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 .-.


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.

Eclipse and Magical Schools Part I: Historical Notions

And for today, it’s trying to catch up on questions.

Looking over your (excellent) series of articles about how d20 magic would shape the nature and growth of cities, I’m moved to ask: what would “wizard schools” look like if you applied the same logic to such a concept?

I ask because the idea of magic colleges is a popular one, ranging from the Scholomance to Hogwarts (to, as we saw in the recent write-up for Trixie, Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns), and yet d20 doesn’t really seem to support the concept, or at least not incentivize it; the only downside or difficulty to being a spellcaster is the advanced “starting age” tables for spellcasters, and the idea that a wizard’s starting spellbook must have been paid for by someone else. Other than that, anyone with the requisite mental ability score of 10+ (to cast cantrips) has no problems learning magic just as easily on their own as they do in a scholastic setting. Especially if you’re using Eclipse.

To what extent do magical colleges make sense in a d20 setting?


Schools which teach magic are quite popular in fiction. That’s not too surprising; they’re quite popular in reality where they don’t even work. After all, there are few more direct wish-fulfillment fantasies than getting magical powers – and “training” is how you acquired most of your more complicated skills. Ergo, “a school that teaches you how to use magic” seems at least superficially plausible – and you can find plenty of them on the internet to give your money to.

But where did that notion come from? What, underneath the various fictions, are people actually expecting from a school of magic?

The first “schools of magic” were probably shamanic traditions, being passed down in individual small tribes – informal affairs where the tribal shaman taught each generation of kids how to not anger the spirit world (most likely a mixture of practical advice intermixed with tribal myths). Judging by the cave paintings, this sort of “school” probably goes back to the origin of the species, if not to some of our ancestral species. So we’re starting off with “teach the kids how to get along in the world”.

Moving on, Martial Arts traditions date back at least five thousand years (and likely much further, but that’s when our earliest hard evidence dates to). Given a certain lack of understanding as to how things work, magical beliefs and practices were a part of almost any form of organized training at that point – and what tales we have from that period do portray their heroes with a variety of mystical powers derived from their great skill. Thus the notion of “Kung Fu” – “a discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice”.

The first formal classes, with locations, multiple teachers, and groups of unrelated students drawn from a larger population, turned up after cities (and large, formal, permanent, organizations and structures) developed. They taught priests and record-keepers – a suddenly vital profession given the new need for organization, taxation, and keeping tabs on the population.

And those scribes DID have mysterious powers. They could “hear” the voices of the dead by examining strange talismans covered with equally strange symbols, they could remember more than any man, they could organize the construction of fabulous palaces and temples, they produced incredible remedies (often based to some extent on things that had worked, rather than on the placebo effect), they could know what was happening far away based on the delivery of a few bits of junk from that location… they were mighty wizards, who knew the powers of the hidden words. They could say and write down words which observably made impressive things happen. As far as the general population was concerned… that was magic. Observable, repeatable, WORKING magic.

Yet as the notion of writing spread, and it’s actual effects became more familiar and less impressive and mysterious… the tales of magic didn’t just vanish. Stories of mysterious and powerful secrets and knowledge never do; just ask the “Ancient Aliens” guy. Instead, those stories just pushed the mysterious powers back from general literacy to the “secret stuff” that only very select students got to learn. Hidden and powerful arts!

Not too surprisingly, that’s what “Occult” means. It’s simply a word for “hidden”.

But secret and powerful arts inevitably raise suspicions. Why are they hiding? (“because they don’t exist” has never satisfied anyone except for serious skeptics, and they’re pretty rare). Who is doing the teaching? What secret powers are there? What are they doing to you that they don’t want you to know about? What is their secret agenda?

And so scholarship became suspicious. Anti-intellectualism and the notion that knowledge was somehow unwholesome became popular. Why should another persons opinion be considered better than yours just because they knew more?

This has gotten worse now that there ARE secret (by virtue of being very difficult and time consuming to master) and powerful arts such as “Engineering” and “Medicine”. Just look at all the “they are hiding the simple answers to curing diabetes/ getting free energy / obtaining wealth / becoming more intelligent” from us!” scams on the internet. If those didn’t get a lot of money from people who believe that they’re being exploited by massive conspiracies there wouldn’t be so many of them. This is also why “Harry Potter” produced so much of a frenzy; quite a lot of people believe that that sort of thing is real.

Individual scholars gained reputations as sorcerers and mystics and tales of secret schools or “covens” spread. As education – “schooling” – started to become a normal and necessary part of life, classes grew, multiple instructors and specialized series of courses became the norm – and so the speculative secret schools reflected reality; they became institutions with physical buildings and established locations, rather than secret societies.

For practical reasons most of the literary examples (where things need a lot more logic and justification to satisfy the readers than rumors or popular myths have to have) for youngsters were boarding schools or – as in The Wall Around The World (1953) – were physically isolated. Even most conspiracy theorists have a hard time believing that a bunch of practicing magical kids would be able to keep everything secret without a LOT of help. And if it’s NOT a secret… the world is going to be a lot different than what we see.

Examples of the idea which didn’t keep it secret – such as The Wizard of Earthsea (1968), Operation Chaos (1971), or the Riddle Master Trilogy (1976) – are generally set in alternate worlds for just that reason.

And that pretty well establishes the “secret or alternate reality magical boarding school for kids” notion. The place is going to be filled with wonders and magical stuff simply because no one has ever actually seen such a thing, and therefore their imaginations run wild.

Given that this is for games where few passersby would blink at a kid practicing their magic, “secrecy” probably isn’t a big concern – but at least we’ve established a lot of the expectations and underlying assumptions.

Eclipse Character Sheets and Clerical Support

And for today it’s a bonus post, in the form of a quick response to a question…

Not a big fan of reinventing the wheel. Feel other new players & I would benefit from a sheet to fill out when creating characters, but can’t find one & don’t want to make one. Also might miss something I don’t understand about where the base abilities come from. Not just “abilities,” stuff like weapon proficiencies & spellcasting. Ordered Eclipse Compiled last Sunday & it hasn’t come yet so I downloaded the shareware. Becoming obvious why there isn’t a page with just a few blanks to fill out, but there’s got to be something easier than copying templates. One other thing bothering me. Not much about clerics on this blog, but I assume somebody’s going to want to play one so everybody else doesn’t die of their wounds.


The problem with making an Eclipse character sheet is that very little on an Eclipse character is standardized – if only because it covers many versions of the d20 rules and pretty much any setting.

