Dungeon Crasher Style (Str)

There was a point in d20 where the “Dungeon Crasher” option for fighters was fairly widely recommended. After all, it opened up a niche that nobody else really had access to at the time – repositioning opponents without effectively giving up your actions to do it. It wasn’t the most powerful option of all time, but it was one of the few genuinely special toys that fighters could get. Personally I never ran into it much, simply because my games never ran much to Dungeons OR Classes; they tended to be wide-open transdimensonal Eclipse-based space operas where mages had trouble keeping up with martial types because a low-level fighter could be using advanced power armor, a microfusion missile launcher, ultratech grenades, and armored vehicles or spaceships. But there was a recent question about it, and it fits in among the other martial arts requests, so here is a (better edited and much more detailed) version of the quick notes that I gave that questioner to pass on to whoever-it-was that wanted it.

Dungeon Crasher is all about being a living wrecking ball – plowing through walls, traps, and opponents, smashing them between you and solid objects, and ignoring the consequences more or less as if you really were a huge ball of steel. You could build this as a spell or something – I once built a young 1’st edition mage who’s pride and joy was his thesis-project “boots of heavy kicking” that let him kick down doors, punt small creatures, and kick larger ones away from him as if he had 18/00 strength in his legs (only, and only a limited number of times per day, which made them MUCH cheaper than Gauntlets Of Ogre Power) – but this is a fighter thing, so I’m going to go with a nice cheap Martial Art. Any halfway decent Eclipse-built fighter will have several of those anyway.

Dungeon Crasher Style (Str-Based):

Requires: Improved Bull Rush (You no longer suffer an Attack Of Opportunity when you Bull Rush and gain a +4 bonus on your strength check to push back a defender) or equivalent point buy. A high Strength, a BAB of 2+, and an overwhelming desire to smash into things is highly recommended.

Basic Techniques:

  • Defenses 4, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Applies to Saves too) / Only versus Traps. This will provide a bonus of +2/4/6/8 to the user’s AC and Saves against traps.
  • Power 4, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / adds +1d6 per level damage to the effects of Bull Rushing someone into a wall or similar obstacle. There’s a better technique later, but the basic technique is a start.

Master Techniques:

  • Breaking: You may add your Dungeon Smasher skill total to your rolls to break things. This can let you smash things REALLY effectively.
  • Sneak Attack 3: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (3d6 per time taken) / only with a successful Bull Rush maneuver ending in a wall to smash the opponent into.
    • Alternatively, you could reduce the maximum Sneak Attack rating to 2 and throw in Mind Like Moon: Specialized for Increased Effect / if the user is Surprised, he or she may roll initiative normally, but the only action they may take in the surprise round is to attempt to Bull Rush an opponent. If all opponents are too far away to be Bull Rushed, the effect is up to a full move towards them. This variant is a bit less damaging, but if surprise is a problem in a game can work surprisingly well.

Occult Techniques:

  • Inner Strength 2: This grants the user 6 or 12 (if taken twice) phantom “Constitution Points” to power other occult abilities with.
  • Light Foot: Specialized for Double Effect. The user may burn one point of Constitution (or a point from Inner Strength or Mana from Resilience) as a free action to gain +60 to a jump check or to Leap or run across water, grease, or other difficult terrain without difficulty / only to Bull Rush a target. This, of course, will let you slam people that you have no reasonable way to reach into walls.
  • Ki Block: Specialized for Increased Effect, The user may burn one point of Constituition or a point from Inner Strength or Mana from Resilience to may make a DC 20 Reflex check to block or dodge a single successful melee attack OR may make a second save (DC 15) against any attack which normally allows a Reflex save. If either save succeeds the effect is normal for a successful save. If both do the effect is entirely negated / Requires the use of a +3 or better shield.

So how does this match up with Dungeon Crasher?

Well, when Dungeon Crasher becomes available at level two (costing one feat) it offers +2 Competence Bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +5 bonus on Strength checks to break a door, wall, or similar obstacle, and the ability to Bull Rush an opponent into a wall or other solid object to inflict 4d6 + twice your Strength bonus (if any) points of bludgeoning damage.

A level two character in Eclipse can spend 5 skill points on this martial art (or half that with Adept). If they have a +4 Strength Modifier (not hard to do in Eclipse if expensive in baseline d20) they’ll have a +9 total – five techniques.

If they take Defenses I, Power II, and Sneak Attack I they get a +2 (Typeless) bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +9 bonus to breaking stuff, and can Bull Rush an opponent into a wall for (5d6 + Str Mod) damage.

That’s not a precise match – the bonus to breaking stuff is +9 instead of +5 and the Bull Rush damage is (5d6 + Str Mod) instead of (4d6 + 2 x Str Mod) which (presuming Str 18 again) would be an average of 21.5 versus 22 – but the overall costs are cheaper. If you really MUST get the average higher… Try taking “Doubled Damage” (6 CP) or persuade the game master that a body-check with a shield counts as using it as a two-handed weapon (which certainly sounds reasonable to ME).

At level six, the Martial Art version will have +4 Skill Ranks, for +2 Techniques/ Putting them both on the “Sneak Attack” effect would put the martial art at a +2 (Typeless) bonus to AC and Saves versus Traps, a +13 bonus to breaking stuff, and let the user Bull Rush opponents into a walls for (11d6 + Str Mod) damage instead of +4 (Competence), +10, and (8d6 + 3 x Str Mod). Still, the total Eclipse cost (presuming Adept) is only 1.5 CP for one-quarter use of Adept and 4.5 Skill points – the cost of one feat instead of two. Sticking another feat into it could upgrade the Martial Art version in all kinds of ways and still cost no more than the original ability.

