Eclipse And Pulp Mad Science

And for today, it’s another request – a Witchcraft-based Mad Scientist build.

Well, mad scientists are certainly entertaining – but the first question to ask is where does your mad scientist get his or her power to defy the laws of nature from? While there are plenty of fantastic power sources to choose from – including elerium, kryptonite, protoculture, tiberium, element x, vibranium, quantonium, dilithium, unobtanium, pinotium, auadium, illyrion, protonite, mako, arcanite, naquadah, kittens, magnetic monopoles, “hypermatter”, black holes, and dozens more – using any of them will mean that your mad scientists is utterly dependent on a single vital supply. You’re out of protoculture? None of your stuff works. That works well in a story that’s fully under an authors control, but it’s pretty limiting in a game. players HATE having their character get sidelined for want of supplies.

So we want something more personal – but outside of that the special effects don’t really matter a lot.

  • Do you have some mysterious “Spark”, mutation, or memetic contagion that lets you draw reality-warping power from other realms, singularities, zero point energy, inter-dimensional potential, subspace, or other cosmic sources? (Waldo, Dexter’s Laboratory, Girl Genius, etc),
  • Do you have implants / nanites / crystals in your body or genetic modifications / special skills that let you draw on possibility, quantum, vril, your own emotions (love, hate, friendship, light, darkness, whatever), your own soul, “neuropotential” / psychic, “the lifestream” / vital, will, or A.R.C. reactor “energy” for power?
  • Can you build devices that gather reality-warping power on their own and/or can be fueled by yours? (temporal, nucleonic, hyperspace, possibility, dimensional, electroplasmic, warp, often with “flux” attached to imply something dynamic that can change over time with the needs of the plot. Thus Doc Brown’s “Flux Capacitor”).

Regardless of your justification, you have a pool of power – spark, flux, quantum, or whatever – that makes your mad science work. This also avoids letting you become endlessly powerful, which is also important in a game.

Most mad scientists have a collection of gadgets that they usually use, but only add new ones relatively rarely – and if they do add new ones, they commonly become a permanent addition to their arsenal. On the other hand, their gadgets are often quite versatile, but they’re rarely awesomely powerful. Sure, Doomsday Devices are a classic, but they never really seem to work.

Ergo, this mad scientist build is going to use Witchcraft.

  • Available Character Points: 48 (L1 Base) + 10 (Disadvantages) +2 (Restrictions x 2: Mad Scientists cannot use generic “power” devices, but only items especially created for them and they cannot employ clerical magic; the necessary mindset is incompatible with mad science). +10 (Three Disadvantages. Mad scientists are commonly Aged, Compulsive (over-curious, meddling with things they should not, activating things to see what they do), Dependent (stimulants, sappho, supplies), have a History (usually including a list of projects that have gone terribly wrong and are unaccounted for), may be Hunted (outraged villagers are a classic), Incompetent or Inept (Social Skills), Insane (obviously), Irreverent (A god? Ha! Just let me analyze…), Obligations (often a beautiful daughter who is being held hostage), Outcast or Poor Reputation (mad scientist), showman (you fiddle with your gadgets and boast), Unluck (fairly obvious), and Valuable (you know important secrets, which you are usually utterly blind to) +6 (First Level Bonus Feat) = 66 CP.
  • Basic Attributes: Mad Scientists fall into the Adventurous Scholar archetype – so Intelligence is important, and Constitution is next. Dexterity is nice, but Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma are rarely important. For Pathfinder 20-point buy, I’ll take: Str 8, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 18, Wis 10, Cha 8. Tbe build will have to Finesse the Witchcraft saves over to Intelligence, but that’s not too important.

Basics (34 CP):

  • Base Attack Bonus: +0 (0 CP)
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1d8 Hit Die, 4 CP) +2 (Con Mod) = 10
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fortitude +0 (Purchased) = +2.
    • Reflex +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +1 (Dex) = +2.
    • Will +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +0 (Wis) = +1.
    • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP).
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: 2 SP (2 CP) +16 (Int Mod x 4), +8 (Fast Learner), Adept x2 (12 CP) = 26 SP.
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +2 (Leathers) +2 (Dex) +2 (Shield) +4 (Martial Art) = 20
  • Initiative: +1 (Dex).
  • Movement: 30′

Special Abilities (32 CP):

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP). This was presumably purchased at level (-2) using Disadvantage Points, and so provides +8 SP at level one.
  • Finesse (Saves against Witchcraft abilities are based on Int, not Cha, 6 CP).
  • +4 Levels of Int-based Wilder Spellcasting with no Caster Level, Corrupted / provides no disciplines. (+17 + 2 x Int Mod Power) (8 CP). This is a bit cheesy, but most characters have some cheese somewhere.
  • Witchcraft III, Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Requires various blatantly obvious Foci that can be taken away (12 CP Base). This provides a selection of seven basic abilities / devices. A mad scientists basic abilities are usually (although not always) Specialized in particular applications for double effect. For some possible examples:
  • The Adamant Will Gadgets:
    • Auric Distortion Cloak: Specialized for Increased Effect / presents a false aura to aura detection effects at no cost.
    • Neural Block Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / Provides permanent immunity to any two of Fear, Possession, Charm, Hold, Mind-Reading, Pain, or Truth Detection effects.
    • Null-Foil Hat: Base functions. This is mildly unusual for a mad scientist, but fits in well enough here.
  • Dreamfaring Gadgets:
    • Afterlife Communicator: Specialized for Increased Effect / Allows the user to sense and communicate with Astral and Ethereal entities at no cost – although it does not bypass language barriers.
    • Cosmic Consciousness Helmet: Specialized for Reduced Cost / Allows the user to project his or her spirit into the Astral of Ethereal Plane for up to one hour for 1 power.
    • Etheric Manipulator Vest: Specialized for Increased Effect / only to let the user see and attack into the Ethereal Plane at no cost.
  • Elfshot Gadgets:
    • Hypersonic Pulser: Specialized for Increased Effect / Panics animals in the area that fail to resist for 1 Power.
    • Neural Dampener: Specialized for Increased Effect / Penalizes a target attribute by -4 for ten minutes for 1 Power.
    • Neuralizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / this device produces some specific short-term effect for 1 Power. Possibilities include Blindness, Deafness, Entanglement, Ghostbane Dirge, Mad Hallucination, Daze Monster, Forgetfulness, Oppressive Boredom, Shadow Anchor, or similar second-level effect.
  • Glamour Gadgets:
    • Cloak Of Radiant Impressions: Specialized for Increased Effect / The user may program this item with a description – “a wealthy merchant”, “an important noble”, “a big man in the underworld”, “a famous military commander”, “just another servant”, or something similar – and anyone who sees him or her must consciously attempt to disbelieve that impression to penetrate it.
    • Harmonic Vocalizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power to gain a +12 bonus to Charisma-based skill checks for ten minutes.
    • Hypnotic Wheel: Specialized for Increased Effect / Produces a Suggestion effect for 2 Power.
  • Hand of Shadows Gadgets:
    • Kinetic Guantlet: Specialized for Double Effect / May push, punch, and execute ranged combat maneuvers using your (Int + 6) as Strength for one power per minute.
    • Microbot Assistants: Specialized for Reduced Cost / Tiny robots can help you do an hours worth of light work every five minutes at no cost but that is all they do.
    • Vital Flux Charger: Specialized for Reduced Cost / may animate objects (as per Entangle, Animate Rope, Animate Fire, Dancing Lantern, Tripvine, Animate Object (One small item), etc).
  • Healing Gadgets:
    • Bacta Supply: Specialized for Double Effect / only to provide immediate healing (maximum of 6d4/Round for 3 Power).
    • Regenerative Blanket: Specialized for Increased Effect / sleeping under this blanket provides one full days worth of healing per hour at no cost.
    • Universal Antitoxin: Specialized for Increased Effect / taking a dose of this substance (1 Power worth) provides a +10 bonus against Poisons for the next hour.
  • Hyloka Gadgets:
    • Augmentation Harness: Specialized for Double Effect / provides +2 to Str, Dex, and Con for one hour for 1 Power/Hour.
    • Hibernation Drug: Specialized for Double Effect / users may be put into complete suspended animation indefinitely. While so suspended they do not age, breathe, eat, drink, suffer from poison, normal heat, or normal cold, and show no signs of life. This costs 1 Power but does require an unresisting target.
    • Immunobooster Serum: Specialized for Increased Effect / 1 Power provides Immunity to Disease for twenty-four hours.
  • Infliction Gadgets:
    • Ray Gun: Specialized for Double Effect / only one form of energy. Mad scientists almost always have a cold ray, lightning gun, solar blaster, or similar device that can be adjusted to be single target or affect a small area. This may either allow a saving throw for half damage or be a ranged touch attack. (There aren’t any other major examples for this particular basic ability. After all, the Ray Gun is probably THE iconic mad scientist gadget).
  • The Inner Eye Gadgets:
    • Life Sensor: Specialized for Reduced Cost / The user may easily detect the presence of nearby life (or Unlife) forms gaining a +6 bonus to any rolls made to notice or identify them at no cost.
    • Mind Probe Gauntlet: Specialized for Double Effect / provides the results of a full interrogation for 2 Power. The target, however, may resist as usual for an interrogation.
    • Sensory Link System: Specialized for Double Effect / this set of small units allows a group to share their sensory data at a cost of one power for every ten minutes. This provides an automatic Aid Another check for each character in the group when one needs to make a roll with a shared sense and permits the sharing of information from improved senses – thus allowing everyone in a group to benefit from Blindsense or similar effects
  • Shadowweave Gadgets:
    • Disguise Belt: Specialized for Increased Effect / provides a +12 bonus to Disguise and Stealth for ten minute for 1 Power.
    • Holographic Image Projector: Specialized for Increased Effect / may spend 2 Power to generate a Minor Image effect or 4 Power to generate a Major Image effect.
    • Invisible Blade Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / renders a melee weapon effectively invisible, granting the user a +6 circumstance bonus on attack rolls against creatures that normally rely on sight for ten minutes for 1 Power.
    • Prismatic Distillation Crystal: Specialized for Increased Effect / may spend 1 Power to generate a Blinding Color Surge effect.
    • Pyrotechnics: Specialized for Increased Effect / costs 2 Power, otherwise as per the Spell.
  • Witchfire Gadgets:
    • Comfort Module: Specialized for Increased Effect / maintains a 5′ radius at a comfortable temperature, providing immunity to normal weather extremes for 1 Power per hour or 10 points of resistence to Fire and Cold for those within the area for 1 Power / Minute.
      Cryogenic Mister: Specialized for Increased Effect / This simple gadget, capable of inflicting up to 6d6 damage to an individual target for 1 Power or to a modest area for 2 Power.
    • Essence Extractor: When directed at an unresisting creature, corpse, or area of up to a 20′ radius, this device extracts specific substances for 1 Power. It can thus be used to gather poison from deceased monsters, perfume from flower gardens, drugs from various plants, or gold from ore.
    • Molecular Synthesizer: Specialized for Increased Effect / for 1 Power this gadget allows the user to prepare a sizeable batch of some chemical from common raw materials for 3 Power. This can be used to produce drugs, toxins, explosives, and many similar items.
  • Witchsight Gadgets:
    • Darksight Goggles: Specialized for Increased Effect / provides Darksight at no cost.
    • Multioptics Band: Specialized For Increased Effect / Optical Enhancements only, can swap out what is being enhanced (“changing settings”) up to (Wis Mod + 2) times during the abilities duration.
    • Sensor Wand: Specialized for Increased Effect / for 1 Power provides a +36 bonus to checking for toxins, attempting to determine chemical compositions, or checking a fire scene for accelerants.

