Predation and Ponyfinder in Equestria – Gryphons and Building Species Affinities

Gryphons need a lot of meat in their diet. Unfortunately, that means that a given area can support a LOT fewer gryphons than it can ponies, zebras, or other primary herbivores or even omnivores. For comparison, in Minnesota a wolf (with an average weight of about ninety pounds), eats an average of 15-20 adult-sized deer (with an average weight of about 125 pounds, so about twenty-five times their own weight) or the equivalent per year to meet their nutritional requirements. So to support a single wolf… you need a deer population large enough to produce fifteen to twenty offspring over and above the number needed to sustain their own population and make up for accidents and any unscavenged (at least by wolves) causes of death each and every year. So 20-30 females of breeding age, the upcoming offspring to replace them, enough bucks to fertilize them, and a few older ones (possibly past breeding age) who haven’t been eaten yet. While the exact numbers depend on a lot of factors… fifty or so is a fairly good average.

Hunting fast-growing and fast-reproducing smaller animals, such as mice, is far more efficient in terms of food produced in any given area, but also expends more time and energy per calorie – an exchange that results in diminishing returns as the prey becomes smaller in comparison with the hunter. While traps and filter-feeding are effective counters to the issue, they’re probably not good options for gryphons.

Of course, predators usually take weakened or smaller animals and eat carrion – the ones that die anyway. Why? Well, to look at the wolves again… it’s because, while a deer isn’t all that likely to kill a wolf with a kick or it’s antlers, they can and have done so. If a deer has a mere 1% chance at killing a predator during a hunt, and (according to the biologists) a lot of hunts – 80% or more – are unsuccessful, then a wolf who eats 18 dear a year participates in 90 hunts – and would only have a 40% chance of surviving for a year. That’s why predators try to take smaller prey whenever a chance comes up, grab free carrion meals whenever possible, and avoid risks as much as possible. That’s also why predators will fight over territory and mates, but will back away from any confrontation with prey that they are not more than 99% certain that they are going to win without serious injury. If they lose their territory they are very likely to die. If they don’t mate this year, they can help raise their relatives kids or maybe mate next year. But if they make a habit of fighting anything healthy and near their size, they WILL die.

And it’s not like prey lacks natural weapons. Giraffes can kill lions with kicks or by slamming their heads into them. Zebras and gazelles occasionally kick them to death. Elephants can stomp them or roll over on them – and have been known to throw logs. Even mouse bites can become infected and kill ferrets and foxes – even if the ferrets and foxes don’t die of all the parasites and diseases mice can carry.

That’s why, when it comes to live prey, solitary predators are generally trappers or ambush hunters. They cannot afford to give their prey a chance to fight back. Group hunters (pack, pride, whatever) tend to rely on distraction – letting a few group members try to run the prey into an ambush or bring it to bay and hold it’s attention while staying out of range – allowing other members of the group to attack by surprise (and preferably from behind) again. That’s why they can afford to try for larger prey; it will be greatly outnumbered and shouldn’t get a chance to put up a real fight.

Real predators are tremendously outnumbered by their prey, try to win struggles with near-equals by intimidation and posturing, fight as cowardly, efficiently, and dishonorably as possible when they have to fight, and go for free meals whenever they can. “Honor” has no place in a predators lifestyle. Humans tend to romanticize them – the old “noble savage” sort of idea – but that’s as much a fantasy as Monty Python’s Vorpal Rabbit.

Even supplementing their diet with the more readily digested baked goods and fruits, Gryphons are always going to be heavily outnumbered by the herbivorous races. If they accept substantial subpopulations of species that are less carnivorous, and so are more effective farmers, in their territories… then those tenants will need to feed themselves first, and only THEN livestock. This will be easier for the gryphons, but will result in an even lower gryphon population in any given territory.

Even worse, almost every sizeable animal in Equestria shows significant intelligence (and often magic), making hunting them both harder and more dangerous. They can anticipate ambushes, set up traps and safe zones, supplement their natural weapons, and organize group defenses. For a carnivore… this is very, VERY, bad news. Think of it this way; if one deer in twenty was toxic, then wolves would very shortly be extinct outside of zoos. Equestrian predators need to be either magically powerful or resistant to magic or both (Hydra, Chimaera, Cockatrice, Dragon, Sphinx), near-indestructible (Timber Wolves, Cragdile, Dragon, Slingtails), huge (Ursas, Rocs, Dragons, and Quarray Eels), equipped with powerful natural weapons (Chimaera, Manticore, Windigo and Tatzulwurms), supernaturally sneaky (Changelings pre-Thorax), aquatic (since most fish seem to be “normal”, Bite-Acuda), or willing to forgo ethics and do almost anything to get along. Sneaky, opportunistic, treacherous, and backstabbing is pretty much the order of the day. Otherwise, they will soon go extinct.

Gryphons are not shown to be magically powerful, resistant to magic, near-indestructible, or huge. A beak and talons are an improvement on hooves, but aren’t really on a level with flame breath, deadly poison, supernatural cold, or inflicting magical diseases and swallowing whole. They’re neither supernaturally sneaky or aquatic. That leaves the “willing to do anything” option. In d20 terms… they’re inclined towards neutral or chaotic evil.

Ponyfinder gives Gryphons +2 Str and -2 Cha (with the +2 Pathfinder bonus going to Wis), 40′ Flight with Poor Maneuverability, Low-Light Vision (like every other Fey), a 1d6 bite, and Cloud Walking. They are quadrupeds but are capable of moving at 20′ on their hind legs.

Honestly, that’s terrible compared to what Equestrian (if not Everglow) Ponies get – but it’s also true that about all we see Gryphons do in the series is fly (about as well as normal pegasi) and stand on clouds. Presumably they could bite or claw at people too, but that’s just based on their conformation. That’s… not a lot to go on.

Oh well. Lets build the basic Gryphon Racial Package anyway.

Equestrian Gryphon (31 CP / +0 ECL).

  • Pathfinder Package Deal: +2 Wis (No Cost)
  • Basics: Gryphons are medium-sized. For rules purposes, they’re considered to be humanoids. They have a base move of 30′ and they eat a lot of meat. They can eat sweet fruits and baked goods that don’t contain too much cellulose, but can’t live on a vegetarian diet for very long. No cost.
  • Predatory / “Poor Reputation” (-3 CP): Gryphons are territorial, prideful, do not cooperate well in large groups, tend to frighten other, need a lot of meat, and have a rather nasty reputation for backstabbing. Indeed, many would say that combining a bird of preys general psychotic hostility towards the universe with the aloofness of a cat makes them quite insufferable. It will be best to let someone else be the party “face”.
  • Quadruped / “Accursed” (-3 CP): Gryphons only move at 20′ when they can’t use all four legs, are short, have problems with getting tangled up in clothing, and have problems with small tools and such since their “hands” aren’t very good. This does provide the usual quadruped bonuses (+10 ground movement and increased carrying capacity, along with a +4 against Bull Rush). Fortunately, rings, boots, and so on adapt to fit anyone – so there are no changes in their behavior or the rules for them for gryphons.
  • Winged Flight: Two levels of Celerity with the Additional modifier (Flight, 40′ base, perfect maneuverability), Specialized and Corrupted for reduced cost: will not function properly if the user’s wings are entangled, damaged, or otherwise restrained (although, weirdly enough, as long as the user’s wings are free to move, it doesn’t matter if they are actually moving), is subject to dispelling, antimagic, and similar effects, makes the user magically conspicuous, and only starts with poor maneuverability (8 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment: (9500 GP effective value, 10 CP).
    • Raptor’s Mask: +5 to Perception, Immunity to effects that would leave you Blinded or Dazzled (Magic Item Compendium, 3500 GP).
    • +2 Enhancement Bonus to Strength (L1, Personal-Only x.7 = 1400 GP).
    • Wind Blades (Blood Wind) (L1, Personal-Only – 1400 GP): A Gryphon may spend a swift action to shape the winds, using it’s unarmed strikes for the round as if they were thrown weapons with a 20′ range increment.
    • Embrace The Wild: (L1, Personal-Only x.7 = 1400 GP). Gain low-light vision, scent, and 30′ blindsense. +2 to Perception.
    • Endure Elements (L1, 2/Day, Personal-Only, 560 GP). Gryphons generally don’t need clothing, regardless of the weather, although things like booties and scarves do make them more comfortable when it’s cold or wet out
    • Lesser Vigor (L1, 3/Day, Personal-Only, 840 GP). While there are limits, gryphons recover quickly from normal wounds. They have to; they cannot afford to be wounded during their next hunt and can’t afford to take a lot of time off to heal.
    • Personal Trick: Gryphons gain their choice of a first level spell used at caster level one once per day or two cantrips used at caster level one once per day each (400 GP).
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Cloud-Walking: Immunity/Falling (Common, Major, Minor, 6 CP base), Specialized/only while there’s a cloud of some sort to “support” them. Oddly enough, “clouds” of insects, smoke, and similar things work just fine (3 CP).
  • Damage Reduction (versus both Physical and Energy attacks) 2/- (3 CP). This isn’t a lot, but every little bit helps.
  • Adept (A Dex-Based Raptor Style Martial Art, Fly, Stealth, and Perception Skills may all be purchased at half cost, 6 CP).
  • Racial Skill Bonuses: +4 to the Raptor Style (they all start with Strike, with the damage raised to 1d6, 2 CP), +2 to Fly, Stealth, and Perception (3 CP).

Net Total: 31 CP.

The Gryphon Racial Package, like the basic Pony Racial Package is a mere +0 ECL. Unlike ponies, however, gryphons don’t have full-fledged secondary racial packages and they don’t rely on Mana. They may not have as much raw innate power as Ponies do – but they will always be a bit ahead of them in their development and they will have an easier time learning to do unique tricks with any Mana they do have available. Ponies are a more powerful race, but gryphons make better specialists for anything outside the built-in pony competencies.

The basic gryphon survival strategy “in the wild” is simple enough. They use their wings to reach a high place with some concealment. They perch there, and use their enhanced vision to spot potential meals. They kill said meals with ranged attacks and take them back to their den – another place that’s high out of reach of non-flying species – and share them with their kids. If any serious danger pops up, they fly away. If they can, they make sure that a few secondary dens are available, both so as to have a place to take the kids if a dragon or something moves in on their primary den and to avoid leading such menaces back to their primary den and offspring. If something on their own general power level – a pony or another gryphon – moves into their territory (or they move into theirs), it’s time to growl, posture, snarl, and try to settle who is strongest and most dominant without actually fighting and risking an injury that might leave them unable to hunt for long enough to starve to death. Gryphons can make friends – but it’s rare unless they’re in a nice, safe, area and have plenty of food available. Oddly enough, it’s usually with ponies when it does happen; ponies aren’t usually competing with gryphons, usually have plenty of surpluses and an incredible willingness to share them, and often respond with a great deal of sympathy (an emotion rather alien to an equestrian predator, who must kill and eat fairly intelligent creatures all the time) to a gryphons underlying hint of hungry desperation.

That’s not fabulously brave or noble, and it doesn’t offer many options beyond “retreat!” when a gryphon runs into something that outranges them – but it will generally keep them fed and safe in a world full of unpredictable magical hazards. Thus gryphon settlements tend to be little more than clusters of huts atop mountains or mesas unless – for a brief, shining, time – they are united under some charismatic and powerful leader.

