D20, Ninja, and Eclipse, Part II – the Complete Adventurer and Pathfinder Ninjas

And to continue our look at building Ninja through the years – and on how to upgrade the various variants to current standards here are the next few types of Ninja. And if you missed Part I (the Rokugan and Mystic Eye Ninjas) they’re HERE.

The next major Ninja class was The Complete Adventurer Ninja (2005). They were a rather hesitant attempt to make “Ninja” mean something more than “slightly refluffed Rogue or Rogue Multiclass” in baseline d20. Unfortunately, the writers were – once again – pretty shy about giving non-spellcasters all that much in the way of exotic powers, so this version of the Ninja wound up with some rather weak “Ki Powers” that could only be used a few times a day – not even really up to “a ninja always has another trick to pull” standard of most fictional ninja and some actual ninja. They got…

  • D6 HD (40 CP). What a rogue got, and functional enough in those days of less-optimized damage levels.
  • 138 SP (138 CP or – with a modern build using Adept and Fast Learner – 58 CP)
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 to Saves (72 CP).
  • Proficiency with all Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP)
  • Defender, Corrupted/only when unarmored and unencumbered (4 CP). This helped to make up for the lack of armor a bit.
  • Advanced Augmented Bonus (Adds Int Mod to AC), Corrupted/only when unarmored and unencumbered (8 CP). Another – and much earlier-into-play boost to AC. You’d still need some Bracers Of Armor though.

The Ninjas original Ki Powers were Ghost Step (L2, Invisibility for a round. You can become Ethereal for a round instead at L10), Ki Dodge (L6, one round of 20% miss chance), Ghost Strike (L8, Strike to and from the Ethereal Plane for one attack), Greater Ki Dodge (L18, 50% miss chance for a round), and Ghost Walk (L20, as per Ethereal Jaunt, 2 Ki) and a Ki Pool of (Ninja Level / 2 + Wis Mod) points. This version provides more powers, and a much wider selection of powers, because, honestly, the original set wasn’t very good for something that was a defining feature of the class and because building a power set that limited is actually a lot more trouble than setting up a worthwhile power set. Eclipse wasn’t designed to build useless abilities. This version also isn’t reliant on Wisdom, so it reduces the multiple-attribute-dependency problem.

  • Ki Pool: 4d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only for use with quick (Swift or Immediate action) Reality Edits. Edits are divided into Minor (1 Mana, available at level 2+), Notable (1 Mana, available at level 6+), Major (2 Mana, available at level 14+), and Grandiose (4 Mana, available at level 25+ IF the game master is willing to put up with them) edits; the user is limited to a maximum of (level / 2 (increasing as the character levels up), rounded up) specific edits with his or her first purchase of Reality Editing and to half that (level / 4, also increasing as the character levels up) number of additional edits for each additional purchase. Edits are fixed once approved by the game master unless the user wishes to spend a lot of time on retraining or something. Will Save DC’s are 12/14/16/18 + Dex Mod (for fine control) for Minor/Notable/Major/Grandiose edits and all edits are considered Extraordinary Abilities (24 CP).

Minor edits usually approximate first or minor second level effects. Possible minor edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Blazing Stars: As per the Fire Shuriken (Spell Compendium) spell.
  • Breath Control: As per Resist Energy (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Dance Of Wings: Add +30 to all your current movement rates for 2d4 minutes.
  • Face Dancer: As per Disguise Self (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Grace Of The Kami: Move at normal speeds when using Acrobatics, Balance, Climb, or Move Silently without penalty for 2d4 minutes.
  • Jujitsu: Make an immediate Escape Artist check with a +30 bonus. You may attempt to “escape” Paralysis or similar situations, but at DC 50.
  • Ki Strike: Gain a +10 Insight bonus to an Attack and +(Level) Insight bonus on it’s damage.
  • Light Foot: You make take 20 on Acrobatics/Hide/Move Silently checks and always land safely after falling or being thrown for 2d4 rounds.
  • Mongoose Fist: Make an extra attack as an immediate action OR make two extra attacks as part of a full attack action.
  • Phantom Blade: Make one attack into a sneak attack, even if it normally would not be.
  • Qigung: Get a +5 bonus on a save if triggered before rolling or reroll a save if used afterwards.
  • Smoke Bellows: Generate a 30′ radius cloud of dense smoke centered up to 30′ away. It lasts for 2d4 rounds.
  • Tongue Of Kanji: Cast a spell without it’s normally-required somatic component.
  • Vanishing: Become invisible and leave no trail for 2d4 Rounds, although Attacking will negate the invisibility part as usual.
  • Wind Stride: As per Air Step (Pathfinder) for 2d4 Minutes.

Notable edits usually approximate second or third level effects. Possible notable edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Alchemic Bomb: Turn a dose of an alchemical substance or poison that you are carrying into a full-effect 20′ radius burst within medium range. At level 12+ you can use two doses to create two bursts that may, but need not, overlap, and at 25+ three. The “doses” do not all have to be the same substance if you are using multiple doses.
  • Alchemic Synthesis: Produces 100 GP worth of alchemical creations or poisons. While these are obviously crude and unsalable, and become inert within twenty-four hours, they are effective if used within that time. At level 12+ the user may spend a second Ki Point on this to provide either a +2 DC on created poisons or saves on alchemical creations or to double the effect of an alchemical creation.
  • Dancing Shadows: Mirror Image (SRD) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Dispelling Strike: Add the effects of Dispel Magic (using your level as the caster level to a maximum of +10) to a physical attack.
  • Displacement: Attacks on you suffer a 50% miss chance for 2d4 rounds.
  • Expulsion: As per Neutralize Poison (SRD).
  • Find The Gap: As per the spell (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Ghost Strike: The user mays see and strike to and from the Ethereal Plane for two rounds.
  • Golden Armor: Gain DR 6/- for 2d4 minutes.
  • Haunting Shadow: As per Phantom Foe (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 Rounds.
  • Healing Mudra: Personal-Only Cure Serious Wounds (SRD).
  • Ki Imbuement: As per Greater Magic Weapon (SRD) for 2d4 minutes, although it may also be applied to the user’s natural weapons, fists, or other “unarmed” martial arts attacks,
  • Lizard Walk: Full-speed wall-walking for 2d4 rounds.
  • Spellblade: You may make an immediate attack with a melee weapon to deliver any Touch spell that you just cast in place of the usual immediate touch attack that such spells provide.
  • Vital Strike: Trade dice of sneak attack damage for points of attribute damage with an attack. You may damage any attribute that you please.

Major edits usually approximate fourth or fifth level effects. Possible major edits include (but are not limited to):

  • Beast Jitsu: As per Bite of the Werewolf or Wereboar (Both Spell Compendium), lasting 2d4 Minutes.
  • Cloud Mind: As per Modify Memory (SRD).
  • Death Strike: Add the effects of Slay Living (SRD) to a physical attack. (Some Ninja use Enervation (SRD) instead).
  • Demon Ki Projection: As per Shadow Conjuration (SRD).
  • Doom Shuriken, as per Fire Seeds (SRD), but using shuriken for either function.
  • Dragon’s Breath: As per the Spell (Pathfinder).
  • Forge Of Ki: As per Greater Magic Weapon (SRD) for 2d4 minutes, but you may invest some or all of the “plusses” in special magic weapon functions. This effect may also be applied to the user’s fists, natural weapons, or martial arts attacks.
  • Freedom Of Movement: as the spell (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Ghost Step: Become Ethereal for 2d4 rounds.
  • Phantom Ways: as per Dimension Door (SRD).
  • Shadow Clones: Greater Mirror Image (Player’s Handbook II) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Shadow Form: as the spell (Spell Compendium) for 2d4 minutes.
  • Sniper: The user may make sneak attacks at any range for 2d4 rounds.
  • Spectral Mind: Personal Mind Blank (SRD) for twenty-four hours.
  • Unity of Mirage: Gain Greater Invisibility (SRD) for 2d4 minutes.

Grandiose edits usually approximate sixth to seventh level effects. They do, however, tend to be unique to each epic ninja, so I won’t be providing a sample list.

  • Evasive (Reality Editing, 3 CP). Using their Ki powers does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
  • Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/onl to restore the “Ki” pool above, requires a nights rest) (6 CP). This is more than is needed, but that does make it easy to make their pool bigger.
  • Augmented Attack (Sudden Strike, A.K.A. Sneak Attack, 10d6, 30 CP).
  • Trapfinding (No cost in Eclipse: Skills work the same way for everyone).
  • Resistance/+2 to Will Saves, Corrupted/only as long as Mana is available (4 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP Value), Corrupted/only while unarmored and unencumbered (4 CP). All effects Spell Level 1/2 or 1, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated for a base of 1000 or 2000 GP each.
    • Monkey Fish (Pathfinder) (2000 GP, gain Climb and Swim Speeds of 10)
    • Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter) ( x.7, only to increase movement speeds by +30 (Enhancement), 1400 GP)
    • Apply Venom (Original, L0, safely applies carried poison to a weapon as a swift action, 1000 GP)
    • Acrobatic Master (The Practical Enchanter, L0 Skill Mastery / Tumble (Acrobatics in Pathfinder), +6 Enhancement Bonus, Personal-Only, 700 GP).

This little package gives them a +8 to Climb and Swim checks, with base speeds of 40 for both, 60 ground movement as a base (adding +12 to Jump or – in Pathfinder – to Acrobatics rolls made to Jump), and +6 Enhancement to Tumble (3.5) or Acrobatics (Pathfinder). That’s extremely efficient, but Innate Enchantment usually is – which is why it’s usually limited to 12 CP worth in total for any given character.

  • Great Leap (Immunity/Having to Run before Leaping, Uncommon, Minor, Minor, Corrupted / only while unarmored and unencumbered, 2 CP).
  • Fortune (Evasion Variant), Corrupted / only while unarmored and unencumbered, 4 CP).
  • Ghost Mind / Cloaking, Specialized and Corrupted / only versus spells of the Scrying Subschool, allows a caster level check of DC (20 + Ninja’s Level) to overcome it, otherwise the Ninja is not seen / detected.
  • Occult Sense / See Invisible and Ethereal things (6 CP).

This comes out to a total of 452 CP as a classical build or 372 CP as a modern one – and is still a notable improvement over the original design since that’s with the rewritten Ki powers and uses Innate Enchantment rather than buying the various minor boosts individually. The original 3.0 and 3.5 Fighter used 452 of their available 504 CP – so we should expect the Complete Adventurer Ninja to be just a bit more effective than they are since I used a couple of more efficient options in their design. So why does this class still fall behind? It’s most likely a result of the older tendency to evaluate combat-focused characters against the Fighter and to overrate Skill Points. Basic 3.0 and 3.5 Fighters simply are not that impressive, and skills have greatly devalued over the years – leaving the Complete Adventurer Ninja well behind the curve.

And, according to the rather extensive discussions underlying the Tier System, it is indeed down in Tier 5 with the Fighter, Monk, Healer, Soulknife, and Expert. Still, with either 52 or 132 CP left over, it’s easy enough to upgrade them considerably. You just have to go ahead and spend those points.

  • First off, upgrade the Rite Of Chi to get rid of the “requires a nights rest” corruption. That’s only (3 CP) – and another +16 bonus uses is only (12 CP). 25d6 worth of “Ki Points” (plus the basic recovery rate of one per night) daily will let them pull off a LOT more tricks.
  • Buying more powers is also in order – so another two incidences of Reality Editing (basically increasing their allotment of Ki powers to one power per level) will be very handy (12 CP).
  • Finally, another 2d6 Mana will help make sure that they don’t run out – and is only another (12 CP).

That’s only 39 CP – leaving enough room for a couple of bonus feats, even for the “basic” build, and will let a Ninja use a selection of swift and immediate action Ki powers in every fight. That makes them fast and tricky, which seems pretty appropriate. Throw in a decent Martial Art or two and you should be all right. For those two extra feats? Improved Initiative and Luck with +4 Bonus Uses Specialized in Attacks. That way, when you really need to hit, you can be sure that you will.

For a modern build, you’ll still have 93 points left over even after that C’hi upgrade. That’s quite a lot really – enough for fifteen levels of the Wilder or Psychic Warrior progressions (both at 90 CP), or becoming a skill-based Partial Caster (usually about 80 CP), or throwing in a Template or two. Go ahead. Be an Advanced Pulp Hero Ninja or an Ancient One Ninja (both 64 CP), or a Ninja Master Of Stars (58 CP), or even a Ninja Space Marine (63 CP) or Ninja Lycanthrope (from the basic Eclipse book, 64+ CP depending on what extras you buy).

