Caercrwydryn, The Citadel Of The Wanderer

Today it’s a minor special request – a personal citadel (or at least a fortified manor) for a 13’th level character who is already a master of Architecture and Engineering with a +26 permanent bonus. The character wants to build the place using the Sanctum ability with another 6 CP thrown in (Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the abilities they provide only work in the Sanctum) – thus investing a total of 12 CP to gain a fairly impressive base of operations. The characters very high Charisma (the character should have a +7 charisma modifier by level 13) also translates into a high level of Leadership. This is, of course, a practical application of the “Mighty Fortress” article, so lets see how it goes!

So…

While it may be called a “Citadel”, Caercrwydryn is actually more of a noble villa – a beautiful manor built around a fairly modest tower / shell keep set on an outcropping of rock that overlooks a nearby village – but it’s not like the mere physical details of a structure mean much in d20. Such an estate is MUCH easier and quicker to build than a classical castle, and it has plenty of room for adding additional staff, residents, cottages, farms, orchards, and all the other stuff that makes an area prosperous. Of course, hopefully the properties of Caercrwydryn will do a lot towards that goal. Sadly, however, since the place IS built on a single characters personal power… if the builder does not produce a powerful heir willing to take up the mantle of maintaining the place after he or she dies, many of the facilities will start to fail soon after the original builders death. In this case, the health of the “King” really IS the health of the “Kingdom”.

Of course, this also means that – all too soon – there will be another ruinous dungeon filled with monsters and malfunctioning magic just outside yet another decrepit small village, but you kind of had to wonder where all those things came from anyway didn’t you?

Sanctum Abilities

  • Occult Construction Methods: Action Hero/Crafting, Specialized and Corrupted/only for construction and repair of the holding (2 CP). This will provide 15 AP at level 13 – enough to simply complete the construction of the place on the spot without further expense given that “a nice home” has no real direct game effects in itself. Further points may be used to add things.
  • A Master Engineer: Skill Emphasis (Architecture +4), Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only counts to decide what Mystic Artist features you can have in your sanctum, can only be applied to the sanctum rather than – say – several rooms with individual properties (In this case, this results in effective skill of 30+) (2 CP). Without this, the creators Architecture skill would not be quite high enough for A Mighty Fortress, below.
  • Transcending Mortal Skill: Mystic Artist/Architecture with Seeking, Specialized for Double Effect/the user may only create one structure at a time, Corrupted for Reduced Cost/all abilities must be at least quasi-military and must target either the Residents / Defenders or the Attackers (8 CP). This, of course, uses Harmonize to provide two functions:
    • A Mighty Fortress (Heroism, Skill 30): All Residents/Defenders gain +4 Positive Levels (+4 BAB, Saves, and AC, +24 CP: Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/Only for Innate Enchantment (Up to 5500 GP Value, 6 CP), Immunity/the XP cost of up to 5500 GP worth of Innate Enchantment (Common (since they will be changing regularly), Minor, Trivial, 2 CP), Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized in Physical Damage for Double Effect (4/-) (3 CP), Grant Of Aid (6 CP), Speak (any convenient obscure language) (1 CP), Occult Sense/Attacks (always gain two rounds to prepare and a +1 Insight bonus to AC and Saves, 6 CP).
    • Glorious Bells (Serenity, Skill 18): When these bells ring (up to twice per week), all Residents/Defenders gain the equivalent of a nights rest – eliminating fatigue, regaining hit points, attribute points, restoring uses-per-day powers, being able to prepare spells, and so on, in an instant.
  • Attracting Followers: Leadership/Specialized in Stronghold Staff for Reduced Cost (3 CP). At L13 with a +7 Cha modifier this provides 20 ECL worth of followers, although none may exceed level ten. In this case… two x L8 (a master alchemist/advanced maker of potions, talismans, and acrolls (the “where does he get those WONDERFUL toys” power package) and a master healer/anti-undead channeler), two x L5 (a seneschal with a high end stipend and a master of arms to handle tactics and militia training), and seven x L2 types (a really good cook/brewer, a pair of Võlur, a Hedge Wizard, a Witch, and a couple of Men At Arms to be sergeants).
  • Manifestations Of Magic: Leadership with Exotic Followers – Traps, Constructs, and Wards, Specialized for Reduced Cost / these don’t heal, have to be repaired if damaged, have to be installed instead of just showing up, are integrated into your stronghold and thus effectively immobile, and must be manually upgraded as you increase in level (6 CP). These include…
    • A Rank Six Ward Major (see The Practical Enchanter) covering the local area (Call it ECL 2 x Rank -2 – which is fairly arbitrary, but works):
      • Minor Powers (4): Industry, Sustenance, Beauty, and Health.
      • Major Powers (2): Teaching and The Distant Gift (Longevity).
    • A Shield Guardian (CR 8).
    • Eight Spiked Pit Traps, with Animated Triggers to self-reset and keep them from bothering the residents (CR 2+.5 each, total 20).
    • Twelve similarly animated Bear Traps (CR 2 in total).
    • A low wall that mostly keeps out normal wild animals has no CR at all; any normal person can climb over it.
  • A Scrying Maze: Cloaking, Specialized for Reduced Cost/Divinations about Caercrwydryn will reveal general information about the place – whether people are in residence, are the servants busy, is there damage, is the garrison up to strength, etc – but never anything precise enough to put to use about the activities or location of anyone important. There shall be no scry-and-die tactics here (3 CP).

Advanced Functions:

These abilities cost six of the builders personal character points, and – as personal abilities – are Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / these abilities only work in the Sanctum when the owner is in residence.

  • Ritual Chamber (Occult Ritual): With the aid of your vast heaps of components you can attempt may feats of ritual magi (6 CP).
  • Occult Foundry (Action Hero/Crafting): Tapping into the resources of the local area, you may produce a modest supply of magical devices at reduced cost (6 CP).
  • The Advanced Dominion (which the builder already has) Ability Wrath Of The Overlord in a variant form – allowing Blessings (6 CP). From your occult seat of power you may spend Dominion Points to shape destiny, bestowing Charm and Talisman Effects (1/0 for 1 DP, 2/1 for 2 DP, 3/2 for 3 DP), make the area generally prosperous, or rarely approached by monsters, or enjoying good weather (for the region anyway) for 3 DP per year per effect maintained, and similar effects.

Caercrwydryn isn’t an especially overwhelming place of power – but it is pretty good for it’s 12 CP cost, and will make a very, VERY, nice home for a party and any locals who hang around.

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.

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.

Eclipse, the Ways of Dragons III

English: White dragon of England

Yep. Still on these guys.

Now here we have a young gold dragonness who’s managed to give her parents the slip to meld into the (fascinating!) human population.

Unfortunately, while her transmutation spells are capable of making her more human-shaped, they don’t really hide the fact that she’s draconic – although you might, if you’re generous, mistake her for a half-dragon.

For her race we’ll be using the basic Dragon Template – albeit with a few small tweaks to go from “white dragon” to “gold dragon” – even if that is a “Slayers”-inspired Golden Dragon.

  • Change “Enlarge Self” to “Reduce Self”; (-1 Size Category (-2 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Attack Modifier, +4 Skill Modifier).
  • Shaping is neither specialized nor corrupted; this small dragon can do Prestidigitation effect at will.
  • The Energy Infusion is Fire, not Cold.
  • Dragonfire is Specialized/only for cone and ray energy attacks (3 CP).
  • Breath of the Dragon is Specialized / only to change the blasts to Light (3 CP).
  • Heart of the Dragon is specialized in Transmutation magics instead of Conjuration..

Available Character Points: 48 (level one base) +10 (disadvantages) +12 (GM generosity in awarding L0 and L1 Bonus Feats) +2 (Duties) = 72 CP.

Basic Attributes: Str 14 (14), Dex 11 (15), Con 13 (15), Int 15 (17), Wis 10 (12), Cha 17 (19).

Basics (39 CP):

  • Warcraft: +0 BAB (0 CP).
  • Hit Points: 20 (L1d20, 16 CP) + 12 (Immortal Vigor) +6 (3x Con Mod) = 38
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP).
  • Armor Class: 10 (Base) +2 (Dex) +1 (Size) +2 (Natural) +2 (Leather) +4 (Cha) = 21
  • Initiative: +2 (Dex)
  • Move: Ground and Flight 60′.
  • Skill Points: 8 (CP spent) +12 (Int Mod x 4) = 20 SP. The player hasn’t decided where to spend these yet though. For the moment, I’ll go with the condensed skill list and take Arcana (+7), Heal (+5), Survival (+7), Perception (+8 with +3 Racial), and Persuasion (+8), all at a base of four ranks.
  • Saves:
    • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +2 (Con) = +4
    • Reflex: +0 (Purchased, 0 CP) +2 (Dex) = +2
    • Will: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +1 (Wis) = +3

Usual Weapons:

  • “Unarmed”: +3/+3 (+2 Str, +1 Size, Personal Haste), 1d8+2, Crit 20/x2.
  • Breath Weapon: Up to 3d6 Light (Fire) damage, 15′ Cone or double damage to a single target within 60′. Save DC Reflex 15 (Half).

Special Abilities (33 CP):

  • Journeyman/Path of the Dragon, Specialized in Dragonfire for Double Effect (ranges damage limit to (Level + 2)d6) (6 CP).
  • Heart of the Dragon II, Specialized in Transmutation to allow her to use first level transmutation effects via Shaping (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/Excessive Cuteness: Adds (Cha Mod) to AC (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/Treasure (Can detect treasure within 60′) (6 CP).
  • Berserker (Standard Barbarian, 6 CP).
  • Lore, Specialized in Dragons (3 CP).

Now this young dragoness is pretty formidable for an ECL 2 character – but the lower the total ECL, the more the template dominates things. If the party is reasonably high-powered for ECL 2 – and if it wasn’t, who’d be considering letting a dragon into play? – she should be a close enough match.

Eclipse – The Ways of Dragons I

White Dragon of Mercia

Why can’t I join your party?

There have been several requests for draconic characters recently. After all, standard d20 makes them rather difficult to play. That’s normal for a generalist – your typical dragon blasts, casts, scouts, evades, and tanks, and is thus capable of functioning as a one-character party – but it means that they have such high ECL adjustments that they’re less effective in any individual role than more specialized party members.

Most of the people who want to play a dragon want to play them as something more than the parties fifth wheel. Sure, you can fill in for many of the other characters in a pinch – but that’s not really what the players had in mind.

Fortunately, Eclipse will let you customize your dragon just like any other character – and there are a LOT of possible specialties out there.

Still, we do need something to work from – so here’s a breakdown for one of the earlier requests: the lowest ECL dragon character you can usually have – a standard White Dragon Hatchling broken down for Eclipse.

OK; Classically that’s a Tiny dragon. To build one of those we’ll need…

  • Two Levels of Shrinking (24 CP). That’s -4 Str,+4 Dex, -2 Con, +2 Armor Class and Attack Modifier, +8 to stealth skills, -8 to things like door-smashing, and reduces falling damage from d6’s to d2’s.
  • It has +2 Con and -4 Int overall. So in conjunction with the Shrinking we’ll need +4 Str and Con and -4 Dex and Int (Attribute Shift, 24 CP),
  • It breathes a 1d6 15 foot cone of cold every 1d4 rounds. That’s kind of pathetic actually, but it DOES expand well later – so it’s off to the Path of the Dragon to buy it.
    • Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted/only as a prerequisite (2 CP).
    • Dragonfire, Specialized/only for cone energy attacks, Corrupted/upper limits determined by age (2 CP).
    • Breath of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/only to change to Cold, must be used (2 CP).
    • Pulse and Heart of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/only as a prerequisite (4 CP).
    • Blood of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/only to fuel Dragonfire, requires a wait of 1d4 rounds in between discharges (6 CP). Normally this is Charisma-based, but if the character has a lousy Charisma, Finesse (another 6 CP) may be used to substitute another attribute, such as constitution.
  • Immunity to Sleep and Paralysis. Honestly… Sleep isn’t usually used on player characters much; it’s boring. Ergo, Uncommon, Major, Major on the Sleep (6 CP), and Common, Major, Major on the Paralysis (9 CP).
  • Like many dragons, it has Blindsense out to 60′ (6 CP), Low-Light Vision (6 CP), and 120′ Darkvision (12 CP).
  • At tiny size it has a 1d4 bite and two 1d3 claws (each only getting one-half the strength bonus). Just to simplify this, I’m buying it 1d8 Natural Weapons (Martial Arts, 9 CP) and +2 BAB, Specialized/only to add to iterative attacks (6 CP). That improves things a bit, opens things up for more attacks later on, and involves less rolling. Given that this IS a young dragon, we don’t really care what body parts it uses – bite, claws, tail, wings, tail spike, high-speed collision, whatever… the player can describe things as he or she likes.
  • It DOES have 30′ burrowing, the ability to “Spider Climb” on ice, and 150 flight (albeit with only average maneuverability). So… +30′ Move with Additional Movement Mode (Burrow) (24 CP), and +55′ move with Additional Movement Mode, Specialized for Double Effect and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only average maneuverability in the air, dependent on having space to spread and flap wings or on moving on an ice-covered surface, can be brought down by wing damage or entanglements (26 CP). (OK, yes, I could save a couple more points – but the notion of white dragons buzzing around on icy surfaces like gravity-defying figure-skaters amuses me).
  • It has +2 Natural Armor. That’s Defender (12 CP).
  • It’s immune to Cold and Vulnerable to Fire. That’s Energy Infusion/Cold (6 CP).

And… that’s about it for what really belongs in it’s “racial template” That adds up to… 189 CP. That’s quite a lot. Fortunately, the entire package is Specialized; the user is a blatantly non-human dragon, is subject to powerful draconic instincts, craves treasure, has valuable magical body parts, has to deal with rivals and dragon-hunters, is vulnerable to anti-dragon weaponry, radiates magical power and an aura that disturbs people and animals, can’t wear most armor or use a lot of other magical devices, has automatic alignment tendencies, and has to deal with any other being-a-dragon problems that the game master feels like applying.

That takes the cost down to 94 CP – just within the 95 CP allowance for a +2 ECL template.

That leaves us with three regular levels, providing a base of 96 CP and two bonus feats. So what else do we need to buy?

We need…

  • 3d12 Hit Dice. That’s (24 CP)
  • To speak Draconic That’s (1 CP). I suppose this could go in the racial template, but it doesn’t make a lot of difference – and it seems reasonable that some dragons might be raised to speak other languages. We could also assume that it’s simply it’s base language and not buy it at all, but I want to make sure that it has space to speak “common”, even if it winds up with an abysmal intelligence.
  • 20 Skill Points. Fortunately, in Eclipse you get bonus skill points for high intelligence, but – since you aren’t required to buy skills at all – there’s no low intelligence penalty. Therefore, to match the 20 SP that our tiny white dragon would normally have we need only spend (20 CP)
  • +3 BAB. That’s (18 CP). To get the secondary attacks, we’ll also want +1 BAB Specialized for Double Effect (Only to get iterative attacks, 6 CP).
  • Base Saves of Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +3. That’s (27 CP).

That comes out to 96 CP – precisely what’s available. The two bonus feats are up to the player.

Now that’s actually pretty survivable; blindsense and burrowing can be a pretty effective defense, it has more than enough hit points and attacks – including a ranged energy weapon that will preserve meat quite effectively – to deal with the kind of prey that a tiny predator will want to eat, and it can easily fly away from most ground-based threats.

Of course, as a member of a party, it’s not all that effective, even if it DOES make a dandy little scout. Even it’s two unspent bonus feats won’t help that much.

Of course, in Eclipse, you can eke out a few more points here and there – ten for disadvantages and six for duties. Spend those (and your bonus feats) on upgrading the Path of the Dragon and you can get some decent magical powers – enough to be a reasonably effective party member.

And that, of course, is the point; we don’t want to grossly overshadow everyone else in the party, but neither do we want to be grossly overshadowed – and this build should accomplish that just fine if the player makes halfway decent choices with those extra points and feats.

Converting to Eclipse: an Arcane Rogue

For today it’s a sort of a challenge: How to build a rather complex Hybrid Pathfinder-3.0-3.5 character in Eclipse. Given that the original level seven build has five classes (mixing Pathfinder, supplementary Pathfinder options, and 3.5 classes) from what looks to be five different books, with a modified pathfinder race, feats from a similar mixture of sources, and equipment from yet more sources, it’s also obviously going to be a high-efficiency build.

For a quick summary, the original character sheet provides the following information…

  • Attributes: Str 8, Dex 18, Con 10, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 16.
  • Basic Items: 27 HP, BAB +4, Base Saves: Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +5. Proficiencies are not noted, but it looks like Light Armor and Rogue Weapons.
  • Halfling Racial Traits: Fearless, Strong Heart, Weapon Familiarity, Keen Senses, Swift as Shadows, Magical Knack, Successful Shirker.
  • Classes: Rogue (Sniper Archetype) 1 (almost certainly Pathfinder), Spellthief 1 (probably The Complete Adventurer), Wizard 2 (probably the Pathfinder variant), Unseen Seer 2 (probably one of the variants from The Complete Mage), Arcane Trickster 1 (could be Pathfinder or SRD). Noted abilities: Sneak Attack (3d6), Accuracy, Trapfinding, Arcane Bond (Familiar), Arcane School (Universalist), Hand of the Apprentice, Advanced Learning (Hunter’s Eye, Player’s Handbook II), Ranged Legerdemain, Steal Spell, and what seem to be five levels of Wizard Spellcasting with the Pathfinder limitless use of Cantrips.
  • Seven Feats: Two-Weapon Fighting, Darkstalker (Lords of Madness), Hand Crossbow Focus (Drow of Underdark), Master Spellthief (Complete Scoundrel), Crossbow Sniper (Player’s Handbook II), Scribe Scroll (probably Pathfinder SRD version), and Still Spell (probably Pathfinder SRD).
  • 62 Skill Points.

So how to build this?

Attributes: The sheet doesn’t note how the attributes were generated, and that really isn’t a part of Eclipse anyway. There’s nothing here to convert.

Basic Items:

  • Hit Dice (and their rolls) aren’t specified, and neither are the class sources – which means that there’s no easy way to look them up; I’ve seen five or six different writeups for “Spellthief” alone – although this version is very likely from the Complete Adventurer. Still, at level seven a classical build can be expected to have seven hit dice. As it happens, 27 HP with no Con Mod is exactly the average for 7d6 with the first one maximized. Ergo, that will work. So we’ll buy seven six-sided Hit Dice, at a cost of (14 CP). If those 27 HP represent some lucky rolls instead of a strict average this will be a bit of an improvement – but not all that big a one.
  • BAB (Warcraft) +4, Corrupted/no iterative attacks (16 CP). Given that we just want to reproduce the character as-is – rather than throwing in a Martial Art or other specialized combat tricks, this works fine. It is a bit of a compromise, but so is actually buying the Pathfinder Skill Bonus instead of just accepting it as a free part of the setting – which comes up down below.
  • Save Bonuses: +13 (39 CP). Of course, in Eclipse, you’re free to put these where you want them. For a true Eclipse build I’d probably reduce these bonuses – a side effect of stacking up so many classes – and go for Luck with Bonus Uses (Specialized in Saving Throws), but we are duplicating, not improving.
  • Proficient with Light Armor (3 CP). The character appears to be an armored arcane caster using light armor, so I’ll throw in the Smooth modifier on the Light Armor (+3 CP) to allow that – although the original wording of “Master Spellthief” feat (from which the ability appears to be derived) could be read as saying that this should ONLY apply to “Spellthief Spells” (which wouldn’t appear until Spellthief level four). On the other hand, the build uses a +1 Mithril Shirt (with the Shadow property for extra stealth) to reduce the chance of spell failure, so maybe not… Given that the difference between leaving it open and specializing in Spellthief Spells only is only two character points, I’ll go with the most generous possible interpretation.

The original writeup also uses “Dastanas” – armor-enhancing bracers from the 3.0 Arms and Equipment Guide and Oriental Books that did not make it into 3.5 (along with a lot of other stuff that people considered “broken”). It also uses Gnomish Crossbow Sights – another poorly-judged 3.0 Arms and Equipment Guide item that essentially provided a +4 to hit – even if it was only to counter range penalties – for crossbows for a mere 150 GP. Still, Dastanas only call for Light Armor proficiency and what equipment the game master allows is – once again – not a part of an Eclipse build.

