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?

-Alzrius

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.

-Radpert

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.

Name/Title
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:
BAB:
Saves:
Fortitude: + (Purchased, CP) + (Con) = +
Reflex: + (Purchased, CP) + (Dex) = +
Will: + (Purchased, CP) + (Wis) = +
Skill Points:
Combat Information:
Proficiencies:
Initiative:
Move:
Armor Class: 10 (Base)
Usual Weapons:
Special Abilities:
Skills:
Specialities:
Languages:
Martial Art:
Requires:
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.

Industrial Wrights and Magic VI – Settlement Foundations

Now that we’re coming up on larger settlements… it’s time to take a look at the foundations of cities, so we know how to tinker with the basic values given below.

Just as importantly, unlike the situation in 3.5 or Pathfinder, Eclipse-style settlements are NOT general purpose markets and magic item shops. There are millions of possible magical items, many of them (and almost anything of interest to an adventurer) highly specialized. If you want full plate armor (always personally fitted) you either go to a city large enough to support a master armorer and find one or you spend a few points to develop an adventurer’s usual superhuman skill in the field and make it yourself. The same applies to magic items. If you want a Cloak of the Four Winds, and the only person who makes that sort of thing at the moment lives in a city two hundred miles away… it’s time for sending messages (and expecting a long wait) or for a trip. Similarly, most people are very, VERY, poor by the standards of adventurer’s who raid dragon hordes. There is no ready market for magic items at the prices adventurers want to charge outside of the largest cities.

Standard Settlement Values:

Settlement Type   

Population                   

Guards / Militia

Town Budget

GP Limit

Total Cash Assets

Settlement Modifiers Foundations

Settlement Level

Near-Ghost Town          1-40                                   No Guards/Militia No Town Budget        1d8 GP or GMO       2d20 GP or GMO -5. Wild 10% / +5         Nothing much is sold here. None                     Level Zero
Thorp                        40-160                            Guards/Militia 1d4+1 Budget 1d3 GP            GP Limit 1d20 GP       2d4 x 10 GP -3. Wild: 10% / +7             Sells basic foods, tools, and
handicrafts only.
25% One Foundation        Level One
Hamlet                    161-800            Guards/Militia 4d4 2d4 x 10 GP               1d4 x 10 GP                 2d4 x 100 GP -2. Wild 5% /+5           Cloth, Sells rope, tools, leather
armor, and simple weapons
50% One        Level Two
Village                      801-1800           Guards/Militia 3d8+8 2d8 x 10 GP               3d8 x 10 GP               4d6 x 100 GP -1                                           No specialists, but stuff
can be sent for given time.
1 Foundation Level Three
Small Town             1801-4000         Guards/Militia 3d20+20 3d20 x 10 GP              2d4 x 100 GP              3d4 x 1000 GP +0                                Resource refinement – iron, fine cloth, etc. 2 Foundations Level Four
Large Town            4001-10,000               Guards: 5d10 x 10 5d10 50 GP                5d6 x 100 GP           5×10 x 1000 GP +3                               Mundane specialists and
scholars are available.
2 Foundations Level Five
Small City          10,001-24,000             Guards 4d4 x 50 2d8 x 600 GP             3d6 x 1000 GP            4d6 x 10,000 GP +6 (2 Rolls)                         20% Garrison of 2d6x20 Traders and exotic goods. 3 Foundations Level Six
Large City        24,001-50,000             Guards 4d6 x 50 2d12 x 800 GP            4d4 x 3000 GP          4d12 x 12,000 GP +9 (3 Rolls)                 Garrison 3d6 x 10 x 1d6 Universities and Magic 3 Foundations Level Seven
Metropolis       50,001-100,000           Guards (3d6 + 6) x 100 2d4 x 2500 GP           2d6 x 10,000 GP        10d4 x 25,000 GP +12 (4 Rolls)               Garrison (2d4+1) x 100   Foreign enclaves abound. 4 Foundations Level Eight
Megapolis  100,001-500,000         Guards (2d6+3) x 1000
2d8 x 5000 GP          GM Discretion.          8d8 x 100,000 GP +12 (8 Rolls)                         The Garrison is no longer
separate.
5 Foundations Level Nine
Imperial City         500,001+                     Guards 4d12 x 1000 2d8 x 5000 GP          GM Discretion.          5d4 x 1,000,000 GP +15 (12 Rolls)                Guards ARE the Garrison Anonymity is normal 6 Foundations Level Ten

Guards/Militia: The able-bodied who can assist at first, They start going professional (even if often part time) around the small town level.

