Linear Fighter, Assistant Wizard

For today, we have a retrospective question about just when “wizards got so overpowered!”.

For the quick answer, is 3.0. For the long answer…

Originally, back in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (First and Second Edition), if you played the game as written… spellcasting didn’t really dominate the game. Over more than a decade of play with several different groups it soon became pretty obvious that Fighters did. Paladins, Rangers and Monks were all good – but the entry requirements kept them rare. Thieves helped with scouting and traps and taking out bosses with carefully set up backstabbing, but the main drive against the enemy was always the fighters.

And that was about right. In a very large proportion of legends, myths, and fantasy stories… wizards were either enemies or they were assistants to the heroic warriors who were the real stars. They had many interesting powers, and their spells might turn the tide at a dramatic moment, enable visits to strange locations of adventure, and trick overwhelming foes – but they were still secondary. Swords, bows, secondary weapons, and (sometimes) martial arts still did the main work.

But wait! Magic-Users had all those incredibly powerful spells! Almost as many as Wizards and Sorcerers do in 3.5 or Pathfinder!

Yes, they did. And they had segmented casting times at ten segments to the round and usually at least one segment per spell level. It was often more; looking back at my first edition books, many first level spells required three or four segments. Hold Person, at level two, required five segments – in a system where you determined initiative with opposing d6 rolls and any interruption ruined the spell. There were no “concentration” checks, saving throws were fixed numbers, spellcasters couldn’t evade attacks while casting, only got to know a limited number of spells, often couldn’t learn spells they wanted, some of them couldn’t use armor at all, and might take many days of rest and study (or prayer) to prepare all their spells.

Thus the Dungeon Masters Guide told us

Because spell casting will be so difficult, most magic-users and clerics will opt to use magical devices whenever possible in melee, if they are wise.

For that matter… it took a lot longer to go up in level. For example… killing an Orc was worth an average of 14.5 XP. Getting to level three as a Magic User required 4501 XP. That meant that your party of four needed to kill off 1242 orcs to reach level three through combat experience if no one died (if someone died the doubling experience point tables let a new character catch up very quickly, which was good because older edition characters died a lot). Even with experience for treasure… a party usually only gained 3-6 levels per year of play – 50-odd sessions.

So what would those spellcasting limitations look like if you imported them into a current d20 game? Well, at least in Eclipse, such “Old School” magic levels are blatantly Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (or possibly even double-specialized given the number and severity of limitations here).

Basic Spellcasting Limitations:

Casting Spells takes more time. If the base casting time is:

  • One Standard Action the spell requires three initiative counts per spell level including metamagic other than “Quicken”).
  • One Full Round the spell requires sixty initiative counts.
  • More Than One Round the spell requires ten times as long to cast.
  • A Free Action the spell requires one initiative count.
  • A Swift or Immediate Action the spell requires two initiative counts.
  • Scrolls require the normal casting time, and are subject to the same limitations as direct casting. Wands and Rods only require three counts to activate, while Staves require six. Unfortunately, the save DC for wands, rods, and staves is only 14.
  • If such an action would not be completed before “0”, the countdown continues into the next round.

There is no such thing as a concentration check. Any damage or distraction that would normally call for a concentration check causes your spell to fail automatically, and be lost.

Spellcasting does not invoke attacks of opportunity, but the spellcaster cannot apply Dodge or Dexterity bonuses to his or her AC while spellcasting without losing the spell.

You may only prepare spells after a period of uninterrupted rest or meditation.

  • 1’st and 2’nd level spells require four hours.
  • 3’rd and 4’th level spells require six hours.
  • 5’th and 6’th level spells require eight hours.
  • 7’th and 8’th level spells require ten hours.
  • 9’th level spells require twelve hours.

It takes fifteen minutes per level of the spell per spell to prepare a spell. Thus preparing a third-level spell requires forty-five minutes. If you then go on to prepare a fifth level spell, that’s an hour and fifteen minutes – for a total of two hours to prepare two spells.

You cannot spend more than eight hours preparing spells before you will need to rest again to prepare more.

There is no such thing as spontaneous spellcasting. All spells must be prepared.

The spell charts are not “spells per day”. The spell chars show the maximum number of spells a spellcaster may have prepared. A powerful spellcaster may need many days to prepare all of his or her spells.

This means that a spellcasters daily “spell budget” is basically sixteen to thirty-two levels of spells. At the low end that might be four first, three second, and two third level spells. It would take a seventh level magic user five hours to memorize his or her selection of 4/3/2/1 (twenty spell levels in total) spells after at least six hours of uninterrupted rest. A ninth level magic user with the capacity to store 4/4/3/2/1 spells needs eight hours of rest and eight and a quarter hours to prepare spells – and if he or she tried to cast them in a fight, a fair chunk of those would probably be disrupted and lost.

The DC of saving against a spell is fixed at 16. Yes, this means that high-level targets will almost always make their saving throws.

Counterspelling is possible, but usually pointless. If you have time to hold an action for a counterspell, why aren’t you tossing off a quick Magic Missile or something and stopping your opponent from casting a spell in the first place?

Additional Arcane Caster Limitations Include:

  • Arcane Casters may only learn (Int/2) spells of each level they can cast. Read Magic is automatically one of them. They normally begin with another three first level spells – one offensive, one defensive, and one utility, selected at random.
  • Arcane Casters must record the spells they gain access to along with the results of a roll of (1d20 + Spell Level). If that is under their current intelligence, they can comprehend the spell and may choose to add it to their spells known.
    • For an example, Tim the Intelligence 14 Magic User has gotten ahold of scrolls or spell formulas for Color Spray (19), Burning Hands (3), Glitterdust (15), Pyrotechnics (12), Fireball (9), and Fly (16). With a maximum spell list of seven spells of each level he can cast, he may opt to learn Burning Hands, Pyrotechnics, and Fireball. If he gets his Int up to 15 he could opt to learn Glitterdust, and at 16 he could opt to learn Fly. Sadly, Color Spray is likely to remain far out of reach at any level where it might be useful – unless Tim saves a first level slot and opts to research (say) Tim’s Scintillating Butterflies, which is a different spell with the same basic effect. Note that, if you successfully research a spell you still roll – but the maximum result is equal to your current intelligence.
  • Arcane Casters only automatically gain one spell formula from among those they could potentially cast each level (although they may seek out or buy more if the game master allows it or they capture a spellbook or something). They may check (and record) their spell comprehension for desired spells until they find one that they can currently comprehend to add to their spellbooks. They may add a spell that they cannot currently cast to their books if they so desire, but usually have no reason to do so.
    • For example, Tim has made level seven, and wants a fourth level spell – in his case he wants Wall of Fire. Unfortunately, the check results in a roll of 23 – far beyond his intelligence! He doesn’t pick that one. Dimension Door turns up a 15. That’s tempting – next level he’ll get his Int up to 15 and be able to use it – but why not choose it next level? Next up, his third choice of Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability comes up a “7” – and so Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability goes into his book and onto his list of learned spells.
  • Arcane Casters will find that any armor or shield that would normally produce a 5% or more chance of arcane spell failure causes automatic arcane spell failure.
  • As a note, spellbooks do NOT have plot immunity. They may be stolen, destroyed by area-effect spells and attacks, and so on. It is VERY WISE to use backup spell books and traveling spell books!

Additional Divine Caster Limitations Include:

  • Divine spellcasters may only pray for a limited list (Wis/2) of spells of each level they can cast. “Consecrate Holy Symbol” (L1) is always one of them.
  • Divine spellcasters may only select spells for their list that are appropriate to their god. For a quick example, Odin does not grant Sanctuary and Poseidon does not grant Flame Strike. If the game master has the time, and wishes to make the effort, gods may also offer access to unique spells related to their particular specialties.
  • Divine spellcasters gain spells beyond level three from spiritual servants of their god and gain spells of level seven or above directly from their god at the discretion of those entities. They may be denied spells, granted spells other than what they prayed for, be assigned missions or quests, or be asked to attone for misdeeds at the whim of those entities.
  • Divine spellcasters who change gods must prove themselves worthy followers of their new god with mighty oaths, quests, and deeds in the service of their new god. If they attempt to leave the service of their new god, those same oaths will utterly destroy them.
  • As a rule, Clerics will be asked to spend time preaching, to refuse missions that their god does not approve of and to undertake ones that he or she does approve of without further reward, to use weapons and armor only as approved of by their god, to build and maintain temples, and so on.

