Eclipse And Nobilis – Afflictions

And for today (and a bit of Christmas Backfill) it’s a ‘how to build in Eclipse’ question.

How do you build a character who has a permanent law of reality attached to them (Afflictions from Nobilis, in case you recognize it). Basically, they are things varying from ‘I am always on time’, ‘I stay abreast of technological developments’, or ‘I love [a specific person]’, that are immutable facts about you that can only be overridden by major workings of gods. But they also have the potential disadvantage of being permanent facets to your character that you can’t violate (except through intense personality change, or contradictions).

-Jirachi

Well, the first step in building anything is having a look on what it’s supposed to do and how it works. Presuming that you’re looking at Nobilis 3’rd edition…

Afflictions in Nobilis 3’rd, are a supernatural force that tries to make something happen. They can be blocked by other supernatural forces, but it takes work. On the other hand, if they cannot rationally function, there is backlash against the person with the Affliction. Still, they’re generally quite beneficial. If they help you, you benefit – and if they hinder you you get more Miracle Points to use, and so once again, you benefit. They only become a problem if something provokes Backlash, and even then it isn’t that bad. That’s why you deliberately buy Afflictions during character creation.

The trouble here is that even in Nobilis there’s no real definition for how far an Affliction can go to make something happen – leaving “rationally function” up to the whims of whoever is running the game.

A sample Affliction from Nobilis 3’rd is “I am always on time”.

  • So if your alarm clock doesn’t go off (broken, stolen, power out, forgot to set it, whatever), you either wake up on your own or something else wakes you up. That’s fair enough. That happens to real people fairly often. In fact it’s happened to me personally a number of times. I was a pretty heavy sleeper when I was younger.
  • If your car will not start, there will be a handy cab or something to give you a ride – and all the lights will just happen to be green when you get to them if you’re pressed for time. You will make it to your court appearance on time. This sort of thing is less common in reality, but it’s still not too big a stretch.
  • Of course, as an Affliction, you will also make it to your court appearance on time even if you’d much rather be skipping it and going to the hospital to treat that gaping stomach wound with the blood pouring out of it.
  • Can you make a note in your day planner that you will be arriving to pick up some dinosaur eggs in Mexico forty-eight hours before the asteroid strike and have your affliction teleport you across continents and sixty-six million years back in time so that you make it in time? Why or why not? Time and space are just more laws of nature after all.
  • Can some other character with access to the afterlife make a note in his or her day planner that they will be meeting you in the realm of death at noon and have your affliction make sure that you die in time to attend? Why not? Wouldn’t that be “being on time” even if you didn’t know that you were expected?

What happens if you need to be in two or more places at once? Does that produce Teleportation, Time Travel, Duplication, Telepresence, or Backlash? What are the limits here?

Perhaps a few more examples from Nobilis will help sort that out?

If you “must be rescued whenever you are in trouble” does that mean that you can never get out of trouble through your own efforts? After all, you MUST be rescued – and if that’s a “law of nature”, then it ALWAYS applies. No matter what you do, as soon as the slightest thing goes wrong, you are stuck until you are rescued. Did you not find out what you wanted with your first Google click? You are having trouble, and must now await rescue! Let us hope that the kid next door will soon arrive to save you from the evil computer in exchange for cookies again! Or is there a threshold of “importance” here?

How about “Animals really hate me”? That’s another one straight out of Nobilis.

Is that what d20 calls animals? Does it include bugs? How about people? They’re a part of Animalia after all. Perhaps it’s everything in Opisthokonta? How much do they hate you? Will they come through fire to get you? How do they know you? From how far away?

In d20 there’s a major difference between “you can’t use a mount, have a familiar, or use a trained animal”, and “The Druid’s animal companion attacks you on sight and cannot be called off” – and an even larger gap between that and “You are constantly pursued and attacked by every creature in the jungle, including the army ants and local tribesmen” – but they could all reasonably be derived from “Animals really hate me”. How wide-ranging is this Affliction?

For a penultimate example from Nobilis… “I must appear when someone chants my name three times!”

Now, Nobilis has something to say about this particular Affliction.

To look under the hood of that Affliction, it’s terribly annoying to reflexively teleport across the world whenever some dude with a pamphlet chants your name. On the plus side, though, it’s free travel; it doesn’t require buying a Teleportation-style Gift; your friends can call on you when they’re in trouble; and it won’t be long before you pair it with a cell phone and some allies to get you just about anywhere you want to go.

Which just goes to show that Nobilis actually operates on an extremely small scale compared to both reality and D20. The real universe appears to be infinite. If that rule applied to you in reality there could only be two possible outcomes; it never happened because it was impossible (perhaps your name was too complex to pronounce three times in the lifetime of the universe) or it would happen an infinite number of times every second and you’d effectively cease to exist. You’d never be in one spot for more than the Planck Time.

And most d20 games are set in an infinite multiverse full of infinite universes.

For a final example from Nobilis… if you are Afflicted to “win the heart of everyone you meet”, and you meet “a mechanical man with no heart to win” you must either propose a viable resolution – “something that could happen to sustain the affliction” or accept spiritual damage to your avatar.

Yet afflictions are enforced by reality-altering miracles. In d20, where spells such as Wish can explicitly alter the recent past to “undo misfortune” (and much, MUCH, lower level effects can allow rerolls), isn’t “I didn’t get into that situation” pretty much always a viable miraculous resolution?

Questions like these really don’t matter in Nobilis. It’s a much more narrative-driven system and presumes a fairly high level of cooperation with whoever’s running the game. D20, however, demands a much higher level of definition and details. It also draws a much clearer distinction between advantageous powers that are generally controlled by the character or player and disadvantageous effects that are generally controlled by the game master. It’s full of opposition that is actually trying to kill you and has some chance of success at it.

We’re going to need to at least loosely define a lot of things that Nobilis just leaves up to consensus – but now that we have a reasonable idea of what we’re building, it’s time to spend some character points.

Hindrances and Karmic Bennies:

  • For “Afflictions” that are basically just annoying hindrances, all you need is the “Accursed” disadvantage (-3 CP). Talk to the game master about what effects taking “Accursed: Animals Hate Me.” will have and see if you want it and the three extra character points you’ll get for taking it.

If you want the full Nobilis-style “I get benefits whenever this becomes a problem” thing, you will also want to buy one of:

  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).

Or

  • Grant of Aid with Mighty and +6 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).

Thus, for a net cost of (6 CP) whenever your annoying curse proves to be a serious hindrance, you may draw strength from adversity – regaining spells, power, mana, or other supernatural resources OR regaining hit points, lost attribute points, or drained levels when you need them.

If you want to do both, both, reduce the bonus uses on Rite of Chi to 4 (and the cost to 6 CP), and spend two feats / 12 CP on the package. That way meeting the challenge of your curse will renew both your physical and magical strength if you need it. It still probably won’t make being “Hunted By Demons”, or “Always a Primary Target”, or some such a good thing by itself – but if you’ve given a character a disadvantage like that, presumably you’ve got them set up to deal with it.

If your Affliction is one of those that actively twists reality to enforce itself rather than an annoyance that rewards you when it comes up, then you’ll want to build an…

Imperatives:

  • 1d6 (4) Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for enforcing a particular rule (6 CP), plus Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to refill the pool above (6 CP). Both are Specialized Again for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, may backlash if blocked or logically impossible within the limits of the level of Reality Editing it can handle. (Double Specialization is normally a fairly big red flag, but putting something under the control of the game master should keep it under control).

This 6 CP Power/Feat actively warps reality to enforce itself. Does everyone you meet always fall in love with you? Sure, you may get free food, the best advice that people can manage, and price breaks – but people murder people they love all the time and being kidnaped by some lunatic admirer is not fun. I’d think carefully before buying this sort of ability.

The extent of the edit required – and allowed – also plays a role. 1 Mana covers a Minor Edit. Perhaps the waitress brings you an extra-large plate or doesn’t try to keep you from skipping out without paying. Notable Edits cost 2 Mana. Perhaps that waitress is suddenly willing to risk her neck to hide you and get you out a back door when enemies show up. Major Edits – being rushed away by a mob of adoring fans / volunteer defenders or having a local ruler intervene to get you out of trouble AGAIN – cost 3 Mana. Finally, grandiose edits – that dread elder god decides that it really likes you – cost 4 Mana if they’re permitted at all.

That also gives us a convenient mechanism for determining how powerful an effect your shiny new Affliction / Imperative can produce; you rolled a “1” for Mana? Then the limit is Trivial Edits. You rolled a 4+? Then you can have Grandiose edits if the game master chooses to allow them.

Even that may not cover going back in time to get those dinosaur eggs, but that’s more dependent on whether or not the game master thinks it should and is willing to deal with time travel than with the Imperative itself.