  • If you’d prefer more combat power… buy off those “only while unarmored and unencumbered” corruptions (10 CP) and pick up some light armor with the “Smooth” modifier (6 CP). Get your BAB up to +20 (30 CP), use Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (18 CP) to add your (Dex Mod) to your (Con Mod) for Hit Point purposes, and throw in five more combat-style feats (30 CP). OK, that’s 94 CP and you’ll have to drop a skill point – but it will work just fine.
  • If you want a full-out Spellcaster-Ninja, you might want to take the Entreaty Magic package (88 CP). It’s nicely flexible, and full of unexpected tricks, while holding down the total amount of magic available to keep it as a secondary focus.

All in all, any of those approaches should get this version of the Ninja firmly up into Tier 3 or so – and make them a great deal more entertaining to play.

Finally, we have the Current Pathfinder Ninja.

Pathfinder gave the Ninja the standard Pathfinder upgrades of +2 Skill Points per level and larger hit dice, but otherwise only gave the Ninja the usual slight overhaul. Their Ninja get…

  • d8 HD (80 CP).
  • 8 SP/Level (160 CP, presume Fast Learner and Adept for 80+12 CP).
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 Saves (72 CP).
  • Sneak Attack 10d6 (30 CP).
  • Proficiency with Ninja Weapons and Light Armor (12 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP)
  • 5d6 Mana as a Ki Pool (As per the Complete Adventurer Ninja above) (30 CP) This gets an extra die worth of Mana because a couple of minor abilities have been folded into the Ki abilities – and so a few extra points are needed to pay for using them on occasion.
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, only to restore chi pool, requires a nights rest, 6 CP)
  • Reality Editing: Gains an extra edit at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and so on (6 CP).
  • Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted / provides only three minor swift action tricks for 1 Mana each (2 CP):
    • +1 Attack at Full BAB,
    • +20 Move for a round
    • +4 Insight Bonus to Stealth Checks for 1 Round.
  • Evasive (Reality Editing, 3 CP). Using their Ki powers does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
  • Immunity/Being Found or Recognized. Very Common, Minor, Major, Corrupted / not versus scrying or when you’re not making an effort to remain undiscovered (8 CP). This provides a +6 to Disguise and Stealth checks and a +6 on the DC of tracking the Ninja. Secondarily, it prevents spells such as Invisibility Purge, See Invisibility, and True Sight, from automatically revealing the user when he or she is invisible; the user must make a perception check against the ninja’s stealth skill to detect him or her even with such assistance. Similarly, the user can effectively use Stealth against Blindsense, Tremorsense, Scent, and similar unusual senses.
  • Awareness and Flankless (Specialized/Does not function against opponents with a four-level or better advantage over you) (9 CP).
  • Trapfinding (No cost in Eclipse: Skills work the same way for everyone).

That does simplify a couple of things from the original build – but it also somewhat expands the Ninja’s Ki Powers and gives them a slightly larger Ki pool, which is quite close enough.

Given that we’re well out of the “classical” era from before skills were devalued here, we need no longer consider anything but the “modern” build (using Fast Learner and Adept to make skills cheaper) – so this comes to a total of 446 CP – leaving 58 CP left over even with the minor upgrade to their Ki powers I’ve added to save time and avoid having to list individual “ninja tricks”. That’s not nearly as bad as many of it’s predecessor ninja classes, but it’s not very good either; it’s part of why the Pathfinder Ninja is still down on Tier 4 (with occasional arguments for Tier 3 or Tier 5) in the Pathfinder Tier Lists. Their tricks are rather neat, but they simply do not get enough of them – both in terms of the number of different tricks available and in terms of the number of times they can afford to use them.

If you just want to stick with the basics you can use the same approach as with The Complete Adventurer Ninja.

  • Upgrade the Rite Of Chi to get rid of the “requires a nights rest” corruption for ( 3 CP) and add another +16 bonus uses for (12 CP). With the ability to recover an average of 87.5 “ki” per day in minutes rather than 10-16 overnight, your ninja can now afford to use a Ki Power – all of which can be used as Swift or Immediate actions – in pretty much every round of every fight.
  • Add another incidence of Reality Editing (6 CP) to boost their allotment of Ki powers to one power per level. That gives them a pretty good selection of tricks to use.
  • Add another 1d6 Mana (6 CP) to get their average base Ki pool up to 21 points. That should be enough for any long fights.

That’s only 27 CP, leaving 31 – enough for a couple of bonus feats and a nice set of Martial Stances. A Ninja using the Call Of The Wyld Style – perhaps taking Kitsune Tricks, Panther Silent Prowls, Perfidious Rat Strikes, and Striking Serpent Coils for 4 CP each – will suddenly be a lot more dangerous in combat.

That should put this version of the Ninja firmly into Tier 3.

If you want to get into a real power build for any of these four versions of the Ninja, you’ll want to throw in:

  • Duties – perhaps to a particular clan or village – for +40 CP. This is where Clerics, Druids, and Paladin-types get some extra points – and ninja generally weren’t independent wandering rogues. They were working members of clans and undertook missions. Go ahead. Admit that you have allies, mentors, an organization to provide you with some backing and information, and a reason to go adventuring beyond “wealth and power”, and get character points for it. Admitting that you have ties to the rest of the universe is NOT a weakness.
  • Buy Advanced Improved Augmented Bonus (Adds Dex Mod to Con Mod when calculating hit points, 18 CP). This particular trick is in the system for the same reason that Adept and Fast Learner are; just as Skills have been devalued over the years, so have Hit Points. So this allows you to take a smaller hit die and still have plenty of hit points – giving the martial types a nice boost since dropping from – say – a d10 to a d8, or a d8 to a d6, or a d6 to a d4, saves them 22 CP over twenty levels. Dropping two steps saves 62 CP over those same twenty levels – and really, at (say) Con 16 and Dex 18… (1d4+7) averages 9.5 per die, while (1d8+3) only averages 7.5 per die. You can even Specialize and Corrupt it (“only applies to levels 1-4″ perhaps?) to save points at lower levels and buy off those limitations as you go up in level.
  • You might be able to apply a Restriction – perhaps you will never use non-ninja weapons or armor no matter how tempting (No Celestial Armor at higher levels for you!) and get +20 CP out of it at +1 CP/Level.

Squeezing in an extra 120 CP is enough to buy any one of…

  • 15 levels of Bard, Cleric, Druid, or Classical Illusionist casting. You won’t get the secondary features – but you can easily spend a few Feats to push up to getting those ninth level spells with Clerical and Druidic casting.
  • 20 levels of Adept, Psychic Warrior, or Wilder Casting. Go ahead; use a feat or two to throw in an augmentable version of Summon Monster instead of Summon Astral Construct and call up your own goon squads for backup.
  • Tbe Bokor (Binder) Package at about 60 CP. That still leaves room for – say – getting the BAB up to +20 (+30 CP) and five extra Feats (30 CP).
  • The Entreaty (87 CP) Magic Package and perhaps 30 CP worth of magic-absorbing or negating powers. Or you could get some Mana and Spell Enhancement to let you power your way up to casting the occasional ninth-level spell.
  • Twenty extra Feats at 6 CP each. For example…
    • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses Specialized in Saving Throws (6 CP) lets you automatically make five saves of your choice each day. Or perhaps it’s only for attacks, or skill checks? Automatic success under pressure can be very nice indeed.
    • Some innate enchantment? That little package from the Complete Adventurer ninja made them a LOT more mobile.
    • Reflex Training, to take occasional extra actions when you really need them.
    • Action Hero (Stunts)? The ability to pull out a trick you’ve never used before (and might never use again) every so often is often a lifesaver.
    • Some Path Of The Dragon to allow you to absorb incoming spells and turn the power in them to your own uses.
    • Mystic Artist? Bardic-style powers can be quite handy, and getting started is pretty cheap.
    • Berserker? Spell Resistance? Some Enthusiast and a Specialized version of Create Relic to let you make your own magical gear? A Stipend? There are many thousands of other possibilities.

While the Tier system is a lot less meaningful once you start using Eclipse to build unique characters and erase most of the division between “Full”, “Partial”, “Half”, and “Non” -casters in favor of a continuous spectrum of “who relies more on what”, this sort of thing will let a mystically-inclined Ninja power-build his or her way up into Tier 1. Personally I don’t really advise pushing things that far – more limited characters tend to be more interesting to play – but Eclipse was designed to let people build the characters that they want.

Next time around on this topic it will be a a look at building your own Eclipse-style Ninja, rather than using an older classed version as a base.

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Hexcrafting, Eclipse, and Magical Design

And for today, it’s another question…

There’s a bit of a lack of builds for Hexcraft, and it does seem like you could totally use it as a base system for spellcasting. (The ‘Class build’ style stuff I find especially helpful).

I’m writing a fanfic that use some concepts from Eclipse to provide additional setting flavor, and I’m not sure how to translate the ‘per session’ limitations into something I can use. The chapters are ~1000 words, often cover small bits, so there is not any super obvious things I can use as reference.

Any thoughts?

-Jirachi

Well, to go in reverse order…

Hexcraft functions on a “Per Session” basis for several reasons.

  • The system allows fairly low level characters to cast powerful spells – but ensures that they won’t be casting very many of them in any one session. That makes it easy for the mage to shine while still leaving plenty for the other characters to do.
  • It simulates the “My magic is not to be wasted on trivial things!” school of fantasy, where spellcasting is reserved for important things instead of everyone having a batch of trivial spells that allow them to get along without matches, avoid washing dishes, and handle minor opponents.
  • It makes resource management important again. The players can’t simply announce that the characters are resting to get the Hexcrafter’s spells back, so if the Hexcrafter player blows them all in the first hour of the session they won’t be doing any spellcasting for the rest of the evening.
  • The limited numbers and themes of spells makes it much easier for the game master to manage a freeform system – while also ensuring that a clever hexcrafter will never be unable to come up with an appropriate spell.
  • The cards a Hexcrafter draws at the start of a session are also an easy bit of foreshadowing. All you have to do is fan them out and everyone will have some idea of what kind of spells will be available and how much power a Hexcrafter has left – unless they are, quite literally, holding a few cards in reserve.

It’s less obvious how “per session” translates into the setting outside of the gamist prospective though. It’s not like “the beginning of the session” has any effect on the setting.

  • The most direct interpretation is simply that Hexcrafting is literally powered by narrative. Dramatic events, the moments when the gods / mysterious higher powers (players/readers) are paying attention, or the moments on which destiny turns, have their own magic that a hexcrafter taps into to recharge their reserves. A long, dull, sea voyage (that gets skipped over in a few sentences in the game or story)? There’s no magic in THAT. You have defeated the lesser minions and broken into the throne room for (next chapter or sessions) epic confrontation with the big bad guy? That’s definitely a dramatic moment for a hexcrafter to draw power from.
  • Slightly less directly (if more suited to short chapters) you can presume that a Hexcrafter draws power from rare mystical events – celestial conjunctions, when some entity channels it’s power into the material world, whenever there is a nova in the galaxy, when exotic meteorites fall, whenever the ley lines flare up, whenever a great wizard dies and releases their power back into the world, or whatever suits the story. Under this kind of assumption the rule is basically “when you want it to happen” – which can be a bit heavy-handed in a game if you’re not careful but is just the way things are when you’re writing something.
    • If you want story inspiration… you can always make a quick little chart for your story – for short chapters perhaps 1d10: 1) The Hexcrafters Power is Renewed. 2) An event other mystical heroes can tap into occurs, 3-9) Nothing happens, and 10) The Villain gets a sudden power boost for a bit.
  • You could Corrupt or Specialize Hexcrafting to make it require specific deeds to “recharge”. Perhaps it requires visiting a great nexus of power, conducting an elaborate ritual, making great offerings to mystical beings, or undertaking some quest. That would probably work best for a hybrid caster – someone who would be buying Specialized caster levels anyway, and so would only need to spend a little more to gain occasional access to much greater spells. It could be awfully limiting for a primary caster though. Still, visiting the Great Fane of your God, and there being granted a mighty power to call forth when the time is right, is very classical. If you want to make it Corrupted (takes several turns to cast) AND Specialized… You can have the occasional mighty spell rather cheaply. It’s just that it WILL be an occasional thing.
    • If you happen to have some second edition sources for things like Quest Spells (Tome of Magic), or Netheril’s Super-Spells, or Dark Sun’s Psionic Enchantments (Mostly Dragon Kings), or Elven High Magic from the Forgotten Realms sourcebooks… well, here’s an easy way to put those sources to use while keeping them rare and special.

