Mystic Links and Sympathetic Magic Part II

And to continue from Part I

Class-4 Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class-5 Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class-6 Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class-7 Links

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

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

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

He also had a “Butcher Pig” spell.

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

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

Unclassed Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s for good reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sith Sorcery and the Multiverse – Eclipse d20 and d6

Since the characters in the Anomaly game currently have enough sources of information to get a good idea of how “Sith Sorcery” works, and one of their opponents is using it, here’s a summary of the current state of their research. I’m not guaranteeing that it is 100% correct, but they do have enough information to be sure that it’s pretty close even if a few details have been left out. Technically this only applies to the Anomaly campaign and our d6 Star Wars games, but parts of it may be useful elsewhere. 

Some universes have no variants at all. Some have a few. A very few have a great many – but that number is always very, VERY, small compared to the number of possible variants. Some people call that “probability summation”, but the actual exclusionary principle is much more general than that.

Everything organized above a certain level – dependent on perceptual feedback from the local sophonts – is at least a little different in two different universes. Personalities. Appearance. Composition. Cultures. Natural Laws. Whatever. There are no two universes where everything is the same except for some tiny difference. There are no two universes where ANYTHING is quite the same, although it can be pretty close. Did you “split the timeline”? Your original universe continues, and the “new one” will prove to be simply a shift into another locally-similar existing universe.

Perhaps Timeline One Earth will soon be confronting the dread million-year-old Bladoon Empire and their psychic dinosaur steeds, while Timeline Two Earth will be dealing with an influx of Space Gypsies because the Bladoon never existed to wipe them out. You may be able to find some “Nazi Worlds” – but there will be differences in their histories all the way back to the beginning, the people will always be notably different, and if you liberate one of them… it actually means something. There may be a number of other Nazi Worlds out there, but the number is finite and relatively small on the cosmic scale. That’s probably a good thing. Most people don’t LIKE Nazi Worlds.

Honestly, the “Quantum Fan” model turns into a mathematical disaster as soon as dimensional travel comes into play.

Lets say you transfer a rock from one Tier 2 Universe to Another. The universe that lost the rock now has fewer particles. Its rate of branching drops by many orders of magnitude, and its branch of the quantum fan and all subsequent branches become less important to overall reality by many orders of magnitude every second. The universe that receives the rock experiences the opposite effect; it’s now branching many orders of magnitude faster than the rest of the fan. It’s reality is rapidly heading towards dominance.

Don’t even THINK about time travel. It makes that sort of problem retroactive.

If you want dimensional and/or time travel, you really need to discard the Tier-2 Multiverse Quantum Fan model – and for games, that’s a good thing. It means that the characters actions can actually make a difference in the wider universe and that they can actually be somewhat individual. They may still be able to meet an alternate versions of themselves, but they won’t be just a part of a nigh-infinite set of indistinguishable duplicates with every successful intervention just splitting off a world where they didn’t succeed.

As it happens, the Star Wars Universe Cluster is one of those with a great many variants. That’s due to a local definition of “hyperspace” that adds several additional degrees of divergent freedom to the cluster. These universes are non-relativistic, maintain an absolute “now” even in the face of locally varying time rates, do not permit true time travel, and offer a localized system of “Force” and “Anti-force” powers that interact with those extra hyperspace axes. That has its advantages – the Force and Anti force have as many effects and uses as (say) electromagnetism does – but there are disadvantages too.

In particular, it cripples most forms of True Magic.

While there are many local technologies that offer weird powers in particular universes and clusters thereof, True Magic relies on the same perceptual feedback effect that helps define universes through the exclusionary principle – allowing its practitioners to interact with other universes and the substrate that separates and defines them (whether that substrate is known as “subspace”, “the informational level”, or whatever). In crude terms… a practitioner of “true magic” draws on a world where what they want to happen makes sense and manifests a bit of that universes structure on their local universe. Or perhaps they perceive, and then manifest, a tiny pocket reality that’s more accommodating. Or they just distort the laws of nature locally. All or none of those options may be correct, depending on how you look at it.

There are an awful lot of techniques to make that (whatever “that” is) happen. You can draw on the substrate directly or you can take various shortcuts – such as attunement to specific worlds, asking powerful entities to help out in exchange for spreading their influence and promoting their goals, drawing energy slowly and binding it into prepared effects, drawing on natural “subspace channels” that provide links to particular universes, and so on – to make it easier). Sadly, as a rule… you get what you pay for. Each technique has its advantages and limitations, more general techniques are more work to master, and the range of effects that any one technique can produce tends to be limited. In universes where there are complicating factors, access to True Magic may be very limited indeed.

Basic Sorcery is very limited in the Star Wars universe cluster because the substrate is supporting a large number of timelines separated by local rules – and thus in very close proximity from the viewpoint of the substrate. When power is drawn from or through the substrate the vast, vast, majority of it gets uselessly lost into “nearby” timelines. Unless you find a way to compensate… learning or using True Magic in the Star Wars Universes is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and grossly overshadowed by Force and Anti-Force powers. You can do it – but gathering up enough power to fuel any notable effect will take a great deal of time even if you know how to collect and store it. Those few small oddities that do occur are generally simply taken as minor force, anti-force, or force/anti-force “monotalent” effects. It’s not like the difference is readily discernible to anyone except the user (and possibly not even to them unless they’re exceptionally well-informed about the local physics).

About the only upside is that the Galactic Censor – the self-protective part of the Star Wars Galactic Mind that inhibits cheap super weapons and other major threats to life – doesn’t pay much attention to people dabbling in True Magic. It’s not very threatening on a planetary scale and it doesn’t really interact with the Force anyway.

  • D20: There isn’t enough power available for spontaneous casting. Prepared casting is possible, but it takes a full day to prepare a set of one-use Cantrips, a week to prepare your spells of levels 1-3, a month to prepare your spells of level four to six, a year for levels seven to nine, decades for levels 10-12, and so on – and trying to shortcut that time with things like Rite of C’hi simply does not work. Similarly, items that store magic will work until they run out of magic – but constant-use and rechargeable items will soon deplete their reserves and then take a very long time to charge up again before they can be reactivated.
  • D6: Whatever you name your magical field, you can build up to seven (arbitrary, but a traditional magic number) prepared effects, How powerful they are depends strictly on how long you spend building them – although, for comparison purposes, their “level” cannot exceed the number of dice you have in your magical skill.

There is one natural way to compensate: just as their are natural hyperspace routes, which tend to speed travel and funnel traffic through themselves, there are natural subspace routes or nexi (Since most of the “route” is outside the local universe) – areas which are better connected to some other universe. Those lose less energy to alternate timelines that aren’t a part of the nexus and make it easier to draw on more power to compensate for what is lost. Thus, if a world happens to be linked with a nexus, minor tricks drawing on whatever effects are most natural to the linked universe are actually practical – often giving such worlds a reputation for being haunted, or odd occurrences, or for being home to species with exotic powers.

  • D6/D20. L0 (minor nexi) or L0 and L1 (major nexi) effects can be produced spontaneously. Minor nexi reduce the time required to prepare greater effects by one level (A week becomes a day). Major nexi reduce the time required to prepare greater effects by two levels (a day becomes an hour). In both cases, however, only effects suitable to the energies provided by the nexus are affected.

A skillful user of True Magic can tap into such nexi to produce reasonably impressive effects with little delay, and can even store some of them for later use elsewhere – but will still be limited to the effects that a particular nexus makes available. It doesn’t matter if you know how to produce a thousand different effects if the local power sources will only support ten of them. Of course, location-specific skills that are immensely difficult to develop aren’t well-supported in the Star Wars Galactic Mind – making it extremely difficult for any resident of the Star Wars galaxy to develop them. After all, who wants to waste time on “(Planet) Magic” that only works in one place when they can learn “piloting” and use any starship in the galaxy? Thus native skill-based True Magic Users are virtually unheard of in the Star Wars Universe.

Monotalent Sorcery uses the Force and Codex to cause many of the local timelines to overlap, so that energy can be drawn across the substrate without impossible losses – while simultaneously anchoring the user so that he or she can pull harder without yanking himself or herself out of the Star Wars universe. A monotalent can pull off any minor tricks they know how to use anywhere. If they happen to be at a nexus, however, they can pull off or store reasonably impressive stunts appropriate to the nexus considerably more quickly than normal.

  • D6/D20: L0-L1 effects can be employed spontaneously anywhere. Minor nexi allow the spontaneous use of effects of up to L2, major nexi allow the spontaneous use of effects of up to L3. Preparation time for effects beyond that are reduced by an additional level, albeit to a minimum or one hour. In D6 this is a normal monotalent. In d20 this is usually purchased as a specialized form of Mystic Artist / The Path Of Whispers / through Worldgate

While many sorcery monotalents never really put their ability to use, and those who do often never bother to learn anything beyond a few basic tricks, those few who do make a determined effort to try to exploit their power often wind up being labeled as Sith or working with the Sith. After all, how many Jedi are really focused on enacting strange rituals on distant, haunted, worlds in hopes of acquiring bizarre and unnatural powers that violate the very laws of nature?