And I hope that helps!

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Hexcrafting Part II – Deck Creation

And for today it’s another Hexcrafting question…

Do you have any advice for creating Hexcrafter decks from scratch? How does the broadness of say, a hexcrafting card called ‘psychokinesis’, a rune magic skill called psychokinesis, and the telekinetic dweomer skill?

-Jirachi

Well, to cover the simplest bits first… if you want an actual deck, there are plenty of decks of medicine cards, tarot cards, oracle cards, and RPG whimsy cards out there (one player even used the I-Ching, but he got quite creative with his interpretations). You can also use some old Magic cards, or borrow some cards from various games, such as Everway. It would be nice if the backs all matched, but it isn’t really required. We’re playing d20, not engaging in high-stakes gambling.

If you want to make your own physical deck there are several free programs (Nandeck, Strange Eons, Cardmaker, Magic Set Editor) made just for that, or you can use Inkscape or GIMP. For that matter, our own Runecards can be printed out and work just fine (that is, of course, a shameless plug).

Now, I’m presuming that you’re more interested in what goes into a deck – and for that, it’s best to start with some examples and comparisons.

To compare with Thaumaturgy and Dweomer…

For a psychically-oriented Dweomer Hexcrafting Deck, you could easily construct a forty-eight card deck by simply using one card to represent each of the eight skills for each Dweomer field. That’s a bit dull, and a bit below the recommended 60+ cards – but Dweomer is an efficiently organized set of abilities with relatively little overlap between the various skills. That does have it’s downside though. Unlike, say, using Tarot Cards for a Hexcrafting Deck you will often find that only one specific card of your Dweomer Deck will do what want at the moment – and if you do not have it in your hand, then you are out of luck. A Dweomer deck would be effective, but it would also be kind of dull. Given that this deck would cover an extremely broad range of abilities, it would obviously be a “broad” deck.

For an arcanely-oriented Thaumaturgy Hexcrafting Deck, we have an example – “Necromancy”. One of the eight classical schools that contain almost all magic. So a broad Arcane Deck might well contain sixty-four cards – eight each for Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation. Such a deck would probably cover a bit more than the Dweomer Deck, but then the odds of pulling the cards you wanted would be slightly smaller – the usual tradeoff for a larger, and thus more versatile, deck.

Unfortunately, comparisons with Rune Magic skills tend to be a bit misleading.

  • Hexcrafting offers access to spells of all kinds from the very start, at high power levels for any given level. The breadth of an individual card is far less important than the theme of the deck. On the other hand, access to those spells is somewhat random and it is very difficult to rebuild the user’s magical reserves.
  • Thaumaturgy and Dweomer offer in-depth access to a limited magical field at high power levels, use easily-renewed Power and/or Spell Levels, and can both offer and gain bonuses from other skills and rolls.
  • Rune Magic offers considerable flexibility within a narrow field, but relies on hard-to-renew Mana for power, offers considerably slower access to high-end spells, basically requires buying a caster level for each skill (equivalent to a Specialized and Corrupted caster level and lagging well behind other magical systems) instead of allowing the use of an overall caster level, and – since it’s a skill-based system – nerfs the most common methods of gaining bonuses. The far superior flexibility of Rune Magic skills comes at a notable cost.

Regardless of all of that, the Thaumaturgy and Dweomer decks obviously aren’t especially original – and they don’t cover much about creating your own deck. Ergo, so some further examples are required.

For a Narrow “Animal Spirit” or “Nature Spirit” deck, pretty much all of the animal cards may be used to summon, influence, banish, communicate with, and otherwise manipulate animals of the appropriate types. Almost all of them can be usede to take on animal powers of to shapeshift into appropriate animals. For some more individual effects…

  1. Ant grants strength, wall-walking, scent, acid, and organizational powers with minor access to spells that get large quantities of work done.
  2. Bat grants flight, echolocation, speed, and agility, with minor access to fireworks magic.
  3. Bear spells involve size and strength, claws, natural toughness, hibernation, and – traditionally – minor healing effects.
  4. Beaver is a woodcrafter, builder, hydraulic engineer, and swimmer. Beaver magic generally involves crafting and building things.
  5. Bee can provide flight, envenom blades, allow one to peer into the ultraviolet, communicate through dance, and summon and direct swarms.
  6. Butterfly grants metamorphosis, transformation, and beauty, although it’s stronger on personal than on external effects. It is, in fact, one of the more powerful and versatile animal cards.
  7. Caribou grants speedy and enduring travel, adaptability, and attunement to nature.
  8. Cheetah grants great bursts of speed, communicating with big cats, and taking on cheetah features.
  9. Coral can create walls, traps, and shelters, as well as some stinging and toxic touch attacks, but is considerably more fragile than just using stone.
  10. Electric Eel offers electrical senses and discharges, water breathing, slipping through narrow places, and biting.
  11. Frog can grant a deadly toxic touch, amphibious abilities, hibernation, a long, sticky, tongue, and jumping abilities.
  12. Goat grants climbing ability, agility, the ability to digest almost everything, and enhanced virility.
  13. Honey Badger grants claws, toughness, strength, burrowing, immunity to poison, and immunity to fear.
  14. Jellyfish can grant reaching tendrils, some rather nasty toxic touch attacks, water breathing, and the ability to regenerate from almost any injury,
  15. Octopus provides spells involving tentacles, clouds of darkness, poisonous touches, water breathing, and completing many tasks at once.
  16. Owl grants flight, night sight, enhanced hearing, taking on owl features (like talons), seeing through the eyes of owls, and perhaps some secret wisdom – such as you get from first and second level “Detect” spells.
  17. Parrot can be used to send messages, speak various languages, imitate sounds, gain winged flight, and bite.
  18. Serpent grants poison effects (some ranged), constriction, entrapment, infravision, stealth, and minor hypnotic effects.
  19. Tardigrade (Water Bear) can provide long-term hibernation and resistance to radiation, extremes of temperature, lack of food and water, and lack of atmosphere, as well as boosts to hit points and damage reduction.
  20. Wolf can summon packs of wolves, gain scent, claim territory, run a long way, and (traditionally) grant minor hunting magics.

And so on for Komodo Dragon, Shark, Turtle, Buffalo, Skunk, Rotifer, Amoeba, Bombardier Beetle, Spider, Cobra, Python, Starfish, Elephant, Hummingbird, Snapping Shrimp, Sponges, and the rest of the animal kingdom, both large and small. A few hours at the library, on the internet, or watching nature documentaries should provide plenty of inspiration for an Animal deck.

Still, while Shark may grant scent, electrical senses, massive bite attacks (Manyjaws anyone?), swimming, water breathing, and epic-level Sharknado’s, it is still an animal powers card in the end, like all the others. You can do a lot of things with animal cards – call up stampedes, destroy vegetation, spray acid, boiling clouds, or ink, produce toxins, undermine hills, and so much more – but there are also plenty of things that animals simply do not do. You won’t be using this deck to summon demons, or teleport, or program computers (Save, possibly, with an epic level “infinite number of monkeys” spell), or raise the dead, or generate hard radiation, or bind an army into a trance – and the list goes on. Even if you persuade the game master to let you throw in a few “plant” cards, the options there are fairly limited as well (not regarding the utility of a Tree Feather Token) and this will almost certainly remain a narrow deck. Real animals and plants simply aren’t very versatile compared to d20’s vast array of magical spells even if you throw in low-level access to a few mythic properties.

Now if you start throwing in mythical totems… Thunderbird may grant access to lightning and weather magic, Cave Bear to powerful healing magic, Cerberus to the Underworld, and so on – but this is no longer a Narrow Animal Powers Deck. It’s a broad Totem Spirit Deck.

You could also make a deck of Elemental Powers (could be Narrow or Broad depending on whether you include elemental associations), or Gods (usually Broad) – although the game master will probably limit you to the most direct aspects of their portfolios to keep this from being an “anything” deck.

And I hope that helps!

For next time on this topic, a complete “elemental” deck.

Eclipse, Entreaty Magic II, and Magical “Feats”

The article on Entreaty Magic presented a way to build yet another magic system – in this case a freeform system of calling on forces or entities that relied on earning the help of those entities. It offered an option to buy that system in eleven eight-point “installments”, rather than as a series of varyingly-sized chunks. That led to a question…

If you are going to have the ‘8 cp per level’ as a way to purchase the progression, is there any reason why you couldn’t just keep buying it past level 11? If so, what would that look like?

-Jirachi

Now that would be mildly awkward, since, while the parts of the Entreaty Magic package which use level-based formula continue to increase with higher levels, once you buy all 87 points worth of the package, you’ve bought all there is to buy. There isn’t any more because some of the basic powers it’s built on have hit their maximum at that point and they’re already Specialized and Corrupted to increase their effects. If you wanted to continue from there, you’d need to either buy secondary abilities that enhance your magical powers or persuade your game master to invent new rules to cover it.

