Eclipse Witchcraft – Skills, Actions, and Concentration

And today, it’s a question. This one has actually been asked in various forms several times recently, so it’s moved up the priority list.

What are the actions of the various abilities which do not specify? For example, Leaping Fire’s (Witchcraft) ability to put Haste on oneself, or Occult Martial Art techniques like Wrath or Healing Hand?

-Various, most recently (and on the blog), River.

This one is actually a little awkward since it runs into a problem that’s not entirely specific to Witchcraft, but which stands out a lot more there since players (of course) have no practical real-world comparison to draw on.

Witchcraft abilities are essentially skills – and, like most skills, the listed options are hardly an exhaustive list of things you can do.

For a comparable example, lets say you have Craft (Pottery). According to the rules…

You can practice your trade and make a decent living, earning about half your check result in gold pieces per week of dedicated work. You know how to use the tools of your trade, how to perform the craft’s daily tasks, how to supervise untrained helpers, and how to handle common problems. (Untrained laborers and assistants earn an average of 1 silver piece per day.)

The basic function of the Craft skill, however, is to allow you to make an item of the appropriate type. The DC depends on the complexity of the item to be created. The DC, your check results, and the price of the item determine how long it takes to make a particular item. The item’s finished price also determines the cost of raw materials.

  • Can you roll it to – say – recognize a Potters Wheel or other basic paraphernalia? Of course you can – and that’s a free action. Any decent potter should recognize a Potters Wheel at a glance. I can, and my pottery experience is limited to a couple of experiments as a kid and a short segment in a high-school art course.
  • Can you judge how to break an amphora so that you wind up with a shard attached to the handle that you can use as a weapon? You can probably make that one as a part of the swift action of breaking the amphora you’re holding.
  • Can you roll it to tell if a pot was slip-cast or thrown? Yes you can. If the maker was a poor workman and left the ridge where the two halves of the mold met, you might be able to tell at a glance. If they scraped it away carefully it will be much harder and will require a careful examination that may take a minute or two.
  • Can you compound and apply glazes before firing a delicate set of teacups? Certainly. But now we’re looking at a lengthy project.
  • Can you tell a kiln from a bread oven? Build a kiln or Potters Wheel? Wedge clay? Make a slip-casting mold? Recognize a bed of fine clay suitable for making porcelain? Know what Grog is and how to use it? Determine what types of clay are best for high- and low-temperature applications?

Of course you can. All of that, and much more, is a fairly basic part of Craft (Pottery).

  • You can make heat-resistant tiles for a space shuttle, or for making high-tech bulletproof armor as well, but now we’re getting into some fairly tricky rolls, at least if you’re working with a set of medieval tools and a wood-fired backyard kiln.

Now, most people know enough about clay, pottery, and water to take a good-enough-for-game-purposes guess at how long this kind of thing is going to take. The same goes for a lot of other skills. There aren’t any rules about how hot a fire has to be to soften iron for forging, or how long it takes to bash out a crude dagger, or how to alloy steel for various purposes, or about refining iron ore into various types of iron. In large part that’s because those skills aren’t used in combat – although there’s also the fact that it doesn’t really matter for game purposes. D20 just assumes that all those basic uses of various skills are automatically successful.

Witchcraft extends that idea. It’s basically a no-roll skill system – mostly because adding yet more rolls to d20 combat situations is generally counterproductive to enjoying the game. So with Witchcraft you either have a skill or you don’t – and instead of advanced techniques having higher DC’s (and requiring rolls) you just buy packages of specific advanced techniques that you can use when you want to. The general idea, however, is the same: since witchcraft abilities are psychic skills, you can do quite a few things with them that aren’t specifically listed – and how long it takes depends on just what you’re doing.

So lets look at Hyloka, a Witchcraft ability which it allows you to adjust biophysical processes. That’s kind of delicate, so most of it’s tricks are probably at least a standard action – but a few things are obviously easy.

  • You want to adjust your eyes to full night-sensitivity when the lights go out? A free action. That happens automatically anyway, if normally more slowly. It might cost a point of power if you want to do it in a fraction of a second in combat though. The same goes for holding your breath a little longer and fooling lie detectors (which don’t work very well anyway). Tricks like this might cost a point of Power if you are under stress and in a rush, but that’s rarely a big problem.
  • You want to suppress a sneeze? Neutralizing the irritating effect of poison ivy? Not even an action and almost certainly no cost.
  • You want to increase the melanin content of the skin to prevent a sunburn or facilitate a disguise? Minutes and no cost for a bit of tanning to perhaps an hour (and likely a couple of points of Power) if you want to go from “Albino” to “Deep Black”.
  • Triggering or suppressing ovulation or the implantation of a fertilized ovum? Given that this needs to be done at least a bit in advance the action type is irrelevant, even if it does likely cost a Power point or two. This can be a very useful trick, but it’s almost certainly not going to come up in a combat situation unless something really strange is going on.

And that’s why Witchcraft effects mostly don’t list specific action types. They can be used in so many different ways that trying to do so is yet another doorway to an endless list that would inflate the book by hundreds of pages. There are some rules-of-thumb though – pretty much the same ones that apply to all other skills.

  1. If an effect specifies a type of action or time, you use that. For example, The Adamant Will specifies that it can be used defensively as needed, and that this does not count as an action. On the other hand Brewing requires hours and Master The Elements involves a spirit-quest requiring 1d8 x 1d8 hours.
  2. If an effect simply gives you something, no action at all is required. For example, Longevity adds to the duration of a character’s age categories while The Inner Fire activates bonus spell slots – both useful effects, but not something that the character needs to “turn on”. Once such abilities are acquired they’re pretty much permanently in effect.
  3. If an effect augments another action, it’s a part of that action. Thus using Glamour to boost a Social Skill Check is a part of that skill check, as is using The Inner Eye to boost Sense Motive or Shadowweave to enhance Stealth. Have you got Voice Of The Dead and want to use Diplomacy on some undead that would normally be immune? It’s use is a part of that skill check. If you’re a martial type and you’ve got a version of Elfshot specialized in inflicting minor curses (in the form of hindering wounds) on those you hit with a weapon, triggering that effect is a part of rolling damage. Using Whisper Step to enhance your movement is often a part of a movement action, using Witchsight to boost your Perception check is a part of that action, and so on. On the other hand, using Witchsight to give yourself Darkvision isn’t so simple; that’s a more complex, enduring, effect and is an action of it’s own.
  4. If an ability is being used for trivial purposes or as a minor special effect for dramatic purposes, it’s generally a free action and usually won’t cost anything. Do you want to use Witchfire to light your cigarette, or warm your tea, instead of spending one power point on Witchfire to hurl a bolt of fire? A free action. Want to use Shadowweave to add a glint of light from your shiny white teeth when you smile? A free action. You want to use Hand Of Shadows to set your cloak flowing in the (non-existent) breeze? A free action.
  5. If a specified effect needs to be of a particular action type to function, it’s of that type. Thus, Leaping Fire (among other applications) lets you add a Move-Equivalent Action during any given round. That obviously wouldn’t work if that particular effect required a move-equivalent or higher action type; it wouldn’t have any effect. Just as importantly, it’s “during the round”, not “during your turn” – so it can only be an Immediate Action. Sure, that only adds a Move Action – but that’s a potential lifesaver. Breath Of Peruza can be used to allow you to survive what would normally be an instantly-mortal injury. For example, Dark Lord Kevin used it to survive being Vaporized – reduced to minus several hundred hit points in an instant (admittedly, he had an awful lot of support available that helped him pull off that trick). That’s about as extreme as it gets – but that was either an Immediate Action or Not An Action at all. After all… surviving something that ought to have killed you instantly pretty obviously won’t work if you have to wait until your turn to use it.
    1. Unspecified effects may not be possible at all. Sure, The Adamant Will can “protect your mind”, but that doesn’t mean that you can use it to block a blow to the head. It doesn’t work that way. Similarly, using Healing to “Regenerate Your Body” when  you’ve been decapitated might have to be an immediate action to work, but since it’s well beyond the limits of that power it’s not going to work in the first place – and so it doesn’t matter what kind of action it might be if it could work. And yes, that kind of question has come up.
  6. If a power doesn’t need to be a quicker type of action to work, but isn’t particularly complicated and is relevant to combat, it’s probably a standard action. You want to use Elfshot (sometimes known as “The Evil Eye”) to put a minor curse on someone? Use Healing to counter the effect of a toxin? Invoke Ridden By The Loa to call on a tiger-spirit and use part of it’s power? Use Witchfire to fuse an iron door to it’s frame? Use Nightforge to try and entrap something in “adamant” bonds? Use Dismissal to try and banish a demon? All of those actions, and hundreds more, are going to be standard actions.
  7. If a power is a long-term (but not permanent) thing, or especially complicated, it’s almost certainly at least a full-round action – and may well take even longer than that. If you’re planning to use Dreamfaring to sink into a trance, project your spirit into the Astral or Ethereal Plane, seek out the restless spirit which is haunting a location, and persuade it to leave… it is going to take a bit – and it doesn’t matter exactly how long. Want to use Hyloka to hibernate or grow hair? Healing to induce an hour-long healing trance? Witchfire to infuse carbon into cold iron to produce a high-carbon tempered steel blade without losing it’s “cold iron” properties? True Prosperity to enhance a farming villages harvests? It may take quite a while or simply require your attention occasionally – but exactly how long or how often generally doesn’t matter because they’re not combat abilities.

There’s a secondary consideration here too; Witchcraft can produce effects equivalent to many spells – but unless you’ve modified it with Specialization and Corruption to act like a spellcasting system it’s still a set of skills – NOT a fire-and-forget magic system.

If you use Shadowweave to create some sort of illusion, that’s something you’re actively doing – just as a ventriloquist can make his or her voice seem to be coming from somewhere else, a lasso artist can make jumping through his or her spinning loop seem effortless, and someone making shadow-pictures on a wall can make them seem to move, yet none of those effects persist after the operator stops producing the effect. How much concentration this takes is open to question though. Use Shadowweave to create a light or darken an area? Not much; the effect may be being maintained, but it’s simple and low powered and you can probably keep it up without paying much of any attention to it. Are you trying to maintain active camouflage or “invisibility”? That’s probably going to require concentration since that’s going to require constant adjustment as you move and have to change what you’re doing.

Other effects have a degree of built in “inertia”; once you use Glamour to convince someone that you are a homeless bum rather than a wealthy eccentric (or vice-versa), it usually takes some time and evidence to overcome that impression. If you use Leaping Fire to accelerate your healing rate to absurd levels it takes a few moments for the effect to run down. If you change the weather with Weathermonger to produce a storm and stop your working… the storm will clear up shortly unless the environmental conditions are right to sustain it, but it won’t just vanish.

Finally, of course, there are effects that produce permanent changes. Most of those are fairly obvious; if you use Witchfire to extract a drug from a plant, or infuse poison into some wine, you’ve basically just moved some molecules around – and they don’t go back when you stop. If you dissipate the energy of a fire with Grounding, it will stay out after you stop unless someone or something re-ignites it. There are a few techniques that let you invest a portion of your Power or even Life in something to maintain an effect indefinitely, but they’re rare – and require a willing decision to do so.