Spellcasters operating under those restrictions will be roughly back to where they were in first and second edition; they may have some useful noncombat effects that they may use for special circumstances and they will have a very limited range of combat spells and game-changing effects that they can cast once in a while during fights IF a bunch of other characters protect them while they do it. Their spells, however, often will not work against high-end opponents, who can be counted on to make their saving throws. Magic will become, once again, a very limited special resource, to be husbanded carefully and deployed with planning – or in extreme emergencies.

Of course, in Eclipse, all this reduces the cost of your magic levels to the point where you can easily afford to add some weapons skills, a better BAB, a few more hit points, and other bennies – resulting in the modern equivalent of an old-style multi-classed character without any major complications or sacrifices.

Looking at all this also helps explain why so many players made Elven Fighter/Magic-Users in first and second edition days despite the 7/11 level limitation. After all… level eleven was well past the point where you could prepare all your spells each day. Were you on a long adventure? You’d have just as many spells each day as a higher-level human mage. They’d be weaker spells (at least in some cases), but YOU could wear armor. Not only did you have a better chance of getting your spells cast because you were harder to hit, but you weren’t an obvious target like that unarmored guy. If you started from level one, a human magic-user wouldn’t really have much of a magical edge on you for nearly two hundred sessions. Even better, the high-end magical gear worked for you just as well as it did for a higher-level wizard – reducing the gap even more. I, personally, played a maxed-out elven fighter/magic-user for a couple of years in a game that went up past level eighteen (for the human wizard, characters with easier advancement tables had higher levels) and it worked just fine. I even got some better items than the higher-level mage because they were used more often, and so did more good for the party, in the hands of someone who didn’t have so many other high-level spell options. And best of all… you could reasonably play your fighter/magic-user through the fifty-odd lower-level sessions before adding a human wizard to the party became really viable.

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Underlying The Rules Part VI: Discussion and Development

And for today it’s an answer to a question again…

So I’ve recently been reading Dave Arneson’s True Genius, and it’s really been making me think of Eclipse. The first essay in particular, regarding how Original D&D utilized a melding of open system and closed system designs to establish a new paradigm of game design (and play) that went beyond what either could accomplish alone – and how this was largely lost with the release of AD&D and its rejection of the open system principles therein in favor of standardization – is an excellent summary of why I love what Eclipse has done with regards to (as I see it) trying to reintroduce those principles back into Third Edition (at least somewhat) via the mutability of game rules (a la corruption and specialization for abilities, world templates, a stronger focus on modularity with what’s used and what’s not, etc.).

In that light, this article takes on a new dimension, as it honestly looks like KrackoThunder is trying to leverage the closed system principles of Third Edition (e.g. the immutability of the “implied setting,” the invariability of the rules, and their extrapolation with regard to “how things work”) to achieve the results that you’d get from an open system, wherein those things are defined as part of the act of creating the setting (or, at a slightly higher level, using the rules as ur-tools to effectively build a game – along with a setting – unto itself) and so more easily allow for that level of alteration with regards to players tinkering with what is and is not allowable within the scope of the game.

Of course, as you noted here, that doesn’t really work; it’s like trying to “rob the bank” in Monopoly. Of course, the same is true in reverse as well, which is why I roll my eyes whenever I see someone unironically utilizing Eclipse to make what you called an “atrocity build.”

-Alzrius

Breakthroughs are often very simple insights; the genius lies in picking out something that no one else saw.

Test your hypothesis. Only survivors breed. “Particles” are waves. Motion is relative.

Those are the key insights that led the the scientific method, to the theory of evolution, to quantum mechanics, and to relativity in three words each. Each explained things – why philosophical theorizing rarely led directly to practical advances, why animals and illnesses were so well adapted to their environments, why electrons didn’t spiral into nuclei, how Maxwell’s equations could work when things were moving.

Exploring the consequences of those simple ideas is still underway – in some cases after many centuries.

Personally, I’ve always seen the stroke of genius fundamental to role-playing games as a bit of psychological insight; Adult “Let’s Pretend” needs rules. And while that phrasing does evoke safewords and agreed-on limits rather than RPG’s… that’s fair enough, since that’s where the notion appeared first – even if that’s arguably an independent line of development.

But when it comes to games and “let’s pretend”… Unlike kids adults won’t be happy with Robbie the Dinosaur, Spaceman Spiff, the Wicked Witch of the East, and Megatron.

  • Adults are competitive; they don’t like to be overshadowed – and so every role needs to be unique and important. They need some rules on creating tolerably “balanced” characters and some expectations on what kinds of characters are appropriate.
  • Adults have firm opinions. Since they won’t give in easily they need rules to resolve what happens when they don’t agree on an outcome.
  • Adults want “fair” rewards and consequences for their decisions. They need a rules system for that or they’ll always suspect bias.
  • Adults want details – a more complicated plot with surprise twists and turns. They need a game master.

All of that flows from “Adults need rules”. They aren’t going to be happy with the vague “everyone imagines their own thing” that little kids are. For them… it’s not much fun without acknowledgement by others are a certain level of participation. That’s why a player who’s sulking, or busy reading a book, or getting drunk instead of playing is such a downer in a group.

And the practitioners of this new hobby looked upon it, and it was pretty good – but, unlike the works of a divine creator, it was equally obvious that it could be BETTER.

But, the hobbiests being human, and each having their own personal inner description of the perfect game, they didn’t quite agree on what would improve it.

  • Inevitably there were a lot of things that the original, simple, pioneering, rules did not cover – and so there was pressure for more rules, more tables, and more systems. They had a point. When there were no clear rules on a topic disagreements soon broke out.
    • Of course, more rules complicated everything. The people who wanted to play casually didn’t like that.
  • There was the push for more coherent and simpler rules. They had a point. All those tables and different systems for resolving various tasks were complicated and messy to deal with.
    • Of course, that meant that a lot of factors that affected specific tasks didn’t get included. The simulationists didn’t like that.
  • There were players who wanted pure role-playing and who didn’t like being restrained by rules at all – and wanted more options if there had to be rules. They had a point. More options meant more interesting and distinctive characters.
    • Of course, that complicated the rules in porportion to the number of options added. The people running the games didn’t like that.
  • There were the wargamers, who wanted to just relabel tanks, infantry platoons, and artillery units as “Knights”, “Men At Arms”, and “Wizards” and so on. They had a point. They were experts at turning limited sets of rules interactions into exciting scenarios.
    • Of course, the people who wanted more “realistic:, normal-human-scale characters didn’t like that.
  • The competitive players wanted clear methods of “winning” and – since that really didn’t work in a social game – at least wanted a way to keep score, whether that was accumulated gold, experience, reaching “name” levels, or access to better toys.
    • Of course, the people who liked to try new characters all the time didn’t like that.
  • The world-builders wanted a coherent underlying description of the way things worked so that they could explore the worlds and social systems that would result from such things, instead of just presuming a vaguely-medieval world.
    • Of course, the people who wanted to search the rules for exploits that were being overruled in the name of “the way the setting works” didn’t like that.
  • The deep-immersion players wanted death to be the result of heroic sacrifice, or a dramatic climax, or something. Wounds, disabilities illnesses… what fun were they?
    • Of course, the people who liked really big weapons and “realistic” battles didn’t like that.

And so compromises were made. Gaming groups filled with house rules, each group worked under different assumptions, and gaming fragmented.

And there were many other, albeit mostly more specific, fault lines and opposing forces for each.

And the publishers looked upon their sales figures, and this was bad.

To try and fix things there was compromise on the writers and publishers side. It was weighted towards new rules of course, simply because the publishers needed to keep selling stuff – but for quite some time gestures could be made towards almost everyone’s priorities because early game systems weren’t very sophisticated.

