Channeling Mysterious Spirits – The Discordant Powers and the Seven Deadly Sins Part I: Gluttony, Lust, Greed, and Wrath

And now for something completely different!

Most of the previous power-package “Spirits” (and virtually all the actual character writeups) so far have been for people of one kind or another, with independent personalities of some sort. These, however – like Ansitif or the Exemplars of Magic – are forces rather than creatures, and extremely unpleasant ones at that. Still, it’s coming up on Halloween again, so it’s time for some evil powers.

As usual, all of these Mysteries build on the powers of the basic Bokor Package – although that is cheap enough that it’s normally well worthwhile. They’re all 32 CP / +1 ECL Acquired Templates  as usual.

Gluttony – and it’s sibling Lust – get a bad rap. Both are the result of perfectly natural, healthy, and necessary drives; if people did not eat, drink, and breed, there would very shortly not be any people. What has long placed them on the list of “sins” is a combination of the idea that enjoying yourself is inherently bad and humanities tendency to pursue pleasure beyond all reasonable limits (which is probably what led to the first idea). Eating is not bad. Eating well is not evil. Eating “Sinfully Delicious” deserts isn’t especially wicked either – although the phrase itself says that at least some people find it inherently morally dubious.

On the other hand, gathering the ingredients for a fabulously expensive banquet by working a dozen poor farmers to death and then feasting while the people outside your gates starve isn’t all that different on the personal level from having an extra brownie that you know you shouldn’t eat (you can only eat so much after all) – but even if the exact line is impossible to identify, most of us would say that you have crossed it SOMEWHERE.

Similarly, simply feeling lustful isn’t terribly important. Even a private sexual romp between two consenting, adult, and socially-acceptable partners stirs few objections beyond “They’re having fun and I’m not! No fair!”. After all… King Solomon didn’t get into serious trouble for lusting after foreign women, or even for having a thousand concubines in his harem until he started to worship their gods. David apparently wasn’t thought to be going totally overboard until he had a loyal man killed so that he could add his wife to his harem. Once again, there’s definitely a line somewhere in there between “just fun”, “mildly naughty”, and the kinds of things people like Wu Zetian, Prince Sado, Justinian II, or some of the crazier Roman Emperors got up to. I can’t say exactly where it is – but it can probably be found somewhere between “enthusiastic participation” and “pleading to be let go”.

Of course, in d20, where even the “good guys” routinely burst into other creatures homes, massacre them, and steal their stuff, even really serious cases of “selfish exploitative individual who is grossly fat because they eat too much” and “shallow and egotistical individual who considers everyone they meet a potential sexual conquest to be ogled because they want to have a lot of sex” aren’t really that impressive. Even in medieval reality the “deadly sins” were usually considered to have a lot more depth than eating too much turkey or a couple of teenagers setting themselves up for a shotgun wedding. Still, d20 also offers some darker options.


When you slay, or sometimes even when you merely defeat, an opponent in d20 you may absorb a portion of it’s energies – those oh-so-precious “Experience Points” – a magical force that can transform and enhance the user in all kinds of ways. Some few, however, learn the dark art of true gluttony – becoming a literally demonic force that takes not only a portion of the energy that is released naturally, but actively draining parts of the victims very soul as well.

  • Major Privilege: Gains access to a Wealth Level Template from The Practical Enchanter, with the level depending on the number of hearts of worthy enemies or sacrifices the user has eaten in proportion to his or her current level. Specialized and Corrupted / you must eat your enemies hearts or drink their blood, you will be haunted by fragments of their souls, and anyone seeking to raise or resurrect those you’ve so slain must seek you out and defeat you to make it work (2 CP).
  • Grant of Aid with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / The user is blatantly drawing upon foul and evil powers, uses may only be regained by eating the heart or drinking the blood from a ritually sacrificed sapient being (6 CP).
  • Luck with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / The user is blatantly drawing upon foul and evil powers, uses may only be regained by drinking the blood from a ritually sacrificed sapient being (6 CP).
  • 2d6 Mana (Resilience Option), plus Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / The user is blatantly drawing upon foul and evil powers, Mana is only regained via Rite of Chi, uses may only be regained by drinking the blood from a ritually sacrificed sapient being (12 CP).
  • Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (four floating CP) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP). Points may only be used in conjunction with Create Relic, below, all relics created are
  • Create Relic, Specialized and Corrupted/only for use with points from Double Enthusiast (above), all relics created will carry at least one 3-point disadvantage since they are created using unwilling soul-fragments (2 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/ Adds (Con Mod) to Charisma-Based skills, Specialized for Reduced Costs and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Counts as being Skilled) / only for Rune Magic skills, only for terrible black magic (3 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Bloodlust, a boundless desire to consume the lives and souls of others, and being pretty obviously evil on a level that even most evil people will want nothing to do with (-3 CP).

While it’s certainly foul enough, even this version of cannibalistic spiritual gluttony isn’t all that far beyond the usual d20 conventions: after all, the characters usually kill a lot of things. Still, it is only the first sin on the list.


Lust is born of the urge to breed, to produce offspring – although, in this corrupted version, this is not for their own sake but as tools of your own power – things to be used and exploited at your whim, not children to be nurtured and loved (although you get extra style points if the other parent is protective, nurturing, and loving and you let them see what happens to their offspring).

  • Presence / Aura of Seduction. This rather resembles “Charm Person”, but it induces lewd, lavicious, and sexual thoughts and urges in those affected (6 CP).
  • Perform (Sexual Acts) +1 SP (1 CP). That’s not a very high skill base, but most people have no actual skill in the field at all.
  • Dominion: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / only to organize, and collect Dominion points from, orgies, drunken debauchery, gang-rapes, sexual conquests, and similar activities (6 CP).
    • Path of Valor:
      • Voice of Command, Specialized and Corrupted / only to suggest lechery, turn normal gatherings into outbreaks of sexual depravity, and induce sinful behavior (2 CP).
      • The Rightful King, Specialized and Corrupted / only to establish yourself as a lord of parties, persuade authorties to overlook your utter immorality, and become a sex symbol (2 CP).
      • Heroism, Specialized and Corrupted / only to counteract the effects of excessive self-indulgence, cure the venereal diseases you catch, and otherwise enable horrible behavior (2 CP). Yes, this is a minor variant on the ability. Eclipse explicitly allows this – especially when it’s not a lot of use in actual play.
      • Epic Heroism (Half-Infernal Template). You may spend 8 Dominion Points to take on the half-infernal template for twenty-four hours or 2 to pass it on to one of your children (6 CP).
  • Channeling, one use per day, Specialized/only for use with Dark Awakening (1 CP).
    • Hatred’s Weal Path:
      • Dark Awakening, Specialized / only to rise as an undead monstrosity if slain (3 CP).
      • Shadow Casting, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (disregards the ECL of the half-infernal template, uses dominion points instead of experience points; each point spent grants the shadow one level up to a maximum of two-thirds the user’s ECL) / each shadow is inherently linked to a single creature, which must a child of the user’s less then six years old. The shadow devours the child’s mind and enslaves it’s tormented soul, turning it into a mere extension of evil and the user’s will. This is most effective, of course, if done shortly after a child is conceived (6 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Being obsessively sexual, mistreating children on a level that most normally evil people would hunt you down for, and having to make will checks to avoid trying to seduce people and turn every situation into a depraved orgy (-3 CP).

There are few darker evils than this, even among the Deadly Sins. This gets you the betrayal of family, the torture-damnation of children, the corruption of innocent souls, lust for power, the intentional spreading of supernatural evil, blatant abuse of sexuality, and (almost certainly) forcing heroes who resist you to slaughter abused children all in one tidy little package.


Greed – or Avarice – is especially troublesome in d20, for not only does d20 virtually enshrine Greed above all other goals, but it tells us that there really is always more to get – and that getting it brings ever-increasing power. In d20 even the greatest Paladins, the exemplars of Law and Good, focus on upgrading their equipment and going forth in search of still more plunder and power rather than on – say – caring for orphaned children, building temples, or healing the sick. Such is the nature of Greed – forever unsatisfied, demanding more and yet living in desperate fear of what it has already claimed being plundered. As befits the nature of wealth in d20, Greed is one of the few “spirits” which can make lasting changes in a summoner.

Unfortunately, it isn’t really one of the most effective ones. d20 characters are generally already getting many of the benefits of unbridled greed already. Still, investing your time in Greed brings ever more bonuses.

  • Stipend (12 CP) 1200 GP/Month. Those channeling Greed will become known as ruthless moneygrubbers, usurers, and corporate raiders. Each day that you do so, you gain a base income of 40 GP. If you do so as a starting character, add 12,000 GP to your starting funds. Note that this is actual cash; it does not vanish when you cease to channel Greed.
  • Landlord I, Specialized for Double Effect / you gain your funds from slumlording, usury, rackets, illegal gambling, and many similar activities, and gain an appropriate reputation and legal problems (3 CP). During the times that you are not channeling Greed, this money is tied up in legal problems, protests, and similar difficulties.
  • Siddhisyoga with the Efficient, Fey, and Inner Whispers modifiers, Corrupted / to keep your Siddhisyoga powers working you must maintain a horde of unused treasure worth at least 25% of the effective cost of those abilities hidden away (16 CP). Note that the Siddhisyoga powers remain even when you’re not channeling Greed; they were paid for with real money and are quite permanent.
  • Occult Sense / Sense Valuables, Specialized / only to maintain an awareness of the user’s horde (3 CP). As long as you continue to channel Greed, you will remain aware of your horde and of anything that disturbs it.
  • A +1 bonus to Appraise (1 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Those channeling Greed must make will checks to turn away from opportunities for profit, to refrain from taking bribes even if they have no intention on following through on their promises, and will show no consideration for others (-3 CP).


Wrath is more than flying into a simple rage. It is swearing revenge on entire bloodlines for minor offenses, it is the slaughter of a village lest you miss a rebel, it is blindly sacrificing what you hold precious in pursuit of destruction.

Anger is natural. Hatred is natural. Violence is natural. Wrath… is when those things are without temperance. When nothing – not pain, not love, not survival itself – restrains the urge to destroy your target. It is all too easy for the urge to resist injustice and evil, the defiance of those who have injured you, and even the heroic desire to defend others to lead to Wrath.

