Debatable Evils – Negative Energy And Undeath

And for today it’s another question!

I’ve recently encountered some media that have put forward an interesting idea with regards to undead beings. Specifically, the idea that it’s possible for there to be undead creatures that were never alive to begin with, essentially beginning their existence – whether summoned magically or created “naturally” – in an undead state.

While none of those media get particularly deep into the mechanics of how exactly that’s possible, the idea doesn’t seem so implausible that it cannot be countenanced. That is, if new beings can come into being while alive, why not do so at the opposite end of the metaphysical spectrum? That, or they could be animated by spirits associated with death, necromancy, etc. Coming up with an explanation that sounds plausible, at least on its face, isn’t too hard.

My question is, what mechanical alterations (to the existing rules regarding undeath) would that idea have if implemented under the d20 game rules? At the very least, it seems like spells associated with creating/summoning such undead wouldn’t necessarily have the [Evil] descriptor.

-Alzrius

Well, it’s important to remember that biology and metabolism really aren’t important in d20. That’s why d20 uses Hit Points instead of detailed wound systems, and why elementals – lumps of rock, or plasma, or swirls of air with no metabolisms or biology – are creatures with hit points. Undead basically have [Hit Points] – a negative value of hit points that they treat as a positive one because they’re things of negative energy.

Inanimate objects can have metabolisms, and biology – but in d20 terms they are objects, or perhaps organic machines, not truly living things. That’s why a Deathwatch spell doesn’t give you a report on every broken blade of grass in a field and why I can’t cast Cure Light Wounds on a mostly-eaten watermelon to heal it and let me eat it again. That’s also why Remove Disease (presuming that diseases are caused by micro-organisms) is a Conjuration (Healing) effect and not Necromancy (Death).

  • Positive Energy drives growth, life, mobility, and creation. It is a force of light, change, and evolution that drives an increase in complexity in the face of entropy. Thus children are filled with positive energy while the extremely elderly, who have mostly exhausted their stores of possibility and can barely cling to life, have little left.
  • Negative Energy weakens, kills, paralyzes, and annihilates. It is a force of darkness, cold, and entropy. That’s why undead are destroyed at zero hit points; they can no longer resist the side effects of the negative energy within them. It’s also why they generally do not grow or gain levels and why most undead feed on the living – their corpses gaining an unnatural mobility through theft.

Neither positive or negative energy is a moral agency in itself. In d20, that role is reserved for the energies of the outer planes, which make “good” and “evil” into absolute, measurable, and detectable, forces. There isn’t any moral relativism and there’s no point in arguing about whether or not an act is good or evil. Just use your Phylactery Of Faithfulness (a mere 1000 GP!) and you will KNOW.

In the real world clearing some forest is good for some types of creatures, bad for others, and will have ongoing effects, both knowable and unknowable, on the environment, the world, and the human population, that will not finish playing out until far in the future. Is doing so a “Good” or “Evil” act? The answer depends on your personal priorities and beliefs and on how many consequences of what kind you are aware of to consider. Would your decision change if you somehow knew that it would unleash a horde of plague-carrying rats and kill millions?

In d20, if you are tilting the alignment energy balance of the material plane towards Good, then you are committing a Good act. If you are tilting the alignment energy balance of the world towards Evil, you are committing an Evil act. If you’re doing neither to any noticeable degree… then the act is neither good not evil.

Are those babies of a species that is strongly inclined towards evil? Then slaughtering them all is a good act even if they are neutral at the moment. Adopting and raising one is evil. Adopting and raising a child of a species that is strongly inclined towards good is good. Adopting and raising a child of a species without strong inclinations? That could be good or evil depending on how you raise it. Running a slaughterhouse and massacring hundreds of true neutral creatures every day? That’s neither good nor evil.

The trouble with the d20 rules on Alignment is that no one ever actually sat down and tried to work out what the axioms of good and evil WERE (why would they? The only real point was a set of quick labels to sort out targets and people to protect). “Good” is loosely defined as a grab bag of behavioral traits that promote group welfare in a social species (“Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others”) while “Evil” is loosely defined as behaviors that disrupt social groups (“Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.”).

According to the 3.5 Players Handbook (and supposedly in Pathfinder due to a lack of new rulings and back-compatibility) “channeling positive energy is a good act and channeling negative energy is evil” (Page 160).

Why is that?

Well… the Prime Material Plane is supposed to be made up of a mixture of the elemental forces of the inner planes – Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Positive Energy, and Negative Energy. But unless someone is importing or exporting such forces, what’s there is there. Like it or not, channeling substantial amounts of negative energy in from the negative energy plane – whether in the continuing tap that allows undead to exist or in bursts – drains energy from the material plane. It reduces the universe for all time to come. Adding positive energy doesn’t “make up for it”, since otherwise that energy could have gone into expanding and adding possibilities to the universe.

And there’s the connection; importing negative energy from the negative material plane reduces the total energy of the prime material plane, draining the possibilities of the future and denying existence to creatures that would otherwise have been born and lived. Throughout the eons to come… it is a never-ending crime, and so is an Evil act.

Importing positive energy from the positive material plane forever adds to the possibilities of the universe. It is a never-ending boon to all life yet to come, and so is a good act. And no matter what your reason for using Channeling is… that long-term Good or Evil is going to outweigh the immediate effects.

So why aren’t all spells involving positive energy “good” and all of the ones involving negative energy “evil”? That’s something of a game convenience so as to allow evil Clerics to heal – but what’s the in-game explanation?

Well, looking at the lists…

  • Conjuration is used to bring in materials from other planes. Ergo, effects involving positive and negative energy that aren’t Conjurations must rely on gathering positive or negative energy from ambient sources – or simply generating both positive and negative energy at the same time from a zero state – rather than on importing it. Thus many spells (Disrupt Undead, Touch Of Fatigue, Chill Touch, Ghoul Touch, Stricken Heart, Defoliate, Deathwine, Gloomblind Bolts, Blood Crow Strike (which, interestingly, creates identical amounts of fire and negative energy), Enervation, Vampiric Shadow Shield, Smite Abomination, Waves Of Fatigue, Waves of Exhaustion, Orb Of The Void, and even Energy Drain) may involve positive or negative energy but they aren’t Conjuration effects – they’re Necromancy. And the basic definition of Necromancy is that “Necromancy spells manipulate the power of death, unlife, and the life force”. Ergo they use and manipulate, but do not summon, such energies – and thus are not inherently evil.
  • Next up on the list of spells involving positive and negative energy we have the curative and anti-curative spells, such as Cure/Inflict Wounds, Vigor, Delay Poison, Energetic Healing, Healthful Rest, Cleanse, Heal/Harm, Life Shield, Symbol Of Healing, Revenance, Revivify, Remove Radioactivity, Resurgent Transformation, Pillar Of Life, Repair Undead, and Heal / Harm.

These spells are a bit weird. Most of the Curative spells are Conjuration (Healing) – which makes some sense – but the corresponding negative-energy vesions tend to be Necromancy, and neither version is (Good) or (Evil). Why aren’t the equal-and-opposite spells Conjuration (Infliction) rather than Necromancy? Or why aren’t the Curative spells Necromancy? After all, in first and second editions curative spells were reversible and were all Necromancy. (No one seems to be entirely sure why it was changed except that someone working on the project felt that “Necromancy” should be inherently nasty and that “Good People” shouldn’t use it. Of course, you couldn’t take Healing away from anyone, or the setting broke). There’s the argument that you are conjuring new flesh and blood to fix a wound, but then why can’t I fix that watermelon? And why do Air Elementals get healed this way? Worse, in Fourth Edition healing spells tend to be Daily Use Utility Prayers and in Fifth Edition curative spells are Evocation. Given that, it’s kind of obvious that the school assignment is pretty much arbitrary – especially since those are mostly Divine Spells, and “school” doesn’t matter much to Clerics.

So to justify this in game terms…

  • Perhaps these spells are simply “taking out a loan”? Some of them are strictly temporary, while the excess positive energy of the actual healing effects might either leak back or simply take the place of the positive side of the usual flow of power through living and unliving things over time. That would leave no net gain or loss of energy on the material plane, and thus no reason for them to be “Good” or “Evil”.
  • It could mean that those spells involve the old idea of Backlash. They’re neutral because their effects are automatically balanced out. Perhaps when one creature is Healed another one somewhere else suffers equal and opposite Harm. Or perhaps the power is drawn from the patient or healer in some form. Does being magically healed magically age you a few hours or days depending on the level of injury? Who would notice? It’s not like characters come with a life expectancy meter and how often does “death by old age” come up for Adventurers anyway?
  • It could also mean that these spells are simply misclassified, and actually are necromancy spells – which could be taken to mean that there are limits to how much healing is available, or mean that healing does not work well in dark dungeons full of pooled negative energy (where little or no ambient positive energy is available), or some such. That would have the (very welcome) side effect of restoring some slightly longer-term meaning to losing hit points after the first few levels (after which Healing Belts, Wands of Lesser Vigor, and similar tricks mean starting every encounter with your full hit points).

 

  • The final major group of spells – Bless / Curse Water, Sanctify Corpse, Veil Of Heaven / Positive Energy, Empower Holy Water, Light of Iomedae, Consecrate / Desecrate, Khain’s Army, Animate Dead, Hallow / Unhallow, and Create Undead – DO carry the “Good” or “Evil” descriptor. And notably… they all definitely do import excess positive or negative energy, and so make permanent, ongoing, changes in the energy balance of the material plane.
  • The last few relevant spells – things like Life Channel, Undeath Inversion, Blood Of The Martyr, and Fire Of Judgement – all have to do with either shifting positive or negative energy around or changing how they interact. They’re rightfully neither good nor evil.

Now the point of all this is to take a look at how positive and negative energy work and what they mean in terms of the setting so that we can see what MAKES casting certain spells or the use of Channeling inherently good or evil.

And what the game seems to imply… is that using ambient negative energy, or generating it by producing equal amounts of positive and negative energy, is morally neutral. On the other hand, pulling negative energy from the Negative Material Plane into the rest of the universe – whether in a burst or in a slow trickle – is inherently evil.

Stronger creatures powered by ambient negative energy will need some way to harvest it – perhaps haunting places where it collects (the classic graveyard haunts), or cultivating and draining it from others (for example, the Sirens from My Little Pony). This could even be benign, at least to start with. After all, stealing negative energy from a normal creature could theoretically leave it happier and healthier. Of course, when that’s no longer enough available naturally, and the creature must start to cultivate negative energy to feed… then things will start to get bad.

In theory you could also get spontaneous negative energy creatures arising anywhere where a lot of negative energy has built up – but the nature of negative energy is destructive. You won’t get evolved complexity, built up over time (that’s why even intelligent undead tend to go madder and madder over the centuries). Something else will have to provide a framework for your creature to form around and a spark to bring it to (un-)life – but if the old manor has built up a pool of negative energy, is filled with psychic traces of hatred and disharmony, and someone murders the old man who owned the place during a burglary… then you have power, purpose, and spark.

That does give us an opening though; in this view Animate Dead draws a burst of negative energy into the world to create weak undead powered by ambient energy and Create Undead gives them a continuous link – but you could (at least in theory) use a higher-level spell to gather ambient negative energy and use it to create Animate Dead style undead powered by ambient negative energy without it being actively evil – at least as far as the process goes. You’d still bear at least some responsibility for anything they got up to later though – and THAT is almost certain to go badly eventually. Similarly, you could use ambient negative energy to manifest undead constructs, allowing you to use “summon undead” without the [Evil] descriptor as Pathfinder does – but that also goes a long way towards explaining why those spells are so ineffectual for their levels.