And hopefully that adds clarity instead of confusion!

Building “Lifebonds” in Eclipse

Today’s question is related to the Valdemar articles from a little while back, and is basically “How to build a Lifebond in Eclipse”. Given that that question is a near-perfect example of the problems inherent in building things from literature in games, it’s gotten the full treatment as an example.

As so often happens when converting from Literature, the first thing to consider is “what does this never clearly defined literary thing actually do anyway?”. Fortunately for us, there’s actually quite a lot of information about them scattered across various books. Possibly even enough to reach some actual conclusions.

Lifebond (Noun, Fictonal, Mercedeys Lackey): An intimate and very strong connection between two people’s minds.

To summarize the available information about Lifebonds…

  • Some characters say that they’re rare, but the actual books show them to be surprisingly common among the (relatively few) characters who get their emotional status discussed in detail. There’s no apparent reason why they shouldn’t also be fairly common in the general population. (Various books, Wiki list of known Lifebonds).
  • They are independent of active gifts or other special powers, although they may be more common among those who do possess mental powers (Various Books).
  • They are apparently pretty much unbreakable by common magic or psychic means, although the transmission of most useful information can be blocked effectively (Arrows Fall) and the rules may or may not apply to full-scale divine magic. Partially blocked links do not cause emotional traumas, although they might cause anxiety.
  • Magical barriers do not seem to block simple awareness though; Dirk claimed that he would KNOW if Talia was dead and – since he retains enough awareness of her to locate her through magical barriers – he is probably right (Arrow’s Fall).
  • They manifest spontaneously and involuntarily when potential bondmates meet (Magic’s Pawn, Arrow Series, various other books).
  • They can transmit large amounts of psychic/magical energy (Magic’s Pawn, Tylendel drawing on Venyel’s latent mage-gift to power a Gate, the backlashing gate-energy jumping to Vanyel).
  • They cannot be turned off or “refused”. Even attempting to resist causes psychological problems (Magic’s Price).
  • They can only be initially established at short range. (Various books. Canon lifebonds do not seem to appear before people meet and no one at all seems to be lifebonded to someone that they HAVEN’T met – even if the potential for the bonds seems to be established pretty much at birth).
  • According to Firesong everyone has a potential lifebonded partner, but he was more than a bit insane at that point (Winds trilogy).
  • They cause immense emotional trauma when one partner survives the other and may represent a constant or near-constant psychic drain under such conditions (Magic’s Pawn. Note that – according to Kethry, an adept-class mage – “Emotion WAS power. That was what mage a death-curse so potent, even in the mouth of an untutored peasant”).
  • They seem to persist beyond death however; otherwise the mental injury could be expected to “heal” – or it would at least be possible to seal it off – and it would be extremely unlikely for Tylendel to be reborn as Stephen and be able to forge a NEW lifebond with Vanyel (Magic’s Price).
  • Vanyel seemed to be able to function more or less normally after a few years. Interestingly, that partial recovery seems to have occured about the time that Stefen was born (interpolation from the Valdemar Companion and various Wiki timelines).
  • Vanyel seemed fully recovered on the psychc powers level – if still emotionally traumatized after years of warfare without his partner – after meeting Stefan (Magic’s Price).
  • Surviving partners can sense when their bondmate dies, usually experiencing something related to their final seconds (Magic’s Price, other books)
  • The pain of the broken bond apparently went away when Stefan met Vanyel’s spirit – manifested once more on the physical level in the Forest Of Sorrows. Again, Death did not actually break the bond. The pain may have stayed gone too. Admittedly, there isn’t much more to the book – but just because Vanyel was incarnated as a forest didn’t mean that he didn’t have a physical body and a presence on Velgarth – and there’s no suggestion of either of the pair being utterly miserable for decades to come. Just a bit sad about being separated for a while (Magic’s Price).

I know some people who have read the series and have concluded that a Lifebond is a curse. It makes you miserable until you acknowledge it, then there is a bit of great happiness – and then you have the extra pain of remembering what you once had when it plunges you into utter misery for the rest of your life. It can even make people who DON’T have a Lifebond miserable; the desire to experience a Lifebond nearly drive Firesong insane (Winds Trilogy). This, however, is mostly an artifact of Mercedes Lackey’s writing style, wherein she tortures her characters to involve the reader with them. I’m not going to count it as hard data.

Now Life and Death seem to be deeply involved in this. So, what do we know about the afterlife on Velgarth?

  • People do continue to exist after death (Vows And Honor series; Kethry’s Oathbreaker Ritual, Tarma’s Spirit Tutors, Magic’s Price (Vanyel getting a choice of afterlives), Ex-Heralds reincarnating as Companions, Ex Sons Of The Sun reincarnating as Firecats, etc, etc, etc).
  • The dead can intervene if summoned by a powerful mage (Vows and Honor, Kethry’s ritual. It is noted as being power-hungry, but then it is an ancient (and possibly inefficient?) ritual that opens the gates of death for angry ghosts to come through and take someone away), if empowered to by a god (Tarma’s tutors), or – more subtly – on their own if they’re strong-willed enough. This even happens in Valdemar – where, for example, Herald Kris promised a bouquet of Maiden’s Hope flowers to Talia for her wedding – and delivered, despite both him being dead and them being out of season (Arrows Fall). (I think there was also a contact in a dream, but the dead speaking in dreams is a basic feature of pretty much every fantasy world ever).
  • The dead do not, however, seem to gain much of any supernatural wisdom (Vows and Honor, Tarma needs new teachers as individuals reach the limits of what they know. In Oathbreakers, Tarma’s spirit-teachers don’t, and perhaps can’t, tell her much of anything about Heralds. The Star-Eyed came to tell her that they could be trusted – and to let her know that the Companions were spirit beings – in person).
  • The dead aren’t tremendously powerful either. Tarma’s tutors have a hard time reaching her to bring her an emergency warning in the face of some basic magical resistance (Vows And Honor).
  • The magical sword Need contains the spirit of a long-dead mage-smith, who continues to use her various powers quite freely – albeit possibly drawing to some extent on her bearer’s strength (Vows and Honor, By The Sword, Winds Trilogy). It also bonds with it’s bearer – another bit of evidence that the nature of the body doesn’t much matter; an embodied spirit can bond with, and interact with, a living person.
  • Spirits incarnated in objects, places, and exotic bodies can all bond with, interact with, and often communicate clearly with, the living without losing their spiritual nature (Companions, Need, Vanyel as the Forest Of Sorrows).

So… affection and loyalty provide a strong enough bond for a dead person to intervene on the physical plane – although this might (or might not) require that they had psychic powers in life (although reincarnation does seem to change those fairly often, since Heralds reincarnated as Companions don’t always seem to have the same gifts – Various Books).

Yet if simple bonds of affection, friendship, and memory can be enough to bridge the gap between life and death… why can’t the apparently-greater power of a Lifebond do it? Why does one partner dying mean more than the survivor gaining the bittersweet knowledge that their loved one remains always near, waiting for them to join them in the afterlife? Why do deceased parents sometimes seem to look after their children and beloved spouses hang around invisibly and comfort their elderly partners? It seems to work that way for some of the peasants of Valdemar and the other nations of Velgarth (Various books).

To talk about that, we need to look at the nature of Magic in Velgarth.

Have you noticed that something is very, VERY, wrong about how magic behaves in Velgarth? It flows into the world through living things and then acts a bit like water – flowing together into lines or rivers of power, which then flow into the great power-pools of nodes.

But… when water flows into rivers, it loses energy. That swift stream rushing down a mountain has a lot of potential energy per unit volume. The water in a valley river that the stream flows into… has less. The water in a lake is calm and still, much of it’s gravitational potential energy given up. A lake in a valley has much less energy available per unit volume than rain falling onto the top of a mountain. That’s entropy. That defines the flow of time. Yet magic in Velgarth flows and gathers like water – but once it has gathered it somehow has vast amounts of energy and becomes too energetic for lesser mages to handle in despite of entropy and time.

That means that it must have a secondary energy potential. Something that is the same anywhere in the world. It must have somewhere else to “flow” to. Somewhere far “lower” than any place in the physical world – “low” enough to dwarf the energy it’s given up in collecting in one spot. Somewhere that it flows into as it is used, giving up that energy to power acts of magic.

  • Magic comes into Velgarth through Life, and leaves through Death (as explained by Kethry). Living things on Velgarth give up their magical energy when they die. That’s the basis of Blood Magic (as explained in many places). Unless harvested by a blood mage… that energy flows out into the world, forms streams and pools, and eventually leaves it to somewhere else (from whence it returns once more through living things).

Ergo… the realms of the dead are a natural sink (or recycling center) for magical energy.

Normal bonds of affection, friendship, and memory… are weak bonds. They cannot transmit much energy. The dead may enjoy receiving a trickle of power from the living who think about them – but the drain / grief it causes is minor – and the mild pain of that drain may be counterbalanced or outweighed entirely by the contact with, and comforting presence of, someone who is loved and missed. Thus thinking about the beloved dead on Velgarth… is always a mixed experience. There are joyful memories, a sense of presence, and grief, and sorrow.

A lifebond however? A lifebond can transmit large amounts of magical and psychic energy. Someone who is Lifebonded to someone in the realms of the dead has an open energy-sink in their mind, draining them constantly. Grief, depression, misery, and constant fatigue is only to be expected. Weaker spirits may lose their grip on their bodies and be drawn into the realms of the dead themselves – dying of grief whether mysteriously or through suicide.

This means that an (un-)“broken” Lifebond between the Living and the Dead can be treated. All you need to do is to restrain the flow of energy over the link to a reasonable level. Eventually most minds will learn to do that themselves – but there’s no reason why a spell couldn’t do it or a telepath couldn’t show someone how.

So why doesn’t that happen? And why isn’t “suffering from a broken lifebond” a fairly common ailment in the population? After all, everybody dies at least once and the books show lifebonds as being fairly common, portraying thirteen pairs amidst a cast of a hundred or two major characters (Valdemar Wiki, since I never bothered to add up either number).

The simple answer as to why “suffering from a Broken Lifebond” isn’t a common ailment is that those without magical or psychic abilities are much less easily drained and can more rapidly adjust to cut down the flow of energy to a reasonable level. “Broken Lifebonds” are thus only a problem for those with substantial special powers. Everyone else can just feel their loved ones comforting – if distant – presence. Their beloved dead can show up to escort them to the afterlife when they’re on their deathbeds and so on. And nobody considers that a “Lifebond” because – having no significant power to share – they never showed signs of power sharing and AREN’T suffering from a “Broken Lifebond”.

As for why no one has ever analyzed the issue and developed a treatment… to get that answer we’re going to have to look at the behavior of Velgarth’s gods.

  • Oddly enough, despite the various gods, spiritual appearances and experiences, mages summoning ghosts, obvious-to-the-reader reincarnation, and other spiritual interactions… no one in the books seems to be particularly clear about the afterlife. In fact the Companions – the most direct divine representatives around – habitually inflict laser-guided amnesia on their Heralds whenever they find out too much about the afterlife. That’s partially explained by how awkward it would be, and how many social effects it would have, to let people know that their loved ones could opt to come back, and the kind of expectations it would place on the Companions – but that’s still “The gods have said to erase chunks of peoples minds to keep them from knowing too much” (Winds Trilogy). That’s kind of disrespectful at best and treacherous at worst. I certainly wouldn’t like having my mind messed with that way – especially by a creature who was supposed to be my greatest and most loyal friend.