And so.,,

  • There were more rules, but there were attempts to keep a lot of them unobtrusive, on the game masters side, optional, or limited to particular situations.
  • There were premade characters, and quick-generation options, and ways to try to get people playing as quickly as possible.
  • There were attempts to streamline and unify the mechanics with things like single-mechanic skill systems instead of a mess of specific formulas and tables.
  • Compiled lists of special modifiers were (not unreasonably) pushed over to the game master to just assign some modifiers.
  • Options were added.
  • Characters did get to be the equivalent of military units (and superheroes and possibly even gods) later on, but they started off weak.
  • All sorts of character milestones were set up.
  • Character advancement was greatly accelerated, and the gap between old and new characters was (sometimes, since this annoyed the people with old characters) reduced.
  • The rules attempted to imply dangerous combat, deadly wounds, and long-term consequences – but were rewritten to make actual consequences vanishingly rare.
  • Some coherent information on “the way things worked” was added – but it was always a side-bar thing since the marketing department wanted every customer to buy everything.
  • Exploits were plugged, but mostly in obscure errata that only the people who were really annoyed by the exploits bothered to find.

That didn’t all happen in every game of course. Some games – those designed after the first rush – started off with some of it in place. Champions / Hero System, for example, started off with a well-chosen bell-curve generic resolution system, lots of options, and military-unit characters, but is still struggling with complexity, a lack of character milestones, “the way things work”, and various exploits. Rifts – thanks to creator decisions – has never really updated much of anything past the first few “different from AD&D” reforms. Basic Dungeons and Dragons went the minimalist route – and soon ran into the nothing much left to publish” barrier.

Eclipse, of course, is a compromise just like everything else – and, not too surprisingly, leans towards my biases.

  • Complexity? I can easily deal with that. Bring on the complexity!
  • Casual play? Grab a pre-build (although I’ve put out a lot of those for various settings). I’m not giving up my options!
  • Coherence? Well, using d20 as a base took care of THAT. If anything it had gone too far – and thus my support for a 3d6 skill mechanic. Roll 3d6 instead of 1d20 sometimes seems reasonable enough to me.
  • Modifiers? I can think of thousands for everything. This is hopeless, so the game master will have to handle it.
  • Realistic characters? A bit at first – but I can be a realistic person every day. I want my larger-than-life impossible feats of heroism!
  • Disparity between old and new characters? Eclipse offers several ways to play with the power curve. For this… new characters can be made powerful, but very focused – becoming more versatile as their association with older characters drags them along to higher levels more rapidly fast enough to add new abilities as they finish exploring old ones.
  • Deadly combat? I tend to prefer role-playing, so defenses are fairly cheap and plentiful – if sometimes (such as Action Hero/Stunts) limited use to ensure that there’s some longer-term cost to losing.

Perhaps most importantly… Eclipse restricts itself to pure mechanics, with little to no “setting” material – but directly tells the game master to restrict, modify, or ban any options that do not fit into his or her setting. In Eclipse, “The way things work” explicitly overrides “but the rules say”.

Not surprisingly, Eclipse appeals most to those with similar biases – although there is a substantial secondary appeal of “everything you need to make an optimized or exotic character is in the basic book”.

When it comes to KrackoThunder, I could be wrong, but I suspect that he or she sees the games as fairly adversarial things in which the game master has arbitrary power and it’s up to the players to try to “win” by coming up with rules-combinations that trump various game master ploys (or, occasionally, each other). Thus the questions about making your minions absolutely loyal, making spells totally unbreakable, using Channeling (Conversion) to gain limitless use of Wish or Miracle, laying mega-powerfed curses, and so on.

Unfortunately, from that point of view, suggesting that the setting and the social requirements of the game override rules, exploits, and gambits like the classic “introducing gunpowder” routine amounts to arbitrarily declaring that the players are not allowed to win and that there is no point in playing.

Still, while a few games (and MMORPGs) are run that way, tabletop RPG’s were never really designed to be adversarial at all – and “winning” generally consists of having a good time, being creative, and winding up with good stories rather than dominating clashes of rules. To the best of my knowledge, only World Of Synnibar has attempted to put in a rule which says that if anyone can identify a spot where the game master failed to follow the rules exactly as written during a session then the entire session is null and void.

I hope that KrakoThunder and his or her friends are having a good time with their games – but given that all the stuff I write ultimately comes with the caveat “See how your game master thinks this works in the setting” I just don’t see how I can contribute. to an adversarial game. Writing a few books doesn’t give me magical powers of overriding local game masters.

Still, I hope this little retrospective has been interesting!

Eclipse and Magical Schools Part I: Historical Notions

And for today, it’s trying to catch up on questions.

Looking over your (excellent) series of articles about how d20 magic would shape the nature and growth of cities, I’m moved to ask: what would “wizard schools” look like if you applied the same logic to such a concept?

I ask because the idea of magic colleges is a popular one, ranging from the Scholomance to Hogwarts (to, as we saw in the recent write-up for Trixie, Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns), and yet d20 doesn’t really seem to support the concept, or at least not incentivize it; the only downside or difficulty to being a spellcaster is the advanced “starting age” tables for spellcasters, and the idea that a wizard’s starting spellbook must have been paid for by someone else. Other than that, anyone with the requisite mental ability score of 10+ (to cast cantrips) has no problems learning magic just as easily on their own as they do in a scholastic setting. Especially if you’re using Eclipse.

To what extent do magical colleges make sense in a d20 setting?

-Alzrius

Schools which teach magic are quite popular in fiction. That’s not too surprising; they’re quite popular in reality where they don’t even work. After all, there are few more direct wish-fulfillment fantasies than getting magical powers – and “training” is how you acquired most of your more complicated skills. Ergo, “a school that teaches you how to use magic” seems at least superficially plausible – and you can find plenty of them on the internet to give your money to.

But where did that notion come from? What, underneath the various fictions, are people actually expecting from a school of magic?

The first “schools of magic” were probably shamanic traditions, being passed down in individual small tribes – informal affairs where the tribal shaman taught each generation of kids how to not anger the spirit world (most likely a mixture of practical advice intermixed with tribal myths). Judging by the cave paintings, this sort of “school” probably goes back to the origin of the species, if not to some of our ancestral species. So we’re starting off with “teach the kids how to get along in the world”.

Moving on, Martial Arts traditions date back at least five thousand years (and likely much further, but that’s when our earliest hard evidence dates to). Given a certain lack of understanding as to how things work, magical beliefs and practices were a part of almost any form of organized training at that point – and what tales we have from that period do portray their heroes with a variety of mystical powers derived from their great skill. Thus the notion of “Kung Fu” – “a discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice”.

The first formal classes, with locations, multiple teachers, and groups of unrelated students drawn from a larger population, turned up after cities (and large, formal, permanent, organizations and structures) developed. They taught priests and record-keepers – a suddenly vital profession given the new need for organization, taxation, and keeping tabs on the population.

And those scribes DID have mysterious powers. They could “hear” the voices of the dead by examining strange talismans covered with equally strange symbols, they could remember more than any man, they could organize the construction of fabulous palaces and temples, they produced incredible remedies (often based to some extent on things that had worked, rather than on the placebo effect), they could know what was happening far away based on the delivery of a few bits of junk from that location… they were mighty wizards, who knew the powers of the hidden words. They could say and write down words which observably made impressive things happen. As far as the general population was concerned… that was magic. Observable, repeatable, WORKING magic.

Yet as the notion of writing spread, and it’s actual effects became more familiar and less impressive and mysterious… the tales of magic didn’t just vanish. Stories of mysterious and powerful secrets and knowledge never do; just ask the “Ancient Aliens” guy. Instead, those stories just pushed the mysterious powers back from general literacy to the “secret stuff” that only very select students got to learn. Hidden and powerful arts!

Not too surprisingly, that’s what “Occult” means. It’s simply a word for “hidden”.

But secret and powerful arts inevitably raise suspicions. Why are they hiding? (“because they don’t exist” has never satisfied anyone except for serious skeptics, and they’re pretty rare). Who is doing the teaching? What secret powers are there? What are they doing to you that they don’t want you to know about? What is their secret agenda?

And so scholarship became suspicious. Anti-intellectualism and the notion that knowledge was somehow unwholesome became popular. Why should another persons opinion be considered better than yours just because they knew more?