As for what you could animate or what might animate spontaneously… you’re creating a creature with no pattern to follow using forces which are inherently difficult to control and shape. That means that complex creatures and minds are likely going to be out of reach. Destructive oozes, simpler aberrations, and constructs are a good starting point. You just make them evil instead of neutral and throw “undead” qualities on top of whatever they started with. Make them vulnerable to positive energy and let negative energy heal them and you’re mostly ready to go. For a few possibilities… consider the Ragewind (3.5 MMII), Raggamoffyn (3.5 MMII), Hangman Golem (3.5, MMIII), Cadaver Collector (3.5 MMIII), Necrophidius (3.0 Fiend Folio), Attic Whisperer (Pathfinder), Corpse Candle (Pathfinder), Byakhee (Pathfinder), and Jealous Structure (Pathfinder Curse). For items on the blog… I’d recommend the Dark Tales series (The Hunt, The Grove, The Well, The House, and The Ship). I’d also recommend the Occult monster-enhancing packages.

Anything with an active link to the Negative Material Plane (like virtually all of the more powerful undead) however…. will be a walking blight on the world, actively draining the energy of the universe to survive. It may not consider itself anything but hungry – but by the objective standards of d20 such creatures are inherently evil and utterly hostile no matter how they limit themselves or justify their feeding.

And for another reader response and answer…

Personally, the issue I see is that most undead seem to act as either constructs like skeletons and liches that just happen to use living remains as the raw materials or are some sort of a contagious plague like vampires or zombies. As such they all seem to be defined with regards to a former “living” state. Thus I find it hard to visualize some method of generating undead corpses without some source of corpses to begin with that required it being alive at some point. Which isn’t to say you couldn’t animate a mass of calcium and synthetic protein into a zombie, but I don’t think that is the idea you were going with.

Instead, I would look at the idea of negative energy life forms as a mirror to positive energy lifeforms. A lot of material seems to assume that all living things have some sort of link to the Positive Energy Plane that provides the animating/organizing force independent of the creature’s metabolism. While never entirely clear, the positive energy a creature can pull through into the material plane is limited and that is what is the bottleneck for things like healing, lifespan, and growth. To further boost those in response to disease, injury, or aging, external sources are required in the form of medicinal herbs, healing spells, and lifeforce infusions.

With that said, I would argue that lifeforms that use a link to the Negative Energy Plane as an energy sink would be possible. Instead of pulling energy in to heal injuries, it could instead sacrifice mass-energy to the sink to generate power for healing instead.

While in many ways indistinguishable from normal life forms, this could have a number of interesting side effects: poor (or even addictive) response to normal healing, a tendency to lose mass over time, a body temperature a little below ambient, healing ability being proportional to mass (i.e. being fatter), slower growth rates, much higher need to eat/drink to maintain mass and health, higher tolerance to heat, and lower tolerance to cold.

Thus I can imagine life forms running around the material plane vacuuming up loose bits of mass-energy to consume, growth, and multiply across the landscape. Attempts by these creatures to eat normal life forms or vice versa could go poorly as the resulting (brief) collision between positive and negative energy taps lead to explosive results. Which could then lead to entire areas being dominated by one form of life or the other depending on which gained a hold first. Perhaps this could be the mechanism behind those absurdly vibrant underground ecologies and why people aren’t roasted alive due to the geothermal heat.

This could then lead to all sorts of fun little issues like you can’t eat the local flora/fauna without some significant preparation work, extremely potent medicines made from plants of the other type that are a pain to gather, and really nasty monsters that start off huge and can continue fighting for long periods of time simply by sacrificing mass for regeneration until it is too small and then flees whereupon it may return larger than ever when you least suspect it.

Not that this is a set of mechanical alterations like you asked, but perhaps this is food for thought to help brainstorm some more ideas, adventures, and horrifying experiments.

-Spellweaver81

This is actually a lot like the physics of Continuum II – where energy flowed from Hyperspace into normal space and from normal space into subspace. Physical creatures could exist in any of the three – and energy creatures could exist across the interfaces. The most common energy beings were “Demons” (linking Normal Space and Subspace, and so almost universally deadly predators, feeding on each other and on any energy they could get) and “Manitou” (linking Hyperspace and Normal Space. Their problem was controlling the flow of energy). A very few life forms had both Hyperspace and Subspace links, but while that provided immense abilities to both generate and dissipate energy, coupling it was wildly unstable; a “God” needed stabilizing feedback to avoid exploding or dissipating.

  • Undead” combined a Demonic aspect and a Physical Body in Normal Space. They needed constant energy inputs to resist the drain of Subspace.
  • Faerie combined a Manitou aspect and a (Living) Physical Body in Normal Space. They dissipated excess energy as a variety of powers.
  • Elementals occurred when a Manitou anchored itself into nonliving mass. They ranged from tiny things to the planetary core elemental.
  • Totem Spirits were anchored through the Empyrean (mental) Plane into a group of living things.
  • And so on.

Overall there were five major orders of life, dozens of types of symbiotic hybrids, and a lot of tinkering, Thus the characters occasionally did things like analyzing the metabolism and biology of dragons, or the genetics underlying the different power-expressions that led to storm, fire, ice, and primal giants. After all… once they knew how something worked, they could figure out how to manipulate it to be more to their liking.

Alas, however, d20 and Pathfinder don’t really go into that kind of detail. There are reasons for that. They have many writers, so maintaining any kind of consistent physics is near-impossible to start with and (worse) going into that kind of detail would mean that the game master would need to study a lot of physics before running the game. Pathfinder’s writers in particular are very reluctant to introduce any new mechanics (preferring to refluff old ones, which is how they wound up with Psychic Spells and with Grit, Ki, and several other kinds of points which all work the same way while supposedly representing wildly different processes) for fear of the kind of unexpected rules interactions / exploits that so plague 3.5. That, in fact, was a part of the reason for Eclipse; you can use it to build exotic mechanics (such as the Nymic Mage), while maintaining a basic consistency.

So this won’t really work. D20 tells us that the Negative Energy Plane is full of undead (who, if they had negative metabolisms, should respond to being there like positive energy creatures do on the Positive Material Plane – although they’d probably disintegrate instead of exploding), that negative energy creatures cannot grow or reproduce except by infecting or consuming positive energy creatures, that negative energy creatures cannot gain levels save by stealing positive energy from truly living creatures, and that negative energy is inherently entropic and entirely destructive. Negative energy creatures can amalgamate with each other – but that’s merging, not growth. Thus a negative energy creature will always have to have a structure provided for it somehow.

I think the closest things to this in d20 are the half-undead templates from Dragon Magazine. Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a half-undead ecosystem going.

And I hope that helps!

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Continuum II: C’hi Powers, Part III

Introspection and C’hi Powers are well known for their relationship to the martial arts. At it’s most basic, this opened a special option for the “Mystic” category of basic martial arts maneuvers – C’hi Channeling, which boosted the user’s effective level for the use of Introspection and C’hi powers by +1 per level up to a maximum of +7 levels. The first level counted as three martial arts options, each level after that cost one additional option. This, of course, weakened the mundane effectiveness of such styles, but greatly boosted the effectiveness of any C’hi powers used with them. Higher level characters would still win a fight due to their far greater power reserves, durability, and advanced skills – but at least it took a few rounds and so allowed promising youngsters to be effective speed bumps, just like they are in martial arts movies.

Really high-end “martial arts styles” – the sort of stuff you find in over-the-top martial arts comic books where the characters shrivel people to dust with a touch, shatter small mountains, shapeshift, fly, and otherwise act like super-heroes and super-villains – tended to consist of little more than a list of Introspection and C’hi powers and ways that the style typically combined them. For example…

The Poison Claw Style was an exotic and almost entirely offensive form relying on hand attacks, usually from a crouched position.

  • The techniques most commonly included as a part of the style were Intimidation (an Introspection ability), Biofocusing, C’hi Drain, Eagles Claw/Crushing Claw, Hastening, Metabolic Control, Plague Carrier/ Poison Touch, Whirlwind/Whirlwind True, Amplification (Strength), and Sensory Stun (another Introspection ability).
  • Common combinations included the signature “Poison Claw” attacks (Hastening, Crushing Claw, and Poison Touch), exhaling deadly clouds of plague or toxins (Whirlwind and Plague Carrier or Poison Touch), ripping minor enemies apart to terrify others (Intimidation, Crushing Claw, and Strength Amplification), finger-snaps so powerful that they could render every one nearby blind and deaf (Whirlwind True and Sensory Stun twice), absorbing enemy toxins or encountered diseases to add to your own arsenal (Metabolic Control and Poison Touch or Plague Carrier as needed), and so on – with each adept developing their own preferred list.
  • Overall, the style tended towards swiftly crippling groups of opponents – making it easy for friends and allies to deal with them. It didn’t work so well on major opponents, since they were often highly resistant to the user’s abilities.

It didn’t bear much resemblance to the acrobatic, ice-based Glacial Wind Style (using Polarity Shield, Projection/Psychic Lance, Biofocusing, Dim Mak True (focusing on heat and cold), Binding (encasing opponents in ice), Iron Fist, Will Shield, and Acrobatics). The Glacial Wind could inflict impressive amounts of damage, but ran more towards “close with the major opponent and entrap him or her long enough for your friends and allies to take him or her out”.

Black Lotus Flower Style was focused on deception, rapid movement, and energy transfer, relying on hand strikes for offense and evasiveness for defense. It’s basic techniques included Sensory Stun/Mirage (introspection again), Kinetic Aura/True, Hastening/Ghosting, Light Foot, Acrobatics, Iron Fist/C’hi Pulse, Shockwave/Chiburst, Transfer, Natural Empathy/Vital Points, and Missile Deflection/Evasion. It was used to confuse and delude masses of enemies, keeping them striking at phantoms while the user took them out one by one with cheap precision strikes.

Stalking Death Style employed Persuasion/Mesmerism (an Introspection ability), Unpresence/Psychic Camouflage (more Introspection), Hypersenses, Vibration (used to shatter bones, open locks, stun with a touch, and combined with Resistance to allow brief intangibility), Resistance (Vibration), Precision, Focused Mastery (Stealth), Light Foot, Acrobatics, and Evasion/Vanishing – basically focusing on becoming a living shadow, capable of mesmerizing guards, passing through walls, walking through a crowd unseen, seeing in darkness, and bypassing all kinds of defenses.

And there were many, MANY, other styles. Pretty much every C’hi-using character came up with their own if none of the existing ones caught their eye. They didn’t always do a good job the first time around, but they could always pick up a new technique or two and retrain their list of personal maneuvers to do something a bit different.

Storm Weaver Style was a “natural disaster” style, focused on turning the environment into a whirling tornado-shield and firing masses of material like a cannon – whether loaded with grapeshot or solid projectiles. It could also generate shockwaves, hurl or turn aside avalanches, and devastate areas – although, it was very power-intensive. It was very much a niche style, since – for the most part – if you really wanted to battle armies and tear up the landscape there were major psionics and several kinds of magic that did it at much lower cost. Unless you were in a martial arts / C’hi powers ONLY campaign there wasn’t a lot of point in this.

Seven Finger Jitsu Style focused heavily on introspection, vital points, precision, and projected strikes – to the point where a master generally stood around with their arms crossed and entirely hidden within their billowing sleeves, making subtle finger gestures inside those sleeves to invisibly inflict various injuries on their opponents. It’s chief advantage was being set up to use almost no power. A master could pretty much keep it up indefinitely and often didn’t even appear to be doing anything but sneering at their opponents. On the other hand, it focused on individual targets, wasn’t overwhelmingly powerful even then, and wasn’t terribly fast in dealing with those targets. Rather like Darth Vader’s “Force Choke”, it wasn’t an especially good way to deal with an onrushing horde or a giant (and likely resistant) monster. Fortunately, adding in a few area effect options made it much more effective for adventuring purposes, even if it did kick up the power costs.

