Mystic Links and Sympathetic Magic Part II

And to continue from Part I

Class-4 Links:

Things the target made come next. A book they wrote (unless, of course, it turns out to be a hoax or the product of a ghost writer. Mass publication versions are generally reduced to Class-2), a home they built, a place – perhaps their study or workshop – that they made theirs over the years or a masterpiece they sculpted. These would not exist without their creator – and so the link is strong and unique. Such a link can be used to find the target, to determine if they are all right or if something is warping them, to transmit a healing effect to them (“puppet healing”) or it could be used to contact their spirit with a séance. Do you get a sense of a craftsman’s personality and presence from their workshop, or “hear” an authors voice in his or her works? Some people would say that that’s just a combination of deduction and imagination. A sympathetic mage knows it to be the lingering touch of the spirit reaching across the links that it has forged.

Psychics looking for lost people, spiritualists conducting seances, people seeking revealing dreams by tucking some memento beneath their pillow, successors tearing down a hated prior rulers monuments and erasing all records of their achievements in the belief that this will somehow harm their predecessor, inexperienced swordsmen hoping that the hand of the master who made their sword will guide their hand in battle… all of them are attempting to exploit mystic links at this level.

This sort of thing tends to be mostly the province of investigators and researchers. Can someone “read between the lines” and extract more information from someone’s diary than it actually contains? Can they sleep in the slain wizards workroom and hear his or her voice offering wisdom from beyond the grave? Can the psychic find the long-hidden treasures hidden in the crypts, or ask an ancient pharaoh’s spirit how he defeated the Lovecraftian Horrors when they last rose to invade four thousand years ago?

Secondarily, however… haunted weapons and spiritual touchstones – items which are linked to a spirit and which allow it to help, hinder, or simply influence the current bearer – are standard elements in fantasy fiction. Thus the television version of Hrothbert of Bainbridge (AKA Harry Dresden’s magical advisor “Bob”) and his bond with his old skull – or the Japanese legends or murdered smiths who haunt the swords they made until their wielders avenge the swordsmith’s murder. Is one of Voldemort’s Horcrux’s from the Harry Potter novels really much more than this with a minor enchantment to embed a few of his hit points in the item?

Pele’s Curse” may be a modern myth rather than an ancient one, but it fits in here. Pele – the Volcano Goddess of the Hawaiian Islands – is said exploit the crafter’s link to send bad luck to anyone who carries off any of the stones she works so hard to create. Presumably she’s at war with whatever god is responsible for Erosion too.

  • A Class-4 (or -5) link also offers the possibility of Possession when a powerful spirit overrides a weaker (or badly conflicted) mind. Such instances can use the rules for Cursed Lycanthropes. A blade linked to a vengeful spirit might be easy to use, but it’s hardly safe.
  • Class-4 Links are usually good for 2d4 major uses and are notable for allowing subtle spiritual influences to pass over them without damaging the link. The actual passage of a spirit, however, is a fairly major event and does damage the link. Even if your murdered father passed on the six-fingered sword he forged to you, and helps you wield it effectively… there will only be so many times that he can directly intervene on the material plane to save you. You can, however, get all the advice-filled dreams that he wants to send you.
  • Blocking the use of Class-4 links without damaging the item in question is tricky, simply because such an effect needs to be applied to the item in question rather than whoever happens to be using it. A level two effect will work for a few moments – long enough, say, to transfer an item to some form of secure containment. A level four effect (such as Exorcise) will work for a full hour (but no longer since there is no spirit in the item to resist the return) and a level five effect for a full day.
  • Breaking a Class-4 link is often surprisingly easy. All you need to do is to rework whatever-it-is. Reforge that sword, or enchant it. Rebuild the house. Expurgate the book and fill in the missing bits with other people’s ideas. Breaking such links without damaging the item is much trickier, and tends to call for sixth level effects.
  • Amplifying a Class-4 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit 1d3 Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-5 Links:

Items that the Target invested themselves – their time, life, and emotions (or, in the case of Relics, their character points) – in come next. Did a man cling to the house he built and live out his days there? Is your link a bundle of old love letters from an intense romance? A personal diary, into which the target poured their hopes, dreams, and most emotional memories? A book they wrote about some passionate interest? The weapon which killed them, their wedding ring, or some other item bound up with a major part of their lives? A Relic they created? Did two people swear Blood Brotherhood and really mean it and live up to it? Of perhaps they are mystic twins? On a larger scale, what about the revered battlefield where some great empire was founded and declared? Such things are powerful links indeed – often enough to allow a spirit residing on the outer planes to manifest or channel power through into the material world without straining the link.

Also in this category we have “Love’s Pain” (The Book Of Vile Darkness) – one of the more infamously bad examples of using link-based magic in d20. All you needed was someone who dearly loved your Target (which could be artificially induced with other spells since there was nothing in the rules about “True” Love), and a way to fix Intelligence Damage (pretty trivial) – and you could remotely annihilate any creature that did not have Immediate-Action or Precognitive access to an Antimagic Field. And it was only level three. This was promptly banned by every sensible game master (or at least I never saw anyone who allowed it as written). These rules will help somewhat – an artificially-induced emotion won’t create a link without time and interaction with the target – but it’s still far too low a level.

I gave a nod to the same idea with the level nine Deathlink spell (Paths of Power II or Complete) – but it had a ten minute casting time, did less damage, required the ritual sacrifice of another being of the same race, allowed spell resistance, and – if the target saved – it knew where the sacrifice was being made and got to see who was attacking him or her. Honestly… you were much better off summoning a creature and using a Baleful Teleport or something to send it to attack someone. Deathlink was more of warning shot, or an announcement that “Hey! You! I AM COMING FOR YOU!”, or perhaps a softening-up attack then it was a real attempt to kill any foe who was worth spending a ninth level spell on.

Eclipse includes Ties Of The Blood among the level ten spells – a ritual effect that calls for “ a material item with psychic or physical link to the target. A favored watch or piece of cloth the target has worn will do, but hair is better, and blood is best”. It lets the caster transmit up to three level four and under spells to the target at any range, and across dimensional barriers, if they’re cast within the next one minute. Especially good ingredients increase the spell level limit to 5, while poor ones reduce it to 3. Higher-level variants can transmit higher-level spells at +2 spell levels per +1 level of the spells transmitted. Importantly, it the spell uses up the material used as a link – so you can’t just keep casting it over and over again.

Ties Of The Blood is a wonderful way of disposing of treacherous flunkies and other relatively minor annoyances (or perhaps a way to teleport them to you) – but, once again, you’re throwing around epic level magic and hours worth of the time of an epic level spellcaster to launch a few relatively low level effects. It’s certainly impressive to see the flunky you forced to betray the Dark Lord start screaming “No! Master! Please! FORGIVE ME!” before being plane shifted to the abyss to become a demon-plaything when the Dark Lord is still a thousand miles away, but it’s really not a worthwhile combat tactic.

Those limitations are quite intentional. Sympathetic Magic has always been a way for those who are unable to get back at an enemy or influence the outcome of events in any other way to tell themselves that they were actually doing something effective. Actually making it effective though… that’s asking for a thousand minor spellcasters to take down your Dark Emperor. How many present-day politicians would still be around if sympathetic magic actually worked as advertised?

Now, if you want a cantankerous – but not technically undead – spirit haunting a house, such as Captain Daniel Gregg in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), this is the route to go. The spirit can hang around, perform various minor tricks, and complain about annoying adventurers in his house pretty much indefinitely – but trying to do things like call in his ghostly crew will soon exhaust his powers.

  • Class-5 Links are usually good for 2d4+1 major uses and allow major spiritual energies and minor magical ones (prestidigitation effects) to pass over them without damaging the link. While major spirits will still expend a use to pass over, mere mortal ghosts can come through and hang around as long as they please. Anyone possessing a Class-5 link can use it to locate the owner, to determine if he or she is still alive and his or her status, and various other personal details with minor rituals. Similarly, prayers and similar communications pass over such links with no problems.
  • Blocking the use of Class-5 links is difficult. Blocking incoming links requires the use of a level five effect for an hour and a level six effect for a full day. It’s rarely important though; the nature of Class-5 links is such that they’re most often foci for an entity trying to exert its will on or around the linked item. If such attempts are unwelcome, you can simply leave said item behind. Attempting to use such an item to influence the creator is possible – but if you can reasonably get a hold of someone’s most cherished possessions in the first place you can probably deal with them directly.
  • Breaking a Class-5 link is – once again – fairly easy. Destroy the linked item. Breaking such a link without doing that is much harder, calling for a seventh level effect.
  • Amplifying a Class-5 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 3+/5+/7+/9+ can transmit 1d3 Zero Level/First Level/Second/Third Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-6 Links

Things that were once a true part of the target are next. A brick from a castle wall, fingernail clippings, hairs, blood, or teeth from the target… These are some of the most powerful links commonly available. (Bodily wastes would come in here, but they’ve been rejected by the body and expelled – and so their link is greatly attenuated). Perhaps best of all… a piece of a child’s placenta, carrying it’s DNA. That’s both a part of it’s body and the physical manifestation of the link with its mother that gave it life. Now we are cooking with magic gas. Even a minor mage could use such a link to manipulate the target in all sorts of ways or to tap into their power (as in, for example, The Tales Of Alvin Maker). Classically having access to a detailed horoscope of a target might count on this level – after all, you were laying your hands upon their very destiny – but these days the stars usually aren’t credited with having THAT much influence on people. Class-6 Links are generally good for at least 2D4+2 uses before their power fades – and they can transmit cantrip-level effects without strain up to once an hour, including the variegated results of spells such as Polypurpose Panacea and it’s reverse, with a minor ritual.

Sympathetic Magic at this level is a standard part of many game systems with more subtle magic, such as Shadowrun, Fantasy Wargaming, and World Tree – but generally isn’t easy, requiring either lots of time and resources or special training to use. In d20, this is how a soul binds to the body – explaining the limitations of the Clone spell, the need to have a body part to perform a Resurrection, and why the creature being resurrected will gain some knowledge of who is doing it and why. Using that link to draw a spirit back from the outer planes weakens the link unless greater magics are used – and so the spirit hangs on to the body less well – “losing a level”.

This is also where we find Correspondence Tablesmassive lists of the magical properties of various items, times, astronomical events, and many other items. Each proper correspondence included enhances appropriate magic. Thus, using a WAND made of CHESTNUT with a RUBY tip polished with JUNIPER oil and a shaft inscribed with the norse rune KENAZ (Beacon or Torch) in RED while MARS is ascendant includes seven correspondences to fire – and so will lend considerable extra power to any fire magic that is cast using it. If properly made it will last indefinitely, just like the power of a Coat of Arms or Holy Symbol. (This is the sort of thing that the Ceremonial Magic rules in Continuum II were used to make, but few players are inclined to bother these days. Personally, if someone wanted to work on this sort of thing, I would certainly let them get some boosts out of it. After all, it requires involvement, interest, and at least a few minutes doing research).

