Infusions Of Curses in Eclipse

And for today, it’s a question – along with a bonus answer from a regular visitor.

What would be the mechanical representation of taking the Energy Infusion ability (Eclipse, p. 61) where the “energy” in question was maledictions look like? I’m honestly not completely sure what that would represent from an in-character standpoint (other than seeming like a cool idea), but insofar as mechanics go, all I can think of is that it would turn penalties from curses like bestow curse into bonuses (though I’m not sure what type). But for more creative curses that don’t have flat penalties, I’m less certain. For that matter, while the opposite energy would probably be “blessings,” that’s also hard to find a mechanical representation for. The bless spell just grants a morale bonus, after all.

-Alzrius

That probably doesn’t make sense. The malediction spell template seems to basically create an intention and outsource the actual magic to a bunch of malicious spirits of spite and revenge, and then they work their magic based on that – so there is no ‘energy type’ involved. The closest one could get is something like Major Privilege / Spirits of Vengeance favor you, giving you the favor of curses. Curses are blunted or even possibly redirected when wielded against you, due to your status amongst them. Alternatively, you could just be talking about the ‘unholy’ bonus type, which is countered one to one by sacred bonuses.

-Jirachi386

That idea would be a bit of an oddity in baseline d20 wouldn’t it?

Jirachi386’s “Major Privilege” idea would certainly be interesting – although I think I’d throw in “Favors” with the spirits of malice to go with being Favored by the Spirits Of Vengeance. That way you could be a spiteful master of curses who cannot readily be cursed and who can call down curses against his or her enemies. A very interesting low-level villain design there! Curse the party to blackmail them – promising to use more favors to remove the curses once they accomplish your goals – or terrorize a village with your spiteful curses without necessarily possessing much other magical power. That way a low-level party could readily defeat you, but would then have to find a way to deal with the curses you called down upon them as you did it – and with no actual spellcasting involved, those curses would be fairly difficult to stop.

The infusion could just represent something like “being a malevolent entity empowered by cruelty and malice” or even being a curse-spirit of some sort (on the theory that you can’t curse a curse or a creature that’s a source of curses). That might be fun – give a non-corporeal creature Presence, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Bestow Curse) / only works when an attacker actually “draws blood” to represent a being which was more or less MADE of curses, and so basically “bleeds” them as it is damaged. This would be a rather weird variant on the classic “is at least partially made of energy X, and so is immune to damage from energy X” version, but I could see it working. That’s another monster that would be a serious menace to low-level types, since they’d have a hard time getting rid of even basic curses. Against higher-level types it would be a good softener; even the most well-prepared party is rarely equipped to remove a dozen curses in the time between defeating some minions and confronting their boss.

Actually getting benefits from being cursed is trickier, simply because curses tend to be cheap, powerful, and semi-permanent problems for player characters to deal with – and converting that combination to Buffs without some major limitations tends to wreck the game unless you make some excuses to restrict it to villains (which is, at least, fairly plausible this time around). If a curse just provides a sudden rush of energy, I’d use Inherent Spell (Specialized for Increased Effect / only triggers with an incoming curse effect) to get “Heal” and/or some other selection of boosting spells (although that may well never come up at all since players rarely use many curses). If it’s long-term… something like Innate Enchantment (effects depend on what curses have been flung at you recently) would probably work best. That way a Curse of Weakness would give you a mild (and paid for) boost to Strength rather than just getting someone to curse you with -6 (for you +6!) to each attribute and going on from there.

Blessings are a bit tricky for exactly the same reason. Legends of High Fantasy has a mechanism for them (they are of limited effectiveness and occupy a Charm or Talisman slot), which also turned up under Generational Blessings (in the do-it-yourself Charms and Talismans series) – and I suppose you could use the Talents system in The Practical Enchanter or Siddhisyoga to represent acquiring various blessings without disrupting the game – but perhaps the most accurate representation would just be “you only actually gain levels beyond (say) three when you receive a blessing from a higher power”. That means that non-heroic characters remain low-level and subject to mortal limitations, that Kings do indeed rule by divine right, and that Clerics, Druids, and Paladins are likely to have a major influence on the setting since they’ll gain levels much more readily than less well-connected magi, fighters, and rogues. If you’re boosted by curses, perhaps an innate version of Rite Of Isis (The Practical Enchanter) would work for a temporary power boost.

Now, if you want to elevate “Curses” (and presumably “Blessings” or “Destiny”) from “a name for certain long-lasting debuffs, crippling effects, or setting someone up as a target for malevolent beings” up to being a force of nature in their own right, that’s going to have notable effects. With Curses and Blessings (or perhaps Cooperation and Selfishness?) as opposing elemental forces – rather like positive and negative energy – “good” and “evil” no longer have a unique claim to having a natural elemental expression with positive and negative energy – and might well take second place to other philosophies. Perhaps the cooperative groups sharing blessings have their natural opposite in the selfish groups weilding curses to weaken their targets. The selfish ones will likely be weaker overall – explaining why the lands are dominated by cooperative groups – but can easily concentrate their power to overwhelm and raid isolated cooperative groups. Those nomadic tribesmen are indeed a curse upon the civilized lands!

This will also require reassigning a few spells to a new subschool, making cursed creatures and the use of curses much more common, establishing a mechanism for Blessings*, and possibly restricting positive and negative energy effects. You might, for example, have Undead be powered by Curses and substitute various forms of curses for most of their negative energy powers. Of course, the reward for that work will be a thoroughly unique campaign, full of unexpected rewards and challenges. It would probably be well worth it.

*As far as “Blessings” go, to refer back to an older article that discussed a variety of possible alternative “treasures” to reward adventurers with. Among other options it had…

Benisons: While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. For example:

The monasteries and priests of Ridmarch will remember their rescuers in their prayers and ceremonies for centuries to come – and, since prayer, priests, and gods have direct and obvious powers in most fantasy worlds, benefits will accrue to those being prayed for. Perhaps they will be better protected from injury (increasing their armor ratings or gaining more “hit points”), they might gain the benefits of a low-level priestly spell effect as needed a few times per week, or they might gain a small bonus to virtually anything else. Secondarily, their souls cannot be possessed or imprisoned for long because the prayers of the faithful shall win their release.

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such – or the valor which empowers the Eagle of Ridmarch will come to the parties aid in some future grave emergency.

Of course, if such a Benison fails, it’s a sure sign that you have to go to the rescue again to get it back – the good old “your magic item has been stolen” plot without having to bother stealing an item and without frustrating the players; if something has gone wrong with a Benison, they know where to go – and what, in general, they have to do – to get it back (or perhaps even to get it back with further improvements).

Benisons can also scale with the characters development. After all, the more important you are in the world, the more attention its supernatural denizens are likely to give you – and you may well do the source of your Benison further favors, thus earning additional enhancements. Even failing that, characters may become better at focusing or channeling such gifts. Why shouldn’t practice help with supernatural blessings just as well as it helps with combat, stealth, casting spells, and other adventurous talents?

Thus a Benison may grow with a character, and continue to be of value throughout his or her career.

In general, it’s best to go with small enhancements as opposed to powers and more active aid for Benisons; a slow progression towards becoming a mighty hero is usually better than a rapid rush towards demigodhood – and a selection of “+1’s” and “+2’s” doesn’t clutter up a character sheet nearly as much as things like “gains the benefits of a first-level priestly spell with a caster level of 15 three times a week whenever the player decides that this benefit should be invoked”.

More esoteric benefits – such as the bit about “immunity to soul imprisonment” – may rarely come up, but the game master should make sure that they do at least once, and preferably in a very dramatic fashion.

Game masters who wish to keep careful track of how much “treasure” the characters have accumulated should just count Benisons as magic items. They fact that they can’t readily be stolen or cancelled is neatly balanced by the fact that you can’t pass them around, give them up, or trade them. (If you’re calculating values in d20, The Practical Enchanter is good for that).

And I hope that helps!

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Dark Ages “Classes” – The Man-At-Arms

You know those guards who are always getting tossed around by the monsters, overrun by bandits, and trampled by opposing forces yet who manage to turn up mostly unwounded after the mighty heroes deal with things? Well, that’s these guys Except there aren’t any mighty heroes to come to the rescue; they’ll just have to get organized and do it themselves. On the other hand, in a low-magic low-technology setting there’s a lot to be said for understanding how to avoid being hurt. Wounds heal slowly, if at all. They can leave lingering damage. They can get infected. Even a minor wound can kill.

Just as importantly… Men-At-Arms spend a LOT more time on guard duty, maintaining their armor and weapons, practicing, teaching local militias how to poke at real fighters with farming tools without killing each other, and being intimidating, than they ever spend in combat. And when they do fight…

  • Prisoners are wonderful. They can be put on trial or held hostage for political purposes, ransomed for financial purposes, interrogated for military purposes, pressed into service as laborers, and more. They are all-purpose loot, who can – at worst – be sold as slaves or killed later. And if you helped capture them you usually got a share.
  • Injured or maimed opponents are good too. It’s often easier than a kill, they’re demoralizing for the enemy, an injured opponent who needs to be cared for takes another soldier out of battle with him to get him to the healers, wounded men continue to drain the enemies resources while contributing nothing to their cause, and all too often they never recover enough to return to battle. After all, in the Dark Ages there is very little magic and not a lot of medical skill.
  • Dead opponents? They get buried or burned, and then their relatives or companions often want revenge. There’s not a lot of profit in THAT. Sure, you can steal everything they had IF you hold the field after the battle and no one dragged them away – but you can do that with prisoners too and nobody pays much to ransom a dead body. At worst, you have to waste your own time and effort burying them. Corpses are downright useless.

So the tactics are different.

The equipment is different too.

As far as this “Dark Ages” (Maybe 600-1000 AD) setting is concerned the vast majority of the available armor is getting classified as what D20 calls “light armor”. There are several reasons for this.

