Eclipsing Magick

So; first up among the New Mutants… an Eclipse version of a character who’s kind of tricky in Mutants and Masterminds: Illyana Rasputin – A.K.A, Magick. The problem here is pretty basic; RPG’s give the characters pretty definite attributes and abilities, while comic-book magic-users tend to vary in ability to fit the plot even more than most comic book characters do. Secondarily, they usually have a lot of minor abilities that don’t make it into the statistics, simply because the writers have them do all kinds of minor things more or less at random because it shows that they’re mysterious and magical without actually disrupting their plots. Finally, the Marvel Universe has a fairly complex magic system – personal energy magic, “universal” energy magic (which varies with the dimension), invocations of mystical beings, white and black magic (drawing on other creatures life forces), and a whole lot of minor disciplines drawing on specific power sources. Shamans calling on land-spirits, “priests” calling on various dimensions and their dimensional rulers, gaian magic, necromancy, magic channeling the power of coincidence, and many, MANY, more. Not surprisingly, building all that out of basic effects is incredibly awkward and time-consuming.

I’m most familiar with the character from the early New Mutants years, so that – and this series of posts over HERE (as requested) – is going to be my basis for comparison.

Magick was a fundamentally tragic character, a survivor of frightful abuse who’s “inner demons” (such as her “psychic familiars” when she first joined the New Mutants) were quite capable of getting loose and wrecking the area, even if that did make them easier to fight. Her choice was between accepting her role as the gateway through which the Lovecraftian Elder Gods would enter the world (and ruling over the resulting hellscape as a demon-queen) or to constantly battle her own nature to stand as a guardian at that gate – knowing that, no matter how much she might strive to do good, with three-fifths of her soul bound to evil her efforts would always be corrupt. There would always be a price – and her heroism lay in paying it herself, rather than laying it off onto others.

In many ways she was a surprisingly uncomfortable character to see. Even in the X-books which had always been metaphors for racial prejudice and hatred the incredibly blunt metaphor for child sexual abuse was well beyond the norm. Still, it did give her stories unusual depths.

As a member of the New Mutants Magick was the bad girl – a relatively limited witch who was willing to use her dark powers to their fullest extent, who voiced the unpleasant truths, and who promised vengeance against whatever hurt her friends. Cannonball rammed you like a football player, Sunspot punched you in the nose… Magick stuck a sword in your heart. Sure, it was a (usually) non-lethal magic-disrupting sword, but it was still a pretty firm statement that “My teammates would prefer to spare you. ->I<- will do what is necessary”.

“If you’ve harmed Kitty, woman, I’ll bring this entire mountain down around your ears. I’ll use my magic to move your precious academy from Earth to the heart of hell itself!”

-Magick’s internal monologue at the Massachusetts Academy – and well within her power. Given that she knew that her mind was unreadable, this was a statement of personal intent – and of her willingness to send hundreds of random teenagers to hell just to upset the White Queen.

Now when it comes to comparing or converting Eclipse / 3.5 and Mutants and Masterminds, a lot of things are very direct indeed.

Basic Attributes: 3.5-style attribute modifiers convert to the various M&M attributes and vice-versa with two complications: d20 Str has been split into M&M Str (governing melee damage) and Fighting (governing melee attacks and taking over the melee part of Dex’s AC bonus). D20 Dex has been split into M&M Dex and Agi, possibly on the theory that Initiative, Ranged Attack Bonus, AC Bonus, and Reflex Saves are bit much to load into a single attribute.

Regardless… D20 Str Mod = M&M Str. D20 Int Mod = M&M Int. D20 Wis Mod = M&M Awa. D20 Con = M&M Sta. D20 Dex Mod = M&M (Dex + Agi)/2. D20 Cha = M& Pre. Fighting is generally BAB (Specialized in Melee Only for Double Effect; Also provides a AC Bonus versus Melee Attacks, Corrupted/no iterative attacks).

Magick is shown to have Str -1, Sta 2, Agi 2, Fight 6, Dex 3, Int 0, Awa 2, and Pre 2 at PL7. The PL 10 adult version gets Str 0, Sta 2, Agi 3, Fight 6, Dex 3, Int 1, Awa 3, and Pre 3.

Personally I’m not so sure about Presence / Charisma having a positive modifier at all – Magick is notable for her prickly personality, general grumpiness, sarcasm, failures of leadership, lack of ability to manage people, constantly being betrayed, and lack of close personal relationships. She hid her own nature from the people who wanted to help her since she didn’t know how to talk about it – perhaps the first of a long string of obvious bad decisions that cast serious doubt on her Intelligence and/or Awareness as well.

Oh well. I shall chalk it up to her youth and rather extensive psychological damage.

I’ll go with Str 8 (-1), Int 12 (1), Wis 16 (3), Con 14 (2), Dex 16 (3), Chr 14 (2), and BAB 6. Given a base attribute array of 16/16/14/12/10/8 (25 Point Buy) we need two “+2’s” to get there. Of course, she gets one for being a Pathfinder Human and picking up a +2 to an attribute should be easy enough.

Special Abilities:

  • Expertise (May reduce AC by 5 to add 5 to her Attacks, 6 CP).
  • Sanctum (Limbo, 6 CP). Magick “rules” Limbo and controls it’s magic. Unfortunately, all of the power she gains in Limbo is corrupt black magic, involves constantly defending the place against various horrific magical entities who want to take it over, her control is little longer than arms reach, and the local demons are quite treacherous. This is quite enough to specialize and corrupt every power she gets from this ability. The extra 24 CP she gets in Limbo go to…
    • Ritual Magic (2 CP). Magick can perform all kinds of powerful rituals in Limbo. They usually go badly wrong of course, but she CAN.
    • Augmented Bonus: Adds (Dex Mod) to her Rune Magic Skills, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (+9) (6 CP).
    • +14 Skill Points (Wisdom-based Mastery and Casting for abjuration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, evocation, necromancy, and transmutation rune magic). Double Effect and Two-Thirds Cost. While in Limbo this provides a base of +14 (allowing the user of third level effects and providing caster level seven within those fields) (9 CP).
    • Runic Ritual (2 CP). While in Limbo Magick can use +1 Mana, ceremonies, and invocations, to increase the power of her spells.
    • Hysteria (Magical) (2 CP). Magick can draw on Limbo’s energies to augment her power.
    • Lore (Magical Artifacts, Realms, Rituals, and Creatures) (2 CP). While in Limbo Magick has an extensive magical library to draw on.
    • Specific Knowledge / the layout of Limbo (1 CP).
    • She also has a big castle full of treacherous demons, wholly unsuitable clothing, horrific relics of her gruesome past, no defenses of note, and a large bed with a soft mattress. The abuse metaphor is working overtime isn’t it?

As the Sorcereress Supreme of the Limbo Dimension, Magick commands massive magical powers there. She’s capable of pulling off sixth level effects at caster level thirteen if she cares to bother. In fact, if she uses those modifiers with her Stepping Disks… she’s quite capable of creating a dimensional overlay that will combine Limbo and Earth (and set up an entire “Inferno” storyline). Similarly, pumping up her Soulsword with those modifiers will make her a genuinely serious threat to intruding ancient dimensional overlords, such as the Dread Dormammu.

  • Blessing (6 CP): Magick is capable of passing on portions of her powers and benefits – ranging from allowing someone else to take advantage of her rendering someone else flat-footed against an attack on up to passing on her arcane powers to someone else (usually Kitty Pride) if she is slain or somehow stripped of them.
  • Evasive and Specialist (Sunder): Gains a +4 bonus and provokes no AOO when using the Sunder maneuver (6 CP, 3 CP if you skip the “No AOO” part. If you’re just building for conversion, you might want to; Mutants and Masterminds doesn’t really have attacks of opportunity, or iterative attacks, or a lot of other stuff. Of course, if you want to actually convert a character… you’ll need to either build those abilities or leave them out in the first place.
  • Mystic Artist / Intimidation, Specialized and Corrupted/only to gain the “Fascinate” ability (2 CP).
  • Leadership (The Demons of Limbo), Specialized and Corrupted for Double Effect and two-thirds cost / they’re DEMONS. They are rebellious, treacherous, misinterpret what they’re asked to do, and make endless amounts of trouble (6 CP). Magick can call up swarms of demons. This almost always proves to be more trouble than it’s worth in the end.

