Shamanic Conjuration Revised Rules

Shamanic Conjuration

-Alternative Shadowrun Rules-

English: Yukaghir shaman. Česky: Jukagirský ša...

What do you mean “All Spirits Busy, Please Try Again Later”?!?!

Mages vs. Shaman. Hermetic vs. Shamanic. Focused, methodical and intellectual vs. Perceptive, intuitive and active. They both cast spells, but the Shaman narrows in on certain sets and excels at them while the mage is reasonably good at everything.

And that works.

However, in the realm of summoning spirits, both kinds of magicians aren’t all that different, and the advantage is almost entirely with the Mage. Shamanic spirits probably have the better abilities overall, but the Shaman has a lot of negatives in dealing with them. First, they can have only one spirit active – where the mage can have many. The shaman must summon the spirit when he needs it. This isn’t a good thing, as this is often in the middle of and fight (and so he’s dealing with Drain and often withholding dice for other problems or dealing with penalties or damage). The Mage can summon a spirit well in advance, not even using an action to get several magical allies into a desperate fight or have one perform an action when needed, and can use other dice pools to make sure the summoning very successful. The Mage can also afford a lot more risk than the Shaman – taking a lot of Drain is less dangerous when summoning under controlled conditions than when you may have to defend yourself against goons, ninjas, ghouls or whatever in the next two minutes.

This is, suffice it to say, not in keeping with real-world Shamanic lore, the in-universe descriptions where Shaman are supposed to have a strong relationship with spirits, treating them as individuals and with respect. In practice, the Shaman just has one disposable minion he can summon – a minion likely less powerful than the Mage’s. Worse, the Shaman has even less relationship with the spirits he summons than the Mage has with even the most mindless elemental.

So, I had an idea – why not give the Shaman summoning rules which back up the way they’re written? Mechanically, it’s be a bit more even with the Mage’s ability – although that’s less about balance and more about the fact that they writers didn’t notice how the specific advantages they handed Hermetic magic worked in actual gameplay. Specifically, the disadvantages they hand Hermetics are disadvantages for the character, not the player. The disadvantages for Shamans can effectively lock the player out of choosing certain courses of action, but don’t really affect the character.

I’m actually good either way. Different games have different ways of handling this. For example, Dungeons and Dragons is a classic player-oriented game. Sure, you can go into doing roleplaying, but at its heart, the character is mostly a sheet and you play the game directly. There’s nothing preventing you as the player from making decisions. Sure, the GM may give you a swift kick for making decisions based on out-of-game logic, but it’s not really against the game and it doesn’t interrupt gameplay. Likewise, a great many people don’t really distinguish their character with that much personality or backstory, because it’s not important.

Exalted is completely the opposite. In Exalted, the character may have extensive backstory and personality unto him-, her-, or itself. Exalts are supposed to be extremely distinctive, even down to personalized powers and characters flaws. And while not everyone does things the intended way, you’re supposed to look at the rules as more of a “broad guideline” rather than rules for defining how the characters interact with the world.

In short, you can either play the character, or you can play the game. Shadowrun has some rules which trend both ways – and most games do. There’s no law which says you have to do only one or the other. However, you do need to be very careful about how and when you cross these up. Hence the problem here: Mages are limited by in-game elements. Shaman are limited by out-of-game elements. Or, to put it another way, the GM must go out of his way to stop a Mage from using his spirits in the exact way the player desires. However, the GM must deliberately choose the circumstances which allow a Shaman to use his spirits.

Here are a few examples: If both a mage and a Shaman are sneaking into a corporate facility, the Mage can just call up spirits. He summoned them a while ago, and while it cost the character money, it didn’t require any thought or limited resources from the player. The character may have quite a few, and they can go anywhere and act at the same time. If he’s skilled enough, the mage may have half a dozen spirits nigh-invulnerable to physical attack, all smarter, stronger, and faster than a peak-performance human even aside from their innate magical talents. And he can do the difficult work in relative safety, protected by assistants or the party, off-screen with everything decided by die rolls.