And to get back to the ability listing, here are the last of the…

C’hi Techniques

Plague Carrier: This technique allows the user to maintain, and adapt to, the presence of various virulent microorganisms in his bloodstream and tissues, releasing them thru the capillaries in his skin at will. While potentially very useful, this can have gruesome consequences when/ if something goes wrong. As a side effect, this grants near-total immunity to anything already present in the user’s bloodstream, and a fair degree of resistance to new “acquisitions”. “Poison Touch” allows the user to adapt similarly to carrying exotic chemicals in his / her bloodstream, including various poisons, drugs, and corrosives. However, unlike micro-organisms, chemicals are not self-replenishing. This ordinarily limits the user to whatever he / she has recently ingested. Further improvements include the ability to produce various chemicals internally, to selectively modify the organisms living in your blood (This usually means creating a resistant or weakened strain, but further improvements may allow genetic modifications) – and the ability to create antidotes, vaccines, antibiotics, and counter-agents, for the stuff you’re circulating in your blood. Perhaps sadly, this technique has a reputation as bad as, or maybe even worse then, Dim Mak. Even the occasional healer who specializes in the curative aspects of this talent will generally be regarded with grave suspicion.

Power Block: This handy technique allows the user to link an offensive technique with a defensive one, a trick which allows the user to block an attack using a technique such as Auric Shunt and strike back with the same, “defensive”, action. The advanced version allows the user to surround himself with an aura carrying the effects of another technique, which will affect anyone who touches the user. Unfortunately, unless this skill is otherwise improved, this has to be a technique that would normally affect another person. Further improvements could involve that aspect of the technique – but more commonly involve things like extending the radius of the effect, extending defensive abilities to shield a radius, or making such an effect a reflexive action.

Precision: This technique heightens the users fine muscular control, providing a substantial bonus on any action involving fine work or precise action – such as missile fire (especially thrown weaponry), striking at openings and joints in armor (reducing the protection it gives) – and when striking from behind or by surprise. The bonus is usually around +3, but it only applies if the user is attempting a precise action, in which case it usually compensates for some of the penalties. This ability is especially formidable if combined with some of the other psychic abilities – such as Vital Points. The advanced version further refines these techniques, increasing the bonus (to +5) and assists the user in any technique involving fine control of his or her nervous system and personal energies. Any bonuses with weapons due to this technique are not cumulative with “normal” martial arts skills. Further improvements may involve things like doing micro-precision work, perfecting the ability to stand absolutely still, working faster, and enhancing the users martial arts skills.

Projection: This deadly technique allows the user to link his own bioenergy field with his targets – and then transfer the effects he generates internally into them. Obviously enough, the auras of the user and the target must be in contact for this to work at all, and it’s much easier and much more dependable if the targets physical body is within the user’s aura. This usually limits this technique’s effective range to (Dex) feet. Worse, the concentration this requires generally means that using this technique requires two actions. It can be a dangerous technique to use as well, since linking your personal energy field to that of a major demon or an undead creature can be extremely dangerous to both parties involved. Even lesser incompatibilities can be bothersome. The simplest effect available is a ranged blow, but projection is often combined with other C’hi techniques to create more exotic effects. The advanced version directs, channels, and releases the effect along a projected carrier, without directly linking the user to the target. While this avoids the dangers inherent in linking auras (and extends the range to (Dex x 10 feet) it, unlike the basic version, can miss and can be resisted normally. The basic version quite effectively bypasses a wide variety of defenses. Both versions have trouble penetrating an area protected by a psychic shield, but most such shields are limited to protecting the user’s mind, not his or her body. Further improvements often involve blocking possible feedback, further extensions of the range, reducing the need for concentration, and channeling other energies through the link.

Psychic Aura: Is probably the strangest technique on the entire list. Closely related to empyrean magic, it involves physically manifesting a psychic construct based on the users aura. This can get seriously weird. Exactly what form the construct “takes” depends on the users personality – as well as on what they attempt to develop. Examples include; blazing Inner Light, which “dispels the darkness” and “drives back that which is impure”, grasping, Manipulative Tendrils that entangle and manipulate all who approach, Good Vibrations, that damp hostilities, evoke friendship, and make everyone in the area feel good, the Dragon-Form, a type of psychic exoskeleton, the sullen, vengeful, rage of the spirit-choking Balefire, the slippery/evasive shield/disguise of a con-artist’s Doppelganger Field, and the hypnotic, devouring, inner darkness of the Myndwulf, which was capable of tearing thoughts and memories out of people’s minds. The exact powers and nature of a psychic aura vary, ranging from things like a “simple”, physical, repulsion of enemies to outre’ philosophical abilities. Advanced versions tend to improve and expand on the basic effect – but the most common improvement is to extend the range. Other improvements may include; manifesting related effects, reducing the psychic strength costs, reducing the time it takes to call up the manifestation – or evading the possibility that the construct will begin to influence the user. Psychic Auras are normally built with the Power Armor rules. Unlike actual power armor, however, they tend to be very short-term and expensive to maintain, even if they do offer an unusual range of special functions. .

As a more modern note… if you’ve just GOT to be Naruto or Etrigan or something, this is one way to do it; that’s really just adding drawbacks to your construct to make it more powerful and semi-independent.

Psychic Purging: Is a straightforward effect used to expel foreign energies, substances, beings, and so on, purging the users mind and of all such influences. The advanced version extends the effect to the user’s physical body as well. Psychic Purging can thus be used to eliminate poisons, compulsive effects, and other intrusive things, but the energy cost is proportionate to the strength of the effect. This normally requires both some time and quite a bit of concentration. Further improvements often involve reducing those requirements or extending the effect to break off unwanted contacts or links. A rare improvement is to reduce the use of the technique to the unconscious level, making it very difficult to keep the user from using the technique to throw off mental influences.

Psychic Reservoir: A simple technique that allows the user to accumulate a greater-then-usual reserve of psychic energy – increasing the user’s maximum psychic strength total by (Level) points. Further improvements increase the maximum by half a point per level. Unlike other techniques, there are few complications involved in either the basic or in the improved versions. It does have a side effect, in that each level beyond the second boosts the users limit for the safe expenditure of psychic strength in a round by one point.

Psychic Shield: This technique enhances the users ability to resist psychic probes and attacks, generating a low-level barrier against psychic contact. The basic version is fairly effective against simple suggestive, emotional, and hypnotic effects, and will protect the user from casual psychic scans and passive psi-senses, but is of little use against directed probes and attacks relying on raw power instead of subtle influences. The advanced version lets the user actively resist psychic attacks and related powers, including compulsive spells, fascination, hypnosis, and telepathic assaults, although this can get expensive. Further improvements may allow the user to identify the source of any psychic attack, generate a shield against projected psychic abilities, protect an area, hurl away living beings by “repelling their auras”, or create a permanent (if low-level) barrier.

Resistance (Specify): This handy technique allows the user to resist a particular effect, whether a form of energy, a class of substance, or a particular type of attack. Possible effects include acid, electricity, telepathy, fire and heat, and impact. The major limitation is that such effects must generally affect the targets entire body – which weapons generally do not. Note that “resistance” is not “immunity”. It only reduces the injuries caused by major effects – although minor ones can be ignored. A character with “resistance to fire” can easily pick up a coal to light his (or her) pipe without injury, but toppling into lava will still be a bad experience – if far more survivable than usual. The advanced versions can provide near-immunity to broad effects and resistance to powerful focused attacks (such as weapons), but are active effects, and so require conscious expenditure of psychic energy. Further improvements usually involve reducing the cost, making them “automatic”, or expanding their protection (EG; Acids to Corrosives to (eventually) Dangerous Chemicals).

Self Healing: The technique maintains and repairs the user’s body, restoring it to its normal state. As such, there are no short-term supernormal enhancements associated with this technique although it does provide innate self-diagnostic abilities. The basic form allows the user to regain (1D6+1) points of vitality per psychic strength point expended, up to a maximum of (End/3) “points” of psychic strength per day. While the basic level is not sufficient to simply cure major diseases or counteract powerful toxins, it is capable of handling most lesser problems and moderating the effects of greater ones. It allow the user to shrug off pain, tension, lack of sleep, thirst, hunger, and a variety of other discomforts – within reason, since the cost will increase as the problem becomes more critical. Remaining awake and alert for a few days is trivial, a few weeks is considerably harder, and a years at a time is extremely expensive. The advanced form extends the curative functions, allowing the user to counteract virtually any disease or toxin. It also allows the user to extend the benefits of the “basic” level to others. Further improvements include reduced aging, slow regeneration of lost limbs and organ, stabilizing the user’s body against overloads, stress, and environmental problems (such as dangerous, but not instantly deadly, levels of radiation, temperature, low oxygen, and toxic chemicals), remaining active despite severe injuries, and even (temporarily) resisting death.

Senethar: This ability channels energy within the user’s bioenergy aura, a talent related to Auric Shunt but attuned to energy rather than matter. The “basic” version used passively provides a modest (+3) bonus on the users Resistance Rating and Defense Rating vs energy-based attacks. In active mode, it lets the user attempt to divert individually-targeted energy attacks – as well as to attempt to tap and channel energy sources within his or her aura. The advanced version permits the user to attempt to divert or reflect such attacks on an “automatic” basis. While this is not effective on area effects, it does provide a +5 bonus on relevant Resistance checks. Further improvements often involve focusing and projecting available energies and area-effects, grounding energy sources, increasing the effectiveness of the basic functions, learning to manipulate purely magical or psionic energies, instead of accepting the usual limitation to quasi-physical ones, storing a circulating “pool” of energy, and channeling energy into barriers.

Sexual Techniques: Always one of the most popular (if, perhaps, not one of the most practical) available disciplines – incorporating enhanced sexual endurance, skills, sensitivity, and attraction along with perfect control of fertility and the bodies physical responses. The advanced version extends this to the auric level – adding a seductive aura, pleasure-sharing, and similar talents. This technique is often combined with others, such as Mindlink, Precision, and Relaxation – although addiction may become a problem. Further improvements may include easing pregnancy and childbirth, using the energy of the activity to recharge psychically (possibly even to above normal limits), “charming” / fascinating the possible partners, creating various kinds of links, the ability to use other talents on your partner, pheromone generation, deliberate addiction of others, physiological and/or genetic manipulation of the children, using the energy surge to boost other abilities beyond normal limits, and resistance to disease.

I’ve never seen any point in trying to pretend that this would NOT be one of the most popular topics of research and development in any field that covered it. My usual ruling was that this particular field of study could just be noted as background characterization (like “my character is really good-looking and gets invited to a lot of swinging parties!) unless you expected it to actually have notable game effects (like “my character is so good-looking that he/she just gets admitted to see important people without question”) – in which case you had to actually pay for it.

Shadow Casting: This bizarre technique allows the user to “split off” portions of his self – of his or her personal mass, vitality, psyche, and energies. Such “shadows” may embody a fraction of the users energies in general, or a particular portion of the users power and personality. In either case, they are usually physically intangible (and can’t “die” by normal means) – unless they embody a major fraction of the user. Both psychic and magical senses will detect them as “real”, if weak and partial, presences. Shadows can be used as scouts, diversions, and even as weapons, but they are splendid links to the user, and will generally be missed if he or she doesn’t get a chance to re-absorb them. Splitting off too much of yourself is dangerous, especially over long periods of time. The advanced version allows the user to reshape a shadow – either internally, granting the user the ability to draw on the powers of whatever type of creature he’s reshaped a portion of his “self” into (QV; Weres) or to be released, creating a kind of “companion creature”. Such creatures are still shadows and remain telepathically linked to their creater over a fair range. Further improvements may involve giving shadows greater solidity, self-duplication, drawing on were-creature powers, placing a part of your self into another body, using a reshaped shadow as a disguise, and entirely disassembling yourself and re-assembling somewhere else. It’s also possible to set up a “repertoire” of different shadows, but this takes practice.