This has gotten worse now that there ARE secret (by virtue of being very difficult and time consuming to master) and powerful arts such as “Engineering” and “Medicine”. Just look at all the “they are hiding the simple answers to curing diabetes/ getting free energy / obtaining wealth / becoming more intelligent” from us!” scams on the internet. If those didn’t get a lot of money from people who believe that they’re being exploited by massive conspiracies there wouldn’t be so many of them. This is also why “Harry Potter” produced so much of a frenzy; quite a lot of people believe that that sort of thing is real.

Individual scholars gained reputations as sorcerers and mystics and tales of secret schools or “covens” spread. As education – “schooling” – started to become a normal and necessary part of life, classes grew, multiple instructors and specialized series of courses became the norm – and so the speculative secret schools reflected reality; they became institutions with physical buildings and established locations, rather than secret societies.

For practical reasons most of the literary examples (where things need a lot more logic and justification to satisfy the readers than rumors or popular myths have to have) for youngsters were boarding schools or – as in The Wall Around The World (1953) – were physically isolated. Even most conspiracy theorists have a hard time believing that a bunch of practicing magical kids would be able to keep everything secret without a LOT of help. And if it’s NOT a secret… the world is going to be a lot different than what we see.

Examples of the idea which didn’t keep it secret – such as The Wizard of Earthsea (1968), Operation Chaos (1971), or the Riddle Master Trilogy (1976) – are generally set in alternate worlds for just that reason.

And that pretty well establishes the “secret or alternate reality magical boarding school for kids” notion. The place is going to be filled with wonders and magical stuff simply because no one has ever actually seen such a thing, and therefore their imaginations run wild.

Given that this is for games where few passersby would blink at a kid practicing their magic, “secrecy” probably isn’t a big concern – but at least we’ve established a lot of the expectations and underlying assumptions.

Eclipse and Divinity: Building Gods Through The Editions

Gods have changed a lot over the various incarnations of AD&D – and not just in a mechanical fashion. The philosophy involved has changed a lot too.

For example, from Gods, Demigods, and Heroes (1976, the original Dungeons and Dragons) we have…

SHU GOD OF THE DESERT AND LIGHT

  • Armor Class — 2 (About equivalent to 18 now),
  • Magic Ability: (See Below)
  • Move: 12″ (30′ Now).
  • Fighter Ability: 12th Level
  • Hit Points: 225
  • Psionic Ability: Class 6 (Cannot use psionics or be targeted by psionic attacks – that’s Psionic Blast, Psychic Crush, Et Al, not actual powers).
  • Brother twin to Tefnut, this God appears as a man. His main power is the ability to wither to death anything he touches (magic saving throw applicable). He can also levitate, is not affected by any form of heat, can shapechange, create the light of day as Ra, and call forth 1-4 air elementals per day. He wears plus 5 armor made of phoenix feathers enabling him to immolate for 25 points of heat. He uses a double strength Staff of Wizardry in battle.
  • Finally, all his Attributes were considered to be “20’s” – likely equivalent to “30” now.

That was pretty impressive; Shu was as well armored as a man wearing full plate without being encumbered, had twice as many hit points as your high level fighter (even if he couldn’t fight as well), had a death touch (even if your high level fighters could save 90% or more of the time and anyone could have ways to neutralize it), and could shapehange (although that was a LOT less effective back then). A god could do some very impressive things, easily surpassing the efforts of any reasonable individual hero.

But, as was acknowledged in the front of the booklet… a really high level party could beat a god fairly readily. In fact, the authors made a point of belittling “Monty Haul” games where player characters reached such levels.

And this version of godhood was actually fairly true to many or most classical myths. A great many classical gods were basically really tough and powerful people with longevity and a handful of magical powers – often, but not always, including some ability to control an aspect of he environment and / or an awareness of what people were saying about them. Great heroes and specialists could, however, challenge them quite effectively and they generally had to go and interact – and risk heroic opposition – to actually do much.

Thus Thor could kill giants pretty readily, smack hills hard enough to make craters, and – exerting his full godly power in a single (late, and likely distorted) tale – lift a segment of the Midgard Serpent and temporarily lower the level of the local seas by several feet. Outside of the two magical flying goats, equivalents of his mythological equipment would wander into mortal hands as the Hammer of Thunderbolts, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, and Belt of Storm Giant Strength – but his personal powers outside of being really strong and tough (if not so bright), “stretching his legs to the bottom of the sea” (an immovability effect?) and (possibly) being able to influence the weather, aren’t that impressive in game terms. .

Thor also offered minor blessings of life and fertility, strength, and protection to those who invoked him. For that, use the Endowment ability and bestow something like the “Worlds of Faith” package (a good reason to be part of a pantheon; that way each member only has to contribute part of the cost) – presuming that that isn’t a natural part of such a setting to begin with.

Rather like Avalanche Press in “Ragnarok!” I wouldn’t find much of a problem in representing Thor as a Barbarian-type with a handful of magical abilities (they used a modest template), likely around level sixteen or so – by no coincidence, the point in d20 where you’ve gone past every real human being who’s ever lived (levels 1-5), past legendary heroes (6-10), through demigods (11-15), and gotten into the territory of traditional polytheistic gods (16-20).

Human beings have proven perfectly willing to worship funny looking rocks, perfectly normal animals, and similar things. In a world of normal (mostly level one or two with a maximum limit of five) people, a long-lived character of level 16+ will soon have a following unless they actively pursue a policy of “No Witnesses!”.

But what about the “Creating the Universe!” part? Well… “World Creation” is a bit of a special event. According to the myths, many gods participated in creating various versions of the world, but then never did anything even remotely comparable again. Of course, the tales of the Dreamtime and some other myths also tell tales of how fairly ordinary beasts, humans, and minor spirits helped create and shape the world without having any great power of their own. Personally, I’d say that it’s just that new worlds are both fairly easily started and very unstable and easily shaped at first – allowing anyone who’s there at the time to have an outsized level of influence on things. This is why Eclipse-style gods can easily create worlds, but changing them afterwards is not so easy.

Unfortunately, trying to basically mock the level 40+ characters into going away did not work – and so the first edition “gods book” – Deities and Demigods, or (later) Legends and Lore – upped the power level considerably. Shu, for example, now had 346 HP, another eight points of AC, a fly speed, the ability to cast spells as a 15’th level cleric and a 15’th level magic-user, and could only be harmed by a +2 or better weapon. The book also defined what his slightly-higher attributes actually did and granted all deities Teleportation, True Seeing, the ability to summon allies, and set their saves at “2” – a bit better than cross-referencing their class levels with the saving throw charts (but not too big an improvement given that first edition fighters had very VERY good saves).

Otherwise the description, and the special abilities presented, were almost identical – in fact, they were mostly a word-for-word reprint.

Writing up most of the first edition gods in Eclipse would require more levels than the gods in the original booklet – likely 25 to 35 – to get enough points to cover the special abilities they got “for free” in their descriptions. It wouldn’t be too hard though; most first edition characters didn’t get many special abilities in the first place and their magic was a lot more time-consuming and easily-disrupted – making it far cheaper to buy their class abilities. You’d have to buy the “Immortality” part and a few other boosts (or just give them one point of Godfire, specialized/they don’t get more and can’t spend it for 3 CP) – but that isn’t really a big expense.

The power boost wasn’t sufficient though. Quite a lot of games reached levels where the players started treating the gods as a collection of targets to take out – an early illustration of the idea that “If you stat it, the players will find a way to kill it”.

It kind of looks like the writers were really tired of that by the time that second edition came along – and so they threw the pendulum the other way, more towards what modern monotheists thought of as “God”. Now the gods had avatars – with statistics a lot like the ones they got in Gods, Demigods, and Heroes really – but the actual gods were immortal, untouchable by mortals, and (among several other mighty magical powers) could all use any spell of any level (without any components) at will. Greater Gods were nigh-omniscient, could take any form (including becoming astronomical objects), could create anything they wanted, could slay or raise any mortal anywhere with a thought, could speak with anyone anywhere, got an unlimited number of actions, could create many avatars, and could hand out pretty much any power they wanted to.