Wrath is, not surprisingly, probably the least subtle of the Deadly Sins or Discordant Powers, as well as one of the least devalued. Most people are still aware that genuine Wrath goes somewhat beyond yelling at annoying people or even punching a hole in the drywall simply because random shootings due to “road rage”, people killing their spouses and children in a fit of anger, and similar human tragedies are still all too common.

Little can stand against a Wrath-channeler in a rage – but at least Wrath does nothing but destroy.

  • Birth of Fire, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Use 9’th level base and double it) / the constructs only exist when the user is in a berserker rage and he or she has little actual control over most of them. They will tend to defend the user, if only so that they will not be dispelled too early, and will prefer to attack his or her enemies – but inanimate or precious things, buildings, allies, and anything else in the area is on the target list (6 CP).
  • +6 Bonus Uses on Birth of Fire, with the same limitations as above (9 CP).

The Minions of Destruction are Huge, have 38d10 + 80 (289) HP, Initiative +0, Spd 80, AC 60, 6 Attacks at +58 for 6d6+33 damage, all Saves +12, Str 76, Dex 10, Cha 10, Wis 11, Int 10, 152 Skill Points and 12 destructive feats. Special abilities:

  • Class-A Options: Damage Reduction 10/Magic, Fly, Knockdown (those hit must make a DC 46 Str check or fall), Semisentient (+18 to Intimidate, Spot, Jump, and Listen), Swim, Tunneling..
  • Class-B Options: Extra Attacks, Fast Healing 4, Sentient (you can usually just treat them as having the summoners feats and skills), Trample, and Warding.
  • Class-C Options: Natural Invisibility, Noncorporeal at Will, Spell and Power Resistance 48, Dimension Slide 90′ as a move action, has True Seeing and 60′ Blindsight.

When the channeler goes berserk, the Minions of Destruction manifest themselves and start smashing up the area. They will make some effort to protect the channeler, simply because if he or she falls their rampage will come to an end. They don’t really have the foresight to try to avoid collapsing structures or setting off explosions though. If someone can see them… they can be presumed to look like a bunch of monstrous giant beasts suitable for monster movies.

  • Berserker with Odinpower, Odinmight, Enduring, and +3 Bonus Uses (20 CP).
  • Disadvantage: Must make will checks to avoid flying into blind rages when insulted or defied or to avoid to avoid undertaking absurd levels of retribution for minor offenses (-3 CP).

Simple. Straightforward. Insanely Dangerous. More than a little rules-abusive. When someone channeling Wrath flies into a rage, and seven invisible forces start destroying everything in the area… very little is likely to survive. The best way of dealing with such a situation is probably to run like mad and wait for the channeler to either burn through his or her rage or to self-destruct by bringing down the roof of causing a massive collapse or something.

And now I feel sort of slimy…


Linear Fighter, Assistant Wizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the Dungeon Masters Guide told us

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

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

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

Basic Spellcasting Limitations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Arcane Caster Limitations Include:

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

Additional Divine Caster Limitations Include:

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

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

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

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

Eclipse d20 – Playing With The Pulps Part II: Pulp Powers

For Part I – the Basic Pulp Hero and Advanced Pulp Hero Templates – Click HERE.

The first, and largest, option for Advanced Pulp Heroes is Pulp Powers – the weird abilities that make many of them just a bit more than human. For an awful lot of those powers the mechanism of choice is Witchcraft. At its base Witchcraft is low-powered, low-cost, and very versatile – which means that it can easily be specialized in particular functions to make it medium powered (just right for pulp powers) while maintaining it’s low cost. That’s important because pulp heroes generally aren’t of particularly high level and rarely grow in power all that much – so unlike a baseline d20 character they don’t go from “slightly above ordinary” to “stronger than most classical gods” over the course of their careers.

And the next step in basic Witchcraft is a simple feat – The Secret Order. So we can take that ability and build what we want as…

Pulp Powers/The Secret Order: +5 Basic Abilities, +4 Power (6 CP). Where saves are relevant, they have a DC of (16 + User’s Cha Mod). This gives our Advanced Pulp Hero a choice of five pulp powers, either drawn from the list below or built from the basic witchcraft abilities using these powers as examples.

It’s worth noting that the special effects are up to the user; if you want Venomous Infusion to be represented by a pouch full of vials and needles, then so be it. Do you carry bottles of special adhesives to use the Adhesion effect? Use C’hi powers? Or weird technology? Go right ahead; changing what your powers look like is quite acceptable.