Most Mad Scientists will also take Pacts, typically

  • Advertising: Mad Scientists are rarely quiet. Many of them want to explain, to demonstrate their mastery of SCIENCE, to shout out the names of their gadgets, and to set up spectacular, attention-grabbing experiments and laboratories. This inevitably attracts notice and tends to give away their plans.
  • Backlash / mad science experiments are ALWAYS running amuck, or having weird effects, or causing unexpected problems
  • Corruption: It’s not like “The Fly” is an isolated incident. Mad scientists are always attempting to boost their intelligence, or giving themself animal powers, or some such.
  • Exclusion: Some mad scientists just refuse to deal with magic, psionics, and similar items, feeling that they are just misunderstood mad science.
  • Guardianship: If you’ve opened some door that should never have been touched, or found some dark and terrible secret, then you have a lifetime obligation to stand guard over the problem you’ve created.
  • Hunted: While it’s hardly required, mad scientists do occasionally really upset people.
  • Isolation: Who needs social distractions when there is SCIENCE to be had? Far better to isolate yourself in some castle atop a jagged peak, undersea laboratory, or other spot where no one will bother you!
  • Madness: Most mad scientists are more than a bit crazy. Some are completely over the edge. A mad scientist subject to “the madness” will soon go completely over the edge. It’s probably best to leave this one to the NPC’s.
  • Possession: While this is rarely literal unless a given mad scientist happens to be a specialist in ghosts or lovecraftian horrors or some such, quite a few mad scientists are subject to creative fits, wherein they become utterly obsessed with something, or build some device with no idea of what it does, or completely fail to consider whether or not implementing some insanely dangerous idea or experiment is really a good idea.
  • Tithe: Buying all that equipment and maintaining a laboratory can be quite expensive. A “tithe” of gold covers THAT.

The two allowable pacts at first level can provide +12 CP worth of Advanced Witchcraft Powers. For some samples there for use with Pacts or with later development consider…

  • Advanced Vital Infusion: (4 CP): Usually an upgrade to the Vital Flux Charger, allowing it to affect larger items.
  • Aetheric Crystalizer / Ice Gun: Nightforge (4 CP). Often purchased as an improvement on a Ray Gun, this allows the user to creature durable structures.
  • An Important Figure: Web Of Shadows (6 CP) provides a support network and influence in an area. It’s most common with drug dealers, poisoners, and other criminals.
  • Anagatic Regimen: Longevity (6 CP). Always a popular project.
  • Augmented Mentation: Spirit Of The Sage (6 CP).
  • Brewing (6 CP): You are good at making potions, narcotics, alcohol, and other useful extracts, giving you a complete pharmacy. This may be used as a gateway to making Pulp Drugs.
  • College Membership: The Secret Order gets you more gadgets and power, so it’s always popular – but it DOES involve hooking up with an actual secret order of mad scientists, who usually have their own agendas. Usually 6 CP.
  • Combat Drug: Wrath of the Sea (4 CP) to provide +6 Strength. Often combined with the similar Essence Of Earth ability (+4 CP for +6 to Constitution) or Dance Of Flames (+6 Dexterity).
  • Death Ray: Mouth of the Earth applied to a Ray Gun (4 CP).
  • Entropic Dissipater (4 CP). As per Grounding.
  • Genetic Augmentation (4 CP), Flesh Like Mist, Specialized for Increased Effect: the user may inject himself with animal DNA to temporarily take on animal powers.
  • Ghost Trap: Seize the Wandering Soul and Spirit Binding usually shows up in the hands of Ghostbusters as a gadget worth 8 CP.
  • Hyperspeed Accelerator (4 CP). Provides access to the Leaping Fire ability.
  • Minions (6 CP). Where would a mad scientist be without his or her faithful minons?
  • Monster Creation: Tulpa, Specialized For Reduced Cost (3 CP) / always material, sometimes goes off on it’s own or doesn’t understand directions, monstrous appearance.
  • Noted Inventor: Tenebriums Coin. Your gadgets bring in a steady income (6 CP).
  • Null-Gravity Boots: Whisper Step (6 CP).
  • Phase Suit: The Umbral Form (4 CP).
  • Planar Sealer (4 CP). This gadget provides access to the Dismissal ability. Specialized versions (for increased effect or reduced cost) are quite common.
  • Technofamiliar: Familiars are fairly rare among mad scientists, but if they have one it will usually have Robotic Template from Eclipse II. Usually 12 CP.
  • Teleportation Belt: Ashen Rebirth with Teleportation, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for the Teleportation function (6 CP).
  • Weather Control Module / Weathermonger (6 CP). Can also be Specialized in specific, more powerful, effects – such as generating Chain Lightning or Hurricane Blasts or some such.

Like most Witchcraft-based builds, a Mad Scientist is most effective at relatively low levels, before they hit the upper bounds of what Witchcraft can do. Fortunately, Witchcraft is also fairly cheap – leaving plenty of points available at higher levels to invest in other abilities.


Eclipse and Exalted

And it’s another question! In this case it’s about Exalted d20.

I’m curious how you’d go about running an exalted game in Eclipse. I imagine there’d be an ‘exalt package deal’, some odd world laws and building most things (as) stunts and reality editing but it seems to be far enough away from standard d20 and superhero stuff to be confusing.