  • Many of the “heavy” armor types hadn’t been invented yet. A lot of early armor consisted of padding, leather, and tough cloth, sometimes with bits of mail or metal plates attached to it to protect more vulnerable areas. About the best you could do was the full-out roman legionnaire armor or various forms of “Mail” – all of which were somewhat flimsy compared to later armor of similar encumbrance and offered relatively limited coverage. Few actual examples have survived and there’s been little (or no) actual testing so there’s a lot of guesswork here – but d20 is full of approximations anyway. Ergo, I’m placing most early “Mail” as being roughly equivalent to a chainmail shirt from later centuries.
  • While it doesn’t get a lot of attention, technology did advance over the centuries. For armor and weapons… the metals, designs, and crafting techniques all slowly improved. They still do; that near-legendary Damascus steel was a product of Wootz steel ingots shipped in from India (which happened to carry a useful combination of trace elements, improving the alloy – although no one at the time knew that) and local techniques. It was very good for it’s time, but was still inferior to many modern steels. Rather than introduce a debatable set of inferior period armors – especially when the presence of even minor magic makes what little actual data we have on the topic pretty much irrelevant – simply shortening the table is at least as good an approximation as the rest of d20 combat.
  • Major wars might bring the troops of many nobles together for a time, but the vast majority of conflicts were far smaller squabbles between a handful of noblemen, their personal retainers, and a few squads of reluctant peasant militiamen – but not too many because you needed those workers if you wanted to eat next year. That meant poorly organized skirmishes, where wearing armor heavy enough to slow you down too much was just asking for three or four of the enemy to gang up on you. A horse would help – but getting dismounted was all too common.
  • The more elaborate armor was hideously expensive stuff. You needed a set of skilled craftsman with several relatively rare sets of skills, expensive materials, and a lot of time to make it – and the import networks had pretty much fallen apart. If you wanted mail… you went to a specialist ship in the city, not your local blacksmith. You got in line. you paid extravagantly, and it still wasn’t all that great. You might well be better off investing some of that cash in bodyguards instead.

So: Proficiency with Light Armor (3 CP) and Shields (3 CP). That saves them some points. That’s good, because without magical healing around they are going to need them.

  • Personal weapons weren’t all that varied either. You basically got minor variants on Axes, Swords, Daggers and Knives, Clubs, Maces, and Spiky Maces, Morningstars and Flails, War Hammers, Horseman’s Picks, Spears/Pikes, Staves, and Pole Arms (blades and hooks on sticks, often improvised from agricultural implements), Lances, Throwing Axes, Javelins, Crossbows, and (non-composite) Bows* – and the selection was even more limited in any given area and time. For game purposes… Proficiency with All Simple and a Limited Set Of Martial Weapons (6 CP) will pretty much cover it.

*Samples recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose suggest that war-bows had a normal draw of 150-160 pounds – applied to each arm. About three times the draw of a heavy hunting bow today. A trained longbowman could fire 10-12 times per minute (although six a minute conserved their strength much better) – equivalent to bench-pressing (and briefly holding) 300-320 pounds at that rate. Now such Longbows (and several of the other weapons on our list) were a little late for our period, but we’re allowing the Bombardier (even if they are using magic), so that’s not a big worry.

So rather than using exotic enchanted weapons and getting ever-better armor, Men-At-Arms in our period focus on getting the most out of what they have.

The Build:

Basic Attributes: As with any physical combatant, physical attributes take a leading role here – but the emphasis leans more towards Constitution and Dexterity then raw Strength. They’ll probably want to avoid any major penalties on Intelligence and Wisdom if they can; both skill points and awareness of their surroundings help when your goal is to avoid injury rather than charge in, smite your opponents, and get healed later.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Three Disadvantages. Men-At-Arms commonly have various Obligations (Owing fealty and occasional services, having a family to care for, teaching or students to look after), being Aged (and thus semi-retired, thus having time for adventuring), Healing Resistant (There isn’t much healing in the Dark Ages to be resistant too, but this counts for Men-At-Arms due to having more regular need of what there is), Poor Reputation (Mostly for mercenaries, who are rarely trusted), Stigmata or Accursed (representing poorly-healed old wounds), and Valuable (for younger noble sons and such who can expect to be ransomed if captured)) +2 (Duties, normally to a liege lord) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 72 CP.

Basics (42 CP):

  • Base Attack Bonus: +1 BAB (6 CP), additional +1 BAB (Specialized in either Missile or Melee combat, Corrupted for a limited group of favored weapons only, 2 CP).
  • Hit Points 12 (L1d12 HD, from Fast Learner, Specialized in Buying Larger Hit Dice, 6 CP, automatic d12 at L1, d6 thereafter) + (Con Mod).
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP). Between diseases and infected wounds Men-At-Arms need at least a modest boost to their Fortitude checks.
  • Proficient with Light Armor, Shields (Corrupted / Not Tower Shields), and all Simple and a limited Set of Martial Weapons (11 CP).
  • Skill Points: 4 SP (Purchased, 4 CP), get Human Fast Learner up to +2 SP/Level but Corrupted / only for maximizing Adept skills (+1 CP), Adept (A martial art for a favorite weapon, Profession / Man-At-Arms (covers armor and weapon maintenance, elementary protocol, basic guard and investigative procedures, known threats, basic military organization, tactics, and logistics, and constructing field fortifications), Intimidate (one of a Man-At-Arms major duties), and one skill of choice, 6 CP. All are effectively automatically maximized).

The Martial Art is normally Specialized for Increased Effect (One ability per level) / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor. The first priority is normally on bonuses to Defense and Attack, but the ability to inflict nonlethal damage is a close second.

Men-At-Arms commonly invest their available skill points in Heal, Ride, and/or Perception.

Other Abilities (30 CP):

  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be upgraded.
  • Armor Expertise: Defender, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only while wearing a favored kind of light armor, bonus does not increase with level, 2 CP).
  • Weapon Expertise: Skill Emphasis (Their Martial Art), Specialized for Increased Effect (+4 Bonus) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / May never include Synergy, Toughness, Breaking, Crippling, or any Occult Techniques, requires dedicated training time each week to maintain proficiency, only usable when wearing light or no armor and proficient with armor, only works with one specific weapon at a time, user must practice with the new weapon for at least a week to change weapons, weapon must be of “masterwork” quality (2 CP).
  • Practiced Evasion: Grant of Aid (Unrolled 10-point Variant) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / hit points only, only to reduce the damage from a single incoming attack not to heal injuries, only takes effect after damage reduction and other defenses, cannot reduce the damage by more than 50%, rounded down (4 CP). A character with this ability may opt to suffer only half damage from an attack inflicting up to twenty points of damage, although half-points are always rounded in favor of damage. Attacks inflicting more than twenty points of damage have their effects reduced by ten points.
  • Military Caste: Minor Privilege, Corrupted / only applies when in service to a local noble (2 CP). Men-At-Arms are generally employed; basic armor and weapons are supplied, they have some law-enforcement privileges, and they may wear armor and bear weapons in most situations with no complaints.
  • Combat Feats (18 CP): Men-At-Arms have 18 CP remaining, with which they may buy additional “feats” – specialized combat abilities. While you can build an endless array of such abilities in Eclipse, here are a few to pick from to get you started.
    • Advanced Armor Expertise: An additional +1 AC may be purchased as Defender (+1 AC Option), Specialized only while wearing a favored kind of light armor (3 CP per +1 AC) or it can be Corrupted as well / each +1 increases the effective encumbrance of the users armor by 25% (2 CP per +1 AC).
    • Maiming Strike / Trick: may inflict a Bestow Curse, Cause Blindness, or Cause Deafness effect on a critical hit (6 CP). Such injuries may be mitigated to some extent with time and the care of a reasonably skilled healer but some small penalty or effect will usually remain.
    • Flashing Strike: Bonus Attack (With speciality weapon). Make two attacks, albeit at -2 penalties (6 CP).
    • Critical Master: Luck, Specialized in Critical Confirmation (6 CP). The user may roll twice to confirm critical hits.
    • Weapon Master: Martial Arts (6 CP). Increase the weapons damage die size.
    • Legionnaire (6 CP): Gain bonuses to Attacks, AC, Reflex saves when working with others with this ability.
    • Terrible Mein: With: Opportunist. User may attempt to persuade, or intimidate, opponents into surrendering or fleeing as a free action up to twice per battle. This is most likely to work if they are obviously overmatched (6 CP).
    • Sneak Attack: Augment Attack +2d6 (6 CP).
    • Grand (Weapon) Master (6 CP):
      • +4 bonus on all checks to resist being disarmed. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Minor (2 CP).
      • May use a weapon against a grappling foe without penalty and without first making a grapple check. Immunity/Uncommon, Minor, Trivial (1 CP).
      • May draw a weapon, make a sudden strike, or fight defensively as an immediate action three times per day. Reflex Training (three action per day variant), Corrupted / only for weapon actions (4 CP).
      • May make Disarm attempts without provoking an Attack Of Opportunity. Evasive (3 CP).
      • Gain a +2 Bonus to Initiative. Improved Initiative (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored weapon, giving Grand (Weapon) Master a total cost of (6 CP).
    • Armor Mastery (6 CP):
      • Increase the Maximum Allowed Dexterity Bonus: Immunity/Penalties for wearing armor (Very Common, Minor, Trivial, Corrupted / only to raise Dexterity Bonus Caps). Increase the maximum allowed Dexterity Bonus by +2 (3 CP).
      • Make it an Effective Weapon: That’s Martial Arts (1d4 damage), Corrupted/must be wearing gauntlets and limb protection (2 CP). With this you can use your armored limbs, fists, and head as effective maces and are always considered armed, including while grappling.
      • Make you more Intimidating and harder to “read”: Augmented Bonus/Adds (Str Mod) to (Cha Mod) with respect to Charisma-Based Skills, Corrupted/only for Intimidation and Bluff (4 CP).
      • Reduce it’s Encumbrance: Immunity/the base weight of armor (Uncommon, Minor, and – for light armor – Trivial, 1 CP).
      • Negate the Armor Check Penalty: The “Smooth” modifier for Light Armor Proficiency (3 CP).
        • All of these abilities are Specialized / only with the characters favored armor, giving Armor Mastery a total cost of (6 CP).

A low-level Man-At-Arms is really a somewhat better combatant than a low-level standard fighter. That’s partly because standard fighters really aren’t that good a build, partly because their job is to solve problems not to be meat shields who keep the enemy off the spellcasters, partly because they rely on skill instead of magic, and partly because they need to be able to function on their own – without a healer, or a mage to do the heavy lifting.

Medieval Dark Ages Classes – The Bombardier:

Is not the scent of brimstone and the infernal choking smoke enough of a sign? There are devils in gunpowder. They make it explode in hellish flame. The horrible wounds that such cursed weapons inflict tend to fester and rot (although washing them clean with pure holy water sometimes helps) – a sure sign that firearms are full of wickedness! A bishop tested once – simple leaden musket balls fired from ordinary muskets versus balls of blessed silver with a cross carved into them fired from blessed muskets. The profane lead was far more accurate, inflicted more damage, and consistently outranged the silver that had been cleansed of hellish influences. And if those tests were not proof enough… the dark power of firearms and bombs will easily injure monsters that are near-impervious to mundane weapons. Only the greatest of holy weapons can match their destructive power. The foolish few who dare to risk their very souls dabbling in the use of Gunpowder, Explosives, and Firearms are greatly feared.

