Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part I: The Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates

They have flashing fists, blazing guns, and personal magnetism. They are stronger and faster than you are. They wrestle lions, solve mysteries, and shrug off bullets. They heal with incredible speed. They are secret agents, and pilots, and detectives. They draw paramours like magnets. They have amazing skills – and they hang out in jungle huts, cheap offices, and seedy tenements because they aren’t any BETTER than YOU, even if they are blatantly superior to you in ten thousand different ways.

Hercules, Hiawatha, Conan, and the Count Of Monte Cristo led the way, and Zorro, John Carter of Mars, The Lone Ranger, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Tarzan all followed in their path. They reached their full flower in The Shadow, Doc Savage, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, The Spider, Mata Hari (at least in legend), The Golden Amazon, The Phantom, Lady Luck, The Green Hornet, Olga Mesmer, Darkman, Indiana Jones, Remo Williams… there are swarms of them, romping through the golden age of the Pulps.

But they don’t throw lightning bolts, or lift aircraft carriers, or invoke the power of gods to heal. They may vanish into the shadows, but they don’t teleport through them, or sing like Orpheus, or fly through the air without a plane. At their best, their powers things like building up a tolerance to poisons, influencing animals, perhaps a trace of psychic abilities, and being stronger, tougher, and faster than any normal man – but only by a modest margin.

They are Pulp Heroes, not Superheroes.

The Basic Pulp Hero (32 CP / +1 ECL Acquired Template)

  • Pulp Powers/Witchcraft III (18 CP): Provides (Str + Dex + Con)/3 Power. If they drain their power pool below 5 points they become Fatigued. At 0 points they become Exhausted. This provides them with the following seven powers, all them are at least Specialized: instead of the usual wide-ranging suite of abilities that Witchcraft provides, most of their abilities are far more restricted.
    • Only A Flesh Wound/Healing: Specialized for Double Effect, only works on the user. A pulp hero can shrug off injuries and recover from poisons, diseases, and other injuries with amazing speed.
    • Crossbow Barrage/Hand of Shadows: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect: Any crossbow the user uses acts as a fully automatic weapon; recocking and reloading itself with whatever ammunition the user has available and elects to load with each squeeze of the trigger. The user gains two bonus attacks at his or her highest attack bonus and may spend 2 Power to add his or her (Int Mod) to the attack checks and damage for each bolt for the next three minutes. All other modifiers apply normally.
      • Many Pulp Heroes in settings lacking firearms often settle on Dwarven Springbows, which have exactly the same game statistics as Crossbows, but use very powerful springs in tubes to propel the bolts. Yes, they look like guns. They are, however, quiet enough for everyone to hear all the clever dialogue and snappy one-liners over no matter how fast they’re fired.
    • Man Of Bronze/Hyloka: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / The user may spend 1 power to gain (Universal) Energy Resistance 8, Damage Reduction 4/-, and 2 points off any attribute drain or damage taken for one hour. An additional 2 Power will double those benefits, but only for ten minutes.
    • Trained By Mystic Monks/The Adamant Will. Pulp heroes have incredible poker faces and are almost impossible to mind control.
    • Unaccountable Magnetism/Glamour: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/Pulp heroes attract the attention of dangerous and inappropriate would-be partners, find old girlfriends, offspring, and other obligations all over the place, and upset possible rivals. They attract helpful sidekicks who often require rescuing or lead trouble to them. This has no cost, cannot be turned off, and provides a +12 bonus on any relevant romantic, seductive, or sensual rolls.
    • Canny Strike/Elfshot: Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/You may spend 1 Power as a part of an attack action to force those you hit this round to make a DC (16 + Cha Mod) Will save or suffer one of the following effects of your choice:
      • Disarmed, Mortally Wounded, or Tripped.
      • Knocked Back (1d4 x 5) Feet. This movement does provoke AOO.
      • Blinded, Dazed, or Sickened for 1d3 rounds.
      • Deafened, Entangled, or Shaken for 1d4+1 rounds.
        • Mortally Wounded characters have +10 damage for purposes of determining when they are Disabled, Dying, or Dead – although, unless actually driven below -10 they will get 1d4+1 rounds after becoming technically Dead to gasp out final words or take a single dying action, although there’s no way to save them at this point short of something that can raise the dead. Mortal Wounds go away after magical healing, a DC 20 Heal Check, or if the victim is still alive in five minutes.
    • Danger Sense/Witchsight. Once per round the user may spend one power to come on guard (negating surprise) and/or take a 5′ step. This does not count as an action and may be done at any time. If the user chooses to spend 2 power he or she can also provide sufficient warning of an incoming attack or a trap triggering to allow any companions within 20′ to take a 5′ step as well. For 3 Power the user can negate surprise for his or her companions within that same radius. Sadly, no single character can be aided by Danger Sense – whether their own or someone else’s – more than once per round.
  • Advanced Witchcraft:
    • Explosive Fists/Wrath Of The Sea: Specialized in Unarmed Attacks (1 power to gain +6 to Attacks and Damage for ten minutes).
    • Crack Shot/Dance Of Flames: Specialized in Ranged Combat (1 Power to gain a +6 bonus to your Dexterity Modifier with respect to ranged combat for ten minutes).
  • Pacts: These are up to the individual hero but are normally drawn from the Service and Vows lists. The Sacrifice, Infusion, and Energy pact lists are usually reserved for pulp villains; they simply aren’t very heroic. They need to take two of them in any case, since they pay for the Advanced Witchcraft abilities, above.
  • Unbowed Hero/Innate Enchantment (11,000 GP Value, 12 CP):
    • Gravity Bow: Pathfinder, bolts cause 2d6 base damage (2000 GP).
    • Weapon Mastery (The Practical Enchanter): +4 Competence Bonus to BAB with Crossbows (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Yes, this does increase iterative attacks. Alternatively, a Pulp Hero may opt to apply this bonus to unarmed combat as well.
    • Immortal Vigor I: The Practical Enchanter, provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP (1400 GP).
    • Mage Armor (Personal Only, 1400 GP). Pulp Heroes are hard to hit even in their underwear.
    • Force Shield I (The Practical Enchanter) (Personal Only, 1400 GP)
    • Arrow Mind. This effectively lets a pulp hero engage in melee with his or her “guns” (2000 GP).
    • Resistance (Personal Only, 700 GP). This provides a +1 Resistance Bonus to their Saving Throws.
    • Ghost Sound (Background Effects Only, 700 GP). Pulp Heroes are often accompanied by snatches of background or personal theme music, ominous echoes, and other curious sound effects. This might provide a +1 bonus on occasional skill checks, but it would be unwise to count on it.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Immunity to Minor Expenses, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/ammunition only (Common, Minor, Trivial, may ignore the need for ammunition costing up to 15 GP/Shot, 2 CP). Note that this covers Bolts (,1 GP), Cold Iron Bolts (.2 GP), Crystalline Bolts (Ignore 1/2 Armor and Deflection Bonus, +1d6 versus objects, 5 GP), Primal Iron Bolts (.3 GP), Silver Bolts (2 GP), Adamantine Blanch Bolts (+10 GP over another material), and Silver Blanch Bolts (+.5 GP over another material)
  • Ready For Anything: Immunity/Power Activation (Very Common, Major, Minor, Specialized and Corrupted/only at the beginning of a fight. 3 CP): A Pulp Hero can pick 3 Power Points worth of enhancements – normally Man of Bronze (at the one point level), Explosive Fists, and Crack Shot – to “already” have running at the beginning of any conflict without power point cost.
  • Template Disadvantage: Select one from History (you have various old enemies and such scattered about), Hunted (one of your enemies is REALLY serious about it), Compulsive or Insane (many pulp heroes are chivalrous, or never break their words, or obsessively hunt down the criminal scum who killed their parents, or some such), or Poor Reputation (usually you’re known as a violent, murderous, vigilante-adventurer). In any case, (-3 CP).

The basic pulp hero is a one-man fire team – capable of laying down a steady stream of bolts, hard to hit, and able to absorb a great deal of damage if and when he does get hit – all very good qualities indeed if you’re going to make a habit of confronting criminal gangs, evil masterminds, and swarms of thugs pretty much on your own. Still, while they may be quite astounding, they aren’t incredible – as in; impossible to believe.

They may come pretty close though.

