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

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

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

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

They are Pulp Heroes, not Superheroes.

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

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

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

They may come pretty close though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subsidized Magic Part II – Supporting The Party

Continued from Part I – Guards and Armies.

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

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

Those Poor, Poor, Monsters!

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

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

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

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

The Wells Of Magic:

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

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

Our Prayers Go With You:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust Me, Becoming An Initiate Is Well Worth It:

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

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

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

When it comes to more conventional items…

It Comes With The Job!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upgrading?

Add one of more of…

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

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

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

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

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

The Staves Of Neutralburg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hope that helps!

Subsidized Magic Part I – Guards and Armies

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Alzrius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was that do you ask? Well…

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

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

Lets consider some quotations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that reasonable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underlying the Rules Part II: Adjusting The Spotlight

And to continue this series from Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes indeed, that’s pretty ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underlying The Rules: The Social Contract

There was a request a little while back for an article on what I thought of the social dynamics that underlie gaming groups even before you get to considering any particular set of rules.

That’s an interesting question, although I’m not sure that I’m the best one to be directing it to, or – for that matter – exactly where this series is going to go or how long it will take to get there (if it ever does). It seems likely to meander a bit – which at least makes it a bit of a new challenge.

Is everybody ready then? I think the best place to start is what might be called the Primal Datum of RPG’s…

Gaming is a social activity, which people engage in for the purpose of having fun.

If you show up for a game you’ve implicitly agreed to that, even if you’re only there because somebody dragged you along. It’s just like being there to watch a football game or listen to a band; there are some unspoken social rules – unspoken because human beings generally know them instinctively.

(If you’re just there to harass and annoy people there’s no point in talking to you. You’re actually there to participate? Good!)

The three biggest social rules are the same for every group. They’re a part of the basic “being sociable” deal. In fact, they’re pretty much the same (albeit in simpler forms) for chimpanzees, dolphins, and most other social animals.

  • If what you are doing is inexpensively (whether the expense is financial, emotional, physical, or temporal) increasing everyone’s fun, keep doing it. If it costs too much… you’ll have to find another way to contribute.
  • If what you are doing is decreasing everyone’s fun, stop doing it unless it’s a dire necessity. You probably will automatically because you’re ruining your own evening too, but some people are very stubborn.
  • If what you are doing is increasing your own fun while seriously decreasing that of the other participants… then you are being a greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&* – and if you choose not to recognize that fact and do not change your behavior, then the group should throw you out on your ass.

These three rules are self-enforcing in most social groups. The Bridge Club, and the Monday Night Football Party Crowd, and the Rich Kids Clique won’t hesitate to stop inviting a disruptive individual to their gatherings. Gaming groups, however, commonly contain a high proportion of socially awkward introverts, who (having so few) are deeply reluctant to reject any social relationship and often make enormous allowances for obnoxious behavior. After all… they know that often annoy people without meaning to, and they’re not very good at telling if someone does mean to annoy them or if it’s inadvertent.

That means that some players will be allowed to get away with being greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&*’s for a very long time without being called on it. Long enough so that such individuals will often come to regard being allowed to get away with it as an entitlement – and will react to any suggestion that they’re misbehaving as if it was a horrible infringement on their “rights”. It can be very hard to tell though, given that most such individuals will deploy “indignantly blaming the wronged parties” as an automatic defense mechanism in any case. In any given case it might well be an act. (Don’t ask ME to sort that out for you. As a socially awkward introvert myself, how would I know?)

Still, after a bit… even socially awkward introverts will realize that they’re being taken advantage of, and soon after that they will come to resent it bitterly. They’ll resent it even more bitterly if they’re socially awkward enough to be unsure of how to do anything about it. In a gaming group such behavior is usually considered to be “cheating” (which is how gamers tend to describe “being obnoxious and unfair to everyone else”) – although this can confuse other socially awkward people who are looking at the rules of the game being played, rather than at the three social rules given above, and thus don’t see any “cheating”.

You want some more direct rules-of-thumb for avoiding messing up?

Commandment the First: Thou Shalt Create Personas That Can Fit Int The Player Group.