So why are the gods giving such directives?

  • It is well-established in the books that the gods are generally non-interventionist if they think that mortals can handle a problem (Vows and Honor; the Star-Eyed speaking to Tarma, various other places) – although they CAN intervene if they feel that a problem is beyond mortal ability – such as sending the first Companions to Valdemar (the founder) to help him set up a good government (Winds Trilogy and others. I think that I’ll just reference the Valdemar Companion this time).
  • The gods have the Companions – their agents – meddle with Heralds minds to conceal their true nature and other spiritual truths (Magic’s Price, Storms trilogy). That was also established in Vows and Honor, where Tarma noted that the Heralds were not aware of the true nature of their companions – even though the Star-Eyed had seen fit to tell her and there were plenty of clues. Itt was reaffirmed in Mage Winds by Ulric’s explanations about Firecats and Companions.
  • No one has developed an effective treatment for “Broken Lifebonds” because they only affect a minuscule percentage of the population – and because the information about how they work and what is happening to the victims is being wiped out of the minds of all the potential researchers. After all, Lifebonds have been known for thousands of years on Velgarth – but in all that time, no competent research on them has ever been done. And who but the gods has been around for long enough to ensure that?

Would the gods do that? They seem to be generally “good”; would they actually be willing to be that ruthless and cruel? Well… Vkyandis COULD have dealt with his corrupt priesthood at any moment – he simply vaporized the corrupt high priest when he did decide to intervene (Winds I think) – but he let his corrupted priests burn generation after generation of children (who certainly COULDN’T “handle” being arrested by a massive military organization with magic-users) without doing a thing about it (Storms Trilogy). Evidently the gods are quite ruthless enough to leave some people to suffer horrible fates at times. Presumably that is for “The Greater Good”. I have VERY serious doubts about that argument – but I suppose that gods have a better claim to it than most.

Now that got rather long – but it gives us a reasonably solid theory to work with. There are probably spots in the books that it doesn’t quite fit, and it can rightly be regarded as Headcanon (even if it’s a fairly well researched and supported one) – but it does seem to work with the preponderance of the evidence, which is all you can expect when dealing with a literary work; they’re very  rarely completely consistent about how things work.

So, if you and a partner want to buy a Lifebond in Eclipse, you’ll want…

Mystic Link with Power Link (Power Sharing Variant) (6 CP Base). Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost:

  • The character point cost must be shared between the individuals involved.
  • Creates and extremely powerful emotional bond between the individuals involved.
  • The user will become frantic or upset if his or her partner is seriously harmed unless the link is being actively blocked.
  • If one partner dies, the other will suffer extreme depression, grief, and a psychic shock, usually incapacitating them for several days.
  • Power sharing is only possible at close range.
  • If one partner is deceased, the power-flow becomes one way to him or her. The living partner will become fatigued more easily and will suffer a minor loss of Power/Mana/Magical Energy over the course of each day until he or she learns to block it off (paying 1 CP to learn to do so).
  • The user can be affected by hostile magical or psychic attacks directed at his or her partner.
  • If one partner becomes irrational, upset, or is suffering from Morale penalties, the second one will suffer similarly – although bonuses also transfer.

That’s a net cost of 2 CP – one from each partner. Not too surprisingly… about as cheap as any special power comes in Eclipse.

  • Partners who get along especially well may also share the cost of Inherent Spell (Personal Good Hope, L2) with a total of four uses per day (9 CP, split and rounded down to 4 CP apiece) – with each being able to trigger the effect twice. That way they can encourage each other and derive some actual game-mechanical benefit from the warm feeling of being loved.

And there you go. One Lifebond. Occasionally useful, but mostly only really effective at causing emotional turmoil. Just like in the books.

Passions, Apathies, and Relationships in Eclipse

To the last I grapple with thee! From hell’s heart I stab at thee! For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!

-Moby Dick

Passions are larger than life commitments. They are the things that drive you to accomplish impossible feats, to push far beyond normal limits to save a loved one, to find the strength to hurl back a mighty demon that seeks to extinguish the light you guard, to stand alone and hold a pass against an horde of foes seeking to attack your city, and to crawl out of the very grave to avenge yourself upon your enemy. Passions – whether of hatred, of love, or of simple determination – are strengths that drive mighty deeds, both foul and fair. They both create and destroy. They both protect and torment. A Passion is always focused on doing or accomplishing something of importance – at least to you. A book-lover may collect and preserve books while a book-hater seeks then out to burn them – but both can be equally passionate about it.

The trouble with Passions is that they need to be reasonably specific and only help you out when they apply. Hating the Viking Raiders with all your heart won’t help you out against the wicked King John and his oppressive reign. Secondarily, positive Passions – a desire to defend, or serve, or build – are much safer than negative ones. Positive Passions tend to be open ended; if you are willing to die to defend someone… the Passion is still better fulfilled by you surviving unless it’s a choice between them and you. That way you can continue to defend them in the future. With negative passions… if you’re willing to die to destroy the evil emperor… then hurling yourself into a magma pool while grappling with him works just fine. You may die – but you have fully fulfilled your purpose. The tradeoff is that positive passions are often harder to invoke. A Passion to defend your city won’t do much if no one is currently threatening it unless you’re currently building up its defenses.

A Passion defines your relationship with something – whether that’s a rival, an enemy, a friend, a companion, a place, or a thing.

The inverse version – Apathies – is used in stories when you want to make a character suffer. For an all-too-common example… you can have a character lose their great love. Then have them be overcome with grief, make a great point of their terrible suffering, and have them refuse to take an interest in life. You can even have them attempt suicide. That’s an easy way to appeal to those audience members who feel unjustly put upon by powers beyond their control (most people, and especially teenagers), to the hopeless, and to those who can think of no way to try and overcome their own issues. That makes them a splendid audience sympathy character, sure to appeal to everyone who is either depressed already or who feels that “I probably couldn’t handle that either”. Unlike a Passion, an Apathy takes a character out of action rather than driving them to it. In Eclipse, that’s generally a disadvantage – most often Dependence or Accursed.

Has a person of Passion lost someone they love? Whether they succeed or fail… they DO SOMETHING.

  • Orpheus – and many other heroes – challenged the powers of Death itself.
  • In more realistic tales they often swear vengeance, and go forth to destroy the people who slew their loves, to sell their families into slavery, to burn their homes to the ground, and to sow their lands with salt!
  • If the loss was caused by some impersonal force… perhaps they found an orphanage or build a temple or erect a safety rail, or dedicate themselves to finding a way to prevent similar tragedies, in memory of their lost one.

Such people may despair for a time – but they take their Apathy and they turn it into Passion.

Many years ago… a man down the block from my parents house was informed that his wife was dying of cancer. There really wasn’t anything he could do – it was in the hands of the doctors – but he was a man of Passion, and he decided that cancer was the result of some sort of “magnetic imbalance” and started trying to build a machine to cure her. That wasn’t sane by most standards – but he kept trying in her memory even after the various medical treatments had failed and she had died. If he and his wife had only lived in a world of magic… he might well have succeeded.

So can you build Passions in Eclipse?

Of course you can. There’s already an article on building True Love over HERE.

If you just want die roll bonuses you can use the Bonds effect from the Nobilis articles.

But if you really want to break reality… you’re going to need something a little stronger than die roll bonuses. If what you want is something more like…

The battle was fell indeed, and the stench of burning powder and spilled blood lies thick. Despite your efforts your greatest enemy has won. Your ship is in a race between burning and sinking, your crew lies dead, your bowels are scattered across the deck and your shoulder is nailed to the mast by a sword. Your final words are an oath to all the powers that may be, and upon your very soul, that somehow, someday… your enemy WILL PAY.

And two years later, as the moon eclipses the sun and unnatural darkness falls… your ghostly ship, well-armed skeletal crew, and your wrathful spirit rise from the depths, launching a raid against your enemies homestead – a last chance to gain your vengeance against your enemy and all he values before you and your ghostly ship of the dead go on to become a curse upon the world.

Die roll bonuses won’t get you that. They won’t let you defy death and hold the way against a horde of enemies while others escape despite your mortal wounds. They probably won’t even let you duplicate some stuff that’s actually happened in the real world, such as Gladys May Aylward managing to tow more than a hundred children through the mountains to safety in the midst of an invasion. Fitting a feat THAT unlikely into a game will usually call for more than some die roll modifiers!

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides
By the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.
Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will,
Shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness,
For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.
And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger
Those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.
And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

-Quentin Tarantino

In Eclipse Passions are built with Mana and Reality Editing. They are Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost.