Hybrid Sorcery: A hybrid Force-Anti-force user can theoretically learn to duplicate the relevant Monotalent – but a full hybrid has many more power options than they can explore in a lifetime open to them, many of them far more obviously rewarding than trying to force a localized timeline convergence. Even worse, force-based precognition has a very hard time showing things being imported from other universes where the Force doesn’t reach – so anyone trying to let the force guide them will see this particular avenue of development as a complete waste of time. Similarly, using the anti-force to peep into other timelines in search of guidance will generally reveal nothing. After all, getting anything useful out of the project will, at least initially, rely on nexi that don’t extend into all that many timelines – and so this method will also tend to show “no results”.

A sufficiently skilled wielder of True Magic can learn to set up remote links into nexi or even into other universes, becoming a master of unnatural, alien, powers and a likely figure of myth and legend – but without advanced training from a genuine master of True Magic, the chances of anyone getting THAT far are so close to zero that it probably only happens once or twice in the history of a hundred galaxies.

  • D6: This is another specialized skill for each nexus. Fortunately, you only two dice to tap a minor nexus and three to tap a major one.
  • D20: You want Mystic Link with Power Link. Sadly, the monotalent “generating an overlay” effect really doesn’t work with remote links unless you can project it over them to the nexus you want to affect.

The most common form of Sith Sorcery on the Anomaly in Eclipse d20 is Rune Magic, drawing on a particular Nexus – most commonly Specialized for Increased Effect (Double effective rating of the user’s Mastery and Casting skills) and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Spells can be prepared in advance and held. although the total number of spell levels that can be so prepared is equal to the user’s effective Casting skill level). This is usually coupled with the ability to draw Mana only at power nexi. This allows a Sith Sorcerer to have a limited selection of fairly powerful preset effects ready – but he or she must return to an appropriate nexus and spend a good deal of time there to renew them, making Sith Sorcery a very limited resource.

Unfortunately, given that we’re using point-buy systems for both d20 and d6, every Sith Sorcerer is going to be somewhat different – but hopefully that’s enough detail on the general theory to allow for some sensible builds and guesses about the current Sith Sorcerer running about.

Plants, Survival, and Fantasy Mapping

In the realms of fantasy there are magical herbs, strange fruits, plants that walk about and attack, wood that is lighter than air, and so much more. Useful plants will be spread by those that use them, others will tenaciously cling to what they have, and still others will survive in wildly hostile environments where little else can live. The magic of plants is subtle, and slow – but it is deep and strong, a basic part of most fantasy worlds. Like all life… plants seek to reshape the world to suit themselves. Those that are best at it will spread and prosper.

Even in reality… soil deepens as leaves are shed. Rocks are broken up. Nitrogen is fixed. networks of roots hold soil and water. Some plants thrive in levels of salt, or heat, or dry conditions, or cold, that would destroy most others. Others host colonies of ants, or bribe birds and animals to carry their seeds, or nurture deadly fungi, or defend themselves with thorns, poisons, or tiny packages of explosive toxins. Yet others release compounds that attract carnivores when they are damaged by herbivores. As with human cities, plants help to shape their own microclimates. Single plants – often existing as clonal colonies – may be tens of thousands of years old. “Pando” – a single mass of Quaking Aspen roots with many trunks – covers 106 acres, and is a small biome of its own.

In fantasy settings… when the plants need water, or are threatened, or the weather turns too cold, they will respond, each in their own way. Some may summon (or animate parts of themselves as) more active guardians, some will toughen or swiftly heal themselves, some will shape the area around them creating enchanted lands, and many will seek to control the weather. At the most extreme, they may summon storms to stop forest fires, taking advantage of the way that a fire modifies the local weather for their own purposes. Overall… there will be a compromise in any given biome: as it rains, the call for “more water” will fade – and eventually some plants will start trying to stop the rain in favor of sun. The natural climactic patterns are shifted in favor of the plants – but not wholly overturned, simply because plants that are reasonably well adapted to the local weather patterns will need to spend less effort to modify it – leaving more energy with which to grow.

But when the climate shifts, the plants resist. Where some natural barrier prevents easy takeovers by better adapted plants, where a particular biome is well-established, or where the change is extreme enough, sufficient magic is available, and all the plants of a biome are threatened… the course of nature may be dammed as effectively as men may dam a river. Thus are “lost worlds” born – patches of ancient biomes, often complete with creatures long extinct elsewhere, located in the most unlikely of surroundings. Thus one may find sections of ancient dry-weather savanna on plateaus in rain forests, tropical jungles in hidden magical valleys in arctic wastelands, and so on. Moreover, such places are slow to change – for much of the ambient magic that helps speed life’s change and adaption elsewhere is being channeled into maintaining the environment.

And thus it is that fantasy maps show such sharp divisions and strange-by-earthly-standards juxtapositions. Rain forest may well abruptly give way to desert – indeed, they may in some ways complement each other. For the Rain Forest will be pulling in all available water to maintain itself in an area that would normally be a somewhat drier forest – thus helping the desert get rid of water to maintain its own status in a similar area. Both, of course, may be in a stalemated battle against the standard temperate forest that is attempting to invade through the mountain passes, wipe out the desert and the rain forest, and claim the territory for itself. For with the Rain Forest and the Desert effectively cooperating to split the existing temperate area into dry and wet areas rather than simply attempting to force it all to be wetter or drier, they are neutralizing the temperate forests natural advantage.

Such inadvertent alliances may extend to animals as well. A jungle that just happens to be filled with valuable spices, useful mystic herbs and fruits, and other valuable vegetable resources… will be cared for, defended, and even extended by the tribes that live there. A jungle that provides the locals with deadly poisons and beasts of war may well spread rapidly into less formidable biomes.

Does the desert provide a nurturing environment for the sensitive eggs of dragons and great reptiles? Does what grows there harvest the raw energies of the sun, producing magical gems and crystals filled with light? Do quests, visions, and purity grow where one can be surrounded by the power of light both day and night? Thus may the desert may gain its own defenders.

Just as importantly… most such biomes will host their own Realm-Spirits to guard and ward them.

So go right ahead oh designer of worlds. Put that desert next to that rain forest. A tropical lost world will do just fine in the middle of a glacier. Perhaps the people of the sunken realm cultivated air-trees as their realm slowly sank into the sea and now live a hundred fathoms down in a land of thick mists where the trees hold air around themselves. Does fire-flora like to root itself in molten lava? Do those cavernous fungus-farms defy entropy to feed a massive population of underworlders with no reasonable source of energy to make that possible? Why not? The plants of a fantasy realm are every bit as magical as the lightning-throwing sorcerers and cannonball-bouncing warriors. They’re just quieter and more patient about it.

In a time long since lost to myth and legend, the nigh-immortal LyjosAlfar of Malavon wove the great Planetary Bindings – laying their will upon the world itself, to bring a halt to the annoyance of erosion and geologic change for two hundred million years. During those ages, in a lonely forest now known as Malinlassor, the ancient stronghold, the Aursuntelyn grew – trees which were natural foci for life, binding, and nature magic.

Long after the age of the LyjosAlfar had passed the ancient Bindings were broken at last across much of the world – and millions of years of geologic change were unleashed in mere weeks. But an oncoming continent shattered against Malinlassor and the Aursuntelyn, mounding up in mountain-mazes of broken stone. For the Aursuntelyn had become foci for the Bindings, and they and the lands they sheltered endured, as they had endured the ages and every power that had been directed against them for two hundred million years. Beneath their sheltering branches many of Malavon’s other plants and creatures survived the cataclysm – and eventually found their way through the shattered mountains that now surrounded Malinlassor to spread out once more and fill the barren places of the reshaped world.

A few priests and mages of nature and life have been gifted with a talismanic bit of wood, a seed, or – greatest of all – a living Aursuntelyn sapling-staff, but such things can only be gained at the will of the realm-spirit of Malinlassor and the near-eternal trees themselves.

Even today, some twenty thousand years later, forests are still considered a place of refuge – and some among the long-lived races maintain ancient shrines, where young Aursuntelyn gather to themselves the deeply buried remnants of the ancient Planetary Bindings and the energies fed to them by generations of caretakers. If and when planetary catastrophe strikes again… then refuge-outposts of Malinlassor shall be near at hand.

Building Better Martial Characters Part II – The Magic Ingredient

Portions of this article are adapted from, or at least inspired by Jirachi’s look at this topic. It’s over HERE.

Higher level d20 is all about magical power. That doesn’t have to be actual spellcasting, but there comes a point where skills and physical prowess – probably best defined as “things that would be at least somewhat plausible in the real world” – just aren’t enough. Samurai versus another expert swordsman? Sure. Samurai versus a dozen bandits led by an ogre/really big guy with a massive maul? Still OK. Samurai versus a dozen men with guns/low-level magic? We’re pushing the edge of action-movie territory here. Samurai versus Godzilla? Reality loses its temper and stalks off the set.