This doesn’t mean that you have to make a character who makes any sense as a part of the party, or has the same style, or anything else except for being able to work with the party. For examples…

A new player joined a fantasy-setting game. Against advice to wait until he knew what the party was like he made a half-ogre berserker barbarian who hated Elves, and detested puny mages, and equipped him with a magical halberd called “Elf-Slayer” that did extra damage to elves. He then announced that he was approaching the party on the road – and the player gave a rousing speech about how they should join him in his bloody crusade to strike down all Elves and their puny, effeminate, magic!

And then the new player looked at the bemused expressions of the six current players and asked “Uh… is anyone playing an elf?” And five hands went up, and the last player asked if half-elves counted. Because the current characters were two elven mages (a wizard and a powershaper), an elven priest, an elven swashbuckler who dabbled in magical swordsmanship, an elven illusionist, and a half-elven elementalist.

And there was a brief pause until the guy playing the wizard said “Charm Person!” and the half-ogres player did not bother to roll a save – but simply said “Except for youse guys! Youse guys are all right!”

And so the half-ogre joined the party (which needed the muscle), cheerily continuing his verbal crusade against elves along the way, and everyone had a good time. The notion that “Charm Person” could wear off or be dispelled (even if it was quite long-lasting in that edition) was never mentioned. Some NPC’s had some comments along the way, but no one had any trouble working with the half-ogre even if some of the characters professed to be relieved “because that charm spell could have worn off at any time!” when he got sucked through a gate into some terrible dimension about twenty sessions later and they couldn’t find a way to get him back. The player made a new character and found another reason to join the party.

And that worked. The other players provided an excuse and the half-ogre player made a quick concession to making the game work, and all was well.

The Shadowrun player who made a giant autobot character who insisted that magic did not exist and that everyone should obey the law and act like an idealized squeaky clean boy scout hero worked too. He proved willing to bend the law and work with dubious characters when it was blatantly obvious that the authorities were corrupt, was willing to accept the observed effects of magic even if he insisted that it was actually something else, and was perfectly willing to act as a diversion and as transportation when he was simply too big and too obvious to participate in the stealthy parts. Just as importantly, the player was willing to let me show him how to build the character he wanted as a starting character under the rules of the game, rather than demanding some sort of conversion. In fact, it worked well enough that another player used the same basic bag of design tricks to create “Thor, God of Thunder!” when the autobot player was no longer available a year or so (and fifty-odd sessions) later.

For high-fantasy Malavon one player made a BLATANTLY evil demonologist-necromancer and cheerily arrived to join the neutral-to-heroic party – offering to aid them in their quests if they would aid in his. He then directed his demon servant to just grab his daily sacrifice from a nearby village and made it utterly apparent that he was a horrible mass murderer, a torturer of children, utterly evil, and could in no way be reformed. The rest of the players quite accurately observed that – in the character’s eyes – there was no difference between player characters and non-player characters and promptly killed the “random monster”. The player then laughed, announced that “twelve minutes was two minutes longer than I thought he’d get!”, and got out the character that he actually expected to play. He didn’t expect his character to be able to join an incompatible party even if he WAS a player character – and that was good. He may have actively fought the party, and more or less created a throwaway character – but the player worked just fine with the other players even if it was in performing an elaborate suicide.

His new character was a fantasy ninja type, and was always voting for more stealth, and scouting, and less of the “charge in!” plans – but rather than fighting with the rest of the party he would generally just groan, announce “Oh not AGAIN!”, and vanish into the shadows to support whatever the rest of the group was up to now. And that was good too. He urged stealth, and took the lead on stealth missions – but he let the other characters do their own things too.

The naive blue whale werehuman, the more sensible paladins, the pragmatic evil robot assassin, and more, all fit in. They might have very strange goals (The blue whale had come up on land to see what was above the water – so all too soon he wanted to climb mountains to see what was above the land. The robot assassin wasn’t even truly sentient, had to be reprogrammed to accept the party, and rolled against it’s control program to see if he could come up with ideas or handle anything overly complicated) and equally weird ways of achieving them – but their players were willing to work with the other players to make the game work smoothly.