Shockwave: A simple, if expensive, technique that unleashes an overwhelming wave of pure psychic energy. In itself, this is simply a stunning, concussive, bolt of force – however it can be propagated through objects unless they’re resistant to psychic energies and can act as a “carrier” for other effects. The shockwave can be projected up to (Dex x 10) feet or be extended as a cone out to the limits of the users aura. The advanced version simply allows the user to push beyond those limits, at a cost dependent on how far the ability is being pushed. Shockwaves are incredibly “noisy”, on the psychic level, if not always on the physical. They tend to disrupt psychic constructs, shatter spells with psychic components (such as most illusions and mental manipulations), stun psychic sensitives, and otherwise make a mess. Further improvements usually revolve around making it cheaper to use, extending the disruption-effect to the physical or magical level, or learning to attune it to specific targets or types of targets, thus making the effect selective.

Somatic Control: This technique allows the user to manipulate and augment his or her bodies physical processes on the gross level, manipulating heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, need for sleep, food, and water, breathing, and so on – supplying any shortcomings (such as there being no air to breathe) with psychic energy. While this control can be used for an immense variety of “yoga” tricks, it’s most dramatic use is in resisting injury through control of bleeding, shock, and repair processes. The basic version allows the user to transfer a part of any damage taken from injuries, toxins, or diseases, to his/her psychic reserves and to resist effects which “drain” attributes. The advanced version extends the basic abilities, and adds new ones; it can be used for self- healing, to resist or suspend the effects of injuries, and to briefly “push” the user’s other psychic abilities by boosting neural activity – a potent, expensive, and dangerous technique. The user can suspend the effects of some single attack for up to (Wis) days, but cannot recover either physically or mentally until the damage has been dealt with. Further improvements cover things like ignoring mortal injuries, feigning death, boosted recovery of psychic energy, enhanced ability to absorb injuries, and neural surge techniques.

Transfer: This is the technique of nonresistance, of “allowing” energies to pass through the user’s body and aura without interacting with them. While not totally effective, it can reduce the effect of such attacks by up to 90%. It’s even possible to transfer the kinetic energy of material objects, although this doesn’t work very well against precisely-focused (arrows, thrusting attacks, etc) or continuously-driven (EG, chain saws and rapiers) attacks. It also has a minimum “threshold” of about ten points of damage. Below that point it simply isn’t possible to drop the resistance low enough. This is a very expensive discipline to use – and so is probably best saved for the “big stuff”. The advanced version allows the user to attempt the opposite tactic – increasing their “resistance” to the point where the force rebounds against its source. While this tactic can be spectacular, it’s also dangerous. If the force overwhelms the users resistance, he or she will absorb the full impact – often as structural damage. Boosting your resistance this way tends to forfeit a lot of the “give” usually inherent in living structures. Further improvements often include somewhat reducing the cost, transferring attacks into someone else (this trick has the same sort of disadvantage as “reflection” does. If the victim manages to resist, the user will absorb the full effect), protecting the area within your aura, or extending the effect to several attacks within a brief period.

Vibration: This technique allows the user to generate powerful vibrations, either internally, or in whatever he or she touches. While this can be applied in a variety of ways, the most common is to shake, disrupt, or shatter whatever it’s directed against. Other uses range from massage, through removing tarnish, to countering sonic attacks. The advanced version lets the user generate a powerful “pulse” of vibration or a vibratory “shield”, a trick which makes him/her nearly impossible to hold. If combined with an appropriate resistance, this can even be used to render the user intangible, if usually only briefly. Attempting such internal tricks without the resistance is often painful and (in the case of attempting full intangibility) sometimes fatal. Further improvements include causing structural damage, “reaching into” the other aspects (subdimensions of reality), seeking out resonant frequencies to use to destroy things, subsonic manipulations of emotions, inducing severe vertigo, countering vibratory effects, knocking people out, and ignoring armor.

Vocal Control: This subtly potent technique begins with “basic” mimicry, permitting near-absolute mastery of tone, inflection, and accent, as well as the allowing the user to effectively imitate an incredible range of sounds – often at remarkable volume. It also makes it easier to acquire languages – reducing the skill point cost by one, to a minimum of one. The advanced version extends this to the ability to interweave subtle tones and inflections in normal speech – weaving suggestions and insinuations, subtly influencing moods, and issuing abrupt orders with a fair chance of being obeyed. Such tactics work best on well-known individuals, poorly on strangers – and not at all on unknown races. Further improvements include a hypnotic voice, a “great shout” (capable of deafening people a breaking windows within a radius of several hundred feet), focused speech that “carries” only to its intended target even at great range, generating a telekinetic field within the users aura which acts as a kind of “amplifier” or “speaker”, psychic projection of meaning along with the words, or further linguistic enhancements.

Whirlwind: This deadly technique permits the user to attack everyone within his or her bioenergy aura, a radius in feet equal to his/her dexterity. While this may be a basic physical attack, many characters employ more exotic techniques, ranging from a nerve strike to plague carrier. Sadly, using such exotic techniques with the basic version requires paying for each attack separately. It does, however, allow the user to selectively exempt possible targets if he or she so desires. The advanced version permits the user to simply pay twice the price of a single attack for the full sequence – but doesn’t allow for leaving people out. Further improvements may permit launching an entire rounds attacks instead of a single strike, reduce the cost, allow target selection with the advanced form, make simple attacks automatic, extend the effect to three dimensions (and possibly even beyond that), creating a sphere of a long-term effect, or simply pushing people away automatically.

Will Shield: This handy technique allows the user to superimpose a counterpattern to an incoming psychic (or mystic) effect on his aura – making any resistance check an all-or-nothing proposition. Fortunately, the user can generally “feel” whether or not he can handle the incoming effect. (In game terms, the user may pay for using this technique after a successful resistance check to fully nullify the attack. If the roll fell in the marginal success or marginal failure range however the user may still pay for the attempt – but will have to roll again. It might or might not work. A failure will leave the user too busy dealing with the collapse to resist in any other fashion). The advanced version allows the user to blunt an effect that overwhelms the counterpattern, increasing his level of success by two levels. Further improvements may involve learning to resist internal effects (poisons and such) similarly, gaining bonuses on particular categories of rolls (EG; either vs particular items, such as “drugs and toxins”, or on rolls against a particular attribute), resisting the effects of shock, countering subtle mental effects and influences, ignoring distractions, or making great efforts.

The Introspection and C’hi systems allowed characters using them to have unique styles and suites of abilities, while still being free to attempt hundreds of different tricks with varying chances of success depending on their underlying abilities. Of course, it also required a lot of on-the-fly game master adjudication. That was the main weakness of Continuum II; the players had a lot of fun – but it took years of play before any of them were really ready to run a game of their own because they needed to understand how everything worked before they could easily figure out what was likely to happen when a player tried something outre on them.

It was also possible for it to backfire. For an example, when the party was attempting to deal with a water mage who’d set up shop in a swamp, they found that his tower was made of water – and simply flowed into gaps and otherwise repaired itself when they tried to breach it. One C’hi master announced that he was going to “channel an enormous pulse of energy into his metabolism and briefly enhance it to “bomb” speeds, channel that thermal energy into a reserve before it could injure him, and them project it – creating the equivalent of a massive shaped charge to blow away a chunk of the tower. He acknowledged that this was potentially suicidal when I warned him – but he went ahead and tried it anyway.

He didn’t manage to project the energy before he lost control. The resulting blast pretty much vaporized him, but also blew away a large chunk of the tower.

And then another character with far less training and skill announced that – since the first attempt HAD taken down a lot of the tower – he was going to try the same stunt. The rest of the players told him he was insane, but he insisted.

Still, two such blasts did take out most of the tower, so that was something I suppose.

Similarly, when Arthur attempted to put together a combination to let him meditate his way back to the present (linking himself to the planetary biosphere to get the strength to maintain his body and putting himself into a healing trance to maintain his mind) after being stranded on an alien world  a hundred and forty million years in the past, he made most of his checks – but lost track of his body, and wound up greeting his friends as the spirit of the local biosphere. That really put a crimp into his ability to go adventuring until after he figured out a way to make an Avatar.

Continuum II: C’hi Powers, Part II

Quite a lot of things in Continuum II ran on the same general mechanic; you had a power defined by how it worked and by it’s theme. You could attempt anything within your personal limits for handling energy and the limits of whatever energy source you were drawing on that fit in with how it worked and with that theme, at a cost determined by how much power it would require and a difficulty determined by the level of fine control it required – with most basic actions being simple enough not to bother rolling for.

So you had Electrokinesis and you wanted to throw an electrical bolt? A high power cost (depending on the damage and range you wanted), but a really easy control check – so easy in fact that you normally didn’t need to roll that control check because success would be automatic. You wanted to override the circuits of an electronic lock to open a door? Not much power required, but you’d want a lot of fine control – so a difficult roll (made much easier if you had some applicable special senses so you weren’t fumbling around blind). You wanted to reach into a computer you’re touching and directly enter some false data? Almost no power – but a virtually impossible check unless you had supplementary powers like “computer emulation” to make it more reasonable, and probably tricky even then.

Psychic Powers fueled by your personal energies (C’hi powers if they normally operated inside your own energy-aura, and so had direct control feedback and a big break on control checks, Psychomancy if they projected energy beyond that range and so gave smaller bonuses) gave bonuses to control, but had much lower upper power limits because your body only had so much energy available. Powers fueled by available external sources of energy (minor psionics) had no modifiers. Powers fueled by remote, but almost unlimited, cosmic energy sources (major psionics) could accomplish incredible things – but required a low transfer impedance to avoid frying the user’s brain with the waste energies and made fine control extremely difficult. Not too surprisingly, characters who opted to focus on stealth, manipulation, and otherwise being subtle tended to go for personal-energy based powers, those who wanted to balance power and control went for minor psionics, and those wishing to deal in vast amounts of raw power went for major psionics. They could all be equally effective in combat of course; using personal energies to pinch someone’s aorta shut worked just as well as using cosmic power sources to crush them with a mountain.

With psychic powers you could improve your control with rituals, tools, and time, and/or improve your raw power with boosters, foci, and channels. If you wished to extend the theme, or make a power cheaper to use, or improve your fine control, or vary it in a lot of other ways, you invested more skill points in it. That had an upper limit of seven in total, but let you personalize and improve your favorite powers and uses thereof.

Overall, I’ve always preferred this general approach; it means that there’s a lot of ways for a thoughtful player to solve problems and manipulate their character’s powers to meet particular challenges.

And to stop musing and get back to the C’hi power descriptions from lo, those many years past…

C’hi Techniques

C’hi Infusion: This technique allows the user to transfer psychic energy (or vitality) to someone else, usually on a temporary basis. The user simply attunes his bioenergy field to the recipients and channels his or her energy into them. While this sounds simple, the actual technique is fairly complex, and merely setting up the link requires a certain amount of energy. Fortunately, physical contact usually makes it easier. The advanced version lets the user “guide” the recipient’s internal energy flows, making it far easier (and much safer for the student) to teach c’hi disciplines – and even allows a teacher to temporarily imbue his target with some of his own techniques, catalyze a shapechange, or help them heal wounds. Interestingly, this also allows a “teacher” to study his “students” techniques. Further improvements generally revolve around deeper transfers (EG – skills, knowledges, and languages), fast teaching, fast learning, and amplifying the recipients power. As a rule, transfers are temporary. A permanent transfer leaves the donors power permanently decreased, and can lead to problems like those noted under in C’hi Drain, although the voluntary nature of this transfer reduces them somewhat. While it’s possible to manage permanent transfers without the donor actually dying, unless the donor and the recipient share a great mental affinity, the mental link it creates can easily lead to madness.

Compensation: This ability is most useful to characters with a major permanent impairment, but can be handy to anyone who suffers an from a permanent or temporary handicap. Users simply force their (unimpaired) aura to replace the function of the damaged organ. This ranges from managing with a sore foot up to compensating for total blindness or even a missing limb or organ. Such “compensation” is effective – if often odd – offering minor advantages and disadvantages over the original ability since this is a psychic effect with limited range. A blind man could use this skill to “see” – but might find that, while his visual range is limited, many illusions do not register at all. A phantom limb would have no trouble picking up something hot or picking something out of acid, but might be shocked by something carrying a strong psychic charge. The advanced version acts as a form of empyrean projection with a limited range; the user may explore the psychic aspects of the material world(s), but cannot reach the deeper levels of dream, the various afterlives, or the conceptual realms. Further improvements include things like boosted physical functions, doppelganger effects, the ability to make an easy transition to the empyrean level upon physical death, or even the ability to make such transitions at will (going is easy, rebuilding your physical body when you want it back is a lot harder).