  • Proficient with Simple and Rogue Weapons (6 CP).

That’s a total of 81 CP in this section.

Halfling Racial Traits:

While I’m generally going to go with what the player has on the character sheet, rather than digging through sourcebooks, in the particular case of racial traits there are three that seem likely to apply that aren’t noted – the size, the attribute modifiers, and speaking halfling – so I’ll be throwing those in.

  • Fearless: Resistance/Fear (+2 versus Mental Effects, Specialized/only versus Fear, 1 CP).
  • Strong Heart: Bonus Feat (6 CP).
  • Weapon Familiarity: Proficiency with Halfling Cultural Weapons (A narrow group, Specialized/only reduces halfling exotic weapons to martial weapons, 1 CP)
  • Keen Senses: +2 Perception (Racial Skill Bonus, 2 CP).
  • Swift as Shadows: Immunity to Skill Penalties for Movement (Common, Minor, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/only for Stealth, only to reduce the penalties for movement by -5 and the penalty for sniping by -10, 2 CP).
  • Magical Knack: +2 Base Caster Levels, Specialized and Corrupted/only applicable to a specific magical progression chosen when the character is created, will not take the users base caster level above his or her hit dice (4 CP).
  • Successful Shirker: +1 on Stealth, +3 Bluff, +3 Diplomacy, Specialized and Corrupted / only to avoid punishment by lawful authorities (2 CP).
  • +2 Dexterity, -2 Strength (Attribute Shift, 6 CP).
  • Shrinking I (Corrupted: Reduces base movement to 20′, 8 CP)
  • Speaks Halfling (1 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Racial Reputation as Sneaky Thieves (-3).

The Pathfinder Package Deal provides the other +2 to an attribute – but doesn’t have much effect on most of the other items on this particular character sheet. Package deals have no cost however.

That’s 30 CP in this section – within the 31 CP allowance for a +0 ECL race, so there’s no effective cost.

Class Abilities:

  • Sneak Attack: Augment Attack, 3d6 (9 CP).
  • Accuracy, Hand of the Apprentice, and Ranged Legerdemain: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only useable to produce the following three level one effects, only on a personal basis (6 CP) plus Reflex Training/can invoke Shaping as a part of making a ranged attack check, Specialized and Corrupted/only Distant Shot, only with Bows and Crossbows (2 CP).

1) Distant Shot: Halves range increment penalties.

2) Lesser Ranged Strike: The user may make an attack with a melee weapon with an effective range of 30 feet, using his or her (Int Mod) instead of (Dex Mod) for the attack check. As a special effect, the caster throws his weapon and it then returns to him or her.

3) Tricksters Hand: The user may make a Disable Device or Sleight of Hand skill check at a range of 30 feet – although the DC is increased by five.

I’d say that these are supernatural abilities; if you want them to be extraordinary you’ll need Immunity to Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted/only those three effects (4 CP) – and you’ll also want to explain why EVERY skilled archer doesn’t have Distant Shot and how the ranged effects work without magic. Ergo, those four points won’t be added in.

  • Trapfinding: As a full ability in Eclipse these could be bought as Professional/Perception, Specialized/only for trapfinding (3 CP), Professional/Disable Device (6 CP). Of course, in the original setup, these ONLY work with the character’s Spellthief levels, although a minimum bonus of +1 applies – meaning that the character actually only has a +1 bonus. That’s pretty trivial; buy a +3 Perception Speciality in Finding Traps (1 CP) and Skill Focus/Disable Device (Specialized/half effect, for a mere +1, 1 CP). That gives us a net cost of 2 CP and is STILL an improvement.
  • Arcane Bond: Familiar (Raven). Companion (6 CP).
  • Advanced Learning: Acquire a New Spell (1 CP). Divinations are pretty much the same for everyone, so there’s no real worry about a special cost there.
  • Steal Spell: Power Words, Specialized for increased effect (Can drain a chosen or random spell from an opponent with a successful sneak attack or from a willing target with a touch) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost. The limitations are: use reduces damage of the attack by 1d6, spells must be cast normally, spells vanish if not used within an hour, user may not hold a spell of more than (Level/2, Rounded Down), and the user must supply all spell components. (4 CP). The original build could store only one spell level, this build can store three – but it’s really not worth the trouble to add yet more limitations; the cost is already as low as it’s going to get. This is a bit cheesy – if you do this to PC’s a lot, they’re going to start wanting saves – but how many NPC spellcasters actually use any major percentage of their spells during a single fight anyway?

The original ability states that a Spellthief of fourth level or higher can use the stolen energy to cast a “spellthief spell” (not defined on the sheet, but presumably derived from the Spellthief Class) of the same level or less, but the Master Spellthief feat only stacks Spellthief and Arcane Caster levels to see what level of spell can be stolen – and the classless build already incorporates an improved and automatic version of that ability in simply using the characters level. Similarly, a Spellthief of fourth level or higher can use the energy of an absorbed spell to power a personally-cast Spellthief spell – but Master Spellthief doesn’t help with that either, so there’s no need to buy that ability (you could buy it as Inherent Spell/Mana Transfer (The Practical Enchanter, L3) with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only usable to use the energy of an absorbed spell to power another personally-cast spell (6 CP)).

Leaving out the speculations about stuff that doesn’t actually apply, that’s 30 CP for this section.

Feats:

The character is listed as having seven Feats – presumably including one racial bonus feat, Scribe Scroll from the Wizard levels, and one from some other class. Fortunately, in Eclipse, what matters is the price, not the source – but when it comes to cost comparisons, we’ll want to know how many bonus feats this character has (it looks like four to me).

  • Two-Weapon Fighting: Bonus Attack (6 CP).
  • Darkstalker: Immunity/any need to have specialized abilities to use the Hide skill against creatures with special senses (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 3 CP), plus Immunity/all-around vision (Uncommon, Minor, Major), Corrupted/only to allow you to flank creatures with that ability (2 CP).
  • Hand Crossbow Focus: Reflex Training/Can reload as a free action, Specialized and Corrupted/only applies to Hand Crossbows (2 CP), +1 Warcraft (BAB), Specialized and Corrupted/only applies to Hand Crossbows, does not add to iterative attacks (2 CP).
  • Master Spellthief: The benefits of this ability are covered under Spellthief and Armor Proficiencies (above) and Wizard Spellcasting (below) – since it’s a lot easier to keep track of modifiers with what they affect.
  • Crossbow Sniper: Augmented Bonus, Adds (Dex Mod) to damage with ranged weapons, Specialized and Corrupted/Half effect, only works with crossbows, (2 CP) plus Far Shot, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for reduced cost/only to increase the range for sneak and skirmish attacks with ranged weapons to 60′, only with crossbows (4 CP).
  • Scribe Scroll: Spell Storing (6 CP).
  • Still Spell: Metamagic/Easy, Specialized/only to remove somatic components (3 CP).

That’s 28 CP in this section.

Skill Points 62

This is mildly awkward: the character seems to be using Pathfinder Skills – including the “+3 to all trained class skills” modifier. That’s part of the skill system, not part of the character build – but I suspect that the player will want to keep the skill totals the same and it looks like the character has sixteen trained in-class skills. Ergo, I’ll include a tweak for that.

  • The character will be getting 30 SP from Intelligence, at no cost.
  • As a later-generation character build, Fast Learner Specialized in Skills is definitely in order – presumably taken as the Racial Bonus Feat to gain +20 SP at a cost of (6 CP).
  • The character does have six ranks each in Disable Device, Perception, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. That would normally cost 24 SP at L7, but taking Adept (6 CP) on those skills will reduce the cost to 12 SP – and the total number of skill points needed to 50. Fortunately, that’s exactly the total that we’ve already got – at a net cost of 12 CP so far.
  • Now the Pathfinder Skill Bonus is a little trickier. To create it, take Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted (can only be used to enhance skills, will not enhance a skill beyond +3 or up to the (Level + 3) maximum on it’s base (whichever comes first), can only add bonuses not special effects, only works on skills that the user has invested at least one skill point in) for Increased Effects (can cast the Cantrip-Level Skill Mastery effects from The Practical Enchanter, the bonus is Pathfinder Conversion Bonus rather than Enhancement) (6 CP). Now throw in Immunity to Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted/only protects these skill-boosting effects (4 CP) and Reflex Training/can use shaping as a part of a skill check, Specialized and Corrupted/only works with this specific effect (2 CP).

There; for an additional 12 CP, we can convert the Pathfinder Bonus. Of course, once you allow this… pretty much EVERY character who relies on skills will want to use it, but there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re allowing it in the first place.

That’s 24 CP in this section.

Spellcasting:

Finally, we have the spellcasting. That seems to include…

  • Five levels of Wizard Spellcasting (70 CP)
  • The Pathfinder ability to cast L0 spells as often as desired (Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (only works for the characters limited list of memorized level zero spells), Corrupted/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Spells (3 CP). The character has eight extra spells, while this would only yield seven at level seven – but honestly, paying precious character points for first level spells that you can pick up for 25 GP apiece is a waste. Go ahead. Mark off 100 GP from your seventh-level allotment and buy FOUR first level spells. Save those 3 CP to buy three more second or third level spells that are more use (and that bonus spell from “Advanced Learning” that doesn’t seem to have been included). If you continue pushing Wizard as you go up in level, buy the Specialization here from “Half Cost” to “Double Effect” – and go to two free spells per level. There’s no reason to do it yet though; it would yield too many spells to match the build. (Of course, if the character doesn’t actually need the Smooth modifier in the Light Armor Proficiency, you can put those 3 CP into buying up to double effect – and get some extra spells).

The proposed spell list includes…

  • Level Zero: Resistance, Acid Splash, Drench, Detect Magic, Detect Poison, Read Magic, Daze, Breeze, Dancing Lights, Flare, Light, Penumbra, Ray of Frost, Scoop, Spark, Ghost Sound, Haunted Fey Aspect, Bleed, Disrupt Undead, Touch of Fatigue, Jolt, Mage Hand, Mending, Message, Open/Close, Root, Arcane Mark, Prestidigitation.

  • Level One: Charm Person, Magic Missile, Disguise Self, Illusion of Calm, Enlarge Person, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall, Vocal Alteration.

  • Level Two: Detect Thoughts, Arrow Eruption, Glitterdust, Invisibility.

  • Level Three: Clairaudience-Clairvoyance, Nondetection.

The character sheet states that the character is a Universalist – and thus not eligible for bonus spell slots – but then goes on to list the character with bonus spell slots. If you throw this in, that’s Specialist (3 CP) – but also calls for a disadvantage (Accursed, must use two slots for spells from “opposition” schools (-3 CP) or even a Restriction (worth more points, which can go to buying up the rest of the “Specialist” sequence later on).

That’s a total cost of 77 CP in this section.

So what’s our total cost?

  • 81 (Basic Items) +0 (Race) +30 (Class-Based Special Abilities) +28 (Feats) +24 (Skills) +77 (Spellcasting) = 240 CP.
  • What we’ve got is 192 (L7 Base) +10 (Disadvantages) + 14 (Duties) + 24 (Racial, L1, L3, L6 Bonus Feats) = 240 CP.

Now that DID involve pinching some of those points pretty hard – even beyond the usual player-character point-pinching – but this is a build that draws material from more than a dozen different sourcebooks spread over three separate (and not entirely compatible) editions. Whether it was the player proposing the character or some folks on a character-optimization board somewhere, SOMEONE has put a lot of work into combing through sourcebooks and editions to build this character.

Or, of course, they could have just used Eclipse. That does involve some math, and getting used to the system – but it also involves just the one book (and, I suspect, a lot less time).

Now is this a particularly good Eclipse build? It’s certainly versatile enough – but it’s not really an overwhelming powerhouse. When you come right down to it, “sniping” is not an especially good choice in d20; the entire combat system is designed to let people get into the fighting, fight for a while, and then pull out if they’re losing. “One shot, one kill”… just doesn’t fit into it very well.

Similarly, the build doesn’t possess particularly overwhelming magic. It has lots of skills, but doesn’t go to extremes with any of them. It’s a great loner, but the game is usually played in groups.

Some people like playing talented generalists. Some don’t. If you do, this is quite an adequate build. If you want to completely dominate some field, this probably isn’t the build for you.

If you want to compare with a few Eclipse builds…

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

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

Kitsune of the Eclipse, Part II

キタキツネ (北狐 kita kitsune), a Vulpes vulpes schre...

The first step in coming up with modifiers for a Kitsune lies in coming up with the modifiers for a Fox.

That’s actually a bit of a problem. Foxes are such minor creatures that they didn’t get official statistics – and the ones for a medium-sized dog are pretty obviously far too generous. Dogs kill and hurt people pretty often; foxes… don’t. The few recorded attacks on humans by foxes pretty much all fall into the “dismal failure” category – including attacks on sleeping infants. Foxes normally back down from housecats. A young boy being attacked by a rabid fox suffered a painful nip – but simply scooped it up and – when it wouldn’t calm down – swung it’s head against the ground. The really annoying part was the rabies shots.

In d20 terms that pretty much means… no really effective attacks (failing to kill sleeping one hit point infants despite multiple bites is pretty pathetic), no worthwhile defenses (easily killed by an unarmed child), massive penalties to Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence (they’re small, fragile, don’t live very long even with the best of care, and may be bright animals, but they’re still not really very clever by human standards; ergo, they have the usual animal intelligence of  two as a base).

They are very quick though. That’s something.

So a Fox / Kitsune gets… Scent, Low-Light Vision, boosted Dexterity, boosted Movement Speed, the usual animal-senses +2 boost to Wisdom, the usual Awakened Animal intelligence – and some fairly massive penalties to Strength and Constitution.

But wait! Aren’t Kitsune supposed to be extremely cunning and intelligent?

Are they?

Lets look at a classic Kitsune story – the tale of a fox who liked to go riding.

A pretty young girl often stood on the bank of the Kaya river to the east of the Ninnaji temple, Kyoto in the evening. When a man on horseback passed going in the direction of the capital, she would ask him to give her a ride, saying “I want to ride to the capital behind you.” Most would agree – but, after riding a little ways, the girl would slip down and run away in the shape of a fox, barking with delight. This prank was repeated many times.

The tale was told at the quarters of the Takiguchi (the guards at the Imperial palace). On hearing it a young takiguchi officer (“the takiguchi” hereafter) said: “I will catch her and teach her a lesson!” Other takiguchi officers present said with one voice: “Certainly we will catch her!” Said the takiguchi who spoke first: “I will capture her tomorrow evening.”

The next evening the takiguchi went rode his horse to the bank of the Kaya river, but did not see the girl. Disappointed, he was riding back in the direction of the capital when he saw a girl standing by the roadside. On seeing the takiguchi coming riding, she said cheerfully: “Hey,I want to ride to the capital behind you!”. He answered “Surely. Climb on quickly. Where are you going?”. Answered the girl: “To the capital.”

As soon as the girl got on the horse the officer tied her by the wrist to the saddle with a rope used for hitching a horse. Said the girl: “Why do you do such a brutal thing to me?” Replied the takiguchi: “To prevent you from getting away from me, of course. I am now taking you to my quarters to sleep with you tonight!”

They continued riding. After passing Ichijyo it was quite dark, and they proceeded along the road toward the east. When passing Nishi-no-Omiya, the takiguchi saw a procession approaching, proceeded by a forerunner on horseback, holding a pine-torch to light the road. By the torch-light, the takiguchi could see some carriages drawn by oxen moving in stately fashion to the musical creak of their heavy wheels, with two men walking before each carriage, holding pine-torches in their hands. Their figures were seen in relief against the darkness of night. The takiguchi thought it was the procession of some personages of high rank. Therefore he turned back out of respect, and went on, riding along the road of Nishi-no-Omiya toward the east – from Higashi-no-Omiya to Tsuchimikado.

At the gate of the Tsuchimikado palace, the Takiguchi called out to his followers whom he had ordered to wait for him there. Said the men under him, coming out: “At your service, sir.”

Then the takiguchi unfastened the rope, pulled the girl down from the horse, and ordered his men to build a fire before going on to the Takiguchi Station. Aroused by the clamor, all his fellow takiguchi officers emerged from the station. Said the officer “I have caught her!”

The girl began to cry and beg to be released as the fire burned brightly. The takiguchi officers spoke with one voice: “Into the fire with her!”

The takiguchi who had caught the girl said that she might escape if this were done. However they said that it would be fun to throw her into the fire and shoot her with bows and arrows in a volley. Ten takiguchi officers notched their arrows upon their bows and the takiguchi who had been holding the girl threw her right into the fire!

The girl, however, turned herself, in a twinkling, into the shape of a fox and, before they could send a volley of arrows, effected her escape, putting out the fire.

In the dark, the takiguchi called to his men. There was no response. Not a single man was there. To his surprise, he found himself on a lonely plain! He could see that he was now in the midst of the cremation ground at Toribé-no, located in the suburbs of the capital. (The only crematory in the Heian Era, Toribé-no was a word used as synonym of death in those days.) He thought that he had dismounted from his horse at the gate of the Tsuchimikado palace. He was mistaken. He recalled that he had turned back to go to Tsuchimikado. He was mistaken. He had come to this desolate and death-like crematory, instead. He imagined that he had seen many pine-torches burning in the dark after passing Ichijyo. He remembered seeing all these things clearly, including the two torch-carriers walking on each side of a carriage drawn by an ox. He was deplorably mistaken. Now he knew that the torches were nothing but the fire produced by foxes by stroking their tails.

Brave as he was, the takiguchi had no alternative but to go on foot. He had no horse to ride on. He returned home dog-tired and chagrined.

His fellow takiguchi officers at the station at Tsuchi-mikado, on the other hand, were wondering what had become of the takiguchi since he left on his adventure, and so sent a messenger to the takiguchi’s quarters to look for him two days later. The takiguchi, in the evening of the third day, presented himself at the station, feeling like a sick man. Asked his friends: “Did you go to catch the fox-girl the other evening?” Replied the takiguchi with some asperity: “No, I did not. I was ill, very ill.” Asked his fellow officers again: “What are you going to do now?” “I will go and catch her this evening,” was the re-joinder. Said another takiguchi, laughing: “Catch two of them this evening, I hope.”

The takiguchi left the station without saying a word. This time he said to himself: “The fox may not come this evening as it was out-witted by me the other night. If it appears this evening, I will never loosen my hold on it. Never! I will hold it all through the night. If it does not appear this evening, I will not present myself at the station, but keep to my quarters for some time.”

He set out on horseback followed by several strong men for the Kaya river. He soliloquised once more: “I’m going to be made a fool again! There is no help for it though since I said I would catch her.”

The fox-girl was not in sight when the takiguchi crossed the Kaya river by a bridge. However when he was coming back disheartened, he saw a different-seeming girl standing at the edge of the river. The girl accosted him, and said: “Hey, I want to ride to the capital behind you!” The takiguchi obliged her. However, the moment she was on horseback he lost no time in tying her up with a rope as before.

It was getting darker and darker as the takiguchi was riding along the Ichijyo road in the direction of the capital, accompanied by his men. He ordered his followers to kindle pine-torches and carry them ahead of him and beside his horse. They went on, but they saw nobody until they reached the Tsuchimikado palace. The takiguchi got off his horse. He seized the fox-girl firmly by her hair. She cried, but he would not have mercy on her. He brought her to the Takiguchi Station. He was deaf to her entreaties; and she seemed to realize her situation this time. The fellow officers came to see the captive. “So you have caught her at last, eh?” they said.

The fox-girl was tortured and tortured until she could stand it no longer and turned back into a fox. They scorched her hide with pine-torches. “O spare me!” the fox yelped plaintively. The takiguchi said: “We have given it a lesson. Set it free!” They released the fox, and it scampered off, limping.

About a week later, the takiguchi went to the Kaya river. He wanted to see the fox-girl again out of curiosity. She was there. She looked ill, and beaten. Said the takiguchi to the fox-girl: “Don’t you want to ride to the capital behind me?” Responded the fox in the guise of a pretty girl weakly: “I should like to ride on your horse; but I don’t like to have my precious fur scorched. No thank you.”

With that, she vanished.

So… what are some conclusions we can draw from this? (Outside of “Young women out by themselves are evidently considered fair game for rape, torture, and murder if you say “I thought she was a fox!”).

Uhm… OK. We have a rather simpleminded, and very repetitive prank – and, after being captured and threatened with rape (and there are far rougher tales) the Kitsune… alters it’s disguise slightly and does the same thing, in the same place, to the same man who had just captured, bound, and threatened to rape her a few days before.