  • Town Budget: How much cash the town, as a group, can scrape up to pay for public works and jobs in any given month.
  • GP Limit: How much cash is available to buy things with. Note that this is a TOTAL, and that characters are unlikely to be able to extract more than a fraction of it with any single sale.
  • Total Cash Assets: How much money you could find if you grabbed all the readily-portable valuables in the settlement. X10 if you’re valuing buildings and such, x100 if your valuing the land, structures, and inhabitants as a whole. (Say you want to buy your own Thorp full of serfs).
  • Settlement Modifiers are used to determine the level of important NPC’s – mostly because, like it or not, the higher level characters ARE the settlements major power centers, authorities, military resources, and major industries. Add the settlement modifier to the die rolls given below to determine the highest level character(s) in that category in the settlement. If the total is two or higher, roll 1d6 for the number of subordinates of about half that level. That pattern continues, but – as a rule – it doesn’t much matter; the player characters usually aren’t interested in dealing with anyone who isn’t important and influential (EG; of reasonable level) in one way or another.
  • Dice marked with an “*” may be “wild” types in small settlements. Check the indicated chance to use the alternative modifier on those dice. Such individuals usually live near, but not in, their host settlement and are wilderness-oriented. Wild Arcanists are commonly plant-mages, herbalists, shamen, or elementalists. Wild Entities tend to be treents, awakened animals, dryads, and similar creatures of the wilds. Wild Priests tend to be druids, anchorites, shamen, and so on – and Wild Warriors are commonly rangers, beastmasters, shapeshifters, and lycanthropes,.
    • Administrator (Aristocrat, Politician, Noble, Organizer): d4.
    • Arcanist (Artificer, Astrologer, Mage, Pacter, Spirit Binder, Summoner, Illusionist) d6*, d4.
    • Commoner (Farmer, Miner, Weaver, Cook): d6+2, d4+2.
    • Entertainer (Thespian, Jester, Courtesan, Barkeep/Psychologist): d8-4.
    • Entity (Dragon, Fey, Giant, or similar): d20-14*. Many settlements will have no associated “monsters” at all.
    • Hedge Mage/Priest (Adepts, Witches, Pastors, Herbalists, Ritualists, etc): d6, d4.
    • Priest (Cleric, Druid,Shaman, Enlightened Soul, etc): d6*, d4
    • Professional (Expert, Inventor, Sailor, Sage): d6+4.
    • Scoundrel (Rogue, Bard, Factotum, Ninja, etc): d8, d6.
    • Warrior, NPC Basic (Militiamen, Guards, Hunters, Frontiersman): d8, d6
    • Warrior, Exotic (Martial Artists, Paladin, Cavalier, Shapeshifter): d4*, d4.
    • Warrior, Combat Focused (Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger, Scout): d8, d6*, d4

Foundations are reasons for their to be a settlement there – and the bigger the settlement, the better the reasons tend to be . Unlike the similar concepts of “Tags” in Dungeon World or “Qualities” in Pathfinder, Foundations generally are not transient. Governments, alliances, and nations change – but the great cities continue, even if they wax and wane.

You don’t really have to bother with foundations. If the characters are just picking up supplies before going back to a dungeon or something just send them to the nearest sizeable town, maybe introduce a few sources for healing, or speciality items, or alchemical supplies, and let them get on with what they want to do.

City Foundations:

  • A Good Place: The most basic, and common, reason for a Settlement; the spot is not obviously prone to natural disasters, is not overly infested with monsters, and offers access to reasonable amounts of basic resources – water and food (whether by hunting, fishing, agriculture, or magic) most obviously, but a truly good place will also offer access to clay and/or stone, hides and/or fiber, and wood and/or some substitute for fuel and structural materials. If something is especially abundant, it will be traded with other settlements.
    • Being in A Good Place makes it a great deal easier for a settlement to grow and flourish. Non-adventurers living in it are treated as one level higher when determining their wealth-by-level. Attempts to make money with Craft or Profession checks gain a +4 Bonus.
  • Beasts:: This town breeds exotic animals, crafts peculiar constructs, programs eccentric AI’s, or builds amazing androids, robots, or golems. This may range from an old woman who breeds exotically-colored Budgerigar in her cottage in a Thorp on up to a major research center that creates mass-cloned lots of “normal” or anthropomorphic intelligent talking animals for anonymous buyers in an Imperial City – but the general principle remains the same; you can easily purchase creatures here that would be difficult or impossible to obtain anywhere else.
    • Whatever-it-is is available at only 75% of the base price, but used items of that type sell for a mere 40% of their base price. Add 1d4+1 special facilities dealing with whatever-it-is suited to the scale of the settlement.
  • Capital: Whether through location, tradition, or decree, the Settlement is a nexus of political power – THE place for the local VIP’s, government offices and archives, and (since political power controls monopolies, taxes, and business conditions) people of groups with lots of money to hang out. It will be full of powerful people, rich in infrastructure, and filled with fine buildings and monuments.
    • Add Administrators (d8, d6), Arcanist (d8), Entertainer (d8, d6), Priest d8, d6), Professional (d12, d10), Scoundrel (d10), Warrior/Basic (d12, d10), and Warrior/Combat Focused (d12, d10). Double the Budget, including the (x12) allowance for magical infrastructure. Add (2 x Level) major administrative buildings, palaces, arenas, monuments, or other major works.
  • Crime: For whatever reason, the Settlement is a tolerated hotbed of subversive and criminal elements and cults – whether that means that it is full of slavers, assassins for hire, poison shops, and mad necromancers and demonologists or whether it supports hidden groups of paladins and clerics of righteous gods in the midst of an chaotic evil empire. Goods and services that are generally considered unethical or blatantly illegal elsewhere are sold here openly, and very often legally. There may still be things that you’ll have a hard time finding, but they are few and far between.
    • Double the GP limit, major non-adventurer figures calculate Wealth By Level as if they had two extra levels, allows the sale and purchase of normally-restricted goods and services. Add various secret hideouts as needed, ranging from gang hangouts to secret underground training facilities for the local assassins. Note that the streets are dirty and maintenance is often neglected.
  • Culture: This Settlement may be a great center of fashion or literature, premiere all the great plays, produce the most popular music, or just throw fabulous festivals and parties – but once the feedback loop starts it tends to become self-sustaining (the place becomes famous, which draws anyone trying to break into the business it’s famous for, some succeed, the place becomes even more famous from their efforts, and so on). No matter what the attraction, it will draw many visitors and a good deal of cash in exchange for intangible ideas – about the cheapest of all possible exports.
    • Decide what the place is a center for. Double any reputation modifiers collected while living here. Add Professionals (d8+4, d4+4) and Entertainers (d12-4, d10-4). Increase the DC of earning money through Perform by +5 but double the resulting monetary rewards.
  • Egotism: The Settlement was the personal project of someone powerful. It will be littered with statues, monuments, shrines, and similar items devoted to glorifying that individual and/or his patrons and will have various useful public works meant to support it.
    • Add one major civic structure (arena, racetrack, mansion/palace, great square, fortress) per settlement level and 10,000 GP worth of (blatant) public works and magic per settlement level.
  • Enchanted: The Settlement is a focus of powerful ambient magic, some of which is available to every resident. There will be strange weather, an abundance of fey creatures, minor magical phenomena in the streets, and plenty of minor magical mischief.
    • Each resident gains access to one to three (one automatically, one if level 6+, and one if any one of Int, Wis, or Cha is 16+) bonus magical feats (commonly Grant of Aid, Luck, Mindspeech, Occult Talent, Shaping, or (very commonly) the use of Charms and Talismans, but others are possible). Sadly, these bonuses will fade if a character is away for more than a week or doesn’t spend at least two-thirds of his or her time in Settlement. Add Entity (d6, d4) and Hedge Mage / Priest (d8). Increase the budget for settlement magic by 50%.
  • Enclave: This settlement is a stronghold of a particular race, ethnicity, or culture – and will draw more members of that group, people who need things that group does (or are believed to do) particularly well, and visitors who wish to visit an exotic town, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Appropriate racial, ethnic, or cultural speciality items will be easily available. Merchants and businesses targeting outsiders will shamelessly pander to relevant stereotypes.
    • Add Administrators (d8, d6) representing the group in question and everyone else in relation to said group. Add (d8, d4) Specialists in group-related fields. Group-related items are available at 75% of the normal cost, but sell for only 40%. Add 1d4+1 businesses, small districts, or similar showcasing the various stereotypes for visitors and tourists.
  • Established: This Settlement is OLD, with a history that goes back many generations. Some of its reasons for existing may have passed, but tradition and accumulated infrastructure has become a reason of it’s own. This is a common status for Settlements that were once entryways to new lands.
    • Double the budget for magical and mundane infrastructure. Add (City Level) facilities – libraries, schools, art studios, tourist attractions,historical or haunted locations, or similar – with centuries-old reputations (which the locals will gladly fill you in on in excruciating detail).
  • Guilds (Large Town and up only): This Settlement is a center for major guilds of factions – not the minor guilds of carpenters and weavers, nor the loose clubs of the (highly individualistic and contentions) major spellcasters – but the associations of those who have some power, but not enough to negotiate with the great on equal terms. Guilds of Mercenaries, Adventurers, Rogues, Assassins, and Scouts, Witch’s Covens, Warlock Cults, and more may all have a strong presence in town – commonly offering their members access to Hearthstones and/or Package Deals. While these are generally of some use to primary casters, their benefits tend to be focused on meeting the needs of more mundane types. Such a town is also likely to boast a few extra high-level types.