Magick’s supernatural armor was exceptionally ill-defined. According to the original Marvel Super Heroes rules it varied between Excellent (sufficient to automatically shrug off rifles and such) to Monstrous (sufficient to automatically shrug off nuclear weapons). In actual stories, she never seemed to be all that invulnerable, even if it did protect her from the demon-bears claws during her armors first (completely unexpected) appearance.

Well, it mostly acted like plate armor, so…

  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized for Double Effect / only while wielding her Soulsword. All spells Spell Level Zero or One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated).
    • Mage Armor, Personal-Only (x.7) = 1400 GP. +8 Force Bonus to AC.
    • Immortal Vigor I, Personal Only (x.7) = 1400 GP. +(24 + 4 x Con Mod) HP.
    • Weapon Mastery (Soulsword) L0 = 1000 GP. +6 BAB with Soulsword.
    • Resistance (L0), Personal Only (x.7) = 700 GP. +2 Resistance Bonus to all Saves.
    • Stabilize (L0), Personal Only (x.7) = 700 GP. The wearer automatically stabilizes if below zero hit points.

At an effective value of 5200 GP, this costs (6 CP). Doubling the effect of the spells instead of manipulating the cost is kind of dubious, but every character is entitled to a little cheese – and doubling up on the number of spells could produce similar results, albeit with a far more complex mess of bonus types.

  • Immunity to Dispelling (Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Magick’s supernatural armor, above (4 CP).

Personal Energy Magic: The weakest, if by far the safest and easiest, form of magic in the Marvel Universe is basically “psychic tricks” – little stuff that a talented child might pull off with little or no training at all. This can actually be quite effective if used cleverly, but on superheroic scales… you’d better have SOMETHING else to draw on. This, of course, is exactly what the Witchcraft system in Eclipse represents. So… Witchcraft III with an extra 6d6 (22) Power (although she usually fuels her abilities with Mana), Pacts of Guardianship (keeping the gate to the realms of the Elder Gods closed) and Possession (Magick was occasionally possessed by her own dark side) (18 CP).

  • The Adamant Will: Magick’s psychic shields are capable of standing up to Professor Xavier, at least for a time – which is exactly what The Adamant Will does.
  • Glamour. Magick is capable of hypnosis, of causing a normal person to forget brief periods, and similar minor mental tricks.
  • Dreamfaring. Magick is capable of astral projection, quasi-clairvoyance using it, and sensing things in nearby dimensions.
  • Healing: Magick isn’t a particularly GOOD healer, but – as an adventuress – she knows a few tricks along those lines. Don’t expect anything much past first aid though.
  • Shadoweave: Magick can generate simple, obvious images, lights, and similar effects.
  • Witchsight, Specialized in Magical Detection to make it continuously active at no cost. Like most trained Marvel Universe mages, Magick pretty much automatically feels any major magical disturbances nearby thanks to their effect on her own magical core.
  • Hand of Shadows with an Upgrade (may generate telekinesis and force effects of up to level three, +6 CP). Magick can generate force-blasts and bonds, make basic shields, barriers, and “wards”, move things around, clean up rooms, and perform a lot of minor tricks.

In her very first on-earth fight, Magick deployed a variety of spells – mystic chains, bolts, a spell of forgetfulness, and likely more. They didn’t have much effect on Sym, which is why she had to use her Soulsword – but obviously at least some of her powers worked just fine on Earth. Later… she said that they didn’t, but then kept using various spells. As a compromise, her personal magic works just fine on Earth, even if it IS pretty weak by superheroic mage standards. The grandiose stuff she can pull off in Limbo does not work on Earth.

Magicks access to Universal – or Ambient – Magical Energies was far more limited on Earth; which shouldn’t be all that surprising; she learned to use the dark energies of Limbo, not the natural magic of the Earth. She only had access to some Earthly ambient magic because her mutant power was the ability to tap into some aspects of it.

OK, that makes just as much sense as being able to tap into magnetism with your mutant powers, but it still seems really awkward – if only because perfectly normal, non-mutant, human beings can learn to tap into magical energies at least as well. It’s like having your mutant power be that you’re amazingly good at literary criticism without having to study it very much. Isn’t that just a bit lame?

Access to limited fields of Universal Magic is probably best represented by Rune Magic – which relies on skill, the Mana that being in a superhero universe provides, and neatly sorts itself into a variety of specific fields which you can ignore, study, or master, entirely independently of each other. In her case, it’s going to be Wisdom-Based.

  • Augmented Bonus: Adds (Dex Mod) to Wisdom-Based Skills, Specialized for Increased Effect / only for Rune Magic Skills, Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for Soulsword, Stepping Disk, and Time Bender Rune Magic (4 CP).
  • Adept, Soulsword (Casting and Mastery) and Stepping Disks (Casting and Mastery) (6 CP).
  • 10 Skill Points (Paid for later). Four go to getting a +3 base in her Adept skills, the remaining six go to getting a +3 base in Time Bending (Casting and Mastery). That gives her a base of +12 in those six skills.

Magick’s Soulsword was always a very questionable thing. A spell of creation, meant to shape a pure focus for a soul touched by black magic, was fused with black magic and corruption to turn purity into a devastating weapon. It is little wonder that – the more Magick wielded the resulting abomination – the more demonic she became. Worse, like most major comic-book magics, it was never particularly consistent as to what it did, or how, or even what it looked like. Sometimes it only disrupted magic, sometimes it disrupted psychic powers, sometimes it could hurt people (at least as if it was a normal sword), and sometimes it couldn’t. That’s not “a” power. That’s a suite of powers.

  • Soulsword: Rune Magic / Negation, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Only for negating / disrupting magical / psionic effects and beings, the more Magick uses the blade the more demonic she becomes, the user becomes an evil that exists to fight other evils, drawing the attention of demon lords and eldritch horrors, she can be at least briefly “disarmed”, although the blade always seems to show up again. Magicks +12 bonus would normally give her a casting level of 6 and let her use third level effects. At triple effect, that’s casting level 18 and ninth level effects for three mana – although three of those levels normally go to making the “casting” a simple part of attacking with the sword (this is most often a touch attack). This doesn’t cover using the Soulsword as if it was a normal sword, but she can manifest a normal sword with Hand of Shadows quite casually, which covers that.
  • Stepping Disks: Rune Magic / Travel (Mastery and Casting), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / all travel involves opening portals, all portals must go through “limbo”, may accidentally move across time or scatter travelers as a GM plot option, accuracy decreases as range increases, occasional portals may open nearby without conscious control. Magick is quite capable of moving a small area to Limbo and back in the same round using two quickened effects – such as when she pulled the New Mutants (and a car) into the X-Mansion to fight Sym.
  • Time Bender: Rune Magic / Time Manipulation, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / Magick basically has very limited control over this at best. She can twist timelines, travel to the past and future, change her own timeline, and reverse catastrophic magical effects across entire cities, but none of that is ever what you’d call reliable. About all she ever did that WAS reliable was return from Limbo so quickly that it looked like direct teleportation rather than a two-step process, and that might not even have involved time magic; it could have just been two quickened stepping disks. It’s notable, however, that Dr Strange tapped into this ability to let him reshape time on a level beyond what he could handle on his own.
  • 4d6 (16) Mana, Specialized for Double Effect (32 Mana) / only for Rune Magic (24 CP). Being in a superhero universe provides Mana to work with each round – but quickened spellcasting and such can easily outrun that supply. Ergo, Magick has some mana reserves.
  • Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / requires at least twenty minutes worth of rest or meditation per die regained, only to restore the Mana Pool noted above (8 CP).

