Using Valdemaran Gifts, Part II

One of the major tricks of using Gifts effectively is to work gradually. After all… if you’re not in too much of a hurry, treating a flu patient with specific level zero effects – “reduce production of mucus”, “expectorate”, “reduce inflammation”, “weaken virus”, “bolster immunity”, “heal trivial damage to the throat lining” (a variant of “cure minor wounds”), “bolster immune system”, “drain lungs”, “spring tonic” (A.K.A. “provide vitamins”), and “relieve aches and pains” – probably followed by bit of cleaning up and an “resist flu infection” effect on yourself – is just about as good as zapping your patient with a level three “Cure Disease”. It just takes a few minutes instead of a single turn and requires that you have some idea of what you’re doing. Sure, you might not be able to handle a retrovirus hidden in the patients genome, but how often does that kind of distinction come up in most d20 games?

Unfortunately, that kind of gradual approach isn’t too effective in combat, where you’re usually in a rather large hurry. It’s also less effective in the original books, since there even minor uses of a gift often seem to be a bit of a strain and going step-by-step would bore the readers – but telling the players that even trivial uses of their Gifts are draining is just going to frustrate them.

Personally, I’d recommend that the “chaining minor effects” approach be limited by how well you understand what’s going on in the first place – so you can’t effectively chain more minor effects than your baseline bonus (ranks plus attribute modifier plus permanent feats) in a/the relevant skill – possibly subtracting a few points for general difficulty. Thus the step-by-step treatment for the flu described above would call for a minimum of a +10 total in the Heal skill so as to know what to do and not forget things and might even call for a few more points than that if there’s a penalty. That’s not really much of a limitation, but in a low-level game it’s reasonable enough.


Gift Of Tongues

This barely gets a reference in the books – mostly as “Companions understand what people are saying” – but I’m going to presume that it covers vocal and written communication in general.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Double Meaning, Message, Read Magic, and Imitate Voice. You can also sketch accurately, make sure that your words cannot be accidentally misunderstood, and understand any normal language given a minute or two to listen to it being spoken. This won’t let you speak it though.
  • Level One Effects: Aphasia, Comprehend Languages, Compulsive Liar, Fumbletongue, Share Language, Memorize Page, Command, Enthrall, Litany Of Sloth (usually via distraction and insults) Litany Of Weakness, and Vocal Alteration. At this point you can get a general message across pretty much any language barrier, identify relationships between languages, give a fair description of the attitudes and beliefs of the author of any extensive written work, and give excellent motivational speeches.
  • Level Two Effects: Glibness, Codespeak, Heckle, Steal Voice, Hidden Speech, Suggestion, Tongues, Voluminous Vocabulary, Castigate, Litany Of Eloquence, and Speak With Animals. At this level you will also automatically take on an appropriate accent, use native turns of phrase, no one will notice anything odd about your speech, and you can reconstruct messages, books, and instructions presuming that you have at least a third of the original material to work with.
  • Level Three Effects: Curse Of Babel, Demanding Message, Confess, Lesser Geas, Illusory Script, Secret Page, Communal Share Language, Deflect Blame, and Triggered Suggestion. At this point you can understand utterly alien languages, translate technical and magical material, understand blueprints and other plans, reconstruct books and messages from small fragments, and communicate directly with computers.



In the original books healers are rarely chosen as Heralds, simply because they’re very badly needed in the general population and because Heralds have very short life expectancies. Of course, in d20, any rational party will find SOME excuse to have a healer along – especially since a d20 Healing Gift is far more effective than the ones in the books. Maybe the party healer was chosen in an utter emergency because bonding with a companion boosts gifts – and healing someone was vital to the future of the country. Maybe their Healing Gift was too weak to use without a Companion. Maybe it was triggered accidentally and unexpectedly. Maybe there was just a special reason – perhaps a healing gift that would have been wasted in a bad situation so there was no reason not to choose an otherwise-suitable person with the healing Gift. It’s not as if it never happens, as shown by Shavri, (and, according to the Valdemar wiki I consulted, a Herald named Shia whom I do not remember). Just go with it. There’s no point in arguing.

It is important to remember that – the way Gifts are built – cumulative effects are limited to 2-12 uses of the same basic effect per day per target – so “unlimited use of level zero effects” doesn’t equate to “unlimited healing”. What it means is “somewhat faster healing” – even if the baseline healing in d20 is already better than healer-assisted healing in the original books, a gifted d20 Healer can come close to matching some fairly significant Valdemaran miracles – and we’re bowing to d20 here. In the books many or most healers have ethical problems with using their ability to manipulate the body to harm others, but it’s possible (and, with player characters, all too likely).

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Cure Minor Wounds, Detect Poison, Diagnose Illness (Hedge Magic), Transfuse (Hedge Magic), Stabilize, Touch Of Fatigue, and individual Polypurpose Panacea effects. A healer at this level can also remove rashes, reduce scars and birthmarks, sooth burns and frostbite, keep wounds from becoming infected, relieve arthritis and headaches, eliminate male pattern baldness (if they want to waste time on regular treatments), slightly extend lifespans (regular attention from a healer will add about two years to the effective duration of each age category, resulting in a total extension of about ten years), and alleviate the effects of many other minor illnesses and disorders.
  • Level One Effects: Biofeedback, Relieve Illness (Hedge Magic), Relieve Poison (Hedge Magic), Cure / Inflict Light Wounds, Dentistry (Hedge Magic), Invigorate, Itching Curse, Restful Sleep, Touch of Blindness, Resurgence, Touch of Gracelessness, Keep Watch, Ray of Enfeeblement, Ray Of Sickening, and Remove Sickness (Pathfinder Version). A healer at this level can also produce effects equivalent to the best individual earthly medications, surgeons, and physicians.
  • Level Two Effects: Cure / Inflict Moderate Wounds, Sleep, Lesser Restoration, Youthful Appearance, Acute Senses, Blindness / Deafness, Delay Pain, Delay Poison, Bears Endurance, Bulls Strength, Sustenance, and Body Purification. A healer at this level can use his or her skill and Gift to reattach severed limbs, perform open-heart surgery, and imitate a trauma team.
  • L3) Remove Blindness/Deafness, Neutralize Poison, Cause Blindness/Deafness, Cure/Inflict Serious Wounds, Accept Affliction, Channel the Gift, Deep Slumber, Mass Invigorate, Remove Curse, Psychic Leach, Pain Strike, Remove Paralysis, Ray Of Exhaustion, Poison, Remove Disease, Contagion, and Endorphin Surge. A skilled healer with a Gift at this level will – at least with skill and a good deal of Mana expenditure – be able to perform organ transplants, create almost fully-functional prosthetics, perform extensive biophysical reconstruction, and – for that matter – create tailored drugs and diseases.



Mage-Gift doesn’t work like the other gifts; the users have to learn specific spells and don’t get unlimited use of their level zero effects. On the other hand, it allows a MUCH wider variety of effects and Adepts can reach level four effects – which are generally beyond the reach of any other single character.

  • For 6 CP you can have Occult Talent, granting 4L0 and 1L1 effects that you can cast once a day each with a caster level equal to your character level.
  • For 12 CP you can have Advanced Occult Talent, granting 5L0 and 3L1 effects and a similar number of spell slots to cast them with.

Characters in the setting can have Occult Talents with a total base cost of 24 CP. If they wish they can limit their abilities to reduce the cost, but they can’t exceed that limit.

On the other hand, they CAN take higher level spells in those slots. They’ll just have to spend Mana to cast them – and while the Mage-Gifted have limited access to Rite Of Chi to recharge their mana reserves, mana is still a limited resource. Journeymen only have a bit and can only use spells one level above their base slots. Masters have a bit more, can recharge faster and can spend it to use spells one or two levels above their base slots. Adepts have even more, recharge even faster, and can spend it to use spells one, two, or three levels above their base slots.

But wait! That maxes out at ten L0 and six L1 slots! Adepts are far more versatile than that!

Are they? Almost everything complicated or powerful in the books falls under Ritual Magic. Most adepts only seem to have a handful of spells that they can really use immediately.

Pretty much every mage has Light (L0), a basic Shield (Immediate Action, L1 in a L0 slot so 1 Mana, blocks 15 points of damage), and some form of Energy Attack (Spells like Ray Of Frost, Magic Missile, Scorching Ray, or Lightning Bolt are popular depending on the user’s level of expertise).

For this particular “Gift”… here are some spells that fit in fairly well:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Almost anything fits in here. If you like, you can use the Continuum II cantrips. There are a lot of those to choose from.
  • Level One Effects: Disguise Self, Sleep, Alarm, Protection From Evil, Floating Disk, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Color Spray, Shadow Trap, Shadow Weapon, Ventriloquism, Magic Weapon, Obscure Object, (Personal) Dream Shield, and Faerie Fire,
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray (also Lightning and Force variants), Blur, Dust Devil (2’nd edition), Flaming Sphere, Wall Of Light, Glitterdust, Hypnotic Pattern, Invisibility, Armament (temporary force weapons, up to a dozen knives/arrows/etc). Spiritual Weapon, Contact Entity 1, Force Sword, Disguise Other, Invisibility, Mirror Image, Misdirection, Silk To Steel, Deeper Darkness, Daylight, Searing Light, and Dream Shield.
  • Level Three Effects: a long-term Disguise Self/other variant, Lesser Wall Of Fire (a weaker variant), Fireball, Circle of Protection, Dispel Magic, Pyrotechnics, Nondetection, Protection From Energy, Greater Stunning Barrier, Gloomblind Bolts, Ice Spears, Phantom Steed, Planar Inquiry, Arcane Sight, Contact Entity II, Daylight, Lightning Bolt, Sheet Lightning, Displacement, Call Lightning, Hedging Weapons, Infernal Challenger (only for evil blood mages), and Psychic Containment.
  • Level Four Effects: Dimension Door, Wall Of Fire, Lesser Gate (basically a time-consuming, exhausting, and error-prone teleport – or way to let various monsters come through. It might even be Ritual Magic rather than a spell), Summon Monster IV (“Adept Manifestation”), and Lesser Planar Ally.

That’s not exhaustive of course – d20 offers thousands of spells to play with – but a fair number of basics are on there.



The books represent Mind-Healing as being generally very slow, just as creating bonds that force someone to do your bidding is a very slow (and evil) process. You don’t see any mind-healers going “Zap! You’re Sane/Free/Rational!”. Honestly… given the principles of Lerandor’s Rule (the use-a-bunch-of-lesser-effects principle) even level zero mindhealing effects are more than they show in the books. If a character really wants “Mindhealing” the way it is in the books… take a bonus in Profession; Therapist or learn Ritual Magic. Because mental healing is normally pretty step-by-tiny-step anyway – which is just what level zero effects DO. So even with just cantrips you can finish up with anything within the power of level three effects within a few minutes – and that is NOT what the books show. In fact, it tends to wreck more than one of their plots – and it doesn’t add much to most games anyway since you can’t treat eccentric players and the villains aren’t going to hold still for it. That’s why d20 psychiatrists are not a favored class.