It’s possible for characters to have extra attributes. The skill list varies with the setting – and there are ways for a character to alter their costs, gets skills that don’t normally exist in the setting, or change how they work – and  then there are skills like Martial Arts which call for a lot of subnotes. The setting may or may not offer Package Deals. While almost all characters will have hit points, they may get them from things other than hit dice. Of course, they can buy extra hit dice too.

Given that degree of freedom… there really isn’t any fixed fill-in-the-blanks character sheet that will work for Eclipse. On the automated side PCGen has an Eclipse dataset that makes character sheets depending on what you buy – but as last I looked it doesn’t let you copy-and-paste chunks of material that you happen to like from another build. Personally (and it’s mostly a matter of habit), I just use a word processor and paste in a generic list like this one, deleting items that don’t apply to a particular character.

Personal History
Personal Data: Height; . Weight; Lbs, Hair; . Eyes; . Skin; . Age . Occupation; . Marital Status; . Birthplace; . Religion; . Education; . Alignment; .
Racial Package:
Template Package:
Package Deal:
Available Character Points: (Level Base) + (Disadvantages) + (L1, Bonus Feats) +
Basic Attributes: Str, Int, Wis, Con, Dex, Chr.
Basic Abilities:
Hit Points:
Fortitude: + (Purchased, CP) + (Con) = +
Reflex: + (Purchased, CP) + (Dex) = +
Will: + (Purchased, CP) + (Wis) = +
Skill Points:
Combat Information:
Armor Class: 10 (Base)
Usual Weapons:
Special Abilities:
Martial Art:
Basic Techniques:
Advanced and Master Techniques:
Occult Techniques:
Known Techniques ():
Initial Wealth Level:
Current Wealth Level:
Usual Charms:
Usual Talismans:
Relics and Special Equipment:
Game Role:
Combat Tactics:
Further Advancement:

Weapon proficiencies, spellcasting, and similar items are simply more abilities, to be purchased with character points. The only difference between “basic abilities” and other abilities is that the vast majority of characters have the basic stuff and it gets referenced a lot, so I put it into it’s own section on the sample characters to make finding it easy.

As for Clerics… There’s a level-by-level breakdown of the standard 3.5 cleric build, a breakdown on converting the 3.5 Cleric to a Pathfinder Cleric build, and a selection of sample characters using clerical spellcasting (and several healers using other ways of healing). It’s just that hardly any of them call themselves “Clerics” since that’s the name of a standard build – and the sample characters are generally devoted to illustrating how to make more exotic builds. For some examples…

  • Dallyn Vortys, a would-be dark lord and priest of the dark gods.
  • Hisui Tsume, a mystic samurai-priest.
  • Orin Markala (and his level two upgrades), a priest of the High One. Incidentally a high-optimization character designed to provide magical support, enhancement, and coordination for a small military company.
  • Varek (a support cleric linked to on Alzrius’s site)
  • The Balancer of Scales – A Dragonstar “paladin”, although his clerical abilities are minor as of yet.
  • The Servant of a Fallen God – a cleric with a personal god, just for him.
  • The Sacerdos Pastor, a package deal for village priests that makes a good basis for an adventuring cleric.
  • Ptaysanwee – although, as an epic character, she may be a bit much for most games.
  • Volund Saril, budding thief lord, priest of the Masked One, and Dreamspawn Partner.
  • The Walker in Darkness, a servant of the lower planes.
  • Raymund, a starting priest in the Village Heroes series.
  • Amilko Moonshadow, Epic Level Squirrel and Herald of Chaos.
  • Antaeus Varin, a young noble, priest of The Hidden One, and Dreamspawn Partner.
  • The Paladin of Death. A psychopomp and spirit guide.
  • The Collector. A mystical dabbler with a powerful patron.
  • The Mystic Adept has the option to use clerical-style magic, albeit not actual clerical spellcasting. It does represent another approach though.
  • The Scholarly Priest, an expert in channeling positive energy.
  • Tarlin Malority, a Thunder Dwarf. As a resident of the Twilight Isles, Tarlin gets most of his initial powers from his race, but is a minor cleric.
  • Liam Ko, is an insanely intricate Eclipse conversion of a character from a Legends of High Sorcery campaign – but is a fairly high level build.
  • The Kabalistic Ritualist build has a priestly option, but is primarily focused on rituals. Still, there’s no reason why those can’t be religious rituals.
  • A’ikana is more focused on her martial arts and “Chi Powers” then on her clerical magic – but that’s simply because she’s more of an eastern style priest than a western one.
  • Terin Aderath, a priestly monk-assassin of the Nightwraith Order.
  • Julius Gaius Maximus is a pacifistic healer from the Atheria setting, with powerful – but highly limited – clerical spellcasting for his level.
  • The Cleric Tricks package gives your cleric a quick theme at a very low cost.

Of course, since Eclipse is back-compatible… you can simply use a “standard” build, or just take inspiration from any other source.

Industrial Wights and Magic VIII – Greater Cities, Sample Wards Major, Town and Country, Magic and Fertility.

Today it’s time to finish up with the average magical budgets for various city sizes, to deal with magical cities, and to take a look at how cities relate to the countryside and become the cores of nations.

So back where we left off, it’s the budget for Large Cities.

Large Cities have a budget of some 125,000 GP and come from Small Cities – and so list starts with the items that small cities get and a few upgrades thereof.

  • City Father (24,000 GP). A City Father continues to be the versatile, supportive, symbol of a major city.
  • Epic City Store (Supplies about 450 GP per day to run the city, 16,500 GP). Really, this is probably enough for most routine operations. There will still be taxes and fees for defense, and special projects – but they’re likely to be relatively modest, and fairly unobtrusive. After all, there is little point in gouging the populace when the rules of Wealth by Level apply.
  • Two City Gates (28,000 GP). Large Cities are simply too big a market to leave unexploited. They are invariably either linked to a major hub or part of a gateway ring.
  • Wind Tower (29,000 GP). A Wind Tower will moderate a bad climate, make a bearable one bountiful, and help hold off hurricanes and other weather disasters. Given that both the benefits of controlled weather and the damage caused by wild weather expands with the size of a city, no Large (or larger) city would risk going without a Wind Tower.
  • Dark Rampart or Bone Vault (6500 GP). The choice here still says something about the city; the Dark Rampart protects a city against self-replicating undead, but interferes in no other way. A Bone Vault can do many other things – but does so by imposing restrictions on the population at large.
  • Construction Wagon (10,000 GP). With this a city gets walls, maintenance, well-constructed streets, sewers and drains, and public works at little or no cost.
  • Minor Reliquary (11,400 GP). Having a Reliquary about means that a substantial chunk of the population will be able to have a low-level clerical spell or two each day if they have an hour or so to spare. That isn’t a lot of power, although Mending, Cure Light Wounds, or Wieldskill even once a day can be quite handy – and the occasional protective spell or Dispelling Touch can make things considerably more difficult for adventurers relying on Charm Person and similar manipulative spells.