  • Each die of Mana must be assigned to a particular Passion. While Passions may change over time – each session the character may reassign one die of Mana – it’s a slow process. If a passion is fulfilled – lets say you had “Slay The Dark Lord!” as a driving passion at six dice – then it will take six sessions to transfer them to something else after you succeed.
  • Mana may only be expended on reality editing in pursuit of the passion the die is assigned to.
  • A Passion must be assigned at least one die of Mana to allow Minor Edits, two for Notable Edits, three or four for Major Edits, and five or more for Grandiose Edits. Edits don’t count as actions, but you can only invest (Cha Mod) points of mana in edits per turn – unless the GM thinks that your proposal for an edit fits into the flow of the narrative really, REALLY, well. Edits that directly affect someone another being – such as trying to inflict a crippling wound – always allow a Will save. Edits always require the permission of the game master and will only work if they are dramatically appropriate.
    • Minor Edits are things like finding a weapon ready to hand when you need one, taking a move action without provoking attacks of opportunity, taking 20 on a roll, halving the damage from an attack on you, pulling out (and using up or having to leave behind) some convenient minor item of gear, taking an attack meant for someone else nearby, taking a player minute (with free kibitzing from other players and the GM) to come up with the perfect remark, briefly throwing off the effects of an enchantment, or making a brief speech. Dramatic special effects (similar to area-effect Prestidigitation) fit in here too; do you want to swear so foully that metal tarnishes, plants wither, and surfaces corrode in the area? Or scream so that sensitive individuals hear you in distant places? Or make a cutting remark so cold that everyone in the area feels chilled? Go right ahead.
    • Notable Edits include things like taking a Standard Action without provoking AoO, copying a feat or 6-point ability that you are eligible for but haven’t yet taken for ten round, maximizing the effect of a spell, power, or other roll, emulating a first or second level spell effect as long as you can describe some reasonably plausible method for doing so, greatly impressing someone with your courage, vulnerability, or whatever, or inflicting a crippling wound (equivalent to a “Bestow Curse” effect). You can perform a stunt so impressive (or comical) that everyone around you who isn’t doing something extremely urgent and important will take a few moments out to wonder or laugh over it. You might parry – and possible even reflect – a spell with a physical manifestation (for example, knocking away a Fireball before it detonates). You can draw on your Passion for strength to throw off fatigue or other minor conditions or to make a spell or other power last longer than it should. You can simply shrug off the damage from an attack (it’s merely a flesh wound!) or manifest an intimidating psychic aura. You can even improvise whatever simple tools you need at the moment. This is Reality Editing. It can do a LOT of things.
    • Major Edits include things like taking a Full Round Action without provoking AoO, getting a +15 on a roll, copying a feat for the duration of a scene, emulating a third level spell provided that you can describe some reasonably plausible (by Hollywood logic) method of doing so. You might impress someone so much that they might well offer you a job or perhaps some patronage. You might change a relationship in a dramatic scene – perhaps turning a Rivalry into (unrequited?) Love. You can focus utterly on a task, ignoring any die-roll penalties you would normally suffer from with respect to that task for a scene or initiate a confrontation, leading someone to either have to face you directly or back down. YOu can draw on the strength of your Passion to throw off the effects of poison, negative levels, or other major conditions or to remain standing and functioning despite mortal wounds. You can survive an accident that should have killed you; go ahead and throw yourself off a cliff, into a river, or into some other situation that should be lethal and vanish, returning (considerably) later having somehow survived.
    • Grandiose Edits are legendary deeds. You might drive off a far superior foe in a surge of berserk power, hold a chokepoint against an army for long enough for backup to arrive (the GM may call for a check to see if you survive), sacrifice yourself to accomplish some great goal or lay a great curse (usually with delayed effects). You might even go on a sidequest to call upon some hidden resource, such as Aragorn’s Spectral Army. Why not break something important and start some form of countdown to an enemies base or vehicle collapsing or exploding for no apparent reason? Grandiose edits are feats out of legend – but you shouldn’t always expect a game master to allow them.
  • The mana pool of a highly specific passion (“Defend the Princess!”) automatically refreshes daily, while the mana pool of a general passion (“Defend the Kingdom”) automatically refreshes weekly.
  • The mana pool of a Passion can also be refreshed by doing things directly related to the Passion. For example, if your Passion is defending the kingdom, then renewing your vows of service before the king will refresh your pool. Sadly, no more than one pool per day can be refreshed in this way.
  • Passions are major motivations. Characters who go directly against their Passions may suffer backlash. Perhaps Moroch The Implacable has sworn to destroy The Dark Lord at all costs and has invested seven mana dice in that Passion – but, when it comes to the confrontation and the Dark Lord says “Hey! Join Me! Let us Rule Together and I shall share with you the Secret of Eternal Youth!” Morloch says “Hey! That sounds pretty cool!” and joins the Dark Lord. In that case that Mana is going to spend itself at the discretion of the game master – perhaps ensuring that Moroch’s once-allies will become aware of his base betrayal, or arranging some terrible weakness, or creating a terrible rivalry with some other dark power, or notifying demons that Moroch’s soul is forfeit, or assisting other enemies, or causing his once-invincible sword to snap, or all of those things. And the next session Moroch may reduce his once-passion by one die, but the remaining dice will once more spend themselves whenever their pool refreshes. And so it will go until the Passion is spent and those dice are invested elsewhere.
  • Any given character can have a maximum of (Charisma) dice of Passions.

It thus costs 2 CP for one Passion die.

Some possible Narrow Passions? I Will…

  • Destroy the Dark Lord And Free The World From His Thrall.
  • Aid My Blood Brother In Both War And Peace.
  • Love, Protect, And Uplift My Family At Any Cost.
  • Serve My Friend And Liege Beyond Death Itself.
  • Drive Back The Horrors From Beyond And Preserve Our World.
  • Reclaim My Rightful Lands And Title From Those Who Hold Them.
  • Slay The Dragon That Ravaged My Home And Rebuild It Greater Than Before. .
  • Document This War And Compose The Greatest Epic Ever Known That It Will Be Forever Remembered.
  • Find True Love, Though Hell Should Bar The Way.
  • Allow Neither Rain, Not Snow, Nor Gloom Of Night To Stay Me From Delivering Messages!
  • Escape Unjust Restraint, For I Am The Captain Of My Soul.
  • Let Nothing Bar Me From Your Side, For I Will Always Be There For You.

Some possible Broad Passions? I Will…

  • Defend The Kingdom Against All Who Threaten It.
  • Be The Greatest Pirate Ever In Both Truth And Legend.
  • Assist My Friends Out Of My Matchless Loyalty.
  • Strike Down Evil Wherever It Arises That The Light May Triumph.
  • Protect And Aid The Innocent No Matter What The Threat. .
  • Drive The Usurpers From The Kingdom Into The Outer Darkness.
  • Hold To My Word, No Matter What The Price.

“Upon him I will visit famine and a fire,
Till all around him desolation rings
And all the demons in the outer dark
Look on amazed and recognize
That vengeance is the business of a man.”

-Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

So go forth, and play with Passion.

Using Valdemaran Gifts, Part II

One of the major tricks of using Gifts effectively is to work gradually. After all… if you’re not in too much of a hurry, treating a flu patient with specific level zero effects – “reduce production of mucus”, “expectorate”, “reduce inflammation”, “weaken virus”, “bolster immunity”, “heal trivial damage to the throat lining” (a variant of “cure minor wounds”), “bolster immune system”, “drain lungs”, “spring tonic” (A.K.A. “provide vitamins”), and “relieve aches and pains” – probably followed by bit of cleaning up and an “resist flu infection” effect on yourself – is just about as good as zapping your patient with a level three “Cure Disease”. It just takes a few minutes instead of a single turn and requires that you have some idea of what you’re doing. Sure, you might not be able to handle a retrovirus hidden in the patients genome, but how often does that kind of distinction come up in most d20 games?

Unfortunately, that kind of gradual approach isn’t too effective in combat, where you’re usually in a rather large hurry. It’s also less effective in the original books, since there even minor uses of a gift often seem to be a bit of a strain and going step-by-step would bore the readers – but telling the players that even trivial uses of their Gifts are draining is just going to frustrate them.

Personally, I’d recommend that the “chaining minor effects” approach be limited by how well you understand what’s going on in the first place – so you can’t effectively chain more minor effects than your baseline bonus (ranks plus attribute modifier plus permanent feats) in a/the relevant skill – possibly subtracting a few points for general difficulty. Thus the step-by-step treatment for the flu described above would call for a minimum of a +10 total in the Heal skill so as to know what to do and not forget things and might even call for a few more points than that if there’s a penalty. That’s not really much of a limitation, but in a low-level game it’s reasonable enough.

 

Gift Of Tongues

This barely gets a reference in the books – mostly as “Companions understand what people are saying” – but I’m going to presume that it covers vocal and written communication in general.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Double Meaning, Message, Read Magic, and Imitate Voice. You can also sketch accurately, make sure that your words cannot be accidentally misunderstood, and understand any normal language given a minute or two to listen to it being spoken. This won’t let you speak it though.
  • Level One Effects: Aphasia, Comprehend Languages, Compulsive Liar, Fumbletongue, Share Language, Memorize Page, Command, Enthrall, Litany Of Sloth (usually via distraction and insults) Litany Of Weakness, and Vocal Alteration. At this point you can get a general message across pretty much any language barrier, identify relationships between languages, give a fair description of the attitudes and beliefs of the author of any extensive written work, and give excellent motivational speeches.
  • Level Two Effects: Glibness, Codespeak, Heckle, Steal Voice, Hidden Speech, Suggestion, Tongues, Voluminous Vocabulary, Castigate, Litany Of Eloquence, and Speak With Animals. At this level you will also automatically take on an appropriate accent, use native turns of phrase, no one will notice anything odd about your speech, and you can reconstruct messages, books, and instructions presuming that you have at least a third of the original material to work with.
  • Level Three Effects: Curse Of Babel, Demanding Message, Confess, Lesser Geas, Illusory Script, Secret Page, Communal Share Language, Deflect Blame, and Triggered Suggestion. At this point you can understand utterly alien languages, translate technical and magical material, understand blueprints and other plans, reconstruct books and messages from small fragments, and communicate directly with computers.

 

Healing:

In the original books healers are rarely chosen as Heralds, simply because they’re very badly needed in the general population and because Heralds have very short life expectancies. Of course, in d20, any rational party will find SOME excuse to have a healer along – especially since a d20 Healing Gift is far more effective than the ones in the books. Maybe the party healer was chosen in an utter emergency because bonding with a companion boosts gifts – and healing someone was vital to the future of the country. Maybe their Healing Gift was too weak to use without a Companion. Maybe it was triggered accidentally and unexpectedly. Maybe there was just a special reason – perhaps a healing gift that would have been wasted in a bad situation so there was no reason not to choose an otherwise-suitable person with the healing Gift. It’s not as if it never happens, as shown by Shavri, (and, according to the Valdemar wiki I consulted, a Herald named Shia whom I do not remember). Just go with it. There’s no point in arguing.

It is important to remember that – the way Gifts are built – cumulative effects are limited to 2-12 uses of the same basic effect per day per target – so “unlimited use of level zero effects” doesn’t equate to “unlimited healing”. What it means is “somewhat faster healing” – even if the baseline healing in d20 is already better than healer-assisted healing in the original books, a gifted d20 Healer can come close to matching some fairly significant Valdemaran miracles – and we’re bowing to d20 here. In the books many or most healers have ethical problems with using their ability to manipulate the body to harm others, but it’s possible (and, with player characters, all too likely).

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Cure Minor Wounds, Detect Poison, Diagnose Illness (Hedge Magic), Transfuse (Hedge Magic), Stabilize, Touch Of Fatigue, and individual Polypurpose Panacea effects. A healer at this level can also remove rashes, reduce scars and birthmarks, sooth burns and frostbite, keep wounds from becoming infected, relieve arthritis and headaches, eliminate male pattern baldness (if they want to waste time on regular treatments), slightly extend lifespans (regular attention from a healer will add about two years to the effective duration of each age category, resulting in a total extension of about ten years), and alleviate the effects of many other minor illnesses and disorders.
  • Level One Effects: Biofeedback, Relieve Illness (Hedge Magic), Relieve Poison (Hedge Magic), Cure / Inflict Light Wounds, Dentistry (Hedge Magic), Invigorate, Itching Curse, Restful Sleep, Touch of Blindness, Resurgence, Touch of Gracelessness, Keep Watch, Ray of Enfeeblement, Ray Of Sickening, and Remove Sickness (Pathfinder Version). A healer at this level can also produce effects equivalent to the best individual earthly medications, surgeons, and physicians.
  • Level Two Effects: Cure / Inflict Moderate Wounds, Sleep, Lesser Restoration, Youthful Appearance, Acute Senses, Blindness / Deafness, Delay Pain, Delay Poison, Bears Endurance, Bulls Strength, Sustenance, and Body Purification. A healer at this level can use his or her skill and Gift to reattach severed limbs, perform open-heart surgery, and imitate a trauma team.
  • L3) Remove Blindness/Deafness, Neutralize Poison, Cause Blindness/Deafness, Cure/Inflict Serious Wounds, Accept Affliction, Channel the Gift, Deep Slumber, Mass Invigorate, Remove Curse, Psychic Leach, Pain Strike, Remove Paralysis, Ray Of Exhaustion, Poison, Remove Disease, Contagion, and Endorphin Surge. A skilled healer with a Gift at this level will – at least with skill and a good deal of Mana expenditure – be able to perform organ transplants, create almost fully-functional prosthetics, perform extensive biophysical reconstruction, and – for that matter – create tailored drugs and diseases.