There are still people who like to pretend that having hundreds of hit points has to do with “skill” or “luck” or “divine protection” – but until they can reasonably explain how “skill” and “luck” helps with “you’ve been knocked out, chained up, and dropped into a blast furnace.” they do not have much of an argument. After all, a high level character with a couple of hundred hit points can just take his or her time waking up, let the chains melt, and emerge from the molten metal to massacre the guards with his or her bare hands before stealing their clothing and money to go on his or her dinner date. Sure, he or she will not be entirely healed up for two or three days (at least without help), but it’s not like that matters much.

“Divine Protection” might allow that, but now you need to explain why the gods get tired of helping you after a couple of sword blows, but are compelled to regain interest by a Wand of Cure Light Wounds. And how other spells can measure the “Amount” of divine protection you have, and why it’s so consistent, and so on.

But even if we carefully avoid considering that kind of issue… there comes a point where even being implausibly tough and strong will no longer make you an effective adventurer. Superman starts needing his X-Ray Eyes, Flight, Heat Vision, Super-Speed, and Life Support, Batman starts needing his near-precognitive planning ability and arsenal of blatantly magical gadgets, and your Barbarian starts needing to take increasingly nonsensical “rage powers” and magical equipment (and may have a hard time even then as actual spells increasingly dominate scenarios).

So you’re going to want some magic.

You can get that by taking individual powers. After all, something like…

  • Life Drinker: Presence, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only functions (Cha Mod) times per day, requires a standard action. All enemies within 10′ are affected by Vampiric Touch, you gain hit points from this as usual up to a maximum total of 60 (6 CP).

Isn’t at all bad.

  • Throw in Immunity / The usual radius limit of Presence (Common, Minor, Major) to get +30 feet – so you can target everyone within a forty foot radius with your presence powers – and suddenly your Presence effects are powerful selective-target Auras, with first level effects for 2 CP, second level (or double first level) effects for 4 CP, and third level (or +50% second level or triple first level) effects for 6 CP, that affect either enemies or allies as you specify when you buy them. Throw in Bonus Uses (+2 per CP, since the same limitations apply) if you really like something.

Yes, these are powerful. Fundamentally, any “Martial Feat” should be just as useful to a warrior as “Craft Wondrous Item”, “Quicken Spell”, or “Persistent Spell” is to a wizard. Similarly, you don’t have to take a sequence of feats to go from Burning Hands to Scorching Ray to Fireball, so why should martial characters have trees of feeble feats to get to the good stuff? Why should they have mostly-useless feats in the first place? Thus, in Eclipse, I tried to avoid requiring those.

You can get some magic in a LOT of ways. For example…

  • The Bokor / Binder (45-60 CP) package is built using Witchcraft – and while it definitely has its limitations, it offers tremendous flexibility. It’s a good deal for most martial types.
  • Entreaty Magic (87 CP), is built using the Path Of The Dragon. It involves making some fairly major commitments – but tying your character into the setting is generally a good thing and it can be fun to imitate Dr Strange in many ways. You’ll want to think carefully about what entities you’re calling on though.
  • Skill-Based Partial Casters (Mostly around 70 CP) can be plugged in to replace Paladin, Ranger, or (at more expense) even Bard spellcasting with few other changes – usually offering higher level spellcasting and a broad choice of themes. They do, however, tend to be a bit more tightly focused, so you’ll need to think about what you want the character to be able to do. If you want to be a traditional Paladin-type the Solar Guardian might do. Barbarian? Battlerager. Antipaladin? Demonologist. These are freeform systems however, and will require a lot of judgement calls and improvisation.
  • Gun (Or Other Weapon) Fu (18+ CP) is built with Reality Editing – and can be easily expanded or used with other weapons. (Sadly, the full-out Martial Maneuvers are much more expensive).
  • Martial Disciplines (2L1, 2L2, and one each of L3-9 “martial maneuvers” for 48 CP) are built using Inherent Spell. A Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, or Rogue could fairly easily afford one or two.
  • Gravespeaking – or at least the major powers – are built using Channeling. Why not go into battle encased in necromantic armor and with some undead allies by your side? Join up with Howl-Of-Death and start rampaging.
  • The Serpent Master (86 CP) uses the Wilder Psionic Progression to summon and control hordes of snakes and use venomous and/or hypnotic powers.
  • Sir Laurent’s Video-game style Holy Auras (36+ CP) are built with the Path Of The Dragon to enhance all his allies – although scaling them up too much further will get expensive.
  • The Basic Shamanic Magic Package (24 CP) is related to Entreaty Magic and lets you draw on a wide variety of spirits for powers.
  • The Pulp Hero (64 CP or +2 ECL Template) provides a wide variety of boosts (including options for vehicles and such) for larger-than-life heroes.
  • The Master Of Stars (64 CP or a +2 ECL Template) offers endless firepower, some defenses, and perpetual access to a selection of handy spells. Of course, you can just buy the parts you want separately. .
  • Raven’s Power Package is primarily built on Witchcraft, but works quite nicely if you want to be a superhero with dark powers.
  • Kelelawar uses an Immunity to allow skill-powered Martial Arts Magic,
  • A Ninja’s Ki Pool and Recovery Boost (30+ CP) provides a variety of handy tricks, and is easily expanded if you want to build a (much improved) “Skirmisher Ranger” or some such.

Given that we’ve already pulled 102 CP out of their hit dice and base attack bonus it wouldn’t be hard to give a standard Fighter some magic and still buy some other enhancements. Paladins and Rangers, however, already spend about 70 CP on their magic packages – which makes it easy to augment them or substitute something else.

Still, Spell Progressions – basically sets of prepackaged one-shot special powers that you can trade around – are pretty much the d20 standard. They’re versatile, useful, and very, VERY, well-supported, so paths that provide fixed lists of limited-use abilities have to work hard to keep up. The Full Casters (Cleric, Druid, Wizard, Sorcerer, Psion, etc) and two-thirds Casters (Mesmerist, Bard, Psychic Warrior, etc) are a bit too expensive to squeeze into a Martial Specialist – but the Ranger, Paladin, and Assassin’s four-level spell progressions fit in there already. In fact, they may well be a bit overpriced in Pathfinder, which spends a fair number of points buying Caster Levels for them that don’t do much. After all… most of the Assassin, Raner, and Paladin spells aren’t very level dependent. Third editions ten caster levels mostly do just fine.

Still, of those, Ranger and Assassin Spellcasting seems to function tolerably well. They’re not all that optimized, but they don’t really have to be. Paladin spellcasting, however, is all too often seen as underpowered. Given that it costs the same as Ranger and Assassin casting… there’s an obvious place to look – the spell selection. Paladins do have some pretty good spells, but they mostly take too long to cast or are things that more powerful divine casters get long before. Given that I don’t want to rewrite the entire Paladin spell list at the moment, lets see about ways to reduce the cost and/or improve effectiveness.

  • The quickest solution is to just Specialize the entire deal for half cost / only grants access to a small number of spells (Probably Cha Mod +2 per level or some such). This will, of course, lead to careful cherry-picking of the best spells – but the Paladin list hasn’t got all that many spells that you’ll want to make a lot of use of anyway. For alternative ways to build things, try…

Servant Of The Gods (68 CP):

  • Inherent Spell, Specialized/Only As a Prerequisite (3 CP).
  • Advanced Inherent Spell I, (L4 Greater Invocation, Minimum Level 7; Any L1 Paladin or Suitable Cleric Spell, +3 Bonus Uses = 11 CP)
  • Advanced Inherent Spell II, (L5 Greater Invocation, Minimum Level 9, Any L2 Paladin or Suitable Cleric Spell, +3 Bonus Uses = 11 CP)
  • Advanced Inherent Spell III, (L6 Greater Invocation, Minimum Level 11, Any L3 Paladin or Suitable Cleric Spell, +3 Bonus Uses = 11 CP)
  • Advanced Inherent Spell IV, (L7 Greater Invocation, Minimum Level 13, Any L4 Paladin or Suitable Cleric Spell, +3 Bonus Uses = 17 CP)
  • Streamline x4 plus Metamagical Theorem/Compact, all Specialized / only to Quicken the Inherent Spells in this package (15 CP).

This package upgrades things considerably – providing four spells of each level, allowing the spontaneous use of any Paladin (or Clerical Spell suited to Paladins) spell of those levels, and using the characters level as the caster level – but it also invoking the power of an appropriate Divine Patron sixteen times a day. Said Patron is going to NOTICE. And while there are much worse divine beings to have noticing you than a Patron of Paladins, a Servant Of The Gods can still expect to see divine quests, missions, and requests coming his or her way fairly regularly. I’d be very cautious about buying Ranger, Assassin, Healer, or similar thematic groups this way.

The Inward Source (18+ CP).

  • Witchcraft II, Specialized for Half Cost / only as a prerequisite (6 CP).
  • Witchcraft Path Of Fire / The Inner Fire, Corrupted for Increased Effect / Cannot cast spells “Unsafely” (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus (corrupted for increased effect (only applies to get additional spells) / Adds Con Mod to Cha for computing Inner Fire spell slots) (6 CP)

For the price of a mere 18 CP, accepting a very limited spell selection (six of each level), and a slight delay on getting access to spells (gaining spells of level 1/2/3/4 at levels 4/8/12/16 instead of 4/8/11/14) this provides fairly modest spellcasting.