In fact, it seems like all she’s learned the third time around (after being tortured) is not to climb up on a horse with that PARTICULAR soldier.

This isn’t scholarship award territory.

A lot of other tales are similar; many Kitsune are of about average intelligence, and there are some who are actually fairly clever or scholarly, but there are at least as many who are pretty simple-minded – and who usually wind up dead for trivial thefts (usually of food) and pranks. You don’t find stories about Kitsune who – say – go to an Inn and say “Hey… I’m hungry! If you feed me every day I’ll make your food and drink taste like the very finest in the land!

For foxes Kitsune are awfully bright. For humans… not so much. No intelligence modifier it is.

Basic Kitsune (One Tail, Physical Fox, Age 50-199):

  • +4 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom, -4 Constitution, -8 Strength. Reducing attributes gives back one-half the cost of increasing them – so this has a net cost of 0 CP.
  • Occult Senses/Low-Light Vision and Scent, Corrupted/Kitsune are rather doglike, and have a hard time adapting to “normal” standards; they tend to find carrion attractive, like to eat various bugs and rodents raw, and so on. This often gives them away (8 CP).
  • Celerity/+10 Ground Movement Speed (6 CP).
  • Immunity/Aging (Uncommon, Major, Major). This gives a Kitsune a potential lifespan of about 1200 years, spreading out their aging across the ages. This is, however, Specialized; Kitsune may not augment their physical abilities via transformation, totally conceal their true forms (there’s always some kind of clue), disguise their reflections in running water, or conceal their scents; no matter what they may eventually learn to turn into, they’re still foxes underneath (3 CP).
  • Universal Damage Reduction 2/- (3 CP). This has nothing to do with classical Kitsune, who are depressingly fragile even at the peak of their powers – but this is d20, so they get something.
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers cantrips and first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover their racial abilities, 1 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: All effects unlimited-use use-activated at caster level one – for a base effective “cost” of 1000 GP per cantrip and 2000 GP per first level spell.

Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Flavor*, Ghost Scent*, Ghost Sound,

First Level Effects: Beglamourment*, Disguise Self, Enhance Attribute/+2 Charisma, Enhance Attribute/+2 to non-charisma attribute of choice, Expeditious Retreat, Humanoid Form*, Hypnotism, Jump, Magic Fang (allows them to bite for one point of damage), Pass Without Trace, Produce Flame, Silent Image, Speak with Animals, Tactile Illusion*

That’s 32,000 GP – or 33 CP – worth. This is Specialized and Corrupted for reduced cost however, reducing the cost to 11 CP:

  • Kitsune take damage from Dispel Magic and Antimagic effects – generally 1d4 per level of the caster up to 10d4 (once per minute for antimagic fields). Even a “young”, single-tailed, Kitsune is far, FAR, past a foxes “natural” lifespan – and only their shapeshifting magic keeps them alive. Dispelling that is a terrible shock – and while an antimagic field is slower, a Kitsune who fails to escape one will soon perish.
  • Kitsune Magic is an expression of concentration and fox instincts. When they are frightened, overcome with emotion, or injured, they must make a concentration check to avoid losing control and dropping effects which require even moderate concentration – such as all their illusions. They cannot escape their instincts without renouncing their magic either; when confronted with something that would trigger their instincts – angry dogs, distracting food, chances for sex, and similar short-term diversions – they must make a DC 15 willpower check to resist giving in.

This gives our basic Kitsune template a cost of 34 CP – a +1 ECL race. Whether fortunately or unfortunately however, your basic Kitsune has a Disadvantage: they’re social Outcasts – mostly unprotected by the law and generally considered untrustworthy. At -3 CP that brings the grand total down to 31 CP – just at the limit for a +0 ECL race.

Overall, a Kitsune who stays back and relies on their racial illusion-casting abilities can be quite effective. If they’re going adventuring, they’re probably best off as non-combative Clerical or Rogue types – where their wisdom and dexterity bonuses will stand them in good stead and their illusion abilities can effectively back up their class-based talents. It’s no surprise that the more reliable ones tend to hang around shrines and work for gods. That’s one of the best ways to stay out of the soup!

This is getting entirely too long – and taking up too much time. Ergo, the templates for kitsune with two or more tales are going to have to wait for next time.

New Spells:

Beglamourment, A.K.A. Fulfillment of Expectations: Illusion/Phantasm, Bard 1, Components V, Casting Time One Full Turn, Range Short, Target One Creature, Duration: One Hour, Saving Throw: Only if actively disbelieved, see below, and Spell Resistance Yes.

  • This subtle illusion causes it’s victim to perceive reality the way he or she thinks that it ought to be. If you talk about this marvelous little restaurant you found, and it’s talented chef, and the delicious food he serves, and cast this spell as you lead your victim to the place – a backstreet hovel that serves the worst food in the city in a tiny room – then for him it will be a marvelous little restaurant. It may be charmingly small, but there will be plenty of room for him and you.
  • Sadly, the effect does not cover up notable living creatures; you can hide the mice, rats, and roaches in your “marvelous restaurant”, but you and your “chef” will need your own disguises. It’s easy to break too; since it shows the victim what he expects, anything that disrupts those expectations will spoil the spell. Thus, anything that actually does the target harm – or an illusion that should do harm and does not – will break the spell. Spill cold gruel that’s supposed to be “boiling-hot gourmet soup” on your target, and he or she will know that something is wrong. Another “customer” who insists on shouting about the miserable hovel and how the roof is leaking on him will break the spell. A determined attempt to disbelieve will do so as well – and, when the spell is broken, it’s effects vanish utterly. Still, if you want to make a cramped den seem like a spacious mansion, then this is the spell for you.

Flavor: Transmutation, All Classes 0, Components V, S, Casting Time One Full Turn, Range Short, Target One up to 100 lb of food and drink, Duration: Permanent, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance No.

  • Flavor makes up to a hundred pounds of food and drink taste like whatever you like. Separate items may be given separate flavors, although this may extend the casting time since you must indicate each item.

Humanoid Form: Transmutation, Druid 1, Sorcerer 1, Bard 1, Components Special, Casting Time Special, Range Touch, Target Personal, Duration Special (D), Saving Throw None, Spell Resistance None.

  • Humanoid Form turns an animalistic user into an anthropomorphic animal – with an upright posture, hands, a voicebox that can handle speech. It can make the user seem medium-sized if smaller, but normally provides no other game-mechanical modifications. If cast as a standard action without components it lasts for one minute per caster level. Each optional component used in the casting extends the potential duration – changing it from minutes to hours, to days, and finally to years. Possible optional components include:
  • Adding a reusable focus item strongly linked to a humanoid race. That’s classically a skull, but any physical relic or important piece of human equipment that’s been presented to the caster will do.
  • Casting it as a ten-minute ritual.
  • Casting it in the presence of a humanoid with a positive emotional bond with the user.
  • Binding an additional permanent enchantment to the spell – although the item or ability so dedicated will be unusable for the duration, as it’s power is being drained to sustain the spell.
  • If at least three optional components are used, the effect becomes secure against loss of concentration.
  • If all four methods are used, the spell also grants interfertility with humanoids and the user can switch between full-animal and anthropomorphic animal forms as a free action for the duration.

Ghost Scent: As per Ghost Sound, but the user can produce a wide variety of smells instead. At the worst, this can be annoying and distracting, causing a -1 penalty to those creatures with a sense of smell who fail a DC 15 concentration check.

Tactile Illusion: As per Simple Image, but you can produce tactile sensations – making a lumpy mattr

ess feel soft, inducing annoying itching, the sensation of pebbles in peoples shoes, making an illusory wall feel solid (unless seriously pushed on), and so on. Used as an “attack” this can be annoying and distracting, causing a -1 penalty to those creatures who fail a DC 15 concentration check.

Magical Biotech and Monster Making, Part I – Ingredients

Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, fro...

You want to play what?

There was an earlier request for this, and – now that I finally have a little time for writing and putting things up again – it’s time to start this particular article-series…

d20… covers a lot of settings. The realm of dream? Been there. Virtual reality setting? Done that. High Fantasy? Please! That’s where it all started! Low Fantasy? Of course! Cyberpunk? Sure! Hard Sci-Fi or Historical? Rare, but it HAS been done. Homicidal Pixie-Unicorn Rampage versus H.G. Wells Martian Invaders? Well… OK, let me get out the Fey supplement and the War of the Worlds supplement…

And that’s the problem. Can you think of any creature – no matter how silly, “unbalanced”, lacking in a proper ecological role, and inconsistent – that could NOT make an appearance in a dream? Or in virtual reality? Or in a world with enough magic or sufficiently alien laws of nature?

That’s a rhetorical question because no, of course you can’t. If you can imagine it, it can appear in all those places – and is a perfectly valid d20 monster.

It may be one that makes no sense in a particular setting – but the SRD is full of those already. If a given setting doesn’t have elemental planes, or has hard-science biology, you aren’t going to have any use for Elementals or (Especially!) Elemental half-breeds. Low-magic world? You’ll be skipping dragons. No absolute alignments? Most outer-planar creatures are out – or at least will need plenty of revising.

Where do monsters come from?

They spawn from children’s dreams or from concentrations of magical or psychic energy, they are freakish mutants, they are created by wizards, dread gods curse the world with their presence, technicians make them in laboratories, mad scientists and alchemists build them from corpses, prayers for vengeance are answered with horrors, they arise from stillness and silence due to the Tao of creation, they are cursed people, they are animals risen above their station, they are nanotechnological horrors, they come from the future, or the past, or from alien realms,. and they are councilors and guardians.

How do monsters survive?

They consume flesh, or life force, or draw on elemental energy, or are incarnations of ideas and need nothing save minds to think of them, or embody spiritual principles, or survive on magic, or have internal nuclear reactors, or feed on souls (whatever that means in a setting), or are driven by sheer will, or are infused with positive or negative energy, or photosynthesize, or run on bolts of lightning, or divine power, or infernal power, or… well, it really doesn’t matter. How a monster survives – or reproduces, or what kind of society it has, or it’s family organization, or what it looks like – really doesn’t matter. All of that is simply a set of hooks for world-building, or bringing the monster into a scenario – and if you’re designing your own monster, you can find an excuse for it anyway. It’s not like you have biological, ecological, or even physical facts to restrain you.

Like it or not, what makes a suitable, “reasonable”, or even barely-usable monster varies with each setting – and with each game masters interpretation of that setting.

How do you create and modify monsters?

That depends on the setting. You’re in the Realms of Dream? You may be able to produce Godzilla with a Lucid Dreaming check and the expenditure of a little psychic energy. In a realm of High Fantasy? Perhaps an Alchemical Laboratory to create a mighty homunculus is in order – or perhaps, for swifter and less-controllable results, summoning a primal malevolent force and forcing it into a cage of form woven from your own imagination and strength of will will do better (although, if you lose control, it will become another unique terror haunting the land). A low-magic world? You may have to breed your beasts for generations to make much of a change at all. A technological world? A genetic engineering and cloning facility with a staff may be your only hope.

The only real “rules” here are some vague metagame principles.

  • Your monster should fit into the world background – even if it’s from another plane, there need to be “other planes” mentioned before it shows up.
  • It should present an interesting, but solveable, problem for the players – whether that problem is tactical, philosophical, moral, or whatever. After all, we don’t want them bored, completely frustrated, or giving up in disgust. We’re playing this game for fun.
  • It’s probably best to hold down the pop-culture references, puns, and gaming jokes. They tend to disrupt the actual play of the game – no matter how much laughter them may produce at the moment.
  • If the creature can reproduce, as opposed to being a unique creation or summoning, there should be a reason it hasn’t taken over the world if it’s powerful enough to worry about that.
  • It’s usually a bad idea to give it one obscure critical weak point and make it otherwise quite invulnerable. Not only does this make for one-use creatures (next time they’ll know!), but it’s quite likely to result in complete frustration. Players almost never do the things that you thought they were going to do.
  • It’s usually a bad idea to leave some of the player characters with nothing to do during an encounter with the creature. It’s all too likely that – the day they run into the creature that’s utterly immune to magic and conjured things in a white-box setting – that all the combat-specialists will be unavailable – and even if you don’t get that worst-case scenario, you’re still leaving half the table bored.

Sadly, none of that is much help when Mandrake the Magician wants to create a guardian-beast for his laboratory and mystic sanctum. For that we need a monster-designing system for player characters.

Fortunately, In Eclipse, I have one handy – and the next article will start getting into the mechanics of that.

Analysis of Experience Points

plasma lamp

An Experience Point?

Analysis of Experience Points

Recently, our characters in an Atheria campaign game have entered (hopefully merely for a visit) a very standard D&D (Forgotten Realms, as it turns out) world, with a more traditional experience-point-based system for leveling and advancing. We were… surprised, to the say the least. And disturbed. Many of the creatures we have encountered have no sensible biology, and the world required some very strict rules to keep ft from collapsing. The deities, for example, have had to establish strict and arbitrary identities for species – patterns to which overly-mixed breeds revert – to keep the unlimited crossbreeding from collapsing all the species into each other.

We got a chance to chat with a rather nice (well, “Lawful Evil”) but willing to converse for a reasonable bribe) dragon. He explained a great deal about how things worked, pleased that we weren’t adventurers out to kill him. And in that sense, we were very curious as to how it all actually worked under the hood. The locals don’t even need to know; it’s just a part of them, as natural as breathing.

However, Ein is a researcher and likes to tamper with things Man Was Not Meant To Know, both because it’s funny and because he’s young to enough to believe himself immortal. So here is some hypothesizes from him, starting with a basic rundown of what we know for sure, what seems likely, and moving from there to some possible experiments.

What we know:

  1. “Experience Points” are, or stand for, something real. Whatever that is can be analyzed and measured according to a simple numeric scale.
  2. They are attached to a creature or object.
  3. Creatures gain more by killing things. Despite what the dragon implied, it doesn’t have to be opposite-alignment creatures, though it may help.
  4. They come with links to outer planes or something. [Our characters have a hard time comprehending whole linked dimensions. However, the locals have not mentioned the Dragon and have seemingly no fear of it. Add in that teleportation is a lot easier on the surface, and we wonder if there are Super-Meta-Universes. A question for another day, anyway.]
  5. They come with innate conflicts-orientations versus other alignments.
  6. With them, you almost instantly become better at what you do and can even learn whole new tiers of ability instantly.
  7. They tend to control personality and behavior, to a degree. Creatures definitely seem to have their own separate personality, but view other alignments as natural competitors or something.
  8. You can split them off into items deliberately; they’re apparently linked to life force and spirits – and can bind spirits to things easily.
  9. Most “Gods” are merely at the top of the target list.
  10. We, lacking those links, are not receiving a share in the rewards for killing things – but those rewards are still being handed out.

Consequences:

  1. Fighting everywhere. Every creature that’s not too far below you is worth killing, although you may have reasons of your own not to do so.
  2. Alignments suppress conflict enough to permit species to survive – but force whole groups to fight even if they have no interest in each other or rational motive for doing so.
  3. “Good” and “Evil” here, as well as “Law” and “Chaos”, seem to mostly be banners in the war. There’s some behavioral control going along with it. Good creatures are psychotically driven to massacre evil ones, and evil ones seem to prefer good targets. However, we’ve seen many “evil creatures” who were quite genial outside of the weird local conventions, and good powers which were borderline psychotic.
  4. There’s an acceleration. People die a lot, but advance rapidly if they survive, until they can’t get any more powerful. Then somebody else bumps them off. This may be slowly increasing the total energy in the system, or it may be stable. I’m almost positive it’s not shrinking, because if there was much inefficiency and loss the sheer rate of killing would drive everything towards low levels swiftly.

Reading between the lines:

The stronger a connection a creature is born with, the more stable it is (harder to alter), and the more free power the creature starts life with. I esxpect that such a phenomenon will be self-balancing. Initially weaker creatures die in droves, but a few survivors will have strong connections and have picked ones suitable to them.

While the one way we were told to create magic items involved infusing them with a balance of “experience points” / alignment energies, it seems likely that that isn’t necessary. If the base item can successfuly contain  it, it seems like you should be able to use any alignment energy you want.

I can’t actually tell if the alignment links themselves matter except as a funneling mechanism. After all, creatures apparently keep their reserves of power even if they swap alignments later. So the actual “flavor” of the energy apparently matters less than the quantity.

The whole mess seems to either be some cosmic being’s entertainment, or perhaps a shuffling mechanism to produce the strongest killers most rapidly.

How it Works (Ein’s Hypothesis)

Creatures have alignment links, which funnel “experience points” to them. The experience points themselves are identical except for having a polarization effect applied (which doesn’t really matter much). The outer planes, being infinite in scope, have infinite potential energy to distribute. The fact that the creatures themselves must develop these links by mass murder implies that there isn’t another way. Either something actively prevents the planes from fuelling their champions, or they choose not to do so. Either could be the case, and it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Therefore, when a ceature kills another, it must either be demonstrating its fitness for more power, absorbing some for itself, or creating a “hole” in the universe which creates a channel for the killer’s gain. I favor the last approach. This implies that only through the birth of new creature does the total xp reserve increase, if it does at all.

[The total energy in the system, or the total for each alignment, could be set and universal. We might have a situation where the only change is the relative concentration of each, so that what you’re actually doing is scattering the enemy’s energy, which permits a concentration of your own.]

[Secondly, there’s a question of what happens if a creature kills one of its own alignment. The basic description implies that little useful would occur. The dispersion theory would suggest the creature would get nothing. The absorption theory suggests the killer would get stronger most quickly by killing its own kind. The “outer planes are choosing” theory suggests that you might get weaker by doing it. Since creatures seem to gain a little bit, it may be a partial absorption and partial dispersion/hole issue.]

Once the killing is accomplished, the successful killer has forced some other alignment energy out. Its own alignment channel then has a niche to fill in total, which it can then shove full of more energy. However, that energy’s polarity is always fragile. If the creature can and does change alignment, the bond is broken and rebuilt to a new source, and in a chain reaction the xp twists with the new catalyst.

Now, what’s interesting is the next part. The creature actually builds itself with xp. It can instantaneously gain knowledge from nowhere, skills from nothing, and whole new abilities. This clearly has some unusual and extreme advantages – imagine custom-designing your own self with no more difficulty than picking from a menu. Evidently, experience is the raw stuff of creation around here. This makes a certain insane sense if the “outer planes” are some kind of potential energy.

Practical consequences:

If we kill some creature without our minions around, it will shove some alignment energy out of the universe. A hole would still be created, and over time alignment forces might fill it. But nobody would instantly know about it or be ready to pump up. If we kept doing this, we might even permanently damage to global xp supply, though that would require mass extinctions.

We might be able to manipulate the effect for our own ends. If we could create a hole somewhere, we’d make it quite possible to call down some new alignment energy from nothing.

Possible Experiments:

  • Kill something while watching what happens to all the alignment energy in the area. Set up sensors for relevant types of energy and see which ones get triggered. I think I can do this with my new PasuCon*.
  • *Ein is enchanting himself a sort of “magical tricorder” there.
  • I’d like to try dropping some alignment creatures out of the universe. What happens? Does the “XP” still get handed out to locals?
  • Kill something (neutral) with as many (nonneutral) creatures of different alignments cooperating. Who gets what?
  • Kill something with as many creatures of different alignments cooperating, but checking the target’s alignment first. Set this up several times, and see who gets the most “XP” or if it’s shared evenly.
  • Federation-Apocalypse Session 152 – In the Houses of Healing

    Galatea, Villa Farnesina, 295 × 224 cm, origin...

    Image via Wikipedia

    It didn’t take long for Raphael, Archangel of Healing, to notice the visitors.

    (Raphael) “Ah, it looks like we have additional guests. Are you here to learn the healing arts, or are you here seeking assistance in some matter?”

    (Kevin) “Assistance I fear: the Lady Tyra Istral has an injury that is beyond any of our talents – at least without great risk of making the situation worse. We were hoping that you could advise or assist us.”

    (Raphael) “Hmm, Lady Istral, if you would please step forward to the front of the class? I would like to take this opportunity to demonstrate some of the advanced healing techniques for these students.”

    (Istral) “I do not mind, matters of privacy don’t bother me quite as much these days.”

    (Raphael) “And do any others among you need assistance?”