 

Mage-Gift:

Mage-Gift doesn’t work like the other gifts; the users have to learn specific spells and don’t get unlimited use of their level zero effects. On the other hand, it allows a MUCH wider variety of effects and Adepts can reach level four effects – which are generally beyond the reach of any other single character.

  • For 6 CP you can have Occult Talent, granting 4L0 and 1L1 effects that you can cast once a day each with a caster level equal to your character level.
  • For 12 CP you can have Advanced Occult Talent, granting 5L0 and 3L1 effects and a similar number of spell slots to cast them with.

Characters in the setting can have Occult Talents with a total base cost of 24 CP. If they wish they can limit their abilities to reduce the cost, but they can’t exceed that limit.

On the other hand, they CAN take higher level spells in those slots. They’ll just have to spend Mana to cast them – and while the Mage-Gifted have limited access to Rite Of Chi to recharge their mana reserves, mana is still a limited resource. Journeymen only have a bit and can only use spells one level above their base slots. Masters have a bit more, can recharge faster and can spend it to use spells one or two levels above their base slots. Adepts have even more, recharge even faster, and can spend it to use spells one, two, or three levels above their base slots.

But wait! That maxes out at ten L0 and six L1 slots! Adepts are far more versatile than that!

Are they? Almost everything complicated or powerful in the books falls under Ritual Magic. Most adepts only seem to have a handful of spells that they can really use immediately.

Pretty much every mage has Light (L0), a basic Shield (Immediate Action, L1 in a L0 slot so 1 Mana, blocks 15 points of damage), and some form of Energy Attack (Spells like Ray Of Frost, Magic Missile, Scorching Ray, or Lightning Bolt are popular depending on the user’s level of expertise).

For this particular “Gift”… here are some spells that fit in fairly well:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Almost anything fits in here. If you like, you can use the Continuum II cantrips. There are a lot of those to choose from.
  • Level One Effects: Disguise Self, Sleep, Alarm, Protection From Evil, Floating Disk, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Color Spray, Shadow Trap, Shadow Weapon, Ventriloquism, Magic Weapon, Obscure Object, (Personal) Dream Shield, and Faerie Fire,
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray (also Lightning and Force variants), Blur, Dust Devil (2’nd edition), Flaming Sphere, Wall Of Light, Glitterdust, Hypnotic Pattern, Invisibility, Armament (temporary force weapons, up to a dozen knives/arrows/etc). Spiritual Weapon, Contact Entity 1, Force Sword, Disguise Other, Invisibility, Mirror Image, Misdirection, Silk To Steel, Deeper Darkness, Daylight, Searing Light, and Dream Shield.
  • Level Three Effects: a long-term Disguise Self/other variant, Lesser Wall Of Fire (a weaker variant), Fireball, Circle of Protection, Dispel Magic, Pyrotechnics, Nondetection, Protection From Energy, Greater Stunning Barrier, Gloomblind Bolts, Ice Spears, Phantom Steed, Planar Inquiry, Arcane Sight, Contact Entity II, Daylight, Lightning Bolt, Sheet Lightning, Displacement, Call Lightning, Hedging Weapons, Infernal Challenger (only for evil blood mages), and Psychic Containment.
  • Level Four Effects: Dimension Door, Wall Of Fire, Lesser Gate (basically a time-consuming, exhausting, and error-prone teleport – or way to let various monsters come through. It might even be Ritual Magic rather than a spell), Summon Monster IV (“Adept Manifestation”), and Lesser Planar Ally.

That’s not exhaustive of course – d20 offers thousands of spells to play with – but a fair number of basics are on there.

 

Mind-Healing

The books represent Mind-Healing as being generally very slow, just as creating bonds that force someone to do your bidding is a very slow (and evil) process. You don’t see any mind-healers going “Zap! You’re Sane/Free/Rational!”. Honestly… given the principles of Lerandor’s Rule (the use-a-bunch-of-lesser-effects principle) even level zero mindhealing effects are more than they show in the books. If a character really wants “Mindhealing” the way it is in the books… take a bonus in Profession; Therapist or learn Ritual Magic. Because mental healing is normally pretty step-by-tiny-step anyway – which is just what level zero effects DO. So even with just cantrips you can finish up with anything within the power of level three effects within a few minutes – and that is NOT what the books show. In fact, it tends to wreck more than one of their plots – and it doesn’t add much to most games anyway since you can’t treat eccentric players and the villains aren’t going to hold still for it. That’s why d20 psychiatrists are not a favored class.

  • If you must be a Mind-Healer, buy Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted / only for psychiatric purposes (2 CP) and put a few skill points in Profession: Therapist – and there you go.

 

Precognition

Precognition or “Foresight” seems to come in two basic forms in the books – short-term combat precognition that provides warnings of attacks and clues as to likely strategies and long-term visions of the future that are sometimes useful warnings, sometimes grim prophecies that tend to come true no matter what, and are sometimes simply wrong or misunderstood. There’s also room for very short-term precognition (the sort of thing that warns you of someone swinging at you from a blind spot or of an incoming arrow) and kingdom-scale foresight that warns of upcoming major disasters and such, but most characters with Foresight have very specialized forms, such as being able to foretell the weather.

Honestly, a lot of that goes under “plot device”, both very literally in the books and mostly so in the games. After all, the game is built around dealing with problems – and “the group is warned of an upcoming attack in time to set up the defenses or race to the rescue” is a pretty classic problem. In terms of the game… precognitive warnings really aren’t any different than being warned by a scout, peasant, merchant, angel, or wizard. The same goes for kingdom-level threats. If someone’s special power requires the game master to give a warning, he or she will just step up the threat to keep it challenging and exciting.

So this list is going to be a bit generic and include a lot of short-term bonus tricks – as well as some ways to inflict penalties, which is pretty much equivalent.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: There are pretty much all thematic; you can have meaningful dreams, get vague warnings of major threats, get details equivalent to having a few scouts (or perhaps a flying familiar) out in the case of more local problems, know about upcoming natural disasters in time to show up to help, give good agricultural advice, predict the weather, and will probably get a +2 bonus on saves against traps, checks to detect ambushes, and maybe even initiative. You might even be able to prevent the occasional disaster that would normally resulted from phrases like “I wonder what will happen if I push the red button / mix these two chemicals / try this unknown mystical ritual” – at least if the rest of the party is sane enough to look at the precognitive before actually doing it. Most NPC precognitives are pretty narrowly focused (since that is so much easier to write and run for), but PC’s are all about meeting unexpected challenges – so they’re going to be generalists.
  • Level One Effects: Anticipate Peril, True Strike, Bungle, Precognition (One minute per level. Variants include +2 to Attacks, to Armor Class, to Saves, and to Damage), Ward Of Heaven (The Practical Enchanter), Aura Of Favor (The Practical Enchanter). Low-Light Vision, Hawkeye, Improvisation, Omen Of Peril, Surefoot, Surefooted Stride, Divine Favor, Entropic Shield, Doom, Fallback Strategy, and Bless (via giving orders). This can also be used to anticipate attacks (dodging up to 15 damage as an immediate action), to negate surprise for the party, and to reroll a skill check since you “foresaw it’s failure”. On the larger scale, this is where you can start using the skill-based variant of True Strike (True Skill, The Practical Enchanter) to do things like pick out the very best moment to call for a tactical maneuver, or the best advice to give the farmers, and so on – as least as long as some relatively vague precognition would he helpful.
  • Level Two Effects: Honeyed Tongue, Tactical Acumen, Augury, Hunter’s Eye, Heroic Fortune, Gallant Inspiration, Find Traps, Sutra (The Practical Enchanter), Karmic Shield (The Practical Enchanter), and Harrowing (or any other form of fortune-telling), At his point you can also use your power as an immediate action to evade twenty-five points of damage, get some clues about the long-term hazards (and likely benefits) of a proposed course of action, and win outrageously at games of chance – up until you have to quit because the likely outcome of winning again is getting stabbed.
  • Level Three Effects: False Future, Find Fault, Minor Dream, Vision Of Hell, Find Fault, Perfect Placement, Good Fortune (The Practical Enchanter), (individual) Ruin Delvers Fortune effects, Find The Gap, Danger Sense, Ubiquitous Vision, and Prayer (via giving directions). At this level you can use your power to take an extra standard action as an immediate action, to try and manipulate the force of Destiny (see Destiny Magic), and to have set up Contingencies (See Politics) to deal with events that the player had no idea would happen. This is also far, FAR, beyond any Gift of Foresight used in the books.

 

Psychometry

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: D20 usually leaves low-grade information gathering up to skill checks – but this level of ability can date items, determine causes of death, determine if a weapon inflicted a particular wound, discern the true intent of a gift or missive, learn the final thoughts or terminal experiences of a corpse, tell which button opens the door and which one sets off the bomb, and otherwise pick up on the intent behind manipulations of physical objects – such as the intent to add poison to a drink, an attempt to get someone too drunk to resist being kidnaped, or the true intent of complex legal clauses in a contract. It can detect forgeries or the information someone was intending (but failed) to convey in a frantic scribble. Was someone recently murdered in a dark alley? Finding out about it will be trivial if a psychometrist takes a look.
  • Level One Effects: Call To Mind, Identify, Obscure Object, Nondetection, Cultural Adaption, Master’s Touch, Detect Secret Doors, Eidetic Lock, and Sanctuary (a bit of a stretch, but it’s basically infusing the area with a feeling). At this level you can easily trace the provenance of items and antiques, “imprint” messages on objects that can only be “read” by another psychometrist, make areas inspire particular moods and emotions, experience bits of the past strongly associated with particular objects – using a womans wedding dress to experience the wedding it was used in or using the cane a man carried everywhere for ten years to “talk to” the imprint of his personality. This sort of thing may take some time, but if you have the time to try and investigate something that rarely matters.
  • L2) Ancestral Communion, Blood Biography, Magic Weapon (Armor, Tools, etc), Object Reading, Sensitivity To Psychic Impressions, Find Traps, and Share Memory, The major distinction at this point is that the user can pull out fairly major bits of useful information very quickly, instead of having to sit around and meditate on it. It’s also at the point where forcing psychic energy into something actually starts to affect it – hence the ability to somewhat enhance items on a temporary basis.
  • L3) Borrow Skill, Akhasic Communion, Discern Value, Find Fault, Pierce Disguise, Pack Empathy, Mindlocked Messenger, Greater Magic Weapon (Armor, Tool, Etc), Channel Vigor, Speak With Dead, and Masterwork Transformation (no components required, but does take some time and use). At this point you are basically drawing information from the universe – and can push some back out into it (thus Greater Magic Weapon and Masterwork Transformation). Given time and the patience to keep asking questions, you can find out all kinds of things, weave warnings and messages into the fabric of the world, and explore almost any mystery. While adventurers rarely have that kind of time available, when they do this Gift can be devastating.