Still, there’s a step beyond the Basic Pulp Hero – and it’s time to take a look at that.

Advanced Pulp Hero (Additional 32 CP/+1 ECL Template, +2 ECL in total):

These borderline superheroes go just a bit beyond the average pulp hero; they are both physically AND mentally superior. They are brilliant masters of many skills, usually possess minor psychic powers, strange devices, or other gifts (or at LEAST expensive vehicles) and are invariably at least well-off and with little need to work. They are also usually either born with their potential or trained from a very early age, but the template can be acquired later.

Advanced Pulp Heroes can easily fit in with lower-end or specialized superheroes, but have a hard time on the upper end. It’s never really easy to tell what Batman is doing in the Justice League anyway.

  • A Will Of Iron: +1d6 Mana as 3d6 (10) Power, Specialized/only usable for Pulp Hero powers (3 CP).
  • The Inner Fire: Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore power, only to refill the Pulp Hero Powers pool above (4 CP). +12 Bonus Uses that only automatically pay the cost of maintaining A Lens Of Brilliance, below (6 CP). Note that this more than suffices to keep A Lens Of Brilliance running constantly – so it’s bonus applies to skill points gained per level.
  • A Lens Of Brilliance/Spirit of the Sage, Specialized for Double Effect/Skill-related effects only (+6 to effective Int Mod), Corrupted/automatically reactivates itself, cannot be turned off as long as the user has Power remaining (1 Power/Ten Minutes, 4 CP). Note that, since this is always on, an Advanced Pulp Hero gains six skill points per level as well as getting a big bonus on their intelligence-based skills. Given the amount of combat Pulp Heroes see, at least one and probably two martial arts are probably in order.
  • Holmesian Expertise/Inner Light, Specialized for Double Effect/only for Skill and Attribute Checks (+6 to effective Wis Mod, 1 Power/Ten Minutes, 6 CP).
  • The Superior Man Need Never Be Broke: Minor Privilege/Wealth (3 CP):
  • One bonus Pulp Feat (6 CP). Pulp Feats include possessing Pulp Powers, having various Vehicles available, having your own ominous fortress-sanctum, gaining access to a pair of Occult Skills (the Shadowed Galaxy Action or Equipment skills are recommended), or something similar. A few just pick up Adept to pick up more skills, but that’s not a very interesting option for a Pulp Hero.

An Advanced Pulp Hero adds a genuinely frightening level of intelligence and awareness to the basic Pulp Hero framework – making him or her a true polymath and a master of the arts. They are heads of organizations, wealthy businessmen, doctors and professors, sometimes mystics, and all too often two or more of those at once. Is it really all that surprising that a good many of them decide that they ought to be the ones to rule the world? They’re so blatantly far better qualified to do so than anyone else is. Democracy? Bah! There are better ways!

Next time around on this it will be time to start going over some of those Pulp Powers.

Subsidized Magic Part II – Supporting The Party

Continued from Part I – Guards and Armies.

So if no one can reasonably equip massed armies with magic, what about Special Forces – A.K.A “Adventurers”?

Well, I can think of a number of options offhand.

Those Poor, Poor, Monsters!

This option is pretty simple; many or most monsters have no any treasure at all, and most of the rest don’t have much. Characters who rely on getting treasure from adventuring will wind up with “heroic NPC” wealth levels at the very best (and usually less). Ergo the player characters, and certain other adventurers, are sponsored by one or more powerful, wealthy, organizations – perhaps the government, the great temple of the Overgod, or the secretive Mages Guild. In exchange for turning in the meager treasures that they find, undertaking occasional missions for their patrons, and being loyal, they get equipped at standard levels. As they gain levels, and become more valuable… they get more gear.

This offers some easy game master controls – if some item is problematic for some reason, well… the characters patron doesn’t happen to have it or is unwilling to give it up. It also automatically ties the characters back to a home base, means that they have to defend it to continue getting new goodies, and allows the game master to easily cap or tweak the characters effective wealth. If the city can’t supply equipment beyond stuff suitable for twelfth level characters, or can’t afford to provide full treasure allotments beyond level fifteen, or is extra-generous with stuff suitable for fighters, samurai, and rangers, or some such… then so be it!

To keep things working normally, issue an extra 10% or so in the form of cheap consumables – potions, scrolls, et al – but only provide the difference between last level and the current level plus that 10%.

This is essentially the James Bond / Special Agent / Naruto option – and incidentally manages to make a bit more sense than there being masses of treasure all over the place. It is a bit more restraining than the standard system, but if that cuts down on murder-hobo syndrome that may be a good thing.

The Wells Of Magic:

In this case adventuring may yield treasure, but the cities have organizations that have invested in making a certain amount of magic available for free to loyal members.

The problem here is that with standard magical items they really can’t expect to reliably get them back. This is d20; people die in weird ways, their stuff gets stolen by dragons, they get sucked into other planes… Even somehow barring them simply absconding and not coming back, there are a LOT of things that may happen to anything you lend to an adventurous character. So what can you hand out?

Our Prayers Go With You:

Charms and Talismans: In worlds where they work – or perhaps in worlds where it takes a sponsoring organization to create a power-pool or something that lets them work – groups could give their members access to some fo the Charms and Talismans from The Practical Enchanter. Sadly, those aren’t particularly powerful and will likely be pretty much useless at higher levels – just when organizations would like to be inspiring some loyalty.

Benisions: first appeared in Part III of the Flexible Adventure Design series (Part I, Part II, Part III), but I’ll put them here for conveniences sake:

While ever-increasing heaps of treasure are awkward, blessings are very classic, are about as easily portable as it’s possible to get – and do NOT accumulate endlessly in a party. Have you ridden to the rescue, defended the locals, or donated great sums to charity? Then you may not need magical items. For example…

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

Similar results might be obtained through the blessings of some local godling or spirit, or through regular occult rituals designed to empower some hero, or some such. Perhaps the spirit of a sacred grove will grant the gift of communicating with birds or some such.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, of course, is the “local hero” option; you are empowered by the people that you protect.

Trust Me, Becoming An Initiate Is Well Worth It:

Heartstones, from The Practical Enchanter, are pretty much designed for this; they’re immobile, can restrict the powers they grant, and can empower entire groups while still remaining in the control of the sponsoring organization. You can even use them to empower city guards and such since – in theory – there’s no upper limit on how many people they can empower. On the other hand… you do need a free feat to link to a Heartstone.

Magical Businesses (from the Industrial Wrights and Magic series Part IV) fit this slot very nicely indeed. This does shift the balance of power a bit – but the cheapest and easiest way to do this is for those organizations to invest in some Magical Businesses and hand out the benefits to their loyal members. This option thus provides adventurers with patrons with some boosts, magical mounts, magical weapons, or similar benefits at little or no cost. Interestingly, this tends to be a substantial boost for mundane archetypes, simply because the primary spellcasters can use their spells to produce such things as needed – so they never have to invest in them anyway. More mundane characters will, however, find themselves with a good deal more money to spend.

Given the usual power imbalance between full casters and non- or semi-magical types, that’s probably a good thing.

When it comes to more conventional items…

It Comes With The Job!

Official Regalia: With this option certain jobs come with some official equipment. As a rule this is either pretty minor – “the judges pass around a headband of Detect Magic to help spot the use of spells in court” – or there’s some way to keep people from stealing the stuff.

This is where User Restrictions and Cost Modifiers (The Practical Enchanter) come into their own. Does your nifty magical sword only work for Guardian Knights of the Realm and require that the would-be user act to defend the people of Rhikanoth against any threats that come up? Does it require that it’s user know something of the laws and history of the city? That’s a price modifier of (.6 x .6 x.9) = x.324. Two thirds off. You can still use the thing on adventures, but you will need to fulfill your obligations to keep using it.

This is really a lot like a spellcaster taking an item creation feat; a spellcaster spends a feat and gets a particular group of items cheaply. In this case a martial character takes on some obligations and responsibilities and… gets a particular group of items cheaply.

So lets make the Sword of the High Constable – a blade dedicated to the defense of Rhikanoth and to the service of the High Constable thereof. Unusually, it will allow itself to be used by anyone who is either lawful or good; as long as they’re willing to fulfill the responsibilities of being the High Constable they’re acceptable. It doesn’t really care about alignment; it cares about the ongoing defense of Rhikanoth – and helping it’s current chief guardian go up in levels is one of the very best ways to ensure a strong defense.