Combat Bonuses:

  • Finesse: Uses (Dex Mod) in place of (Str Mod) for magically empowered melee attacks (6 CP).
  • +6 BAB (36 CP). Melee +9, Soulsword +15, Ranged +9. Damage is per the magical effect used (whether Witchcraft-based, her Soulsword, or whatever she decides to do in Limbo).
  • +2 to All Saves (Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +7, 18 CP)
  • HP 12 (L1d12, 8 CP) +30 (L2-7d8, 24 CP) + 14 (Con Mod x7) +32 (Immortal Vigor) = 88 HP.
  • AC 10 (Base) +3 (Dex) +8 (Mystic Armor) = 21. M&M splits that into Melee (Parry) and Ranged (Dodge), but we don’t need to bother.
  • Initiative +3 (Dex)

Converting d20 damage to M&M damage is difficult because – fundamentally – neither system actually makes any sense. For the first and most obvious benchmark… take a normal person. To score an automatic instant kill in d20 you need to inflict a minimum of 14 damage. To score an automatic instant kill in M&M they have to miss their damage resistance check by 30. A normal person will have a +0 bonus on that check, but might roll a “20″. So an automatic kill requires a DC of 50, and a damage bonus of +35. So many low-level fighters – perhaps inflicting 2d4+12 – can do +35 in M&M. But M&M defines a one megaton strategic weapon as doing +30 damage. A one megaton blast to the face thus only has a 70% chance of immediately killing a normal person in M&M.

Ergo, melee attacks default to (Str Mod + Level), while others just use (Level).

Thus most of Magicks Witchcraft effects will be Rank 7 in M&M (very effective against normal people, but easily shrugged off by Sym). Her Limbo Magics have a base effect rank of 7 but can be boosted to rank 13. Her Stepping Disks and Soulsword are at rank 18, but can be boosted to rank 24 in Limbo.

Toughness is awkward. As written, Magick can – on average, and assuming that she doesn’t throw up a force sphere or something – take one nuke to the face, but it will leave her on the verge of dropping. So against DC 45, with an average roll of 10, she’d miss by 15. Yet Toughness 20 is obviously too much. I’d go with the (square root of the characters hit points + 1). In her case… that’s 10. Good, but hardly invulnerable.

And that takes us to Skills – although we can disregard the various combat-booster skills unless she wants to purchase a martial art or two since those have been incorporated into her boosts, above. At her lower power level the M&M writeup gives her Acrobatics 2, Athletics 3, Deception 4, Expertise (Magic) 12, Expertise (Queen of Limbo) 5, Insight 3, Intimidation 6, Perception 2, and Stealth 3, for a total of 40 SP.

At the higher power level her M&M writeup gives her Acrobatics 2, Athletics 2, Deception 4, Expertise (Magic) 13, Expertise (Queen of Limbo) 5, Insight 4, Intimidation 10, Perception 4, and Stealth 4. That’s 48 SP. Superhero advancement tends to be pretty slow, but she probably picked up a level or two, which would explain it.

Personally, I’m dumping “Expertise (Queen of Limbo) because Magick has quite spectacularly (and repeatedly) demonstrated that she is, in fact, no good at all at running Limbo – a task which consists almost exclusively of keeping the demons under control.

She’s going to want to increase the human skill bonus to +2 SP/Level (3 CP), Acquire Fast Learner Specialized in Skills (6 CP), and Adept (Specialized in two skills only for Increased Effect (Adept Skills get an extra +4 Bonus)/Expertise (Magic) and Intimidation, 6 CP). That gets her 20 SP at L1, plus 5 SP/additional level, and lets her get the Adept skills at half cost. She’ll still have to purchase a few skill points – I’ll say 12 (12 CP) at level six.

Available Skill Points: 5 x (Level +3) = 50 +14 (Purchased) = 64 SP.

That will give her the high-end skill package of Acrobatics 2 (+5), Athletics 2 (+1), Deception 4 (+6), Expertise (Magic) 13 (+14), Insight 4 (+7), Intimidation 10 (+12), Perception 4 (+7), and Stealth 4 (+7) at a cost of 27 SP. Since she has another 37 available, she can boost her rune magic and other skills some more – such as buying her second language since she is bilingual and throwing in a few points in knowledge / expertise skills or perhaps some martial arts since she did all right in Xavier’s school.

So let’s add this up:

  • Four-Color Package (24 CP). As a Sorceress, she gets her Mana from her Wisdom.
  • Expertise (6 CP)
  • Sanctum (Limbo, 6 CP)
  • Blessing (6 CP).
  • Improved Sunder (6 CP).
  • Fascinating Intimidation (2 CP).
  • Leadership (6 P)
  • Darkchilde Armor (10 CP).
  • Witchery (18 CP)
  • Universal Magic (10 CP, also requires 10 SP)
  • Mana Pool and Recovery (32 CP).
  • Finesse (6 CP)
  • +6 BAB (36 CP)
  • +2 to all Saves (18 GP).
  • Hit Points (32 CP).
  • Skills (29 CP).

That’s 247 CP. It’s been shaping up to look like level seven or eight, so lets see what we need:

Available Character Points: 192 (Level Seven Base) +30 (Human Bonus, L1, L3, L5, and l7 Feats) +14 (Duties) +7 (Restrictions; can only call on the Elder Gods for dimensional magic, and will not do so) +10 (Disadvantages: Accursed (Bloodstones bind soul to evil and prevent the use of pure white magic), History, and Hunted (Belasco and other evils)) = 253 CP.

  • So we have 6 CP left over. Given the superheroic tendency to leap in front of attacks meant for others, throw up shields in front of incoming attacks, and so on… I’d recommend Reflex Training (the three action per day variant).

For remaining details… we have a minor effect or two to add from the Four Color Package and her Wealth-By-Level equipment.

  • For the minor effect, we’ll pick up the remaining +2 to an Attribute that she needs (a first level effect) and a +3 competence bonus to Intimidate when she goes all demony.
  • Her equipment allowance is 13,000 GP. According to Urban Arcana, 1 GP = 20$. According to the Price Conversion Table from d20 Modern up to Purchase DC 10 is about $10 per DC. 10 = $120, 11 = $150, 12 = $200, 13= $275, 14 = $350, 15 = $500, 16 = $650, and 17 = $900. From there, each +8 DC is x10 dollars. Fortunately, we can ignore much of that except for calculating the base price of her phone.
    • Kevlar Reinforced Costume (“Leather Armor”, but 40 GP and only 5 pounds. Note that Arcane Spell Failure does not apply to Rune Magic or Witchcraft), Masterwork (+150 GP), +1 (+1000 GP), Amulet of Tears (2300 GP. This can provide up to +36 HP per day. Throwing that into her HP total for the purposes of calculation in M&M provides +2 to her Toughness – although that effect will wane as hit points increase. In theory this still takes up the appropriate item slot, but Superheroes rarely care). Armor Crystal: a Lesser Iron Ward Diamond (2000 GP).
    • Advanced First Aid Kit / Healing Belt (750 GP).
    • “Pocket Secretary”/Hero Team Comlink: Satellite Smartphone with HUD and hands-free links (250 GP), Smartsearch (As per a Tome of Worldly Memory, 1500 GP), Intelligent (500 GP), Int, Wis, Chr all 10 (0 GP), 30′ senses, uses Message at will (1000 GP). Note that, since smartphones can talk anyway, there is no need to buy speech for it.
    • Reactive Contact Lenses / Raptors Mask (3500 GP).+5 to Spot (Perception), Immunity to being Blinded or Dazzled.
    • Utility Pouch: Keys, LED minilight, multitool, chalk, nylon ties, etc. All the little junk that pops up once in a blue moon (10 GP).