On the social side… In a lot of ways, Hexcrafting is a thematic return to earlier editions. Once upon a time, back when First and Second Edition quarreled over who would dominate the kingdom and the Grognards roamed wild and free, casting a powerful spell was a really big deal.

Powerful spells had long casting times, any interruption at all would ruin them, it required an hour or two of downtime to prepare just one of them, and defending the caster long enough to get one successfully cast in the chaos of battle was a tricky project for the entire party that often failed. Parties worked hard to make it happen anyway for the same reason that they shepherded the Wizard through those vulnerable early levels. It was because those big spells could turn the tides of major battles. They were Dramatic, they were Important, and they were Rare. Even when they didn’t seem relevant, a clever mage could often use them. Sword Of Ogre Decapitation anyone?

“You have delayed too long Foul One! My companions have bought the time I needed to call forth the favor of the Ones Beyond! A power great enough to end your dark menace FOREVER!”

Now I hope that helps!

Secondarily, and just for Jirachi… do let me know if and when you publish. That sort of thing is always of interest – even if I keep winding up putting off reading Alzrius’s Lateral Movement. (While I do read quickly I’m almost always badly pressed for time these days, and 650,000+ words will likely take a while).

Prophecies Of The Eclipse

And here we have an offline question…

Eclipse puts “True Prophet” under Deep Sleep – presumably because it’s associated with meditation and trances – but how does prophecy work in the game?

Now that’s a good question, because prophecy is always a bit tricky. To see why, we’ll need to take a look at what prophecy is. After all, it’s more than just making predictions. No one regards “the sun will rise tomorrow” as a prophecy. While that’s not quite a sure thing on the cosmic scale, on a human scale, it pretty much is. Predicting that the sun will not rise might be prophecy though – but it’s far more likely to simply be irrational. “Try it, you’ll like it” is far more likely to come true, but I don’t think anyone would count it as a prophecy either. So what IS prophecy?

Some definitions simply use “prophecy” to mean “inspired advice”.

But if some geologists and volcanologists are inspired by their instruments and training to tell you that “Based on these readings and our best model of there is an almost 80% chance of an eruption occurring within the next three days”, their prediction is useful, important, and may inspire urgent emergency action – but it’s a prediction, not a prophecy.

Now, if we throw in “inspired by a supernatural source” that’s a bit more like it. That’s where diviners, astrologers, and similar sorts come in and where statisticians and actuarial experts get out.

And this will mostly work for predictions along the lines of “In three days a great tidal wave will hit the city and many will die!”. After all, given enough knowledge about the current situation, many future natural events are increasingly predictable as the scale increases. This sort of “prophecy” is more along the lines of “expert advice offered by someone with access to special sources of information” – and so can still fail; if someone influential enough believes the prophecy and evacuates the city… the tidal wave will still strike and there will be massive damages – but few if any will die.

On the other hand, we hear a lot of statements along the lines of “The stars incline, but do not compel” because advice – no matter what inspiration people claim for it – often goes wrong. Even something as simple and short-term as “your date will go well!” (which is somewhat self-fulfilling since it may give you more confidence and cut back on your nerves) can easily be badly wrong if you fall down the stairs or something. Predicting a vaguely defined outcome well within the range of reasonable expectations isn’t going to impress anyone as a prophecy.

We can also exclude things like Nostradamus’s quatrains. Something that is so vague that dozens of different events can be interpreted as “fulfilling it” after the fact is not a prophecy – especially when people studying them point to many different events as being what was “predicted”.

Conditional warnings were big in the Old Testament, but they don’t always qualify either. “If you don’t cut back on smoking three packs a day your COPD is going to continue to get worse” is fairly ironclad as a prediction no matter if it’s inspired by medical information, by annoyance with a stubborn relative, or by a ghost – but no one is going to call it a prophecy even if it IS fairly specific.

It isn’t really prophecy unless the predicted future is very unlikely to occur naturally. So “you’re going to get fat”, or even “if you don’t cut back on the donuts you will get fat!” are not prophecies.

Now, “If you don’t cut back on the donuts fire will descend from the sky and incinerate your bloated carcass!” might be prophecy – but if you make such predictions about ten thousand people, and are wrong about nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine of them but then a burning plane falls on someone you spoke to… that’s coincidence, not prophecy.

Prophecy not only has to predict something very unlikely, but it has to be RIGHT.

So that gets us a definition.

True Prophecy is the reliable prediction of reasonably long-term future events which are very unlikely to come to pass but do so anyway in clear fulfillment of the prophecy. There may be some wiggle-room of the ironic “Oh. So THAT’S what it meant” variety, but the result must be clearly recognizable or it’s not prophecy.

Prophecies are not warnings, or guideposts, or ways to reduce the impact of untoward events (although they may serve as such for those why pay attention to them). Prophecies are demonstrations of raw supernatural power, just like a royal proclamation followed by sending in the army to make it happen is a demonstration of raw political and military power. The distinction is that prophecies are enforced by the action of nigh-irresistible hidden magical forces that mortals may attempt to defy, but will inevitably lose to, usually just making whatever-it-is worse.

Free will, randomness, and other factors make true prophecy the exclusive domain of major supernatural entities who have both the near-omniscient knowledge and vast power required to force such events to happen.

Prophecies are – and should be – terrifying. The major prophecies of the Old Testament were not mere predictions, or advice, or warnings (although such “minor prophecies” were common enough). They were claims that men, kings, armies, nations, the forces of nature, and other gods and powers were less than a speck of dust before a hurricane before the will of the LORD who made these things to be.

If a city is prophesied to fall, it WILL fall – no matter how small the attacking force, or how well protected it is. You may be able to delay it, to evacuate most of the population, and to save many of its treasures thanks to that warning, but the prophecy itself WILL come to pass.

That’s a big part of what makes it a prophecy.

Since Eclipse is intended to let you build anything, it provides access to both the lesser and the major forms of prophecy – albeit limited to allow for opposing divine intervention since most settings don’t have an activist supreme deity and requiring approval from the game master. Even small-scale True Prophecies can still twist destiny though.

  • Warnings of Major Events are straightforward; ask the game master if you can make any prophecies about upcoming major events – but be aware that once you pronounce such a prophecy, the event is fixed, and nothing can be done to stop it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t mitigate the impact or at least prepare for it though.
  • Vague pronouncements of Doom – or Blessings – are usually simple as long as you’re targeting NPC’s. Unless the game master is going to have some NPC assassinated, or turn out to be the long-lost heir to the throne or some such, giving them vague destinies (“Happiness and Long Life!” or “Accursed Shall Be All Your Days!”) is generally simple. Even things like “you shall die at your son’s hands!” are usually workable. After all, if your extremely elderly and your somewhat elderly son slips while trying to help you out of your rocking chair, you still died at the hands of your son. Similarly, a Fairy Godmother’s blessing – 0r curse – is pretty much a Prophecy.

The trouble with targeting player characters with such pronouncements is that they can take away a good bit of the characters freedom – potentially making the game unplayable. If someone is blessed with a “long life”, and the city he or she lives in is due to be swallowed by an ocean of fire… Destiny may shove them out of town regardless of their wishes. Alien slavers may snatch a lot of people who won’t be missed at the last second. Perhaps they will be transformed into a near-mindless magma elemental. The prophecy WILL come true, but even though the required vagueness leaves a lot of wiggle-room that may require overruling the player.

There’s a further discussion of Destiny Magic over HERE – but for player characters it is best to stick with vague, short-term, stuff like “we shall have good fortune in our upcoming battle!”. That gets you some bonuses without asking the game master to twist the scene towards a specific ending, which is far more dangerous. Fortunately, since the game master has to approve True Prophecies… this is easy to enforce.

Trying to force a specific outcome with Prophecy is a lot like dealing with a Literal – and possibly a Jerkass – Genie. Are you ever REALLY going to be that desperate?

  • At least in Eclipse you can use prophecy to fish for information. – if the game master tells you that you COULD make a prediction about gaining wealth by plundering the treasures of some long-forgotten tomb then at least you know that the place has treasure in it to steal – but you are risking giving the game master ideas there.
  • Finally, of course, we have the “Do this or SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!” form of prophecy – the either/or option. Really, this amounts to “Hey game master! Do you have any upcoming quests for us?” – followed closely by an attempt to exploit any such prophecy to gain extra backing. After all… if there is a True Prophecy that “The Dark Gate must be sealed before the winter solstice or monsters will come forth to ravage the world!” then the heroes going off to try and seal the Dark Gate are likely to get plenty of support. When the fate of the world is at stake, who is going to begrudge them a few healing potions and other bits of gear?

And that should cover most of the ways to use the basic version of the True Prophecy ability. Fundamentally, it’s a very powerful option – but it’s also tricky and dangerous to use. Of course, that’s part of the fun.

And I hope that helps!

Eclipse d20 and the Classical Illusionist

Alzrius has put up a very nice little Eclipse Package Deal for making Illusions a bit more effective in d20 games – and it’s reminded me of the old days. Back in first edition when a pure “Illusionist” was a viable – and fairly important! – class. I had a lot of fun with illusions back then.

Of course, D&D games were very different then. These days the game often revolves around fighting, loot from fighting gets spent on buying magic items to make you more likely to win more fights, treasure-free random encounters are almost a thing of the past, and most encounters are “Balanced”. You usually don’t WANT to evade encounters now unless you’re trying to sneak past the guards or something.

Back in the old days you might well encounter creatures far beyond your ability to handle, killing things brought in a little XP, but stealing treasure brought in a LOT, and you couldn’t spend loot to make yourself more powerful (after all, just getting it had done THAT). Loot got spent on things like building castles or mansions, buying land, funding charities, paying troops, educating your kids, and living a life of indulgence and luxury – and so adventuring parties often wanted to avoid encounters in favor of stealing that loot.

And even a first level Illusionist could REALLY help with that. An illusion of an open door (and empty room) covering a closed one, or a bramble-thicket covering where the characters were hiding, or some such could let that dragon, or group of ogres, or other powerful creature go right on by. This sort of thing was very limited – at fifteen minutes per spell level to memorize EACH spell it could take a high-level mage a week to fill up his or her spell slots – so they couldn’t use many illusions per day and would need to be carefully guarded while they cast them to keep from having them disrupted and spoiled – but Illusionists were VERY useful.

When it came to a fight, it was hard to tell what spell someone was casting and illusions could actually defeat opponents – and that made them very much worth supporting. You might toss out that flask of self-igniting oil and start chanting – producing real flames, real smoke, real heat, and possibly even a few real burns – to help convince your targets of the “reality” of the illusory fire elemental, wall of fire, or swiftly-spreading blaze that you then “conjured” from it.

When it came to designing 3.0 however, the problem was that illusions were EXTREMELY “swingy”. Did the Illusionist “collapse the cavern roof” over a group of opponents? If they failed to disbelieve, or save… the entire group might be rendered unconscious and easy prey. On the other hand, if they saved, all you’d done was hide them from the rest of the party until they charged – and once the cries of “It’s an illusion!” started up, your illusionist lost a lot of effectiveness and didn’t have that much to fall back on. He or she simply had to hide behind the fighters and wait for the next encounter.

Just as bad… one game master might note the lack of dust in the air and sound of impact (at least with the first level Phantasmal Forces spell) and thus have the victims automatically attempt to disbelieve, while another might not think of that or feel that – what with the exigencies of battle to keep track of – they probably wouldn’t notice in time, and so would have only a few attempt to disbelieve.

Still, “Swingy” was much less of a problem back then because – if an encounter was going badly – it was quite normal to break it off and run away. Illusions could be really helpful there too. If you could just get out of sight for a few moments, a well-chosen illusion gave you a pretty good chance to evade any pursuit.

So lets say we want some of that old functionality back, over and above Alzrius’s very handy package.

First up…

  • We want out illusions to be able to knock people out, but never to do any more than that.
  • We want them to be interesting and interactive. A rain of boulders is one thing, but an illusory “Fireball” is basically just a flash of bright light. How would they even know what it’s supposed to be?
  • We want to avoid “I Win!” buttons. Damage is one thing, but simply taking opponents out of the fight is not very interesting.