  • +1 Spell Storing (Caster Level12, 8000 GP),
  • Intelligent (500 GP), Int 14 (1000 GP), Wis 14 (1000 GP), Cha 10 (0 GP), Ego 13.
  • Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), and Blindsense (5000 GP).
  • Five Nonstacking Skill Points for five Specific Knowledges: the Laws and Traditions of Rhikanoth, Maps and Layout of Rhikanoth, the Lands Around Rhikanoth, History of Rhikanoth, and the Enemies of Rhikanoth (500 GP, all rolls at +17).
  • “Equipped” with a Healing Belt (750 GP) and a Ring of the Forcewall (5100 GP).
  • Spellcasting (all 3/Day): Liberating Command, Magic Missile, Resurgence, Ward of Heaven (the Practical Enchanter), Scorching Ray, and Web (4 x 1200 GP + 2 x 7200 GP = 19,200 GP.

Total Cost: 13,950 GP + the base cost of a masterwork sword (of whatever type and material. I’d recommend Adamantine, simply for being able to chop through locks, doors, and chains easily. That would be very useful to a law enforcement type).

Naturally enough, the Sword of the High Constable goes with the office of the High Constable of Rhikanoth – normally at least a 8’th level fighter, ranger, paladin, or similar, who is free to have the blade upgraded. Several have done so. The blade usually loads itself with Scorching Ray (for an extra 12d6 fire damage on a hit), but other spells are certainly possible.

Go ahead, get it blessed regularly at a +5 Shrine Of War to get it’s enhancement bonus up. It’s cheap – or, much more likely, free – for the High Constable.

Upgrading?

Add one of more of…

  • Parrying (the basic effect of a Weapon of the Celestial Host; the weapon provides a +1 Shield Bonus to AC and can be further enhanced as per a Shield, 2000 GP).
  • Called (since it now also counts as a shield, 2000 GP)
  • Impervious (The Practical Enchanter. Normally this makes the item as hard to destroy as a major artifact for +63,000 GP. In this case, the Sword of the Constable becomes powerless if the city of Rhikanoth is destroyed or by an elaborate ritual of unmaking; it just can’t be done in combat or by any simple spell (x.6 = 37,800 GP).
  • Flying (10,000 GP)
  • Teleport (Blade Only, 1/Week, 7500 GP). Principally to get back home to carry word and find another wielder if it’s current user gets permanently killed.
  • Shadowstrike (5000 GP). This gets the swords Caster Level to 15. That’s handy.
  • And boost the Intelligent part. Get Int and Wis to 18 (3000 GP Each) and add a bunch more 3/day spells – (L1) Nerveskitter, Protection From Evil, Silent Image (at 1200 GP Each), (L2) Create Pit, Mirror Image, Glitterdust, Resist Energy (at 7200 GP Each), Greater Invocation of Force (The Practical Enchanter, any Arcane Force Effect of up to L3, 33,600 GP for 3/Day, 56,000 GP for unlimited use) and Panacea (56,000 GP for unlimited use).

Add them ALL. That gets the total cost up to 83518.8 GP plus any enhancements you want to add.

  • So get the bonus up to +10. That’s another 192,000 GP normally. We’re up to 145,726.8 GP. Be sure to add something like Energy Aura, or Greater Dispelling, or Psychic
  • Get a +5 Enhancement and Ghost Ward on the Shield part (for a total of a +6 Shield Bonus and a +5 to Touch AC, which is handy). That’s 36000 GP base, and takes us up to 157,390.8 GP.

At this point… it really doesn’t matter. Get another couple of Greater Invocations for L3 effects in some specific fields – Divination? Evocation? Conjuration? – and we’re up to 193,678.8.

If the Greater Invocations cover one or more of the lesser spells it already had, subtract their prices; that’s an upgrade. That will probably let us throw in another minor tweak or two – and the thing is going to have a monstrous Ego score at this point – but there’s no problem with that. The High Constable will have one heck of a spellcasting support buddy along.

The Staves Of Neutralburg:

Issued Gear says that the characters work for a MAJOR organization. One with great power, lots of information sources, and enormous resources. One it would be a very bad idea to try and cheat on.

As special forces employees, the characters each get a basic kit suited to their profession – usually including some basic magic, such as a Healing Belt. Sadly, the basic kit will never be worth more than a few thousand GP.

When they are offered a job… they get a reasonably detailed briefing thereon, and then get to request the gear that they think they’ll need – generally up to around 50% (maybe up to 75% for really urgent jobs) of their “normal” wealth-by-level with up to half of that being consumables. Some cash and any necessary paperwork, reservations, or covers will be issued as well.

When (if!) they get back, they’ll turn in anything that’s left over or which they captured, and get some well-deserved time off (for downtime, personal stuff, training, and minor “adventures”) before their next major mission.

Obviously enough, this arrangement has a distinct “Mission Impossible” flavor to it, and is likely to involve a lot of mission-specific “optimization” instead of the characters trying to be prepared for anything. Secondarily, you’ll see a lot more use of things like a Necklace of Fireballs, Dusts, and other limited-use items which are often ignored as being poor long-term deals otherwise.

Obviously there are lots of other potential variations – but this should cover quite a few of the major ones.

And I hope that helps!

Subsidized Magic Part I – Guards and Armies

And for today it’s the start of an answer to another question…

It recently occurred to me to ask to what extent a local government might be inclined to subsidize magic items for characters that work for it?

While most NPC government workers wouldn’t need that many magic items to begin with, those with combat-related professions likely would, such as city guards. While armies don’t make that much sense under the d20 System’s assumptions (as higher-level characters can effectively overpower large numbers of lower-level ones), a lot of places still seem to have them, particularly if there’s a concern about covering large amounts of territory and subjugating a large but geographically diverse number of low-level creatures. So the idea of outfitting a police/military/similar force doesn’t seem to be entirely meritless. From the Romans to today, most militaries don’t expect you to bring your own gear.

The issue with this is that it seems to run up against the underlying presumptions of the d20 System, which is that wealth (at least insofar as the gear value of items is concerned) is a measurement of personal power, emphasis on “personal.” Having gear loaned out to you by the state throws that out of whack. If a rich government is invading a culture where most everyone knows some low-level spell effects, then it might make sense for them to equip all of their soldiers with a +1 breastplate of spell resistance (19), but each of those costs 36,750 gp, which is far and away more than an army of 3rd-level NPCs should be able to individually afford.

The compromise would seem to be that your wealth-by-level value would presumably cover subsidized gear (e.g. that lower-level characters are (not) given very much because they’re not very valuable individuals), and that the issue of that being “subsidized” rather than personal is little more than flavor text that never actually comes into play. The problem is that this still necessarily runs up into metagame limits on the equipment that a government-sponsored force (under this idea) would have, rather than taking into account a verisimilitude-based accounting of what would actually be most useful for them and what would be plausible for the government to be able/inclined to invest in their troops. (Having an Eclipse-based answer, such as taking Major Privilege/government-sponsored gear, helps to reduce this down to the cost of a feat or so, but simply moves the cost to CP rather than gp.)

Overall, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to this, besides saying that such funds would be better spent elsewhere.

-Alzrius

There are two major pieces to this question. First up, we have giving the general military – guards, patrolling troops, and so on – magical gear. Secondly, there’s how such a system might affect Adventurer’s and other special characters magical resources.

We’ll need to break that first part down quite a bit more.

So… How much does equipping soldiers cost in the first place?

It sounds awfully silly today, but for a very long time troops were indeed expected to supply their own armor and much or all of their gear. Thus the early Athenian army poor men went unarmored as Psiloi (usually carrying nice cheap javelins, spears, slings, or – very rarely – bows), those who could afford a full infantry kit went as Hoplites, and the wealthy (who could afford horses and armor) went as Hippeis (cavalry). Incidentally, Hippeis could also usually afford to stay out of most of the fighting and thus avoid being killed. It was good to be wealthy!

Of course, that tells us nothing at all about how much wealth that really represented in a citizens life. I suspect that no one really has enough detailed information on the economy of ancient Athens to give a satisfactory answer to that question these days.