And that’s 13,000 GP.

When it comes to equipment, Superheroes are much more vulnerable than d20 characters. That’s mostly because comic books are created by writers to present to third party audiences. If a Green Lantern is deprived of his or her power ring… even if it’s a team book in the first place, the rest of the team will either be shuffled offstage to allow a solo story, handed the idiot ball so that the powerless character can still be a leader in their adventures, or land in an incredibly contrived set of situations that still allow the character who can’t do much of anything to be the hero. None of those are good options for a RPG, since they ALL translate to “GM railroading” and/or “one or more players is not getting to actually play tonight”. Thus d20 characters may lose a piece or two of gear, and be put at a short-term disadvantage – but they pretty much never lose all their gear and get put out of action. If you’re converting to M&M, a d20 or Eclipse characters wealth-by-level is one of their powers,

Overall, this version of Magick is a fine demonstration of why throwing “an endless stream of Mana” into the character design process takes a character from a hero to a superhero. While she turns out to be built on almost exactly the same number of points in both Eclipse and in Mutants and Masterminds, the Eclipse version has a major advantage in versatility and a slight advantage in raw power – mostly because Eclipse is built using versatile fantasy magic tropes, rather than specific-powers superhero tropes. The rest of the New Mutants tend to have more specific powers, and may be a bit more awkward in Eclipse terms.

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Eclipse and Four Color Heroics

The question this time is basically how some Eclipse-style superhero builds match up to Mutants and Masterminds third edition builds – with specific reference to the original “New Mutants” and their writeups over at the “Atomic Think Tank”.

Well, why not? I haven’t built very many superheroes, so this is a perfectly reasonable topic to get back to posting with.

So what do you need to buy to be a four-color superhero?

First up… the Superheroic World Template obviously applies. That’s pretty simple; it gives each character (Con Mod) points of Mana to spend each round. You generally can’t augment this, but the GM may well let you use another attribute without even taking Finesse. It only defaults to Constitution because Superheroes are almost invariably healthy types who push through terrible conditions and massive injuries, recover quickly and completely, and hardly ever get sick. Ergo, a high Constitution is encouraged – but if you must play a frail psychic or studious elderly wizard or something, swapping to Wisdom or Intelligence is pretty reasonable.

The obvious way to use that power is to make normally limited-use abilities unlimited. Go ahead. Use Berserker to keep your strength jacked up to superhuman levels all the time, or turn Grant of Aid into and endless font of regeneration, or exercise endless telekinetic control over the earth, or whatever. Really, that’s quite enough to make you a street-level superhero.

But if you want to be a true four-color superhero you’ll need a few extra ways to use that power.

Superheroic Physics (6 CP):

In some settings, characters with mighty superhuman powers have to deal with “consequences”. They have to worrry about what gets hit when they miss with an attack, the fact that buildings do not have the structural integrity to be picked up, and that trying to punch through three feet of steel will simply drive you backwards and (probably) massively damage whatever you’re standing on because it will be hit just as hard. People in such street-level superhero universes have to deal with those pesky conservation laws, leverage, and all the other factors that real people have to deal with. Superman may be strong, but no amount of strength will actually let you move planets, or lift mountain ranges, instead of going through them.

In “four-color” superhero settings – the default type for Mutants and Masterminds, Champions / Hero System, and many other games – reality need not apply. Superman is simply altering reality to go along with his heroic narrative. To do that, we want to buy an:

  • Mana / Additional Form of Natural Magic (Reality Editing), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only to support the user’s heroic narrative and let the user’s abilities function without normal scaling restrictions (6 CP).

And there you go. Go ahead and lift that building and smack someone with it without having it fall apart. Catch someone who’s falling without killing them with the impact with you. Run down the stairs faster than someone can fall. Fly at incredible speeds without smashing the city around you with sonic booms. This won’t really help when you’re up against another superhuman though. When both characters are using this effect it just goes back to comparing the underlying abilities – but it will allow (for a very dramatic example) Binary to punch Rogue into orbit without serious harm to either character OR destroying the area, just as it will then allow Rogue to return from the vicinity of the moon and locate her destination in mere seconds. It means that long-range travel operates at the speed of plot rather than according to actual time and distance – with the only important measurements being however the game master chooses to distinguish between “way too late”, “just too late”, “just in time”, and “way early”.

As a side-benefit, this also means that you can and will function normally – without smashing up the scenery, punching too hard and obliterating minor street gang members, or killing your sexual partners – whenever over-the-top super-abilities do not fit your narrative.

Any character headed into a four-color superhero setting should gain this ability for free as a world law, just as they normally no longer need to worry about having limited power sources – but it’s cheap enough to buy.

Superheroic Durability (6 CP):

Superheroes are very often stunned, knocked out, or injured by their opponents attacks.

Wait. Lets just think about that for a moment. Quite a lot of superheroes are fairly normal people under their battle armor, or force field, or whatever – a lot like a normal soldier sitting in a tank. But looking at attacks on tanks… the vast majority of the time attacks either fail to get through (and leave the crew rattled but basically unscathed) or they wreck the tank and leave the crew dead. When one percent of a weapons impact is more than enough to kill someone you only get injured targets on a hit if something has used up more than 99% of the weapons total energy but still less than 99.99% or so (whatever it takes to get it down below the threshold of serious injury).

That’s a VERY narrow zone. Yet comic book characters with wildly varying defenses engage in quite a lot of combat against wildly varying opponents with all kinds of weapons, and take a fair number of hits, and yet they generally have long survival times.

3.5 and Eclipse handle this by making hit points utterly abstract and damage non-linear. A hit from a Colossal Mace should – by virtue of basic physics – be capable of doing hundreds of thousands of times as much damage as a hit from a 1d8 Medium Mace, yet according to the d20 rules it only does 6d6. That’s as if dropping a can of soup on your foot five times in a row was equivalent to being caught between a high speed loaded truck and a rockface.

Want to consider a nuke? Well, d20 Future tells us that a one-megaton nuke (one of the few weapons on the list that’s actually real and comparable) does 16d8 damage – an average of 72 points. My scaling calculations (from hand-held explosives, but the same article again) tell me that a one-megaton blast would cause either 20 or 21 d6 damage (averaging 70 and 73.5 respectively, or 71.75 together). Alternatively, we can also just go by the standard charts for explosives and weapon sizes – which tell us that a Tiny explosion causing 3d6 damage can be scaled up to a Colossal explosion causing 18d8 damage. That’s remarkably consistent really. As for what it shows us…

  • In d20 each +1 multiplier to your hit point damage represents ten times as much actual physical damage. How does that work? It’s because inflicting injury in d20 is more about convincing your target that they SHOULD be hurt than it is about actual forces that cause physical injury. Because RPG’s are “Let’s Pretend” with rules – and the hit point rules are aimed at convincing the player that their character “should be dead”. There are plenty of mid-level d20 fighter types who can take a nuke to the face without so much as flinching – and can still be wiped out by twenty to thirty blows from a club. Bombs? A bright flash, a loud noise, and a bit of an impact? Why would they believe that something that is over so fast can really hurt them? But a club now… a club is CONVINCING. EVERYONE knows that a club hurts! You learned that as a little kid!

No, that doesn’t make much of any sense from a “realistic” prospective. Because, you know, MAGIC.

Fortunately, this system works just fine for superheroes – but it’s worth noting that Superheroes are knocked out a lot more often than they’re seriously hurt or killed and take even more hits than a low-level 3.5 character can. In the comics… this is usually a version of professional courtesy. “If you restrain yourselves, so will we – because we WILL lose sometimes, and we’d rather get to survive doing so”.

When superheroes do take a serious wound it tends to be quite dramatic though. Ergo, we’ll want to buy…

  • Superhuman Resilience: DR 3/- (affecting both physical and energy damage), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (9/-) / only to reduce lethal damage to nonlethal damage, bypassed by critical hits (6 CP).