Liber Ignium, the Book Of Fires:

As a field of Natural Magic, the use of Firearms and Explosives is based on the Witchcraft system.

Journeyman Bombadier: Witchcraft II (12 CP) with +6d6 Power (Powder?) (Specialized / only for use with Gunpowder Weaponry, 6 CP).

A Journeyman Bombardier gets (Str + Con + Dex) / 3 +6d6 Power and three Witchcraft Abilities – two fixed and one chosen.

  • Gunpowder Mastery – Infliction, Variant (uses a ranged attack check instead of a saving throw), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (120′ Range, uses d6 for damage, increases limits by +1 die per category – so a maximum of 4/6/10 dice for 1/2/3 points) / requires the use of a pistol/longarm/light cannon or rocket at base, or a grenade/petard/powderkeg or rocket to get the area effect, effects are extremely noisy, fiery, and smoky, “force” or “fire” damage only, may frighten the parties horses or other animals, costs +1 power in rainy or otherwise wet conditions.
  • Sharpshooter – Hand Of Shadows – Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Enhanced Aim only. Normally, given the vagaries of early gunpowder, the fouling of the barrel, using smaller balls than barrels so that they bounce around when fired, and imprecise early manufacturing techniques, early firearms are horribly inaccurate. With this power a Bombardier negates that problem automatically and may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with Infliction to either gain a +5 bonus to Hit with that shot or to attempt some absurd trick shot without penalty.
  • Plus any one of the following knacks:
    • Cauterizing Charge – Healing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may cleanse an infected wound or stop bleeding automatically, as a move action, at the cost of doing 1d3 Fire damage to the target. This costs no power but the user cannot use other Healing abilites.
    • Demolitions – Dreamfaring, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user’s Infliction effects cause double damage versus objects and bypass hardness. This is a continuous effect with no cost, but the user cannot use other Dreamfaring abilities.
    • Demon’s Breath – Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to turn the smoke from bits of powder into a great cloud of choking, nigh-impenetrable smoke. The user may create such a cloud as a free action or as part of discharging a firearm up to seven times per day for free, each additional 3 uses costs 1 Power. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Shadowweave abilities.
    • Devils Glance – The Inner Eye, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Observe enough men in battle, stressed and tempered by the flames and thunder of the guns, and you will soon come to see the flaws their eyes reveal. The user may make a perception check (opposed by the targets ability to bluff) to see a targets personality flaws – if someone is corrupt, has committed grievous crimes, is open to bribery, is treacherous, lies routinely, is overly lecherous, or suffers from similar personal troubles.
    • Festering Evil – Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may, on a hit with a gunpowder weapon, roll 1d5: 1-2) The wound is clean, and will heal normally. 3-4) The wound will fester and rot, unless heroic efforts are made, 5) the wound will bleed for an additional 1d6 damage per round until stanched. 6) Shock. The wound acts as Bestow Curse until treated.
    • Greek Fire – Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 Power as a part of attacking with a gunpowder weapon to cause the target hit to be set on fire. Area effect weapons also add +2d6 Fire Damage when this option is used. Unfortunately, the user may not employ any other Witchfire abilities.
    • Hellfire Gaze – Glamour, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Wielding Hells Fires has it’s side effects. The user gains a +6 bonus to Intimidation checks at no cost and – if holding a gunpowder weapon – may expend 2 power to generate a Command effect against a group of up to six individuals. Unfortunately, he or she can use no other Glamour abilities.
    • Leathered Toughness – Hyloka, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user permanently gains Energy Resistance 5 against Fire and Gunpowder-generated Force effects at no cost, but can use no other Hyloka abilities.
    • My Guns They Comfort Me – The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user is automatically immune to Intimidation and other Fear effects so long as he or she possesses a gunpowder weapon but can use no other Adamant Will abilities.
    • Piercing Eye – Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / the user may readily see through smoke and fog, suffering no penalties for such conditions but can use no other Witchsight abilities.

The three further possible expansions of the Bombardiers abilities include:

  • Alchemical Compounding: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only to restore the users Gunpowder Weaponry power pool, above, (6 CP).
  • Master Bombardier (Witchcraft III): Adds four additional Bombardier knacks (+6 CP).
  • Sulfurous Deviltry (The Secret Order): Requires Master Bombardier. Adds the remaining five Bombardier Knacks and +4 Power (+6 CP). A master of Sulfurous Deviltry has sworn himself or herself to the powers of flame and metal, and can no longer be Inspired by the Clergy, but is not necessarily an enemy of the faith. They’re just straddling the line.

Bombardiers may take Witchcraft Pacts to reduce the costs of their abilities – but all such pacts are with demonic powers. A Bombardier with any Pact counts as an enemy of the Christian Faith, and – as rule – their selection is limited to Missions, Spirit, Taboos, Rituals, Essence, Souls, Gateway, Corruption, Possession, Spell Failure (Christian Clergymen), Madness, and Susceptibility (Holy Objects and Places). Taking such pacts is rarely a very good idea.

The Build:

The Bombardier commands the most directly destructive battle magic to be found in the setting – the power of black powder and iron. There is literally nothing else of the mortal world that can match the destruction wrought by a high level Bombardier with a cannon short of a the great acts of nature – volcanic eruptions, great earthquakes and landslides, and the greatest strikes of mighty storms. To be a Bombardier is in itself an act of hubris, betting your very soul that you can bend the fires of hell to your will without being taken by them – and many Bombardiers lose that bet.

Basic Attributes: A Bombardier will want Dexterity first and – probably – Constitution second. Other attributes are of considerably less importance.

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages: Dependent (Unless they regularly restock their supplies of lead, saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal, and any destroyed alchemical apparatus Bombardiers suffer a -12 penalty to their daily Pow(d)er allotment), Irreverent, and one disadvantage of choice) +12 (Human and First Level Bonus Feat) = 70 CP.

Basic Items (40 CP):

  • BAB: +0 (0 CP), +3 Specialized and Corrupted / only with Gunpowder Weapons (6 CP).
  • Hit Points: 12 (Level One 3d4, 16 CP) + (3 x Con Mod). This also gets them up to Level Three as far as Witchcraft use is concerned – making their pistols quite powerful even at level one.
  • Proficiencies: All Simple Weapons (3 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP). Since their firearms are actually a branch of natural magic, no proficiency is required to use them.
  • Saving Throws: +2 Fortitude (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: (Int Mod + 2) x 4 + 6 (6 CP).

Other Abilities (20 CP):

  • Journeyman Bombardier Package (30 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II (6 CP): +4 to Initiative. A Bombardiers basic strategy is pretty much always “shoot – or at least intimidate – them before they close”, and going first is pretty fundamental to that.
  • Tis Only A Flesh Wound!: Damage Reduction 3/-, Specialized / only versus physical injuries, Corrupted / damage prevented by this should be tracked, since it represents bruising, strains, minor flesh wounds, and similar non-critical damage. As long as any remains, half the characters healing will be devoted to removing it (2 CP). Unlike the purely positive-energy based “hit points” of standard d20, a Dark Ages character actually has meaningful biology. With them, being stabbed ten times in the foot for one point of damage per blow is not at all equivalent to being hit in the head once with an axe for ten points of damage. Major wounds will blow right past this resistance, but they can take lots of minor ones. Sadly, this may not be further upgraded.
  • One bonus Feat or Feat-Equivalent of Choice (6 CP).

The Bombardier is pretty much a Warlock – a wielder of dangerous, highly-damaging, and very likely unholy magics that are principally useful in battle. Their damage isn’t especially enormous compared to a high-strength melee specialist with a big weapon or an focused archer, but it’s generally enough, they’ve got reasonable range, and they can bypass a lot of defenses – including a good bit of armor class. Overall, they have an important role to play in Dark Ages party.

Can non-Bombardiers try to use firearms? Why of course! That’s where all those one-handed, or one-eyed, or badly scarred and permanently limping, or powder-tattooed people come from. Meddling with magic when you don’t have the skill rarely works out well, although occasionally someone gets away with it for a bit.

Oh, as a note… I have seen references stating that some bishop or other actually did conduct that test. Given that the results actually make some sense – there are numerous problems with using silver bullets and carving crosses on them will only make the aerodynamics even worse – who knows? Someone might have really tried it. Early bullet or ball wounds are also a lot worse than arrow wounds when it comes to infection. Cleanly cut tissue versus smashed with bits of wadding, cloth, armor chips, and whatever the target was wearing carried into the wound? Which one seems more prone to infection to you?

Magic Versus Technology In The Modern World

Today it’s another offline question – basically “how do you maintain some sort of balance when you want to throw your favorite magical creatures of choice (Aesir, Noldor, Dragons, My Little Ponies, Genies, whatever) into a modern earth setting?”

Now, you can just arbitrarily decree such a balance if you want. That’s a bit unsatisfying though, and tends to leave all kinds of inconsistencies lying about – which isn’t good for your setting, game, or story. So lets talk about the basis of Magic/Psionics/Whatever-You-Call-Your-Settings-Reality-Altering-Power(s) for a moment.

  • Is it a fundamental property? Because if it is, and yet projected magical fields (“spells”, “disciplines”, or whatever) can have complex interactive effects, those fields have to have a lot of structure to them and carry a lot of information. How much structure or information you can have is related to the variety and number of components you have. That’s why the structure of gravitational fields tend to be fairly simple in comparison to the structure of electromagnetic fields. For complex interactive spell structures… you’ll want at least two values in both positive and negative flavors. Call them “A” and “B”. So scientists – even if they can’t measure, detect, or work with “magic” – will be seeing nine kinds of electrons (A+B+, A+B0, A+B-, A0B+, A0B0, A0B-, A-B+, A-B0, A-B-) with their own exotic interactions – and pretty much every bit of physics, engineering, and biology will be completely different building up from the atomic level. Worse, particles with “A0B0” won’t interact with magic at all, while anything with an “A0” OR a “B0” value will do so only partially. All those classical transformations and such… will simply scramble matter, resulting in instant death.

OK, so it’s an emergent property associated with some level of complexity. That allows us to keep atoms and the periodic table and a lot of basic physics intact.