    • Add (City Level – 4) “guilds” of interest to adventurers which offer appropriate members who base themselves in the city some significant benefits. For an example, the Mercenaries Guild might offer a Package Deal, or boost a warrior-types effective level by one when it comes to calculating Wealth By Level (via getting special deals and using in-house facilities if anyone asks for an in-game reason), or offer access to a Hearthstone – or even offer more than one of those benefits. Such guilds invariably focus on “Low Tier” character types, offering little or no benefit to “High Tier” types.
  • Hub: The site is a natural nexus for resource processing – perhaps where coal from the valley, metals from the mountains, lumber from the northern forest, and herds being driven up from the southern plains, all tend to come together. It is a setting of manufacturing and industry.
    • Mundane equipment suited to the level of the settlement costs only 75% as much as usual here, but sells for only 40% of its base value.
  • Outpost: This Settlement (Small Town maximum) is supported from elsewhere – whether for diplomatic, military, trade, or other purposes. Outposts are rarely in Good Places, otherwise there would be little need for any special reason to place a settlement there; one would spring up naturally. Outposts that ARE in good places usually lose their Outpost status after people settle in.
    • Add a fortification and/or a diplomatic office and/or a trading post, a garrison of (2d4 x 10 x Settlement Level) men, and minor support businesses, normally including a healer of some sort. Mundane adventuring supplies (possibly exempting extremely expensive items such as telescopes) are readily available regardless of settlement size.
  • Presence: The Settlement is the seat of a major divine or quasi-divine power. Whether blatantly or subtly, it will deeply influence events. Residents may have visions, those who violate local taboos may suffer terrible fates, sacred, intelligent, or otherwise powerful animals may be common – or there may simply be some demigodling running the place.
    • Add (d12, d8) servants and a (d10) enemies of said power, at least one secret shrine, and a variety of strange customs that no one will explain to visitors.
  • Primordial: The Settlement contains, watches over, or has formed a bargain with, some terrible elder horror, sleeping power, artifact, monster, or hidden force. While this may be an onerous duty, and demand strange taboos, rites, and behaviors, there are always benefits for the inhabitants. The entity may be a source of strange magical resources, or sometimes bestir itself to defend the Settlement, or grant magical powers in exchange for meeting it’s demands and performing its rituals.
    • Given that each such situation is unique, there are no standard modifiers. A settlement built on the back of an island-turtle that only wakes once a century is very different from one haunted by a dark god where the walls occasionally bleed magical ichor that bestows the “pseudonatural” template on those who ingest it.
  • Resource: The site offers access to one or more special material resources – metals, gems, rare or abundant woods, petroleum, upwelling earthblood (whatever that is), coal, exotic herbs or fungi, compounds and drugs, the ingredients for exotic gourmet cheeses, or something similar that’s valuable enough to be worth establishing a settlement to get easy access to.
    • Add +4 to skill checks made to obtain funds in the settlement. Add +50% to the town budget.
  • Ruins: Plenty of Settlements have some old ruins, a haunted graveyard, or wererats in the sewer system, suitable for an adventure. THIS one has a nearby megadungeon – a multi-thousand year old necropolis, tunneled out mountain, abandoned (underground?) city, or other location that a hundred adventurers could explore for years and not run out of adventures to go on.
    • Add (d8, d6, d4) characters specializing in adventurer support – healers, armorers, alchemists, and so on. There will be a backroom market dealing in strange items (often with odd drawbacks) from the ruins, a doubled-up militia/city guard, and fairly regular problems with stray creatures from the ruins.
  • Sacred: A notable religion considers the area a holy site. There will be shrines, some holy men, pilgrims, and various archeological sites scattered about. It is entirely possible for more than one religion to consider a city holy – although even if they do agree on THAT, they very rarely agree on anything else.
    • Add Priests (d10, d8), (City Level +2) temples, monasteries, and Sacred Locations, and halve the effective cost of religiously-oriented magical features, such as a Healing Spring or appropriately oriented Planar Spire.
  • Safety: In a dangerous world this location is defended by divine decree, isolation, being perched atop a towering mesa, ancient wards, mighty walls and earthworks, the presence of a “school for adventurers”, being hidden (note that this tends to cut off trade and external support, so make sure that your settlement can get along without it), existing in a dimensional pocket (also tends to cut off trade), or something similar.
    • No modifiers. Most cities work hard on defending themselves anyway, so this just leaves more resources for other projects.
  • Trade: The Settlement is a natural nexus of transportation and trade – whether by air, sea, being at the intersection of major underground routes, having teleportation gates, dimensional rifts, access to the realms of dream or the afterlife or some other exotic aspect of reality, by hosting an ancient starport, or what-have-you. Materials from distant lands and exotic cultures will be relatively common. An extra 2d4+2 powerful individuals (nature and level GM) and their entourages will be around to take advantage of that – often making the settlement a center for whatever arts they practice.
    • Triple the GP Limit. Double the Budget, and multiply the amount available for City Magic by 1.5. Transportation, exotic items, and information are all readily available, as are would-be henchmen, kids selling “treasure maps”, and contacts with far-away places.
  • Twinned: This settlement has a an immediately accessible companion settlement. If, for example, it floats in the air, it’s “companion” may be on the surface, underground, in orbit, across the boundaries of life and death, in an alternate dimension, in the past or the future, magical versus technological, linked by a realm of dreams, or simply a little ways off but connected by some sort of transportation system.
    • While the second settlement must also have this foundation, both settlements are presumed to cooperate with each other, allowing both locals and visitors to draw on the resources of both settlements. Increase the Budget and the Magical Infrastructure allotment by 50%.
  • University: The Settlement is a long-established center of learning – hosting one or more great schools of magic, martial arts, channeling, mystic arts, or some other major discipline. Museums, ancient libraries, and research laboratories are likely – and it many be possible to obtain or commission a variety of unique items, alchemical reagents, or strange secrets.
    • Add (d8, d6) Professionals (Sages and Teachers) and a (d6) Administrator. Add (City Level) related Facilities of appropriate scale. Various ancient tomes, clues, and hints as to obscure adventures may be found around the city.