That basically amounts to “I can take twenty times as much damage as a normal person without serious harm, but can be knocked out without incredible difficulty.

Superheroic Build (A.K.A. “The Most Common Power”) (3 CP):

Ever noticed that almost all the major characters in comics look really good? Is that a standard secondary power that comes with everything?

Not really. Standard “superheroic good looks” are a consequence of the medium. Humans tend to see clearly defined and highly symmetrical features, clear skin, an average-to-slim build, and somewhat “generic” features, as indicators for good health and good genes – in other words, an attractive/handsome/beautiful potential mate. There are a lot of nonvisual cues too, but comics are primarily a visual medium.

All of those features turn up in comics simply because comics start off as long sequences of line drawings. That means that making the main characters easier to draw is quite important. Clearly defined features? Line drawing. Highly symmetrical? Far easier to draw in a variety of poses and from various angles. Clear skin? Who wants to waste time and effort drawing skin blemishes? Average build? Easy to draw and lots of sample shots to look at. Somewhat generic features? Helps avoid any accusations of drawing stereotypes AND makes it easy for the audience to accept and identify with the characters. Result: standardized generic good looks. Buy this as…

  • Minor Privilege: Cultivated Appearance. Regardless of their actual Charisma, this character gets to describe themselves as good looking, horrifying, or utterly ordinary as they prefer (3 CP). Yes, pretty much ANY super can get groupies.

Rapid Recovery (3 CP):

Real people break bones, lose blood, and can take a vary long time indeed to recover from very small amounts of damage. Supers, however, recover quickly, rarely suffer lingering effects from their injuries, and wake up again on a moments notice. That’s…

  • Grant of Aid, Specialized/requires at least one minute to activate (3 CP).

That’s not a LOT of recovery – but it’s fairly broad spectrum, will suffice to automatically stabilize a dying character, and will start at the player’s call – so it will wake the character up if he or she is unconscious or something.

Minor Conventions (6 CP):

Given that everyone needs to be readily identifiable, and that drawing costume changes and/or damage complicates things, comic book characters tend to wear their colorful, easily-identifiable, negative stealth modifier, and wholly impractical costumes everywhere (or at least change into them impractically fast). For the same reason they’re virtually never damaged too badly and are good enough for broiling deserts and arctic conditions – although, to be fair, most superheroes seem to shrug off petty inconveniences like “estimated survival time of twenty minutes” anyway.

  • Innate Enchantment, all powers Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated. Specialized for Increased Effect (counts as extraordinary abilities, not magic) /
    • Ready for Inspection: Prestidigitation, Only to keep the user clean and neat and help perform quick costume changes (Note that characters with minor signature traits – always chewing on a cigar, having a few jelly babies in a pocket, etc, may count a couple of those as a part of their “costume”) x.5 = 500 GP.
    • Comics Code: Mending, Only to keep the “necessary” bits of the user’s costume in good repair. Thus, men can lose their shirts, but never their pants – unless it’s THAT sort of comic of course. X.25 = 250 GP.
    • It’s Sufficient: Endure Elements , Personal Only (x.7), 2/Day Only (x.4) = 560 GP. Whatever the costume looks like, it’s perfectly comfortable and adequate for all normal earthly climactic conditions.
    • Heroic Will: Protection From Evil, Personal Only (x.7), 3/Day Only (x.6), Only when the GM feels that the user is being compelled to do something against their personal code or otherwise is likely to summon a mighty surge of will to throw off possession/mind control/etc (x.25) = 210 GP.
    • Heroic Rally: Remove Fear, 2/Day Only (x.4), user must make an adequate inspiring speech (x.6) = 480 GP.
    • Coincidental Catch: Feather Fall, 2/Day Only (x.4), activates automatically (x1.5), but only works 50% of the time (x.4) = 480 GP. When a hero falls off a roof or gets dropped, there is a substantial chance that SOMETHING will happen to break his or her fall.
    • Heroic Health: Relieve Illness (from the Hedge Wizardry spell list) 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP. Relieve Poison (from the Hedge Wizardry spell list) 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP, Lesser Restoration 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP. Fast Healing I (from The Practical Enchanter, for 18 rounds, 2/Day (x.4), Personal Only (x.7)) = 560 GP.

This leaves 2100 GP value open – enough for a trio of personal-only cantrips, an as-needed first level spell (even if perpetual healing is banned). Can you evaluate an area at a glance (L1, Sift), perform impressive card tricks (very limited Prestidigitation, L0), be perpetually optimistic (Good Hope, L1), never run out of bullets (Abundant Ammunition, L1), disguise yourself quickly (Disguise, L1), act extremely innocent (Innocence, L1), perform ventriloquism (ventriloquism, L1), look young despite your advanced age (Youthful Appearance, L1), smell poison (Detect Poison, L0), always know True North (Know Direction, L0), have small bonuses on a few skills (Skill Mastery spell template from The Practical Enchanter), always Stabilize when dying? (Stabilize, L0), hold your breath for a long time (Air Bubble, L1), have a knack with animals (Calm or Charm Animal, both L1), ignore movement penalties for difficult terrain (Feather Step, L1), jump well (Jump, L1), have exceptional senses (Keen Senses, L1), leave no tracks (Pass Without Trace, L1), communicate with animals (Speak With Animals, L1), or just swim really well (Touch of the Sea, L1)? Well, here’s a way to add it to your list of attributes as a minor quirk, mostly unrelated to being a super. You don’t have to limit yourself to what’s listed; if you want to always have a pocketful of smoke pellets… well, “produce puff of smoke” is probably a L0 effect.

That’s 24 CP – half of what a first level character gets as a base. And while it doesn’t provide any major powers as of yet… it’s not a bad start. Next up; building a few mutants.

Linear Fighter, Assistant Wizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the Dungeon Masters Guide told us

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

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

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

Basic Spellcasting Limitations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Arcane Caster Limitations Include:

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

Additional Divine Caster Limitations Include:

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

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

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

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

Underlying The Rules Part VI: Discussion and Development

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

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

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

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

-Alzrius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so.,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, I hope this little retrospective has been interesting!

My Little Pony Index II

Ponies have continued to be a fairly popular topic – so here’s an updated subindex for pony-related material. There’s a fair amount of background and three major categories of ponies in the herd though – d20 ponies built using the Supheroic World Template (everyone gets free Mana equal to their Con Mod each round), Ponies built to Alzrius’s standards (compatible with 3.5, Pathfinder, and Ponyfinder), and Hero System Ponies (we use 4’th edition, but it’s not like NPC’s need a lot of updating).

Eclipse d20 Ponies (My Versions):

Background Material:

Building Pony Characters / Examples:

Hero System Ponies:

Thanks to terribly bad luck and some summonings, some ponies from the (normally imaginary) magical land or Equestria are running about in the current Champions game. Oh well. Superheroic Mages have turned lose much sillier and more destructive things.

  • Prince Blueblood and the Cartoon Powers Package: Prince Blueblood the Navigator, standard “Toon” powers, and why Celestia tolerates him.
  • Apple Bloom: Alchemist, trap-maker, and (very) minor earth-mage. For when you want to film “home alone” in Equestria.
  • Scootaloo: Scout, weathermage, and junior speedster. Note that – since normal humans with no wings at all can learn flight magic in the setting, this version of Scootaloo CAN fly. She just can’t steer too well yet…
  • Sweetie Belle: Junior sorceress, singer, and just too cute to stop. For all the Cutie Mark Crusaders “Awwww… We’re not in trouble are we?” moments.
  • Trixie Lulamoon and the Alicorn Amulet:  Trixie the Minor Sorceress, a discussion of Traveling Performers – and the power of the Alicorn Amulet.
  • Apex – Prince Blueblood Escapes From My Little Pony: An upgraded Prince Blueblood as a hero of the Apex setting. The role of the nobility in the government of Equestria. Blueblood finds his purpose – and it’s being an arrogant ass.