OK, Intermediate, Lesser, and Demi-gods got somewhat less potent divine powers, but they were still pretty ridiculous. “Any spell of any level” and “omniscience with a radius of at least one mile” covered quite a lot all by themselves.

In an awful lot of ways second edition represented the pinnacle of power for gods in Dungeons and Dragons; there was really nothing you could do about a god – and if one of them decided to target you… you were pretty well toast.

In Eclipse building Second Edition Gods is fairly simple: they have the Divine Attribute ability (6 CP – cheap because “I become a plot device until the GM sees fit to decree otherwise!” kind of goes against “I want to play!”) permanently active – and, as such, are pretty much beyond being attacked, have essentially limitless powers within their domain, and are automatically NPC’s. That’s because entities with unlimited use nigh-limitless powers are pretty unplayable, and so Eclipse automatically sidelines them.

3.0 and 3.5 tried to mix first and second edition. Gods were once more mortal, and killable (except for overdeities like Ao, for whom there were never any mechanics – or even real information – at all), but they got a LOT of levels and had “Divine Rank” – a special source of immunities and powers that characters who didn’t have Divine Rank could not counter because the descriptions of the powers said so.

Oddly enough, unlike virtually everything else in 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, and other d20 variants, that’s hard to duplicate in Eclipse unless you just give gods some special form of divine privilege as a world law. That’s because, in Eclipse, everyone, divine or not, draws their powers from the same basic list – which makes it impossible to build powers that can’t be countered. You can make powers that are really hard to counter, or which only allow very exotic defenses – but there’s always SOME way to block things. After all, avoiding the automatic “I Win!” buttons was among the design goals.

Still, building Divine Rank as presented in the Deities and Demigods book is simple enough. It’s a form of Mythic Power – an independent source of power that provides more character points to spend without an increase in the user’s actual level. You’d have to uncap it, but that’s not a big deal.

And you increase your Mythic Power Tier by completing mighty quests, collecting plot coupons, and qualifying for story awards – which works quite nicely as a route towards godhood.

More or less mortal heroes can usually get up to ten Mythic Tier Levels, If we take that as advancing towards godhood… well, six Mythic Tier Levels would cover buying the specialized version of the basic Divine Rank 0 Template – leaving 96 CP available to buy some other goodies and a Salient Divine Ability – putting a once-mortal among the lower-ranking divinities.

So how expensive is a Salient Divine Ability? Most of the Epic Feats that I tried building came out to around 12 CP (as expected, they varied a bit), and a lot of Salient Divine Abilities combine two epic feats – which gives us a baseline of sorts; a Salient Divine Ability should cost about 24 CP.

In particular, the original question was about the “Life and Death” Salient Divine Power.

  • Prerequisites: Divine rank 6, Gift of Life or Hand of Death salient divine ability.
  • Benefit: The deity designates any mortal and snuffs out its life. Or the deity can designate any dead mortal and restore it to life.
  • Notes: This ability works across planar boundaries and penetrates any barrier except a divine shield. However, the subject must be in a location the deity can sense, either within the deity’s sense range or in a location the deity can perceive through its remote sensing ability. If the deity cannot see the subject, the deity must unambiguously identify the subject in some fashion. If the deity chooses to kill a mortal, the ability works like the destruction spell, except that there is no material component or saving throw. The mortal cannot be raised or resurrected afterward, except by a deity of equal or higher rank using the Gift of Life or Life and Death salient divine ability.
  • If the deity restores life to a mortal, this ability works like the true resurrection spell, except that there is no material component and the amount of time the subject has been dead is irrelevant.
  • This ability cannot restore a creature to life against its will, but it can resurrect an elemental or outsider. It can resurrect a creature whose soul is trapped, provided the soul is not held by a deity of higher rank than the one using this ability.
  • This ability cannot restore life to a creature that has been slain by the Hand of Death, Life and Death, or Mass Life and Death ability of a deity with a higher rank.
  • After using either version of this ability, the deity must rest for 1 minute per level or Hit Die of the creature affected. Deities whose portfolio includes death do not have to rest after using this ability.
  • Suggested Portfolio Elements: Death, Supreme.

Now that’s an obvious gamewrecker when you can use it regularly.

My recommended Eclipse solution is to simply get the ability to toss out a bumped-up version of True Resurrection and Destruction. Use Specialized Channeling (double effect) and high-level Spell Conversion – allowing you to stack on things like “no saving throw” (Metamagical Theorem Amplify +4, equivalent to Double Effect – trading the ability to get double effect when the target fails to save for the ability to bypass the (much rarer) “Fortune” ability to take no effect on a save), “Easy” to eliminate the need for material components, and Lacing/Improved Brackish to prevent the effect from being absorbed by spells or items.

Back that with a point of Godfire to have it take effect where you want it to… and that will generally do it. It can still be stopped by the truly mighty (at least if they have the right effects), can’t be used often (due to the scarcity of Godfire), and will be expensive. It’s probably about 48 points – which is just about right since it will subsume the prerequisite Gift of Life or Hand of Death ability. That’s 30 points for conversion to ninth level effects (specialized to 18’th to cover that metamagic), 3 CP for a set of spells, and 15 CP for Channeling and some Bonus Uses. While a god won’t be using the Godfire boost often, having this available locally is handy too.

If you want to be cheesy about building the ability… you want some Metamagical Theorems, and a big stack of Streamline (both Specialized in the effects you want and Corrupted to only apply to a limited set of spells) and just stack on no-save, transdimensional range, unabsorbable, and so on until you can annihilate people on the other end of the universe with a wave of your hand. That will be a little more expensive at first, but cheaper to apply to more things – allowing supreme gods to have huge portfolios of virtually unstoppable powers.

Fourth Edition – in it’s focus on PC’s versus World-Building – quite intentionally set up it’s (evil) deities as end-game targets. Thus the Draconomican presented a detailed writeup of Tiamat the God as a L35 “Solo Brute” – and gave several options for killing her permanently.

While that ignores the question of “Why wasn’t she killed long ago by some earlier group of adventurers?” that kind of background development never really got into fourth edition.

In fourth edition gods can only be permanently killed in very specific ways (Returning), get extra actions that can only be used for a specific list of divine powers (Reflex Training) and can be weakened in various ways before a fight (invoking limitations on their powers – which is presumably where they save some points to pay for the extras). Otherwise… they are big monsters. They don’t even really provide spells for their priests any more; priests are granted the ability to tap into divine power via a ritual.

Fifth Edition seems to be following the same general philosophy (albeit apparently throwing in an Immunity to being attacked by characters of level twenty or less) with the Evil gods – who mostly seem to have cults instead of leading huge faiths – while the good gods are granted plot immunity by virtue of general vagueness and never showing up to be targets. Admittedly, I haven’t read all that much fifth edition stuff past the basics (I didn’t like fourth much and the early playtests for fifth seemed to be loaded with nods towards fourth edition and offered very little room for simulationists. That changed somewhat later – but no one around here wants to play it, leaving me with little interest beyond simply confirming that 5’th edition was Eclipse compatible, which it was) so they could have changed things radically somewhere – but that’s what I’ve got so far. Overall then, they can be written up just about as they could be for fourth edition.

Now pure Eclipse-style godhood is a lot cheaper. In Eclipse, Gods can be of quite low level – and we’ve had plenty of gods in play. What makes them playable is the cost of using their divine abilities.

  • A lot of things cost Godfire – and most player-character gods are lucky to get two points of that in a game year and will want to keep at least a FEW points in reserve to come back if they get killed or something. Godfire may be a renewable resource, but it will remain scarce.
  • Other things, like creating planes, or providing blessings for your followers, or forging mighty relics, cost character points or Feats – a permanent cost, and one that gods are rarely willing to pay for trivial reasons.

Thus divine conflicts are usually played out through mortal agents, and rarely involve direct conflict between deities. “Winning” such a battle is too often a pyrrhic victory which merely sets you up as an easy target for third parties.

This, of course, somewhat resembles the old D&D Immortals rules – although Eclipse doesn’t require that you advance to level thirty-six before you can start progressing through another thirty-six levels as an Immortal.