    (Marty) “I’m fine, but I’ll definitely pay attention.”

    (Kevin) “Not, I think, at the moment, thank you.’

    Hm. The Lady Istral was indeed an honorable and noble soul. Despite their total unfamiliarity, her surroundings weren’t affecting her nearly as much as they did Kevin. It did make him wonder how she’d view the entities of this realm. After all, they were generically humanoid, rather like a compromise between all the species she knows, neither fur nor feathers nor scales. Just – by her standards – utterly generic beings of light.

    Would she be seeing this as – by her standards – a sort of “generic good guy” world? And what did that say about human spirits? Come to think of it, did they even have a concept of the darkness as an independent power of evil in Ciarkian? Their world was awfully… Darwinian. Notions of philosophical good and evil held little power there.

    Did souls from the Core have a richer experience of darkness than the ones who had originated in Ciarkian? They would still be fundamentally human of course, but who knew how they could be shaped as they journey through the Manifold? Besides… their world featured fairly benign creators who did’t interfere, local gods who interfered sometimes but were really more nature elementals than gods, and occasional things from outside that could be really WEIRD. The idea of a “deal with the devil” didn’t have much purchase there – although some outside things might fill that role. It would explain why they had fewer doubts about his pact; there wasn’t much of any notion of “compromising with evil” in their society, it was simply pragmatism; Kevin was offering an excellent deal…

    (Raphael) “Very well then. Let us have a look at the problem. (Light tendrils began to swirl forth from the Archangel to orbit Istral.) Hmm, a first glance would point to an issue with the tail, but this would be misleading. The fact that the additional tails represent a form of personal growth point to this being a deeper issue than one of some missing biomass. Note what happens when we try a simple regenerative effect…”

    Meanwhile, Kevin and Marty continued their private discussion…

    Perhaps the desire for a simpler role was, in some ways, a bit limiting – but it was also very characteristic of the animal-people notion, since they were often perceived as more primal and with a lot of very stereotypical behaviors. The magical basis of their society might be a symptom of the same thing; a simpler way of life than the human one.

    Marty kept an eye on the lecture too. This was pretty much the first time he’d been exposed to medical training beyond “give them the healing pill and stab if that doesn’t work.”

    Meanwhile, a tail began to reform from the stump, and nearly approached full growth before turning necrotic and falling off.

    (Raphael) “Note what happened, the form was fine, but the spirit was unable to maintain the outward expression of power. This suggests that the spirit has been damaged in some fashion. Now, if we switch our focus to the spiritual level….

    Suddenly the world around them went dark, and the people in the class turned to a translucent blue or green color.  Marty shone with a golden yellow color, Raphael shone with a brilliant white light that was both blinding and pleasing to the eyes at the same. Kevin showed as a blue ghost with black clouds of swirling murkiness and ominous red glowing lights beneath the black clouds shifting across his form – albeit with occasional, lightning-like flashes, of light.

    Kevin and Marty promptly started private speculation on the meaning of the various colors – even if some of them were clear enough. White for the Light, black and red for the Darkness and for dominance and lower instincts, blue was perhaps logic, green was probably related to life. Kevin didn’t see why he couldn’t be as pretty as the others though! Darkness could be pretty! The night sky was!

    Marty was thinking about yellow… Chaos perhaps?

    The Lady Istral glowed a violet color, save for the stump of her tail, which ended in a black cloud with bluish lightning arcing off silently from the stump.

    (Raphael) “First note the violet coloration of her spirit. It is easy to tell that this one is a mage and a psion of considerable power. Now, if the injury was merely a physical one we would see the rest of the tail shine forth like the rest except maybe as a dimmer light. Note the fact that the tail abruptly ends in this swirling black mist of dark energies. The fact that this has not spread beyond the wound indicates the spirit is fighting the infection. Another sign of this is the violet discharges around the wound itself. What does this tell us about the nature of the wound and why her tail refuses to regenerate?

    Perhaps a necromantic spiritual corruption? And for the spirit to regenerate into that area would be to allow it to infest the rest of her?

    Oh well! Pure guesswork there, and simply trying to jump ahead of the lecture for amusement; it wasn’t like either of them was a masterhealer!

    (Medical Student) “That the spirit is devoting the power that would go towards manifesting the tail towards fighting the infection?”

    (Raphael) “Yes and no, the amputated tail is a symptom and not a sign of her physical health. Remember, the tails represent her power, if the infection is damaging her power, then it stands to reason that the damage would then manifest itself in the form which represents it. Now as to the nature of the infection, it appears to be necromantic in origin, and I would dare say I detect demonic overtones in it as well. Tell me young lady, do the concepts of light and darkness have any real meaning for you beyond abstract concepts or simple facts of illumination?”

    (Istral) “I am not sure I understand…”

    (Raphael) “I thought as much. Lady, you recognize that I appear to be different in spirit than the others here? I am certain one of your power can recognize that fact? That is because I represent the concepts of good, healing, self-sacrifice, and other qualities that represent “good” behavior in a species of social animals. Now, the others here are normal spirits like yourself with varying degrees of power. Blue tends to represent magic and purity, green represents life and ties to those around you. Gold, which our friend over here displays, represents a sort of divine aspect still taking form. You could see a certain element of purity in that I suppose. Now, our other friend here (indicating Kevin) has been dealing with powers of a darker sort. Death, destruction, the will to live at all costs and the urge to fight. Some would call these evil, but most social species need some of that in order to survive. It’s making the conscious decision between light and darkness that enables the spirit to become something more. You, having come from a world with no symbolic distinction between light and dark powers, are somewhat immune to them. That is keeping the corrupting nature of the curse at bay, but still your spirit must fight off the foreign power that has entered your system. I suspect your first incarnation died at a very young age. Perhaps shortly after birth or even before then. We can heal the wound, but to do that will require you to make a decision. You must choose between light and darkness.”

    (Raphael turned to Kevin) “Do you have anything to say on this matter? As a representative of the Darker powers, I assume you would have something to add.”

    Kevin sighed.

    (Kevin) “Hm… The powers of darkness are a heavy burden, and can easily become powers of destruction – both of the user and of everything they might hold dear. I… acquired them far too early. Still, the darkness is a weapon of tremendous power, and – unlike the light – that power is not limited by the user’s purity. If you feel that your world faces menaces greater than you might become, and has need of that power – the darkness would be a choice. It certainly offers greater immediate rewards. The light, however, offers great long-term rewards, is no threat to your world, and will demand no more than self-sacrifice of you. The Darkness is necessary at times. I suspect you have seen wars; there are far more vicious wars out there. If you feel that you must fight them, the darkness will serve. If you wish only to defend and heal, you do not need it.”

    (Raphael – with, perhaps, a trace of surprise) “Well said, now there is no need for a decision right now. You just need to be aware of the implications of such a decision. A time will come when you need to choose what purpose you serve. Are you a weapon or a shield? I cannot tell you, nor can anyone else on any reachable plane of existence. Only you can tell yourself that.”

    (Istral) “Haven’t I proven who I am already?”

    (Raphael) “To some extent yes, but some decisions need to be conscious of the consequences for them to have consequences. Such is the nature of innocence. Don’t worry, it will come in due time, and sooner than I expect you think.

    (Marty) “I can’t make the decision for you, but I know one thing. My friend here sometimes has problems holding in all that darkness and destruction. The light’s not so bad on that. He’s right about the self-sacrifice, though.”

    (Raphael) “Now I have shown you the way, it’s up to you as to which path you end up picking. (Raphael turned to Kevin and Marty) I expect you had other matters you wished to attend to while here?”

    (Kevin) “Indeed, yes. Ms Istral? I trust you will not mind if we leave you in the capable hands of Raphael here for the moment? We shall be back by (he glanced questioningly at Raphael in hopes of some indication of how long that should be, and didn’t get anything) shortly to pick you up for the return trip to your world; it is rather distant from here…”

    (Istral) “I should be fine. It definitely looks like I have a lot to think about right now.”

    (Kevin) “Well, you may not need to come to any final decision for many years – but it must be your decision. We shall see you again a bit later.”

    (Kevin, to Marty on the way out) “And off to see Menthas!. Now… A new flaming sword?

    (Marty) “A new flaming sword might not be a bad idea, I’m sure they keep spares.”

    (Kevin) “I hope this doesn’t turn out to be one of those “A thousand years is as a day!” deals! That would be bloody awkward to explain back in Cyrweld! “Oh, we took your city hero away for a bit of the afternoon and left her in a distant dimensions! She should be back in a thousand years!”. They’d get lynched!

    Of course distortions like that normally only applied to local time, and when you exited you’d find that it was the dimensions internal time that had shifted, not Core time…

    (Marty) “Well, we could always try to bring in a ringer!”

    Kevin had to frown at that. That just didn’t seem likely to work, and he wasn’t much for lies anyway.

    (Benjamin) “I take it you are now ready to visit Menthas?”

    (Kevin) “Yes indeed!”

    (Benjamin) “Very well then, one second.”

    Benjamin raised his hand, and there was another flash of light. Suddenly they found themselves at the entrance to a Classical style open air building. The landscape was a rugged hilly terrain with a pleasant climate and dotted with trees and picturesque “ancient ruins”. An aqueduct could be seen in the distance, and a small fountain that seemed to glow without giving off light was off to one side. A number of reclined chairs were scattered about the building, many of hem occupied by resting angels and people.

    The air was filled with enough light to make Kevin felt slightly sickened, but it was otherwise unimpairing.. They could see Menthas playing a game against a human on a board set between their two chairs.

    By the time they got there, Kevin and Marty had pulled in half a dozen different presents from elsewhere, including a new flaming sword, a video game system, a couple of get well soon cards, a fruit basket, a magic shield, a very large Kadian gift certificate, several bottles of fine wine, and a selection of other bits and pieces, both magical and mundane. Even if angels didn’t need presents, they could appreciate the thought!

    (Marty) “Hi, Menthas! How are you recovering?”

    Menthas looked up from her game to them.

    (Menthas) “Ah, so you did come to visit! A number of the others around here figured you wouldn’t show up again after having gotten what you wanted from us. It’s good to see that I was right. So far, the injuries have all healed nicely, and the weariness of battle and having lost so much energy is dissipating quickly enough. I should be ready for battle again in a few weeks…  And yourselves? I see you both have recovered well in the time that has passed.”

    (Marty) “We’re doing all right, though we took some major dings and have been taking a break ourselves. Just thought we should see how you were doing.”

    (Kevin) “Oh pretty well recovered I think! I wasn’t sure what you’d like, so I brought you an assortment of get-well presents! Would you like to let some of the Neodogs who were assisting you visit? They tend to worry if there isn’t a pack handy to protect any friend of theirs who is injured…”

    (Menthas) “That would be nice. It’s always nice to have others who care about you around.”

    (Kevin) “I’ll set up a gateway to near the gates of heaven for them then. “

    Unfortunately, due to external circumstances, this session had to be cut short at this point.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 105 – The Chill of the Night

       So, they’d been traveling across Necropolis to reach Necropolis. Bloody confusing of the realm’s discoverers to simply give the place the name of the first city they’d arrived in there.

       OK, it was hard to blame them for not being interested in extensive exploration given the nature of the realm – but still. It’d just have to be Necropolis, Necropolis, just like New York, New York.

       Anyway, Hoxin was still explaining.

     (Hoxin) “Let’s see, we have the Living Canton and the Sentient Undead Canton. Those two I am familiar with to some extent. I really don’t know much more about the city itself beyond the fact there are a total of six cantons total and the market district. My contact frequents the market place from time to time.”

    (Kevin) “Well, off to the market then I presume! A good thing we have some goods to trade…”

    (Marty) “Yeah, guess we’ll be dealing with the living first.”

    (Hoxin) “Indeed, although I shall suggest that you do not act too spirited outside the Living Canton. It tends to draw attention.”

       It looked like the ensouled population was very low… Perhaps one in a thousand or so at the best. Evidently souls tended to either vacate as soon as possible, or the initial population was not high to begin with. Kevin was disappointed in some ways and relieved in others; with a population of 80-100 thousand, the ones with souls were likely to be out more… There might be 20-30 ensouled kids around at the most; he wouldn’t be recruiting much – but there shouldn’t be too many rescue-offer obligations either.

       The Market area was full of people and shop stalls, and the entire area was lit with natural gas lamps. The people were all quietly trading back and forth… Most of the items being traded appeared to be local magical or psionics charms or metal workings. There was one rather lively individual offering healing services of some sort – but she was tucked away in a back corner of the market.

       They had a couple of the Thralls set up their stall while they – and a few of the other Thralls – checked the place out and had a look at what was for sale – and who was in charge.

       Unsurprisingly, several of the traders, and the local leaders, were the ensouled ones. Not too many on the lower end of things.

       So… There were magical trinkets with a variety of low level spells on them. Psionic protection charms of various sorts. Some booths that were offering “coins” of some sort in exchange for money or goods. Another stall was offering to forge Corrinum into whatever form the buyer choose – and yet another vendor was offering seeds and small plants or fungi of unusual types. No serious slave market, although there were a few around.

       More directly, the food market was very limited, and appeared to be basically limited to two or three commodities – some sort of flour, what seemed to be edible fungi, and what might be some sort of small fruits. All in bulk, and with little apparent variety. Probably provided for no more than the effort of gathering. Otherwise Necrosis would have no experimental subjects left.

       Marty was pleased; evidently their food and spices were going to be appreciated!

       Marty was having a look at the magical trinkets; there were items that would (supposedly) help protect your mind while you slept, or reduce your need to sleep. Lots of convenience items for around the house or while out of the house. One seller with jars of various metallic looking liquids, another with more earrings like the one’s he’d seen before, a third with a set of Corrinum marbles similar to the ones that Kylar had purchased for the gift exchange. Another was selling blood and other parts from creatures not human. One stall was selling small stones with the option of engraving any word on it that the customer wished; common suggestions were offered. Rings of invisibility to undead were probably the most popular item…

       Hm… According to Yorick the magic was valid – but it wasn’t likely to fool anything too powerful. The mindless undead should fall for it, and the weaker sentient undead without unusual senses should be fooled for a while. A lot like the talismans he’d bought at the straits… Of course, the local Thralls could all use some – so he bought a batch of them.

    (Hoxin, heading off to mingle with the crowd a little.) “I will be back soon, I doubt we are so lucky to find her shopping today of all days though. Try not to stir up any trouble while I am away though. Creating a disturbance here is likely to draw unwanted attention.”

       Well, hopefully selling food and spices and such wouldn’t be TOO weird. Of course, it was all in highly-condensed forms and laced with Core and magical vitamins and medications and such, but at least the lacing wasn’t obvious… The packaging and source would be a bit harder to explain. Well, perhaps they could simply claim to have found the stuff; there were dimensional links around here.

       They got a line quickly enough. Marty considered selling at cost, or at least as close a conversion as he could manage – but Kevin had to point out that their stock really didn’t have a “price” anyway.

       They settled for “reasonable” prices – enough surcharge to be believable for the local conditions and for bringing the stuff into the city – and no mass sales. It would be nice for a lot of the people in the city to get a treat. It was a bit sad to have to tell people that there wasn’t any more available at the moment – but

       Kevin had the Thralls make sure that any ensouled kids got a free food package, while the phantasm kids got some quietly-conjured candy.

       Marty had Yorick use his “kids magic” to transform the wood from the wagons into permanent toys. The locals had stalls, so they had sources for at least some wood anyway.

       Their sales created a bit of a local stir and cheered things up a bit. The kids were running around playing with their new toys, people were sharing or trading the food around, and in general it seemed like the mood had lightened a bit.

       Of course, about then, Hoxin got back, looked around at the small commotion they’d caused and appears to sigh – surely an affectation, considering that he no longer really needed to breathe.

    (Hoxin) “It seems we are in luck indeed, my contact has been regularly coming out of the central lab every five days to pick up an order of supplies from a vendor near here. Last time she was around was four days ago, so she should be back tomorrow morning. I suggest finish what shopping you wish to do today and then finding somewhere safe for the night.”

       Kevin shrugged. Better that the locals be a bit excited over the unusual goods than that they be taking a really good look at all of them. They’d already found that – on close inspection – they were all too obvious as outsiders.

       Marty went to scope out a hiding place for the night. Unfortunately, that didn’t go well… It didn’t look like “accommodations for travelers” was on the list of things available in Necropolis proper. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise – but his usual bar-crawling system of gathering information didn’t work here either! The people were there to drink themselves into dreamless unconsciousness and forgetfulness, and every drink was designed to accomplish that as quickly as possible! Even his system couldn’t handle that indefinitely!

       Eventually he was drunk enough to consider falling back on the standard plan for Battling Business World – Get thoroughly plastered, puke into the fountain of whatever liquid that was over there repeatedly until he passed out, drown face-first in the fountain while unconscious, and wake up the next morning at home all safe and sound.

    (Marty, to his girls) “What? It works back home!”

       Even in ferret-form, the girls were pretty sure that “drowning” was a bad thing. They got a little frantic and called for help before Marty was too far along with that plan. Sadly, they were too confused as ferrets to actually specify the location – which led to some quick searching…

       Kevin found Marty hunched over a fountain with a sour look on his face.

    (Kevin) “Hey Marty! What’s up?”

    (Marty) “There’s no goddamn water!”

    (Kevin) “I’ve got some here!”

    (Marty) “Thanks, pal, you’re a lifesaver!”

       While he was wondering how to get the water into the fountain, and get it working, and then throw up from the drinking.

       Well, OK, it was only that middle part that was awkward. He described his plan to Kevin. Maybe one of the kid’s spells could get the fountain working!

    (Kevin, bemusedly) “I think it would take too long to get back from that Marty!

    (Marty) “Oh. Damn… (pause) So what’s your idea?”

    (Kevin) “Hang out in a bar overnight? I think we can easily skip one nights sleep. We could try the old “Rope Trick” routine as well, but it might attract some notice.”

    (Marty) “Maybe there’s an alley or a nook somewhere around here.”

       Those were easy enough to locate. There was a tavern or two that he’d been at earlier that they could go back to as well – but he’d probably made a jerk of himself there. Marty voted for setting up the rope trick in an alley – provided that Hoxin felt that making a dimensional pocket wouldn’t attract too much attention.

    (Hoxin) “Keep it small and out of the way and there shouldn’t be any problems. If the pocket has an entrance to somewhere else though, expect trouble quickly.”

    (Kevin) “Well, it shouldn’t…”

       They quietly found a corner alley that didn’t seem to get much traffic and started setting up.

       They threw up a selection of magic-concealment and anti-detection spells first – including anti- life detection, psychic detection, and dream detection, as well as some other protections, both over the entrance and over the inside. Hopefully they would get to morning undisturbed.

       They did. While there was apparently no shortage of things hunting, there was plenty of prey that was far easier to find. They slept without dreams, although the night was restless.

       They headed back to the market, but more quietly. There wasn’t much of their original stock, so they left a couple of the Thralls to handle it and to distribute a few more toys and conjured sweets and such (they wouldn’t be terribly nutritious when made with low-level magic, but they would be tasty) – all of which would be a good distraction while they hunted up Hoxin’s contact – if she was in the area.

       The market had mostly returned to it’s original quiet demeanor, although fewer people were out on the streets this morning – perhaps due to the general chill in the air.

       Uh oh. That might be a sign of Necrosis giving the area some personal attention.

    (Hoxin) “I trust you are ready for this then? The Lich Evanescence does not tolerate having her time wasted any more than Necrosis. On the other hand, should you prove of value, she can be considerably more approachable.”

    (Kevin) “Ready enough I suppose. We’re often bizarre and whimsical, but we’re rarely a waste of time.”

    (Hoxin) “Good, we shall set off to find her. As you can probably gather, it appears she has entered the Canton already.”

    (Kevin) “Ah, I thought it seemed a bit subdued.”

    (Hoxin) “Let us be off then.”

       Hoxin led them down a complex series of streets, taking abrupt turns every so often. It would have been awfully easy to get lost in the winding alleys and cull-de-sacs without the recording-mapping functions in their Smartclothes… At last they found themselves outside a magical reagent shop, well off the beaten path. A young porter was waiting outside – but the chill in the air was intense, and the morning dew was beginning to frost over everything.

       Kevin had been trying to recall… A lich named Evanescence, associated with Necrosis… Notable as being one of the most powerful known mages? A researcher type from what he recalled.