Exotic Conditions:

Exotic Conditions are abnormal, even by the standards of d20 cities, and often transitory. Ergo, these are even more optional than the rest of this…

  • Freedom: This settlement offers liberty. Slaves, bound spirits, summoned monsters, and anything else bound to service is legally – and sometimes magically – set free upon entering the settlement. Classically this was a major draw; in d20… it is a great deal more questionable. Slaves of more or less “normal” races are one thing – but bound outsiders, creatures called through gates, and many more d20 entities are considerably more problematic. And if it’s purely legal… how the Settlement will stop some high-level character out to retrieve a lost servant without suffering enormous amounts of damage is just as open to question. It’s best to leave this one to planar metropolises in chaotic planes; everyone there expects random insanity anyway.
    • There are no general rules for this one; it’s simply too volatile for that.
  • Newly Founded: This settlement is full of crude buildings and empty spots, has little or no organization or law enforcement beyond lynchings, and has very little infrastructure beyond what any higher-level individuals who are involved have brought along.
    • Treat this Settlement as if it was two levels smaller with respect to infrastructure, one level smaller with respect to the GP limit.
  • Ruinous: This settlement is a wreck. Whether due to a recent dragon attack, or being overrun by a barbarian horde, or some such, much of the population (and almost all the higher level types) have fled, monsters have moved in here and there, and there’s a power vacuum. Fortunately, this is generally a temporary condition; much of the infrastructure will probably survive and people will soon move back in.
    • Doing business here is difficult to nigh-impossible. For the moment, this isn’t really a settlement any longer; it’s a disaster area.
  • Therapeutic: This settlement offers health benefits. Unfortunately, most of the classic benefits (mineral rich hot springs which soak away infections or arthritis, rare herbs which relieve the plague, holy grottoes that offer miracles to the faithful) are pretty meaningless in most d20 settings, where easy magic handles all of that quickly and conveniently. Ergo, this Foundation is only applicable in settings where there’s something that ISN’T easily fixed. For an example, the classic Red Steel AD&D setting featured massive contamination with Vermeil – a dust that could give you various powers but which also gave you detrimental mutations – and the much rarer Cinnabryl, a magical ore that could protect against the side effects of Vermeil and which could be forged into (quasi-) magical weapons cheaply. In that setting a Settlement that offered some relief from the side effects of Vermeil would qualify for the “Therapeutic” foundation. Otherwise, pick something else.
    • Once again, there are no general rules for this since it’;s based on some exotic feature of the setting.

Champions – The Young Heroes Setting and the Gates of the Qliphoth

PART THE FIRST: ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE WORLDS

No one knows if there is something that can see it clearly – but in the spaces between the worlds, amidst the wild flux of dimensional energies and the reality storms, the world-lines of the multiverse coil like tangled threads. The myriad worlds cluster, supporting each others reality – pooling bits of history, of natural laws, or reality and continuity. The worlds of a cluster mirror each other like the strands of a cable or the members of a herd.

For linked groups of worlds are stronger; where one is damaged or threatened, others support it. Worlds which stray too far from their shared essence become vulnerable. Occasionally, a new world springs into being near a cluster’s heart, and souls take up residence there. Occasionally, a world-line wanders from it’s cluster – sometimes becoming the heart of a new cluster, sometimes joining another cluster- but more often falling back into chaos and being destroyed. Memetic echoes of such events echo through the spaces between the worlds in warning, and other worlds tell tales of apocalypse – destruction and revelation in one, just as the members of a cluster tell tales of each other.

The multiverse thus favors groups of linked universes. usually clustered around one or more worlds of great strength. Those “prime” worlds, filled with powers, and wonders, support clusters of hangers-on, worlds which follow the broad sweep of their history even if they are more limited realms. Prime worlds draw on the secondary ones for stability in their structure, history, and laws – much of which they have forfeited in having rules so loose as to allow marvelous powers to their inhabitants. Secondary worlds also enjoy the stabilization of history (although that is a lesser concern to them since it is not so easily altered there in the first place) and access to empowered Champions when such are needed – for there is that which threatens.