Dim Mak: This technique uses a focused burst of energy to disrupt the target’s life processes, usually on the neurological level. Obviously enough, there are many possible variations. The best-known effect is, naturally enough, the infamous “Death Touch” – causing severe, immediate, damage, pain, shock – and/or neural disruption. More specific variants include “draining” various attributes, stunning or paralytic effects, the “laughing death” (IE; causing uncontrollable spasms in one form or another), and simply inflicting incredible pain. Advanced versions of such skills allow the user to inflict either greater or delayed injuries, causing a subtle, cumulative, disruption, which may eventually kill or cripple the victim. Such subtle effects can go unnoticed for some time – possibly becoming extremely serious in the interval. Further improvements usually involve making such “injuries” more difficult to heal, expanding the number of variations available, or using the technique to disrupt the use of other powers.

Dragon C’hi: This technique allows the user to tap other energy sources to rebuild his personal psychic reserves. Such sources may be magical or physical in nature, but each separate source requires an individual variation or improvement on this skill. Common sources include personal magical powers, symbiotic spirits, great heat or cold, lightning, and so on. These sources must be internal to, or directly in contact with, the user for this talent to operate. The advanced version allows users to draw on fields in the immediate vicinity, such as the electrical power being released by a storm. Note that, while “bio-energy” is a popular choice, the user can only tap excess energies, he cannot forcibly take it. The “third level” of this ability is often used to power C’hi skills directly, greatly reducing their cost. While this may effectively supply several points of C’hi per round, self-recharging is a far more delicate process – and cannot be accomplished at this rate from external sources. There is, however, no fixed limit on recharging through the conversion of exotic personal energies. Further improvements usually involve extending the efficiency or range, learning to tap additional energy forms, or building up “pools” of extra energy, either psychic, or in the original from.

Eagles Claw: This handy technique exploits the natural tendency for creatures to focus on their manipulative organs. Focusing the bodies energy there enables the user to grip with superhuman strength. This makes it extremely difficult to dislodge the users hold, disarm him or her, and so on. It also lets the user to grip even the tiniest surface irregularities, allowing him or her to readily cling to almost any surface. Those already skilled in climbing will find that they can easily cross ceilings and similar obstacles. The advanced version enhances and extends this power, allowing the user to crush stones, bones, and so on, with his grip. While much too powerful to be used in ordinary climbs, it can be used to scoop out or break off pieces of the surface, so that others can easily follow. Obviously enough, such strength has an immense variety of other uses. Further improvements often involve imbuing the hands with incredible toughness, extending power through the arms and shoulders, or enhancing precision and speed to inhuman levels.

Energy Absorption: This technique allows the user to act as a “capacitor” for some form of energy, using his or her body to absorb and store it. The basic form is essentially defensive; the energy is first absorbed and then gradually dissipated into the surrounding area. The advanced form allows the user to control that discharge, storing and directing it. Unfortunately, this has a far lower upper limit then simply dissipating an overload. (Storage limits are usually Endurance – 6 “levels” of magic, Endurance “points” worth of physical energies, and Endurance + 6 points of psychic energy). Further improvements usually involve increasing that limit, storing complex energy patterns (Spells and such) – or imposing a simple pattern on the usual raw energy discharge (for example, creating laser beams instead of simple solar discharges).

Evasion: This technique allows the user to shift his molecules from point-to-point within his bio-energy field at near-sonic speeds – an effect which gives the appearance of near-instantaneous movement. While this is most commonly used to evade attacks, it can also be used to get into position to attack, reach cover, duck out of sight, cross crevices, and so on. Unfortunately, any substantial intervening barrier will block the use of the basic form. The advanced version, or “Vanishing Technique”, allows the user to rearrange his molecular structure in transit, allowing him to penetrate simple barriers, vanish without a “strobe effect”, and escape from bonds. It does not allow him to retain an altered molecular structure at the “end of the trip”.

The most common variant form is “Face Dancing”, the ability to reshuffle your personal molecules while remaining in place. The basic form of this ability allows the user to modify his or her; features, coloration, apparent (but not actual) mass, and general body type, within the limits of the basic humanoid (or whatever) form. While this usually includes the users clothing and gear, large amounts of inorganic material may require enough extra energy to be impractical. The advanced version permits a full shapechange to a non-humanoid form, giving the user access to any innate, physical, powers which that form possesses. Sadly, due to the great complexity of this feat, each such form must be acquired separately.

Further improvements commonly revolve around things like repairing damage, adding new or improved physical systems to the users body, combining features from two or more forms (“Wereforms”), or simply acquiring extra forms.

Focused Mastery: This ability permits the user to focus his psi-energies on enhancing his use of various skills or small groups of skills, although the broader the group chosen, the smaller the bonus. At the basic level, the user may select three such skills or groups of skills to enhance – although his (or her) selection is restricted to basically physically-oriented skills. Typical selections include various athletic, combat, and stealth skills, although others are possible. Typical bonuses range from +1 to +5, depending on the breadth, relevance, and importance, of the skills selected. The advanced version provides an extra “+1” on the bonus and allows the selection of two additional areas to boost, either or both of which may be mentally-oriented. Any further improvements generally involve adding an extra area and/or increasing the bonus – to a maximum of +6. Variants which boost the users effective level of mastery of a skill exist, but can get tricky. Pushing the limits of your mastery of dance is unlikely to result in more than stiff muscles or perhaps a strain. Pushing your mastery of – say – shapeshifting presents considerably greater hazards.

Focusing: This handy technique is used to channel the users full effort into a precise moment – commonly the moment of impact when hitting something, but other applications exist. Used in combat, the basic version allows the user to inflict maximum damage with a blow. The advanced version is more flexible. Used passively, it increases the users Damage Bonus by his (Level/2). In active use it takes an extra three phases to invoke, and can be used to either inflict structural damage or to combine a round’s attacks or efforts as a single action. Such combined actions are made with a +3 bonus and have the combined effect of all the actions they replace. While both options can be employed, that requires five extra phases instead of three. Further improvements usually involve the using focusing in combination with special abilities or reducing the preparation time.

Hastening: This technique uses psychic energies to accelerate the user’s metabolism and reflexes – allowing him to select any two enhancements from the list given below. No single enhancement may be selected more then once at the first level. Each additional level allows the user to select two more enhancements – although no one enhancement may be selected more then three times. Selections are permanent once made. The possibilities include Attacks (+1), Initiative (-2), Movement (+8″), Actions (+1. Incidental, unresisted actions only. This means things like getting something out, tying a knot, and so on. Not movement or attack actions, although this does let the character get lots of work done quickly), Resistance to “Slow” Effects (Permits the character to compensate for the effects of efforts to slow him down through magic and psionics, although each effect must be countered separately), Ghosting (a tactic that employs bewilderingly rapid movement to produce an illusion of multiple images – making it difficult to determine the users exact position and angle of attack. This grants the user a “+2” to his Defense Rating and Resistance Rating against individually-targeted attacks and a “+1” on his Attack Raring, provided that the foe has no method of countering the effect), and whatever else the GM and player can come up with.

Hypersenses: This useful technique increases both the users sensory acuity and range. The basic effect is a simple “+3” bonus on the users perception rolls. The advanced version is applied to a particular sense, and permits both active and passive enhancement. The passive version generally provides a “+5” bonus on appropriate perception rolls and an extended sensory range, allowing the user to see slightly into the ultraviolet and infrared ranges, feel electrical and radiation fields, hear sub- and supersonic frequencies, taste normally tasteless substances, or smell weird things, as appropriate to the chosen sense. Active enhancement allows things like telescopic vision, master-class safe-cracking, and a variety of other tricks depending on the sense. Any further improvements usually mean simply extending the active version to additional senses.

Iron Fist: This skill allows the user to channel a burst of psychic energy through whichever limb he uses to attack with. While the basic effect gives the users unarmed blows Attack Rating and Damage Bonus bonuses of +(Level/3), generates a blinding psychic “flare”, and allows the users blows to affect creatures normally resistant to such attack, it’s primary purpose is to learn to generate and channel that burst of energy. The advanced version allows the user to focus that burst into a concentrated pulse, an effect which can be used to cause tremendous damage to inanimate targets or quite a lot to living beings. The pulse can also be focused into another ability, vastly increasing it’s effects. Further improvements usually involve using the pulse to overload psychic blockages, focusing it into specific abilities, or converting the pulse into other forms of energy. A chi pulse usually multiplies the effectiveness of whatever technique it’s fed into by the same factor as it multiplies the points expended in using it. This is usually limited to around three times the normal level of effect. Going beyond that risks psychic burnout.

Iron Flesh: Is a basic toughening technique which allows the user to resist injury through inner control and conditioning exercises. It can be used both actively and passively. The passive version slightly enhances the users Defense Rating and Toughness (+2 each). Actively, it can be used to attempt to “moderate” an attack – reducing the damage by 50% with a successful Endurance roll. The advanced version channels psychic energies into the outer level of the users aura, generating a protective force field known as protective air or “golden armor”. Passively, this technique is simply a more effective (+3) version of Iron Flesh. Actively, it’s a visible glowing aura, offers increased (+5) protection, and extends somewhat beyond the surface of the body. Further improvements may offer increased defenses, allow the user to extend his protection to someone or something he or she is holding, or enhance the users ability to resist specific forms of attack.

Kinetic Aura: Allows the user to impose a simple kinetic vector field on his bio-energy aura, generating any of a variety of effects, ranging from just pushing everyone away, to cyclones and wedges of pure force. The effect can be tuned to living things, unliving things, or (weakly) to both, but this must be decided when the ability is acquired. The advanced version will either greatly increase the strength of the effect – or allow the user to “re-tune” it at will. While not usually the best form of attack against an individual, this talent is especially useful against barrages of missiles and/ or large numbers of attackers. One popular trick is to raise a sphere of whirling junk as shield, weapon, and source for a barrage of missiles. Further improvements usually involve strengthening the effect, more complex fields, selectivity, maintaining an air bubble / force field, or simply throwing things around skillfully.

Latent Energy: Put simply, this is the art of the delayed effect. While only of value when combined with some other C’hi ability, the user may delay the effect of that ability for anything from seconds to a week or so. Greater delays are possible, but the latent energy is increasingly likely to dissipate in the interim. As a rule, latent energies can be detected by any form of psychic scan, although more subtle effects can be hard to analyze. The advanced version of this skill allows the user to trigger (or dissipate) the “latent” effect remotely, at ranges of up to (Per) miles. One popular trick is to “pay” for several attacks, set to “go off” sequentially, effectively making the attack continuous over several rounds. While expensive, this still only counts as one action – and the cost of this skill need only be paid once. Further improvements often involve selective effects, various “automatic” triggers, and the ability to “store” raw psychic energies.

Light Foot: This dramatic ability allows the user to “brace” his personal energy field against another – given a clear boundary to focus on. This allows him to “touch” the field and any associated substance without actual contact. It can thus be used to move over water or cross mud without leaving tracks, to walk on a thin wire, or even to stand on intangible energy fields and illusions. Other applications include handling objects without actually touching them and striking immaterial beings. The “advanced” version dispenses with the need for a visible boundary, permitting the user to “walk on air” or float around. Further improvements usually involve speeding up (often in combination with other techniques), a form of “immovability”, or simply making “steadying yourself” a reflexive act.