So purchase Shadowmaster, Corrupted for Increased Effect (gives a bit of reality to a limited set of illusion spells that normally have none at all – Trifling Image, Silent Image, Minor Image, Major Image, Hallucinatory Terrain, Persistent Image, Permanent Image, and Programmed Image) and Specialized for Reduced Cost / only applies to those eight spells or variants thereof, only inflicts nonlethal damage and minor related effects, cannot inflict further damage after the victims go unconscious, disbelief and a successful save provides complete protection, even without disbelief the damage is determined by comparison to a similar spell effect of equal or lesser level to the illusion used and may allow saves for reduced effect, and the damage is limited by the targets expectations and experience – and so instant effects are rarely very effective and no effects will work on mindless targets or objects (3 CP).

Using this ability…

  • A Silent Image spell COULD be used to “collapse the ceiling”, but the (nonlethal) damage is not going to exceed the 1d4/Level (5d4 Maximum) that you could get with “Hail Of Stone” – and trying to affect a larger area is likely to bring that down to 2d6.
  • A Minor Image spell could be used to simulate a Fireball, but the actual results are likely to be a blinding flash and a momentary feeling of heat – likely resulting in victims taking two or three d6 of damage and being briefly dazzled. Turning the room into a “raging inferno” will probably be more effective, since that can be maintained over several rounds, even if it will only be 2d6 per round.
  • Using a Major Image to “bring down the ceiling” might well get you up to Fireball damage – but a reflex save to “dodge the boulders” will apply to halve that damage, even if they fail to disbelieve.

That makes illusions versatile and somewhat effective attacks – but certainly not overwhelmingly powerful ones.

  • To fit the theme, I’m going to make Light and Darkness effects reversible. In Pathfinder you can do that with the Eclipsed Spell (+0) Metamagic. In Eclipse, you’ll want the Elemental Manipulation Metamagical Theorm, Specialized and Corrupted / only applicable to spells that affect the level of illumination, only to apply the +0 “change the elemental effect” modifier to switch between versions that provide light and versions that make it darker (2 CP).
  • And we’ll want Specialist (Illusion Spells), Corrupted / only for Trifling Image, Silent Image, Minor Image, and Major Image. The first casting of each of these spells in a day does not count against the user’s available spell slots (2 CP).

So how should we build the actual spellcasting? Taking a look at the original Illusionist Spell List we have…

  • L0) None. This was before L0 spells were introduced.
  • L1) Audible Glamour, Change Self, Color Spray, Dancing Lights, Darkness, Detect Illusion, Detect Invisibility, Gaze Reflection, Hypnotism, Light, Phantasmal Force, Wall Of Fog.
  • L2) Blindness, Blur, Deafness, Detect Magic, Fog Cloud, Hypnotic Pattern, Improved Phantasmal Force, Invisibility, Magic Mouth, Mirror Image, Misdirection, Ventriloquism.
  • L3) Continual Darkness, Continual Light, Dispel Illusion, Fear, Hallucinatory Terrain, Illusory Script, Invisibility 10′ Radius, Non-Detection, Paralyzation, Rope Trick, Spectral Force, and Suggestion.
  • L4) Confusion, Dispel Exhaustion, Emotion, Improved Invisibility, Massomorph, Minor Creation, Phantasmal Killer, Shadow Monsters.
  • L5) Chaos, Demi-Shadow Monsters, Major Creation, Maze, Projected Image, Shadow Door, Shadow Magic, Summon Shadow.
  • L6) Conjure Animals, Demi-Shadow Magic, Mass Suggestion, Permanent Illusion, Programmed Illusion, Shades, True Sight, Veil.
  • L7) Alter Reality, Astral Spell, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall, Vision, First Level Magic User Spells (you could take several of them in one seventh level spell slot).

Most of this was actually folded into the Bard list in 3.0, but an Illusionist was a subtype of Wizard, so we’ll take…

  • Wizard Spellcasting (Spontaneous Variant), Specialized for Reduced Cost / only for the following list of “Illusionist” (mostly Bardic) spells, maxes out at level seven spells (7 CP per level).
    • L0: Dancing Lights, Decrypt, Detect Magic, Encrypt, Ghost Sound, Light, Signal, Trifling Image
    • L1): Color Spray, Disguise Self, Dispel Illusion (as per Dispel Magic, but Illusions only), Hideous Laughter, Hypnotism, Magic Mouth, Silent Image, and Ventriloquism.
    • L2): Blindness/Deafness, Blur, Hypnotic Pattern, Invisibility, Minor Image, Mirror Image, Rope Trick, Suggestion.
    • L3: Confusion, Daylight, Fear, Invisibility Sphere, Major Image, Mass Invigorate, Nondetection, Secret Page.
    • L4: Greater Invisibility, Hallucinatory Terrain, Minor Creation, Mirror Image (Greater), Phantasmal Killer, Shadow Conjuration, Shadow Jaunt, Weave Emotion* (Greater Invocation, creates any emotion-influencing effect of up to L3).
    • L5: Chains Of Light, Major Creation, Mislead, Persistent Image, Plane Shift, Shadow Evocation,
      Shadow Walk, Suggestion (Mass).
    • L6: Dirge Of The Victorious Knights, Maze, Permanent Image, Programmed Image, Project Image, True Seeing, Veil, Wizardly Pretense (prepare any five first level wizard spells, although these cannot be transferred to others or put into scrolls).
    • L7: False Vision (Greater), Invisibility (Mass), Limited Wish, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall, Shadow Conjuration (Greater), Shadow Necromancy (Greater), Shadow Terrain.

Sample emotion-influencing effects of L3 include Crushing Despair, Fear, Good Hope, Heroism (one hour per level), Malicious Spite, Rage, Overwhelming Grief, Smug Narcissism, and Terrible Remorse.

Finally, we’ll want to be able to run more than one illusion at a time – so we’ll want…

  • Persistent Illusions: Streamline x 2, Metamagical Theorem/Stabilize, both Specialized and Corrupted /only to give Silent Image, Hypnotic Pattern, Minor Image, and Major Image durations of one minute per caster level past concentration and extend Veil to 2 hours per caster level with no concentration (6 CP).

So our first-level Illusionist trades out Wizard Spellcasting (14 CP) and a Familiar (or Arcane Bond) (6 CP) for Illusionist Spellcasting (7 CP), Damaging Illusions (3 CP), Reversible Light and Darkness (2 CP), Bonus Illusions (Specialist I, 2 CP), and Persistent Illusions (6 CP). That’s an even trade, so they can otherwise be built like any other Wizard – which fits nicely. Since their spellcasting will continue at only 7 CP per level, they can either continue to spend the extra CP on further improvements to their illusions or they can invest in other abilities.

If they want some other boosts to their illusory talents they may want to consider…

  • Ability Focus (Illusion Spells): Increase the DC of saving against the user’s illusions by +2 (6 CP). For another +6 CP you may increase the bonus to +4.
  • Augmented Magic (+1 Caster Level on Illusion Spells) (3 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Adds (Cha Mod) to (Int Mod) when calculating the DC of saves against their spells, Specialized/only for spells from the Illusion school (3 CP). Charismatic and persuasive Illusionists have quite an edge.
  • Improved Specialist (Illusion Spells), Corrupted / only for Hallucinatory Terrain, Persistent Image, and Permanent Image. The first casting of each of these spells in a day does not count against the user’s available spell slots (2 CP)
  • Occult Sense / Detect Illusions (including invisibility), Corrupted / this ability must be actively used to function (4 CP).
  • Power Words (6+ CP) will let them keep some very fast spells ready to go.
  • Shadowmaster (6 CP) will increase the reality of Shadow Conjuration, Shadow Evocation, Shadow Conjuration (Greater), Shadow Necromancy (Greater), and Shadow Terrain when the character gets them.
  • Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / can only produce effects on the user’s list of known cantrips but can produce those cantrips, user must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP) will give them unlimited use of their cantrip slots.
  • Visions, bought as Inherent Spell, Specialized for Increased Effect (Contact Other Plane) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP) / Requires an occult laboratory and a variety of special props, plus Luck, Specialized and Corrupted / only for the check to avoid a reduction in Intelligence and Charisma (2 CP). (The original Illusionist got the “Visions” spell, which was pretty cruddy. This is, in fact, much better – even if it does cost a little more than a spell slot).

This version of the Illusionist has several major boosts over the original, but they’re mostly built into the current d20 game system. For example, they get concentration checks instead of any interruption automatically ruining their spellcasting and they get individual turns and standard-action spellcasting rather than having to deal with enemies with simultaneous actions getting to ruin their spells. Both of those are very big advantages indeed – but they’re a normal part of d20 spellcasting these days.

And now I want to play one again. Oh well, maybe one of these days.

On Harry Potter and Puzzle Chambers

And to get going again… here’s an offline question about magical schools, puzzle chambers, and Harry Potter which mostly boils down to “Why?” repeated several times. Fortunately… the answer has applications to a lot of games.

So to start with “Why are these rooms there in the first place”…

  • You’re in a medieval setting.
  • You’re building a school for magical children.
  • You want it to last for a long time.

So generations of magical kids are going to be filling the place with accidental magic, miscast spells, effects that haven’t even been invented yet, and attempts to counterspell or cover up all that stuff when it goes wrong. Throw in magical fights, research, and experiments.

So you don’t want to hold classes in a magically-expanded broom closet lest someone somehow disrupt that magic and turn the class into crushed pulp. You don’t want the roof held up by magic for the same reason. You certainly don’t want to hold classes in an extradimensional space; there are so many obvious ways for THAT to go horribly wrong that it would take a couple of chapters of listing them just to make a good start.

You want real rooms. You want nice, thick, durable walls that don’t rely on magic lest someone counter that magic in the process of setting off an explosion. You want solid foundations built on solid bedrock so that the place will stay up without magic. You want as much of the place as possible mundanely resistant to fire, corrosives, and other destructive forces. You may want light roofs (like a fireworks factory) to go with your heavy walls, but that depends on whether you think it’s best to contain or vent problems – which depends a lot on the magic system you’re using and on whether you want to have more than one floor.

Regardless of roof designs, and whatever magic you mean to apply to the place, you want the solidest, most durable, mundane structure that you can possibly get as a basis for your school. You may want to make it defensible too, just in case of an attack.

In a medieval setting… you want a castle (In a modern one you may want a bunker). Moreover, you want one designed by the most competent non-magical architect you can find and built by a skilled mundane construction team.

So Hogwarts should be a solid, sensibly-designed, and quite functional building underneath all the magical special effects.

But then we come to Chapter Sixteen of Harry Potter And The Sorcerers Stone, wherein we are told of a trapdoor on the third floor, covering a shaft dropping down into a sizeable room, which has a long downwards tunnel leading to a sequence of five additional – and sometimes very large – rooms. There can’t be any other easy access or there wouldn’t be much point to the whole sequence. That alone pretty much eliminates any chance of it being in the castle proper; what architect would waste huge amounts of expensive space on the main floors on intentionally inaccessible rooms? Perhaps it is indeed deep underground?

So who built these rooms and why?

  • They really can’t be a part of the original architecture. If they were they would undermine the foundations and be an immense amount of work invested in a space with little or no practical use. And why would the access hatch be in a corridor instead of a room or at least an alcove? And why not start in the basement or at least on the ground floor instead of wasting space on a useless shaft? And isn’t there a water table? The place is by a lake!
  • If they were carved out by Dumbledore and company then we know that magically removing stone must be pretty easy. So what stops people from just tunneling around the obstacles? What architect did they consult to avoid collapsing Hogwarts? Where did the shaft through the lower floors come from? And there’s STILL a water table…

There really isn’t any place in or under Hogwarts where those rooms can rationally exist.

So maybe they don’t. After all… those rooms don’t need to be stable against generations of students producing random magic. They don’t need rational access ways for people to use them. They don’t need to exist without magic.

They don’t need to be REAL.

Perhaps what we’re looking at is a chained series of extradimensional spaces, each one with a specific set of conditions needed to bring it into alignment with the last.

So you can’t just tunnel around things; there is literally nothing to tunnel through. You can’t just force the doors: they don’t actually go anywhere unless you fulfill the activation conditions to get the next space lined up. You can’t go through the walls, because the next chamber isn’t on the other side – it’s in a dimensional pocket. You could try to undo the spells and collapse the spaces – but that risks losing whatever is in the further rooms (and yourself) into some random dimension even if it doesn’t just cease to exist.

So basically… no cheating short of story (and game) wrecking effects like d20’s “Gate” or “Wish”.