  • If you must be a Mind-Healer, buy Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted / only for psychiatric purposes (2 CP) and put a few skill points in Profession: Therapist – and there you go.



Precognition or “Foresight” seems to come in two basic forms in the books – short-term combat precognition that provides warnings of attacks and clues as to likely strategies and long-term visions of the future that are sometimes useful warnings, sometimes grim prophecies that tend to come true no matter what, and are sometimes simply wrong or misunderstood. There’s also room for very short-term precognition (the sort of thing that warns you of someone swinging at you from a blind spot or of an incoming arrow) and kingdom-scale foresight that warns of upcoming major disasters and such, but most characters with Foresight have very specialized forms, such as being able to foretell the weather.

Honestly, a lot of that goes under “plot device”, both very literally in the books and mostly so in the games. After all, the game is built around dealing with problems – and “the group is warned of an upcoming attack in time to set up the defenses or race to the rescue” is a pretty classic problem. In terms of the game… precognitive warnings really aren’t any different than being warned by a scout, peasant, merchant, angel, or wizard. The same goes for kingdom-level threats. If someone’s special power requires the game master to give a warning, he or she will just step up the threat to keep it challenging and exciting.

So this list is going to be a bit generic and include a lot of short-term bonus tricks – as well as some ways to inflict penalties, which is pretty much equivalent.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: There are pretty much all thematic; you can have meaningful dreams, get vague warnings of major threats, get details equivalent to having a few scouts (or perhaps a flying familiar) out in the case of more local problems, know about upcoming natural disasters in time to show up to help, give good agricultural advice, predict the weather, and will probably get a +2 bonus on saves against traps, checks to detect ambushes, and maybe even initiative. You might even be able to prevent the occasional disaster that would normally resulted from phrases like “I wonder what will happen if I push the red button / mix these two chemicals / try this unknown mystical ritual” – at least if the rest of the party is sane enough to look at the precognitive before actually doing it. Most NPC precognitives are pretty narrowly focused (since that is so much easier to write and run for), but PC’s are all about meeting unexpected challenges – so they’re going to be generalists.
  • Level One Effects: Anticipate Peril, True Strike, Bungle, Precognition (One minute per level. Variants include +2 to Attacks, to Armor Class, to Saves, and to Damage), Ward Of Heaven (The Practical Enchanter), Aura Of Favor (The Practical Enchanter). Low-Light Vision, Hawkeye, Improvisation, Omen Of Peril, Surefoot, Surefooted Stride, Divine Favor, Entropic Shield, Doom, Fallback Strategy, and Bless (via giving orders). This can also be used to anticipate attacks (dodging up to 15 damage as an immediate action), to negate surprise for the party, and to reroll a skill check since you “foresaw it’s failure”. On the larger scale, this is where you can start using the skill-based variant of True Strike (True Skill, The Practical Enchanter) to do things like pick out the very best moment to call for a tactical maneuver, or the best advice to give the farmers, and so on – as least as long as some relatively vague precognition would he helpful.
  • Level Two Effects: Honeyed Tongue, Tactical Acumen, Augury, Hunter’s Eye, Heroic Fortune, Gallant Inspiration, Find Traps, Sutra (The Practical Enchanter), Karmic Shield (The Practical Enchanter), and Harrowing (or any other form of fortune-telling), At his point you can also use your power as an immediate action to evade twenty-five points of damage, get some clues about the long-term hazards (and likely benefits) of a proposed course of action, and win outrageously at games of chance – up until you have to quit because the likely outcome of winning again is getting stabbed.
  • Level Three Effects: False Future, Find Fault, Minor Dream, Vision Of Hell, Find Fault, Perfect Placement, Good Fortune (The Practical Enchanter), (individual) Ruin Delvers Fortune effects, Find The Gap, Danger Sense, Ubiquitous Vision, and Prayer (via giving directions). At this level you can use your power to take an extra standard action as an immediate action, to try and manipulate the force of Destiny (see Destiny Magic), and to have set up Contingencies (See Politics) to deal with events that the player had no idea would happen. This is also far, FAR, beyond any Gift of Foresight used in the books.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: D20 usually leaves low-grade information gathering up to skill checks – but this level of ability can date items, determine causes of death, determine if a weapon inflicted a particular wound, discern the true intent of a gift or missive, learn the final thoughts or terminal experiences of a corpse, tell which button opens the door and which one sets off the bomb, and otherwise pick up on the intent behind manipulations of physical objects – such as the intent to add poison to a drink, an attempt to get someone too drunk to resist being kidnaped, or the true intent of complex legal clauses in a contract. It can detect forgeries or the information someone was intending (but failed) to convey in a frantic scribble. Was someone recently murdered in a dark alley? Finding out about it will be trivial if a psychometrist takes a look.
  • Level One Effects: Call To Mind, Identify, Obscure Object, Nondetection, Cultural Adaption, Master’s Touch, Detect Secret Doors, Eidetic Lock, and Sanctuary (a bit of a stretch, but it’s basically infusing the area with a feeling). At this level you can easily trace the provenance of items and antiques, “imprint” messages on objects that can only be “read” by another psychometrist, make areas inspire particular moods and emotions, experience bits of the past strongly associated with particular objects – using a womans wedding dress to experience the wedding it was used in or using the cane a man carried everywhere for ten years to “talk to” the imprint of his personality. This sort of thing may take some time, but if you have the time to try and investigate something that rarely matters.
  • L2) Ancestral Communion, Blood Biography, Magic Weapon (Armor, Tools, etc), Object Reading, Sensitivity To Psychic Impressions, Find Traps, and Share Memory, The major distinction at this point is that the user can pull out fairly major bits of useful information very quickly, instead of having to sit around and meditate on it. It’s also at the point where forcing psychic energy into something actually starts to affect it – hence the ability to somewhat enhance items on a temporary basis.
  • L3) Borrow Skill, Akhasic Communion, Discern Value, Find Fault, Pierce Disguise, Pack Empathy, Mindlocked Messenger, Greater Magic Weapon (Armor, Tool, Etc), Channel Vigor, Speak With Dead, and Masterwork Transformation (no components required, but does take some time and use). At this point you are basically drawing information from the universe – and can push some back out into it (thus Greater Magic Weapon and Masterwork Transformation). Given time and the patience to keep asking questions, you can find out all kinds of things, weave warnings and messages into the fabric of the world, and explore almost any mystery. While adventurers rarely have that kind of time available, when they do this Gift can be devastating.



According to the books, a lot of the characters with this Gift have poor control over it, although there’s no apparent reason why it should be harder to control the power to heat things up then it is to control the gifts of Empathy, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. You can give your character some such disadvantage if you must, but there really isn’t any reason to. D20 characters routinely mess about with things a lot more dangerous than mere fire.

To account for the books, I’d suggest that ANY Gift that you are nervous about, or fail to get enough practice with, may be difficult to control – but while a rogue flare-up of Farsight may give you a headache, and a telekinetic flare may break a pot, such things don’t spread – while a bit of flame in the wrong spot may burn down a city. Ergo, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Pyrokinetics tend to be nervous about their Gift and don’t practice as much for fear of losing control.

Of course, when it comes to player-characters… they’ll row out on a lake and sit on a rock or use snowshoes to visit a field under four feet of snow and practice boiling water, torching models, and making hot drinks until they have things well under control.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Dancing Lights, Flare, Ray Of Fire (Frost), Mending (Welding Only), Spark. Of course, a pyrokinetic can also start fires, warm their fingers, heat or cool small objects or minor amounts of liquid, instantly brew tea, light or extinguish many candles, several lanterns, or a torch, prevent or treat frostbite, control smoke rings, create puffs of smoke, and shape small flames and quantities of smoke into various forms.
  • Level One Effects: Control Flames, Blades Of Fire, Flame Darts (like Magic Missile), Lesser Orb Of Fire, Light, Animate Fire, Cure Light Wounds (Fire and Cold damage only), Blinding Flash, Endure Elements, Flare Burst, Burning Hands, Touch Of Combustion, Burning Disarm, Faerie Fire, Produce Flame, and Resist Energy (Fire and Cold only). There aren’t specific spells for it, but this also provides the ability to weld larger objects, cause small flames to flare up, put out groups of torches or a large campfire, and create and control a 10′ radius of fairly heavy smoke – whether to sculpt it or to make smoke signals.
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray, Cause Nausea (via induced fever), Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter, via Boosted Metabolism), Heat Metal, Chill Metal, Obscuring Mist (smoke), Boiling Blood, Pyrotechnics, Burning Arc, Burning Gaze, Fire Breath, Frost Fall, Ice Slick, and Campfire Wall. Effects on this level can also be used to open safe paths through major fires, briefly form a cool and solid crust over a magma flow, to cause a fire to lash out and engulf someone, animate a bonfire, cause a quantity of wax or oil to detonate like plastic explosives or nitroglycerin, and to briefly create massive images of flame.
  • Level Three Effects: Fireball, Energy Wall (Fire), Haste (via accelerated metabolism again), Flaming Arrow, Protection From Arrows (they burst into flames), Heatstroke, Firestream, Dispel Magic (an immediate-action version that only works against Fire and Ice effects) and Quench. Effects on this level can also be used to contain forest fires by creating counterfires or driving the flames back to create firebreaks, to melt metal objects, to project a sphere that absorbs fire or cold damage (Resist Energy 10′ Radius), or to put someone into deep hibernation (roughly equivalent to Feign Death – although this is kind of dangerous).