Rather more importantly, the Martial Art version can continue improving at higher levels with more skill points, up to a maximum of a +8 (Typeless) Bonus to AC and Saves versus traps, (13d6 + Str Mod) damage on smashing targets into things, and an uncapped bonus to breaking things with a couple of extra abilities – being able to Bull Rush across chasms, water, and difficult terrain and being able to block an unlimited amount of damage several times per day. All at the cost of a half-feat plus (Level / 2) skill points. There are ways to boost that even further, but they start involving spending more character points or buying specialized gear.

I must admit that – while the idea is amusing – Dungeon Crasher isn’t my usual style. There’s nothing at all wrong with it of course, but I do tend to have a personal preference for subtle, clever, mages. Fortunately, there are usually other people playing who like being brutal fighters and such, so that my subtle mages have something to hide behind. Ergo, this style is for them.

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Wrath Of Souls Style (Cha)

And here we have another requested (and highly specialized) Martial Arts Style. Like most such styles, it’s exceptionally powerful – and can be easily adapted to other types of targets. After all, you can readily substitute “Demons”, or “Devils”, or “Lycanthropes”, or any similar specific type of foe for “Undead”. On the other hand, the only thing it’s good for if you aren’t up against the Undead is a +2 Synergy Bonus to Knowledge / Religion – if you even bothered to take that option.

Across the ages, countless folk – men, women, and children alike – have fallen victim to the scourge of the Undead, their joys, their sorrows, and all their bright potentials, stolen away by the powers of the negative energy plane – a pitiless enemy of all life. All too often, their corpses are infused with that malignant will, to rise again as yet more Undead – an unrelenting tide that threatens to swallow up entire worlds.

But even that dark horde is not without its problems. For the souls of many victims and the souls of those who loved them reside on the Upper Planes, in close communion with the very source of divine power.

And many of them are somewhat angry.

Every so often, that anger finds an outlet. Some courageous individual with the proper knack will stand against the Undead in defense of those they love, wielding whatever weapon they can find – and will be filled with the Burning Wrath of the Angry Dead. Those who survive to fight again… will find their limits more stringent after that first uncontrolled flare of power – but when they stand against the Undead once more, and reach again for that divinely-empowered wrath… it will answer.

Wrath Of Souls Style (Cha)

  • Requires: Willingness to sacrifice oneself in the defense of others against the Undead and having fought an Undead creature with a mundane weapon or bare hands in defense of others when this is obviously hopeless. This is normally a weapon form, although what weapon you choose does not matter – but unarmed variants exist.
  • Basic Techniques:
    • Defenses 4, Specialized for Increased Effect (adds to saving throws against the “natural” powers of the Undead as well as to armor class) / ONLY works against the Undead.
    • Attack 4, Specialized for Increased Effect (grants an appropriate weapon weapon powers as well as a bonus to hit. +1 grants Undead Bane, +2 adds Ghost Touch, and +4 adds Holy. These stack with any dissimilar powers the weapon may already possess) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Toughness 3, Specialized for Increased Effect (Levels 1 and 2 also protect against attribute damage and drain, level 3 protects against one negative level per energy draining attack) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Synergy: +2 to Knowledge / Religion.
  • Advanced and Master Techniques:
    • Sneak Attack II, Specialized for Increased Effect (works on any hit against the Undead) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Mind Like Moon, Specialized for Increased Effect (the user cannot be surprised by Undead) / Only works against the Undead.
    • Blind-Fight, Specialized for Increased Effect (the user is automatically aware of nearby Undead and suffers no miss chances for blindness) / Only works against the Undead.
  • Occult Techniques:
    • Inner Strength x 2. This provides 12 “phantom Constitution points” to use to power Wrath and Resist Pain, below.
    • Wrath. When this is used the user’s blows inflict divine damage. Attribute damage and drains, as well as damage from negative energy, are reduced by four points. energy drains are reduced by two levels, and the user gains a further +6 on saving throws versus the “natural” powers of the Undead.
    • Resist Pain, Specialized for Double Effect / Only works against the Undead.

During the initial surge, the recipient gains full access to the Style, and both Wrath and Resist Pain are triggered automatically. As a rule, whatever Undead creature provoked it does not survive the experience unless it’s very powerful and sensible enough to run.

Like most Specialized Martial Arts this is obviously extremely effective when you get to use it- although, to achieve its full power, it would involve an epic-level character who’d invested better than thirty skill points in techniques for fighting the Undead. Sadly, it won’t work if the Undead are a campaigns major opponents; if you fight them all the time, “Only works agains the Undead” doesn’t really qualify as a limitation. On the other hand, for a character in a typical campaign (where Undead show up every little bit but not all the time) with a personal grudge against the Undead and a few skill points per level to spare, it may be a worthwhile investment.

If the game master is willing to put up with it, a physically combative character may find it well worthwhile to invest in a boosting ability and several different martial arts of this type, targeting several different types of monsters. It can be a great deal cheaper, and rather more effective, to switch stances to and give your weapon the special abilities you want it to have instead of investing a fortune in a half a dozen different magical weapons.

Martial Arts – The Avalanche Style

While I’ve been too busy to post much for a while, there have been several requests for exotic or highly specialized Martial Arts styles. Those are fairly easy to fit into bits of time, so I’ll be posting a few of them. First up, it’s just about the oldest martial arts style of all.

Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies!