The Earth we live on… is a secondary world. The tales told here… are of the Primeworlds and their Champions.

PART THE SECOND: THAT WHICH AIDS AND OPPOSES

As for what threatens… there are those from OUTSIDE. From the spaces which are not. Things that should have been dead for eons, things that have grown into the Qliphoth – the negative spaces left behind where worlds have died, becoming embodiments of death, decay, and futility.

They are the enemies of all creation. They hunger, and feed upon the death of worlds. They lay in wait, they besiege the gates, they slip through the gaps in the defenses – and where they lay even the faintest touch, they corrupt. Where they are invited… they empower destructive madmen, and seek a bridgehead.

They are less than dust, and yet rise to do far, far, worse than kill.

Intelligent life can open the gates – and Intelligent life can close them. Throughout the history of an intelligent species, the long battle will wax and wane – most often focused upon the prime worlds of a cluster, those which can empower champions and lend their strength to lesser worlds.

What foes do the Champions face?

  • Least among foes are the Petty Criminals – sneak-thieves, embezzlers, shoplifters, pickpockets, and even thugs and murderers. Such “enemies” are rarely all that threatening, and are not worth a heroes time if something more important is going on. There are plenty of Petty Criminals – and, since they are targets of the Qliphoth just like everyone else, they are usually more than willing to cooperate with a Champion when an actual menace is in play.
  • The Touched are all too common. It doesn’t matter exactly HOW they were exposed to the Qliphoth. Weird experiments, mystic rituals, using (whether accidently or on purpose) some talisman of device, and all kinds of accidents will work if they happen to take place at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Qliphoth grants the Touched various reality-breaching and/or destructive powers – and damages their minds to at least some degree. Super-powered obsessive vigilantes, criminals, and psychopaths are all counted among the Touched, and all help to undermine the order of the world in their own ways.
  • Warlocks – whether out of desperation, foolishness, or a (rightful or wrongful) desire to strike out – have called upon the Qliphoth willingly, and with at least some knowledge of what they were doing. Many or most believe (or believed) that they can at least mitigate the mental damage of dealing with the Qliphoth. Some of them are even right – but the mental state of those who would call on the Destroyers of All Creation for help is rarely good in the first place. Warlocks tend to become more powerful, more reckless, and less sane, as time passes.
  • The Nameless: These lost folk have been devoured – a process which often wipes them from history as if they never were if they are not simply from a lost world to start with – and are little more than concealing shells for the power of the Qliphoth. While powerful, the Nameless cannot remain in a living universe for long after their shells are destroyed unless they can cause enough local damage to it’s structure to create a Qliphothic Bridgehead – and are usually fairly easily identified by perceptive heroes. A group of Nameless can easily qualify as a potential extinction event, so it is most unwise to let them gather.
  • The Heartless: Some of those who fight gaze too long into that abyss. They become lost in the battle, forgetting the things which make the world worth defending. They are become void, the world their chessboard, and all those within it merely pawns to be played and sacrificed in the great war – even if the chessmasters are no longer sure of why they fight.

The Heartless generally do not directly serve the Qliphoth. In fact, they can be powerful patrons and allies for those who oppose it. Still, the greatest weapons against the Qliphoth are emotional and spiritual. The affirmation of life found in love, honor, idealism, youthful energy, heroism, determination, loyalty, conviction, and self-sacrifice empower the greatest Champions and multiply their efforts against the creatures of the Qliphoth (yes, they have vulnerabilities). Calculation, massive power, and a willingness to make “the hard choices” can help – but are not nearly as effective. The tactics of the Heartless rarely win in the long run, which does not stop them from trying to fix things by recruiting more pawns. After all, if they could understand the problem, they would not be Heartless in the first place.

The Heartless also make good hunteds: the desire to recruit pawns and agents can be just as pernacious as any other motive – and can complicate things a lot more than just having a captured hero put into a deathtrap. Unfortunately for any plans to fight them directly… they tend to be very experienced, obscenely powerful, and have great resources.

  • The Elemental Powers of the Natural World need humans to focus and channel their might – but make powerful allies and empowering patrons, even if they don’t understand humans all that well.
  • Then there are the Champions – heroes with any of a wide variety of cosmic exemptions from the normal rules. Sorcerers, Psychics, Mutants, Martial Artists, and more. Some abuse their power, and many of them aren’t very nice at all – but in the end all except the occasional utter nihilist are allies against nonexistence.
  • Finally, of course, there are the normal folk – caught in the middle, pretty much as always.