In Valdemar, “Shields” are normally passive – and basically amount to “buying a good will save”. Only mage-shields normally seem to be active effects, so they’re handled under mage-gift.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Mage Hand, Hammertouch, Animate Rope, Launch Bolt, Launch Item, Breeze, Scoop, and Open/Close. While effects at this level are relatively short range and of fairly little force, you can produce a light zephyr, stir pots, work dangerous alchemical experiments from a safe distance, make bushes rustle distractingly, open latches from the outside, and pull off a wide variety of similar tricks.
  • Level One Effects: Guided Shot, Mage Armor, Force Shield, Feather Step, Lighten Object, Buoyancy, Coin Shot, Mending, Hold Portal, Stunning Barrier, Thunderstomp, and Gravity Bow. At this point you can move things to trip up opponents, yank chairs out from under people, guide pies to hit people in the face at considerable ranges, bind animals mouths shut, pull things to yourself, hurl small objects with force and accuracy, equivalent to a heavy crossbow, and get your armor on in mere moments.
  • Level Two Effects: Admonishing Ray, Alchemic Mist (turns a poison or alchemical item into a 20′ radius burst within medium range), Unseen Servant, Air Step, Protection From Arrows, Gust Of Wind, Gusting Sphere, Pilfering Hand, Knock, and Telekinetic Volley. At this point you can shove people away, manipulate objects at range, “feel around” for something you can’t see as if you were wearing heavy gloves, and cause masses of rope or vines to tie people up.
  • Level Three Effects: Web Bolt (using available materials). Raging Rubble, Make Whole, Tremor Blast, Hold Person, Wind Wall, Ape Walk, Arrow Storm, Telekinetic Force, Telekinetic Thrust, and Hedging Weapons. Effects at this level can also reduce missile damage in a small radius or create minor barriers.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Daze, Message, and Distract. At this level a telepath can make ideas occur to someone, perform “stage” hypnosis, share memories, lend someone one skill point (such as sharing a language) or borrow one, sense surface thoughts if the target isn’t resisting, detect hypnosis and other mental influences, and project a vague persona around yourself – things like “he looks rich”, “that’s obviously someone important”, or “just another janitor” that will often get by people who aren’t paying too much attention.
  • Level One Effects: Distract, Conceal Thoughts, Borrow Skill, Cause Fear, Hypnotism, Charm Person, Lesser Confusion, Innocence, Lock Gaze, Memory Lapse, Sense Link, and Mindlink. At this point you can broadcast vague ideas to a crowd, share detailed visions, pull an exact image out of somebody’s memory (and reproduce it if you have the required artistic skills), or communicate long lectures with a glance.
  • Level Two Effects: Inflict Pain, Silent Image, Sleep, Daze Monster, Detect Thoughts, Enthall, False Belief, Hidden Presence, Passing Fancy, Share Memory, Enshroud Thoughts, Misdirection, Telepathic Censure, Mental Disruption, Mass Missive, Thought Shield, Brain Lock, Suggestion, and Zone Of Truth. At this point you can generate group compulsions with some force, anticipate peoples arguments, send a message over a long distance (usually in times of desperation), and fairly easily pick up on things that people are worried about (or are trying to keep from thinking about).
  • Level Three Effects:) Minor Image, Audiovisual Hallucination, Aura of the Unremarkable, Confusion, Mass Feather Step, Malicious Spite, Seek Thoughts, Triggered Suggestion, Aura Sight, Seek Thoughts, Psionic Blast, Deep Slumber, and Crisis Of Breath. While the range is generally short – unless you’re working with another high-order telepath or a group to jump up to fourth level effects (such as Sending) at this point you’ve got a fair amount of range and can fairly readily overwhelm – or probe – the minds of normal people.



In the books “telekinesis” and “teleportation” are usually combined into “Fetching” – which seems to cover everything from traveling a bit faster and moving small items around up to shaking major structures and teleporting someone out of a locked cell a hundred miles away. I’ve split them up again because otherwise few d20 players would be able to resist. “Teleportation” is still a catch-all category for movement powers, but at least it’s not a must-have discipline.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: At this level the user can grant themselves or others small bonuses to their movement skills, shift small items in contact with themselves around their body (making them very difficult to search), draw weapons as a free action, speed themselves up just a little bit, and cheat outrageously at many games.
  • Level One Effects: Skate, Catfall, Branch To Branch, Accelerated Movement, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Step, Liberating Command, Bladed Dash, Feather Fall, Jump, Longshot, Touch Of The Sea, Launch Item, Longstrider, Travelers Mount, Wings Of The Sea, Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter), Light Foot (Blog), and Benign Transposition. Not unexpectedly, given that basic physical obstacles are a significant problem for low-level d20 characters, the system also offers a wide selection of spells to deal with them. About the only thing that isn’t covered is the basic “teleport small objects” effect – which is simple enough; with this level of ability you can apport a small object from one spot to another within close range. Thus you can steal something off a table or (if you know the position accurately) from a bag, plant something on someone, and so on. Unfortunately, you can only teleport objects into open spaces, you can’t teleport them into creatures, and objects in someone’s possession get a save.
  • Level Two Effects: Retrieve Item, Returning Weapon, Trade Items, Moment Of Flight, Lions Charge, and Wall Walker or Spider Climb. Upgraded versions of the various first level effects also go here, as does teleporting small objects within medium range or somewhat larger ones within close range – even up to child size if you’re touching them and simply want to move them away.
  • Level Three Effects: Haste, Dimension Door, Blink, Urban Step, Greater Longstrider, Tailwind, Dimension Twister, Time Hop, and Hustle. You can even do the Lightning Step variant of Dimension Door from The Practical Enchanter.

And that’s about it for gifts from the books (in fact, it’s a rather drastic expansion on most of them) – and should be quite enough examples to work with if someone builds a more exotic gift.

Using Valdemaran Gifts, Part I

In this case the question is “What can you actually do with Valdemar-Style Gifts”?

Well, the answer in the original books is, of course, “whatever the plot demands and nothing more” – and over time we tend to see fewer magical options rather than more. After all, every time an author puts in a magical solution for a problem that actually works they close off future plotlines involving that problem – and that’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re writing a long-running series. If you keep it in mind, you lose plot options – and if you forget it, you can be sure that a lot of your readers will not. Either way, why make extra trouble for yourself?

Games, of course, are exactly opposite: Players who can’t use their characters special powers to solve problems get frustrated. Players who find their options too limited feel constrained, and lose interest. Players want to come up with clever, original, applications for things. If you tell them that they can’t do something they just thought of, they will want to know why not. The characters are not under the control of an author, they don’t have to follow the plot, and they don’t have plot armor. A bad die roll can kill off any character pretty much at random. Those are the things that make it a RPG rather than a novel. In a RPG… characters regularly wreck the setting, rather than leaving it more or less intact for the next book to be set in. ”

So this is going to focus on what the d20 RPG-style Valdemaran characters can use their powers to do, not just on stuff that would fit into the books.

On the other hand, I’m going to limit it to the general list of Gifts from the books; while there is nothing in d20 – or in the way that the Gifts are built – that would prevent you from having a Gift in Shape Shifting, Weaving Illusions, Destiny Manipulation, Building Guns, Self-Enhancement, Making Power Armor, Creating Ectoplasmic Constructs, or Necromancy, the setting is not set up to handle it.

The way the Gifts are built is fairly straightforward; a Gift lets you pick some sort of relatively narrow theme and produce level zero magical/psionic effects that fit into that theme pretty much at will. Stronger Gifts come in three levels: providing a limited (and slow to recover) reserve of power that can be used to boost your level zero effects up to level one (for strong Gifts), level two (for major Gifts), or even level three (for incredibly powerful Gifts). There are a few more details about how big the reserve is and how fast it recovers – but that’s about it.

The problem is that – when it comes to magic – a lot of gamers are much more used to “here is a list of things that you can do with that power” than they are to “you have a hammer; what are you going to build with it?”.

First up, a couple of general notes:

  • Anyone with one or more trained Gifts gains access to Rite Of Centered Mind as a L0 effect.
  • Two trained characters with the same gift can work together – each paying the cost (if any) for a use of their gift at a particular level to produce a combined effect of one level higher. That’s really only useful if you want first level effects (since level zero effects have no cost) or level four effects (requiring two characters with the same incredibly powerful gift working together to produce effects which are normally out of reach of even the most powerful Gifts).

Now, as for some options for specific gifts… I’m going to list some general uses and – since this is d20 and 3.5 and Pathfinder have an enormous list of spells to draw from – some spell effects that a Gifted character should be able to emulate.

Animal Mindspeech:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Communicate feelings to animals and sense what they are feeling, quiet an upset animal, let an animal know that you mean it no harm, lure birds to feed from your hand, gain small (+2) bonuses to ride or handle animals, detect hidden animals nearby given some time to look for them, give animals simple ideas, get spiders to spin webs over an opening or object, get bees to let you have a honeycomb, get a dog to bark, keep bugs out of your bed, gain a general impression of what an animal saw or heard, get a bonus to spot incoming threats by sensing the reactions of animals in the area. Basically… you can relate to animals really well, train them much more quickly, and get some basic information from them.
  • Level One Effects: Animal Messenger, Speak With Animals, Calm Animals, Charm Animal, Hide from Animals, Call Animal, Commune With Birds, “Alarm” (via animal lookouts), and Enrage Animal. You can also get small animals to harass someone, get animals to bring you small objects, send them to a destination, get larger bonuses to ride or handle them, or make a normal horse behave as if it was combat-trained for a few minutes.
  • Level Two Effects: Animal Trance, Hold Animal, Wartrain Mount (variants induce other types of training), Alpha Instinct, and Summon Swarm, Safe Clearing (only affects animals and magical beasts), and Share Husk. You might also frighten or calm a group of animals, cause a normal animal to attack it’s master or to do something else quite abnormal, or very rapidly train or domesticate animals.
  • Level Three Effects: I can’t think of many actual spells for this level – most characters have better things to do with third level spells than influence relatively normal animals – but at this level you might make animals fear an area for weeks or months, redirect a stampede, instantly domesticate and train an animal, direct an animal to do something extremely complex, get a map of an area and details about the people in it by surveying the minds of the animals there, reliably keep a powerful beast under control, or even spread disease though an area by manipulating rats, mice, and other vermin.

Yes, yes, I know… there was never anyone in the books who used Animal Mindspeech to do anything like THAT. Of course, there was never anyone in the books who had Animal Mindspeech on the level of Lavan Firestorms Firestarting Gift was there? You’ll see the same sort of thing in later gifts too.

Bardic Gift:

This one is never even clearly defined as far as I know, but here are some possibilities:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Lullaby, Haunted Fey Aspect, Message, Ghost Sound, and (individual) Polypurpose Panacea effects. You can also induce various moods, make ideas occur to people your listeners, and convey vague impressions – making your tales so real that listeners can “almost see the battle!” or get “the distinct impression of the goddess comforting them!”. This tends to make listening to your music or stories very popular.
  • Level One Effects: Aid, Heroism, Cause Fear, Lesser Confusion, Remove Fear, Charm Person, Aphasia, Hypnotism, and Demoralize. You could use this sort of manipulation to slowly addict someone to you or brainwash them, but it would probably take some time.
  • Level Two Effects: Sleep, Calm Emotions, Enthrall, Heroism, Rage. Absurdity, and Inflict Pain. At this point you can inspire a mob, rabble-rouse very effectively, and spread rumors without becoming known as the source.
  • Level Three Effects: Bestow Curse, Good Hope, and (Mass) Inflict Pain. You MIGHT be able to create a Major Image if the game master is feeling generous. You can also induce various minor mental problems in those exposed to your abilities – inducing terrible dreams, general depression, and other minor mental / emotional effects, such as undermining support for a leader. You can do the reverse as well of course – but it takes longer and rarely works as well.