  • A Thousand Faces/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power to gain a +12 bonus on Disguise checks for thirty minutes. During this time you may disguise yourself or change disguises as a Standard Action without penalty and gain a similar bonus to attempts to imitate voices.
  • Adhesion/Witchfire (constant): You can cause items you touch to stick together. You may perform small repairs (as per Mending), add +10 to the DC of escaping any bindings you apply, gain a +6 bonus on any rolls to hang onto creatures or things or to keep your footing, and may employ a Spider Climb effect at will.
  • Adroit Cavalier/Hyloka and Glamour (constant): Any mount you ride gains the benefits of Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter), Surefooted Stride, Jump, and Fast Healing I, all cast at your level, while you gain a +10 bonus to Ride checks. If you keep a personal mount for a week or more, those benefits will remain in force for it for up to forty-eight hours between contacts. Your mount will come when called, can perform any “trick” without training, and needs only one-quarter the usual amount of food, rest, air, and water.
  • All-Around Sight/Shadowweave (no cost, works until deactivated): Subtly guiding light to the user’s eyes allows the user to see in all directions. He or she cannot be flanked and gains a +4 bonus to Perception, but suffers a -4 penalty on saves against gaze attacks.
  • Analytical Gaze/Hyloka: You may spend 1 Power to commit up to five minutes worth of material to memory with photographic exactness – making it easy (at least with an advanced pulp heroes augmented intelligence) to deduce things like a targets likely profession, the presence of hidden weapons, the tiny inconsistencies that may indicate a disguise, likely guard routes and blind spots in surveillance, and similar elements. As a side effect, you do not need a spell book, may sketch or draw what you’ve seen with great precision, can read off all the titles of a shelf of books you merely glanced at from memory, and may perform many similar stunts.
  • Animal Companion/The Inner Eye (constant): You have a vague link with a normal animal with a range of about a mile. Within that range you can get bits of what it sees and hears and you can influence it with Animal Handling rolls. If something happens to it (including dying of old age) you will need at least a month to replace it and will probably be upset.
  • Animal Friend/The Inner Eye (constant): The user can gain simple clues, warnings, and even some facts from observing animals and can get simple messages across to them. Thus observing frightened birds might reveal an ambush and Lassie can both reveal that Little Timmy is down the well and be sent to fuss at the main house, and perhaps bring additional aid.
  • Athletic Paragon/Hand Of Shadows (constant): You gain a +4 bonus on Acrobatics, Climb, Fly, Ride, Swim, and Martial Arts based on Str or Dex (this does increase the number of techniques that you know) in each such art, +10 feet/round to all of your movement rates, subtract six dice from any falling damage you take, and can never become overweight or out of shape.
  • Bioawareness/Witchsight (constant): You are a walking lie detector. When you focus on a target within 20′ you become aware of their heartbeat, eye movements, any pains they may be feeling, whether or not they are sweating, and similar responses. You gain a +10 bonus to Sense Motive, a +6 bonus to Heal, and can easily tell if someone is merely pretending to be unconscious or dead, when people are nervous, and if they are ill or drugged.
  • Blinding Flash/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power as a standard action to create a burst of light equivalent to the effects of a Pyrotechnics spell cast on a fire source. While this has only a sixty foot range, you are automatically immune to the effects.
  • Cloud The Senses/Glamour: You gain a +6 bonus on your Social Skills and may subtly influence perceptions; you may “set the theme” of the immediate setting (adding minor descriptive items to it – adding a dry wind, a tumbling tumbleweed, appropriate subtle “background noises”, and other “western” cliches, or setting up a haunted house with creaking doors, flickering shadows, chill drafts, and cobwebs. This adds +4 to the DC of penetrating any deception which matches the theme), With concentration you can erase your presence from other minds; for 1 Power per Minute you can use the Pathfinder version of Cloud Minds, at an effective power point total equal to your level.
  • Clouds Above The Earth/Hand Of Shadows: You may spend one power to create footing (small force disks) where none exists for one minute. During this time you may walk silently and without putting pressure on the floor, stand on water, and perform similar stunts.
  • Cultivated Blandness/Shadowweave (constant): You may make a Disguise check each morning; the result is the DC of the will save needed to recall any details about your name, face, or voice. This does not, however, interfere with memories of what you actually did – just of your identity. If you opt to present yourself as a generic member of a group, those you encounter must save successfully before they can become suspicious.
  • Darkness/Shadowweave: You may spend 1 Power and a Swift Action to render normal vision useless within a radius of up to 20 feet. If this is an ability, it centers on you and moves with you for up to ten minutes. If it is device (such as a smoke bomb) the effect is immobile and only lasts for three rounds, but you may place the effect anywhere within sixty feet as long as you have line of sight and get three uses per Power expended.
  • Darksight/Witchsight (constant): You get 120′ Darksight.
  • Defining Aura/Glamour (constant): You may give yourself a brief personal description; those who interact with you will accept it as the truth, and react accordingly, unless they make their saving throw. Once chosen, your description will not change without months of work. For example, you could be “A deadly criminal mastermind, with wealth, favors, and minions to call upon and a deserved reputation for dealing harshly with those who cross him” – and watch people get out of your way, try and curry favor with you, and cower in fear if you seem upset. Be “A wealthy playboy whom every woman secretly wants, with loads of money and a reputation for throwing marvelous get-togethers and attending every social function” and watch the invitations pour in, doormen wave you into exclusive clubs, and bartenders and caterers gladly run a tab for you. Play the role of an incredibly brilliant scientist, a great detective, or whatever you wish. Sadly, if you act too far out of character, a new save can be made every day.
  • Demolitions/Infliction: You may spend one minute and 3 Power to rig up a stationary explosion that inflicts triple the normal Infliction damage in up to a 10′ radius. Unfortunately, such lash-ups are too fragile to be thrown, although they can be rigged up with various triggers, such as when a car starts.
  • Draught Of Eternity/Hyloka (constant): You age extremely slowly, if at all. You may spend 1 power to heal 1d6 points of attribute damage or drain as a free action once per round. As a side effect, if you are more than sixty years old and still adventuring, you will find that people will believe almost any story about your exploits and abilities.
  • Elder Sorcery/Various (normally villains only): This is any single Basic Witchcraft Ability, Specialized for Double Effect/requires gestures and incantations, calls upon terrible elder beings and occasionally lets them or their minions slip into the world, is widely recognized as terrible black magic, requires occasional sacrifices to or missions for the eldritch powers that back it. (Witchcraft is generally fairly low-powered. Doubling up a basic ability this way gets it up to the lower-mid power level as far as basic d20 goes – but in a pulp setting this tends to be the terrifying upper limit of magical power.)
  • Elemental Mastery/Witchfire: While it’s a distinct rarity in the pulps (and a transitional phase towards more modern superheroes), a very few pulp characters can control elemental forces. What makes them distinctly “pulp”, however, is that these abilities tend to be relatively weak, but versatile; a Firemaster may be able to generate weak blasts and bolts of flame within a very limited radius – but he or she can also weld, heat their coffee, generate heat to shrug off cold weather, melt an incoming fusillade of bullets, snuff out flames, and provide light. Someone with cold powers might create a chill mist, prevent explosives from detonating, shatter metal, protect themselves from heat or cold, extinguish fires, preserve specimens, or spread a film of ice over nearby surfaces. In general, the user must select a specific type of energy to manipulate and may create effects within their field equivalent to Cantrips without cost, may create first level effects as Standard Actions for 1 Power. The elemental forces may also be employed defensively as an Immediate Action for 2 Power, reducing the effects of an appropriate incoming attack or group of attacks by 1d6 per level (to a minimum of zero).
  • Evasive Jinx/Elfshot (constant): Anyone within a two block radius who is actively pursuing you must save on the first round and every four rounds thereafter or suffer some minor, transient, hindrance – someone getting in the way, a flat tire, a minor accident, being tripped, or some similar difficulty. Similar Jinx abilities may be developed for other activities – such as Theft and Burglary or (if the game master is willing to allow it) even Combat.
  • Focused Mind: You may spend 1 Power at any time to gain the results of a DC 25 Autohypnosis check, to regain your Psionic Focus, or to throw off a Confused, Dazed, or Stunned condition.
  • Forced March/Hyloka (constant): You may go for up to a week without food or water, up to three days without sleep, and up to three minutes without air, with no penalty. Thereafter penalties accumulate normally. As a side effect, you gain the Endure Elements and Longstrider effects.
  • Ghost Strike/Dreamfaring (constant): You and your attacks effectively have the Ghost Touch property. You may spend 1/2/3 Power to briefly phase a small/large/complete portion of your body into the Ethereal plane; this can be used to get things out of sealed boxes, reach through doors to unlock them, or even to step through walls.
  • Gliding/The Hand Of Shadows: If conscious, you may control your falls – moving up to 15′ per 5′ of fall and taking no damage when you land. Strong winds may make it hard to make progress upwind, but can be used to gain height. This has no cost and does not require an action.
  • Grandiose Gesture/Glamour: You may spend 2 Power as an Immediate Action to get everyone in a sixty foot radius who fails to save to focus their attention on you this round. You gain a +2 to +6 (GMO) bonus on the DC of the save if you actually do something attention-grabbing or very dramatic. If you keep speaking, you create an effect similar to the Enthrall spell.
  • Greased Lightning/Hyloka (constant): You gain a +3 bonus to Initiative checks and may perform minor “super speed” tricks such as getting a fire started by friction in mere moments, moving the shells in a shall game too fast for anyone to track, using a sword to put your initial on someone’s chest, or shuffling and dealing cards in mere moments.
  • Handwriting Analysis/The Inner Eye: Given a few minutes to examine a sample of someone’s handiwork – a sample of their handwriting, something they built, a piece of art they created, or a house they decorated – you can recognize other examples of their handiwork, create a profile of them (getting a good idea of their traits, behaviors, and personality), and may make a Perception check to try to obtain a (very) general physical description of them.
  • Hypnosis/Glamour: You may spend one power as a standard action to Hypnotize (as the spell) up to 4d4 levels of creatures. If you choose a single target, they may be given a Suggestion (classics include inducing temporary delusions (“You are a chicken!”), getting them to answer questions, getting them to remember things that didn’t happen (“You met with a Dragon that demanded…”), inducing a Delayed Suggestion (“When the clock strikes two in the morning, open the south gate”) although this allows a second save when it activates, and even undo the effects of other mind-affecting abilities (allowing a new save).
  • I Planned For This Contingency!/Glamour and The Inner Eye: As a free action you may spend 3 Power to create a near-instant psychic conference. This lets the players take a five minute break to plan, solve some puzzle, or what-have-you – although the usual special effect is “we planned for this in advance”. Secondarily, for the next one minute, everyone in the group receives a pair of +2 Insight Bonuses which they may elect to apply to any two of Attacks, An Attribute, Damage, Checks, Saves, or Armor Class – although the choice is fixed for the duration once made.
  • Illusion Projection: You may spend 1 Power as a standard action to generate the equivalent of a Minor Image anywhere to which you have line of sight within sixty feet.
  • Impeccable Image/Multiple (constant): You look good at all times. Your clothing is clean, your hair styled, your manners impeccable, and your manner suave. You can automatically fit into any social gathering and never make faux pas. Any accusers tend to be seen as lying villains and your actions are generally seen in the best possible light. Any legal or social troubles are automatically reduced by one level in severity and you are an extremely credible witness. If there are any rolls involved in such things you gain a +6 bonus.
  • Inspiring Presence/Glamour (constant): Every ally within 30 feet gains a +1 Morale Bonus to attacks, weapon damage, saves, and checks. You may spend 3 Power and a Standard Action to increase this bonus to +2 for 3d6 rounds or to counter fear and/or negative morale effects.
  • Instant Inclusion/The Inner Eye: You have an amazing knack for finding friends, both new and old. You may call on up to (Base Cha/2) character points worth of Contacts and Favors during each adventure without having actually purchased them and may make Gather Information checks in a mere ten minutes.
  • Intuitive Operator/Witchsight (constant): You know how to properly operate any device you come across. This does not necessarily mean that you have any idea what it DOES, but you intuitively know what to do to make it work. You enjoy a +6 bonus on any rolls to operate a vehicle or otherwise operate machinery.
  • Kangaroo Pouch/Shadowweave (constant): You gain a +20 Circumstance Bonus on any attempts to conceal objects around your person and may employ Call Item at the 100 GP level up to once per round.
  • Lay Of The Land/Witchsight: You may sense what you would have learned if you had taken the time to search an area throughly, gone through a stack of books to research a topic, or spent an hour interrogating a suspect or checking their computer files – effectively substituting a moments glance for several hours of effort. Even better, this does not disturb the area and gives no external sign of what you’re doing. It does not, however, obviate the need for the relevant skill checks and costs 1 Power each time you use it.
  • Linguistic Acquisition/The Inner Eye: If you can spend five minutes in the company of someone who speaks or reads a language (and who isn’t shielding their mind against you) you may expend 1 Power to pick up that language. If you wish to maintain it, you must spend 1 power per day – although contact with the source is no longer necessary unless you let it drop. If you maintain it for thirty days or more, you may “forget” and old language and substitute the new one for it permanently.
  • Longevity/Hyloka (constant): Aging has little effect on you; you do not suffer attribute penalties for middle age until old age, do not suffer old age penalties until you are venerable, and are treated as having obtained the greatest possible result + 1d (of whatever type the roll normally uses) for your maximum age. Thanks to your many experiences, three times per day you may apply a +4 Insight Bonus to any in-game roll, this does not require an action. Yes, this overlaps with Draught of Eternity; this is for characters who are just extraordinarily healthy and vigorous, not semi-immortal.
  • Medium/Dreamfaring: You may sense the presence of the dead (constant) or – given something linked to a deceased individual – hold a seance. This requires the expenditure of 2d4 Power which the spirit, if it chooses to appear at all, may draw on to power witchcraft effects of its own. Most spirits are willing to talk to a medium, even if it’s only to mock and threaten them, and they generally don’t know (or won’t admit to knowing) anything that they didn’t know in life.
  • Mind Over Body/Hyloka: You possess an utterly unnatural ability to manipulate your physical form. You may contort and compress your flesh to achieve a +12 bonus on Escape Artist checks at no cost, fit yourself into a container capable of holding your volume (about 100 liters or 3.5 cubic feet) for 1 Power/Hour, squeeze through cracks, crevices, and pipes as small as four inches in diameter (2 power per 30 feet or part thereof), or temporarily suppress your Constitution Score (taking on the attributes of a “creature” with no constitution score, including picking up size-based HP and losing any constitution-based bonus hit points) for 3 Power for one minute. All of these require a Standard Action.
  • My God That’s A Big Gun/Infliction: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (three times the base damage) /requires an especially prepared material focus (worth 100 GP), can only be used three times per session. Yes, you can pull out your rarely-used missile launcher, wand of disruption, death ray, or similar every so often.
  • Mystic Adept/Various: You have one Basic Witch Ability in unmodified form. This is rare, and no heroic pulp character will have more than one such general ability. Basic Witchcraft is simply too flexible to fit into
  • Outrun The Fireball/Hand Of Shadows: Once per minute you may spend 6 Power as an Immediate Action to accomplish some incredible acrobatic stunt powered by telekinesis as well as musculature. You may dart across a rooftop to grab someone who has just fallen off before they fall, reach the ground fifteen floors below by safely by “bouncing” back and forth between two buildings, snatch a parachute, dive out of a plane, catch up with someone who’s falling while you put your parachute on, grab them, and open your chute dramatically close to the ground, or run up a wall, tumble over your opponents, and reach the self-destruct button before they can fire their city-destroying death ray. You cannot, however, directly attack or interfere with anyone who’s unwilling while accomplishing this maneuver.
  • Papers Please/Glamour: You may spend a Standard Action to attempt to convince up to six people that you do indeed have proper authorization for whatever you’re up to. Sadly, those who save will not be convinced and cannot be affected again for at least an hour.
  • Perfect Healing/Hyloka (constant): You can slowly heal from any injury that you can survive for an hour or more – although the process of regrowing a leg, or healing a major traumatic brain injury, or similar injuries may require months. Permanent attribute drain is treated as attribute damage and negative levels never become permanent.