Well, Exalted (1’st, 2’nd, 2.5, and 3.0) has a number of distinguishing features. They aren’t all quite the same for each edition, but in general…

  1. You can buy almost anything you want at character generation. You start as a heroic mortal, get handed a can of cosmic power, and then get to throw in things like artifacts, wealth, power, ownership of magical fortresses, followers, leadership of organizations, or being worshiped by a quarter of the world. Maybe not all at once unless the game master gave you some extra points – but you start at the peak of most mortal ambitions.
  2. The action is usually completely over the top. Even extremely skilled normal people are generally irrelevant (and just have to grin and bear it) and you start off on a par with the mighty powers of the universe. You can build characters who can seriously damage the cosmos right out of the gate. This can be a lot of fun, but doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – which may explain why most of the Exalted games I’ve seen that actually ran by the Exalted rules didn’t all that long.
  3. The special powers are generally based on your skills or attributes being enhanced beyond all reason while still following general themes set by your character class type of Exaltation. That’s a fun concept, even if you did wind up with lists of near-required powers that everyone of a given type tried to buy as soon as possible and occasionally ran into strict power limits based on your characters type and age.
  4. Describing your action in an over-the-top way to get a bonus on it is a fun idea. Of course, it was the normal way of running role playing games until game designers (perhaps influenced by computer games) started writing stricter rules sets and trying to downplay stuff you couldn’t put on a chart. The implementation in older editions of Exalted was a bit of a kludge and made many fights drag on and on, so the current version relegates the effect to nothing but a few bonus dice and relies on it extensively for excitement in combat.
  5. Effective Exalted characters are extremely complicated, with long lists of charms with evocative but uninformative names that need to be used in (unspecified) combinations with each other to work well. They take hours to build and are impossible, even as individuals, for most game masters to run properly without long study. In substantial groups they are nigh-impossible for one person to run properly. This means that small groups of PC’s, with players who are only running one character each, tend to run roughshod over everything.
  6. The characters all have tragic flaws, They may be grand, and powerful, but they have rules for their flaws that will lead them into disaster. Personally I’ve never seen much need for that – the players have their characters cause plenty of tragic disasters without a need for a mechanism built into the game – but the mechanism was basically “you occasionally go completely out of your mind”. I’d have preferred accumulating more limited flaws as your power level went up beyond the limit of a human minds ability to handle it safely and you saw ever further into the chaos underlying reality – but that’s just me.
  7. Attacks tend to be decisive or near-decisive when they do get through the defenses. If you were hit by that twenty-ton giant maul, you were in trouble. Of course, this turned a contest of grinding your way through hit points into a contest of grinding your way through defensive resources. In 3’rd edition fights tend to be short – but that only works because the PC’s pretty much always win. It wouldn’t really be Exalted if “OK, your characters are dead… make some new ones” was a routine part of the game.
  8. The universe, right down to the paths taken by individual raindrops, is 100% run by intelligent, and mostly not-at-all-powerful beings. If they have cheap “perfect defenses” (very few things do), punching them is fairly useless. If they don’t… then almost any problem can be solved by beating on someone. And when almost every problem can be fixed by kicking the stuffing out of someone, and you can begin the game as a Superman/Batman combo buttkicker (with or without a weapon depending on personal style), it doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – or much point in learning other ways of dealing with problems.
  9. Organizations, overlords, large-scale resources, and managers all tend to be useless backstabbing bureaucratic nightmares that make you long to disassociate yourself from them. That, of course, is because the characters are supposed to do things THEMSELVES. You aren’t supposed to send in ten thousand men to dig a canal. You are supposed to smite the ground to open up a new canal and then fight the river god and make him consent to filling it.
  10. The game master is always supposed to say “yes you can”, although it might be difficult. For example, the rules made it quite possible for an Exalt hiding under a bush in the royal gardens to decide that he wanted to find a fabulously powerful magical nexus there that everyone else had overlooked for centuries – and if he could roll well enough (which wasn’t all that hard), so he did. Whether or not it had existed before was irrelevant; a player had wanted it and rolled well, so it had always been there. This ensured that much of the plot (if any) was in the hands of the characters, but made it VERY difficult to actually prepare for a session.
  11. The PC’s are always supposed to be the best and greatest. Sadly, since PC’s often come up with dumb ideas, this means that any idea short of “I hammer nails into my eyes!” still has to be better than the NPC’s best plans – so all canon NPC’s are incredibly short sighted and blind to obvious consequences – and their plans pretty much amount to “I set myself on fire and wait for it to start feeling good!”.
  12. You can’t go back in time or raise the dead. No do-overs and some stuff can’t be fixed. Of course, a lot of game systems don’t allow this stuff either. D20 usually allows Raising the Dead – but that’s easy enough to ban.

Now, I suppose that any given point might be argued – but those seem to be the core points where Exalted differs from most games.

Now to adapt that to d20…

  1. The power level implies being at least sixth level to start – the point at which a d20 character graduates to being more than mortal. It also strongly implies a maximum of level ten to twelve for anyone and everyone – the point at which d20 demigodhood really starts and about the last point at which a group of well-coordinated sixth level characters may still be able to win. Finally, of course, it means that normal mortals are usually level one and are limited to level two or so for heroes and elite types – mostly to figure out what they might be able to do on their own, since they’re never going to effectively oppose the Exalted.
  2. This is exactly what the Heroic Scaling rule does, so it is obviously in use.
  3. This implies that most “powers” are actually going to be Skill Stunts or something thematic (such as some Shapeshifting for Lunars or low-grade Elemental abilities for the Dragon-Blooded).
  4. This is the “Cinematic Combat” ability. It’s considerably more flexible than Exalted stunts are, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
  5. This… is a bug, not a feature. Now admittedly, Eclipse can be very complicated too – but it can use all that published d20 stuff, doesn’t obscure what stuff does with needlessly flowery names, and rarely relies on complicated combinations of effects to make effective characters. We don’t need to do anything here.
  6. Tragic Flaws in Eclipse are basically either Disadvantages or Witchcraft Pacts. Personally I’d go with some Witchcraft; it’s a great way to pick up personal boosts at a relatively low cost.
  7. While the “decisive hits” idea can be taken to imply a reliance on high-damage weapons and damage boosters as well as on Blocks and Armor Class. On the other hand, “break through the defenses and try to land a decisive blow” is pretty much the classical first edition definition of hit points – they were “luck, skill, divine protection, evasiveness, and so on, with only the last few actually representing a serious physical wound”. This doesn’t match up well with many of the other game systems – such as “cure” spells – but at this level of abstraction it doesn’t much matter.
  8. When you come right down to it, this implies that there is no physics. Now honestly… I don’t like this. Philosophically it runs into infinite recursive loops, it’s a silly way to try and run a universe, and I kind of think that “hitting things is the ultimate problem-solving technique!” is bad for the game. My advice on this one? Go ahead and stress nature spirits and such if you like, but leave some basic physics in play.
  9. This can, once again, be covered by the Heroic Scaling rule. Mortal organizations simply are not important.
  10. Well, if the characters want to take a little reality editing to bend things to the way that they want them, that’s one thing. Rewriting your setting history to accommodate the players whims is a no-go for most game masters. TORG and a lot of other games have done this much better, usually relying on something like “Whimsy Cards”. Go ahead, use something like our own Runecards for this.
  11. NO. Just no. I don’t even do this when actually RUNNING EXALTED, and I do NOT recommend importing it into any other game system. The players will just have to put in a little thought and come up with decent plans of their own if they want to compete with the more competent NPC plans. Sure, NPC’s will do stupid things on occasion – but not ALL THE TIME.
  12. So no time travel and no resurrections – although reincarnations might work just fine. Banning a couple of relatively rare effects is not too complicated.


World Laws:

  • Starting Level Five.
  • Heroic Scaling.
  • Limited Power Sets (Campaign Sheet Character-Building Restriction).
  • All characters are Human, but there are 6 CP Racial Variants. Exalts lose their old racial variant in favor of 6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment. Lunars get the Minimal Werething package. Solars get personal attribute boosts, Dragon-blooded get minor elemental powers, Sidereals get stealth boosts, disguise boosts, and “natural weapons”. Other third edition types get something appropriate, I’m not familiar enough with them to say what.
  • No time travel or raising the dead.
  • Beyond Fate: give every player one Runecard (or Whimsy Card) at the start of a session. Give them another during the session if they do something really fabulous. The game master gets (Number Of Players / 2, rounded up, +1) for his own use.

The Exalted Template: Cinematic Combat (18 CP), Witchcraft (Either as “thaumaturgic talents” or as some specialized personal boosts) with Two Advanced Abilities and Three Pacts (Personal Flaws) (12 CP). +2 Specific Knowledges (Knowledge from former possessors of the Exaltation, 2 CP). That’s 32 CP or a +1 ECL Template.

And that about does it. Your d20 game will now function a lot like Exalted. Just take Exalted’s Artifacts as Relics, Manses as Wards Major, and there really isn’t a lot more you need to do. Like it or not, most of what makes Exalted distinct lies in the descriptions and setting, not so much in the rules. After all, we had no trouble at all running Exalted with the Baba Yaga rules.

Infusions Of Curses in Eclipse

And for today, it’s a question – along with a bonus answer from a regular visitor.

What would be the mechanical representation of taking the Energy Infusion ability (Eclipse, p. 61) where the “energy” in question was maledictions look like? I’m honestly not completely sure what that would represent from an in-character standpoint (other than seeming like a cool idea), but insofar as mechanics go, all I can think of is that it would turn penalties from curses like bestow curse into bonuses (though I’m not sure what type). But for more creative curses that don’t have flat penalties, I’m less certain. For that matter, while the opposite energy would probably be “blessings,” that’s also hard to find a mechanical representation for. The bless spell just grants a morale bonus, after all.


