Granny Part III – Architectural Wonders, Experience by Study, and her Legendarium Panoply

To start at the beginning with Granny’s History and the Basics click HERE. To go back to her Skills, Skill Tricks, and Skill-Related Abilities click HERE.

Architectural Wonders:

Caer Hunleff, the Tower of Nightmares, Stronghold of the Dark Enchantress.

This modest castle is offers a fairly standard array of defensive features – gatehouse, stone walls, moat, drawbridge and portcullis, merlons, arrow-loops, and similar elements – but its major defenses lie in Grannies Mystic Architecture. That grants its defenders a +4 Morale Bonuses to their Attacks, Damage, Saves, and AC along with +2 Positive Levels (+2 to BAB, Saves, and AC, Grant of Aid with +4 Bonus Uses, +2d10 HP), generates a Break Enchantment effect at CL 12 once whenever a defender is affected by an unwanted effect, and makes the place impervious to magic designed to change, damage, or scry it out – including Rock to Mud, Move Earth, Passwall, Disintegrate, and so on (this may, at the option of the game master, extend to attempts to teleport past the walls). In any case, thanks to Granny’s ability to curse the surrounding lands, it’s normally defended by seven hazards of CR 14 or less – plus her minions, monsters, and anything she does actively.

  • Rooms: Alchemists Lab (390 GP), Altar (her Unholy Chapel, 210 GP), Armory x2 (780 GP), Ballroom (760 GP), Bath x2 (260 GP), Bedroom x 3 (900 GP), Bunks x2 (800 GP), Cells x2 (360 GP), Ceremonial Room (1,180 GP), Common Room (300 GP), Courtyard (180 GP), Crypt (490 GP), Defensive Stone Walls x4 (2080 GP), Drawbridge (320 GP), Escape Route (360 GP),
    Forge (370 GP), Garden x2 (360 GP), Gatehouse Tower with Iron Door, Iron Portcullis, and Gauntlet (2210 GP), Greenhouse (300 GP), Habitat (for Granny’s exotic animals, 790 GP), Kitchen (160 GP), Lavatory (120 GP), Magical Repository (730 GP), Nursery (250 GP), Office x2 (240 GP), Sitting Room (480 GP), Stall x4 (1000 GP), Storage x3 (360 GP), Summoning Chamber (1040 GP), Throne Room (1650 GP), and War Room (300 GP).
  • Magical Facilities: Celeano Manuscripts (3200 GP), Perpetual Fountain I (250 GP), Cleansing Fountain (62.5 GP), and City Stores (750 GP/Day, 8225 GP).
  • Staffing: Gangsta Wrap I (but one use/day (x4) and Immobile (x.5) instead of one per month (120 minions, 11,880 GP).
  • Income: Caer Hunleff has a net GP modifier of just under +200. About 20 of the minions will usually be doing profitable things, for another +200 – ergo Caer Hunleff earns about 40 GP/Day. Due to the use of magical minions, there are no modifiers for being away from the place. Of course, this is far less than the City Stores provide – but every little bit helps.

Net Total: 43,350 GP. If Granny chooses to use the Stores to solidify Caer Hunleff’s reality, it will take it some sixty days to become real, permanent, and independent of her Dreambinding. In practice, this depends on the campaign situation; Granny always uses the the 23,700 GP from her Dream-Binding Specialty to pay for the 23,617.5 GP cost of the magical facilities since – if someone does capture the place – she sees no reason to give them the benefits of her magical resources – but whether or not she makes the rest of the place “real” depends on the campaign situation; if she needs to be able to move it around readily, it will be entirely a manifestation of Dream-Binding. If not, she’ll probably make the basic structure real and permanent.

Caer Hunleff is a useful outpost, and a good place for Granny to keep things that she doesn’t want publicly known – but it’s also something of a honeypot. Anyone who is looking for a dark enchantress or wicked witch is going to eventually find rumors of the haunted forest, the ruinous castle, the malevolent hag who occupies it, and her enslaved and enchanted minions. If they wish to destroy this blight upon the land, they can battle their way through the cursed lands about the place, defeat the monsters and dark magics that Granny will send against them, endure the storms that will spring up to defend the castle, breach the gates, defeat her minions, and confront Granny (or, much more likely, her stand-in) – who will generally dissolve into dust if defeated (Or, if she is amused enough, when simply given an excuse. While the “I’m Melting!” routine was a bit over the top, the kid was amusing, and a relative, and actually swallowed it!). After all, while there are some valuables laying about, the entire place and everything in it can be readily replaced.

The Witch-Mazes:

Granny is well aware that there are plenty of perils to her realm that she isn’t really much good at handling – and so she makes sure that there are manageable opportunities for young adventurers to gain skill and experience so that there will be someone available who is good at dealing with such threats.

The Witch-Mazes are modest “ruins” seeded with a few valuables and with a selection of curses laid on them to create a carefully graduated set of traps and hazards – and to populate them with warped, powered-up, versions of normal animals / monsters. If the challenge needs a bit of adjusting they may have Mystic Architecture effects applied as well.

Angry squirrels are one thing. Angry accursed squirrels with even a portion of the advantages that Granny’s Mystic Architecture can give them are quite something else again. Giving them +4 Morale Bonuses to their Attacks, Damage, Saves, and AC along with +2 Positive Levels (+2 to BAB, Saves, and AC, +2d10 HP, and 12 CP – spent on 1d4 base lethal damage, DR 2/-, and 5000 GP worth of Innate Enchantment (perhaps Immortal Vigor for another 10 HP, Mage Armor, and use of Produce Flame)) will result in Squirrels with AC 28, 22 HP, Melee Attacks of 1d4 physical at +10 or 1d6+5 touch fire damage at +6, a ranged touch attack for 1d6+5 fire damage at +10, and Saves of Fort +7, Ref +12, and Will +7)… can turn them into quite a challenge even for a mid-level party – and Granny can freely adjust that challenge in a variety of ways. Remember; she wants adventurers to have a rough time and gain some experience, not a pile of corpses. 

None of the Witch-Mazes are really all that large. They tend to be things like old watchtowers, cursed mansions, logging camps, haunted groves, and so on. Basically… they’re minidungeons. Granny even puts out clues, partial maps, and rumors, carefully steering groups to appropriate challenges – or hurriedly attempting to upgrade, downgrade, or restock if a group is headed for someplace inappropriate or that’s recently been looted. Granny hasn’t got the time, resources, or inclination to get a group beyond level four or five this way, and certainly can’t be bothered nursemaiding incompetents – but she can help young heroes get past the most vulnerable stages of their careers.

Witch-Mazes are more or less throwaways: Assuming that creating a “ruin”runs about a quarter of the cost of a building a real, functioning, structure, throwing up the “ruins” of a Large Bandit Camp, or a Bardic College, or Caster’s Tower will cost about 1200 GP (about half of which can be salvaged by clever adventurers looting the place). Adding Curses and/or Mystic Architecture modifiers using her personal powers is free – and throwing in another 1250 GP worth of mundane gear and supplies as treasure takes the cost to a bit of her daily power and one days worth of stuff from her Cauldron of Holda (below). If she wishes, she can even assign a few (free) minions to play bad guys and set up cheap traps. In other words, she can casually throw together one per day at little or no personal expense given a few hours to work in.

The House of Wisdom, Residence of the Elder Advisor and Orphanage:

This modest manor – once the home of the almost-forgotten Dowager Queen – is the official residence of the realms Elder Advisor, and so is more or less Grannies permanent home. These days it has broad gardens, greenhouses and orchards, a comfortable small library / reading room – and swarms of orphans and delinquent children there for a bit of “straightening out” – at which Granny has a marvelous record of success. She’s even raised many of the realms young heroes. It too has mystic architecture – granting residents two positive levels (bestowing 2d10 HP, Fast Learner specialized in Skills, and Grant of Aid with Bonus Uses, with limitations that keep people from noticing or trying to actively use the boosted hit points and grant of aid – which keeps the kids from getting stupid. Well, any more stupid than kids usually get anyway), bells that grant each resident the equivalent of a full nights rest twice per week, +4 Morale bonuses to Intelligence and Wisdom (specialized in allowing the kids studying there to readily pick up a relevant Package Deal), and Group Focus (allowing Granny’s skill check to serve as a concentration skill check when it comes to studying.

On Self-Improvement through Study in D20:

Studying / Training is the realistic way to improve yourself. Like most realistic things, when you compare it to fantastic magical ways to improve yourself such as adventuring it isn’t worth much. Still, for non-adventuring kids it’s a way to get ahead. So studying lets you take your time and turn it into Experience Points.

So how fast is that? And what helps you study and train? It’s not Intelligence. Intelligence gets you more skill points per level, but it makes you easily bored too, which explains why it isn’t coming into things twice. It’s not Wisdom, that (at least in d20 games) simply lets you notice distractions more. What is it that helps you pull all-night studying marathons and helps keep your mind focused on your studying?

Well, keeping your mind focused despite distractions is – by definition – a concentration check. In 3.5 that’s straightforward enough. Unfortunately, the Pathfinder writers concluded that having a Concentration skill was basically a skill tax on casters (whom they assumed HAD to keep it maxed out) and that non-casters never needed to keep their minds focused. I’d say that both are wrong – I’ve seen plenty of Casters who found ways to avoid such checks and plenty of noncasters who needed to make them (trying to focus on getting that lock open despite the arrow in your shoulder and the fight behind you? Adventurers lives are FULL of situations calling for concentration) – but that’s easy to fix. When you need to make a Concentration check for non-magical stuff roll 1d20 + Con Mod + Your Level in the Class (or Classes) which provide the ability you’re using.

So Studying involves using Concentration as a (simplified, since anyone can study) version of a Craft skill using your time as the raw material. You spend a week studying, make your non-magical concentration check, square your result, and divide by 50 (since the 3.5 magic item crafting rules tell us that 1 XP costs 50 SP and Pathfinder gives no information on the topic) to see how many XP you get.

Computing how much that gets you in an average week (since it involves a sum of exponents) calls for using a slightly more complex than usual formula: – namely [N(N+1)(2N+1)/6]. The sum of the squares from 1-20 (for a +0 modifier) is 2870. Dividing by 20 for an average result and by 50 for the value gets us an average of 2.87 XP per week. And yes, that sucks. Even with a decent teacher (+2 Aid Another), Textbooks (+2 Masterwork Equipment) and a +1 circumstance bonus for a schoolroom, we will only wind up with 5.434 XP per week – about 200 XP per thirty-six week school year. At that rate it will take four to six years (presuming some sick days and such) to go from level “-2″ (set at -850 XP) to level one (0 XP competent adult) through pure schooling. Given that schools are likely to spend at least half the kids time on recess, lunch, tests, roll call, classroom tasks, and kids being kids, and won’t start until the kids are five to seven (since before then they’re just not up to it)… that would mean that the baseline human starting age would be about seventeen. Full-time, intensive, training could get a kid to level one by age ten or so though – which is, not particularly surprisingly, about the minimum age for starting a child PC.

And the fact that that number makes a reasonable amount of sense is kind of discouraging. Still, there are always ways for Adventurers to do things that are unavailable to most. For example, Granny’s Mystic Architecture allows residents at the House of Wisdom to substitute her Mystic Artist skill check (as built into the structure) for their Concentration checks. Her skill check would have been made using the Celeano Manuscripts, Luck, a +3 Room bonus, and some Aid Another, for a total check of about 71 and a net total of 50 XP per half-time week of classes or about 2000 XP per “school year”.

That’s actually pretty worthwhile. Spend a few low-risk years at the House of Wisdom and you can easily hit second or third level, even if you won’t have much of any treasure – at least outside of any part time earnings – unless the game master is using “wealth by level” as a law of nature instead of a game convenience.

Of course, in a realm where good and evil are forces of nature, and where creatures of the lower planes offer pacts in exchange for service or sacrifices… some children are just murderous, or are naturally evil, or are possessed, or any of a dozen other things. And Granny has uses for those as well. After all, despicable were-rat henchmen, evil grand viziers (who do all the unpleasant, dishonorable, and – above all else – PRACTICAL things that need to be done when you’re running a kingdom), thugs, thieves, assassins, and cursed monsters have to come from SOMEWHERE don’t they? And once you’re satisfied that a child is best suited for such a role… it is only fair to extend the power of The Dark Veil (whether via the Blessing ability through a relic or through some cleverly-phrased curse) to them and thus erase them from both memory and record. After that – and a curse of being unable to reveal any of Grannies more dubious activities or talents – the Thieves Guild or her monstrous servants will have another recruit.

And Granny, of course, will continue to maintain her extremely high rate of “success” in raising kids, since many of her major failures (or perhaps malign successes) will simply vanish from memory and record.

Granny may have designed and built the House of Wisdom, but it’s not really one of her personal assets any longer. It’s a governmental facility. Several other officials work there, it’s an orphanage and school, and it’s a training center for beginning heroes. It’s also a very unlikely place for a major confrontation, so game statistics are mostly unnecessary.

The Thieves Guild.

If you’re going to have crime – and you ALWAYS will – it might as well be well organized crime. Besides… you need a place to fence ill-gotten gains, to keep your monsters, and to hire assassins to deal with threats to your realm. Paying modest fees for “insurance” (and to feed the beggars and street children and such) is simply another form of taxation. Ergo Granny provides cheap mystic architecture to the Underworld – granting the Guild a secretive stronghold that protects against divinatory powers (and possibly against teleporting past the walls), helps heal their injuries and renew their abilities, radiates indifference (discouraging non-members from taking enough interest to investigate), and grants them the ability to create and carry a small number of minor relics – allowing them to learn both to create a selection and take along only the ones that they need.

In many settings this will also double as an “adventurers guild”. Even those adventurers who go above and beyond being murder-hobos are generally violent, inclined to accumulate dangerous (and possibly illegal) devices, magic, and substances, have swarms of enemies, attract monsters, try to solve most of their problems by killing things, and are usually homeless tax evaders. They may be needed when there’s a dragon coming, but most of the time they’re about as undesirable as it gets. Staying at a place that asks no questions, has good food and comfortable beds, that enforces rules like “no killing or stealing on the premises” effectively, that protects against divination, that helps them heal up and regain their powers quickly, that can obtain all kinds of gear for them, and which probably also has kids who run errands cheaply and congenial sex workers living on the premises, is about as good as it gets. 

Well, at least until they take over a kingdom to run into the ground.