And next time around on this topic… the rest of the Advanced Pulp Powers List, Pulp Drugs, and some Pulp Archetypes.

Subsidized Magic Part I – Guards and Armies

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was that do you ask? Well…

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

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

Lets consider some quotations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that reasonable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eclipse – The Master of Stars

And for today it’s a template for minor superhero-types.

Master of Stars (+2 ECL Template):

The horde seemed endless – but the narrow cavern mouth meant that only one or two of the walking dead could emerge at a time, and the gentle light of the stars fed her power. Whatever those adventuring fools had woken in the depths… as long as nothing but one or two minor horrors came forth at a time, she should be able to hold until the dawn, and the arrival of some of the royal magi. For the light of the distant stars above was the radiance that drove back the dark.

A Master of Stars can generate and empower tiny “stars” (or telekinetically manipulate shards of crystal, or some such) with which to attack and defend themselves. Given sufficient constitution and intelligence, they may be capable of doing so indefinitely. In effect, this is a minor superhero template.

  • Inherent Spell / Halo of Stars with +4 Bonus Uses (12 CP).

Halo of Stars:

  • Conjuration (Creation)
  • Bard 4, Psion/Wilder 3, Sorcerer/Wizard 3, Soulknife 3, Witch 4.
  • Casting Time: 1 standard action
  • Components: V, S, MF (a dagger, or similar one-handed light weapon, worth at least 100 GP)
  • Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
  • Effect: Three or more “Stars”
  • Duration: 1 round/level (D)
  • Saving Throw: None
  • Spell Resistance: No

You create three glittering, crystalline, force-stars plus one more for every two caster levels beyond 5th (to a maximum of ten at19’th level). You may use them to…

  1. Deflect incoming projectiles. It requires one star to deflect an incoming bolt, arrow, shuriken, dagger, bullet, magic missile, or similarly sized projectile, two for javelins, spears, and similar weapons, and three for ballista bolts and such. Giant-, or Siege Engine-, hurled boulders and similar “weapons” are not affected. This does not require an action and may be done at any time – even on behalf of another character.
  2. Intercept rays. Each star so employed grants a (cumulative) +3 to the targets AC against the ray and to the save (if any) against it’s effects. This does not require an action and may be done at any time, even on behalf of another.
  3. Block melee attacks. Each star sacrificed for this purpose reduces the damage from such an attack by six points. This does not require an action and may be done at any time, but cannot be done on behalf of another.
  4. Attack. The caster may launch up to (Spellcasting Attribute Mod) stars at a target as a part of casting the spell or as a standard action later on. They may also launch a single star at a target as a swift action. In either case, each star gets a roll to hit at the caster’s full base attack bonus plus their spellcasting attribute modifier plus five, threatens critical hits on a 19-20, and inflicts 1d6 points of Force damage. This does not provoke attacks of opportunity, but it is treated as a small physical projectile – and so one Star can deflect another.
  5. Create patterns or swirl around within close range. This looks neat and is a free action.

Any stars which remain unused when the duration expires simply vanish. If the dagger used as the spell focus is magical, the stars can be made to glow softly. If it’s enhancements total +3 or better, +1 of them (not necessarily including an enhancement bonus) may be applied to the stars. If it is +6 or better, +2 of them may be applied, and if it is +10 or better +3 worth of them can be applied. Secondary enchantments on the focus dagger – such as from Weapon Crystals or simple priced enchantments – may also be applied, but each counts as a “+1″ and any limited use functions employed expend uses from the original weapon or source. Sadly, a caster cannot have more than (Spellcasting Attribute) stars ready at any given moment, no matter how often they cast Halo of Stars.

  • Triggering/(Via Con Check) Inherent Spells/Halo of Stars (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus: Adds (Int Mod) to (Con) Checks, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (+3 x Int Mod) / only with Triggering, only for Halo of Stars (6 CP). Since the Triggering DC is 17, once the users (Con Mod + 3 x Int Mod) is 16+, usage of Halo of Stars becomes unlimited.
  • Reflex Training / May invoke the Halo of Stars inherent spell once as a free action at the start of any combat round in which the user does not already have ten or more Stars available (6 CP).
  • Metamagical Theorem: Elemental Manipulation / Specialized for Reduced Cost, Corrupted for Increased Effect / can only be applied to Halo of Stars, only for a specific effect, Corrupted for increased effect / at +2 levels allows a Star to be expended as a standard action to produce any one of the following five level two spell effects: Blinding Ray, Burst of Radiance, Glitterdust, Hypnotic Pattern (cannot be maintained, but lasts for three rounds by itself), and Rainbow Beam (3 CP).
  • Metamagical Theorem / Extension, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for Halo of Stars (2 CP).
  • Streamline x2, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only applies to the limited versions of Elemental Manipulation and Extension listed above (4 CP).
  • Heart of the Sun: Spirit Weapon / Dagger, Specialized and Corrupted / only usable as a magical focus for Halo of Stars, not as a weapon (2 CP).
  • Blade of Stars (16 CP Total): Imbuement with Superior and Improved, Specialized for Increased Effect (total “pluses” equal the users ECL) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for use with the Spirit Weapon above (and thus only for use as a magical focus), total available “pluses” may not exceed +10 (12 CP) with the Focused and Versatile modifiers (Similarly Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost, 4 CP)

Further Advancement of a Master of Stars usually revolves around…

  • Using Innate Enchantment to pick up Shield, Mage Armor, a Talisman of the Disc (disks look like stars rather than being round), a Greater (Weapon) Crystal of Illumination, and either a Lesser (Weapon) Fiendslayer Crystal OR a Least Truedeath (Weapon) Crystal (6 CP).
  • Employing a star-based Martial Art. That’s pretty sensible for any direct combatant anyway.
  • Adding more free metamagic to increase the power of existing Stars, and/or the number created, and/or the array of secondary spell effects that can be produced (Commonly L3) Rainbow Blast, Nova (Fireball), Sunrise, Planetary Nebula (Wall of Light), and Guiding Star (Lesser Luminous Assassin). Next step up: L4) Aurora Borealis (Rainbow Pattern), Nebula (Radiant Fog), Red Giant (Blistering Radiance), Shimmering Starlight (Celestial Brilliance), and Corona (Fire Shield). Next step up: L5) Quasar (Prismatic Ray), Radiant Barrier (Wall of Force), Star of Life (Pillar of Life), Sunray (as per Sunbeam but one ray only), and The Divine Ignition (as per Light of Venya, but both rays are released at the same time). Tying your boosts or available spells to the constellations, or being beneath the night sky, is optional.
  • Using Reflex Training or Opportunist to get more chances to use Stars.
  • Taking Celerity (Flight) to become a classical superhero. Using some Stars as stepping-stones (or just riding around on one) for a special effect is optional.
  • Taking Immunity (Dispel Magic and Antimagic, Specialized and Corrupted/only to cover Halo of Stars and related powers) to turn the Stars into extraordinary powers.

A Master of Stars isn’t really enormously powerful; their abilities mostly fall under “decent” to “pretty good” in terms of damage output, defenses, and versatility – bu they have lots of flavor and there is something worthwhile in never having to worry about whether or not you have any reserves left.

Secondarily, they’re a good model for building a variety of other “superhero” characters. There’s no reason why you couldn’t use the same general framework to build characters with other themes.

Granny Part III – Witchery, Poisons, and the Ruinous Powers

I’ll get you and your little dog too!

-The Wicked Witch Of The West.

Granny has 126 CP left with which to buy other special abilities – which, given how much she still has to buy, is going to call for some optimization. That isn’t really traditional for NPC’s in most games, partially due to their game masters lack of time and partially because in most games noncombative NPC’s don’t really need detailed writeups – while combative ones are simply there to lose. For such NPC’s optimization is undesirable. After all, if they have any serious chance of winning, sooner or later the dice will give them a victory – and you’ll have a total party kill that ends the game. Granny, however, can safely be optimized out the wazoo because she’s not really there to fight – and a win for her usually means steering the party into a more suitable adventure.

Witchery (45 CP).

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.


Poppies! Poppies!

-The Wicked Witch of the West

The Subtle Arts: Witchcraft III with the Secret Order: Provides all 12 basic abilities and 17 Power. Her powers have a base Save DC of 23, usually using Will (24 CP).

As Within, So Without: Advanced Witchcraft Abilities (33 CP): Aegis (6 CP), Leaping Fire (6 CP), Mouth of the Earth (6 CP), Venomed Touch (Specialized for Double Effect/requires 50 GP worth of alchemical catalysts per use, 6 CP. A 2d12 immediate attribute damage poison with save DC 23 can be pretty useful), The Dark Flame (Specialized for Increased Effect; Only to affect the DC’s of saving against her powers, 6 CP. In effect, she can pay 1 Power to boost the DC of saves against her Charisma-based abilities by +6 for ten minutes), and Weathermonger (Specialized; requires dramatic gestures and a 100 GP focusing talisman, 3 CP).

Pacts (-24 CP): Guardianship (the Crypts of the Haunted Forest), Rituals (Solstice and Equinox Celebrations), Souls (Granny must sponsor and encourage covens of lesser witches), and a nasty Susceptibility to Holy Water (while it’s only one point, and the reaction to small amounts is easily concealed, large quantities could do her serious harm – which is why she’s made sure that the “Melting!” story involved mopwater).