 

Pyrokinesis

According to the books, a lot of the characters with this Gift have poor control over it, although there’s no apparent reason why it should be harder to control the power to heat things up then it is to control the gifts of Empathy, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. You can give your character some such disadvantage if you must, but there really isn’t any reason to. D20 characters routinely mess about with things a lot more dangerous than mere fire.

To account for the books, I’d suggest that ANY Gift that you are nervous about, or fail to get enough practice with, may be difficult to control – but while a rogue flare-up of Farsight may give you a headache, and a telekinetic flare may break a pot, such things don’t spread – while a bit of flame in the wrong spot may burn down a city. Ergo, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Pyrokinetics tend to be nervous about their Gift and don’t practice as much for fear of losing control.

Of course, when it comes to player-characters… they’ll row out on a lake and sit on a rock or use snowshoes to visit a field under four feet of snow and practice boiling water, torching models, and making hot drinks until they have things well under control.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Dancing Lights, Flare, Ray Of Fire (Frost), Mending (Welding Only), Spark. Of course, a pyrokinetic can also start fires, warm their fingers, heat or cool small objects or minor amounts of liquid, instantly brew tea, light or extinguish many candles, several lanterns, or a torch, prevent or treat frostbite, control smoke rings, create puffs of smoke, and shape small flames and quantities of smoke into various forms.
  • Level One Effects: Control Flames, Blades Of Fire, Flame Darts (like Magic Missile), Lesser Orb Of Fire, Light, Animate Fire, Cure Light Wounds (Fire and Cold damage only), Blinding Flash, Endure Elements, Flare Burst, Burning Hands, Touch Of Combustion, Burning Disarm, Faerie Fire, Produce Flame, and Resist Energy (Fire and Cold only). There aren’t specific spells for it, but this also provides the ability to weld larger objects, cause small flames to flare up, put out groups of torches or a large campfire, and create and control a 10′ radius of fairly heavy smoke – whether to sculpt it or to make smoke signals.
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray, Cause Nausea (via induced fever), Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter, via Boosted Metabolism), Heat Metal, Chill Metal, Obscuring Mist (smoke), Boiling Blood, Pyrotechnics, Burning Arc, Burning Gaze, Fire Breath, Frost Fall, Ice Slick, and Campfire Wall. Effects on this level can also be used to open safe paths through major fires, briefly form a cool and solid crust over a magma flow, to cause a fire to lash out and engulf someone, animate a bonfire, cause a quantity of wax or oil to detonate like plastic explosives or nitroglycerin, and to briefly create massive images of flame.
  • Level Three Effects: Fireball, Energy Wall (Fire), Haste (via accelerated metabolism again), Flaming Arrow, Protection From Arrows (they burst into flames), Heatstroke, Firestream, Dispel Magic (an immediate-action version that only works against Fire and Ice effects) and Quench. Effects on this level can also be used to contain forest fires by creating counterfires or driving the flames back to create firebreaks, to melt metal objects, to project a sphere that absorbs fire or cold damage (Resist Energy 10′ Radius), or to put someone into deep hibernation (roughly equivalent to Feign Death – although this is kind of dangerous).

 

Shields:

In Valdemar, “Shields” are normally passive – and basically amount to “buying a good will save”. Only mage-shields normally seem to be active effects, so they’re handled under mage-gift.

 

Telekinesis

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Mage Hand, Hammertouch, Animate Rope, Launch Bolt, Launch Item, Breeze, Scoop, and Open/Close. While effects at this level are relatively short range and of fairly little force, you can produce a light zephyr, stir pots, work dangerous alchemical experiments from a safe distance, make bushes rustle distractingly, open latches from the outside, and pull off a wide variety of similar tricks.
  • Level One Effects: Guided Shot, Mage Armor, Force Shield, Feather Step, Lighten Object, Buoyancy, Coin Shot, Mending, Hold Portal, Stunning Barrier, Thunderstomp, and Gravity Bow. At this point you can move things to trip up opponents, yank chairs out from under people, guide pies to hit people in the face at considerable ranges, bind animals mouths shut, pull things to yourself, hurl small objects with force and accuracy, equivalent to a heavy crossbow, and get your armor on in mere moments.
  • Level Two Effects: Admonishing Ray, Alchemic Mist (turns a poison or alchemical item into a 20′ radius burst within medium range), Unseen Servant, Air Step, Protection From Arrows, Gust Of Wind, Gusting Sphere, Pilfering Hand, Knock, and Telekinetic Volley. At this point you can shove people away, manipulate objects at range, “feel around” for something you can’t see as if you were wearing heavy gloves, and cause masses of rope or vines to tie people up.
  • Level Three Effects: Web Bolt (using available materials). Raging Rubble, Make Whole, Tremor Blast, Hold Person, Wind Wall, Ape Walk, Arrow Storm, Telekinetic Force, Telekinetic Thrust, and Hedging Weapons. Effects at this level can also reduce missile damage in a small radius or create minor barriers.

 

Telepathy

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Daze, Message, and Distract. At this level a telepath can make ideas occur to someone, perform “stage” hypnosis, share memories, lend someone one skill point (such as sharing a language) or borrow one, sense surface thoughts if the target isn’t resisting, detect hypnosis and other mental influences, and project a vague persona around yourself – things like “he looks rich”, “that’s obviously someone important”, or “just another janitor” that will often get by people who aren’t paying too much attention.
  • Level One Effects: Distract, Conceal Thoughts, Borrow Skill, Cause Fear, Hypnotism, Charm Person, Lesser Confusion, Innocence, Lock Gaze, Memory Lapse, Sense Link, and Mindlink. At this point you can broadcast vague ideas to a crowd, share detailed visions, pull an exact image out of somebody’s memory (and reproduce it if you have the required artistic skills), or communicate long lectures with a glance.
  • Level Two Effects: Inflict Pain, Silent Image, Sleep, Daze Monster, Detect Thoughts, Enthall, False Belief, Hidden Presence, Passing Fancy, Share Memory, Enshroud Thoughts, Misdirection, Telepathic Censure, Mental Disruption, Mass Missive, Thought Shield, Brain Lock, Suggestion, and Zone Of Truth. At this point you can generate group compulsions with some force, anticipate peoples arguments, send a message over a long distance (usually in times of desperation), and fairly easily pick up on things that people are worried about (or are trying to keep from thinking about).
  • Level Three Effects:) Minor Image, Audiovisual Hallucination, Aura of the Unremarkable, Confusion, Mass Feather Step, Malicious Spite, Seek Thoughts, Triggered Suggestion, Aura Sight, Seek Thoughts, Psionic Blast, Deep Slumber, and Crisis Of Breath. While the range is generally short – unless you’re working with another high-order telepath or a group to jump up to fourth level effects (such as Sending) at this point you’ve got a fair amount of range and can fairly readily overwhelm – or probe – the minds of normal people.

 

Teleportation

In the books “telekinesis” and “teleportation” are usually combined into “Fetching” – which seems to cover everything from traveling a bit faster and moving small items around up to shaking major structures and teleporting someone out of a locked cell a hundred miles away. I’ve split them up again because otherwise few d20 players would be able to resist. “Teleportation” is still a catch-all category for movement powers, but at least it’s not a must-have discipline.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: At this level the user can grant themselves or others small bonuses to their movement skills, shift small items in contact with themselves around their body (making them very difficult to search), draw weapons as a free action, speed themselves up just a little bit, and cheat outrageously at many games.
  • Level One Effects: Skate, Catfall, Branch To Branch, Accelerated Movement, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Step, Liberating Command, Bladed Dash, Feather Fall, Jump, Longshot, Touch Of The Sea, Launch Item, Longstrider, Travelers Mount, Wings Of The Sea, Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter), Light Foot (Blog), and Benign Transposition. Not unexpectedly, given that basic physical obstacles are a significant problem for low-level d20 characters, the system also offers a wide selection of spells to deal with them. About the only thing that isn’t covered is the basic “teleport small objects” effect – which is simple enough; with this level of ability you can apport a small object from one spot to another within close range. Thus you can steal something off a table or (if you know the position accurately) from a bag, plant something on someone, and so on. Unfortunately, you can only teleport objects into open spaces, you can’t teleport them into creatures, and objects in someone’s possession get a save.
  • Level Two Effects: Retrieve Item, Returning Weapon, Trade Items, Moment Of Flight, Lions Charge, and Wall Walker or Spider Climb. Upgraded versions of the various first level effects also go here, as does teleporting small objects within medium range or somewhat larger ones within close range – even up to child size if you’re touching them and simply want to move them away.
  • Level Three Effects: Haste, Dimension Door, Blink, Urban Step, Greater Longstrider, Tailwind, Dimension Twister, Time Hop, and Hustle. You can even do the Lightning Step variant of Dimension Door from The Practical Enchanter.

And that’s about it for gifts from the books (in fact, it’s a rather drastic expansion on most of them) – and should be quite enough examples to work with if someone builds a more exotic gift.

The Laws Of Magic Part VI – Magical Symbols

For those looking to read in order…

Which leaves Symbols.

Like the other laws of magic, Symbols are rooted deep in the human mind. Unlike most of the other “laws of magic” their “power” has some basis in reality, even beyond the fact that words are symbols and form the basis of culture and most abstract thought.

A wise master of symbols might be able to guide a tribe safely across a stretch of wildness where he or she had never been. They could hear the words of the dead. They could reveal the acts of the gods and the secrets of creation. They could erect great castles and mighty works of art. They could see into the past, gain insights into the future, and perform a thousand other mighty deeds, for the power of magical symbols was theirs.

Today that power is actually all too common. We’d call it Reading Trail-sign, or Reading a Book, or Studying Sacred Texts, or Basic Engineering, or Checking Records, or Architecture, or Naturalism / Recording Natural Cycles, or Mathematics, or Statistics, or by any of a thousand other names – but the power of manipulating symbols is undeniable.

Yet back in the ancient days, when the lore of symbols remained unknown to most… when a man or woman could examine a few bits of dried and marked-up hide carried from a distant city and – by some mysterious art – learn of what was going on there, or craft symbols that could be carried by pretty much anyone to summon forth an inquisitor or even the kingdom’s army… what else was an observer to do but call it magic? And it was magic that observably WORKED. It wasn’t subtle influences, it was POWER.

Are those symbols ancient, inherited from a prior civilization, mysterious, impressive-looking, or just really obscure? People tend to value things according to how difficult they were to acquire and how important they look – so all those things obviously make a given symbol more powerful. After all, Runes are basically just an alphabet – but they pop up in all kinds of movies, novels, and other works as having mysterious powers. Would it be anywhere near as interesting to you if they were talking about the letter “B”?

Even today, the notion that writing something gives it power has a deep grip on the human mind. How many times have you heard the phrase “It Is Written”? Simply seeing something in print tends to give it weight and credibility. Thus the original distinction between Slander and Libel. Because writing it down somehow made it worse.

Science fiction is not immune. It is filled with incomprehensible symbols that drive men mad, Basilisk Images that kill when beheld, semantic sciences that manipulate the mind, the arts of the Bene Gesserit, and more. Why is “a picture worth a thousand words”? It is because – for humans – what you HEAR means less than what you SEE. Things sneak, other humans lie, and sounds echo – but SEEING is BELIEVING.