Tales of the Dark Enchantress: The Shadow Over Greendale

Greendale perched on the foothills overlooking the river below the mountains, and it’s people trembled. The same pass which brought trade and wealth would now bring destruction. For the Hordes of the Wastes came, as relentless as a tide, and their homes would fall in fire and blood. It was but two days away, and reinforcements – or refuge – would be a week or more. Some fled, in hopes that destroying Greendale would somehow delay the horde long enough for them to escape it’s outriders – even as those outriders already lay in wait along the escape routes. Most took up arms and prepared for death – and prayed to the Light for a miracle.

Others offered prayers and sacrifice to any power that would aid them, making fearful promises of gifts, and service, and offspring – and that night the Darkness answered. The moon hid it’s face and the shadows spread unbroken as an obsidian tower rose – the unhallowed gateway-tomb of the storied Dark Enchantress, crypt and entrance to the underworld. From it, wrapped once more in decaying flesh, her long-fallen spirit strode forth – burning with witchfire and corpse-light, Behind her marched a Legion of Hades, an army of long dead and damned warriors that manned the pallid walls of bone which had erupted about Greendale.

And the Horde came against the town for three days – but the dead held the walls, and the living could not pass save into the grave. The dread curses of the Dark Enchantress wrought havoc upon the horde as well. Against her the shamans of the Horde hurled spells of death, of paralysis, of annihilation, and more – but none would bite upon her undead flesh. The Warlord of the Horde – Arthewn of the Iron Axe – heard the voice of the Witch who barred his path and was swallowed up living by the earth. To this day, each year on the dark of the midwinter moon his voice can be heard amid the hills, pleading for some brave and adventurous soul to take pity, dare the deep caverns of the Labyrinth of Nightmares which holds him, and free his soul from torment.

None yet has dared attempt the deed.

For three days of battle the walls of bone ran red with blood – but upon the fourth day the horde was broken upon the dark arts and iron will of the ancient Hag of the Underworld, and fled, harried by a thousand dreadful curses and the creatures of the infernal realms. The army of the damned swept forth to slaughter the wounded foe and their camp followers – and then returned to the crypt, taking along – and into the service of their unholy mistress – a score of Greendale’s youths, the price paid for the assistance of the Witch-Queen. And the crypt trembled, and collapsed once more into the earth, leaving behind only a dark altar.

Today, at that altar, the masked and hooded people of Greendale make a yearly offering in thanks for their dread deliverance – and in hopes that the darkness need never rise again. That offering is most often of meat and wine – but every so often, when the signs are bad and the lost souls moan upon the wind, it is a condemned youths – thieves, or murderers, or some such – who will be gone when comes the dawn. For life was given, and life must be repaid.

Not surprisingly, the defense of Greendale called on the majority of Grannies powers, most notably:

  • Creating a Relic or Relics to boost her Dream-Binding ability and to bolster her personal defenses.
  • Dream-Binding to create stone city walls and some gatehouses (about 8000 GP), a City Father (24,000 GP), the “Crypt” (basically another gatehouse with a war-room (3000 GP) and a “summon army” (120,000 GP) setup in the basement), and City Stores (8000 GP) to provide supplies. (This means she has to get a minimum of a +3 bonus – probably through a relic providing Skill Focus and Skill Emphasis, so as to have some margin).
  • Mystic Architecture to make the walls effectively invulnerable to siege engineering and being bypassed by magic and to bestow a huge range of bonuses – one set from the Crypt and one set from the Walls – on the defenders.
  • Foresight to always have everything in place and ready to repel the Horde – and to combine with her Legendarium power array to have appropriate defenses from her panoply (below, often a Talisman of Undying Fortitude) going whenever attacked.
  • Craft (Image) (and, personally, her Hat of Disguise) to provide the horrific special effects.
  • Her personal powers – summoning, group-curses, and battle magic – could and did take a toll on the opposing troops as well, even if major opponents could often resist her. (Managing to take out Arthewn was something of a stroke of luck).
    • Oh, the kids? Those were, and generally still are, much better off with some extra training, some appreciation for their evil talents, and a chance to join a PROPER Thieves Guild or become true monsters or some such. It’s not like Granny is big on dead people or on torture or such when she has no need to make a point.

It’s worth noting that this general setup wouldn’t work against an elder dragon, or a party of high-level adventurers, or some similar menace. Granny’s powers are very good at dealing with masses of opponents, and she is personally very good at escaping, but she simply isn’t built to confront major monsters. That’s a job for Adventurers or Heroes – and she is neither. 

Grannies Legendarium Panoply:

  • Head: Veil of Nimue: (97,100 GP Total):
    • Scouts Headband (3400 GP) with +3 Daily Charges (6 total, +3000 GP) +2 Competence to Perception, spend 1/2/3 charges to gain 60′ Darkvision for an hour/see invisible for ten minutes/true seeing for one minute.
    • Also functions as a Hat of Disguise (x1.5 surcharge for second function = 2700 GP)
    • Grants a +6 Enhancement bonus to Charisma (36,000 GP) and Intelligence (36,000 GP, as a permanent self-enhancement it adds to skill points normally), and a +4 to Wisdom (16,000 GP). Per the Magic Item Compendium, attribute boosts may be added to other items without extra cost.
  • Face: Masque of Medea (11,900 GP):
    • Raptors Mask (3500 GP), +5 to Perception, wearer is immune to Blindness and Dazzling.
    • Also functions as Third Eye Freedom (1.5x surcharge, 3900 GP). Immediate action provides one round of Freedom of Action once per day.
    • Also functions as a Third Eye Clarity (1.5x surcharge 4500 GP). Once per day negates a confused, dazed, fascinated, or stunned condition as an immediate action that those conditions cannot prevent.
  • Throat: The Undying Breath of Koschei (50,300 GP).
    • Talisman of Undying Fortitude (4 Charges, 16,000 GP). Activate as a swift action to gain the ability to survive without breathing and immunity to poison, sleep effects, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, critical hits, nonlethal damage, physical ability damage, ability drain, energy drain, fatigue, exhaustion, death from massive damage, and any effect that requires a Fortitude save for 3 rounds.
      • Intelligent: Int, Wis, and Chr 14 (3000 GP), Telepathy, 120′ Senses, Blindsense, and Read Languages (8000 GP). As an Intelligent Item it has it’s own item slots – and so, can use the powers of a Ring of the Forcewall (5100 GP), Healing Belt (6 Charges, 1500 GP), Rod of Bodily Restoration (3100 GP), Orb of Mental Renewal (3100 GP), and Amulet of Tears (9 Charges, 6900 GP). It can cast Nerveskitter, Resurgence, and Magic Missile 3/Day each at caster level seventeen (3600 GP).
  • Shoulders: Cloak of Abramelin (34,250 GP).
    • Shadow Cloak (5500 GP) +1 Deflection Bonus to AC, three times per day, as an immediate action in response to an attack, you may either gain Concealment or Teleport ten feet to a space you can clearly see.
    • Also functions as a Vanisher Cloak (x1.5 Surcharge, 3750 GP). 3 Charges/Day, spend 1/2/3 as a swift action to gain invisibility for 4 rounds/you and an adjacent ally become invisible for 3 rounds/you and three adjacent allies become invisible for 2 rounds.
    • Also grants a +5 Resistance bonus to Saving Throws (25,000 GP, per the Magic Item Compendium there is no surcharge for adding this as a secondary function).
  • (Ring) Sigil of Circe: (40,700 GP).
    • Ring of Mind Shielding (8000 GP). Immune to Detect Thoughts, Discern Lies and Alignment Detection.
    • Also functions as a Ring of Anticipation (x1.5 Surcharge, 9000 GP): +3 Competence Bonus to Perception, may roll initiative checks twice and take the best result.
    • Also functions as a Ring of Feather Falling (x1.5 Surcharge, 3300 GP).
    • Also functions as Ring of Sustenance (x1.5 Surcharge, 3750 GP).
    • Also functions as two Rings of Counterspells (x1.5 Surcharge, 12,000 GP).
      • Note that, in combination with Foresight, this pretty much allows Granny to ignore any two spells of up to level six per day.
  • (Belt) Girding of Aradia (48,000 GP):
    • +4 Competence Bonus to All Skills (Skill Mastery, L2 x CL5 x 2000 GP = 20,000 GP).
    • Also functions as a Belt of Battle (x1.5 Surcharge, 18,000 GP). +2 Competence Bonus to Initiative, 3 Charges/Day, spend 1/2/3 as a swift action to gain a move action/a standard action/a full-round action.
    • Also provides +2 Enhancement Bonuses to Strength (4000 GP) and Dexterity (4000 GP). Per the Magic Item Compendium, attribute boosts may be added to other items without extra cost.
    • Also functions as a Handy Haversack (2000 GP, normally slotless).
  • (No Slot) Cauldron of Holda (Epic Adventurers Supply Pouch, 33,000 GP). Note that this allows Granny to produce 2250 GP worth of stuff per day – allowing her to set up some 16,000 GP worth of buildings per week.
  • (No Slot) Favor of Abaris (37,770 GP):
    • Good Fortune: Aura of Favor (SL1), Fortune’s Favor (SL0), and Ward of Heaven (SL1) x CL3 x 2000 GP x 2 (Slotless) = 15,000 GP. Provides a +1 Luck Bonus to Saves, AC, Attacks, Damage, Skill Checks, and Ability Checks.
    • Also functions as a Gangsta Wrap VI (22,770 GP, already slotless). Granny has four sixth level minions, which can be replaced on a monthly basis.
  • (No Slot) Talisman of the Sabbat (28,500 GP): As per a Figurine Of Wondrous Power; Obsidian Steed. This allows Granny to easily visit various planes and meet with her covens.

Next up: Granny’s special powers.

 

Granny – Skills, Skill Tricks, and Skill-Related Abilities

Skills are very important to Granny; so she’s spent a fair chunk of points – in fact, 111, well over a third of her total and more than any normal class – on acquiring and enhancing them.

Skill Enhancements:

  • Upgrade Pathfinder Package Deal Fast Learner to Triple Effect (4 CP). This is cheesy, but NPC political figures can usually be allowed a little cheese – and a handful of extra skill or hit points really isn’t all that important.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (+3 CP/Level): Only for buying Skill Enhancing Abilities, must buy at least one “skill trick” per level (6 CP). This provides +3 CP / Level to buy skill-enhancing abilities with.
  • Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (adds Cha Mod to Int Mod for Skill Point purposes, Specialized and Corrupted/only adds to skill points through level five, 6 CP). Over several centuries, Granny has had a lot of time to let helpful people show her how to do things – but that’s gotten less and less effective as fewer and fewer of them have anything to show her.
  • Available Skill Points: 136 (L1-5: 8 x [Int Mod + Cha Mod]) + 21 (L6-8 3 x Int Mod) +3 (Purchased, 3 CP) +6 (Favored Class) = 166 SP.
  • Augmented Bonus; adds (Int Mod) to (Cha Mod) for skill purposes (6 CP)
  • Augmented Bonus: adds (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) for skill purposes (6 CP).
  • Access to three Occult Skills – Foresight, Legendarium, and Dream-Binding (9 CP)
  • Adept: Foresight, Knowledge/Engineering, Legendarium, and Spellcraft (6 CP)
  • Adept: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Perception (6 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost, Only for Skills, only to “take 20″ in advance (no rerolls) (4 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis (3 CP) and Skill Focus (6 CP) (both in Legendarium).
  • Given that Granny has a lot of built-in “equipment” thanks to her Legendarium skill, a suitable “masterwork tool” (or tools) for all her skills may be more or less assumed.

This gives all of her Int or Cha Based skills a base of +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +27 Base. Ergo, that will be the assumed base below.

Intelligence and Charisma Based Skills:

  • Bluff +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Spinning a Whopper: Mystic Artist (for Bluff), Specialized and Corrupted / provides the Manipulation options of Fascinate and Hold Audience only (2 CP). This isn’t nearly as important to Granny as is used to be – her other powers far surpass this sort of trivia anyway these days – but it was fairly useful early on.
    • This is something of a stretch – Bluff is not usually considered a suitable skill for Mystic Artist – but convincing your listeners that they really do want to keep listening to this insane story does seem right in line with the Bluff skill.
  • Craft; Alchemy +2 (2 SP) = +29
    • Skill Trick/Touch of the Philosophers: +4 CP worth of Innate Enchantment, Spell Level 1 x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated. Dexterous Fingers (Trickster Magi list. Reduces the time required to use a skill by three rounds. If this results in zero time or “less” it becomes a free action. If applied on a continuous basis throughout a skill-based crafting project, it reduces the required time by 75% or allows a project to proceed at normal speed while only taking up a couple of downtime hours per day, so that it, like studying spells, can proceed while adventuring) (2000 GP) and Alchemical Tinkering (Pathfinder), both Specialized for Reduced Cost (requires a DC 20 Alchemy check, only for Alchemy, tinkering only works on alchemical bases and catalysts (under Haagenti), not on guns or existing items) (2 CP).

Granny is mostly a herbalist, but at this point – after centuries of refining her will – she is easily capable of imposing temporary structure on alchemical raw materials with little more than a touch – both producing items as needed and accomplishing her projects very quickly indeed. That isn’t actually much use given her current abilities – an extra 25 GP per day, even if the cost is no more than a little casual dabbling that she’d probably do anyway, means very little to her now – but having people come to her for medicines for their children, and special supplies, and so on, is a useful window into the community to keep open.