Visions of the Hidden Spheres (8 CP): Cha-Based Rune “Magic” (Psionics): Clairsentience, Casting (Manifestation) +4 SP (4 CP) and Mastery +1 SP (1 CP) +7 (Int) +10 (Cha) +3 (Path) = +24 (Caster level 12) Manifestation, +21 (allowing effects of up to L5) plus And Magician (Charisma, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Power gained can be used for Witchcraft, as well as Rune Magic (Psionics)) / user gains bonus generic Power for their effective Caster Levels, rather than from all bonus spell slots, user is restricted to a list of (Int) specific effects, although they may trade out two per level, 3 CP)

  • L0) Conceal Thoughts, Detect Psionics, Prophecy (allows any stray prophecies or visions that may be floating about to manifest through you), Seance (allows the user to open a link for the dead to communicate over. There is no compulsion involved).
  • L1) Commune with “Birds” (Squirrels and such will do too), Cultural Adaption, Inevitable Strike, Psychic Tracking.
  • L2) Caught In Crystal (As per Improvisation, but provides Insight bonuses rather than luck bonuses), Inevitable Save (as per Inevitable Strike, but applies to a save and can be used as an immediate action), Interview (gives a very good evaluation of someone’s nature and talents after a brief interview),Savored Instant (You may take up to (caster level) mental rounds to experience even the most fleeting sensory impression. While no other actions are possible, you may read a lengthy missive at a glance, get a detailed description of each of the people charging you, carefully evaluate a fleeting expression, or stretch out the savor of a fine wine or an orgasm. If this is ever relevant – say when wine-tasting, or trying to spot if someone is carrying a hidden weapon at a glance – use of this effect provides a +4 circumstance bonus. Activating it does not count as an action and can be done at any time).
  • L3) Arcane Sight, Akashic Communion, Pulse of the Realm (allows an instant Gather Information check), See Beyond.
  • L4) Blood Biography (Greater; can also evaluate targets within short range and provides quite a lot of family details), Detect remote Viewing, Remote Viewing, Trace Teleport
  • L5) Akhasic Map (provides a mental map of the local area, including many details, such as traps and secret doors), Pierce the Veils, Prying Eyes, Twisting Fates Threads (as per Ruin Delvers Fortune, but provides Insight bonuses instead of Luck).

All right; this isn’t strictly Witchcraft, but it seemed to fit in here better than under skills. It’s also a way to get more Power and access to some handy abilities – but the three I really wanted to give her were Seance, Savored Instant, and Pulse of the Realm. Being able to take out a few moments to think no matter how rushed you are, and being able to gather information without it taking up a lot of time, are both invaluable talents for a ruler. (The ability to hold seances is just for flavor of course).

I Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff: Rite of Chi with +(Cha Mod) Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to restore Power, only takes effect at a maximum of 2d6 points per hour (4 CP). Across a day Granny will regain about 40 power – enough to casually use her psychic abilities for conveniences sake without worrying about tracking every point of Power.

Granny is a pretty powerful witch, but her obvious specialties are biomanipulations and poisons – often used out of combat. After all, she can easily create a contact poison that does 2d12 damage to a chosen attribute (or twice that to an attribute for a specific purpose), has a save DC of 29, and can be given a delayed effect (hours or days). Go ahead, make someone Suggestible (-4d12 Wisdom, only to reduce Will saves), Unable to Strike (reduce Str for melee attack purposes), Dexterity for Movement Purposes, Constitution for Hit Points/Level, Intelligence for Languages (guess what! With Int 0 for that purpose you can no longer communicate!), Intelligence for Skills and Feats (if it drops to 0 for such purposes, you lose access to skills and feats), Charisma for the purposes of Channeling, or a Casting Stat for Spellcasting. Granny has dozens of ways to cripple an opponent with a single touch, dart, or attack – and can provide such poisons for her henchmen and agents.

Combining this with Dominion and her Power Words (Below) will let her poison massive areas – or she can use her Chaos Magic to add effects like Venomfire or Increase Virulence. This is pretty powerful – but it’s an ability that she rarely uses; it affects a massive area, has no provision for making exceptions, and – since she’s generating actual, physical, poisons, that won’t just vanish afterwards – can easily wind up poisoning innocent people later on, rather like the ongoing problems resulting from the use of “Mustard Gas” in World War II.

Does the Venomous Touch poison act again one minute later if the initial save fails? Given that it was essentially based on the Poison spell, it was indeed meant to – but I didn’t note that in the actual description since, at the time, that was the default for all poisons and I was trying to keep the page count down to something manageable. Later material provided a lot of more complicated poisons using other options, so I probably should update that. On the other hand, that leaves it open for game master, which is also reasonable.

Invoking The Ruinous Powers (40 CP):

Granny calls on Dark Gods, Archdevils, and Lovecraftian Forces that frighten even them to grant her terrible powers. Not surprisingly, this has certain problems…

  • It’s blatant dark magic. It backlashes against good or neutral people who attempt to use it, attracts enemies and other troubles, and sometimes lets noxious entities from beyond ooze into reality if used without proper preparations. Even for those who are evil and use it only in secret… it will occasionally attract various problems or foul up their lives.
  • It forces her to show those powers respect, perform bizarre rituals in their honor, make various minor and occasional greater offerings to them, perform occasional services for them (although there are usually many possible tasks to pick from), or have to deal these powers malfunctioning and/or turning against her.
  • These powers are difficult (it costs twice as many uses, three times as many if both apply) to use against the truly innocent or upon holy ground.
  • She must maintain an altar to the ruinous powers and a stockpile of noxious ingredients – virgin’s blood, graveyard mold, vicious toxins, gibbering mouther slime, and so on – to use these powers. This may even require keeping a troublesome menagerie of monsters – and if her supplies are all destroyed or all her altars are desecrated, these powers will not work until she can fix that.

Thanks to these limitations, the entire package counts as being Specialized for Reduced Cost. This may result in double-specialization if combined with restrictions on applicability or usage.

  • Negative Energy Channeling: 1 + 2 x (Cha Mod) uses per day at +2 Intensity, Corrupted/may not command the undead (10 CP). This gives Granny a minimum intensity of 8 (10 Hit Dice +2 Purchased -4 if she rolls a “1″) – which is generally enough. If you don’t want to roll, just assume a “5″ and give her a standard intensity of 9).
  • Shadowmaster, Specialized for Reduced Cost/only for use with the Shades spell, below. (At her current level and up, this effectively makes the effects produced by Shades 100% real – saving the game master any number of headaches over partially real effects. 3 CP).
  • 1d6+2 (6) Mana with Spell Enhancement, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect / only to reduce the effective level and boost the casting level of her Conversion effects, only one mana point may be spent on each when doing so (9 CP).
    • This allows Granny to boost her effective level to 13 (hit dice + 3) (or 15 after her Tttoo) for conversion purposes (high enough to use sixth level effects safely) and bring her ninth level effects down to level six so that she can use them at the cost of 2 Mana. In effect, she can use three of her great spells per encounter.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only to recharge the Mana in her Spell Enhancement pool, above (4 CP).
  • Conversion (To a set of four sixth level spells – although they’re actually ninth level, and so she must spend Mana to reduce their level to actually cast them, 15 CP). Such spells have a save DC of 29.
  • Malignant Tongue of the Harridan: L9 Greater Invocation (Maledictions) / creates any one effect of the Malediction spell template of up to L8.

Here we have the signature power of a wicked witch; the ability to lay all kinds of curses – ranging from troublesome to catastrophic – on people, places, and groups. Granny’s eighth level curses can be removed with a Wish or Miracle or some equivalent, (but not lesser spells and effects), through Godfire, by heading to Nine Hells and confronting and dealing with the (invariably major) entity powering said curse, and through whatever release conditions are built into the curse. They can usually be suppressed to some degree by remaining on holy ground due to the “increased cost on holy ground” modifier (although Granny might have anticipated that, and doubled up to avoid it). Granny can use curses to transform people into obedient monsters, but their CR will count against her Leadership score. When cursing the land – perhaps to make fields of magical poppies that put people to sleep – Pathfinder’s Curse Terrain spell effects (Horror Adventures) are easy references.

Granny is capable of using her Chaos Magic to remove curses of up to the sixth level – but she has no way of removing her most potent curses. Fortunately, she’s intelligent enough to restrict herself somewhat if there’s any real chance that she’ll want to undo a curse later on.

  • Call Of The Twisted Forest: Summon Natures Ally IV, Amplify +1 (Templated; the creatures may be given 32 CP worth of extra abilities – normally from among the ten minor templates listed below), Persistent +4 (24 Hour Duration), Amplify +1 (Linked; the summoner is aware of that the creatures learn and do and may communicate with them at ranges of up to ten miles), Amplify +2 (Increased numbers, starting from the effective base of sixth level – allowing the user to summon 1d4+1 creatures of the same type from the Summon Natures Ally IV list, 2d4 creatures from the SNA III list, 3d4 from the SNA II list, or 4d4 from the SNA I list), -3 (7+ levels of built-in Metamagic) = L9.
    • The available templates are Aerial, Aquatic, Armored, Chthonic, Dire, Flaming, Forestal (for intelligent summons only, provides fey knight powers), Ghostly, Noble (an exceptionally fine specimen, suitable for a king), Plague-Ridden, Primal, and Venomous. Yes. Granny can indeed summon up 2d4 Aerial Apes to go forth and do her bidding – or, for that matter, a pack of 4d4 plague-ridden wolves, or 1d4+1 dire bears, or 4d4 flaming eagles/firebirds, or 2d4 Ghost Lions, or any of six-hundred-odd other combinations.
  • Whistle Down The Wind: Greater Invocation of Weather Magic (allowing effects of up to L7)
    • Granny is generally much better at making troublesome and dangerous weather than she is at making nice days – but what can you expect of a wicked witch? She can also use her Weathermonger ability to specifically target weather effects – calling down lightning on someone’s head or steering a tornado through an oppressive rulers palace.
  • Shades.
    • Thanks to her Shadowmastery ability, the effects she calls forth are 100% real.

This is a very powerful set of spells – although, as noted earlier, Granny can only use three of them before taking a break to recharge since she needs to spend a point of mana to bring their spell levels down to six and another point to get her caster level up to where she can safely cast a sixth level spell. As a general rule Granny will cast Call Of The Twisted Forest each morning so as to have a set of sentinels out (and she’ll do it again if she needs some minions), control weather (and a little witchcraft to guide it) will help hold up any assault, the Malignant Tongue of the Harridan lets her weaken attackers (usually through familiars). She’ll usually reserve Shades to escape with since it covers both teleportation and a wide variety of barriers and diversions.