Humans throw stones. And while there are other creatures who do that, humans are unique in the real world in doing so with both force and accuracy. For nearly two million years, rocks were a proto-humans ranged weapon of choice. They were denser than sticks, they flew faster, they hit harder, and it didn’t much matter which way they turned in flight. They hurt. With enough throws, or a single really well-aimed or lucky one, thrown rocks could drive off, injure, or kill almost anything a band of hunter-gatherers was likely to encounter in the way of wildlife. Thrown stones brought safety, knocked fruit out of trees, and supplied meat and bone and hide. Later on various geniuses realized that smacking rocks together could make little sparks of fire and put amazingly sharp cutting edges on otherwise unremarkable pieces of stone, while tossing larger rocks from high places could readily do enough damage to seriously injure really large animals – but those were feats of high lithic technology, not the time-tested basics of throwing rocks that had served the Homids and proto-Homids for so long. Still, there are reasons why such advances in rock technology took so long to come into general use. For an example of those reasons, consider…

“Ow! Sharp chips flying! No Bang Rocks! Rocks Good Way They Are! PUT SOMEBODIES EYE OUT! WORSE THAN POINTY STICKS!”

“What you mean, “Make Fire”?!?! Fire BAD!! Burn up camp!!! Burn up US!!!! Throw rocks at demon who want MAKE FIRE AND KILL US ALL!!!!!”

“Hold heavy rock and stand on crumbly edge of cliff? NO! NOT WANT GO SPLAT! GIVE “GENIUS” A PUSH AND SHOW HOW WORKS!!!”

And thus was flint knapping and the controlled use of fire and heights delayed by half a million years.

Now, at least in d20 terms, while Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom (through Perception) all do play a role in throwing rocks, the great keys to accurate throwing are:

1) Picking out a reasonably round, non-crumbly, rock of about the right weight. This may take some practice to learn to do it at a glance, but it’s not that big a trick.

2) Subconsciously working out angles and the resulting trajectories for the actual throw. This is considerably more difficult, but it is doable with some fairly straightforward unconscious computations. Basic ballistics isn’t really THAT complicated. In fact, in humans… it’s blatantly instinctive.

3) Timing your release. This is the really difficult part; natural neurons aren’t particularly precise oscillators, which means that achieving precise timing using them involves averaging the output of a LOT of the things. Potentially, billions of them. THAT is the part of this that requires a big brain. Ergo, this is an Intelligence-based style.

Which gives us…

Avalanche Style (Int):

  • Requirements: Avalanche Style has no special requirements beyond having functional hands and shoulders – although higher attributes are, as always, better. Sadly, due to this lack, it offers no occult techniques. It does, however, apply to both throwing basic rocks and to effects that throw rocks at targets (These include at least some applications of Avalanche Of Devastation, Earthbolt, Hail Of Stone, Hurtling Stone, Launch Item, Magic Stone, Scatterspray, and Stone Call as well as a few psionic abilities and other tricks)
  • Basic Abilities: Attack 4 (If used with something that offers a save instead of an attack check, +1 to Save DC per +2 Attack), Power 4, Strike, Toughness 2, and Synergy (Craft/Stone).
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Mind Like Moon, Rapid Shot (Thrown Rocks), and Quick Draw (Rocks).

How much damage does a thrown rock do? And what is it’s range increment? d20 has answers! In fact, d20 has lots of DIFFERENT answers. ranging from the simple to the absurd. Ergo it’s time to take a look at the real world and see what we find there. After all, people do spend a good deal of time throwing small round objects around so we ought to be able to find something to use as data.

For our purposes, a good throwing rock is comparable to a baseball – a commonly thrown item on which there are all kinds of statistics available. They’re nice and round, you get about three to the pound, and professionals quite commonly throw them the sixty feet from the pitchers mound to the batter with considerable accuracy. With a good deal less accuracy they are fairly often thrown up to three hundred feet. Ergo, they have a range increment of about thirty feet. a maximum effective range of 5 range increments, and can be thrown up to twice that far (albeit with no real chance of hitting what you aim at unless it moves to attempt to catch it). A well-chosen throwing rock is tennis ball sized or a bit smaller because it’s denser than a baseball – but that doesn’t matter a lot. So:

Well-Chosen Thrown Rock: 1d2+Str Mod, 30′ Range Increment, Crit 19-20/x2. Weight 1/3 Lb, Special/every human is considered to be proficient with thrown rocks. (Fortunately for would-be rock throwers, taking “Strike” upgrades the base damage to an easier-to-roll 1d4).

Rocks are really pretty lousy weapons by later standards, but they do have the advantage of being free if you pick them up yourself. Adventurers who actually want to throw rocks (there are probably a few out there) will doubtless prefer to give a kid a couple of coppers to gather up a bag full (the standard 50) rather than wasting their own time on the project.

“Come on… this is basic stuff! It’s not like you need to be a rock(et) scientist!”

Now, if someone wants to build a character around this instead of picking a more effective weapon to build a martial art around, it will probably be through something like the Hurling Hands spell:

Swift Hurling:

Transmutation, L1 Bard, Sorcerer/Wizard, Components: V, S, M (the missile or missiles to be launched), Casting Time: One standard action, Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Instantaneous, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: No

Swift Hurling will launch up to three arrows, bolts or sling stones as if fired from an appropriate weapon or hurl up to three items such as daggers, shuriken, rocks, flasks of holy water, or bottles of alchemical preparations, as if the caster had thrown them. Outside of the fact that the missiles need not be drawn and no mundane launcher (bow, crossbow, etc), is required, this is a normal attack – an attack check is required, range modifiers apply, and relevant Feats, attribute bonuses, and similar effects all apply normally. Where more than one possible mundane launcher or mode applies, such as a longbow or composite longbow, the choice is up to the caster. All shots are made at the user’s full BAB, they need not be launched at the same target, and the user may opt to either roll once for all the shots against a single target or for each independently.