I’d recommend the secondary powers personally. They’re easier and more interesting, and usually a lot less subject to breaking the game. After all, most of the upper limits on abilities in Eclipse are in there for a reason.

So lets extend that progression, spending eight character points per level.

First up, spend two per level on…

L12-L20: Archmagic. Extremely skilled and experienced Entreators may learn to channel brief bursts of even greater power from their patrons, achieving results far beyond the reach of lesser adepts. Unfortunately, they still cannot do so very often. Buy:

  • 3d6 (9) Mana with the Spell Enhancement Natural Magic Option, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for spell enhancement, only for use with Entreaties, effects so enhanced can have a maximum effective level of 6 at level 12 or less, 7 at level 13+, 8 at level 15+, and 9 at level 17+ (9 CP).
  • Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only to refill the spell enhancement pool above, requires a nights rest (9 CP).
    • Split up over nine levels this basically provides a pool of (Level – 11) Mana that renews itself each day. This will allow the Entreator to cast a few higher level spells each day or to enhance them in various other ways.

To make up the rest of the 8 CP/Level you can take one magic-boosting Feat / 6 CP effect per level. Some possibilities here include:

L12) Patronic Panoply: This trick allows the user to channel his patrons energies manifesting as solid, physical, items – often magical items. This will require the investment of some skill points to make it really worthwhile, but will be an increasingly powerful option as the user goes up in levels. Buy:

  • Access to the Occult Skill Dream-Binding (3 CP), at normal cost (3 CP). As a rule, the items will be related to one or more of the user’s Patrons somehow. Many Entreaters will even develop one load-out for each patron, allowing them to chose a package to suit a given mission.

L13) Grand Petition: This trick briefly enhances the user’s ability to channel his or her patron’s powers. Activated as a part of using an Entreaty, it allows for a mighty surge of supernatural force, allowing the user to amplify the effects of some spells and overcome resistant creatures defenses. Buy:

  • Berserker (+10 to Caster Level, -2 to Reflex Saves) with Enduring (no fatigue afterwards), Corrupted / only allows the casting of a single spell per use. This trick will function (1 + Level/3) times daily (6 CP).

L14) The Forge Arcane: This trick allows the user to create three minor relics – one for him or herself and two for friends. While these invariably have drawbacks, they each offer the equivalent of two bonus Feats. Buy:

  • Create Relic, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable to make one-point relics, only usable with points from Enthusiast, only relics related to one of the user’s patrons, all relics carry a disadvantage – although this does help reduce their cost (2 CP).
  • Enthusiast with Adaption, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (a total of three “floating” character points)/points may only be used to create relics (known as “conjures”), relics have a maximum cost of one point and no one can use more than one at any one time (4 CP for the ability to create up to three one-point relics. +1 Relic may be added per additional CP spent. The relics and rituals for the Houngan Conjurer may be helpful).

L15) Ward Of The Principalities: This trick invokes the user’s patrons to look after their agent – channeling in protective effects just when they are needed, although this still counts against their pool of obligations. Buy:

  • Reflex Training (Three extra actions per day variety) with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for defensive actions, only for Entreaties. The “user’s patrons” will obligingly, and instantly, erect mystical defenses for the user (6 CP).

L16) Summons From Beyond: This trick allows the user to summon a familiar, mystic mount, or other form of companion creature – or to either upgrade an existing companion or summon another. (It’s usually well worth investing some more Feats in your companions). Buy:

  • Companion (6 CP).

L17) A Patron’s Glance: This trick allows an Entreator to briefly turn a spell effect that requires concentration over to his or her patrons to sustain while he or she does something else, picking up maintaining the spell again later if he or she wishes to. Buy:

  • Harnessed Intellect (6 CP).

L18) Agent of the Powers: This trick allows the user to invoke the indirect aid of his or her patrons to bend fortune in his or her favor when necessary – a subtle, but powerful effect. Buy:

  • Karma (6 CP).

L19) Hand Of The Divine Craftsman:

This trick allows the user to create powerful, unique, magical devices through quests and deeds, some of them of potentially worldshaking power. (Alternatively, the character can be boring and take any one Create Item feat). Buy:

  • Create Artifact (6 CP).

L20) Citadel Of Magic: This trick allows the user to establish a Place of Power, Magical Sanctum, or similar location, enjoying various special abilities, the support of allies, and more while there. Buy:

  • Sanctum (as per THIS article).

There are, of course, thousands of other possible “progressions” – you could focus on combat casting, or ritual magic, or using Leadership to bind various sorts of outsiders to your service – but this is Eclipse. There are always thousands of ways that you could take a character.

Now if you’re wanting to expand on a more conventional progression, such as the Wizard… you can use Invocation with the Mighty modifier to gain access to spells of level ten and beyond, buy additional caster levels normally, and/or buy Mana as Generic Spell Levels (Specialized for Increased Effect / only acts as spell slots that expand an existing spell progression. With that, each 6 CP expended on expanding a progression provides 10 spell levels worth of additional spell slots.

Eclipse and Uplifting Animals

And today it’s another question – in this case, one that’s jumped to the head of the que because just jotting down some notes for it quickly turned into a full article.

A rather specific question this time around: I’ve noticed that Self-Development has no provision for increasing an ability score below 3. Ergo, it cannot be used to raise the Intelligence of a creature with an Int of 1 or 2.

Presuming that I have such a creature (without it being a familiar), and have a way to grant it additional CPs (e.g. I’ve taken Leadership with Beast-Lord and Emperor’s Star), what ability could I spend those CPs on to permanently raise their Intelligence?

(Obviously, the best bet would just be to find the proper awaken spell to have someone cast on the creature(s) in question, but I wanted to restrict this to CP-purchasable abilities.)

-Alzrius

D20 attributes are a bit awkward at the lower end of the scale aren’t they? Earlier editions used 3-18 to cover what functional (“playable”) humans were like, with everything below that crammed into the range of 0-2 and everything above that – no matter how superhuman – crammed into 19-25. Currently characters are mostly created using attribute point buy and generally aren’t don’t get scores of 6-, effectively reserving the 3-6 range for (non-player) characters with serious disabilities – but the venerable 3-18 is still considered the “normal human range” even if the upper cap has been taken off for monsters, gods, high-level characters, and other things that go well beyond “human”.

Of course, to stick with Intelligence… for most game purposes that 0-2 range works just fine. “Mindless Animal”, “Stupid Animal”, and “Bright Animal” pretty well cover it on the extremely rare occasions when it comes up. Who cares about measuring the exact relative intelligence of an ordinary worm, garter snake, parrot, cat, dog, and preying mantis? None of them are playable, none of them are going to be coming up with complex plans, and none of them are going to be major enemies.

The same goes for the other attributes. “Totally Ineffectual”, “Almost Totally Ineffectual”, and “Basically Hopeless” really all say the same thing; “let the player characters handle things and don’t expect any help from THIS non-player character”.

So Self-Development in Eclipse doesn’t cover attributes in the 0-2 range both because Eclipse was focused on playable characters and because 0-2 actually covers an immense range of values – in scale, far greater than the 3-18 range. After all, Str 3 lets a human carry 30 pounds as a heavy load. Str 18 lets them carry 300 pounds – a net range of one order of magnitude. On the other hand, Str 0-1 covers bugs to squirrels and things. Lets take the classic example of an ant (a creature noted for it’s in-scale strength). Ants, according to the biologists, are capable of carrying a maximum of almost 1/2000 of a pound – what d20 would call “a heavy load”. Str 1 lets you carry a maximum of 10 pounds as a heavy load – twenty thousand times as much. Other bugs can still carry things, if not as well as ants – so 3-18 covers a range of 1-10, the scale between 0-1 covers a range of at least 1/200,000 pounds to 10 pounds – at least six orders of magnitude crammed into that single step. Letting a non-magical boost cover that kind of range just didn’t seem right. Magic, however… magic follows its own rules.

Still, as with paying points for more starting cash, this is a spot where simple approaches don’t work very well because it’s a corner of the d20 system that doesn’t work well to start with – which d20 gets away with because it’s also a bit that very few people care about. Still, as with building a Stipend (in the linked article), there are ways to work around it.