Incantations? Symbols. Mystic Gestures? Symbols. Names? Symbols. Runes, Glyphs, Heiroglyphs, Sigils, Witch-Marks, Emblems, Magic Circles… even most Physical Props, such as Staves (emblems of authority) and Wands (pointing sticks) are all basically Symbols or combinations of Symbols. .

The thing about symbols is that the nonverbal ones tend to be semi-permanent. Magic Circles work until they’re broken. Placing runes on a sword will empower it until they are worn smooth. That giant cross will repel vampires so long as it stands. Everyone KNOWS that’s true. After all… that brand of Servitude well may last for the rest of a slaves life – and will still affect his or her life long after he or she goes free. Don’t we feel that engagement rings and gifts of chocolate and roses mean more than “here’s a simple bit of material goods”?

In the Laws Of Magic… Symbols are raw power, condensed, distilled, and bound. The (more or less interchangeable) symbol/emblem/name of a Power is one of it’s Correspondences. Thanks to basic Sympathy and Correspondence, it to some extent IS the Power, for the name is the thing. By the Doctrine Of Signatures, knowledge and study of it reveals some of the nature and potentials of that power. By Synchronicity when that power is involved in your life, you will see it everywhere. By Karma you draw it’s notice and concern as it draws yours – if you are willing to pay the price. By Personification it allows you to relate to that Power – and by Purification of other influences you may allow that Power to dominate parts of the world.

Even in modern productions – movies, anime, comics, and television programs… the symbols of magic are inlaid in jewelry, woven into cloth, tattooed on the skin, or simply flare into existence as the magic is invoked.

This “law of magic” generally doesn’t need a lot of work to get into a game. Your players will probably never question why powerful tomes of magic are written in strange symbols and ancient tongues, or why translations never work properly, or why mystic jewelry and blades are inscribed with exotic “runes of power”, or why summoning creatures calls for magic circles, or why casting spells often calls for complex gestures, or any of a thousand other details. Pretty much every potential player is fully aware that that is how magic “normally works” – and so the vast majority of games and gaming material adhere to those ideas as well.

If you want it to play a more prominent role in the game, however, there have to be limitations. Otherwise the party mage will simply start putting symbols on everything – and that will drown your setting in a sea of magic, just as it would make a mess out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer if everyone in Sunnydale wore half a dozen crosses and light body armor and carried super-soakers filled with holy water everywhere they went.

Given the permanent, or at least semi-permanent, nature of symbol magic, that can be tough to arrange – and you can’t make it ineffectual or no one will want to bother with Symbols in the first place, which defeats the point of trying to make them more prominent. So perhaps you’ll want to apply one or more of the following…

1) Symbols must be empowered again after a relatively brief period of use,, or be periodically purified, or lose their magic to daily wear-and-tear – and while there may be methods to extend their lifespans, or to maintain more of them, such methods are quite limited. Any given magus can support only a limited number of Symbols at a time.

2) Symbols clash with each other. Any given individual can only support a limited number, or perhaps one greater, one intermediate, and one lesser Symbol. Or must bond each symbol to one of their Chakra. Or whatever. Regardless of the exact reason, any given character can only use a few Symbols at a time.

3) Symbols are horribly expensive to craft, calling for rare ingredients and great skill. Characters will only be able to afford a few of them – although this has the unwelcome side effect of causing characters to hoard money and to try to break the game to get more.

4) Symbols must be supported by the will, prayers, or dedication of many people, or by powerful spirits, or whatever. A great city might thus be able to empower a dozen Symbols for it’s greatest champions. A village might support one Symbol for a local hero, Perhaps the Spirits of Light and / or the Righteous Dead can support a few to empower noble paladins and holy men – or perhaps true heroes are supported by the populace they protect while the villains must offer sacrifices to the powers of darkness to get those infernal entities to empower their Symbols.

5) Symbols are empowered in part by personal sacrifice. Perhaps mages are not naturally weak and frail, but supporting the devices they craft makes them so. Perhaps they must accept strange geasa, or give up their shadows, or yield points from their attributes. Whatever they give up… it is difficult or impossible to reclaim without destroying the Symbol.

6) Symbols are empowered by quests, legends, and mighty deeds. As you adventure and accomplish those deeds you will gradually earn the ability to use more Symbols.

7) Symbols draw on a limited pool of power, The more Symbols you bear, the less powerful each of them becomes.

There are other, if usually more complicated, methods of course – but various combinations of limits on based on Symbol creation, duration, number, power, cost, user accomplishments, user commitments, and various forms of expenses should cover most of them.

The Laws Of Magic Part V – Narrative and Naming

For those looking to read in order…

From behind them suddenly, closer than they imagined, they could hear the roar of Humperdinck: “Stop them! Cut them off!” They were, admittedly, startled, but there was no reason for worry: they were on the fastest horses in the kingdom, and the lead was already theirs.

However, this was before Inigo’s wound reopened; and Westley relapsed again; and Fezzik took the wrong turn; and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit. . . .

-The Princess Bride

Destiny” has come up before, under Synchronicity, where it creates coincidences in accord with mysterious influences and the currents of fate. The tottering Empire which has set itself against the course of history WILL fall before one set of opponents or another. Sooner or later, the dikes or levees will fail and the floods WILL come. Eventually even the most fortunate gambler WILL lose. That’s “Destiny” of a sort – but it’s Actuarial Table Destiny. It will happen sooner or later – but any individual case may come up almost immediately or it may beat the odds for quite some time.

This isn’t that kind of Destiny. Magic sometimes uses the same word for wildly differing ideas – and what we’re talking about here is what might be more properly called Narrative Destiny. It’s not the sum of probabilities and influences on the world; it’s the force which says that the magic ponies WILL defeat the monster of the week because that is how the story goes.

Reality doesn’t have neat beginnings and endings. People rarely really get what they deserve, the causes of events go back perpetually and the consequences go on and on. People spin cages of words to turn what are basically-chaotic series of events into stories; but – in reality – stories don’t exist “in the wild”. They’re just a way for people to organize their perceptions, experiences, and acquired information. Two people can look at the same events and describe them vastly differently, right down to drawing entirely different conclusions from them.

In magic, however, Narrative Destiny is a major force. It’s the power that turns a mixture of randomness, influences, mistakes, and the accumulative effects of hundreds of people and factions pursuing their own goals in a mixture of erroneous and calculated ways, into a grand sweep of history – a coherent narrative with conventions that have the force of natural laws. And while magic can bend those rules, just as it can let you fly in despite of gravity… there is always a price to twisting the course of events away from their well-worn channel. Thus Narrative Destiny leads some people through near-inevitable sequences of events while others subvert its dictates, achieving goals that should have been utterly impossible in despite of the vast forces arrayed against them.

Narrative Destiny runs on cliches, tropes, and proverbs. It’s what enforces the conventions of stories. It’s the source of all those examples you find on TVTropes – and it’s another “force” that sneaks into almost every game pretty much unnoticed simply because most game masters try to have a bit more background and depth to things beyond “A bunch of people got together and started killing things and smashing stuff. They got away with this because they mostly did it out in the anarchic areas until they were so good at it as to be mostly unstoppable. Eventually they got bored because they’d smashed pretty much everything they thought needed smashing. Then we started a new campaign”. Game settings are filled with narrative conventions because they’re products of human minds – and that’s one of the major ways in which human minds organize their worldviews.

In RPG’s the prevalence of this form of magic marks a major division between game styles.

  1. A lot of games take a “realistic” approach; if you want to stick a knife into someone, and you can hide your intentions, sneak up on them, and stab them in the back, you’re more likely to succeed. That’s pragmatic, sensible, and – by most standards – pretty reasonable (if perhaps a little dull). Still, there is something to be said for scheming and trying to cleverly take advantage of every opportunity. It’s not all that exciting, but it can be very satisfying if you don’t mind the players constantly looking for ways to boost their odds instead of getting on with things.
  2. Other games may give you a small bonus for adding a bit more description and/or a small penalty for being boring. So you note the faint breeze which flutters the curtains, the anger which drives the attack, and the moment of focus as the attacker strikes – making the story inherent to the game and letting it influence the setting. Now it’s annoying when people get inconsistent about adding details, but as long as there’s some self-restraint amongst the players, this approach can add a lot of details and atmosphere if you don’t mind having to do a lot of on-the-fly adaption.
  3. In a few, announcing that you’re going to run at your target screaming your battle cry, vault over their head off a convenient rock, somersault in the air, stab them in the back to reverse your spin, and land on your feet will get you a bonus rather than reducing your chance of success. That’s dramatic, and stylish – if not genuinely exciting since there’s no actual gamble involved – but it really annoys the players who have a practical streak and are trying to be clever unless there’s some serious cost involved in bending the world to your will that way.

In terms of Narrative Destiny… the first option mostly ignores it just as the real world does. The fact that you’re a handsome prince trying to rescue your true love has little or nothing to do with your success of failure. That’s up to your skills, abilities, decisions, and chance. The second lets the world bend a bit to accommodate your narrative, but strictly caps how far it can go; you can bend the primary story to incorporate your personal one, but only so far. For the third option, there are few limits: the world bends to drama more than it does to mere physics and the “story” is likely to be whatever the characters say it is.

Honestly, there is no simple way of satisfying everyone here. Most game systems tend towards one of those three options – in part because option one is easiest to write rules for, option two tends to be a bit informal, usually operates on the social level, and is generally seen as “metagamey” (it does work well in rules-lite systems though), and option three really annoys the players who aren’t good at verbal dramatics and want firm rules to work with. Trying to write rules that can accommodate all three styles is possible – it’s the approach I took in Eclipse and there are various articles up about how to build characters who can influence the narrative and/or pull off insane stunts at the cost of not having those character points to spend on other things – but accommodating all those options requires either a really loose system (annoying one set of players) or a very complicated rules system (causing a lot of players to opt for games that aren’t so much work to make characters for).

Personally, I usually go for the complicated rules – even if that means I have to help a lot of the players make their characters – and option two. Letting the players add some details works just fine for me.

The simplest way to add this law of magic to a game more actively (without going entirely overboard) is to give characters some bonuses for citing and adhering to an appropriate literary trope. If the character is cluelessly noble and pure at heart, perhaps it does give them strength. An oath really does let someone surpass normal limits to fulfill it. True Love will cure anything. A blow stricken in vengeance is far more grievous than an apparently-identical blow stuck in doubt. That’s what the Fate Point rules in Runecards were about.

Naming is closely related to Narrative Destiny. After all… that random sword is just a sword, and could be replaced by any of thousands of very similar swords without changing anything much at all. Sure, there may be hundreds of trivial variations, but your game of choices equipment list and mechanics generally do not care about the makers mark, or the pattern of the steel, or whether or not the blade has an engraving of a creature on it, or the color of the pommel. A “short sword” is pretty much a “short sword” – unless, perhaps, a full-blown system of correspondences is in use. But even if one is, those correspondences will still be just a handful of discriptives hung on the basic “short sword” chasse.