Guardian Poppets are the primary answer to “blocking” links. You make a doll that looks like you, you add some of your blood, fingernails, skin scrapings, etc, to its construction, and you perform a small ritual to activate it – and until its link fails or the poppet is destroyed, it will suffer the effects of effects coming in over Class-0 to Class-6 links instead of you. Construct Poppets (use the statistics for a Poppet, a Soul-Bound Doll, or similar construct) can be “fed” additional bits of materials – not only disposing of lost hair and fingernail clippings and such safely but renewing the constructs link. For +300 GP it can be given Immunity to Cantrips. For +500/1500/3000 GP such a construct can also be given the ability to suffer the effects an individually-directed attack – a sword-blow, spell, poison, or whatever – for its master 1/2/3 times per day with the owner choosing when this effect activates. Unfortunately, a Guardian Poppet must be kept on or near the owner’s person to function properly, so they cannot entirely prevent the use of links to locate or scry on the user.

If a setting makes extensive use of mystic links, well, here is an obvious countermeasure – and one that’s pretty cheap and easy to obtain. Pretty much anyone (and any structure or place) of the slightest importance will probably be so protected, meaning that effective use of sympathetic magic will usually have to be subtle and indirect. Secondarily, this is a bit of a nerf for “save or suck” and “save or die” effects. After all… a Poppet generally can’t be struck dead, or suffer the effects of poison, or be level drained. I suppose someone could try to get really clever – using a Baleful Teleport or Maze effect against someone, letting it get diverted to the poppet, and then grabbing the Poppet to use it against it’s owner before the link fades or it gets replaced – but if someone is getting that elaborate, then good for them.

One version of Asahina Ninsei, Emperor of Rokugan, spent years having agents bring him bits of stone from all across his empire – and inlaid them into a great map of the country. Using those links, he gathered up the unused diffuse magical power of the land, the seas, and the sky, focused it – and channeled it out again to the various clans, reserving the ability to adjust how much power each clan received to run their magitech.

On a personal scale… perhaps a mage can use a bit of powdered dragon eggshell to draw on the power of the dragon that hatched from it, lending great strength to his or her spells – although it would probably be wise to make a deal with the dragon before trying this.

  • Blocking the use of Class-6 links is difficult. Blocking incoming links requires the use of a level six effect for an hour and a level seven effect for a full day. Of course, given the effectiveness of Guardian Poppets, there’s usually no point in doing so.
  • Breaking a Class-6 link is actually relatively easy; since they can transmit worthwhile effects and are usually simply bits of tissue. A fourth effect spell will do 3d4 damage (generally more than enough) to up to one item with a Class-6 link per level. A second level effect will do the same to any one such item.
  • Amplifying a Class-6 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit 1d4 Zero Level/First Level/Second/Third Level effects over such a link, but that’s the upper limit. This does, however, count as a single use of the link.

Class-7 Links

A living parent or child of the target is perhaps the potent link of all, combining very high levels of contagion, sympathy, and correspondence in one convenient emotion-laden package. Of course, such links work both ways – and using them is often pretty unethical. A Class-7 link can transmit first level effects up to once per hour and second level effects up to once per day without strain with a minor ritual – but whatever effects are used will affect both parties involved. Given that kids are rarely capable of surviving the kind of things that a worthwhile target can, this still isn’t a lot of use in inflicting damage without boosting the link substantially. Things like “Charm” or “Suggestion” are a much better bet. On the helpful side, however, leaving your kids with some priests while you go off to fight in a crusade may well get you some monitoring and remote help in emergencies.

Perhaps the most classic example here is sacrificing your firstborn – turning your child over to some monstrous being in payment for it using the link you have so provided to channel power to you. Of course, such links are incredibly dangerous – for if and when you die, that same link will let that being claim your soul as well. There is a reason why this is considered one of the most insane and depraved branches of black magic.

Karnel Thorn – a remarkably unpleasant mage – was noted for using spells involving mystic links. Perhaps his most infamous was the ninth level Porcine Polymorphism. It propagated over blood links, targeting an additional 3d6 individuals wherever they might be – first affecting children, then parents, then siblings, and then more distant relatives, affecting whoever the first target liked best in a group if it couldn’t get them all. It was, of course, permanent unless someone used very potent magic to remove it and forced it’s victims to act like pigs as their minds slowly degraded.

He also had a “Butcher Pig” spell.

Of course, he was a first edition character, but it’s the principle that matters.

  • The only other in-game distinction between a Class-6 and a Class-7 Link (besides benefits noted in specific spells, such as Deathlink) is that using a Class-7 Link will bypass the effects of a Guardian Poppet. The link is well enough tuned to recognize the real target.

Unclassed Links:

Finally, we active magical links – open channels set up to transmit magical energy – and what is arguably the ultimate link (if they actually exist in a given setting) – a creatures True Name. An expression of their essence, their destiny, and their history. In magical terms knowing a creature’s True Name is basically having a firm grip on one of it’s more vital internal organs. It’s not a link so much as it is being able to reach out and touch them at whim. It’s the old “The name is the thing” routine. Thus changing how your pronounced the “true name” of a thing can control or transform it.

At least in fiction and legend true names are used to summon, control, and banish various magical entities, are the vulnerable points of wizards, and grant the user many powers over what he or she names. Of course, if you don’t know the name you need… you are simply out of luck.

A True Name or active magical link has few inherent limitations – but most magical links are carefully limited by their creators while the effects of True Names depend on the setting – and True Names are notoriously difficult to acquire. In some settings only the Goddesses of Destiny, Motherhood, and Naming will know any individuals true name, for they and they alone whispered it in the fastnesses of their hearts when they were born. In others they are known initially only to those who meditate and seek within themselves to find them – and sharing them with another is perhaps the ultimate mark of trust. In other places, of course, it’s simply whatever you were named as a child – but if True Names actually mean very much in a setting, personal True Names are going to be well-hidden secrets.

Eclipse defaults to a watered-down version where knowing some things True Name simply gives you some bonuses when dealing with it, but that’s likely to vary with the setting. For example, Legends Of High Fantasy includes Quilopothic Magic (the magic of breaking the universe) with one of it’s arts being Namebreaking – magic involving using, bestowing, or altering True Names. As it says there…

Using Namebreaking on yourself is especially perilous; such changes well up from within rather than being imposed from without, and so tend to change the user’s memories, personality, and “real” physical structure. If a Sorcerer uses Namebreaking to give herself thick fur to survive being lost in the arctic, she’s likely to get claws, memories of being a native, and a predatory personality to go with it. She might be able to change back IF she remembers who she is – but will have to mentally reconstruct her old appearance. A simple “dispel” effect will not work; the old version is gone, the new one is what is currently “real”. In general, Namebreaking spells are a level or so higher than equivalent spells from other disciplines, but become one level easier if you know the true name of your target. All Namebreaking effects are necessarily single target.

  • I can’t really provide rules for Unclassed Links, since they’re set up in a variety of ways (usually Mystic Link in Eclipse, but there are other ways) and the nature of “True Names” is going to vary with each game and game master. Anyone tinkering with such things will just have to experiment and see what happens.

Sympathetic Magic through the editions in Dungeons and Dragons gets… complicated.

First Editions spell components often used classical magical concepts. Saltpeter was extracted from guano and was used to make gunpowder – ergo, with enough magical skill, you could use a bit of bat guano to create a massive explosion without all the bother of actually making a keg of gunpowder. A tiny “tin can telephone” could be used to send messages. Pearls could be dissolved to gain knowledge – “Pearls of Wisdom”. The game included explanations of where magical energy came from and how it was handled. Wizards did mysterious things with strange paraphernalia to produce effects that mundane characters did not understand. Thus the more complex spells had long casting times and were easily interrupted. A bucket of water, or being shoved, would ruin the mightiest spell – and they took long enough to cast that many of the enemy would have a chance to try something like that.

A lot of those details were dropped from Second Edition. The information on how magic was supposed to “work” turned into pure game mechanics. The ritualistic verbal and somatic components turned into ways to restrain spellcasters a bit and the physical components split into flavor text and expensive stuff that kept powerful spells from being used too often. The idea that varying the components would produce strange changes in the spell vanished too. Soon enough, nobody thought of spells as complex, delicate procedures involving delicately manipulating weird materials any more – which paved the way for the introduction of “concentration” and “standard action” spells.

Third Edition still listed some of the flavor text components – in part, I suspect, because older players expected them – but removed their mechanical impact with spell component pouches and/or “eschew materials”. No longer would spellcasters have to be carefully protected if they wanted to cast substantial spells – and no longer did wizards need to worry about backblast from setting off a Fireball in a confined place, or bouncing lightning bolts, or similar problems.

No longer had spellcasters spent years studying secret lore, learning lists of magical components and exotic procedures to use them. Now anyone could just decide to take a level in wizard this time.

Classical Contagion and Sympathy are extremely evocative, they (fairly obviously) fit in with traditional notions of magic, and they make a certain amount of “sense” to most people. In fact… an awful lot of people still think that way.

  • Have you encountered someone who, when someone tries to explain something technical to them using a simplified, symbolic, analogy – tries to poke holes in the analogy instead of considering the point? They’re attacking a simplified, symbolic, representation of something and believing that doing so has some real effect. They’re attempting to use sympathetic magic – and will usually believe that they’ve been successful.
  • Have you seen someone try to “disprove” an argument or statement by attacking the person making it in the belief that – if they can just associate the source with ideas that they are sure are wrong – it will somehow invalidate the point? As if associating two separate ideas will somehow make them be linked with each other? That’s the principle of Contagion.
  • How many people have little compulsive rituals that they perform because they feel that – if they do not – something will inevitably go wrong? They’re performing a ritual spell to ward off misfortune.

Magical Thinking is the normal state of affairs for much of humanity. Second Edition dropped most of the “how magic works” stuff in favor of pure game mechanics because entirely too many people thought that the magical references were real, and meaningful – and “satanic”.

Still, even in first edition… classical magic was never a major element of the game.

That’s for good reason.

Unfortunately, the major features of Magic using Sympathy and Contagion are not especially game friendly. It takes a lot of time and components to use, the player has to come up with a ritual, other characters generally have nothing to do while said ritual is being performed, and such rituals work from quite a long ways away.