  • Craft; Foodstuffs +3 (3 SP) = +30
    • Note that Specific Knowledge/the recipes and procedures for up to (Int) basic meals or complex dishes comes with each skill point invested in Craft/Foodstuffs – and that cooking has a base DC of 5. Thus “taking 10″ normally gets you 25 at DC 25 – allowing a cook with basic skills to ready a good meal for two, a common meal for four, or a poor meal for twelve, in about an hour. Having done quite a lot of cooking… that’s much more reasonable than the roughly one day per common meal figure that
    • Skill Trick/Good Eats: +2000 GP Innate Enchantment/Good Meal (as per Good Berry, but works on freshly-prepared meals, snacks, or candies). Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (2 CP). This handy talent allows the user to greatly stretch short supplies or provide a days meals to a (size) small child in the form of a single candy.
    • OK, so Granny has learned how to cook most of her favorite dishes. After all, in some cases she’s the only one who remembers what they are.
  • Craft; Image +5 (5 SP) = +32

Craft; Image is the art of adding sensory impressions to your works. Do you want your Flash Powder to provide a fireworks display? Make your cheap wine taste like the finest vintage? Cause smoke to take on a monstrous form? Make your sonic blast into a celestial song? Play Gandalf and make your alchemical firework take the form of a stooping dragon? Make a stage seem like a window into a great city for your play? Make a thin mattress more comfortable? Make your Fireball into a skull blazing with green fire that explodes? When you want to play with your special effects, than Craft Image is the skill for you. It‘s DC 5/10/20 to add Minor/Notable/Major impressions to something:, +5/10 for Large / Colossal targets, and +5 if you want the impression to linger beyond the duration of the item or effect it’s applied to. Since sensory impressions have no actual value, this counts as a part of the same activity that produces or prepares the item to be modified. Thus the check could be made while casting a spell, building a stage backdrop, or preparing food or drink to be served. As a side effect, the user may add (Skill Check / 15, rounded down) to the DC’s of saves against his or her relevant (those that generate actual detailed images to deceive people) illusion effects.

Craft Image doesn’t really change the game mechanics much, but it does let you describe your stuff as dramatically as you like. Go ahead. Build two identical castles, describe one as a “dark and ominous mass, crouching atop the hill like a ravenous beast poised to descend on the hapless villages below and wreck havoc” and the other as “a shining citadel, a beacon of protection offering a place of refuge to the hapless villages below” and see which one attracts valiant heroes to defend it and which one attracts would-be minions and valiant heroes who want to attack it.

  • Craft; Policy +11 (11 SP) = +38
    • Craft Policy was covered in a prior article, HERE.
  • Diplomacy +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Snare of Words: Immunity/The distinction between Diplomacy and a Martial Art equal to the total value sans tools (Uncommon, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only works against creatures of types who could normally be affected by Diplomacy but who are arbitrarily immune (IE; being player characters/”destined heroes” or plot requirements) (2 CP). Even those who are somehow impervious to persuasion can be distracted, affected by guilt, and otherwise troubled by skilled words. Against such opponents the user gains +2 to Intimidate, +2 to Bluff, +4 to AC, DR 4/-, 8d6 of (nonlethal damage) Sneak Attack, Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain. All of this can, however, be bypassed by engaging in conversation, listening to her monologues, spending time trying to persuade her to turn away from her evil ways, and rationally responding to her arguments before starting a fight.
      • Skill Trick/Heraldic Privilege: Upgrade Snare of Words to Specialized for Increased Effect (gains +4 to Intimidate, +4 to Bluff, +8 to AC, DR 8/-, 8d6 of Sneak Attack, and double-strength Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain (+2 CP).
        • Skill Trick/Diplomatic Immunity: Upgrade Heraldic Privilege to Triple Effect (+2 CP). The user gains +6 to Intimidate, +6 to Bluff, +12 to AC, DR 12/-, 12d6 of Sneak Attack, and triple-strength Inner Strength, Iron Skin, Light Foot, and Resist Pain (+2 CP).

With these tricks about the characters WILL politely let the villain monologue, and offer them a chance to reform and make their own heroic speeches, or they will make their “boss fight” a great deal harder (and perhaps near-impossible; Triple-Strength Iron Skin and Resist Pain will get the AC boost up to +24 and the DR to 24/-). I’ll pay for Granny to have the full 6 CP package I think.

To be sensible, Granny really ought to have a normal martial art that would help her deal with monsters and other NPC’s rather than a special ability designed to justify cinematic “confronting the villain” tropes. I suppose she could get one though a relic if she really HAD to have one – but if it comes down to a direct fight that she can’t weasel out of Granny has basically lost already. Her goal is to be the invisible chessmaster and the power behind the throne. From her point of view… if you know enough to actually be coming after HER instead of her “Dark Enchantress” decoy persona her schemes are collapsing already – and her last hope is to get you to LISTEN TO HER and consider whether or not she’s a net benefit to have around, evil or not. Ergo, a last-ditch ability to try and force negotiations.

  • Disguise +11 (11 SP) = +38
    • Skill Trick / Method Acting: Immunity to Gather Information, Sense Motive, and Alignment Detection (Very Common, Minor, Trivial, Specialized/Only if the user’s Disguise skill check equals or exceeds the opposing Skill Check or Caster Level Check, in which case the opponent using the ability will detect the user’s cover, rather than the underlying reality, 2 CP).

Like it or not, if spells like “know alignment” are at all common, public figures are going to be hit with them regularly – and getting no answer will be seen as them having something to hide, no matter how many reasons are given for maintaining their privacy. They’re going to HAVE to have some ability along these lines to function at all.

While this is partially overridden by her Mind Shielding effect, that simply blocks detection, while this trick allows the user to create a false result – which is far less suspicious than getting no result. 

  • Dream-Binding +11 (11 SP) = +38. +3 Specialty in Caer Hunleff (1 SP).
    • Smith of Dreams: Granny’s Dream-Binding is Specialized for Increased Effect (she simply treats her total skill bonus – including any permanent personal magical bonuses – squared x 100 GP as her budget to “buy”things with, although she still can’t dream up expendable items) / she cannot use the magical items that she “creates” herself; she can only use them to equip others – although if she creates downtime structures she can live or work in those. With a total value of 144,400 GP (plus 23,700 for Caer Hunleff), Granny can readily equip lower-level parties or maintain a fair amount of infrastructure all by herself.

Yes, this means that Granny can, if she wishes, be a load-bearing boss; if and when she dies, her dreams, including any structures that she has dreamed into being, will go with her.

  • Skill Trick/Forge of Dreams. Immunity/having to go shopping or build (Common, Minor, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/items to be rendered permanent must be “created” with dream-binding and then made permanent – expending alchemical components with a cost equal to the normal cost of the item (2 CP).

And here we have another handy trick; Granny can get you supplies, various permanent magic items, and create buildings, overnight – but there’s no point in trying to rob her; she hasn’t got stockpiles of stuff (save, perhaps, for basic herbs). She may have a supply of Alchemical Catalysts (covered in more detail under Haagenti in THIS article), but at 100 GP per ounce she can carry 48,000 GP worth in a thirty pound bag – and that will be safely tucked away in a personal extradimensional space. No more “magic item shop” problems. Instead the ancient hag in the woods can supply you with the magical items you need for your quest – and when those same items vanish, are depleted, or are sacrificed at the end of the quest, there’s nothing to complain about; they have simply returned to the realms of dream from which they were temporarily drawn.

  • Foresight +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Foresight is basically made of skill tricks. Granny, not being a spellcaster, usually uses it for her political maneuvering, to just “happen” to have the relics she’ll need at any given moment be the ones that she’s using, and to just happen to have convenient items dreamed into existence at any given moment.
  • Handle Animal +5 (5 SP) = +32
    • Skill Trick/Tyrant Master: Immunity/the distinction between animals and other creatures for skill purposes (Uncommon, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only covers “domesticating” and “training” monsters and slaves) (2 CP).
  • Intimidate +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Skill Trick/Sonorous Iron Voice (Cha Based Martial Art): +2 (2 SP) +17 (Cha + Int) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +29 (+22 for buying abilities). Sonorous Iron Voice focuses on the throat chakra, imbuing the user’s voice with supernatural power – generating sonic blasts and vibratory effects – it can also add subtle, manipulative, overtones to the user’s words.
      • Granny’s eleven current abilities include +2 Synergy to Diplomacy, +2 Synergy to Intimidate, +2 Synergy to Bluff, +2 Synergy to Sense Motive, Battlecry (Variant: may make an Intimidate check against all opponents within 30 feet as a standard action once per encounter), Mobility, Mind Like Moon, Inner Strength x2, Ki Focus (+4 Sacred Bonus to Charisma), and Wrath (Sonic Damage) (2 SP for a net +20).
      • Granny will usually use this form in noncombat situations, but – since she may or may not be doing so in at any given time – it’s benefits have not been included in her skill totals.

Technically this isn’t a “skill trick” since it’s really a separate skill instead of a power that builds on an existing skill – but it’s set up to cost two skill points and the primary function is to provide the effects of the classical “never outnumbered” skill trick in allowing a mass intimidation check. That seems quite close enough to throw it into the category. Secondarily, it only works cheaply thanks to Granny’s absurd boosts to Charisma and Intelligence based skills, but there’s no reason not to take advantage of that if you can persuade the game master that such an art should exist. Given that she’s had centuries in which to get someone to invent and develop it for her, I’d say that it’s justified.

 

When it comes to Knowledge skills, Granny originally studied engineering and architecture because she wanted a palace and didn’t want to trust someone else to design her secret passages and escape routes. She picked up a fair knowledge of the Nobility and Local Information while ruling, of History while living through it, and of Arcana by dabbling across the centuries – but she’s not really a scholar. On the other hand even the rule-of-thumb knowledge of basic principles (putting in a skill point or two) will get you a long way when your effective “intelligence” (a +17 modifier?) puts you well beyond most comic book super-geniuses.

  • Knowledge; Arcana +5 (1 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Dungeoneering +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Engineering +11 (5 SP*) = +38. +3 Specialty in Mystic Architecture. Base (for Mystic Artist abilities) = +37.
    • Mystic Artist with Seeking for Engineering (Architecture) (12 CP).
      • Inspiration Abilities: Emotion, Competence, Excellence, Mass Greatness, Mass Excellence, and Heroism.
      • Synergy Abilities: Block, Group Focus, Harmonize, and Serenity.
      • Manipulation Abilities: Hold Audience and Suggestion. Granny can access Emotional Auras and Freedom, but needs to be using one of her Relics to do so.

Granny is a formidable mystic architect. What’s more, she’s fully capable of using Dream -Binding to create a citadel and a fortification around a settlement overnight (even if she does tend to have the locals do enough work to disguise the fact that she doesn’t actually need them. Its better for their morale that way). That’s a pretty massive defensive advantage.

It also means that if you attack and destroy the Dark Enchantresses castle… she’ll just make a new one someplace else a day or two later. She may even move it from time to time just to make it harder to find.

  • Knowledge; Geography +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; History +5 (5 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Local +5 (1 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Nature +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Nobility +5 (5 SP) = +32
  • Knowledge; Planes +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Knowledge; Religion +1 (1 SP) = +28

The Celeano Manuscripts: As per a Mask of a Thousand Tomes, but consists of several hundred massive tomes (basically immobile, x .5), requiring a DC 20 Linguistics check (x.8) and at least 1d4 hours of intense study and concentration in a suitable library to use (x.8) = 3200 GP. If you have the time to use the Manuscripts they provides a +10 competence bonus to any Knowledge skill check – for Granny, a net +8 over the competence bonus that’s already included in the values above.

  • Ritual Magic (Atherian Variant). Atherian Ritual Magic allows knowledge skills to be used to generate magical effects, in much the same way that – in magic-free reality – knowledge can be used to create technologies, solve problems, and accomplish goals rather than simply allowing the game master to provide some exposition and offering clues as to how to fight monsters. In effect, Atherian Ritual Magic is sort of a generic “skill trick” for all knowledge skills. To keep things under control, Granny’s abilities are Corrupted: even with the time-saving trick below, she may enact no more than (Cha Mod) rituals per day – and major rituals count as three minor ones (4 CP)
    • Skill Trick/Words of Creation: Immunity / the time required to use Atherian-type magical rituals (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP). This reduces the time requirements by two steps. A normally ten-minute ritual to get the household drains working would thus be reduced to one full action (Tens of Minutes to Minutes, Minutes to Full Actions) – although she must still get the relevant components from her Ritual Chest or Supply Pouch. Of course, the three-day ritual of Planar Transference would only be reduced to to hours (three days to one day, one day to hours).

In general, Granny can perform an immense variety of useful, albeit non-combative, rituals with relative ease – warding cottages against fires, chasing pests out of the fields, tracing bloodlines, predicting the weather, immunizing a village against a horrible disease, insulating and warming households during a bad winter, dowsing for the best place to dig a well, locating lost children, laying restless spirits, and so on. She can summon demons, raise a swarm of skeletons, or make it rain holy water too – but those are much bigger projects, and are likely to call for rare ingredients, considerably more time, and very high DC’s.

  • Legendarium +11 (5 SP*) +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +2 (Skill Emphasis) +3 (Skill Focus) +3 (Path) = +36. Sadly, Granny’s usual +7 in magical and equipment bonuses is irrelevant here – but her massive attribute bonuses and skill-boosting feats still turn this into 388,800 GP worth of “gear”.
    • Specialized for Double Effect; “Items” purchased with Legendarium must be purchased as slot-free items at double cost. Granny’s items take up slots under the normal rules (and may have stacked effects under the normal rules), but are purchased at normal costs.  In effect, she just “spends” her Legendarium funds to purchase her “panoply” normally.
    • This also means that Granny has, over her extended lifetime, accomplished at least eighteen great deeds and seen them become a part of her legend. While her Dark Veil (from her Channeling powers) keeps those tales focused on “The Dark Enchantress” instead of on “Granny”, anyone who spends some time on Gather Information or research will be able to pick them up and get a pretty good idea of the Dark Enchantress’s capabilities. Specialized for Double Effect / items “purchased” with Legendarium must be bought as slot-free items for double cost. In Granny’s case they take up item slots normally regardless, and the stacking enchantments rules must be applied – so while her items may be powers derived from her legend, they are built just like normal items. Legendarium is a pretty major power for Granny – but then, one way or another, she’s invested quite a lot of character points into boosting her skills.
  • Linguistics +1 (1 SP) = +28
    • Skill Trick/Polyglot: Immunity/Awkward Linguistics Mechanics (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP). Granny knows her base racial languages plus a number of languages equal to her total permanent Linguistics score. That will include Common, Sylvan, Infernal, Abyssal, Dwarven, Elven, and at least twenty-one more. In general, as an NPC, just assume that Granny knows all the tolerably common languages in the setting.
  • Perform; Acting +5 (5 SP) = +32
    • Skill Trick / Rumored Fame: Immunity to the distinction between Charisma and Reputation scores (Uncommon, Minor, Major, Corrupted/only uses 2/3’rds of the users Charisma score, 2 CP). Given her 30 Charisma this gives her an effective 20 on her Reputation score – which means that pretty much everyone in the country and nearby countries will have heard of her. That’s usually worth a substantial bonus on social interaction rolls.