Large Cities pretty much have all the basics covered. There may be poor areas, but there won’t be horrible slums, extensive stone and brick construction will help limit internal fires and casual damage, solid city walls (and building even a little inland) helps a lot with most tsunamis, weather control can prevent or mitigate most storms, and stone or brick city walls and weather control will handle most external fires. Solid construction and cheap repairs will mitigate the effects of lesser earthquakes and sinkholes. That still leaves major earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteors – but that sort of thing is generally rare. Similarly, a large city will still need resources from the outside, but they’re a lot less critical – and easy long-distance trade will mitigate any local shortfalls. There are enough resources that even orphans, madmen, and other strays get to eat, stay warm, and make a reasonable living (since “Profession/Beggar” is just as profitable as any other profession skill). Large (and larger) d20 cities are prosperous, bustling, and generally fairly happy places.

A Metropolis has 50,001-100,000 inhabitants (commonly 10,000 to 20,000 Households), an average budget of 150,000 GP, four Foundations – and a +12 settlement modifier with four rolls per character type. That means that we’re quite likely to see some epic-level professionals, eighteenth level commoners, and many other high-level types (and their associated magical businesses) – as well as a 90%+ chance of having (potentially very powerful) “monstrous” citizens. That’s a problem. Dwarves, elves, humans, and most of the usual city population are really very, VERY, similar. They have the same kinds of social structures, eat the same kinds of food, have compatible mindsets, and subscribe to the same kinds of moral codes. Monsters are not so similar – and having a fair number of them around can complicate managing a city in a wide variety of ways.

And no matter how chaotic the base species and culture, a functioning city needs a good deal of organization and a reliable, reasonably “standardized”, group who can present themselves to the citizens as impartial arbiters and social enforcers.

  • That’s why a Metropolis will be upgrading it’s Reliquary into a Lesser Planar Spire (35,000 GP) – most often bringing in a force of Hound Archons, who are generally glad to serve as examples of the advantages of order and good in even the most chaotic evil city. After all… for them it’s a cheap chance to do some outreach and recruiting.

A Megapolis has 100,001-500,000 inhabitants (20,000 to 100,000 Households), a magic budget of 2d8 x 60,000 GP averaging 540,000 GP, and five Foundations. It still only has a Settlement Modifier of +12 – but now gets eight rolls. Quite a lot of settings won’t have any magapoli at all.

The threshold this time is one of sheer scale. A Megapolis will have an entire community of high to epic level residents, it will have many magical businesses (likely including trading companies with their own inter-city and inter-planar gate networks), it will have plenty of magic, and it will almost certainly have a Ward Major – transforming it from a city filled with magical citizens and businesses to a magical entity in its own right.

  • City Father (24,000 GP).
  • Two Epic City Stores (33,000 GP).
  • Five City Gates (70,000 GP). Since these (and any commercial gates) will mostly go to cities with their own gates, dozens of other cities are likely to be effectively only a few minutes away.
  • Wind Tower (29,000 GP).
  • Dark Rampart (6500 GP).
  • Bone Vault (6500 GP). A city of this size will need all the help it can get remaining organized, no matter how chaotic it’s inhabitants or philosophical basis may be.
  • Construction Wagon (10,000 GP).
  • Four Lesser Planar Spires (140,000 GP). These usually tend towards Law (to help keep the city organized) and Good (since their notions of what is best for a city are usually easier to manage than evil creatures) – but this is not required. The creatures summoned by a Planar Spire will always act in the best interests of the sponsoring city regardless.
  • Ward Major VI (220,000 GP. 4 Minor and 2 Major Powers). Since the powers of a Ward Major include at least some random elements I’ll just roll up some examples. Normally the Ward’s creator(s) would pick the majority of the ward powers – but that would call for knowing something about the city.

Sample Wards Major VI

Sample Ward I:

  • Minor Powers:
    • The city is either Hallowed or Unhallowed and any suitable Priest can attach one of the permissible secondary spells.
    • The residents are all permanently protected by Protection from Evil / Good as appropriate to the city.
    • The residents need not eat, sleep or breathe.
    • The residents may stay in touch with each other through minor Sendings.
  • Major Powers:
    • Eldritch Ban. Some type of creature or item does not function properly within the city. Creatures suffer five negative levels (or the equivalent penalties), items will not function.
    • Teaching: residents may gain up to (Int Mod + 4) x 2 Skill Points through study, expending them on any skill as if it was in-class.

Obviously enough, this city is a major sacred center of some sort, dedicated to a particular faith. That’s actually sort of limiting – and may indicate a somewhat lower population than would normally be expected – but at least it tells us what some of the Foundations probably are.

Sample Ward II:

  • Minor Powers:
    • Counterspells. Two spells of each level 1-9 can be automatically counterspelled within the city when cast or if they target it. Want to ban major necromancy? Or protect your city from unauthorized teleporters, plane shifters, and wish-makers? So be it!
    • Beauty: the area is lovely, and the populace gains a +2 morale bonus to saves, BAB, and AC when defending the city.
    • Fortune: Residents may reroll any one die roll per day after the result of the original check is determined.
    • Immunity: Residents are all immune to Poison.
  • Major Powers:
    • Gift of Tongues. Visitors and residents may speak and read all languages.
    • Might: residents gain +2 to their AC and Saves and Spell Resistance 15.

This city looks like it was – at least at one time – a perilous diplomatic outpost, and is now likely to be a major trading center. Many of the usual ways of magically unbalancing negotiations will not function here.

Sample Ward III

  • Minor Powers:
    • Whirlwind. The perimeter is protected by a continuous Wind Wall that does not affect the residents or their attacks.
    • Residents gain the use of three level zero arcane spells usable at will.
    • The city can support it’s population without requiring outside resources.
    • Residents gain +6 skill ranks in two skills (from the theme so far, likely magical skills).
  • Major Powers:
    • Absorption. Residents may absorb up to (Con) spell levels per day, gain a list of 3-7 innate spells to channel that power into, and skilled casters gain other tricks (see the Practical Enchanter for details).
    • Residents gain two bonus levels of Wizard or Sorcerer Spellcasting.

This is a major magical citadel. Every inhabitant possesses fairly significant magical defenses and abilities – and adventuring casters may be most upset to find that any street kid will be able to counteract several rounds worth of their spellcasting and that a group of city guards may well be able to absorb their entire arcane arsenal to little effect.