The Shaman, instead, must summon his spirit (yes, just one) on the fly and carefully balance the risk of Drain or an out-of-control spirit against the need for its aid. The Shaman can’t even decide which kind of spirit he gets: that’s determined entirely by the local environment – i.e., by the GM. If the Shaman moves from one environment to another, the spirit does not follow, and the Shaman may waste some of the success he had in summoning the spirit. Before you ask, no, it’s not always easy or even possible to know which domain you’re in.

That’s definitely a conflict. One set of restrictions affects the player. But the other affects the character, but may not hinder the player at all. And this is the basic problem. The trade-offs involved aren’t even related.

So, what are my specific recommendations? If we feel that there is a problem (and you might not, which may work perfectly well for your games) how we do deal with it?

Let’s take a look at the idea I pointed out above and use them as a guideline, as well as bringing out some important points from Shadowrun lore and the game’s style.

  • First, the Shaman should have an ongoing relationship to certain spirits.
  • Second, Shaman are generally more flexible than Mages.
  • Third, Shamanic Spirits have domains – places or regions in which they have special power.
  • Fourth, I don’t want to change anything about the general summoning rules or spirits, because that gets to be a big pain and makes the whole thing less modular with the existing system.

The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of giving Shaman specific spirits. The player characters will just have to deal with them. If the GM wants, they can even develop the spirits as personalities over time, but that depends on the group. If you do, then keep in mind that Shamanic spirits definitely remember how you’ve treated them. They can’t disobey the summoner, but they may “interpret” demands in very unpleasant ways.

In this version, the Shaman always summons a particular, named spirit when he summons one of a specific type.

This has some advantages. For one, unlike an Elemental, the spirit can and will protect the magician, at least as long as it has services left. Note that the Shaman doesn’t have to order this; the spirit will reasonably interpret his desires or needs within the bounds of its intellect. The spirit can also act if the shaman is helpless, unconscious, drugged, or otherwise incapable of requesting aid.

More importantly, the Shaman can store a number of Services equal to his Magic score. He must perform a summoning ritual at a specific Force, and does get any totem bonuses as long as he carries out the ritual in an appropriate domain. It’s easiest to conjure and store all services at the same Force, but it’s not required. These services are available for any spirit the shaman conjures. Note that while the Shaman doesn’t require costly components to summon a spirit, he does need them for these generic Services. Part of the cost involves making pleasing sacrifices. Shaman with appropriate skills can locate materials as per usual the Enchanting rules.

The Shaman does still need to make a conjuration test to call up a spirit. However, shamanic spirits can also call upon lesser spirits of their own type once summoned. A Spirit of Man, or Spirit of the Wild, of Spirit of (Whatever) automatically has unlimited services of another spirit of the same type one-third its own Force (rounded down). Of course, the minor spirit is pretty pathetic, but unlimited services are pretty handy. Note that the minor spirit will only obey the greater – it does not listen to the shaman.

So far, this is just a testbed for rules.  IF anyone would like to try them out, feel free to comment here how it functions in actual practice and if the players like the change.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 61b

Black hole wind

Are you sure that thing's a BLACK hole?

Deep inside the second-stage stasis field masquerading as a black hole, Ben and Jacob were bringing the Sabership into position near the galactic senate building. Inside, trapped in an instant, Huriel was in the midst of using the pyramid technique to channel the massed strength of Coruscant – and perhaps it’s entire solar system – to link the ships of the republic fleet to the galactic black hole. Around him, in both normal space and hyperspace, filaments of darkness were lashing out – slashing through people, buildings, the planetary crust and shields, and the structure of space and time as they did so. Through them, the black hole drank the time and life of the galaxy.

Now that Jacob knew what they were, he could feel them easily – and, to some extent, resist. It was Huriel’s fault; he’d bound the energies of the force, and thus of life and time, to timelessness and destruction. He should be able to shield himself against an accidental touch – at least for a few seconds, long enough to pull away.