Animalistic Intelligences:

This particular approach requires that the creature buy…

  • Innate Enchantment: +2 Int (Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, x.7 Personal Only) = 1400 GP Value (2 CP).
  • Immunity to the Experience Point Cost for the Innate Enchantment above (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, 1 CP). You won’t need this in Pathfinder, but then it’s only 1 CP – and an animal may not have the Pathfinder Package Deal to begin with.
  • Immunity to Stacking Limits (Common, Minor, Major), Specialized and Corrupted / only for Enhancement Bonuses, only to allow the bonus from the first-level spell given above to stack with a single other enhancement bonus (2 CP).
  • Immunity to Dispelling, Antimagic, and Dead Magic (Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted / only to convert the innate enchantment given above into an extraordinary ability (4 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Accursed. The user has no innate language skills and may not be able to speak properly even after learning to understand a language (- 3 CP).

This involves three natural-law immunities and thus is a literal game-changer – as might be expected of pushing a creature across whatever border it is that separates a sapient entity from an animal. I don’t think I’d allow it for most characters, but then most characters would just be looking for the immunity to stacking limits.

The Thinking Cap:

You can also simply add intelligence by magic, like adding sweetener to oatmeal. If you can enchant living creatures, then there is nothing preventing you from giving one Sentience.

  • Enchant the creature as a 1’st level Pearl Of Power (1000 GP, Caster Level 17). Those are always handy. Or a Meridian Belt (1000 GP, Caster Level 9) to let it wear rings on all four feet. Or something. It doesn’t matter all that much what, although a higher caster level will help your creature avoid brief bouts of stupidity when it gets hit with Dispel Magic. .
  • Now give it Pathfinder-Style Sentience: That’s (500 GP) base, plus, say, Int 14 (1000 GP), Wis 12 (500 GP, presuming that the base creature hasn’t got Wis 12+ already), and Cha 12 (500 GP). Throw in Speech (500 GP).

That’s a total cost of 4000 GP, or 2000 GP if you’re enchanting it yourself. You could spend some more to throw in a few powers to take advantage of that nice high caster level though.

Since a sapient item gets to control the “functions” of the enchanted item, this gives you a bolt-on “intelligence module” that – since it is free to act – should let your new magically-intelligent creature gain levels like any other character.

  • If you want the creature to pay for it’s own bootstrap, take this as an Innate Enchantment. A 4000 GP value would cost 5 CP. Throw in an Immunity to the Experience Point Cost for the Innate Enchantment above (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, 1 CP) and we’re back at (6 CP).

This method is vulnerable to being temporarily dispelled, or disjoined, or some such. To get immunity to THAT you’d want Immunity to Dispelling, Antimagic, and Dead Magic (Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted / only to convert the innate enchantment given above into an extraordinary ability (4 CP). That raises the total cost to (10 CP) rather than six, but it lets your creature start off with a much better Intelligence (and likely Charisma) score and three languages. Go ahead! Unleash those Sapient Colossal Scorpions! Also, give them bowler hats, teacups, and English accents while you’re at it!

The Nurture Of Minds

  • On the personal level you can use Innate Enchantment: Upgrade the “Awaken” spell to level six to eliminate the material component cost and take it as an innate power: (Level Six Spell x Caster Level Eleven x 1800 GP (Command Word Activated) x .05 (Usable once per month) = 5940 GP (7 CP worth of innate enchantment, barring other modifiers. This would only be 4950 GP for Spell Trigger, or 1650 GP for Spell Completion, but those have more complicated requirements to use.
  • To get an animal to Awaken itself you’ll want Use-Activated, but you can throw in Personal-Only (x.7) for net cost of 4620 CP or 6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment. Of course, you’ll also want an immunity to the XP cost of the Innate Enchantment (1 CP) and an Immunity to the need to consciously activate the spell (Uncommon, Major, Trivial, 2 CP) for a total cost of 9 CP.

Since this only needs to be activated once a month until it “takes”, and never again thereafter, the best way to use this setup it is to put it in a (1 CP) relic. Call it a Stone of Sapience and hang it on the creature you want to Awaken, and in a few months it will take effect – and you can either put the Stone on some other creature to awaken IT or (if you bought a version of the usual relic-making package) make something else.

Alternatively, you can take the “personal only” modifier off and let the creature start awakening other creatures – likely it’s companions, mates, or offspring – but that might start getting troublesome and is more expensive.

  • You can do pretty much the same thing with Inherent Spell (Specialized for Increased Effect to get a 6’th level effect and Corrupted for Increased Effect to avoid having to meet the level requirement, 6 CP), but you’ll want to throw in the immunity to having to consciously use it (2 CP) again. I’m not too sure what you’d use for Specialization, but personal-only is one of the more obvious possibilities for the Corruption if you give it to the animal to be awakened – although you’ll need the Immunity to the need to consciously activate the spell (Uncommon, Major, Trivial, 2 CP) again. This will function every day if you wish, but whatever specialization you come up with is likely to be troublesome.

The Doctor Dolittle Effect:

If you wish to be surrounded by a modest number of sapient beasts you can use…

  • Blessing with the Group Modifier, Corrupted for Increased Effect (you automatically count as one of the group enhanced and those enhanced start off friendly) and Specialized (for Reduced Cost) / only to bestow Intelligence, cannot be revoked after bestowal (although the death of the recepient will open up another “slot”), only works on creatures with an original intelligence of 2 or less (6 CP). This will allow the user to grant up to (Chr Mod +1) creatures intelligence equal to his or her own.

Unfortunately, this one really won’t work very as a bootstrap effect unless you give the target creature the above power, an immunity to needing to use it consciously, and a secondary blessing to transfer both of the above powers to a creature that is already intelligent – (thus gaining that creatures intelligence for itself and a few other creatures). That would technically work, but is getting rather silly.

The Wandering Soul:

This approach has already been discussed by Jirachi (responding to the original comment); it consists of stuffing a spirit into an animal body to let it use (or be used by) the Spirit’s intelligence and abilities. This can be done in an immense variety of ways, but does require using either the Specific Creature summons option or the Spell Renewal option, otherwise your animal friend will lose it’s memories each time the spell is cast and brings in a new spirit to inhabit it.

  • Witches can use The Path Of Spirits or create a Tulpa that needs a host body to manifest in.
  • Summoning Spells (the Channeling Variant from The Practical Enchanter) will do it for anyone using general magic or inherent spells.
  • Channelers can convert uses of Channeling to the correct spells or use the Hand Of Darkness path to split off fragments of their own personas to possess creatures.

Overall, however, the vast majority of these methods require outside interference – something you do to a creature as opposed to an ability you purchase for it. I suppose you could give a creature the abilities needed to summon it’s OWN spirit, but that gets rather expensive and is complicated to build.

  • Given that Ritualists can simply invent their own effects. I suppose it would be possible to create an extremely limited package using Occult Ritual, Luck, and Specific Knowledges and then use Blessing to cause an animal to “instinctively” perform a self-awakening or spirit binding ritual on itself until it works – but that is, once again, getting pretty silly.

Companions:

While you specifically noted that you didn’t want these, for general reference they obviously belong on this list.

  • Familiars, Psi-Crystals, Mystic Mounts, and other Companion Creatures are, of course, shaped by the owning character’s will and magic – and specifically get increased intelligences. Still, they call for a substantial investment from the owning character to give them much in the way of special powers Given that a little bit of power flows back to the master from them, providing various minor enhancements for the master, it IS theoretically possible to set them up so that they boost themselves and / or the number of companions that the character possesses. This is, however, both blatantly silly and potentially game-breaking (to the point that game masters should pretty much never allow it). Uncontrolled positive feedback loops are generally trouble.

And I hope that helps!

D20, Ninja, and Eclipse, Part II – the Complete Adventurer and Pathfinder Ninjas

And to continue our look at building Ninja through the years – and on how to upgrade the various variants to current standards here are the next few types of Ninja. And if you missed Part I (the Rokugan and Mystic Eye Ninjas) they’re HERE.

The next major Ninja class was The Complete Adventurer Ninja (2005). They were a rather hesitant attempt to make “Ninja” mean something more than “slightly refluffed Rogue or Rogue Multiclass” in baseline d20. Unfortunately, the writers were – once again – pretty shy about giving non-spellcasters all that much in the way of exotic powers, so this version of the Ninja wound up with some rather weak “Ki Powers” that could only be used a few times a day – not even really up to “a ninja always has another trick to pull” standard of most fictional ninja and some actual ninja. They got…

  • D6 HD (40 CP). What a rogue got, and functional enough in those days of less-optimized damage levels.
  • 138 SP (138 CP or – with a modern build using Adept and Fast Learner – 58 CP)
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 to Saves (72 CP).
  • Proficiency with all Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP)
  • Defender, Corrupted/only when unarmored and unencumbered (4 CP). This helped to make up for the lack of armor a bit.
  • Advanced Augmented Bonus (Adds Int Mod to AC), Corrupted/only when unarmored and unencumbered (8 CP). Another – and much earlier-into-play boost to AC. You’d still need some Bracers Of Armor though.