This would be more expensive – but it can generally be assumed that any time the game master has the characters interacting with a V,I,P, he or she will be making a point of bringing it up anyway. There’s no point in having an NPC be famous or important if you don’t tell the player characters about it. Characters will develop reputations whether they buy one or not – but buying one offers them control. This option boosts one, but offers little control. Just allowing one to develop is a very hit-or-miss proposition – much more appropriate to wandering adventurers than to political figures.

  • Perform; Oratory +5 (5 SP) = +32 (+25 Base)
    • Mystic Artist/Oratory (10 abilities) with Echoes (12 CP):
      • Manipulation Abilities: Fascinate, Hold Audience, Emotional Auras, and Freedom.
      • Synergy Abilities: Block, Group Focus, Amplify, Harmonize, Serenity, and Rule the Horde.

Granny’s oratory has been polished across the centuries. She can weave suggestions, inspire overpowering emotions, break enchantments, enhance magic, renew her targets daily abilities, and more, selecting any two of those at a time and allowing those powers to echo back up to three times during the next two weeks.

This ability makes Granny’s tall tales pretty much redundant – but they’re cheap anyway and it never hurts to have a backup method of doing things. If this was an ultra-efficient build (instead of just exploitative) she’d probably have retrained those 2 CP – but Granny prefers to know that she can still tell a wild story with the best of them.

  • Perform; Strings +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Perform; Sing +1 (1 SP) = +28
  • Qilin QiGong (Int): +3 (3 SP) +17 (Cha + Int) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +30 (+23 for buying abilities).
    • Qilin QiGong is a discipline of breath control and drifting movements to focus and channel C’hi, focusing on internal alchemy, the development of the Embryonic Pearl (a focus and reservoir of life force), and the amplification of the user’s inner strength. While it falls under the broad umbrella of the Martial Arts, it has only minor combat applications, and relatively few bother to develop them. Sadly, while truly skilled practitioners can maintain health and vigor into extreme old age, it does nothing to extend the user’s maximum lifespan. It can make it a lot easier to reach it though.
      • Granny’s twelve current abilities include: Synergy: +2 Craft/Alchemy, +2 Heal, +2 Fly, and +2 Perception, Toughness IV (a minor variant that protects against attribute drain and damage rather than physical injuries), Inner Strength II, Healing Hand, and Vanishing. These bonuses have not been included, since Granny is not always using this style.
  • Spellcraft +11 (5 SP*) = +38
    • Chaos Magic: 3d6 (12) Mana with Unskilled Magic, Specialized for Double Effect (costs only 1 Mana per level of the effect produced), Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only for unskilled magic, requires verbal and somatic components, Arcane or Hedge Magic effects only, requires a spellcraft check at a DC of 5 x the effective level of the effect being produced, commonly (and quite correctly) seen as a dangerous and unskilled use of magical energies (12 CP). In general: Charisma-based, Caster Level (7 + Effect Level, 10 Max), maximum effect level 6 (going above Caster Level/2 risks losing control at the option of the game master), requires a Charisma Check at DC (6 + Mana Used) to avoid dangerous side effects of one-half the level of the spell used. Success on this check still produces awkward and inconvenient side effects.
    • Fires of Creation: Rite of Chi with +(2 x Cha Mod) Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted: only to regain Mana in the unskilled magic pool above, requires at least five minutes of rest per die (6 CP).

This is an extremely cheap way to cast some fairly powerful freeform spells – but it’s rarely an attractive option for adventurers. Even disregarding the need for being of fairly high level, having very high attributes, a high spellcraft skill, and a high base will save just to make it work, few adventurers like risking random side effects. After all, casting Scorching Ray and having the party hit with Burning Hands, or being abruptly outlined with Faerie Fire even if the would-be magus makes the charisma check to avoid actively dangerous side effects, can really mess up your plans. There are reasons why Wild Mages have never really been popular – and why the Eclipse versions usually roll to see what kind of effects they have to work with this round and then have to figure out a way to use it rather than letting the game master do whatever he or she finds amusing at the moment.

Other Skills:

  • Fly (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Heal (Wis) +5 (5 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +20, +3 Specialty in Pregnancy, Birthing, and Babies (1 SP).
    • With a +23 base, and access to Witchcraft, Rituals, and various Spells, Granny is capable of handling pretty much any childbirth. Given the number of kids she’s delivered over the centuries, this makes it even MORE awkward to confront her.
  • Perception (Wis) +11 (5 SP*) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) +5 (Gear) = +31
  • Profession (Lawyer) +6 (6 SP) +5 (Wis)+3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +21
    • You’re a part of the government, you get involved in legalistic disputes.
  • Ride (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Sense Motive (Wis) +11 (11 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +26
  • Sleight Of Hand (Dex) +2 (2 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +12
  • Stealth (Dex) +5 (5 SP) +0 (Dex) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +15
  • Survival (Wis) +2 (2 SP) +5 (Wis) +3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = +15
  • Swim (Str) +3 (3 SP) +0 (Str)+3 (Path) +1 (Luck) +4 (Comp) +2 (Tool) = + 13

This may need a few tweaks later – working in sections makes it easy to forget a detail here and there and I very well may have misadded a few skill points in that enormous list – but next up it will be some skill applications – Granny’s Legendarium abilities and some Mystic Architecture (along with yet another approach to practical schools in d20).

Granny, The Secret Overlord

Part I: History and Basics

Long centuries past, a Dark Enchantress ruled her domains with an iron fist and terrible powers, laying curses upon defiant villages, sending monsters against rebels and dissidents, and enforcing fairly reasonable rules and tax rates, because she was a Dark Enchantress, not a stupid one.

Still, eventually a shining hero – a charismatic bard, who’s own magics were a match for hers – brought an end to her reign, as shining heroes do. He ruled the realm well enough, for while he (like so many shining heroes) had little skill in management or administration, he had enough sense to defer to people who did on such matters.

And his wife was fine with this, for having a Shining Hero to serve as a focus for the realm she’d founded worked even better at keeping things peaceful than rumors of her wicked ways, terrible curses, and invincible sorceries. It took little more than a change of clothes and hair color to let the tales of the Dark Enchantress recede into legend.

And when the Shining Hero – now a King, wise and full of years – died at last, his three heirs divided the realm between them, for the retiring Dowager Queen would not hear of shortchanging her younger children, or of conflict between them, or of setting one above the others.

And the tradition continued onto the next generation, as the two Dukes and a Duchess divided their lands amongst their children – making them Earls and Countesses beneath the nominal authority of the long-retired Dowager Queen. And all was well across a well-managed and prosperous land.

Today there is a realm of sturdy, prosperous, freeholders – a carefully tended baobab of a family tree rooted throughout the realm and tens of thousands strong, There are mayors, and city councils, and the structures of a loosely-organized society of equals inhabiting a peaceful and prosperous land.

And there is Granny. No one is quite sure just WHO’S Granny she is – but there is a certain Confucian finality about being the Ancestress, the Eldest, and the Matriarch, and everyone is glad to have her. Her advice comes with the wisdom of age, and her gentle, welcome, tyranny will – the realm hopes – continue for many years to come.

And then another Eldest will presumably take over as the giver of incontestably good advice to provide stability and wisdom. After all, while no one can quite remember who the previous Eldest was, or just when Granny became the Eldest – it must have happened sometime, right?

Granny is a pretty standard matriarchal archetype; she’s the tough-as-nails old woman who has been around long enough to see it all, who tells everyone what to do, who is listened to because she’s usually quite right – and who won’t hesitate to fill your ears with venom if you cross her or hers. She is ruthless, vengeful, shows little care or compassion for outsiders (although she does care for her friends and family), and is quite thoroughly selfish – albeit with an equally thoroughly rational understanding of how a stable, prosperous, society benefits her and hers in the long run and so is worth supporting because she’s still not stupid.

This being d20 however, Granny’s wrath is considerably worse than that of Conan the Barbarian. Are you an outsider who’s leading bandits in raiding her great-great grandchildren’s farms? Price gouging in an emergency? Running a (competing) protection racket? Granny will not hesitate to curse your kids to transform into (obedient to her) Barghests and have them slowly eat you alive. After that? They’ll make good slave-minion-creatures for her after you’re gone, and when some adventurer kills them… well, they’re now horrors of the lower planes. They’ll be happy there.

Then, of course, she might be feeling creative today and come up with something much, much, worse than that.

And yes, that’s pretty thoroughly lawful evil. Oh well!

Granny has taken an unconscionably long time to write up, mostly because her concept is really much too broad. We have the protective grandmother, the elderly queen, the venomous harridan, the evil beldame, the desiccated teacher, the evil/pragmatic (if not necessarily treacherous) grand vizier, and the wicked witch, all rolled up into one – and that lack of focus has made it difficult to touch on all the major elements, much less cover the minor secondary details.

Available Character Points: 216 (L8 Base) +10 (Disadvantages: History, Obligations (to whatever family she is most closely associated with at the moment), and Secret (she is the Dark Enchantress of legend)) +16 (Duties; national advisor/leader) +24 (Restrictions; Armor, Martial and Exotic Weapons, Expensive Personal Magical Items (more than 5% or her wealth-by-level). Granny’s various powers are very much rooted in her supreme self-confidence; relying on too much external stuff will seriously dampen her powers) +24 (L1, 3, 5, and 7 Bonus Feats) = 290 CP.

That’s actually quite a lot, especially since Granny isn’t really an adventurer and won’t be investing in large hit dice, much of any base attack bonus, or big saving throw bonuses. She’s a sage, a witch, and a matriarch. That doesn’t mean that she can’t put up a fight one way or another – this is d20 after all – but her first priority will be on escaping any form of personal confrontation, not on fighting to the bitter end.

Given that she’s successfully escaped for many centuries now, she’s going to be very good at it.

Race: Granny could be of pretty much any pathfinder-compatible race, although I’m going to assume a +2 bonus to Cha – and at least a slightly-extended lifespan would probably suit her best. She is, in any case, of Venerable age – although, due to her various abilities, this doesn’t really hinder her at all.

Package Deal: Granny has the Pathfinder Package Deal. For her build, the important bits are that she gets:

  • Fast Learner, Specialized and Corrupted/only works as long as the user sticks to a particular archetype and relatively narrow plan of development chosen at level one at each level, points may only be spent on skills and additional hit points (2 CP).
  • The ability to spend CP to buy HP directly.
  • A +3 Pathfinder Bonus on all “in-class” skills.

“Granny”

A.K.A. Endora (or Theodora), Zelena, Elphaba, Mama Yaga, Morgana, and many more names. For some reason, however, except when she’s going by “Smith” she always uses a name that ends in an “a”.

Titles: Realmfounder, Dark Enchantress, Queen and Dowager Queen, Dynast of the Realm, The Exalted One, The Wicked Witch of the West, Nightwarden, Matriarch, Ancestress, Grand Vizier, Dame, Mentor of Heroes, and Eldest.

Basic Attributes: Str 8 (+2 Leg = 10), Dex 8 (+2 Leg = 10), Con 14 (+4 Tat =18), Int 15 (+3 Age +6 Leg = 24), Wis 13 (+3 Age +4 Leg = 20), Chr 17 (+3 Age, +2 Level +6 Leg +2 Race = 30) (32 Point Buy, Aging Penalties bought off using Dominion Points).

Granny uses Tattoo Magic to boost her constitution because it provides her with a blatantly obvious explanation for why she isn’t frail and sickly, like so many extremely elderly people. The fact that she doesn’t really need it is easy to hide that way.

Basic Abilities (53 CP):

  • Hit Points: 12 (L1 3d4, 16 CP) + 22 (L2-8d4) +12 (Immortal Vigor) +48 (Con Mod x 12) +18 (Pathfinder Favored Class Bonus as enhanced, see below) = 100 HP.
  • BAB: +2, Specialized and Corrupted / Only for swatting unruly children, chasing animals with brooms, killing vermin, and similar household tasks (4 CP). Granny has never really practiced physical combat and any skill she acquired in passing in her youth has long since atrophied after centuries as a venerable old lady.
    • Technically, if you aren’t actually inflicting an effect it’s not an attack and does not require a roll. Ergo, Granny can automatically smack people with brooms and canes as long as this has no effect whatsoever beyond expressing irritation non-verbally.
  • Saves:
    • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +4 (Con) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +12
    • Reflex: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) -1 (Dex) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +7
    • Will: +6 (Purchased, 18 CP) +5 (Wis) +5 (Res) +1 (Luck) = +17
  • Combat Information:
  • Proficiencies: All simple weapons (3 CP). Granny may not have any serious martial training, but she is centuries old and she’s not an idiot.
  • Initiative: +0 (Dex). Granny does get to roll twice and keep the best roll though.
  • Move: 30′.
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +4 (Mage Armor) +4 (Force Shield) +1 (Luck) +4 (Martial Art) = 23 (35 and DR 12/- versus those who refuse to negotiate, see Skills).
  • Usual Weapons: Magic. What’s the point of being a Dark Enchantress if you’re going to fight with a weapon?

Part II will cover her various skills, skill-based powers, and a wide variety of skill tricks.

Eclipse and Skills – Craft (Policy)

And today it’s a question on d20 politics, and how to play “Yes Minister” – or at least give a nod to politics and bureaucracy and organizing relief efforts and such – without driving all the players mad with boredom.

And for credit where credit is due… this article includes a selection of adapted comments and suggestions from Spellweaver on the effects of using these rules – or even of acknowledging their existence in the campaign background.

Craft (Policy) covers using a position of power or influence to effectively shape society. Sadly, as in reality, no generally accepted d20 rules for how societies work exist, much less how valuable or effective any given policy will be. (If you should happen to develop a set of rules that effectively models such things, please forget about games, take over the world, and get to work organizing and improving the place, OK?). Ergo, here are some very simple rules:

You need a fairly major position of authority to effectively shape policy.

  1. Trying to influence society outside of the area OR the field you have authority over doubles the cost. If both apply, it’s quadrupled. Thus the Minister Of Defense has to pay double to influence an irrigation project or a neighboring countries defense projects and quadruple to influence a neighboring countries irrigation project even if it WILL make things inconvenient for tanks.
  2. Each season you may devote each rank of your Craft (Policy) skill to trying to make progress towards a particular goal. Trying to influence society outside of the area or the field you have authority over halves the effective number of skill ranks invested. If it is outside of both your effective skill ranks are quartered.
  3. It generally takes a minimum of one season of such investment per point required to complete a particular goal. The skill check required is made at the end of each season, if it fails no progress towards the goal was made this season.
  4. On those skill checks a “1″ automatically fails, while a “2″ fails for an identifiable reason – opposition from another policy-maker, an accident or natural disaster, or whatever. In any case, failure means no progress this season.
  5. Episodic adventuring does not prevent a character from using Craft (Policy), but the greater the proportion of the characters time devoted to other pursuits, the greater the circumstance penalty on the user’s effective skill total will become up to a maximum of -10 (for near-total distraction) or not allowing a roll at all if the character is entirely out of touch.
  6. Craft (Policy) checks may be modified normally with Dominion points.