That generally doesn’t last, but it’s fun when it happens.

Many gryphons have secondary species affinities, most often powered by Mana – but that’s about the limit of their instinctive channeling. Beyond that point, they generally need to learn to use it consciously, from scratch.

Secondary Species Affinity: Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: only to buy abilities related to the users feline OR avian species morphology (not both), can only be changed to a total of (Con Mod x 2, 2 minimum) specific abilities or combinations of abilities. (6 CP). While this does not inherently bypass the minimum level requirements for full control of spellcasting (inherent or not), reducing those spells to level three by spending mana on them means that even the most powerful effects require a maximum level of five to fully control – so it isn’t much of an issue. Given that a gryphon will normally only have one or two such effects it can usually be excused. If it matters, however, buy a small Immunity (+4 on your effective level for controlling inherent spells (Common, Minor, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted / only to cover the minimum level requirements for the two possible secondary species affinity spells) for 1 CP and drop it later. A Gryphon may purchase a Secondary Species Affinity twice: once for each of the user’s contributing species.

Thus, for example, a Lion-Eagle Gryphon might purchase either the Lion’s or the Eagle’s Gift or both, using one ability from among the current possibilities for each such purchase.

Possible Lion’s Gifts include

  • Con Mod 0-: 2x Skill Emphasis, Specialized for Increased Effect / will not work in areas of antimagic, can be dispelled, counts as an enhancement bonus (6 CP): Either +4 to Diplomacy and Intimidation or +4 to Acrobatics and Stealth.
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Rally The Pride (Remove Fear) or Inspire Fury (Swallow Your Fear).
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either The Lion’s Rage (Fear) or Coordinate The Pride (Haste).
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either The Lion’s Roar (Shout) or The Hunter’s Gift (Locate Creature).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Master Of The Pride (Greater Heroism) or The Lion’s Glory (Enhance Attribute (Charisma) +8 for one minute per caster level). .
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Feline Heritage (Mass Cat’s Grace) or The Lion’s Rage (Dance Of A Thousand Cuts).

“Con Mod +5″ is the highest level of Gifts normally available. Higher Constitution Modifiers do add more options to the lower tiers though.

Possible Eagle’s Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Flight Feathers (+20 Flight Movement (12 CP), plus Immunity/Maneuvering Limits (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP) with the same limitations as their base flight ability, to get Flight 60 at Average Maneuverability or Eagle’s Strike (Double Damage while striking in a Power Dive / Aerial Charge, 6 CP).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Eagles Glare (Lock Gaze) or Eagle’s Cry (Ear-Piercing Scream) (In a few cases Cry Of Freedom (Liberating Command).replaces one of these).
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either The Eagle’s Eyes (The Practical Enchanter, Skill Mastery, +10 to Heal, Perception, and Survival) or Wind Dance (Burst Of Speed).
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either The Eagle’s Prayer (Freedom Of Movement) or Windreading (Echolocation).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Feral Form (Aspect Of The Wolf) or Control Winds.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Desert Wings (Sirocco) or Wings Of Flame (Personal-only version of Fires Of Purity, does +3 Damage).

For some other possible twists…

Possible Lynx Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either the “Seapony” Package (6 CP) or Immunity to Cold (Common, Major, Minor, 12 points of resistance, 6 CP).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Adroit Melding (+10 Enhancement Bonus to Stealth)) or Hunter’s Howl.
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Life Bubble or Greater Magic Fang.
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Commune With Nature or Shadowform.
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Dream or Waves Of Fatigue.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Mass Suggestion or Shadow Walk.

Possible Raven Gifts Include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Spell/Power Resistance (6 CP) or Attribute Shift (-2 Str, +2 Int, 5 CP).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Comprehend Languages or Shadow Trap.
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Voluminous Vocabulary or Shrink Item (a few substitute Blood Biography or Call The Void, but that’s fairly rare).
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Arcane Eye or Black Tentacles. (A few substitute Bestow Curse or Blood Crow Strike for one of those, but that is extremely rare in Equestria).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Prying Eyes or Ravenscrown (Enhance Attribute from The Practical Enchanter, +6 Enhancement Bonus to Int and Dex for ten minutes per level).
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Eyebite or Greater Dispel Magic

Possible Cheetah Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Opportunist / Can make a Full Attack after a charge (6 CP) or Reflex Training (Combat Reflexes Variant) (6 CP).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter) or Light Foot (Speedster Spell List).
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Haste or Storm Step.
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Flash Forward or Greater Mirror Image.
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Shadow Walk or Plane Shift.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Dance Of A Thousand Cuts or Dust Form.

Possible Phoenix Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Grant of Aid (6 CP) or Immunity to Fire (Common, Major, Minor, 12 points of resistance, 6 CP).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Snapdragon Fireworks, Flareburst, or (rarely) Burning Disarm.
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Ablative Barrier or Elemental Aura.
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Pyrotechnic Eruption or Rainbow Pattern or (rarely) Phoenix Spawn (as per Ball Lightning, but little Phoenix images)
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Damnation Stride or Burst Of Glory.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Telepathy or True Seeing.

Possible Leopard Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Enhanced Strike/Hammer or Enhanced Strike/Whirlwind
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Critical Strike (Spell Compendium) or Catsfeet (Complete Mage).
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Nondetection or Wraithstrike (Spell Compendium).
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Greater Invisibility or Shadow Form (Spell Compendium).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Wind Tunnel (Spell Compendium) or Aspect Of The Wolf.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Superior Resistance (Spell Compendium) or Planar Exchange (Spell Compendium).

Possible Songbird Gifts Include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Attribute Shift (-2 Str, +2 Cha) or Countermagic.
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Ventriloquism or Sanctuary.
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Good Hope or Magic Circle Against (alignment of choice).
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Dismissal or Ruin Delver’s Fortune (Spell Compendium).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Break Enchantment or Greater Forbid Action.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Song Of Life (Animate Objects) or Heroes Feast.

Sadly, Songbird Gryphons with +5 Constitution Modifiers and the Songbirds Gift are vanishingly rare, or the gryphons would have a lot less trouble with their food supplies. When one does show up… it usually means that another glorious gryphon ruler has appeared, and there will be another brief flowering of population, civility, and culture, in some gryphon settlement. Then, after the Songbird priest/ruler dies, the need for food will take priority again, most of the gryphons living there will be forced to scatter to claim hunting territories, and the golden age will be over until the next time such an individual appears.

Possible Jaguar Gifts include

  • Con Mod 0-: Gift Of War (Augmented Bonus/Add Str Mod to Dex Mod for skill purposes, Specialized for Double Effect/only for the racial martial art) or Imbuement (Unarmed Variant).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Doom or Strategic Charge (Spell Compendium)
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Vampiric Touch or Deadly Juggernaut.
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Poison or Eyes Of The Void.
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Personal Revenance (As per Revenance, but you may effectively cast it on yourself the round after you die. This may not be used again until you are actually brought back) or a (larger gryphon themed) version of Bite Of The Weretiger (Spell Compendium).
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Swarm Skin or Shadow Transmutation.

Possible Falcons Gifts include:

  • Con Mod 0-: Either Opportunist / Can make a Full Attack after an aerial or air-to-ground charge (6 CP) or Reflex Training (Three extra actions variant, Specialized in Attacking for Increased Effect. Three times per day you may decide to insert a full attack into the normal sequence of events).
  • Con Mod +1: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Specialized for Decreased (Mana) Cost / only allows a single first level spell. Either Keep Watch or Guided Shot.
  • Con Mod +2: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, either Cloak Of Winds or Akhasic Communion.
  • Con Mod +3: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Four Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 3 Mana to activate. Either Implacable Pursuer (Spell Compendium) or Superior Magic Fang (Spell Compendium).
  • Con Mod +4: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Five Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 4 Mana to activate. Either Mislead or Control Winds.
  • Con Mod +5: Mana-Powered Inherent Spell, Level Six Effect reduced to Level Three by costing 5 Mana to activate. Either Big Sky (Masters Of The Wild) or Binding Winds (Magic of Faerun).

Obviously enough, a lot of other “Gifts” could be constructed – but the pattern is pretty simple. If you want something different, this is Eclipse. Just run it by your game master.

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

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

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Literary World Laws in Eclipse, Part Two – Empowering Tropes

Occult:

Every child knows it. That which is of the darkness thrives in the darkness. Monsters lurk where the light does not show. The shadows breed fear, treachery, and dread powers. There is a reason why “Occult” means more than “hidden”. Secrecy itself is a source of magical power for aberrant and monstrous things.

True monsters – the ooze that devours a village, the pack of lycanthropes that hunts the night, the things that descend from the dark between the stars, the whispered tyrant who has escaped his grave – are strengthened by mystery and weakened by investigation; to complete their defeat the heroes must drag their secrets into the light.

A “True Monster” is named and unique. A mere wolf can be a suitable True Monster for lower level heroes, even while leading a pack of lesser wolves – but it will not be just a wolf with a couple of extra hit dice. It will be the Beast of Gévaudan, an oversized and cunning man-eater who has stolen and devoured women and children for miles about, Its habit of carrying off kids from farmyards, the lost toe that gives it a distinctive track, the great pack it leads, and its near-demonic size and strength will all become a part of its legend after the heroes discover those traits and defeat it.

And with each hidden trait… it gains occult power. It gains one Occult Ability from the list below for each of it’s four hidden traits plus one for the name it’s legend will bear even after it is slain. It will lose one of those traits each time the heroes uncover one of those traits or if it is “killed” – but if it is “slain” while it has even a single Occult Ability remaining, it will simply fade away into the shadows to reform the next night – although this too will cost it an Occult Ability.

Thus – after investigating a few disappearances – the heroes will likely identify the Beasts unique spoor, and so know that it is a single creature, depriving it of one Occult Ability. Deducing it’s preference for women and children and setting a trap for it will cost it another (perhaps reducing it’s massive size and strength) – or perhaps even two if it is “slain” in the ambush. Discovering that it leads a huge pack is likely to result in some nasty injuries, but will cost it another Ability – and its final trait will fall away when it becomes a named legend, known to the people of the area, and it is finally brought to bay.