The Ninjas original Ki Powers were Ghost Step (L2, Invisibility for a round. You can become Ethereal for a round instead at L10), Ki Dodge (L6, one round of 20% miss chance), Ghost Strike (L8, Strike to and from the Ethereal Plane for one attack), Greater Ki Dodge (L18, 50% miss chance for a round), and Ghost Walk (L20, as per Ethereal Jaunt, 2 Ki) and a Ki Pool of (Ninja Level / 2 + Wis Mod) points. This version provides more powers, and a much wider selection of powers, because, honestly, the original set wasn’t very good for something that was a defining feature of the class and because building a power set that limited is actually a lot more trouble than setting up a worthwhile power set. Eclipse wasn’t designed to build useless abilities. This version also isn’t reliant on Wisdom, so it reduces the multiple-attribute-dependency problem.

  • Ki Pool: 4d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only for use with quick (Swift or Immediate action) Reality Edits. Edits are divided into Minor (1 Mana, available at level 2+), Notable (1 Mana, available at level 6+), Major (2 Mana, available at level 14+), and Grandiose (4 Mana, available at level 25+ IF the game master is willing to put up with them) edits; the user is limited to a maximum of (level / 2 (increasing as the character levels up), rounded up) specific edits with his or her first purchase of Reality Editing and to half that (level / 4, also increasing as the character levels up) number of additional edits for each additional purchase. Edits are fixed once approved by the game master unless the user wishes to spend a lot of time on retraining or something. Will Save DC’s are 12/14/16/18 + Dex Mod (for fine control) for Minor/Notable/Major/Grandiose edits and all edits are considered Extraordinary Abilities (24 CP).

Minor edits usually approximate first or minor second level effects. Possible minor edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Blazing Stars: As per the Fire Shuriken (Spell Compendium) spell.
  • Breath Control: As per Resist Energy (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Dance Of Wings: Add +30 to all your current movement rates for 2d4 minutes.
  • Face Dancer: As per Disguise Self (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Grace Of The Kami: Move at normal speeds when using Acrobatics, Balance, Climb, or Move Silently without penalty for 2d4 minutes.
  • Jujitsu: Make an immediate Escape Artist check with a +30 bonus. You may attempt to “escape” Paralysis or similar situations, but at DC 50.
  • Ki Strike: Gain a +10 Insight bonus to an Attack and +(Level) Insight bonus on it’s damage.
  • Light Foot: You make take 20 on Acrobatics/Hide/Move Silently checks and always land safely after falling or being thrown for 2d4 rounds.
  • Mongoose Fist: Make an extra attack as an immediate action OR make two extra attacks as part of a full attack action.
  • Phantom Blade: Make one attack into a sneak attack, even if it normally would not be.
  • Qigung: Get a +5 bonus on a save if triggered before rolling or reroll a save if used afterwards.
  • Smoke Bellows: Generate a 30′ radius cloud of dense smoke centered up to 30′ away. It lasts for 2d4 rounds.
  • Tongue Of Kanji: Cast a spell without it’s normally-required somatic component.
  • Vanishing: Become invisible and leave no trail for 2d4 Rounds, although Attacking will negate the invisibility part as usual.
  • Wind Stride: As per Air Step (Pathfinder) for 2d4 Minutes.

Notable edits usually approximate second or third level effects. Possible notable edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Alchemic Bomb: Turn a dose of an alchemical substance or poison that you are carrying into a full-effect 20′ radius burst within medium range. At level 12+ you can use two doses to create two bursts that may, but need not, overlap, and at 25+ three. The “doses” do not all have to be the same substance if you are using multiple doses.
  • Alchemic Synthesis: Produces 100 GP worth of alchemical creations or poisons. While these are obviously crude and unsalable, and become inert within twenty-four hours, they are effective if used within that time. At level 12+ the user may spend a second Ki Point on this to provide either a +2 DC on created poisons or saves on alchemical creations or to double the effect of an alchemical creation.
  • Dancing Shadows: Mirror Image (SRD) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Dispelling Strike: Add the effects of Dispel Magic (using your level as the caster level to a maximum of +10) to a physical attack.
  • Displacement: Attacks on you suffer a 50% miss chance for 2d4 rounds.
  • Expulsion: As per Neutralize Poison (SRD).
  • Find The Gap: As per the spell (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Ghost Strike: The user mays see and strike to and from the Ethereal Plane for two rounds.
  • Golden Armor: Gain DR 6/- for 2d4 minutes.
  • Haunting Shadow: As per Phantom Foe (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Healing Mudra: Personal-Only Cure Serious Wounds (SRD).
  • Ki Imbuement: As per Greater Magic Weapon (SRD) for 2d4 minutes, although it may also be applied to the user’s natural weapons, fists, or other “unarmed” martial arts attacks,
  • Lizard Walk: Full-speed wall-walking for 2d4 rounds.
  • Spellblade: You may make an immediate attack with a melee weapon to deliver any Touch spell that you just cast in place of the usual immediate touch attack that such spells provide.
  • Vital Strike: Trade dice of sneak attack damage for points of attribute damage with an attack. You may damage any attribute that you please.

Major edits usually approximate fourth or fifth level effects. Possible major edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Beast Jitsu: As per Bite of the Werewolf or Wereboar (Both Spell Compendium), lasting 2d4 Minutes.
  • Cloud Mind: As per Modify Memory (SRD).
  • Death Strike: Add the effects of Slay Living (SRD) to a physical attack. (Some Ninja use Enervation (SRD) instead).
  • Demon Ki Projection: As per Shadow Conjuration (SRD).
  • Doom Shuriken, as per Fire Seeds (SRD), but using shuriken for either function.
  • Dragon’s Breath: As per the Spell (Pathfinder).
  • Forge Of Ki: As per Greater Magic Weapon (SRD) for 2d4 minutes, but you may invest some or all of the “plusses” in special magic weapon functions. This effect may also be applied to the user’s fists, natural weapons, or martial arts attacks.
  • Freedom Of Movement: as the spell (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Ghost Step: Become Ethereal for 2d4 rounds.
  • Phantom Ways: as per Dimension Door (SRD).
  • Shadow Clones: Greater Mirror Image (Player’s Handbook II) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Shadow Form: as the spell (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Sniper: The user may make sneak attacks at any range for 2d4 rounds.
  • Spectral Mind: Personal Mind Blank (SRD) for twenty-four hours.
  • Unity of Mirage: Gain Greater Invisibility (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.

Grandiose edits usually approximate sixth to seventh level effects. They do, however, tend to be unique to each epic ninja, so I won’t be providing a sample list.

  • Evasive (Reality Editing, 3 CP). Using their Ki powers does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
  • Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/onl to restore the “Ki” pool above, requires a nights rest) (6 CP). This is more than is needed, but that does make it easy to make their pool bigger.
  • Augmented Attack (Sudden Strike, A.K.A. Sneak Attack, 10d6, 30 CP).
  • Trapfinding (No cost in Eclipse: Skills work the same way for everyone).
  • Resistance/+2 to Will Saves, Corrupted/only as long as Mana is available (4 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP Value), Corrupted/only while unarmored and unencumbered (4 CP). All effects Spell Level 1/2 or 1, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated for a base of 1000 or 2000 GP each.
    • Monkey Fish (Pathfinder) (2000 GP, gain Climb and Swim Speeds of 10)
    • Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter) ( x.7, only to increase movement speeds by +30 (Enhancement), 1400 GP)
    • Apply Venom (Original, L0, safely applies carried poison to a weapon as a swift action, 1000 GP)
    • Acrobatic Master (The Practical Enchanter, L0 Skill Mastery / Tumble (Acrobatics in Pathfinder), +6 Enhancement Bonus, Personal-Only, 700 GP).

This little package gives them a +8 to Climb and Swim checks, with base speeds of 40 for both, 60 ground movement as a base (adding +12 to Jump or – in Pathfinder – to Acrobatics rolls made to Jump), and +6 Enhancement to Tumble (3.5) or Acrobatics (Pathfinder). That’s extremely efficient, but Innate Enchantment usually is – which is why it’s usually limited to 12 CP worth in total for any given character.

  • Great Leap (Immunity/Having to Run before Leaping, Uncommon, Minor, Minor, Corrupted / only while unarmored and unencumbered, 2 CP).
  • Fortune (Evasion Variant), Corrupted / only while unarmored and unencumbered, 4 CP).
  • Ghost Mind / Cloaking, Specialized and Corrupted / only versus spells of the Scrying Subschool, allows a caster level check of DC (20 + Ninja’s Level) to overcome it, otherwise the Ninja is not seen / detected.
  • Occult Sense / See Invisible and Ethereal things (6 CP).