Roman Legionaries needed to bring pretty much all of their own equipment until the late republic period – and they weren’t really supplied by the state until Augustus. Of course, they were pretty generously paid to enable them to buy their own gear while still supporting their families (at least to some extent; the later tendency to destroy families finances while the men were away fighting really messed things up in the long term). Depending on whether or not there was a war on Rome spent fifty to eighty percent of its budget on the military (in 2015 the USA spent between 18 and 20% of its budget on the military depending on what you count – more than the next eight most expensive militaries on earth combined) – but the Roman military only employed about 2% of the adult male population or less than .4% of the population overall. A d20 world might well do the same – d20 civilizations are at LEAST as threatened as Rome – but they’ll have to cut back on the numbers substantially to afford much in the way of (very expensive) magic. A prosperous city of 100,000 might support a roman-style military of 300-400 men – or 30-40 men with 6000-8000 GP worth of supplied magical gear each.

Oops! We’ve basically gone back to first edition, with one-in-one-thousand being a possible henchman or adventurer and less than half of those actually active in such pursuits. Well… first edition WAS very heavily influenced by the “historical simulation” gamers.

Similarly, the men in most feudal armies had to supply much of their own gear – which is why padded armor was so common; a mans mother, wife, or sister could throw that together in short order, and hope that it would keep their relative alive. Even layers of cloth stuffed with rags was a lot better than nothing.

With armor that was relatively understandable (if not nice). Is one guy too poor to afford good (or any) armor? Well, it sucks to be poor. That’s nothing new. Is someone who can afford it still too cheap or stupid to properly maintain their armor? If it makes a difference, then it’s their own fault and the loss is small. At least as importantly… two guys in mismatched armor are a lot easier to train and drill than two guys with mismatched weaponry. Armor was a LOT less important than a good shield through much of history anyway.

Weapons were supplied a lot more often. After all, when it came to weapons… trying to train a group armed with a random selection of old swords, spears, knives, javelins, clubs, and repurposed tools was and is a NIGHTMARE – and usually turns out to be very expensive for what you get out of them on the battlefield. It’s good enough for irregular troops, but irregular warfare was a lot less effective in classical warfare.

Why was that do you ask? Well…

A modern commander most often wants to occupy an area, control it, and – if possible – treat it as a resource. He or she wants to maintain order, to keep the farms and production facilities operating, and avoid massacres of women, children, and noncombatants. Such a commander can be readily opposed by irregular warfare. Groups of guerilla fighters can gain supplies, recruits, information, and other support from the locals that they represent even as they conceal themselves amongst them and can – over time – greatly increase the costs of occupation, perhaps even making it unsustainable or diverting troops and thus contributing to defeats elsewhere.

A classical commander who wanted to ship the useful women, children, and noncombatants home as slaves, exterminate everyone else, loot the area, poison the water sources, burn the fields and settlements to the ground, and sow the ground with salt so that no one could live there again for a generation… couldn’t be opposed by irregular warfare. If you wanted there to be anything left of your homes or families in a week or two you needed to face and defeat his or her army in open battle. In the face of that kind of enemy there was no time for irregular warfare.

Lets consider some quotations.

  • “I destroyed them, tore down the wall, and burned the town with fire. I caught the survivors and impaled them on stakes in front of their town.”
  • “Pillars of skulls I erected in front of the towns.”
  • “I fed their corpses, cut into small pieces, to dogs, pigs, and vultures.”
  • “I slowly tore off their skins”.
  • “Of some I cut off the hands and limbs; of others the noses, ears, and arms. Of many soldiers I put out the eyes.”
  • “I flayed them and covered with their skins the walls of the town.”
    • -Translated from various Assyrian monuments by Pritchard and Champdor.

And that sort of leadership was why the principle that “you must meet them in battle” (since irregular warfare did not work unless you were doing it in the enemies home country) went unquestioned for a long time even after nations started to have some scruples about such tactics and irregular warfare started to become practical.

Secondarily, few governments wanted (or want today) anyone and everyone to have easy access to military weapons. There are a few places – like Switzerland – that made or make it work to some extent, but it isn’t normal.

So weapons, shields, and basic supplies like food and such (since troops were useless without such things), were usually issued.

That still doesn’t tell us much about the actual costs though.

Looking to the d20 rules for answers… is a bit odd.

According to Pathfinders Downtime Rules it costs 220 GP (or 44 apiece) to add a squad of five soldiers to your army. Each comes equipped with Scale Mail (50 GP), a Longsword (15 GP), a Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), and Javelins (1 GP each, number unspecified) – and rather than having to be paid, they provide an income (1.5 GP/Day) for you. OK, that’s 147 days to start making a profit – but reinvest in more troops and the magic of compound interest gets you 558% growth a year. This obviously does not work, so I’m going to skip this bit; it makes even less sense than most d20 rules.

According to the SRD, the salaries for “Trained Hirelings” (including mercenary warriors) start at 3 SP/Day, but may be “significantly higher”. That doesn’t say what equipment they come with either. Do they come with normal gear for their professions and levels like followers do? How much extra money will they want? Who knows?

Well, your basic craftsman or professional earns about 1 GP/Day. That’s probably about what your basic guard makes, albeit with lots of little kickbacks and graft on top (unless we go with “the guards are notoriously underpaid” idea, which has some justification). If the job is supposed to be dangerous, two to three times that. If it’s adventurous… at least ten times that (and even then it’s mostly “guard the camp” stuff; guards and mercenaries are not there to be heroes). For basic gear… Studded Leather (25 GP) or Chain Shift (100 GP), Heavy Wooden Shield (7 GP), Shortsword (10 GP)… three to five months salary should cover a decent gear package. You’ll need to subsidize that if you’re recruiting a new guard, although part of the cost can be taken from their salary if they don’t want to turn the stuff back in when they retire.

Is that reasonable?

  • About the earliest actual hard costs I can find for equipping a basic soldier are from World War II, where it apparently cost about one and a half weeks salary ($15 ro $25 or $200-$400 after inflation) to equip a basic US infantryman. Of course, that is after industrialization, with little armor, and with cheap-and-reliable firearms – which tells us very little about quasi-medieval fantasy settings.
  • By the 1970’s – after throwing in a flak jacket and some new weaponry – that cost was up to around $2000 after inflation. That was still pretty cheap – roughly half a months salary (again, as adjusted for inflation) for an average person.
  • A few years ago it was about $20,000 after (much less) inflation. That’s probably our best comparison, because it’s now starting to include a bunch of pricey special-purpose, gear, body armor, and fairly expensive weapons – which seems very roughly comparable to equipping a classical man-at-arms. About four to five months wages at the mean salary.
  • All right; the d20 SRD-based estimate isn’t totally unreasonable, so it should be good enough to play with.

For a full-sized army there are notable economies of scale, and no extra cost for danger (danger is a fact of life in d20 worlds in any case) since you’re paying all the time and any danger is very likely to be occasional. So I’ll call that 100 GP/Year for maintaining a professional soldier. So a professional army of 5000 men… will cost half a million gold pieces per year.

This kind of expense is why the legions soaked up everything that the Roman Empire could come up with and were always looking for more – and why feudal armies were normally called up for the length of their service obligations and no longer. It’s just as insupportable in d20. If you’ve got that kind of money to spend on military matters you invest in high-level adventurers and let them handle things. In the real world an army could often get you money. In d20… not so much.

Now if we go with the city magic warlord trick… it’s 120,000 GP to deploy an army consisting of 12,000 L2 Veteran Troopers, 800 Grizzled L3 Sergeants to command squads of 15 Troopers each, and 100 L4 Dashing Captains to command Companies of 8 Squads each – all properly, if mundanely, equipped for their levels.

Of course, with a warlord it’s a one-time cost coming out of their wealth-by-level – but, after all, an army can usually get you some money. It just isn’t often enough to actually pay for itself. At the worst, if they’re not fighting, you can put them to work as field engineers and such. That’s one reason why the Warlord trick doesn’t have any kind of an upkeep cost.

So lets double that cost. That will give each man… an extra 9 GP worth of gear. An increase of 1.5% if spent directly. That’s fairly useless. It would cost 645,000 GP to get each man a Cure Light Wounds potion (who would produce them anyway?), let alone something worthwhile. (This, of course, also tells us that the d20 economy makes no sense, but I’ve been over THAT).