Eclipse and Spirits

Back in the old days it wasn’t too uncommon to have encounters with “spirits” – “creatures” who usually didn’t possess much actual power, but couldn’t be dealt with by any conventional means. Spirits were annoyances, puzzles, and talking characters who’s conversations couldn’t be interrupted by a crossbow bolt. If you had to placate an angry spirit that was haunting someone, you usually had to find a way to satisfy it; exorcisms and containments were temporary measures at best. Still, most spirits had a rather limited range from whatever was anchoring them to the material world – the site of their death, their treasured sword, or a hated foe. Quite often the simplest way to escape one was to simply leave the immediate area or dispose of the anchoring creature or item. Of course if the anchor was someone that you didn’t want to kill, or an item that you didn’t want to abandon or destroy, you had to fall back on persuasion.

Spirits could reveal secrets, offer guidance, provide warnings, or even offer very (very) minor support if you did something for them – if you took a message to their surviving relatives, rescued their friends before they too died, or found adoptive parents for their children. More importantly, you couldn’t simply use blackmail, torture, mind-probes, or other means to bypass a spirit; you either made a deal or you got along without whatever information it had to supply.

While it may be unkind to imply that the only people who can safely bargain with adventurers are the ones who are already dead, it’s often true.

In those days most characters only occasionally dealt with spirits – but there were always a few spiritualists, shamans, and other specialists who made a routine of it.

Some of them used class-based abilities, some skills, and some specialized spells that linked spirits to them.

Thus, for example, we had an Ancestor or Guardian Spirit associated with a member of the Kwin family. Ancestor spirits are generally effectively third or fourth level; no matter how powerful they are, there’s only so much they can do working through subtle psychic influences.

Yang The Invincible, also known as the Wonderful, the Incomparable, the (Censored), the Barbarian, the Magnificent, the Mass Murderer, the Pillager, the Arsonist, and so on.

Yang was something of an interloper in the clan Kwin family tree; he was a Tsongi horseman / raider instead of a citizen of the Empire. How he got involved with the family doesn’t bear mentioning, but the damage to the village was pretty massive. Yang died about 220 years ago, some ten generations back. He is short and tends to appear in crummy chainmail and stained leather, which matches his greasy hair and general aura of dirt extremely well. He always smells a bit of horses. Yang is loud, crude, and in favor of his descendants getting back to the “basics” or “Three R’s” – Raiding, Raping, and Ravaging. Pillaging, murdering, and going berserk are optional extras, but are nice if they can be managed. Yang’s advice is utterly uninhibited by any notions of being honorable and is often throughly vicious – but it also tends to be crudely practical, very direct, and occasionally quite insightful.

As an Ancestor Spirit Yang possesses several powers:

  • Limited telekinesis. He can move small objects within sixty feet of his contact. If it should matter, treat this as Str 2.
  • He grants 1d6 extra points of psychic strength to his contact.
  • He provides a +1 bonus on his contact’s defense rating (armor class) while present.
  • He can “scout” areas from the empyrean (ethereal) plane.
  • He can appear to, communicate with, and offer advice to, his contact as desired.
  • He can manifest for up to (Contacts Wis/3 + Level) rounds daily while within sixty feet of his contact.
  • He can share his senses with his contact with a range of sixty feet.
  • He may take limited possession of unresisting subjects – using their body until they either want to do something themselves or want him to leave.

Yang himself was fourth level. He was proficient with light armor and all weapons, knew a bit of unarmed combat, was a good horseman, and possessed several minor psychokinetic knacks – minor pyrokinesis (1d4 damage) and flame control, telekinetic missile control (+2/+2), and a personal force shield. Sadly, he has a psychic strength of a mere six points on his own, which is why he normally works through his contact. His other skills include some ability to evaluate the worth of common kinds of loot, power drinking, and evading pursuit. Finally, his advice on tactics is usually fairly decent. He’s picked up a bit of finesse since he died. (He was jumped by six armed men while he was in bed with someone else’s wife)

Now in first edition there was no problem with a spell that provided long-term special powers for the caster – such as being able to link up with several ancestor spirits. When mages could only learn a very limited number of spells, might never be able to learn particular spells, and obtaining new spells was difficult (making a captured spellbook a great treasure and a spellbook which had original spells in it a legendary treasure) finding a rare spell that offered special powers… worked just fine. In d20 games – where spells of all types are easily available and come in standardized levels of power – that approach doesn’t work properly. To make the same sort of resource-choice mean something we’re going to have to go with Feats – or, in Eclipse, Character points.

Ergo, to get some spirits invest in Leadership with Exotic Type (Spirits), Corrupted/Spirits ONLY and they definitely have minds of their own (6 CP).

That will get you a few spirits working for you.

So what can spirits do in d20?

Well, being nigh-indestructible is hard in d20. About the only way to manage that is not to get involved in the fight to begin with. Ergo, here’s a basic package for Spirits.

  • Sanctum/Appropriate Outer Plane (6 CP). Most of a spirits powers – or at least the ones that we’re interested in – only work on the appropriate outer plane where it can manifest itself easily.
    • While on an appropriate Outer Plane, a Spirit may maintain a link with some individual or item on the Prime Material – although this must be established through a magical summons or at the moment of death. That’s Mystic Link with Communications II (allows sensory sharing) Power Links, and Transferable, Specialized/may be temporarily disrupted or blocked by exorcisms, spirit wards, and similar effects, involves hallucinations of the character actually being present (9 CP).
    • Spirits are pretty safe on their Outer Plane, and need not worry about things like making a living. That’s Privilege/Safe Residence on Alignment Plane (3 CP).
    • Spirits are naturally psychic; it comes of being creatures of mind and magical energy – but it’s harder to tap into that when they’re on less cooperative planes. That’s +3d6 Power (6).
    • Spirits need not sleep, and are generally available most of the time. That’s Immunity/Sleep (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP).
  • All Spirits – or at least the ones we’re interested in – possess Witchcraft II (including three basic witchcraft abilities), with the Summoning, Blessing, and Possession (Specialized for increased effect (minimal cost)/target must be and remain unresisting) advanced abilities. They are, however, bound by the Pact of Souls (they must attempt to recruit descendants for their plane of residence) and Spell Failure (their witchery will not work against characters or areas with spirit wards) (Net 18 CP)
  • Spirits can easily recognize their descendants. That’s Occult Sense/Kinfolk (6 CP).

With a net cost of 30 CP we have a +0 ECL race/+1 ECL Template. That will come out of their assigned levels of course.

That package… allows them to use witchcraft powers on their “anchor” with ease and to spend a 3 Power surcharge to use witchery in the immediate vicinity of their anchor. While each spirits powers will vary, some can lend their anchor strength and healing, others can assault targets in the vicinity with pyrokinesis, some can whisper suggestions, or use illusions to “manifest”, and so on. Their very limited psychic strength will keep them from doing too much of that sort of thing – but they can still be pretty versatile. If they specialize minor telekinetic powers properly they can even play at animating “zombies” – or at least using corpses and puppets.

Spirits can serve as mentors, training partners, or aides, can possess small, properly trained animals, consulting experts, or scouts. As their anchors power increases their effective levels will go up – and their abilities will increase.

Is this “Balanced”? It will give you access to a fair amount of Witchcraft rather cheaply and it makes your followers pretty nearly indestructible.

Of course, there are lots of ways to arrange that. If you’re willing to allow the use of Leadership, this is hardly the most abusive way to use it.

Exalted – Danyl Woodsborne, Wyld Endowed Mortal

Danyl… was a bastard of no father as far as the village was concerned, and so the rumors about his possible father flew… Demon? Raksha? Itinerant Hobo? A disgrace in any case! He grew up… on the outside looking in as far as the villagers went.

Still, at least he could visit his Father and his Father’s people even if Vriath – a wolf-beastman – could not venture into the village and would do him no good at all if he acknowledged him. The Beastmen were not popular in the border villages.