That probably doesn’t make sense. The malediction spell template seems to basically create an intention and outsource the actual magic to a bunch of malicious spirits of spite and revenge, and then they work their magic based on that – so there is no ‘energy type’ involved. The closest one could get is something like Major Privilege / Spirits of Vengeance favor you, giving you the favor of curses. Curses are blunted or even possibly redirected when wielded against you, due to your status amongst them. Alternatively, you could just be talking about the ‘unholy’ bonus type, which is countered one to one by sacred bonuses.


That idea would be a bit of an oddity in baseline d20 wouldn’t it?

Jirachi386’s “Major Privilege” idea would certainly be interesting – although I think I’d throw in “Favors” with the spirits of malice to go with being Favored by the Spirits Of Vengeance. That way you could be a spiteful master of curses who cannot readily be cursed and who can call down curses against his or her enemies. A very interesting low-level villain design there! Curse the party to blackmail them – promising to use more favors to remove the curses once they accomplish your goals – or terrorize a village with your spiteful curses without necessarily possessing much other magical power. That way a low-level party could readily defeat you, but would then have to find a way to deal with the curses you called down upon them as you did it – and with no actual spellcasting involved, those curses would be fairly difficult to stop.

The infusion could just represent something like “being a malevolent entity empowered by cruelty and malice” or even being a curse-spirit of some sort (on the theory that you can’t curse a curse or a creature that’s a source of curses). That might be fun – give a non-corporeal creature Presence, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Bestow Curse) / only works when an attacker actually “draws blood” to represent a being which was more or less MADE of curses, and so basically “bleeds” them as it is damaged. This would be a rather weird variant on the classic “is at least partially made of energy X, and so is immune to damage from energy X” version, but I could see it working. That’s another monster that would be a serious menace to low-level types, since they’d have a hard time getting rid of even basic curses. Against higher-level types it would be a good softener; even the most well-prepared party is rarely equipped to remove a dozen curses in the time between defeating some minions and confronting their boss.

Actually getting benefits from being cursed is trickier, simply because curses tend to be cheap, powerful, and semi-permanent problems for player characters to deal with – and converting that combination to Buffs without some major limitations tends to wreck the game unless you make some excuses to restrict it to villains (which is, at least, fairly plausible this time around). If a curse just provides a sudden rush of energy, I’d use Inherent Spell (Specialized for Increased Effect / only triggers with an incoming curse effect) to get “Heal” and/or some other selection of boosting spells (although that may well never come up at all since players rarely use many curses). If it’s long-term… something like Innate Enchantment (effects depend on what curses have been flung at you recently) would probably work best. That way a Curse of Weakness would give you a mild (and paid for) boost to Strength rather than just getting someone to curse you with -6 (for you +6!) to each attribute and going on from there.

Blessings are a bit tricky for exactly the same reason. Legends of High Fantasy has a mechanism for them (they are of limited effectiveness and occupy a Charm or Talisman slot), which also turned up under Generational Blessings (in the do-it-yourself Charms and Talismans series) – and I suppose you could use the Talents system in The Practical Enchanter or Siddhisyoga to represent acquiring various blessings without disrupting the game – but perhaps the most accurate representation would just be “you only actually gain levels beyond (say) three when you receive a blessing from a higher power”. That means that non-heroic characters remain low-level and subject to mortal limitations, that Kings do indeed rule by divine right, and that Clerics, Druids, and Paladins are likely to have a major influence on the setting since they’ll gain levels much more readily than less well-connected magi, fighters, and rogues. If you’re boosted by curses, perhaps an innate version of Rite Of Isis (The Practical Enchanter) would work for a temporary power boost.

Now, if you want to elevate “Curses” (and presumably “Blessings” or “Destiny”) from “a name for certain long-lasting debuffs, crippling effects, or setting someone up as a target for malevolent beings” up to being a force of nature in their own right, that’s going to have notable effects. With Curses and Blessings (or perhaps Cooperation and Selfishness?) as opposing elemental forces – rather like positive and negative energy – “good” and “evil” no longer have a unique claim to having a natural elemental expression with positive and negative energy – and might well take second place to other philosophies. Perhaps the cooperative groups sharing blessings have their natural opposite in the selfish groups weilding curses to weaken their targets. The selfish ones will likely be weaker overall – explaining why the lands are dominated by cooperative groups – but can easily concentrate their power to overwhelm and raid isolated cooperative groups. Those nomadic tribesmen are indeed a curse upon the civilized lands!

This will also require reassigning a few spells to a new subschool, making cursed creatures and the use of curses much more common, establishing a mechanism for Blessings*, and possibly restricting positive and negative energy effects. You might, for example, have Undead be powered by Curses and substitute various forms of curses for most of their negative energy powers. Of course, the reward for that work will be a thoroughly unique campaign, full of unexpected rewards and challenges. It would probably be well worth it.

*As far as “Blessings” go, to refer back to an older article that discussed a variety of possible alternative “treasures” to reward adventurers with. Among other options it had…

Benisons: While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. For example:

The monasteries and priests of Ridmarch will remember their rescuers in their prayers and ceremonies for centuries to come – and, since prayer, priests, and gods have direct and obvious powers in most fantasy worlds, benefits will accrue to those being prayed for. Perhaps they will be better protected from injury (increasing their armor ratings or gaining more “hit points”), they might gain the benefits of a low-level priestly spell effect as needed a few times per week, or they might gain a small bonus to virtually anything else. Secondarily, their souls cannot be possessed or imprisoned for long because the prayers of the faithful shall win their release.

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such – or the valor which empowers the Eagle of Ridmarch will come to the parties aid in some future grave emergency.

Of course, if such a Benison fails, it’s a sure sign that you have to go to the rescue again to get it back – the good old “your magic item has been stolen” plot without having to bother stealing an item and without frustrating the players; if something has gone wrong with a Benison, they know where to go – and what, in general, they have to do – to get it back (or perhaps even to get it back with further improvements).

Benisons can also scale with the characters development. After all, the more important you are in the world, the more attention its supernatural denizens are likely to give you – and you may well do the source of your Benison further favors, thus earning additional enhancements. Even failing that, characters may become better at focusing or channeling such gifts. Why shouldn’t practice help with supernatural blessings just as well as it helps with combat, stealth, casting spells, and other adventurous talents?

Thus a Benison may grow with a character, and continue to be of value throughout his or her career.

In general, it’s best to go with small enhancements as opposed to powers and more active aid for Benisons; a slow progression towards becoming a mighty hero is usually better than a rapid rush towards demigodhood – and a selection of “+1’s” and “+2’s” doesn’t clutter up a character sheet nearly as much as things like “gains the benefits of a first-level priestly spell with a caster level of 15 three times a week whenever the player decides that this benefit should be invoked”.

More esoteric benefits – such as the bit about “immunity to soul imprisonment” – may rarely come up, but the game master should make sure that they do at least once, and preferably in a very dramatic fashion.

Game masters who wish to keep careful track of how much “treasure” the characters have accumulated should just count Benisons as magic items. They fact that they can’t readily be stolen or cancelled is neatly balanced by the fact that you can’t pass them around, give them up, or trade them. (If you’re calculating values in d20, The Practical Enchanter is good for that).

And I hope that helps!

Dark Ages “Classes” – The Man-At-Arms

You know those guards who are always getting tossed around by the monsters, overrun by bandits, and trampled by opposing forces yet who manage to turn up mostly unwounded after the mighty heroes deal with things? Well, that’s these guys Except there aren’t any mighty heroes to come to the rescue; they’ll just have to get organized and do it themselves. On the other hand, in a low-magic low-technology setting there’s a lot to be said for understanding how to avoid being hurt. Wounds heal slowly, if at all. They can leave lingering damage. They can get infected. Even a minor wound can kill.

Just as importantly… Men-At-Arms spend a LOT more time on guard duty, maintaining their armor and weapons, practicing, teaching local militias how to poke at real fighters with farming tools without killing each other, and being intimidating, than they ever spend in combat. And when they do fight…

  • Prisoners are wonderful. They can be put on trial or held hostage for political purposes, ransomed for financial purposes, interrogated for military purposes, pressed into service as laborers, and more. They are all-purpose loot, who can – at worst – be sold as slaves or killed later. And if you helped capture them you usually got a share.
  • Injured or maimed opponents are good too. It’s often easier than a kill, they’re demoralizing for the enemy, an injured opponent who needs to be cared for takes another soldier out of battle with him to get him to the healers, wounded men continue to drain the enemies resources while contributing nothing to their cause, and all too often they never recover enough to return to battle. After all, in the Dark Ages there is very little magic and not a lot of medical skill.
  • Dead opponents? They get buried or burned, and then their relatives or companions often want revenge. There’s not a lot of profit in THAT. Sure, you can steal everything they had IF you hold the field after the battle and no one dragged them away – but you can do that with prisoners too and nobody pays much to ransom a dead body. At worst, you have to waste your own time and effort burying them. Corpses are downright useless.