Of course, this is only a good security setup for items that you’d rather see lost or destroyed than risk letting an unauthorized person get their hands on for even a few minutes, which is why you won’t see it being used at Gringotts or by Voldemort to protect his Horcruxes – but the Sorcerer’s Stone qualifies.

Unfortunately, this is the point where setting-logic runs into plot imperative. The plot requires that a handful of fairly normal (for reader identification purposes) first year students be able to get through the defenses. Ergo, those defenses are formulaic and really rather pathetic.

Honestly, just for practicality…

  • Devil’s Snare? Use a tank full of Box Jellyfish. Lets hope you have a no-contact spell going.
  • Flying Keys? How about hooking a massive electrical discharge up to the lock? Brought your insulated linesman’s gloves?
  • Chessboard? If you don’t use the correct opening sequence, won’t it be a surprise when one of your own pieces smashes your head in from behind? For that matter… why not something that most people won’t know how to play? Perhaps Go? Or Shogi? Mancala? Or any one of the thousands of variations of Fairy Chess? We want security here, not fairness.
  • Troll? Well, at least it doesn’t need to eat, drink, or have a bathroom if it only experiences time when the room is in “active” – but perhaps a helmet? After all, the FIRST troll was ALSO put down by a blow to the head. If you REALLY wanted to be sensible… why use a living creature when you’re expecting the attackers to be dark wizards who routinely throw unstoppable death spells? Why not use a golem or something?
    • Of course, the book gets a pass on this one, since this “obstacle” was set up by a character who didn’t actually want it to be effective.
  • Potions? Why tell the truth in your riddle-instructions? Bring your own keying potion and have ALL of the ones on display be lethal – or, if “detect poison” is a thing (it probably isn’t in the Harry Potter universe, since divination there is basically useless), have them be magic inhibitors or sleeping potions or some such. Make sure that some of them turn into clouds when opened, to avoid having some methodical pest opening and testing each one.

At least the bit with the mirror was clever.

Of course, the puzzles can’t be serious obstacles, or Harry winds up dead – but we CAN justify both Harry and Voldemort actually having to solve them to get through.

I could attempt to justify their simplicity by throwing in some sort of magical rule that renders such obstacles null and void if they aren’t “fair” or which adjusts them to BE “fair” according to the abilities of the people dealing with them (which would at least explain why they so neatly fit in with the abilities of Harry and his friends)- but a “fairness” rule that does that while still allowing Gringotts to have decent security, letting wizards use Imperius and Adavra Kadavra, and letting infants be saddled with prophecies, is going to be quite subjective and extremely contrived. In fact, such a “rule” would effectively be a semi-omnipotent force that breaks the fourth wall to adjust reality to be “fair” to whatever character or characters it has chosen to focus on. That’s pretty difficult (albeit not impossible) to justify within a setting, but it should be quite recognizable from our external viewpoint. HELLO Author / Game Master / Storyteller / God! Let thine all-powerful plot overcome all logic!

Now none of that is “proof” of anything because we’re talking about a work of literature. There’s no underlying reality there to test or to support an actual proof – but it makes a reasonable amount of sense in the setting, which is all we can rationally expect to get out of this kind of exercise.

So why is this relevant to gaming? It’s because the “puzzle chamber” is a pretty classic idea – and those pretty much always look a lot like the Sorcerer’s Stone puzzles. They’re solvable with the players resources (otherwise they just say “go no further this way” and end adventures), they have an implicit “no cheating!” implication (you do not cut the Gordian Knot, shrug and teleport past trap-tiles instead of figuring out the code, or blow up the animated game pieces rather than playing because the game master spent time on those puzzles and may not have anything else ready), and there’s pretty much always a time factor to consider. So here you go; a sample rationale for WHY those assumptions hold true for the next time you want to get your players to deal with some puzzles.

There are other methods of course. Perhaps they need to collect a magical key from each puzzle, and the keys will be destroyed if they cheat? Perhaps their opponent has information that they need and will not provide it if they do not win by the rules? The trick is simply to make sure that winning by the rules gets them something that they need – while cheating, bypassing the problem, or otherwise not bothering means finding another (and probably much more bothersome) route to success.

Continuum II: C’hi Powers, Part III

Introspection and C’hi Powers are well known for their relationship to the martial arts. At it’s most basic, this opened a special option for the “Mystic” category of basic martial arts maneuvers – C’hi Channeling, which boosted the user’s effective level for the use of Introspection and C’hi powers by +1 per level up to a maximum of +7 levels. The first level counted as three martial arts options, each level after that cost one additional option. This, of course, weakened the mundane effectiveness of such styles, but greatly boosted the effectiveness of any C’hi powers used with them. Higher level characters would still win a fight due to their far greater power reserves, durability, and advanced skills – but at least it took a few rounds and so allowed promising youngsters to be effective speed bumps, just like they are in martial arts movies.

Really high-end “martial arts styles” – the sort of stuff you find in over-the-top martial arts comic books where the characters shrivel people to dust with a touch, shatter small mountains, shapeshift, fly, and otherwise act like super-heroes and super-villains – tended to consist of little more than a list of Introspection and C’hi powers and ways that the style typically combined them. For example…

The Poison Claw Style was an exotic and almost entirely offensive form relying on hand attacks, usually from a crouched position.

  • The techniques most commonly included as a part of the style were Intimidation (an Introspection ability), Biofocusing, C’hi Drain, Eagles Claw/Crushing Claw, Hastening, Metabolic Control, Plague Carrier/ Poison Touch, Whirlwind/Whirlwind True, Amplification (Strength), and Sensory Stun (another Introspection ability).
  • Common combinations included the signature “Poison Claw” attacks (Hastening, Crushing Claw, and Poison Touch), exhaling deadly clouds of plague or toxins (Whirlwind and Plague Carrier or Poison Touch), ripping minor enemies apart to terrify others (Intimidation, Crushing Claw, and Strength Amplification), finger-snaps so powerful that they could render every one nearby blind and deaf (Whirlwind True and Sensory Stun twice), absorbing enemy toxins or encountered diseases to add to your own arsenal (Metabolic Control and Poison Touch or Plague Carrier as needed), and so on – with each adept developing their own preferred list.
  • Overall, the style tended towards swiftly crippling groups of opponents – making it easy for friends and allies to deal with them. It didn’t work so well on major opponents, since they were often highly resistant to the user’s abilities.

It didn’t bear much resemblance to the acrobatic, ice-based Glacial Wind Style (using Polarity Shield, Projection/Psychic Lance, Biofocusing, Dim Mak True (focusing on heat and cold), Binding (encasing opponents in ice), Iron Fist, Will Shield, and Acrobatics). The Glacial Wind could inflict impressive amounts of damage, but ran more towards “close with the major opponent and entrap him or her long enough for your friends and allies to take him or her out”.

Black Lotus Flower Style was focused on deception, rapid movement, and energy transfer, relying on hand strikes for offense and evasiveness for defense. It’s basic techniques included Sensory Stun/Mirage (introspection again), Kinetic Aura/True, Hastening/Ghosting, Light Foot, Acrobatics, Iron Fist/C’hi Pulse, Shockwave/Chiburst, Transfer, Natural Empathy/Vital Points, and Missile Deflection/Evasion. It was used to confuse and delude masses of enemies, keeping them striking at phantoms while the user took them out one by one with cheap precision strikes.

Stalking Death Style employed Persuasion/Mesmerism (an Introspection ability), Unpresence/Psychic Camouflage (more Introspection), Hypersenses, Vibration (used to shatter bones, open locks, stun with a touch, and combined with Resistance to allow brief intangibility), Resistance (Vibration), Precision, Focused Mastery (Stealth), Light Foot, Acrobatics, and Evasion/Vanishing – basically focusing on becoming a living shadow, capable of mesmerizing guards, passing through walls, walking through a crowd unseen, seeing in darkness, and bypassing all kinds of defenses.

And there were many, MANY, other styles. Pretty much every C’hi-using character came up with their own if none of the existing ones caught their eye. They didn’t always do a good job the first time around, but they could always pick up a new technique or two and retrain their list of personal maneuvers to do something a bit different.

Storm Weaver Style was a “natural disaster” style, focused on turning the environment into a whirling tornado-shield and firing masses of material like a cannon – whether loaded with grapeshot or solid projectiles. It could also generate shockwaves, hurl or turn aside avalanches, and devastate areas – although, it was very power-intensive. It was very much a niche style, since – for the most part – if you really wanted to battle armies and tear up the landscape there were major psionics and several kinds of magic that did it at much lower cost. Unless you were in a martial arts / C’hi powers ONLY campaign there wasn’t a lot of point in this.

Seven Finger Jitsu Style focused heavily on introspection, vital points, precision, and projected strikes – to the point where a master generally stood around with their arms crossed and entirely hidden within their billowing sleeves, making subtle finger gestures inside those sleeves to invisibly inflict various injuries on their opponents. It’s chief advantage was being set up to use almost no power. A master could pretty much keep it up indefinitely and often didn’t even appear to be doing anything but sneering at their opponents. On the other hand, it focused on individual targets, wasn’t overwhelmingly powerful even then, and wasn’t terribly fast in dealing with those targets. Rather like Darth Vader’s “Force Choke”, it wasn’t an especially good way to deal with an onrushing horde or a giant (and likely resistant) monster. Fortunately, adding in a few area effect options made it much more effective for adventuring purposes, even if it did kick up the power costs.

And to get back to the ability listing, here are the last of the…

C’hi Techniques

Plague Carrier: This technique allows the user to maintain, and adapt to, the presence of various virulent microorganisms in his bloodstream and tissues, releasing them thru the capillaries in his skin at will. While potentially very useful, this can have gruesome consequences when/ if something goes wrong. As a side effect, this grants near-total immunity to anything already present in the user’s bloodstream, and a fair degree of resistance to new “acquisitions”. “Poison Touch” allows the user to adapt similarly to carrying exotic chemicals in his / her bloodstream, including various poisons, drugs, and corrosives. However, unlike micro-organisms, chemicals are not self-replenishing. This ordinarily limits the user to whatever he / she has recently ingested. Further improvements include the ability to produce various chemicals internally, to selectively modify the organisms living in your blood (This usually means creating a resistant or weakened strain, but further improvements may allow genetic modifications) – and the ability to create antidotes, vaccines, antibiotics, and counter-agents, for the stuff you’re circulating in your blood. Perhaps sadly, this technique has a reputation as bad as, or maybe even worse then, Dim Mak. Even the occasional healer who specializes in the curative aspects of this talent will generally be regarded with grave suspicion.

Power Block: This handy technique allows the user to link an offensive technique with a defensive one, a trick which allows the user to block an attack using a technique such as Auric Shunt and strike back with the same, “defensive”, action. The advanced version allows the user to surround himself with an aura carrying the effects of another technique, which will affect anyone who touches the user. Unfortunately, unless this skill is otherwise improved, this has to be a technique that would normally affect another person. Further improvements could involve that aspect of the technique – but more commonly involve things like extending the radius of the effect, extending defensive abilities to shield a radius, or making such an effect a reflexive action.

Precision: This technique heightens the users fine muscular control, providing a substantial bonus on any action involving fine work or precise action – such as missile fire (especially thrown weaponry), striking at openings and joints in armor (reducing the protection it gives) – and when striking from behind or by surprise. The bonus is usually around +3, but it only applies if the user is attempting a precise action, in which case it usually compensates for some of the penalties. This ability is especially formidable if combined with some of the other psychic abilities – such as Vital Points. The advanced version further refines these techniques, increasing the bonus (to +5) and assists the user in any technique involving fine control of his or her nervous system and personal energies. Any bonuses with weapons due to this technique are not cumulative with “normal” martial arts skills. Further improvements may involve things like doing micro-precision work, perfecting the ability to stand absolutely still, working faster, and enhancing the users martial arts skills.

Projection: This deadly technique allows the user to link his own bioenergy field with his targets – and then transfer the effects he generates internally into them. Obviously enough, the auras of the user and the target must be in contact for this to work at all, and it’s much easier and much more dependable if the targets physical body is within the user’s aura. This usually limits this technique’s effective range to (Dex) feet. Worse, the concentration this requires generally means that using this technique requires two actions. It can be a dangerous technique to use as well, since linking your personal energy field to that of a major demon or an undead creature can be extremely dangerous to both parties involved. Even lesser incompatibilities can be bothersome. The simplest effect available is a ranged blow, but projection is often combined with other C’hi techniques to create more exotic effects. The advanced version directs, channels, and releases the effect along a projected carrier, without directly linking the user to the target. While this avoids the dangers inherent in linking auras (and extends the range to (Dex x 10 feet) it, unlike the basic version, can miss and can be resisted normally. The basic version quite effectively bypasses a wide variety of defenses. Both versions have trouble penetrating an area protected by a psychic shield, but most such shields are limited to protecting the user’s mind, not his or her body. Further improvements often involve blocking possible feedback, further extensions of the range, reducing the need for concentration, and channeling other energies through the link.