Sadly, he was isolated there as well. Already inclined towards solitude, Danyl soon showed few social graces of any kind and spent much of his time in the deep forests surrounding his mother’s small village. There, however, he blossomed as a hunter, a trapper, and a harvester of the exotic herbs and arcane components which sold so well further into the civilized lands. Soon enough his growing skill eclipsed the natural advantages of the wolf-beastmen youths – and brought him to the attention of his Great-Grandfather, Salisian, a fairly powerful Lunar Exalt. He could use an agent with respectable skills, the social isolation to be grateful for mere acknowledgment, and a fine excuse to travel regularly into more “civilized” realms.

Salisian set the boy to training with Telewin, his oldest child, aged more than three centuries thanks to his Wyld Endowment and longevity mutations. While that instruction was most profitable, it meant that Danyl was nearby when Telwin’s heart finally failed entirely – and inherited Telwin’s Endowment. In Salisian’s eyes that was even MORE useful – and an even greater obligation (or at least so Salisian sees it) on the young man.

Since then, Danyl has quietly taken up the defense of his Mother’s village; even if he doesn’t get along with them very well, he has a lot of family there.

Personal Attributes: Str 2, Dex 3, Sta 2, Cha 3, Man 2 (1), App 1, Per 1, Int 5, Wit 3

Abilities: Archery 4, Awareness 3, Craft 1, Integrity 3, Linguistics 1, Lore 4 (5, favored, 1 BP), Melee 1, Resistance 3, Ride 3, Socialize 1, and Survival 4.

Archetype: Ranger. +1 Dot each in Archery, Lore, and Survival (already included). You need a visual? Well, the Van Helsing image works tolerably well – with a touch of Ash and Indiana Jones.

Backgrounds:

  • Artifact 3 (5, 4 BP). It’s a stretch, but a character with an Endowment DOES get to use his or her choice of traits mechanically, so Artifacts as per Raksha; 15 dots, including at least five one dot artifacts and no more than one five dot artifact. For flavor, most of his minor artifacts are thaumaturgically-produced equivalents. Ergo the Sardion/Endowment ****, a Staff of the Magi ***, a Traveler’s Pouch **, and six one dot Thaumaturgic or Grace Magic Artifacts – Perfected Boots, an Ithaquan Firewand, a powerful Lucky Charm (negates three botches/story), a Resonant Chorus Bow, a Ranger’s Hat, and a Lash of Fate.
    • Ithaquan Firewand: Taking advantage of the low kick of a Firewand to use a pistol grip and an intermediate-length barrel, the base Ithaquan Double-Barrelled Firewand is Speed 5, Accuracy +1, Damage 10L, Rate 2, Range 10 (and no further), Max Strength —, Cost ***/* (Ammo), F, S.
      • The Thaumaturgically Enchanted (Artifact *) version is considered Perfect (Accuracy +2, Damage 12L, Rate 3), and can store up to a dozen extra charges of firedust, reloading with a simple flourish as long as those charges hold out. It has no attunement cost however.
    • Ranger’s Hat (Onieromancy *):
      • Assumption of Bestial Form (1): The hat has lots of leather trim.
      • Imposition of Law (3): The wearer can always communicate clearly and concisely with animals.
      • Mad God’s Mein (1): The hat is immune to Countermagic.
      • Adored By All The World (2): The user may call god-blooded or heroic sapient animals to his aid.
      • Waypoint Knife (3): When the wearer picks a campsite, he and his companions generally will not be disturbed.
    • Lash of Fate (Onieromancy *)
      • Assumption of Bestial Form (1): It’s a leather whip.
      • Veiling the God’s Eyes (2): The user may roll (Per + Occ) as Str to exert telekinetic force on whatever the whip touches.
      • Emotion Weaving Style (3): Anyone struck by the whip acquires the motivation “please the guy with the whip”.
      • Behemoth-Forging Meditation (3): Once per scene per target, when a mortal target is struck by the whip, the user may launch a free Staff-Shaping attack to try to give said mortal up to (Ess x 2) points of mutations.
      • Ordinary Object Conjuration (1): Anyone who becomes subordinate to the user through being hit by the whip gets a nice ornamental collar.

Background/Patron 2. His Grandfather Salisian is a fairly powerful Lunar Exalt – but he has a LOT of descendants. While he will give them a little backing at times he expects a fair amount of loyalty and service in return. On the upside, HIS beastmen have been created with a Mutation Manse which he uses to hand out mutations, rather then by less mentionable methods.

Background/Spies 2 (2 BP): Danyl has access to part of his Grandfather’s spy network.

Virtues: Compassion 2 (3, 1 BP), Conviction 2, Temperance 3 (4, 1 BP), Valor 2

Willpower 10 (5 BP).

Flaws: Diminished Attribute (-1 Man, -3 BP), Diminished Attribute (-1 Cha, -3 BP), Dark Secret/Half Wolf-Beastman (-1 BP), Ward/Assorted Local Villagers (-2 BP), Bastard Child (-1 BP).

Awakened Essence Abomination. Pool = (Essence x 5) + (Willpower x 2) + (Sum of Virtues) = 41 Motes. 11 Committed Motes.

Essence 2 (10 BP).

Next up – the final statistics.

Crafting Worlds: Do’s and Don’ts

Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also breeds good games

Too many games, and too many settings, run into a pair of contradictory problems which work against the setting. On the one hand, you need to make a world your players can understand. If the world and its people are important enough to matter, then obviously it has to be comprehensible to players, especially if they don’t own every sourcebook. But on the other hand nobody much likes worlds which are too familiar, too boring. This is where The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion went wrong (we’ll get to that another day), by making the game world so generic that it became flat and lifeless.

There are three things to keep in mind, and collectively they’re a huge pain:

(1) The setting must make sense as a human (or whatever) society and must be reasonably sane for the players.
(2) The setting has to be different enough for the players to be interested.
(3) It has to mesh well enough with the rules so that it passes the Sniff Test.

So it has to be different, but not too different, and not get crossed up with the actual game, and nobody’s going to tell you when until they start playing with it.

Well, that just sucks.

Fortunately, you can usually boil things down to a few key principles based on your game.

First, is this is a game where the player characters and/or the major NPC’s are grossly more powerful than “normal” people? In the real life, no individual is grossly more powerful – tougher, stronger, able to do quantitatively more, than another. Even the difference between, say, specialist Olympic athletes and normal, in-decent-shape people is usually much less than a factor of 5 or so. Most jobs do not require extreme capabilities, and even fairly complicated surgical techniques are mostly things which everyday people could do if they practiced, or have good instructions. The most “powerful” members of society aren’t those who are tough, fast, strong, or even skilled, but those who put a lot of effort in persuading and influencing others.

The most dangerous people alive are probably special forces soldiers, and they need endless training, support from hundreds if not thousands of other soldiers, and many others feeding them information to be effective. And any of them could be killed by a single bullet, or one just moment of bad luck.

But game heroes, even in nominally “realistic” settings, aren’t like that. They’re often capable of taking multiple hits which would be lethal to a lesser man and a dozen (and up-Up-UP!) times more effective in their chosen specialty than a normal but skilled professional. They’re often capable of killing hundreds of normal people, and might even be capable of depopulating cities by themselves, given some time. We’ll call these people Heroes, because this tends to be more of a fantasy trope, but it is definitely NOT limited to people who are actually heroic in nature.

This consideration absolutely influences your game setting – and may be the single most important factor. If nobody has this kind of power, then you can have a relatively normal political situation. It might be complicated, but fundamentally the world follows from real life: “power” is your ability to persuade lots of people to agree with you and your ability to motivate them to get things done. Almost anyone can potentially kill anyone else.

However, if Heroes do run around, society will very likely congeal around them rather than a political or economic system, and will change as these figures die or otherwise pass on. Simply put, they *are* the armed forces as well as Kings or religious figures in their own right, and they can largely do what they like because no one can stop them. Usually in these settings, monsters or similar threats also exist that the heroes have to deal with, and these are equally capable of wrecking civilization if not stopped.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have “normal” nation or states, but those groups are going to need their own, equally effective, protection. This can and should lead you into new ideas to refine your game world. Note that we said “equally effective”, because they don’t have to have equal Heroes of their own, although there’s nothing wrong with that either.