Sample Ward IV:

  • Minor Powers:
    • Cat’s Eyes. Neither high nor low illumination levels hinder the inhabitants.
    • Curses, charms, and malevolent enchantments are suppressed within the city.
    • Mundane productivity is multiplied by a factor of seven (allowing crafters, builders, and scribes to complete a weeks worth of work each day).
    • The city is non-Euclidian, with many local dimensional pockets and local gates. It is much bigger inside than out, offers residents many shortcuts, and prevents most scrying that will not cross dimensions.
  • Major Powers:
    • Tithe. As its residents gain experience, the ward gradually does too – picking up class levels, usually as a caster or a manifestor.
    • Residents and visitors may undergo a ceremony to gain a variety of innate magical powers.

This sounds like some sort of hidden citadel or production center. Depending on it’s age, the Ward itself may be an epic level caster or manifestor, fully capable of defending itself and/or moving the entire city if that should be required.

Sample Ward V:

  • Minor Powers:
    • Residents are each protected by a Force Shield effect.
    • Oracle: There is a method for the Ward to communicate effectively with Mortals.
    • Health: Diseases are not contagious within the ward, all residents recover temporary
      attribute damage at one point per hour, and regain permanent attribute damage and lost levels at a rate of one per day
    • Longevity: Natural aging within the ward occurs at only one-tenth the normal rate.
  • Major Powers:
    • A Distant Gift: Warcraft. Residents and ex-residents in good standing gain +2 BAB, +1D10 HP, and proficiency with shields, medium armor, simple, and martial weapons
    • Unbinding: Residents are protected by a Freedom of Movement effect while within the city.

This ward seems likely to be of a military bent, and probably shares tactical insights and information about possible menaces via some sort of war room. Given the longevity and combat skills it bestows, it may have an abnormally high incidence of competent mid-level combatants.

This leaves 7000 GP in the budget. Of course the budget I’m using is an average, so a lot of cities will have more or less, the city Foundations will have a major effect, and they may have more or less powerful Wards Major (or none at all in favor of more Planar Spires or some such). If you can’t think of anything for that 7000 GP, just round up and add another Construction Wagon and put the city at the center of a network of excellent roads.

Finally, an Imperial City has 500,001 or more inhabitants (100,000+ Households) and a budget of 4d5 x 120,000 GP – averaging 1,440,000 GP. It has a +15 settlement modifier and 12 rolls for each type of character – pretty much guaranteeing a fine selection of level 20+ characters. It gets six Foundations too – and it has passed a final threshold. It can easily afford an epic-level Type IX Ward Major at 800,000 GP – with five minor, four major, and one awesome powers. With a good roll or the right Foundations… It could afford anything up to a Type XII, with four awesome powers.

Awesome powers include things like bestowing the Half-Celestial or Half-Infernal template on it’s residents, or imprisoning a god, or creating full-powered Simulacra of past epic-level caster residents to help out, or isolating itself from divine powers and influences in a pocket universe, and offering gates to dozens of dimensions.

At the upper end, this can turn an Imperial City into a Dimensional Metropolis – a place like Sigil, or Tanelorn, or Cynosure (for a writeup here, see Montsalvat and the Stone of Destiny). Even if it offers less dramatic powers than that, such a city can also afford another 327,000 GP worth of other items – perhaps a Light of Revelation (32,760 GP), four Greater Planar Spires (232,000 GP all together), a Great Reliquary (31,000 GP), and a Skeptical Thinker (29,000 GP) or a Healing Spring (30,600 GP).

If a campaign includes an Imperial City at all… it will be a center where virtually anything can be found, filled with wealth, and privilege, and some of the most powerful individuals to be found in the world. Perhaps most importantly… it is a place where the player characters are very likely to be severely overmatched, and where excessive shenanigans will bring the authorities down on the parties heads like the wrath of several gods. That isn’t a position that most parties are used to operating from. They’re usually used to being able to overwhelm, or at least escape, the local authorities at whim after the first few levels – and if they’re used to operating out of small settlements, may have good reason for those expectations.

They’d better change those expectations fast if they’re going to be operating out of an Imperial City. Of course, an Imperial City offers a lot of opportunities for patronage – and with magical businesses in play, the benefits of having a patron may be very direct and measurable.

Town and Country.

So we’ve pretty well established that most cities do need to import some resources – but that it isn’t nearly as vital to them as it is in reality. Moreover, the countryside cannot possibly dominate the cities; the cities have the really high-level characters, which is where the real power resides in a d20 setting. So… why are there countries? Where’s the benefit to a city in being a capital and taking responsibility for large areas of the rural countryside? Simple political power isn’t that big a motivation when you can bend the universe to your whims with a few words and a wave of your hand.

That’s actually pretty simple.

  • It takes a LOT of experience points to create a new generation of high-level characters.
  • Yet the steady progression of level-appropriate encounters, “adventure paths”, and ever-escalating threats – leading to ever-escalating levels – that player characters experience cannot be “normal” or the world would be in constant upheaval, whether from the occasional failure to stop the plot or from the immense powers that the characters themselves develop.
  • There must be a reason why the Epic and Near-Epic level types in major cities don’t just come out and deal with lower-level menaces. Otherwise there wouldn’t be many opportunities for low-level player characters to gain experience.
  • It’s fairly obvious that genuine risk, dealing with the unexpected, and unknown magical forces are all a necessary part of getting experience points, since otherwise high-level types could just arrange for their kids to become high level in safety and there would be no real need for adventurers in general or player characters in particular.
  • You don’t get experience for dealing with problems too far below your own challenge rating, or if you manage to “adventure” in complete control and safety.
  • Functioning cities are poor places for characters who are past the lower levels to get experience points. They’re usually reasonably well organized and not all that dangerous. If they were very dangerous.. given the mostly low-level populace, they’d be digging mass graves every day until you didn’t HAVE a city any longer.
  • Even outside cities, creatures and situations that will yield substantial chunks of experience for higher-level types are very rare. Otherwise the low-level types in the villages and hamlets would not be able to survive for long. When a high-level challenge does show up… they will need to send to a city for a group capable of handling that challenge if they want to survive.
  • Normal wild animals and minor challenges are reasonably common in the near-wild areas near Thorps, Hamlets, and Villages, even if they rarely appear in those settlements. That means that “Wilderness” types who live outside of town and deal with such problems will gain experience. Sadly, since such things have relatively low challenge ratings, and don’t show up on a daily basis, “wilderness” characters rarely reach particularly high levels – and it takes them a very long time to reach even the mid-levels. Thus the modest chance of mid-level “Wilderness Oriented” characters near Thorps, Hamlets, and Villages.