       Marty recalled something too – from his consultation about possible trade items back in Gethrid – “she” was supposed to be interested in obtaining magical and psionic reagents from the outside world – and from other dimensions – for her experiments.

       They weren’t exactly well stocked with that sort of thing, even if they did have lots of magic available. There might be a few random bits, they could create a few things if necessary, and there were always Thrall-services: they might not have a lot of power, but they did have lots of different options (then he wanted to kick himself again; there he was considering the kids as trade-items again!).

       Hoxin ushered them into the ship – apparently not wanting to be first.

       Inside the shop, the shopkeeper appeared to be sweating profusely – despite the obvious cold… A beautiful, gray-skinned, woman stood in the center of the shop – glowing with a soft violet light. The whites of her eyes had turned black, and her skin was pale and cold. Otherwise she showed few signs of her undeath… There was an air of malice in the air at the moment.

    (Evanescence) “So you are telling me that you are unable to deliver the requested items a third time in a row, and you only seek to inform me of this after I have come here again? I do not like wasting my time pandering to the egos of mortals.”

       Well, that was bad luck for the shopkeeper.

    (Shopkeeper) “I am sorry, I truly am. But the last gatekeeper I had access to has up and disappeared without a trace, I had hoped he would have returned by now, I swear. My messages to you keep getting collected by those guards at the lab. And making a fuss about it would mean attracting Necrosis’ attention to the matter!”

       Ah, now that was revealing. So Necrosis was either unaware that his “apprentice” was trading with other realms and dealing with things that were beyond his control – or it suited his purposes to pretend to be unaware of those dealings.

    (Marty, privately) “Should we see what happened to them?”

    (Kevin, also privately) “Oh well. Gatekeepers are hardly all-powerful. They may simply have escaped of course – or been killed in trading with other dimensions. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d run into safety measures at the gates out, just like at the Tomb Archive. Apparently he had access to more than one though, which is somewhat surprising – although they may just have been trading; there’s great wealth to be found in Necropolis; look at the amount of money we’ve made here.”

    (Evanescence, tapping her chin thoughtfully) “Indeed, I suppose your ability to get messages to me has been severely compromised lately. I cannot fault you for that, no matter how I may feel about the matter. And with your last gatekeeper having disappeared, I have no further use of your services then.”

       Hm. A test of her intelligence and self-control; would pointless pique win out over possible future utility if one of the gatekeepers he knew turned up again?

    (Shopkeeper, eyes going wide) “No, please, I will not speak about this matter to anyone. I have served faithfully all these years and all I ask is for mercy! At least spare my family.”

       Oh dear. Kevin coughed slightly.

    (Evanescence) “Indeed, you have served me well, and for that I will grant you mercy. You shall keep your mouth shut regarding our business deals, and in exchange you and yours shall live. In the meantime, I will be forced to revoke privileged status to your family as you are no longer of use to me. Should you find your wayward gatekeeper, we can discuss anew.”

       They heard the sound of the door behind them locking as Evanescence turned her head slightly to get a glimpse of them.

    (Evanescence) “You had best have a good reason to be here right now. If you wish to speak to me, then speak quickly. Otherwise, I may have to take measures to ensure your silence.”

    (Kevin) “We wish to discuss some gates. You apparently wish to engage in a bit of cross-dimensional trade. Given that we operate a fair number of such enterprises, this might appear mutually profitable.”

    (Evanescence turned to get a full look at the group, her eyes narrowing) “I am listening.”

       They explained that they wished to locate a gate to the “Jesus Realms” that was said to be somewhere in the area, provided a basic description of the realm – and inquired as to what materials she needed.

    (Evanescence) “My material needs change frequently. Although currently I seek something called transuranics. Are you perhaps familiar with the term?”

       Marty raised an eyebrow at Kevin. He was pretty sure that he didn’t know – but while Kevin might not really have a technical education he was a product of the Core educational systems and he had been knocking around the worlds for decades. His fund of general information was pretty good.

    (Kevin) “Elements with superheavy nuclei. In technical worlds, normally produced in supernova in very small quantities. Easier to get in some magical universes – if you can find the right magical material to translate. Do you know which ones you might need, or are you simply experimenting with their properties, possibly as amplified with or through Corrinum? In that case, a selection would be most useful.”

    (Evanescence) “Indeed, the sample I received some time ago has displayed interesting magical and metallurgical properties. If there are several varieties then I would like to receive quantities of each. Since you seem familiar with the substances, literature on them is probably available is it not?”

       Well, Ryan had been importing sizeable quantities of Transuranics (enough to fuel a technological revolution) into Core for decades, so there were modest amounts available in Core and Kadia. Literature certainly was… Kevin had the Thralls in Kadia start getting some samples and literature printouts available.

    (Kevin) “Yes – although, again, mostly with respect to their technical uses.”

    (Kevin, privately to Marty) “Marty? What should we include here? Literature and small experimental samples?”

    (Evanescence) “It is of no matter what the studied uses are, merely that studies comparing their properties to those of more conventional materials are available. And in response to your question, yes I am aware of such a gateway. Necrosis occasionally tries experiments with it to find a way through it. The location is deep within the lab though.”

    (Marty, privately to Kevin) “That sounds like a good start. Maybe give her what stats we know on the stuff. Perhaps we should see if she wants whatever we have right now of the created stuff?”

    (Kevin, privately to Marty) “There might be some very small amounts in some of the equipment – the better power-packs, forceblades, effector modules, and so on use the stuff in tiny quantities – but the quantities are minuscule, and it is handy to have equipment; I’d vote for not unless she asks.”

    (Kevin) “That is awkward. Still, I would hate to have to find another route after coming all this way. Are there any other gates around? Hopefully I can find a shorter route to ship your materials over.”

    (Evanescence) “It may be possible to sneak you into the lab, on the matter of other nearby gates, the only one inside the city is the one in the lab. Near the city, there are four that I know of, but I do not know where they lead save that whatever passes through never returns. That could be locals with sturdy defenses, or it could be realms far more hostile than here. Who is to tell?”

    (Kevin) “Well, there are some probes that can be run.”

       They started checking their data… It seemed likely that gates to Necropolis might have plenty of warnings on them elsewhere – or be notable as origin points for undead. Hm… one of the gates mentioned might align with the listed location of a transition point to the Victorian Mental Asylum realm – a place where all kinds of madness-entities ran loose and doctors with all sorts of crazed and barbaric ideas on the proper method of treatment for insanity were completely unrestrained. There were the ones trying to cure the patients – and then there were the ones using the opportunity to run all sorts of unethical experiments. The place was also known as “Arkham” – apparently it overlapped with the Lovecraft-Cthulhu realms AND the classic Mictlantecutli-“Batman” mythos.

       They might be able to ship stuff through there with reasonable speed, but they’d need a rather highly specialized team to do it – and they’d run into the issue that whoever did it would need to do it repeatedly to get good at it – but prolonged exposure to the realm seemed to have serious side effects mentally.

    (Kevin) “Hm. The only one I seem to have a match on at the moment runs through a madness dimension. That’s probably not too practical.”

    (Evanescence) “No, I must say it is not.”

    (Kevin) “We could probe the others; that is quietest. Opening magical or reality-shaping gates is far more conspicuous.”

    (Evanescence) “Ah, you have an Opener at your disposal?”

       She was better informed than they’d expected… Kevin consulted with Marty; should he admit that he was an Opener? Evanescence might bring substantial pressures to bear.

       Marty had his own notion in mind to deal with that.

    (Marty) “I’m an Opener. I’ll need to be close to the gates, but I can definitely tell where they go.”

       The probe-spell was fairly simple, but it would work best at short range – say thirty or forty feet.

    (Evanescence, finally looking at them closely) “You are an opener? Impressive, you appear more talented than I had expected for one looking as such. (She walked towards them, focusing on Marty – and put a well-manicured finger under Marty’s chin, bringing his eyes up to look at hers. The finger was not nearly as cold as Marty had thought it would be.) Such a thing could be very…. valuable, don’t you think. (Smiles)

       Marty was fairly sure that his first reaction (“Why, Ms. Lich, are you trying to seduce me or hire me?”) was not what she had in mind. Of course, she was rather long-distant from humanity – if she even had a soul (that seemed fairly likely, but they hadn’t bothered checking. In this case it didn’t seem likely to matter much). He decided to just be noncomittal…

    (Marty) “Yes, ma’am.”

    (Evanescence, dropping her hand back to her side.) “Good, I expect to hear some reports from your explorations soon enough. In the meantime, I shall see about making preparation to bring you into the lab.”

       She provided the gate locations – and made arrangements for a meeting the following morning before departing.

       Well, that gave them about twenty-four hours – and a bit of business of their own.

    (Kevin, to the Shopkeeper – who seemed to be ensouled) “Now, you may also have some information on what’s past the gates. You are also in need of the services of a Gatekeeper on occasion; those can be provided.”

    (Shopkeeper) “Yes, I do know some of what is past those gates.”

    (Marty) “Really?”

    (Kevin) “Well, if you will provide that information, I will provide the services of a Gatekeeper on occasion. While you may be suspicious, you are already aware that we are not from our world – and that if we don’t have at least one gatekeeper available, that information would be of no use to us anyway.”

       The shopkeeper hesitated – but a cough made the difference. The boy had risked diverting the attention of an annoyed lich to himself to get a complete stranger out of a corner.

    (Shopkeeper) “Very well then, the one to the North leads to a realm of machines that have learned to use humans for spare parts. Having weaponry and commonsense I am told is sufficient to get through there. The one to the East leads to some sort of hospital for the insane or such. Not much gets through there unscathed. To the Northeast is a gate to a world of sand and stone pyramids. They largely seem to have their monsters sealed within the pyramids or elaborate tombs. Sadly the gate also appears to be sealed within one. The one to the Southeast leads to a place of nightmares and dreams made real. Reality itself is supposedly fragile there I am told.”

       Well, north sounded closest to the Jesus World… At least it would get them into the right genre, even if it did sound like ancient “sci-fi” horror, like the Matrix or the Borg or some such. The one to the northwest might be one of the Ancient Egyptian – or perhaps Mayan – worlds. Of course, it could also be one of the hundreds of fictional worlds more-or-less loosely based on one of them. Southeast could be a lot of places; dreamworlds could be hard to tell apart even while you were in them, much less from a few words of description.

       Still, that gave them more data for the gate search…

       The Egyptian/Mayan one was probably not going to be too hard to find – or for Thralls to get past. The shopkeeper had shipped stuff through there fairly regularly – so it couldn’t be all THAT hard to get out of the pyramid. In fact, according to Mr Shopkeeper, the place had tales of Mummies and such coming out of some of the pyramids on a frequent basis.

       From the other end, Kevin had some teams of Thralls dispatched to sail the various Nile River Systems (even if the name did change depending on where you were) to find the right one. That might take a bit, but the route should be easiest to use once found… The one to the Southeast might very well be to one of the outer circle realms – but that really didn’t help much. The runaway robots using humans as parts was probably in the Science Fiction Horror section of the First Circle. It might even be Apollo Era based on the details provided.

    (Kevin, privately) “Well Marty – shall we offer the man and his family an out? Or start with just a trading contact?”

    (Marty, privately) “I say we offer him an out, considering what losing that privileged status means.”

    (Kevin, privately) “Fair enough!”

    (Kevin) “Well, it looks like the sands-and-pyramid gate will be easiest to use; we’ll have a transport team coming through there – sooner if I can put an agent through there to set up a beacon or link out. Presuming that proves possible, would you like to get set up as a local shipping agent, or would you like to get yourself and your family out entirely?”

    (Shopkeeper) “I think I would rather be able to leave this place. Living here is a death sentence in the long run without something of value to offer someone, and even then, powerful individuals get angry at the slightest things frequently. I am sure I could some way to make myself useful to you elsewhere though.”

    (Kevin) “Easy enough.”

       Kevin had to give Marty a sidelong glance though… It looked like Marty was becoming more public-spirited; he kept having them overpay for everything voluntarily, and he was pretty sure that overpaying for ANYTHING was against his personal religion. Evidently he was serious about trying to be a nicer person!

       Well, they’d been going to visit the gates for some probing anyway. They gathered up the Thralls, headed for the gates (leaving the city turned out to be fairly easy now that they knew the path) – and sent some through. They didn’t even have any notable zombie trouble. Poor starving zombies… It would probably have been unhealthy for them to try anyway.

       The probes mostly provided general information on the environment, magic levels, and similar factors – but they all looked survivable enough for normal humans, much less for Thralls.

       They’d arrived with eighteen local thralls, the six spares he’d brought along, and he and Marty’s usual companions – so there were plenty to send six each through the quasi-Egyptian and to the hostile robot realm. They sent all ten of the ones in horse-form. They’d have an easier time changing back in another realm.

       First priority for the quasi-Egyptian realm was to have the Thralls check the local magic for any oddities and set up a beacon. It went smoothly enough.

       It looked like there were fairly high magic levels, especially if you used the appropriate invocations. Getting out of the pyramid would be a modest pain (as expected); the seal on the place was fairly tough. There was a massive sarcophagus wrapped in chains in the middle of the main tomb though. Whatever had been sealed in there was still in there, and didn’t seem happy. On the other hand, the beacon effect didn’t seem to be blocked at all.

       Well, if they didn’t find something better, they’d gate through in person and see about setting up a magical gate from there to conserve mana. That would only work between highly magical realms – but it was worth a try, and it would let them get a shipment for Mrs Lich quickly if it worked.

       Marty decided that he’d handle the gate operation for the shipment if he could; he didn’t have that much personal mana yet – but he did want to help Kevin with the gates now that he could do it.

       The Thralls that went through to the sci-fi horror realm found that their kits transformed back to normal. The smartclothes had been working anyway (they were so assumed in core these days that they worked almost anywhere), but their plasma pistols, forceblades, medical kits, and other items went back to normal. It looked like a section of the first circle, probably based on the ancient “classic sci-fi b movies”. The theme of this one seemed to be that the Apollo astronauts had found a long-destroyed human civilization on the moon. Further probing by the astronauts had revealed that the locals had been wiped out by the AI’s that they’d built. The thing had run wild (surprise surprise). Parts from the Lunar Lander module had allowed the robots to repair their ship and head to Earth in search of more spare parts, and utter chaos had ensued.

       The Thralls reported that the robots weren’t very intelligent or sturdy, and could easily be fought given modern weaponry and half a brain. It did look like the next gate from there was on the moon though. There was a local resistance of course, full of plucky heroes and wacky scientists routinely pulling off miracles

       Well, that was mildly awkward, but probably manageable. Kevin told the Thralls to fight to the death rather than allow themselves to be captured of course – but that, given the nature of the place, having fun was primary and locating a route was secondary (pretty much the opposite of the instructions for the Egyptian-themed place). Marty had to grin… That sounded like his kind of world!

       Well, that left a fair chunk of time available before it would be time to meet Mrs Lich. She hadn’t actually said whether she’d be expecting her package then – in fact, they hadn’t actually said that they’d try to get her anything, only that they’d look into shipping routes.

       Considering her likely ego, she probably hadn’t even considered the possibility that they wouldn’t necessarily be going all out to get her the stuff she’d wanted – but, even so, she almost certainly wasn’t really expecting it to arrive in one day. She’d probably want to try to pressure them with their “failure to live up to expectations”. Ah well, if putting up with that kind of game would placate her, it would be well worthwhile.

       Now, if they had the stuff, and could produce it and point out that they hadn’t actually agreed to get it for her, they might be able to turn that around.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 99 – The Black Alliance

       Hm… The newly shapeshifted Thralls seemed a bit… restive. What was… Ah. The local reality limited their intelligence while they were in animal form and gave them a full set of animalistic instincts and tendencies. At least that only seemed to apply to the horses; the ones in Neodog form had full-size brains to work with.

       Well, the horses were still obedient property of course, but it would be best to avoid trying to get them to do anything too complicated at the moment.

       Hm. With dawn coming up, it looked like that patch of lights actually was a fairly good-sized walled medieval-style city located on some defensive heights – and the road appeared to meander in that direction. Good enough. It wasn’t as if they had any real idea where they were going anyway.

       Kevin flicked the reins and got the horses started trotting forward while Marty kept an eye out for undead – or other random horrors – and the dogs took up the escort positions.

       Necropolis was eerily quiet: there were no sounds of animals, and few signs of humanity save for the stone roads and fences. Only the sounds they made themselves rose above the whisper of the wind and the occasional trickle of running water.

    (Kevin) “Somehow I don’t think we’ve got a big population here. If EVERYONE is dead, we aren’t going to have much of a market for food.”

       The dogs reported the iron scent of blood, growing stronger. Everyone went a bit more on alert…

       If there were any highwaymen or bandits around they were probably pretty desperate – and if there was fresh blood, it would draw monsters, even if they hadn’t been the ones to spill it in the first place.

       On the other hand, fresh blood meant that the place still supported at least a few living beings – or at least that it had very recently supported some.

       Up ahead, glowing amidst the shadows of the hills, there appeared to be the burning remnants of another caravan – not all that dissimilar to their own. The bodies of fifteen or twenty people lay along the fence and road, all brutally gored and dismembered. A trio of them appeared to have been ritually slain, their blood used to draw complex symbols and diagrams. As they approached, they could make out a single individual, sitting atop a fence pillar and surveying the carnage.

    (Marty) “That can’t be good.”

    (Kevin) “No, probably not. Of course, we may have some sort of evil mage rather than a monster. I suppose we’ll have to stop anyway, that’s probably blocking the road.”

       As they got closer, they could see that the mess was, indeed, blocking the road. The man – or whatever it was that looked like one – atop the pillar noted their presence and calmly watched their approach. If they wanted to get by they’d either have to run over or move at least one of the bodies. It didn’t look to Kevin like the creature had a soul though.

    (Kevin, to Fence-Sitter): Might I ask what’s going on?

       The fellow on the post looked at them with eyes like a serpent…

    (Snake-Eyes) “Ah more travelers, I must tell you the roads are very dangerous tonight. All sorts of strange things about lately.”

    (Kevin) “I cannot argue with that! What befell these unfortunates?”

       Snake-Eyes smiled, revealing a set of needle-like sharpened teeth.

    (Snake-Eyes) “I am afraid they ran across a Krul on the hunt. The poor bastards never had a chance I fear.”

       Well, that was a new one to them – although Snake-Eyes seemed to assume that they’d have some idea of what a “Krul” was. There’d been no mention of such a thing in any of the records on Necropolis.

       Marty voted for playing ignorant just to mess with the guy – if only because, even if they didn’t know, the odds were that Serpentine was a “Krul”.

       Kevin – as usual – elected to probe for more information. Besides – that would give him a moment to look over the carts that had belonged to the ruined caravan: if they’d been out and about with serious monsters on the prowl, they’d either have been from offworld or they’d have been carrying something really vital – or extremely valuable.

       Hm. The burning carts had been carrying many ingots of a charcoal-black metal which appeared to be undamaged by the flames. The Thrall’s minds were very weak and confused at the moment, but – with some careful steering and very specific directions – they were up to a little divination.

       It looked like the metal was an unusual alloy of gold with energy absorbing properties – but it was very hard to tell anything more about it with magic.

       While Kevin had been looking at the carts and coaching animal-form Thralls, Snake-Eyes had been looking at their caravan. They spoke almost at the same time.

    (Snake-Eyes) “Some mighty unusual horses you have there; they’re healthy and of superb quality. Usually anything living around here is dying or sickly. I take it you are not from around here?”

    (Kevin) “Something unpleasant I take it? Bad luck for them…”

       Hm. Whatever Snake-Eyes was, he seemed to have some caution when confronting the unknown. On the other hand, if there was a major struggle going on, a caravan full of food would be a bit more conspicuous than they’d hoped. Of course, it also looked like the Thrall-Horses were a bit more conspicuous then they’d hoped. There wasn’t much point in denying things now – although they could try to disguise them a bit more later. It wasn’t like too many people had seen them.

    (Snake-Eyes) “Oh indeed, even the undead struggle with the Krul. At first it was just a few, but now their numbers grow with each passing night and for every body slain by them, living or undead.”

       The group didn’t seem much point in trying to deny their alien status if it was that obvious.

    (Kevin) “Passing through really, although I’d hoped to be a bit less obvious.”

       Kevin had thought that a realm of gothic horror would have a quasi-Victorian society with lots of dark undercurrents. Necropolis was beginning to seem more like a serious realm of the undead – although admittedly, they hadn’t really seen much of it yet. Perhaps he should have given more weight to the name.