But if magic is an emergent property, then it won’t interact with things below the necessary level of complexity – so magic will not directly affect gravity, electromagnetism, plasmas (“fire”), electricity (“lightning”), or radiation, among many other things. Spells affecting such things will have to be complex, inefficient, and indirect. Complex materials will respond to magic in various ways. Some will be anti-magical (Iron perhaps?), some will disrupt magic, some will respond to magic, and others will have magical properties – but if the complexity level required to use magic is high enough, that might be able to pass unnoticed for quite some time – possibly up to our current technological level. It will be very hard to justify the existence of immaterial magical spirits, who lack the underlying physical structural complexity to support the magic however. They’d have to be anchored in some sort of “heart” or talisman – which at least explains why ghosts tend to be bound to very limited areas.

  • Is magic simply highly advantageous, or is there some sort of limitation or “price” for using it? Because if it’s highly advantageous, it’s not going to be a secret for long. The magic using variant will rapidly spread through the population (of humans – or of magic-using animals, plants, or fungi) and the non-magic using segment of the species population will soon be reduced to isolated, relic, and soon-to-be-extinct clusters. There have been millions of years for that to happen in. Yet if the world looks like ours, then it hasn’t happened in all that time. Ergo… magic is either not worth bothering with (which makes it a lousy game or story element) or there is indeed some sort of major, unavoidable, price or prices for using it. Something bad enough to more than cancel out whatever advantages it offers, leaving magic use as a rare, recessive, trait. Reduced fertility (perhaps it burns out the souls of your potential children so that most can never be born…)? Massive childhood mortality due to magical diseases and immaterial predatory menaces that don’t affect non-magical creatures? Huge biological opportunity cost (leaving all magic-using things stunted, weak, and sickly compared to non-magical ones)? Drastically limited habitat (perhaps they can only survive at rare springs of magic)? Magical backlash (using magic does hideous things to you)? Karmic Backlash (using magic causes horribly bad luck, so magical creatures get killed a lot?). Perhaps using magic causes you to be sucked into dimensions of elder horrors?

We can reduce the problem by adding special requirements to the use of magic – but each requirement also restricts our options. Does manipulating it require a complex biological or technological mechanism? Forget “natural” or “environmental” magic such as Ley Lines, Magical Pools, and so on. Conscious Thought? Forget magical plants and animals. “Life Force” or a “Soul”? Forget most magical artifacts, wands, and similar. Special foci or power sources? Then no magic when those aren’t available – unless there are possible substitutes.

  • Finally, of course, even limited magic will have had immense social effects – leaving the world looking very different – unless something is keeping it a secret. Sadly, while “Witch Hunts” are a popular excuse, they really won’t do. After all, in reality, there are (and have been) swarms of practicing psychics, astrologers, dowsers, witches, shamen, alchemists, spiritualists, and other figures claiming supernatural powers who have done just fine. If they can get away with that while having no actual powers to sell or to defend themselves with (save, perhaps, force of personality, suggestion, and intimidation) why can’t people who actually have magical powers manage it too? While there were some classical “witch hunts” (if far fewer than in popular legend), they were mostly directed at powerless social outcasts. Going after targets with actual political, financial, or military power didn’t work so well outside of a few cases of kings and such (who had plenty of military and political power of their own already) using “witch hunts” as an excuse to loot a group – and there’s no reason to think that going after people who actually had magical powers would work any better.

So you’re going to need a much better reason than THAT. All kinds of other obscure phenomena have been documented and examined. Perhaps magical resources are limited, and there are not enough to share? Does having magic vastly penalize all social interactions for some reason? Secrecy (the classic meaning of “occult” is simply “hidden”) empowers magic, so revealing its reality weakens it or causes it to vanish entirely or restructure itself? The eldritch beings who provide the power (or magic itself) demands it? If too many people in a region know about true magic, they start going mad and killing each other off? Does humanities racial mind recognize the perils of magic and cast a veil over it, refusing to let normal people become aware of it?

The magicians themselves do not actually have to know why they keep it a secret. There just has to be a reason why either magical societies that do not maintain secrecy get eliminated with 100% reliability – (which simple prosecution will not do) or why non-magical people are 100% unable to become aware of magic – which no reasonable mortal intervention can accomplish.

In any case… we’ve got our first set of restraints. If you want to cram some magic into a world which looks a lot like the (no apparent magic) real one…

  • It must be an emergent property associated with a very high level of structural complexity to maintain physics.
  • It must be limited enough to not be an overwhelming advantage, otherwise it would spread very rapidly through the population
  • It must be associated with a fairly high level of conscious thought, otherwise it would have grossly distorted the evolution of life.
  • It must be self-censoring, maintaining it’s own secrecy from the world.

This is the line of thought that – whether consciously reasoned out or not – leads to the “hidden magical world” or “urban arcana” sort of settings. Elves in racecars? Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Harry Potter? Charles De Lint? It’s an entire genre of fantasy.

The trouble is, that you then have to follow the rules. There won’t be an abrupt flowering of magic, rediscovered ancient atlantean techniques won’t result in a new golden age, and if there’s an “upswing in the availability of magic” like in Shadowrun, the cycle is going to have to be long enough to avoid interfering in evolutionary time (something Shadowrun casually skips by, but given the authors various other misunderstandings, why not?). You won’t have races of magical beings around – or dropping in either.

  • So what if the magic – or the magical beings or artifacts – are from another dimension and obey its rules, not ours? Or are encased in some sort of dimensional bubble? Can’t they at least affect themselves with their magic then?

The trouble there is that our universe is very limited. It’s quantized. That means that it’s only capable of interacting with stuff that exactly matches its quantum values and forces. That’s why Dark Matter – with the same quantum values but differing force-interactions – goes right through everything and only interacts via gravity.

If you want an “extra-dimensional” being to interact with anything in our universe, it has to have essentially identical physics of it’s own or to be adapted to match the local physics in the transfer – and if it’s adapted to the local physics… then what it can do in its own universe is no longer relevant. It has to play by the local rules.

And that’s why “magical visitors come to visit technological earth” stories are so often a mess, with one side or the other (usually the magical side) coming off as being grossly overpowered. It’s because the “technological earth” side is limited by what actually works and to what little “magic” can be worked in via Urban Fantasy – and the magical side has essentially been given divine authority to restructure the universe to accommodate it’s own powers. Worse, you can’t effectively balance that by letting humans learn to do it too. That just means that – in defiance of every observation and the fact that all that technological stuff still works – you’ve just let your humans start ignoring physics too. Humans have tried to work magic in all kinds of ways for thousands of years. Other races in the universe have presumably tried it in their own ways too. It has never worked very well or we would – at best – be citizens of the magical cosmic empire. Visitors cannot teach stuff that won’t work here. Visitors who are reliant on stuff that won’t work here will be in big trouble. They’ll probably die.

And that is the answer to the original question – about why “Magical Beings On Earth” stories tend to have a REALLY hard time balancing things. It’s because the magic used by such beings tends to be powerful, almost wholly advantageous, blatant, and so simple to use that there are simple, naturally-occurring, rocks with magical properties – as well as magical plants, bugs, and diseases.

If magic like that functions in a setting, it’s not going to look anything like the real world. It might, at BEST, look like the magical earth of Operation Chaos, where – in a fairly modern world – a special forces unit of a Werewolf and a Witch are fighting  a resurgent Islamic Caliphate which is attempting to unleash one of the Genies sealed by King Solomon as a superweapon.

So if you want to introduce your magical entities to a recognizable “earth” without leaving major plotholes, you either need to tone them down to the Urban Arcana level or to insert a reason why the rules of the universe are abruptly changing – which people WILL take advantage of to rapidly make your setting completely unrecognizable. Simply stating that “well, the magic was there, but people just weren’t using it for some reason” doesn’t really work if anyone thinks about it too much. You can get away with that in a novel fairly easily – the audience rarely spends all that much time considering “how things work” when they’re reading a fantasy novel – but it’s a lot harder to get away with that sort of thing in a game, where you’re going to have a bunch of clever players trying to figure things out and take advantage of them.

And I hope that helps!

Eclipse d20 – Standard And Nonstandard Attributes

Today’s question is kind of complicated – and leads us through a bit of “game design through the ages”. So once again, we will have some retrospective going on here with a question inspired by one of the Terminator articles.

The notation of the basic machine solder robot purchasing its ability scores with a point-buy value and then adding in “racial” adjustments got me thinking…

While robots are expected to all have identical ability scores, this is the case for all “monsters” as well. All winter wolves, for example, are going to have Str 20, Dex 13, Con 18, Int 9, Wis 13, Cha 10, unless one is a special case (i.e. has a template, advanced natural Hit Dice, etc.).

Now, that’s a bit of a sop towards ease of game-play; for monsters that are “on-screen” long enough for the PCs to slaughter them, using a standardized array of ability scores is fine. But this still presents an interesting idea; notwithstanding any discretionary ability points that they receive for every 4th Hit Die, as well as size adjustments, these creatures all have standard ability scores of 10 or 11, with the remaining adjustments all being racial in nature.

So for example, if we subtract the discretionary ability point for their 4th Hit Die from, say, Dexterity, and reverse the adjustments from being Large-sized, that means that winter wolves have base ability scores of Str 10, Dex 10, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 10 (using Pathfinder as the standard), with racial adjustments of Str +2, Dex +4, Con +4, Int -2, Wis +2, Cha +0. More notably, this has them buying up their base ability scores with only 2 points…raising their Intelligence and Wisdom each from 10 to 11 before any other adjustments are applied.

Now, those initial points (and the presumed racial adjustments) can be toggled slightly depending on where you presume that discretionary ability point went in their final array of ability scores, but the overall point remains. Winter wolves, like most monsters (and monstrous NPCs that aren’t built using PC-standard races) don’t use much of a point buy. In fact, even the basic NPC ability score array of 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 comes to an overall value of 3 points…one more than the winter wolves in the above paragraph received!

My question, in this case, is what would it cost under the Eclipse rules (if anything) to allow for such monsters to buy up their basic ability scores similar to how PCs do, before applying racial ability modifiers and discretionary ability points from every 4th Hit Die? For NPCs that might not matter too much (since they’re still on-screen for the purpose of being killed), save for a possible CR adjustment, but what if I had one as a companion creature? If I’ve taken Leadership with the Beast-lord modifier, and I want a winter wolf as one of my followers, what sort of ability would it cost to allow them to buy up their basic ability scores with a 25-point buy, for example, to buy ability scores of Str 14, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 12.