That’s pretty much ALWAYS possible. And it’s part of the “we’re all here to have fun” deal. It’s not a part of the game mechanics, it’s a part of the player group mechanics.

On the other hand I’ve seen plenty of bad examples too.

The werewolf kickboxer who – in a superhero game – had a backstory focusing on his massacring thirty-odd innocent people got the same second chance the half-ogre had years earlier (and with a completely different group). The (freeform magic system) superhero mage cast (unspecified) binding spells “as powerful as he could manage” on the character that were supposed to allow him to maintain control.

But the player liked massacres and saw them as being in-character for a werewolf, and promptly killed a lot more people. This was NOT compatible with an idealistic superhero group. In lieu of sensibly killing him or turning him in (probably to reappear all too soon as a villain) the group made allowances for his player-character status and resorted to binding spells that actually had game effects rather than just being an excuse for playing a little differently.

The player promptly abandoned the werewolf (who became an NPC and got put to work as a “rescue dog” – clearing normal people out-of-the-way of the superhero battles to help make up for the people he’d killed) and made another character since he didn’t like the idea of playing a werewolf with restraints (whether self- or externally- imposed) oh his behavior – and insisted on continuing to play murderous anti-heroes. The rest of the players, quite rationally, continued to play superheroes, stuck to their superheroic guns, and continued to capture the crazed antiheroes and send them to jail. Eventually he gave up and made a sane character. Now, if he’d been willing to make his ruthless anti-heroism more of a roleplaying item… he could have done just fine complaining about how weak everyone else was. It’s possible after all. Marvel Comics teamed up the Power Kids with The Punisher, Wolverine, and Cloak and Dagger. In fact, they teamed up Katie Power – a very nice five-year-old girl – with Wolverine repeatedly, and made it work. The player, however, wasn’t willing to try.

Then there was the saga of the bear shapeshifters.

The player wanted a character who could turn into a bear, so he made a shapeshifter character (who could turn into any animal but preferred bears). He joined the fourth level party, and the party decided to run off some bandits who’d been blocking the route they wanted to take. The bandits turned out to camp in a shallow cave beneath an overhanging cliff – so the shapeshifter decided that his only possible tactic was to turn into a bear, leap off the top of the cliff, and attempt to land on the bandit leader.

Pointing out that bears did not steer well when falling, could not fall in curves to get under the overhang, and, tended to just plummet and splatter made no impression. Pointing out that he could fly over the mans head as a hummingbird and THEN turn into a bear if he had to made no impression. Telling him that a natural 20 (that he did not roll when he insisted on making a die roll that he’d been told did not apply) did not automatically hit unless you were making a reasonable attempt to hit the target in the first place made no impression.

Splat.

The player grumbled about poor rolls, inquired about being raised (and was, once again, told that the party was only fourth level), and made another bear shapeshifter.

A few sessions later he tried a solo attack on their (much higher level) warrior-target atop a tall tower – turning into a bear, throwing himself onto the guy’s sword in order to grab him, and then plunging over the side to try and squash the guy beneath him ten stories below.

Higher level high hit point target wound up on top, said “Ow!”, regarded the deceased shapeshifter with disbelief, and continued the fight. Admittedly the target was now down a fair chunk of hit points – which helped the rest of the party win after a bit – but it was hardly an efficient way to do it.

A few more sessions later bear shapeshifter #3 attempted to leap off a flying carpet at 10,000 feet to land on someone (the party had no idea who, but the bear shifter presumed that it had to be an enemy) who was using a flying broomstick five thousand feet lower and a couple of miles away. He then refused to take any other form…

Splat.

Bear shapeshifter #4 was rejected by the rest of the party; they told the player that they weren’t letting any other bear-specialist shapeshifters join because their characters had concluded that bear shapeshifters were cursed or bad luck or something. Like it or not, the player would not work with everyone else and just kept wasting time on his one, fixed, idea – and so the players refused to have their characters associate with his characters until he decided to do something else.

After a few sessions of being left out he proceeded to make a mystic swordsman, and things did just fine after that.