He carefully adjusted the beam to minimize the destructive side effects and began to cut…

Meanwhile, back with Kira aboard the Mrs Beasley…

I awoke to hear my commlink chirping. I was still groggy from the drugged sleep and I wasn’t entirely sure what time it was. I finally found my commlink on the table and activated it.

(Kira) Yeah, what is it?

(Alys) Kira, we have a problem. Jacob and Ben went into the black hole last night and we stopped getting a signal from them an hour ago. Something very strange is going on with time outside the black hole too.

(Kira) Alright, on my way.

Sadly, the effects of the drug hadn’t worn off yet, and I was still too sleepy to effectively use my Force or Codex powers right now. I showered, got dressed in one of the spare sets of clothing I had from Gruenn, checked my powercells and was prepared to leave when I thought of something. Despite the grogginess of sleep, I was able to tell Valerie was still asleep in her quarters. I pulled out my commlink and left her a message for when she woke up alerting her to what I knew of the situation at the moment.

Virstris was waiting outside the door to my quarters. That friggin smile of hers was way too cheery for this soon after I woke up. She didn’t say a word, but fell in behind me as I made my way to the bridge. On the bridge, the scene of one of chaos. Smoche was busily running all sorts of tests I didn’t understand, Telera was busily trying to contact Ben and Jacob, while Alys was busily tearing her hair out as the galaxy was seemingly collapsing in on itself from her point of view.

After finally calming her down, I got a summary of the events thus far. Apparently Ben and Jacob got the giant lightsaber finished last night and in their enthusiasm immediately went off to try it. With that test completed, they then went directly into the black hole and started cutting the Senate building free of the planet. They quickly ran into the obvious stumbling block that the materials they were trying to cut were no longer experiencing time. Jacob then leapt to the plan of extending time to what he was cutting so that the cut would happen. I immediately saw the flaw with this plan as I doubted the filaments only went upwards from Huriel. True enough, Jacob apparently intersected one of the filaments and had frozen himself in time.

Jacob had been allowing the force to guide his cuts, carefully minimizing injuries – and, incidentally, minimizing his temporal contacts with the filaments as he carefully extended a bit of time along his lightsaber blade to allow it to make the necessary cuts. There had come a choice though – making the final cuts, despite the presence of a network of filaments, or abandoning the project – and leaving many thousands or stars, their attendant worlds and the hundreds of trillions of people on those worlds, trapped in stasis for eons to come.

He’d made them – and paid the price, as the black hole bled off all the power he could channel.

That was all fine and recoverable from, except that Jacob was an atavist and tied to the local universe’s timerate. From what little they could tell, Jacob was now funneling time into the black hole and accelerating it’s timerate while the rest of the galaxy slowed down a bit. From what we could get from their subspace beckon, it was still incredibly slow compared to what our timerate was. But the fabric of reality was so incredibly fragile here and now Jacob was adding to the stresses….

Valerie showed up moments later. She was disleveled but alert, apparently the Dark Side allowed her to power through the sedative more readily than I could. She immediately demanded a report on the situation and as Alys explained, Valerie put her hand on my shoulder as she countered the sedative in me. That helped matters immensely and I could tell from my Codex abilities that time was being dragged by an immense anchor. It’s affect on the timerate was subtle, but the ominous feelings I was getting were not reassuring to say the least. We either needed to fix this now, or begin an evacuation of the galaxy. Problem was that once we began removing planets, there wasn’t going to be much time before a complete collapse occurred.

Damn Jacob.

There was only one way to fix this, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

(Kira) Alys, is the subspace ship ready yet?

(Alys) Yes, it is.

(Kira) Handell, I need a pilot.

(Lazlo) You aren’t taking Master Handell in there!

(Kira) Fine, you can fly me in then.

(Lazlo) I am not leaving Master Handell!

(Augusta) No way am I going to pilot a ship in there! So far, two out of three trips have had serious mishaps!

(Valerie) Yes, and you’ll note neither of those had Kira along.

(Augusta) One data point does not make a pattern!

(Alys) I’ll do it.

(Kira) Alright, get the ship prepped for launch, I need to collect some things and then I will meet you there.