This comes out to a total of 452 CP as a classical build or 372 CP as a modern one – and is still a notable improvement over the original design since that’s with the rewritten Ki powers and uses Innate Enchantment rather than buying the various minor boosts individually. The original 3.0 and 3.5 Fighter used 452 of their available 504 CP – so we should expect the Complete Adventurer Ninja to be just a bit more effective than they are since I used a couple of more efficient options in their design. So why does this class still fall behind? It’s most likely a result of the older tendency to evaluate combat-focused characters against the Fighter and to overrate Skill Points. Basic 3.0 and 3.5 Fighters simply are not that impressive, and skills have greatly devalued over the years – leaving the Complete Adventurer Ninja well behind the curve.

And, according to the rather extensive discussions underlying the Tier System, it is indeed down in Tier 5 with the Fighter, Monk, Healer, Soulknife, and Expert. Still, with either 52 or 132 CP left over, it’s easy enough to upgrade them considerably. You just have to go ahead and spend those points.

  • First off, upgrade the Rite Of Chi to get rid of the “requires a nights rest” corruption. That’s only (3 CP) – and another +16 bonus uses is only (12 CP). 25d6 worth of “Ki Points” (plus the basic recovery rate of one per night) daily will let them pull off a LOT more tricks.
  • Buying more powers is also in order – so another two incidences of Reality Editing (basically increasing their allotment of Ki powers to one power per level) will be very handy (12 CP).
  • Finally, another 2d6 Mana will help make sure that they don’t run out – and is only another (12 CP).

That’s only 39 CP – leaving enough room for a couple of bonus feats, even for the “basic” build, and will let a Ninja use a selection of swift and immediate action Ki powers in every fight. That makes them fast and tricky, which seems pretty appropriate. Throw in a decent Martial Art or two and you should be all right. For those two extra feats? Improved Initiative and Luck with +4 Bonus Uses Specialized in Attacks. That way, when you really need to hit, you can be sure that you will.

For a modern build, you’ll still have 93 points left over even after that C’hi upgrade. That’s quite a lot really – enough for fifteen levels of the Wilder or Psychic Warrior progressions (both at 90 CP), or becoming a skill-based Partial Caster (usually about 80 CP), or throwing in a Template or two. Go ahead. Be an Advanced Pulp Hero Ninja or an Ancient One Ninja (both 64 CP), or a Ninja Master Of Stars (58 CP), or even a Ninja Space Marine (63 CP) or Ninja Lycanthrope (from the basic Eclipse book, 64+ CP depending on what extras you buy).

  • If you’d prefer more combat power… buy off those “only while unarmored and unencumbered” corruptions (10 CP) and pick up some light armor with the “Smooth” modifier (6 CP). Get your BAB up to +20 (30 CP), use Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (18 CP) to add your (Dex Mod) to your (Con Mod) for Hit Point purposes, and throw in five more combat-style feats (30 CP). OK, that’s 94 CP and you’ll have to drop a skill point – but it will work just fine.
  • If you want a full-out Spellcaster-Ninja, you might want to take the Entreaty Magic package (88 CP). It’s nicely flexible, and full of unexpected tricks, while holding down the total amount of magic available to keep it as a secondary focus.

All in all, any of those approaches should get this version of the Ninja firmly up into Tier 3 or so – and make them a great deal more entertaining to play.

Finally, we have the Current Pathfinder Ninja.

Pathfinder gave the Ninja the standard Pathfinder upgrades of +2 Skill Points per level and larger hit dice, but otherwise only gave the Ninja the usual slight overhaul. Their Ninja get…

  • d8 HD (80 CP).
  • 8 SP/Level (160 CP, presume Fast Learner and Adept for 80+12 CP).
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 Saves (72 CP).
  • Sneak Attack 10d6 (30 CP).
  • Proficiency with Ninja Weapons and Light Armor (12 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP)
  • 5d6 Mana as a Ki Pool (As per the Complete Adventurer Ninja above) (30 CP) This gets an extra die worth of Mana because a couple of minor abilities have been folded into the Ki abilities – and so a few extra points are needed to pay for using them on occasion.
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, only to restore chi pool, requires a nights rest, 6 CP)
  • Reality Editing: Gains an extra edit at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and so on (6 CP).
  • Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted / provides only three minor swift action tricks for 1 Mana each (2 CP):
    • +1 Attack at Full BAB,
    • +20 Move for a round
    • +4 Insight Bonus to Stealth Checks for 1 Round.
  • Evasive (Reality Editing, 3 CP). Using their Ki powers does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
  • Immunity/Being Found or Recognized. Very Common, Minor, Major, Corrupted / not versus scrying or when you’re not making an effort to remain undiscovered (8 CP). This provides a +6 to Disguise and Stealth checks and a +6 on the DC of tracking the Ninja. Secondarily, it prevents spells such as Invisibility Purge, See Invisibility, and True Sight, from automatically revealing the user when he or she is invisible; the user must make a perception check against the ninja’s stealth skill to detect him or her even with such assistance. Similarly, the user can effectively use Stealth against Blindsense, Tremorsense, Scent, and similar unusual senses.
  • Awareness and Flankless (Specialized/Does not function against opponents with a four-level or better advantage over you) (9 CP).
  • Trapfinding (No cost in Eclipse: Skills work the same way for everyone).

That does simplify a couple of things from the original build – but it also somewhat expands the Ninja’s Ki Powers and gives them a slightly larger Ki pool, which is quite close enough.

Given that we’re well out of the “classical” era from before skills were devalued here, we need no longer consider anything but the “modern” build (using Fast Learner and Adept to make skills cheaper) – so this comes to a total of 446 CP – leaving 58 CP left over even with the minor upgrade to their Ki powers I’ve added to save time and avoid having to list individual “ninja tricks”. That’s not nearly as bad as many of it’s predecessor ninja classes, but it’s not very good either; it’s part of why the Pathfinder Ninja is still down on Tier 4 (with occasional arguments for Tier 3 or Tier 5) in the Pathfinder Tier Lists. Their tricks are rather neat, but they simply do not get enough of them – both in terms of the number of different tricks available and in terms of the number of times they can afford to use them.

If you just want to stick with the basics you can use the same approach as with The Complete Adventurer Ninja.

  • Upgrade the Rite Of Chi to get rid of the “requires a nights rest” corruption for ( 3 CP) and add another +16 bonus uses for (12 CP). With the ability to recover an average of 87.5 “ki” per day in minutes rather than 10-16 overnight, your ninja can now afford to use a Ki Power – all of which can be used as Swift or Immediate actions – in pretty much every round of every fight.
  • Add another incidence of Reality Editing (6 CP) to boost their allotment of Ki powers to one power per level. That gives them a pretty good selection of tricks to use.
  • Add another 1d6 Mana (6 CP) to get their average base Ki pool up to 21 points. That should be enough for any long fights.

That’s only 27 CP, leaving 31 – enough for a couple of bonus feats and a nice set of Martial Stances. A Ninja using the Call Of The Wyld Style – perhaps taking Kitsune Tricks, Panther Silent Prowls, Perfidious Rat Strikes, and Striking Serpent Coils for 4 CP each – will suddenly be a lot more dangerous in combat.

That should put this version of the Ninja firmly into Tier 3.

If you want to get into a real power build for any of these four versions of the Ninja, you’ll want to throw in:

  • Duties – perhaps to a particular clan or village – for +40 CP. This is where Clerics, Druids, and Paladin-types get some extra points – and ninja generally weren’t independent wandering rogues. They were working members of clans and undertook missions. Go ahead. Admit that you have allies, mentors, an organization to provide you with some backing and information, and a reason to go adventuring beyond “wealth and power”, and get character points for it. Admitting that you have ties to the rest of the universe is NOT a weakness.
  • Buy Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (Adds Dex Mod to Con Mod when calculating hit points, 18 CP). This particular trick is in the system for the same reason that Adept and Fast Learner are; just as Skills have been devalued over the years, so have Hit Points. So this allows you to take a smaller hit die and still have plenty of hit points – giving the martial types a nice boost since dropping from – say – a d10 to a d8, or a d8 to a d6, or a d6 to a d4, saves them 22 CP over twenty levels. Dropping two steps saves 62 CP over those same twenty levels – and really, at (say) Con 16 and Dex 18… (1d4+7) averages 9.5 per die, while (1d8+3) only averages 7.5 per die. You can even Specialize and Corrupt it (“only applies to levels 1-4″ perhaps?) to save points at lower levels and buy off those limitations as you go up in level.
  • You might be able to apply a Restriction – perhaps you will never use non-ninja weapons or armor no matter how tempting (No Celestial Armor at higher levels for you!) and get +20 CP out of it at +1 CP/Level.