So there are our critical factors. High-level “Encounters” and “Adventures”, and the Experience Points that can be gathered from them are both limited resources and absolutely vital. Magic, and Power, and Levels, and the prosperity they bring, are all ultimately derived from Experience Points.

The larger the area a city controls, and protects, and from which the small settlements send for its young adventurers to come and help them instead of some rival cities… the more experience points a city can harvest.

Sadly, most opportunities to harvest experience will occur at the borders of civilization while the expenditures will relate to the total area controlled. Ergo there are practical limits to the size of such realms – although they can be expanded somewhat by wise city leaders who cultivate wilderness areas, build (and abandon) dungeons, castles, and suitable monster lairs in hopes that creatures will move in and create opportunities for adventure, tolerate entrances to deadly pocket dimensions and to the “Underdark”, and cultivate guilds of thieves, crazed cults, and villainous secret societies in hidden lairs.

As a city harvests more experience points it can grow larger, become more powerful, increase its magical resources, and expand its zone of influence – until the borders of its experience harvesting zone collide with the harvesting zones of other cities. At that point the competition becomes a matter of responsiveness and efficiency. The faster a city responds, the more smaller settlements will be inclined to turn to it instead of to some other city. The more efficiently a city harvests experience from its limited supply of opportunities, the greater it can grow – and the more distant the areas that can be expected to turn to it to solve their problems.

Since a given encounter will yield the most experience when dealt with by a group that can just barely handle it, but yields nothing if the group sent in gets killed, a wise city council will carefully – and subtly – manipulate promising groups of adventurers, steering them into sequences of encounters and adventures that they can almost certainly handle, but which will challenge them as much as possible. They often put a great deal of work into arranging such things; given how unpredictable young adventurers can be arranging a series of balanced encounters for them can be quite difficult.

Naturally enough, this means that – as a party of adventurers increases in power – their sponsoring city (even if they don’t know that they have sponsors) will be setting up smooth transitions into the local power structure for them. “Openings” on the mages council, temples that need high priests, young nobles who need powerful adventurer spouses, nearby strongholds that need to be “reclaimed” from the monsters or cults who currently occupy then, street gangs who need new leaders… cities want those adventurers to become a part of their power structure, not to have them going out and founding new settlements.

After all, once they’re powerful enough that encounters and adventures suited to them are vanishingly rare… it’s time for them to settle into power and to start arranging for the next generation to start gaining levels.

Now a group of PC’s who wander around at random, without operating out of a particular city… will find themselves at a disadvantage to start with (they won’t have ready access to magical businesses and won’t have local contacts or high-level patrons with an interest in seeing them well-supplied and with people available to buy their loot) and may well find themselves quite unwelcome since they’re “poaching” the local governments carefully-cultivated encounters and adventures. Even worse, with no one to steer them towards “balanced encounters”, they are all too likely to run into things that they cannot possibly handle unless they are extremely cautious.

Personally, I still don’t think too much of “Balanced Encounters”. I prefer serious challenges that the players will have to think about and make plans to meet if they want to win and which call for being willing to retreat if things go badly. Still, if you do want “Balanced Encounters”, adventure paths which graduate encounters so that the characters are just ready for them, and higher level NPC’s only intervening when the characters would all die otherwise… then here’s your in-game reason. The settings major powers and organizations are intentionally setting things up so that the player characters gain as much experience as possible.

I think that kind of cheapens things a bit, but it doesn’t cheapen things nearly as much as having the game master simply giving the PC’s special treatment with no real in-game rationale.

So now we know why small settlements attach themselves to larger ones, what the larger ones get out of the relationship, why settlements put up with thieves guilds, haunted houses, and nearby chunks of wilderness full of ruins and monsters, where all those weird cults keep coming from, and why the local high-level types don’t take care of all those problems instead of leaving them to barely-qualified youngsters who often get killed while trying to do something about it all. A prosperous d20 realm is set up to maximize its yield of experience points – and thus it’s supply of high-level characters. Large-scale safety, military power, supplies of magic, and prosperity, all flow from its experience-point harvest through the high-level characters that harvest makes possible.

As one commentator pointed out… if you want to look at a system rather like this in action, all you need to do is look at Naruto – where the nations pour their resources into producing a few high-level types, ruthlessly sacrifice rather a lot of kids in deadly competitions to sort out who to keep investing in, and carefully match missions to groups that should be just barely capable of handling them instead of deploying their leveled-up human superweapons. Elsewhere, of course, it is the job of the Evil Grand Vizier, or Doddering Alchemist, or Mad Scientist to create the occasional horrible monstrosity only to “lose” control of them for some idiotic reason.

Town and Country – Population

Finally, of course, there is something fairly basic about cities that’s popped up throughout history; cities need to draw a steady stream of people from the countryside because the population of a city does not normally replace itself effectively. While there are several reasons for this, the most basic is simply that humans – like most species – reproduce less in a crowded environment. That’s because crowding “in the wild” makes for scarce resources, which means that producing kids in the first place has a very high opportunity cost and that any children are far less likely to make it to adulthood – wasting the parental resources invested in them. Ergo, both instinct and biology say “Not now! Wait for a better chance!” when there are too many other creatures of your own type around – and cities are VERY crowded indeed.

In d20 we can add something else, which may not be an “official rule”, but certainly seems likely enough; high levels of magical or psionic energy reduce fertility while sex drains magical talents. After all…

The more powerfully magical a creature, the more slowly it breeds and the scarcer it is. Thus gods are very rare in the first place and almost never have kids with each other. Dragons are rare. Magi tend to be solitary ascetics who avoid social contact and lock themselves in towers and libraries. Clerics are often celibate, monastic, or overly-devoted to their god. In either case… Mages and Clerics are notorious for having few or now kids. Eunuch Sorcerers and Chaste Nuns get power boosts but a Martial Artists “inner strength” can be drained by sexual techniques. Bards have many dalliances – but few offspring.

Rogues, however, are notorious for having bastard offspring everywhere, and Fighters are equally notorious for their big, bumptious, families. The least magical races tend to dominate the world. Magic versus Fertility may not be a RULE – but it’s certainly a common background assumption. It even tells us why people take off all their magic items to have sex…

OK, that’s not necessarily a serious point, but it’s certainly arguable.

So that’s why magical cities need the far less magical countryside; they need the experience points and they need replacement population. And the best way to make sure that your city – rather than some interloping settlement – gets those things is to rule the area.

I may put up some more magical businesses or sample Wards Major if enough of them occur to me – but unless there are questions this series should have covered most of the major items now.