  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Detect Poison and Know Direction. You can also do a lot of things which aren’t really in d20 but which probably should be – Detect Cursed/Wild Magic Areas. Detect Ley Lines and Nodes. Detect Quicksand and Unsafe Ground. Sense disturbances of Nature. Detect Pure Water. Identify Plants and Animals. Determine if something is safe to eat. Identify minerals – and get a +5 bonus on a Survival check.
  • Level One Effects: Entangle, Goodberry, False Life, Detect Animals or Plants, Detect Snares And Pits, Hairline Fractures, Natures’s Paths, Pass Without Trace, Shillelagh, Underbrush Decoy, Enhance Herb (Paths of Power), and Greensight. You may also make small plants grow, detect the potency of herbs, follow trails more quickly, identify causes of death, get a +10 bonus on a Survival check, determine someone’s parentage, and detect aberrations,
  • Level Two Effects: Tremorsense, Lay Of The Land, Expeditious Construction, Expeditious Excavation, Lesser Curse Terrain, Binding Earth, Forest Friend, Wild Instinct, Hide Campsite, Dentistry (Hedge Magic) and Briar Web. You can also dowse for water, oil, or mineral deposits, get a +20 on a Survival check, trace someone’s ancestry with a drop of their blood, cause corpses, wooden doors, and other unattended organic items to rot away in mere minutes, and bless children (allowing them to reroll their lowest attribute once per child).
  • Level Three Effects: Defoliate, Plant Growth, Shifting Sand, Speak With Plants, Snare, Spike Growth, Stench Of Prey, Greater Thunderstomp, Forestfold, Nature’s Rampart, and Safe Clearing. You may also slowly heal regions of land, sense major disturbances in the realm, get a +30 to a Survival check, grow a tree (as per a Feather Token: Tree), or reroute ley lines – again, slowly.


We do have some ideas for Empathy thanks to Herald Talia – but she’s got all those pesky ethics to take the fun out of things.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Empathy and (half-strength) Telempathic Projection. You can also tell if someone is being mentally influenced, let other creatures know what you’re feeling, find really meaningful presents for people, fit into groups easily, detect salesmen, manage children, tell when someone is trying to manipulate you, and get fairly reliable impressions of people (“I never liked him…”).
  • Level One Effects: Telempathic Projection, Beguiling Gift, Adoration, Compel Hostility, Hideous Laughter, Innocence, Remove Fear, Unbreakable Heart, Undetectable Alignment, Unnatural Lust, Qualm, Rage, Reckless Infatuation, Cause Fear, and Miserable Pity. At this point – at least if you’re ethically challenged – you can play on peoples emotions, get them infatuated with you, sell them rubbish they don’t need, and tune your stories to their emotional responses.
  • Level Two Effects: Detect Hostile Intent, Anonymous Interaction, Calm Emotions, Charitable Impulse, Detect Desires, Heckle, Heroism, Jealous Rage, Compassionate Ally, Matchmaker, Oppressive Boredom, Scare, Unadulterated Loathing, Draconic Malice, Dreadscape, Fear, and Zone of Truth. You can now read emotions with ease and override them almost entirely – a talent likely to get you ridden out of town on a rail or burned as a witch if you use it a lot and are silly enough to let people figure it out.
  • Level Three Effects: Bestow/Remove Curse, Charm Monster, Confusion, Crushing Despair, Curse of Disgust, Detect Anxieties, Good Hope, Overwhelming Grief, Terrible Remorse, and They Know. You’re now able to warp minds severely and with effects that can last for years in extreme cases.


  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Know Direction. At this point you can have meaningful dreams, see around corners, give yourself minor sensory boosts, avoid stubbing your toes and knocking things over in the dark, and swear blood brotherhood – creating a low-grade link. You can also tell if people are all right by looking at a picture of them and boost your abilities with mystic links.
  • Level One Effects: Aspect Of The Falcon and Improvisation. You can also “see” through minor obstacles, locate lost or mislaid personal items, tell who is on the phone or knocking on the door before you answer it, just know what escape routes are available, and ignore effects such as Blur and Concealment.
  • Level Two Effects: L2) Locate Object, See Invisibility, Darkvision, Augury, and Sense Minds. At this point serious prophetic dreams are possible, you can buy knowledges without regard for actually learning them, see past closed doors and on the other side of walls, and use “gather information” as an instant effect.
  • Level Three Effects: Clauraudience/Clairvoyance, Minor Dream, Pierce Disguise, Scrying, Stage Fright, Witness, See Beyond, Spirit Bonds, and Darkvision. Congratulations. You are a major seer and prophet, You can evaluate complex situations at a glance, easily get a “birds eye view” of most situations, and know far more than is strictly reasonable.

Next time around on this, the rest of the Gifts.

Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts XIV – Perception Skills

This one took ages for some reason, but here it finally is. Given that the various entries in this series so far are kind of scattered, here’s a complete list:

Perception Skills – Listen, Perception, Search, Sense Motive, Spot, Scent, Touch, and so on – are another primordial group. While there’s room for semantic debate as to whether or not that amoeba flowing towards a greater concentration of food molecules is “really” sensing it’s environment or whether some level of analysis is required to qualify to use the word “sensing” instead of “tropism”, you don’t have to move up the complexity scale very much to hit creatures that definitely do perceive things, even if it’s only a basic stimulus-response reaction. .

On the other hand, perception skills are tricky to define stunts for because – for the most part – perception skills simply make you more likely to notice available information. After all, despite all the “new age” attempts to turn quantum mechanics into mysticism, nothing playable operates on a scale small enough for the observer effect to really mean much of anything. Realistic perception skills literally operate entirely inside your head.

Oh well. Whoever said that d20 was “realistic” by non-magical standards?

Sample Stunts For Perception Skills:

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • The basic uses of Perception skills are pretty well covered in the rules already. They are, after all, one of the most used sets of skills in the game.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Magic Detection: Even warriors channel magic to make themselves tougher than any mortal has a right to be. Given a minute of meditation and a reasonable skill check, almost any experienced adventurer can detect the presence of magic.
    • Observe Style: By taking one or more rounds to observe an opponents fighting style, you may observe how to take advantage of their habits, blind spots, and weaknesses, gaining a pool of up to Skill Check/5 “points”. If you fight said opponent within the next twenty-four hours, you may spend points from that pool to reduce the penalties for Called Shots against that opponent by 5 per point spent (to a minimum of zero).
    • Rapid Recovery: You may throw off the effects of a sensory attack must faster than normal, reducing the duration of an effect that rendered you temporarily blind, deaf, numb, or similar by 3d6 rounds.
  • DC 20:
    • Find Weakness: You may select a target. For the next twenty-four hours you may ignore any Damage Reduction they may possess.
    • Instant Perception: You gain information equivalent to ten minutes worth of carefully scanning an area, listening to ambient sounds, savoring tastes, smelling an area, or feeling for irregularities in a single round.
    • The Subtle Flaw: You may determine whether or not something is an illusion, bypassing any need to save. At DC 35 this extends to anything you turn the affected sense on for up to one minute per level.
  • DC 25:
    • Combat Awareness: The sound of a blade cutting through the air, the pressure wave of it darting towards you, the glint of it in the corner of your eye… Your preternatural awareness of the world about you lets you more readily evade attacks. Gain a +2 (+3 at DC 40, +4 at DC 60, +5 at DC 75, and +6 at DC 100) to your AC and Reflex Saves for the next (Skill Check) rounds as an immediate action.
    • Detect Scrying: For the next twenty-four hours you will automatically become aware of anyone who is remotely spying upon you.
    • Suspected Presence: The character may note the presence of creatures that are normally immune to detection by the sense in use. At DC 50 he or she may pinpoint their location, attacking and/or using other powers without penalty. This is normally good for the duration of the fight.
  • DC 30:
    • Selective Perception: You may decide that you simply don’t perceive something. This can render you immune to gaze weapons, many hypnotic powers, particular illusions, and various sensory attacks. The user might thus resist being Nauseated by a Stinking Cloud, or ignore a Color Spray.
    • Subconscious Awareness: You may activate this ability before going to sleep, so that, rather than suffering a penalty to your perceptions for being asleep, you gain a +10 competence bonus. If the results of such a check call for wakefulness, the user becomes fully alert whenever the player chooses that they do.
    • Trap Spotting: For the next twenty-four hours you not only gain the equivalent of a Find Traps spell effect, but get an automatic roll to detect any trap a few moments before you would trigger it, regardless of whether or not you are currently checking for them.
  • DC 35:
    • Detect Thoughts: You may hear subvocal mutters, see and read muscle tensions, feel changes in a targets heartbeat, and smell changes in their scent. You may read the surface thoughts of any target within thirty feet, may determine their alignment given a minute of observation, and will always know if they are consciously lying or are attempting to manipulate you or anyone else. You will always understand anything they are trying to communicate, whether to you or to someone else. The effect lasts for (Skill Check) rounds and you may take a round to change targets while it lasts.
    • Greater Illusion: Your keen senses make you aware of the flaws in any illusion you may cast, obviating them. Thanks to this incredible realism, your illusions can inflict nonlethal damage, but only up to the point of unconsciousness. Also, a successful save provides complete protection – and even without disbelief the damage is determined by comparison to a similar spell effect of equal or lesser level to the illusion used (and may allow saves for reduced effect if that spell does), and the damage is limited by the targets expectations and experience – so instant effects are rarely very useful and no effects will work on mindless targets or objects.
    • Social Awareness: You may sense the subtle tells of social relationships. You may determine the relationships between any people you can currently observe and between those present and anyone who is mentioned by name within your hearing.
  • DC 40:
    • Echoes Of The Past: The user may extend his or her relevant sense(s) backwards into time, becoming a witness to events that passed long ago. While such echoes gradually fade, the more important the event, the longer they remain. “What was served for dinner” may only echo for a few weeks or months – but the Fall of a God may echo for tens of thousands of years.
    • Enhanced Sense. The user may extend the relevant sense beyond normal limits – seeing into the Infrared or Ultraviolet, or in the dark, or enhancing it with telescopic or microscopic abilities. He or she might analyze or identify things by scent (or use it as a combat sense), use their sense of touch to simulate tremorsense, feel the tumblers in a combination lock dropping into position, or taste a potions composition and identify it’s effects.
    • Scrying Strike: When you become aware of someone using magic to see, hear, or otherwise perceive you, you may launch an effect or even a physical attack back along that connection – attempting to grab the scryer and drag them to you, launching a spell at them, or otherwise interacting with them as if they were truly present.
  • DC 50:
    • Detect Relevance: You can sense whether items apparent to the sense in question are actually of some importance to the current narrative, thus bypassing all red herrings, irrelevant graffiti, and similar distractions to focus only on those items that are actual clues – becoming aware of anything which is actually relevant in a thirty foot radius.
    • Preternatural Senses: Your senses are so keen that you may – albeit with concentration – select a spot within long range and exercise the relevant skill as if you were there, regardless of intervening obstacles. The effect lasts while you concentrate, up to a maximum of (Skill Check) rounds and can – given 1d4+1 rounds to refocus – be retargeted as needed within range.
    • Return Scrying: If you are being remotely monitored you may use the link yourself, to see and hear whoever or whatever is spying upon you as long as the effect lasts.
  • DC 60:
    • Greater Illusion II: A simple Silent Image spell is so empowered by your precise perception of what it represents that it develops partial reality, duplicating the function of any Shadow spell of up to level three.
    • Narrative Perception: You may check to see whether or not up to (Wis Mod +1, 1 Minimum) Vignettes (from Stealing The Scene) will fit into the current scene and activate any one of them that will.
    • Universal Awareness: You may expand your consciousness, becoming aware of things that are not apparent to your normal senses – magical energies, dimensional overlays, gravitational waves, radiation, vibrations in the earth, disturbances in probability, prophecies, destinies, underground tunnels and structures, alignment energies, mineral deposits, and any other aspect of reality you wish to know of. You may ask the game master seven questions about such things within a range of one mile, gaining reasonably detailed answer.
  • DC 75:
    • Greater Illusion III: A simple Minor Image spell is so empowered by your precise perception of what it represents that it develops partial reality, duplicating the function of any Shadow spell of up to level six.
    • Know The Web: You may perceive, amplify, and use the Mystical Links between people, places, and things – and so may use the rules for Mystic Links (Part I and Part II) in whatever way you can take advantage of them.
    • Sensory Equivalence: As long as the user has at least one operating sense, he or she can operate as if all of them are unhindered – for example, seeing in the dark via hearing or while blinded by his or her sense of smell. He or she can feel sound, hear tastes, and see touch if necessary. This enhanced awareness lasts for a full twenty-four hours once activated. The user may voluntarily block individual senses during this time to avoid sense-based attacks.
  • DC 100:
    • Know The Secrets: You (the player) may inspect the character sheet and game statistics of the creature you can directly sense; the character using this ability will intuitively gain all relevant information.
    • Greater Illusion IV: A simple Major Image spell is so empowered by your precise perception of what it represents that it develops partial reality, duplicating the function of any Shadow spell of up to level nine.
    • Solophistic Perception: By refusing to perceive something you may erase it from your personal reality. You might thus fire arrows freely at those foolish floating people who think they are on the upper floors of a castle that you believe does not exist.