Possible Occult Abilities:

  1. Accursed: The creature radiates an Unhallow effect. It, and any lesser creatures or minions that it leads, are always protected by a Magic Circle Against Good, positive energy channeling effects are made at a -4 level penalty, and negative energy channeling effects gain a +4 level profane bonus (spell resistance does not apply), and it gets one of the following benefits: 1) a 40′ radius is Silenced, 2) It and it’s allies gain either Resistance 30 or Protection From Energy versus any one form of energy, 3) It and it’s allies gain Freedom Of Movement, 4) All opposing spellcasting is subject to a Dispel Magic check, 5) a 40′ radius is filled with Deeper Darkness, or 6) Creatures that come within a 40′ radius are attacked by a Fear effect. If saves apply, a new one is made every three rounds.
  2. Bloodwright: The creature commands powers of Ice, Wind, Darkness, Necromancy, Illusion, or Poison (select two). It has 3d6 Mana per encounter and may expend 1/2/3/4 points at CR 1+/5+/10+/16+ to produce an effect within it’s themes of levels 1-2/3-4/5-6/7-8. The range of effects available to any particular creature tends to be fairly limited, but will almost invariably cover some of it’s major weaknesses and offer it more options.
  3. Corrupting Presence: While a creature with this ability is in the area the heroes cannot rely on anyone else; any good and kindly people will be too cowed to actually help out, and any major authorities will be disbelievers, fools, being undermined by corrupt underlings, attempting to use the monsters presence, or will be actively supporting it for their own ends.
  4. Darkwalker: The creature has the equivalent of a Greater Blink spell active at all times – although it moves through the Plane Of Shadow rather than the Ethereal Plane, thus Detect Invisibility and Force Effects offer no special benefits against it. The GM MAY allow Ghost Touch weapons to work if he or she is being kind.
  5. Devourer: The creature can swallow up to one-half it’s hit dice worth of other creature, taking their abilities as it’s own. Any damage, negative spell effects, or similar problems are suffered by the imprisoned creatures first – until they die, and are digested for good. It is possible to free an imprisoned entity by going in after it and fighting your way out, casting spells such as Plane Shift, Teleportation, Maze, or Imprisonment on the creature (since the effect will transfer to the creature or creatures inside),
  6. Enfolding Shadows: The creature is always aware of the presence of heroic individuals and may evade them; it cannot be surprised, flanked, or sneak attacked, is immune to critical hits, and may choose to strike at NPC’s when no heroes are about or at PC’s when they are isolated (presuming that they are foolish enough to separate and allow it). Similarly, it is unaffected by mind-affecting powers.
  7. Fair Seeming: The creature may take an innocuous form, immune to detection save by some GM-chosen special means. Everyone in the area will vaguely recall the creature as a member of their community while this power is in use. While so transformed the creature may bond with up to three innocent folk, gradually transforming them into lesser monsters, or draining their life force, or getting them pregnant with young monsters, or gradually draining their power, or some such. Stopping such a drain requires researching an appropriate ritual, magic beyond what the heroes can easily access, divine intervention, or destroying the creature before the end.
  8. Ill Omens: The creature’s presence twists the environment into a place suited for it. Not only is it invariably finding old cemeteries, crypts, patches of warped wilderness, haunted mansions, and similar places to lurk – each with their own population of minor monsters. While none will be able to draw on the Occult for power, the longer the primary monster remains undefeated, the deeper and darker the depths will grow, until there is a true necropolis, megadungeon, or similar. When in such a location the creature enjoys a +4 untyped bonus on all it’s rolls, its AC, and turn resistance and may easily lead heroes into groups of comparatively minor monsters.
  9. Indistinct: The creature cannot be identified; it’s presence blurs all senses, detection spells, and special abilities short of True Seeing (which may provide a vague, but usable, description). It may successfully flee an encounter at any point, even if paralyzed or otherwise trapped – although the description of how this happens is up to the game master.
  10. Looming: The Darkness lends strength and size. The creature may increase it’s size by up to two size categories above it’s base size at will. (This is a very common option for the more bestial monsters that principally rely on physical strength and violence).
  11. Roots Of Evil: The Darkness has granted the creature a panoply, It effectively has wealth as a PC of it’s (CR + 1), and can understand and use it’s equipment appropriately. Sadly, that “gear” is only the result of the cloak of shadows that surrounds it; when this ability is removed, the items fade away into shadows rather than becoming loot.
  12. Untraceable. The creatures lair, any imprisoned hostages/emergency snacks, and wealth, are hidden within a dimensional fold, and cannot be traced or located by anything short of a Miracle, Wish, or Divine Intervention. It may return there to rest, recover, and plot in absolute security until this quality is removed.

In literature, monsters are rarely just wandering about, or sitting behind a door reading a book while waiting for the heroes to kick in the door and attack. There are glimpses first, then attacks where it shows how destructive it can be, then an inconclusive battle, then tracking the horror to it’s lair and doing battle with whatever awaits there. And – for some reason – the monster usually gets easier to defeat along the way, if only because the heroes have seen what it can do and have learned to counter its tricks. Just as importantly, coming to the rescue is considerably more heroic than murdering funny-looking people and taking their stuff – even if they DO have an “evil!” tag pasted on their foreheads.

Lure Of Corruption

Where wickedness is given entrance, corruption follows.

Heroes are rarely unblemished. All too often they must deceive, threaten, kill, or employ lesser evils to stand against the greater ones. Those are necessary, or excusable evils. But sometimes… “heroes” do evil things that are simply unnecessary, even if they are often convenient. Each such incidence of true wickedness leaves it’s mark – a warning to others, a bit of dark power awaiting use, and a point of vulnerability that the darkness can exploit.

The game master should always let the characters know when their actions are about to cross the line into true wickedness. But if they choose to do so – torturing opponents, taking the bandits stolen treasure and leaving their victims to starve, or whatever the game master feels qualifies in the setting – their Corruption score will increase by one. Corruption can be reduced, but it is a terribly slow process requiring months or years of meditation and atonement.

  • Each Wicked act grants the creature that performs it three Action Points. They may spend them in any way they could normally use an Action Point or on the Heroism option – whether or not they normally have access to that option.
  • Each Wicked act opens the creature that performs it to the influence of the darkness. Each act of Wickedness allows the game master to either cause a single action (whether an attack, a spell, a save or other action) to fail or to have an attack or shock render the offender Stunned for two rounds.
  • A characters total Corruption score is reflected in their aura, and – as it increases – can show physically as well, A character who attains a corruption score of 5+ will show the touch of darkness in their aura and a noticeable touch of evil. At 10+ they will show some minor physical sign – burning eyes, talon-like fingernails, pointed teeth, or some such. At 15+ they will acquire a GM-chosen Disadvantage, but gain no points from it. Their alignment will never be detected as having a “good” component and they cannot use items with a “good” alignment. At 20+ they will gain another GM-chosen Disadvantage, will show major physical signs of their corruption, and can no longer use “neutral” items either – although evil ones will accept them readily. Finally, at 25+ they will gain a third GM-chosen disadvantage (but still get no points for them) and – each time they gain an additional point of corruption – must roll a d100 above their current score or transform into a villainous NPC with a truly monstrous form – although that makes them ineligible for further benefits or penalties from acts of Wickedness. At this point they are expected.

Most heroic types will never really worry about Corruption. For that matter, most of the more rationally evil types won’t have too much trouble with it. It does serve as a way to discourage the most gratuitously obnoxious antiheroes and can provide a character who’s going over the edge into noxious insanity with some substantial bonuses.

It’s Written In The Stars:

Perhaps the crudest and simplest way to provide some foreshadowing for the actions of the player characters is to provide them with a special bonus or two – but ensure that it’s very limited use and that everyone knows about it in advance. Then when they use it, behold! Foreshadowing!

The quickest and cheapest way? Grab the list of vignettes from “Stealing The Scene”, print them out in big print, cut them apart, and have every player draw a couple at the start of each session and display them. Behold! Every character now has a minor plot twist or two to pull out at some critical point – and everyone will be looking forward to when he or she uses it. Are there are a few vignettes that will make too big a mess of your plot? Leave them out of the hat at the start of the session. Somewhat more elaborately, you could use any tarot or medicine cards, any deck of whimsy cards you have handy, or my own Runecards (shameless plug here). If anyone hasn’t used their trick at the end of the session, it goes back in the hat; it’s use it or lose it.

This is simple, mechanical, and more than a bit metagamey – but it can certainly be fun, which is the important part. If a player becomes especially fond of a particular trick – perhaps wanting to regularly find secret passages – that can be accommodated by simply giving him or her that particular trick most of the time. After all, the distribution does not HAVE to be random – and and you will have achieved a form of long-term foreshadowing through player cooperation. Is there any reason NOT to let Zorath the Slayer be known for finding secret passages and escape routes when he needs them?

In Media Res:

Another quick trick for game masters – and an interesting way to let the players plan enough to simulate a practiced group of adventurers – is to use cliffhangers. It’s all too common to end a gaming session with the characters at an inn, or camping, or otherwise having a little downtime.

Don’t do that if you can possibly avoid it. It’s DULL. Has the party just hacked their way through a swarm of undead pirates? End the session as the cargo hatch opens and the undead pirate lord rises up, leading even more undead horrors for an even tougher fight.

Now the players have a good idea what is coming, and time to have inventive ideas and come up with ways of dealing with Captain Bloodwrath. They’ll have all week, ot two weeks, or however long it is between your sessions to think about it, come up with interesting stunts, and good lines. Sure, not all of them will bother to come up with much, but all of them will know what’s coming up. Is someone late to the next session? They fell overboard and it took time to fish them out. Do they not make it at all? Perhaps they fell though the deck and were trapped in the brig for a while.

For that matter, there is nothing at all wrong with skipping a bit of time to start in an action scene, especially if you’ve run a few possible plotlines past the players in advance so that there won’t be much argument about abruptly being involved with one that they’ve already approved. Were the characters peacefully resting? Tell them a scroll arrived and close up. Next session? Put them right in the middle of the fight with two golems that they must get past to rescue the kidnapped prince or princess. If you are feeling generous, after a round or two go to a flashback of them receiving the mission, tell them that they had some idea of what they’d be confronting – and let them spend a few minutes doing their downtime stuff and shopping before telling them how they wound up in that fight scene and dropping them back into it.

It’s an artificial way to provide a little “scouting” (obviously they found out about the golems and general environment of the area where the hostage was being hold in advance), of letting the characters prepare for a particular set of challenges, and of providing some forewarning of what they’re going to be up against all at once. It’s not always going to be appropriate – but it’s well worth using when it is.

Literary World Laws in Eclipse, Part One:

Today it’s a question that has jumped to the top of the queue because it brought so much stuff to mind that I just had to write it down…

How would you recommend creating a series of world laws that enforce symbolism, foreshadowing and similar things?

-Jirachi

Basically I think this is “I want a more literary feel to the game – more like Beowulf or The Lord Of The Rings” – so lets look at a few possible World Laws to produce that result.

Stochastic Echoes:

Events that are particularly important to a person – or the world – echo backwards and forwards through the timelines, appearing in dreams later or moments of literal or symbolic vision before. While any individual echo is not guaranteed to come to pass in YOUR timeline, they are often clues as to what might happen.

For most folk echoes pass unnoted; they may avoid a few accidents, but dreams of their death in a plague, or marriage, or the birth of a grandchild are often either happy moments or things they can do little about. Adventurers however… Adventurers are involved with great deeds. They may see themselves dying in some trap, catch a glimpse of some opponent long before they appear, see some past event which is a clue to their current adventures, or become aware of some occurrence in a distant location even if they have no idea why it might be important.