Hatred’s Weal Path:

  • Dark Awakening, Specialized for Reduced Cost / The Undead Creation function can only create immaterial undead that Granny can fit into her Leadership allotment (3 CP). As a rule, Granny much prefers living servants – and so her only real use for this ability is as another option for coming back if she gets killed.
  • Shadow Casting, Corrupted for Reduced Cost, Specialized for Increased Effect (each shadow has a base level of 2 without an XP cost and saves 100 XP if a higher level is desired. They gain the Mystic Link ability with Granny with the Communications, Power, Summons, and Travel options) / The user may only create (Cha Mod) Shadows at any one time and may only have them possess normal animals or magical beasts, if without a host they can do nothing but return to their summoner to be re-embodied (4 CP).
    • Granny will pretty much invariably have one standing by to pull her out of any jam. They’re also her stand-ins and her primary method of long-range attack; she has one go near her targets and channels one of her major spells through – possibly having the familiar project a witchcraft-illusion of her (or perhaps someone else entirely) if she wishes to communicate or make an impression – but she will never expose herself to danger if it can be avoided. Granny hasn’t survived some twenty generations of adventurers coming against her by being stupid.

This is a major disconnect in many games. They’re often set in worlds with thousands of years of backstory, lurking elder evils that were old before the rise of civilization, and ancient mysteries – all of which a group of player characters will shred within a few years. Now I’m willing to give the player characters some credit; they probably really are the chosen ones or something – but that still tells us that those ancient mysteries and evils have survived thousands of years of non-player character adventurers trying to get rid of them. So even conceding something special about the current player characters that makes it possible, it seems appropriate to make pulling off those victories really, REALLY, difficult – and that’s “plan, gather resources, prepare, and do a lot of work” difficult, not “tough encounter” difficult.

  • Call Inner Demons, Specialized for Increased Effect (Construct Level = Intensity) / The summoner does not gain any bonuses when the construct kills something and cannot manifest a construct of above level eight (6 CP).
    • While a construct that lasts for ten minutes can be a fairly effective tool or minion, Granny tends to make one with the Class-C Enveloping modifier if she’s expecting a confrontation. Picking up an extra 118 HP, +19 Natural Armor, two slam attacks at +25 for 1d10+16, 10′ Reach, Str 39, and seven additional abilities – perhaps Flight, Semisentient (to carry her away if she is somehow incapacitated), Tunneling, Boosted Flight (to 60′), +2 Slam Attacks, Fast Healing II, and one Class-C ability – perhaps Dimension Slide as a move action, or Natural Invisibility, or the ability to become Ethereal at will – is pretty good.

Hand of Darkness Path:

  • Shadowmastery: This is pretty simple. You turn out the lights and gain Shadowsense. Thanks to Circle of Power, below, this affects a 55-foot radius (6 CP).
  • Fearspeaker, Specialized/only affects those who know at least some of the legends of the Dark Enchantress (3 CP).
    • Granny doesn’t usually bother with this very much; if she’s making a public appearance in her Dark Enchantress persona, usually with various grim special effects, any sensible lower-level types in the area will probably be terrified anyway – just as they probably will be in the presence of any other obviously excited-and-dangerous higher level warrior or spellcaster.
  • The Dark Veil. The passive ability to conceal her true identity and keep that separate from the persona she projects with her Method Acting disguise skill trick is the real prize here – but being able to intervene and then make people forget all about you is wonderfully useful (6 CP).
  • Nightmare, Specialized/only for Phantasmal Killer. Sharing her nightmarish visions of the dark powers that lurk beyond the gates of reality is too much for most minds to bear (3 CP).
  • Vanishing Shadows. Selective memory erasure that makes people suggestible. Pretty much the perfect way to deal with any inconvenient questions. What politician could resist? (6 CP).

The Boundless Realms Path:

  • Circle of Power (Specialized and Corrupted, Only for Hand of Darkness powers, only for Shadowmastery (Calling Down the Dark), The Dark Veil (Oblivious Wave), and Nightmare (Nightmare Storm Technique), 2 CP).

With a base cost of 80 CP, Invoking The Ruinous Powers costs a total – after Specialization – of 40 CP. That’s a lot of power for 40 CP of course, but then it is a limited set of highly specific abilities with serious backlash issues.

Next up: Granny’s Rulership, Miscellaneous Abilities, and Equipment.

Cursed with Awesome; Dark Magic and You

Today’s question basically boils down to “Dark magic often seems to act rather like a progressive disease – and in many works even benign magic is dangerous if overused. How does that work and how can it be cured or treated?”

Ok, the original question was framed in terms of My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic – but it’s talking about a very common element of magic in religion, mythology, and fiction, and that makes it a very good question indeed for those designing or running role playing games with magic in them.

As usual, my answer should be taken as the definitive word of god, end all further debate on the topic forever, and you should send me lots of money in exchange for the secret directions to the lost continent of Atlantis where you can learn even more… No? Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Mentioning Twilight’s “little foray into mass mind control” reminds me of a related issue that I saw mentioned a while back.

A lot of the fandom has a big problem with Twilight have tried to make a “reform spell” to use on Discord, pointing out that that’s little more than mind control since what constitutes “being reformed” is going to be relative. That’s not an incorrect point, but it overlooks a salient issue: that a lot of evil magic functions as a sickness.

Admittedly, this isn’t an iron-clad issue, but it does have some supporting points (seen both before and after the episode in question, which was season three’s Keep Calm and Flutter On). Although Luna seemed to fall from grace for personal reasons, her defeat with the Elements of Harmony seemed to immediately cause a shift in her mentality (and she later characterized what happened as being “stripped of Our dark powers”). Likewise, Rarity is “infected” with “dark magic” in season four’s Inspiration Manifestation. And although it’s not explicitly evil magic, both “Midnight Sparkle” and Gloriosa Daisy (from the third and fourth Equestria Girls movies, respectively) suffered from temporary psychosis due to magic overload.

Now, there’s evidence that goes the other way – such as Celestia being not only able to use the same dark magic as King Sombra, but teach it to Twilight (Return of the Crystal Empire – Part 1) – but there’s at least some precedent to say that a “reform spell” should be a viable idea, since a lot of evil magic is presented as being a sort of “disease of the mind.”


Well, that is a classic problem. Whether it’s the use of lovecraftian lore that men were not meant to know (and which drives them mad), greater magics being inherently corrupting, demanding huge prices and self-indulgences for the use of magic because it uses up your lifespan, having to mortgage your soul, or any of a thousand other “prices”, the notion that “you’ve got to pay for what you get” (and likely a certain “sour grapes” feeling that the spell casters special advantages will somehow turn around and bite them in the butt) is a bit part of people’s thinking about magic.

Personally, I think that it largely follows from some very basic principles, even if most people aren’t consciously aware of the logic.

1) “Magic”, whatever the nature of the forces it involves, can cause an incredibly wide array of alterations in reality.

2) Magic-wielders channel at least some part of those forces through themselves.

3) Nothing is 100% efficient.

Ergo… a certain amount of semi-randomized (if very likely still in theme) reality-alteration is going to affect a magic-wielder whenever he or she channels magic.

4) Living things have mechanisms that maintain homoeostasis – a tendency to return to their baseline conditions – to at least some degree.

Ergo… a certain amount of magic use can be tolerated without much risk. Using “small” magics, just like using a little bit of alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, will generally have no noticeable long-term ill effects unless you use something that’s especially “toxic” (that’s why I’d much rather work with iron than with dimethylmercury). You can even build up your effective tolerance by becoming more skilled and thus minimizing the amount of contamination. Exceed your tolerance by using too much magic at any one time, however, and changes may occur that aren’t easily reversed. Even presuming that you don’t accidentally turn your spinal cord to broccoli, or cook your brain, and so get to live, excessive magic use can cause all kinds of physical, mental, or even spiritual disorders. Presumably most mages would rather that did not happen – although “ceasing to care”, and so being willing to accept the consequences, may allow dying mages, or even fairly normal people, to lay unexpectedly powerful curses or produce “final strike” effects.

  • A well-trained magician has a clear mind, focused concentration, a detailed understanding of the spell he or she wants to use, fine control of the necessary energies, plenty of practice, whatever tools (if any) are necessary, access to sufficient magical power, and possibly supplementary stabilizing effects. They will use the gestures, signs, and symbols that help channel their magic safely.

That’s the equivalent of a well-trained chemist using a carefully planned procedure, correctly maintained equipment, a modern laboratory with fans, vents, and electrical power, sufficient pure chemicals, a fume hood, tongs, a hazmat suit, assistants and emergency equipment handy, and having antidotes at the ready.

In either case, as long as proper precautions are taken and the operator doesn’t make any major errors, their exposure should be small enough that the body, mind, or spirits various stabilizing and defensive mechanisms should be able to handle it.

To extend the analogy… just as with chemistry, some types of magic are more toxic, dangerous, or difficult to work with than others, working with waldos is much safer than handling stuff yourself, and farming out as much as possible of the work to other entity entirely (preferably at an “industrial facility”) is the safest of all.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some sample magical fields.