    (Snake-Eyes) “Well I would suggest that, the next time you visit, you use less magnificent horses and dogs. If you live long enough that is.”

    (Kevin) “I thank you for your advice”.

    (Marty) “Yeah. Now what are these Krul?”

    (Kevin): “Do these men have any next of kin that you know of?”

    (Snake-Eyes) “As I recall the story of the Krul, a mage in a town far from here wanted to create an army to hold off the forces of the undead and other horrors. He delved deep into the arts of necromancy, conjurations, and summonings looking for the answers he sought. While he was unable – something about the soul being inviolate – to revive the dead, he was able to give life back to the bodies of the dead and undead. He just needed some force to animate the lumps of flesh. He found his answer in the Strangers, spirits from a plane of existence far from human experience.”

    (Kevin) “Always problematic.”

    (Snake-Eyes looked at Marty and cocked his head) “I suppose they might have relatives, most likely in that city up ahead – although it’s likely to be overrun in the near future. It appears that the Krul are on the hunt and may now have the numbers needed to take fortified cities.”

    (Marty, on the private party link) “Ok, if defending cities against the hordes of the undead is going to become routine, I’m going to demand a raise!”

    (Kevin, also on the private link) “This does sound sort of familiar doesn’t it? I wonder how often this is being reflected across the Manifold? Are we going to have to intervene in yet another realm? “

    (Snake-Eyes) “Binding the Strangers to newly reanimated bodies worked splendidly at first. They were apparently quite well versed in combat. and they could even use the remains of the undead to make more of themselves. Sadly, our mage – with that special foolishness that only the very clever are capable of – neglected to note that the Strangers existed only to kill anything – whether living or undead – that they could before he had created too many to control. Now their numbers grow without restraint and even the major liches and vampires are beginning to take notice.”

       It looked like some of the corpses had begun to twitch. Snake-Eyes noted that as well – and smiled in a fashion that no human could, revealing gums and teeth all along his jaw.

    (Snake-Eyes) “Best you run along now; it looks like the ritual is almost complete.”

       Meanwhile, the group had been calculating… The gold-stuff was probably important. It looked like they had enough room for half of it – all of it if they could either shrink it a bit or applied a bit of telekinesis to take some of the weight off the carts.

       Kevin’s shrinking-spell got absorbed without effect. OK, he was going to have to load the stuff up with telekinesis anyway. He did so – and had the hounds hop up on the carts. It was time for a little speed.

       Snake-Eyes seemed to take the abruptly self-loading metal, mysterious clearing of the path, and acceleration-spell being applied to the horses in stride. Evidently he’d been assuming that there was more to the group than he’d seen – and he’d evidently been expecting them to take the alloy.

       Adventurers were always like that.

       The group waved a polite good-bye to Snake-Eyes as they took off down the road. Snake-Eyes watched their hasty retreat and waved back…

    (Snake-Eyes) “Perhaps we may see each other again in the near future.”

    (Kevin) “Oh, you never know!”

       Drat it… It looked like the Thrall-Horses were too simpleminded at the moment to handle a complex illusion – like not looking like they were of such high quality. The were probably stuck with them looking rather too good for the moment. That really was a pain. He was used to faerie steeds, and he’d never thought of how good the Thrall-Horses would look.

    (Marty) “What WAS that guy? I’m sure he wasn’t a human.”

    (Kevin) “I’d guess a Krul… If the “Strangers” are really from a plane of existence “far from human experience”, they’re not human souls anyway, and I doubt they’re nonhuman. I didn’t feel a soul there anyway, although I’m hardly infallible – which means that the original summoner may have been calling things from a dementia realm. That is NEVER a good idea, no matter how convenient their weird powers might be.”

    (Marty) “Seemed halfway friendly for one though”.

    (Kevin) “Why not? He had reinforcements almost ready to arise.”

    (Marty) “But he let us go! Did he think we weren’t a challenge?”

    (Kevin) “Or too much of one. Or that it’s more fun to hunt. Or that he wants to know what we’re here for – or where we came from. If they want to kill everything, a single realm really won’t suffice, and we just confirmed to him that we have the ability to travel between Necropolis and somewhere with more potential victims that are currently out of their reach.”

       Kevin got the horses up to a good trot. With a bit of speed-enhancement, they should reach the city in less than an hour – even slowing down a bit on the approach so as not to give too much away. They didn’t need any accidents – although didn’t want to have to levitate the pesky gold for too long either.

       The city wasn’t currently under siege, although it looked like defensive preparations were underway. Well, that probably meant that food will be worth a good price – and, for that matter, slaves would be cheap; they’d be expensive to feed at the moment.

       The guards hailed them as they approached the gates.

       Marty considered his usual sort of opening – something along the lines of “Hello! We’ve come to stab your bosses and launch a hostile takeover before blowing ourselves up to rise again the next day and do it all over! And we want your lunch money!” – but opted against it in the end.

    (Marty) “Good day! We’ve come to your town in search of trade!”

    (Guard) “Greetings, aren’t you aware yet another menace is stalking the countryside? Or is this some pathetic attempt at subterfuge?”

    (Marty) “We fled it on the way here.”

    (Kevin) “Was there a time when travel wasn’t problematic?”

    (Guard) “Occasionally the local lords of the dead go to war with each other, but usually they try to go after lone wanderers or the occasional small farm. But your usual caravan is able to handle most of the minor ungoverned stuff. The big ones try to leave cities alone though and have better things to do than go after caravans… But never mind that, I imagine your intentions are to enter the city then?”

    (Kevin) “True enough!”

    (Guard) “Then we are going to have to inspect your cargo and have one of our guard look over each of you. Do you consent? Yes? Very well, then, please wait.”

       The gate opened to let three guards out – two wearing purple tabards over their armor and the third wearing what was obviously some sort of captains garb. The captain bowed then spoke, revealing a set of long fangs.

    (Captain Klethnil) “Welcome to Gethrid. My name is Klethnil, a captain of the guard for the time being until a replacement can be found. And who might you be?”

    (Marty) “I’m Marty.”

    (Kevin) “And I’m Kierroth.” (One of his usual ID’s).

    (Klethnil sniffed the air.) “Well you seem normal enough, although perhaps imbued with some strange energies. The horses and dogs smell very unusual indeed though. Plus I do smell a trace of Krul about you, care to explain?”

    (Marty) “We encountered one on the way up here. I think we were lucky to escape.”

    (Kevin) “As for the horses and hounds; they perform their duties much better with a bit of enhancement.”

    (Klethnil) “Very lucky indeed, it must have recently been sated if it did not follow you to here. The damn things are persistent. But this too shall pass, we’ve just got to make sure that as many of the humans survive as we can manage.”

    (Kevin) “Can’t argue with that!”

    Klethnil looked at the horses and dogs again…

    (Klethnil) “Indeed it would seem you are correct, I suspect quite a few would be most interested to learn more about how you manage that feat.”

    (Kevin) “Well, we are here to make some deals!”

    (Klethnil, momentarily distracted) “Oh? Indeed, It’s obvious that you have food, is that all you are carrying? I am sure my men will tell me in a few moments but I like to act in a knowing manner.”

    (Kevin) “Also a collection of bars of metal we picked up along the way; it seemed unlikely to improve matters to leave them for the Krul.”

       Besides, they were probably expensive if the other caravan had been risking moving them at the moment. If they were lucky, they’d be very very expensive. Random treasure was always nice!

    (Klethnil) “Ah so the caravan did not make it then? Just as well you recovered the metal, that is a very valuable material for keeping these cities going. The city may want a cut to pay the families of the fallen, but I am sure you will be allowed to keep the bulk for your efforts. That is, unless you wish to sell – for I am sure the city will be willing to pay you handsomely for the lot.”

    (Marty) “We were planning on it, weren’t we Kierroth?”

    (Kevin) “Oh, I think so. I might find a use for bit of it, but that’s mostly my incurable urge to tinker!”

       The guards returned with their report of the wagons contents – and Klethnil nodded knowingly. (Klethnil) “Very well then, I can see no reason to deny you entry at the moment and leaving you out here may very well increase our enemies numbers. Welcome to Gethrid. Please respect the laws.”

    (Kevin) “Are any of those unusual?”

    (Klethnil thought for a moment) “I guess judging from your appearances that the ones of greatest surprise to you might be the concept that the law applies equally to living and undead. Wanton slaying of either is bound to stir up the wrath of the Count and his men. Secondarily, the slave trade is tightly controlled around here anyone who wishes to buy or sell must first receive paperwork from the city.”

    (Kevin) “Ah, straightforward enough. We generally aren’t in the business of killing people in any case!”

    (Klethnil) “That is good, trying to maintain equilibrium is a never ending task.”

       The guards let them in… Inside the walls, the city was significantly cleaner and better lit than they would have expected. The streets were lined with shops of various sorts – and the occasional inn or tavern could be seen. Oddly enough for a quasi-mediaeval city, there was a complete lack of beggars, and there was no sign of any criminal element. There weren’t even any street kids to hire as local guides. There were some kids running about, but they didn’t look like they lived on the streets.

       Well, that would be a likely consequence if criminals and street-people were prime candidates for the zombie pool, slave-sales, or snack food for the undead. It was quite possible that the local criminal code was pretty harsh.

       Well, there was a big place catering to traders and trade near the gate; given the current lack of trade they should have the spare time to answer a few questions at the moment. Several caravans were already parked there. Evidently no one wanted to head out at the moment.

       They left the dogs and horses to watch the caravan for a few moments and headed over there. Even if the horses were having a little mental trouble at the moment, they should be able to handle standing guard pretty easily.

       The main lounge looked to have been converted into a bar of sorts, probably to accommodate all the caravans that couldn’t travel at the moment.

    (Lady behind the counter) “What can I do for ya?”

    (Kevin) “What’s going on in the city at the moment and what are the markets like?”

    (Marty) “Is food selling well, what with the upcoming siege?”

    (Counterlady) “That’s like asking if vampires like blood from time to time. Of course food is selling well. There never seems to be enough to go around. As for anything else, it depends on what you’re selling.”

    (Marty, showed the woman a bit of the metal they’d retrieved) “What about this stuff?”

    (Kevin threw Marty a thought) “We’d better talk to some city rep about that metal before we do any serious negotiating; I suspect that we’ll hear from them soon enough anyway.”

    (Counterlady) “Let me have a closer look at the stuff would ya?”

       Her opinion was that it looked like some pretty valuable stuff – but she was no alchemist or mage to be sure about it. For all she knew, it might be badly adulterated or entirely faked. The serious trade reps were either at the tables or in the backroom, what with the barriers to travel at the moment. Marty went to find one of them, while Kevin checked out the stabling facilities and get rooms: they’d be wanting to stash the Thrall-Horses there later on.

       Marty found a trade rep at a table – a short man that looked like he’d had his nose in too many books to see well beyond table.

    (Trader) “Eh, you have something you want me to look at?”

    (Marty) : I will show him the metal.

       Kevin had been checking their local funds… Not bad; they’d strained the upper limit with the fleet repairs, but that still left them rather wealthy. They couldn’t buy the city or anything, but there were plenty of funds available for local operations.

       The trader turned the stuff over for a moment, while several others at the table watched him look it over intently.

    (Trader) “Ah, looks to be a high quality batch of Corrinum. Very precious stuff and not a bad thing to be selling at the moment. How much have you got?”

       Marty decided not to be too definite about just how much… The guards at the entrance HAD noted that the city would want some for the families of the casualties and would probably want to buy most of the rest.

    (Marty) “Oh, a good amount.”

    (Trader) “Best to deal with the Count directly then, as anything more than a few bars is likely going to be wanted by the government. If you do end up with any left over, I am sure I can accommodate you though. Besides… the Count is directing the local defense, and survival comes even before profit!”

    (Marty) “How can we arrange a meeting with the Count?”

    (Trader) “The easiest method is to go to the entrance of the keep and request an audience about the Corrinum, one of the staff should be able to make you an appointment in short order.”

    (Marty) “Thanks. I’ll do that.”

       Marty headed off to talk to the Count, while Kevin kept an eye on the wagons. It looked like they had some fairly precious cargo. Besides… That would let him keep the locals from getting too close a look at the Thrall-“animals” and it would let him talk to the locals and try to get a feel for the local laws.

       Hm… It looked like a large number of the laws had steep penalties on repeat offenses – but crimes of passion or those committed under extreme circumstances were usually forgiven. A slave who managed to kill an abusive owner wasn’t penalized either – which was surprisingly enlightened. The citizens were encouraged to remain indoors at night. Sensible citizens only went out if there was an emergency – in which case they knew to find the nearest guard before one of the cleaning crews got them.

       It seemed likely that the “cleaning crews” were a bit too undead and nonsentient to distinguish between living people and junk without a guard uniform.

       Meanwhile, Marty was approaching the keep – an imposing structure which dominated the surrounding town. In many ways it looked like it was designed more for show than to be a true physical fortress. Whoever lived there was probably big on status displays… The entrance was open, people were coming and going with no interference from the guards – who, while living, did appear to be ever-so-slightly healthier than most of the other townsmen.

    (Marty) “Hello, I’d like an audience with the Count.”

    (Guard) “On what business? The Count cannot possibly see everyone who wishes to see him.”

    (Marty, leaning in and lowering his voice) “I found a load of high quality Corrinium in a ruined caravan on the way here, and I thought he’d be interested.”

    (The guard, looking surprised) “Very well, I can send for Magistrate Logan, he usually handles such affairs on behalf of Count Hassildor.”

       Marty was ushered into a sitting room off the main corridor while the guard sent one of the servants for Logan.

       The sitting room was yet another opulent display, lined with the portraits of a great number of women. The chairs were quite comfortable – and Marty found himself wondering if he could find the carpenter who’d made them and place his own order. Still, it wouldn’t do to get too relaxed, he was dealing with nobility.

       A skeletal looking man came in a few minutes later.

    (Aberom) “Greetings, I am Magistrate Logan Aberom. I am told you have business to discuss about a cargo of Corrinum?”

    (Marty) “Yes, and high quality, as well. My associate Kierroth and I found it in the aftermath of a Krul attack. We secured it and took it here. I was wondering if Count Hassildor would be interested.”

    (Aberom) “Oh very interested… Might I ask how much you have? I imagine you must have come across the caravan that has been overdue for some time now. Bloody fools to try to traverse the roads at this time.”

    (Marty) “A hundred and twenty bars.”

    (Aberom whistled quietly, then caught himself.) “That’s not bad. Well I assure you that the Count would be most willing to compensate you handsomely for the Corrinum, although I must ask that ten bars be turned over to pay the widows and children of the men killed in the attack. That should be enough to see them through.”

    (Marty) “That’ll be no problem.”

    (Aberom) “Shall we start the negotiating, and will you be willing to trade the remaining 110 bars?”

    (Marty) “Yes to both of those.”

       Sadly, the girls were a bit too confused to help out at the moment – but Marty wasn’t a bad negotiator. Aberom managed to edge him out – albeit just barely – so he didn’t get quite what he’d wanted to get on the sale, but that probably meant that it was a fair deal. It went quite a ways towards replenishing their coffers though. Besides, the stuff had been free to start with, and you couldn’t do much better than that. He hadn’t even had to kill anybody!

       Oh, wait, Kevin would almost certainly want to buy some slaves. The paperwork for that probably wasn’t too complicated though.

       Marty asked about it after the Corrinium negotiations were done.

    (Aberom) “Ah looking to acquire some servants are you with your newfound wealth? Well I can fetch you the appropriate forms easily enough. We do offer a branding service here in town if you so choose, although I find the practice a bit distasteful.”

    (Marty) “I’m not big on branding, but papers will be great.”

    (Aberom) “All right, there would normally be a small fee for the registration, but given the circumstances, I am quite willing to waive that. I should also note, that during the siege, you are responsible for their care, we will not always be able to give handouts to slaves, as free citizens come first. Although it has rarely if ever come to that… Please sign here, here, and here. And I will need a bloodmark to make all of this official.”

       Marty had the girls divine that (poor girls, being all addled), it might just be a seal, but it might also indicate an alliance with a mercantile group… Ah; it entailed pricking your right thumb so that a thin layer of blood covered the thumbprint. At which point your pressed your thumb to the paper – a finger print in blood. A local form of seal that carried a minor enchantment; it would destroy the paperwork if he ever broke the laws regarding slavery in the city. It would also allow a vampire to tell it who it was that had signed any piece of paperwork purely by scent… Interesting.

       Of course, the girls were doing pretty well considering that they only had ferret-brains to work with at the moment. The enhancements helped – but the forms limitations did seem to carry over in Necropolis… He tried to reassure them.

    (Marty) “All right.”

       He would have to check on whether or not there was anything odd about those laws though.

    (Aberom) “Most pleasant indeed, now if you were intent on leaving the city, you may wish to do that soon as the gates will shut in preparation for the siege.”

       Marty had to wonder… Were they going to help out, or just head for the demi-lich’s territory? The link with Kevin was still available – but Kevin really wasn’t sure either; the city might or might not be under siege by the time their business was done, they might or might not get caught up in it, and if an enemy was converging on the city they might have a hard time getting away anyway. Besides; they still didn’t know where they were going.

       Marty decided to just ask:

    (Marty) “I was wondering. How far to Necrosis’ holdings? Kierroth and I were heading there next.”

    (Aberom seemed surprised at that.) “Necrosis you say? Now that is an odd place to be traveling. If you can get on his good side, I suppose you are safe enough. (Aberom got out a map.) His lands can be found over here, while we are currently here. May I ask what business you have with him and his holdings?”

    (Marty) “Not with him. There’s a place in them we need to get to. Any idea how to get on his good side so we don’t get killed?”

    (Aberom reclined in his chair and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes) “Given what information we had on his latest incarnation, I would suggest great epic tales, the head of someone who has displeased him recently, or a riddle or puzzle of great difficulty. I have heard that he enjoys having unusual dreams to interpret too. And I don’t know if this has any meaning to you, but the proper classification for what he is is a Dream-Lich.”

    (Marty) “Never heard of those.”

       Kevin was still on the link. Dream-Lich? An entity that has continued to exist as a dream, and manifested as a psychic construct after physical death? Possibly inhabiting the dreams of many others or keeping people permanently asleep and dreaming nightmares to provide the psychic energy for him to manifest?

    (Aberom, unknowingly cutting off Kevin’s spate of speculation) “Nasty things, even vampires and such are wary of them. Takes a real nut to turn himself into one of those. I suppose the best way to explain it is to say he has become a living nightmare. Indeed he no longer has a body of his own, at least in reality, he uses the psychic energies of his subjects while they dream his nightmares to sustain himself and give himself form.”

    (Marty) “Charming.”

    (Aberom) “It is even rumored he can possess the body of those whose minds break under the strain of his nightmares. Although this apparently slowly kills the host. He usually just keeps one main host in permanent sleep and projects himself as a psychic construct.”

    (Marty) “Ouch.”

    (Aberom) “Yes, even among the sentient undead, there are some things one does not do.”

    (Marty) : “Well, Kierroth and I will be on our way soon. Thanks for your time, Magistrate, and I hope you weather this siege.”

    (Aberom) “Oh we will survive; those bent on near mindless destruction are little more than animals, and die like they animals they are. This is no different than any other threat we have faced. I wish you luck on your journey, but I fear journeying to Necrosis’ holdings will surely be the death of you at best, and you better hope not to see the worst.”

    (Marty) “Definitely sounds like a fate worse than death.”

    (Aberom) “I thankfully do not know that personally. Good day to you, I fear I have other duties, please have the Corrinum dropped off shortly.”

    (Marty) “Of course.”

       Marty arranged for it – and checked on what made Corrinum so valuable.

       It looked like there were two primary uses for Corrinum… By itself, gold held magic very well. Corrinum enhanced that property to the point where it could hold spells directed at it and radiate them for some time afterwards. The simplest example was a light spell, which made it act as a lamp for a period of time dependent on it’s quality, quantity, power and setting. Some spells could only last for minutes, while others lasted for years. Oddly enough, the metal itself could not be directly affected with magic.

       Kevin thought that that was pretty handy – although it would probably only work in Necrosis, and it would be far more useful to those with limits on how many spells they can cast.