  • Hand out 1d4 such clues or visions during each session. For example, Frodo was hunted by the Ringwraiths – but the group caught a glimpse of them long before they actually attacked. Vision or reality? Does it matter? They were, at least to some extent, warned.
  • Give the entire group at least three, and possibly more, insights into the consequences of their actions at the end of a session – at a minimum, one positive, one problematic, and one outright foreboding item. Did the characters massacre a dark cult and rescue the children who were about to be sacrificed to the Seven-Tentacled Beast Of Darkness? You could note…
    • The joy of the children’s families or the celebration in the nearby villages.
    • The reaction of a powerful noble who may have another mission for such noble heroes – or perhaps is annoyed at the loss of some pawns.
    • The annoyance of the slave traders who have lost a profitable market for poor-quality slaves.
    • The reckless delvings of the treasure-seekers who will soon be searching for something (treasure, magical device, place of power, bound spirit, whatever) that the Cult was supposedly keeping hidden.
    • The stirring of something long bound in the depths – whether because the cult is no longer keeping it bound, because it seeks revenge against those who destroyed it’s servants, or because spilling so much blood in it’s dark fane has awakened it.
  • Antagonists get information from Echoes as well. Minor Antagonists receive three free levels of the Foresight skill. Major Antagonists get seven and three levels of Stealing The Scene.

Oathbinding

To swear a great oath is to take your destiny in your own hands and give it shape. To be forsworn is to wound that destiny and risk bringing a terrible fate upon yourself. An oath may bind the one who swears it beyond death itself. Still, amongst the adventurous few, great oaths – to defend the realm, to slay the dragon, to avenge a lover, to defeat the dark lord – are given. Such mighty oaths are sworn because there is power in them, the strength to accomplish things that might otherwise be far beyond your grasp. In fact that drive is a part of what gives great oaths their power; swearing to a minor deed, or attempting to include a cheap loophole in your vow, results in a minor and powerless oath. Characters may only be sworn to one great oath at a time and must allow at least a month to elapse between the fulfillment of one oath and the swearing of another. If they voluntarily renounce an oath they will suffer the consequences for a year and a day and may not swear another great oath during that time.

  • While a great oath is in effect a character acting in direct pursuit of his or her oath (sidequests, distractions, and random encounters generally do not count) will be assisted as needed by a level four spell effect of the game masters choice up to seven times per month.
  • A character who renounces or refuses to fulfill a great oath will instead find themselves targeted by a similar number of malignant level four (or less) spells every month for a year and a day at the worst possible times – when destiny (the game master) feels that they will be most dangerous – or until they either return to keeping their vow (which will stop the negative effects, but not restore the positive ones) or somehow atone – most often through some great self-sacrifice or quest with no other rewards.
  • Characters who die without completing an oath sometimes appear to those who pass near the place of their death to ask their aid in completing the oath or to “pass it on” by recruiting someone else to swear the same oath, sometimes rise as revenants consumed by the desire to complete their oath, sometimes appear in dreams or to religious figures of their faith to seek forgiveness for their failure, and sometimes just die; .there’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the decisions of fate.

You can build this ability in Eclipse as a Feat, which gives us a point of comparison; allowing the characters to make Great Oaths is pretty much like letting them have a free feat. It’s not too hard to compensate for in Eclipse, but is a modest power bump. Of course… getting players to foreshadow their characters actions is a bit tricky, since “use their characters special abilities to deal with the problems they face” is a given and their characters actions tend to be either fairly random or entirely stereotypical outside of that. Ergo, Great Oaths. You get the players to give some advance notice of their actions by offering them a reward for doing so.

Whispering Tales:

Tales have their own life. The world shapes them, and they in turn shape the world to their narrative. Instead of becoming more and more distorted as told again and again, legends, tales of haunts, and whispered rumors tend to become more real, and more accurate – even if that truth is often buried in symbolism and metaphor – as they pass through the generations of men, while the tales without a kernel of truth are oft forgotten. Which way the arrow of cause and effect truly points remains unknown, and perhaps unknowable, but in the end it matters little. Almost any traditional tale will likely lead somewhere – and those who choose to involve themselves in it may bind a bit of the power of it’s narrative around themselves.

Characters may seek out (I.E; Players may invent and present) tales and legends over and above any that the game master chooses to present, binding a bit of the power of those narratives about themselves – although how much power accrues to them depends on the quality of those tales. A character who “seeks out” such a tale gains either one Rune/Whimsy Card or 1d4 temporary skill points to place in Action Skills of his or her choice for a lesser tale. The award is doubled for a well-developed tale and tripled for a superb one – although characters may not hold more than five cards or fifteen temporary skill levels over between games.

For some examples, here we have the tales of The Hunt, The Grove, The Well, The House, and The Ship – all of which were originally created to add backstory and suggest adventures in a game.

On the metagame level, creating (or researching and tweaking) a tale or legend is also a player request; did a player come up with a tale of bandits, a cursed underground cave of gems, and an imprisoned spirit? Well, that’s a free adventure background, a quick test to see whether the rest of the party might be interested in it (if they have questions or suggestions on expanding the tale, they certainly are), and a request for such an adventure all in one – and automatically provides such an adventure with some foreshadowing and very likely some symbolic content. Stories are like that.

Dragon-Gold And Eldritch Swords

Once upon a time, in Beowulf, The Lord Of The Rings, the Kalevala, and so many other sources – including first and second edition – powerful magical items were rare (and often unique) and wealth brought you XP but thereafter might as well be spent. Why NOT build a castle, support an orphanage, or spend on wild parties? It wasn’t like that heap of gold really DID anything for you.

Then, of course, came wealth-by-level, magic-marts, penny-pinching, upgrading and exchanging magical items, endless accounting, and all the other downsides of making Wealth a measure of personal magical power. Somehow, it’s never seemed to be quite as “magical” even if it IS magic now.

  • The Wealth Templates in The Practical Enchanter are intended to eliminate the accounting. Wealth is still useful, but there’s no need to track every copper.
  • The Charms and Talismans from the same source are minor items of practical magic. Additional examples of designing Charms and Talismans can be found in this (Do-it-yourself Charms and Talismans: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII) series of articles – and here’s an accounting of how they’d fit into The Lord Of The Rings.

Unique magical devices are generally created as Relics, as is explored in the Literary Magic Items and Sample Relics articles.

  • Part I: General information on how to build and use relics and on the role of other magic items in the game, the Hat of the Demon Pirate Ferret, the Chessboard of the Invisible Hand (a device of political manipulation), the Cloak of Zorro (for dashing heroes who do not wish to be indentified), the Kether Scrolls, The Malachite Bindings (a tome of dark magics), the Skull of Scykanthos (a tool of lycanthropic ritual magic), and Arnwen’s Sacred Sunstone.
  • Part II: The Gossamer Shroud of Death, The Clasp of the Mandarin (a social device), and Grimfang the Oath-Blade of Heroes.
  • Part II: The Seals of Seigrun – devices which provide limited spellcasting in any one field at a time – and Lawgiver, a paladin’s blade of atrocious power.
  • Part IV: Weapons of Legend, Stormbreaker, the Bracer of the Archmagi, and the Lion Bracer.
  • Part V: A Quill which forges Scrolls, a Sigil which commands Undead Thieves, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Dragon Crowns – superheroic power devices.
  • Part VI: A Demonslayer’s Helm, Parrying Dagger, Metamagical Rings, and Skill Enhancing Relics.
  • Part VII: The Coronet Of Command, The Sheathe Of Excalibur, The Staff Of Rassilon, Sortilege Staff, and Minor Items:

As a special bonus, here we have The Silmarils of the Manifold – a look at converting Tolkien’s Silmarils into something playable – and a collection of Minor Relics suitable for almost any game. Gandalf and the Balrog for Eclipse d20 also has a relic or two, but that discussion is complicated enough that I’ll leave it all in context, rather than simply adding the relic(s) to these lists.

Village Heroes, Child Heroes, and Hedge Wizardry are explored in these series of articles.

Finally, we have how to supply your heroes in such a system with limited-use magical items:

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys? (6+ CP):

  • This package turns various limited-use innate magical abilities into charms, fetishes, potions, dusts, bags that “contain” spells, strange crystals, and even quasi-technological gadgets. This is a VERY powerful effect, and is likely to be a major sources of a higher-level “Nephews” special abilities.
    • Create Relic: Specialized and Corrupted / only to make limited-use items (Apply “Specialized / Does Not Recover to the items created, only select abilities that normally offer a limited number of daily uses) costing a maximum of 3 CP each, only using points from Enthusiast (2 CP).
    • Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (provides four floating CP) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / points may only be used with Create Relic, limited as above (4 CP).
    • Expanded: Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted (+1 CP for Relic Creation per CP).
  • The basic package gets you 4 CP worth of relics to start with – with the various limitations, enough to get you quite a few gadgets to play with. Another 6 CP worth will get you a small magical arsenal.

For some examples:

Spell Talismans:

  • Innate Spell with Multiple Uses:
    • Two L1 Effects: 6 Uses Each (1 CP), 14 Uses Each (2 CP), 22 Uses Each (3 CP).
    • L2 Effect: 6 Uses (1 CP), 14 Uses (2 CP), 22 Uses (3 CP).
    • L3 Effect: 5 Uses (1 CP), 13 Uses (2 CP), 21 Uses (3 cp).
    • Related L3 and L4 Effect (1 CP), either 5 Uses of Each or a Related L5 and L6 Effect (2 CP), 9 Uses Each of a related L3 and L4 effect (3 CP).
    • Related Set: One effect of each level 3-7 (3 CP).
  • Unfortunately, this doesn’t bypass the level requirements for using innate spells, so low-level artificers must wait a while before using the high-level stuff. On the other hand, there’s nothing at all wrong with taking along a plentiful supply of Multiplying Shuriken (Magic Missile), Rainbow Crystals (Color Spray), Healing Draughts (Cure Light Wounds), and Origami Golems (Unseen Servants) on your early adventures.

Curative Ointment.

  • Healing Touch with Bonus Uses (enough to cure (5 x Chr Mod x Level HP) and Improved/Switch/Empower with Bonus Uses to provide (4+Level/3) total uses of Remove Disease, Remove Blindness/Deafness, Cure Serious Wounds, Remove Curse, Neutralize Poison, and Restoration (3 CP).
  • Curative ointment isn’t all that level-dependent, so a low-level party may find having a pot along very VERY helpful.

Sorcerer’s Bag:

  • Improved Occult Talent, Corrupted for Increased Effect (spell level) / slots must be preset. provides 5L1 and 3L2 charms/fetishes/scrolls/whatever with whatever you like in them for (1 CP).
  • That’s not as many uses as you can get from Innate Spell, but you do get a wide variety of effects. This is taking cheesy advantage of the rounding rule, but Improved Occult Talent is not likely to break the game.

Ring of Whispered Wishes:

  • 6d6 Mana with Reality Editing, Corrupted / cannot be used for other purposes (3 CP).
  • This useful little item answers small wishes – that there be something solid to catch onto when you’re sliding towards the cliff, that an opponent suffer some brief disadvantage, that a spell operate in a way it really shouldn’t or pierce that spell resistance. There’s usually enough power for none or ten very minor requests, but larger boons expend the rings power far more rapidly.

Someone with this package makes a wonderful seller of potions and items that provide more uses of your own abilities, rather than independent abilities. Even better, they don’t need expensive ingredients, or to spend experience points, or to have all kinds of spell formula available. If you kill them, their stock

A Feeling Of Entitlement:

Give each session a cryptic title hinting at it’s theme. Is it going to be about a cult summoning hellhound spirits to possess their victims to use as cannon fodder? Write “Howl of Darkness” on an index card (color coded marker calliography optional) and prop it up on the table. If you want to get really elaborate, provide subtitles for individual scenes.