Psychic Aura: Is probably the strangest technique on the entire list. Closely related to empyrean magic, it involves physically manifesting a psychic construct based on the users aura. This can get seriously weird. Exactly what form the construct “takes” depends on the users personality – as well as on what they attempt to develop. Examples include; blazing Inner Light, which “dispels the darkness” and “drives back that which is impure”, grasping, Manipulative Tendrils that entangle and manipulate all who approach, Good Vibrations, that damp hostilities, evoke friendship, and make everyone in the area feel good, the Dragon-Form, a type of psychic exoskeleton, the sullen, vengeful, rage of the spirit-choking Balefire, the slippery/evasive shield/disguise of a con-artist’s Doppelganger Field, and the hypnotic, devouring, inner darkness of the Myndwulf, which was capable of tearing thoughts and memories out of people’s minds. The exact powers and nature of a psychic aura vary, ranging from things like a “simple”, physical, repulsion of enemies to outre’ philosophical abilities. Advanced versions tend to improve and expand on the basic effect – but the most common improvement is to extend the range. Other improvements may include; manifesting related effects, reducing the psychic strength costs, reducing the time it takes to call up the manifestation – or evading the possibility that the construct will begin to influence the user. Psychic Auras are normally built with the Power Armor rules. Unlike actual power armor, however, they tend to be very short-term and expensive to maintain, even if they do offer an unusual range of special functions. .

As a more modern note… if you’ve just GOT to be Naruto or Etrigan or something, this is one way to do it; that’s really just adding drawbacks to your construct to make it more powerful and semi-independent.

Psychic Purging: Is a straightforward effect used to expel foreign energies, substances, beings, and so on, purging the users mind and of all such influences. The advanced version extends the effect to the user’s physical body as well. Psychic Purging can thus be used to eliminate poisons, compulsive effects, and other intrusive things, but the energy cost is proportionate to the strength of the effect. This normally requires both some time and quite a bit of concentration. Further improvements often involve reducing those requirements or extending the effect to break off unwanted contacts or links. A rare improvement is to reduce the use of the technique to the unconscious level, making it very difficult to keep the user from using the technique to throw off mental influences.

Psychic Reservoir: A simple technique that allows the user to accumulate a greater-then-usual reserve of psychic energy – increasing the user’s maximum psychic strength total by (Level) points. Further improvements increase the maximum by half a point per level. Unlike other techniques, there are few complications involved in either the basic or in the improved versions. It does have a side effect, in that each level beyond the second boosts the users limit for the safe expenditure of psychic strength in a round by one point.

Psychic Shield: This technique enhances the users ability to resist psychic probes and attacks, generating a low-level barrier against psychic contact. The basic version is fairly effective against simple suggestive, emotional, and hypnotic effects, and will protect the user from casual psychic scans and passive psi-senses, but is of little use against directed probes and attacks relying on raw power instead of subtle influences. The advanced version lets the user actively resist psychic attacks and related powers, including compulsive spells, fascination, hypnosis, and telepathic assaults, although this can get expensive. Further improvements may allow the user to identify the source of any psychic attack, generate a shield against projected psychic abilities, protect an area, hurl away living beings by “repelling their auras”, or create a permanent (if low-level) barrier.

Resistance (Specify): This handy technique allows the user to resist a particular effect, whether a form of energy, a class of substance, or a particular type of attack. Possible effects include acid, electricity, telepathy, fire and heat, and impact. The major limitation is that such effects must generally affect the targets entire body – which weapons generally do not. Note that “resistance” is not “immunity”. It only reduces the injuries caused by major effects – although minor ones can be ignored. A character with “resistance to fire” can easily pick up a coal to light his (or her) pipe without injury, but toppling into lava will still be a bad experience – if far more survivable than usual. The advanced versions can provide near-immunity to broad effects and resistance to powerful focused attacks (such as weapons), but are active effects, and so require conscious expenditure of psychic energy. Further improvements usually involve reducing the cost, making them “automatic”, or expanding their protection (EG; Acids to Corrosives to (eventually) Dangerous Chemicals).

Self Healing: The technique maintains and repairs the user’s body, restoring it to its normal state. As such, there are no short-term supernormal enhancements associated with this technique although it does provide innate self-diagnostic abilities. The basic form allows the user to regain (1D6+1) points of vitality per psychic strength point expended, up to a maximum of (End/3) “points” of psychic strength per day. While the basic level is not sufficient to simply cure major diseases or counteract powerful toxins, it is capable of handling most lesser problems and moderating the effects of greater ones. It allow the user to shrug off pain, tension, lack of sleep, thirst, hunger, and a variety of other discomforts – within reason, since the cost will increase as the problem becomes more critical. Remaining awake and alert for a few days is trivial, a few weeks is considerably harder, and a years at a time is extremely expensive. The advanced form extends the curative functions, allowing the user to counteract virtually any disease or toxin. It also allows the user to extend the benefits of the “basic” level to others. Further improvements include reduced aging, slow regeneration of lost limbs and organ, stabilizing the user’s body against overloads, stress, and environmental problems (such as dangerous, but not instantly deadly, levels of radiation, temperature, low oxygen, and toxic chemicals), remaining active despite severe injuries, and even (temporarily) resisting death.

Senethar: This ability channels energy within the user’s bioenergy aura, a talent related to Auric Shunt but attuned to energy rather than matter. The “basic” version used passively provides a modest (+3) bonus on the users Resistance Rating and Defense Rating vs energy-based attacks. In active mode, it lets the user attempt to divert individually-targeted energy attacks – as well as to attempt to tap and channel energy sources within his or her aura. The advanced version permits the user to attempt to divert or reflect such attacks on an “automatic” basis. While this is not effective on area effects, it does provide a +5 bonus on relevant Resistance checks. Further improvements often involve focusing and projecting available energies and area-effects, grounding energy sources, increasing the effectiveness of the basic functions, learning to manipulate purely magical or psionic energies, instead of accepting the usual limitation to quasi-physical ones, storing a circulating “pool” of energy, and channeling energy into barriers.

Sexual Techniques: Always one of the most popular (if, perhaps, not one of the most practical) available disciplines – incorporating enhanced sexual endurance, skills, sensitivity, and attraction along with perfect control of fertility and the bodies physical responses. The advanced version extends this to the auric level – adding a seductive aura, pleasure-sharing, and similar talents. This technique is often combined with others, such as Mindlink, Precision, and Relaxation – although addiction may become a problem. Further improvements may include easing pregnancy and childbirth, using the energy of the activity to recharge psychically (possibly even to above normal limits), “charming” / fascinating the possible partners, creating various kinds of links, the ability to use other talents on your partner, pheromone generation, deliberate addiction of others, physiological and/or genetic manipulation of the children, using the energy surge to boost other abilities beyond normal limits, and resistance to disease.

I’ve never seen any point in trying to pretend that this would NOT be one of the most popular topics of research and development in any field that covered it. My usual ruling was that this particular field of study could just be noted as background characterization (like “my character is really good-looking and gets invited to a lot of swinging parties!) unless you expected it to actually have notable game effects (like “my character is so good-looking that he/she just gets admitted to see important people without question”) – in which case you had to actually pay for it.

Shadow Casting: This bizarre technique allows the user to “split off” portions of his self – of his or her personal mass, vitality, psyche, and energies. Such “shadows” may embody a fraction of the users energies in general, or a particular portion of the users power and personality. In either case, they are usually physically intangible (and can’t “die” by normal means) – unless they embody a major fraction of the user. Both psychic and magical senses will detect them as “real”, if weak and partial, presences. Shadows can be used as scouts, diversions, and even as weapons, but they are splendid links to the user, and will generally be missed if he or she doesn’t get a chance to re-absorb them. Splitting off too much of yourself is dangerous, especially over long periods of time. The advanced version allows the user to reshape a shadow – either internally, granting the user the ability to draw on the powers of whatever type of creature he’s reshaped a portion of his “self” into (QV; Weres) or to be released, creating a kind of “companion creature”. Such creatures are still shadows and remain telepathically linked to their creater over a fair range. Further improvements may involve giving shadows greater solidity, self-duplication, drawing on were-creature powers, placing a part of your self into another body, using a reshaped shadow as a disguise, and entirely disassembling yourself and re-assembling somewhere else. It’s also possible to set up a “repertoire” of different shadows, but this takes practice.

Shockwave: A simple, if expensive, technique that unleashes an overwhelming wave of pure psychic energy. In itself, this is simply a stunning, concussive, bolt of force – however it can be propagated through objects unless they’re resistant to psychic energies and can act as a “carrier” for other effects. The shockwave can be projected up to (Dex x 10) feet or be extended as a cone out to the limits of the users aura. The advanced version simply allows the user to push beyond those limits, at a cost dependent on how far the ability is being pushed. Shockwaves are incredibly “noisy”, on the psychic level, if not always on the physical. They tend to disrupt psychic constructs, shatter spells with psychic components (such as most illusions and mental manipulations), stun psychic sensitives, and otherwise make a mess. Further improvements usually revolve around making it cheaper to use, extending the disruption-effect to the physical or magical level, or learning to attune it to specific targets or types of targets, thus making the effect selective.

Somatic Control: This technique allows the user to manipulate and augment his or her bodies physical processes on the gross level, manipulating heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, need for sleep, food, and water, breathing, and so on – supplying any shortcomings (such as there being no air to breathe) with psychic energy. While this control can be used for an immense variety of “yoga” tricks, it’s most dramatic use is in resisting injury through control of bleeding, shock, and repair processes. The basic version allows the user to transfer a part of any damage taken from injuries, toxins, or diseases, to his/her psychic reserves and to resist effects which “drain” attributes. The advanced version extends the basic abilities, and adds new ones; it can be used for self- healing, to resist or suspend the effects of injuries, and to briefly “push” the user’s other psychic abilities by boosting neural activity – a potent, expensive, and dangerous technique. The user can suspend the effects of some single attack for up to (Wis) days, but cannot recover either physically or mentally until the damage has been dealt with. Further improvements cover things like ignoring mortal injuries, feigning death, boosted recovery of psychic energy, enhanced ability to absorb injuries, and neural surge techniques.

Transfer: This is the technique of nonresistance, of “allowing” energies to pass through the user’s body and aura without interacting with them. While not totally effective, it can reduce the effect of such attacks by up to 90%. It’s even possible to transfer the kinetic energy of material objects, although this doesn’t work very well against precisely-focused (arrows, thrusting attacks, etc) or continuously-driven (EG, chain saws and rapiers) attacks. It also has a minimum “threshold” of about ten points of damage. Below that point it simply isn’t possible to drop the resistance low enough. This is a very expensive discipline to use – and so is probably best saved for the “big stuff”. The advanced version allows the user to attempt the opposite tactic – increasing their “resistance” to the point where the force rebounds against its source. While this tactic can be spectacular, it’s also dangerous. If the force overwhelms the users resistance, he or she will absorb the full impact – often as structural damage. Boosting your resistance this way tends to forfeit a lot of the “give” usually inherent in living structures. Further improvements often include somewhat reducing the cost, transferring attacks into someone else (this trick has the same sort of disadvantage as “reflection” does. If the victim manages to resist, the user will absorb the full effect), protecting the area within your aura, or extending the effect to several attacks within a brief period.

Vibration: This technique allows the user to generate powerful vibrations, either internally, or in whatever he or she touches. While this can be applied in a variety of ways, the most common is to shake, disrupt, or shatter whatever it’s directed against. Other uses range from massage, through removing tarnish, to countering sonic attacks. The advanced version lets the user generate a powerful “pulse” of vibration or a vibratory “shield”, a trick which makes him/her nearly impossible to hold. If combined with an appropriate resistance, this can even be used to render the user intangible, if usually only briefly. Attempting such internal tricks without the resistance is often painful and (in the case of attempting full intangibility) sometimes fatal. Further improvements include causing structural damage, “reaching into” the other aspects (subdimensions of reality), seeking out resonant frequencies to use to destroy things, subsonic manipulations of emotions, inducing severe vertigo, countering vibratory effects, knocking people out, and ignoring armor.