Squeezing in an extra 120 CP is enough to buy any one of…

  • 15 levels of Bard, Cleric, Druid, or Classical Illusionist casting. You won’t get the secondary features – but you can easily spend a few Feats to push up to getting those ninth level spells with Clerical and Druidic casting.
  • 20 levels of Adept, Psychic Warrior, or Wilder Casting. Go ahead; use a feat or two to throw in an augmentable version of Summon Monster instead of Summon Astral Construct and call up your own goon squads for backup.
  • Tbe Bokor (Binder) Package at about 60 CP. That still leaves room for – say – getting the BAB up to +20 (+30 CP) and five extra Feats (30 CP).
  • The Entreaty (87 CP) Magic Package and perhaps 30 CP worth of magic-absorbing or negating powers. Or you could get some Mana and Spell Enhancement to let you power your way up to casting the occasional ninth-level spell.
  • Twenty extra Feats at 6 CP each. For example…
    • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP) lets you automatically make five saves of your choice each day. Or perhaps it’s only for attacks, or skill checks? Automatic success under pressure can be very nice indeed.
    • Some innate enchantment? That little package from the Complete Adventurer ninja made them a LOT more mobile.
    • Reflex Training, to take occasional extra actions when you really need them.
    • Action Hero (Stunts)? The ability to pull out a trick you’ve never used before (and might never use again) every so often is often a lifesaver.
    • Some Path Of The Dragon to allow you to absorb incoming spells and turn the power in them to your own uses.
    • Mystic Artist? Bardic-style powers can be quite handy, and getting started is pretty cheap.
    • Berserker? Spell Resistance? Some Enthusiast and a Specialized version of Create Relic to let you make your own magical gear? A Stipend? There are many thousands of other possibilities.

While the Tier system is a lot less meaningful once you start using Eclipse to build unique characters and erase most of the division between “Full”, “Partial”, “Half”, and “Non” -casters in favor of a continuous spectrum of “who relies more on what”, this sort of thing will let a mystically-inclined Ninja power-build his or her way up into Tier 1. Personally I don’t really advise pushing things that far – more limited characters tend to be more interesting to play – but Eclipse was designed to let people build the characters that they want.

Next time around on this topic it will be a a look at building your own Eclipse-style Ninja, rather than using an older classed version as a base.

D20, Ninja, and Eclipse, Part I – the Rokugan and Mystic Eye Ninjas

For today, it’s part one of “how to build a ninja, with particular reference to some of the past “ninja” classes” – another offline query.

The first official Ninja for d20 was the classical Oriental Adventures Rokugan Ninja (3.0, from 2001). D20 Rokugan got quite a lot of stuff published for it, but it never really took off. After all, most of the people who wanted to adventure in Rokugan, and deal with it’s deadly political and social mazes, were already playing Legend of the Five Rings and didn’t really need a d20 version.

It looked like this:

  • D6 HD (40 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Saves +24 (72 CP).
  • 4 SP/Level (92 CP originally, current builds take Fast Learner Specialized in Skills and Adept, 12 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP).
  • Augment Attack – 10d6 Sneak Attack (30 CP).
  • Defender with +1 AC Bonus/Specialized/the bonus must be divided between attackers each turn (6 CP). (Honestly, a little armor is better).
  • Poison Use (6 CP).
  • Awareness with Flankless (12 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus (Adds Int Mod to Dex Mod for Initiative Checks, 6 CP)
  • +30 Movement/Corrupted for Increased Effect (also applies to any other movement modes you happen to pick up, but limited to +5 x Con Mod, 12 CP).
  • Blind-Fight (6 CP).
  • Block (Missiles, 6 CP)

That’s 423 CP for a purely classical build, but only 343 CP as a modern (using Adept and Fast Learner to deal with the devaluation of Skill Points) build – out of the 504 CP a twentieth level character normally gets.

Honestly, that is a spectacularly poor build, placing even below the basic 3.0 fighter in terms of spending it’s points. All it’s really got going for it is full BAB and Sneak Attack, which is why it’s down on Tier 5. Still, it wouldn’t make a bad basis for a partial, or even (throwing in a few limitations and a modern build) a full caster build. An extra 81 to 161 character points leaves plenty of room for that even before throwing in feats and other boosts. For example, figuring on a “modern” build…

You could make a Hexcrafter, and appear from the shadows to shift the tide of battle with a well-chosen invocation of your dark and mysterious powers. Throw in:

  • Twenty-one (to get access to epic effects) Specialized Caster Levels (63 CP).
  • Nine Spell Cards (72 CP)
  • And seven Free Invocations (21 CP).

A decent casting attribute – most likely Intelligence as you’re going to need skill points – can get you a couple more Spell Cards, so this revised build winds up as a fair rogue-style fighter with per-session access to seven freeform spells of up to level six (from Free Invocations) and ten or eleven spells of up to level nine – with an option to sacrifice three of those level nine effects to jump up to epic magic. You won’t get nearly as many spells as a classical Wizard or Sorcerer, but with freeform magic you can tailor your spells as precisely as you need to – so what you’re aiming for is to never need more than one in any given situation.

Or you could buy…

  • Twenty levels of Bard or Druid spellcasting (160 CP). A simple and powerful option, Twenty levels of Psychic Warrior is only 120 CP, but is probably worth considering here – and would leave you with 40 CP to spend elsewhere anyway.
  • Full access to both Assassin and Ranger spellcasting (20 Corrupted Caster Levels for 80 CP and two sets of Paladin / Ranger Spellcasting, 40 CP each). They won’t be that powerful, but you will have quite a lot of spells to cast.
  • The Bokor Package. Since this is only about 60 CP it’s suitable for even a classical build. In a modern build… it leaves room for another entire package.
  • The Classical Illusionist package. That’s about 160 CP depending on the options you take – and it’s very thematic. An excellent option. Not the most powerful casting package, but incredibly versatile.
  • The Entreaty Magic Package (87 CP), allowing you to mix some comic-book style sorcery into your stealth. A powerful option if you’ve got the Charisma to pull it off. /
  • The Nymic Magic Package (54 CP for the Casting, 69 CP for Specialized Caster Levels, and 36 CP on another 6 feats to boost it). This is fast and versatile, but calls for some extensive investment in knowledge skills. Still, if you want to be a magical know-it-all…
  • Skill-Based Partial Casting. This is a rather limited spellcasting package, and calls for some investment of skill points, but allows an enormous number of variations at assorted costs.

Of you could buy plenty of other stuff. Eighty one or (especially!) a hundred and sixty points is enough to pay for quite a lot of goodies.

The Rokugan Ninja failed because it was – ultimately – an inferior rogue with a mild case of multiple attribute dependency thrown in just to make things worse. To add to the problem they got very little prestige class, feat, or equipment support. And even where they outshone the rogue (BAB), a rogue with a dip or two – Monk, or Ranger, or perhaps (later on) Beguiler – made a better “Ninja” then a Rokugan Ninja anyway.

The primary reason for that was simply that Rokugan was a much more “realistic” setting than d20 was really designed for, with a heavy emphasis on social interaction and politics instead of dungeon crawls and loot. So it’s ninja were based on real-world ninja – in d20 terms reasonably clever and well-trained rogue-style characters of levels 1-3 with no magic. They were characters who might play message-runner between two warlords for months in hopes of getting some information on their plans, or try to stealthily slip poison into someone’s food. They definitely were not one-man armies empowered by TV Tropes.

Not too surprisingly, the result would fit in with a “Wizard” based on Oz, the Great And Powerful (and his sleight of hand and minor stage tricks), a “Cleric” who performed ceremonies, offered wise advice, and had various social benefits, and a “Fighter” based on any generic special-forces type you would care to pick – but high-level d20 fighters can readily tank one-megaton city-killer bombs (16d8 damage per d20 Future), With the right options (a way to get a save and Evasion) they may even be able to shrug off a direct hit with no damage. Similarly, d20 has (quite manageable) Fortitude Saves and Neutralize Poison spells. It has magical guard-beasts and enhanced senses that can easily penetrate Stealth. It has telepathy and magical messaging. It has Scrying and Commune.

It was like having James Bond team up with Iron Man, the Mighty Thor, Doctor Strange, and The Black Widow to battle some power-armor cultist goons and a couple of shoggoths while the dread Elder Ones attempt to force their way into the world to destroy humanity. Sure, Bond can try to set up a trap or crash a vehicle into the monsters – but that doesn’t have much to do with HIS abilities and it will be a lot of time and effort spent on the equivalent of one shot from most of the others involved.

It’s much more likely that he’s going to take Nick Fury’s role and provide the mission briefing and exposition – and even THAT is only by author fiat, since any of the other characters could get the information. There’s Iron Man’s many contacts and computer expertise. Thor could get the word from Odin, or Heimdall, or just get called in. Strange could look into the Orb of Agamotto -and the Black Widow has at least as many contacts and sources as Bond does.