So your target stayed at an inn last night. You show up for dinner, put your horse in the stables, and swipe a few hairs from your targets carriage-horses while you’re at it. You make some horse-dolls and prepare your rituals – one to scry on the horses, one to throw them into an utter panic, and one to cover your magical traces so no one can identify you after you retreat. The next day… your targets horses run away in the mountains, sending themselves, the carriage, and the target over a cliff – and you vanish, leaving none the wiser.

That’s interesting, and a classic bit of fantasy, and makes a good setup for the adventure of hunting down the evil cult or something – but by itself it isn’t going to make much of an adventure is it? Neither will using sympathetic magic to make it rain, or keep rats out of the granary. There is a reason why “Scry and Die” is so generally ill-regarded. “Blast from Afar” is even WORSE – as shown by “Love’s Pain”.

Adventures are about dealing with the dragon up close and personal – not about phoning it up and talking it into a trade or hypnotizing it from afar to compel it to move or give you a part of its horde. They’re about breaking the siege in battle or sneaking out to strike at the enemy leaders, not about conducting a ritual in a nice safe chamber and making the besiegers stores of food rot so that they have to go home.

Each edition has included a scattering of spells and powers that use (or at least refer to) the concepts of sympathetic magic – enough to be evocative and vaguely imply the use of mysterious powers of magic – but not enough to cause difficulties with the game.

That’s why Ritual Magic – in both the Legends Of High Fantasy and the Eclipse versions – is set up to generate quests and adventures in its own right, with actually performing the ritual being something of an afterthought, rather than trying to have it BE the adventure.

Now, the Legends of High Fantasy ritual system does include the following set of DC modifiers for “range”:

  • Target Present (-), Line of Sight (+5), Contagion Link (A portion of target/deeply personal possession, +10), Sympathetic Link (Pictures, items touched by target, +15), Descriptive Link (“The one who stole the sacred bloom”, +20), Extradimensional Target (Additional +5), Transtemporal Target (Extra +5/Postcognitive Effects, +10/Precognitive, and +15 /Actual Effects)

So it is possible to try the “blast from afar” approach – but that ritual system calls for GM-specified ritual components that the group must go out adventuring to obtain. User’s can’t simply bypass the need to adventure, they simply get to substitute a series of fetch-quests that they CAN manage for a confrontation that they may not be able to handle,

At least in Eclipse, the strongest readily available Sympathetic Magic build is the Witch – mostly because a Witches powers are usually pretty low level and won’t necessarily disrupt the setting. Thus a Witch can take:

Sympathetic Link. A master of this discipline may ignore the range limitations of Witchcraft (and possibly of other spells) as long as he or she possesses an appropriate material link to the target or is working through a familiar within range of the target. Hair, nail clippings, dried bloodstains, or family heirlooms are all common links, though for inanimate targets a small piece of their structure will do. Poor links, such as mere scrapings of blood or an old, forgotten piece of clothing grant the target a +5 bonus on their saving throw. A link may only be used 1d4+1 times before the sympathy is exhausted. Exceptionally good links, such as a piece of a childs placenta or fresh blood, are good for 2d4+2 uses and increase the DC of resisting by 3.

That can be pretty effective if you’re clever or the game master is permissive, but it takes a lot of work to break the setting with it.

I’m still not entirely happy with this one. As noted earlier, it wanders a lot, and – while it includes a lot of evocative ideas – doesn’t really include all that many hard rules because Sympathetic Magic simply doesn’t work that well in the game as a major element. Ah well. At least it’s covered.

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Considering D20 Diplomacy

There’s an important note on Diplomacy (and, for that matter, on Intimidate), at least in 3.5;

Attitude is not everything.

How do I know this? Where are the official rules on that?

Lets take a look at the examples in the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide to see what you can get when you change an NPC’s Attitude. It will take a little searching but the Dungeon Master’s Guide tells us…

Choose the attitude of an NPC or NPCs based on circumstances. Most people met in a neutral city are indifferent. Most guards are indifferent but suspicious, because that’s what’s expected of them.

It specifically mentions “suspicious”. So there are factors other than attitude which influence behavior. That seems reasonable. A cranky museum guide and a friendly one will both tend to do what museum guides are expected to do – but there will be notable differences in how helpful and informative they are.

If the thaumaturgist’s Diplomacy check adjusts the creature’s attitude to helpful (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), the creature will work for 50% of the standard fee, as long as the task is one that is not against its nature.

So altering attitudes will not convince a creature to forgo it’s needs and desires, to act against its “nature”, or to do things for free – although it may give you a price break on helping you out if it likes you.

Floating in serene contemplation in the center of the cloud island is a noble djinn (see page 115 of the Monster Manual). If characters capture her (by defeating her without killing her or driving her away), she will grant three wishes collectively to the party. She is eager to talk to visitors from the Material Plane, where she spent more than a century trapped by an evil wizard. If characters can improve her attitude to friendly (it starts out indifferent), she’ll offer the characters a bargain. She will grant three wishes to the party if the characters will first avenge her imprisonment by capturing the evil Material Plane conjurer and returning him to this cloud island, where the djinn will arrange for “long-term detention.”

So, while it wouldn’t really cost the Djinn anything to grant those wishes for free, she won’t do so even if you render her “friendly”. She’ll use them to ransom herself or to accomplish her own goals. Evidently her goals are important to her – and being friendly doesn’t mean giving away valuable stuff for free no matter HOW helpful that would be to the party.

Some hirelings might require hazard pay (perhaps as high as double normal pay) if placed in particularly dangerous situations. In addition to demanding hazard pay, hirelings placed in great danger might be unfriendly (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), but characters potentially can influence them to a better attitude and perhaps even talk them out of hazard pay.

So a good attitude doesn’t necessarily mean that your hirelings wont insist on price-gouging you, although “perhaps” you could talk them out of it.

And that’s about all the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us. That’s really quite enough though. It tells us that duties, beliefs, obligations, past experiences, personal desires, and the personal costs of various behaviors have a major impact on behavior – and may override attitude when it comes to any significant request.

In other words, the Dungeon Master’s Guide says to play NPC’s as people with their own goals – and that a glib tongue will only get you so far.

That’s fair enough. I know plenty of people that I like, but whom I know perfectly well are totally untrustworthy and have no intention of keeping any deals they make or repaying any money that they borrow. They’re personable, and they’re fun – but they’re incorrigible scam artists. Some of them brag about it.

Did that idea continue, or was it superseded by later sources like so many other rules? Lets look at what a much later book – the Dungeon Master’s Guide II – has for examples of Diplomacy in action

Drow Raiders: When first encountered, the initial attitude of these slave traders is hostile. Only the most charismatic of player characters (someone who makes a DC 35 Diplomacy check) can convince the dark elves not to attack. Even then, they’re likely to betray the characters at the first opportunity.

So Nature still trumps Diplomacy. The Drow are treacherous and (chaotic) evil, and no amount of diplomacy will change that one little bit.

“Dwarf Warriors: These dwarves are within a mile of the stronghold they call home. Their initial attitude is unfriendly unless one of the characters is also a dwarf, in which case their attitude is indifferent. At the very least, they want to escort the characters to their home for interrogation. The dwarves are not hostile and do not attack unless provoked. The characters can convince the dwarves to let them go on their way with a successful DC 25 Diplomacy check. A DC 40 check convinces the dwarves to give the PCs directions or invite them back to their home for a free night of dwarven hospitality and the opportunity to replenish supplies (and possibly purchase items of fine dwarf craftsmanship).”

Note that no check DC is listed for “getting free stuff” beyond a meal and a place to stay (basic hospitality), or for “abandoning your duties and coming along to help out”, or anything similar. These Dwarves have duties and a job, and will be doing it even if you DO seem like nice folks.

In the case of unusual cohorts, mounts, familiars, or animal companions, the guards call upon their commander for assistance and make sure that the suspect creature is well behaved and under the responsibility of its group. A DC 15 Diplomacy check convinces the guards of this, at which point they charge a 1-gp exotic animal tax for each unusual creature granted entrance to the city. If the Diplomacy check succeeds by 15 or more (in other words, if the travelers make a DC 30 check), the guards agree to charge the standard entry tax of 5 cp per individual instead. Obviously evil or dangerous creatures, such as undead and creatures of size Huge or larger, are flatly refused entry. If things begin to turn confrontational, four guards gather reinforcements from the watchtowers and alert the garrison.

So no amount of Diplomacy will make the guards violate their orders or admit obvious threats to their town’s well-being. More importantly, the next paragraph tells us that the guards are standard first level human warriors.

There’s a pretty obvious pattern there. It’s very easy (DC 15) to talk people into exercising what discretion they have in doing their jobs – but no amount of “diplomacy” short of mind control will talk them into doing something stupid.

Sure, there are the epic level rules for diplomacy – but even that (somewhat problematic) source says to

Treat the fanatic attitude as a mind-affecting enchantment effect for purposes of immunity, save bonuses, or being detected by the Sense Motive skill. Since it is nonmagical, it can’t be dispelled; however, any effect that suppresses or counters mind-affecting effects will affect it normally. A fanatic NPC’s attitude can’t be further adjusted by the use of skills.

Er… it’s not magic, but if I have a bonus that only works against magic, it works against it and it will be blocked by antimagic? I detect a writer who can’t make up his or her mind. Oh well.

In any case, now we know. From the beginning of 3.5 until the end “Friendly” meant that NPC’s would try to accommodate you within the limits of their jobs, duties, oaths, and responsibilities. That friendly bureaucrat would help you get the right forms, and explain them, and help you fill them out, and even try to expedite them through the system. He won’t just ignore his responsibilities though.

The d20 rules are there to help you simulate a fantasy world. Just as in reality, duties, promises, and oaths, obligations, common sense, and beliefs all play at least as large a role as whether or not they’re feeling helpful or hostile in determining what actual actions people take. Plenty of people have killed people they loved, felt personal loyalty to, and desperately wanted to help, out of duty, or because it would spare them pain, or shame, or dishonor, or out of a twisted notion of the best way to help them, because their families, or personal honor, or liege lords required it, or because their faith told them that it was their gods will. Plenty of other people have done good and helpful things for people that they detest for the same list of reasons. (You can ask any public defender about THAT). An executioner who likes you may carefully arrange the wood around your stake so that the smoke smothers you before you burn in agony – but executioners who let their personal feelings get in the way of doing their jobs quit early on. Others specifically stay because it lets them make the inevitable less painful.