  • For (+8 CP) you can add buy two D0 HD / Specialized for half cost / only for the Inner Fire progression and get your spells at levels 2/6/10/14 instead.

Jirachi recommends buying The Inner Fire again (For Int or Wis) to get more slots and a wider spell selection – but I suspect that neither of those will be high enough to have many bonus spell slots associated with them, so I’d recommend just buying Mana as Generic Spell Levels, Corrupted / only to be bound into additional spells for the Inner Fire progression (+5 total levels per +4 CP). In either case, you might want to buy off the Specialization on Witchcraft II (since Witchcraft offers some very hand options on the cheap) and/or the Specialization on those Extra Hit Dice – since more hit points and a higher effective level for Inherent Spells, Presence, and so on is always nice.

Channeling (24+ CP)

  • Channeling, with 1 + 3 x (Cha Mod) uses a day, with + 2 base intensity (21 CP)
  • Channeling / Conversion: Invocation of the Holy Knight* at Spell Level 3/4/5/6 at character levels 5/7/9/11. This can produce any positive-energy based paladin spell effect of up to spell level 1/2/3/4 (3/6/9/12 CP). Sadly, due to the built-in limitations of channeling, effects other than buffing, healing, and sacred stuff are off the table unless you buy an (expensive, special GM permission, natural-law) immunity to that limitation, or buy a variant of Dualism (6 CP) with the ability to cast spells from another power source and a second Greater Invocation to use with it (another 3/6/9/12 CP) to cast spells that fit into its theme.
    • *In practice, this might as well be ‘invocation of positive energy’, but calling it this because it seems appropriate in context.

Jirachi likes this method since it allows a more traditional progression, is nicely thematic, and is easily expanded by buying additional uses and more higher-level conversion effects – possibly even using some Mana with the Spell Enhancement option to allow occasional access to ninth level effects. You can even make it sightly cheaper by limiting your Channeling uses to being used for Spell Conversion, but I’d prefer to leave them open and taking some of the advanced channeling effects instead. Some of them have quite impressive applications.

You could use this approach to purchase some of the other Paladin abilities – but the minimum level requirements for casting such spells will put off their use to considerably higher levels than simply buying the various abilities.

  • 1 + Cha mod Channeling uses (6 CP) (May or may not be specialized in spell conversion)
  • Additional Conversion effects / set of four level six spells (15 CP, requires 11+ Hit Dice for full control while using them).
  • Day Long Armor Of Light (base level 3, + 4 levels of persistent – 1 for more than three levels of metamagic = level 6
  • Day Long Good Hope (base level 3, + 4 level of persistent – 1 for more than three levels of metamagic = level 6)
  • Week Long Detect Evil (Base level 1, + 6 levels of persistent, – 2 for five or more levels of metamagic) (While the spell is somewhat less effective than the basic Paladin ability it should still work well enough).
  • Day Long Disease Immunity (base level 3, + 4 levels of persistent – 1 for more than three levels of metamagic = level 6
  • Immunity to dispelling (Specialized for reduced cost / only for channeling effects, only for ‘personal enhancement’ spells) (Uncommon/Major/Epic) (12 CP)
  • For another 3 CP, you can select three more spell effects to use, upgrading them along with the Invocation Of The Holy Knight effect – either things specific to your character or spells designed to mimic more paladin powers. High end healing powers are always nice…
  • To get around that “level eleven” requirement you can either buy 1d6 (4) Mana with Spell Enhancement, plus Rite Of Chi with +6 Bonus Uses, all Specialized and Corrupted / only to reduce the level of your conversion effects, only while meditating, only to refill the pool above, etc (7 CP) to let you cast them at level five. If you’ve really got to get it lower, you can buy some bonus hit dice too.
  • Alternatively, you could buy Reflex Training (6 CP) to let you apply short-term versions before entering combat.
  • In theory you could also buy some Feat-Bestowing spells (Very Complex Mental Feats if the GM opts to allow such spells – Companion/a holy mount and Healing Touch with similar modifiers – but buying ways to make them usable at low level probably isn’t really worth it. Those abilities are only 6 CP each, so you might aw well just buy them straight.

Or you could tweak things in a lot of other ways. Eclipse is a point-buy system after all.

And, of course, there are still more ways.

  • You could, for example, simply spend 48 CP on a doubled-up version of the Spellbinder package devoted to Divine Magic instead of Arcane Magic (6d6 Mana with Unskilled Magic, Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, and +4 to base will saves) and simply channel the power of your god into divine effects.

And I hope that helps!

Nobilis – The Review And The Brain

As for playing Nobilis itself… I suppose a bit of a review is in order.

Nobilis presents an animistic world reality where natural laws do not exist, where “science” is a comforting lie maintained for the benefit of humanity, and where the players take the roles of new powers – Avatars, Promoters, and Defenders of some concept. By most standards, rather minor gods. To hold the “political” infighting down to something bearable, there is a unifying foe – the Excrucians, who come from the void beyond the Tree of Worlds and wish to destroy it.

Earlier articles in this series include:

Those cover the conversion to d20 mechanics.

Which takes us to some evolutionary biology. You’ll see why in a few moments.

The human mind is a survival mechanism. It looks for patterns in what it observes because recognizing even very simple patterns – “anyone who eats mushrooms like these always seems to die a few days later” – can go a long ways towards keeping a human alive. That was especially important for a species that was spreading out; instinctual behaviors are less advantageous than the capacity for learned behaviors when colonizing a new environment.

When confronted with observations that do not seem to fit into a pattern, humans get a feeling of Awe (“reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”) because human brains take such a mystery as something to be respected, feared, and examined. They do that because – as a survival mechanism – they classify anything that they don’t understand as something that might kill them, even if it’s just words. They go into overdrive, frantically trying to find a pattern. If they do, they trigger their internal “reward” system, making themselves feel good.

That’s the secret of a Zen Koan – an apparent contradiction meant to kick the brain into overdrive that leads to recognition and understanding of a deeper pattern coupled with a pleasant feeling of discovery. They’re teaching tools.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be a real pattern. Given a bunch of randomness, a human brain will soon connect a few random points and then throw in some confirmation bias – looking for more points that fit the imaginary pattern and ignoring bits that don’t fit because that brain has hit the reward function for “finding a pattern” and does not want to give it up. Conspiracy theories rely on that same mechanism, which is why they’re so popular and hard to talk people into giving up. Most games have some of this quality, if only inadvertently. After all, space is limited, so any RPG is going to have lots of things that aren’t covered in much detail, as well as areas beyond its borders that are only hinted at, leaving lots of room for people to add their own notions and wild theories.

Nobilis is awesome, and mysterious, and provokes frantic thought and contemplation through that same mechanism – presenting contradictions. In fact, it presents LOTS of them. That’s why the book is full of utterly independent fragments that do not fit together. Unfortunately, a lot of them are genuine logical contradictions rather than apparent ones – which (depending on the readers psychology) can either sustain that sense of awe and fascination through a constant sense of being on the verge of “understanding” the patterns their brain is trying to pull out of all that random data or simply become irritating. For a common, physical, example of that process, almost any kid will find a kaleidoscope amusing for a bit – but most will soon become bored with the things. Still, there are always a few who will play with them for hours on end. Similarly, some people will find the Nobilis “setting” endlessly fascinating – while others will just find it irritating.

Next up, we need to consider what science is.

Let us say that you make a cup of hot chocolate and taste it. You say “I think that this would be better with a little vanilla!”. You put some vanilla in, stir it, and taste it again to see if it is indeed better.

Observation, Hypothesis, Experimental Test Of Hypothesis. Rejection or Provisional Acceptance of the Hypothesis depending on the result of that test. Congratulations. You’re a scientist, even if you call it “being a cook”.

The Nobilis author shows no comprehension of that of course. After all, they’re relying on a kaleidoscope effect to keep their audience interested, so they cannot afford to admit that almost any kind of cause-and-effect reasoning is basic science.

How can I be sure that I’m looking at a kaleidoscope rather than dealing with a work of genius?

Works of genius are self-consistent. It’s the ability to fit everything into a consistent whole that pretty much defines genius. But in Nobilis…

  • There are no underlying “laws of nature”, and everything is the result of conscious choices. Ergo, all the thoughts in your mind are the result of conscious choices. So there must be spirits making conscious choices about all the thoughts in your mind. But they must have minds to make those conscious choices with. So they must have spirits making conscious choices about all the thoughts in their minds. And those spirits must have minds, so THEY must have spirits, in infinite, ever-expanding, recursion.

That sort of problem was why naive animism like Nobilis presents was abandoned in philosophy a long, long, time ago.