I suspect that this sort of thing still won’t make for a terribly effective character in the long run, but it can certainly be reasonably effective early on – which, come to think of it, is a fair summary of the overall history of rock throwing. Humans may have outgrown it now – but it was a very useful talent to have back in the beginning.

Valdemar d20 Part IV – Beyond The Borders

There are a number of professional and ethnic options for characters in Velgarth. Most of them ones for humans are probably best represented as Package Deals. Thus we have the…

Sunpriest Package Deal:

Sunpriests use exactly the same magic system as everyone else – although even non-magical Sunpriests are taught how to assist in certain rituals. Their package deal includes:

  • Three Specialties – Summoning and banishing demons and abyssal elementals, Providing religious instruction and advice, and Local Management (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge: The scriptures of their faith, the rituals and doctrines of their faith, and the rituals for summoning and banishing demons and abyssal elementals (3 CP).
  • Minor Privilege / respected religious authority (3 CP).
  • A +2 on saves versus demons and abyssal elementals abilities (3 CP). Given that quite a lot of the mental effects used on Velgarth seem to share the limitation “will not work on anyone with a base will save of +x or more”, with “x” being a fairly low number, this is actually quite effective.

Corrupted Sunpriests are murderous fanatics and/or hypocritical exploiters, while uncorrupted Sunpriests are supportive holy men and/or wise and pacifistic councilors. Both of them use the same package deal though. In either case, the Sun God normally only interferes by sending Firecats to guide notable individuals – and even that is usually only in times of major crisis. After all, he put up with centuries of corruption and only intervened (by incinerating some fo the worst corrupted priests) because a planetary cataclysm was coming up.

Firecats are a lot like Companions, but only the sects High Priests – the “Sons Of The Sun” – ever come back as Firecats. They’re basically bobcats, with the Basic Companion Template applied (substituting knowledge of the Karsite Faith for knowledge of Heraldic Traditions) – but they all seem to have at least Master or Adept level mage-gift. They’d be a major power if they weren’t, just like the Companions, basically limited to being advisors. Unlike the companions, they generally admit their true nature.

Shin’a’in:

Shin’a’in… are nomadic horsebreeders who restrict the use of magic to their Shamans (who stay home with their tribes, and so are always NPC’s). The occasional trader, wanderer, horse-trainer, or Swordsworn Kal’enedral does leave the plains though. Pretty much every Shin’a’in shares a special bond with at least one horse that they grew up with and trained from a foal. Shin’a’in Horses in general are supposed to be superior to most others and their Battle Steeds are supposed to act more like dogs than horses – being exceptionally loyal and helpful to their owners. They don’t panic and run away, fight on even if wounded, and do what they’re trained to do even under great stress. They may even heal a bit more quickly than normal horses.

All of which, of course, is just like very other horse in d20, where even perfectly normal animals are treated like character attributes, serve their game functions without distracting player characters from their various adventures, are more enduring than any real animal, and heal more quickly like EVERYTHING in d20. Sure, there are supplements that go into detail about horses and other animals – but after the first few levels only special mounts will really matter. If we want “better horses” to be at ALL relevant… the Shin’a’in will just have to take Animal Companions – which pretty much defines their special abilities.

Shin’a’in Cultural Package Deal:

  • Companion (Animal Companion / Horse, 6 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledges: Horse Care, Plains Survival, Shin’a’in Traditions (3 CP).
  • Basic Swordsworn Kal’enedral Package:

Swordsworn / Kal’enedral

Being Swordsworn has no initial training or organization involved; you make a sacred oath, it is accepted, and you’re a Swordsworn. There will be a lot of tutoring after that, but you don’t have to have a lot of skills to swear the oath.

  • Major Favors/Shin’a’in Pantheon, Specialized / the Shin’a’in gods (and most gods on Velgarth) only answer when you are in desperate need – and there is always a price of some kind, if only your ongoing dedicated service (3 CP).
  • Mentor/Deceased Swordsworn. Swordsworn get tutored every night. Thanks to this extensive training, they get +2 CP each level to invest in their combat skills (A minor variant on +10% experience – and, not surprisingly, equivalent to a specialized version of Fast Learner, 6 CP).
  • Minor Privilege/Any group of Shin’a’in will feed, treat, and equip or re-equip (albeit only with mundane gear and a mount) any Swordsworn (3 CP).
  • Goddess Bond: Spell/Power Resistance, Specialized / only versus mental attacks (3 CP). The Swordsworn are very difficult to divert from their purpose. Even if someone penetrates this defense, it’s blasphemy – and just asking for those “Favors” to kick in.
  • Disadvantage: Vows. Swordsworn are sworn to service of their goddess, to the Shin’a’in as a whole, and to their tribes, in that order (-3 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Accursed (Asexual). Swordsworn give up all interest in, or capability for, sexual responses with their vows. This leaves them quite disconnected on the social level (- 3 CP).

Constant combat training makes most Kal’enedral formidable fighters – but they don’t necessarily start out that way.