After adding back in the modifiers for being Large-size (Str +8, Dex -2, Con +4), the racial modifiers (Str +2, Dex +4, Con +4, Int -2, Wis +2, Cha +0), and putting the discretionary ability point into Intelligence, that would give a final ability score array of Str 24, Dex 16, Con 22, Int 12, Wis 16, Cha 12. That’s better than your average winter wolf, but not quite as good as putting the advanced creature simple template on them, which is only +1 CR. What would it cost for them to buy the ability to have their ability scores constructed this way in Eclipse? Presumably some sort of Immunity (where the amount of resistance purchased allowed for higher point-buy expenditures in purchasing base ability scores)? Or would it be something else instead?

-Alzrius

Well, the general assumption there is that things that are basically constructs – Robots, Golems, Skeletons, and so on – actually are fairly standardized in roughly the same way that ball-point pens are standardized; the design is about as good and cheap as it’s going to get. There are special upgrades that can be applied (and possibly shortfalls that can be accepted), but a basically fixed cost gets you basically fixed results.

Actual in-setting living creatures – at least in theory – should show the usual bell-curve variations for their type. However, since the games attribute scale is set up to represent creatures on the human scale, a lot of this variation is lost. Sure, the worlds strongest wren may be several times as mighty as the weakest – but the rules, quite sensibly, cram all that variation down into “strength one”, simply because it makes no difference at all in play whether the a given wren can lift .3 or 1.5 ounces, just as it doesn’t actually matter how many swallows it might take to carry a coconut to England in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Similarly, there are doubtless stronger and weaker Tyrannosaurs, but that’s arbitrarily adjusted by the game master to suit his or her objectives, not according to their bio-mechanics – and it’s not like it’s going to matter much; no more-or-less human being is going to win against one in a biting or eating contest – which is pretty much a Tyrannosaurs sole role in the game. Given the rate of character turnover in earlier systems it wasn’t like good or bad attributes were a particularly long-term thing anyway.

So looking at the general population of playable character types, they (explicitly so in earlier editions) are generally presumed to take up tasks they’re suited for. Big strong types do things which call for strength, while frail, weak, but dexterous people do tasks that call for dexterity but not a lot of strength or endurance, and so on. Such were the results of rules that basically assumed a naturalistic world and a 3D6 roll for each attribute. Did you roll terribly? There was a rule allowing the discarding of characters (presumably to a career as a village idiot) if they failed to qualify for any character class – but the only real assumption what that completely hopeless types simply did not go adventuring or, if they did, they generally died so quickly that they weren’t worth worrying about.

In early editions, given regular character turnover… parties might well try to recruit that strong-and-healthy young farmer to be their next fighter, or that dexterous street kid to be their new thief. They would chip in to equip them, shelter them until they caught up a bit, and add them to their adventuring company. Individual adventurers weren’t all that important. The company WAS, and characters had a good reason for loyalty to it – it was their family, it had taken them in, and trained, them, and equipped them. Sometimes it had raised them. Henchmen were valuable, people with potential (apparent high attributes or useful skills) were well worth cultivating, and associates often turned into new PC’s. “Ascended Extras” was pretty much the normal order of things. Your party was high enough level to be able to afford a Wizard? You looked around at sages, and apprentices near graduation, and orphaned kids of mages who knew a few cantrips and had potential, dumped a bag of wizard-style goodies that no one else had any use for on them, and shepherded them through a few sessions until their level (thanks to the doubling experience point costs) started catching up with everyone else. Sure, that might just be backstory for a new character – but that kind of thing was usually worth something in-game.

The current problem, of course, arises from the fact that characteristics for adventurers are now generated using special systems (whether point or dice based) that place them far ahead of the general population (who are stuck with generic attribute arrays that say “everyone is pretty much average in everything”) – making “good attributes” a special power that you get because you’re an adventurer or selected-by-destiny “important NPC”, and adventurers and important NPC’s are cool. That’s… pretty weird when you think about what it says about the population demographics. How early can you detect this incredible special power? Are young adventurers sought after and picked up by temples, and governments, and other special-interest groups to be raised and trained to suit their own purposes? At least it would explain why so many of them have no families or other backgrounds to worry about and where they got all that specialized training.

Is there a lower level of this amazing power? After all, if the player characters and most important NPC’s are built using (say…) Pathfinder 25-Point Buy, are functionaries, henchmen, and companions built using 15 Points? Do they take special “sidekick courses”?

Perhaps it’s Nymic Magic? When your name comes to the attention of the Narrative Gods, you suddenly get improved attributes and go from “faceless extra” to “individualized NPC”? That says weird things about the setting, but it is fairly consistent with how the game is usually played.

Now, according to the 3.5 SRD under “Monsters As Races”…

Ability Scores for Monster PCs

While a monsters statistics give the ability scores for a typical creature of a certain kind, any “monster” creature that becomes an adventurer is definitely not typical. Therefore, when creating a PC from a creature, check to see if the creature’s entry has any ability scores of 10 or higher. If so, for each score, subtract 10 (if the score is even) or 11 (if the score is odd) to get the creature’s modifier for that ability based on its race or kind. Generate the character’s ability scores as normal, then add the racial ability modifiers to get their ability scores.

Note: Some monsters have base ability scores other than 10 and 11. If alternate scores were used this will be indicated in the monster entry. Also, some monsters that make good PCs have their racial ability modifiers and other traits already listed in their monster entry.

For ability scores lower than 10, the procedure is different. First, determine the character’s ability scores, and compare that number to the monster’s average ability score, using either the table below that applies to Intelligence or the table that applies to the other five ability scores.

The separate table for Intelligence ensures that no PC ends up with an Intelligence score lower than 3. This is important, because creatures with an Intelligence score lower than 3 are not playable characters. Creatures with any ability score lower than 1 are also not playable.

Which nicely covers monster player characters. It doesn’t say anything at all about NPC’s and Companions though.

Pathfinder has a section on generating NPC’s, including ability scores. It gives “Heroic NPC’s” an array of 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15 – equating to a standard 15-point buy. “Basic NPC’s” get scores of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 at a cost of 3 points – far inferior to almost any player character. Of course, the scores of basic NPC’s basically never matter anyway.

This, of course, means that the heroic NPC array is BETTER than what a low fantasy PC can buy, equal to what a standard fantasy character gets, lags a high fantasy PC (20 points) somewhat and lags an epic fantasy character (25 points) quite a bit. There’s no provision for adjusting things for other various methods of generating PC attributes, but it looks like the intent is that “heroic” NPC’s (basically anyone important) use the same system as player-characters since Pathfinder tends to push the point-buy attribute system.

Eclipse, of course, tends to assume that everyone and everything is following the same rules – (although I, personally, have an old-school fondness for rolled attributes). Sadly, this does lead to a bit of a clash with the demographic assumption that “10-11 is average” when it comes to ability scores since most generation methods give a higher average than that – thus setting most games in Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”.

You can fix this – for example, if you are giving your players 20 points to buy attributes with using the Pathfinder system you can say that “NPC’s roll 1d6: 1) -20 Points, 2) -15 Points, 3) -10 Points, 4) 10 Points, 5) 15 Points, and 6) 20 points. Thus a (-20) point NPC might have 7/7/7/7/8/8 for his or her attributes. You now have average attributes much closer to 10 (not quite since the attribute point costs are nonlinear) in the population and are simply assuming that only the people with good attributes make it to first level in “adventuring” classes – and that experts and such normally don’t go adventuring. That’s basically a modern version of the “discard characters with terrible attributes” rule , but there’s nothing wrong with that. The actual population will skew a bit towards higher attributes (just as the classical average was actually 10.5) simply because early mortality will be a bit higher in the low-attribute groups, but that (and the bias due to the asymmetrical attribute point costs) doesn’t really matter much.

So as for the actual question part…

“What would it cost in Eclipse to allow followers, henchmen, companions, et al, to generate their attributes as player characters do?”

The quick answer is “nothing”, since that’s the baseline assumption of most editions – if only because, much of the time, it doesn’t matter and no one cares.

The long answer, is – since attribute generation varies from game to game in the first place and may or may not vary between PC’s and NPC’s – that there’s no good way to price it effectively except by finding a way to Specialize or Corrupt your Companion or Leadership ability for Increased Effect (your companion or allies get higher base attributes) or by simply building it from scratch.

Personally, I’d go with “Must spend a lot of time and effort locating and recruiting Companions or Followers with PC-level attributes to get them”. So rather than accepting just any schlub who happens by, you’re picky and wind up with higher quality.

To just buy it directly… a Feat is obviously not enough if there is a substantial difference (and why couldn’t PC’s take it to raise their attribute point allotment?), and the +1 CR “Advanced” template (+4 to each attribute) really doesn’t work. After all, if +1 CR is a fair valuation, and +1 CR equates to +1 effective level (debatable, since Pathfinder doesn’t have those…), and we are allowed to stack templates., would – say – a 10’th level fighter with +20 to each attribute be better than a standard 15’th level fighter? After all, +10 to Attacks and Damage, +10 AC, +10 on Saves, +10 HP/Level, +10 SP/Level, +10 to all Skills… those are some very nice bonuses.

How about a 20’th level Wizard with +40 to each attribute versus a 30’th level Wizard? That throws in a huge pile of extra spells as well as doubling up on all those benefits. It would be rough at low levels – but you can’t generate such a character at a low level anyway.

Ergo, your second best approach in Eclipse is just to brute-force it. Throw on some attribute boosts in a template to get the attributes to where you want them and pay for adding the template to cover whatever it costs.

And I hope that helps!

Skill Stunts And Epic Skill Stunts XI – Use Rope/Cable/Chain/Wires/Etc

Twine and Rope (thicker twine) aren’t quite up there with fire or language, and probably not with agriculture or the domestication of animals, but they’re definitely up there with the hammer, spear, wheel, pottery, and writing. Twine brought nets and snares, bolos and sledges, bound rafts and supplies together, aided in both climbing and sliding down, pulled in harpooned fish and anchored shelters. It held on bandages and spearheads, captured and controlled beasts, secured children and equipment, strengthened the helves of axes and tied thorns into protective walls. Run through pulleys it multiplied strength and simply tied it allowed men to combine their strength and that of beasts as well. How many other Neolithic products have persisted so unchanged? The coil of hempen rope in my garage would be familiar to the hand of a tribesmen from twenty to thirty thousand years ago – although to him a coil so long, so fine, and so consistent would be a great treasure representing many hours of hard labor.

The trouble is that “use rope” is a poor fit with the games other skills. Many, MANY, other skills use rope, just as many other skills use hammers – but there is no “use hammer” skill. (That might be a reasonable way to build a skill system, but it would place a huge burden on the game master to adjudicate things). Even worse, the rules only provide a few uses for the skill, and almost all of those fit under other skills as well or better.