Alzrius’s Eclipse d20 Ponies:

Alzrius built his ponies so as to fit into “standard” d20 games – whereas I used the “Superheroic” world template because it would allow my builds to reproduce the things that the ponies did on the show. Of course, that means that my builds will only work well in games based on the assumptions of Equestria; they won’t do so well in basic games. For those, courtesy of Alzrius, we have…

My Alzrius-Styled Eclipse Ponies:

Alzrius Pony Notes:

If and when additional pony-related material gets posted on this blog or Alzrius’s blog, I’ll try to link it here.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition(RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Underlying The Rules Part V – Questions And Answers

And now that I have a few minutes to start catching up on comments again, this particular comment from KrakoThunder brings up some interesting points about the d20 system and what happened to it. Admittedly, that’s starting to drift away from generic social expectations applicable to all gaming – but the difference in perception comes up quite a lot.

  • Part One in this series – The Social Contract – can be found HERE.
  • Part Two – Adjusting The Spotlight – can be found HERE.
  • Part Three – Making A Group Effort – can be found HERE.
  • Part Four – Setting Over Rules (The part that this comment was addressed to) – can be found HERE.

…Personally I feel that Setting, at least in 3.5 or pathfinder, isn’t actually that relevant…

That’s an excellent illustration of a fairly subtle point – a division in social expectations between people who are used to d20 style games and most other systems that goes back to an old marketing decision. Wizards of the Coast wanted to sell as many copies of each book as possible – and so they did something fairly innovative.

They had a reasonably universal system and so they quietly decoupled their mechanics-laden sourcebooks from specific settings and included hints in the books and online on how to squeeze the new material from each such sourcebook into their existing settings.

That was subtle, but big. There had been plenty of semi-universal systems before, but no one had ever really tried that. Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing covered a lot of things – but they never tried to make the stuff they published for Runequest fit into Nephilim or Nephilim stuff fit into Superworld. Similarly, a Hero System “Galactic Guardians” sourcebook was never meant to be compatible with a Justice Inc. game – and there was no attempt to make it so. GURPS put out world sourcebooks with no intent that their Lensman sourcebook would ever be coupled with one of their WWII sourcebooks.

Other games were less successful at it. For example, the One Roll Engine system was used for Godlike – a WWII game featuring superheroes with relatively minor powers who didn’t have too big an effect on history. But, while the setting was quite good… the One Roll Engine mechanics didn’t actually support the “relatively minor powers” or “not too big an effect on history” part. It wasn’t at all hard to build characters who broke the game, often even if you didn’t mean to do so. There are several such characters on the blog here simply because I found it amusing to make them.

Quite a lot of games weren’t that ambitious. They wrote tight systems that were deeply integrated with specific settings. Games like World Tree or Army Ants or Bunnies and Burrows could be very, VERY, good games – but you weren’t going to be able to use their systems to run a Starship Troopers game or a cold war espionage game.

But that limited sales – and so Wizards Of The Coast quietly de-emphasized “Setting”, suggesting that it was essentially unfair of game masters to disallow the use of whatever nifty new sourcebook a player had purchased and become enamored of.

This, however, turned something that had previously been a very minor problem into a major one. Sourcebooks aren’t written by an omniscient collective, and editors really can’t keep complete track of thousands of pages of rules. So if a “Voodoo Pirates” sourcebook included a “Loa Bound” ability which let each character bind with a single Loa to gain a package of distinctive magical pirate powers that they could use all they wished… well, that worked just fine in a Voodoo Pirates game. Everyone got one highly distinctive power package.

But if a player took “Loa Bound” and then (say) pulled a “Celestial Radiance” ability from some other sourcebook – perhaps a “High Gods” book of religious powers – which let a character convert innate magical effects into shields and blasts of light and combined it with a “Surging Birthright” ability from a “Mystic Talents” sourcebook that boosted innate magical powers (and was meant to be used with the relatively minor powers from that book), then suddenly the game master found himself or herself dealing with the equivalent of Marvel’s Dark Phoenix running around blasting things in his secret supernatural psychic detectives setting.

That’s an exploit. Things that were never meant to be used that way being used to break the game. Now those particular books don’t actually exist (although books along those lines with staff that breaks the game if used elsewhere certainly do) – but the pattern should be recognizable to any d20 gamer. The fact that no one can agree on just where the line between “good character design” and “abusive exploits” lies just complicates the problem.

Exploits hadn’t been a big problem before. There had been a lot of games – Brave New World, World of Synnibar, and too many more to count – who’s rules just didn’t work properly. There were plenty of games where the rules were a poor match for the intended setting too – but sourcebooks intended for particular settings had always tended to be light on mechanics, heavy on setting information, and had a much more limited range of other sourcebooks to interact with. They also were usually written by individuals or small, cooperative, groups, came out far less often, and had groups of playtesters who played in that particular setting and so were familiar with all the information for it. Most exploits got edited out well before such books were published. Most of what got through were typos or stuff that was simply ambiguously phrased if you didn’t already know what it was supposed to mean.

That meant that, up until this point, most exploits had been of individual rules that were poorly written. For example, early editions of Champions / Hero System had “Endurance Batteries” which, when combined with other flaws such as “increased endurance cost”, could make powers free to use and much cheaper at the same time. That kind of thing was easily errataed though. Endurance batteries were changed into the Endurance Reserve power, and how they worked was modified – and the exploit went away.

But changing how “Loa Bound” worked would mean rewriting the entire Voodoo Pirates sourcebook. The same might go for the Celestial Radiance from the High Gods sourcebook, while removing Surging Birthright from the “Mystic Talents” book would make half of the rest of the book useless.

And so many “optimized” d20 characters wind up taking one level each in a bunch of different prestige classes, and combining stuff from half a dozen different sourcebooks that their authors never meant to be used together no matter what the marketing department said. Unfortunately, confessing that the books were incompatible would undermine the marketing strategy and reduce profits. That was out of the question. Ergo exploits were sometimes dealt with with special rules or online errata, but were mostly left to individual game masters to deal with. This led to the era of “Handbooks”, “Optimization Boards”, and Pun-Pun. Sure, you can find some optimization advice for GURPS and such – but it tends to be fairly general and minor, or rely on specific tricks that no game master in their right mind will allow, rather than on combining stuff from fifteen different sourcebooks in a detailed twenty-level build. For d20 there are massive works covering optimization for pretty much every character class.

The problem carried over into Pathfinder as well – and Pathfinder has become even more of a “throw in anything and everything” system than 3.5 was, simply because it picked up where 3.5 left off. Ultimately however… this path is a dead end. Gaming is a social activity, and focusing on the mechanics may fill your time when you’ve got no one to play with, but trying to actually use exploits eventually reaches the point where it’s disrupting the actual game – and that really doesn’t get you much of any extra fun.

That’s one reason why Eclipse includes a checklist for deciding what abilities will fit into your setting, advice on handling over-optimized characters, systems for character personalities and motives, and no setting at all. It’s also why it hasn’t really got any “expansion” books beyond a free web supplement that covers a few items that could not legally be included in Eclipse under the intial d20 license and a few typo corrections. Eclipse II includes one additional note (that you only get half “value” for negative attribute modifiers) and a lot of “how to use Eclipse to build what you want” segments. That’s to avoid the partially-compatible sourcebooks problem, to make sure that everyone has the same list of stuff to choose from to “optimize” their characters, and to limit the time and expense of running the game.

A strong setting is needed for serious roleplaying, to hold down on rules exploits, and to give a campaign it’s own identity. A really GOOD d20 campaign… is usually much more narrowly focused than the “you can use everything!” approach allows.