Epic Stunts for Perception Skills:

These basically come in three major varieties:

1) Expanding the user’s sensory abilities more or less permanently. This can be done by stacking a permanent duration and being impossible to simply dispel onto pretty much any sensory spell at a cost of +12 spell levels – +10 if you make it a personal-only effect.

2) Granting the user minor sensory boosts. For this, simply invest the costs of the “research” into sense-related Siddhisyoga powers.

3) Using fairly normal divinatory, sense-boosting, or illusion spells. In this case, just use standard spells with any desired metamagic(s) applied – but there’s nothing wrong with simply developing “True Seeing” as an “Epic” effect.

Outside of that, there are few epic-level perception effects, simply because they’re generally not needed. Conventional spells can give you incredible powers of perception already – just not for as long.

Besides… perception skills are ridiculously useful already.

Eclipse d20 – Fuyuha (“Winter Blade”) Zhang.

And here we have another example of a highly optimized martial character – in this case an eastern-themed Samurai / Chinese knight type. She’s very powerful for her level – but a large part of that is that she’s a bottleneck design and that – being Atherian in general and from HuSung (the Elemental Domain) in particular she gets to buy up attributes at half the normal cost and buy a wealth level. She has has taken advantage of that to focus entirely on dexterity, using it for attacks, damage, hit points, and most of her skills. If she should happen to take damage to her dexterity she’d be pretty much crippled. Bottleneck designs can be very effective – but if someone targets their critical point, they’re virtually out of action.

Fuyuha (“Winter Blade”) Zhang.

Level Five Jinyiwèi (Noble Guard) of the Imperial Academy.

Racial Template: Atherian Human, Elemental Magic Birthright:

Natives of HuSung gain an innate knack with elemental magic, using the Theurgy system. Since the power for their spells comes from Improved Occult Talent and Inherent Spell, their inherent casting level is equal to their base level. Those who opt to develop their abilities can become fairly formidable. In general, natives of HuSung will have Two primary elements (Adept, +3 bonus), two secondary elements (Adept, +1 Bonus) – and one they’re weak in (+1 Bonus only).

  • Skill Bonuses: +1 each in Creation, Control, Destruction, Healing, Transformation, and Understanding. Specialized: only for use with the Fire, Air, Earth, Water, and Spirit nouns (3 CP).
  • Adept: Choice of four from among Fire, Air, Earth, Water, and Spirit (6 CP).
  • Skill Bonuses: +1 in each of three elements, +3 in each of the two remaining elements (these must be among those chosen as Adept skills) (4 CP). As part of a template, these bonuses do not count against the normal skill limits.
  • Improved Occult Talent: 5 x L0 and 3 x L1 spell slots. Specialized: no inherent spells, only usable for theurgy, Corrupted, Elemental Magic only (4 CP).
  • Inherent Spell: 2 x L2 spell slots per day. Specialized: only to power Theurgy. Corrupted: Elemental Magic only (2 CP).
  • Immunity/Elemental Damage: Very Common/Major/Trivial (5 points of damage), (5 CP).
  • Fast Learner(May be specialized, 6 CP). In her case, it is indeed Specialized in Skills, for double effect (+2 SP/Level).
  • Fuyuha’s Adept affinities are Earth and Spirit (+3) and Water and Fire (+1). Those only cost 1/2 SP to raise by +1. Air costs her 1 SP per point.
  • Available Spells are 5xL0 (DC 5), 3xL1 (DC 10), and 2xL2 (DC 15), Her current check bonus is [Verb (1) + Noun (1 or 3)] – so she is pretty much all right on Cantrips, but will often fail trying for anything more. In her focus on her martial capabilities, she has – at least so far – gravely neglected her magical skills.

Available Character Points: 144 (L5 Base) +10 (Disadvantages ) +18 (L1, L2, L4 Bonus Feats) +10 (Duties to her Clan and Husband) = 182 CP.

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Dex 16 (+2 Level, +2 Wealth, +6 Purchased +4 Enh = 30), Con 10, Int 14, Wis 14 (+4 Enh = 18), Cha 12. (3.5 28 Point Buy).

Wealth Level: Well Off (3 CP) plus Military Dedication: Upgrade to Wealthy, but Specialized and Corrupted / only for Training and Weapons Purposes (3 CP).

  • Armor, Shields, and Weapons: Katana, Wakazashi, Longbow, and Yari. All gain +2 Wealth Bonuses and are considered Adamantine.
  • Three Charms (Elfinstone, Hidden Pocket, Stone Or Purity) and One Talisman (Shimmermail,
  • Mounts and Pets: Warhorse, Hawk.
  • Retainers: Squire, Contingent of 12 Guards.
  • Skill Bonuses: +2 Wealth Bonus to Speak Language and Ride. (+4 since both are Tier 2 Skills).
  • Training Bonuses: +2 to an Attribute, +2 SP/Level Gained, +1 HP/Level Gained.

Basic Purchases (94 CP):

  • BAB +6, Specialized / only with Oriental Weapons in which she has a Martial Art at at least +6 (18 CP).
  • Hit Points: 6 (L1d6, 2 CP) +17 (L2-5d6, 8 CP) +12 (Immortal Vigor) +70 (Cha Mod x 7) +5 (Wealth) = 110 HP
  • Evasive Combat: Finesse II: Uses (Dex Mod) in place of (Con Mod) when calculating hit points (12 CP).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +0 Con +1 (Res) = +3
    • Ref +1 (Purchased, 3 CP) +10 (Dex) +1 (Res) = +12
    • Will +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +4 (Wis) +1 (Res) = +7
    • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP).
  • Proficiencies: All Simple and Martial Weapons, Corrupted / Weapons of HuSung only (6 CP).
  • Skill Points 13 (13 CP) +16 (Int Mod x 8) + +16 (Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills, from Birthright) +10 (Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills, 6 CP) +10 (Wealth) = 65 SP.
    • Adept (Martial Art/Yarijutsu, Move Silently, Spot, and Survival, 6 CP).
    • Martial Mastery: The first skill point spent on a Dexterity-based martial art counts as four. Built as Immunity / The Skill Point Costs of Dexterity-Based Martial Arts (Common, Major, Minor, Corrupted / user must spend at least 1 SP on each martial art, although that then suffices to purchase a +4 in it (4 CP).
  • Move: 30′ (Base) +30′ (Enhancement) +30 (Circumstance) = 90′
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +10 (Dex) +4 (Shimmermail) +4 (Shield) = 28 (Plus current Martial Arts modifier, if any).
  • Initiative +10 (Dex)

Usual Weapons:

  • Kaiyuan (Spirit Weapon Composite Longbow): +19/+19/+14 (+6 BAB +10 Dex +2 Wealth +1 Enh, Haste), 1d12+13 (M. Art, Dex, Wealth, Enh) (Lethal or Nonlethal as desired), Crit 20/x3, 110′ Base Range. Treated as Adamant.
  • Katana (Eastern Bastard Sword): +20/+20/+15 (+6 BAB +10 Dex +2 Wealth +2 MA, Haste), 1d12+12 (MA, Dex, Wealth), Crit 19-20/x2, 5′ Natural Reach, Quick Draw, Whirlwind Attack, attacks on the weapon are treated as normal attacks against her. Treated as Adamant.
  • Naginata (Guisarme): +21/+21/+16 (+6 BAB +10 Dex +2 Wealth +2 MA, +1 Enh, Haste), 2d4+13 (MA, Dex, Wealth, Enh) +1d6 (Shock), Crit 20/x3 plus automatic trip, 5′ Reach + 5′ Natural Reach, Whirlwind, +4 AC when used. Treated as Adamant.
  • Petal Blades (Unique): +21/+21/+16 OR +19/+19/+19/+14 (+6 BAB +10 Dex +2 Wealth +2 MA +1 Enh, Haste, optional Rapid Shot), 1d8+13 (MA, Dex, Wealth, Enh), Crit 20/x2. 20′ Range Increment, Treated as Adamant.
  • Unarmed/Wuxing Shadow Palm: +16/+16/+11 (+6 BAB +10 Dex, Haste), 1d8+10 (MA, Dex, Lethal or Nonlethal as desired), Crit 20/x2, Improved Disarm, Blind Fight, and Prone Combat.