Some quick ideas: A decentralized society that can largely ignore the deeds of Heroes. This might be a nomadic tribal nation that avoids monsters, or an agrarian people scattered over farmland that mostly handles its problem through resettlement and militias. These don’t directly challenge powerful characters, but also can’t be easily controlled by individual bullies. Or perhaps the nation is a wealthy trading power which hires mercenaries as needed to deal with problems. Or society might publicly laud selected Heroes and reward them well, gaining loyal allies through respect and praise, so that they want to protect the people from other dangers. Or society might be intensely nationalistic so that any heroes who come from it have a natural interest in defending it. Or you may have outright divine aid, or mystic balancing forces which keep any one power group from completely dominating the world. Any and all of these could appear together as well.

So from the get-go, you have a lot of options to work with. Just make sure you adapt them intelligently when adding them to the culture you want to borrow (which, let’s face it, you probably do).

Second, beg, borrow, and steal everything in sight. The most common way to build a setting large or small is the take a human civilization and build off of that. This approach has many problems, but it has one huge advantage which usually outweighs all of them: the players have some idea what the hell they’re in for.

There are few writers with enough talent for world-building to create (and then sell the hell out of) an entirely new culture. Tolkien probably did it best, in developing multiple cultures for Elves and Dwarves and Men and even some tidbits for Orcs. Even then, he borrowed many pre-existing ideas, but certainly there was immense amounts of invention. George R.R. Martin borrowed many more existing fantasy images and style to construct his world, but he also worked hard to create an original (and ridiculously complex) world with varied peoples inhabiting it.

If you’re neither of those two, you probably have to steal heavily from an existing culture.

This is not bad. Unless you’re a genius historian, linguist, architect, fashion designer, and economist all in one, you need to show your players what the gameworld is like as much as possible. In order to do that, you need to give them mental images as much as descriptive text. Consider trying to describe what Feudal Japan was like. Libraries could, and have, been written to describe it.

Now consider one – just one – picture, found in a random search for the term Feudal Japan.

We've been dead for a century and we're still more badass than you.

We’ve been dead for a century and we’re still more badass than you.

That picture is worth far more than a thousand words in describing the scene. Your players know what it means, and what it implies, even if they know little more about Japanese culture than late-night viewings of Evangelion and couple of horrible ninja movies. Give ’em five minutes and they’ll be arranging tea parties (possibly OF BLOOD AND DEATH!) and trying to quadruple-wield katanas.

While it’s not good to stereotype things, putting some cultural weight on the matter can give your players a starting point for understanding the nature and style of the setting. And it’s not like you lack for choices: a huge Empire might borrow from Rome, Persia, Mongolia, China, Russia, France, England – and that’s just mentioning a handful of real-world nations with Imperial ambitions. But you can take themes and elements from any time and place and develop it into a new idea.

Third, make sure the world doesn’t have giant obvious issues, or least give a reason as to why those issues haven’t been fixed. People are not generally stupid, and the laws of economics are flexible but they apply everywhere, even to alien species. If you have a reliable solution to a problem, then people are going to use it, unless they have a better solution. And likewise, if something doesn’t work, sooner or later people will stop using it.

This means that if you can magically produce food, then people will try to use it unless food is so cheap and reliable that it’s not worth doing. If enchanted items can give near-permanent benefits, people will eventually invest in them if there’s any way to afford such useful magic. If armies get slaughtered by individual high-level opponents, then people won’t use armies, or the military does other things than try to fight powerful enemies. In short, there’s a lot of ways to go wrong and your players will notice sooner or later.

For an example of how to do this right, consider the basic game of AD&D 2’nd Edition. This was a good approach: magic is very powerful, but also very limited and focused. Wizards have many limitations and require a lot of careful consideration. Because of this, they were able to write worlds similar to our own, with limited impact from magic. Magic mostly mattered to adventurers or similarly powerful people, and you wouldn’t see it used for for mundane purposes. Making magical items was a difficult, expensive process in terms of lifespan, questing, and wealth, and they could easily go wrong. Further, getting or researching the spells for custom magic wasn’t easy, either, so many desired effects would be quite difficult. The system matched the world, at least reasonably enough to tell the kinds of stories players and GM’s wanted to tell. Magic was (usually) rare, precious, and difficult to find, and magic items simply couldn’t be made for most ordinary purposes. Ordinary people might get their hands on the odd healing potion for emergencies, but otherwise the best they could hope for was a very low-level local cleric or wizard to help out. There was certainly no way to use magic on an industrial scale, and magic items were made so rarely that they didn’t accumulate over time.

One of the flaws of 3rd edition (which was otherwise pretty good) was that the writers often forgot to explain how the system changes affected the game worlds. Let’s state this up-front: There is nothing wrong with the 3rd edition system in making a game world. The only issue is that most of the DnD worlds were based off old 1st and 2nd edition rules and didn’t properly update to consider the impact of the new system. Forgotten Realms was a particularly hilarious example of this, because some of the new rules changes were considered to be “recent developments” owing to a big in-universe event, some were considered to have always been in effect, and most was simply ignored. One small example, continuing from the Magic Item theme mentioned above:

Items with a few per-day uses are really, really easy to make. Characters as low as 3rd level could make them quite easily, and there’s tons of low-level spells useful to all kinds of people. How many communities beyond the most incredibly poor couldn’t scrape enough enough gold to buy a magic item which used curing magic every so often. How many towns couldn’t scrape up enough gold for a water-cleansing pipe fitting, or even permanent lanterns? These minor items don’t cost very much, and yet they substantially raise quality of life for many people. Even better – they’ll outright save money in a pretty short while. With a little bit more of an investment, civilizations could eradicate dangerous diseases, provide substantial quantities of food to the poor, provide power to machinery, or even reshape the land to suit. In real history, most of these developments required, and to this day still require, the hard work of millions of people and the outlay of billions of dollars. (Trillions, adjusted for inflation and adding it all up.)

It can all be done with third level magic or lower, with items that never wear out, and require no fuel.

In the Forgotten realms, we have canon examples of individual cities with assets in the many millions of gold coins. Even granting that you can’t always tax it all, individual characters can easy have a hundred thousand in cash, and much more in tradeable goods or land they can borrow against. Charitable giving is a major function of several religions and an entire character class (the Paladin). Can you really make the case that nobody – not one person – would feel like making the small investment these tools require? Would no merchant ever have the resources or interest to try? The math is simple enough to make sense for even the most evil of evil empires, and compelling enough to attract the greediest of the greedy, and cheap enough that you don’t need spectacular wealth to get started. Sure, not every wizard would willingly give up the experience points to make these items. But a retired wizard, who doesn’t expect to go adventuring certainly might – that’s a good income and a pretty low cost per-item, allowing him or her to perform spell research. Some casters, particularly clerics and some druids, would see it as a duty to occasionally help the common folk, and what better way to do so than make a small magical item which can continue helping the common man forever?

Bear in mind that these are just the basics – the first few ideas which would occur to people. You could go far beyond this into entire arcano-industrial civilizations, or entire societies devoting themselves to magic as we do science and technology. And sure, magic takes more work to build up – but it also takes a hell of a lot less to keep running. Most magical items require no power, no maintenance, and no direction to keep working, and will continue to do so indefinitely. In fact, a major aspect of D&D is that magic items (barring one-use stuff like potions) inevitably outlive those who make it, from weapons to mythallar to spell designs. That’s why adventurers loot useful stuff from eons-old tombs and lost cities.

In short, a jump from 2nd to 3rd edition implies a lot of changes to how a setting is run. This is not a bad thing. You can tell many new stories, and look at how change affects the people who have to live with it. There’s a lot of different directions you can take this, just as industrialization caused widely varying changes in all societies affected by it. new magic will affect people in even more extreme ways, and there’s a lot of ways you can develop it. Some societies may look identical to what they used it to except with huge changes hidden away. Others may be hardly affected – at least yet. Other could be completely transformed – or split into factions, or utterly destroyed.

In short, there’s nothing wrong with the rules, but most existing game worlds wanted to avoid using them as much as possible. And that’s sad.

However, also understandable. Writing and rewriting settings takes a lot of work and a lot of thought, so it’s not always easy to explain why they change or don’t change. In the next installment, we’ll cover some ways to do end runs around common sense, and get your setting where you want it.