       Secondarily, Corrinum was very popular for the construction of a special type of earrings used as wedding bands. Depending on the quality and setting, such rings ensured fidelity. More powerful sets could allow the bonded pair to sense each others feelings and locations. Rumors existed of sets that required both wearers to die before one would die – or which allowed full telepathy between them. Spellcasters who were so bonded could share spells across the link as well. They tended to be passed down through families.

       Well, that was kind of neat – but ensuring fidelity? What a horrible side-effect!

       Meanwhile, Kevin had been getting a feel – mostly through receptive telepathy and the occasional minor comment or query – on the local culture and on how many of the locals had souls. It wasn’t that many; almost everyone around was a phantasm – although some of the nobility, and especially the ones with vampire patrons, were ensouled. Oddly enough, there were a modest number of ensouled adults, and even more youngsters, among the lower classes – probably mostly the forgotten by-blows of travelers and nobles.

       The sapient undead did try to shepherd the “flocks”, but the casualty rate was still atrociously high even in the cities, much less outside of them. When you added that to the fact that the undead apparently could not manage to farm – their aura was hard on the crops and animals – and things got ugly.

       Locally, kids were considered “adult” fairly young, and – up until that point – could be freely purchased from their parents or guardians. That wasn’t uncommon; the lower classes were often pretty desperate and the middle classes sometimes were. Of course, members of the upper classes rarely wound up on the market – unless there was some intrigue going on, which was periodic. Anyone could be sentenced to slavery for some crime, but it was much more common amongst the lower classes. His usual offer of enthrallment would be perfectly valid and legal locally as well, whether the recipients were free adults, children without guardians, or slaves of any age. There were a few odd local laws about slaves – you weren’t allowed to kill them or to render them incapable of breeding (that was probably the local problems with keeping up the population again) – but otherwise slaves were simply property, with no rights.

       The locals were almost always a bit sick, were chronically short of food, and were often moderately desperate for escape. In general, life in Necropolis sucked.

       He’d quietly started giving handouts to some of the local kids while he was fishing. It wasn’t any problem to use a bit of transmutation to provide them, it got him information, and he WAS from Core; he didn’t like seeing people short of the basics.

       Yet another realm where, once again, anyone he bought would probably be a lot better off. Even Marty was finding Necropolis horribly depressing, and it took some pretty serious life events to make him even remotely sad.

       He’d have to make some offers to various parents: depending on how bad they expected the siege to be, having the kids in the custody of someone with enough money to buy them might look like a really superior option at the moment. Being property was far better than starving to death.

       He did a little checking… It looked like the middle class had enough confidence in the Count not to be considering selling any kids yet – but there was a widow with three ensouled children she was no longer able to support, another eighteen ensouled kids who belonged to tavern wenches and escorts that had been unable to pursue abortions due to the cities laws (it looked like the local rulers were REALLY having a hard time keeping the population up). There were a few middle-class possibilities, but none where the parents would consider a sale yet – and there were no ensouled kids who were already on the local slave markets at the moment.

       Kevin made good offers on the bunch, and even threw in a guarantee of decent treatment for the guardians who actually cared (not too many). It looked like he was way overpaying; the lower-class parents all jumped at the chance – although the widow selling her three kids would really rather not have sold, and would like to be able to send and receive letters if she could.

       It looked like some aspects of his Thrall-binding would be suppressed in Necropolis – some of the healing powers and the shapeshifting (as they’d already seen) were subject to local limitations – but everything else would work fine.

       He might run into problems if the local authorities and powers saw him gathering too large a force and supernaturally enchanting them. Otherwise – at least as long as he respected the rules about not killing his slaves or preventing them from being able to breed – the local authorities wouldn’t care what he did with his property.

       Once he had his new slaves collected, Kevin gave them his usual pitch – and pointed out that they were all his property regardless. Some of them were a bit younger than he usually took as Thralls – but they didn’t have much chance of survival otherwise, and quite a few of them badly needed the enhancements; Necropolis was especially hard on the young.

       Not too surprisingly given their backgrounds, they all went for it. Most of them had known that they’d be sold as soon as a good offer came along – and they all knew that they were property anyway, and had a good idea of just how much having supernatural powers would improve their lives and chances of living to adulthood.

       Kevin was quite pleased; that got them well restocked with Thralls… While twenty-one was no longer a “big score”, it was more than enough to help out.

    (Kevin) “Marty? Should we leave an office here?”

    (Marty) “I think so.”

       Marty was still having his doubts about Kevin’s recruiting – although, once again, Kevin was definitely being the lesser evil. Marty would still feel guilty for a bit. At least they could work off the indenture…

       Kevin told the widow that they’d leave her three kids in the city if she’d like: they could run the local office. If she’d rather one or more got out safely, they’d mix the batch.

       Not too surprisingly, she opted to keep her kids in the city. It looked like she had some confidence in the Count too.

       They left them with some cash. They should be able to run a local office, even if they wouldn’t be able to do much trading at the moment. Lets see… They could definitely do some recruiting, even dampened healing would probably be useful to the locals, once they had some experience they might be able to deal with the nonsentient undead (there were bound to be some openings for extermination around), a couple of them could create supplies, and they could provide the usual minor magical services. If the city came under siege any kind of support would be handy.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 92c – Car Wars

       Marty decided to leave out the lawyers for the moment. The poisons they used always gave him the willies anyway. Some things even other LAWYERS did not deserve…

       Some character witnesses wouldn’t hurt though – and some of the Knights would probably enjoy a visit to Battling Business World! Thawban would certainly take an interest; he had sworn an oath of blood brotherhood with the man anyway, and he’d doubless like to see where Marty had come from.

       He asked to see who – out of the contingent who’d come along to see the Manifold – would like to see HIS homeworld. After all, in some ways they’d probably find it more familiar than Core or Kadia. It would give them some time to acclimate – if that was even possible.

       Thawban was indeed interested, the Hospitalier was horrified just by the description of the realm, and most of the others thought that it sounded like quite a silly place.

    (Marty) “We’re merchants and we kill each other for fun and profit! And repeat it the next morning?”

       It looked like all the Knights who were willing to come – about half wanted to go and see these warrior orders of merchants – would pick up a Battling Business World Identity easily enough… Was it some sort of warning instinct? Don’t enter such a murderous world unless you could pick up the survival package for it?

       Well, they definitely had the martial skill to handle it anyway!

       What should be first? The Kelly Mayhem? Amarant Solutions? Lloyd’s of London? Chase Manhattan? The SEC? The NYSE?

       Marty decided on the NYSE first, then The Kelly Mayhem – but took care to inform the Knights that they needed a license to PARTICIPATE, although watching was fine and nobody really looked askance at self-defense.

       The trading floor most closely resembles their type of warfare anyway…

       The trading floor was a veritable massacre. The stock ticker was strewn everywhere. Bodies lay gutted on the floor and draped over the monitors. A list of stock prices was falling from the ceiling and slowly burying one body in the center of the room. It looked like whatever stock it was was in the negative millions and still dropping.

    (Marty) “And this is what we call a bear market! Speaking of bear markets, how’s my portfolio?

    (The sentient Monitor spoke up) “Stock prices of Bears has gone up with the recent news of more mauling in the national parks over the weekend.”

    (Marty) “So how’s the market treating you?”

       Disappointingly, the Knights didn’t react much to an inanimate object talking. They were still taking in the entire scene – although one of them was trying to figure out where the numbers that were burying the one trader were coming from.

    (Monitor) “Quite splendid, first all the numbers went way up, then they went way down, and then some of them rolled over into imaginary numbers, and then I think we are more or less back to where we were. Except for that guy.”

       The monitor pointed to the fellow being buried under the growing pile of negative number stock prices.

    (Marty) “Heh. Well, looks like my retirement’s shot. Again. What’s his problem, anyway?”

    (Monitor) “You will be pleased to know that this time your retirement portfolio did manage to slay several executives before being embezzled.”

       Marty’s facial expression was somewhere between pride and fury… He’d invested in a company that had managed to build a working Babbage Engine and had been going to give it’s IPO today.

    (Marty) “Let me guess, it went sentient?”

    (Monitor) “Now I am afraid that while there are no more traders running today, the numbers will do what they will like. Not that they ever really pay attention to the traders in the first place. Unless you would like to enter the arena?”

    (Knight) “So what, we have to fight off already dead merchants? We have proven ourselves against Death Knights.”

    (Marty) “Of course not, gentlemen. Thanks, stock monitor.”

    (Monitor) “Not a problem. I shall go then unless you need something else?”

    (Marty) “Nah, enjoy your off time.”

    (Monitor) “Oh I shall, believe me, I shall.”

       Marty waved goodbye to the massive monitor as he left. It had to put up with a lot: shoving, punching, and all kinds of battering!

       Kevin, meanwhile, was waiting for Kelsaru to clutch, dispatching more Thralls to the military and House – especially to the siege of Vekxin – inducting recruits, appending some “rights” that he had mostly been assuming – being a core kid – went without saying into his contract, and trying to run a gate through to the place with one month to go.

       The Gate opened up to what looked like… a classical Amish community? Either they hadn’t built up much technology yet (possible) or it was all being invested in the terraforming part…

       It was easy enough to confirm that he had the right location; they did have orbital systems and an uplink to the main slowship’s systems… That gave him better distance triangulation too; it should be… Three weeks, five days, plus or minus about three days with a 90% certainty. Not much time.

       They had been contacted by the Manifold once before; a man claiming to be an engineer had shown up, claiming that a major cataclysm was coming to their world and that they needed to evacuate. He then apparently got an urgent message from somewhere else and disappeared. They’d contacted the computer system in orbit and it told them it had not detected anything amiss – and they had nowhere to go anyway – so they went about their lives and chalked it up to another crazy running around. How he’d arrived and vanished was a worrisome mystery, but there was nothing much they could do about that either.

       There wasn’t much in the way of local transport or shielding available either. He had the Thralls – at least twice as many as last time – start bringing in Flits and explaining. He had them offer the locals an evacuation plan, but without local heavy industry and transport, that would be pretty awkward anyway. There’d be nothing for it but to move the planet and to try and treat the damage from any radiation-flares that additional Thralls didn’t help him avoid.

       Meanwhile, at the Kelly Mayhem’s (Battling Business Worlds most prominent temporary agency) local offices, the entire combat wing had been committed… Their actual headquarters was hidden in Michigan, deep in Flyover Country, a good thing, since it was practically stripped of defenders.

       The auto company battle was getting more and more intense. It was a free-for-all – Ford, Chevy, GM, Chrysler, Volkswagon, and Toyota with the smaller companies circling the perimeter looking for easy kills. The biggest losers at the moment were GM and Chrysler. Ford was holding its own, while Volkswagon and Toyota were making big gains.

       One of the Amarant Solutions satellite offices was involved too, but had gotten confused as to who had paid them last; they’d been pursing a policy of working for the highest bidder on an hourly contract. They’d changed allegiances half a dozen times already, and they’d lost track as to who they were working for and who they were paid to fight.

    (Marty) “Oh, dammit!”

       Marty got the accountants to examine the transactions, and to try to establish a chain of clients. No way in hell was he going to look at financial records! Not after what he’d had to do for Limey! He still had nightmares !

    (Nerdy accountant type) “Well, it appears, well, how should I put this, oh dear…”

    (Marty) “Look, pal, I work with the Champion of the Numbers. You want me to call her and have her come down here? You report to her, for Christ’s sake!”

    (Accountant) “No, no, no, that won’t be necessary. It just, that apparently our last contract was with a Mr. Steve Jobs.”

    (Marty) “Apple?!?”

    (Accountant) “Yes, the very same.”

    (Marty) “But that’s in California! How did he get involved with this?!?”

    (Accountant) “Well it appears that he was wanting to create an iCar, but has found all of the auto companies to be wanting in some fashion. They are all to be eliminated.”

       Marty blinked. Repeatedly.

    (Marty) “So he hired you guys to take them all out?” (He leaned on a nearby weapons rack) “That’s a lot of overtime!”

    (Accountant) “Yes it is, but on the other hand his contract is iron-clad (he pulled out a piece of sheet metal) and he is paying an order of magnitude more than anyone else here.”

    (Marty) “Niiice.. So how’s the operation going?”

    (Accountant) “I believe thus far most all of the auto companies have taken heavy losses. GM and Chrysler will never be the same again and Ford is not in a position to capitalize on that fact. Toyota and Volkswagon have done better than we anticipated though and the other foreign companies are still relatively fresh.”

    (Marty) “Who’s giving you the worst trouble?”

    (Accountant) “Right now we are working on creating an anti-Toyota and Volkswagon alliance to bring them back down.”

    (Marty) “Any luck?”

    (Accountant) “BMW and Nissan are looking good, Tata is a featherweight though and noncommital. Kia and some of the others are holding out for someone else to go first. The Delorean army of the undead is rather hard to read.”

    (Marty) “Damn zombies . . .”

    (Accountant) “And they seem to have this weird thing about the number 88. It seems to favor them.”

       Marty wracked his brain. He didn’t think that 88 was one of the major ones, the Number Lords… Ah number 88, the Number Lord of Time.

    (Marty) “Can’t change the past… We should convince BMW that working with Nissan will improve their market share outside the road raging market.”

    (Accountant) “How do you propose we do that?”

    (Marty) “Well, Nissan is making those electric cars better every day! They don’t make impressive explosions like the gas guzzlers, but that reduces the property damage outside the road rage lane. God knows people whine about that all the time. ‘I can’t get to the grocery store! That jerk in the BMW made the highway overpass explode and blocked the route!’ It would help with their image!”

    (Accountant) “That could work, the BMW folks are really big on image.”

    (Marty) “Let’s see… we could have Jobs make a cow-shaped iCar just for India. They love cows there for some reason. Kia and its pals should fall in line if we can get Nissan and BMW to ally. And Delorean… well, do we have any brains?”

    (Accountant) “No brains are shown on the inventory. I suspect it may be either a procurement problem or an HR problem.”

    (Marty) “You’ll have to take it up with whoever took Gelman’s job or Corrigan, then.”

       Meanwhile, Thawban was watching with wry amusement, the others were watching the carnage with exasperation and/or horror, depending on personality.

       Marty was kind of pleased. Good for Thawban! He was taking it better than Marty had thought he would – and the other knights were taking it as well as he’d expected. Now, if he could only get the Nissan/BMW group to launch a full assault on the Volkswagon/Toyota alliance… Marty went off to negotiate. After all, it was his plan, and he had the time to do it.

       They agreed that – as things were currently going – Volkswagon/Toyota was getting too strong a position. They wouldn’t be able to survive if those two ate all the GM/Chrysler marketshare. They were in, with a great deal of handshaking and paper signing. It remained to be seen how long it would last of course – although Marty gave it a week at best before they’d be at each other’s throats. He didn’t say that out loud though.

       The battle lines advanced and cut deeply into the Toyota/Volkswagon rear. Toyota detached to hold off the attack while buying time for Volkswagon to finish off GM/Chrysler. The battle was intense as the lines circled around each other and each side brought the big guns to bear. The sheer number of GM corpses was impeding the Volkswagon advance while Toyota’s highly disciplined workers were putting up a fierce defense.

    (Marty) “Ah, the Japanese. Now if only they could speak English with proper dubbing…”

    Thera: Magical Basics

       Theran Magic involves three basic factors; raw mystical energy, the occult lore to forge and maintain psychic spell-constructs through which to channel it, and the skill to direct it properly. Since everyone uses magic to some extent in daily life, each class provides a contribution to a characters Base Caster Level, as listed under BCL. That works like a character’s Base Attack Bonus or Saving Throws: you simply add up the contributions from each class. Each class also provides independent access to spells – although, for classes that do not deal much in magic, such access is fairly limited. For that, use the “Spells” column, the first number indicates the maximum level of spell which can be used, the number after the slash indicates the total number of spells which the character may keep readied at any given moment. Class-A spellcasters include Clerics, Druids, Shamans and Sorcerers. Class-B spellcasters include Bards, Monks, Adepts, and Witches. Class C spellcasters include Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers, Rogues and Paladins.

       Thus a Cleric 3/Bard 6/Fighter 5 has a base caster level of 3+4+2 = 9 and a total level of 14. He or she can also ready ten clerical spells of up to level two and eight bardic spells of (coincidentally) up to level two.

    Character

    Level

    BCL

    CL-A

    BCL

    CL-B

    BCL

    CL-C

    Spells

    CL-A

    Spells

    CL-B

    Spells

    CL-C

    01

    1

    0

    0

    1/08

    0/04

    –/—

    02

    2

    1

    1

    1/08

    1/06

    –/—

    03

    3

    2

    1

    2/10

    1/06

    0/02

    04

    4

    3

    2

    2/10

    2/08

    0/02

    05

    5

    3

    2

    3/12

    2/08

    0/02

    06

    6

    4

    3

    3/12

    2/08

    1/04

    07

    7

    5

    3

    4/14

    3/10

    1/04

    08

    8

    6

    4

    4/14

    3/10

    1/04

    09

    9

    6

    4

    5/16

    3/10

    2/06

    10

    10

    7

    5

    5/16

    4/12

    2/06

    11

    11

    8

    5

    6/18

    4/12

    2/06

    12

    12

    9

    6

    6/18

    4/12

    3/08

    13

    13

    9

    6

    7/20

    5/14

    3/08

    14

    14

    10

    7

    7/20

    5/14

    3/08

    15

    15

    11

    7

    8/22

    5/14

    4/10

    16

    16

    12

    8

    8/22

    6/16

    4/10

    17

    17

    12

    8

    9/24

    6/16

    4/10

    18

    18

    13

    9

    9/24

    6/16

    4/10

    19

    19

    14

    9

    9/24

    6/16

    4/10

    20

    20

    15

    10

    10/25

    7/17

    5/11

       A reserve of Mana can be developed in several different ways. Mana derived from particular attributes “pools” with any other mana derived from that attribute, and can be pooled with mana from any “unaligned” source.

      Clerics (Wis), Druids (Con), Shamans (Chr) and Sorcerers / Wizards (Int) gain 2x their relevant attribute modifier mana “points” per level, with a minimum of one point per level.

       Bards (Chr), Monks (Wis), Adepts (Con) and Witches (Int) get their relevant attribute modifier mana points per level, with a minimum of one point per level.

       All other character classes gain one point of mana per level, plus one-half of whichever attribute modifier is applicable.

       Other methods of acquiring mana include accepting any of a variety of vows, geasa, or other “special restrictions” (6 points each), giving up attribute points (12 points per two points off a given attribute), and learning the Runecraft skill (QV).

       Temporary methods include Manastones (Cost of (Points Squared)x100 GP [x.25 if not self- charging], they do not take up an item slot), potions (250 GP, provides 3D4 Mana but cannot supply more then 24 in any one day), places and times of power (GMO), and sacrifices (generally 1-2 mana per HD of the most powerful creature sacrificed during a ritual).

    The Rule of Three:

       The limitation on Manastones is due to the Rule Of Three; No more then three magic items and/or effects may be applied to a characters ability, attribute, or quality, at a time. No known item or effect evades this restriction; it appears to be a law of nature.

    Mana Costs:

       The Mana Cost of casting various spells is straightforward: in general, it depends on the school and level of the spell being used.

    Spell Level /

    Spell School

    0

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    Div, Enc, Ill

    1

    3

    4

    6

    8

    10

    12

    15

    18

    21

    Abj, Nec, Tra

    1

    2

    4

    5

    8

    10

    13

    16

    20

    24

    30

    Con and Evo

    1

    3

    5

    8

    10

    13

    16

    20

    24

    30

    40

       Especially “Handy” spells, such as Healing and True Strike, usually cost +1-2 mana points. Narrowly-applicable spells usually cost 1-2 points less mana than the chart would indicate. This is apparently a result of the influence of the Primal Powers.

       Specialists must give up two schools – but may cast spells of their speciality school at one-half the base mana cost.

    The Runecraft Skill:

       Runecraft (Dex, Trained Only, In-Class for everyone) is the art of focusing very limited amounts of ambient Mana through gestures and/or magical symbols. Character’s with this skill gain a Mana bonus equal to their skill score, and can cast lesser spells related to whichever runes they’ve mastered in this fashion.

       Any character may “attune themselves” to a single rune, those with a Runecraft skill of 8+, or an Int, Wis or Chr of 14+, may acquire a second attunement. Those who qualify in both fashions may have a third attunement. Per the Rule of Three, no one may possess more than three attunements.