Other Abilities (82 CP):

  • Self-Development/+6 Dex (36 CP).
  • Ki Focus: 2d6 (8) Mana with Unskilled Magic, Specialized for Increased Effect (only costs a base of one Mana per spell level) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only for Unskilled Magic, only to produce long-term weapon and personal enhancements, requires at least one hour of meditation to “cast” a spell (8 CP). It costs two Mana per Spell Level to create an effect that lasts until released or dispelled, half of which cannot be recovered until the effect ends. So it costs 6 Points to cast a third level effect and reduces the pool by 3 until the effect is released. Thus she can cast and maintain a L3 effect (6 Mana to cast, 3 to maintain), recover to at least four Mana and create a L2 spell effect (4 to cast and 2 to maintain), recover to at least 2 Mana to create a L1 effect (2 to cast and 1 to maintain), and create a trio of cantrip-level effects (1 to cast, 1/2 to maintain).
  • Immunity / the need for extra rest and meditation to regain 2 Mana per day instead of 1 (Common, Minor, Trivial, 2 CP). (Sadly, Rite Of Chi is not normally available on Atheria).

She usually maintains Focused Mind (L3 Enhance Attribute, +4 to Dex and Wis), Storm Blade (L2 Eldritch Weapon, on her Naginata, making it +1 Shocking), L1 Light Foot, and three level zero effects of choice.

Light Foot (Not the same as the “Light Foot” Martial Art ability):

  • Transmutation, L1 Druid, Ranger, Sorcerer/Wizard, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One standard action, Range: Touch, Target: Creature Touched, Duration: 1d6+2 Rounds, Save: Reflex Negates (Harmless), Spell Resistance: Yes

Light Foot makes the user extremely light on his or her feet, gaining a +30 circumstance bonus on his or her ground movement speed a +10 circumstance bonus on jump checks, as well as DR 10 versus Falling Damage [only]. The user is, however, considered one size category smaller in a Bull Rush, Grapple, Trip, or Overrun situation.

  • Reflex Training / Combat Reflexes Variant (6 CP).
  • Finesse: Uses (Dex Mod) in place of (Str Mod) for attacks (6 CP).
  • Finesse: Uses (Dex Mod) in plave of (Str Mod) for damage (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (12 CP):
    • Resistance: +1 Resistance bonus to Saves, Personal-Only, 700 GP. .
    • Personal Haste (2000 GP).
    • Force Shield I (Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Immortal Vigor I (Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Rugged Metabolism: Fast Healing I for 18 Rounds 2/Day, Relieve Illness 1/Day, Relieve Poison 1/Day, and Lesser Restoration 1/Day, all Personal-Only (1400 GP).
    • Skill Mastery I/+3 Competence Bonus to all Wisdom-Linked Skills, Personal-Only, 1400 GP).
    • Skill Mastery I /+3 Competence Bonus to all Martial Art Skills, Personal-Only, 1400 GP)
    • Masters Parry: Block 15 points of damage as an Immediate Action 4x/Day (1600 GP).
  • Occult Sense / Danger (6 CP). Picks up ambushes, assassins, poison, and incoming attacks.

Tier One Skills (40 SP):

  • Martial Arts:
    • Cherry Petal Wind Kung Fu: +8 (5 SP) +10 (Dex) +3 (Comp) = +21
    • Shining Waters Kenjitsu: +8 (5 SP) +10 (Dex) +3 (Comp) = +21
    • Thousand Leaping Flames Style: +8 (2 SP*) +10 (Dex) +3 (Comp) = +21
    • Unity Of Divine Wind: +8 (5 SP) +10 (Dex) +3 (Comp) = +21
    • Wuxing Shadow Palm: +8 (5 SP) +10 (Dex) +3 (Comp) = +21
  • Move Silently: +8 (4 SP*) +10 (Dex) = +18
  • Spot: +8 (4 SP*) +2 (Wis) +3 (Comp) = +13
  • Survival: +8 (4 SP*) +2 (Wis) +3 (Comp) = +13
  • Tumble: +5 (5 SP) +10 (Dex) +2 (Sy) = +17

Tier Two Skills (18 SP):

  • Intimidate: +8 (4 SP) +1 (Cha) +4 (Sy) = +13
  • Listen: +8 (4 SP) +2 (Wis) +3 (Comp) = +13
  • Ride: +8 (4 SP) +10 (Dex) +4 (Wealth) = +22
  • Sense Motive: +8 (4 SP) +2 (Wis) +3 (Comp) = +13
  • Speak Language: +4 (2 SP) +2 (Int) +4 (Wealth) = +10

Tier Three Skills (7 SP):

  • Craft Paper Art: +7 (2 SP) +2 (Int) = +9
  • Profession/Bodyguard: +7 (2 SP) +4 (Wis) = +11
  • Profession/Legist: +4 (1 SP) +4 (Wis) = +8
  • Profession/Tactician: +7 (2 SP) +4 (Wis) = +11

Known Martial Art Techniques:

  • Cherry Petal Wind Kung Fu (11): Power 2, Attack 2, Synergy/Tumble, Rapid Shot, Imbuement (Petal Blades), Inner Strength II, Wrath (Force), and Paralyze.
  • Shining Waters Kenjitsu (11): Attack 2, Power 1, Quick Draw, Reach, Unity of Steel, Whirlwind Attack, Inner Strength x2, and Ki Focus (+4 BAB).
  • Thousand Leaping Flames Style (11): Attack 2, Defense 4, Mighty Blow, Reach, Whirlwind, Inner Strength II, and Iron Skin.
  • Unity Of Divine Wind (11): Power 2, Synergy/Intimidate, Spirit Weapon 2, Imbuement, Battlecry, Inner Strength 2, Resist Pain, and Wrath.
  • Wuxing Shadow Palm (11): Strike, Power 2, Improved Disarm, Blind Fight, Prone Combat, Inner Strength 2, Ki Block and Vanishing.

Note that Fuyuha is using the “separate pool for each art” option – and so has a reserve of 12 Con/”Ki Points” to power each arts special disciplines with. Sadly, each pool only recovers at one point per day, two with full rest.

Eclipse d20 – Elemental Martial Arts

And for today it’s a selection of dexterity-base martial arts – in this case, some of the exotic specialties of HuSung, the realm of the five elements on Atheria. There, where every child has at least minor inherent elemental powers, the martial arts are both tools of battle and lessons in magic, for they can help discipline unruly elemental powers. In this case, each technique in each of the arts is getting a name, just for that florid feeling.

Or, of course, you can tweak them slightly to use them for characters from other settings. This is Eclipse, and it works either way.

Wuxing Shadow Palm (Dex)

The elemental Ki flows in a dance of creation and destruction, each attack belonging to one or another element. Know that dance, feel the flow of power – and you may both sense attacks and use the opposing elemental echo to block them or strike back. The elegant, twisting, circular footwork and whirling motions of the style seem to trail echoing images behind them, an illusion enhanced by the flowing sleeves of the courtiers robes its students favor. A true master of this unarmed style will never be caught off guard as they are warned by the angry, focused, Ki of an incoming attack.

While no one of the Elemental Birthright of HuSung is ever truly disarmed, there has been treachery enough in the last four or five millennia to inspire the realms envoys, couriers, and legalists to wish to be able to defend themselves against sudden physical attacks – even in situations where they may not carry weapons. This “Soft” style focuses on deflecting and avoiding attacks, buying time for an escape. It’s users often supplement their art with Earth Magic – increasing their defensive abilities, scaling walls, and increasing their strength.

  • Requires: Access to both Combat Reflexes (or point-buy equivalent) and Earth Magic.
  • Basic Techniques: Strike 1(Shadow Palm), Power 2 (Shattering The Trigram), Defense 4 (Ghosting Technique), Attack 2 (Iron Strike), and Synergy/Earth Magic Skill (Stance Of Stone).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Prone Combat (Whirling Stone Method), Blind Fight (The Inward Eye), Mind Like Moon (Ki Awareness), and Improved Disarm (Iron Palm Technique).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength II, Ki Block (Thousand Ton Stance), and Vanishing (Earth Meld).

Cherry Petal Wind Kung Fu (Dex)

As the tornado hurls mere bits of straw through oaken trunks, a master of the Cherry Petal Wind turns mere “leaves” of metal into deadly missiles – often concealing a small arsenal in plain sight as a mail shirt, series of bangles, or badges on a vest. Advanced masters practice breathing exercises to focus their Ki into their “Petals”, greatly increasing their capabilities – including allowing them to strike at spirits and injure creatures resistant to mundane weapons.

This form revolves around the use of the Petal Blade – small hiltless throwing knives – often flung so rapidly that they resemble a swarm of wind-blown petals. Indeed, stronger elemental masters are often able to use their wind powers to fling clouds of petal blades to attack an area. While the style offers few defensive benefits, it is a powerful offensive technique. It’s users sometimes supplement their abilities with minor air spells, greatly increasing their effective range, increasing the number of missiles they can hurl at once, or sending their missiles tumbling through an area to attack several targets at once.

Petal Blades are finger-sized leaf-shaped throwing blades, usually with a hole near the tip through which a thread can be tied – allowing a batch of them to be hung ready for use from a sash or disguised as ornaments. Using Pathfinders weapon design system: Thrown Martial Weapon: Expanded Range Increment (20′ Base, 1), Ammunition (are basically treated like Shuriken, 3), and Improved Damage (1). Net: Martial, 1d4 Piercing, Crit 20/x2, Thrown with a 20′ Range Increment, 1 GP for Two, each weighing 1/8’th of a pound.

  • Requires: Access to Air Magic, Dex 14+.
  • Basic Techniques: Power 2 (Shrieking Hawk Throw), Attack 4 (Winds Eye Technique), Toughness 1 (Breath Control), Synergy/Air Magic Skill (The Wind Dance), Synergy/Tumble (Zephyr Stance), and Synergy/Flight (+4 on Atheria) (Wings Of The Hummingbird).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Sneak Attack II (Vital Points Strike), Rapid Shot (Hurricane Fist), Imbuement/Petal Blades (Blossoming Ki Technique).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength II, Wrath (Force) (Wind Blades), and Paralyze (Ki Disruption).