PART THE THIRD: PLACES TO GO

Thule:

Centuries ago a world started to drift away from the main cluster. Thule’s history slowly diverged as the shared souls that hold the clustered universes together were born into it less and less frequently and the links between it and the other worlds of the cluster stretched thinner and thinner – and began to break. Worse… it was a universe that allowed only minor powers to it’s residents. It’s chances of survival on its own to gather it’s own sheaf of variants around it, was not so good.

Thule’s version of the Second World War was twisted, and dark, even beyond what most of the worlds in the primary cluster experienced. Madmen, either unknowing or uncaring that they were ultimately dooming their world, called upon the Qliphoth with rivers of blood, and turned what answered against their enemies. The armies and champions of that world defeated those fools in the end – but it was a pyrrhic victory, and the lights of their reality began to go out as darkness descended.

The touch of the Qliphoth corrupted. Dark cults, twisted mockeries of humanity, and outright horrors stalked the world. Civilization – and the bonds which held Thule stable – began to fail. The Qliphoth gradually corroded the structure, unity, and coherence of the realm. Its history became debatable, its very nature began to vary from place to place as its reality was undermined more and more.

Eventually… Thule shattered. All that remains now is an incoherent swarm of fragments of reality – each tiny worldlet reasonably consistent internally (if small) – but each facing immanent doom via some Qliphothic nightmare. Each a Shard of Nightmare.

The only hope for the inhabitants of a Nightmare Shard is to either escape to a stable universe (and hope that the path can be sealed behind them) or to somehow merge their shard with a stable universe and hope that its Champions will accept their presence and can seal off the potential bridgehead

Nightmare Shards are ultimately a dilemma; they are too small to be stable. Even if you fight off the zombie horde, or alien invasion, or persuade the protective werewolf tribe to shelter you, or deal with the failing reactor that provides the only warmth in a sunless world… another menace will rise. How far will you risk your own world to save a handful of people from another? Will you try to save the entire shard, or just the people in it?

Nightmare Shard characters are normally built on a 75-point base with a grand total of 100 to 150 points after disadvantages. Any super-powers must be relatively subtle, technological, or classical supernatural so as to fit in with their origin shard.

The Primeworlds:

For the Primeworlds the slow fall of Thule offered a small benefit; it relieved the pressure on the worlds remaining in the cluster. With the dimensionally-local monsters of the Qliphoth tearing at easy prey… the attacks elsewhere lessened. In many cases to the point where the battles were mere border skirmishes at the very edges of the world. With the forces of the Qliphoth held back, the Touched became rare – and fewer would-be Warlocks could manage the initial contact. With little need… fewer Champions were created.

It wasn’t exactly a golden age, but it was calm enough to let most of the world pretty much forget about the Champions and major super powers for a century or so. The Primeworlds are a little bit better than Earth – shinier, better technology, and nicer all around. There weren’t a lot of famines, or major wars, or other nonsense.

And then – just a few months ago – Thule shattered. Refugees and assorted horrors started to flee to the Primeworlds. The eternally-hungering forces of the Qliphoth turned their attentions back to the Cluster as well, attacking both directly and through their empowerment of Touched and Warlocks. New Champions were needed – and so they came into being.

Today in the Primeworlds old legends are made manifest, the Heartless move their pieces once more according to their own visions, and confusion reigns. It is a new heroic age – and the new Champions have little to guide them; the vast majority of the older Champions are long since retired or dead of old age.

Primeworld Characters are starting superheroes – usually with powers that aren’t entirely reliable yet, are highly limited, or which they do not yet know how to use. They’re built on a 100 point base, with up to 150 points worth of disadvantages – but cannot actually spend more than 180 points to start with. Unspent points will come in to play as they gain experience – tripling what they get for their first adventure and doubling awards after that until they’ve exhausted their unspent points. Many of them are fairly young as well.

The Secondary Worlds are defined by their limits. They may allow low-grade psychic powers and magic, or shapeshifters and lycanthropes, or impossibly-skilled weaponmasters, or advanced computer technology, or “steampunk” stuff, and they may be a few centuries behind or ahead – but everything in one of them is restricted to things that fit the local “theme”. The major elements of their history – their languages, nations, and so on – remains much the same as well. Other than that… they come in an immense variety.

Secondary World Characters are normally built on a hundred point base with up to fifty points worth of disadvantages and must always follow the themes of their origin world. They can grow beyond those restrictions if they spend a lot of time in the Primeworlds however.

Superheroics, Champions, and the Action Guy

After weeks of writers block, I’m going to try to kickstart things a bit with some quick heroes – mostly inspired by an encounter with a REALLY bad game master.

Seriously… if you don’t know the rules (combat, movement, etc), can’t design decent (or even functional) characters, produce nonsensical scenarios full of plot holes, portray all your NPC’s as utter idiots who either do (and know) nothing or just go berserk and attack, provide only one “clue” (the address for your fight scene with amazingly convenient timing), and know nothing at all about law enforcement (even what you’d get from watching a few episodes of cop shows)… run another game.