OK, this is less a world law than a game master habit, but it is especially easy.

Adventure Design:

For general adventure design, I’d suggest The Basic Adventure article, as well as the Ridmarch articles (Part I, Part II, and Part III) – in part because Ridmarch is a good demonstration of the way that foreshadowing flows naturally from an adventure background. Adventurers coming to Ridmarch will hear the ringing of distant bells – foreshadowing their use as a defense, which foreshadows the potential use of the Bell of the Nameless Sentinel to end the threat. An ominous town and uncooperative townsfolk foreshadow a demon cult, the demon cult leads to a portal to the abyss in a cavern or monsters, the portal leads to a demon lord. A mangled corpse foreshadows a group of monstrous undead, who foreshadow a dark horde which rises anew with each nightfall no matter how often they are slain. In each case… small things lead to greater things, and offer clues as to their nature.

And next time around on this… a few world laws to benefit the antagonists.

Building Mystic Martial Adepts

If you had to design something resembling the nine swords classes, but were only given the flavor text, what would be the limitations?’

Also, on the book of nine swords stuff, I am curious if the disciplines could be sensibly bought as stunts, with the immunity to limitations, and perhaps some extra limits from the book to increase effect to what is seen.

-Jirachi

Ah. I was more or less covering why there really isn’t a part of the list that makes their abilities Specialized and a part that makes them Corrupted. It’s just that the list is long enough that they should count as being both Specialized and Corrupted in the vast majority of games.

Going with “Just the Fluff”… well , for the Swordsage we have…

A master of martial maneuvers, the swordsage is a physical adept – a blade wizard whose knowledge of the Sublime Way lets him unlock potent abilities, many of which are overtly supernatural or magical in nature. Depending on which disciplines he chooses to study, a Swordsage might be capable of walking through walls, leaping dozens of feet into the air, shattering boulders with a single touch, or even mastering the elements of fire or shadow. Whatever his specific training, a swordsage blurs the line between martial prowess and magical skill.

-The Book Of Nine Swords.

Honestly, substitute “Martial” for “Blade” and “Kung Fu Master” for “Swordsage” and this describes pretty much any eastern-style over-the-top martial artist from Hong Kong action comic books, movies like Kung Fu Hustle, various fighting games, or many other sources.

In comic, movie, and game terms this is saying “I have a bunch of different cool (and effective) tricks that I can use in a fight and maybe even a few tricks for things other than combat – and thus I am far less dull than a standard fighter type who is usually optimized for a particular tactic or two, and so repeats that tactic or tactics over and over again until the boredom is excruciating.

In practice, if you have effectively unlimited use of your abilities, (I tend to prefer some form of resource management mechanic, but that’s just me) there are several potential problems that you will want to consider. So looking at the limitations in terms of building an interesting character and avoiding boredom…

  • Boredom Problem: I don’t have to think about what to do! I have a tailored ability as a solution for every possible problem!
    • Solution: A fairly strict limit on the number of abilities you have. Of course, knowing too few is also boring, so there’s a delicate balance here. In Eclipse, that usually means having to purchase each ability with character points.
  • Boredom Problem: There’s a fairly obvious “best sequence” for each of the basic sets of problems that my abilities cover. Swarm of enemies? Start out with the area-effect blast. Main target hanging back? Hypercharge them. Single enemy flying when I can’t? Focused ranged strike.
    • Solution: Apply some sort of randomizer to what abilities you have available at any given moment. Sometimes you will just have to improvise, focus on a lesser enemy, or otherwise make the best of a sub-optimal tactical situation.
  • Boredom Problem: You can just spam your most appropriate ability, and so wind up doing the same thing over and over in a fight. It’s being a straight fighter all over again!
    • Solution: a relatively slow, and possibly random, ability recovery mechanism – basically a cool down time, For extra amusement provide a way to either recover more quickly or boost abilities by doing things other than attacking, so there’s a reason to maneuver, taunt your opponents, and do things other than “swing my sword again”.
  • Boredom Problem: All these characters look a lot alike! They all want the “best” abilities and avoid the “worst” ones!
    • Solution: Thematic limitations and ability sequences. That way no one character can have all the “best” abilities, they’ll all be distinct, they will have to invest in some basic abilities to get at the “best” ones – and they’ll have to do other things while recovering their now more-limited supply of “good” abilities. Besides, jumping straight to the most powerful abilities does not fit into D20 very well.

So your set of limitations is going to need to address those four basic issues. It will also have to include level restrictions on the more powerful maneuvers since that is a standard d20 requirement – but that really doesn’t count for anything because it IS a standard requirement.

Addressing those four problems will probably suffice to Corrupt and Specialize the Path Of The Dragon approach to getting those abilities – but it’s important to note that they’re really there to help keep the character interesting to play. Making their special abilities cheaper and/or more powerful is just a side effect.

As for other ways to build empowered martial artists…

Buying at least the basics of the Book of Nine Swords Disciplines as Skill Stunts is easy enough: buy the relevant Immunity as listed in the Skill Stunts articles (probably buying it at “very common” to cover all your martial-arts related skills), buy several martial arts and some boosters like Augmented Bonus for them, buy a lot of Mana to power things with, and consult with your game master to determine the DC of the various stunts. You could probably boost the power of your stunts with a limitation on the basic Stunt ability – although being unable to repeat a particular stunt at will is going to be meaningless unless you first limit the number of different stunts you can pull off. Stunts are, after all, normally open ended; I’m simply listing some examples in those articles.

You could also buy an immunity to the normal limits of Martial Arts skills, allowing you to produce supernatural effects related to the theme of the martial art without spending Mana – but that’s going to require a very high skill score to get away from the need for (often limited use) skill-boosters to achieve the DC’s of those stunts. The really spectacular stuff is going to be very hard to achieve this way – but it will work nicely for a less fantastic martial artist who can keep coming up with new tricks.

Of course, it’s going to be hard to get most game masters to approve of the more esoteric martial maneuvers as stunts in this way. They’re likely to question as to why riding around on a cloud of smoke and ash, or generating a firestorm, is really relevant to a style of armed or unarmed combat – and I’d have to admit that they’d have a point. That doesn’t necessarily limit you as much as you’d think – that firestorm is just a way to attack many creatures at once, and that cloud may just let you bypass rough terrain, both of which could equally well be defined as “whirling dervish assault” and “balancing on needles technique” – but it’s still a limit.

The last time I wanted something like Martial Maneuvers I skipped over Skill Stunts and just went with direct reality-bending (as in Gun Fu and the more general Martial Maneuvers)s – but that isn’t true “unlimited use”, although it can come pretty close in practical terms.

If you just want to build a supernatural combat style you could use Inherent Spell to do it: Buy a sequence of Inherent Spells with either Multiple or +4 (or a relevant attribute modifier) Bonus Uses each, and Specialize and Corrupt them. That will give each effect a base of five uses per day each. Personally, I’d suggest Corrupted / “Cannot use any effect of higher level than (1 + Rounds Spent Fighting)” (which gives you the classic anime style gradual escalation of powers) and Specialized according to the “Per Encounter” rule from the Eclipse Web Expansion (page 11) – “Any immediate ability which can be used three or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used once per “encounter”. If it could normally be used five or more times per day and is reduced to once “per encounter” it may be considered Specialized. Anything usable ten or more times per day may be considered Corrupted if it can only be used 3 times per encounter or Specialized if it can only be used twice per encounter.”

That way abilities are normally once per “encounter”, but you can just double the cost of any given ability in the sequence to get it up to three times per encounter.

Using that structure a pair of first level maneuvers would cost 4 CP, a pair of second level maneuvers would cost 8 CP, 3’rd, 4’th, 5’th, and 6’th level maneuvers would cost 4 CP each, and 7’th and 8’th would cost 6 CP each, and a 9’th level maneuver would cost 8 CP. A basic discipline in this system would thus include 2 1’st and 2 2’nd level effects and one effect each of levels 3-0 at a net cost of 48 CP. Admittedly, you’d only have eleven different spells / “maneuvers” at 48 CP (each at five uses/day) – but you could readily master two or three such disciplines or double up on a favorite to raise its uses to three times per “encounter”. While the baseline maneuvers would either take actions to activate or be slightly weaker to account for combining them with an attack, this is easy enough to address with Opportunist or Reflex Training.

Interestingly, this means that a standard 3.0/3.5 Fighter build – which underspends by 53 CP – can be brought up to normal power levels by giving them one complete martial discipline in this style and Opportunist to let them take personal-enhancing effects – “stances” and such – as free actions at a cost of 54 CP (so they’d need to drop a skill point for perfect balance). They could add a second by spending a good chunk of their Fighter Bonus Feats on it. It also means that you could master at least three styles for the cost of using the Book Of Nine Swords style of building stances and maneuvers – and this method lets you cooperate with your game master to define your own powers.

Lets see…

Beast Of Rage Style:

  • L1) Wrath (The Practical Enchanter) and Embrace The Wild (Spell Compendium).
  • L2) Bite of the Wererat (Spell Compendium) and Blinding Spittle (Spell Compendium).
  • L3) Personal-Only Stone Ox (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L4) Boundless Energy (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L5) Bite of the Weretiger (Spell Compendium).
  • L6) Resilience Of The Beast (As per Heal, but only affects the caster and the effects are spread over time; each round the spell will restore the players choice of 10 points of damage or any one of the usual conditions that Heal cures until the healing capacity or list of effects is exhausted or ten rounds have passed with no use of the spells remaining healing capacity).
  • L7) Wrath Of Grod (The Practical Enchanter).
  • L8) Wrath Of The Great Beast (Form Of The Dragon III, Pathfinder).
  • L9) Stride Of The Colossus (The Practical Enchanter).

Similarly, Battleship Potemkin Style probably includes massive defenses, the ability to hurl rocks either with great force or so violently that they explode, walking on water, another variant on self-healing (damage control), and immediate-action extra hit points. Cumulonimbus Style focuses on mastering wind, thunder, lightning and flight powers. Whisper Of Corrosion Style employs corrosive effects and disintegration. Hungry Ghost Style covers invisibility, etherealness, dimension dooring, and a variety of draining effects.

Now the original Book Of Nine Swords styles presented more options than one of these styles – but individual characters never got to actually have more than a fraction of them, making the actual number of abilities you get fairly similar. As for the range of ability choices… it’s pretty hard to beat “freeform” when it comes to that. You don’t like a few of my choices for “Beast Of Rage” Style? Call your version “Eastern Beast Of Rage” Style (or something like that) and tweak it to suit yourself.

Throw in a few Stances – an unlimited-use counterpart to the Martial Maneuvers that are usually less direct, if still quite potent – and you have an excellent martial adept right there.