Now “Sting” may have been pretty much a short sword or combat knife at base – but it was an elven-blade forged by a Noldor master-smith before the fall of Gondolin. It penetrated the skin of trolls, cut webs easily, and glowed in the presence of certain monsters. It may not have been all that powerful a magical blade – but it became a singular part of it’s bearer’s legend when it was NAMED.

In magic, names have POWER. A things name is a link to it, a way to draw on it’s power and authority. Have you ever heard the phrase “Stop in the name of the Law!”? What is it that makes that a phrase of power and authority? It’s personifying the “Law!” as an abstract entity of power that lends it’s authority to those who invoke it. “Halt! Police!” just isn’t quite the same somehow.

To give something a name… is to make it unique, to give it importance in the great tapestry of the universe, and so to give it power. As named items are woven into tales and become parts of great events, their power grows. A magician may inscribe a blade with potent runes, it may absorb a part of the power of a mighty foe as it is plunged into their heart, it may be blessed by the queen of the fey… but to some extent they are only giving expression to the power of the deeds that it has participated in.

Names grow. That sword may have started out a casual name such as “Taurin’s Sword” – but if Tuarin becomes a hero, it will soon be “The Blade Of Taurin”. Not too long after that, it might become the “Bane Of Ugarth” (a great troll that it was used to kill). Perhaps one day after that… it will be Straithbeor (“Demon Slayer”, the sword Taurin used to slay many demons during the overthrow of a dark empire), the Bane Of Ugarth, Blade Of The Mighty Taurin, King Of Umbria”. If it gets lost, it might be found again – and once it’s new owner learns it’s history, and shows himself or herself worthy, he or she can draw upon it’s power. If it is broken… reforging it will require a mighty quest, a great deed, or mighty magical ingredients – but once it is done, it will add “The Sword That Was Broken” to it’s name and the reforging will become simply another power-granting component of the weapons ever-growing legend. That’s why the Legendarium skill was written to work that way and why most of the sample Relics in Eclipse II have their own unique histories.

Games vary on this a lot. A very few – Earthdawn, some Arthurian games, and a few more – treat naming as a very big deal indeed. Most others really don’t pay much attention to it. The problem is that named items require their own legends and are generally unique and individual – which means that the game either has to have a specific setting and mountains of source material or the poor game master is going to have to put in an incredible amount of work creating treasures for both the PC’s AND the NPC’s. Thus most games have a list of generic equipment and items that can be readily traded around. Many even have random treasure tables. They may also have a list of unique and powerful artifacts, but it’s up to the game master whether or not to bring such a thing into play and to work it into the plot if he or she does.

Given that inherent problem… This one pretty much has to stay optional. You can set up a subsystem to handle it for those players who want to experiment with it and add some flavor to things (like Create Relic in Eclipse and the Sample Relics in Eclipse II or the aforementioned Legendarium skill), and introduce the occasional unique artifact / plot element – but unless you run a game where magical devices are simply terribly rare, precious, and almost impossible to create, you won’t have time to customize everything.

Laws Of Magic Part IV – Purification and Personification

For those looking to read in order…

And now for Part IV – Purification and Animism / Personification

In “real” traditional magic Purification is a vital prerequisite for any major working. After all… since everything is connected, and there are all sorts of influences and correspondences everywhere, the first step in any major working (that’s anything that isn’t purely reliant on your personal power like “psychic” abilities and petty cantrips) pretty much has to be to clear away all of the magical influences that you don’t want getting involved. Otherwise… you’ll be incorporating all kinds of random influences into your magic. So the first step in anything major is to set up a magic circle or ward to keep outside influences out of your working – and the second is to cleanse your ritual area of any influences that are already present. The third, of course, is to specifically invite, summon, or add those influences you do want present. These days this is usually known as Casting The Circle.

Only then do you actually start in on what you want to do. Otherwise you’re risking having your working go wildly out of control and causing god-only-knows-what to happen. Classically, working without purification was risking much more than your mere life.

In legends and literature, purification is mostly a matter of personal purification. After all, having your characters stop to conduct various purification rituals before they do anything every little bit gets boring very, VERY, fast – and even entirely mortal (super-) heroes are generally capable of doing the impossible ten times before breakfast anyway. Why shouldn’t they get away with skipping the dull bits here too?

Conventionally, when it comes to personal purity in legends and literature…

  • “White” wizards are likely to have to refrain from sexual activity and/or most personal emotional relationships, or avoid certain foods, or follow strict rules to avoid “sin”, or take ritual baths (or possibly never bathe so as to avoid dissipating their personal energies), or spend time in a sweat lodge, or dance and chant, or any of a hundred other methods. In most such cases, the potency of their magic relies on how pure they are, although failure chances and such do show up in some cases.
  • “Black” mages tend to offload their need for purity on other people – which is why they’re big on virgin’s blood, child sacrifices, and stealing the power of untainted magical nexi and items. Thus they weaken and corrupt the sources they draw on – which they care little about because they tend to throw them away as they weaken and grab new sources of power. Black Magic thus inherently taints and corrupts both the area around the user and the sources of magic he or she draws upon.
  • Elementalists, “Nature Mages”, or “Priests” tend to just bind themselves to a particular source or type of power (and usually one they have a natural affinity for at that) or two – thus making it relatively easy to remain “pure” by not interacting with other kinds of magic. All those systems of freeform magic that only apply to particular fields probably work like this.

Which is at least one way in which the (rather boring) traditional generic ritualist – who can try to do almost anything at all given sufficient time in which to work – turns into the familiar specialist-in-a-field / “elementalist” / “necromancer” / whatever role-playing-game quick spellcaster who can keep up with the action but has a strictly limited variety and supply of spells.

Purification is even less important in most RPG’s though, simply because in such games most spells are preset, as with Amber’s “Hung” spells, d20’s “Prepared” spells, or World Tree’s “Grafted” spells. When the effects are set down in the game rules, active purification usually falls by the wayside. Why bother when that fireball wand is essentially every bit as “mechanical” as a grenade launcher?

With systems like that… if you needed to purify yourself, you presumably did it while you were getting your spells ready to go. Once a spell is hung, assembled, or grafted, it is pretty much independent of outside influences – just as a grenade will go off regardless of where it is when you pull the pin (at least barring really insane environments such as the surfaces of neutron stars or “antimagic” zones).

Still, there are echoes of the idea in most role-playing games; that’s presumably where cursed items come from – and it’s why half the powers of The Practical Enchanter’s Wards Major are normally selected randomly; the area covered by such a Ward is usually just too big to purify effectively before it’s enchanted.

Games that happen to have a (usually secondary) ritual magic system or adhere to “only blunt weapons for priests (so that they are not rendered impure by the intent to shed blood, like early AD&D) usually already include some nods to the idea of ritual purity – but if you want to emphasize it a bit more, noting that mages must spend some time every day in meditation to cleanse their minds, or spend a day of downtime not casting anything so as to purify the energies of their chakra every so often, or burn the occasional stick of special incense to let it’s smoke carry away malevolent demonic forces, or never speak an impure language, or whatever, as a part of being a spellcaster, will do it. You can even give it a small penalty to ensure that the players make a note to do it. 5% chance of spell failure per week missed to a maximum of – say – 10% per spell level – will be plenty of incentive for your spellcasters to find an hour or so a week for some purification ceremonies.

Personification is basically Animism – the belief that objects, places, creatures, and possibly even abstract concepts, have spirits of their own, are at least somewhat aware of the world, and can act in their own ways. From this point of view there is no sharp distinction between the spiritual and physical aspects of the world – or between mankind and the rest of the universe. Of all the classic laws of magic… it is perhaps the oldest and most universal. The idea is so widely held and inherent to most indigenous peoples that they often do not even have a word in their languages for it – or even for “religion”. It is unquestioned; Animism simply IS.

It’s true origin lies deep in infancy. Even infants as young as three months of age seem to realize that objects continue to exist when they’re out of sight. Soon after that they begin to understand that not much happens around them unless something makes it happen.

So what makes most things happen around an infant? Sometimes it’s wind, but most of the time it’s a creature – occasionally a family pet or other animal, but most of the time… it’s other people. Infants do tend to be kept safe, warm, and tucked away in quiet, stable, places after all.

It’s not much of a jump to the idea that when things happen… it’s probably people of some sort. Even if you can’t see them, bigger and older people do all kinds of marvelous things. They bring you food, they mend broken toys, they bring fire and keep you warm. So things like lightning, wind, the growth of plants, the flight of birds, the movement of celestial objects, and the great eruptions of volcanoes… are probably acts of even bigger and older people. Sure, some spirits (like some people) are relatively simple and are only good at a few things – but others, like the Great Sky Spirit, are vast and complex.

And, as children grow… a rich animistic overlay of gods, nature spirits, haunts, and fancies grows with them, cast over cold reality like a warming blanket. So you asked for what you wanted or needed. And if, in extremis, that failed you and you died… well, you didn’t pass on that experience. And those times when – against all odds – you succeeded, soon passed through storytelling into legend. What further proof could a member of a small tribe ask for?

Older human brains play into that worldview in another way. The brain is a survival mechanism. It looks for patterns, for ways to survive and prosper in the present – and to predict and influence the future. When the patterns are beyond it’s current understanding, and appear impossible to change to suit itself, stress sets in. The brain starts throwing preconceptions, fantasies, and wild ideas into the desperate effort to find a manipulable pattern.

And waiting there, from early childhood, in the minds depths… is Animism. From a time when life was controlled by mighty beings who did mysterious things for no reason that you really understood – but whom could be influenced to fulfill your needs when you made noise. Did you have a stuffed animal as a child that you talked to? Did you hide under the covers to keep the monsters from getting you? Have you sworn at your car or your computer while trying to get it to start? Then congratulations! You are a practicing animistic mage. Most of us are, if only because It’s VERY hard to get rid of the feeling that threatening that annoyingly balky piece of equipment with being thrown away will help somehow.

Animism is so deeply embedded in human cultures and thus gaming magic that it’s barely even noticed. Look at the setting of your game. Are their various gods of nature and natural phenomena? Are there elemental entities or storm spirits? Do magical items respond when commanded? Are there haunted places, sacred groves, spirits of the land, and great totems that control animals? Do older weapons have proper names and perhaps powers due to their growing legend? Can you speak to the spirit of a mountain or a river? There’s a reason why no one questions that sort of thing when it’s put into a setting. Every fantasy setting has some of that sort of thing.

About the only way that “Personification” elaborates on basic Animism is to say that Animistic Spirits tend to react in kind and can be channeled – and that this is an entirely valid way to deal with the unseen world. Are you a noble hero serving the equally-noble Sun God? Then the Sun God will tend to answer your pleas and will support you as you support him. Congratulations; you’re a Paladin. Do you demand that dark forces do your will and strike down your enemies? Then they will demand equally dark deeds and offerings from you in exchange. Do you attempt to gently persuade locks to open even if you don’t have the key? Then the locks may refuse, or gently ask for a few drops of oil in exchange, or try to talk you into going away – but the are most unlikely to demand anything much more burdensome. If you’re polite and reasonable… then so are they.

Purification and Animism can be left unremarked in your games of course – after all, they’re usually a part of the underlying assumptions anyway – but bringing them a little more into view does serve to hint at a vast, underlying, structure to your worlds magic – and in a way that most people are already primed to accept.