  • Alchemy is a sub-branch of Vancian or Talismanic Magic that puts some of the danger and tension back in by throwing in the hazards of actual chemistry and adds extra restraints by requiring costly ingredients. Many fictional wizards are alchemist-ritualists, because – while it means that they can do all kinds of things and can provide magical equipment – their powers are slow and call for all sorts of exotic ingredients that their assistants have to go on fetch-quests to get for them.
    • And no, Fullmetal Alchemist style “alchemy” doesn’t really have anything to do with “alchemy” as such. It’s actually a branch of Transformation Magic, with “Equivalent Exchange” – and burning human souls for fuel – thrown in as limiting factors and fridge horror.
  • Beast Mastery? A common and easy branch of hedge magic, if often handy. Influencing and communicating with animals is probably safe enough, borrowing some of their abilities is getting a bit risky – although far less so if you stick to real creatures with nonmagical abilities which can be imitated without bizarre magical changes to your mind and spirit – but when you get to actually transforming yourself or others… that can go very, VERY, wrong all too easily. Ask any lycanthrope who’s gotten stuck, or been overwhelmed by animal instincts.
  • Black Magic? Perhaps black magic calls on powerful demons – and so tends to be inherently destructive and corrupting of the user. Thus Lina Inverse may use it regularly – and be incredibly powerful and destructive – but she’ll probably be more than a little crazy.
  • C’hi “Magic” – channeling your own personal energies – doesn’t usually have very exotic side effects. Unfortunately, it requires great talent and enormous amounts of both physical and mental training to reach high levels of effect – and is VERY prone to relatively mundane side effects like exhaustion, training injuries, overstrain, attracting rivals, and injuring yourself with your own powers. It’s also usually limited to extensions of the user’s natural abilities. Still, on the upside, that makes it a very intuitive form of magic to use. You won’t find yourself entangled in weird occult mysteries when Samurai Jack teaches you to “Jump Good”.
  • Chaos Magic (also often seen as “Art becomes Reality”) seems likely to be particularly problematic; it’s not inherently “black” or “evil” – but it’s obviously going to be nigh-impossible to fully control and thus likely to have all kinds of effects on it’s user – and fatal ones are all too possible. Of course, that means that there may be lots of untapped chaos available to anyone who does use it, making it very powerful. Personally, I’d stay away from chaos magic unless I was basically immortal, not too dependent on a physical brain to think properly, and capable of recovering very quickly from almost anything (like Discord or “Q“). I’d probably still go mad very quickly if I used chaos magic – but at least it would be a fun ride!
  • Conjuration Magic comes in three drastically different flavors – Creation, Manifestation, and Summoning. Simply creating things Ex Nihlo is one of the primal powers. It’s what defines a “creation myth” – and while it generally seems to be much easier with magic than it is with physics, most settings presume that their characters are seriously restricted in scale, in type, and in complexity, in their ability to simply create things. Even worse… creating even tiny traces of random stuff inside yourself is a REALLY bad idea. There are far more ways to create unstable matter, radioactive atoms, unbalanced charges, strangelets, radiation, toxins, and other troublesome things inside yourself than there are to create things that your body can handle. When you have even a little bit of randomized creation magic manifesting in your body the results are almost guaranteed to be very bad.
    • Manifestation – basically whipping up temporary constructs – is far easier and safer; by it’s very nature it’s unlikely to create anything very long-term inside you (not that short-term can’t be bad enough). Constructs, of course, tend to be limited in complexity, are often obvious, and generally don’t last very long – although they can still be very useful.
    • Summoning, of course, actually has little to do with “creating things” and more to do with transportation and, at least in the ever-popular “summon a creature or creatures to assist me” form, either divination or compulsion – but it’s still a very potent form of magic, and one that’s less likely than most to cause serious internal problems. On the other hand… you can all too easily summon the wrong thing entirely, lose control even if you get what you want, turn powerful magical beings into enemies, and otherwise unleash disaster. How many stories revolve around conjurers losing control and raising up – like Charles Dexter Ward – that which they cannot put down?
  • Darkness Magic? Well, classically… it’s powerful and available everywhere, but is very hard to sense well enough to control, makes it tremendously easy to deceive yourself, tends to conceal it’s costs and side effects from its own users, and has all sorts of negative and corrupting overtones. Unless you happen to have massive amounts of light magic running through your system to help keep it under control – or are a genius in handling magic – it’s probably best to leave it alone. There’s a reason why so many genocidal madmen like King Sombra or Eclipso use darkness magic.
  • Dimensional Magic covers gates, dimensional overlays, teleportation, many transport spells, and overlaps into summoning. Sadly, most of the really interesting aspects of dimensional magic are pretty high-powered. On the good side, direct errors are usually limited to simple problems with lost or displaced tissue – mere physical injury. On the other hand, meddling with other dimensions offers you access to a full set of major difficulties with lovecraftian horrors, exposure to otherworldly forces, and letting things that should not be into reality.
    • Remember, reality is where you keep all your stuff. Don’t destroy it.
  • Divination? Unless the universe really is full of unmentionable secrets that will drive you mad, even fairly advanced divination is going to be relatively safe. Indirectly however… Too Much Information really is a thing. Knowing what people really think of you, and what’s actually in your food, and so on, seems all too likely to turn you into a bitter hermit. Worse, telling people what’s going to happen to them is quite unpopular; thus the stereotype of crazy prophets issuing dark and dire warnings and the fate of Cassandra.
  • Dream Magic? While this has many safe and subtle applications, once you start hauling things in and out of the realms of dream, or try to give something an independent, enduring, existence… well, dreams are never entirely under your control even if you’re a skillful lucid dreamer. High level dream magic tends to be worrisomely independent. The most dangerous practice of all may be summoning a conceptual entity – whether you call it a Loa, a Nexus, or a Spirit – into your own body. While this can obviously grant you considerable power, turning yourself into the avatar of War, or even April Fools Day, is likely to bring a lot of baggage with it.
  • Elemental Magic? Perhaps elemental magic is reasonably safe through the mid-levels (after all, your bodies are made of the elements, and can presumably handle them fairly effectively), but requires a major special talent and perhaps great physical conditioning. At very high levels… you’ll need very special disciplines, or major innate protections, to use it without going more than a little mad. Say “Hello!” to Avatar the Last Airbender and his fellow characters.
    • If elemental magic is more philosophical about what the “elements” mean and cover, you’re headed more into far more subtle “new age” magic territory. That tends to backlash if used to harm other people – perhaps because everyone has a little elemental magic available simply because they have physical elemental bodies, and they tend to unconsciously resist and cause backlash with their own magic if magically attacked. In d20 this might also be taken as a mechanism underlying “Saving Throws”.
  • Gifts? If your magic is just a few built-in innate or granted talents that’s pretty much the equivalent of having a few special-purpose kits or emergency ampules. They won’t be particularly versatile, or have the kind of power a full laboratory or hospital will – but you’ll have access to some reasonably reliable specific effects. Even better, almost anyone can use this kind of magic – if they have the talent for it. There may or may not be a price, but it’s usually fixed. Are you perhaps a Contractor, from Darker then Black or a Garou from a Werewolf game? Here you go!
  • Harmony or Fusion Magic is basically an “all our powers combined!” thing; a group of mages or magical creatures get together, unite their powers, and unleash some effect that’s far beyond any of them as individuals. In fact, it usually gets lots of extra power from some sort of amplification effect or focusing artifact(s) if the group has the right number of members/appropriate powers/are good friends or in love/whatever. This is not necessarily a GOOD thing. If the Seven Dark Sorcerers of the Ebon Tower unite their powers in hatred, that will probably work too. The real trouble with this form of magic is that it’s very very conditional and more than a bit uncontrollable; if something is just a little out of place (like one person trying to use the six elements of harmony)… Goten and Trunks will fail to fuse to form Gotenks, the elements of harmony will not be able to generate the full-powered Rainbow of Light (and may wind up exiling your target rather than curing them), and Psi-Force’s Psihawk construct will be weak and ineffectual, The massed Care-Bear Stare seems to be fairly reliable, but that was because everyone involved was an incurably huggy care bear. After all… if this sort of thing was entirely reliable, why waste your time doing anything else? Secondarily, this tends to leave everyone (all, of course, will be affected equally) involved seriously drained, exhausted, or unconscious – another reason why it’s normally a last resort. If it doesn’t work, you probably won’t even be able to defend yourself any longer.
  • Healing Magic? Let us say that healing magic tends to correct the problems using it causes, but those same corrections limit how much power you can channel into it since it corrects the unnatural mental states needed to channel massive amounts of magic. Thus healing magic is safe to use, and possibly widespread, but very limited. Depending on just how dangerous other magics are, healing magic could be the ONLY reasonably safe magic about. You want to use high-level healing magic despite those limitations? You’re going to have to train the necessary mental states the hard way – meditating, “purifying” yourself, and very likely filling your mind with duties, obligations, and oaths, and so on – rather than relying on raw magical power to burn the necessary pathway through your mind. Thus only dedicated, and often pacifistic, healers wield truly powerful healing magic.
  • Illusion is a popular branch of magic, partially because it seems unlikely to have any long-term side effects beyond (perhaps), a bit of confusion (a very few really high-powered illusionists may have gotten “lost in their own illusions”, but this is a very rare idea), because it allows amazing exercises of creativity at rather low power levels, and because – while it can be used in many different ways – the actual effects are generally very limited. Even better, your mage-character can display his vast powers, triumph over a major opponent – and then have the situation be completely reversed by some minor side-character announcing “Hey! It’s just an illusion!”. Still… becoming a manipulative a-hole prankster through perfectly normal psychological effects is definitely still on the table – and one opponent with some sort of truesight can effectively put you out of action.
  • Light or Solar Magic? It’s wonderful stuff. Purifying, truth-revealing, demon-banishing, radiant – and wrathful, intolerant, and demanding. The light requires purity, it burns away imperfection, It demands that it’s wielders serve it, and it serves them only insofar as they are worthy. If you wish to wield the great powers of the light… be prepared to sacrifice much of your humanity and to act only when your example is not enough to let those you protect grow and find their own answers. Check out The Dark Is Rising series, or talk to Celestia (and ask why she’s so generally useless).
  • Lovecraftian Magic tells us that there are other planes of existence, and cosmic beings, and strange forces, and elder alien races, and more out there, and that there are ways available to contact and use those things – and that human beings are insignificant primitives with minds so weak that merely catching a glimpse of the universes greater truths will shatter them utterly. They may occasionally use a bit of true power – but they will merely be meddling with things they do not truly understand by rote. Lovecraftian Magic is generally horribly powerful, prone to failure for completely unknown reasons, drives it’s user’s mad, and – since it doesn’t operate in any way that humans can understand – comes in the form of highly specific formula, that have fixed effects and side effects and prices which cannot be modified. Overall the only reasons to meddle with lovecraftian magic are ignorance, if nothing else will work, or if you are crazy to start with.
  • Magical Music is more of a style than a particular type of effect unless it’s limited to “mental programming” – in which case it will be near impossible to use it without exposing yourself and any nearby allies to the same effects. While this type of effect is obviously useful – you can turn enemies into friends, control behavior, induce emotions, and teach skills near-instantly, among many other effects – it has the fairly obvious problem of having to consciously learn and practice effects which are contained in music – which means letting major parts of them into your mind over and over again. Have you been doing a lot of mind control? You’re likely to be a mass of compulsive behaviors. Been spreading friendship, love, and joy? Welcome to cloud-cookoo land! Been spreading fear and panic? Enjoy being a resident of paranoia central! And that is why magical music is generally simply a style of magic use with a preference for the more subtle effects, rather than being used as a type of magic in itself.
  • Nature Magic? Another exceedingly broad field, and another potentially deadly one. Nature isn’t NICE and it tends to break free of control all too readily. Much of what little bit of nature is involved with any given other species wants it dead. Predators, poisons, defense mechanisms… The entire natural world is based on survival. Cooperation is a strategy – but “don’t be eaten” and “get what you need to live” is always at the base. And even a minor change to a few microorganisms can cause some pretty horrible things to happen. It isn’t going to be fun to be you when your intestinal flora starts consuming your guts or some such.
  • Necromancy was originally just “Divination through the Dead” – which meant that you tried to get advice from ghosts, who presumably had at least a good viewpoint, some detachment, and possibly could spot spiritual influences on things or talk to other spirits. Getting advice from a deceased parent in a dream, or messing about with a Ouija board, both fall under “necromancy”, even if the dream is completely inadvertent. These days it often is taken to imply psychopathic behavior, raising horrific undead monsters to menace the world, wielding horrible necrotic energies, and various other antisocial feats. Given that inflicting death, long-term disabilities, and unhealing injuries are all major components of necromantic magics, it’s all too easy to see why using necromantic magic is horribly risky – and why it’s very difficult to near-impossible to treat the side effects when it goes wrong.
    • OK, there are simply too many examples of this to even pick a few… Go ahead, go to TV Tropes and pick a dozen or so of your favorites.
  • Psychic Powers? While these resemble C’hi “Magic” in many ways, and share their same general weakness compared to many other fields of magic, channeling high levels of mind-affecting magic through your mind tends to result in irrationality and madness all too soon. Using telepathy can let other minds affect yours, telekinesis is prone to action-reaction errors and kinetic feedback, and so on. On the upside… most of the resulting mental problems tend to be fairly transient.
  • Ritual Magic is a wonderful toy. It’s powerful, and probably won’t drive you mad since the power is mostly being channeled externally (Hooray for Waldos!) – but that greatly reduces your fine control, making it prone to going wrong, external side effects, and unwanted consequences. Worse, since you’re working indirectly, you have to build up your effects very slowly – carefully checking each elaborate ritual step. Only the wealthy and powerful will have the resources needed to study more than a few simple rituals, the time to perform them, or the ability to gather the components needed for major ritual magic. That’s why, in the world of magic, major rituals are often the equivalent of nuclear weapons and why ritualists are so often nobles, politicians, or mercenary scholars – a magical elite which rules the helpless peasantry while quarreling with each other.
  • Shamanic Magic? Well, if shamanic magic requires taking mind-altering drugs and powerful shamanic magic demands taking massive doses of hallucinogens… then sane and powerful shamans are going to be few and far between and shamanic magic is likely to be considered a dark or forbidden art. That doesn’t make it evil – but no sane society is going to encourage the practice of an art which gives people the ability to warp reality while either making them high or driving them insane or both.
  • Silly Magic is closely related to gift magic, and is usually extremely limited in application and fairly weak – but is almost free of downsides other than having invested the time and effort to learn to use it “effectively” in the first place. Still, if you can just find an application, silly magic can quickly turn into lethal joke magic. “Medusa? Not a problem! With my Hairdressing Powers I shall bind up most of her snakes into a tight bun, and turn the rest into a set of bangs which both partially blinds her and conceals her face! Attack in safety my friends!”. Personally, my favorite form of “Silly Magic” is Hearthcrafting – household magics. Just the thing for when you want to adventure in comfort!
  • Theurgy is one of the names for calling upon spirits to do things for you. At least at low-levels this is safe enough as long as you’ve paid in advance, but the more powerful the spirit the greater the demands – and heaven help you if you have to go into debt. At higher power levels it’s best to build a relationship with a particular spirit or group thereof – allowing them to do most of the power-handling for you while you (unfortunately) are pretty much at their beck and call. Fortunately, truly major spirits tend to have enough people calling on them to rarely need you in particular. It still greatly limits your flexibility though, since the “Krakatoa the Volcanic One” isn’t really likely to grant that wide a variety of powers. On the other hand, since the spirits are doing the work, the user is at little hazard from his or her own powers.
    • In early gaming this tended to be a big thing; clerical types worked for their gods, had to pay attention to their dictates and restraints, and only got magic that fit with their god. For good or ill however… power creep set in, quite a lot of players disliked their being limitations on their magical fantasies, and having the cleric sent on “missions from god” that didn’t fit into anyone else’s story annoyed the other players – so these days mainstream games usually only have cosmetic traces of this sort of thing left.
  • Transformation (or sometimes Lunar) Magic is one of the four primordial powers of the universe – Creation, Preservation, Transformation, and Destruction – which basically cover everything. As such, it is potentially immensely powerful, almost endlessly versatile (at least if you’re at all clever), and incredibly dangerous. Not surprisingly, it’s closely related to Chaos Magic and has very similar problems. When you’re using a force that could do almost anything based on very minor details – the textbook definition of modern “chaos theory” – almost anything could go wrong.
  • Vancian – or TalismanicMagic involves slowly gathering power, binding it into a formula with specific effects stored in words, or talismans, or powders, runes, or whatever (most artificing falls into this category as well), and releasing it when needed. While this is awfully limiting in some ways, it also bypasses most of the usual implied costs; since you’re basically “building” your “spells” very slowly and carefully out of small pieces you are never having to channel enough power to really hurt yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a loony, but being a Vancian or Talismanic mage probably isn’t going to be the cause.
    • This one is highly favored in games because it means that mages have a limited stockpile of magic that takes time and (interruptible) effort to get back, the size of their stockpile can be easily limited, the specific nature of their formulas limits the variety of effects that can be produced, it makes for an easily tracked fire-and-forget system, and you can increase their power in several ways – increasing the limits of their stockpile, increasing the power of their “spells”, making their magic easier to regain, or increasing their supply of formula. It even forces mages to limit their magic use, and to plan ahead and consider how to get the most mileage out of their limited daily supply. That ties up resource management, a spell-selection minigame, a reason for intelligence gathering and planning, lets magic be more powerful than mundane methods because it can only be used a limited number of times, sets of specific effects that the game master can plan around, and all kinds of other advantages.
      • It also makes playing such a spellcaster extremely complicated and means that the characters power and effectiveness will vary from “nearly useless” to “oh my GOD” depending on player skill – but whether those are features or bugs is open to debate.
  • Wards and Shields – sometimes known as Abjuration Magic – is about the safest available form after healing magic. That doesn’t mean that it can’t go wrong – but the most likely problems are exhaustion, backlash damage from people breaking your defenses, and “protecting” yourself from things you need. This form of magic is always at a disadvantage though, simply because you can damage things in a lot of ways and don’t need a lot of control to do so, while protecting things requires covering a wide range of possibilities and excellent fine control.