Get a grappling hook lodged? Isn’t this a job for Climbing? Tie a knot? Isn’t this a basic part of Climbing or Profession (Sailor) or a lot of other things? Make a traverse or simple rope bridge to help cross a river? Survival or Profession (Explorer) – or simply announcing that you’re using some rope and talking the game master into giving you a bonus for circumstances (or perhaps for a masterwork rope). Make a trap? Craft (Trap) or Survival again. Tie down cargo? Profession (Teamster) (and when was the last time your player characters worried about their cargo shifting anyway? That’s what Bags Of Holding are for). Tie a knot one-handed? Isn’t that just a circumstance penalty? Use ropes and leashes to help control an animal? Handle Animal. Tie logs together to make a raft? Probably Survival, but who cares? Kids do that successfully all the time with no skill. Sure, the Kon-Tiki needed to hold together for months – but has that EVER come up in your game?

Worse, pretty much all of these are simple tasks that ordinary folk – you know, people with no big bonuses and maybe a +1 from being a girl or boy scout as a kid or a little practice – can do with a pretty good chance of success even if they don’t really take their time. That means that we’re basically talking DC 5 to DC 15. After all, a skill point represents a year or so of casual training or several months of really intensive study on a topic.

Even worse than that… most of those tasks can be done without bothering with rope at all, either with cheap magic (can’t an Unseen Servant set that grappling hook for you? ) or just by not worrying about getting that +2 bonus from the traverse on whatever roll the game master calls for to cross the river. Making a roll to see if you get a small bonus on another roll just holds up the game. Even the listed Epic Level Uses are pointless; so you can animate a rope at DC 60. Doesn’t your epic-level character have something better to do with his or her time than emulate a first level spell?

About the only thing unique to Use Rope even in normal use is splicing it and binding prisoners. How often has splicing rope come up? And even if it did… wouldn’t a cantrip do it better? As for binding prisoners… that’s basically an opposed Escape Artist check. After all, if you know how to escape ropes, you can probably figure out how to keep other people from doing so.

I understand the appeal – I used a LOT of rope while camping, or building tree houses, or during a lot of other activities as a kid and rope is phenomenally useful stuff – but we’re talking about characters who can wrestle dragons, learn to walk on clouds with raw skill, and scale thousand foot greased cliffs in a hurricane if they don’t just teleport in the first place.

It’s a lot like having a “Use Fire” skill. Fire is IMMENSELY useful. Knowing how to handle it, what generates poisonous fumes when burned, how to put it out, how to make fiery weapons, how to smelt metal, how to melt sand into glass, how to perform fractional distillation… it has a myriad uses. The trouble is that it’s far TOO basic to far too many other skills. To handle “Use Fire” properly… it needs to be a part of a skill system built around skills like “Use Hammer”, “Use Stone”, “Use Wood”, “Use Metal”, “Use Air”, “Use Mechanical Advantage” – and yes, “Use Rope” or perhaps “Use Fiber”. That would be pretty interesting – but using it in play would require a table full of engineers and a shelf full of reference books to figure out how to use your characters skills effectively. While I tend to run things that way, and have “figuring out how things work” be an important item in my campaigns, I must admit that it’s an extremely specialized taste.

So, in Eclipse, there are three major approaches to “use rope”.

  1. Take Specific Knowledge / Knots (1 SP) and a +3 Skill Specialty in Using Rope (1 SP). That’s the equivalent of spending six months or so in an intensive study of knots and rope, will probably cover everything mundane that you want to do with rope, and will give you a +3 bonus on rolls that would be aided by your use of rope without having to make separate skill rolls. Quick, simple, and cheap.
  2. Take 2d6 Mana and Rite Of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for use with Rope Magic (8 CP) and put some skill points in (Rope) Rune Magic Mastery and Casting. Go ahead. Animate ropes, perform a rope trick, summon a rope golem, entangle enemies, bind spirits, catch the winds in knots, and make creatures and objects dance on your puppet strings. The game master will want to keep a careful eye on this sort of thing though to keep it down to things that rope is actually thematic for though. “(Implement) Magic” should not be an excuse to do anything at all as long as your description involves said implement somehow, just as “Frog Magic” is not an excuse for “Exploding Fireball Frogs!” and “Frogs Of Healing” – and even the “Intercontinental Ballistic Leaping Passenger Frog” (standing in for a party teleport) would be quite a stretch. This is a fairly easy way to represent skills like “Use Fire” and such though.
  3. Go ahead and take “Use Rope” and rely on Stunts and Epic Stunts. Sure, “Use Rope” vanished from Pathfinder, and the Rules Compendium wasn’t big on it – but if you’re looking at this option you’re looking at supernatural effects, not at the enormous, if uninspiring, list of practical uses for rope. This is a fairly powerful option, simply because rope – being another truly ancient tool – has as many mythological applications as the hammer, spear, or sword.

Sample Stunts For “Use Rope”:

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Apply an effective Bandage, Sling, or Tourniquet.
    • Make snowshoes or simple repairs on clothing and improvise other basic items of apparel.
    • Make a firebow (possibly using some bits from extra rope for tinder).
    • Put together simple baskets and carry-sacks, secure food out of the reach of animals, carry stuff conveniently (designate up to (Dexterity) items which can be accessed as a free action), increase your effective Strength score for encumbrance purposes by +2.
    • Secure things – cargo for transport, loose rocks against an avalanche, trees so that they fall the right way, safety lines for people, items and shelters against winds and storms, and so on.
    • Set up a rope for climbing, slide down a rope quickly but without hurting yourself (rope burns are possible if it’s long, but d20 characters shrug off being hit with battle axes, so who cares?), affix a rope securely enough to lift something, secure yourself for sleeping in a tree.
    • Set up a trip/alarm line, create a visual fence (lines set up with things that move and flutter in the wind, effective at confining the more skittish herd animals), create a crude deadfall.
    • Tie basic knots, make minor repairs, reinforce a grip or haft, assemble a crude raft or bundle (just don’t expect it to hold together against major impacts or for too long).
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Bind prisoners (gaining a +10 on any opposed check), Effectively leash and collar an animal or slave, perform a competent hanging, rig an animal harness (that won’t strangle the animal or team), hobble a horse or other creature, apply compression torture or mutilation.
    • Make a snare for small animals, assemble a fish trap, or set up a fishing line, properly hang an animal to drain the blood, set up a drying rack.
    • Make crude rope-and-weight weapons, such as bolas, basic flails, or nunchaku, use a piece of rope as a Sap (At DC 75 (and 2 mana on a Stunt), you may use a piece of rope as if it was Power Word: Stun).
    • Put together a simple shelter, effective thorn or brushwood barricade, crude boat, traverse, or rope bridge.
    • Rig and use climbing apparatus – rope ladders, rappelling gear, tie a rope so that you can undo it from any point with a few simply twists and pulls. Use a grappling hook properly, climb a rope at full speed (probably a Stunt).
    • Set up a block and tackle, tension lever (a taut length of rope secured on the ends which can apply great force through a sideways pull at the center), or other strength-multiplying system.
    • Tie extremely complex knots, splice rope, or conceal tiny items in rope, make rope, care for rope, put away up to 50′ of rope as a move action, restoring it to a neat coil along the way.
    • Weave a hammock, net, or fish trap or make crude cloth.
  • DC 20:
    • Knot Of Winds: A rope master may bind the winds. Each knot may be untied to produce a Gust Of Wind effect (albeit out to 120′ feet) or to alter the current wind conditions for one hour per level by one step, to a maximum of Severe Wind and a minimum of none. A rope master may maintain no more than (Wis Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) such knots at any one time.
    • Spiders Weave: You may accomplish up to (level) hours worth of ropework by simply tossing some rope out. You may thus create a pulley system to pull things up cliffs, erect an instant climbing rope, set up a fine rope bridge, stabilize some loose rock, create a rope ladder, weave a net or create snares and swinging-log traps, make hammocks, get a derelict ship rigged to sail, tie doors shut, set up a safety net under a falling creature, set up triplines and alarms, rig up a cutting or pop-up line trap, rig up a fence, or harness a group of horses. You may reclaim your rope and store it away when you are finished with it with a quick tug on one end.
    • Wield Rope: You may use a piece of rope as it it was a Garrote, Lasso, Whip (Any), Scourge (Any), or Flail (Any, including Scarves and Nunchaku). All options are treated as Simple Weapons for you and you may switch between them as needed (this does not count as an action). At DC 30 your options include the Bolas, Rope Guantlet, Double-Chained Kama, Kusarigama, and Spiked Chain. At DC 40 your options include the Aklys, Net, Flying Blade, and “Kobold Tail Attachments”. At +10 DC you can give your rope a +1 Enhancement Bonus (as well as +2 Hardness, +10 HP, and +2 Break DC). At +20 DC the bonus increases to +(Level / 4), multiplying the bonuses to Hardness, HP, and Break DC similarly. At +30 DC you may add special weapon properties in place of some of the Enhancement Bonus “plusses”. At +40 DC the Enhancement Bonus increases to (Level / 2). For +10 DC you may give your “weapon” an extra five feet of reach whenever you need it. Once activated, this ability remains in effect for one hour.
  • DC 25:
    • Ensnare: You may attempt to catch a target within short range, using your rope as if it was a lasso or net, although your target is allowed a Reflex save. At it’s base, this renders them Entangled, prevents winged flight, and allows the user to pull on them (or, for that matter, climb up on them). +5 DC per size category above Large. At +20 DC this has medium range, at +20 DC this Binds or “Pins” the target instead, At DC 75 you may imprison Outsiders who fail to save in a complex knot, equivalent to an Iron Flask – although you may only maintain (Cha Mod, 1 Minimum) such knots at any one time. Note that it is possible to snatch things out of people’s hands or steal them with this ability.
    • Harden Rope: You may cause a rope to harden until you handle it once more. It becomes as durable as an inch-thick piece of Oak. At DC 30 it is as durable as Stone, at DC 40 Bronze, at DC 50 Iron, at DC 60 Mithril, at DC 75 Adamantine, and at DC 100 it has Hardness 30 and 50 HP. If this is used in conjunction with Wield Rope you gain a +4 bonus to Damage on a successful hit.
    • Rope Care: Your personal ropes function as if they were of higher quality, moving one level up the chart below (two steps at DC 30, three at DC 60, but never beyond “Darkleaf”. All ropes beyond basic Hemp ropes are considered to be masterwork tools with respect to Rope Use). This effect remains active for twenty-four hours.
      • Hemp (50 Ft, 2 HP, Break DC 23, 1 GP, 10 Lb),
      • Silk (50 Ft, 4 HP, Break DC 24, 10 GP, +2 to Use Rope checks, 5 Lb).
      • Spider Silk (50 Ft, 6 HP, Break DC 25, 100 GP, +2 to Use Rope checks. 4 Lb)
      • Bloodvine (50 Ft, 10 HP, Hardness 5, Break DC 30, 200 GP, +2 to Use Rope Checks, 5 Lb).
      • Darkleaf (20 HP, Hardness 10, Break DC 35, 500 GP, +2 to Use Rope Checks, 4 Lb
  • DC 30:
    • Charm Rope: You may cause a rope to perform as if affected by Animate Rope, Handy Grapnel, or Tripvine. At DC 40 you may cause a Rope Trick, Ropeweave, or Snare effect. At DC 50 you can cause a rope to function as a Rope Of Climbing for a day. At DC 60 it functions as a Rope Of Knots for a day. At DC 75 it functions as a Rope of Entanglement for a day.
    • Jury Rig: You may fix something (including things that you have no right to fix) with rope. This equates to using Make Whole (Greater).
    • Phase Knots: You may tie, or automatically untie, knots without access to the ends of a rope and without damaging the rope, simply by causing it to pass through itself. You may also use this trick to instantly splice rope, to create loops along it, to conceal it’s ends inside itself, or to escape from rope bonds.
  • DC 35:
    • Cable Snap: You may lash out with a rope as a touch attack, inflicting 1d6/level slashing damage (20d6 maximum) to a single target or inflict half that much damage to a cone up to 60 feet long with no roll to hit – although this allows those within the area a reflex save for half damage. In either case, anyone who takes damage will be knocked prone.
    • Knot Of Lightning: A rope master working during a thunderstorm may catch natural bolts of lighting in knots, storing a maximum of (Dex Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) such bolts. A natural bolt normally causes (1d6+4)d8 damage to a 80 foot line or a 15 foot radius within medium range. Sadly, untying – and directing – the bolt costs just as much Mana as trapping it in the first place.
    • Zip Line: You may use a rope to transport yourself (via swinging, climbing, being pulled up by some odd mechanism, sliding along a line, or whatever) to any open area that can be reached without passing through a solid barrier within short range as a move action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. At DC 50 you may extend this to Medium Range, at DC 75 to Long Range, and at DC 100 you may cover up to ten miles in 3d6 rounds. You may carry others along as long as you can lift them.
  • DC 40:
    • Capstan Winch: You may catch a target within medium range that fails a reflex save and move it or them to some other location within medium range. While the location must be open, it need not offer support. If you move a living target past someone they provoke attacks of opportunity as usual You may also opt to slam a target into a solid surface for up to (Check Result) damage (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing depending on the nature of the surface) or to simply spin them in place, leaving vulnerable targets subject to the Nauseated condition for 2d4 rounds. At +20 DC you may attempt this as an immediate action against an unresisting target, allowing you to catch falling allies or move them around the battlefield.
    • Silver Cord: You may tie a spirit into it’s body, preventing it’s departure even if the body dies. This will delay actual “death” for up to (Check Result) rounds after the body takes deadly damage, and allows the body to be “healed back to life” by any healing effect applied during that time. An untriggered Silver Cord remains tied for twenty-four hours (72 hours at DC 60, one week at DC 75, and until activated at DC 100).
    • Splice Fate / Twisting The Threads (A.K.A “Witches Ladder”): You may splice and entangle the threads of fate. This allows you to Twist Fate as per Destiny Magic. At DC 40 you may produce first level effects, at DC 50 second, at DC 50 third, at DC 60 fourth, at DC 75 fifth, and at DC 100 sixth. This – as shown below – is a difficult endeavor and fraught with peril. It is best to think carefully before attempting it.
      • This option covers Marriage Knots, Curse Knots, Fertility Knots, Sterility Knots, attempts to bring good fortune, and many other types of knot-spells.