Thousand Leaping Flames Style:

In the hands of a master, the blade of a a Naginata (use Glaive or Halberd statistics, but the choice is permanent once made) twirls and flashes like the flickering flames of a bonfire, lashing out to strike at any enemy who comes too close even as the wielder remains firmly rooted, blocking and deflecting with his or her weapons haft while shifting and swaying only as much as is absolutely necessary to evade incoming attacks.

This polearm form is a favorite of guardians who seek to delay attackers or hold them back; it’s strong defense, multiple tripping options, extended reach, and ability to reach a defensible point in an instant allows the user to hold a position against an advancing enemy quite well. Masters of Fire Magic often simply augment their weapons, but also often boost their reflexes and speed or enchant their weapons to twist like true flames, allowing them to use or ignore their reach (if any) as needed.

  • Requires: Access to Fire Magic and Combat Reflexes.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 3 (Fire Blade Mastery), Defense 4 (Dazzling Steel Maze), Power 1 (Burning Blade Technique), Synergy/Fire Magic Skill (As Within, So Without), and Synergy/Jump (+6 on Atheria due to use of Tiered Skills) (may use polearm to pole-vault) (Mount The Winds).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Improved Trip (Snapping Branch Style), Mighty Blow (Detonating Touch), Reach (Reaching Fire), and Whirlwind Attack (Blazing Glory Stance).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength x2, Iron Skin (Burning Shield), and Vanishing (Flickering Spark Leap).

Shining Waters Kenjitsu:

Life is movement. The pumping lungs, the flowing blood, the beating heart. Stillness brings death. Where an enemy strikes, flow away. Where an enemy blocks, flow around. Where an enemy seeks to restrain or guide, if one route is blocked, a thousand others lie open. Where you need advance, draw your enemies into your whirlpool and none shall stand. Ride the currents of battle, whether to victory or retreat, there is no use in attempting to contest the tide. The softest strikes will erode the most obdurate defense. Let your spirit flow through your blade, for where it is vulnerable, the spirit is not. To emulate flowing water is a path to victory.

This art focuses on any one of the (several) “oriental” variants of the Bastard Sword, and is actually fairly straightforward and well-rounded as such styles go – providing some defense, an extremely strong offense (focusing on taking enemies down as quickly and efficiently as possible), and a few special tricks – in this case the ability to resist having the weapon sundered or disarmed and a limited ability to launch ranged strikes. Masters of water magic often use it to add qualities such as Toxic or Corrosive to their weapons or to allow them to lash out at greater ranges – or to simply create a blade of ice to use in emergencies.

  • Requires: Access to Water Magic and Occult Sense / Danger.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 4 (Tsunami Strike), Defense 3 (Read The Currents), Power 1 (Tidal Bore Technique), Synergy/Water Magic Skill (Pulse Of The Seas), and Synergy/Tumble (Flowing Waters).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Quick Draw (Darting Blade Technique), Reach (Cresting Wave Strike), Unity Of Steel* (Slowing Soul Infusion), and Whirlwind Attack (Whirlpool Strike).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength x2, Ki Focus (+4 Sacred Bonus to BAB) (Raging Storm Rising), and One Finger (Ice Lance).

*Unity Of Steel: Immunity/the distinction between weapons and the user (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP). For practitioners of this school their weapons are truly extensions of themselves; attempts to sunder or disarm them are simply treated as normal attacks against them and any touch-based powers or similar enhancements which they may possess operate through their blades.

Unity Of Divine Wind

It is not mere strength or skill that brings victory, for what use are either if you are unwilling to stand against a foe? It is the martial spirit that wins battles. Many a duel has been decided by the clash of wills well before any blow is struck. The will to stand against your foes is your greatest weapon, When it is developed and expressed… you may lay low your foes with the divine wind of your spirit alone.

Students of the Divine Wind begin their studies with the composite longbow – but advanced students will learn to transcend it, forging their spiritual armament of will and magic. While this inward focus somewhat reduces the effectiveness of the style in simple physical combat, skilled users of spirit magic can easily add properties such as Bane, or Holy/Unholy, or other special functions to their spiritual weapons, enhance their own durability, and make their arrows effective against various spirits.

  • Requires: Access to Spirit Magic, Wisdom 14+
  • Basic Techniques: Power 2 (Will to Victory), Toughness 4 (QiGong), Synergy/Spirit Magic Skill (The Inward Way), Synergy/ Heal (+4 on Atheria due to use of Tiered Skills) (Acupuncture), Synergy/Intimidate (+4 on Atheria due to use of Tiered Skills) (Will of the Warrior), and Synergy/Knowledge; Religion (Spiritual Awareness),
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Spirit Weapon I (may create a “bow” of spiritual energy) (Yin of the Moon) and II (may also create arrows of spiritual energy, and cause them to inflict either stun or lethal damage) (Yang Focus), Imbuement (“Unarmed” version applied to the spirit weapon) (Purified Intent), and Battlecry (The Lions Roar).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength x2, Resist Pain (Meditations On Eternity) and Wrath (Holy or Unholy, depending on the practitioner) (Vessel of the Divine).

As often happens with advanced styles some of these stretch the definition of a “martial art” a bit – but in a setting where the equivalent of a Rabbi wields vast magical powers instead of learned advice… stretching a martial art into the realms of myth is actually pretty normal.

The Laws Of Magic Part VI – Magical Symbols

For those looking to read in order…

Which leaves Symbols.

Like the other laws of magic, Symbols are rooted deep in the human mind. Unlike most of the other “laws of magic” their “power” has some basis in reality, even beyond the fact that words are symbols and form the basis of culture and most abstract thought.

A wise master of symbols might be able to guide a tribe safely across a stretch of wildness where he or she had never been. They could hear the words of the dead. They could reveal the acts of the gods and the secrets of creation. They could erect great castles and mighty works of art. They could see into the past, gain insights into the future, and perform a thousand other mighty deeds, for the power of magical symbols was theirs.

Today that power is actually all too common. We’d call it Reading Trail-sign, or Reading a Book, or Studying Sacred Texts, or Basic Engineering, or Checking Records, or Architecture, or Naturalism / Recording Natural Cycles, or Mathematics, or Statistics, or by any of a thousand other names – but the power of manipulating symbols is undeniable.

Yet back in the ancient days, when the lore of symbols remained unknown to most… when a man or woman could examine a few bits of dried and marked-up hide carried from a distant city and – by some mysterious art – learn of what was going on there, or craft symbols that could be carried by pretty much anyone to summon forth an inquisitor or even the kingdom’s army… what else was an observer to do but call it magic? And it was magic that observably WORKED. It wasn’t subtle influences, it was POWER.

Are those symbols ancient, inherited from a prior civilization, mysterious, impressive-looking, or just really obscure? People tend to value things according to how difficult they were to acquire and how important they look – so all those things obviously make a given symbol more powerful. After all, Runes are basically just an alphabet – but they pop up in all kinds of movies, novels, and other works as having mysterious powers. Would it be anywhere near as interesting to you if they were talking about the letter “B”?

Even today, the notion that writing something gives it power has a deep grip on the human mind. How many times have you heard the phrase “It Is Written”? Simply seeing something in print tends to give it weight and credibility. Thus the original distinction between Slander and Libel. Because writing it down somehow made it worse.

Science fiction is not immune. It is filled with incomprehensible symbols that drive men mad, Basilisk Images that kill when beheld, semantic sciences that manipulate the mind, the arts of the Bene Gesserit, and more. Why is “a picture worth a thousand words”? It is because – for humans – what you HEAR means less than what you SEE. Things sneak, other humans lie, and sounds echo – but SEEING is BELIEVING.

Incantations? Symbols. Mystic Gestures? Symbols. Names? Symbols. Runes, Glyphs, Heiroglyphs, Sigils, Witch-Marks, Emblems, Magic Circles… even most Physical Props, such as Staves (emblems of authority) and Wands (pointing sticks) are all basically Symbols or combinations of Symbols. .

The thing about symbols is that the nonverbal ones tend to be semi-permanent. Magic Circles work until they’re broken. Placing runes on a sword will empower it until they are worn smooth. That giant cross will repel vampires so long as it stands. Everyone KNOWS that’s true. After all… that brand of Servitude well may last for the rest of a slaves life – and will still affect his or her life long after he or she goes free. Don’t we feel that engagement rings and gifts of chocolate and roses mean more than “here’s a simple bit of material goods”?

In the Laws Of Magic… Symbols are raw power, condensed, distilled, and bound. The (more or less interchangeable) symbol/emblem/name of a Power is one of it’s Correspondences. Thanks to basic Sympathy and Correspondence, it to some extent IS the Power, for the name is the thing. By the Doctrine Of Signatures, knowledge and study of it reveals some of the nature and potentials of that power. By Synchronicity when that power is involved in your life, you will see it everywhere. By Karma you draw it’s notice and concern as it draws yours – if you are willing to pay the price. By Personification it allows you to relate to that Power – and by Purification of other influences you may allow that Power to dominate parts of the world.

Even in modern productions – movies, anime, comics, and television programs… the symbols of magic are inlaid in jewelry, woven into cloth, tattooed on the skin, or simply flare into existence as the magic is invoked.

This “law of magic” generally doesn’t need a lot of work to get into a game. Your players will probably never question why powerful tomes of magic are written in strange symbols and ancient tongues, or why translations never work properly, or why mystic jewelry and blades are inscribed with exotic “runes of power”, or why summoning creatures calls for magic circles, or why casting spells often calls for complex gestures, or any of a thousand other details. Pretty much every potential player is fully aware that that is how magic “normally works” – and so the vast majority of games and gaming material adhere to those ideas as well.

If you want it to play a more prominent role in the game, however, there have to be limitations. Otherwise the party mage will simply start putting symbols on everything – and that will drown your setting in a sea of magic, just as it would make a mess out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer if everyone in Sunnydale wore half a dozen crosses and light body armor and carried super-soakers filled with holy water everywhere they went.

Given the permanent, or at least semi-permanent, nature of symbol magic, that can be tough to arrange – and you can’t make it ineffectual or no one will want to bother with Symbols in the first place, which defeats the point of trying to make them more prominent. So perhaps you’ll want to apply one or more of the following…

1) Symbols must be empowered again after a relatively brief period of use,, or be periodically purified, or lose their magic to daily wear-and-tear – and while there may be methods to extend their lifespans, or to maintain more of them, such methods are quite limited. Any given magus can support only a limited number of Symbols at a time.

2) Symbols clash with each other. Any given individual can only support a limited number, or perhaps one greater, one intermediate, and one lesser Symbol. Or must bond each symbol to one of their Chakra. Or whatever. Regardless of the exact reason, any given character can only use a few Symbols at a time.

3) Symbols are horribly expensive to craft, calling for rare ingredients and great skill. Characters will only be able to afford a few of them – although this has the unwelcome side effect of causing characters to hoard money and to try to break the game to get more.