For some more specific examples…

  • HERE we have a level four martial artist who is using martial arts skills as an independent, semi-freeform, magic system. Buy up the level of effects he can produce and buy some Mana and Rite of Chi to recover it as he goes up in levels, and he could readily become a full-blown martial adept in his own way.
  • HERE we have yet another approach – a fifth level martial artist with a wide variety of “bad touch” effects that can block the use of magic and psionics for the rest of the day, kill, paralyze, cause amnesia, and many other effects backed up with the ability to raise a short term Wall Of Force as a quick defense, Dimension Door, Enervation, Globe Of Invulnerability, and several other handy tricks. On the other hand, with no real theme to his abilities beyond “that looks handy” it’s not exactly clear where he’d go from this point. He’d do well in a low to mid-level game though.
  • HERE we have a first level martial artist of a race of Natural Martial Artists built using Witchcraft. While most of his tricks are fairly low-powered he has a LOT of them for level one and will easily be able to expand his selection later.
  • The article on Monk Tricks covers how to build a monk-type character with some added options – and a lot of points left over to buy other stuff. A classic “Monk” type the with Battleship Potemkin style on tap sounds like it might be fun…
  • And for a few random examples… we have Lingering Smoke (a Sidereal who wandered in from an Exalted gme), Dante Allegori (a magical weaponsmaster employing the Sixty Successive Sacrileges), Sir Laurent Onn (a generator of enhancing magical auras), the Fey Swordsman (a fairly minor magical martial artist), Noita Verduur (a shapeshifting psychic assassin), and “The Wraith” (a short range teleporter), all of whom represent still other approaches to building warriors with exotic powers to augment their abilities.

Really, this is more a question of what exactly you’re trying to build. Eclipse supports a lot of different approaches to building a mystic warrior.

And I hope that’s some help anyway! If you’ve got something specific in mind though I’ll need some more details.

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

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

Gaming Harry Potter III – Blood And Fire

For today, it’s an offline question, summarized as “are there any more really problematic pieces of magic in the Potterverse outside of the “Deathly Hallows” themselves?”

Yes indeed, there is at least one more really major problematic magical effect or spell in the Harry Potter universe – but I didn’t see much point in addressing it the last time around since you have to replace it to make the story work. The series just… kind of falls apart without it. Now I’m hardly the first to point it out, and there are doubtless some in-depth analysis of the problem out there – but here we go anyway.

The problem lies in the (nameless) blood protection effect that protects Harry through his childhood and which and forces him to keep going back to the Dursleys.

“While you can still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by Voldemort. He shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge. You need return there only once a year, but as long as you can still call it home, there he cannot hurt you. Your aunt knows this. I explained what I had done in the letter I left, with you, on her doorstep. She knows that allowing you houseroom may well have kept you alive for the past fifteen years.”

-Dumbledore, in The Order Of The Pheonix.

It is this mysterious force that keeps Harry Potter safe as long as he lives with Petunia occasionally.

What’s problematic there?

Well… do those forces keep the rest of the household safe when they’re away from home? If not… why not just eliminate Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley? They go to work, shopping, and school don’t they? Kill them – or even just Petunia – and the protection soon ends. It’s not like Harry’s location, or the existence of the Dursleys, is a well-protected secret either. The sheer number of people who were hanging around when Harry was brought to the Dursleys tells us that.

They definitely don’t stop muggle aggression or non-magical forces or monsters. Otherwise other kids couldn’t join Dudley in “Harry Hunting”, the Dementor couldn’t have attacked, and Harry would be immune to household accidents (and to Dudley repeatedly punching him in the nose). So why not hire a muggle hit squad, or load a truck with something explosive and blow up the entire block, or drop a plane on the house, or send some monsters, or any of a million other ploys?

There are supposed to be LOTS of magical families which fell victim to the war. Was Harry’s mother the ONLY parent or grandparent or other relative who sacrificed themselves to try to save someone when they could have escaped? Why isn’t this kind of protection a reasonably common thing? Even if the activation spell Dumbledore used was rare (acceptance by a relative is not going to be all that hard to come by), why aren’t there plenty of related charms? Since reflecting the Killing Curse (and apparently a variety of lesser curses) and destroying the user didn’t call for anything but the sacrifice… why isn’t the death curse known for occasionally backfiring?

What kind of relationship is sufficiently close for the general protection spell anyway? Isn’t everyone in the world related? Why wasn’t a blood relationship and an activating spell and acceptance into a household required when Harry made a personal sacrifice to protect the other students at Hogwarts? After all, that apparently worked just fine and he didn’t even have to actually die. He just had to offer himself.

These mysterious forces suddenly stop working when Harry “comes of age”. But isn’t “coming of age” a legal fiction that varies between cultures and times? Why does the magic of love and sacrifice pay down-to-the-minute attention to a technicality?

According to some sources, the effect only protects Harry, and only while he’s actually at the house. That just makes it worse. Harry went to school before Hogwarts and surely spent as much time as possible away from the Dursleys. Of what use was this much-vaunted protection then? Why was having it worth a childhood full of abuse if there were other ways to provide a safehouse?

If visiting “home” briefly once a year is enough to recharge these mysterious forces… why not board Harry at Hogwarts for most of the year much earlier? After all, acceptance letters came addressed to the “Cupboard Under The Stairs” so they KNEW that Harry was being mistreated and – at the least – had intentionally avoided looking into it. What makes “growing up famous” more problematic than growing up “being physically (at the least we have in-book confirmation for Dudley beating him, pretty much necessarily with Vernon and Petunias approval – and abuse from them is very strongly implied) and emotionally abused and being chronically malnourished?” Why not at least pay the Dursleys to treat Harry better? Are they incorruptibly above bribes but not above mistreating a child?

Of course, this also allows Harry to unquestioningly turn his back on the “muggle” world – allowing him to (among many similar items) ignore the moral problems of actively erasing awareness of magic among muggles – thus preventing them from taking any measures to protect themselves against magical conflicts and monsters, treating them as second-class citizens at best (and as chattel at worst), and condemning people to death rather than sharing those fabulous magical cures with them – without bringing his “noble good guy” status into question.

Like it or not, those mysterious forces are a pretty basic part of the series setup and drive a number of major plot points down the line – and they don’t make a lot of sense. While the target audience will probably never notice the problem, gamers tend to want a lot more detail. Unfortunately, given that this bit of magic reeks of “poorly thought out plot device” there really isn’t one to give them.

Is there anything which works better?

Perhaps. Let us start from the beginning. We’re outright told that no one knows what happened the night that Harry’s parents died. Even Voldemort apparently didn’t fully understand and he didn’t seem all that interested in explaining what he did know anyway – and there were no other witnesses who were willing to talk about it. (Voldemort might have had an aide or something along – but if he did, and Harry was actually the target, then disposing of an injured baby doesn’t call for magic. Babies are fragile).

What was known to the magical authorities of the time was that Voldemort personally attacked two other high-powered magic users and – at the end – a baby who was in the house had suffered a non-lethal magical injury and all three of the people fighting were apparently dead.

So… like it or not, the “innocent baby survives a terrible magical attack and defeats the dark lord!” story was invented for public consumption, whether by the magical authorities or by someone at the Daily Prophet. The fact that authorial fiat made that story turn out to be more or less correct doesn’t change the fact that it was invented out of whole cloth.

Given the evidence they actually had… any sane investigator would have concluded that “Voldemort and the Potters took each other out and the baby was bloody lucky that he only got grazed by some nasty magic – likely a rebounding spell, corona effect, something that got interrupted during casting, or a part of a disrupted spell – instead of being killed”.

After all, “the power of love” would have done !@#$ all against the ceiling falling in, or the house burning down, or some such.

So why didn’t the surviving Death Eaters go after Harry as a small child?

Because the surviving Death Eaters were not outrageously stupid (that sort of goes along with “surviving” part) and were not inclined to accept the statements of the authorities or the newspapers at face value or they wouldn’t have been Death Eaters in the first place. They looked at the actual evidence… and concluded that the baby was a completely unimportant bystander, and had possibly been set up as a trap. Sure, killing the kid might have been satisfying – but they didn’t know that Voldemort would be coming back or that he would care.

Letting the public have their charming little story cost them nothing at all. It might even benefit them; having the public put their faith in miraculous child-saviors meant fewer calls for actual effective investigations and precautions.

And so they did not give a damn about Harry until Voldemort returned and started issuing orders again.

Oh, the prophecy?

Well, first up… Prophecies are kept secret. So nobody except a few individuals with high ranks in the government and an interest are going to know about it. Secondarily, that “prophecy”… is pretty vague.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.

Couldn’t anyone vanquish a Dark Lord if they just got REALLY lucky? Which Dark Lord? Approaches in time, in space, or from another dimension? What does it take to defy him? What calendar? What kind of mark? Maybe on a magic test? What power? Is “the other” a third party? Why not? Neither can live while the other survives? Doesn’t that let out anyone who is alive?

So… Dumbledore, with a war to finish, a country to rebuild, Death Eaters to catch, a school and a government to run, and a thousand other tasks… schluffed off Harry on his relatives (as he was probably legally required to do anyway) using “otherwise he will die!” as a reason to get them to take the unwanted kid. The Death Eaters stayed away because there was no reason for them to bother – and if there WAS, the prophecy implied that they’d be unable to do anything anyway, as it wasn’t their destiny. And so Harry was neglected, and fell through the cracks, and the story could pretty much proceed as written whether those mysterious forces beyond his Mothers blessing ever actually existed or not.

Explaining “He turned seventeen and was suddenly attacked”? Well… Voldemort was back and “The Order got wind of an upcoming attack and decided to move him” actually covers that well enough.

If I ever run a Potterverse game… I think that I’ll just go with that. It will make things SO much simpler.

D20 Terminators

And for today, it’s a question:

I admit I’m curious about Apocalypse after you mentioned him in your write-up for Cable, but really…while I know you meant with regards to the New Mutants (or similar groups), reading these over has reminded me of another action series that started in the 80’s and is still going today: The Terminator. While not quite the same, it deals with a lot of the subjects (killer robots, time travel, and advanced weaponry), so it strikes me as being in the same vein. More specifically, I’d love to see your take on the following:

  • The T-800 (and the T-850 variant),
  • The T-1000
  • The T-X
  • The T-3000

I think those would be a lot of fun.

-Alzrius

Well, why not? There’s already a fairly good book on this topic on the net, but – of course – it’s not as if I agree with everything in it.

Thanks to an incredibly tangled mess of alternate timelines, there are dozens of different “Terminators”, many of them mutually exclusive – and the movies aren’t too consistent about which ones are better or what they can do. That actually isn’t the big problem. Converting the Terminators to d20 is awkward for one major reason:

Terminators are designed to deal with reasonably realistic normal humans using personal weapons. In d20 terms that’s basically NPC classes and – at the top end – second level Fighters and Rogues with small arms.

For example, the classic T-800 is highly resistant to small arms. (generally up to 2d8). Only a lucky shot that hits a joint or exposed component was likely to do any actual damage. Yet small arms fire could take one down. It just took a LOT – or rather less armor-piercing stuff. And they certianly weren’t hard to hit, which let out armor class.

They seemed to be fairly resistant to energy too. The T-800 was able to handle lots and lots of being on fire (generally 1d6 to 3d6) but was unable to handle molten metal or magma (up to 20d6 on immersion).

Yet a pipe bomb (4d6 if you’re being generous) blew one in half. Admittedly that didn’t stop it, but it would be pretty hard to deny that eliminating the lower half is – by definition – probably about 50% damage. Even if we assume that Kyle Reese had some bonuses against Terminators (he can’t have too much though, since his small arms don’t work; perhaps about +1d6 with small arms, +2d6 with explosives?), that he got a good roll, and that the thing already had a little actual damage on it (as opposed to its disguise being ruined)… a Terminator can’t have more than twenty-five to thirty-five hit points. After all, we also know that anti-tank weapons – 8d6 to 10d6 – can damage them easily, and a solid hit (a good damage roll) can take them out in a single shot.