Industrial Wrights and Magic VII – Small Cities and Magical Businesses

Now that the various ongoing family emergencies are – hopefully – under control enough to have a little spare time, I shall be trying to catch up around here a bit. This series may finish up in relatively small bites though.

Now that we’ve reached Cities things are getting complicated. Cities will have high level characters living in them – and that will have as much of an impact as high-level characters usually do.

A Small City has 10,001-24,000 inhabitants (Roughly 1800 to 4400 Households), and a basic magic budget of 2d8 x 7200 GP, averaging 64,800 GP. They have three Foundations (although those vary enough that I won’t be addressing them here), and they’ve also passed three major thresholds:

  1. They are long past the point where any wilderness-oriented characters can be expected to be hanging around. Like towns before them, except in special circumstances, Cities will dominate enough territory around them to not leave a lot of true “wilderness”.
  2. The population is now high enough that – even if each household only contributes 1 GP per month in fees (a very small portion of a households Profession or Craft-derived income) fees can support a variety of city services.
  3. With a +6 Settlement Modifier and multiple rolls, there will, at a minimum, be two eleventh level professionals (13,000 GP Wealth By Level) and two ninth level commoners (8000 GP Wealth By Level) about – as well as a lot of seventh level types. There may be characters around of up to level fourteen (27,000 GP Wealth By Level). Do they keep that money stacked in the corner? No, of course, not; while some of it may be tied up in a home, for the most part it’s going to be invested – and investing in fee-for-use city services and assorted magical facilities is low-risk, low maintenance, and high-return.

Thus a Small City has reached the point where many of it’s basic services will belong to specific people (or families) and will be managed for-profit. Fortunately, going into competition with an overly-greedy provider is extremely easy, which will keep prices reasonable-to-cheap. In the real world competition tended to be stifled by guilds, restrictive laws, and legal proceedings against outsiders.

That doesn’t work nearly as well in d20, where the most likely source of new competition is some high level adventurer, who possesses vast personal power, superhuman skills, and combat magic, has an unpredictable temperament, and is used to dealing with opposition by massacring it. Sure, they MAY be more restrained in town – but in that case they’re likely to be friends with a super-diplomat or some such.

Now a high level adventurer may choose to enforce his or her own monopoly, but this will involve a lot of gratuitous unilateral interference with other matters – which takes us back to very familiar territory indeed; an oppressed populace and a ruthless, powerful, overlord. How often does THAT little scenario come up? It’s NEVER a good idea to hang an “Approved Target!” sign on yourself.

In practice, this means that a Small City can simply be presumed to have

  • Carcass Chutes with Leathermaking and Preservation Modules.
  • Cleansing Fountains
  • Composting Chutes.
  • Dedicated Phantom Mills (Almost certainly including street-cleaning and minor repairs).
  • Endless Skeins
  • An Eternal Flame Brazier
  • Millshafts
  • Perpetual Fountains

In addition, some entrepreneur will be using a Foundation Stone to for heavy transport, someone might be running an Owl Post, and – if the rolls for high-level characters were good – an Endless Lumberyard and Perpetual Soup Fountain (Type 0, 2 Gallons/Round, 7500 GP, provides almost 30,000 gallons of soup per day at about 1500 calories per gallon. Sure, people will get tired of soup – but that’s quite enough to drastically mitigate the effects of any siege or famine) or Endless Sideboard (with the takeout menu option) are also quite likely.

Even before the actual city budget gets spent… a Small d20 City is going to be well-lit, surprisingly clean, free of smoke, low-odor, equipped with magical industrial facilities, and with plenty of water. The wealth-by-level rules pretty much guarantee prosperity – and also explain why there isn’t a lot of petty crime in most d20 worlds. Traditionally, petty criminals arose from among the poor and desperate who could not find work that paid enough to survive on.

In d20 level one characters automatically have quite enough resources for a couple to be happily prosperous. It doesn’t have any poor-and-desperate adults save by game master contrivance (presumably just as scarce for NPC’s as it is for PC’s). Eclipse says that rather young children can have some skill points. Pathfinders rules on “Young” characters tell us that a character can be a full-fledged first level Expert, Adept, or Warrior at age nine (and could, in theory, reach epic levels before age ten). The basic d20 rules tell us that any kid who as so much as one skill point can readily support themselves. After all, “Profession / Thief “ is no easier to acquire, and no more profitable, than “Profession / Leatherworker”, or “Profession / Scrounging”, or any other Profession or Craft skill – but it’s a lot more dangerous. And you cannot be an effective petty thief with no skills. Ergo… petty criminals are rare. This is, of course, only to be expected. When you come right down to it, one of the main attractions of roleplaying games is escapism – which is why grimdark role playing games tend to be fringe productions.

As for spending the actual 64,800 GP budget… since we now only need to look at some big-ticket items we have some hard choices. A Small City still has to depend on the countryside for supplies and raw materials – there simply isn’t going to be enough magic available to provide EVERYTHING that it needs – so there will be a few choices to be made.

  • For general utility – and basic defense – it’s hard to beat a City Father (24,000 GP). It’s also fair enough to say that having one more of less says “This Is A City!”.
  • A Basic City Store provides some (150 GP/Day) support for the city government and a modest, but very helpful, source of supply (8225 GP).
  • A Trading City, Distant Outpost, Mountaintop Hideout, or similar city will probably go for a couple of City Gates (28,000 GP) – either to and from a larger trading hub to hook into a gate network or to a couple of other cities to form a part of a ring of gates. Basically… it the surrounding territory won’t provide resources in sufficient quantities and varieties, they have to be brought in from somewhere else.
  • Cities in better areas will usually prefer a Wind Tower (The Practical Enchanter, 29,000 GP) – allowing the city to (mostly) control the weather in a twenty-four mile radius. That’s useful in so many ways that just listing the important things it affects would take several paragraphs. It’s also a serious magical defense. A conventional force will have a good deal of trouble dealing with continuous storms and blizzards. Admittedly, the only “conventional forces” that you’re likely to encounter in a rational d20 world are orcs, goblins, and similar “mass of troops” species, but it’s still a start.
  • That leaves about 4000 GP either way. I’m going to presume that one of a Small Cities three Foundations, or someone – likely a city administrator defending their position – will pad the budget a bit, allowing the addition of a 6500 GP item; either a Bone Vault or a Dark Rampart. The Bone Vault is probably most useful – but the Dark Rampart addresses the fear of massive undead outbreaks comfortingly directly.