There was a classic problem player who kept creating characters who were either constantly obstructive or who kept vanishing into the shadows to go on private scouting and stealth missions – demanding that half the game time be spent on him, rather than sharing it equally between the characters. He got quite indignant and tried to be even more obstructive when informed that he would get his share of the game masters time and no more. After a bit… he had to be told that he would be welcome to come back to play when he’d decided to behave himself, but until then he was not welcome. He never did come back. That was too bad – but he wasn’t really contributing to the game anyway.

One player saw the game simply as a way to blow off steam after his stressful work days – and thought that any game time not spent in combat was venting time that was being wasted. So whenever the players tried to have their characters gather clues, talk to the NPC’s, sneak around, or investigate something… His characters would attack. Guards tried to ask him some questions? They got attacked. Characters tried to investigate a crime scene? He tossed in an incendiary grenade “in case someone was hiding in there”. Trying to negotiate a hostage situation? He sniped the hostage and then went after the bad guys. Caught in a paralysis spell? He teleported high into the air directly above a church steeple and impaled himself rather than let the rest of the players talk to an NPC – and then made a new character who behaved in exactly the same way. Despite all requests, he wasn’t interested in letting anyone else do anything other than what he wanted to so – which was fight – and soon he wasn’t playing much. He still isn’t; he mostly plays online ship and tank combat games these days. He’s still welcome to drop by once in a while though; the group can always find some target to point an expendable mercenary type at.

I don’t often have to bounce anyone, and very much prefer not to – but enforcing the rules is one of the responsibilities I take on when I agree to game master – and that includes the social rules.

That’s actually segued into the next commandment of social gaming and what will be the start of the next segment in this: Thou Shalt Share Spotlight Time (Relatively) Evenly With The Other Players.

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.

“Realistic” d20 Firearms

Calls for “more realistic firearms” are fairly common in d20.

That usually (albeit not always) seems to mean “we think they should be a lot more powerful!”.

Now it’s true that modern guns have several advantages over things like slings, bows, and crossbows.

  • They supply their own energy. It took many years of constant practice to train a longbowman. Kids, elders, and those with crippling injuries need not apply. Crossbows could be used – but they were heavy and would take far longer for a child, elder, or disabled individual to cock (often with a windlass) if they could manage it at all.
  • They are very easy to use. Bullets may drop, and be affected by the wind – but they are considerably faster and denser than bolts or sling stones and such, and so it’s less of a problem. Point-and-pull-the-trigger lets you train a tolerably competent combatant very quickly indeed. This also means that a lot of people manage to accidentally shoot themselves or others since they may be able to use their gun but they aren’t necessarily good at it.
  • Bullets tend to expend on impact, and may tumble and/or fragment, causing more tissue damage along their path. They can also cause hydrostatic shock, damaging adjacent tissue that isn’t actually hit. Of course, that doesn’t always happen to any great degree. For the sake of comparison, actual war ammunition for bows and such – things like broadhead arrows, serrated edges, barbs, and so on – can substantially increase the amount of tissue damage inflicted by bolts and arrows and such, as well as making them considerably more difficult to remove.
  • Bullets don’t plug up the holes they make, making it a lot easier for the victim to bleed out.

All of which is lovely theory, but what does it actually mean in terms of real results?

  • Emergency room reports suggest that the chance of a single bullet proving lethal – generally by hitting something vital – is about 20% because about 80% of the individual gunshot cases pull through. Presuming that that number is close enough for gaming purposes… if you’re shot once, there’s an 80% chance of survival, five times gives you a one in three chance of survival, and ten times gives you just under an 11% chance or survival. Sure, there might be overlapping injuries that matter less, or interacting injuries that matter more, but for out purposes we can disregard that. We are talking about games, not about a surgical training course.

This is what fully automatic weapons are all about; a burst of bullets offers a better chance of at least one hitting, can target a group, and – if more than one hits a particular target – greatly improves the chances of a kill.