Vocal Control: This subtly potent technique begins with “basic” mimicry, permitting near-absolute mastery of tone, inflection, and accent, as well as the allowing the user to effectively imitate an incredible range of sounds – often at remarkable volume. It also makes it easier to acquire languages – reducing the skill point cost by one, to a minimum of one. The advanced version extends this to the ability to interweave subtle tones and inflections in normal speech – weaving suggestions and insinuations, subtly influencing moods, and issuing abrupt orders with a fair chance of being obeyed. Such tactics work best on well-known individuals, poorly on strangers – and not at all on unknown races. Further improvements include a hypnotic voice, a “great shout” (capable of deafening people a breaking windows within a radius of several hundred feet), focused speech that “carries” only to its intended target even at great range, generating a telekinetic field within the users aura which acts as a kind of “amplifier” or “speaker”, psychic projection of meaning along with the words, or further linguistic enhancements.

Whirlwind: This deadly technique permits the user to attack everyone within his or her bioenergy aura, a radius in feet equal to his/her dexterity. While this may be a basic physical attack, many characters employ more exotic techniques, ranging from a nerve strike to plague carrier. Sadly, using such exotic techniques with the basic version requires paying for each attack separately. It does, however, allow the user to selectively exempt possible targets if he or she so desires. The advanced version permits the user to simply pay twice the price of a single attack for the full sequence – but doesn’t allow for leaving people out. Further improvements may permit launching an entire rounds attacks instead of a single strike, reduce the cost, allow target selection with the advanced form, make simple attacks automatic, extend the effect to three dimensions (and possibly even beyond that), creating a sphere of a long-term effect, or simply pushing people away automatically.

Will Shield: This handy technique allows the user to superimpose a counterpattern to an incoming psychic (or mystic) effect on his aura – making any resistance check an all-or-nothing proposition. Fortunately, the user can generally “feel” whether or not he can handle the incoming effect. (In game terms, the user may pay for using this technique after a successful resistance check to fully nullify the attack. If the roll fell in the marginal success or marginal failure range however the user may still pay for the attempt – but will have to roll again. It might or might not work. A failure will leave the user too busy dealing with the collapse to resist in any other fashion). The advanced version allows the user to blunt an effect that overwhelms the counterpattern, increasing his level of success by two levels. Further improvements may involve learning to resist internal effects (poisons and such) similarly, gaining bonuses on particular categories of rolls (EG; either vs particular items, such as “drugs and toxins”, or on rolls against a particular attribute), resisting the effects of shock, countering subtle mental effects and influences, ignoring distractions, or making great efforts.

The Introspection and C’hi systems allowed characters using them to have unique styles and suites of abilities, while still being free to attempt hundreds of different tricks with varying chances of success depending on their underlying abilities. Of course, it also required a lot of on-the-fly game master adjudication. That was the main weakness of Continuum II; the players had a lot of fun – but it took years of play before any of them were really ready to run a game of their own because they needed to understand how everything worked before they could easily figure out what was likely to happen when a player tried something outre on them.

It was also possible for it to backfire. For an example, when the party was attempting to deal with a water mage who’d set up shop in a swamp, they found that his tower was made of water – and simply flowed into gaps and otherwise repaired itself when they tried to breach it. One C’hi master announced that he was going to “channel an enormous pulse of energy into his metabolism and briefly enhance it to “bomb” speeds, channel that thermal energy into a reserve before it could injure him, and them project it – creating the equivalent of a massive shaped charge to blow away a chunk of the tower. He acknowledged that this was potentially suicidal when I warned him – but he went ahead and tried it anyway.

He didn’t manage to project the energy before he lost control. The resulting blast pretty much vaporized him, but also blew away a large chunk of the tower.

And then another character with far less training and skill announced that – since the first attempt HAD taken down a lot of the tower – he was going to try the same stunt. The rest of the players told him he was insane, but he insisted.

Still, two such blasts did take out most of the tower, so that was something I suppose.

Similarly, when Arthur attempted to put together a combination to let him meditate his way back to the present (linking himself to the planetary biosphere to get the strength to maintain his body and putting himself into a healing trance to maintain his mind) after being stranded on an alien world  a hundred and forty million years in the past, he made most of his checks – but lost track of his body, and wound up greeting his friends as the spirit of the local biosphere. That really put a crimp into his ability to go adventuring until after he figured out a way to make an Avatar.

Continuum II: C’hi Powers, Part II

Quite a lot of things in Continuum II ran on the same general mechanic; you had a power defined by how it worked and by it’s theme. You could attempt anything within your personal limits for handling energy and the limits of whatever energy source you were drawing on that fit in with how it worked and with that theme, at a cost determined by how much power it would require and a difficulty determined by the level of fine control it required – with most basic actions being simple enough not to bother rolling for.

So you had Electrokinesis and you wanted to throw an electrical bolt? A high power cost (depending on the damage and range you wanted), but a really easy control check – so easy in fact that you normally didn’t need to roll that control check because success would be automatic. You wanted to override the circuits of an electronic lock to open a door? Not much power required, but you’d want a lot of fine control – so a difficult roll (made much easier if you had some applicable special senses so you weren’t fumbling around blind). You wanted to reach into a computer you’re touching and directly enter some false data? Almost no power – but a virtually impossible check unless you had supplementary powers like “computer emulation” to make it more reasonable, and probably tricky even then.

Psychic Powers fueled by your personal energies (C’hi powers if they normally operated inside your own energy-aura, and so had direct control feedback and a big break on control checks, Psychomancy if they projected energy beyond that range and so gave smaller bonuses) gave bonuses to control, but had much lower upper power limits because your body only had so much energy available. Powers fueled by available external sources of energy (minor psionics) had no modifiers. Powers fueled by remote, but almost unlimited, cosmic energy sources (major psionics) could accomplish incredible things – but required a low transfer impedance to avoid frying the user’s brain with the waste energies and made fine control extremely difficult. Not too surprisingly, characters who opted to focus on stealth, manipulation, and otherwise being subtle tended to go for personal-energy based powers, those who wanted to balance power and control went for minor psionics, and those wishing to deal in vast amounts of raw power went for major psionics. They could all be equally effective in combat of course; using personal energies to pinch someone’s aorta shut worked just as well as using cosmic power sources to crush them with a mountain.

With psychic powers you could improve your control with rituals, tools, and time, and/or improve your raw power with boosters, foci, and channels. If you wished to extend the theme, or make a power cheaper to use, or improve your fine control, or vary it in a lot of other ways, you invested more skill points in it. That had an upper limit of seven in total, but let you personalize and improve your favorite powers and uses thereof.

Overall, I’ve always preferred this general approach; it means that there’s a lot of ways for a thoughtful player to solve problems and manipulate their character’s powers to meet particular challenges.

And to stop musing and get back to the C’hi power descriptions from lo, those many years past…

C’hi Techniques

C’hi Infusion: This technique allows the user to transfer psychic energy (or vitality) to someone else, usually on a temporary basis. The user simply attunes his bioenergy field to the recipients and channels his or her energy into them. While this sounds simple, the actual technique is fairly complex, and merely setting up the link requires a certain amount of energy. Fortunately, physical contact usually makes it easier. The advanced version lets the user “guide” the recipient’s internal energy flows, making it far easier (and much safer for the student) to teach c’hi disciplines – and even allows a teacher to temporarily imbue his target with some of his own techniques, catalyze a shapechange, or help them heal wounds. Interestingly, this also allows a “teacher” to study his “students” techniques. Further improvements generally revolve around deeper transfers (EG – skills, knowledges, and languages), fast teaching, fast learning, and amplifying the recipients power. As a rule, transfers are temporary. A permanent transfer leaves the donors power permanently decreased, and can lead to problems like those noted under in C’hi Drain, although the voluntary nature of this transfer reduces them somewhat. While it’s possible to manage permanent transfers without the donor actually dying, unless the donor and the recipient share a great mental affinity, the mental link it creates can easily lead to madness.

Compensation: This ability is most useful to characters with a major permanent impairment, but can be handy to anyone who suffers an from a permanent or temporary handicap. Users simply force their (unimpaired) aura to replace the function of the damaged organ. This ranges from managing with a sore foot up to compensating for total blindness or even a missing limb or organ. Such “compensation” is effective – if often odd – offering minor advantages and disadvantages over the original ability since this is a psychic effect with limited range. A blind man could use this skill to “see” – but might find that, while his visual range is limited, many illusions do not register at all. A phantom limb would have no trouble picking up something hot or picking something out of acid, but might be shocked by something carrying a strong psychic charge. The advanced version acts as a form of empyrean projection with a limited range; the user may explore the psychic aspects of the material world(s), but cannot reach the deeper levels of dream, the various afterlives, or the conceptual realms. Further improvements include things like boosted physical functions, doppelganger effects, the ability to make an easy transition to the empyrean level upon physical death, or even the ability to make such transitions at will (going is easy, rebuilding your physical body when you want it back is a lot harder).

Dim Mak: This technique uses a focused burst of energy to disrupt the target’s life processes, usually on the neurological level. Obviously enough, there are many possible variations. The best-known effect is, naturally enough, the infamous “Death Touch” – causing severe, immediate, damage, pain, shock – and/or neural disruption. More specific variants include “draining” various attributes, stunning or paralytic effects, the “laughing death” (IE; causing uncontrollable spasms in one form or another), and simply inflicting incredible pain. Advanced versions of such skills allow the user to inflict either greater or delayed injuries, causing a subtle, cumulative, disruption, which may eventually kill or cripple the victim. Such subtle effects can go unnoticed for some time – possibly becoming extremely serious in the interval. Further improvements usually involve making such “injuries” more difficult to heal, expanding the number of variations available, or using the technique to disrupt the use of other powers.

Dragon C’hi: This technique allows the user to tap other energy sources to rebuild his personal psychic reserves. Such sources may be magical or physical in nature, but each separate source requires an individual variation or improvement on this skill. Common sources include personal magical powers, symbiotic spirits, great heat or cold, lightning, and so on. These sources must be internal to, or directly in contact with, the user for this talent to operate. The advanced version allows users to draw on fields in the immediate vicinity, such as the electrical power being released by a storm. Note that, while “bio-energy” is a popular choice, the user can only tap excess energies, he cannot forcibly take it. The “third level” of this ability is often used to power C’hi skills directly, greatly reducing their cost. While this may effectively supply several points of C’hi per round, self-recharging is a far more delicate process – and cannot be accomplished at this rate from external sources. There is, however, no fixed limit on recharging through the conversion of exotic personal energies. Further improvements usually involve extending the efficiency or range, learning to tap additional energy forms, or building up “pools” of extra energy, either psychic, or in the original from.

Eagles Claw: This handy technique exploits the natural tendency for creatures to focus on their manipulative organs. Focusing the bodies energy there enables the user to grip with superhuman strength. This makes it extremely difficult to dislodge the users hold, disarm him or her, and so on. It also lets the user to grip even the tiniest surface irregularities, allowing him or her to readily cling to almost any surface. Those already skilled in climbing will find that they can easily cross ceilings and similar obstacles. The advanced version enhances and extends this power, allowing the user to crush stones, bones, and so on, with his grip. While much too powerful to be used in ordinary climbs, it can be used to scoop out or break off pieces of the surface, so that others can easily follow. Obviously enough, such strength has an immense variety of other uses. Further improvements often involve imbuing the hands with incredible toughness, extending power through the arms and shoulders, or enhancing precision and speed to inhuman levels.

Energy Absorption: This technique allows the user to act as a “capacitor” for some form of energy, using his or her body to absorb and store it. The basic form is essentially defensive; the energy is first absorbed and then gradually dissipated into the surrounding area. The advanced form allows the user to control that discharge, storing and directing it. Unfortunately, this has a far lower upper limit then simply dissipating an overload. (Storage limits are usually Endurance – 6 “levels” of magic, Endurance “points” worth of physical energies, and Endurance + 6 points of psychic energy). Further improvements usually involve increasing that limit, storing complex energy patterns (Spells and such) – or imposing a simple pattern on the usual raw energy discharge (for example, creating laser beams instead of simple solar discharges).