  • Why are there rules about how many miracle points you can have, and how many must be spent at one time, and about skills and attributes and such? Which in-the-setting creature is deciding moment-by-moment to enforce such consistent rules on your incredible powers? “Science” is founded in “stuff that seems to work” and “stuff we see” versus “stuff that doesn’t seem to work” and “stuff that doesn’t seem to be there”, and all that theory comes LATER. Any even partially functional rules system is, at its heart, scientific.

The idea that science – letting survival-oriented brains look for patterns in the world – is an imposition is simply ignoring the fact that the rules of Nobilis are patterns, and scientific. Every animal that’s capable of learning is doing “science” in its own limited way.

  • Claiming that “Science!” insists that the world is round or that the rest of the observable universe exists, and so reality is accommodating it ignores the fact that people had to be compelled to abandon quick-and-easy explanations like “the world is flat” by observing too many things that didn’t fit in with those explanations. A flat earth is just as “scientific” as a round one; it just didn’t fit in with what people actually saw when they looked at things closely.

So “History” revises itself to account for each miracle? Aren’t those happening all the time? So there is no actual history, just an ever-changing now?

  • Yet… Nobilis gives us historical notes and reasons for things, playing up to that tendency to look for patterns while explicitly telling us that there is no meaningful history.

Nobilis tells us that people rely on real-world notions of modern “science” as a mental defense. They have to have it, so the universe is accommodating them. But… very few people actually pay any attention to science, and far, far, fewer than that understand it at all. Why is allowing a few humans to delude themselves a strain on the universe? For those few actual “scientists”… if an observation does not fit with current theory the theory gets discarded. If something is ever observed – such as the effects of magical skills, or miracles – it’s a part of science. The sole reason that science discarded most “magic” is that it never worked when it was tried.

  • Why do a scattering of humans in Nobilis have this need for an illusion of science anyway? It’s not like they’re an evolved species in the setting.

And the list goes on. Apparent contradiction is at the heart of every good murder mystery. The clues seem to fit together one way, but not perfectly – while another, far less obvious, way to put them together is the truth. A really good author can offer an honest chance to solve the mystery by providing all the right clues, but still keep the vast majority of the readers guessing until the final denouncement. Lesser authors have to hide critical bits to keep the readers from figuring it out too soon. Poor authors just leave in self-contradictions or unexplained pieces (popularly known as “plotholes”).

So the setting is a kaleidoscope. Each game master is extracting their own pattern from it – so the only thing that holds the game to a common pattern is the rules system used to run it.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the author produced a high-quality kaleidoscope of a setting… that rules system is deeply problematic. Lets look at it step by step and see how well those rules make the setting function.

It says that there are only a few thousand Nobles on “Earth” and that the setting is pretty much the mundane world around the players – save for the influence of the secret supernatural. It makes some blatant appeals to “how things work” to limit human capabilities, despite “how things work” not being a thing in the setting. So what do the actual rules say that Mortals can do in Nobilis? That will tell us a lot about setting consistency even before involving “Nobles”.

Mortals:

Well… Mortals can have magical skills (and a set of bonds) with no questions asked. Presuming that they have nonhuman ancestry (since domains like “fatherhood”, “motherhood”, and “reproduction” are a thing and family trees do branch, that should be pretty universal) they can have Superior Qualities as well. The maximum objection that the universe puts up to a mortal doing something – however outrageous – with a supernatural skill is a “-5” and penalties do not stack. Bonds can negate part or all of that -5, and a mortal can spend up to 8 will.

Basically, any mortal who is aware that reality goes beyond science gets:

  • 8 Points worth of Skills, Passions, and/or Superior Qualities.
  • 8 Points worth of Bonds.
  • 8 Will.

So what skills are magical in Nobilis?

The book tells us that non-magical skills are used for mundane actions. You know. Mundane – in accordance with the laws of nature and the natural order of the world. Which doesn’t exist in Nobilis. So all skills are magical.

Er… never mind that.

Maybe the “a Skill without an ordinary mode of use – a Skill where everything they might want to do is equally a stretch” definition? But if I know “Card Magic” can’t I do the old “pick a card” routine as well as summon the creatures of the Tarot? Magical skills can have ordinary uses. My Alchemist passion can certainly be used to make potions, but I can quite reasonably blow glass vessels for my laboratory or try to talk someone into funding my elixir of youth research with it. That’s a part of being an Alchemist too.

Never mind that either! Moving on!

I’ve already discussed how a mortal with any combination of Hyperspeed Magic and a Bond adding up to 3 can spend 8 will to move faster than light (which has Superior Speed 5). That’s 3 + 8 Will -5 (penalty for going up against nonstacking -5 penalties for uncooperative reality and a superior quality 5) = 6, which beats out Light. If they have Magic-5 and a Bond-5, they can outrun light at will. They have to invest 1 Will in the project, but they get that back when it’s over.

So… How about a mortal who happens to have some supernatural bloodlines? Lets give him…

  • Superior Quality: Embodiment Of The Storm 5. Magical Skill: Nibelungian Artificer 3.
  • Bonds: Demonstrate The Power Of The Storm 5 and Aid Humanity 3.
  • Tools (from Nibelungian Artificer): Bracers Of The Storm (+2 to using Embodiment Of The Storm), Advanced Medical Kit (+2 to healing people). The game doesn’t really say anything about how you can get tools, so getting a few with a Superior Quality of being able to make tools sounds pretty reasonable. (They’re not required, but they do save on the use of Will when using his powers for really absurd stuff).

This hero (“Stormlord”) can easily move faster than light (Racing The Lightning), hurl mountains into orbit (Strength Of The Hurricane), withstand the greatest nuclear weapons or asteroid strikes (Endurance Of The Great Red Spot), blow tidal waves away from the coast (Hurricane Breath), cause solar eruptions (Solar Storms), and lots more. He can fly, hurl lightning, bring rain to farmers, speak louder than thunder, smash cities, hold off alien invasions, rescue sinking ships, build cities (“aid humanity” with his super-speed), and more. Anything he can’t fit into “storm” powers he can whip up a gadget for. Need to cure cancer or deliver a baby? That’s easy too!

Stormlord probably can’t travel through time (unless “time storms” are a thing or he spends a lot of will on a gadget), make or negate earthquakes without gadgets, or generate illusions without gadgets – although he might be able to use lightning to raise the dead. He can’t oppose “Miracles” (even if he can easily match some pretty high-order Miracles). Still, why would he need to? Nobles are supposed to be very rare.

And there’s no reason why the world shouldn’t be full of such mortals. Fortunately, Nobilis is a narrative game that focuses on the player characters – so the actual consequences of the rules are not really relevant.

Cool And Shine:

Cool and Shine are special mortal qualities that not all mortals have but that many Nobles will. I’ve already covered how they break the game over HERE at more length – but to summarize… a Noble’s Shine can be used in place of a mortal’s ability whenever a mortal wants to honor you or implement your agenda. And somewhere out there… there is pretty much sure to be a Noble with Shine 5 with an agenda to suit any desired action. So all mortal skills and qualities are irrelevant, infants are as good as trained experts, and there is no point in studying or training; everyone is at the limits of mortal potential already.

A Noble’s Cool acts as a penalty on penalty on “mundane actions that cause problems for, injure, or influence someone cool or an organization, person, or situation that the Cool person is actively watching over”. This has more wiggle room to it – but if my Estate is “Depression” (“Depression is not doing anything”), anyone who actually does something is injuring my Estate/Self. If I have Cool 5, as long as I am watching over my estate… all mundane actions everywhere in the Nobilis multiverse take a -5 penalty.

Net result? If Cool and Shine apply to all those NPC’s, all mortals are effectively absolutely identical. Fortunately, in Nobilis… rules only really apply to player characters.

Domains

Next up, it’s describe your domain. Perhaps I will pick Fire, and decide that…

  • Fire is friendly and obliging, it helps out when asked and would never hurt anyone (3).
  • Fire is the element of change and transformation, reshaping and recreating what it touches (1).
  • Fire can appear anywhere, for all things contain and understand fire (1).
  • Fire is a magical gateway to a beautiful non-euclidean wonderland land full of fire spirits (see #1) that are friends (1)!
  • Fire Provides endless life and energy, for it is an eternal force and makes up every soul (1).

And now that I have defined my domain… it has always been that way, for that is the nature of Fire and “history” changes to reflect such supernatural imperatives.

So… no creature has every been injured by Fire (or, for that matter, by cold since they can always call on Fire). Everything can call on their inner fire to transform themselves and other things so long as it does no harm. Fire is always everywhere, even if it’s well hidden. You can pass through a fire to travel to anywhere or visit the fire spirits in wonderland. You soul is part of the eternal fire, and so people can spontaneously heal or resurrect themselves. Everyone knows all about this, and so is free to call on fires aid at need. Human beings have ALWAYS been unaging, self-resurrecting, capable of shapeshifting at whim, able to create whatever they need, and able to transport themselves across reality in an instant.

Oops. I think I broke things again. Still, that’s one reason why each Nobilis game has its own unique flavor; what aspects of the world are important, and how they work, are defined by the players when they make their characters. It’s just assumed that no other Nobles have ever done much of that, just as it’s assumed that whatever Estate a player wants is going to be available. The NPC’s don’t matter.