So, since we’re looking at Constructs here… we’re looking at Hardness of between 8 and 12. The standard for “Metal” is 10, so we’;; go with that.

Strength? Well… t-800 variants have been shown bracing a bus to keep it from falling off a bridge, stopping some enormous blast doors from closing, smashing down a large security door, punching through sheet metal, and smashing through cinder block walls.

Still… vehicles can hang partially over drops on their own, so that doesn’t tell us much. The blast doors… well, they were much bigger than the crusher which eliminated the first T-800. So why didn’t they crush the T-800? Perhaps they worked like elevator doors and stopped when firm resistance was registered? The shot didn’t seem to be show any strain or anything.

The large door… came down in one piece and wasn’t much damaged. Evidently the hinges broke. So that’s “break down strong door” (DC 23). Punching through sheet metal… I can poke an awl through sheet metal and hailstones can dent the sheet metal of my car. Sheet metal is simply not a major obstacle to something made of metal. Really, the cinder block walls are probably the most impressive item on this list.

d20 Modern (lifting from the fantasy SRD) lists the “burst” DC for a Cinder block Wall as 35 (Hardness 8, HP 90) – but that’s the same as a one-foot thick masonry wall and that, to put it bluntly, is baloney; I’ve worked with cinder blocks. Once we subtract the hollow part… Hardness 4, HP 20, and a burst DC of 24 is more like it. It might be less; I’ve had cinder blocks break when dropped a couple of feet.

The first movie didn’t show the Terminators as being especially good marksmen, or very stealthy, or extremely clever, or even all that fast. They WERE decent shots (especially when shooting unprotected people at point blank range while they were standing still – or when using a minigun to hose down parked cars with a stream of lead), had basic human level intelligence, were somewhat faster and considerably stronger than a normal human, were capable of using humanities clever machines against us, and they were very, very, determined.

Humans are Persistence Hunters. And the Terminators… are better at it. Plus, they were walking skeletons, classical images of death. They were humans plus, and they were bringing the same kind of death to humanity that humanity had brought to everything that stood in its way. They were stronger, and better adapted to humanities ecological niche, and they wanted us dead. They tapped into the same kind of fear that Godzilla – an avatar of natures uncontrollable wrath and atomic devastation – did.

S0… at a quick approximation: Medium Sized (which goes up to eight feet tall and 500 Lbs), Hardness 10, 30 HP, AC 15, Move 30, Darkvision and Low-Light Vision, Construct, BAB of somewhere between +1 and +4, basic Intelligence. can be temporarily “stunned” by damage. Str 20, considered “Large” for purposes of encumbrance, breaking things, and grappling. Dex 14 (they’re fairly fast and accurate, but they are not Jackie Chan), Int 10 (effectively anyway), Wis… had to say, but likely low, Con — (Construct), and Chr… probably 1 – although those that go rogue and develop personalities of some sort get normal rolls.

We can add a bunch of minor boosts and systems, but that’s our basic T-800 Framework – and the T-800 is a mainstay of the entire franchise.

The quick way to convert a Terminator into Eclipse is not to bother: Pathfinders standard Robot, Machine Soldier is pretty much an exact match (and may well have been meant to be). A T-800 has just been fitted with a high-quality disguise, has access to better weapons, and varies its tactics more.

And that’s a problem, because – while that’s capable of wading through first level Aristocrats, Experts, and Warriors (and even Fighters and Rogues) by the swarm – we want them to be formidable opponents. And many specialized or higher-level d20 characters are quite capable of taking and inflicting a lot more damage than that. It’s downright embarrassing when a mid-level barbarian takes a Terminators heavy weapons shot to the chest and shrugs it off before cutting the thing in half with his axe.

If you want to get sophisticated… drop the Machine Soldiers Two-Weapon Fighting and Weapon focus feats in favor of 12 CP worth of Innate Enchantment and start adding functions in search of 11,000 GP. As a partial Eclipse adaption, it’s probably best to upgrade the CR to 5.

  • Advanced Military Programming: +3 Competence Bonus to Heal, Intimidate, Perception, and Knowledge (History, the Military and Weapons in particular) (1400 GP).
  • Armored Framework: Enhance Structure: +12 + 2 x Str Mod Temporary HP to a construct, x.5 (only to a Construct, only to remain repairable after being reduced to 0 HP (700 GP).
  • Emergency Power: Enhance Attribute: +2 Enhancement Bonus to Strength (1400 GP).
  • Enhanced Servomotors: Boost Armor: Reduced Defense VII (+0 AC, -14 DC), Segmented III (+6 DC, no non-proficiency penalty), Max Dex +4 (-), Speed +10, +4 Str, +2 Reflex Saves (Net purchase DC 10 = 120 Credits or 6 GP). (This is a very cheap trick, but so be it).
  • Hyperalloy Endoskeleton: Crystal of Adamant Armor, Least (+2 Hardness) (300 GP). This increases the units hardness to 12.
  • Iron Strike: The user’s hands are treated as +2 Hand Axes (1400 GP).
  • Large and Heavy: Enlarge Person: Only to be considered Large for the purpose of breaking doors and other objects, grappling, and carrying things (x.5) (700 GP).
  • Reroute Systems: Repair Light Damage (3 uses x .6, recovers only when refurbished x.4, Self-Only x.7, requires 1d6 rounds to trigger after being reduced to 0 HP (ignoring Enhance Structure) x.5, if the first use is insufficient to get the unit up, further uses must be externally triggered by attempts at repair or an application of Mimetic Polyalloy (168 GP).
  • Self-Repair: Repair Light Damage (3 uses x .6, recovers only when refurbished x.4, Self-Only x.7, requires at least one minute of work (x.5) (168 GP).
  • Targeting System: +2 to BAB with Small Arms (1400 GP).
  • Weapons Catalog: Masters Touch, x.7 Weapons Only (1400 GP).
  • Secondary Equipment: Advanced Smartphone (10 GP), GPS (20 GP), Radio Scanner (10 GP), Lock Release Gun (10 GP), Rangefinding Binoculars (25 GP), Compass (2 CP), Flash Goggles (25 GP), HUD (3 GP), Military Transceiver (20 GP), Vocalizer (Voice Imitation, 50 GP), Power Backpack (5 GP), Multipurpose Tool (4 GP), and Remote Surveillance Module (20 GP). Net total: 200 GP.

That’s a total of 9250 GP worth of Innate Enchantment. It’s also significantly stronger and tougher than is really justified for a T-800 – but that’s all right given that quite a few of the variant models are supposed to be slightly stronger, or faster, or otherwise better – although there’s rarely any actual evidence of this. It also leaves 1750 GP worth of innate enchantment (up to 2250 GP if taking advantage of rounding) to add model details.

T-600:

  • The earliest “humanoid” Terminator, the major point of this model was to go into all the places that humans could – wading through water, crawling though holes and pipes, and otherwise getting into their hiding places. It had Tracking (even if it wasn’t all that good at it) instead of one of the Innate Enchantment feats, and so only has 5000 GP worth of boosts. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much information as to what – so you’ll just have to pick your own package.

T-700:

  • This model was apparently an experimental one, and is a bit less durable than the T-800. It has no Hyperalloy Endoskeleton, and so only has Hardness 10. It may have other limitations as well (possibly including the T-600’s tracking feat instead of other benefits), but there’s not a lot of information on them. It was often outfitted with good, but nowhere near perfect, disguises.

T-720:

  • This upgraded T-700 simply has heavier armor. To represent this, upgrade the Enhanced Servomotors entry to actually provide an armor bonus (variable cost) and – presumably – add some built-in weapons. As such, it cannot be effectively disguised. Unfortunately, it’s far more practical to simply deploy armed drones if you can’t disguise your units anyway, so T-720’s are rare, having mostly been upgraded from surviving T-700’s.

T-799:

  • These are basically identical to the T-800, but – not yet being standardized – were more expensive. Few were produced.

T-800:

  • For game purposes this is the basic model. Interestingly, quite a number of “rogue” T-800 units have added various upgrades to themselves – presumably making use of that 1750 GP worth of additional allowable improvements. If nothing else comes to mind… give them a +1 Resistance Bonus to Saving Throws (700 GP) and an Internal Inertial Compass that always lets them know True North (700 GP).

T-850:

  • Add Data Archive (+4 to all Knowledge Skills, all skills are treated as class skills, 750 GP).
  • Upgrade Armor Crystal to a Lesser Version (+5 Hardness, for a total of 15, 1000 GP).
  • Add Morphic Disguise Kit (10 GP). With an extra +6 bonus – and Taking 20 – a T-850 can slowly repair / regrow its human disguise.

T-888

  • Add Expeditious Retreat (1400 GP).
  • A +3 Bonus to Disguise (Thanks to a knowledge of human psychology, 700 GP).
  • Add Built-in Katanas (20 GP).
  • Another 30 GP worth of weapons is likely, but never demonstrated.

The T-900 and T-950 are supposed to be improved somehow, but seemed notably inferior to the 850 models in actual combat. I’d presume that while they are, in fact, somewhat inferior, they are also more stable and far less expensive to produce – a very worthwhile upgrade indeed during wartime, but not something that costs points.

T-X

  • Add Built-In Weaponry: Plasma Rifle (75 GP), Flamethrower (45 GP), Twin Thunder Machine Gun (175 GP), High Frequency Sword (25 GP), Grenade Launcher (100 GP), Laser Sniper Rifle (140 GP), Taser (3 GP), Katana (10 GP), Chain Saw (12.5 GP), minor melee weapons, for a net total of 600 GP.
  • Add Holodisguise (25 GP), since a T-X can perform minor modifications, but cannot change its basic internal structure.
  • Add a Wireless “Neural” Jack (20 GP) and a Neural Computer Link (450 GP), used to override other systems and control them remotely.
  • If it matters, the remaining 650 GP represents the units munitions stockpile; the weapons that require ammo can only be used until the units ammunition reserves are exhausted, whereupon it must restock.

T-1000:

  • Drop the Emergency Power (1400 GP), Hyperalloy Endoskeleton (300 GP), Iron Strike (1400 GP), Armored Framework (700 GP), Large and Heavy (700 GP), and Reroute Systems (168 GP), saving 4368 GP.
  • Add Disguise Self (2000 GP), Reduce Person (x.5, only to fit into and through small places, 700 GP), Summon Weapon (1400 GP), a selection of melee weapons (160 GP), and Reforming (Enhance Structure: +12 + 2 x Str Mod Temporary HP to a construct, reduces the base Hardness by 20% x.8 Personal Only x .7 = 1120 GP) at a cost of 5380 GP.
  • This effectively negates the first twenty-odd points worth of damage that a T-1000 takes each round, but reduces its Hardness to 8 and limits some of its other functions. In theory it leaves about 700 GP worth of Innate Enchantments to go, but I can’t think of anything at the moment. Perhaps a +1 resistance bonus to saving throws (700 GP)?
  • The T-1000 model is very difficult to physically damage, but lacks a solid internal structure to give it shape, strength, and support things like a concentrated energy source, computation, sensor systems, and more. All of those functions have to be distributed across every one of the nanites that makes it up – and it can only be as tough as the links between its nanites. Nanites that have to be able to do everything are always going to have a hard time matching dedicated systems. Unfortunately, it is also extremely resource-expensive to produce and the nanite swarm is highly unstable – making the system extremely vulnerable to program corruption. It may at any point malfunction, change its priorities and goals, subdivide, or even decide that it needs to replace Skynet, That’s why Skynet only deployed wholly-polymetal based Terminators as a last resort.