Twisting Fate:

Destiny Magic manipulates the probabilities of the future. The level of destiny magic spells depends on two basic factors: the level of effect you want and how much you want the spell to consider your desires. This can be very, VERY, dangerous. For some samples:

  • “We will have good luck in this battle”. This one is safe enough; you and your friends get some luck bonuses. You can simply use some of the appropriate spells.
  • “She will look over this way and notice me”. Also pretty safe unless you’re a wanted criminal, or a werewolf who will start her screaming or some such. People look around and notice things all the time. There probably won’t even be a save.
  • “They will drop the charges and let me out of jail in the morning”. Less safe, but unlikely to get you really hurt. One character tried this with a low-level spell; the locals concluded that he was mad – or “god-touched” – and shipped him off to an asylum where the monks would listen to his ravings in search of prophecy. This was awkward, but he WAS out of jail with the charges dropped.
  • “A diversion will come up during the trip that will give me a chance to escape”. This turned out a lot better; a diversion wasn’t unlikely and the destiny mage made it a higher level spell to avoid the diversion turning out to be a major monster attack or something and wound up with a few falling rocks, one of which knocked the transport wagon open. He then made his escape under his own power. (He didn’t even consider trying “The Daimyo will pass by along the way, recognize me as foreign but not mad, and give me an excellent job!”. THAT would call for a very high level spell indeed unless events along those lines were already in the works).
  • Thus “You will soon be badly injured” is pretty easy. “You will be hit by a runaway cart tomorrow and badly injured” is harder, but still plausible. “You will be hit and badly injured tomorrow by a runaway cart driven by your drunken son who will be crippled in the accident” is WAY up there, and may well be effectively impossible – if, say, the kid is currently several hundred miles away. Trying to force an event that unlikely into existence is also likely to have all kinds of unlikely side effects which may well endanger the caster and his or her party. Worse, it usually allows a save.
  • For an example from the more disastrous side… The party was hunting a colossal river serpent. They obtained flying steeds and attacked it at long range. The serpent promptly dove to the bottom of the river and burrowed into the mud where they could not reach it. One of the characters then tried to use first level Destiny Magic to make the serpent to come back up and fight. What was easiest? A lure. Where was he? Hovering directly over the river where the serpent was. He’d used a spell of such low level that it didn’t consider anything but what he’d asked for. Ergo… a biting bug bit his steed in a sensitive spot, he got bucked off, he landed in the river, and the serpent came back up to eat him – instigating the desired fight, but at close range rather than the desired sniping contest. He asked for a specific, and not unreasonable, event – but lacked the power to constrain his spell to more acceptable methods. A slightly higher level spell might have brought a cow by to drink and had it fall in.

If you try to directly affect someone else they get a save. So “May your bowstring break!” is simple, and not implausible (bowstrings do break) – but it allows a save, and if the save is made normal probabilities continue in their course. Of course, twisting destiny to tell an Orphan that “you will soon be adopted by a fine set of parents!” is not too likely to provoke a save, even if the easiest way to arrange that does affect the kid. He or she won’t WANT to resist that destiny.

  • DC 50:
    • Knot Of Storms: A rope master may bind storms. Such a knot may be tied to dismiss a severe weather event or untied to release one. Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the user’s control over such events. Worse, he or she must actually find such an event to bind and may maintain no more than (Cha Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) such storm knots at any one time.
    • Primacord: You may cause up to two hundred feet of rope to burn as swiftly or slowly as you wish. You may thus render it effectively fireproof, use it as a fuse or a way to transport fire, or use it as a high explosive (Equivalent to twice it’s weight in TNT ), causing this effect to activate by any one of contact, pressure, proximity, time, or chemical exposure. The effects are equal to those of an equivalent weight of C4 or twice the weight of Det Cord (See D20 Modern).
    • Splice Fate / Splice Threads Of Life: You may splice and entangle the threads of fate, Splicing threads of life into a damaged lifeline can provide up to (Check Result) points of healing at up to medium range. You may remove certain conditions by sacrificing five points of healing per condition removed. Eligible conditions include Attribute Damaged, Attribute Drained, Dazed, Dazzled, Diseased, Energy Drained, Exhausted, Fatigued, Nauseated, or Sickened. You may also extend a targets life by up to (Check Result) years.
  • DC 60:
    • Gleipnir: You may weave rope of sunlight, of music, of fire, or of other impossible substances as available. Such rope has Hardness 15, 30 HP, Break DC 35, provides a +4 bonus on your Use Rope checks, and is 100 feet long per use of this power. It will remain in existence for twenty-four hours OR until you disinvest the mana used to power this stunt, whichever is longer. While the rope will not harm you, whatever the rope is made of has its usual effects on other creatures that handle the rope or are touched by it (Vampires HATE rope made of sunlight. Most other creatures dislike rope made of high explosive).
    • Mummy Shell: You may wrap yourself in a cocoon of animated rope, gaining +50 HP, +6 Str, +6 Natural Armor, DR 5/Adamantine AND Slashing, and a pair of 2d6 Slam Attacks. If you hit with a Slam Attack you may Grab an opponent up to once size larger than you and start to strangle them. A strangled foe cannot speak or cast spells with verbal components and suffers (1d8 + Str Mod) damage per round until it breaks free.
    • Torsion Engine Knot: You may tie a complex knot that will slowly untwist to drive a shaft. Such a knot yields up to (Makers Intelligence) Horsepower for up to one hundred days, although use need not be at full power or continuous. Unfortunately, this gradually destroys the rope used.
  • DC 75:
    • Harness Beast: If you have managed to climb onto a creature that can reasonably serve you as a mount, you may use some rope to bridle it, forcing it to make a will save or do so. This is not a mind-affecting power, and so will work on creatures normally immune to such, but intelligent or undead creatures are only affected for twenty-four hours. Animals and unintelligent magical beasts make a second save after twenty-four hours are up. If they fail that save as well, they will be permanently domesticated.
    • Mindful Knot: You may tie knots that carry out programs, solve a complex set of instructions, or perform mathematical operations. For example, a knot might untie itself after a given time or when instructed to do so, move along a rope according to some schedule, slide down a rope to reveal how much weight is tied to the end, or function as a slide rule or simple computer. If you are tying knots in electrical wire or cable and have a power source, you may cause it to emulate any circuit you wish.
    • Splice Fate / Splice Life to Death: You may splice and entangle the threads of fate, Splicing threads of life into a severed lifeline is equivalent to Create Undead or – at DC 100 – Create Greater Undead. No components are required save the corpse and the casting time is a mere full round – but you are NOT in control of the undead so created other than that they will be bound to do you a major favor and two minor favors. It is wise to reserve one minor favor to request that they go away and leave you and your friends in peace henceforward.
  • DC 100:
    • Man The Lines: A rope master needs no crew to operate a sailing ship at its full capacity; the ropes and lines will do it for him – manifesting as up to (Level) Rope Golems with rope-related skills at +10
    • Puppet Strings: You may control the physical actions of any corporeal creature or object of up to Colossal size within medium range that fails a Fortitude save, causing them to act as if they were Animated Objects subject to your control. They may take mental actions normally however. Sadly, you may control no more than (Dex Mod, 1 Minimum) such targets at any one time, controlling them is a swift action each round, and the maximum duration of control is 2d4 rounds for creatures or 1d4+1 hours for objects.
    • Ropework Automaton: You may add assorted ropes and pulleys, a Torsion Engine Knot, and a Mindful Knot to an articulated framework to create Ropework Automatons that function similarly to Animated Objects. Such constructs gain an additional (Int Mod +2, 2 Minimum) Construction Points and cost 100 GP per hit die to build. Unfortunately, they require adjustment, tinkering, maintenance, and replacement of their Torsion Engine on a regular basis – and while smaller constructs may be less actual work, they require more finesse. The user may maintain no more than (Dex Mod + 1, 1 Minimum) such automatons at any one time.