So the tactics are different.

The equipment is different too.

As far as this “Dark Ages” (Maybe 600-1000 AD) setting is concerned the vast majority of the available armor is getting classified as what D20 calls “light armor”. There are several reasons for this.

  • Many of the “heavy” armor types hadn’t been invented yet. A lot of early armor consisted of padding, leather, and tough cloth, sometimes with bits of mail or metal plates attached to it to protect more vulnerable areas. About the best you could do was the full-out roman legionnaire armor or various forms of “Mail” – all of which were somewhat flimsy compared to later armor of similar encumbrance and offered relatively limited coverage. Few actual examples have survived and there’s been little (or no) actual testing so there’s a lot of guesswork here – but d20 is full of approximations anyway. Ergo, I’m placing most early “Mail” as being roughly equivalent to a chainmail shirt from later centuries.
  • While it doesn’t get a lot of attention, technology did advance over the centuries. For armor and weapons… the metals, designs, and crafting techniques all slowly improved. They still do; that near-legendary Damascus steel was a product of Wootz steel ingots shipped in from India (which happened to carry a useful combination of trace elements, improving the alloy – although no one at the time knew that) and local techniques. It was very good for it’s time, but was still inferior to many modern steels. Rather than introduce a debatable set of inferior period armors – especially when the presence of even minor magic makes what little actual data we have on the topic pretty much irrelevant – simply shortening the table is at least as good an approximation as the rest of d20 combat.
  • Major wars might bring the troops of many nobles together for a time, but the vast majority of conflicts were far smaller squabbles between a handful of noblemen, their personal retainers, and a few squads of reluctant peasant militiamen – but not too many because you needed those workers if you wanted to eat next year. That meant poorly organized skirmishes, where wearing armor heavy enough to slow you down too much was just asking for three or four of the enemy to gang up on you. A horse would help – but getting dismounted was all too common.
  • The more elaborate armor was hideously expensive stuff. You needed a set of skilled craftsman with several relatively rare sets of skills, expensive materials, and a lot of time to make it – and the import networks had pretty much fallen apart. If you wanted mail… you went to a specialist ship in the city, not your local blacksmith. You got in line. you paid extravagantly, and it still wasn’t all that great. You might well be better off investing some of that cash in bodyguards instead.

So: Proficiency with Light Armor (3 CP) and Shields (3 CP). That saves them some points. That’s good, because without magical healing around they are going to need them.

  • Personal weapons weren’t all that varied either. You basically got minor variants on Axes, Swords, Daggers and Knives, Clubs, Maces, and Spiky Maces, Morningstars and Flails, War Hammers, Horseman’s Picks, Spears/Pikes, Staves, and Pole Arms (blades and hooks on sticks, often improvised from agricultural implements), Lances, Throwing Axes, Javelins, Crossbows, and (non-composite) Bows* – and the selection was even more limited in any given area and time. For game purposes… Proficiency with All Simple and a Limited Set Of Martial Weapons (6 CP) will pretty much cover it.

*Samples recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose suggest that war-bows had a normal draw of 150-160 pounds – applied to each arm. About three times the draw of a heavy hunting bow today. A trained longbowman could fire 10-12 times per minute (although six a minute conserved their strength much better) – equivalent to bench-pressing (and briefly holding) 300-320 pounds at that rate. Now such Longbows (and several of the other weapons on our list) were a little late for our period, but we’re allowing the Bombardier (even if they are using magic), so that’s not a big worry.

So rather than using exotic enchanted weapons and getting ever-better armor, Men-At-Arms in our period focus on getting the most out of what they have.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: As with any physical combatant, physical attributes take a leading role here – but the emphasis leans more towards Constitution and Dexterity then raw Strength. They’ll probably want to avoid any major penalties on Intelligence and Wisdom if they can; both skill points and awareness of their surroundings help when your goal is to avoid injury rather than charge in, smite your opponents, and get healed later.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Three Disadvantages. Men-At-Arms commonly have various Obligations (Owing fealty and occasional services, having a family to care for, teaching or students to look after), being Aged (and thus semi-retired, thus having time for adventuring), Healing Resistant (There isn’t much healing in the Dark Ages to be resistant too, but this counts for Men-At-Arms due to having more regular need of what there is), Poor Reputation (Mostly for mercenaries, who are rarely trusted), Stigmata or Accursed (representing poorly-healed old wounds), and Valuable (for younger noble sons and such who can expect to be ransomed if captured)) +2 (Duties, normally to a liege lord) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 72 CP.

Basics (42 CP):

  • Base Attack Bonus: +1 BAB (6 CP), additional +1 BAB (Specialized in either Missile or Melee combat, Corrupted for a limited group of favored weapons only, 2 CP).
  • Hit Points 12 (L1d12 HD, from Fast Learner, Specialized in Buying Larger Hit Dice, 6 CP, automatic d12 at L1, d6 thereafter) + (Con Mod).
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP). Between diseases and infected wounds Men-At-Arms need at least a modest boost to their Fortitude checks.
  • Proficient with Light Armor, Shields (Corrupted / Not Tower Shields), and all Simple and a limited Set of Martial Weapons (11 CP).
  • Skill Points: 4 SP (Purchased, 4 CP), get Human Fast Learner up to +2 SP/Level but Corrupted / only for maximizing Adept skills (+1 CP), Adept (A martial art for a favorite weapon, Profession / Man-At-Arms (covers armor and weapon maintenance, elementary protocol, basic guard and investigative procedures, known threats, basic military organization, tactics, and logistics, and constructing field fortifications), Intimidate (one of a Man-At-Arms major duties), and one skill of choice, 6 CP. All are effectively automatically maximized).

The Martial Art is normally Specialized for Increased Effect (One ability per level) / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor. The first priority is normally on bonuses to Defense and Attack, but the ability to inflict nonlethal damage is a close second.

Men-At-Arms commonly invest their available skill points in Heal, Ride, and/or Perception.

Other Abilities (30 CP):

  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded.
  • Armor Expertise: Defender, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only while wearing a favored kind of light armor, bonus does not increase with level, 2 CP).
  • Weapon Expertise: Skill Emphasis (Their Martial Art), Specialized for Increased Effect (+4 Bonus) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor, only works with one specific weapon at a time, user must practice with the new weapon for at least a week to change weapons, weapon must be of “masterwork” quality (2 CP).
  • Practiced Evasion: Grant of Aid (Unrolled 10-point Variant) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / hit points only, only to reduce the damage from a single incoming attack not to heal injuries, only takes effect after damage reduction and other defenses, cannot reduce the damage by more than 50%, rounded down (4 CP). A character with this ability may opt to suffer only half damage from an attack inflicting up to twenty points of damage, although half-points are always rounded in favor of damage. Attacks inflicting more than twenty points of damage have their effects reduced by ten points.
  • Military Caste: Minor Privilege, Corrupted / only applies when in service to a local noble (2 CP). Men-At-Arms are generally employed; basic armor and weapons are supplied, they have some law-enforcement privileges, and they may wear armor and bear weapons in most situations with no complaints.
  • Combat Feats (18 CP): Men-At-Arms have 18 CP remaining, with which they may buy additional “feats” – specialized combat abilities. While you can build an endless array of such abilities in Eclipse, here are a few to pick from to get you started.
    • Advanced Armor Expertise: An additional +1 AC may be purchased as Defender (+1 AC Option), Specialized only while wearing a favored kind of light armor (3 CP per +1 AC) or it can be Corrupted as well / each +1 increases the effective encumbrance of the users armor by 25% (2 CP per +1 AC).
    • Maiming Strike / Trick: may inflict a Bestow Curse, Cause Blindness, or Cause Deafness effect on a critical hit (6 CP). Such injuries may be mitigated to some extent with time and the care of a reasonably skilled healer but some small penalty or effect will usually remain.
    • Flashing Strike: Bonus Attack (With speciality weapon). Make two attacks, albeit at -2 penalties (6 CP).
    • Critical Master: Luck, Specialized in Critical Confirmation (6 CP). The user may roll twice to confirm critical hits.
    • Weapon Master: Martial Arts (6 CP). Increase the weapons damage die size.
    • Legionnaire (6 CP): Gain bonuses to Attacks, AC, Reflex saves when working with others with this ability.
    • Terrible Mein: With: Opportunist. User may attempt to persuade, or intimidate, opponents into surrendering or fleeing as a free action up to twice per battle. This is most likely to work if they are obviously overmatched (6 CP).
    • Sneak Attack: Augment Attack +2d6 (6 CP).
    • Grand (Weapon) Master (6 CP):
      • +4 bonus on all checks to resist being disarmed. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Minor (2 CP).
      • May use a weapon against a grappling foe without penalty and without first making a grapple check. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Trivial (1 CP).
      • May draw a weapon, make a sudden strike, or fight defensively as an immediate action three times per day. Reflex Training (three action per day variant), Corrupted / only for weapon actions (4 CP).
      • May make Disarm attempts without provoking an Attack Of Opportunity. Evasive (3 CP).
      • Gain a +2 Bonus to Initiative. Improved Initiative (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored weapon, giving Grand (Weapon) Master a total cost of (6 CP).
    • Armor Mastery (6 CP):
      • Increase the Maximum Allowed Dexterity Bonus: Immunity/Penalties for wearing armor (Very Common, Minor, Trivial, Corrupted / only to raise Dexterity Bonus Caps). Increase the maximum allowed Dexterity Bonus by +2 (3 CP).
      • Make it an Effective Weapon: That’s Martial Arts (1d4 damage), Corrupted/must be wearing gauntlets and limb protection (2 CP). With this you can use your armored limbs, fists, and head as effective maces and are always considered armed, including while grappling.
      • Make you more Intimidating and harder to “read”: Augmented Bonus/Adds (Str Mod) to (Cha Mod) with respect to Charisma-Based Skills, Corrupted/only for Intimidation and Bluff (4 CP).
      • Reduce it’s Encumbrance: Immunity/the base weight of armor (Uncommon, Minor, and – for light armor – Trivial, 1 CP).
      • Negate the Armor Check Penalty: The “Smooth” modifier for Light Armor Proficiency (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored armor, giving Armor Mastery a total cost of (6 CP).