What about the cheap options using Magical Businesses? A Shrine of War can maintain 1200 +5 enchantments for a mere 36,000 GP – 30 GP per weapon. That might even work if you got bundles of arrows. At an effective cost of .6 GP each (or less if you pay for the Shrine over time), you could keep each man supplied with ten of them for a mere 77,400 GP.

Looking at the costs for a magical Tattoo Parlor… no, we’re back in the millions again.

There simply is no way to permanently equip even a modest army with really useful amounts of magic in d20 unless you use a Ward Major (from The Practical Enchanter) with an appropriate Distant Gift, use Eclipse-Style Leadership to give them all some positive levels, teach them all Innate Enchantment (Eclipse again), or employ some similar trick – which is mostly back to personal power again. You can use Dominion (again, from Eclipse) to temporarily give them some positive levels, possibly including some magical talents – but that’s still personal power and even then it’s only temporary.

You could give the city guard a few items that they hand around from shift to shift – but City Enchantments and Wards Major are better for that.

Like it or not, magic item prices in d20 are designed to allow the characters to find huge, exciting, treasures, deal in heaps of gold and fabulous jewels, and be incredibly rich, while still having personal stuff to spend that money on – and items that are out of reach.

And when magic items are intentionally set up as a manifestation of incredible wealth, success, and personal power, it’s pretty much impossible to rationalize handing them around to ordinary folk without wrecking the assumptions of the game.

Underlying the Rules Part II: Adjusting The Spotlight

And to continue this series from Part One

Commandment The Second: Playing Time Is A Very Limited Resource: Thou Shalt Neither Waste It Nor Demand An Unfair Share Of It.

Now if one player is a particularly entertaining fellow, or if someone is confronting their nemesis in a dramatic battle or something extra time may be quite justified – but such situations tend to be strictly temporary; the spotlight will move to someone else soon enough.

Similarly, most groups have no problem with the occasional digression – although tolerance varies.

There are a lot of ways of not doing this though.

One superhero player (in the same game as the killer werewolf actually) specialized in making weak to useless characters who then needed to be babysat, or rescued, or have the game master tailor situations to give them something to do, or have other players invest a lot of time and effort in finding ways for them to be useful. When the other players found routine strategies to make one of his characters useful… he would either make a more useless one or refuse to advance the character so that they became progressively more useless as everyone else gradually improved. Either way, he still expected the party to haul his characters around because “he was a player character!”. It was a negative way of being the focus of attention.

Oddly enough, his characters kept suffering weird accidents that gave them useful powers that they couldn’t turn off or refuse to use until the player gave up on the tactic.

The opposite approach – designing hyper-optimized characters that outshine every other player character or who don’t need the party at all because they can do everything better anyway – is a lot more popular. A lot of players who think of the games as something like chess or monopoly (instead of as being social events for the antisocial) even convince themselves that this sort of thing is a way of showing off their system mastery and is thus “winning”. It’s actually losing of course; you’re busy alienating yourself from the social group rather than enjoying the gathering – but that can be hard to get across to someone who’s embraced this style pf play. After all, the idea of “winning” a social role-playing game makes about as much sense as “winning” watching a movie with some friends – and they’ve already swallowed that notion. In fact, such players often become extremely defensive when others simply, and correctly, consider such behavior as “being an a***ole who’s missing the point”.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t build underpowered or hyperoptimized characters. The trick is not being an attention hog.

Thus Kevin, the (literal) god of pet-spamming, is quite capable of deploying a hundred million high-powered minions and basically limitless resources in pursuit of his goals. What he actually DOES is deploy minions to gather information for the party to act on (allowing game master exposition), have them guard the camp and paths of retreat (benefiting everyone else equally – and offstage), assist his allies (giving his friends their own minions), handle enemy minion-swarms so that the struggle can be between the heroes and the major villains, and so on – keeping them and the vast power they represent entirely out of the way of the players getting to do the important bits. Soon the vast majority of his minions were off on social-service assignments designed to both vaguely do good in the background and to feed his addiction to recruiting minions.

When the game focused on the minions it was change-of-pace time (most often when the main characters couldn’t proceed because players couldn’t make it that week) and everyone took a minion of two to play.

Orin Markala was designed to provide all the support services that a company of mercenaries or an adventuring party could ever need, and was optimized to the point of absurdity. At level five he had AC 30, 78 HP, +6 Initiative, two spell-storing spirit fetch companions, extra actions for throwing up defenses, could spontaneously invent and cast spells of up to fifth level in fifteen different (if relatively narrow) spheres, could absorb and negate incoming spells, create relics, cast spells as a fifth level cleric, had Witchcraft, was a ritualist, had an extra fund of spells to cast as Hearthcrafting magic (providing supplies, clean clothing, and comfortable campsites), and could cross dimensions. His companions could store a total of 196 levels of spells for him and release them on their own, effectively letting him cast four spells per round. He could maintain communication, transportation, and spell-sharing links with a dozen other characters at a time at transdimensional range (so even death could not stop him from providing support) and each person so linked got a choice of four boosts (including +2 enhancement to a chosen attribute, save bonuses, extra hit points, mage armor, shield, +2 to all skills, movement bonuses, or +1 to BAB) – as well as everyone linked receiving the benefits of a personal set of charms and talismans and any protective, healing, or boosting spells that he actually cast.

And yes indeed, that’s pretty ridiculous.

Yet Orin was played in several games and never provoked any complaints from any other players save for a Priestess of Asmodeus (who got upset because he kept telling the kids she was trying to recruit about the drawbacks of worshiping archdevils), a seductive changeling character (who said that he was no fun since all she could get from him was morality lectures and cautionary tales), and a Mystic who insisted that saying that she either had to go with the group when it teleported a few hundred miles or find some other way to get there before she could join up with them again was an infringement on her right to play her character as she wished. (No one ever did make any sense out of that unless she just felt that – since it was fantasy – her “location” was wherever she wanted to be. No, her character had no such power).

The reason for that was straightforward; Orin provided protection from the stuff that the fighters and rangers who made up most of the party could not handle in the background and boosted and healed the entire party – but it was still up to the more conventional martial and stealthy types to decide on the party goals, make the plans, and do the actual fighting. He stepped forward to act as a missionary and spread his faith when a chance for that came up – but that was a role that no one else had any interest in save for the ones who felt like being converted.

The afore-mentioned Priestess of Asmodeus, however, proved to have a rather problematic player. She decided to use her own private version of Asmodeus (loosely based on a description from another third-party setting in another edition of the game), insisted that she represented him as a god of inviolable law and contracts while freely disregarding her own promises and contracts, argued with every plan that did not center on her, took restrictions and limitations on her characters abilities to get more power and then tried to ignore them, and insisted that any attempt to get her to pay attention to the game rules, the setting, or what any of the other players wanted to do was an infringement on her right to play her character. In essence, she attempted to force the game to focus entirely on herself and how enormously special she was while refusing to let anyone else do anything.

As it turned out, she did indeed have the right to play her character however she pleased – but no one else was under any obligation to play with her, and very soon they didn’t.

On the other end of things several players have had a lot of fun playing “familiars” (minor animal characters who attached themselves to particular “masters”) throughout several campaigns. Fred the Pseudo-Dragon, the Healing Turtle who only communicated through interprative dance, the Sarcastic Steed, and even Amilko the Squirrel were all played as characters with minor magical powers and rather ineffectual combat abilities who made their marks though cleverness, aiding other characters at critical moments, and not being major targets – at least until they were much higher level (both Fred and Amilko made it to epic levels – and tremendous power – eventually).

Basically they were weak characters who exploited the social impact of their unexpected intelligence and looked for critical moments to contribute effectively. They didn’t run into the “babysitting” problem because they weren’t big targets in the first place. They weren’t as useful as having another normal character around would be, but they didn’t want much treasure or bring in extra opposition either.

For that matter the blue whale werehuman was incredibly tough and an awesomely powerful mage in some specialized fields – but readily yielded the spotlight to the others when it came to almost any other topic since adventuring rarely involved swimming around and filter-feeding.

One player was simply obstructionist. She never provided any plans, but was always full of objections to whatever someone else proposed – and insisted that every one of her objections be answered to her satisfaction before her character would budge an inch. After a little bit, the rest of the players simply started saying “OK! we’re starting! Come if you want too!