…Want a spaceship? Mind Flayers had spaceships, so spaceships obviously are a thing, and given infinite universes that are all connected via Far Realm, there’s a good chance somewhere there’ll be someone who fits the criteria. You probably can’t refuel it and you won’t find much out there, but you can have it….

Well, even if Mind Flayers exist in a given d20 setting (not being OGL material they often don’t) they may or may not have spaceships or bear any resemblance to “standard” Mind Flayers. As for the example of the “Predator” character and his spaceship and support staff and why he would not work in The Forgotten Realms… we’ll have to go into some history and look at the implications of allowing such a thing.

The Forgotten Realms existed as a literary setting long before Dungeons and Dragons came along – whereupon it became the setting for a personal campaign. Other gamers got little glimpses into that setting starting in Dragon #30 in 1979 – and then TSR produced the first edition set, wherein most of the space went to description and background, rather than first editions (rather slim) mechanics. We also got Kara-Tur, Moonshae, Waterdeep, an assortment of novels, and more – but, unlike Greyhawk, there really weren’t any major sci-fi elements.

Second edition stuff for the Forgotten Realms came along in 1990 – and brought us the quasi-mesoamerican Maztica subsetting as a bonus.

The Far Realms were introduced in 1996, in The Gates Of Firestorm Peak – (written for use with the Players Option series and nothing to do with the Forgotten Realms) – and didn’t really get tacked on to most of Wizards of the Coasts other settings until 3.0 (2000) and 3.5, when the idea that “every source should be potentially usable in any game” set in.

Now, as noted, the “predator” character was proposed not long after “Predator” first came out in 1987 – years before second edition came along, almost a decade before the Far Realms were introduced, and even longer before the option to use The Far Realms was shoehorned into The Forgotten Realms. That was back in first edition days, when the Forgotten Realms were pretty much pure sword-and-sorcery on an alternate earth.

Secondarily, as also noted, “Ri’al The Huntsman” came with a starship and a support staff. That isn’t like acquiring a flying carpet. That means access to a competent starship crew – to engineers with a through understanding of power systems and weaponry up through fusion devices and starship drives, to an armory, to multiple suits of powered battle armor, to planetary survey equipment, to radio communications, to an electronic library, to scientific specialists, and (of course) to an interstellar civilization to come from. All of which had to work. That’s kind of built in to playing a predator-type; if their technology doesn’t work all you have is a funny looking fighter with an attitude.

A functioning spacecraft doesn’t just mean “access to a lot of vacuum”. It means access to enormous amounts of technology, information, and possibly weaponry.

Of course, if that stuff worked… why hadn’t the gods of artifice and world-jumpers introduced it? The Forgotten Realms don’t support slow-and-steady scientific progress. It’s a world of superhuman intellects, skills far beyond what any human has ever had, divination, dimensional travel, and gods for every topic. If it’s not being used… it probably will not work.

…How unlikely is it for heroes to be the first one to find an exploit REALLY? I mean, someone simply has to be the first. The History of Humanity has always included the very same elements that make up the computer I’m typing this on (as refined etc. as they are)… And yet, computers sure didn’t exist at the dawn of humanity…

How unlikely is it for the player characters to be the first ones to find an exploit?

  • Does the setting include entities (whether Gods, Elder Races, Dimensional Travelers, Experienced Elder Characters) who know more, or have better sources of information than the player characters do? Why have all of them missed whatever-it-is?
  • Does the setting have a long history or is it very large? (For example, in many sci-fi games… quadrillions of Galaxies, each with many races which may be billions of years old?). Even just a few thousand years generally means that a LOT of similar characters have existed before.
  • Does it have a established list of developed spells, abilities, and technologies beyond what the characters have already mastered or longer than the characters contributions and developments? Then other characters have done more research and development than they have.
  • Have there been elder civilizations or races that reached peaks beyond the current state of the art?
  • Are the Player Characters devoting their time to adventuring rather than to doing research and development? The PLAYER reading about something on an optimization board or paging through the rulebook won’t help the CHARACTER come up with it.

If ANY of those apply… then it is vanishingly unlikely that the player characters will stumble across even a single major breakthrough or “exploit” that has been missed up until now.

Someone does indeed need to be first. For computers – which are not, by the way, “exploits” (those tend to be unexpected interactions, editing failures, misreadings, and game master errors) – there were many centuries of development by tens of thousands of people making incremental advancements. I really doubt that anyone wants to play out that process. Now if they wish to be fantasy innovaters… that’s what a “Founders” campaign is about. Otherwise… making even one original discovery is kind of unlikely. More than that becomes increasingly implausible.

I do tend to make exceptions for those players and characters who possess exceptional intelligence, knowledge, skill, and power and who then use them to attempt some experiment so insanely reckless that no one in their right mind would try it in a million years – but in that case I’m assuming that the few NPC’s who achieved the power to attempt such insanity knew better than to do it. If the character survives the resulting risk of death and (un-)healthy dose of catastrophe… well, they’ve earned some new knowledge. Still, that’s just me keeping the game exciting and rewarding in-character effort and player thought about the setting – not rewarding a player who’s been poring over the rulebooks and looking on the internet.

…Eh, I can get behind most of that… At least as long as the DM allows character rerolls. There is killing off a character you don’t like (which already sucks) and then there is making a player stick with a character that sucks because you made him magically out-of-nowhere suck…

Well, we are sort of before picking a particular system in these articles; that’s why the examples are from many different games. For that matter… while there are some settings – like the aforementioned World Tree – that are tied to their rules systems so tightly that they’d be quite hard to run otherwise – the Forgotten Realms really isn’t one of them. You could use the Forgotten Realms setting just fine without using AD&D or d20. You could use Baba Yaga, or GURPS, or ACE, or any of dozens of other systems since the setting itself doesn’t really rely on a specific set of rules.

As far as “allowing character rerolls” goes. I’m assuming that you mean making a new character if you’re not happy with the old one.

Really, as I’ve already noted, the players generally have more power over the game than the game master does. If you’re not having fun with the game, why play? The game master cannot make you play at all, much less make you play a character you’re not happy with. I’ve walked out of quite a few games that were boring or nonsensical when the game master refused to address those problems. On more than onc occasion the rest of the players have followed me. For an example of that… I was one of a group of players who concluded that one game masters current extra-dimensional adventure was neither interesting, coherent, or enjoyable – and the game master was refusing to reconsider any part of it or offer any alternative. Ergo the player group announced that our characters were now having a drink at the bar in their home town, talking about how lucky they’d been to find a handy gate out of that trap-dimension, and looking for another adventure to go on – and would be doing so regardless of what the game master said was happening until an adventure that we were interested in came up.

Some game masters will accept that no one is interested and go on to something else. Others will not. In this case… that particular game master stormed out. We simply took the existing characters, picked a new game master, and started another game.

He came back a few weeks later and joined the new game as a player.

No one can game master without players – but the players can always find or pick a new game master, rotate the task, or even play without one for quite some time.

…I feel like a lot of it is a nonissue unless someone is entirely uncooperative…

Very true. Unfortunately, however, a LOT of players can be entirely uncooperative on occasion – especially if they’ve got some idea in mind.

and finally:

…(btw, are you sure he didn’t mean Top Cow from Image Comics?).

Presumably this is in reference to Ballistic (from back in 2004, 4’th edition Hero System). Since I never did actually see any of the player’s source materials I really couldn’t say.

Of course, the major problem was that Ballistic apparently came from a fairly grim-and-gritty world, where powers were rare, people might spend months in agony in hospital burn wards, thousands of people could easily be murdered and disappear without a trace, and so on. Unfortunately, she was being imported into the Emergence setting, which stated that college degrees in magic were quite normal and most professionals used at least small spells (classical hedge magic and commercially available talismans ran up to ten active points, characters with talent or professional training could hit twenty, and rituals or those with magical ancestry could go even higher), that ghosts were common and could testify in court, and so on.