“Action Guy” is pretty straightforward: he’s an athletic, but otherwise normal, human being with a bit of firearms training, light body armor, and a selection of conventional weapons. He’d make a decent star for a lower-end action movie – but he’s certainly no superhero. You can expect to find plenty of elite military types, dedicated survivalists, and enforcers who are as good or better.

And that’s why a player should take a look. Superhero games involve a lot of conflict. If your hero – however young and inexperienced – will likely have some real trouble with this guy… He or she has no business trying to take up a career as a superhero. Sure, “with great power comes great responsibility” – but if you can’t handle several people like this with little trouble, you don’t HAVE great power.

Yes, there are plenty of characters in actual comic books who manage to get along with lower-grade powers (or no powers at all) and no real defenses. Squirrel Girl, Power Pack, the Riddler… all of them do just fine don’t they?

Yes, yes, they do. That’s because they, and everything that happens to them, is wholly under the control of the author. You don’t get that luxury with RPG’s. Superheroic RPG characters… have to be tough enough to survive poor decisions, lousy die rolls, villains that unexpectedly connect with their massive attack, stray bullets, and failing to disarm bombs.

Like it or not, Squirrel Girl and Power Pack and the Riddler would not make it as major characters in an RPG. If this guy has a good chance to do your character any real damage, then your character is too weak to be a superhero. He or she might be a heroic sidekick, or an empowered agent, or some such – but running around on superheroic patrol, looking for random trouble to dive into without scouting out the situation first, is simply going to get him or her killed.

Action Guy

Value Characteristic Points
15 STR 5
15 DEX 15
15 CON 10
10 BODY 0
10 INT 0
10 EGO 0
10 PRE 0
10 COM 0
4 PD 1
4 ED 1
3 SPD 5
6 REC 0
30 END 0
20 STUN -6
Total 31

 

Points Powers END
6 1d6 30-Point Equipment Allowance Aid (Fade/month, Max. 30); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Extra Time: 1 hour, -2½; Only activates in armories, labs, or between outings: -1½; Personal Only: -1; Difficult to Dispel: ×4, +½; Increased END: ×10, -4; This allows a character to haul along 30 CP worth of customized gear. 20
6 Total Powers  

 

Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
3 Acrobatics 12-
10 +2 level w/Ranged Combat
13 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  

 

Cost Equipment
13 Multipower: Weapons (40-pt reserve); OAF (Guns and Weapons): -1; Generic Limitation (Conventional Technology. User must gesture, all powers other than basic melee weapons must run on charges, technological limitations, etc.): -1
u-1 8d6 Energy Blast / Shotgun with Gel Shells 0; Range: 200; Versus: PD; Charges: +6, -¼; Clips: 4
u-1 4d6 Entangle / Netgun (DEF 4) 0; Range: 200; Charges: +6, -¼; Clips: 4
u-1 2½d6 Killing Attack (RKA) / The Most Powerful Handgun In The World 0; Range: 200; Charges: 8, +0; Clips: 3
u-1 8d6 Energy Blast / Heavy Taser 0; Range: 200; Versus: ED; Charges: 8, +0; Clips: 3
u-1 2d6 Energy Blast / Dart Gun 0; Range: 200; Versus: ED; Continuous (Turned off by Caffeine or any other strong stimulant): +1; No Normal Defense: +1; Reduced END: Zero & Persistent, +1
u-1 2d6 Killing Attack (HTH) / Big Knife (Total 3d6) 1; Range: 0; Reduced END: Half, +¼
u-1 Tonfa
(7) Hand-to-Hand Attack (6d6, Total 9d6) 1; Range: 0; Reduced END: Half, +¼
(4) Force Field (Blocking) (10 PD/0 ED) 0; Reduced END: Zero, +½; Generic Limitation (Only versus melee and slow-moving ranged attacks that the user is aware of.): -½
7 Armored Undersuit; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Generic Limitation (Conventional Technology): -1
(5) Armor (4 PD/4 ED)
(2) Protective Goggles: Flash Defense (Sight, 5 pts)
1 Good Shoes / Running (+1″, 7″, NC: 14″) 1; Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 2; OIF: -½
2 Smartphone (0kg)
30 Total Equipment

 

COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
31 + 19 = 50 100 = 0 + 100

 

OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
5 5 3 0 8/4 8/4 4, 8, 12

 

“Action Guy” isn’t very powerful – but honestly, if you’ve gone and made a character who’s concept doesn’t really include offensive and/or notable defensive powers… Going ahead and grabbing Action Guy’s equipment package is cheap even if you DON’T use the equipment-allowance cheese slice – and it’s certainly sensible.

And yes; Action Guy would have handily defeated most of the characters that were handed out for that game… A melee specialist with a total physical defense of “2”, Speed 4, OCV / DCV 5, and a 4d6 autofire punch (without enough Endurance to use it even if he could expect to hit something?) Really?