That led to the player simply sitting and sulking for several weeks while being ignored – but she eventually gave up on that tactic too.

One previously-mentioned player made (or demanded that the game make for him) a second level elven necromancer for a Forgotten Realms game. He wanted to be outcast due to knowing necromancy, to have his first instinctive act of necromancy to be reanimating pets, leading very shortly to raising an army of fairly powerful undead to defend his village as a child, to have his undead be friendly helpful things that he did not need to control, to be accompanied by various undead pets, and to have enough personal special powers to call for an epic-level character.

After much persuasion, several experimental builds, and far more time than it was worth, he at last agreed to settle for a character that could actually be built. In actual play… he demanded that the game master tell him how to make his character relevant and effective, kept going on solo side trips and demanding that everyone else wait while the game focused on him until he got back, demanded simultaneous affection (for being a wonderful person) and fear (for being a necromancer) from both PC’s and NPC’s, demanded that his character be able to use powers and abilities that he did not have because they “fit his conception”, constantly interrupted any attempt to do something without him, refused to pay any attention to what anyone else was doing (often leading to him “discovering new information” that the rest of the party had found, evaluated, and gone past two or more sessions ago), and tended to try to simply narrate his actions without actually rolling or checking the actual situation – thus assuming that he always automatically succeeded. In essence, he felt that everyone else was there simply to support his one-man-show.

He didn’t really last all that long. It eventually got through to him that he was accomplishing nothing and was getting all the respect that accomplishing nothing earned him, and so he left to seek out another game to try and suck the life out of with his necromancer. He was a near-perfect / spectacularly bad example of the narcissistic type – but pretty much everyone is familiar with “it must all revolve around ME!” players. Don’t be one.

In general, not paying attention, telling long irrelevant stories, engaging in futile arguments, saying “my character wouldn’t do that!” without saying what you ARE doing, sulking, editorializing, or pointless planning and theorizing, (Chat is a great way around this one; you can write out your diatribe, plan, or theory while everyone else continues with the action), is best regarded with caution. A little is fine, and you might be good enough at it so that everyone else enjoys it, or you might have a group full of people who love to theorize and speculate or tell stories or whatever – but the tolerance is never infinite. And if you don’t pay attention to when you’re reaching – or exceeding – that tolerance… then you’re back to being a greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&*.

Eclipse and Skills – Introduction

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills – which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article broken up into more manageable bits so that the original – and further – responses can be read with the sections they’re related to.

I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy Eclipse: The Codex Persona (along with its “sister” books The Practical Enchanter, Paths of Power, and Legends of High Fantasy). To my mind, it’s nothing less than the culmination of the “options, not restrictions” credo that was the hallmark of the d20 System. Even other point-buy character generation systems can’t match the flexibility and creativity that Eclipse allows for.

Nowhere is this more evident, to my mind, than with how it reinvigorates the use of skills for d20 characters. For class-based characters, skills tend to be little more than an afterthought; something to be noted only for what little combat-related mechanics they have, directly or indirectly. Most often, they’re used only for detecting ambushes (and, more rarely, clues) via sensory skills, getting hints about monster abilities via knowledge skills, and making useful items via crafting skills (oh, and bards using performance skills for a few of their powers).

Everything else is extremely vestigial, to the point where they’re taken for little more than personal flavor reasons. That’s not inherently bad, of course; “personal flavor” is another term for “role-playing,” after all. But it’s a shame that they can’t also be more useful at the same time. When you only have so many skills points, you shouldn’t need to choose between putting them in skills that are flavorful, and those that are actually useful.

Normally I’d make some example characters to show off a particular application of Eclipse, but in this case I’m going to take a page out of KrackoThunder’s book and overview various abilities directly. What follows isn’t meant to be comprehensive, if only because Eclipse allows for its abilities to be altered, modified, and changed in myriad ways to suit a player’s needs for their character(s). A given ability might require more Character Points than you have at your current level, but in all likelihood it’s not going to be impossible to make.

Part 0: The Skill System

Eclipse is focused on decoupling various class-level groupings of abilities, but there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be done for the skill system itself in an Eclipse-based game. While there’s no reason why you can’t just make use of an existing skill system from 3.5, Pathfinder, or any other d20 System, it’s worth examining what other options are available so as to better tailor the kind of game you want to run.

This is an area that’s distinct from a particular character’s progression. While various abilities give characters the ability to interact with a given skill system in a different way, the way that skills (normally) work is distinct unto itself. Consider the following:

What skills are available? First and foremost, consider what skills are actually available for characters to take. There’s quite a few available, ranging from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder to d20 Modern to Thoth’s condensed skill list. Even the D&D Fifth Edition skill list could be used! Note that you can put things that would normally be Occult Skills (q.v.) on the standard skill list if they’re fairly common in a particular campaign. If magic items and magic shops are everywhere, to the point of being everyday facts of life, then it might make sense for Craft (precepts) to be a normal skill on the campaign’s skill list.

Occult Skills are – quite literally – “Hidden”. They don’t appear on the list of normally-available skills for a given setting. That could be because they’re obscure and require exotic talents or very special training or it could be because they rely on campaign-specific resources or world laws. The difference is quite important since – while a character could use Occult Skill to take any skill, some of them will not work without those special resources. Thus…

  • Glowstone Alchemy (and it’s Item List) is pretty useless if no Glowstone is available.
  • Foresight, however, simply says that “My character is crazy prepared and far smarter than I am!”. It will work almost anywhere if the game master is willing to put up with it.
  • Reality-altering Battling Business World Accounting draws it’s power from the Number Lords. In settings lacking Number Lords (or some GM-approved substitute therefor) it either won’t work at all or will be drastically reduced in power.
  • The Action Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy presume that Narrative Causality – the tendency for classical tropes and bits of stories to leak into the game – is actually a part of the setting (and thus exploitable without metalogic), rather than just an artifact of having a human game master or programmer setting up a plot or storyline. If that’s not true (or at least allowable for the amusement value) … then they won’t work.
  • The Equipment Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy pretty much replace money, wealth-by-level, and equipment costs – a fairly major hack of the basic d20 system.

So if the game is set in the neolithic period, both Computer Programming and Medieval Siege Engineering will be Occult Skills and can be taken as such – but the lack of computers will render Computer Programming pretty useless if you do. Catapults, sturdy stone walls, and similar things will be within reach though, even if no one else understands a thing about your amazing magical arts of defense and assault.

What to do about class/cross-class skills? Even if you go with a standard skill list, the question of “class” and “cross-class” skills are impossible to ignore when using a classless character generator. Eclipse addresses this (p. 9) with two recommendations: 1) that every character start off with 12-18 “relevant” (e.g. class) skills based on their character’s theme (but notes that skill-based characters “often” have more), and 2) that spending 6 CP to buy ranks in an “irrelevant” (e.g. cross-class) skill makes it into a class skill.

Even here, there are some judgment calls that need to be made. For one thing, when deciding how many relevant skills a character will have, you’ll need to address skills that have sub-skills. For example, can a character have Knowledge as a relevant skill, or are Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (engineering), etc. each a separate skill, some of which might be relevant for them while others aren’t?

In skill-heavy settings I usually rule that any skill you make cheaper to buy with the “Adept” ability automatically counts as a bonus “class skill”. After all… you’ve pretty obviously chosen it to be “relevant”. Given that everyone in a skill dependent setting will almost certainly be taking Adept anyway, this has much the same effect as just allowing more relevant skills, but still leaves the choice up to the player.

What other specifics does the skill system use? Will it allow for maximum ranks equal to character level across the board, or will it allow for (level +3) for relevant skills and (level +3)/2 for irrelevant skills? Will 1 CP purchase 1 rank for all skills, or will it purchase 1 rank for relevant skills and 1/2 rank for irrelevant skills? Do characters gain quadruple (or even some other) number of skill points on things that grant bonus skill points at 1st level? Do certain skills grant skill synergies when you have enough ranks? Do ranks in all skills cost an equal number of CPs to purchase, or are some skills more expensive than others?

