Most mad scientists are more than a bit crazy. Some are completely over the edge. A mad scientist subject to “the madness” will soon go completely over the edge. It’s probably best to leave this one to the NPC’s.
  • Possession: While this is rarely literal unless a given mad scientist happens to be a specialist in ghosts or lovecraftian horrors or some such, quite a few mad scientists are subject to creative fits, wherein they become utterly obsessed with something, or build some device with no idea of what it does, or completely fail to consider whether or not implementing some insanely dangerous idea or experiment is really a good idea.
  • Tithe: Buying all that equipment and maintaining a laboratory can be quite expensive. A “tithe” of gold covers THAT.

The two allowable pacts at first level can provide +12 CP worth of Advanced Witchcraft Powers. For some samples there for use with Pacts or with later development consider…

  • Advanced Vital Infusion: (4 CP): Usually an upgrade to the Vital Flux Charger, allowing it to affect larger items.
  • Aetheric Crystalizer / Ice Gun: Nightforge (4 CP). Often purchased as an improvement on a Ray Gun, this allows the user to creature durable structures.
  • An Important Figure: Web Of Shadows (6 CP) provides a support network and influence in an area. It’s most common with drug dealers, poisoners, and other criminals.
  • Anagatic Regimen: Longevity (6 CP). Always a popular project.
  • Augmented Mentation: Spirit Of The Sage (6 CP).
  • Brewing (6 CP): You are good at making potions, narcotics, alcohol, and other useful extracts, giving you a complete pharmacy. This may be used as a gateway to making Pulp Drugs.
  • College Membership: The Secret Order gets you more gadgets and power, so it’s always popular – but it DOES involve hooking up with an actual secret order of mad scientists, who usually have their own agendas. Usually 6 CP.
  • Combat Drug: Wrath of the Sea (4 CP) to provide +6 Strength. Often combined with the similar Essence Of Earth ability (+4 CP for +6 to Constitution) or Dance Of Flames (+6 Dexterity).
  • Death Ray: Mouth of the Earth applied to a Ray Gun (4 CP).
  • Entropic Dissipater (4 CP). As per Grounding.
  • Genetic Augmentation (4 CP), Flesh Like Mist, Specialized for Increased Effect: the user may inject himself with animal DNA to temporarily take on animal powers.
  • Ghost Trap: Seize the Wandering Soul and Spirit Binding usually shows up in the hands of Ghostbusters as a gadget worth 8 CP.
  • Hyperspeed Accelerator (4 CP). Provides access to the Leaping Fire ability.
  • Minions (6 CP). Where would a mad scientist be without his or her faithful minons?
  • Monster Creation: Tulpa, Specialized For Reduced Cost (3 CP) / always material, sometimes goes off on it’s own or doesn’t understand directions, monstrous appearance.
  • Noted Inventor: Tenebriums Coin. Your gadgets bring in a steady income (6 CP).
  • Null-Gravity Boots: Whisper Step (6 CP).
  • Phase Suit: The Umbral Form (4 CP).
  • Planar Sealer (4 CP). This gadget provides access to the Dismissal ability. Specialized versions (for increased effect or reduced cost) are quite common.
  • Technofamiliar: Familiars are fairly rare among mad scientists, but if they have one it will usually have Robotic Template from Eclipse II. Usually 12 CP.
  • Teleportation Belt: Ashen Rebirth with Teleportation, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for the Teleportation function (6 CP).
  • Weather Control Module / Weathermonger (6 CP). Can also be Specialized in specific, more powerful, effects – such as generating Chain Lightning or Hurricane Blasts or some such.

Like most Witchcraft-based builds, a Mad Scientist is most effective at relatively low levels, before they hit the upper bounds of what Witchcraft can do. Fortunately, Witchcraft is also fairly cheap – leaving plenty of points available at higher levels to invest in other abilities.

Infusions Of Curses in Eclipse

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

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

-Alzrius

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

-Jirachi386

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hope that helps!

Dark Ages “Classes” – The Man-At-Arms

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

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

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

So the tactics are different.

The equipment is different too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Build:

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

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

Basics (42 CP):

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

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

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

Other Abilities (30 CP):

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

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

Medieval Dark Ages “Classes” – The Võlur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Build:

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

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

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

Basic Items (24 CP):

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

Other Abilities (46 CP):

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

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

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