A low-level Man-At-Arms is really a somewhat better combatant than a low-level standard fighter. That’s partly because standard fighters really aren’t that good a build, partly because their job is to solve problems not to be meat shields who keep the enemy off the spellcasters, partly because they rely on skill instead of magic, and partly because they need to be able to function on their own – without a healer, or a mage to do the heavy lifting.

Medieval Dark Ages “Classes” – The Võlur

While Eclipse doesn’t actually use Classes, a Dark Ages game is very likely to stay in the level one to level for range for more-or-less “real people”, rather than dipping into the “action movie star” or “more than human hero” territory that starts at level five or six. That means that a first level character is starting off with close to half of all the character points that he or she is evern going to have – and so that first level build is certainly going to set the tone for a characters later development. Unlike a game that’s expected to go to level fifteen or so… there simply aren’t enough character points in levels 2-3 to do a particularly radical redesign. For this setting, even in Eclipse, “classes” – or at least your initial build choices – are actually quite important.

A Võlur (sometimes a Velho) is a classical sympathetic magician, using Sympathy and Contagion to produce magical effects. Classically, a Võlur could produce an immense variety of effects, at nigh-limitless ranges – but required a great deal of time to do so and was generally limited to relatively subtle, and often long-term, effects.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the opposite of gaming mages usually do. They tend to have a very limited range of effects (to let the players and game masters keep track of them easily), most of their effects have very limited ranges (to force the characters to go out and have exciting adventures rather than desk jobs), they have to work their magic quickly (since they are basically competing with the archers and swordsmen), they are anything but subtle (since most of their magic is for use in direct battle), and they don’t use many long-term effects (since, once again, it complicates things too much). Thus, while there have been a few attempts to import sympathetic magic into d20, it rarely works out that well. Fortunately, I am using Eclipse and a setting where this sort of thing is more appropriate – and where the characters will mostly have to settle for “subtle” because most of the blatant stuff does not work.

For Dark Age game purposes Sympathetic Magic comes in two categories – Direct and Indirect.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic is classical. You perform lengthy, complicated, rituals, usually a long ways from your target, and produce… fairly minor effects. Most such interventions can be effectively represented as die roll modifiers. Is the local Võlur attempting to bring rain in the midst of a drought that threatens to ruin a villages crops? Well, in game terms that droughts a -8 Circumstance modifier on on Profession (Farmer, Hunter, Gatherer) and Survival checks. With three separate rituals (perhaps one for rain, one to pull water up from the deep soil, and one to strengthen the plants), our Võlur can provide a +6 bonus to those checks – not entirely negating the effects of the drought, but certainly reducing its effects from “disaster and starvation” to “a somewhat bel0w-average year”. So did cave paintings of successful and bountiful hunts aid early man. Cursing a cow to go dry? A penalty on the owners income check. Do you wish to protect someone from harm? You might take some of their hairs and place them in a metal poppet, granting your target a +2 bonus to their Natural Armor.

More drastic direct interventions approximate the power of a cantrip, albeit at indefinite range. Do you wish a castle to catch fire? Your ritual may cause a candle to topple over when unattended, igniting the rushes on the floor. The place MIGHT burn down – but a passing servant might stomp it out, and even if the fire spreads, it may wind up only destroying a room or two. You can cause ominous messages to appear on walls, let your voice whisper in your targets dreams, cause frightening chest pains, and otherwise subtly aid or hinder your target in a wide variety of ways – but there’s only so much you can do with the occasional cantrip, even if they are being used indirectly from many miles away.

  • Indirect Sympathetic Magic always costs 2 Mana at a base. Additional Mana may be spent to affect a larger area. Do you wish to affect a household, party, or small farm? +1 Mana. A hamlet, manor, or castle? +2 Mana. Sadly, larger areas are out of mortal reach.

Indirect Sympathetic Magic can be quite effective – if a group of three coven of three Võlur (cauldron optional) wishes to affect a battle of champions, each can aid their champion with an effect (Say, +2 to AC, +2 to Attacks and Damage, and +2 to Strength) and inflict some similar curse on his or her opponent, which may well prove decisive – but it’s not like throwing lightning bolts.

Direct Sympathetic Magic is less classical, but much more playable. It substitutes line of sight for a proper link and for much of the ritual (still a minimum of a full-round action). You still need to represent the effect, and the effect is still fairly weak – but you can produce trivial, minor, and notable effects.

  • Sample Trivial Effects (1 Mana per Day): Rub something to briefly polish it. Rub your fingers together (mimicking a firestick) to generate a match-sized flame. Blow, and direct, an impressive smoke ring. Basically, the kind of stuff you can manage with Prestiigitation, but limited to sympathetic effects.
  • Sample Minor Effects (1 Mana): Mold clay to create a large image of smoke or a (fairly obvious) mirage. Break a thread to snap a bowstring. snuff out a match or candle-flame to extinguish a torch or lantern. Use a candle and a thimble to heat a bucket of water. Make your voice come from someplace else. Cause a few moments of disorganization. Try to get someone to repeat what you just whispered aloud. Create an area if slippery ground that might make a target fall. Ease a difficult childbirth. Stop bleeding.
  • Sample Notable Effects (2 Mana): Mold clay to shape a sizeable cloud. Turn a key to open a lock, even if the key has nothing to do with the lock. Exhale hard to create a modest gust of wind or to blow away some smoke. Strike a wall or tree to generate a ranged combat maneuver or attack. Toss out a handful of dust to create a bothersome cloud of dust, cover a trail, or instantly make a large area look dirty and undisturbed. Fan vigorously to purify the air in a modest area.
  • Expanded Targeting: One point of additional Mana may be spent to affect slightly larger areas or groups – a group of up to a dozen targets or a household – but that’s the limit.

Unfortunately, all sympathetic magic is subject to the following limitations:

  • The Rule Of One: A target may only be directly affected by one sympathetic effect from any one witch in any one day. This is a consequence of the fact that each such act establishes a temporary link back to the originator, making it impossible for the user to properly focus any additional magic on the target until it fades.
  • The Rule Of Two: Sympathetic effects are normally limited to a +/-2 or trivial effects of similar potency. That could be applied to armor class, saves, skill checks, attacks and damage, or even as direct damage however. For example, one might sprinkle mold over a handful of stores to affect the food produced by a kitchen, causing everyone who eats it to suffer penalties.
  • The Rule Of Three: No matter the number of rituals enacted, no given target may be affected by more than three sympathetic effects in any one day. Beyond that, there are too many competing temporary links for any sympathetic mage to direct effects to the proper target.
  • The Patronus Rule: Long-term sympathetic effects are maintained by the user’s power. They cannot endure past the caster’s death or the point at which the caster reclaims his or her Mana – although the caster may voluntarily refuse to do so to maintain an effect, although this is still limited by the Synodic Rule, below.
  • The Synodic Rule: Unless a Võlur willingly dies to cast a spell (not so rare as you might think, many a sick or elderly Võlur has given up his or her last few days to provide a permanent blessing for his or her loved ones – or a permanent curse for some truly hated foe) the maximum duration of any sympathetic working is one Synodic Month. After that time, the mana invested in maintaining the effect is freed, and will be regained by the caster normally.
  • The Rule of Resistance. If you directly affect someone with a malevolent sympathetic effect they get a will save to negate the effect at DC (13 + Mana Spent + Users Wisdom Modifier). Targeting someones equipment or something they’re carrying adds +4 to the DC. Environmental modifications do not permit a saving throw.