Alys went off to prepare the ship. I grabbed a datapad and started requesting various items for delivery to the ship. I was going to need rope, a deepspace distress beacon, plenty of extra power cells, layouts of the Senate building on actual paper, a camera, and extra life support supplies. What some of those were actually for was a good question, but my Optimize technique indicated they might come in handy. Besides, it wasn’t like precognition was going to be of any use to me right now. The system acknowledged the request and promptly began fabrication and delivery to the subspace ship. Valerie was following quickly in tow behind me.

(Valerie) So is there any plan to this, or are you just winging it again?

(Kira) The plan is to kill, deep freeze, or fade Huriel. I’m flexible.

(Valerie) And what if you get stuck in there too? You’re the last one we have able to go in there readily.

(Kira) Well, you can tell your grandfather that I am then safely locked away in temporal stasis for the rest of eternity. I am sure that will please him to no end.

(Valerie) Leaving you in an unstable temporal anomaly isn’t exactly smart.

(Kira) And what exactly do you propose I do? Jacob has probably just made things a lot worse now and this galaxy is slowly falling apart anyway. We don’t have the resources to evacuate everyone from this galaxy in time once the collapse begins in earnest. At least Huriel is a major lynchpin of this whole debacle. If we can get him, then the stasis effect stops.

(Valerie) We could leave, take what we can, and cut our losses.

By that point we had arrived in the shuttle bay. The stuff I had requested was already being loaded into the ship by the droids. Alys was beginning her final checkout sequence as the ship hummed to life.

(Kira) Look, worst case, I should be able to resist any temporal interference long enough to fade out of the universe. Then our little countermeasure should be able to kick in again.

(Valerie) You are beginning to rely on that way too much.

(Kira) Then start considering where you can find another atavist in a hurry.

(Valerie) Those aren’t exactly common!

(Kira) Not my problem.

I got into the ship and closed the hatch behind me. Valerie was fuming, but she didn’t try to stop me either. That was probably a good sign then. Alys flew the ship out the shuttle bay and out into space. After a few quick checks of the anti-stasis layer, I started supplying time to the ship as Alys dove us into the black nothingness. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we found ourselves on the inside of the stasis field and aware of the passage of time. She laid in a course to Coruscant and engaged the hyperdrive.

The trip to Coruscant was thankfully uneventful. When we did finally drop out of hyperspace though was when things got interesting. We immediately started picking up subspace transmissions from the Mrs Beasley indicating a significant amount of blaster fire and explosions taking place. Attempts to hail someone on the comm channel resulted in no response. Alys was concerned and wanted to know if we needed to turn back.

Unfortunately, being inside the event horizon prevented me from doing anything more than passive reading on Valerie’s current status. She was annoyed about something, but not particularly concerned about whatever her situation was. Whatever the situation was, she evidently felt that it could be handled. All I could do was trust her, like she was trusting me right now.

So to that end, I directed Alys to keep going with the plan and to trust in the others at the moment. We then dropped orbit and made to the government district of the planet. As we approached the Senate building, we could see Jacob’s ship stuck in midair. There was also a spherical region of distortion surrounding the ship and senate and growing larger by the minute. I had no clue what it was, but it was Alys that pointed at that things inside the sphere were actually experiencing time. Incredibly slow time from our perspective, but it was still possible to see things move at almost glacial speed. Alys began wondering how exactly we were able to see what we were seeing, but I ignored the question as beyond me.

Alys then took us in closer to Jacob’s ship so that we could get a closer look at their condition. Unfortunately, the filaments were making it difficult to position the ship where we could see into the cockpit of Jacob’s ship. After Alys struggled with it for several minutes without success, I told her to bring the ship above the other one and park it there as best she could. I went to grab the rope I had brought with us and tied one end to a support bulkhead near the center of the ship. The other end I attached to my harness.

(Kira) Alys, I am going to shutoff time for a few minutes. Sorry, but I am going to need all the concentration I can spare to handle this.

(Alys) Understood.