Metabolic Control: This complex talent allows the user to manipulate his or her own biochemistry and metabolism. While this helps the user stay comfortable in hot or cold weather, most users are more interested in the “+3” bonus against toxins and disease and in the way it similarly increases the users healing rate and the effects of occult healing effects (also by +3). Other uses include; enhancing your stamina, compensating for a poor or minimal diet, going into hibernation, and so on. The advanced version allows the user to create new enzymes and take such metabolic tinkering to an extreme, permitting him or her to counteract most toxins, digest cellulose, drastically slow the aging process, go into suspended animation, stay comfortable in extremely hot or cold weather, resist metabolism-altering effects, and further enhance their healing processes (+5 instead of +3). If appropriate complementary techniques are used to avoid destroying yourself, metabolic control can be used to generate tremendous internal heat or cold. Further improvements may involve adapting to outre’ environments (breathing water or toxic gases, extremes of temperature), easing the necessary rolls, generating peculiar biochemicals, form changing (basically a total physical redesign. This can be very tricky), and genetic shifting (do-it-yourself designer genes or even changing species). Some of these tricks take a lot of time, or power, or both, but the real limiting factor is usually knowledge and control.

The Bio-enhancement variant involves tinkering with your bodies structure and natural chemical balances in an attempt to improve things. Unfortunately, the body is a complex interactive mechanism – and improving one thing usually means paying a price elsewhere, if only in the form of overload-stress. However odd it seems, artificial physical augmentations fall under the rules for Cyber/Bio-ware, regardless of how they’re induced. Such augmentations are innate once “installed”, and so do not require even the passive use of this skill to sustain. While c’hi-based “cyberware” is easy to “purchase” and “install”, both the selection, and the number of cyberware points available, are sharply limited. Selection is primarily limited by what the GM can be talked into allowing. The “point value” is limited to three times the users level of Bioenhancement skill. The Pheromones variant allows a subtle manipulation of the users body chemistry, generating chemicals which subtly influence the attitudes, reactions, and moods, of those around the user. The effect is sharply variable, depending on the local conditions and the users actions. Pheromones tend to augment the users social talents, not replace them.

Mystic Channeling: This technique taps the user’s personal mana, allowing him to wield a small selection of cantrip-level magics. The “basic” effect allows the user to acquire a selection of (Intellect/3) cantrips. (This may be modified by skills and techniques such as Eidetic Memory). Unfortunately, wielding them drains both the users personal mana and psychic strength. The advanced version expands this list to (Int) cantrips and allows the user to counteract cantrips. Further improvements might include various mystic “senses”, access to small (Int/3) lists of higher-order spells (Up to level 3 at the most), and improved countermagics. All of this is, unfortunately, limited by the fact that personal mana tends to be an extremely limited resource itself. Note that Mystic Channeling DOES NOT permit faerie, demons, and gods, to channel their dynamic mana flow / Might into magical effects. Linking together their chi and might that way is an extra two-point Talent (Major Ramifications on the C’hi powers), and has the potential to completely unbalance the game. Combined with a good memory, it would allow them to work extremely powerful magics. Combined with Dragon C’hi, it would allow them to do so almost endlessly. GM caution is advised.

Parting Waters: This technique generates a “wedge of force”, a field within the user’s aura which causes a violent repulsion between objects. Perhaps the most spectacular use is to literally “part the waters”, but parting things like flights of arrows is somewhat more practical. It’s also a great way to get through crowds and brush. The advanced version enhances this effect to the point where it can disrupt, and tear apart, solid stone. While a handy escape technique, this is hard to beat when you’re looking for a dramatic way to express yourself or if you’re annoyed with a door. Further improvements normally involve things like generating a spherical shockwave, faster burrowing, using the field to hurl things away, erecting a force-field sphere, or focusing the disruption-field to do fine work with it.

Polarity Shield: This technique requires that the user have a recognizable “polarity” – a personal theme or style. Given that, the character may then choose to be highly resistant to that style or to it’s opposite. Thus a “Master Of The Glacial Wind” might be resistant to either extremes of cold or to fire and heat. Such resistance extends to various levels, hence a “Servant Of The Light Incarnate” might be resistant to darkness in all it’s various forms – magical, psychic, negative emotions, and so on. The more general the effect which the shield protects against, the weaker the resistance it grants is. The advanced version can either be used to protect a modest radius or as a more potent version of the basic shield. Thanks to the immense variety of possible “polarities”, the mechanics of any particular case must be worked out in consultation with the GM. A fixed percentage, a reduction by the users level, or a bonus to resistance rolls, are among the simpler ways. Any further improvements must be negotiated.

Continuum II: C’hi Powers, Part I

The next few posts will be another segment of the Continuum II rules – a set of rules I’ve had knocking around for many years now. Since they were designed to be modular, some parts may find a home in pretty much any campaign. This particular module is concerned with second-order Psychic Powers – commonly known as C’hi Powers.

Continuum II used a scale of 1-6 for several universal constants. For Psychic Powers, which involved transferring energy through the Empyrean Plane the important one was Empyreal Transfer Impedance. At 6, psychic powers did not work. At ETI 5, only Introspection powers – abilities based on awareness of your own energy field and how it interacted with other energy fields – operated. At ETI 4, you could also use C’hi powers – abilities based on manipulating your internal energies.

C’hi powers could be quite useful, they offered remarkable fine control and considerable versatility – but the user was limited by the actual energy content of his or her own body. An incautious user could easily harm, or even kill themselves. On the other hand, C’hi powers were almost impossible to block without killing the victim. As usual with Continuum II, the rules were concerned with HOW things worked – what you used your tools and effects to do was up to you.

C’hi techniques are the most personal, and thus the most individualistic, of all active psychic powers. They tend to be interpreted and used differently by each and every C’hi master. They also have highly variable costs, as they can be warped, extended, combined, “pushed” – and otherwise mangled – in a vast variety of ways. Adding special limitations will reduce the costs somewhat – but it can be hard to tell just what’s a limitation.

Like most psychics, C’hi masters can generally only use three abilities at a time. Since some attacks will involve several techniques, this can be a bother. C’hi masters may partially avoid this problem by setting up a list of “practiced combinations” which only count as a single psychic effect. Such combinations may involve up to three abilities themselves, including, possibly, other combinations. Masters are automatically entitled to develop up to (Int/2) combinations, and may acquire an additional three per skill point expended in study. Skill points may also be – as usual – spent to upgrade particular abilities, up to a maximum total of seven (basic techniques are already at II, Advanced at III).

In any case, onwards with the techniques!

PRIMARY C’HI TECHNIQUES:
  Technique Advanced Version
1)  Acrobatics Free Action .
2) Adrenal Surge  Adrenalin True
3)  Amplification  (Char) Boosting

4)

 Animation  Psychic Forging Sp.
5)  Auric Shunt  Auric Bar
6)  Balancing  Adhesion

7)

 Binding  Paralyasis
8)  Biofocusing  -True
9)  Bokken  Charging

10)

C’hi Drain  -True
11) C’hi Infusion  C’hi Teaching
12) Compensation  Auric Body
13) Dim Mak  -True
14) Dragon C’hi  World C’hi (True)
15) Eagles Claw  Crushing Claw

16)

Energy Absorption  Energy Storage
17) Evasion  Vanishing
 17b) Face Dancer  Shapechange
18) Focused Mastery  True Mastery
19) Focusing  Ad. Focusing
20) Hastening  Ghosting
21) Hypersenses  True (Sense)
22) Iron Fist  C’hi Pulse
23) Iron Flesh  Protective Air

24)

Kinetic Aura  -True
25) Latent Energy  Remote Trigger
26) Light Foot  Levitation
27) Metabolic Control  Internal Alchemy

 27b)

Bioenhancement  Phermones
28) Mystic Channeling  -True
29) Parting Waters  Tunneling
30) Polarity Shield  -True
31) Plague Carrier  Poison Touch

32)

Power Block  Damage Shield
33) Precision  Prana-Bindu
34) Projection  Psychic Lance
35) Psychic Aura  Psychic Projection
36) Psychic Purging  -True
37) Psychic Reserver  -II, III, Etc
38) Psychic Shield  -True
39) Resistance  -True
40) Self Healing  The Healing Touch
41) Senethar  Channeling
42) Sexual Techniques  Tantric Mastery
43) Shadow Casting  Animal Mimicry
44) Shockwave  Chiburst
45) Somatic Control  Yoga Mastery

46)

Transfer  Reflection
47) Vibration  Vibratory Pulse
48) Vocal Control  Psychic Voice
49) Whirlwind  -True
50) Will Shield  Iron Will

 

Ability Listings :

Acrobatics: This technique generates an low-grade internal psychokinetic field which subtly “guides” the users movements, augments his reflexes, and “cushions” falls, allowing the user to perform any acrobatic feat which he can clearly envision, including midair turns, spectacular leaps, landing safely – and resisting being knocked, thrown, or lifted. The advanced version is expensive, but can compensate for external hindrances – allowing the user to ignore encumbrances, move freely underwater or through similar mediums, and override the effects of paralysis or other hindrances. Further improvements usually involve increased movement rates, feats of immovability, strength enhancement, and reduced costs.
The usual game mechanic is to spend one psychic Str point per D6 that needs to be removed to make whatever roll the GM requested… The advanced version usually costs anywherefrom one point per turn to one point per round, depending on the resistance.

Adrenal Surge: Taps the users physical reserves – allowing brief bursts of “superhuman” strength, speed, endurance, and reaction time. While this uses little psychic energy, it’s rapidly exhausting. The technique cannot be used for more then (End/3) continuous rounds – and should not be used more then (End) rounds in any one day. It leaves the user strained, tired, aching, and hungry. The advanced version extends the “burst” with psychic energy, tripling those limits. During a burst the user receives +1 attack, +3″ move, a +1 on his Defense Rating, Damage Bonus, Resistance Rating, and Attack Rating, and a chance to evade any incoming missile he’s aware of… Adrenal surge can also be used for a “final strike”, making the user almost unstoppable – and incredibly dangerous – for the few minutes before his body burns out totally. Further improvements commonly include allowing momentary bursts of incredible speed, strength, and agility – or other “supreme efforts”. Such stunts are dramatic, but generally leave the character exhausted.

Amplification: This handy ability channels psychic energy into boosting one or more of the user’s “basic” attributes (Strength, Intellect, Presence, and so on). The basic version is passive, and provides a +3 bonus on an attribute, to a maximum of 19. It can also be used to boost two attributes by +1, to a maximum of 18. The attribute(s) to be enhanced must be selected when this ability is acquired, and can not be changed thereafter. The “advanced” version is an active ability focused on the same attribute(s) . It allows the user to boost an attribute by +6, to a maximum of 24, or to enhance two attributes by +3, to a maximum of 21. Minor variations apply to movement rate and to some optional attributes (GMO depending on the attribute). Further improvements usually involve specialized bonuses and related bonuses, rather then further increases in the basic attribute. These attribute maximums are for “normal” humans, with a base attribute range of 3-18 and a normal limit of 21. They should be adjusted appropriately for races with differing limits and for special talents.

Animation: This bizarre technique channels a part of the users personal energy into an inanimate object, giving it temporary “life” under his (or her) control. Obviously enough, massive items require more energy to animate. Being essentially a “part of the user”, such items can be used in many ways, but are limited by the users strength. Items commonly animated include ropes, flexible weapons, and ECHO (Exoskeletal Configuration/Humaniform Operation) combat vehicles. The advanced version permits the user to create a permanent psychic construct – although this requires expending permanent points of psychic strength. Weapons are common, armor, companion creatures, tools, and instruments are all possible. Whatever the form, such constructs are a living part of the character and can generally be called forth at will. Constructs can be imbued with a variety of C’hi powers – as well as those of their basic form. The exact cost of giving a construct a specific power, function, or ability, is up to the GM. Simple solidity (allowing a sword to function as a sword or some such) is relatively cheap. Some are simply channels and/or amplifiers for the users psychic abilities. These are also relatively cheap. Constructs can be “imbedded” in physical objects, rendering them permanetly “solid” as well as making them a good deal more independent. This has occasionally allowed such creations to survive the death of their creator.