4) Symbols must be supported by the will, prayers, or dedication of many people, or by powerful spirits, or whatever. A great city might thus be able to empower a dozen Symbols for it’s greatest champions. A village might support one Symbol for a local hero, Perhaps the Spirits of Light and / or the Righteous Dead can support a few to empower noble paladins and holy men – or perhaps true heroes are supported by the populace they protect while the villains must offer sacrifices to the powers of darkness to get those infernal entities to empower their Symbols.

5) Symbols are empowered in part by personal sacrifice. Perhaps mages are not naturally weak and frail, but supporting the devices they craft makes them so. Perhaps they must accept strange geasa, or give up their shadows, or yield points from their attributes. Whatever they give up… it is difficult or impossible to reclaim without destroying the Symbol.

6) Symbols are empowered by quests, legends, and mighty deeds. As you adventure and accomplish those deeds you will gradually earn the ability to use more Symbols.

7) Symbols draw on a limited pool of power, The more Symbols you bear, the less powerful each of them becomes.

There are other, if usually more complicated, methods of course – but various combinations of limits on based on Symbol creation, duration, number, power, cost, user accomplishments, user commitments, and various forms of expenses should cover most of them.

The Laws Of Magic Part V – Narrative and Naming

For those looking to read in order…

From behind them suddenly, closer than they imagined, they could hear the roar of Humperdinck: “Stop them! Cut them off!” They were, admittedly, startled, but there was no reason for worry: they were on the fastest horses in the kingdom, and the lead was already theirs.

However, this was before Inigo’s wound reopened; and Westley relapsed again; and Fezzik took the wrong turn; and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit. . . .

-The Princess Bride

Destiny” has come up before, under Synchronicity, where it creates coincidences in accord with mysterious influences and the currents of fate. The tottering Empire which has set itself against the course of history WILL fall before one set of opponents or another. Sooner or later, the dikes or levees will fail and the floods WILL come. Eventually even the most fortunate gambler WILL lose. That’s “Destiny” of a sort – but it’s Actuarial Table Destiny. It will happen sooner or later – but any individual case may come up almost immediately or it may beat the odds for quite some time.

This isn’t that kind of Destiny. Magic sometimes uses the same word for wildly differing ideas – and what we’re talking about here is what might be more properly called Narrative Destiny. It’s not the sum of probabilities and influences on the world; it’s the force which says that the magic ponies WILL defeat the monster of the week because that is how the story goes.

Reality doesn’t have neat beginnings and endings. People rarely really get what they deserve, the causes of events go back perpetually and the consequences go on and on. People spin cages of words to turn what are basically-chaotic series of events into stories; but – in reality – stories don’t exist “in the wild”. They’re just a way for people to organize their perceptions, experiences, and acquired information. Two people can look at the same events and describe them vastly differently, right down to drawing entirely different conclusions from them.

In magic, however, Narrative Destiny is a major force. It’s the power that turns a mixture of randomness, influences, mistakes, and the accumulative effects of hundreds of people and factions pursuing their own goals in a mixture of erroneous and calculated ways, into a grand sweep of history – a coherent narrative with conventions that have the force of natural laws. And while magic can bend those rules, just as it can let you fly in despite of gravity… there is always a price to twisting the course of events away from their well-worn channel. Thus Narrative Destiny leads some people through near-inevitable sequences of events while others subvert its dictates, achieving goals that should have been utterly impossible in despite of the vast forces arrayed against them.

Narrative Destiny runs on cliches, tropes, and proverbs. It’s what enforces the conventions of stories. It’s the source of all those examples you find on TVTropes – and it’s another “force” that sneaks into almost every game pretty much unnoticed simply because most game masters try to have a bit more background and depth to things beyond “A bunch of people got together and started killing things and smashing stuff. They got away with this because they mostly did it out in the anarchic areas until they were so good at it as to be mostly unstoppable. Eventually they got bored because they’d smashed pretty much everything they thought needed smashing. Then we started a new campaign”. Game settings are filled with narrative conventions because they’re products of human minds – and that’s one of the major ways in which human minds organize their worldviews.

In RPG’s the prevalence of this form of magic marks a major division between game styles.

  1. A lot of games take a “realistic” approach; if you want to stick a knife into someone, and you can hide your intentions, sneak up on them, and stab them in the back, you’re more likely to succeed. That’s pragmatic, sensible, and – by most standards – pretty reasonable (if perhaps a little dull). Still, there is something to be said for scheming and trying to cleverly take advantage of every opportunity. It’s not all that exciting, but it can be very satisfying if you don’t mind the players constantly looking for ways to boost their odds instead of getting on with things.
  2. Other games may give you a small bonus for adding a bit more description and/or a small penalty for being boring. So you note the faint breeze which flutters the curtains, the anger which drives the attack, and the moment of focus as the attacker strikes – making the story inherent to the game and letting it influence the setting. Now it’s annoying when people get inconsistent about adding details, but as long as there’s some self-restraint amongst the players, this approach can add a lot of details and atmosphere if you don’t mind having to do a lot of on-the-fly adaption.
  3. In a few, announcing that you’re going to run at your target screaming your battle cry, vault over their head off a convenient rock, somersault in the air, stab them in the back to reverse your spin, and land on your feet will get you a bonus rather than reducing your chance of success. That’s dramatic, and stylish – if not genuinely exciting since there’s no actual gamble involved – but it really annoys the players who have a practical streak and are trying to be clever unless there’s some serious cost involved in bending the world to your will that way.

In terms of Narrative Destiny… the first option mostly ignores it just as the real world does. The fact that you’re a handsome prince trying to rescue your true love has little or nothing to do with your success of failure. That’s up to your skills, abilities, decisions, and chance. The second lets the world bend a bit to accommodate your narrative, but strictly caps how far it can go; you can bend the primary story to incorporate your personal one, but only so far. For the third option, there are few limits: the world bends to drama more than it does to mere physics and the “story” is likely to be whatever the characters say it is.

Honestly, there is no simple way of satisfying everyone here. Most game systems tend towards one of those three options – in part because option one is easiest to write rules for, option two tends to be a bit informal, usually operates on the social level, and is generally seen as “metagamey” (it does work well in rules-lite systems though), and option three really annoys the players who aren’t good at verbal dramatics and want firm rules to work with. Trying to write rules that can accommodate all three styles is possible – it’s the approach I took in Eclipse and there are various articles up about how to build characters who can influence the narrative and/or pull off insane stunts at the cost of not having those character points to spend on other things – but accommodating all those options requires either a really loose system (annoying one set of players) or a very complicated rules system (causing a lot of players to opt for games that aren’t so much work to make characters for).

Personally, I usually go for the complicated rules – even if that means I have to help a lot of the players make their characters – and option two. Letting the players add some details works just fine for me.

The simplest way to add this law of magic to a game more actively (without going entirely overboard) is to give characters some bonuses for citing and adhering to an appropriate literary trope. If the character is cluelessly noble and pure at heart, perhaps it does give them strength. An oath really does let someone surpass normal limits to fulfill it. True Love will cure anything. A blow stricken in vengeance is far more grievous than an apparently-identical blow stuck in doubt. That’s what the Fate Point rules in Runecards were about.

Naming is closely related to Narrative Destiny. After all… that random sword is just a sword, and could be replaced by any of thousands of very similar swords without changing anything much at all. Sure, there may be hundreds of trivial variations, but your game of choices equipment list and mechanics generally do not care about the makers mark, or the pattern of the steel, or whether or not the blade has an engraving of a creature on it, or the color of the pommel. A “short sword” is pretty much a “short sword” – unless, perhaps, a full-blown system of correspondences is in use. But even if one is, those correspondences will still be just a handful of discriptives hung on the basic “short sword” chasse.

Now “Sting” may have been pretty much a short sword or combat knife at base – but it was an elven-blade forged by a Noldor master-smith before the fall of Gondolin. It penetrated the skin of trolls, cut webs easily, and glowed in the presence of certain monsters. It may not have been all that powerful a magical blade – but it became a singular part of it’s bearer’s legend when it was NAMED.

In magic, names have POWER. A things name is a link to it, a way to draw on it’s power and authority. Have you ever heard the phrase “Stop in the name of the Law!”? What is it that makes that a phrase of power and authority? It’s personifying the “Law!” as an abstract entity of power that lends it’s authority to those who invoke it. “Halt! Police!” just isn’t quite the same somehow.

To give something a name… is to make it unique, to give it importance in the great tapestry of the universe, and so to give it power. As named items are woven into tales and become parts of great events, their power grows. A magician may inscribe a blade with potent runes, it may absorb a part of the power of a mighty foe as it is plunged into their heart, it may be blessed by the queen of the fey… but to some extent they are only giving expression to the power of the deeds that it has participated in.

Names grow. That sword may have started out a casual name such as “Taurin’s Sword” – but if Tuarin becomes a hero, it will soon be “The Blade Of Taurin”. Not too long after that, it might become the “Bane Of Ugarth” (a great troll that it was used to kill). Perhaps one day after that… it will be Straithbeor (“Demon Slayer”, the sword Taurin used to slay many demons during the overthrow of a dark empire), the Bane Of Ugarth, Blade Of The Mighty Taurin, King Of Umbria”. If it gets lost, it might be found again – and once it’s new owner learns it’s history, and shows himself or herself worthy, he or she can draw upon it’s power. If it is broken… reforging it will require a mighty quest, a great deed, or mighty magical ingredients – but once it is done, it will add “The Sword That Was Broken” to it’s name and the reforging will become simply another power-granting component of the weapons ever-growing legend. That’s why the Legendarium skill was written to work that way and why most of the sample Relics in Eclipse II have their own unique histories.

Games vary on this a lot. A very few – Earthdawn, some Arthurian games, and a few more – treat naming as a very big deal indeed. Most others really don’t pay much attention to it. The problem is that named items require their own legends and are generally unique and individual – which means that the game either has to have a specific setting and mountains of source material or the poor game master is going to have to put in an incredible amount of work creating treasures for both the PC’s AND the NPC’s. Thus most games have a list of generic equipment and items that can be readily traded around. Many even have random treasure tables. They may also have a list of unique and powerful artifacts, but it’s up to the game master whether or not to bring such a thing into play and to work it into the plot if he or she does.

Given that inherent problem… This one pretty much has to stay optional. You can set up a subsystem to handle it for those players who want to experiment with it and add some flavor to things (like Create Relic in Eclipse and the Sample Relics in Eclipse II or the aforementioned Legendarium skill), and introduce the occasional unique artifact / plot element – but unless you run a game where magical devices are simply terribly rare, precious, and almost impossible to create, you won’t have time to customize everything.