Changing a non-player characters attitude may ot may not influence what they do, and is fairly likely to influence how they do it – but it certainly does not control it. At work I and many other people regularly deal, or have dealt with, with both people that we don’t much like, and with people that we do like – and very few of them know which category they’re in. They all get treated the same way because that is a part of the job. Whether or not we like the people involved is irrelevant to what we were hired to do – and we agreed to do it when we took the job. If we were not willing to do it… we would have found another job. People will go a bit further beyond what they’re supposed to do for the ones they like – but most people will do some of that just to show off how good they are. Simple professionalism places very strict limits to that in either case though.

So why does Diplomacy target NPC’s attitudes instead of – say – trying to get them to make a deal like THIS revision tries? It’s because simple skill checks generally cannot do much of anything to change an NPC’s duties, promises, oaths, obligations, presence (or lack) of common sense, beliefs, or notions of “honor”. Their attitude is about all you CAN affect.

And that is why the “Diplomancer” doesn’t actually work and why Diplomacy is not nearly as overpowered as many authors have claimed. Diplomacy can get your targets to hear you out and consider your words. It can even get them to want to help you – but you the player are still going to have to figure out how to wedge what YOU want into the targeted NPC’s web of responsibilities and social obligations in an acceptable fashion. Until you start doing mind-controlling magical skill stunts, there is no diplomacy check that will let you talk the museum guard into helping you steal the Mona Lisa just because he likes you. Talk him into letting you sneak in a camera? Very possible. Talk him into helping you steal it in exchange for a colossal bribe (enough to provide for his children, care for his ailing mother, and set up a new identity?) Maybe – if he’s somewhat corruptible already (thus not going against his nature) and you can present a good case for him being able to get away with it.

So what produced the notion that changing people’s attitude would utterly change their behavior to begin with? Admittedly, the various examples that demonstrate otherwise are a bit of a pain to find without a searchable PDF, but they’re there.

The answer lies in the way that the game is played. Players run their characters, the game master runs the world. Virtually all of the actual social interaction that the game master is trying to fit the NPC’s into is between the players, rather than between the player characters and the NPC’s.

Gaming involves a LOT of escapism. Players tend to treat their characters as being entirely free-willed, unburdened by responsibilities, lacking friends and family ties, outside of all social conventions, usually loyal only to each other (if generally only out of convenience) and their own self-image, having religious beliefs only insofar as they offer statistical bonuses, ignoring the law when it suits them, and so on. Even death is no real restraint; if a character doesn’t get brought back new ones are easy to make. Being a part of the world is seen as giving the game master free hooks with which to manipulate your character!

And so, for Player-Characters (who are almost assured of profit because that’s built into the game for them), “attitude” tends to be EVERYTHING. If they decide that they like the opposition better than the royalists, the characters are likely to start a civil war, leave the realm in rubble, get tens of thousands killed, and install a new government – and why not? Even if they recognize the hideous suffering and immense human cost… they can just plaster it over with a some vague statement about how their actions were in accord with their alignments. THEY will still get their levels and treasure, and that’s all that really matters to most player characters.

There are a LOT of problems with that (and I may get to them in another article), but given that sort of behavior template to go on, it’s no wonder that game masters – who have almost no time at all on the average to devote to their NPC’s motives – tend to slip into the same model. Their NPC’s HAVE no motives or goals outside of their attitude towards the player characters, and so changing their “attitude” is sufficient to make them do anything the player characters want.

If it would be a big change for some NPC to tell the Diplomancer that “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you today; I have to go home and take care of a sick kid” then you, as a game master, REALLY need to put a little more thought into your NPC’s. It will give your game a lot more interest and depth – and you’ll be a lot closer to what the rulebooks are telling you to do.

D20 and the Lyre of Building

And today it’s another question – and an examination of a very classic item; the Lyre of Building.

While it’s not quite feasible at his current level, I’d expect that Zhan (Levels -2 to 2, Levels 3-8) would benefit greatly from purchasing Siddhisyoga and using it with a Lyre of Building.

Of course, it’d be a bit awkward to have to make a Perform (string instruments) check with an absorbed magic item, but at worst that would necessitate taking Finesse – probably specialized and corrupted – to change it to a different sort of Perform check (ideally the one used in conjunction with Mystic Artist). Given that it’s easy to pump up skill bonuses, it’d be simplicity itself to get it high enough so as to never fail the DC 18 check. At that point, the sky’s the limit with regards to what can be made.

-Alzrius

The Lyre of Building is really hard to pass up isn’t it? A mere 13,000 GP and a reliable DC 18 Perform check (Say… 1 SP, +4 Charisma, +3 Pathfinder, and Specialized Mastery (3 CP) to “Take 10” if your game master won’t let you do so normally – and you can reliably do this at first level) and you can perform rather a lot of work per hour.

Lyre of Building: If the proper chords are struck, a single use of this lyre negates any attacks made against all inanimate construction (walls, roof, floor, and so on) within 300 feet. This includes the effects of a horn of blasting, a disintegrate spell, or an attack from a ram or similar siege weapon. The lyre can be used in this way once per day, with the protection lasting for 30 minutes.

The lyre is also useful with respect to building. Once a week its strings can be strummed so as to produce chords that magically construct buildings, mines, tunnels, ditches, or whatever. The effect produced in but 30 minutes of playing is equal to the work of 100 humans laboring for three days. Each hour after the first, a character playing the lyre must make a DC 18 Perform (string instruments) check. If it fails, she must stop and cannot play the lyre again for this purpose until a week has passed.

Faint transmutation; CL 6th; Craft Wondrous Item, fabricate; Price 13,000 gp; Weight 5 lb.

Er… Exactly how much work? Is it skilled work? How skilled? Is it done as if with tools? Are materials needed? If materials are needed, can they be raw materials as available in the surrounding area or do they need to be ready-to-use? How do you convert work-time into actual construction? And is there much of a point? After all, in d20 from the middle levels on up (where you might have this item) a standard medieval castle is only a little more defensible than a circus tent.

A large part of this is because the Lyre of Building is an early first edition legacy item – from before there WERE skills, or much of any rules about materials, or buying magical items, or wealth-by-level. It was also rather more limited in first (and second) edition; you got thirty minutes of construction per week, and a roll to see if you did it right – not a roll to see if you could keep on going after the first hour. It still didn’t translate well into the building system though, since that was based on costs and didn’t really mention the size of the work crews save for a note under digging ditches.

First edition did make it clear that “a day of work” was always eight hours long though, which at least gives us one figure – 2400 hours of work per half-hour, 4800 per hour.

That’s still a big, BIG, multiplier.

How skilled? It IS a powerful magical tool dedicated to a particular function – so I’ll presume that it gets a generic +5 bonus (since it’s a lot more expensive than a cheaper device that can simply summon swarms of unseen servants) and always takes 10 – giving it a check of “15″ unless the user opts to use his or her own (and presumably superior) skills instead.

For materials, stuff materializing out of nowhere is overpowered (who wants to build a platinum castle?), but calling for ready-to-use stockpiles pretty well eliminates most adventurous or military uses – so it looks like it should be able to use available raw materials, turning trees into lumber, outcroppings of stone into blocks, clay into bricks, and (in about the worst case) dirt into adobe. The work of doing so does count against the work it can accomplish though.

If you want to do anything too elaborate, you’ll need to either be, or consult, a competent architect and/or engineer. If you have no such skills you can just rely on the Lyre’s automatic “15″ check, which is enough to design serviceable basic structures.

That still leaves us with a major rules chasm between us and actually getting something done though; there really aren’t any rules for how many man-hours it takes to accomplish something except for Crafting and the castle books for 2.0 and 3.0 – and 3.0, at least, intentionally tried to downplay using magic for construction so that strongholds would still be money pits.

That’s not too surprising given how incredibly situational (and rarely useful) any kind of man-hour estimate is, but it’s still a problem.

Well, we shall work with what we’ve got.

According to the rules for Crafting… We can set the DC at 5 (the basic labor of building is pretty straightforward), so a +10 makes it 15. With the Check at 15, you get 225 SP worth of progress towards your goal per “week of work” (presumably 40 hours). That measure says that the basic “value added” rate for the Lyre is 2700 GP per hour. Sure, you’ll need to increase the cost of what you’re building by a third if you’re having to harvest and process raw materials (since those cost a third of the projects cost) – but that takes us to an effective (rounded down) 2000 GP per hour for creating buildings starting from nothing but locally available resources.

Taking that as the baseline, from the SRD’s building costs you can build two Simple Houses* per hour, a Grand House in two and a half hours, a Tower or a Moat with a Bridge in a day, a Mansion in two days, a Keep in three days, a Castle in ten days, and a Huge Castle in twenty days – presuming that you’re undead, or a construct, or otherwise have no objection to playing for twenty-four hours a day.

*Please note that a “simple house” is a good-sized stone dwelling with multiple rooms. If you are throwing together wattle-and-daub cottages for the peasants, or log cabins… what references I can find suggest about 80 man-hours and 200 man-hours respectively. That’s sixty cottages or twenty-four cabins per hour of playing – although they will be pretty minimal designs. to get fancy, just reduce the numbers.

How reasonable are these results? Well, buildings vary a LOT, but basic Motte-and-Bailey “castles” are surprisingly standardized – and according to some classical accounts 50 workmen could build a Motte-and-Bailey castle in about 40 days. That’s about three and a half hours for the Lyre. But it’s not like that figure has been well tested; it’s based on a scattering of notes from historical accounts from varying locations, situations, and structures.

Is there something that IS being tested? We’re in luck there! There is indeed!

Project Gueledon is using 13’th century techniques to build a 13’th century style castle, with a dry moat, curtain walls, corner towers, and a tower keep. It’s expected to take 50 workers a total of 25 years. I’ll presume they’re doing a modern, full-time, schedule; medevial workmen probably worked longer days, but they also had to take more time off for malingering, holy days, illnesses, injuries (a VERY big factor), and similar issues. Secomdarily, castles are only worked on during good weather, which lets out a third to almost half the year. So… 50 Workers x 25 Years x 250 work days per year x 8 hours per workday x 60% of the year = 1,500,000 hours. That’s 312 hours of playing, or about 13 days

Given the number of approximations involved in those calculations that’s really remarkably close – certainly close enough for game purposes.

So we have a reasonable approximation; the Lyre accomplishes about 2000 GP “worth” of work per hour of playing.

So how will that work out in whatever setting you’re using?

The next major problem with the Lyre of Building is that third edition turned it from a near-unique wonder out of legends into a common – and relatively cheap as far as magic items go – tool. After a certain point (and not even a particularly high level one) there’s little reason to build things in any other way unless you want to install some special magic or have other exotic methods available.

And that may be a good thing. Europe is full of structures that are many centuries old, and still standing. In a d20 world, on the other hand, there are adamantine blades, stone-smashing techniques, dragon attacks, stray elementals breaking stuff, iron golems wrecking the roads while walking about, and a thousand other menaces. Given the likely rate at which the infrastructure gets destroyed in a d20 universe it’s quite possible that the populace needs access to some Lyres of Building just to keep up.