The wealthy and powerful are obvious targets for Sympathetic Magic. Unfortunately, most of them will employ sympathetic mages of their own, both to maintain beneficial spells on them and their immediate households (which incidentally protects them against hostile spells) and to trace the origin of sympathetic attacks. Ergo, using sympathetic magic against important folk needs to be either subtle or indiract or carefully timed to slip in to the gaps between when their current spells go down due to the Synodic Rule and when they can be re-established.

To actually build the 36 available character points worth of this ability take…

  • 3d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized for Increased Effect (Sympathetic Magic, as above) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (12 CP). This may be taken a second time.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only to refill the magic pool above, requires at least one hour per die (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense / Detect Sympathetic Effects. This allows the user to determine the nature of any sympathetic effects currently affecting someone – and to get a good deal of information about the user. This ability is anothe rmajor reason why the wealthy and powerful often employ their own Võlur.

A Võlur is actually the party enhancement specialist. Sketch a scene of the party as amazing heroes cutting their way through a host of enemies to victory, pour three Mana into it (2 for an Indirect Effect and 1 for affecting a small group) and give everyone in the party a +2 to Attacks and Damage until you opt to regain that mana or the synodic rule kicks in. They can pull off some useful tricks in direct battle as well – snapping a group of opponents bowstrings, or trying to trip a group of enemies or some such – but the Rule Of One is very limiting in such cases.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: A Võlur should probably have a reasonable Wisdom, but attributes aren’t actually that important to their magic – leaving them free to focus on some secondary role.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Accursed [Suspicious Person. Võlur can offer gifts. They can also strike against you in secret, in ways that are difficult to detect. Whenever things go wrong, the local Võlur will be under suspicion almost automatically], History [every Võlur should have at least a short list of things they’ve done to help or harm to provide some plothooks], and Accursed [While the Almighty may or may not have a problem with Võlur – after all, he’s the one who made that power available – Clerics tend to disdain Võlur on the theory that meddling with reality should be let to God]) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Unlike being a Friar or a Bombardier, being a Võlur doesn’t require any major commitment.

Basic Items (24 CP):

  • BAB +1 (6 CP). It’s a rare adventuresome Võlur who hasn’t practiced a bit.
  • Hit Points: 8 (L1D6, 4 CP) + (Con Mod). Võlur aren’t front-line fighters, but they deal with enough upset neighbors to be reasonably competent at defending themselves.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons and Light Armor (6 CP). Pretty much the minimum for anyone who’s going adventuring and who isn’t otherwise inhibited somehow. Most likely from militia training.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Will (6 CP). Imposing your will on the universe is good training for resisting anything else imposing on you.
  • Skill Points: 2 SP (2 CP) (But see below).

Other Abilities (46 CP):

  • Võlur abilities (As above); 18 CP (Most often Mana and Recovery for PC’s).
  • Upgrade Human Fast Learner to +2 SP/Level (3 CP).
  • Fast Learner Specialized in Skills for +2 SP/Level (6 CP).
  • Adept x 2 (12 CP). This allows a Võlur to keep eight skills maxed out before any intelligence-based or purchased skill points come into play. While they will probably want one or two to be in crafts or performance skills with which to make models, perform pantomime, or draw pictures, this gives them quite a few
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (1 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded past 3/-.
  • One Bonus Feat. For combative types, there are some good tricks available with things like Augmented Attack, Trick, or Enhanced Strike. More Mana can make for a decent group-enhancement specialist while still leaving some room for direct tricks.

The Võlur’s magic can be surprisingly effective if used cleverly – but a Võlur is basically a Trickster Mage, rather like the Bard and various magical rogue builds in most d20 settings. Of course, in a Dark Ages setting… a Võlur is reasonably powerful and is about the most vesatile mage to be found.

Personally, I find that the most attractive feature of this sort of magic is that the player needs to be clever. They not only have to think of something useful to do with their very limited powers but they have to come up with a little ritual to make it happen. That can bring in a lot of creativity to replace the usual “I cast Spell 17b”…

Medieval Dark Ages Classes – The Bombardier:

Is not the scent of brimstone and the infernal choking smoke enough of a sign? There are devils in gunpowder. They make it explode in hellish flame. The horrible wounds that such cursed weapons inflict tend to fester and rot (although washing them clean with pure holy water sometimes helps) – a sure sign that firearms are full of wickedness! A bishop tested once – simple leaden musket balls fired from ordinary muskets versus balls of blessed silver with a cross carved into them fired from blessed muskets. The profane lead was far more accurate, inflicted more damage, and consistently outranged the silver that had been cleansed of hellish influences. And if those tests were not proof enough… the dark power of firearms and bombs will easily injure monsters that are near-impervious to mundane weapons. Only the greatest of holy weapons can match their destructive power. The foolish few who dare to risk their very souls dabbling in the use of Gunpowder, Explosives, and Firearms are greatly feared.

Liber Ignium, the Book Of Fires:

As a field of Natural Magic, the use of Firearms and Explosives is based on the Witchcraft system.

Journeyman Bombadier: Witchcraft II (12 CP) with +6d6 Power (Powder?) (Specialized / only for use with Gunpowder Weaponry, 6 CP).

A Journeyman Bombardier gets (Str + Con + Dex) / 3 +6d6 Power and three Witchcraft Abilities – two fixed and one chosen.

  • Gunpowder Mastery – Infliction, Variant (uses a ranged attack check instead of a saving throw), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (120′ Range, uses d6 for damage, increases limits by +1 die per category – so a maximum of 4/6/10 dice for 1/2/3 points) / requires the use of a pistol/longarm/light cannon or rocket at base, or a grenade/petard/powderkeg or rocket to get the area effect, effects are extremely noisy, fiery, and smoky, “force” or “fire” damage only, may frighten the parties horses or other animals, costs +1 power in rainy or otherwise wet conditions.
  • Sharpshooter – Hand Of Shadows – Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Enhanced Aim only. Normally, given the vagaries of early gunpowder, the fouling of the barrel, using smaller balls than barrels so that they bounce around when fired, and imprecise early manufacturing techniques, early firearms are horribly inaccurate. With this power a Bombardier negates that problem automatically and may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with Infliction to either gain a +5 bonus to Hit with that shot or to attempt some absurd trick shot without penalty.
  • Plus any one of the following knacks:
    • Cauterizing Charge – Healing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may cleanse an infected wound or stop bleeding automatically, as a move action, at the cost of doing 1d3 Fire damage to the target. This costs no power but the user cannot use other Healing abilites.
    • Demolitions – Dreamfaring, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user’s Infliction effects cause double damage versus objects and bypass hardness. This is a continuous effect with no cost, but the user cannot use other Dreamfaring abilities.
    • Demon’s Breath – Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to turn the smoke from bits of powder into a great cloud of choking, nigh-impenetrable smoke. The user may create such a cloud as a free action or as part of discharging a firearm up to seven times per day for free, each additional 3 uses costs 1 Power. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Shadowweave abilities.
    • Devils Glance – The Inner Eye, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Observe enough men in battle, stressed and tempered by the flames and thunder of the guns, and you will soon come to see the flaws their eyes reveal. The user may make a perception check (opposed by the targets ability to bluff) to see a targets personality flaws – if someone is corrupt, has committed grievous crimes, is open to bribery, is treacherous, lies routinely, is overly lecherous, or suffers from similar personal troubles.
    • Festering Evil – Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may, on a hit with a gunpowder weapon, roll 1d5: 1-2) The wound is clean, and will heal normally. 3-4) The wound will fester and rot, unless heroic efforts are made, 5) the wound will bleed for an additional 1d6 damage per round until stanched. 6) Shock. The wound acts as Bestow Curse until treated.
    • Greek Fire – Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with a gunpowder weapon to cause the target hit to be set on fire. Area effect weapons also add +2d6 Fire Damage when this option is used. Unfortunately, the user may not employ any other Witchfire abilities.
    • Hellfire Gaze – Glamour, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Wielding Hells Fires has it’s side effects. The user gains a +6 bonus to Intimidation checks at no cost and – if holding a gunpowder weapon – may expend 2 power to generate a Command effect against a group of up to six individuals. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Glamour abilities.
    • Leathered Toughness – Hyloka, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user permanently gains Energy Resistance 5 against Fire and Gunpowder-generated Force effects at no cost, but can use no other Hyloka abilities.
    • My Guns They Comfort Me – The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user is automatically immune to Intimidation and other Fear effects so long as he or she possesses a gunpowder weapon but can use no other Adamant Will abilities.
    • Piercing Eye – Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may readily see through smoke and fog, suffering no penalties for such conditions but can use no other Witchsight abilities.

The three further possible expansions of the Bombardiers abilities include:

  • Alchemical Compounding: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the users Gunpowder Weaponry power pool, above, (6 CP).
  • Master Bombardier (Witchcraft III): Adds four additional Bombardier knacks (+6 CP).
  • Sulfurous Deviltry (The Secret Order): Requires Master Bombardier. Adds the remaining five Bombardier Knacks and +4 Power (+6 CP). A master of Sulfurous Deviltry has sworn himself or herself to the powers of flame and metal, and can no longer be Inspired by the Clergy, but is not necessarily an enemy of the faith. They’re just straddling the line.