What Eclipse tweaks will you use, if any? Finally, consider some of the other options listed on pages 9-10 of Eclipse. Will you include skill specialties (note that this is different from “specialization”), where 1 skill point is worth a +3 bonus on a particular application of a skill (e.g. a +3 bonus to making swords with Craft (weapons))? What about specific knowledges, where somewhere from 1 to 3 skill points (depending on the knowledge in question) is worth a +15 bonus regarding an extremely specific subject (e.g. a single type of monster, such as the dryad, rather than all fey)? Or “unfamiliarity” penalties to untrained skills, which can be bought off for several skills with 1 skill point? These (and the few others listed there) can all help to offer interesting tweaks to how skills work in your campaign.

Remember that, with Eclipse, a skill’s “total bonus/score” is a measure of not just the bonus derived from ranks, but from ALL non-magical permanent modifiers. So your ability score modifier, bonuses from abilities like Professional (q.v.) or Skill Emphasis (q.v.), Pathfinder’s +3 to relevant skills that you have ranks in, etc. all count towards that.

Anti-Armor Spellcraft

And for something minor, it’s a question:

I have to ask another question: How exactly does Line of Effect work? The way I read Eclipse, they are all spread effects, but I’m not sure.

Is there an area-spell-version of “Indirect Fire”? Normally when you cast an area spell, it only affects what’s in a direct line from it’s point of origin, which would mean that, for example, you cannot cast a Boundless Acid Splash into a building and expect it to hit anyone (due to a lack of line of effect), even with Indirect Fire. Same goes for something like a Boundless Grease, which couldn’t affect every wall in the building due to the lack of a straight line.

I’d have guessed that “Indirect Fire” means line of sight and line of effect, but I’m not sure about it anymore .-.

-KrakOThunder

Hm. This was posted on a segment about level 10+ spells, but seems to be at least partially about Eclipse’s Metamagic. To start with the Metamagic…

The Extension Metamagical Theorem covers manipulating how spells reach their target. Like all Metamagical Theorems it can be applied in a wide variety of ways. At it’s simplest, this just improves the range – but modifiers like Indirect Fire, Global, and Trans-Dimensional blatantly allow spells to ignore obstacles – although you still need to know where the target is.

Indirect Fire (at +2 levels) obviates the need for line-of-effect to the spells point of origin as long as you know where the target is. The game master may want to require that there be some sort of open route – even if it’s “down the chimney, through the guardroom and into the winch room” or rule that the spell goes through the ethereal plane so ethereal barriers will halt it or something – but few games go into that kind of detail anyway, so if you want to throw a fireball into the space on the other side of that closed door with indirect fire… go right ahead and give it a shot.

  • Making spells with Extension that simply – say – turn a corner on the way to their target would only be about +1 level. They’re mostly only relevant in fairly contrived situations though, even if that goblin shaman with a mirror on a stick and some corner-turning spells can be a nuisance.
  • Making area effect spells where the actual effect or an area spell bypasses obstacles or turn corners isn’t really a job for Extension; it’s a job for Area or Sculpting. (Personally, I rather liked it when spells (and explosives) were a bit more physical – such as when Fireball filled a certain volume, and could fill a network of corridors – but those days are long gone). You might even be able to get away with making a spell that only affected living things – and thus could have an area of effect that passed through nonliving barriers.
  • Making a burst that filled a volume (and thus would go around corners or fill corridors), rather than just stopping at barriers would probably be Area +1 (If the potential backlash problems don’t persuade the game master to make it +0).
  • Making an Emanation that passed through inappropriate targets (like walls and ceilings) rather than stopping at them would probably be Amplify, at +1 level for Detections and other low-energy effects, +2 levels for things like Fireball. That way you could throw it at a wall and kill creatures behind said wall anyway.
  • Making a spell that simply wraps itself around corners and such so that it fills all the available unsealed open space within it’s normal radius/volume/whatever of effect is Sculpting, probably at a mere +1 level (It may be happening during the casting instead of being predetermined, but you can’t exclude areas).

I didn’t include a theorem that would allow you to directly target someone who’s location is unknown (although you could fake it by making a spell selective, barrier penetrating, and with a large enough area of effect to be sure that your target is in it at some horrendous number of added levels) because that is even more boring than scry-and-die tactics. It leads to your heroes and / or your villains suffering sudden, overwhelming, attacks from nowhere.

Leaving the metamagic behind, the level 10+ spells generally (and intentionally) leave a lot open to interpretation. They are, after all, each an astounding act of magic on the part of an incredibly powerful (and presumably unique) spellcaster – and usually are plot devices rather than regularly-cast spells. Still…

  • Most of them don’t really involve questions about their lines of effect; when you steal abilities from a dying foe, crown a king, or cleanse a soul… you generally aren’t trying to do it through a keyhole or around a corner.
  • Others ignore “targeting” by their nature. Spells that lead you to potential customers, or create pocket dimensions, or cause geological upheavals, aren’t really cast at particular targets.
  • Yet more are obviously targeted normally; a 30d6 Frostball that animates those slain by it works a lot like a normal Fireball. It’s just nastier.

There are still a few oddities though.

For example, the twenty-first level spell Boundless Sea Of Flames lets the caster “unleash a vast flood of force from the elemental planes, dealing 3d6 damage per round for five rounds to everything in a small continent-sized area”.

It doesn’t say anything about HOW (although it pretty obviously involves a gate of some sort), so that is more or less up to the caster. Open a vast gate to the elemental plane in the center of the area to be affected and let a tidal wave of elemental power pour out? Some may have time to escape as the wave sweeps over the horizon, some areas may be sheltered by natural barriers, and so on – but you’ll probably get a greater effect in the center. Simply overlay the two dimensions so that everything – including sealed areas – is affected evenly? It will be instant and pretty much inescapable, but far less dramatic. Open thousands of lesser gates across the area? You’ll get a mix of effects – with even more variation depending on which elemental plane you tap into. A mighty flood from a central gate may leave dwellers in flying castles unharmed while making them effectively under deep water with an overlay certainly will not – but the latter would spare cities with planar barriers.

Of course once you’re throwing around spells of level twenty and up, details are usually something to discuss and then get the game master to narrate anyway.

Considering D20 Diplomacy

There’s an important note on Diplomacy (and, for that matter, on Intimidate), at least in 3.5;

Attitude is not everything.

How do I know this? Where are the official rules on that?

Lets take a look at the examples in the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide to see what you can get when you change an NPC’s Attitude. It will take a little searching but the Dungeon Master’s Guide tells us…

Choose the attitude of an NPC or NPCs based on circumstances. Most people met in a neutral city are indifferent. Most guards are indifferent but suspicious, because that’s what’s expected of them.

It specifically mentions “suspicious”. So there are factors other than attitude which influence behavior. That seems reasonable. A cranky museum guide and a friendly one will both tend to do what museum guides are expected to do – but there will be notable differences in how helpful and informative they are.

If the thaumaturgist’s Diplomacy check adjusts the creature’s attitude to helpful (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), the creature will work for 50% of the standard fee, as long as the task is one that is not against its nature.

So altering attitudes will not convince a creature to forgo it’s needs and desires, to act against its “nature”, or to do things for free – although it may give you a price break on helping you out if it likes you.

Floating in serene contemplation in the center of the cloud island is a noble djinn (see page 115 of the Monster Manual). If characters capture her (by defeating her without killing her or driving her away), she will grant three wishes collectively to the party. She is eager to talk to visitors from the Material Plane, where she spent more than a century trapped by an evil wizard. If characters can improve her attitude to friendly (it starts out indifferent), she’ll offer the characters a bargain. She will grant three wishes to the party if the characters will first avenge her imprisonment by capturing the evil Material Plane conjurer and returning him to this cloud island, where the djinn will arrange for “long-term detention.”

So, while it wouldn’t really cost the Djinn anything to grant those wishes for free, she won’t do so even if you render her “friendly”. She’ll use them to ransom herself or to accomplish her own goals. Evidently her goals are important to her – and being friendly doesn’t mean giving away valuable stuff for free no matter HOW helpful that would be to the party.

Some hirelings might require hazard pay (perhaps as high as double normal pay) if placed in particularly dangerous situations. In addition to demanding hazard pay, hirelings placed in great danger might be unfriendly (see Influencing NPC Attitudes, page 72 of the Player’s Handbook), but characters potentially can influence them to a better attitude and perhaps even talk them out of hazard pay.

So a good attitude doesn’t necessarily mean that your hirelings wont insist on price-gouging you, although “perhaps” you could talk them out of it.