From that point of view buying yourself a Lyre of Building may simply be a way of purchasing a lifestyle:

Lyre of Building: Characters who purchase this item get to live in very large and fancy houses or small palaces, in clean towns with nice buildings, little risk of fire, roman-style streets, aqueducts which provide fresh, clean, running water, drains which carry away the stench and the sewage, an adequately housed populace, and have many small luxuries, such as some competent servants. In addition, their holdings, dependents, and properties can be assumed to automatically survive the occasional dragon-raid, firebombing, earthquake, and similar disaster, entirely intact.

Why is that? It’s because a Lyre of Building means that “all inanimate construction (walls, roof, floor, and so on) within 300 feet” can be rendered invulnerable for half an hour each day.

Invulnerability. For half an hour. In a three hundred foot radius. Go ahead, let the epic Wrath of God spell rain down 500d6 of annihilation over the village. As long as everyone stays indoors they’ll all be fine. Are your shutters latched? Then the latch, the shutters, the hinges, and the wall around them will stand up to that rampaging dragon for half an hour.

How many other 13,000 GP items can accomplish THAT? Even if it is a bit special purpose? About the only comparable item in the game is the Rod of Security at 61,000 GP – and it can only affect 200 people, who must be holding hands, and only works once per week. Even then, it involves fleeing to a pocket dimension – and “not being there” has always been one of the best available defenses.

Most d20 battles are a lot shorter than thirty minutes. D20 is, after all, the game system that brought us “Rocket Tag”, “Scry-and-Die”, and many similar tactics.

Bridging at least a part of this disconnect is actually pretty simple though: just note the fairly obvious point that – regardless of the purely theoretical cost of building a major structure the old-fashioned way with hand labor – it’s actual cost is going to be based on “how much do the people with Lyres of Building want to charge?” – and that’s generally going to substantially less than the cost of getting your own Lyre and doing it yourself, although those few constructs and undead who can play straight through may get a premium for speed on larger structures.

They may not though; no one says that you can’t hire four guys with Lyres and quadruple your speed – or find a serious expert with better skills.

Either way though… that means that the towns are likely to have walls and citadels (they may not be very effective, but they’re nice and cheap!), oversized drains that rogues can hide in, basic water systems, and more. Even if those walls and citadels aren’t really much use, they’re cheap enough to get them anyway just for those rare occasions where they ARE useful.

Now if we want a more reasonable version…

Rod of the Imperator (CL6, 12,000 / 6000 GP, Moderate Transmutation, Craft Rod, Fabricate).

The Rod of the Imperator accomplishes construction and engineering work and provides simple services. It is capable of setting up camps, digging ditches, building bridges, cleaning, serving food, assembling locomotives, cleaning, fitting, quarrying stone, making mortar, harvesting trees, basic carpentry, mending clothing, mining and crudely smelting ore, helping men get their armor and weapons on (30 man-sized creatures or 10 horses may be so readied per action), repairing structures even as they are being attacked, and so on.

  • The Rod’s function has a range of three hundred feet. .
  • It can function for up to three hours per week. This use need not be continuous, but any usage is rounded up to the nearest full minute.
  • Each full action spent giving commands and pointing with the rod accomplishes ten man-hours of work if the user can make a DC 18 Perform / Oratory check. Failures accomplish nothing, but still count against the available time.
  • Such work is performed as if by a craftsman or servant equipped with the proper tools, using materials available in the area, and either “taking 15″ on any necessary skill checks or using the wielders relevant skill check. (Very complicated buildings may call for input from a professional architect).
  • If using a table of construction costs each round of use “purchases” 5 GP worth of work – although (if these are available in the setting) no one will be paying anything approaching that rate for any construction, any more than modern construction companies pay extra for moving earth by hand instead of using bulldozers. If set yourself up in a town or a city and can reliably make the necessary skill check you can reasonably expect to make 2d4 x 50 GP / Week – adding a d4 during times when such work is in great demand and subtracting a d4 during slack times.
  • Each round spent on performing repairs to structures or other inanimate objects repairs 5d6 points of damage
  • Variant forms occupy item slots (and usually use Craft Wondrous Item instead of Craft Rod), but may use other skills. For example, Architects Spectacles and Engineering Goggles both occupy the Face slot, but allow the use of Knowledge / Architecture and Engineering in place of Perform / Oratory.

There. That’s really useful and highly versatile – but it isn’t overwhelmingly world-wrecking or capable of defeating epic menaces. It will, however, set up a well-fortified camp each night, plug leaks in levees, dig tornado shelters in mere moments, perform swift repairs during a siege, and much more.

I may give Zhan something like that at higher levels, but not for a bit.

Eclipse – Reviews, Blocks, and Balance

For today it’s basically explaining some bits of Eclipse’s design – thanks to a question/objection brought up in this review (my thanks to the reviewer by the way). That’s most obliging of the reviewer actually; getting to a chance to explain why some of the design decisions in Eclipse were made is always interesting (That’s what the “d20 Failure Modes” series was all about really). That’s why, if there’s anything else which looks strange, I’ll be glad to explain why it’s in there.

In this case I’ve been given a chance to take a detailed look at the “Block” ability and at “Balance”.

First up it’s the Block ability, how it stacks up against other defenses and why it was designed the way it was.

Given that Eclipse is a point-buy system, the first thing to consider is the cost. Block – at low levels and at it’s base cost – is cheap but rather unreliable, can only be used against one attack a round, uses up the blocking characters attack of opportunity, and has upper limits of effect since it only provides “Great Immunity” (page 34) to an attack. In low level play, however, Great Immunity will generally suffice to stop any single attack. Thus at low levels Block is generally seen combined with Luck. The basic Block functions as a way to somewhat reduce the average damage taken (like AC, although the actual amount of protection is inferior to raising your AC to start with) and – with the use of the Luck ability – as a way to escape occasional overwhelming attacks.

At higher levels relying on Block as a regular defense is possible – but it is resource intensive; you’ll need to get more attacks of opportunity per round, to obtain a high reflex save, and to spend rather a lot on Block; you’ll want to take it for both Melee and Missile attacks, to improve the roll for each, and to get more uses (at least three per round) for each – for a total of 48 CP (or eight feats) – not counting what you spend on getting the extra attacks of opportunity and the high reflex save. This will, however, make you pretty hard to hurt with most attacks – barring rolling a “1” of course, which automatically fails saves.

Of course, investing that kind of resources in Armor Class will get you up to the point where anything that has a 10% or better chance of missing anyone else in the party will need a twenty to hit you. Investing those resources in Damage Reduction can get you up around 20/- against both physical attacks and energy.

At this point we need to consider various basic attack strategies against those defenses: While “Rely on a high BAB and moderately enhanced damage” is the standard attack mode at lower levels, at higher levels an assortment of variants enter play. Major attack modes to consider include:

  • Relying on a high BAB and moderately enhanced damage. This is, as noted above, the generic default option – and is reasonably effective against an AC defense, reasonably effective against a block defense (via the option to give up points from BAB to increase the DC of the the block check), and inflicts enough damage to be reasonably effective against a damage reduction defense.
  • Inflicting massive damage with a single attack. This fails versus an AC defense, can penetrate a Block defense with greatly reduced effect, and can easily overcome a Damage Reduction defense.
  • Making a large number of weaker attacks – possibly deploying companions or conjurations (an option open to melee builds in Eclipse). This fails versus a Damage Reduction defense, can penetrate an AC defense with greatly reduced effect, and can easily overcome a Block defense.

If a character has spent the points to learn to block magical attacks, we can consider two more possibilities – although this makes relying on Block more expensive again.

  • Use individually-targeted magical attacks, such as Magic Missile. These fail versus a Block defense (at least until you reach very high level attack spells, which will automatically overcome Blocks – although the user will still get a save bonus), can penetrate a Damage Reduction (“Energy resistance” – in Eclipse unrestricted Damage Reduction or some level of Immunity) defense with greatly reduced effect, and generally (magic does vary a lot) easily overcome an AC defense.
  • Use area effects: These are usually limited use and do intermediate amounts of damage – and generally bypass AC, Blocks, and most affordable Damage Reduction. Against these you’ll want other defenses.

As levels increase, AC differentials increase, Damage Reduction rises, and Blocks become more reliable – barring rolling a “1” of course, which automatically fails (comparable to the way that an AC defense always fails against a 20). Of course, Armor Class becomes more reliable as the spread of AC’s in the party expands – and Damage Reduction is inherently reliable to start with.

To avoid adding another level of calculations to combat Block has a fixed effect. It has a fixed DC specifically to make it activate unreliably at lower levels (and thus be comparable in average effect to a relatively low differential in AC or a modest amount of damage reduction) and to make it activate reliably at higher levels when other defenses are more substantial and there are more ways around it.

And that is why Block is designed the way it is. There may, of course, be more elegant ways – but this one did what I wanted without introducing any major new systems.

As far as balance issues go… there are always four factors there, one of which was also a major feature for ease-of-use.

  • First up (and perhaps most importantly), Eclipse was designed to be back-compatible with multiple versions of d20 – including 3.0, 3.5, Modern and Future – as well as being forward-compatible with anything else based on the d20 SRD. That allows players and game masters to use Eclipse while continuing to use conventional classes, sourcebooks, and creatures as desired. That’s why it isn’t really necessary to convert anything to Eclipse – although page 191 does include a rule for applying a quick veneer of customization to standard monsters and characters if Eclipse is in play.

Thus there’s actually no need to “break down” anything in Pathfinder for Eclipse; you can freely mix Eclipse and Pathfinder characters and creatures, or allow Pathfinder characters to build their own bonus feats with Eclipse, or use standard Pathfinder builds up to a point and give the players the option to build their levels from then on with Eclipse. I only bother breaking down Pathfinder or third-party material because it’s requested – and because I find it somewhat gratifying that Eclipse can reproduce classes and races published long after it was.

Unfortunately, back-compatibility meant accepting a selection of “balance” problems inherited from the source material – whether from the SRD classes, races, and creatures, or from the need to be able to reproduce various “broken” builds and classes since there’s no universal agreement on what those are (except, perhaps, for Pun-Pun).

  • Secondarily, balance depends strongly on the setting; a thieving character with an inherent ability to become invisible for a short time twice a day and to use Knock twice a day has a fairly minor power in a mid-level fantasy game. In a d20 modern setting that’s normally no-magic he’d have a pair of astounding super powers. A character with a major army and set of fortifications at his or her command would be grossly unbalanced in most games – but is just fine for a Birthright-style game.