       The runes themselves vary immensely. There are runes of War, Healing, Beasts, Lightning, Earth, Stealth, Fire, Smithcraft, and Plants. There are runes for creatures, themes, ideas, crafts, and professions. While they must be reasonably specific, if you want a particular rune, it’s probably available.

       Runes, at least theoretically, can be used to create any effect within their domains. In practice, of course, things aren’t so simple; using runecraft requires one minute, whatever mana expenditure is appropriate to the effect produced, and a skill check at DC 15 for L0, 25 for L1, 35 for L2, and 45 for L3. Character’s may, however, take 20 at twice the base cost.

       There are – of course – ways to improve on matters. Skill enhancing items can be used, although the skill must be boosted seperately for each rune. Doubling the mana expenditure provides a +5 bonus. Arcane Lore and Spellcraft skills at 5+ provide +2 synergy bonuses

       Runespells can also be engraved, reducing the time required to use a specific effect to one action, or even “quickened” for +5 mana and +5 DC. Sadly, engraved effects are subject to the rule of three; choose them carefully.

    Spells And Spell Formula :

       Sorcerous “Spell Formulas” are simply very complicated how-to articles; they may contain weird diagrams, occult notations, and obscure references, and so require skill (Knowledges, “Spellcraft”, etc) to understand, but they’re merely words. Some, just like articles on how to make nuclear weaponry, are banned or other wise restricted, while others are lost, exist only in theory, or are simply impractical. A book of spells is expensive, but it’s the way that specialized or rare books are expensive.

       On the other hand of course, the secret of a rare, lost, or unique, spell formula can be worth a great deal.

       Druids find their magic in the wild places of the world, Shamans in communion with weird spirits, and Clerics in holy tomes and sacred places. In any case, some spell formulas are simple enough to be committed to memory quite easily – while others require the expenditure of a portion of a would-be user’s life force, just as creating a magical item would.

       Once acquired, spell formulas must be prepared for use – transformed from formula into spell.

       Spells are psychic constructs, forged by a trained will as channels for mystic energies. Even the most powerful magi can only maintain a limited selection of spells ready for use – and changing one requires both knowledge of the spell to be prepared, and hours or days of deep meditation. Still, once prepared, a spell is ready for use whenever the user channels mana through it – and it can be re-prepared just a bit more quickly at a later date. Unless some item is a necessary part of a spell – such as the gem required to entrap a jinn – they don’t generally require material components. Many do not require words, and a few don’t require any gestures – although these are rare.

    Lesser Circle Magic:

       Lesser Circle Magic employs Runecraft to focus and enhance magical power. It requires a special Feat (Circle Master) or Spell (L4 – “Empower Circle”. This spell is considered a military secret of the Imperium) to use. Some common applications include;

    • Circle Of Protection from “X”: DC 15
    • Circle Of Containing “X”: DC 25
    • Boosting your Base Caster Level
      • For a single spell: DC (10+5x Boost)
      • While within the circle: DC (15+5x Boost)
      • For 24 hours: DC (20+10x Boost)
    • Focusing Mana from ritual participants
      • From up to three people: DC 15
      • From up to seven people: DC 20
      • From up to twenty-seven people: DC 25
      • From up to 210 people: DC 30
      • To store for later use. Such pools dissipate in three days: DC +1/5
    • Distributing EP costs over participants
      • Over up to three people: DC 20
      • Over up to seven people: DC 25
      • Over up to twenty-seven people: DC 30
      • Over up to 210 people: DC 35
    • Acquiring Temporary Metamagic Feats
      • Maximum 3, each costs 20 Mana: DC 25

    Item Notes:

       Wands and Staves recharge themselves – but the process is slow; They regain 21 / (Caster Level x Spell Level) charges each week. Wands can be quickly recharged by spellcasters with the Craft Wand feat and the appropriate spell to put in them at half their base price times the (Number of charges restored/50). A staff can be recharged similarily, but at only one- tenth of the base cost. Sadly, the skills to create a staff are very rare and are – at least officially – a military secret of some of the major countries.

       Metamagic can be added to wands and staves by either increasing the spell level – or via building the Feat into the wand / stave, at a cost of 1000 GP + 500/prerequisite and spending the appropriate number of extra charges while using the device.

       Items which grant Feats are special cases; Feats cost anywhere from 4000-8000 GP + 2000-4000 GP per prerequisite, with the exact cost depending on the feat(s) in question… Like Manastones, bestowed feats are subject to the Rule Of Three.

       No device can grant spell resistance. Only living things may possess this quality. Even artifacts do not appear to be exceptions.

       “Bonus Spell” items aren’t – ordinarily – available. See “Manastones”, above.

    Thera: Channeling The Primal Powers

       On Thera, Channeling goes a bit beyond the ability to influence the Undead.

       Channeling focuses primal energies through the user’s life – or unlife – force. It’s the oldest of all mystical techniques, by far the most erratic – and is the province of those who have the faith and will to open themselves to the high powers of the cosmos and accept that randomness.

       There are, of course, eighteen “fields” of channeling, sixteen of which are available to mortals (The fields of Light/Word and Darkness/Void are only available to the Celestial Host and the Spawn Of Apophis respectively). Each can be used to simply generate a burst of raw power or – with a successful save to maintain control – to produce more “advanced” effects. Sadly, failing that save means losing control of the powers which you’re channeling through your life force. It’s not a good idea.

       Character’s with Channeling normally get a base of (3 + ChaMod) attempts daily, and access to one field. Those with “special affinities” or cross-training may gain access to a second field at the price of permanently dividing up their daily allotment of attempts between the two fields. Such fields may not, however, be polar opposites in the Eye Of Thoth.

    The Primal Powers:

       Creation, A.K.A. “Positive Energy”, can be used to repel those attuned to Destruction or “Negative Energy”, to heal, and to create new things. It’s probably the most common of all fields. A burst of positive energy is used to “Turn Undead”. More advanced effects include:

    • “Turning” the Spawn Of Apophis (DC 15. Works just like turning undead).
    • Blessing items (DC 15. Allows one to create holy water and so on).
    • Healing (Cure Light Wounds DC 12, Cure Moderate Wounds DC 15, Cure Serious Wounds DC 18, Cure Critical Wounds DC 21, and Heal DC 27).
    • Lifegiving (Raise The Dead DC 28, Ressurrection DC 32, True Ressurrection DC 35) and
    • Creation (Of mundane items up to 25 GP DC 18, +3 DC per additional 25 GP).
    • “Exorcisms” usually fall under “Turning”.

       Destruction, A.K.A. “Negative Energy”, can be used to Awe or Command entities attuned to negative energy, to injure, and to destroy… While it’s not inherently evil it’s very easy to abuse – and is the aspect of Thera through which the power of Apophis enters in. It does not have a good reputation. A negative energy burst can be used to Awe/Command undead. More advanced effects include:

    • Aweing or Commanding the Spawn Of Apophis (DC 14).
    • Disintegrations (DC 25).
    • Disrupting other Energies (Generally incoming spells and such, DC 11 + Spell Level).
    • Death Spells (DC 18 + SL).
    • Granting temporary Spell or Power Resistance (DC = desired level +10).
    • and Inflicting Injuries (Inflict Light Wounds DC 12, Inflict Moderate Wounds DC 15, Inflict Serious Wounds DC 18, Inflict Critical Wounds DC 21, and Harm DC 27).
    • If perverted, it can be used to create undead of various types, at a DC of 20 + the Challenge Rating of the undead to be created.

       Transformation can be used to repel beings of order and to influence those attuned to it’s power – but it’s primary function is to alter the world… Attempting to use it on yourself is suicidal; the most subtle items – thoughts and memories, your control of the power flow, your biochemistry, and so on – are the first to go. Advanced effects include:

    • Reshaping Matter (Stone Shape et al, DC 15).
    • Alchemical Manipulation (restructuring substances, DC 18-24).
    • Polymorph (others only, DC 21).
    • Transmutation (DC 28).
    • and Polymorph Any Object (DC 32).
    • The power of transformation is extremely flexible – but it’s also very easy to go disasterously wrong using it. Undesired transformations can make life pretty miserable.

       Preservation can be used to bind creatures of chaos – shapechangers – into stable forms, at least temporarily, and to ward off various disruptive forces. More advanced applications include:

    • Fortification (Boosts the hardness of materials and grants DR to creatures. DC 12 + [+to Hardness/2] or [DR +2]).
    • Creating Stasis Fields (force constructs and Walls Of Force, DC 15-21 depending on size).
    • Induced Hibernation or Paralysis (DC 14).
    • Suspending or Resisting Poisons, Diseases, or Aging for a day (DC 18, or as the effect -4).
    • Armor Of Eternity (Mage Armor effect, +6 AC and +4 to saves).
    • Resisting Death (DC 10-Negative HP/5) and
    • Temporal Stasis (DC 35).

       The use of the four Primal Powers requires Fortitude saves.

    The Elemental Forces:

       The Elemental Powers – Fire, Air, Earth, and Water – can be used to repel or disrupt those entities attuned to opposing forces or to awe or command entities attuned to them. Advanced effects relating to the elements are normally fairly straightforward; they involve:

    • Creating (Bolts DC 14, Sphere DC 16, Stable Wall/Shape DC 18).
    • Commanding (“Telekinetic” control of, DC 16-24 depending on scale).
    • Manifesting (infusing inanimate items, or yourself, with, elemental power; assume an Elemental Subtype DC 16, Elemental Form DC 20, Elmental Infusion 1/2/3 D6, DC 12/16/22), and
    • Counters (“Blocking” an oposing elemental effect – only DC 10-16 as a rule, but requires a readied action).

       The use of the Elemental Powers requires a Reflex save.

    The Governing Forces:

       Space can be used to create a wavefront or “ripple” of expanding space, that sweeps away unrestrained matter and energy in it’s path. In essence, everything the user “targets” within 60′ will be moved (2x[2D6+User’s Level + Cha. Mod)] feet away. More advanced uses include:

    • Storing Items in an extradimensional “pocket” (DC 10+LB/20)
    • Teleportation (Dimension Door, DC 14, Teleportation, DC 18, Circle Of Teleportation, DC 24 and Gate/No summoning, DC 30) and even
    • Creating a Pocket Dimension (DC 35 – sometimes used as a prison or trap).
    • “Telekinetic” Effects also fall into this field – with a DC dependent on the scale of the desired effect. Micro-scale telekinetics aren’t possible.

       Chaos can be used to repel and disrupt those beings attuned to order, but can’t be used to influence chaotic entities; they tend to just do as they please. It can be used to disrupt spells and complex structures, but it’s primary use is allow the user to briefly “bend” basic laws of nature – allowing users to accomplish things otherwise impossible. Advanced uses include:

    • Dispelling (Dispel Magic DC 14, Break Enchantment DC 18, Greater Dispelling DC 21),
    • Disruption (Shattering DC 16, “Rusting” Grasp DC 18, 2D4/1D4 Attribute Damage DC 20), and
    • Breach Reality (Getting something to work which shouldn’t. Walking thru a wall DC 18, bypassing SR / DR for an attack DC 14, breaking a Wall Of Force DC 18, using a “cure light wounds” spell to reattach a limb / head within a few rounds of it being severed DC 16 /20, breaching an antimagic/antipsionic field DC 35 and releasing imprisioned spirits DC 30).

       Time can be used to generate haste or slow effects – and grants a natural sensitivity to disturbances the flow of time. More advanced applications include:

    • Readings (Object Reading DC 12, Determine Ages DC 14, Postcognition DC 18, Augury DC 16 and Possibility Scan DC 24),.
    • Ending or Extending Spells with durations (by Rounds DC 14, Minutes DC 16, Hours DC 20, and Days DC 24, can affect [Turning Damage] spell levels),.
    • Temporal Manipulations (Preservation DC 16, Timeslip [Forward jump, DC 18], Induce Hibernation DC 12, Reroll Once DC 18, Take an Extra Action [Off Initiative] DC 22, Enhanced Haste DC 24, Fugue [Mentally stretching a few seconds into minutes to observe and consider] DC 18, Time Stop 32, Age Victim/Entropic Bolt DC 18, Temporal Hold DC 18, Restore Youth [an effect which costs lots of EP] DC Varies) and
    • Timeshifting (The GM may – or may not – allow this. Alter Immediate Past DC 26, Restore To Past State DC 30, Call The Past DC 35, and Gate To The Past DC 40).

       Ordercan be used to repel / bind entities of chaos or to spontaneously organize things – ranging from disorderly meetings and crowds to messy workshops. Advanced applications include:

    • Controlling the vagaries of chance (“Prayer” DC 16, Forcing a “1” or a “20”, DC 18, manipulating “destiny”, DC 24).
    • “Channeling” the forces of nature (DC Varies, but can only be used to steer events, not to create them – although diverting a tornado can be quite effective).
    • Temporarily Reinforcing, or Imposing, Structure (Imposing rigidity, or solidity, on liquids or gases, DC varies with the volume affected, toughening materials, or creating exotic alloys, DC 16).
    • Reversing the ravages of time is quite straightforward – at least in nonliving objects (DC 14).

       The Governing Forces – Chaos, Space, Time, and Order – require Willpower saves to use.

    The Mental and Spiritual Elements:

       Mind governs thoughts and memories – ranging from subtle suggestions thru insight and logic. A burst of mental power can be used to create a mental gestalt with selected targets within 60′ – allowing for “instantaneous” discussion and development of plans, rapid explanations, and conveying hours worth of information. Such plans grant a +2 Circumstance Bonus to Skill, Attack, Damage and Saves for one minute. More advanced applications include:

    • Mental Control (Suggestion DC 14, Erasing Minor/Major/Vital/ Fundamental parts of your target’s memory (or Implanting New Memories) DC 14/16/20/24.
    • Domination (of Ordinary/Weird/Alien Minds DC 18/ 24/30).
    • Insight (Boost Int or Wis based skill by +5/10/15/20/25 DC 12/14/18/24/32).
    • Flash Of Brilliance (Get a clue from the GM. DC 20).
    • Instantly “Swapping Out” a Spell Formula (Up to 1/3/7, DC 14/18/24).
    • Projection (Send a “burst of data” to someone far away, DC 22), and
    • Invention (The user may bypass several weeks of time – and the associated expenses – when doing research, DC 32 – once per project maximum).
    • While skills can be bestowed by granting relevant memories no single individual can gain more then (Int) skill points in this fashion.

       Note that emotions are in the realm of the Spirit, below.

       Spirit controls emotions and astral beings – those entities who still carry too great an emotional “charge” to peacefully reincarnate. A “burst” of raw emotional energy carries any desired emotion to those within a group (this may include mindful undead) within it’s area. More advanced applications include:

    • Laying The Unquiet Dead (DC Varies).
    • Laying Wards (Block astral intrusion, and emotionally deter others, DC 18).
    • Emotional Blasts (Panic, Infatuation, Etc, DC 18).
    • Astral Projection (DC 32).
    • Boost Charisma (+4/6/8, DC 16/20/24).
    • Oration (Sway or inspire large groups, QV; Bards), and
    • Astral Blast (Bolt DC 18, Sphere DC 21, 60′ Burst DC 28. Damages spirits – or EVERYONE).

       Mind and Spirit energies require a Willpower check to control.

    The Corporeal and Transcendent Elements:

       Body governs the control and manipulation of living tissue – flesh, blood, bone, and wood. It can be used to shapechange, to resist most injuries, to control plants, and to enhance the physical attributes, but can not be projected sufficiently to affect the bodies of anything more complex then plants. An internal burst of such power can be used to shapechange (EG; “Wild Shape”) or to expel parasites and toxins. More advanced applications include:

    • Enhancement (Adds a +2/4/6 divine bonus to your Str, Con, or Dex for an hour DC 12/14/18).
    • Turn/Command Plants (DC 14, requires a “turn” check).
    • Self Healing (DC 10 + [number of D8 desired]), and
    • Sculpting (Subtly reshaping yourself to alter appearance, DC 12, to remove aging penalitiesDC 18, to add natural weapons/armor for a but DC 21, and to enhance attributes permanently DC 25 plus 1000 EP/point of inherent bonus).

       Soul governs both higher and lower instincts as well as the link between the world and the eternal realms. A burst of Soul energy grants serenity, damping the excesses of the spirit, calming emotions, and awing/commanding animals. Advanced applications include:

    • Communing with or Summoning the Celestial Powers (DC 24/28).
    • Offering Guidance and Comfort (DC 12).
    • Speaking with Departed Spirits (DC 18).
    • Reincarnations (DC 22).
    • Making a Concentration Check (or any similar roll).
    • Dispelling External Influences (DC 16).
    • “Manifesting” your Inner Darkness or Light (As an Aura of Purity or Fear DC 14, as raw energy DC 18, as an entity embodying your essence or a part thereof, DC 22).
    • Shattering Soul-Bindings and Demonic Magic (DC 30), and even
    • Redeeming Demons and The Fallen (DC 35).

       The energies of the Body and/or Soul require a Fortitude check to control.

       As noted earlier, the remaining two fields – Light And Word / Darkness And Void – aren’t normally available to ordinary characters.

       The Light and Word is the exclusive province of the Celestial Hosts, themselves extensions of Dhaos. It’s command infused with the first light of creation, as much of the true divine as the world can bear.

       The light dispels darkness, illusions, the power of the darkness and void – and madness. Focused into commands it allows Celestials to issue simple, preemptory, commands to objects and creatures. The most powerful Celestials can make a command – including those which change creatures, such as “be strong” – permanent by repeating it successfully three times, and thus making it a part of reality.

       The Darkness and Void is the exclusive power of the Spawn Of Apophis. It can be used to counter virtually any force, to transform any willing mortalinto a demon, to entrap souls, to curse, enervate, and weaken living things, and to disintegrate matter. While Darkness is no match for the Celestial Light, there are a lot more wielders of it, and they’re far more likely to do so uninvited.

       The High Powers of Light and Darkness can be controlled, or at least directed, with reflex checks. Given that both effects are generally the province of NPC’s, mechanical details are intentionally vague.

    Channeling Failures :

       These occur whenever a channeler’s save is not made, their effect depends on how much it is missed by.

    • Natural 1, but bonus equals or exceeds the difficulty level : May not retry for at least 24 hours. This cannot be mitigated.
    • 1-2 : The attempt is wasted. An immediate retry is possible, but costs two attempts. As a GMO alternative, it may succeed with “minor problems”, such as misteleportation.
    • 3-5 : The attempt is wasted. The channeler may not attempt this particular “stunt” again for 24 hours and takes 2D4 damage.
    • 6-9 : The attempt is wasted. The user may not attempt to channel again for 24 hours and takes 1D4 Temp. damage to a random attribute.
    • 10+ : The attempt goes disasterously wrong somehow. The user may not attempt to channel again for 24 hours and suffers some side effect appropriate to the channeling field – such as HP or attribute damage, effect backlash, or a mistargeted/incorrect effect.
    • 16+ : 1D4 level drain. 18 DC to regain.

       Failures can be mitigated by expending EP. 50 EP buys a retroactive “+1” on the relevant save, up to a maximum of +5.

    Other Notes:

       The DC of unspecified effects is up to the game master. As a rough guide, use DC (12+2xSL) and add +5 if the target is distant or the effect seems to stretch the nature of the field.

       In general, when a random number is needed for a channeling effect it’s equal to; (2D6 + Charisma Modifier + BCL).

       Channeling – drawing on the energies which make up the fundamental structures of Thera – is an “Extraordinary Ability”. It’s effects can be countered by some opposing effect, but cannot be surpressed, blocked out, dispelled, or otherwise nullified without tearing a hole in the structure of the universe.

       While the reason and mechanisms behind the phenomenon are unknown, occasional “deposits” of materials linked to the primal energies are found scattered across Thera. They have quite extraordinary properties – and are extremely valuable, since they are useful in an amazing variety of ways. Such substances are used in the best enchantments and the most impressive alchemical feats.

       This version of Channeling was not directly covered in Eclipse: The Codex Persona – although it could easily be created using Channeling, Spell Conversion to an appropriate “Anyspell” effect, and some “Corrupted” and “Specialized” modifiers for requiring a save to control the power and for the possible side effects of failure. A specialized Immunity to convert it into an Extraordinary Ability. If you want to purchase it directly, it would probably be about 12 CP, plus the initial expense of purchasing the Channeling ability to start with. In normal d20, which is considerably less flexible, it’s probably worth two Feats for the basic abilities plus a one-Feat surcharge for the flexibility.