As for the classification of possible goals…

  • Trivial Goals – having some scholars do a little research and write a report on something, getting someone honored for their services, or getting warning signs put up – cost 1 point and are usually completed in one season with a DC 10 skill check.
  • Minor Goals – having tutors sent out to the garrisons to teach a course in monster identification so that you get better reports on what is happening, investigating some local corruption, help a village recover from a disaster – cost 2 points and are usually completed in two seasons with two DC 15 skill checks.
  • Notable Goals – launching a manhunt, getting spies reporting on another realm, getting sone post offices set up, or a new religious sect recognized – cost 4 points and are usually completed in a year with four DC 20 skill checks.
  • Major Goals – getting military bases, schools, or temples set up, launching an undercover trans-border raid, setting up a truly major magical ritual or some faculties useful to adventurers – cost 8 points, and are usually completed in a couple of years with eight DC 30 skill checks. If follow-up activity is required, it will constitute a Notable Goal.
  • Grandiose Goals – improving public education, rooting out a widespread Thuggee cult, building a major structure – cost 16 points and require at least four years and sixteen seasonal DC 45 skill checks. If follow-up activity is required it will constitute a Major Goal.
  • Sabotaging another policy maker is pretty straightforward; Make opposed checks at the start of a season. The “attacker wins ties, otherwise the highest roll wins. The winner may devote ranks of his or her Craft (Policy) skill to sabotaging his or her opponent this season. If his or her skill rank is higher than his or her opponents, each rank devoted to sabotage negates three opposing skill ranks. If the skills are equal, each rank negates two opposing skill ranks. If the defenders skill is greater, each three ranks devoted to the attack negates one rank. Sabotage usually occurs when another authority has an opposing notion of what to do.
  • Gaining support from other authorities is a job for Diplomacy, Bribery, Intimidation, and similar social manipulations – and will often be required to succeed in high-end goals. Sadly, no single policy crafter can effectively coordinate the support of more than (Cha Mod) other policy crafters; beyond that they just start interfering with each other.

And thus the reigns of fools and madmen are often no worse than those of the wisest kings – for if they lack the practical skill of Craft (Policy) neither’s efforts will have much impact. To make that even more true… if the bureaucrats and major officials have Craft (Policy) and the nominal rulers do not, then you will see the leaders setting overall goals and the bureaucracy developing policies designed to achieve them sensibly – thus keeping realms at least semi-stable despite their being taken over by new sets of adventurers every few months.

(Bureaucrat) Alright, the boss is too busy trying to figure out how to make an ice cream golem to impress some noblewoman to worry about this season’s planting. It looks like we’ve got some issues with the irrigation system that will need to be taken care of, the syndicate is making itself a nuisance again, and it looks like we may be facing a copper shortage for a bit given the recent accident at De Costa. So let’s try to hold things together until the boss deems to care or someone who does care takes over.

Of course, if the boss never does start to care… the Bureaucrats can always covertly craft a policy designed to hire some adventurers to depose of that particularly worthless leader. This will teach them to ignore those 6 AM planning meetings!

Now this is obviously not really an effective social simulator, and can be fairly readily exploited if someone really cares to make the effort – but given that few characters actually care about public policy, this works well enough to allow any who do to try and make their realms work the way that they want them to – and for a game system that is quite good enough.

Faceless Bureaucrat: Immunity/being distinguished from other bureaucrats (Uncommon, Minor, Great or Epic, protecting against effects of up to L7 or L20 respectively, Specialized/only applies to things the user does as a bureaucrat. 3 CP for Great, 6 CP for Epic). Bureaucrats with this handy talent are somehow never actually responsible for anything, even as they promote their desired policies. They can neither be influenced nor tracked down, although Craft (Policy) may be used against them normally. Truly persistent characters attempting to deal with the 6 CP version of this talent also tend to find that anyone they try to talk in the bureaucracy will turn out to be a poorly paid clerk that hardly speaks the language and can be of no help whatsoever – no matter the level of translation spell used – whenever someone is trying to trace or identify the user.

“We’re sorry, but your Scrying, Commune, or Hypercognition effect is being rerouted to our service department. Please note that your attempt may be monitored for better service in the future…”

“Ah, I think I’ve found the problem sir! Somewhere, some guy rubber stamped an assassination order on your head… It looks like it MIGHT have been routed through the department of Psychic Immigration Services Sentinel Event Detection, Office of Naturalization, where you were classified as a Mind Flayer in disguise, but everyone there uses mind-wiping effects to keep the Mind Flayers from finding out what is going on and due to the massive amounts of complaints that have come in… I’ll see if I can get it straightened out! It shouldn’t take more than three or four months with a little luck. Please try not to get killed in the meantime; it complicates the forms no end!”

And suddenly the head of a bureaucracy becomes someone to be feared – and not for their ass-kicking skills.

Cursed with Awesome; Dark Magic and You

Today’s question basically boils down to “Dark magic often seems to act rather like a progressive disease – and in many works even benign magic is dangerous if overused. How does that work and how can it be cured or treated?”

Ok, the original question was framed in terms of My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic – but it’s talking about a very common element of magic in religion, mythology, and fiction, and that makes it a very good question indeed for those designing or running role playing games with magic in them.

As usual, my answer should be taken as the definitive word of god, end all further debate on the topic forever, and you should send me lots of money in exchange for the secret directions to the lost continent of Atlantis where you can learn even more… No? Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Mentioning Twilight’s “little foray into mass mind control” reminds me of a related issue that I saw mentioned a while back.

A lot of the fandom has a big problem with Twilight have tried to make a “reform spell” to use on Discord, pointing out that that’s little more than mind control since what constitutes “being reformed” is going to be relative. That’s not an incorrect point, but it overlooks a salient issue: that a lot of evil magic functions as a sickness.

Admittedly, this isn’t an iron-clad issue, but it does have some supporting points (seen both before and after the episode in question, which was season three’s Keep Calm and Flutter On). Although Luna seemed to fall from grace for personal reasons, her defeat with the Elements of Harmony seemed to immediately cause a shift in her mentality (and she later characterized what happened as being “stripped of Our dark powers”). Likewise, Rarity is “infected” with “dark magic” in season four’s Inspiration Manifestation. And although it’s not explicitly evil magic, both “Midnight Sparkle” and Gloriosa Daisy (from the third and fourth Equestria Girls movies, respectively) suffered from temporary psychosis due to magic overload.

Now, there’s evidence that goes the other way – such as Celestia being not only able to use the same dark magic as King Sombra, but teach it to Twilight (Return of the Crystal Empire – Part 1) – but there’s at least some precedent to say that a “reform spell” should be a viable idea, since a lot of evil magic is presented as being a sort of “disease of the mind.”

Alzrius

Well, that is a classic problem. Whether it’s the use of lovecraftian lore that men were not meant to know (and which drives them mad), greater magics being inherently corrupting, demanding huge prices and self-indulgences for the use of magic because it uses up your lifespan, having to mortgage your soul, or any of a thousand other “prices”, the notion that “you’ve got to pay for what you get” (and likely a certain “sour grapes” feeling that the spell casters special advantages will somehow turn around and bite them in the butt) is a bit part of people’s thinking about magic.

Personally, I think that it largely follows from some very basic principles, even if most people aren’t consciously aware of the logic.

1) “Magic”, whatever the nature of the forces it involves, can cause an incredibly wide array of alterations in reality.

2) Magic-wielders channel at least some part of those forces through themselves.

3) Nothing is 100% efficient.

Ergo… a certain amount of semi-randomized (if very likely still in theme) reality-alteration is going to affect a magic-wielder whenever he or she channels magic.

4) Living things have mechanisms that maintain homoeostasis – a tendency to return to their baseline conditions – to at least some degree.

Ergo… a certain amount of magic use can be tolerated without much risk. Using “small” magics, just like using a little bit of alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, will generally have no noticeable long-term ill effects unless you use something that’s especially “toxic” (that’s why I’d much rather work with iron than with dimethylmercury). You can even build up your effective tolerance by becoming more skilled and thus minimizing the amount of contamination. Exceed your tolerance by using too much magic at any one time, however, and changes may occur that aren’t easily reversed. Even presuming that you don’t accidentally turn your spinal cord to broccoli, or cook your brain, and so get to live, excessive magic use can cause all kinds of physical, mental, or even spiritual disorders. Presumably most mages would rather that did not happen – although “ceasing to care”, and so being willing to accept the consequences, may allow dying mages, or even fairly normal people, to lay unexpectedly powerful curses or produce “final strike” effects.

  • A well-trained magician has a clear mind, focused concentration, a detailed understanding of the spell he or she wants to use, fine control of the necessary energies, plenty of practice, whatever tools (if any) are necessary, access to sufficient magical power, and possibly supplementary stabilizing effects. They will use the gestures, signs, and symbols that help channel their magic safely.

That’s the equivalent of a well-trained chemist using a carefully planned procedure, correctly maintained equipment, a modern laboratory with fans, vents, and electrical power, sufficient pure chemicals, a fume hood, tongs, a hazmat suit, assistants and emergency equipment handy, and having antidotes at the ready.

In either case, as long as proper precautions are taken and the operator doesn’t make any major errors, their exposure should be small enough that the body, mind, or spirits various stabilizing and defensive mechanisms should be able to handle it.

To extend the analogy… just as with chemistry, some types of magic are more toxic, dangerous, or difficult to work with than others, working with waldos is much safer than handling stuff yourself, and farming out as much as possible of the work to other entity entirely (preferably at an “industrial facility”) is the safest of all.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some sample magical fields.