Thus in the Manifold setting characters are encouraged to take a variety of “abusive” options. After all, in a setting where battles are often between star fleets and a first level warrior type can have his own personal mecha and equip it with microfusion missiles, less militant characters can have a hard time competing. Even taking Godhood won’t necessarily do it (and we’ve had several player-character gods using the Eclipse rules for godhood in various games; it seems to work fine).

Since Eclipse is setting-independent, this sort of problem is inevitable – but it’s what the Campaign Options checklist and the stress on game master control is for; to eliminate the options that won’t work right in your setting (it really has nothing to do with the narrative of the game). It does call for looking over the list carefully though; if you’re running a “no magic” game you need to remember to check off “Inherent Spell” and similar options as well as magic levels.

  • Third is some intentional tweaking of the d20 power curves – and not just by flattening them a bit. For example, Witchcraft peaks in usefulness relatively early – and is far more useful later on to combative or stealthy characters than it is to magic-using characters. A martially-themed character who augments his or her abilities with a little Witchcraft will have a much wider range of options, and will remain competitive much longer, than a character who does not – and that is encouraged by the system by making Witchcraft quite cheap. A Rogue-type who spends some points on Witchcraft effectively loses a lot less than a Wizard-type who does the same; Rogues and Warrior-types tend more towards individual abilities than the sequential abilities of a Wizard-type – and so they miss individual abilities a lot less.

If you don’t want to do those things, the Campaign Options checklist is once again your friend. You simply ban the options that don’t fit your game – just as the original Dragonlance setting banned clerical magic.

  • Fourth, a certain amount of “game balance” is always subjective. Things that strike one game master as being “balanced” will strike others as being “unbalanced” – and there’s no game-mechanical cure for that, just as there’s no game-mechanical solution to players who insist on making inappropriate characters or keep trying to spoil the game for everyone else.

That’s why there’s an afterword on the topic in Eclipse – mostly with the observation that it’s hard to find much more perfect balance than “everyone uses the same list of abilities and the same costs”.

I appreciate “broken” characters too; there’s a page about optimized and broken builds as a resource; with any luck the reviewer will let me know what builds broke easily so that I can add any new ones to what’s already there. If anyone is interested, here’s a reasonably up-to-date index page for Eclipse races, templates, and characters.

Eclipse and the Tier System

For today, it’s a question from Alzrius

I only recently discovered the Tier System for classes in D&D 3.5, by one of the guys over at Brilliant Gameologists, and was wondering what you thought of it.

Looking it over (the second post seems to be the most insightful), this is basically a system for ranking classes based on two factors: 1) How many relevant options they can exercise in *any* given situation (or perhaps it’s better to say “in *every* possible situation”), and 2) how powerful those options are. As you probably guessed, full-progression spellcasters that don’t have a limit to how many spells they can know top the list.

I have to admit, I find this to be a very insightful breakdown of the various classes, particularly in terms of its analysis regarding what these differing tiers mean in the context of practical game-play (particularly what the GM can expect, and should prepare for, if the players use differing-tier classes in his campaign).

-Alzrius

The Wizard of Oz as pictured in The Wonderful ...

Stop looking behind the curtain!

Well… I’ve run across the Tier system before, but – to be honest – I’ve never really had that much use for it. Most obviously, that’s because most of my games use classless systems, which makes the entire notion of Class Tiers something of a moot point. There are several more subtle reasons though, mostly revolving around the conditions under which it operates. The Tier system can be very, VERY, useful to those who are playing a classed d20 game “straight” – that is to say, when…

  • Most of the stuff from a fair number of “official” books is allowed, including at least a few badly written or edited bits*.
  • There are no special world-laws that restrict problematic abilities or other major modifications to the classes.
  • The “party” is an automatic association, instead of simply being a current group of characters (possibly one of many) with reasons to work together.
  • The game follows the default d20 pattern – a few sessions worth of self-contained set-piece challenge-rating-appropriate encounters and then a “boss fight” (and usually a level up), with a few bits of gather-information, find-the-mcguffin, social-persuasion, and bypass-the-obstacle activities thrown in along the way.
  • The game continues to relatively high levels. After all, comparing a fourth-level Wizard or Cleric to a fourth-level (whatever) is usually not all that much like comparing an eighteenth-level Wizard or Cleric to an eighteenth level (whatever).
  • The game master is handing out per-level treasure normally, and is either putting in plenty of downtime for spell research and crafting or is allowing magic-shopping.
  • And (of course) that the game is not using Eclipse or another classless system.

In that case the Tier system is reasonably accurate – and can be EXTREMELY helpful. After all, “default games” are very common; an awful lot of game masters have neither the time, nor the inspiration, to invent a world, sort through a mountain of sourcebooks for what to allow, create world laws, let parties self-select from a pool of characters rather than simply having everyone make a character, and adjust the game to complicate things or to keep things at their preferred levels. For them, the Tier system is an excellent guide to what to expect and what to watch out for.

There’s a lot of fun to be had that way – but I generally do take the time. In addition..

  • I’m not much for “level appropriate encounters”. I’ve found that it’s usually MUCH more interesting to let the players discover a strange problem, follow trails of clues to figure out exactly what it is, find that it’s far beyond their ability to deal with directly, gather information, either come up with a plan to exploit a vulnerability they’ve uncovered or gather the resources they need to implement whatever solution they come up with, and then try to pull out a victory. With that kind of adventure structure it really doesn’t matter much how powerful any individual character is; every character can find useful (and often vital) things to do, given that the “Tier 1” types can’t be everywhere at once and that they’re sorting out their own missions (which will, of course, be tailored to their particular abilities). That way special resources – such as connections and character-tailored unique items – often matter more than having an impressive range of personal powers to use. There’s an example of that over HERE.
  • I’ve allowed various freeform magic systems since the late 70’s – albeit usually limited by theme. Over that time I’ve found that cleverly applied minor abilities usually outperform poorly-applied raw power – and my games tend to make small, themed, freeform magics available to anyone who wants them. Of course, when you misuse freeform abilities, or apply more traditional talents in creative and unusual ways, there’s always a chance that things will go spectacularly wrong. Similarly, most of my games since the late 70’s have allowed some form of special talent system – something which makes little difference to a powerful character, but helps a lot with weaker ones. That also means that I’ve had a LOT of practice evaluating proposed spells and powers – which is why many of the spells and ability combinations that are favored as “win buttons” (for example, Shivering Touch) do not make it into my games. After all, if it was THAT easy, then those problems would have already been dealt with by other groups. Ergo it’s obviously not that easy – although discovering why may be an adventure in itself.
  • Problems in my games can usually be solved in many different ways – and the most workable solutions generally involve some sneaking and information gathering, some player deduction, some magic/psionics, some persuasion and negotiation, and sometimes some combat. Those tasks may be simultaneous in in different locations or they may call for a group effort (it depends a lot on how the players decide to handle a situation). When everyone can contribute in their own fashion, flexibility simply means that you get to handle whatever task it is that no one else wants to deal with (Congratulations! It’s probably the worst one!).
  • When there is combat, both the PC’s and the NPC’s in my games tend to use tactics. If the Wizard (or whatever) is really causing your side problems, than you focus your sides efforts on the Wizard and you take him or her out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Of course, the more high-level characters on both sides tend to have defense and escape effects ready – a major reason WHY those individuals have made it to high levels. That’s also why most of the “solve my problem” effects do not work on important people, serious problems, and major opponents. There are LOTS of people out there with special powers; if those important people, problems, and opponents could be dealt with so easily… they would have been dealt with long ago and they wouldn’t be important now.
  • I am throughly willing to play up the disadvantages of the various character types. Clerics had better be being very careful to stay in their gods good graces, Wizards had better look after that precious spellbook and make backups, and so on – and in the time they spend doing that, and in researching spells or making items, the rest of the party is likely to go adventuring without them (one reason why multiple characters are common). Freeform casters, or those pushing their powers, had best be prepared to deal with the possibly disastrous consequences of mistakes. If the enemy facing your party of wizards sensibly flees to a no-magic dimension… then the players will either have to play non-magical characters for a while to go after him or anticipate the eventual return of a well-prepared foe.
  • There is no strict division between “Player Character” and “Non-Player Character” in my games. The players often have multiple major characters, and equally often play secondary characters, or henchmen, or old characters from other players, or have characters retire (they sometimes play some of their children later, and sometimes they make guest appearances when the game hits something important to the character again), or simply take over NPC’s (whether temporarily or to develop one that they found interesting into a regular character). There are also quite often multiple parties, players on hold until they can start making it to sessions again, and players who want to sub-GM for a bit. This also means that parties sometimes reject particular characters, effectively putting them out of play. If the party thinks that a particular character is a pain… they do not have to take him or her along.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Tier system; it works just fine for it’s intended purpose. It’s just that it’s pretty much inapplicable to any of my games.

For some practical campaign-log examples of how things tend to go… I’d recommend the Shadowrun Yseult Sequence ( Part IPart II,Part IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIMapping InterludePart IXPart X, and Part XI – Aftermath.) – and, if you have lots of time, the Star Wars Codex log (although just the index is fairly long). The Federation-Apocalypse log is VERY incomplete, both because the game is still ongoing and because I ran out of time to keep the log up – but the last logged session was #201, so there’s plenty of material anyway. The Exalted Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice are also still ongoing, but the logs are up through session 135 (even if they are mostly from the viewpoint of a single character).

*It’s worth noting that many of the examples given for a Wizard easily solving problems have problems of their own, at least from my point of view. Again, that doesn’t mean that the Tier system is wrong – a high-level Wizard may (and probably will) have a vast array of powerful options available – but the most dramatic examples of overpowered spells and combinations of spells tend (pretty much by definition) to be among the “poorly written or edited” material, just like the worst examples of fighter feat combinations.