Getting similar statistics for – say – knife wounds is virtually impossible. That’s because guns supply their own energy; being shot accidentally is very little different from a serious attempt to kill. With knives… you get a lot of slashed fingers and extremities from kitchen knives, people drop them and stab themselves in the foot, you get minor defensive wounds from attempts to block, parry, or dodge, and lots of similar noise in the data. The reports don’t reliably distinguish between “knife wound from an actual combat knife that someone was putting a reasonable amount of strength behind in a serious effort to kill” and “backed into a paring knife that got left on the kitchen counter and now it’s stuck in my buttock”.

My fairly casual attempt to sift through that mess suggests (albeit certainly does not prove) that actual “tried to kill you” single knife wounds have something like an 85% to 90% survival rate.

On individual terms (“I’ve” been stabbed!) that is not that big an advantage, but statistically (a lot of people have been stabbed!), and when you’re considering multiple wounds, it can have a substantial impact. If it’s an 85% survival chance instead of a mere 80% then your survival rate for five and ten hits goes from 33% and 11% to 44% and 20%. At 90% chance of survival it goes to 59% and 35% – which looks a LOT better doesn’t it?

Still, individual bullet wound survival rates are not really all that different from knife wounds – and are probably even more similar to the survival rates you’d get with swords, axes, crossbow bolts, and arrows, all of which are generally nastier than knives. Sadly, those are so rare these days that meaningful statistics are almost impossible to come by even before trying to separate out the “actual attempt to kill” part.

Now this doesn’t really account for sniper rifles inflicting massive damage – but it doesn’t really account for being hit by a cannonball or hundred-pound trebuchet stone or anti-tank missile either. Individual characters are most often using, and facing, hand weapons at relatively short range – not siege or anti-tank weaponry. “Heavy weapons do a lot more damage” really isn’t news to anyone. That’s what heavy weapons are all about.

The real problem with using real injury statistics in a game is, of course, is the fact that real injuries are incredibly diverse and complicated.

A finger-tap – or paintball shot, or hit from a baseball – to the right spot on the chest that occurs at the right instant of the heartbeat cycle can kill. So can a single be-be, or a cat scratch, or being stabbed with a pencil. It’s just rare.

On the other hand. people have survived falling several stories and being impaled on multiple lengths of rebar. They’ve survived getting crowbars through their brains. If cold enough they’ve survived lengthy periods without their hearts beating. They’ve survived throwing themselves on top of two WWII fragmentation grenades at the same time. They’ve survived taking nearly thirty bullets. They’ve survived being dragged through a hole five inches across. They have a roughly one-in-three chance (with modern medical care) of surviving being stabbed in the heart.

But, once again, it’s pretty rare. When that sort of thing happens to them, people usually die.

To even come close to representing this in a game, you’ll want a hit location chart, with each location given a semi-random subchart with a wide variety of injuries on it – ranging from bruising, minor cuts, and flesh wounds with little or no actual effect on up through long-term crippling injuries, possibly fatal injuries (with their own rules), slowly fatal injuries, swiftly fatal injuries, and dead. Give more damaging weapons a better chance to roll the nastier injuries, and really lousy ones (like pencils) a penalty towards rolling the minor stuff. That means that you’ll want to go with a fancy critical hit system, or a system of resistance rolls, or a location-and-injury chart like I used for Baba Yaga. This way there will be a substantial chance that any character who gets into a serious fight will abruptly die.

That’s fine in Baba Yaga, where WWII combat is supposed to be fast, extremely deadly, and to be avoided if at all possible.

The trouble is that – if you want a game to rely on combat for excitement – that’s exactly what you don’t want. You’ll want a system for tracking wounds that’s hopelessly unrealistic and easily survivable. You’ll also want to stay away from long-term crippling injuries and you’ll want it easy to gauge how long you can last in a fight, so that the characters will know when to fall back. There is a REASON why so many games default to some variety of “hit points” or “wound track”. But, if you do that, you’ve abandoned any pretense of “realism” right there. Real people do not have “hit points”. They have messy, incredibly complicated, biology instead.

So no. You CANNOT put “realistic firearms” into d20 without a total rewrite of the combat rules that will make the game unplayable as heroic fantasy.