  • Alchemy is a sub-branch of Vancian or Talismanic Magic that puts some of the danger and tension back in by throwing in the hazards of actual chemistry and adds extra restraints by requiring costly ingredients. Many fictional wizards are alchemist-ritualists, because – while it means that they can do all kinds of things and can provide magical equipment – their powers are slow and call for all sorts of exotic ingredients that their assistants have to go on fetch-quests to get for them.
    • And no, Fullmetal Alchemist style “alchemy” doesn’t really have anything to do with “alchemy” as such. It’s actually a branch of Transformation Magic, with “Equivalent Exchange” – and burning human souls for fuel – thrown in as limiting factors and fridge horror.
  • Beast Mastery? A common and easy branch of hedge magic, if often handy. Influencing and communicating with animals is probably safe enough, borrowing some of their abilities is getting a bit risky – although far less so if you stick to real creatures with nonmagical abilities which can be imitated without bizarre magical changes to your mind and spirit – but when you get to actually transforming yourself or others… that can go very, VERY, wrong all too easily. Ask any lycanthrope who’s gotten stuck, or been overwhelmed by animal instincts.
  • Black Magic? Perhaps black magic calls on powerful demons – and so tends to be inherently destructive and corrupting of the user. Thus Lina Inverse may use it regularly – and be incredibly powerful and destructive – but she’ll probably be more than a little crazy.
  • C’hi “Magic” – channeling your own personal energies – doesn’t usually have very exotic side effects. Unfortunately, it requires great talent and enormous amounts of both physical and mental training to reach high levels of effect – and is VERY prone to relatively mundane side effects like exhaustion, training injuries, overstrain, attracting rivals, and injuring yourself with your own powers. It’s also usually limited to extensions of the user’s natural abilities. Still, on the upside, that makes it a very intuitive form of magic to use. You won’t find yourself entangled in weird occult mysteries when Samurai Jack teaches you to “Jump Good”.
  • Chaos Magic (also often seen as “Art becomes Reality”) seems likely to be particularly problematic; it’s not inherently “black” or “evil” – but it’s obviously going to be nigh-impossible to fully control and thus likely to have all kinds of effects on it’s user – and fatal ones are all too possible. Of course, that means that there may be lots of untapped chaos available to anyone who does use it, making it very powerful. Personally, I’d stay away from chaos magic unless I was basically immortal, not too dependent on a physical brain to think properly, and capable of recovering very quickly from almost anything (like Discord or “Q“). I’d probably still go mad very quickly if I used chaos magic – but at least it would be a fun ride!
  • Conjuration Magic comes in three drastically different flavors – Creation, Manifestation, and Summoning. Simply creating things Ex Nihlo is one of the primal powers. It’s what defines a “creation myth” – and while it generally seems to be much easier with magic than it is with physics, most settings presume that their characters are seriously restricted in scale, in type, and in complexity, in their ability to simply create things. Even worse… creating even tiny traces of random stuff inside yourself is a REALLY bad idea. There are far more ways to create unstable matter, radioactive atoms, unbalanced charges, strangelets, radiation, toxins, and other troublesome things inside yourself than there are to create things that your body can handle. When you have even a little bit of randomized creation magic manifesting in your body the results are almost guaranteed to be very bad.
    • Manifestation – basically whipping up temporary constructs – is far easier and safer; by it’s very nature it’s unlikely to create anything very long-term inside you (not that short-term can’t be bad enough). Constructs, of course, tend to be limited in complexity, are often obvious, and generally don’t last very long – although they can still be very useful.
    • Summoning, of course, actually has little to do with “creating things” and more to do with transportation and, at least in the ever-popular “summon a creature or creatures to assist me” form, either divination or compulsion – but it’s still a very potent form of magic, and one that’s less likely than most to cause serious internal problems. On the other hand… you can all too easily summon the wrong thing entirely, lose control even if you get what you want, turn powerful magical beings into enemies, and otherwise unleash disaster. How many stories revolve around conjurers losing control and raising up – like Charles Dexter Ward – that which they cannot put down?
  • Darkness Magic? Well, classically… it’s powerful and available everywhere, but is very hard to sense well enough to control, makes it tremendously easy to deceive yourself, tends to conceal it’s costs and side effects from its own users, and has all sorts of negative and corrupting overtones. Unless you happen to have massive amounts of light magic running through your system to help keep it under control – or are a genius in handling magic – it’s probably best to leave it alone. There’s a reason why so many genocidal madmen like King Sombra or Eclipso use darkness magic.
  • Dimensional Magic covers gates, dimensional overlays, teleportation, many transport spells, and overlaps into summoning. Sadly, most of the really interesting aspects of dimensional magic are pretty high-powered. On the good side, direct errors are usually limited to simple problems with lost or displaced tissue – mere physical injury. On the other hand, meddling with other dimensions offers you access to a full set of major difficulties with lovecraftian horrors, exposure to otherworldly forces, and letting things that should not be into reality.
    • Remember, reality is where you keep all your stuff. Don’t destroy it.
  • Divination? Unless the universe really is full of unmentionable secrets that will drive you mad, even fairly advanced divination is going to be relatively safe. Indirectly however… Too Much Information really is a thing. Knowing what people really think of you, and what’s actually in your food, and so on, seems all too likely to turn you into a bitter hermit. Worse, telling people what’s going to happen to them is quite unpopular; thus the stereotype of crazy prophets issuing dark and dire warnings and the fate of Cassandra.
  • Dream Magic? While this has many safe and subtle applications, once you start hauling things in and out of the realms of dream, or try to give something an independent, enduring, existence… well, dreams are never entirely under your control even if you’re a skillful lucid dreamer. High level dream magic tends to be worrisomely independent. The most dangerous practice of all may be summoning a conceptual entity – whether you call it a Loa, a Nexus, or a Spirit – into your own body. While this can obviously grant you considerable power, turning yourself into the avatar of War, or even April Fools Day, is likely to bring a lot of baggage with it.
  • Elemental Magic? Perhaps elemental magic is reasonably safe through the mid-levels (after all, your bodies are made of the elements, and can presumably handle them fairly effectively), but requires a major special talent and perhaps great physical conditioning. At very high levels… you’ll need very special disciplines, or major innate protections, to use it without going more than a little mad. Say “Hello!” to Avatar the Last Airbender and his fellow characters.
    • If elemental magic is more philosophical about what the “elements” mean and cover, you’re headed more into far more subtle “new age” magic territory. That tends to backlash if used to harm other people – perhaps because everyone has a little elemental magic available simply because they have physical elemental bodies, and they tend to unconsciously resist and cause backlash with their own magic if magically attacked. In d20 this might also be taken as a mechanism underlying “Saving Throws”.
  • Gifts? If your magic is just a few built-in innate or granted talents that’s pretty much the equivalent of having a few special-purpose kits or emergency ampules. They won’t be particularly versatile, or have the kind of power a full laboratory or hospital will – but you’ll have access to some reasonably reliable specific effects. Even better, almost anyone can use this kind of magic – if they have the talent for it. There may or may not be a price, but it’s usually fixed. Are you perhaps a Contractor, from Darker then Black or a Garou from a Werewolf game? Here you go!
  • Harmony or Fusion Magic is basically an “all our powers combined!” thing; a group of mages or magical creatures get together, unite their powers, and unleash some effect that’s far beyond any of them as individuals. In fact, it usually gets lots of extra power from some sort of amplification effect or focusing artifact(s) if the group has the right number of members/appropriate powers/are good friends or in love/whatever. This is not necessarily a GOOD thing. If the Seven Dark Sorcerers of the Ebon Tower unite their powers in hatred, that will probably work too. The real trouble with this form of magic is that it’s very very conditional and more than a bit uncontrollable; if something is just a little out of place (like one person trying to use the six elements of harmony)… Goten and Trunks will fail to fuse to form Gotenks, the elements of harmony will not be able to generate the full-powered Rainbow of Light (and may wind up exiling your target rather than curing them), and Psi-Force’s Psihawk construct will be weak and ineffectual, The massed Care-Bear Stare seems to be fairly reliable, but that was because everyone involved was an incurably huggy care bear. After all… if this sort of thing was entirely reliable, why waste your time doing anything else? Secondarily, this tends to leave everyone (all, of course, will be affected equally) involved seriously drained, exhausted, or unconscious – another reason why it’s normally a last resort. If it doesn’t work, you probably won’t even be able to defend yourself any longer.
  • Healing Magic? Let us say that healing magic tends to correct the problems using it causes, but those same corrections limit how much power you can channel into it since it corrects the unnatural mental states needed to channel massive amounts of magic. Thus healing magic is safe to use, and possibly widespread, but very limited. Depending on just how dangerous other magics are, healing magic could be the ONLY reasonably safe magic about. You want to use high-level healing magic despite those limitations? You’re going to have to train the necessary mental states the hard way – meditating, “purifying” yourself, and very likely filling your mind with duties, obligations, and oaths, and so on – rather than relying on raw magical power to burn the necessary pathway through your mind. Thus only dedicated, and often pacifistic, healers wield truly powerful healing magic.
  • Illusion is a popular branch of magic, partially because it seems unlikely to have any long-term side effects beyond (perhaps), a bit of confusion (a very few really high-powered illusionists may have gotten “lost in their own illusions”, but this is a very rare idea), because it allows amazing exercises of creativity at rather low power levels, and because – while it can be used in many different ways – the actual effects are generally very limited. Even better, your mage-character can display his vast powers, triumph over a major opponent – and then have the situation be completely reversed by some minor side-character announcing “Hey! It’s just an illusion!”. Still… becoming a manipulative a-hole prankster through perfectly normal psychological effects is definitely still on the table – and one opponent with some sort of truesight can effectively put you out of action.
  • Light or Solar Magic? It’s wonderful stuff. Purifying, truth-revealing, demon-banishing, radiant – and wrathful, intolerant, and demanding. The light requires purity, it burns away imperfection, It demands that it’s wielders serve it, and it serves them only insofar as they are worthy. If you wish to wield the great powers of the light… be prepared to sacrifice much of your humanity and to act only when your example is not enough to let those you protect grow and find their own answers. Check out The Dark Is Rising series, or talk to Celestia (and ask why she’s so generally useless).
  • Lovecraftian Magic tells us that there are other planes of existence, and cosmic beings, and strange forces, and elder alien races, and more out there, and that there are ways available to contact and use those things – and that human beings are insignificant primitives with minds so weak that merely catching a glimpse of the universes greater truths will shatter them utterly. They may occasionally use a bit of true power – but they will merely be meddling with things they do not truly understand by rote. Lovecraftian Magic is generally horribly powerful, prone to failure for completely unknown reasons, drives it’s user’s mad, and – since it doesn’t operate in any way that humans can understand – comes in the form of highly specific formula, that have fixed effects and side effects and prices which cannot be modified. Overall the only reasons to meddle with lovecraftian magic are ignorance, if nothing else will work, or if you are crazy to start with.
  • Magical Music is more of a style than a particular type of effect unless it’s limited to “mental programming” – in which case it will be near impossible to use it without exposing yourself and any nearby allies to the same effects. While this type of effect is obviously useful – you can turn enemies into friends, control behavior, induce emotions, and teach skills near-instantly, among many other effects – it has the fairly obvious problem of having to consciously learn and practice effects which are contained in music – which means letting major parts of them into your mind over and over again. Have you been doing a lot of mind control? You’re likely to be a mass of compulsive behaviors. Been spreading friendship, love, and joy? Welcome to cloud-cookoo land! Been spreading fear and panic? Enjoy being a resident of paranoia central! And that is why magical music is generally simply a style of magic use with a preference for the more subtle effects, rather than being used as a type of magic in itself.
  • Nature Magic? Another exceedingly broad field, and another potentially deadly one. Nature isn’t NICE and it tends to break free of control all too readily. Much of what little bit of nature is involved with any given other species wants it dead. Predators, poisons, defense mechanisms… The entire natural world is based on survival. Cooperation is a strategy – but “don’t be eaten” and “get what you need to live” is always at the base. And even a minor change to a few microorganisms can cause some pretty horrible things to happen. It isn’t going to be fun to be you when your intestinal flora starts consuming your guts or some such.
  • Necromancy was originally just “Divination through the Dead” – which meant that you tried to get advice from ghosts, who presumably had at least a good viewpoint, some detachment, and possibly could spot spiritual influences on things or talk to other spirits. Getting advice from a deceased parent in a dream, or messing about with a Ouija board, both fall under “necromancy”, even if the dream is completely inadvertent. These days it often is taken to imply psychopathic behavior, raising horrific undead monsters to menace the world, wielding horrible necrotic energies, and various other antisocial feats. Given that inflicting death, long-term disabilities, and unhealing injuries are all major components of necromantic magics, it’s all too easy to see why using necromantic magic is horribly risky – and why it’s very difficult to near-impossible to treat the side effects when it goes wrong.
    • OK, there are simply too many examples of this to even pick a few… Go ahead, go to TV Tropes and pick a dozen or so of your favorites.
  • Psychic Powers? While these resemble C’hi “Magic” in many ways, and share their same general weakness compared to many other fields of magic, channeling high levels of mind-affecting magic through your mind tends to result in irrationality and madness all too soon. Using telepathy can let other minds affect yours, telekinesis is prone to action-reaction errors and kinetic feedback, and so on. On the upside… most of the resulting mental problems tend to be fairly transient.
  • Ritual Magic is a wonderful toy. It’s powerful, and probably won’t drive you mad since the power is mostly being channeled externally (Hooray for Waldos!) – but that greatly reduces your fine control, making it prone to going wrong, external side effects, and unwanted consequences. Worse, since you’re working indirectly, you have to build up your effects very slowly – carefully checking each elaborate ritual step. Only the wealthy and powerful will have the resources needed to study more than a few simple rituals, the time to perform them, or the ability to gather the components needed for major ritual magic. That’s why, in the world of magic, major rituals are often the equivalent of nuclear weapons and why ritualists are so often nobles, politicians, or mercenary scholars – a magical elite which rules the helpless peasantry while quarreling with each other.
  • Shamanic Magic? Well, if shamanic magic requires taking mind-altering drugs and powerful shamanic magic demands taking massive doses of hallucinogens… then sane and powerful shamans are going to be few and far between and shamanic magic is likely to be considered a dark or forbidden art. That doesn’t make it evil – but no sane society is going to encourage the practice of an art which gives people the ability to warp reality while either making them high or driving them insane or both.
  • Silly Magic is closely related to gift magic, and is usually extremely limited in application and fairly weak – but is almost free of downsides other than having invested the time and effort to learn to use it “effectively” in the first place. Still, if you can just find an application, silly magic can quickly turn into lethal joke magic. “Medusa? Not a problem! With my Hairdressing Powers I shall bind up most of her snakes into a tight bun, and turn the rest into a set of bangs which both partially blinds her and conceals her face! Attack in safety my friends!”. Personally, my favorite form of “Silly Magic” is Hearthcrafting – household magics. Just the thing for when you want to adventure in comfort!
  • Theurgy is one of the names for calling upon spirits to do things for you. At least at low-levels this is safe enough as long as you’ve paid in advance, but the more powerful the spirit the greater the demands – and heaven help you if you have to go into debt. At higher power levels it’s best to build a relationship with a particular spirit or group thereof – allowing them to do most of the power-handling for you while you (unfortunately) are pretty much at their beck and call. Fortunately, truly major spirits tend to have enough people calling on them to rarely need you in particular. It still greatly limits your flexibility though, since the “Krakatoa the Volcanic One” isn’t really likely to grant that wide a variety of powers. On the other hand, since the spirits are doing the work, the user is at little hazard from his or her own powers.
    • In early gaming this tended to be a big thing; clerical types worked for their gods, had to pay attention to their dictates and restraints, and only got magic that fit with their god. For good or ill however… power creep set in, quite a lot of players disliked their being limitations on their magical fantasies, and having the cleric sent on “missions from god” that didn’t fit into anyone else’s story annoyed the other players – so these days mainstream games usually only have cosmetic traces of this sort of thing left.
  • Transformation (or sometimes Lunar) Magic is one of the four primordial powers of the universe – Creation, Preservation, Transformation, and Destruction – which basically cover everything. As such, it is potentially immensely powerful, almost endlessly versatile (at least if you’re at all clever), and incredibly dangerous. Not surprisingly, it’s closely related to Chaos Magic and has very similar problems. When you’re using a force that could do almost anything based on very minor details – the textbook definition of modern “chaos theory” – almost anything could go wrong.
  • Vancian – or TalismanicMagic involves slowly gathering power, binding it into a formula with specific effects stored in words, or talismans, or powders, runes, or whatever (most artificing falls into this category as well), and releasing it when needed. While this is awfully limiting in some ways, it also bypasses most of the usual implied costs; since you’re basically “building” your “spells” very slowly and carefully out of small pieces you are never having to channel enough power to really hurt yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a loony, but being a Vancian or Talismanic mage probably isn’t going to be the cause.
    • This one is highly favored in games because it means that mages have a limited stockpile of magic that takes time and (interruptible) effort to get back, the size of their stockpile can be easily limited, the specific nature of their formulas limits the variety of effects that can be produced, it makes for an easily tracked fire-and-forget system, and you can increase their power in several ways – increasing the limits of their stockpile, increasing the power of their “spells”, making their magic easier to regain, or increasing their supply of formula. It even forces mages to limit their magic use, and to plan ahead and consider how to get the most mileage out of their limited daily supply. That ties up resource management, a spell-selection minigame, a reason for intelligence gathering and planning, lets magic be more powerful than mundane methods because it can only be used a limited number of times, sets of specific effects that the game master can plan around, and all kinds of other advantages.
      • It also makes playing such a spellcaster extremely complicated and means that the characters power and effectiveness will vary from “nearly useless” to “oh my GOD” depending on player skill – but whether those are features or bugs is open to debate.
  • Wards and Shields – sometimes known as Abjuration Magic – is about the safest available form after healing magic. That doesn’t mean that it can’t go wrong – but the most likely problems are exhaustion, backlash damage from people breaking your defenses, and “protecting” yourself from things you need. This form of magic is always at a disadvantage though, simply because you can damage things in a lot of ways and don’t need a lot of control to do so, while protecting things requires covering a wide range of possibilities and excellent fine control.

So now we have a set of mechanisms for how magic leads to insanity, corruption, or various other disorders – and that means that there are options for treatment.

You have a mild case of magical overload? You’re getting more erratic, or coughing constantly and not feeling well, or are having strange thoughts, or urges to do odd and distasteful things, or are feeling cut off from other people? Cutting back on your use of magic will help. Various sorts of therapy may be enough to let you recover without more drastic intervention. Of course, if you don’t get treatment, your mental and physical condition is likely to get steadily worse Mr Raistlin!