A Large City has 24,001-50,000 inhabitants (about 4400 to 9100 Families), three Foundations (still not considered) and a budget of 2d12 x 9600 GP, averaging 124,800 GP. It also has a +9 Settlement Modifier and rolls three times for major NPC’s. That means three Professionals of levels (1d6+13) with anywhere from 35,000 to 96,000 GP and three Commoners of levels (1d6+11), along with quite a few others.

That means that a Large City has passed another Threshold; there will be people there who will control major organizations and businesses in their own rights – and regardless of the enterprise, it’s core is going to be built on magic. Like it or not… magic makes things easier. Doing things by mundane means may require fleets of ships, elaborate machines and hundreds of workers, a network for training nurses and doctors, producing medicines, and elaborate medical machines, or hundreds of workers to harvest crops… and a network of City Gates, a Construction Wagon, or a Healing Spring will do it faster, better, and far, far, cheaper. When you come right down to it, that’s what makes magic attractive. It bypasses all the restrictions and limitations of reality.

So we’re going to have businesses built on large, expensive, pieces of magic. They’re mostly going to be catering to adventurous types, because that is quite literally where the money is; it’s the adventurers who have a lot of free cash laying about. Those expensive pieces of magic are going to be built using the “immobile” modifier since that’s the only reliable way to make sure that those same adventurers don’t run off with the magic that makes your business possible.

So lets make a few businesses.

Mystic Massages (10,000 GP)

This cheerful spa offers massages, hot towels, steam rooms, manicures, mudpacks, scented baths, pedicures, hot wax, salts, and acupuncture. For customers with a more serious problems it also offers Remove Disease, Remove Curse, Remove Blindness/Deafness, and Cure Serious Wounds. While such treatments are only available a couple of times a day each, they are generally available on-demand and at prices considerably lower than the cost of hiring a spellcaster.

  • Spell Level(s) Two (After Ambient Magic Limitation) x Caster Level Three x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-“Word” Activated x .5 (Immobile) x .4 (two uses/Day) x.8 (Requires at least an hour of attention from a good masseur to take effect) = 1728 CP, or 6912 GP for all four spells. Personally I’d throw in another 3000 to cover all the facilities and some minor stuff; a Cleansing Ring, Type I Perpetual Fountain, and Forgestaff will provide cleaning, water, heat, and steam for around 1200 GP, leaving enough to pay for some nice facilities and tools.

Spa’s like this aren’t likely to sell all their spells in any single day – but there will likely be a demand for at least a couple of them (most often Cure Diseased and Cure Wounds of course). Even if they only charge 25 GP apiece, at two spells per day it will be less than seven months before the place pays for itself – at least assuming that the basic “spa” part is self-supporting. It should be; plenty of spas do just fine without offering immediate, blatantly effective, magical cures to select customers.

This is a fairly low-end magical business – but it can remain useful over a fair range of levels and offers a nice sort of alternative reward; you rescued the owners daughter? How about a couple of free magical massages for the party each week?

Marvelous Tattoo Parlor (24,000 GP, Greater Version (Double Bonuses) 48,000 GP).

A Marvelous Tattoo Parlor can provide and sustain a total of 144 (6 per hour x 24 hour duration) magical tattoos, although no one individual may have more than three and the effects of similar tattoos do not stack. Available tattoos normally include the following seven – although the game master may opt to include others or allow more specialized versions. (one for expertise in skills seems particularly appropriate).

  • +1 luck bonus on attack rolls.
  • +1 deflection bonus to AC.
  • +2 resistance bonus on saving throws.
  • +2 competence bonus on attack rolls.
  • Spell Resistance 23 (33 with Greater Parlor)
  • +2 Enhancement Bonus to any one Basic Attribute
  • Cast Spells at +1 Spellcaster Level when determining level-based variables.

Tattoos normally only last for a limited time (or until Dispelled or the user is slain) – but are quite cheap: a tattoo normally costs 5 GP/Month it will last, 50 GP/Year for longer periods.

  • Marvelous Tattoo Parlor: Create Magic Tattoo, Renewable (+1 Spell Level). Spell Level 3 x Caster Level 13 x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated) = 70,200 GP, +100 x 100 GP (materials cost) = 80,200 GP. x.5 (Immobile) x.9 (User must have a Skill Speciality in whatever he or she uses to draw tattoos (Craft (drawing), Craft (painting), Craft (calligraphy), or a similar Craft skill) x.8 (User must have Skill Focus or Skill Emphasis on their tattoo-making skill) x.8 (number of days/renewals must be pre-committed when the tattoo is created, and cannot thereafter be rescinded even if the recipient has the Tattoo dispelled or they’re killed or some such) = 23,100 GP. Given that Tattoo Parlors are traditionally more or less holes-in-the-wall with a few sets of tools, I’ll call it 24,000 GP in total.

Renewable (+1 Spell Level): A new casting may – instead of producing a new instance of the spell – add it’s duration to that of an existing instance regardless of the current range to the target. If the instance is a summoned creature, this cures said summons of one status condition, one negative level, 3d6 hit points, and one lost attribute point, and restores one use of a limited-use ability each time the spell is recast) rather than a new one arriving.

A Marvelous Tattoo Parlor offers cheap boosts to low-level adventurers and civilians – but effectively only offers long-term buffing spells. That’s useful, but once dispel magic and buff-removal becomes a common tactic, such enhancements usually won’t last for long. There are ways to defend them of course – but most such ways are very expensive and very limited. Fighter-types, of course, can afford a feat or two to do it – but most magical types have better uses for their feats.

  • Greater Marvelous Tattoo Parlors use a version of the spell that doubles the effect (+4 Spell Levels) and lasts for two days as a base (+1 Spell Level) with the built-in metamagic modifier (-2 spell levels for 5 levels) = Level Six. This raises the price to 46,200 GP, but allows the structure to support 288 Tattoos, each twice as powerful as the baseline ones – resulting in no particular change in the baseline price for tattoos, although I’d probably put one in anyway because they people running the place could.

The “Renewal” option is obviously quite powerful in conjunction with an unlimited-use magical device; it allows you to keep a fair number of instances of the spell around. Is it overpowered?