The T-1000 is also where the franchise makes the transition into complete fantasy; there are an awful lot of physics-related problems with the T-1000, even making allowances for future tech and nanites. Fortunately for Skynet, the Terminators get to run on movie physics instead of the real stuff.

T-3000:

  • The T-3000 does have many of the same abilities as the earlier Terminator models, but it is – quite blatantly – an acquired template, rather than an independent creation. I’ll be covering that template – and making the earlier models playable – next time around.

Linear Fighter, Assistant Wizard

For today, we have a retrospective question about just when “wizards got so overpowered!”.

For the quick answer, is 3.0. For the long answer…

Originally, back in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (First and Second Edition), if you played the game as written… spellcasting didn’t really dominate the game. Over more than a decade of play with several different groups it soon became pretty obvious that Fighters did. Paladins, Rangers and Monks were all good – but the entry requirements kept them rare. Thieves helped with scouting and traps and taking out bosses with carefully set up backstabbing, but the main drive against the enemy was always the fighters.

And that was about right. In a very large proportion of legends, myths, and fantasy stories… wizards were either enemies or they were assistants to the heroic warriors who were the real stars. They had many interesting powers, and their spells might turn the tide at a dramatic moment, enable visits to strange locations of adventure, and trick overwhelming foes – but they were still secondary. Swords, bows, secondary weapons, and (sometimes) martial arts still did the main work.

But wait! Magic-Users had all those incredibly powerful spells! Almost as many as Wizards and Sorcerers do in 3.5 or Pathfinder!

Yes, they did. And they had segmented casting times at ten segments to the round and usually at least one segment per spell level. It was often more; looking back at my first edition books, many first level spells required three or four segments. Hold Person, at level two, required five segments – in a system where you determined initiative with opposing d6 rolls and any interruption ruined the spell. There were no “concentration” checks, saving throws were fixed numbers, spellcasters couldn’t evade attacks while casting, only got to know a limited number of spells, often couldn’t learn spells they wanted, some of them couldn’t use armor at all, and might take many days of rest and study (or prayer) to prepare all their spells.

Thus the Dungeon Masters Guide told us

Because spell casting will be so difficult, most magic-users and clerics will opt to use magical devices whenever possible in melee, if they are wise.

For that matter… it took a lot longer to go up in level. For example… killing an Orc was worth an average of 14.5 XP. Getting to level three as a Magic User required 4501 XP. That meant that your party of four needed to kill off 1242 orcs to reach level three through combat experience if no one died (if someone died the doubling experience point tables let a new character catch up very quickly, which was good because older edition characters died a lot). Even with experience for treasure… a party usually only gained 3-6 levels per year of play – 50-odd sessions.

So what would those spellcasting limitations look like if you imported them into a current d20 game? Well, at least in Eclipse, such “Old School” magic levels are blatantly Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (or possibly even double-specialized given the number and severity of limitations here).

Basic Spellcasting Limitations:

Casting Spells takes more time. If the base casting time is:

  • One Standard Action the spell requires three initiative counts per spell level including metamagic other than “Quicken”).
  • One Full Round the spell requires sixty initiative counts.
  • More Than One Round the spell requires ten times as long to cast.
  • A Free Action the spell requires one initiative count.
  • A Swift or Immediate Action the spell requires two initiative counts.
  • Scrolls require the normal casting time, and are subject to the same limitations as direct casting. Wands and Rods only require three counts to activate, while Staves require six. Unfortunately, the save DC for wands, rods, and staves is only 14.
  • If such an action would not be completed before “0”, the countdown continues into the next round.

There is no such thing as a concentration check. Any damage or distraction that would normally call for a concentration check causes your spell to fail automatically, and be lost.

Spellcasting does not invoke attacks of opportunity, but the spellcaster cannot apply Dodge or Dexterity bonuses to his or her AC while spellcasting without losing the spell.

You may only prepare spells after a period of uninterrupted rest or meditation.

  • 1’st and 2’nd level spells require four hours.
  • 3’rd and 4’th level spells require six hours.
  • 5’th and 6’th level spells require eight hours.
  • 7’th and 8’th level spells require ten hours.
  • 9’th level spells require twelve hours.

It takes fifteen minutes per level of the spell per spell to prepare a spell. Thus preparing a third-level spell requires forty-five minutes. If you then go on to prepare a fifth level spell, that’s an hour and fifteen minutes – for a total of two hours to prepare two spells.

You cannot spend more than eight hours preparing spells before you will need to rest again to prepare more.

There is no such thing as spontaneous spellcasting. All spells must be prepared.

The spell charts are not “spells per day”. The spell chars show the maximum number of spells a spellcaster may have prepared. A powerful spellcaster may need many days to prepare all of his or her spells.

This means that a spellcasters daily “spell budget” is basically sixteen to thirty-two levels of spells. At the low end that might be four first, three second, and two third level spells. It would take a seventh level magic user five hours to memorize his or her selection of 4/3/2/1 (twenty spell levels in total) spells after at least six hours of uninterrupted rest. A ninth level magic user with the capacity to store 4/4/3/2/1 spells needs eight hours of rest and eight and a quarter hours to prepare spells – and if he or she tried to cast them in a fight, a fair chunk of those would probably be disrupted and lost.

The DC of saving against a spell is fixed at 16. Yes, this means that high-level targets will almost always make their saving throws.

Counterspelling is possible, but usually pointless. If you have time to hold an action for a counterspell, why aren’t you tossing off a quick Magic Missile or something and stopping your opponent from casting a spell in the first place?

Additional Arcane Caster Limitations Include:

  • Arcane Casters may only learn (Int/2) spells of each level they can cast. Read Magic is automatically one of them. They normally begin with another three first level spells – one offensive, one defensive, and one utility, selected at random.
  • Arcane Casters must record the spells they gain access to along with the results of a roll of (1d20 + Spell Level). If that is under their current intelligence, they can comprehend the spell and may choose to add it to their spells known.
    • For an example, Tim the Intelligence 14 Magic User has gotten ahold of scrolls or spell formulas for Color Spray (19), Burning Hands (3), Glitterdust (15), Pyrotechnics (12), Fireball (9), and Fly (16). With a maximum spell list of seven spells of each level he can cast, he may opt to learn Burning Hands, Pyrotechnics, and Fireball. If he gets his Int up to 15 he could opt to learn Glitterdust, and at 16 he could opt to learn Fly. Sadly, Color Spray is likely to remain far out of reach at any level where it might be useful – unless Tim saves a first level slot and opts to research (say) Tim’s Scintillating Butterflies, which is a different spell with the same basic effect. Note that, if you successfully research a spell you still roll – but the maximum result is equal to your current intelligence.
  • Arcane Casters only automatically gain one spell formula from among those they could potentially cast each level (although they may seek out or buy more if the game master allows it or they capture a spellbook or something). They may check (and record) their spell comprehension for desired spells until they find one that they can currently comprehend to add to their spellbooks. They may add a spell that they cannot currently cast to their books if they so desire, but usually have no reason to do so.
    • For example, Tim has made level seven, and wants a fourth level spell – in his case he wants Wall of Fire. Unfortunately, the check results in a roll of 23 – far beyond his intelligence! He doesn’t pick that one. Dimension Door turns up a 15. That’s tempting – next level he’ll get his Int up to 15 and be able to use it – but why not choose it next level? Next up, his third choice of Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability comes up a “7” – and so Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability goes into his book and onto his list of learned spells.
  • Arcane Casters will find that any armor or shield that would normally produce a 5% or more chance of arcane spell failure causes automatic arcane spell failure.
  • As a note, spellbooks do NOT have plot immunity. They may be stolen, destroyed by area-effect spells and attacks, and so on. It is VERY WISE to use backup spell books and traveling spell books!

Additional Divine Caster Limitations Include:

  • Divine spellcasters may only pray for a limited list (Wis/2) of spells of each level they can cast. “Consecrate Holy Symbol” (L1) is always one of them.
  • Divine spellcasters may only select spells for their list that are appropriate to their god. For a quick example, Odin does not grant Sanctuary and Poseidon does not grant Flame Strike. If the game master has the time, and wishes to make the effort, gods may also offer access to unique spells related to their particular specialties.
  • Divine spellcasters gain spells beyond level three from spiritual servants of their god and gain spells of level seven or above directly from their god at the discretion of those entities. They may be denied spells, granted spells other than what they prayed for, be assigned missions or quests, or be asked to attone for misdeeds at the whim of those entities.
  • Divine spellcasters who change gods must prove themselves worthy followers of their new god with mighty oaths, quests, and deeds in the service of their new god. If they attempt to leave the service of their new god, those same oaths will utterly destroy them.
  • As a rule, Clerics will be asked to spend time preaching, to refuse missions that their god does not approve of and to undertake ones that he or she does approve of without further reward, to use weapons and armor only as approved of by their god, to build and maintain temples, and so on.

Spellcasters operating under those restrictions will be roughly back to where they were in first and second edition; they may have some useful noncombat effects that they may use for special circumstances and they will have a very limited range of combat spells and game-changing effects that they can cast once in a while during fights IF a bunch of other characters protect them while they do it. Their spells, however, often will not work against high-end opponents, who can be counted on to make their saving throws. Magic will become, once again, a very limited special resource, to be husbanded carefully and deployed with planning – or in extreme emergencies.

Of course, in Eclipse, all this reduces the cost of your magic levels to the point where you can easily afford to add some weapons skills, a better BAB, a few more hit points, and other bennies – resulting in the modern equivalent of an old-style multi-classed character without any major complications or sacrifices.

Looking at all this also helps explain why so many players made Elven Fighter/Magic-Users in first and second edition days despite the 7/11 level limitation. After all… level eleven was well past the point where you could prepare all your spells each day. Were you on a long adventure? You’d have just as many spells each day as a higher-level human mage. They’d be weaker spells (at least in some cases), but YOU could wear armor. Not only did you have a better chance of getting your spells cast because you were harder to hit, but you weren’t an obvious target like that unarmored guy. If you started from level one, a human magic-user wouldn’t really have much of a magical edge on you for nearly two hundred sessions. Even better, the high-end magical gear worked for you just as well as it did for a higher-level wizard – reducing the gap even more. I, personally, played a maxed-out elven fighter/magic-user for a couple of years in a game that went up past level eighteen (for the human wizard, characters with easier advancement tables had higher levels) and it worked just fine. I even got some better items than the higher-level mage because they were used more often, and so did more good for the party, in the hands of someone who didn’t have so many other high-level spell options. And best of all… you could reasonably play your fighter/magic-user through the fifty-odd lower-level sessions before adding a human wizard to the party became really viable.