Epic Stunts:

  • Tie Rope Golem (Level Seven, DC 38): You may tie a knot that will immediately grow into a Rope Golem that will serve you for the next twenty-four hours.
  • Grandiose Snare (Level 8, DC 42): As a free action you may entangle one Small or smaller target per level (a Medium target counts as two Small or smaller targets, a Large target as four, a Huge target as eight, a Gargantuan target as 16, and a Colossal target as 32) within medium range. Those who fail a reflex save are entangled for 2d4 rounds, after which the constantly-regenerating ropes fall away.
  • Regenerate Rope (Level 9, DC 46): All of your ropes regain 5 hit points per turn for the rest of the day unless destroyed by fire or disintegration.
  • Weave Of Winds (Level 10, DC 50): You learn to instantly spin nothingness into rope, and will never run short of the equivalent of hemp, silk, or spider-silk rope. Sadly, such rope fades away again in one week and is obviously only quasi-real, and hence unsalable. Worse, it may not be improved by Rope Care.
  • Entangle Threads (Level 11, DC 54): You may create Mystic Links between people, places, and things, up to a maximum of (Charisma +2) CP worth. While you may drop such links at any time, they will otherwise remain for a year and a day.
  • Whip Swarm (Level 12, DC 58): You may summon forth a dozen floating whips, as per Feather Token: Whip.
  • Lasso Defense (Level 13, DC 62): You may spend an immediate action to ensnare and redirect an incoming bject or ranged attack which is going to hit someone or some area within short range. You may redirect falling items, vehicles, and missiles of up to gargantuan size, spells of up to level six, toxic clouds, breath weapons, and similar items as long as they have a physical manifestation. You could catch an incoming Fireball (a streaking ball of flame that explodes), but not a Charm Person spell. Fortunately, in d20, all elemental attacks have physical manifestations.
  • Noose Of The Executioner (Level 14, DC 66) Every non-ally within medium range will be yanked twenty feet into the air by a noose around their neck or necks. This does not harm diminutive or tiny creatures. Small creatures take 2d6 damage, from this, medium creatures 4d6, large 6d6, huge 8d6, Gargantuan 10d6, and Colossal 12d6. Larger creatures take 14d6 damage, but cannot be so suspended. Regardless of size, all targets are Entangled, and cannot speak or cast spells with verbal components. Victims can break (DC 32), escape (make an Escape Artist check at +10 against the casting check), or cut (AC 15, Hardness 5, 20 HP) the rope. Victims who fail to get away suffer half the initial damage each round until they do or until the effects one-minute duration expires.
  • Spellbinding Knot (Level 15, DC 70): You may tie a knot that renders a spell effect of up to level six within close range permanent until it is either dispelled, broken in some other fashion, or the knot is found and untied (an opposed check. If it is cut or destroyed otherwise the permanent spell is not affected).
  • Bridge Of Clouds (Level 16, DC 74): This narrow rope-and-plank bridge can be called forth wherever there is a great drop – from the peak of a mountain, from the edge of a great chasm, or some similar spot. The far end cannot be seen, but is obviously a great distance away. The bridge itself will often appear more than a little unsafe. Those who venture forth will find themselves traveling through a white mist, with no apparent features for a time that cannot be measured. Those who persevere will find themselves emerging in some reasonably well-concealed spot in whatever realm the caster sought – whether that is a distant world, an outer plane, or a realm of myths. Anyone who falls or jumps from the bridge will fall onto a random plane or world. Once called into being, a Bridge Of Clouds is permanent unless assailed by some epic force.
  • Splice Lifeline (Level 18, DC 82): You may use this effect on behalf of others or after you die yourself to transfer a willing soul and consciousness into a new body – normally one that has been recently killed in the case of material beings, usually one that has been newly created in the case of outsiders. You must give up enough of your current abilities to purchase the new forms abilities; if you cannot afford to do so, the reincarnation fails. You awaken Fatigued and down half your (new) hit points. You do, however, enjoy a free choice of forms; if you want to come back as an adult dragon, and can afford to pay for it, then so you do. Your new form may be in a problematic situation when you awaken, but it will never be in immanent danger of death; you will always be able to survive and escape pretty much unharmed if you behave sensibly.
  • The Fisher King (Level 19, DC 86): You may cast a net into the planes beyond, seeking what you will. You may draw forth any creature or group of creatures that could be Summoned by a spell of level nine or less to serve you for a day, a permanent item worth up to 75,000 GP that you can use for a week, or a selection of minor minions (cooks, ordinary guards, etc), supplies, and simple structures that will keep you eminently comfortable for up to a year. Alternatively, you may perform a True Resurrection on up to (Check Result) levels of individuals.
  • Bind The Cataclysm (Level 20, DC 90): You may bind a catastrophe – a supervolcanic eruption, incoming solar flare or major asteroid strike, gargantuan earthquake, or similar disaster of vast scale in a knot. If and when you wish to let it out and direct it at a target you may untie the knot. Sadly, no one caster can bind more than three Cataclysms at a time.
  • Bind Nature (Level 21, DC 94): You may bind the divine forces of nature into knots, duplicating Druidical spells when they are unknotted. Each such knot takes an hour to tie, no more than three may be tied per day, and no more than thrice three may be maintained at any one time – but each such knot can duplicate a Druidical spell of up to level seven – although any expensive material components must be supplied when the knot is tied or removed by using a higher-level spell. Untying such a knot is a full-round action. Such knots can be used by others, but this does not bypass the limit of nine maintained knots at a time.
  • The Labyrinth Of Creation (Level 22, DC 98): You may toss out a tangled length of string or cord to any location within sixty feet. Those within thirty feet of where it lands may attempt a reflex save to avoid winding up deep inside the mighty dimensional labyrinth which will spring up, forcing other structures and folk aside as it rapidly grows. While this is not inescapable, it is a many-leveled megadungeon, will remain for a year and a day, and will tend to draw those who come too close – or who attempt to follow a trail that passes through the area it now covers – within for many desperate adventures. Targets may well survive, and may emerge more powerful than before, but nothing short of a Wish, Miracle, Gate, or other effects of similar potency will get them out in less than a week or two. Mere teleportion, plane shifting, and similar tricks will merely be diverted within the coils of the labyrinth.
  • Knot Of Time (Level 23, DC 102): You may loop time back upon itself, knotting its flow to place a great area into stasis. While this solves nothing, and nothing can affect whatever is in the out of time area, this does allow the user to put evils in a can, to preserve imperiled realms for a better time, to seal away dark kingdoms, and to stop hordes of demons and such. The effect is not subject to spell resistance, or antimagic, or local counterspelling. If the caster includes himself or herself in the area, the effect will last until conditions are suitable for it to end – whether that takes a week or a half a million years. If the caster remains outside the area, it will remain bound until whatever conditions the caster sets are apply, until the knot is untied (or falls to dust), or until the caster uninvests the mana used to perform this feat.
  • Summon Mar’Tha’Kanak’hka, The One That Formless Binds, The Writhing Entwinement (Level 24, DC 106): You summon forth an aspect of an Elder One, a twisting mass of ropelike fibers that exists in far too many dimensions to comprehend. Things get very weird across the local solar system or equivalent. Portals open as dimensions are linked together, creatures find themselves abruptly married to other creatures for no apparent reason, things that were once bound are loosed, and things previously free are bound. Eventually someone casts this spell backwards, or finds some other way to get Mar’Tha’Kanak’hka to go away (usually requiring either some epic quest or accepting permanent madness to allow one to communicate enough to ask it politely), or it simply goes away on its own and the world stabilizes. The caster does get some input into how the world is transformed, but this is more or less “I wish!” directed at an entity that does not understand reality at all. Mar’Tha’Kanak’hka probably isn’t hostile – after all, it helped make this particular flower arrangement universe – but if it was, and there was some way to tell the difference, it would presumably be bad somehow.
    • Invariably someone will want to find a way to kill Mar’Tha’Kanak’hka. I can’t think of anything, if only because it exists in a lot more dimensions of time than we do – but if someone insists, then fine. Binding forces have never existed, nor has the universe in any form that human beings are capable of comprehending. Mar’Tha’Kanak’hka vetoed that set of plans back at the beginning, and introduced another variant of his aspect into the universe that was made instead of this one.

Rope and knot magic have traditionally been considered fast and powerful magic simply because rope itself is such a fundamental thing, a tool with a myriad uses. It’s only human to assume that working magic with rope – literally Spellbinding – shares that same power and versatility. Thus Babylonian witches were said to capture souls in knots, ancient Greeks and Egyptians attempted to work love-spells, bind marriages, and heal with knots (the marriage-knot or knot of Hercules originated here, eventually becoming a protective charm associated with fertility and new life), sailors in many lands attempted to control the winds with knots. The Knot Of Isis was wound into shrouds in an attempt to summon the protection of Isis and Horus for the deceased’s journey to the next world. In Rome knot-curses were used to cause everything from impotence to a lingering death while other knots bound demons and vampires. Ancient priests wore knotted fringes to ensnare evil spirits and the Koran speaks of Mohammed being nearly slain by a curse from a knotted cord. In African traditions knots can bind others to your will. In more modern times we have Witches Ladders and spells worked though tying knots, They function as magic snares, invoke gods, and bind the energies of nature to your will. Like most other truly ancient skills… the use of rope is wound around with legend and magic.

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.