Tay’ledras:

Tay’ledras or “Hawkbrothers” are responsible for cleansing lands filled with warped magic and making them livable again, rescuing harmless creatures of magic along the way. Since they live in close association with powerful nodes, much is made of the bleaching effect of magic to give them an exotic appearance. Why this doesn’t extend to their skin, giving them the downsides of Albinism, is never explained. Neither is why, for example, using massive amounts of magic left Mornelithe Falconsbane with tawny gold hair and gold-green eyes instead of bleaching HIM. Given that d20 normally allows players to describe themselves pretty much as they please, that anyone with a Cantrip spell can trivially adjust the color of their hair, skin, and eyes while the “bleaching” effect takes some time – and that the game allows you to play descendants of elementals, lizard men, and other exotics, don’t worry about this. Why bother trying to tell people that they can’t describe their characters as they please?

Secondarily, the Tay’ledras are a wildly distorted society that exits on an ongoing war footing; practically every adult Tay’ledras is a Mage, a Warrior-Scout, or a Mage-Scout – a culture made possible by the unquestioning, and mostly unremarked, support of several other species who serve about the same role as the peasantry supporting the Samurai Caste. Fortunately, the author tells us that the Hertasi are perfectly OK with that – and are a bit hive-minded, so we can be sure that they all agree. For game purposes d20 also focuses on the elite adventurers, so we can pay no attention to this.

Tay’ledras Package Deal:

  • Companion (Animal Companion / Bird Of Prey, 6 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Specific Knowledges: Heartstone Lore, Creatures Of The Pelagirs, and Birds Of Prey (3 CP).

Quite a lot of the Tay’ledras are mage-talented to various degrees, but, with Eclipse d20 player characters, that’s simply a choice as to where they spend their character points.

Heartstones are basically rocks which are anchoring a ley line node. Their primary game function is to allow spells to be tied to them so that the caster(s) don’t need to maintain them. Secondarily, they gradually drain wild magic from the area and convert it into a more controlled form – but this is a GM plot device, On the other hand, they’re used to sustain large-scale ritual magics – not personal spells. Basically… they’re created by ritual magic and are used as a component to make it easier to work other long-term ritual effects. Otherwise they’re just nodes.

Heraldic Package Deal:

Yes, there is a Heraldic Package Deal – basically the minimum you get from their training program.

  • Specific Knowledges: Valdemar (Law, Traditions, History, Geography, Etc) and Heraldic Traditions (including the Arrow Code) (2 CP).
  • Privilege / As royal emissaries, Heralds have a great deal of authority and are entitled to supplies and support at any village – but this is Specialized / their privileges are greatly limited by honor and tradition, they are expected to deal with all kinds of problems, they never really get to retire, their privileges (of course) only operate in Valdemar, and they must report their doings in detail and justify anything that seems dubious (1 CP).
  • Adept: Survival, Knowledge/Local, Knowledge/Geography, and one Archery Martial Art (6 CP)
    Proficiency with Longbows (3 CP).

Heralds, of course, are expected to serve as solitary voices for the crown – visiting distant villages to act as legal experts, judges, investigators, scouts, messengers, organizers, surveyors, and more – usually starting at about eighteen years old after four to five years of education at the collegium.

Not surprisingly, the stories mostly deal with exceptional cases; Heralds who have multiple gifts, are skilled in anything and everything the plot calls for, and who are remarkably lucky about not being killed. The average herald is less than universally competent, may not have any gifts at all beyond the ability to bond with a Companion (and virtually never more than two or three, with one being by far the most potent) – and is probably dead. Ordinary Heralds die a lot. In d20 terms that’s because ordinary Heralds are usually only first or second level and aren’t improving much if at all.

Heralds normally carry a sword, bow, and knife. The knife because it is a basic tool that any traveler will carry, the sword and the bow because they’re part of the uniform – and because they do need to be ready to defend themselves. They are rarely trained in, and even more rarely use, armor and shields beyond field leathers. Armor and shields are heavy, bulky, and encumbering. They say “I am expecting a fight”. They are entirely inappropriate for most of the jobs a Herald does and so will rarely be on hand (and even less often be being worn) when violence – which is almost always an unpleasant surprise – breaks out. Learning a combat style relying on armor and / or shields is a good idea for a soldier or mercenary, but Heralds have to get along without. They thus generally rely on their speed and agility – which makes them even less likely to want to use gear that slows them down so drastically on those few occasions where they could. Armor and Shields… are for war, battlefields, local guardsmen, and military patrols.

At least as importantly, a normal fighter can have their horse cut out from under them and fight on. A Companion and Herald pair are BOTH vulnerable to injuries to either – putting them at a fundamental disadvantage in any fight. A Herald-Companion pair will take full advantage of their edge in endurance and speed to skirmish, to fire arrows and fall back, and will (at least if either of the pair has any sense) prefer to avoid a melee if they can possibly do so.

It’s noted that only the Dyheli – who are all telepaths and who contest for herd leadership with telepathic fights – offer training in combative mind-magic. This is true, for the same reason that Naga do not study how to kick properly – only species that normally have an attribute study combat techniques using it.

That doesn’t mean the (rare) Gifted of other species cannot use their gifts offensively though. After all, you don’t need to be an expert martial artist to kick, punch, strangle, gouge eyes, smash genitals, and hurt other creatures with your hands and feet either. Martial arts training just makes you better at it – and using Empathy or Mindspeech to attack someone who lacks such powers is like getting into a fist fight with a man with no arms. Thus Herald Talia used her empathic gift offensively several times, including an occasion where she locked a man into experiencing the pain he’d inflicted on others over and over again until he either died or came to understand his crime – totally incapacitating him (and, incidentally, burdening the local villagers with his care indefinitely, but no one worried about THAT).