Well, lets do it another way. Create Magic Tattoo already lasts for a full day. Making it last a full year is +8 levels of Persistent, and I’ll throw in +4 levels of Amplify to double the effect. Given that this is going to last for a year… we can throw in some modifiers beyond the -3 levels for 7+ levels of built-in Metamagic; the person being tattooed takes 1d4 Dexterity damage due to being stiff and sore (-1 spell level), the tattooist becomes Exhausted in the process (-1 spell level). That gives us… A level nine effect. So Spell Level Nine x Caster Level Seventeen x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-“Word” Activation = 275,400 GP plus 10,000 GP for the material components. That’s expensive – but then we can apply… x .5 (Immobile) x .2 (one use per day) x .5 (the actual casting requires eight full hours of being tattooed) x.9 (User must have a Skill Specialty in whatever he or she uses to draw tattoos (Craft (drawing), Craft (painting), Craft (calligraphy), or a similar Craft skill) x.8 (User must have Skill Focus or Skill Emphasis on their tattoo-making skill) = 10,274.4 GP. Users will have to return once a year, but this version can effectively maintain 365 Tattoos – and they’re even notably harder to dispel. If we stick with 50 GP for a tattoo… the place will pay for itself inside of seven months. And there will be plenty of customers. +4 to an attribute? A +2 on all related skill checks? Pays for itself even if you’re just making weekly profession or craft checks.

Personally I’m going to stick with the Renewal option in most cases. It may look rather efficient – but it’s actually a good deal less effective (and more manageable in the game) then simply going for a long-term high-level effect in the first place.

Altars and Shrines of War channel the power of the Gods of War into the world, blessing the weapons of those who make offerings there. A mere Altar can maintain a supply of +1 weapons, while a Shrine – with it’s attendant priest – can maintain a enough more powerful weapons to equip a legion.

  • Altar of War: Magic Weapon, Renewable (+1 Spell Level) . Spell Level Two x Caster Level Three x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (Immobile) = 6000 GP. Can maintain up to 30 +1 Weapons or bundles of ammunition. Upgrades may increase the number of sustainable weapons by +10 weapons per +1 Caster Level for +1000 GP.
  • Shrine of War: Greater Magic Weapon, Renewable (+1 Spell Level), Ambient Magic Limitation (-1 Spell Level). Spell Level Three x Caster Level 8 (for +2), 12 (for +3), 16 (for +4), or 20 (for +5) x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (Immobile) x .6 (requires the daily attendance of a priest of a god of war to operate) = 14,400 GP (+2), 21,600 GP (+3), 28,800 (+4), and 36,000 (+5). A Shrine of War can maintain 60 weapons (a bundles of 50 pieces of ammunition counts as one weapon) per caster level.

Altars and Shrines of War can make a magical weapons – a combatants bread and butter – available cheaply enough to let them carry a selection of them, possibly throwing in a few Weapon Crystals to provide relevant special abilities. Admittedly, the effects can be dispelled, and you’ll have to return to town to get them renewed – but when “renting” a magical weapon (of whatever bonus) can reasonably be priced at about 1 GP a month, martial classes can hardly help but benefit.

A Monument of the Enduring Warrior uses the Greater Magic Armor spell to enhance Armor and Shields. Since that spell is only level two such a monument operates without a priest at a cost of 4000 GP (+1), 8000 GP (+2), 12,000 GP (+3), 16,000 GP (+4), and 20,000 GP (+5). Given that such a Monument can also support 60 items per caster level, this allows low-level combatant characters to get some substantial bonuses on the cheap.

Fantastic Stable (50,000 GP)

A Fantastic Stable “sells” (rents?) – magical mounts. Unfortunately, such mounts are summoned creatures. While they are obedient and well-trained mounts, they will remain for a maximum of one year and can be dispelled like any other summoning – although the Stables caster level of 17 makes this somewhat difficult. On the plus side, buying a mount (or a group of lesser mounts) is fairly cheap. After all, once the Fantastic Stable has been constructed it’s operating expenses (the salaries for a dozen or so attendants, basic maintenance, and some food) are quite reasonable and the mounts are effectively free. Where else can you pick up a Manticore or Unicorn to ride for a year for about the cost of a conventional warhorse?

Summon Mount is a somewhat more limited version of Summon Nature’s Ally: it only summons creatures to ride on, offers a considerably smaller (three at each level) selection, and they always show up next to the caster. It does, however, includes appropriate saddle, tack, and harness, the creatures are considered to be well-trained mounts, and it can be Renewed; a new casting may – instead of producing a new creature – add it’s duration to that of an existing summons regardless of where it is, incidentally curing said summons of one status condition, one negative level, 3d6 hit points, one lost attribute point, and restoring one use of a limited-use ability each time the spell is recast) rather than a new one arriving. Otherwise, all the usual limitations of summoned creatures apply normally.

If you summon a mount one level less powerful than you are entitled to you get two of them. If two or more levels less you get four.

Available Mounts:

  • I: Riding Dog (Medium), Equine (Pony/Mule/Horse) (Large), Hippocampus (Large).
  • II: Axe beak (Large), Hippogriff (Large), Heavy Warhorse (Large).
  • III: Giant Eagle (L), Pegasus (Large), Large Wolf (4 HD).
  • IV: Dire Boar (Large), Griffon (Large), Giant Scorpion (Large).
  • V: Manticore (Large), Orca (Huge), Unicorn (Large).
  • VI: Elephant (Huge), Nightmare (Large), Wyvern (Large).
  • VII: Kirin (Large, CR7 version), Mastodon (Huge), Triceratops (Huge).
  • VIII: Dragon Horse (Large), Roc (Gargantuan), Young Dragon (Chromatic, Metallic, or otherwise as the GM permits. Usually Large).
  • IX: Androsphinx (Large), Celestial Charger Unicorn (Large), Dragon Turtle (Huge).
  • Fantastic Stable: Summon Mount V, Persistent +12 (Lasts for a year) -3 Spell Levels (7+ levels of built-in Metamagic) -1 Spell Level (Takes a full minute to cast) -2 Spell Levels (Requires an elaborate marble stable complex as a focus) -2 Spell Levels (Operator takes 1d4 points of wisdom damage and becomes Exhausted, which is why a dozen or so attendants usually split the duty) = Level 9 x Caster Level 17 x 1800 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (Immobile) x.4 (two uses/day) x .6 (Takes a full hour to set up for a summons) = 33,048 GP plus about 17,000 GP for the Stables – for a net cost of 50,000 GP. That’s a fair chunk of change. But a Fantastic Stable can “sell” two type V mounts per day – or trade one of them in for two Type IV’s or four Type III’s or lower. Sure, they “only” last for a year – but if they charge a mere 200 GP per casting and only get – say – three customers per week (how many nobles would like a Unicorn Mount / emergency healer?)… the place will still have paid for itself and be turning quite a profit within two years.

This variety of Magical Businesses can have a substantial impact on a setting. Most notably they can provide the non-spellcasters with cheap and easy access to the basic tools and enhancements that they need to do their jobs AND with important links back to society and a home base – while being of far less help to primary spellcasters. It isn’t really enough to fix the balance issues in the game, but it will help a bit.