Evasion: This technique allows the user to shift his molecules from point-to-point within his bio-energy field at near-sonic speeds – an effect which gives the appearance of near-instantaneous movement. While this is most commonly used to evade attacks, it can also be used to get into position to attack, reach cover, duck out of sight, cross crevices, and so on. Unfortunately, any substantial intervening barrier will block the use of the basic form. The advanced version, or “Vanishing Technique”, allows the user to rearrange his molecular structure in transit, allowing him to penetrate simple barriers, vanish without a “strobe effect”, and escape from bonds. It does not allow him to retain an altered molecular structure at the “end of the trip”.

The most common variant form is “Face Dancing”, the ability to reshuffle your personal molecules while remaining in place. The basic form of this ability allows the user to modify his or her; features, coloration, apparent (but not actual) mass, and general body type, within the limits of the basic humanoid (or whatever) form. While this usually includes the users clothing and gear, large amounts of inorganic material may require enough extra energy to be impractical. The advanced version permits a full shapechange to a non-humanoid form, giving the user access to any innate, physical, powers which that form possesses. Sadly, due to the great complexity of this feat, each such form must be acquired separately.

Further improvements commonly revolve around things like repairing damage, adding new or improved physical systems to the users body, combining features from two or more forms (“Wereforms”), or simply acquiring extra forms.

Focused Mastery: This ability permits the user to focus his psi-energies on enhancing his use of various skills or small groups of skills, although the broader the group chosen, the smaller the bonus. At the basic level, the user may select three such skills or groups of skills to enhance – although his (or her) selection is restricted to basically physically-oriented skills. Typical selections include various athletic, combat, and stealth skills, although others are possible. Typical bonuses range from +1 to +5, depending on the breadth, relevance, and importance, of the skills selected. The advanced version provides an extra “+1” on the bonus and allows the selection of two additional areas to boost, either or both of which may be mentally-oriented. Any further improvements generally involve adding an extra area and/or increasing the bonus – to a maximum of +6. Variants which boost the users effective level of mastery of a skill exist, but can get tricky. Pushing the limits of your mastery of dance is unlikely to result in more than stiff muscles or perhaps a strain. Pushing your mastery of – say – shapeshifting presents considerably greater hazards.

Focusing: This handy technique is used to channel the users full effort into a precise moment – commonly the moment of impact when hitting something, but other applications exist. Used in combat, the basic version allows the user to inflict maximum damage with a blow. The advanced version is more flexible. Used passively, it increases the users Damage Bonus by his (Level/2). In active use it takes an extra three phases to invoke, and can be used to either inflict structural damage or to combine a round’s attacks or efforts as a single action. Such combined actions are made with a +3 bonus and have the combined effect of all the actions they replace. While both options can be employed, that requires five extra phases instead of three. Further improvements usually involve the using focusing in combination with special abilities or reducing the preparation time.

Hastening: This technique uses psychic energies to accelerate the user’s metabolism and reflexes – allowing him to select any two enhancements from the list given below. No single enhancement may be selected more then once at the first level. Each additional level allows the user to select two more enhancements – although no one enhancement may be selected more then three times. Selections are permanent once made. The possibilities include Attacks (+1), Initiative (-2), Movement (+8″), Actions (+1. Incidental, unresisted actions only. This means things like getting something out, tying a knot, and so on. Not movement or attack actions, although this does let the character get lots of work done quickly), Resistance to “Slow” Effects (Permits the character to compensate for the effects of efforts to slow him down through magic and psionics, although each effect must be countered separately), Ghosting (a tactic that employs bewilderingly rapid movement to produce an illusion of multiple images – making it difficult to determine the users exact position and angle of attack. This grants the user a “+2” to his Defense Rating and Resistance Rating against individually-targeted attacks and a “+1” on his Attack Raring, provided that the foe has no method of countering the effect), and whatever else the GM and player can come up with.

Hypersenses: This useful technique increases both the users sensory acuity and range. The basic effect is a simple “+3” bonus on the users perception rolls. The advanced version is applied to a particular sense, and permits both active and passive enhancement. The passive version generally provides a “+5” bonus on appropriate perception rolls and an extended sensory range, allowing the user to see slightly into the ultraviolet and infrared ranges, feel electrical and radiation fields, hear sub- and supersonic frequencies, taste normally tasteless substances, or smell weird things, as appropriate to the chosen sense. Active enhancement allows things like telescopic vision, master-class safe-cracking, and a variety of other tricks depending on the sense. Any further improvements usually mean simply extending the active version to additional senses.

Iron Fist: This skill allows the user to channel a burst of psychic energy through whichever limb he uses to attack with. While the basic effect gives the users unarmed blows Attack Rating and Damage Bonus bonuses of +(Level/3), generates a blinding psychic “flare”, and allows the users blows to affect creatures normally resistant to such attack, it’s primary purpose is to learn to generate and channel that burst of energy. The advanced version allows the user to focus that burst into a concentrated pulse, an effect which can be used to cause tremendous damage to inanimate targets or quite a lot to living beings. The pulse can also be focused into another ability, vastly increasing it’s effects. Further improvements usually involve using the pulse to overload psychic blockages, focusing it into specific abilities, or converting the pulse into other forms of energy. A chi pulse usually multiplies the effectiveness of whatever technique it’s fed into by the same factor as it multiplies the points expended in using it. This is usually limited to around three times the normal level of effect. Going beyond that risks psychic burnout.

Iron Flesh: Is a basic toughening technique which allows the user to resist injury through inner control and conditioning exercises. It can be used both actively and passively. The passive version slightly enhances the users Defense Rating and Toughness (+2 each). Actively, it can be used to attempt to “moderate” an attack – reducing the damage by 50% with a successful Endurance roll. The advanced version channels psychic energies into the outer level of the users aura, generating a protective force field known as protective air or “golden armor”. Passively, this technique is simply a more effective (+3) version of Iron Flesh. Actively, it’s a visible glowing aura, offers increased (+5) protection, and extends somewhat beyond the surface of the body. Further improvements may offer increased defenses, allow the user to extend his protection to someone or something he or she is holding, or enhance the users ability to resist specific forms of attack.

Kinetic Aura: Allows the user to impose a simple kinetic vector field on his bio-energy aura, generating any of a variety of effects, ranging from just pushing everyone away, to cyclones and wedges of pure force. The effect can be tuned to living things, unliving things, or (weakly) to both, but this must be decided when the ability is acquired. The advanced version will either greatly increase the strength of the effect – or allow the user to “re-tune” it at will. While not usually the best form of attack against an individual, this talent is especially useful against barrages of missiles and/ or large numbers of attackers. One popular trick is to raise a sphere of whirling junk as shield, weapon, and source for a barrage of missiles. Further improvements usually involve strengthening the effect, more complex fields, selectivity, maintaining an air bubble / force field, or simply throwing things around skillfully.

Latent Energy: Put simply, this is the art of the delayed effect. While only of value when combined with some other C’hi ability, the user may delay the effect of that ability for anything from seconds to a week or so. Greater delays are possible, but the latent energy is increasingly likely to dissipate in the interim. As a rule, latent energies can be detected by any form of psychic scan, although more subtle effects can be hard to analyze. The advanced version of this skill allows the user to trigger (or dissipate) the “latent” effect remotely, at ranges of up to (Per) miles. One popular trick is to “pay” for several attacks, set to “go off” sequentially, effectively making the attack continuous over several rounds. While expensive, this still only counts as one action – and the cost of this skill need only be paid once. Further improvements often involve selective effects, various “automatic” triggers, and the ability to “store” raw psychic energies.

Light Foot: This dramatic ability allows the user to “brace” his personal energy field against another – given a clear boundary to focus on. This allows him to “touch” the field and any associated substance without actual contact. It can thus be used to move over water or cross mud without leaving tracks, to walk on a thin wire, or even to stand on intangible energy fields and illusions. Other applications include handling objects without actually touching them and striking immaterial beings. The “advanced” version dispenses with the need for a visible boundary, permitting the user to “walk on air” or float around. Further improvements usually involve speeding up (often in combination with other techniques), a form of “immovability”, or simply making “steadying yourself” a reflexive act.

Metabolic Control: This complex talent allows the user to manipulate his or her own biochemistry and metabolism. While this helps the user stay comfortable in hot or cold weather, most users are more interested in the “+3” bonus against toxins and disease and in the way it similarly increases the users healing rate and the effects of occult healing effects (also by +3). Other uses include; enhancing your stamina, compensating for a poor or minimal diet, going into hibernation, and so on. The advanced version allows the user to create new enzymes and take such metabolic tinkering to an extreme, permitting him or her to counteract most toxins, digest cellulose, drastically slow the aging process, go into suspended animation, stay comfortable in extremely hot or cold weather, resist metabolism-altering effects, and further enhance their healing processes (+5 instead of +3). If appropriate complementary techniques are used to avoid destroying yourself, metabolic control can be used to generate tremendous internal heat or cold. Further improvements may involve adapting to outre’ environments (breathing water or toxic gases, extremes of temperature), easing the necessary rolls, generating peculiar biochemicals, form changing (basically a total physical redesign. This can be very tricky), and genetic shifting (do-it-yourself designer genes or even changing species). Some of these tricks take a lot of time, or power, or both, but the real limiting factor is usually knowledge and control.

The Bio-enhancement variant involves tinkering with your bodies structure and natural chemical balances in an attempt to improve things. Unfortunately, the body is a complex interactive mechanism – and improving one thing usually means paying a price elsewhere, if only in the form of overload-stress. However odd it seems, artificial physical augmentations fall under the rules for Cyber/Bio-ware, regardless of how they’re induced. Such augmentations are innate once “installed”, and so do not require even the passive use of this skill to sustain. While c’hi-based “cyberware” is easy to “purchase” and “install”, both the selection, and the number of cyberware points available, are sharply limited. Selection is primarily limited by what the GM can be talked into allowing. The “point value” is limited to three times the users level of Bioenhancement skill. The Pheromones variant allows a subtle manipulation of the users body chemistry, generating chemicals which subtly influence the attitudes, reactions, and moods, of those around the user. The effect is sharply variable, depending on the local conditions and the users actions. Pheromones tend to augment the users social talents, not replace them.

Mystic Channeling: This technique taps the user’s personal mana, allowing him to wield a small selection of cantrip-level magics. The “basic” effect allows the user to acquire a selection of (Intellect/3) cantrips. (This may be modified by skills and techniques such as Eidetic Memory). Unfortunately, wielding them drains both the users personal mana and psychic strength. The advanced version expands this list to (Int) cantrips and allows the user to counteract cantrips. Further improvements might include various mystic “senses”, access to small (Int/3) lists of higher-order spells (Up to level 3 at the most), and improved countermagics. All of this is, unfortunately, limited by the fact that personal mana tends to be an extremely limited resource itself. Note that Mystic Channeling DOES NOT permit faerie, demons, and gods, to channel their dynamic mana flow / Might into magical effects. Linking together their chi and might that way is an extra two-point Talent (Major Ramifications on the C’hi powers), and has the potential to completely unbalance the game. Combined with a good memory, it would allow them to work extremely powerful magics. Combined with Dragon C’hi, it would allow them to do so almost endlessly. GM caution is advised.

Parting Waters: This technique generates a “wedge of force”, a field within the user’s aura which causes a violent repulsion between objects. Perhaps the most spectacular use is to literally “part the waters”, but parting things like flights of arrows is somewhat more practical. It’s also a great way to get through crowds and brush. The advanced version enhances this effect to the point where it can disrupt, and tear apart, solid stone. While a handy escape technique, this is hard to beat when you’re looking for a dramatic way to express yourself or if you’re annoyed with a door. Further improvements normally involve things like generating a spherical shockwave, faster burrowing, using the field to hurl things away, erecting a force-field sphere, or focusing the disruption-field to do fine work with it.

Polarity Shield: This technique requires that the user have a recognizable “polarity” – a personal theme or style. Given that, the character may then choose to be highly resistant to that style or to it’s opposite. Thus a “Master Of The Glacial Wind” might be resistant to either extremes of cold or to fire and heat. Such resistance extends to various levels, hence a “Servant Of The Light Incarnate” might be resistant to darkness in all it’s various forms – magical, psychic, negative emotions, and so on. The more general the effect which the shield protects against, the weaker the resistance it grants is. The advanced version can either be used to protect a modest radius or as a more potent version of the basic shield. Thanks to the immense variety of possible “polarities”, the mechanics of any particular case must be worked out in consultation with the GM. A fixed percentage, a reduction by the users level, or a bonus to resistance rolls, are among the simpler ways. Any further improvements must be negotiated.