Bombardiers may take Witchcraft Pacts to reduce the costs of their abilities – but all such pacts are with demonic powers. A Bombardier with any Pact counts as an enemy of the Christian Faith, and – as rule – their selection is limited to Missions, Spirit, Taboos, Rituals, Essence, Souls, Gateway, Corruption, Possession, Spell Failure (Christian Clergymen), Madness, and Susceptibility (Holy Objects and Places). Taking such pacts is rarely a very good idea.

The Build:

The Bombardier commands the most directly destructive battle magic to be found in the setting – the power of black powder and iron. There is literally nothing else of the mortal world that can match the destruction wrought by a high level Bombardier with a cannon short of a the great acts of nature – volcanic eruptions, great earthquakes and landslides, and the greatest strikes of mighty storms. To be a Bombardier is in itself an act of hubris, betting your very soul that you can bend the fires of hell to your will without being taken by them – and many Bombardiers lose that bet.

Basic Attributes: A Bombardier will want Dexterity first and – probably – Constitution second. Other attributes are of considerably less importance.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Dependent (Unless they regularly restock their supplies of lead, saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal, and any destroyed alchemical apparatus Bombardiers suffer a -12 penalty to their daily Pow(d)er allotment), Irreverent, and one disadvantage of choice) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Basic Items (40 CP):

  • BAB: +0 (0 CP), +3 Specialized and Corrupted / only with Gunpowder Weapons (6 CP).
  • Hit Points: 12 (Level One 3d4, 16 CP) + (3 x Con Mod). This also gets them up to Level Three as far as Witchcraft use is concerned – making their pistols quite powerful even at level one.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP). Since their firearms are actually a branch of natural magic, no proficiency is required to use them.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: (Int Mod + 2) x 4 + 6 (6 CP).

Other Abilities (20 CP):

  • Journeyman Bombardier Package (30 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II (6 CP): +4 to Initiative. A Bombardiers basic strategy is pretty much always “shoot – or at least intimidate – them before they close”, and going first is pretty fundamental to that.
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be further upgraded.
  • One bonus Feat or Feat-Equivalent of Choice (6 CP).

The Bombardier is pretty much a Warlock – a wielder of dangerous, highly-damaging, and very likely unholy magics that are principally useful in battle. Their damage isn’t especially enormous compared to a high-strength melee specialist with a big weapon or an focused archer, but it’s generally enough, they’ve got reasonable range, and they can bypass a lot of defenses – including a good bit of armor class. Overall, they have an important role to play in Dark Ages party.

Can non-Bombardiers try to use firearms? Why of course! That’s where all those one-handed, or one-eyed, or badly scarred and permanently limping, or powder-tattooed people come from. Meddling with magic when you don’t have the skill rarely works out well, although occasionally someone gets away with it for a bit.

Oh, as a note… I have seen references stating that some bishop or other actually did conduct that test. Given that the results actually make some sense – there are numerous problems with using silver bullets and carving crosses on them will only make the aerodynamics even worse – who knows? Someone might have really tried it. Early bullet or ball wounds are also a lot worse than arrow wounds when it comes to infection. Cleanly cut tissue versus smashed with bits of wadding, cloth, armor chips, and whatever the target was wearing carried into the wound? Which one seems more prone to infection to you?

Star Trek Relics in Eclipse

And for today it’s a couple of relics. Unfortunately, unlike most relics, a character needs to be able to use very high-level technology to create or use these – and will need proficiency in Informational Combat to use the Tricorders full abilities. Still, if you just happen to hail from a Star Trek universe, here are a couple of the most popular toys.

Phaser (15 CP / 2 Point Relic):

  • Innate Enchantment: Specialized and Corrupted / only 1750 GP (35,000 Credits or Purchase DC 31) to duplicate the functions of a particular technological item or set of interlinked items with a common theme. The Phaser (or Plasma Laser) is a combination of…
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Pistol With Heavy Stun (4500 CR).
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Rifle with Autofire Module (2250 CR).
    • Plasma Launcher : Minigrenade Launcher (2000 CR) with 20 Fireflush Grenades (24,000 CR).
    • Plasma (Fusion) Torch (120 CR).
    • 30 extra Power Packs (2100 CR)
      • Total: 34,970 Credits. All items from d20 Future rules.
  • With 1d6+2 (6) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only for edits related to the devices Innate Enchantment effects or to the device itself, maximum of major edits (9 CP).
    • Common Minor Edits (1 Mana): Device is recharged/reloaded, an attack on it turns into a stunning energy discharge in a 10′ radius, produce an effect that is almost reasonable for the device in question (using a plasma gun to heat a room, flash-weld a door closed, attack a small area or double the damage or an area effect, hit automatically, or run a steam engine for some time).
    • Common Notable Edits (2 Mana): Device affects a small area rather than an individual target or a greater than usual area, device can be repaired as a standard action, produce an effect which is only remotely possible for the device in question (using a plasma gun to blast a sizeable area, create a wall of fire, hit and crit automatically, disrupt electrical apparatus rather than doing damage.
    • Common Major Edits (3 Mana): Make a plasma gun shoot cold, completely ignore range limitations, fire an overload blast for triple damage, carve out a tunnel, use the gadget to power up other systems, get things to work where they have no business doing so (for example, using a plasma beam under water).
      • Note that, if the device user is also using reality-editing technobabble, the effects are cumulative. Just sum up the total effective mana expenditure to determine the level of the edit.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to recharge the Mana Pool above, takes several minutes of tinkering, requires a roll? (4 CP).

A phaser isn’t one of the most powerful weapons out there – but it can keep firing almost indefinitely, has a “stun” setting for when you don’t want to kill people, and can be used for all kinds of tricks as well as just shooting people. So why do most minions just flash and vanish when shot with a phaser set to “kill”? It’s because they’re MINIONS, and – in a Sci-Fi universe – generally only have a few hit points. That’s why pretty much ANYTHING kills them.

Tricorder (8 CP / 1 CP Relic):

The universal instrument pack would probably be best written as “Privilege: user gets to be the one to relay the plot-relevant information to the group after the game master has decided what he wants the party to know” – but most players would prefer a gadget that actually has some worthwhile effect. For them, we have the Classic Tricorder.

  • Sensor Suite: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (level zero and weak level one effects) / Only for Divinations, requires at least one full round spent fiddling around with the gadget (6 CP).
    • Such effects include Detect (Magic, Psionics, Poison, Disease, Life, Time, Location, Dimensional Disturbances, Metal, Ores, Radiation, Secret Doors, Snares And Pits, Nutritional Value, Undead, Electrical Activity, Bugs, and so on), Find (Fish, Game, Forage, Campsite, Water, Oil, Gold, Personal Items), Know (Diagnosis, Direction, Numbers, Age, Origin, Creature Classification, Plant Classification, Immediate Past, Weather), Assay (Purity, Creature, Plant), and speeding up a search (Sift).
  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only 500 GP Value (2 CP).
  • “Card Computer”: Small PC with various programs. 175 GP.
    • Holorecorder (5 GP).
    • Motion Sensor (20 GP)
    • Piercing Visor (25 GP).
    • Power Backpack (4 GP). (for powering the “detailed scan” below).
    • “Detailed Scan” / “Disintegrator” (250 GP). 3d8 Nonspecific Energy Damage, 30′ Base Range, Crit 20/x2. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Informational Combat Weapon. “Damage” is tracked separately. As it is inflicted, the user gets more and more information about the target. If the target is “killed” the user’s information is reasonably complete. If the user reduces a target to (-hit points) via informational damage he or she is entitled to use technobabble to explain it’s weaknesses and how it can be exploited – and have such explanations often turn out to be correct, even if they weren’t at all correct before / does no actual damage, exposes the user to informational feedback (a free counter-attack from the target) against his or her own hit points / “informational integrity” which can induce a variety of mental and physical problems, ranging up to incapacitation if the user’s informational damage total exceeds his or her hit points.

The Tricorder can detect all sorts of things – but at relatively short range and it often takes a good deal of time to “decipher what the readings mean”. Things can get much stranger if the user actually knows Informational Combat however, since with that… he or she can technobabble whatever is being scanned into complying with his or her ideas of how the universe is supposed to work. That’s why a skilled sensor operator can find a weakness in the enemy shields, or a way to bypass Borg immunities, or or a crack in the event horizon. They’re basically bludgeoning the universe into going along with their version of the “observer effect” and being the way they want it to be. (Unless, of course, the universe wins the informational battle and gets it;s own way). More mundanely… a Tricorder is a high-quality personal computer which can generate maps, spot hidden creatures, and record in various modes. It also has unspecified data libraries (a complete copy of Wikipedia perhaps?), which can be used to try and get back to the world that ought to be, if only Spock can collect enough stone knives and bearskins.