Now, if someone wants to learn a Gift-based combat techniques – in Eclipse, learning a Gift-Based Martial Art – and gain bonuses in the use of their Gift… They’ll have to either develop it themselves or find a teacher.

Nonhumans:

Finally, we have the five or six species of non-humans – they Kyree, Tervardi, Hertasi, Dhyeli, and Gryphons. (Ratha are mentioned once or twice, but never appear that I can think of).

Few of them are particularly playable.

Hertasi are pretty much the local version of Halflings. They share a limited hive-mind, and will get quite uncomfortable if they’re cut off from it – meaning that, unless you have at least a half a dozen to a dozen Hertasi in the party, you aren’t going to have ANY. Worse, they become torpid when it’s cold out and have a built-in urge to be “useful” to somebody else. They tend to live in small settlements of burrow-homes near water or marshes (presumably they are good at somehow keeping water from seeping in). They defend their homes with small missile weapons, sinkholes, quicksand, and various traps.

Kyree are basically large, intelligent wolves/dogs (there isn’t actually much difference) with the Gift of Mindspeech. Like most creatures which lack hands or some substitute therefore, they make rather awkward characters to play, but they do have enough natural advantages to attract occasional players. Kyree who want to go adventuring usually team up with a human, simply because creatures that look like huge wolves tend to attract a lot of hostility (and not a little missile fire) when they go roaming around civilized and semi-civilized areas without someone to vouch for them or be their apparent “owner”.

Kyree Racial Package:

  • Gift Of Mindspeech (4 CP) with one die of Mana (2 CP).
  • +1d8 HP (12 CP)
  • +2 Str, +2 Con, +2 Dex (36 CP).
  • Martial Arts (Natural Weapons version, 1d6 bite, 6 CP).
  • Defender (Natural Armor, 6 CP).
  • Occult Sense (Scent, 6 CP)
  • Innate Enchantment: Barkskin (1400 GP), +2 Str, Dex, and Con (4200 GP), Warding Rune at CL3 (+2 Resistance Bonus to Saves, 4200 GP), Know Direction (1000 GP), Relieve Poison 1/Day 280 GP), Relieve Illness 1/Day (280 GP), Cure Minor Wounds 1/Day (140 GP). Net Value: 11,500 GP (12 CP).
  • Immunity / The XP cost of Racial Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP).
  • Immunity / Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Severe, Grand), Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to protect racial abilities (6 CP).
  • Specific Knowledge / Kyree Pack Organization (1 CP), Specific Knowledge / The Pelagirs (1 CP).

That’s a total of 94 CP. Fortunately, the entire package is Specialized and Corrupted / No manipulative appendages (use quadraped modifiers – mostly +10′ Move), can only speak with Mindspeech, can use the equivalent of barding but not normal armor, suffers at least a -4 penalty on any attempt to use equipment as they are not natural tool users, those that go adventuring are normally sexless, magic item slots are limited to armor, belt/saddle, chest, eyes, head, headband, neck, shoulders, and wrist/feet (not that magic items are at all common in the setting) – resulting in a net cost of 31 CP, for a +0 ECL race.

Tervardi are derived from birds, although they’re far too large to fly even if their wings hadn’t been turned into arms. Unfortunately, while they have superb singing voices, and might have other Gifts (like any other intelligent creature on Velgarth), they are specifically noted as being too fragile (thanks to their birdlike hollow bones and light structure) to go adventuring. In d20 that also means that even for NPC’s they are not going to have many levels. If you actually need statistics for a Tervardi, treat them as small children with a bonus to Perform (Sing).

Ratha are mentioned as “what the Kyree are to Wolves, the Ratha are to Mountain Cats”. There’s no other information on them that I’m aware of at ALL. Personally, for variety, I’d use the racial template for the Ri’aal if the need comes up.

Dyheli resemble deer or reindeer, but are somewhat larger and have (permanent?) spiral horns instead of antlers. They are notable for being very powerful Mindspeakers, for being the only known group that actually studies the Mental Martial Arts, and for being capable of near-instant teaching. They sometimes let other characters ride them. On the other hand.. They are herd oriented, have little to adventure FOR, and are even less capable of using tools than the Kyree. If someone should want to play one… use the Kyree racial modifiers. Drop Scent in favor of +3d6 Mana, change “bite” to “horns”, drop “defender” in favor of Celerity (additional +10′ ground movement), and trade the specific knowledge of Kyree Pack Organization for a specific knowledge of Dyheli Herd Organization. Males often learn mental martial arts.

Gryphons have flight, natural weapons, lie detection, taloned forepaws/hands with which they can do fine work, and keen eyesight and hearing. They commonly have mental Gifts and are often Mage-Gifted since those who aren’t have a harder time breeding. Like most of Urtho’s creations, they are at least resistant (if not outright immune) to mage-sight, mind-scanning, detection spells, and magical scrying. They even have an attractive scent. They are extremely dangerous in combat, absorb magical energy to live (and so are at least somewhat resistant to it), and are generally all-around better than everyone else – at least as long as the magic holds up. I might make a template for them later – but they’re going to have a fairly high ECL modifier, which means that they won’t fit into most Velgarth games anyway; those tend to assume that the characters are fairly low level.

Valdemar D20 Part III – Building Heralds and Companions

So what about game statistics? Well…

Companions:

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

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

Companions are basically Modified Light Warhorses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heralds:

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

So: your basic Gift will look something like this.