Auric Shunt: Allows the user to “channel” kinetic energy within his personal bioenergy aura, amplifying, redirecting, and focusing it as necessary. The “basic” version of this ability must be specifically “focused” via some physical gesture or through concentration. It is often used to divert blows and missiles, increase the impact of the users blows, assist in “martial throws”, and to create small “force fields” (allowing the user to block sword blows and such with his bare hands without injury). The advanced version of this skill allows the user to generate an “aura” of such effects, creating a “sphere of defense”, diverting full flights of arrows, or manifesting walls of force. Popular special tricks include attempting to turn an opponents blow back upon himself (basic), and generating the equivalent of an exo- kinetic field (advanced, see “psychokinetic effects”). This technique is sometimes known as “hard” and “soft” C’hi – but unless the user chooses to specialize, both modes are available. Further improvements commonly include easy “reflection” of missiles, force fields, and a variety of special tricks. Probably the most common later improvement is to set up a “passive” enhancement of the users Defense Rating and effective toughness. The most common use of “Auric Shunt” is probably to block attacks or enhance attacks. The basic version is good for +/- 3 points per point expended, the advanced is good for +/- 5. Other tricks vary…

Balancing: Gives the user a vastly improved sense of balance and accompanying control. This ability can be used in climbing, when walking on slippery, narrow, or sloping surfaces, when diving, in acrobatics, or to reduce the effect of falls. It also negates penalties for surface conditions and allows the user to fight from any position without penalty – at least within reason. While the advanced version doesn’t literally allow the user to stick to walls and things, it does allow him / her to manage with the tiniest projections and surface irregularities – or to accomplish remarkable acrobatic and contortional feats. While extraordinary, such feats are in no way superhuman – and so are relatively cheap to perform, usually costing no more then one point per turn. If you want to be a human fly, to join a circus, to twist yourself into bizarre positions – or to fight that way – then this is the technique for you. Further improvements usually involve die roll bonuses or other martial arts enhancements.

Binding: This skill employs inductive feedback to “jam” an opponents central nervous system, effectively allowing the user to use a martial-arts type “hold” or “nerve strike” at range. The targets escape rolls are based on dexterity, rather then strength. The targets bioenergy aura must be in contact with the users aura, giving this skill a maximum range in feet equal to the users and targets combined dexterities. The “advanced” version allows only one chance to escape via any given means, and causes near-total paralysis. Unusually, there is a “standard” third level to this skill, that allows the user to jam the targets involuntary nervous system as well – causing anything from mild headaches through respiratory failure, shock, convulsions, and heartbeat irregularities. This is unpleasant, and causes up to 2D6 points of damage per round – while your victim remains helplessly paralyzed. Further improvements may involve diagnostic or helpful abilities, “reading” the targets neural responses, inflicting massive pain, controlling someone else’s body, and causing even more damage.

Biofocusing: Allows the user to transfer physical energies within his body by psychic means. The “basic” version only covers to muscular force – but by concentrating the output of many muscles, it allows the user to exert great force with a touch – or to increase his effective strength. The advanced version uses psychic means to protect the user’s body from the consequences of concentrating other energies, allowing him / her to focus thermal (depends on constitution), bioelectrical (depends on dexterity), or other energies (DMO). Even more advanced techniques permit the user to build up a pool of energy over time, generate an intense surge of power, or tap energies from the immediate area (within his or her bioenergy field).

Bokken: Allows the user to channel his power into a material focus, enhancing it’s effectiveness. While this is limited to relatively basic, hand-held, items, the technique makes even crude props as effective as a “conventional” tool or weapon. Hence a crudely-carved wooden blade can be used as effectively as a well-made steel blade, a couple of crossed sticks could function as a pickaxe, and some thin twine could substitute for a heavy rope. Obviously enough, such items normally must remain in contact with the user. The advanced version of this skill can further enhance the effects – giving the focus item supernormal effectiveness. Weapons gain a bonus to their Attack Rating and Damage Bonus of (Users Level-1)/3, and can be used against creatures resistant to normal weaponry without penalty. Other items gain similar bonuses, albeit to defense or to noncombat effects. Improvements usually involve temporarily charging an item with psychic energy, either from this discipline (allowing the use of this discipline on missiles and such) or from some other discipline. The effects and stabality of this vary enormously. This technique is often combined with “Animation”, allowing the user to do remarkable things with things like ribbons and pieces of string. Stranger improvements may involve learning to enhance functions of psychic, mystic, and technological devices, enhancing other people’s abilities – and temporarily imbuing items with a “pool” of energy and some abilities to use it on.

C’hi Drain: Allows the user to disrupt a targets reserves of psychic energy and, thanks to its physical aspect, induce physical exhaustion and damage as well. The “advanced version” allows the user to disrupt both his victims current energy reserves and his ability to accumulate psychic energy, causing neurological damage which must be healed through time or specialized techniques before the victim can regain his full power, or use it to best effect (see; “Overload Damage Effects”). The recovery time necessary may be further extended by applying this talent over several hours, although this normally requires a helpless, or throughly distracted, victim. One notable “special trick” involves combining C’hi Drain with Dragon C’hi (Bioenergies) to “steal” a portion of an opponents power. The “advanced version” of this trick allows the user to steal part of a dying victims life energy itself, permanently increasing his personal vitality, psychic potential – and possibly even acquiring one or two of his victims abilities. Sadly, only a small part of the victims talents can be stolen in this fashion and integrating such stolen life energies with your own is difficult and dangerous. Bits of each victim’s memories and personality are acquired as well – an effect which can easily drive the user insane. Further improvements commonly involve extending the recovery time, creating a continuing effect, or using this technique to disrupt magical or physical powers.

Continium II – Notes on Ceremonial Magic

And for today, it’s another bonus answer that – as so often happens – got WAY too long for a comment.

Could you expand on the Ceremonial Magic you linked in the Anomaly article? I have tried to read the Continuum II articles that are here, but I feel I am missing the primary sourcebook and have not been able to find one that seems to match.

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Continium II’s Ceremonial Magic (as opposed to Ritual Magic, which was quite another thing) operated much the way that some people think it works in the real world. The most common references that the players used were by Scott CunninghamCunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs and Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic. Symbolism was most often pulled from the books on Tarot or Norse Runes, (since those were all available handy to the table), whatever astrological data was available for the current setting, and general ideas about Ley Lines and Nexi.

Power and Complexity turn up as spell design concepts in The Practical Enchanter, even if they are both mostly subsumed into “spell level” in d20. The basic distinction here is that Power reflects the amount of raw energy available, while Complexity cover s how detailed the structure of a given effect is.

A Fireball or Lightning Bolt calls for high (3+) Power, but very little Complexity (1 at most). A subtle illusion, or a healing spell, is exactly the other way around; calling for very little power, but a lot of complexity. Summoning and Binding creatures calls for both about equally (and so Ceremonial Magic can only actually summon and bind the most trivial entities – although if you wanted a micro-elemental (fire) to monitor your hearthfire and keep it at the proper level for cooking while you were busy elsewhere, you could fairly readily manage that. Of course, simply getting in touch with more powerful entities calls for very little power and only moderate complexity – but then you need to bargain.

So Ceremonial Magic was a common “helping” ability – the swiss army knife of magic. You used it to add some protective inscriptions that would help some if you lost control of your summoned monster, you got a few helpful micro-elementals that got you small bonuses in your alchemy lab, you used Ceremonial Magic to get in touch with, and seal a pact with, a brownie that kept an eye on the baby, sped recovery from a plague, made small, useful, things, and so on. The benefits were never especially huge, but – in adventurer terms – the cost was very small. A handful of hammered copper symbols, pinches of common herbs, some pebbles and terribly flawed (and near-valueless) gemstones from a rock collection, and a little study? You were set. Sure, it was never POWERFUL, but knowing what influences were active in that ancient haunted mansion, or getting a glimpse of who was behind the attacks, or laying down a ward that kept stray zombies from wandering into camp, could get you a long ways on very very little power.

When it comes to Continium II in general… well, the title was a transfinite mathematics pun, as well as a reference to alternate dimensions, which probably says something about what to expect from it.

Continium II never made it to publication, partly because much of the material predated the easy publication systems now available, but mostly because it was simply too long and too complicated. It was rather heavy on “how things worked” rather than “here’s a game effect” and so it placed heavy demands on the game master. Shapeshifting to a whale? Out came the book on whale biology to get some details. Monster design? A bit like the Martial Arts system, with modifiers for Evolutionary Time (the longer a group of species had to adapt to a particular set of natural laws, the more powerful they because within that dimension and the less able to function elsewhere), reproductive strategies, and a lot more evolutionary biology went into making monsters.

For an example that happens to be posted…

  • It had the twenty-five basic and twenty-five advanced Introspection powers based on awareness of your personal energy field – the lowest tier of psychic effects. Those worked even when the local dimensions Transfer Impedance for Psychic Powers was “4″ – just below “5″ where psychic powers were basically impossible to use.
  • At the next tier, Chi Powers (based on shifting your internal energies around inside yourself and requiring a transfer impedence of 3 or less for effective use) offered about hundred powers that you could combine to produce desired effects.
  • Tiers 3 and 4 – Psychomancy (directing personal energies into external effects, allowing fine control) and Psionics (tapping external energy sources and projecting the results) shared the same list of six hundred-odd disciplines and rules for creating variants, but they functioned differently. For an easy example… a Psychomancer using Telekinesis might try to pinch a few blood vessels to hurt someone or open a door from the inside to pick a lock. They had high precision, superb control, and could feel the feedback from their abilities – but they had very little power. A Psionic faced with similar tasks could smash the door, or lock, or throw things around – but they’d have to work very hard, roll well, and specialize in such tasks to develop anything even approaching a Psychomancers basic level of fine control. Both systems had their advantages.
  • Then, of course, there were psychic subfields drawing on psychic nexi and popular beliefs, the planetary biofield, and other local sources.

After the psychic powers, there were numerous other types of power sources to play with – Gramarye (including Sorcery (Shaping cosmic-level energies through symbols – requiring rigid structure to maintain control), Powershaping (where you freely shaped local energies related to your affinities. You got a few, but the list was long. To start with “A” there was Abjuration, Air, Analysis, Animation, Anticipations, Architecture, Astrological, Attunement…), Thaumaturgy (inducing positive and negative feedback loops in planetary energy fields – powerful and potentially long-lasting, but you were using small inputs to try to manipulate a chaotic system, and so it was very prone to going wrong and was very difficult to stop), True Illusion, Ceremonial Magic, Mysticism, Ritual Magic, High Alchemy, Personal Magic, and Domination),

Then, of course, there were Percipience (and it’s subfields) – Engineering (Technological (in several variants), Biogenetic, Social, Probabilistic, Reality Catalysts, Linguistic, Pattern Tech, and Weird Science), and Invocation (divided by tbe nature of the entity being invoked; what you could get from a subspace creature that devoured energy – a “demon” – was a lot different from what you could get from a living cosmological principle).

Continium II did keep a group containing several engineers and scientists busy exploring how things worked for a decade and a half (and it was always fun to hear “Blast it! We should have realized that he/she would be able to do that from the type of powers he/she was using…) – but I could hardly ask a prospective game master to read it before trying to run the game. Quite a few of the players ran Continium II games after a while – but not until after they’d been playing for years. Nobody has that kind of time these days.

Currently a lot of the Continium II ideas have been recycled. For example, the Witchcraft system in Eclipse uses many of the concepts that went into Introspection, Chi, and Psychomancy – but the list of abilities has been greatly reduced, most of the complexities were relegated to “why I built it this way” (and not actually mentioned unless someone asks) instead of being anything that players and game masters have to deal with, and most of the advanced options have been stripped out – all in the interests of making it playable without a few years of experience with the system. I’m told that Eclipse is still too complex for a lot of tables – but that’s a considerable improvement over Continium II.