What, you still want “realism”? Well… OK. It’s just going to have to be “realism” within the d20 framework of hit points and other weapons.

Hm… “Does more damage along the path” and “leaves an open wound to bleed out” sounds familiar. That’s basic Roman-style Shortsword use: stab, twist to increase the damage and bleeding, and pull out. True, bullets do more damage in proportion to their size – but the sword is a LOT bigger.

And that gives us a benchmark that translates into “hit point” terms for d20 games. Handguns…

  • Don’t depend on personal strength.
  • Do about as much damage as a properly-wielded shortsword. Light ones do a bit less, heavy ones a bit more. Ergo, low-caliber firearms do 1d4, medium calibers d0 1d6, and large calibers do 1d8. A shortsword threatens a x2 critial hit on a 19-20. Livening that up a bit… for low calibers it’s 20/x3, for medium and large calibers it/s 19-20/x2. For shotguns and rifles it’s 20/x3. In any case, a critical hit from a firearm can often instantly kill a “normal” (1-4 HP) person.
  • Don’t require any special skill or proficiency to use. Yes, a true expert will be better – but you can learn to use a small arm reasonably effectively in a fight a LOT faster than you can learn to use a sword or bow reasonably effectively in a fight. Ergo, no proficiency is required to use a small arm. If you want to take a proficiency in the things… it costs one Feat or 6 CP and provides a +3 to your BAB while wielding one. (+1 to BAB, Specialized and Corrupted/only for ranged attacks, only for small arms) for triple effect, 6 CP).
  • Revolvers and Semi-Automatic weapons can fire quite quickly, allowing for extra attacks even with little skill. Given d20’s time scales… call it +2 attacks at full BAB for lighter guns (a bit less damage than a shortsword), +1 for medium guns (the same damage), and no extras for heavy handguns, shotguns, and other heavier items. If you want to eliminate that from consideration… you’ll probably want to upgrade the damage to compensate.
  • Fully Automatic weapons can spray bullets across an area if you wave them wildly, try to hit several targets in a group if you wave them but less wildly, and try to hit a single target several times if you hold them steady. Once again… that’s not really that complicated. Guns still hold the “that’s EASY!” edge over muscle-powered weapons. So… fully automatic weapons can attack an 20′ radius area (everyone there rolls a DC 12 reflex save to keep their heads down or take one hit), attack everyone in a small, tight, group (one roll at full BAB against everyone in a 5′ radius), or do double damage against a single target.

But wait! Guns penetrate armor better! Shouldn’t they get special bonuses or be touch attacks like they are in Pathfinder?

Do they? Which is more effective against Kevlar – a mace or a bullet? How does mithril handle point impacts? (A hint; anything you say is pure personal fantasy, since mithril does not actually exist and so it’s properties are unknown). Will adamantine ignore any bullet with less penetrating power than it’s 20 hardness? Weren’t some knives designed to slip between the links in chainmail or through chinks in plate armor? Weren’t military picks designed to puncture plate armor? Weren’t late suits of plate armor tested by firing muskets at them? Didn’t soldiers in WWII wear helmets to help against head hits? Isn’t armor capable of deflecting an angled shot that would otherwise miss? Wouldn’t that mean that (just like WWII helmets) that the effect of armor is partially deflection and partially absorbing incoming damage and not really to reduce your chance of being hit? Doesn’t heavy armor make it easier to be pulled off your horse? Isn’t this trying to go back to weapon type versus armor type modifiers? That was a lot more “realistic”, but it got dropped from second and later editions partially because it became impossibly unwieldy as more and more weapons and armor types were added and partially because – once you got into fantasy materials and effects – there was nothing to base it on. Or perhaps we should rewrite combat to give armor separate ratings versus slashing, crushing, and piercing damage?

D20 Armor is a pretty high order abstraction. It’s actual physical properties are purely arbitrary. Is giant spider silk equivalent to kevlar? What are the ballistic properties of force fields? Does magical armor operate by spreading impacts evenly across the surface, by causing incoming attacks to glance away, or though applied solipsism that simply allows the user to reject the reality that he or she has been hit? Who knows?