Stuffed Animals…

  • Come To Life As Mighty Guardians To Do Battle With Nightmare Things (2).
  • Stand Upon The Boundaries, Holding The Gates And Powers Of Dream (2).
  • Are Knight-Errant Guides And Rangers Of The Eternal Dreamlands (1).
  • Are Wise Protectors And Teachers Of Children And Adults Who Still Remember (1).
  • Are Always There For Any Child Or Remembering Adult Who Needs Them (1).

Remember! There are no laws of nature and the “past” is a fiction that changes at whim – so all those places where the game appeals to “how things work” to describe mortal limitations or how difficult various miracles are… are irrelevant. Why is hot snow difficult? It’s not like there’s any law of nature stating that it cannot be hot and cold at the same time.

Well, lets try creating a Noble.

  • The Passion “I am a dance instructor *****” Costs exactly the same as the Superior Quality “I am an ancient d20 gold dragon *****”.
  • Bonds allow you to ignore penalties (referred to as “Obstacles”), such as realities objections to the use of your more magical Passions and Qualities. “I love teaching children to dance! *****” costs just the same as “Dragons overcome all obstacles!”.
  • The Affliction; “Small children always learn to dance beautifully when I teach them! *****” will be useful to the dance instructor (although it might do some pretty weird things to the kids), but will it be as useful as Affliction: “My draconic abilities are powerfully miraculous! *****” which will make every use of that “ancient d20 gold dragon” quality (sorcerous powers, vast strength, near-invulnerability, etc, etc, etc) into a level six miracle? After all, they cost the same.

Now lets add a Bond to Mr Dragon: Something philosophical and generic, so that I can pretty much always apply it. Maybe “Demonstrating My Might” or “In The Service Of Sapience!” or some such. Now all those draconic tricks have a baseline of Miracle-6 with Strike-5 and are protected from interfering miracles with Auctoritas-5 – before Mr Dragon uses any miracle points.

Use the other three points of bonds for ways to get more miracle points. You may not need them for anything much, but they’re always nice to have.

OK, the game has broken again and we haven’t even spent any character points yet.

You can also pick one to three contacts – entities who have made an important difference in your life. This won’t break the game because they don’t’ really do anything, but they’re there if you and the person running the game cares.

As for spending those points… A lot of people buy “Immortality” or some such, which is nice if they run out of miracle points and don’t have a relevant affliction like Mr Dragon – but honestly, the “combat system” outright states that characters can’t be killed without the players consent. They always come back if the player insists (the “Damage System” is examined in much more detail in the comments over HERE). All that spending those points gets you is a way to avoid being temporarily inconvenienced. Since the game master is encouraged to just make up NPC’s as needed, any game statistics used against them are simply a way of telling the game master how determined you are.

The Attributes are actually fairly balanced in isolation – but Mr Dragon doesn’t really need Aspect. He is already vastly superhuman in pretty much everything and has vast miraculous powers of magic to boot. Persona and Domain both let you control your estates attributes in yourself and the world – but a “1″ in each will do. That will let you enact level five stuff for 4 miracle points on those rare occasions when your dragon powers will not do.

Treasure though… Treasure lets you access other domains entirely. With each miraculous piece of treasure… you can define another chunk of the game reality to suit yourself. You can get some Treasure to cover anything you think you might have problems getting your dragon powers to do – or add some dragon power boosters. That way you can bump those dragon power miracles up to even greater heights. So Treasure 5. That breaks the game much more subtly (it just makes any other characters far less important to have around), but still leaves four character points to spend – enough for a +1 to either Persona or Domain, an Aspect of 1 if you want to bother just in case, or four points worth of Gifts. Perhaps more defenses, just in case?

I never did pick his actual domain, but so long as it’s abstract enough the details don’t really matter unless you’re buying something like “Domain of Destroyed Domains” or “Acausality” or some such. How about “”Realms that haven’t been extensively damaged by the Excrucians, and so still have natural laws and systems independent of the Nobles”? Or perhaps “Nobles”, and then go around creating new Nobles. Why not take “Miracles” and just hand out “Miracle Points” yourself?

Admittedly, Nobilis revolves more around your ability to talk persuasively than character statistics, but it would be nice if it’s mechanics actually worked properly.

Finally, we have Destiny.

Destiny is actually fairly simple. You decide on something you want to accomplish – and if you talk about it enough, and occasionally try to work towards it… it will eventually come to pass. It will even come to pass if you just endlessly try stupid stuff, since being told “that will not work” moves your project along quite effectively.

That’s right. There is no provision for the characters ever actually failing in the long run. If they talk enough, they succeed!

Admittedly, that success is limited. According to Nobilis….

It is, by rule, ambiguous. You have to leave wiggle room for the HG. You can’?t say that you win, or that things go down a certain way. Like Imperial miracles, Destiny leaves the world more than a little space for interpretation. But the thing that happens is something that matters. It says something real.

And no. I can’t break that any more than it already is.

Like it or not… Nobilis really does not function as a game. What it does function as – and quite well at that – is a piece of RPG performance art or a set of Rorschach Ink Blots for gamers. If a group picks it up, and examines it – and if enough of them are pulled in by the kaleidoscope effect – then they will soon pull a setting and a crude set of rules customized to work for them out of it. It gets everyone invested in the game by getting them to build it. It focuses on the characters because they really ARE at the center of the game and setting that the group has just created.

If it works, you will get an enthusiastic and deeply involved group playing their own personal variation of Nobilis. If it doesn’t… then the game bombs and Nobilis goes back on the shelf. That’s why “Examples Of Play” are so scarce, and rarely make a lot of sense to anyone except the author when they do appear.

Fortunately, poor or simple mechanics don’t necessarily prevent you from having a lot of fun. For that I’ll just reference the “Magic Prairie Dog” games over HERE. It’s the background and setting that really makes or breaks narrative systems since, in order to make them work, you really have to buy into their version of the world – and Nobilis wins on that front, since it neatly maneuvers the players into designing the setting for themselves.

Personally… As a game collector, I own copies of both the second and the third edition of Nobilis, but I just mine the interesting bits to port over to any rules-light game with mechanics that actually work. That’s why we played considerably more Exalted games using the Baba Yaga rules than we did with the Exalted rules – and why the one long-term Exalted game we played using White Wolf’s rules wound up rewriting the system anyway.

Role-playing doesn’t depend on the system, or on dice or the lack thereof. I’ve role-played plenty of games that don’t normally have any role-playing component – ranging from Chess (sometimes as the kings, sometimes as the pieces as they moved, sometimes alternating between both) to the Ecology board game (roleplaying a civilization as it moved through the Hunting, Agricultural, Industrial and Atomic ages). I’ve played in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns where months of weekly sessions might go by without checking character sheets. The wind-down of the second Federation-Apocalypse game continued for several years that way. For that matter, several groups have had a good deal of fun playing Spades with Magic cards – narrating why they thought one card or another should be a trump, and awarding tricks by consensus.

Narrative systems back off on the “game” aspect, so that the characters, story, and players take priority over the setting and mechanics.

That means that the setting and the number of important actors in it has to be fairly small. After all, if you admit to the existence of a lot of other groups who are changing the setting in their own ways, and driving their own stories… then the players efforts are going to be lost in a sea of effectively random events. Think about trying to set up Amber or Nobilis as a MMORPG. Would that work?

Given that there are plenty of MMORPG’s out there, and none of them use narrative systems, I’d say that the observed evidence says “no”.

Now there is nothing at all wrong with that limited focus. Narrative games can be all kinds of fun. That’s one reason why there are a couple of Amber character diaries up on this site.

Amber was entertaining. It took a lot of work and manipulation to wind up in total control of the universe with all the other characters as pets while following the rules of 1) Always tell the literal truth. 2) Give anyone who asked whatever they asked for, and 3) never do anything to anyone that they did not ask for. It was even more amusing that it took more than twenty sessions after the conquest before any of the other players figured out that anything had happened.

D20, however, has it’s roots in Wargaming. Settings where you are presented with a situation and a certain set of resources and must deal with it as best you can. Everything that exists in the setting follows rules. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fence-post or Azathoth, a group of clever players can put together a plan, gather their resources, and beat it, even if they’ve got to grind a lot of levels first. Even in games like Call Of Cthulhu, where the “true” (offstage) Outer Gods are eternal forces of nature… you can destroy or banish their local manifestations. Sure, it’s inevitable that someday someone will fail and the world will end – but it need never be now. “Not today” is always an option.

There’s an earlier article on the distinction between the implied rules of the source material and the actual rules of the game over HERE.

So why all this converting? Well,..Jirachi wanted to know how to convert some ideas from Nobilis, it’s always an interesting puzzle and test of Eclipse to try to convert specialty games into it’s mechanics, and there’s nothing wrong with promoting a playstyle that’s focused more on politics, manipulation, and building up the world than it is on killing things. So why not convert some Nobilis ideas?