Still, I post occasional chunks of the Continium II rules for nostalgia, inspiration, showing where design elements came from for later systems, ideas, and to oblige some of the original players, who often still have questions, want to review something for their own projects, or want a bit of an update. Perhaps I should get back to doing that again. It’s not like there isn’t a LOT of material available, even if some of it is still handwritten.

Residents of the Ars Goetia, Part II

Eliphas Levi's Pentagram, figure of the microc...

What could go wrong?

The “Demons” of medieval tomes were mostly the creation of fevered would -be demonologists and “scholars”. While they might be loosely based on a few genuine mythological fragments, those tattered threads are pretty thoroughly lost in a sea of wild conjecture. For our purposes this is good; it provides a lot of room for turning them into creatures that can play an interesting role in various games.

Part One included Andromalius (the Judge), Beleth (the Berserker), and Bifrons (the psychopomp). To continue with part II, we have…

MALTHUS (Mal-Thus) The Earl Of Slaughter, Armorer Of The Abyss.

  • Favored Form: A slim, languid, effeminate fop, carrying a rapier, dripping with gems and jewelry, and wearing exquisite silken clothing – often a near-parody of a high-ranking officers military uniform. He takes care never to appear before a given individual twice in the same outfit. Some people call his outfits and appearance “ridiculous”. HE calls them “bait”.
  • Major Powers: Grandmaster Psionic (Disruption and Vamparism), Powershaping (Conjuration and Battle Magic), Master Strategist, Tactician, and Military Engineer. Despite his utter brilliance as a general, putting Malthus in charge of a military force somehow always results in a very high casualty rate (most infamously, the legendary “morning calisthenics massacre”)- but he does get things done. If it’s needed he will conjure up his own troops, fortifications, and arsenals, but he prefers not to waste his time and genius on matters of simple logistics.
  • Sacrifices: Malthus prefers human sacrifices, dying violently and in pain. He will quite cheerfully collect his own sacrifices if the summoner doesn’t get them ready for him – although he quite willing to count casualties among any troops placed under his command as sacrifices. Luckily, he can be somewhat placated (at enormous expense and far less effectively) with an assortment of new outfits and various luxuries – gems, silks, fine wines, and the best of foods.
  • Ritual: Summoning Malthus requires setting up a magical circle – and a substantial lump of opium to be burned as incense.
  • Basic Nature: Malthus is a master general, and he knows it very well. He will want to take charge, snap orders at all and sundry, and lay around languidly and be waited on. Unlike many of the other creatures of the Ars Goetia, Malthus has embraced the darkness, simply because it gives him more chances to exercise his supreme skills in the arts of war and attracts great heroes to meet in battle. He does not see his troops – or his opponents – as people, but as pawns.
  • Combat Skill: Malthus is insanely dangerous in battle. He has enormous personal strength, as well as being very, very, skilled with virtually all weapons. He will, however, normally spare noncombatants; children can grow up to be worthy opponents, and older noncombatants can produce and care for more children – giving Malthus more people to kill or to lead into battle to die demonstrating his supreme brilliance later on.

OROBAS (Or’-O-Bas) “The Prince Of Steeds”

  • Favored Form : Orabas most often appears as a powerful black stallion with a crimson (or actively flaming) mane and tail, but sometimes appears in the form of other steeds – although always in a similar color scheme. He speaks in the inhuman voice of whatever creature he appears to be. Regardless of his form, he will be equipped for war, with silver barding and tack – although he wears no bridle.
  • Major Powers : Basic Powershaping (Counterspells, Divination, and Enchantment), Lesser Psionic (Beastmastery, Healing, Belamourment – and Exokinetic Fields). As befits a mighty steed, Orobas possesses great Physical Strength, Toughness, and Speed.
  • Sacrifices : None.
  • Ritual : A complex summoning circle. Orobas is of little use unless bound, a rite that requires a silver bridle and several minutes. It also requires providing Orobas with the summoners true name and reason for calling him forth – information that Orobas will freely share with any other summoner.
  • Basic Nature : Once bound, Orobas is a faithful retainer and will do his best to serve and obey the summoner and to answer his or her questions – giving him something of a reputation as an oracle. While Orabus is a most superior mount, keeping him bound will gradually drain the summoners vitality – inflicting (1D6) points of damage each day which can only be regained via rest and time, and not at all while Orabas is kept bound. Orabus views his office and purpose as to be a faithful retainer of whoever his current “master” is – a powerful steed and wise advisor. He does not feel that it is the business of a war-steed to question it’s master – and so turns a complete blind eye to the summoners moral status, and to the nature of the deeds he is called on to assist (no doubt the reason for his current status). Orabas might carry a heroic master through storm, flood, and the very fires of hell to rescue a single child – while for another he would crush a dozen beneath his blood-soaked hooves. As a part of his service he will hold a master’s secrets in absolute security – unless asked about them by another master, in which case that aspect of himself will cheerfully tell it’s master whatever he wants to know.
  • Combat Skill : He’s a war-steed, and – within that basic limitation – is extraordinarily competent.

STOLAS (Sto-Las”) “The Prince Of Carrion Crows, Bard of Chaos”

  • Favored Form : A huge raven with silver talons and red-golden eyes. Stolas “prefers” to speak in riddles, snatches of song, and doggerel nonsense. He often sends a minor aspect of himself to answer a summons, instead of coming in person. Such raven-familiars can grant a summoner various minor powers – usually translation or very minor powershaping abilities (as always, in a particular field or fields).
  • Major Powers : A master Spy and Thief, Stolas also possesses Powershaping (Air, Sound, and Illusion), and possesses the ability to speak and read all languages, a talent he may share with his summoner if he desires. Stolas is a notable musician – and may be a true master. He can produce a wide variety of bardic effects.
  • Sacrifices : Stolas favors original music, elder texts, weird snippets of knowledge, and concerts. What he finds acceptable seems to be a matter of whim. The summoner usually needs to negotiate.
  • Ritual : An elaborate circle, incense, and a full set of ceremonial gear is needed to summon Stolas – unless the summoner is capable of performing the far faster Song Of Summoning on woodwinds or harp. Stolas will teach a summoner the song on request, but a proper performance requires considerable skill and personal tutoring from Stolas; books, recordings, and similar methods are not sufficient to learn the subtle personalization that makes it work. He’ll also teach summoners about music and herbs on request.
  • Basic Nature : Stolas is a rogue, a trickster, and quite unreliable… Everything he does should be taken with a grain (several grains?) of salt. Even when bound to a summoner, he cannot be prevented from dragging everyone in the vicinity into baroque entanglements, twisting answers to questions that do not involve music or herbs, and generally making mischief.
  • Combat Skill : Stolas’s talons apparently possess some curious venomous or disruptive property – making them unexpectedly dangerous to both living beings and magical constructs.

Residents of the Ars Goetia

Illustration from The Goetia: The Lesser Key o...

It's best to double-check that before starting!

When it comes to source material, it’s hard to get much more authentic than going medieval – and the list of “demons” in the Ars Goetia offers quite a lot of inspiration.

Of course, when you read that list you don’t find a lot of game-style “demons”. You don’t find much in the way of berserk killing machines, of evil for the sake of evil, or of random torment. You find pursuers of thieves, teachers, healers, seers, war-leaders – and even war-steeds.  A list of entities who… wound up on the wrong side of heaven for one reason or another – apparently rarely for direct rebellion – and who were cast out.

There are a lot of reasons why someone can wind up on the wrong side of a war and still be a decent enough person. Traditionally, quite a few of these entities were serving their summoners in pursuit of their own redemption – even if they’re not very good at it and have massive blind spots.

For game purposes, most of these entities can be treated as Conceptual Spirits – entities that embody immortal ideas, and so can be in many places at the same time. The summoning rituals open the way for them to manifest – and the more powerful the summoner, the more powerful the manifestation.

They’re relatively easy to summon – at least as far as games in settings where magic works are concerned – but there is always a price…

ANDROMALIUS (An’Dro-Mali~Us) “The Earl Of Justice”

  • Favored Form : A stern and fearsome man attired in the clothing of a judge. He occasionally appears with, or sends in his place, one or more terrible black hounds – in reality merely embodied fractions of his own energy and immaterial essence. He has been known to leave one of these “creatures” with a summoner.
  • Major Powers : Grandmaster Psionic (Psychic Senses and Heightened Talents), Powershaping (Nymic Magic and Transformations – only when embodied), Spell Imbuement (Only in living creatures, maximum of seven). He will often bestow a set of carefully-tailored spells to allow a summoner to enact judgement on the guilty.
  • Sacrifices : None required when the summoner is acting in pursuit of justice, otherwise he may require some quest – always in pursuit of justice – in return for his aid. He will also always tell the summoner something about himself or something he’s done that he would really rather not know – most often revealing the undesirable or unjust results of the summoners own past actions.
  • Ritual : Circle, scribed with an oaken rod.
  • Basic Nature : Vengeful and merciless. Andromalius tends to use his “summoners” as agents in carrying out his eye-for-an-eye judgements. It is probably this lack of mercy that put him on the wrong side of the greater celestial powers.
  • Combat Skill : Master of the “Soft” martial arts.

BELETH (Bel-eth) “The Mad King”

  • Favored Form : A handsome and powerfully built man riding a mighty war-stallion, usually accompanied by martial music. He occasionally simply sends the horse-fraction of his energies, in which case things can get “uncomfortable” for the offering (see below) – unless the “summoner” has a mare – and some splendid tack – ready (which is very, VERY, wise). The horse can be ridden, and is a useful and obedient mount – at least as long as you do a lot of fighting.
  • Major Powers : Master Psionic (Telepathic Powers), Powershaping (Winter and Summer magics), Hypercharisma and Hypermasculinity.
  • Sacrifices : Beleth requires the, er, attentions and companionship of a pretty girl while he’s present. He will leave her psychically bound to the summoner as a personal slave when he leaves (this can actually be very very useful if he arrives in horse-form and is offered a mare). If such an “offering” is not forthcoming, he can occasionally be placated by a supply of expensive weapons, armor, and masculine accouterments.
  • Ritual : Beleth can be summoned through the use of an enruned ring – and an invocation – but it is a very good idea to have inscribed either a protective circle or a containment circle first.
  • Basic Nature : Lustful, hot-tempered – and far too easily enraged. Beleth often arrives in a fury, and can be extremely dangerous if defied. He’s more than a little nuts. Unfortunately for him, he sees nothing wrong in his behavior; is not a mighty warrior entitled to such small indulgences?
  • Combat Skill : Beleth is competent with virtually any weapon but primarily relies on sheer strength and his immense personal vitality. The horse is a powerful steed, although it does have a pesky tendency to teleport right into the middle of combat.

BIFRONS (Bi-Frons) “The Earl Of The Dead”

  • Favored Form : Either an insubstantial minotaur with eyes full of stars or a slim, naked, boy. He is very hard for most people to see at all either way.
  • Major Powers : Navigator, Caravan Master, and Inter-dimensional Traveler, Powershaper (Necromancy and Mindsending), and Cultural Adaption. Bifrons is a wanderer of the empyrean plane, and is capable of taking people on a guided tour through almost any afterlife.
  • Sacrifices : If not placed with the gift of some means of transport (Horse, boat, car, plane, whatever) Bifrons has an annoying tendency to drop off those who travel with him in an inconvenient location. Summoners who simply want him to use his necromantic or tutoring talents on their behalf may either undertake a “brief” empyrean combat/quest or placate him with simple cash – although, unless things have changed recently, Bifrons does not take paper money, credit cards, checks, or letters of credit. He insists on gold and silver coins.
  • Ritual : The summoning circle must be drawn in the earth, either outside or in some public place – such as an inn. The summons also requires mold from a graveyard, and all negotiations must be completed within seven minutes – or Bifrons will travel elsewhere.
  • Basic Nature : Irritating. Bifrons is a know-it- all, and delights in telling endless stories about his travels elsewhere – and how they were so much more interesting and dramatic then whatever is going on at the moment in his summoner’s life.