You could drop Bond from this story without any real effect – and the same went for the Rokugan Ninja in most d20 games.

Next up (well, after a thousand homebrews and with a pack of less notable versions), we have the Player’s Advantage: Rogue Ninja (Mystic Eye Games, 2004). This one was a partial caster, and it looked like this:

  • d6 HD (40 CP).
  • 8 SP/Level (184 CP, for a modern build presume Fast Learner and Adept for 92+12 CP).
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 Saves (72 CP).
  • Fast Movement (+10, 6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (1d6 lethal or nonlethal “unarmed” damage, always considered armed, 9 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP)
  • Awareness with Flankless (12 CP).
  • Evasion (6 CP)
  • 10d6 Sneak Attack (30 CP)
  • 17 Levels of Spontaneous Style Ranger/Paladin Spellcasting (34 CP) with 10 Specialized Caster Levels (30 CP). The available spells include:
  • 1st Level: Disguise Self, Detect Poison, Feather Fall, Ghost Sound, Jump, Obscuring Mist, Sleep, True Strike.
  • 2nd Level: Alter Self, Backstab, Cat’s Grace, Darkness, Fox’s Cunning, Illusory Script, Invisibility, Pass Without Trace, Spider Climb, Undetectable Alignment.
  • 3rd Level: Deep Slumber, Deeper Darkness, False Life, Magic Circle Against Good, Misdirection, Nondetection.
  • 4th Level: Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Dimension Door, Freedom of Movement, Glibness, Greater Invisibility, Locate Creature, Modify Memory, Poison.
  • Personally, I’d at least open this up to anything on the Assassin spell list as well. It might well have been if there had been much further support for the class.
  • Proficient with All Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP).
  • Proficient with Light Armor with the Smooth modifier (6 CP)

That’s a total of 534 CP – or only 500 with either Adept OR Fast Learner, or 454 CP as a modern build with both.

The build suffers from “monk syndrome” – having a bunch of not-particularly well organized individual powers thrown together with little focus or synergy between them – but it’s not too bad. If you need a stealthy type, this Ninja will do – but they don’t have a lot to offer elsewhere. I’d peg them around Tier 4, with the basic Rogue.

What to do with the other 50+ points in a modern-style build? Well, you could upgrade with a second set of minor spells (+10 CP to get the Caster Levels to “Corrupted” so they can cover multiple forms of minor magic, +34 CP for another seventeen levels of a minor progression – perhaps Alchemical Magic – and throw in a bonus feat), or upgrade their basic spellcasting package to a full Psychic Warrior or Wilder casting package.

Personally I’d probably go with the Psychic Warrior package. A couple of tweaks here and there and that would give you the full “mystic ninja” routine, make you more effective in a fight, and give you some additional options out of combat.

This version of the Ninja provided a (much needed) step into the fantastical – but it was a rather half-hearted step, never got much further support, and still left the Ninja as “the sneaky guy” in a game system where they’d almost always be in the middle of a group that was focused on combat and throwing lightning bolts at things. There is a reason why Godzilla versus The Ninja is not really a thing (despite this bit with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I found on Youtube). Still, if you had a game master and party that was willing to incorporate some stealth into the game, this Ninja was reasonably functional though the mid-levels – at least until high-end magic made stealth (and most other skills) utterly irrelevant.

Next time around on this it will be the Complete Adventurer Ninja (from 2005) and the (current) Pathfinder Ninja.

Hexcrafting, Eclipse, and Magical Design

And for today, it’s another question…

There’s a bit of a lack of builds for Hexcraft, and it does seem like you could totally use it as a base system for spellcasting. (The ‘Class build’ style stuff I find especially helpful).

I’m writing a fanfic that use some concepts from Eclipse to provide additional setting flavor, and I’m not sure how to translate the ‘per session’ limitations into something I can use. The chapters are ~1000 words, often cover small bits, so there is not any super obvious things I can use as reference.

Any thoughts?

-Jirachi

Well, to go in reverse order…

Hexcraft functions on a “Per Session” basis for several reasons.

  • The system allows fairly low level characters to cast powerful spells – but ensures that they won’t be casting very many of them in any one session. That makes it easy for the mage to shine while still leaving plenty for the other characters to do.
  • It simulates the “My magic is not to be wasted on trivial things!” school of fantasy, where spellcasting is reserved for important things instead of everyone having a batch of trivial spells that allow them to get along without matches, avoid washing dishes, and handle minor opponents.
  • It makes resource management important again. The players can’t simply announce that the characters are resting to get the Hexcrafter’s spells back, so if the Hexcrafter player blows them all in the first hour of the session they won’t be doing any spellcasting for the rest of the evening.
  • The limited numbers and themes of spells makes it much easier for the game master to manage a freeform system – while also ensuring that a clever hexcrafter will never be unable to come up with an appropriate spell.
  • The cards a Hexcrafter draws at the start of a session are also an easy bit of foreshadowing. All you have to do is fan them out and everyone will have some idea of what kind of spells will be available and how much power a Hexcrafter has left – unless they are, quite literally, holding a few cards in reserve.

It’s less obvious how “per session” translates into the setting outside of the gamist prospective though. It’s not like “the beginning of the session” has any effect on the setting.

  • The most direct interpretation is simply that Hexcrafting is literally powered by narrative. Dramatic events, the moments when the gods / mysterious higher powers (players/readers) are paying attention, or the moments on which destiny turns, have their own magic that a hexcrafter taps into to recharge their reserves. A long, dull, sea voyage (that gets skipped over in a few sentences in the game or story)? There’s no magic in THAT. You have defeated the lesser minions and broken into the throne room for (next chapter or sessions) epic confrontation with the big bad guy? That’s definitely a dramatic moment for a hexcrafter to draw power from.
  • Slightly less directly (if more suited to short chapters) you can presume that a Hexcrafter draws power from rare mystical events – celestial conjunctions, when some entity channels it’s power into the material world, whenever there is a nova in the galaxy, when exotic meteorites fall, whenever the ley lines flare up, whenever a great wizard dies and releases their power back into the world, or whatever suits the story. Under this kind of assumption the rule is basically “when you want it to happen” – which can be a bit heavy-handed in a game if you’re not careful but is just the way things are when you’re writing something.
    • If you want story inspiration… you can always make a quick little chart for your story – for short chapters perhaps 1d10: 1) The Hexcrafters Power is Renewed. 2) An event other mystical heroes can tap into occurs, 3-9) Nothing happens, and 10) The Villain gets a sudden power boost for a bit.
  • You could Corrupt or Specialize Hexcrafting to make it require specific deeds to “recharge”. Perhaps it requires visiting a great nexus of power, conducting an elaborate ritual, making great offerings to mystical beings, or undertaking some quest. That would probably work best for a hybrid caster – someone who would be buying Specialized caster levels anyway, and so would only need to spend a little more to gain occasional access to much greater spells. It could be awfully limiting for a primary caster though. Still, visiting the Great Fane of your God, and there being granted a mighty power to call forth when the time is right, is very classical. If you want to make it Corrupted (takes several turns to cast) AND Specialized… You can have the occasional mighty spell rather cheaply. It’s just that it WILL be an occasional thing.
    • If you happen to have some second edition sources for things like Quest Spells (Tome of Magic), or Netheril’s Super-Spells, or Dark Sun’s Psionic Enchantments (Mostly Dragon Kings), or Elven High Magic from the Forgotten Realms sourcebooks… well, here’s an easy way to put those sources to use while keeping them rare and special.

On the social side… In a lot of ways, Hexcrafting is a thematic return to earlier editions. Once upon a time, back when First and Second Edition quarreled over who would dominate the kingdom and the Grognards roamed wild and free, casting a powerful spell was a really big deal.

Powerful spells had long casting times, any interruption at all would ruin them, it required an hour or two of downtime to prepare just one of them, and defending the caster long enough to get one successfully cast in the chaos of battle was a tricky project for the entire party that often failed. Parties worked hard to make it happen anyway for the same reason that they shepherded the Wizard through those vulnerable early levels. It was because those big spells could turn the tides of major battles. They were Dramatic, they were Important, and they were Rare. Even when they didn’t seem relevant, a clever mage could often use them. Sword Of Ogre Decapitation anyone?

“You have delayed too long Foul One! My companions have bought the time I needed to call forth the favor of the Ones Beyond! A power great enough to end your dark menace FOREVER!”

Now I hope that helps!

Secondarily, and just for Jirachi… do let me know if and when you publish. That sort of thing is always of interest – even if I keep winding up putting off reading Alzrius’s Lateral Movement. (While I do read quickly I’m almost always badly pressed for time these days, and 650,000+ words will likely take a while).