Eclipse, Lesser Path Magics, Part II

Magical packages at the 18-24 CP level are fairly major investments for a low-level character, and invariably require a reasonable level of talent and/or working on developing their talents from fairly early childhood. As such, they’re quite uncommon; a village is unlikely to have more than a few people with powers on this scale – and it’s not uncommon for someone with the potential to never really put in the work to develop it effectively.

It’s worth noting that all of these packages – as well as the ones from last time around – are set up as fairly high-efficiency options. NPC’s typically aren’t all that optimized, but it’s also true that the point balance on minor villagers is pretty unimportant. PC’s are generally assumed to be a lot more talented than most NPC’s (although not as much so as in first edition, where actually having the potential to go past “level zero” was reserved for the one-in-a-thousand who had “adventurer potential”) though – and point balance matters a lot more to them. Ergo, these packages are all optimized to where they’d be a reasonable investment for a player character who wants some convenient low-level magical packages to pick from.

Witchcraft (18+ CP)

Many folk have small knacks. Before they know what is and isn’t possible… they can stir the mobile over the crib to delight their infant eyes, they can tell what the cat is saying, or call the butterflies. But such talents are very personal, and tend to fade as children begin to come in groups. What fun is a trick when it can’t be shared? 

But in a world of magic, some children refuse the abandon those tricks. Instead they develop their inner strengths, expand on those tiny psychic knacks, and – eventually – turn them into actual useful powers. Where things go from there tends to depend a lot on how the other children reacted to the kid who kept talking to themselves and doing weird things.

Witchcraft is probably the most common magical package of all. It’s fairly low-powered, but it is versatile, efficient, and extremely cheap. It also allows it’s users to take Pacts – each worth +6 CP to spend on advanced Witchcraft powers. Since a character can take two Pacts at level one, and another at levels three, seven, and twelve, a mere 18 CP can get you 48 CP worth of Witchcraft. Throw in a few extra Power and you can have quite a lot of tricks.

  • At the most basic, take Witchcraft II (12 CP) with Two Pacts – paying for +3d6 Power (6 CP) and Rite Of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to recover Power (6 CP). That gives you a choice of three of the twelve basic abilities and enough Power to make good use of them. For some sample selections…
    • Expert Healer: Healing, Hyloka, and Witchfire.
    • Illusionist: Glamour, Shadowweave, and Witchsight.
    • Crafter: Hand Of Shadows, Witchfire, and Witchsight.
    • Shaman: Dreamfaring, Glamour, and The Inner Eye.
    • Telepath: The Adamant Will, Glamour, and The Inner Eye.
    • Combat (or Vengeful) Witch: Elfshot, Infliction, and Witchfire.
    • Mystic: Healing, Shadowweave, and Witchsight.
  • For another 6 CP you can get some more power and another four basic abilities or an advanced ability. Go ahead, learn to contact beings on other planes, or to project your spirit as a formidable creature, or channel spirits, or become a shadow, or to take minor animal forms, or any of a lot of other things.

The basic Bokor (Binder) Package also falls under Witchcraft, and costs 24 CP. Similarly, the Sith and Jedi 24 CP packages can be found in this category.

I tend to recommend that – unless they’re primary casters or extreme specialists – most characters take some Witchcraft. It can provide a wide variety of tricks and boosts quite cheaply – and thus gives fighter- and rogue-types a nice boost.

Entreaty Magic (21 CP)

The art of calling on mystical entities to empower your spells directly is quite versatile – if still limited to the type of effects that any specific entity is able to supply – but demands a fair amount of service to such entities to pay for their power. While 21 CP worth of Entreaty Magic only covers spells of up to level two and requires that the user have a minimum level of three to fully control those second level effects – entreating minor entities of Childbirth and Healing, Villages and Households, Hunting and Farming, Nature, and similar fields is unlikely to lead to any especially burdensome demands on a low-level character – and (unlike the 12 CP Hedge Wizard package) can both include effective offensive and defensive spells and is easily expanded to greater powers (+12 CP and a minimum level of five for level three effects, although getting up to the maximum of level six effects gets expensive) if some villager should prove to have enough magical talent for that.

Shamanic Magic (24 CP)

While closely related to Entreaty Magic, Shamanic Magic includes long-term (if very minor) blessings, some minor animalistic shapeshifting, and the ability to intervene on behalf of the dying, as well as the ability to call on various spirits for magic. A shaman will never possess vast magical power, but he or she is extremely flexible and well-suited to providing the kind of magical services that a small village or wandering tribe needs.

Spellbinder (24 CP)

A Spellbinder possesses a good deal of Mana, a vivid imagination, and a strong will with which to channel that Mana into the effects they imagine. That’s not a very efficient way to work magic, and it’s very prone to backfires and side effects since a lot of the Mana they shove in discharges at random – but it is quite versatile. A Spellbinder can produce virtually any arcane effect within their level limits, even if those same wild discharges keep them from storing their magic or using it to create magical objects.

  • 3d6 Mana with the Unskilled Magic option, Specialized for Increased Effect (only costs 1 Mana per Spell Level) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only usable for unskilled magic, calls for Gestures (limiting the user to light or medium armor and at least one free hand), Incantations (incoherent screaming works though), and a spell component pouch (variants may use other foci) (12 CP).
    • The Casting Level equals the user’s Level or (Mana Spent + Int / 3), whichever is less.
    • The maximum level of effect is the users base Will Save Bonus or (Wis / 3), whichever is less.
    • Keeping the side effects (normally of the same level as the spell attempted or one level less) down to inconvenient effects rather than dangerous ones requires a Cha check at a DC of (6 + 2 x the Mana Used). The side effects are always up to the game master.
    • The user MIGHT (GMO) gain “free” mana to use if under great emotional stress.
    • The user may invest an additional (Spell Level) mana points in a spell with a duration to keep it running until he or she drops it, something dispels or negates it, or he or she chooses to recover that mana. This is, however, limited to a maximum of (Con/3) levels of spells.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Reduced Cost / only recovers at 1d6 per half-hour of rest or sleep (6 CP).
  • +2 to the user’s Base Will Save (6 CP).

Spellbinders are quite rare, and often become actual adventurers (usually taking some Reflex Training and more Mana so as to get off more spells), although even if they pump their Wisdom, Intelligence, and Will Saves they are unlikely to reach particularly high-level magics. On the other hand, they can cast a (sloppy) version of pretty much any low-level arcane spell that you might want – including Hedge Wizardry effects – which is pretty useful and can keep Shield and Mage Armor up all day at first level, which is pretty handy.

Animist (24 CP)

An animist depends on talking things into helping him or her out – usually by simple appeals, but sometimes by trickery. It’s a subtle art, but one that requires little or no personal power besides a persuasive tongue.

  • Immunity/the normal limits of Diplomacy and Spoken Language (Common, Minor, Major, 12 CP). This ability allows the user to effectively communicate with ANYTHING – and to attempt to persuade it to help them out. They can speak with plants and animals, attempt to persuade locks and doors to open, fires to leave open a path of escape, spirits to answer, air to remember when it was stone, or stone to remember when it was molten rock or simple sand or whatever it once was. It’s usually fairly easy to persuade things to act within their natures – for example, doors are made to let people through, so getting one to open itself is fairly easy. Getting a lock to open without the key is considerably harder; locks are MADE to keep unauthorized people out.
  • Minor Privilege/most things that are not naturally communicative are pleased to be spoken to, and will be reasonably friendly (3 CP).
  • Spirit Favors: Major from the spirits of the physical world, minor from the spiritual entities of the elemental and appropriate alignment planes (9 CP).

An animist can occasionally pull off some pretty major stunts – getting a massive avalanche or tornado to turn aside, getting a ship safely through a hurricane, triggering an eruption, or otherwise massively influencing the course of events – but for the most part they’re going to be doing things like asking a rope to tie itself securely when they toss one end to the top of a cliff, or getting a lockpick to twist itself around to help them open something – and they have few limits on such minor tricks.

Cultist (24 CP).

Cultists are a bit tricky in d20. After all whether you are calling upon strange gods, eccentric demons, gibbering lovecraftian horrors, fey, or long-forgotten entities… they’re very rarely offering you anything that you can’t get in much more socially acceptable ways. In Eclipse, the answer is simple: the abilities in the Cultist package are generally Corrupted for Reduced Cost or Increased Effect / they have some weird side effect and call for odd, exclusive, rituals and such, Maybe they attract strange creatures, or corrupt nature, or spawn strange weather and other problems, or they drive their users insane if they overuse their powers, or whatever. That makes a cultists powers relatively quick and easy to obtain and simultaneously provides a reason for their being social objections to the cult. Even if they’re not evil… cultists make difficult neighbors The Standard Cultist Powers are simply:

  • 3d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Rune Magic, whatever limitations the specific cult involves (6 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted /only to restore the Mana Reserve for Rune Magic, requires a brief cult ceremony, specific cult limitations (4 CP).
  • Adept, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Two Skills Only (Rune Magic Casting and Mastery for a specific field), specific cult limitations (2 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus, adds (Second Attribute Bonus of Choice) to (Skills based on chosen attribute for Rune Magic), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Only for Rune Magic, only for the Cult Rune Magic Skills, specific cult limitations (6 CP).
  • Rune Magic Casting and Mastery, Specialized for Increased (Double) Effect / doubling values only applies to the base skill points at level one, not to attribute or other bonuses, spellcasting is always seen as strange and unnatural, specific cult limitations. +4/+4 SP (+8/+8 to base total) (4 CP).
  • Knowledge / Religion +1 (1 CP). +3 Speciality in their own cult (1 CP).