For a basic game… that +3 BAB for being proficient is plenty. Guns are still far and away better than crossbows if your mage wants a backup weapon or something.

Pathfinder makes guns touch attacks (and gives them slightly better damage and/or critical multipliers) partially to satisfy the crowd that wants them to be the best weapons and partially simply to make them different – and thus to make them around have a major impact on the game and setting. There isn’t any actual “realism” behind it, but given that the whole thing is entirely arbitrary anyway, why not?:

  • If you don’t like it… you can use Eclipse and add another attribute modifier to your Dex-based AC modifier, Specialized for Double Effect (only versus guns, 3 CP for +Att Mod, 6 CP for +2 x Att Mod)), or take Immunity/the armor-penetrating effect of guns (Uncommon, Major, Variable) and keep up to 5/12/30 points of armor and shield based AC against guns for 3/6/9 CP, or any of a wide variety of other tricks, and carry on as always. Sure, you’ll be down a feat – but you can just ignore the effects of fairly modern guns being common if it pleases you, and that’s probably worth it in a game where they are.

So really… given the wide margin of error in the data, the level of abstraction in the d20 rules, and the completely unknown effects of magic, psionics, and your reality-bending power of choice, the existing weapon stats found in d20 modern are probably… a bit too good. The listed damage for them is kind of high. Pathfinder firearms are probably a bit overpowered too – their critical multipliers are kind of high – but they do have that annoying misfire problem to make up for it.

What about more primitive firearms?

Well, they were tricky to load and care for, and they are prone to misfire (and, with the really early ones, to exploding), and they were horribly inaccurate. Even with rifling… sights were crude, the propellant loads were anything but standardized, ignition was a bit iffy, and lower muzzle velocities exaggerated the effects of environmental disturbances. At best, you’d probably only be getting off three or four aimed shots per minute. They’re still cheap and easy to use – but player characters rarely care. Player characters are inhumanly skilled, strong, and fast, and they’re usually rich to boot.

So; L6 Eclipse Longbowman: +4 BAB (24 GP), +3 BAB (Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect / Bows only, 18 CP) = +13 BAB with Bows. Two levels of Rapid Strike (Bows) and Innate Enchantment / Personal Haste gets him to firing at +13/+13/+10/+7/+4/+1. Broadhead Arrows get us to 1d10 base damage. Throw in +4 (Dex), +4 (Martial Art), +2 Competence (Innate Enchantment again, and still room even at the base cost for another boost), Spirit Weapon and Imbuement means never having to worry about being disarmed or ammunition and getting a at least a +1 magical bonus.

OK; we are in no way approaching the limits of the bonuses we can get (how about disregarding range modifiers and an ability to ignore armor to effectively get those touch attacks?), and we’re already firing sixty aimed shots a minute, for at least 1d10 +1 plus possible boosts (a strength bonus to damage at the least), at attack bonuses ranging from +24 for two shots down to +12 for the last one.

Sure, we could stack a lot of those bonuses onto Pathfinder firearms too – but what we’d save in getting to Touch Attacks to match Pathfinder we’d have to spend on getting around the drawbacks from the loading time and misfire chances and not getting a strength bonus to damage.

The point here is pretty simple; once you start stacking weird bonuses, spell effects, and personal abilities onto an attack… the base qualities of any reasonable personal weapon really don’t matter very much any longer. What does matter is that guns use their own power to do damage. That’s GOOD for the weak, the sickly, and the young – thus the old adage that “God Created Men, but Sam Colt Made Them Equal!” – but it’s BAD for those with natural advantages of strength and speed – like most weapon-wielding player characters.

In reality, the advantage of early firearms was that they required little skill or training to use and were still reasonably effective. A trained longbowman was far more effective – but the costs of training and supporting one were enormous and suitable candidates were scarce. Since player characters automatically come with that training and various physical advantages… they’re usually better off with classical weapons if their primary focus is weapons.

Given all this… the Federation-Apocalypse firearm-building rules are probably a bit overpowered – but they are talking about firearms from centuries in the future, which adds yet another layer of pure fiction to their capabilities.