You’ve gotten afflicted with a creeping psychopathic corruption that makes you want to enslave and torture people – and it’s darkness-magic based so that it blinds you to the fact that anything is wrong? That is going to be hard to fix; darkness magic will conceal itself and make the problem hard to target properly, there may not be much of your mind, spirit, and/or body left to work with if it’s gotten too far, and you probably won’t want it fixed at the moment. Even worse… darkness magic makes it all too easy to lie to yourself. Even if someone manages to cure you, the temptation to use more darkness magic to blot out your new load of overwhelming guilt will be hard to resist – and it will only take one little slip to start down the slippery slope again without even knowing it. Even the most compassionate opponents may see the wisdom of eliminating you, rather than taking the risk that whatever is left of you will once again become a blight on the lives of innocent people.

Especially if they – or you, Mr Sombra – have been around the loop before.

You’ve let an out-of-control conceptual entity become dominant over you Princess Luna? Once it gets booted out, you should return to something approaching normal – but in the meantime it has it’s own power and all of yours to play with. Getting it out is not going to be easy. It may even call for a full-scale Deus Ex Machina manifestation of Harmony Magic to do it – and you’d better hope that you have the right number of characters with the right selection of attitudes and abilities to power that harmonic manifestation or it won’t work properly.

Your overuse of necrotic magic is causing your flesh to wither, your eyes to turn yellow and red, and your aging to advance unnaturally? Major healing effects might help some – but the necrotic energy saturating your body is likely to make you highly resistant to that sort of thing. If you aren’t so far gone already that undeath or possessing a new body are the only (partial) solutions you’ll need to quit using your powers and work on purging yourself until healing effects WILL work. And… you knew that already and aren’t really listening, are you Emperor Palpatine? Never mind… I’ll up your painkiller dosage and do try to get SOME sleep won’t you?

You’ve been habitually using Chaos Magic to do EVERYTHING for thousands of years? Why aren’t you dead? Oh… immortal. Not even really needing a body except as a focus. Well… a stabilizing spell may work for a little bit, but I’m afraid that you’d be well past the point of death if you were mortal. Still, perhaps the constantly-renewing Magic of Friendship can keep you marginally sane as long as you have friends.

You’re still likely to be an unreliable, practical-joking, irrational loon though Mr Discord.

Now there are lots of other ways to handle magic in a setting – but I like this one because it starts with basic assumptions that most people will agree with, is simple and logical enough to be easily explained, fits in with a lot of standard literary tropes and ideas about magic, and is flexible enough to offer cover a lot of variations. It’s obviously not perfect – but given the lack of functioning magic in reality we don’t really need perfection in a theory, we just need something that we can build stories and games around.

And I hope that answers the question sufficiently!

Death Ward and Channeling

And for today, it’s a question…

An interesting question came up with regards to channeling. Insofar as channeling that’s based on positive or negative energy goes, to what extent could a death ward (or life ward, for positive energy) simply shut down channeling altogether?

Obviously that would only work on things that directly affected another creature, rather than the channeler themselves or an allied creature, etc., but it brings up an interesting question, particularly insofar as something is actually a “negative energy effect” versus being powered by negative energy (e.g. a conversion effect to a spell that’s not explicitly negative-energy based).

Given that a 4th-level spell effect can so totally shut down channeling, and potentially most uses of channeling, there was also a question of coming up with a similar 4th-level effect even for channeling that’s based around alternate power sources (particularly when trying to manifest such a 4th-level effect spontaneously, such as via limited wish).

-Alzrius

Well, given that we’re comparing an old spell to systems that didn’t exist when it was written, this is going to involve a few assumptions as to how it all works. The biggest one is simply that – as was covered here – “spirits have a reserve of positive energy, and use it to hang onto bodies, and to make them to move and act”.

So: Death Ward operates by shielding that positive energy reserve against negative energy. It thus prevents paralysis and reductions in strength, constitution, or effective level caused by negative energy being introduced into the body as well as a few other things that are noted as being negative energy effects.

Depending on which version is in use in the game the subject is either “immune to all death spells, magical death effects, energy drain, and any negative energy effects” (original SRD) or “gains a +4 morale bonus on saves against all death spells and magical death effects. The subject is granted a save to negate such effects even if one is not normally allowed. The subject is immune to energy drain and any negative energy effects, including channeled negative energy” (Pathfinder). The Pathfinder version is probably better balanced, if only due to being updated.

Unfortunately, what is and what is not a “negative energy effect” is never clearly defined beyond “negative levels” always involving negative energy. Instead it’s simply noted in the description of various individual spells and monster abilities.

I’m not too fond of that decision, but obviously anything which doesn’t directly affect the user is not affected by personal defenses. Additionally, even presuming normal negative energy channeling (instead of, say, an elemental variant), by a strict reading…

  • Censure, which laces Channeling effects with “additional energies”, is not affected by a classical Death Ward, but the Pathfinder version would probably provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Conversion, which produces spell effects, is not affected.
  • Damaging, which does divine damage, should not technically be affected. I’d let the Death (or Life) Ward either be effective (most likely) or provide resistance to damaging turning on the basis that I’ve generally classified “divine damage” as either positive or negative energy damage.
  • Fearspeaker is not affected. It’s a mental effect, even if it is powered by negative energy.
  • Touch of the Reaper would be affected. No negative levels need apply!
  • Touch of Annihilation would not be; on the “how this works” level it’s targeting the physical body, not that positive energy reserve – and on the technical wording side Disintegration is not a negative energy effect. I’d let the Pathfinder version of Death Ward provide it’s saving throw bonus though.
  • The Dark Veil is basically a “darkness” effect – which is closely related to negative energy, but isn’t negative energy. I might let Death Ward work anyway, just as a thematic plot element – “and you alone remember!” – but that’s a weak protection versus a very subtle effect and would be more or less a side effect.
  • Nightmare mostly produces darkness spell effects and certainly doesn’t directly target a spirits positive energy reserves. It would be unaffected.
  • Vanishing Shadows could be affected for the same reasons as The Dark Veil – but it really isn’t likely. It’s a higher-level ability and probably has all the raw power it needs to rip through a minor protective side effect.
  • Shadow Realms would be unaffected. Death Ward certainly doesn’t protect your dreams.
  • Seal of Darkness would be affected. That’s direct negative energy damage.
  • Flow of Life would be affected.
  • Aura of Light/Darkness might be affected. It usually doesn’t really affect characters of any reasonable level anyway, but if it’s infliciting a negative energy effect on a character with a Death Ward, it won’t work.
  • Energy Transformation is mostly unaffected, but Death Ward will protect you against the negative energy touch attack.
  • Spiritfire/Banefire will not be affected. It’s generating (or negating) “real” energies, not attacking a creatures positive energy reserves.
  • Living Matrix isn’t affected, and can easily be used to negate a Death Ward.
  • Hand of the (Un-)maker – at least where it affects living creatures – works like Touch of Annihilation, above.
  • Lifeshaping/Plague Mastery targets the physical body with transformation effects, and so is not affected.
  • Smite would lose it’s extra damage, but the bonus to hit would remain.
  • Wrath would be affected.
  • Cleansing/Corruption doesn’t target a spirits energy reserves, but I think that I’d let Pathfinders version provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Final Death is a Death effect, and is therefore affected. On the other hand, if you kill something, you can just wait until the Death Ward wears off and then use the Ritual Disposal option to ensure Final Death – so it doesn’t matter all that much.
  • Holy/Unholy Strike would be affected.
  • Death Strike simply says it’s adding damage – but the side effects (and name) make it fairly obvious that it’s a Death Effect. Ergo, it’s affected.
  • The entire Tides of Light and Darkness path is clearly unaffected. Even those effects that do target creatures produce physical effects.
  • Strength/Weakness would be affected.

So, at least until it runs out or someone gets rid of the spell, Death Ward will stop – or at least (if using the Pathfinder version) hinder – ten (about 20% of them) negative energy Channeling options: Damaging, Touch of the Reaper, Seal of Darkness, Flow of Life, Smite, Wrath, Final Death, Holy/Unholy Strike, Death Strike, and Strength/Weakness. A few others will be slightly affected.

That’s annoying for the Channeler in roughly the same way that Wind Wall is annoying to an Archer or Freedom of Movement is annoying to a Grappler – but they’re likely to have a variety of other options available – or to just have a way to get rid of or bypass that Death Ward.

Now I’d recommend using the Pathfinder version or – if using the classical version – putting an upper limit of effect on it. A fourth level spell probably shouldn’t be able to completely shut down Power Word: Kill (even if that’s not really a very good spell for ninth level).

As for shutting down other variations of Channeling… that will vary with the mechanism – but then something as simple as Protection From Energy will seriously hinder an elemental channeler already. so that’s reasonable enough. You just need to be specific about what the spell actually does, and thus how it can be bypassed or negated and what it does and does not affect.

And I hope that helps!

 

Eclipse and Skills – Paths and Powers II

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills, which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits – and here’s the last one. Given the quality of writing that’s really too bad!

Ritual Magic: The first of the oft-mentioned skill-based magic systems, Ritual Magic is the simplest, requiring only a single page to denote. As the name suggests, this isn’t “spellcasting” per se, as the text allows for a Spellcraft check to be made to enact a major magical ritual. The key here is that the DC is meant to be astronomical to the point of near-impossibility…unless the PCs can acquire the various special components (which might be rare or even unique) to gain sufficient bonuses. Otherwise, they can try the ritual on their own, but there are penalties for failure (and even side effects on bare-success results), so it’s more likely that they’ll need to go and track down at least some of the ritual components

A subtle extension of this idea is that you can perform minor rituals as well. For these, there’s no real issue of side effects, mostly because the rituals being enacted are too trifling to warrant them (e.g. they have extremely minor game effects). This variability tracks fairly well, albeit not completely perfectly, with the rituals in Legends of High Fantasy.

Eclipse-Style Ritual Magic is a little strange in classical d20 terms, simply because it’s a way to get the players to help design their next series of adventures – so here’s an article on game-mastering them.

Rune Magic: One thing that needs to be made immediately clear is that, despite the name, this magic system has nothing to do with runes per se. Rather, the name is an artifact from this magic system’s original presentation. (Typically, the theme replaces “rune” in the name of the associated skills; so someone taking Rune Magic for healing would list the skills as Healing Casting and Healing Mastery.)

My favorite of the book’s skill-based magic systems, Rune Magic offers an approach to spellcasting that’s not only low-powered, but also limited by theme instead of being “catch-all” the way standard d20 spellcasting is. While it is possible to cast extremely powerful spells via Rune Magic, it’s fairly difficult, as you not only need to have Mana to burn, but you’ll need to have raised your [Rune] Casting and [Rune] Mastery skill bonuses exceptionally high.

Doing so can be rather difficult, since this magic system flat-out disallows skill bonuses from spells, and bonuses from magic items are only at half-effectiveness. There’s a minor point of confusion with that latter rule, however; if a magic item only grants an indirect bonus – e.g. it provides a boost to an ability score, which indirectly bumps up associated skill bonuses – you’ll need to decide if that applies to a Rune skill’s bonus at full value or half-value.

With the possible exceptions of Ritual Magic (q.v.) and Witchcraft (q.v.), this is the go-to for martial characters that just want to “dip” into a magic system. That’s because Rune Magic’s limitations make it relatively cheap to buy up; you just need to raise the bonuses for two skills, and buy some Mana, and you’re set. Even modest cost-cutting measures for those will make it relatively easy to keep a single area of magic – maybe even two – at a level where it can still make a vital role, whether it’s for healing magic, defensive magic, personal enhancement magic, etc.

Rune Magic does get the benefit of indirect bonuses; if your casting is intelligence-based, and you boost your intelligence, that works fine. The theory, of course, is that directly magically boosting the skill(s) you’re using to manipulate magic is likely to “contaminate” the energies you’re working with – making them harder to control. The more powerful your boost, the more trouble it will give you. Thus the rule that direct magical skill boosts don’t work since they’re essentially self-defeating.

The fact that this serves to limit things to avoid having easy temporary boosts or custom items driving Rune Magic through the roof is purely coincidental, trust me on that.

Spell Storing: An expanded set of options for crafting spell completion and spell trigger magic items, Spell Storing offers only a few instances of direct intersection with skills. Interestingly, there’s nothing here about Use Magic Device, which you’d expect to be a large point of notation – presumably that skill already covers all of the basic interactions one could have with items that store spells.

Magical Lore is an upgrade option that’s rather odd, as it builds in the possibility of activating items via a Spellcraft check. I call that odd because, as noted, Use Magic Device already does exactly that. The major benefit here seems to be that Spellcraft is a more common skill, and that the DC is [10 + (2 x spell level)], which is easier than with UMD (usually; a wand with a high-level spell that uses this modifier could conceivably have a higher DC than UMD’s flat DC 20 to activate).

Minor Ritual is the next option after Magical Lore, and requires that a multi-round ritual be enacted to make use of a stored spell. The text notes that this could require “even a skill check” to do. This will require some weighing on the part of the GM to judge exactly what the DC should be, since canny players will be weighing this against the DC of Magical Lore and Use Magic Device. Given the nature of this ritual, the DC will typically be lower – and will very often be for an odd skill, such as Perform (sing) or Sleight of Hand – but will need to be successfully made over several rounds in order to activate.

With Spell Storing the Magical Lore option is there to represent items that anyone with a smattering of magical knowledge can activate, It’s an upgrade for spell storing because it adds a third way to activate an item – and for completeness sake. Basically “can be operated by a spellcaster of a particular type or by someone with specialized skills in working with magical devices”, “and by anyone who knows a fair amount about magic”, “and by anyone who knows the proper little ritual”, and so on up until the point where “it can activate itself according to it’s instructions”.

That’s also why they’re cheap; that allowed some intermediate options to be inserted between the old one-feat-each steps.

Most adventurers are perfectly capable of activating their devices the old-fashioned way, but self-activating stuff can be pretty handy – and the options along the way open up the potential for pretty much anyone – perhaps the local kids? – to meddle with devices that they do not understand and cannot control.

Thaumaturgy/Dweomer: Eclipse describes this as being the form of magic that was used before Vancian-style spellcasting – and psionics – were invented, which is the sort of in-world characterization that fires the imagination. It’s also noted as a rather complicated system for advanced players, which it is; it’s not coincidental that this skill-based magic system has notes at the end outlining the best way to utilize it.