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

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

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

Well, for that buy

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

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

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

Mage-Gift:

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

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

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

To price this, buy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valdemar D20 Part II – Gifts And Spells

For Part I, go HERE.

So what sort of powers do the books actually show Mages and Heralds using? Looking at the books, for Heraldic Gifts and Spells we have…

  • Animal Mindspeech: You can “speak” with animals. That’s pretty basic.
  • (The) Bardic Gift: Rather ill-defined, but it seems to be able to convey feelings, suppress pain, and convey impressions – so possibly subtle, internally-directed illusions. One of the few gifts that can directly affect a crowd though.
  • Bonding: You can bond with something. Like a Hawk. Or Warsteed. Or Companion. Or Firecat. Or Lover. Or Twin or other Sibling. Or you can settle for a lesser version and fall in Love with pretty much anyone. This seems to be pretty much universal. Bonding with a Companion seems to allow the use of Truthspell – but that also relies on Vanyels old web-spell which creates a link with the Vrondi.
    • Personally, I’d forget about the Truthspell in any game setting. Heralds in the books often refrain from using it out of political considerations, or respect, or being forgetful, or not wanting to give people the impression that they aren’t trusted. Gamers will FIND an excuse to use it ALL THE TIME – and there go all your intrigue and manipulation plots. Mistaken identity? Falsely accused? Hidden traitors? We’ll have none of THAT.
  • Channeling: The ability to act as a pipeline for raw magical energy that other people can direct or use. Rare and generally useless until the author decides that it’s needed as a plot device.
  • Earthsense: You can vaguely detect damage and disturbances that affect the land and the creatures that live there. If they are suffering, you will do so as well.
  • Empathy: Picking up emotions, truthsensing, and – for those with powerful gifts – the ability to compel weaker-willed individuals to speak the truth. Powerful empaths may be able to cause mental damage, which is best represented as some sort of curse.
  • Farsight: Clairvoyance. When controllable, it seems to be fairly short ranged. It also shows visions to suit the plot.
  • Final Strike. You can ramp up your power enormously by dying. Of course, EVERYONE with ANY kind of special power seems to be able to sacrifice themselves for a big boost when they want to save others, or take revenge at any cost, or whatever. Probably a world law or bit of divine assistance in recognition of your sacrifice or some such.
  • Gift Of Tongues: Companions have this, but it’s rare among humans. You understand all languages but can’t bypass speech impediments (such as having a horses voicebox). So… a L2 version of comprehend languages?
  • Mage-Gift: The ability to sense and manipulate the flow of life-energy about you. Doesn’t let you pick up the presence of living things nearby though. Why not? Because it would make mages hard to ambush. Comes in three stages – ability to handle ambient magic, ability to handle ambient magic and ley lines, and ability to handle ambient magic, ley lines, and ley line nodes. A good focus-stone seems to help somewhat in making things less tiring. Now here we have the good stuff! Generate Lightning! Make reasonably bright lights! Uhm… What other spells do we see?
    • Make a tent nice and warm! Or you could carry blankets with your adventuring supplies. Just Sayin.
    • Make a willing male gryphons body temperature stay low long enough for them to produce fertile sperm! Or sit in a cold bath for a while.
    • Summon Elementals! Abyssal, Air, and Fire elementals are mentioned – although they are quite small, none seem especially powerful, and most are timid.
    • Make new magical creatures or golem-things! Presuming that you are a master biologist as well as an uber-archmage or a blood mage villain, and even then it takes decades or centuries to make new creatures, they rarely reproduce well, and most of them have quite a lot of serious flaws and weaknesses. Golems and Frankenstein-constructs are easier, but are full of weaknesses and can never reproduce.
    • Open Gates / Teleportation Portals! Well, if you have some major power sources to draw on. Like being an adept using a node, killing a lot of people for blood magic, or having a big team of very well-trained mages. And you don’t mind being exhausted afterwards. And have time for it, since it often seems to call for a ritual. And there are no major magical disturbances in the area to disrupt your gate.
    • Summon Magical Creatures! If there are some about anyway. And you have enough raw power to gate them in (see Gates). And controlling them is quite another matter.
    • Make amplifiers for magic or other gifts! Which are expensive, unreliable, and take a lot of charging up – which is why they’re terribly rare.
    • Make a big magical greenhouse! If you have a node to tie it to, help in setting it up, and a lot of time. This may also provide some defense against divination, if only in the same way that a houses walls help against people spying on you from afar.
    • Summon or drive off magical entities! Given time, knowledge, and various rituals.
    • Make Videophone Calls! Well, if the people on both ends happen to be Adept or Masterclass mages of the White Winds school and they don’t mind throwing up a beacon of “here I am”, opening themselves to magical attack, and getting drained or exhausted in the process.
    • You can perform a ritual that will allow those betrayed unto death by an Oathbreaker to come back as spirits and take vengeance! If you’ve already captured and restrained the target, and have the help of a Priest, a Mage, and a Common Man of Goodwill who have all been betrayed by the Oathbreaker, and have lots of time, and the targets oathbreaking has resulted in other deaths. Or you could stab them a few times. Again,I’m just sayin…
    • Entrap other Mages in constraints that reflect their own magic back at them! If you have it all set up in advance for your targets and they don’t know how to get out. Given that the inventor made sure to spread knowledge of the spell around after using it, so that everyone WOULD know, this makes it a lot less useful.
    • You can Create Daggers Of Light! They last for a few moments after you let go of them, so you can throw them at people. Their effects are… exactly identical to those of any other decent dagger. You will always have a backup weapon though.