Cultists do need an attribute bonus to really shine – but one attribute of 14 is quite sufficient. That will give them (+8 Base +6 (Augmented Bonus) = +14 in Rune Mastery and Casting at level one – an effective caster level of seven and access to third level spells in that specific field. That also, of course, helps to explain why Cults – despite all their negative effects – hang on. If the cultists of Shangarath The Fiery One all happen to be able to throw 7d Fireballs (among other fire effects), then attacking them might go really badly for a bunch of low-level types. Even without an attribute bonus… Burning Hands or Scorching Ray at caster level four can really ruin a normal persons day.

Cultists strike an interesting social dynamic: thanks to whatever weird side effects they produce, nobody really wants them around, or wants to get involved with them – until something is going badly wrong, at which point the relatively high-powered magic they can wield may suddenly be absolutely critical to the communities survival. Thus Cultists are usually tolerated, if isolated, parts of the community.

On a practical character-design level… Cultist magic tends to be extremely efficient at getting a narrow field up to mid-range power levels at low level – but thereafter slows down drastically, since another +19 skill points will only get them to +33 at level twenty. Admittedly, that’s eighth level spells and an effective caster level of sixteen – but it’s in one narrow field, you don’t get the price breaks for being a cultist on more Mana, and the rate of increase beyond level one is a lot less impressive than it is for a more conventional spellcaster with a proper, general, education.

There are quite a few other 24 CP Archetypes and Roles up that also fall into this category. As a sampling we have the  Aristocrat, Berserker, Commander, Laborer, Magus, Messenger, Shadow, Wanderer, and Wise Companion, Broken Spirit, Brute, Elder, Great Leader, Official, Scholar, and Shaman, Centurion, El Diablo, Performer, Romantic, and Thief, Fortunate Scion, Merchant, Seducer, and Stoic, (and the How-to-use-them guide), as well as the Star Trek Power Packages Ensign, infiltrator, and Engineer, Captain and Second In Command, Transporter Officer, Counselor, Mystic Counselor, and Doctor, Chief Security Officer, Cosmic Wedgie, Annoying Brat, the Mudd, and Holographic Characters.

Sacredos Pastor (24 CP)

The Sacredos Pastor is the intermediary between the greater realms and the circumscribed worlds of the peasants and farmers – and a dabbler in many different forms of magic. In practice, this is probably the most efficient package on this entire list, exploiting the inherent bonuses of first level Clerical Spellcasting, Ritual Magic, Witchcraft, a Shamanic Familiar, and Creating Relics to provide all the magical services a small village will normally need outside of serious emergency situations – although those will, as always, call for adventurers.

The Sacredos Paster – and the Oath Of The Postulant that leads to it – were actually part of an experiment; I rather wondered what might happen when a visitor introduced a very high-efficiency social optimizer package in the guise of a religious philosophy to a fairly classical d20 world. Sadly, the game folded up all too soon, and so I never got to find out. Oh well.

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

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

 

Eclipse – The Sagacious Advisor

This package gives you the classic sage, mentor, or royal advisor – someone who can tell you that the unseasonable winter blighting the land is almost certainly the work of the Winter King wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter Blade from his Otherworldly Castle Of Ice, and that some heroes must journey there to stop him by shattering the blade once more so that the seasons will turn properly for another age of the world.

He will even – after enough research (waiting to draw the right card since he only gets new ones for his Hexcrafting magic when important things happen) that the situation has become utterly dire and the party has had to hold off multiple attacks by Polar Bears, Winter Wolves, and other ice-monsters – be able to open a path into the mystic realms of the Seasonal Spirits, so that you can reach the Castle Of Ice to do battle with the Winter King.

He won’t know that the Winter King was recently overthrown by his treacherous son Prince Iceheart wielding the reforged Fimbulwinter blade, and that to restore the balance of the world the party will have to rescue the old king, defeat the Prince, shatter Fimbulwinter once more, and perform a ritual to reinstate the link between the Realm of Winter and it’s once and future King. After all, that information is far too recent to appear in the Sagacious Advisors ancient tomes – but he can still get the party started on their adventure.

Similarly, he can put the dying king afflicted by the nigh-unstoppable mystic venom into stasis, and greatly slow the decay of the land that ruler is linked to – but he will have to stick around to keep recasting that stasis (after all, it starting to wear off is probably an important enough event to justify refreshing his powers), leaving the quest for the cure up to the player characters.

Of course, if you wind up having to take a Sagacious Advisor along on your adventures – perhaps you need one of those vastly powerful spells performed at a particular place – then you will have to babysit them through the trip and then protect them from the inevitable massive attack while they perform their ritual casting because they probably won’t be any use at all along the way.

The Sagacious Advisor (Usually an NPC):

Basic Attributes: Str 8, Dex 8, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 16 (Pathfinder 15 Point Buy).

Available Character Points: L3 Base (96 CP) -18 (Untrained) +12 (L1 and L3 Feats) = 90 CP.

Basics (25 CP): Hit Dice: 3d6 (6 CP), Skill Points +8 (Fast Learner at L0, 6 CP) +6 (6 CP) = 14 (six knowledges at +1, 8 points for other skills), BAB +0 (0 CP), Saves +0 (Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Saves, 4 CP), Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP).

Other Abilities (65 CP):

  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect: only for Skills, only for Knowledge, Skills, user must spend a lot of time rummaging through ancient tomes and lore, information often contains gaps (especially about recent changes) that will need to be filled by adventurers, user is afflicted with great curiosity and a certain lack of caution (12 CP).
  • +6 Base Caster Levels, Specialized in Hexcrafting. (18 CP).
  • Hexcrafting: 4 Free Invocations (8 CP), 3 Cards (8 CP), 2 Fixed Cards (6 CP). All Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the user must fumble around with assorted arcane ingredients, speak, and gesture to do anything at all. The Cards are also Specialized for Reduced Cost / Ritual Only, it requires at least one minute of ritual per card expended to create an effect.
  • Berserker with Odinpower (+15 to Base Caster Level, -2 to AC) and +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / each use only allows the casting of a single spell, user forfeits his or her dexterity bonus while casting, only half effect when using a free invocation, (4 CP).
  • Choice of Houngan Conjurer (9 CP) or Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys (9 CP).

While the Sagacious Advisor is useful to have around, and makes a wonderful government official… he or she does not have the quick, or regularly-usable, power needed to be a real threat to the current rulers or to overshadow the player characters. Like it or not, he or she is effectively a plot device. Still, every so often, the Sagacious Advisor can perform a major ritual – opening the path to a realm of myths, transporting a city away from an attacking horde to an unknown alien realm (which will, of course, offer it’s own menaces and which will urgently need exploring), or stopping that volcanic eruption (while simultaneously upsetting some Elementals) – and then be quite unable to deal with the further consequences. Que the player characters having a new mission.

Given that the game is supposed to be focused on the player characters, that’s a good thing. I’ve played in entirely too many games where the megapowerful NPC’s could (and obviously SHOULD) easily fix the problem – but it gets shoved off onto the player charters for some unspecified reason. As an example from a game I once played in…

(My character) “So let me get this straight, The kings widely-loved daughter has been Kidnapped. So the King sent his most skilled (high-level) guards out to scoop up what must be the six weirdest, most incompatible (we had a Drow, a Minotaur, my chain-smoking modern Egyptian tomb robber who’d been drafted by Anubis to be a priest in a fantasy world, and several other weird types), people in the capital, whom he had no information on, who are not known as adventurers, and who he has no reason to trust, to send after her. He’s doing this on the advice of his supposedly good-guy Mind Flayer advisor. We’ve been told that she’s being held in a legendary tomb in the middle of the enchanted forest by bandits. The King refused to lend us a guide, or any guards to provide backup, or give us a map, or provide us with any gear. And we will be thrown in the dungeons if we don’t take on this mission. Well… Now that we’re approaching the forest… I vote that we make a break for it!”

The game master was extremely surprised when the party assumed that we were, at best, a sacrificial diversion for the real rescue mission – and that, at worst, the “lawful good king” was actually covering up the elimination of an uncooperative daughter. And why would we be asking for gear or a map or help? We had our first-level character creation funds!

With this build… that sort of thing is not a problem. The Sagacious Advisor can meet the magical needs of the kingdom, tell the party where to find the necessary plot coupons and mcguffins, and still remain low level and incapable of doing the actual adventuring himself. It also means that – in a setting where most of the world is low level – one can fairly readily find or train an effective royal advisor without having to assume that they just appear from nowhere when it’s convenient.