And that’s about all the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us. That’s really quite enough though. It tells us that duties, beliefs, obligations, past experiences, personal desires, and the personal costs of various behaviors have a major impact on behavior – and may override attitude when it comes to any significant request.

In other words, the Dungeon Master’s Guide says to play NPC’s as people with their own goals – and that a glib tongue will only get you so far.

That’s fair enough. I know plenty of people that I like, but whom I know perfectly well are totally untrustworthy and have no intention of keeping any deals they make or repaying any money that they borrow. They’re personable, and they’re fun – but they’re incorrigible scam artists. Some of them brag about it.

Did that idea continue, or was it superseded by later sources like so many other rules? Lets look at what a much later book – the Dungeon Master’s Guide II – has for examples of Diplomacy in action

Drow Raiders: When first encountered, the initial attitude of these slave traders is hostile. Only the most charismatic of player characters (someone who makes a DC 35 Diplomacy check) can convince the dark elves not to attack. Even then, they’re likely to betray the characters at the first opportunity.

So Nature still trumps Diplomacy. The Drow are treacherous and (chaotic) evil, and no amount of diplomacy will change that one little bit.

“Dwarf Warriors: These dwarves are within a mile of the stronghold they call home. Their initial attitude is unfriendly unless one of the characters is also a dwarf, in which case their attitude is indifferent. At the very least, they want to escort the characters to their home for interrogation. The dwarves are not hostile and do not attack unless provoked. The characters can convince the dwarves to let them go on their way with a successful DC 25 Diplomacy check. A DC 40 check convinces the dwarves to give the PCs directions or invite them back to their home for a free night of dwarven hospitality and the opportunity to replenish supplies (and possibly purchase items of fine dwarf craftsmanship).”

Note that no check DC is listed for “getting free stuff” beyond a meal and a place to stay (basic hospitality), or for “abandoning your duties and coming along to help out”, or anything similar. These Dwarves have duties and a job, and will be doing it even if you DO seem like nice folks.

In the case of unusual cohorts, mounts, familiars, or animal companions, the guards call upon their commander for assistance and make sure that the suspect creature is well behaved and under the responsibility of its group. A DC 15 Diplomacy check convinces the guards of this, at which point they charge a 1-gp exotic animal tax for each unusual creature granted entrance to the city. If the Diplomacy check succeeds by 15 or more (in other words, if the travelers make a DC 30 check), the guards agree to charge the standard entry tax of 5 cp per individual instead. Obviously evil or dangerous creatures, such as undead and creatures of size Huge or larger, are flatly refused entry. If things begin to turn confrontational, four guards gather reinforcements from the watchtowers and alert the garrison.

So no amount of Diplomacy will make the guards violate their orders or admit obvious threats to their town’s well-being. More importantly, the next paragraph tells us that the guards are standard first level human warriors.

There’s a pretty obvious pattern there. It’s very easy (DC 15) to talk people into exercising what discretion they have in doing their jobs – but no amount of “diplomacy” short of mind control will talk them into doing something stupid.

Sure, there are the epic level rules for diplomacy – but even that (somewhat problematic) source says to

Treat the fanatic attitude as a mind-affecting enchantment effect for purposes of immunity, save bonuses, or being detected by the Sense Motive skill. Since it is nonmagical, it can’t be dispelled; however, any effect that suppresses or counters mind-affecting effects will affect it normally. A fanatic NPC’s attitude can’t be further adjusted by the use of skills.

Er… it’s not magic, but if I have a bonus that only works against magic, it works against it and it will be blocked by antimagic? I detect a writer who can’t make up his or her mind. Oh well.

In any case, now we know. From the beginning of 3.5 until the end “Friendly” meant that NPC’s would try to accommodate you within the limits of their jobs, duties, oaths, and responsibilities. That friendly bureaucrat would help you get the right forms, and explain them, and help you fill them out, and even try to expedite them through the system. He won’t just ignore his responsibilities though.

The d20 rules are there to help you simulate a fantasy world. Just as in reality, duties, promises, and oaths, obligations, common sense, and beliefs all play at least as large a role as whether or not they’re feeling helpful or hostile in determining what actual actions people take. Plenty of people have killed people they loved, felt personal loyalty to, and desperately wanted to help, out of duty, or because it would spare them pain, or shame, or dishonor, or out of a twisted notion of the best way to help them, because their families, or personal honor, or liege lords required it, or because their faith told them that it was their gods will. Plenty of other people have done good and helpful things for people that they detest for the same list of reasons. (You can ask any public defender about THAT). An executioner who likes you may carefully arrange the wood around your stake so that the smoke smothers you before you burn in agony – but executioners who let their personal feelings get in the way of doing their jobs quit early on. Others specifically stay because it lets them make the inevitable less painful.

Changing a non-player characters attitude may ot may not influence what they do, and is fairly likely to influence how they do it – but it certainly does not control it. At work I and many other people regularly deal, or have dealt with, with both people that we don’t much like, and with people that we do like – and very few of them know which category they’re in. They all get treated the same way because that is a part of the job. Whether or not we like the people involved is irrelevant to what we were hired to do – and we agreed to do it when we took the job. If we were not willing to do it… we would have found another job. People will go a bit further beyond what they’re supposed to do for the ones they like – but most people will do some of that just to show off how good they are. Simple professionalism places very strict limits to that in either case though.

So why does Diplomacy target NPC’s attitudes instead of – say – trying to get them to make a deal like THIS revision tries? It’s because simple skill checks generally cannot do much of anything to change an NPC’s duties, promises, oaths, obligations, presence (or lack) of common sense, beliefs, or notions of “honor”. Their attitude is about all you CAN affect.

And that is why the “Diplomancer” doesn’t actually work and why Diplomacy is not nearly as overpowered as many authors have claimed. Diplomacy can get your targets to hear you out and consider your words. It can even get them to want to help you – but you the player are still going to have to figure out how to wedge what YOU want into the targeted NPC’s web of responsibilities and social obligations in an acceptable fashion. Until you start doing mind-controlling magical skill stunts, there is no diplomacy check that will let you talk the museum guard into helping you steal the Mona Lisa just because he likes you. Talk him into letting you sneak in a camera? Very possible. Talk him into helping you steal it in exchange for a colossal bribe (enough to provide for his children, care for his ailing mother, and set up a new identity?) Maybe – if he’s somewhat corruptible already (thus not going against his nature) and you can present a good case for him being able to get away with it.

So what produced the notion that changing people’s attitude would utterly change their behavior to begin with? Admittedly, the various examples that demonstrate otherwise are a bit of a pain to find without a searchable PDF, but they’re there.

The answer lies in the way that the game is played. Players run their characters, the game master runs the world. Virtually all of the actual social interaction that the game master is trying to fit the NPC’s into is between the players, rather than between the player characters and the NPC’s.

Gaming involves a LOT of escapism. Players tend to treat their characters as being entirely free-willed, unburdened by responsibilities, lacking friends and family ties, outside of all social conventions, usually loyal only to each other (if generally only out of convenience) and their own self-image, having religious beliefs only insofar as they offer statistical bonuses, ignoring the law when it suits them, and so on. Even death is no real restraint; if a character doesn’t get brought back new ones are easy to make. Being a part of the world is seen as giving the game master free hooks with which to manipulate your character!

And so, for Player-Characters (who are almost assured of profit because that’s built into the game for them), “attitude” tends to be EVERYTHING. If they decide that they like the opposition better than the royalists, the characters are likely to start a civil war, leave the realm in rubble, get tens of thousands killed, and install a new government – and why not? Even if they recognize the hideous suffering and immense human cost… they can just plaster it over with a some vague statement about how their actions were in accord with their alignments. THEY will still get their levels and treasure, and that’s all that really matters to most player characters.

There are a LOT of problems with that (and I may get to them in another article), but given that sort of behavior template to go on, it’s no wonder that game masters – who have almost no time at all on the average to devote to their NPC’s motives – tend to slip into the same model. Their NPC’s HAVE no motives or goals outside of their attitude towards the player characters, and so changing their “attitude” is sufficient to make them do anything the player characters want.

If it would be a big change for some NPC to tell the Diplomancer that “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you today; I have to go home and take care of a sick kid” then you, as a game master, REALLY need to put a little more thought into your NPC’s. It will give your game a lot more interest and depth – and you’ll be a lot closer to what the rulebooks are telling you to do.