    • Throw various forms of Energy Blasts. Lightning. Fire. Er… maybe Force. I can’t recall much in the way of Cold, Sonic, or Acid blasts though. Usually targeting an individual or a small group. For a lot of “mages” this is about their only combat technique.
    • Spells Of Mass Compulsion! You can brainwash and compel entire armies! If you don’t mind being an irredeemably evil blood mage and performing lengthy rituals of human sacrifice. This also makes you a prime target for assassination of course.
    • Start Fires! Like with a match/tindertwig! Or, in advanced cases, like Alchemists Fire!
    • Hide Your Magic! So that the extremely rare people with Mage-Gift can’t automatically notice it if they look. Also, this only works if you’re an adept. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed but I think that it got mentioned later.
    • Create Illusions! Well, this one is a bread-and-butter effect in many places, mostly being used for disguises. Larger scale, combat, or beyond-the-visual illusions seem to be much rarer. About the biggest combat effect seems to be the “Blur” spell.
    • Slow or Reverse Aging! Well, mages can live a long time; it comes of tapping into extra life energy. Few of them seem to die of old age though and getting younger seems to involve stealing other peoples lives or bodies. How often do RPG characters die or old age anyway?
    • Reincarnate! Like normal, except that you get to keep more of your memories at the cost of stealing one of your descendants bodies, driving yourself madder and madder, being evil, and being judged by the gods or possibly having your soul annihilated at some point.
    • Put low-resistance people to sleep! Like… you know, a Sleep spell!
    • Create an Adept Manifestation! Basically a Psychic Construct. If you happen to be an adept and are willing to put so much power into it that you endanger yourself if it is destroyed. Yet another effect that is used once in an early book and never really comes up later except to show “I am an adept!”. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed.
    • Summon small Whirlwinds! Like… Dust Devil or Wall Of Wind. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed, and so may be an air elemental effect.
    • Make Walls of Fire! Like… Wall Of Fire, but generally smaller and weaker. Probably a third level version.
    • Perform minor Divinations, drawing on notions of Sympathy and Contagion! Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed. Perhaps an air elemental effect?
    • Create a Dueling Circle, which contains your own attacks and prevents outside magical interference. Turns up in the Vows & Honor series (once I think) before the magic system changed and did not prevent multiple forms of cheating and external interference.
    • Empower your other Gifts with energy from Ley Lines and Nodes! If you’re Vanyel Askevron, and have had all those magic and gift “channels” blasted open in a horrible magical accident. Otherwise this doesn’t seem to happen much at all.
    • Project your spirit into the void between gates! Where there is… well, where there normally isn’t anything at all except a massive energy drain. Unless a mega-adept has hidden something there – which turns up ONCE – this is effectively “I can sink into a trance I might not awaken from and accomplish nothing!”.
    • Create a country-wide alert/spy system connected to all the other Heralds! Using the help of several other mages, a node focused through a Heartstone, and a small legion of divinely-empowered plot-device Companions… So no, this isn’t going to work for you.
      • Advanced Masters can set spells on triggers, to go off later. Almost like they know a bit of Metamagic.
  • Mind-Healing. Well, this is SUPPOSED to cover a boosted understanding psychology, calming emotions, treating traumas and mental control effects, and so on. In the actual books it’s more heard of then seen, because stories about mentally healthy, well-adjusted, sensible people tend to be BORING.
  • Precognition: This usually comes in a specialized variant; tactical precognition that gives you bonuses in a fight is very different from dreaming the distant future – and neither have much relationship to being able to predict the weather weeks in advance.
  • Psychometry: Ability to “read” information and impressions from objects. Like that minor psionic discipline.
  • Pyrokinesis: Mostly limited to the equivalent of “throw alchemists fire” if you can do anything beyond getting along without a cigarette lighter or match. A few people with this as a major gift show up, and can do things like start forest fires very quickly or perhaps throw fireballs.
  • Shields: Pretty much all Heralds are taught to stabilize their mind and resist being influenced by effects resembling their own gifts. In d20 terms, they invest a bit in Will Saves. A lot of the more subtle stuff apparently automatically fails against anyone with a decent will save bonus. Mages use the same technique to help them resist magical attacks. Like… you know, buying up your saving throws.
  • Summoning Rituals: What little is left of the old “call on entities from other planes” magic system. Mostly minor, easily turned back on the user, and dangerous. Mostly used by bad guys to summon “demons”. Since “Demons” never actually put in an on-stage appearance in most of the books beyond the Vows & Honor series – and that was before the magic system changed – we know little or nothing about them save that “they are bad”.
  • Telekinesis: Usually minor, but handy for guiding missiles, snagging cell keys, and similar tricks.
  • Telepathy: Usually fairly short range, but some few can check in on people they know at great distances. Often limited to either receiving or projecting, but it’s not too uncommon to do both. Stronger gifts can be used to cause insanity, charm people, make suggestion effects, and so on.
  • Teleportation: Usually short range and of small objects to and/or from the user. Under great stress, and with a powerful gift, you can move something as large as a small person a short distance. Like a one-shot blink or very short range, low-capacity, Dimension door.

In case it wasn’t sufficiently obvious… most Gifts basically cover first level stuff. The occasional Major Versions of those Gifts cover a rather limited selection of stuff of up to level three or four. We aren’t talking vast cosmic power here. Next time around I’ll look at actually building this stuff.

Valdemar D20 – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I usually say that…

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

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

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

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

So what do we know about Companions?

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

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

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

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