So now we have a set of mechanisms for how magic leads to insanity, corruption, or various other disorders – and that means that there are options for treatment.

You have a mild case of magical overload? You’re getting more erratic, or coughing constantly and not feeling well, or are having strange thoughts, or urges to do odd and distasteful things, or are feeling cut off from other people? Cutting back on your use of magic will help. Various sorts of therapy may be enough to let you recover without more drastic intervention. Of course, if you don’t get treatment, your mental and physical condition is likely to get steadily worse Mr Raistlin!

You’ve gotten afflicted with a creeping psychopathic corruption that makes you want to enslave and torture people – and it’s darkness-magic based so that it blinds you to the fact that anything is wrong? That is going to be hard to fix; darkness magic will conceal itself and make the problem hard to target properly, there may not be much of your mind, spirit, and/or body left to work with if it’s gotten too far, and you probably won’t want it fixed at the moment. Even worse… darkness magic makes it all too easy to lie to yourself. Even if someone manages to cure you, the temptation to use more darkness magic to blot out your new load of overwhelming guilt will be hard to resist – and it will only take one little slip to start down the slippery slope again without even knowing it. Even the most compassionate opponents may see the wisdom of eliminating you, rather than taking the risk that whatever is left of you will once again become a blight on the lives of innocent people.

Especially if they – or you, Mr Sombra – have been around the loop before.

You’ve let an out-of-control conceptual entity become dominant over you Princess Luna? Once it gets booted out, you should return to something approaching normal – but in the meantime it has it’s own power and all of yours to play with. Getting it out is not going to be easy. It may even call for a full-scale Deus Ex Machina manifestation of Harmony Magic to do it – and you’d better hope that you have the right number of characters with the right selection of attitudes and abilities to power that harmonic manifestation or it won’t work properly.

Your overuse of necrotic magic is causing your flesh to wither, your eyes to turn yellow and red, and your aging to advance unnaturally? Major healing effects might help some – but the necrotic energy saturating your body is likely to make you highly resistant to that sort of thing. If you aren’t so far gone already that undeath or possessing a new body are the only (partial) solutions you’ll need to quit using your powers and work on purging yourself until healing effects WILL work. And… you knew that already and aren’t really listening, are you Emperor Palpatine? Never mind… I’ll up your painkiller dosage and do try to get SOME sleep won’t you?

You’ve been habitually using Chaos Magic to do EVERYTHING for thousands of years? Why aren’t you dead? Oh… immortal. Not even really needing a body except as a focus. Well… a stabilizing spell may work for a little bit, but I’m afraid that you’d be well past the point of death if you were mortal. Still, perhaps the constantly-renewing Magic of Friendship can keep you marginally sane as long as you have friends.

You’re still likely to be an unreliable, practical-joking, irrational loon though Mr Discord.

Now there are lots of other ways to handle magic in a setting – but I like this one because it starts with basic assumptions that most people will agree with, is simple and logical enough to be easily explained, fits in with a lot of standard literary tropes and ideas about magic, and is flexible enough to offer cover a lot of variations. It’s obviously not perfect – but given the lack of functioning magic in reality we don’t really need perfection in a theory, we just need something that we can build stories and games around.

And I hope that answers the question sufficiently!