Thus…

  • Shivering Touch is blatantly poorly edited – Damage with a Duration? – and is very commonly disallowed as being absurdly overpowered. Lets see… Level 3, no save, 3d6 dexterity damage. Not only is this likely instant out-of-action for a lot of creatures, but it can be put into spell storing missiles. Get forty bowmen; they’re bound to get SOME twenties. Fortunately for Dragons in Eclipse they all have (of course) quite a lot of the Path of the Dragon – which means that they can take some spell absorption abilities very very easily indeed (along with a wide variety of other defenses). Thus a single problematic spell is much less of a problem in Eclipse.
  • Love’s Pain is only third level – and can thus easily be spammed. It damages whoever the target creature most loves, bypassing saves and spell resistance. How hard is it to, say, make a puppy love someone? If Love’s Pain works as described, anyone, anywhere, who isn’t immune to mind-affecting spells (right on up through the local gods) can be killed off at whim by any group who can scrape up the money for enough scrolls and get illusions that are good enough to fool a puppy. This wrecks most settings. While Eclipse, once again, offers a variety of defenses, the real answer is fairly simple; the ability to strike at a target anywhere in the multiverse calls for much, much, higher level magic – which is why Deathlink (which is similar, but more limited) from Paths of Power II is ninth level – and why the general ability to set up such a link to cast lesser spells over (in Eclipse; the Ties of Blood spell) starts off at tenth level. Ah well; even if you insist on using the spell as-is, at least in Eclipse there are plenty of defenses (and even some ways to reflect it back on the attacker).
  • Explosive Runes… Well, some particular rune must be read first yes? Won’t that kind of inhibit reading the next one even if the initial blast leaves the next set of runes intact and visible? Worse, if you write them identically – one set of runes directly over the last – only the top layer can be read at one time. If you don’t, then eventually they’ll be too much overlap for anyone to be able to read them at all. Admittedly, that kind of reasoning will only make sense to the people who consider setting-logic to be at least as important as rules-logic – but I happen to be one of those, and this IS a question about my opinions.
  • Sending in a horde of the mindless dead has it’s places – but unless you take some risks and supervise them somehow, a simple pit can take out hundreds of them.
  • There are reasons why Contact Other Plane is rarely used; it’s risky and it’s untrustworthy.
  • And really… Locate City Bomb? Even the most rules-bound game master will usually squelch that one. It involves blatant abuse of multiple items. Fortunately, in Eclipse, you can be pretty sure that it won’t work anyway. Just as an example, the Eye of the Dragon ability allows it’s possessors to automatically absorb spells that would affect them – and if they absorb an area effect, they negate it entirely. That’s a rare talent in the general population – but it’s out there. If your spell would negatively affect many thousands of people, there’s likely to be a roll-off to see who uses some special ability to negate it first.

And I hope that answers your question!

The Aegyptian Empire

 

 

  • First Was Ptah, the Opener of the Ways;
  • Striding Against Time to the Beginning.
  • The Waters Were Without Form and Void;
  • Lifeless, Dark, and Deep Beyond Measure.
  • The Breath of Ptah Stirred the Waters;
  • With the Ineffable Word of Creation.
  • The Sun Arose, Driving Back the Darkness;
  • And the Waters Dried, and Land Arose.
  • As Did the Gods, Mighty Beyond Imagining;
  • Yet Every Light Casts It’s Shadows.
  • About the Sacred Lands, the Nile Valley;
  • The Dark Waters Drew Back Yet Further.
  • Barbarian Lands Arose from the Waters;
  • Shadows of Men and Beasts Cast and Mingled
  • The Shining Gods Too Cast Their Shadows;
  • At the Ends of the Earth, Demons Rose.
  • Feeble Against the Glory of the Gods;
  • Yet Envious and Devoted to Destruction.
  • Beneath the Sheltering Mantles of the Gods;
  • Bright and New Was the Youth of the World.
  • From Beyond the Walls of the World;
  • The Demons Whispered to the Barbarian Horde.
  • Appearing as Quarreling, Primitive Gods;
  • Teaching a Dark Shadow of the True Ways.
  • Marching Even to the Boundaries of Aegypt;
  • Bringing War and Blades of Iron Death.
  • The Dark Waters Came upon the Bright Gods;
  • Demons Flowing Hidden Within Barbarian Veins.
  • Power That Was Turned Against the Dark;
  • Was Entrapped, and Did Not Return to Them.
  • The Foundations of the Earth Tremble;
  • And Demons Press It’s Borders.
  • The Ancient Gods Are Crippled and Dying;
  • And the Heavens and Earth Die with Them.
  • We Stand Against That Dread Darkness;
  • We Go Unwilling into the Final Night.
  • For While We Aid and Sustain the Gods;
  • Reclaiming Their Immortality and Powers.
  • Aegypt Shall Endure, the Gods Rise Again;
  • And Our Children Live.
    All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

    Oh come on! Aren’t they magical nexi in pretty much every setting ever? There are some conventions that you just can’t break!

    Aegypt had been invaded before; the people of the Young Kingdoms – the Libyans, Nubians and Assyrians – had all launched attacks. There had been deaths, the sacking of villages and border towns, and sometimes that had even seized a village or two – but the magic of the priests of Aegypt reigned supreme. Waves of invaders had broken upon the bulwarks of the Gods, who’s might none might gainsay within the circles of the world.

But beyond the Borders of the Earth, the Shadows of the Gods, Apophis’s Spawn, watched and waited. To the Young Kingdoms they appeared as “Gods” of their own – primitive, unjust, and brawling, but theirs, as the distant powers of Aegypt were not. When Rome was founded in the Wild Lands, the hands of Apophis’ Spawn were upon it – and they concealed their power, the devouring strength of the Dark Waters beyond the World, in the blood and banners of it’s people, suckled upon the wolf’s teat.

 

When the Legions of Rome marched on Aegypt, the priests once again turned the primordial powers of the Gods against the invaders – but this time, as the Legions fell, the powers that were used against them were stolen by the lurking darkness, and did not return to the Gods. Their ancient might, the foundation and sustenance of the world, was shaken, and the earth shook with it, vomiting fire and ash to darken the skies. In every temple the priests saw dread portents and onrushing doom – for the Gods, bereft of the power to defy time, were suddenly senile, and dying – and the earth would perish with the Gods that sustained it.

 

But in that dark vision was a glimmer of hope; the power of the Gods could not be carried back into the void beyond the walls of creation. The demons who held it were trapped in their turn, caught within the circles of the Earth until the world’s end – which approached all too swiftly – or until they are slain, and the power they have stolen freed to return to the Gods. As for the Gods themselves… they could be sustained for a time by the meager energies of mortal men, offered to them through their altars, in contests, and in rituals.

 

And so sacrifices were offered up in a steady stream; a tithe of contests to invigorate, rituals to soothe, and lives to sustain, the gods while the people of Aegypt went forth to hunt down the Spawn of Apophis – and to conquer, to send resources back to Aegypt that the sacrifices might continue and the world be sustained thereby. Numidia, Italia, Macedonia, Galatia, and Judea, the Circle of the Young Kingdoms, all were gathered into the great Aegyptian Empire as sources of contests and sacrifices, as bases for suppling expeditions into the Wild Lands in pursuit of the Spawn, and as sources of slaves and taxes to support the great quest.

 

While unrest seethes within the conquered lands, and the beast-men of the wild lands follow demonic leaders and seize the chance to attack, many of the great Legions of Rome, Beastmasters of Numidia, Heroes of Macedonia, and even Visionaries from Galatia and Judea are called upon to join the great hunt. Sadly, some hear the siren call of rebellion more clearly – even if such a path leads ultimately to the destruction of the world. Still, if any effort of the People of Aegypt can be enough, the Gods, the Earth – and their Children – will live.

 

It’s always convenient to have some clear goals for a campaign. Here it’s pretty simple; maintain stability, sustain the gods, gather allies, and hunt down the Spawn of Apophis – or watch the world end. 

OK, maybe it’s not necessarily all that simple – but it’s certainly clear. 

On Magic:

 

Divine Magic: While the powers of the Gods, and the magic that their priests can draw from them if they must, are still the greatest force within the Circles of the World, the greater magics now require mighty rituals, contests, and sacrifices to replace the power that they draw from the gods – and their priests much devote a good deal of their time to soothing and maintaining their dying Gods. Lesser magics are still fairly readily available however, and extend to fourth level effects in the great temples of Aegypt, to third level effects in most of the world, to second level in areas of great desolation where the demons have had the most impact, and only to first level effects beyond the Walls of the World.

 

Arcane Magic draws on the power of the Spawn of Apophis – and even at it’s peak is normally a weak and feeble thing compared to the glories of the Gods. Arcane Spells of up to fourth level may be cast beyond the Walls of the World, spells of the third level may be cast in places of great desolation, of the second level in most of the world, of the first level in Aegypt, and they cannot be cast at all in the great temples of Aegypt. Worse, it invariably has corrupting and destructive side effects, whether on the user or the environment.

 

Psychic Powers draw on the user’s personal energies. Unfortunately, humans don’t have all that much of those, hence psychic powers are limited to lower-end Witchcraft and (after long training) second-level psionic effects.

 

A variety of secondary power sources – pyramids which concentrate the natural energies of the land to empower nymic (“heka”) magic, veins of crystal which store the power and magic of the Sun, and similar structures, items, and places, can also power magic – but their capacity is always limited and few can power effects of above second level – although the Great Pyramid can indeed power third level effects.

 

The population is generally human, and uses the basic rules for a human being unless otherwise noted.

 

The people of Aegypt are indeed the chosen folk (or at least the ones in the magical center of the world); they may all use a variety of lesser magical devices (Charms and Talismans, although it’s somewhat dependent on their social rank and role, 6 CP), they gain a second bonus feat (6 CP), they radiate Presence (an Inspiring Word aura affecting their allies. This also provides some social benefits among the other races, although everyone in Aegypt is used to it, 6 CP), and may practice any type of “magic” within the limits of the setting save for Arcane Magic and Shapeshifting. They may not, however, use “advanced” technologies – such as iron, siege engines, windmills, improved sails and ships, and so on; the Gods have shaped their society and their forms, and so shall it remain*. Their culture tends to be easygoing and fairly classical – which is why they’ve been forced to adapt some Roman and Hellenistic notions to re-organize their society for war. They do tend to disapprove of demon-worship (even in the vague guise of “Other Gods”), but it doesn’t really matter NOW. The damage is already done.

 

*The general technology of the world is Romanesque – although there are occasional devices made possible by magical materials that could fit into considerably higher technology levels.

 

The peoples of the Young Kingdoms may use a smaller number of Charms and Talismans (3 CP), but automatically gain two skill points per level instead of one (eight at first level, 3 CP) and gain a +2 to an attribute (which one depends on their origin, 12 CP). They may use Arcane Magic, and have limited access to other types of supernormal abilities depending on their origin. They may not, however, practice divine magic beyond the most basic levels or study more than (Wis Mod) types of magic in total. They have mostly retained their cultures; the switch from Roman to Aegyptian overlords really hasn’t made that much difference. As far as the Aegyptians are concerned, the Gods told THEM how to live; if they’d wanted to give directions to the people of the Young Kingdoms, presumably they would have done so.