The most difficult aspect of Thaumaturgy/Dweomer is coming up with eight skills (or more, but almost never less) that define different aspects of the chosen theme. Whether that theme is based on the effects or the method by which those effects are enacted is the main difference between thaumaturgy and dweomer, respectively, but that typically makes it no less challenging to invent eight new interrelated skills. Moreover, as the book notes, there should be a careful balance between skills that lend themselves to in-combat uses and out-of-combat uses.

While it’s entirely possible to go in as a dedicated user of Thaumaturgy or Dweomer, GMs can expect some players to try to dabble. Somewhat amusingly, this tends to work better with characters that are already high-end spellcasters, due to it being comparatively cheaper to diversify their existing spellcasting abilities. Since they’ll typically have caster levels that have been specialized in their main progression, it costs only 1 CP per caster level to change that to being corrupted for their main progression and a chosen Thaumaturgy/Dweomer area. They’ll also need to fuel magic used in this way, but – if it’s allowed – that’s often no more expensive than buying Unity, so that they can substitute either spell levels or power (rather than having to use both). And, of course, they’ll need to spend some skill points toward the area in which they’ll be dabbling.

Put all together, that’s not going to be cheap. But presuming that they’re only looking to seriously invest in one or two of the eight areas in a given Thaumaturgy/Dweomer field, it can let them gain some notable versatility to augment their standard spellcasting abilities. Moreover, since it will be drawing from the same source of power as their primary spellcasting (i.e. using spell slots from that progression), it will tend to be self-limiting in terms of how often it’s used.

It is interesting to note that this magic system has proven quite attractive to the engineers and technical types in the local groups; they tend to like the “I have a list of general abilities and effects. What combination can I come up with that will work in this situation?” aspect of it.

Theurgy: The major limitation of Theurgy is the multiplicity of skills involved. While buying up the verbs is not unduly difficult, the sheer number of nouns means that anyone who wants to use this skill-based magic system is going to be forced fairly sharply between being a powerful-but-limited specialist or a (relatively-)weak-but-variable generalist.

The point that most Theurgy-users will quickly fixate on is that, when using complicated spell effects, they can only use their worst noun and verb skills involved. Essentially, that the magical chain of effects they’re weaving together is only as strong as the weakest link. As such, they’ll tend to look for magical effects that are limited to their strongest areas, diversifying their skills only to a certain degree.

To that end, GMs should be wary of players trying to skirt Theurgy’s limitations. While skill boosters or Luck (q.v.) won’t be a problem, attempts to apply Jack-of-All-Trades (q.v.) or Mastery (q.v.) to Theurgy skills should be carefully reviewed. An attempt to buy an Immunity (q.v.) to the inability to apply ability score modifiers to Theurgy skills should virtually never be granted.

Theurgy has – as was somewhat expected – been used by a number of specialists, but the “chaos magic” option has (surprisingly enough) proven fairly popular as well. It has also proven very popular in low-magic settings, where – since you’re never going to have vast power or need to build up your skills to handle high-level spells – versatility is all-important. Of course even a modest chance of spell failure can really (and very literally) hurt when it comes to an adventurers lifestyle – so most Theurgists will want to invest in various boosters. I actually prefer to see Theurgists taking Mastery over Luck; Mastery doesn’t boost your effective upper limits like Luck does; it just makes the stuff that was almost reliable entirely reliable.

It’s actually fairly common in my games for Theurgists to purchase “Augmented Bonus” to add a relevant attribute score to their Theurgy skills. But then I must admit that my games tend to derive a good deal of amusement from freeform spellcasters meddling with things that they are mostly guessing about and unleashing total insanity. How else would one PC manage to short together two vast, opposing, cosmic forces and unleash a blast that transformed his familiars and a random assortment of wild animals into Kaiju (with far too many hit dice to be familiars any longer), entrap everyone in a pocket dimension, turn most of the island they lived on into a magical Chernobyl, and wind up accidentally taking a local kid as a familiar (which was very messy).

OK, he was using Thaumaturgy rather than Theurgy – but trust me, you can screw up just as badly with any kind of freeform magic.

Witchcraft: The low-level versatility of Witchcraft extends to skills as it does to most other areas. Among the twelve basic Witchcraft powers, several grant skill bonuses or penalties directly, typically to those skills that are most directly related to what they can affect.

Witchcraft is, in many ways, my favorite magical system. It’s easily – and to some extent automatically – personalized, relatively subtle and low-powered (unless you create rather narrow specialists), very versatile, has limited range, divides the advanced abilities into individual areas of study, and encourages dabbling since its best used to augment a characters capabilities rather than being the solution to every problem.

I always did prefer the stories of the Gray Mouser, the Mythadventures series, Mary Stewart’s Merlin series, or the “Witch World” books to tales of Doctor Fate or archmagi with vast raw power who made everyone else irrelevant. A handful of known powers used cleverly to solve a problem is – at least to me – more impressive than pulling yet another vastly-powerful high level spell out of a lost spellbook or “the research I did when I last leveled up” to trump said problem with raw magical power.

Elfshot is roughly equivalent to bestow curse for what it can do, including slapping a -6 penalty on a skill check. While the power is cheap to use, it’s rarely worth extending its duration for extra power. That’s because most anti-curse measures (typically remove curse) can overcome it easily. Outside of exceptional circumstances, this is best used for very short-term goals, most typically weakening an enemy in a direct encounter.

Elfshot is actually a great deal less powerful than Bestow Curse – but it’s much more finely focused and it has a bit of range. It can decrease an Attribute by 2 (Bestow Curse can reduce one by 6), penalize a group of checks – perhaps “dexterity based skills” or “attacks” by -6 (Bestow Curse can put a -4 on attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks all at once – or, since it lets you create your own curse as long as it’s “of similar power”, presumably lets you impose larger penalties on one thing at a time), or “Hinder Activity” (Bestow Curse can simply leave you with only a 50% chance of getting to act each turn). All in all… a well-timed “your horse bolts” can be just as effective as a much more powerful curse if your timing is good.

Glamour allows for a +6 bonus to social skill rolls, and level 0 or level 1 spell effects related to mental manipulation and similar effects. While the text says that you can buy this up to use higher-level spell effects, it doesn’t say that this increases the skill bonus involved. I’d recommend allowing that, since it certainly falls within the scope of what this power allows, probably to +12. But by that same token, I’d also suggest that defenses against mental manipulation negate this bonus.

In general, the skill boosting effects of Witchcraft can be upgraded if you buy access to an upgraded version of the ability that provides them, but that also generally means generating an active effect – the equivalent of more specific boosting spell – rather than just relying on general intent to focus your abilities. That’s still cheap, but tends to be a bit more focused than the general boosts.

Healing grants a +5 bonus on relevant Heal checks when used to gain a day’s worth of healing over the course of one hour. That’s a lesser effect compared to this power’s ability to “throw off the effects of drugs and intoxicants with a flat duration,” but still notable for listed examples such as diseases or toxins. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that, while it’s easy to assume that this power is limited to the user only, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, though that might call for a GM ruling.

Healing is not generally restricted to the Witch – although you could specialize it if you wanted it to be so restricted. And thanks to the power depletion rules for Witchcraft, it’s one of the few healing effects that can exhaust the user, which is a nicely classic feature for low fantasy games.

It can also instantly remove hangovers, which is also a pleasant feature. Who wants to outdrink the barbarian warlord, conclude a treaty while he is drunk but you are not, and suffer no hangover the next day?

The Inner Eye provides a +6 bonus on sensory-perception checks, including for detecting what someone else is thinking or feeling. While a bonus to Sense Motive seems less notable than reading surface thoughts or sharing senses – which the power also says that it can do – the skill bonuses are still a worthwhile boost, since they last for 10 minutes per 1 power spent. They’re essentially the “radar sweep” for thoughts in the area, rather than zeroing in on a single target’s psyche. But make sure not to grant this to everything; enemies with no minds – such as undead, vermin, traps, etc. won’t receive this bonus.

With The Inner Eye… well, that’s why it’s “relevant” checks only. It is well worth noting though; a lot of player tends to just pile all the conditional bonuses together.

Shadowweave plays with light and shadow to grant a +6 bonus to disguise- and stealth-related rolls. That said, be aware that this won’t help you versus non-visual detection. As with Glamour, consider allowing this bonus to be increased if the player buys the advanced version of this ability.

Witchsight grants a +6 bonus to sensory-perception checks, but unlike The Inner Eye it does so by boosting the user’s own senses, and so can work against things like detecting poison by smell or hearing an incoming arrow. Remember that this only affects one sense at a time, however; if you use a skill system that has a consolidated list of sensory skills (e.g. Pathfinder’s Perception skill), then this bonus will only apply to certain rolls, based on how something is being perceived.

Seize the Wandering Soul grants a +6 bonus to Intimidate checks, but only against spirits that you’ve captured. At that point, the bonus to a skill check is minimal compared to the gravity of having imprisoned a bodyless entity! The main use of that will be to better extract short-term bonuses from them, similar to the powers mentioned under the Summoning ability.

Voice of the Dead suffers from much the same conceptual problems as the Channeling (q.v.) power Dark Awakening. While it doesn’t allow for undead to be animated, it does allow for communication with any undead, rather than just ones that you’ve created. The basic issue remains, however; other than mindless undead (which tend to be the weakest), you can communicate with most undead normally anyway. This power says that you can do so “without penalty,” noting that undead have a base attitude of neutral (as per Diplomacy) towards such attempts. Basically, this power means that the undead don’t automatically hate you for being alive.

Voice of the Dead is pretty limited, to the point of near-uselessness (all you really get is the base attitude adjustment), if the game master doesn’t subscribe to one of the various “social skills don’t work on the undead” theories discussed in the previous article under Channeling – but the Advanced Witchcraft abilities are not feat chains, and may be taken in any order. Thus if the game master doesn’t limit the use of social skills against the undead you can simply skip this one. If he or she does, and you want to be able to socialize with the dead… well, there you go.

Personally, I tend to mix things. Being powered by negative energy mindless undead default to “implacable hostility” unless given other orders, Wights and Shadows and such tend towards the “automation with a list of objectives” side of things, Ghosts tend to be like reasoning with some of the more extreme mental patients (no matter what you’re talking about, or how reasonable they seem… as soon as you depart from their list of priorities, they will loop right back to where they started – which is why they’re ghosts in the first place). Vampires are clever predators and can mask it, but their only real major goal is to obtain blood – and they tend to lose control when confronted with a chance to eat someone or anything else that brings up their “instincts”. Liches tend to be obsessed with whatever goal they had in transcending death in the first place, commonly with a side-order attitude of “go away and bother someone else”.

Of course, that’s just me. I can’t even claim that that’s a standard for Eclipse, and even in my personal games it varies with the setting.

Kinetic Master is essentially the same as the Path of the Dragon (q.v.) power of the same name, save for costing power.

Sadly, the difference between drawing on ambient magic and using your own personal power to do something.

Whisper Step adds a +5 bonus to various movement-based skill checks, due to the use of subconscious minor telekinesis. Consider specializing this power for double effect related to certain circumstances, such as only to negate armor check penalties. If you want to use heavy armor (and don’t care about the speed reduction or the arcane spell failure chance), this is a lot cheaper than buying the Smooth modifier (admittedly, you’ll need to have bought at least 12 CP of Witchcraft powers before you can buy this, but you’re getting something for those).

Weathermonger allows for the weather to be foreseen and manipulated, noting that this grants a +5 to relevant checks. While Survival seems like the obvious skill this would apply to, the text notes that it could apply to something like piloting a ship through a storm. Other options would be “reading the wind” to gain a bonus to Fly checks, though this probably shouldn’t provide a bonus to attacks with ranged weapons.

Weathermonger can certainly be used for Fly checks, and for Profession/Farmer, piloting sailing ships, operating air vehicles, and locating any air leaks that happen to pop up on a space station. You might even be able to counter penalties for making ranged attacks under high wind conditions – but actually getting bonuses would call for spending some power on active manipulations; passive effects can only counter penalties. There’s no reason why you couldn’t extend your range with a tailwind or try to correct the course of a long shot though.

Incidentally the Changes TrilogyThe Devil’s Children, Heartsease, and The Weathermonger by Peter Dickinson – are generally classified as “young adult” novels, but do present an interesting vision of a modern nation abruptly abandoning technology to return to a slightly magical version of the middle ages.

That really isn’t too relevant, but it IS why this ability is called “Weathermonger”, just in case anyone was wondering.

Darksense allows the user to “see” the air around him, albeit only in terms of disturbances. This essentially presents problems similar to Blind-Fight’s (q.v.) Sense of Perception modifier. Since this one is explicitly based around sensing the movement of the air, creatures might still make a Hide check to be able to defeat it via staying extremely still (gargoyles are especially famous for this).

Darksense is MUCH more limited than the Sense of Perception – which is not as important as it might be in a comparison because it cuts down on the information-overload problem. It’s very good in combat though.

Aegis allows for a character to be recover as though under the care of someone with 10 ranks in the Heal skill. If you want to be notable for quickly recovering from a particular condition, this is easily specialized to only apply to something like poison or disease. Since this power can be used even while unconscious, it’s a great excuse for why characters who manage to escape with terrible wounds might survive and come back later…of course, that’s not usually a problem anyway in worlds with healing and resurrection magic.

Aegis, of course, is a general palliative – and a fairly high-end protection against Poisons and Disease since you effectively get a second save at +10 to resist such things – and can simply pay to be rid of it if both the save and the check fail. Like many Witchcraft abilities, it’s subtle, but really quite effective. In low magic settings it can even be impressively powerful, with an 80% chance each round to provide First Aid, an 80% chance every ten minutes to remove movement penalties for foot injuries, an 80% daily chance to gain the benefits of long-term care,and  a near-certainty of getting some extra daily healing if you fight very often via “treat deadly wounds”.

Sure, a good physician can provide those benefits too, and magical or psionic healing is far more powerful if it’s available – but there is something to be said for “automatic, all the time”.

Conclusion

As noted at the beginning of this article, these are only some limited examples of how Eclipse can revitalize skills in your d20 game. The plethora of options available via variations, specializing and/or corrupting, spell options that produce skill-based effects, and the Immunity (q.v.) power are just a few of the ways that you can come up with virtually anything else you can imagine, albeit subject to the GM’s oversight.

Skills should be more than just an afterthought for your characters, and with Eclipse they can be.