This meant that pretty much any injury or normal disease could be healed in a few minutes (It did take a ritual and a few hours to restore missing limbs and such), that the ghosts of murder victims commonly went to the police to complain about their deaths, that many kids could fly, that the weak and elderly often used telekinesis spells to handle tasks, that high-rise construction workers usually carried safe-fall charms, that long-term care (and hospitals) were pretty much nonexistent, and so on. The setting simply was not grim and gritty.

The player insisted on Ballistic being pursued by an evil corporation that was secretly murdering thousands of people and successfully covering it up in pursuit of researching things that had been commonly available via magic for centuries, on having enemies who were hunting his character because he’d put them in the hospital in agony for months (despite the lack of hospitals and long-term injuries once you reached an EMT or competent tribal shaman), and on lots of other details that simply were not consistent with the setting. He never did accept the fact that the setting simply did not match up with the setting of the comic book that he wanted to emulate or that – as a consequence – many of his characters “enemies” and most of her “history” didn’t actually exist.

That, of course, was what made the player and Ballistic a good bad example. He played… but he never really caught on to the fact that the rest of the characters considered his character an occasionally-useful madwoman.

And, for those who have gotten this far… hopefully that’s been at least thought-provoking!

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part V; Narrative Feats

  • For Part I – the Basic Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates – Click HERE.
  • For Part II – Advanced Pulp Powers Part I – Click HERE.
  • For Part III – Advanced Pulp Powers Part II, Pulp Drugs, and Pulp Archetypes – Click HERE.
  • For Part IV – Buying Pulp Vehicles – Click HERE.

The situation looks hopeless! The spiked ceiling is descending, a vile henchman is taking the captured heroes out to sea to drop them overboard, or they are trapped in a warehouse, almost out of ammunition, and the army of thugs is closing in. Whatever the details, it looks like their tale is at an end. The only thing that can save them now is some contrived deus ex machina as the raw force of their heroic narrative carries them through. Will a henchman abruptly pull off a mask, revealing that he has been an ally “all along”? Will the cavalry arrive at the last moment? Will the Tyrannosaur eat the Raptors? For some pulp heroes, the answer is usually “Yes!” – no matter how unlikely that coincidental rescue may be.

So how do you spend your bonus pulp feat to focus narrative forces on your life like that? Well, there are a variety of possibilities for making your life more like an old-time Republic Serial or piece of… pulp fiction. You can buy…

  • Crazy Prepared: Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (six floating CP)/only to buy Immunities to particular unique characters, specific types of monsters, or similar groups, requires that the user do research and practice special techniques against the target group. In general, Uncommon (against a particular villain type), Severe (they do tend to kill you), and Minor (protects the user against twelve points of damage from each of the enemies attacks and from effects of up to level three (with a +4 bonus on saves against higher-level effects) as well as allowing the user to bypass up to ten points of damage reduction or other minor defenses). That costs 6 CP – and will give your hero quite an advantage against their chosen foe.
  • Destined Hero: Backed by either some supernatural force or bad writing, some pulp heroes make a habit of pulling off astounding (and usually never-to-be-repeated) stunts – albeit mostly only when backed into a corner or involved in a cliffhanger. This is usually Action Hero (Stunts), but Karma (which is more easily renewed, if far less versatile) may be a better choice in a slower-advancement game. If a character wants the forces of destiny to be even more reliable than that… he or she will want Luck with Bonus Uses, Specialized in a particular application such as saving throws, attacks, or skill checks.
  • Force Of Narrative: 1d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / only for Reality Editing, only to cause for unlikely plot twists (6 CP). This talent will let you do almost anything in the way of twisting the plot – albeit not very often. If you want to pull your tricks as a routine thing… you’ll want a far more specialized ability or to invest more points in Mana an in Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses to get the Mana back in a reasonable length of time.
  • Man of Mystery: Access to two Occult Skills (6 CP) – most likely two of the Action Skills from the Shadowed Galaxy setting. (I’d recommend that Stealing The Scene be one of them). This will basically let a Pulp Hero start off every session with a personal special effects budget – allowing him or her to reliably pull off a few special stunts every session.
  • Mirror Dance: Whether you have an archenemy, oppose some sinister cult, are a hunter of monsters, or are locked in battle with some conspiracy, whether you are driven by rage, an oath, or vengeance, you have a personal rogues gallery of enemies who appear over and over again – and whom you have become very, VERY, good at opposing. Take Favored Enemy or Favored Foe (6 CP).
  • Oathsworn: Your word is more than your bond; your oaths – whatever they’re sworn by – have genuine power. They influence events, sustain you in times of need, and shape reality on your behalf, driving you to fulfill your oath regardless of the cost. Inherent Spell/Questing Oath (A form of Malediction from The Practical Enchanter. Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / Only usable on yourself, only intervenes seven times, for a level nine base effect. A Questing Oath allows the user to swear to complete a specified and (relatively) immediate task – holding off a dragon, holding a pass, getting a group of villagers across a desert – as long as the task will (or at least should) take a month or less to complete. For the duration of the oath you only need a quarter of the usual food, drink, and sleep and will be assisted as needed by a level four spell effect of the game masters choice up to seven times – possibly including turning you into an undead if that seems required. You can only be sworn to a single task at a time and renouncing an uncompleted oath will cause the remaining spell effects to cause trouble for you at the worst possible times and keep you from swearing another oath for a year and a day – or until you undergo some suitable ritual ordeal of atonement and purification.
  • Signature Device: Do you have a mystic blade, some weird piece of alien technology, a compass that points towards your hearts desire, a key that opens any door, or some similar device? Buy Create Relic (Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only with points from Enthusiast, three point relics maximum, limited to a maximum list of (Int/3) specific relics (2 CP), Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (four floating CP) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for use in creating relics, only for (Int/3) specific relics, all relics must carry a disadvantage (4 CP). If someone swipes your special gadget the special effect is usually that you get it back somehow (rather than just dissolving and recreating it) between adventures, but the effect is pretty much the same.
  • Soliloquy: Some heroes – especially in western graphic novels – can do astounding amounts of talking in the time it takes to throw a punch. If you happen to be one of those, and want to have the action pause while you make a dramatic speech, attempt some negotiation, or offer a bribe, then what you want is Reflex Training/Three extra actions per day variant, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (you get to make a full speech and observe the reactions) / only for communications actions.

Obviously enough many other abilities can fit a Pulp Hero – take Acrobatics to allow even more impressive stunts, Adept for those academics who want to have heaps of skills, Augmented Bonus to boost your existing talents, Berserker for the great brawlers, Cloaking for those never-unmasked mystery men, a Companion to gain a mighty mount, Damage Reduction or Grant of Aid to be tough as nails, Lore to become known as “Mr Exposition”, Mana with the Resilience option to power Martial Arts C’hi Powers, Mystic Artist to inspire with Oratory, Reflex Training to keep escaping explosions and death traps, Returning to come back again and again, Sanctum to build your own secret base, Traceless to leave no clues behind, Track to shadow your opponents through the streets, and various Combat Enhancements to be even more badass. You can even learn a little Channeling to repel the supernatural. Study the use of Ritual Magic, and learn the Martial Arts – but that’s about as far as it should go. Beyond that point… you are crossing over into superhero territory. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, the point was to be a pulp hero, not a comic book super-hero.

For the game masters side… you’ll want mad scientists of subtle, creepy, mystics instead of flashy super-powers, hidden lands filled with creatures and cultures from the distant past, weird vehicles, foreigners, criminals, and traitors who are undermining the heroes good, upright, and proper culture and morality, individual heroes versus swarms of faceless thugs with weird unique leaders, cliffhangers, occult mysteries, and ancient tombs/temples/ruins full of traps. If you need a list of sources, TV Tropes has a lot of them – but it also has a tendency to suck up hours of your time, so proceed with caution.

And that’s really about it for the pulps – unless I happen to have the urge to build some pulp heroes or there are some questions to inspire a further article.