 

The Beastmen of the Wild Reaches cannot (normally) use Charms and Talismans, but have a limited form of shapeshifting (that can be improved on) resembling Lycanthropy (a 15 CP package – although an exceptionally valuable one due to the attribute bonuses of anthropomorphic forms) and gain two skill points per level (eight at first level, 3 CP). They may only use a single other field of magic however, although they may choose between arcane magic, secondary power sources, and personal energies. They’re primarily tribal, although there are a number of minor variants (gothic, celtic, etc). Unfortunately, many of their tribes are heavily demon-influenced.

 

 

Skills and Powers – Condensing the d20 Skill List

Condensing the 3.5 skills listing is a pretty common request. Unfortunately, it tends to create must-have uber-skills like “perception” – and often leaves rarely-taken skills like “Forgery” even further out in the cold or lumped in with something entirely inappropriate.

Still, it is really is popular, skills have been seriously devalued over the years and need some pepping up to make them worthwhile again, and it’s not like there aren’t a hundred other versions of condensed skill lists out there already. Secondarily, the base skills are pretty bland. In a world full of magic, why don’t they cover a bit of it?

Ergo, here’s a quick attempt to make sure that all the skills are actually worth taking. They aren’t all perfectly balanced of course – nothing ever is – but they should all be both useful and fun to have.

Acrobatics (Dex, Armor Check Penalty): Includes Balance, Escape Artist, Ride, and Tumble. At rank 8 you may take 3d4 damage to pull off an nigh-impossible stunt – dislocating your bones to escape chains, jumping down a series of falling rocks to break a fall, or some such. At Rank 16 the damage from such a stunt is reduced to 2d4, and at rank 24 to 1d4.

Appraise (Int): May be used to identify magical items, evaluate animals, and bargain. Characters with at least (Level/2) ranks of Appraise effectively get 10% extra when treasure or rewards are split up. Those with at least (Level) ranks of Appraise get 20% extra. This doesn’t actually reduce anyone’s allotment of treasure; those who are skilled in getting the best prices can simply make their cash go further.

Why are these shifting minimums? Because you’re presumed to be buying level-appropriate stuff for the most part – and thus will be negotiating with higher-level sellers with better skills of their own.

Athletics (Str, Armor Check Penalty): Includes Climb, Jump and Swim. Also covers things like power-lifting, kicking open doors, running marathons, outrunning monsters, and similar activities. The user may make an Athletics check instead of a straight attribute check for such attempts. At rank 8 you may take 3d4 damage to pull off an nigh-impossible stunt – briefly supporting an impossible weight, dashing across water for a few seconds, sinking your fingers into the stone of a wall while falling past it to try to climb it again, diving off a cliff with a rope to catch up to a falling individual and catch them, and so on. At Rank 16 the damage from such a stunt is reduced to 2d4, and at rank 24 to 1d4.

Arcana (Int): Includes Knowledge/Arcana, Knowledge/Psionics, Psicraft, and Spellcraft, as well as performing magical rituals. Every three full ranks of Arcana allows the user to employ one minor ritual, even without any special ritual feats or abilities.

Concentration (Con): Covers Autohypnosis, Concentration, and Control Shape. May also be used to briefly withstand dangerous forces given a few moments to prepare – for example, performing classical firewalking (DC 14), reaching into a furnace to pull out that magical blade without hurting yourself (DC 18), pulling free a high-voltage line without injury (DC 24).

Craft (Int): Craft ranks apply to (3 + Int Mod) areas. For example a Wizard with Int 16 could be skilled in Alchemy, Engraving, Glassblowing, Goldsmithing, Gemcutting, and Bladesmithing – everything he needs to make most magical devices. Anyone with at least (Level/2) ranks in Craft can live a reasonable lifestyle for their level by spending a few hours a day using their skills. Anyone with at least (Level) ranks in Craft can live an excellent lifestyle for their level in the same way.

Deception (Cha): Includes Bluff and Disguise as well as setting up diversions, con artistry, phony accounting, and coming up with believable false rationales. At rank 10+ you may use up to (Cha Mod) levels worth of appropriate Enchantment/Charm spells of up to level three daily through your words alone (Save DC is Charisma-Based, Caster Level = User Level). At rank 20+ the limit increases to spell level five and (2x Cha Mod) spell levels. At rank 30+ the limit increases to spell level seven and (3x Cha Mod) spell levels – the maximum.

Appropriate spells include things like Hideous Laughter, Taunt, Glibness, Mindless Rage, Rebuke, Suggestion, Daze and Daze Monster (briefly dazing people with outrageous insults), Crushing Despair, Shock and Awe, and so on.

Engineering (Int): Includes Knowledge/Architecture and Engineering, building and operating siege engines, machinery, mills, clockwork, hydraulics, pneumatics, deducing things about structures (such as locating secret rooms, passages, and doors), finding weak points to attack (can effectively double damage against inanimate objects with a GMO check), building gadgets, and working with pretty much anything else mechanical. Engineers may specify one quasi-magical gadget they they routinely carry for every three full ranks in engineering that they carry, and may trade these out given a week or two. If you want a pocket full of smoke pellets, a clockwork mechanism that fast-reloads your heavy crossbow five times before it needs ten minutes rewinding, a spring-loaded sleeve-grapnel, a sword that can fire it’s blade at an opponent, sneezing powder, and other gizmos, then this is the skill for you.

Heal (Wis): Includes surgery, psychotherapy, acupuncture, herbalism, minor magical rituals of healing, and advanced medicine. Users with at least four ranks may attempt a DC 15/25/35 check to reproduce the effects of a L1/L2/L3 curative spell up to (Wis Mod) times per day – although they may not “take 20″ on this check. Each +5 ranks adds one use per day.

Linguistics (Int): Includes Forgery, Decipher Script, and Speak Language (bestowing one extra language – speaking, reading, and writing – per rank). It also covers using and understanding dialects, knowing the meanings of names, getting messages across language barriers, and similar tasks. Being based on Int, this covers the free extra languages you get for a high intelligence.

Local Knowledge (Int) is a downright supernatural knack; it covers knowing about trails, bars, customs, stories, major individuals, businesses, traditions, creatures in the area, and so on EVERYWHERE YOU GO. If you only want to know about a PARTICULAR area, spend 1 SP to get a +15 on that specific location. It’s a LOT easier to know all about Allentown PA than it is to know that much about every location on Earth.

Perception (Wis): Includes Search, Spot, Listen, and (for that matter) smell checks. Optionally, characters with at least (Level) ranks in Perception may receive a +1 Synergy Bonus on Reflex Saves. Perception is so useful that it doesn’t really need sweetening, but that seems reasonable.

Perform (Cha): Perform ranks apply to (3 + Int Mod) areas, as with Craft. Anyone with at least (Level/2) ranks in Perform can live a reasonable lifestyle for their level by spending a few hours a day using their skills. Anyone with at least (Level) ranks in Perform can live an excellent lifestyle for their level in the same way. A skilled performer can achieve basic bardic effects such as fascinating an audience up to (Cha Mod) times per day, but the minimum skill requirements are doubled.

Persuasion (Cha): Includes Diplomacy and Intimidation, as well as propaganda, writing to persuade, writing treaties, acting as a judge, and salesmanship. At rank 10+ you may use up to (Cha Mod) levels worth of appropriate Enchantment/Charm spells of up to level three daily through your words alone (Save DC is Charisma-Based, Caster Level = User Level). At rank 20+ the limit increases to spell level five and (2x Cha Mod) spell levels. At rank 30+ the limit increases to spell level seven and (3x Cha Mod) spell levels – the maximum.

Appropriate effects include Charm effects, Hypnotism, Heroism, Good Hope, Fascination, and Suggestion. This replaces the (troublesome) Diplomacy ability to simply change long-term attitudes.

Religion (Int): Includes Knowledge/Religion, Knowledge/The Planes, and religious ceremonies. At 6+ ranks this includes the ability to cast three 0-level clerical spells per day. At 12+ ranks it provides +1 bonus level of religious spellcasting (cleric, druid, or similar). At 18+ ranks it provides access to a Domain, and at 24+ ranks it provides an additional bonus level of religious spellcasting.

Profession (Wis, Trained Only): Profession skills are broad-based. For example, Profession / Sailor may be used to tie knots and use rope, predict the weather at sea, navigate, climb and balance in the rigging, patch sails, do basic carpentry on hulls, and load and fire cannons. Profession/Dungeoneering covers Knowledge/Dungeoneering, organizing an expedition, major monsters and their characteristics, lost treasures, locations of dungeons and caverns, not getting lost in them, and so on.

Scholar (Int): Covers Knowledge/Geography, Knowledge/History, and Knowledge/Nobility and Royalty – as well as creatures, customs, etiquette, and law. Every five full ranks of Scholar provides a one-level step in one of the Favored Enemy or Favored Foe variants from Eclipse.

Socialize (Wis): Includes Gather Information, Handle Animal, and Sense Motive – as well as serious partying. Each two full ranks in Socialize provides the user with a valuable contact – someone with special skills, unusual abilities, political influence, or similar – which he or she is willing to use to help the character out, at least within reason.

Stealth (Dex): Includes Hide and Move Silently as well as setting up camouflage, smuggling things past searches, hiding things. At rank 8+ you can hide things about your person so well that even the universe loses track of them, giving the user the equivalent of a built-in, nondispellable, Handy Haversack. At rank 16+ you may become invisible (as per Improved Invisibility) for a total of (Dex Mod) minutes (in total, counting per round, activation is a free action) per day. At rank 24+ you may become incorporeal for a total of (Dex Mod) rounds per day, as per Improved Invisibility, above.

Survival (Int): Includes Knowledge/Nature, Survival, and Use Rope. Used for tracking, finding food, basic navigation/avoiding becoming lost, building shelters, and prospecting. At rank 6+ the user is protected as if by Endure Elements and may learn animal languages, such as “equine” or “feline”. At rank 12+ the user leaves no trail if he or she does not desire it. At rank 18+ the user’s movement is no longer hindered by overgrowth or terrain. At rank 24+ the user becomes immune to natural poisons and those of Vermin

Thievery (Dex, Trained Only): Includes Disable Device, Open Locks, and Pick Pocket / Sleight of Hand. At rank 6+ the user may attempt to use such a skill as a free action up to (Dex Mod) times per day. At rank 12+ the user may similarly use such as skill at a range of up to 30 feet (Dex Mod) times per day. At rank 18+ the user will attract 3d6 young rogues, stolen from their normal lives. At rank 24+ the user may, once per day, attempt to steal magical properties or abilities – although the user may only have one such property or ability in his or her possession at a time. Thus, one day, he might steal a mages Disintegrate spell, using it a day later. Next up, the magic of a sword, transferring it to a sword of his or her own. The day after? A use of a dragon’s breath weapon, leaving it having to wait another 1d4 rounds to use it.