I switched on my antistasis suit as I stopped supplying time to the rest of the ship. I went for the door to exit out of the ship, but then found the rope was not being responsive to my moments. It took a few minutes to figure out how to carry the rope so that it would unwind behind me while also not get in the way of my feet. Then came the annoyance of opening the door out. Thankfully, Ben had designed this one to be easier to open in stasis, but it still made life difficult for several minutes as I forced it open with Force Strength. That got me a chance to look outside now, but Jacob’s ship was below and behind me from this perspective.

I took a few good minutes to look at the various filaments waving around slowly to judge their speed and direction of travel. None seemed to be on an immediate collision course with us at the moment. That was good because this next maneuver was going to take some time. A firm grip on the rope and liberal use of telekinesis anchored me to the ship as I swung around to hang below it. It then became a tricky matter of orienting myself so that my feet were on the bottom of the ship and by looking up I would see Jacob’s ship below me.

The cockpit seat where Jacob was sitting had several filaments moving towards it – and was already behind too many to reach. What exactly that meant for Jacob’s chances of survival was beyond me to answer; who knew what would happen if one of the things touched him directly? Galactic stasis?. Ben was in the seat behind him staring at a control panel intently. I couldn’t see any filaments intersecting him at the moment, so that was good. On the other hand, that meant I had to make a reasonable effort to save his ass too. It took a great deal of careful thought while keeping an eye on those filaments in order to figure out how I could get down there with the least amount of fuss. Finally I just ended up tying the robe to one of my variable stars and let it unwind me down to the top of the ship.

My aim was a bit off though as I ended up several feet behind the cockpit instead of on top of it like I had planned. That still left me with good access to the cockpit hatch seals though. It took several minutes to open the locks, but finally I was able to swing the hatch free. My initial attempt to pull Ben free went nowhere until I realized he was still fastened into the seat. It took several more minutes of sawing at the straps with a knife in order to cut them free. It also didn’t help matters that my paranoia kept me glancing at those filaments every few seconds to make sure none were sneaking up on me. Finally, Ben was free and I got him out of the seat. Wrapping more rope around him and then to my waist, I started climbing back up to the ship with Alys. Thankfully, telekinesis helped in the effort of carrying so much dead weight as I focused on the strength technique in climbing. I will quietly admit that Ben’s head hit the hull of the ship a few times while I was climbing, but thankfully him being stuck in temporal stasis limited the damage to mild embarrassment for myself.

Finally I got him into the ship and the door closed. With that done, I was able to drop the antistasis layer of my clothes and let the ship’s layer take over the containment part of things. That instantly resumed time for the ship, Alys, and Ben.

(Kira) Alys, get us to a safe distance from those filaments!

(Alys) Trying!

(Ben) I take it something went wrong?

I showed him pictures of Jacob still stuck in his ship.

(Ben) Oh, he’s screwed.

The debate turned to whether we went after Huriel, or if we should go back to the Mrs Beasley for the time being while we reformulated the plan. I wanted to go back and think for a bit. Alys and Ben wanted to continue on. Ben then volunteered to run his Early Edition technique against our situation.

Ben didn’t know what would happen if those tendrils actually touched Jacob either – but he was reasonably sure that it wouldn’t be good at all, and the worst-case consequences might destroy the galaxy. There wasn’t time to go back to the Mrs Beasley!

(Ben) I can say with confidence that I cannot see any version of myself that successfully leaves the black hole!

…. ok

(Kira) Is this supposed to be an endorsement of your plan? Because it is not making me feel any better.

He then reminded me of the fact that none of us could probe beyond a black hole with Force senses. That made sense, but it still didn’t make me very happy about the current situation. More arguing ensued, until finally Alys pointed out that there wasn’t much else we could do to resolve the issue with Huriel that we couldn’t do with the resources we already had. Thankfully, it seems like Jacob had actually managed to complete his cut around the Senate building, so that was no longer an obstacle. I had to reluctantly agree on that point then.

Alys wove the ship through the filaments to land us on the roof of the Senate building. Ben did something with the landing gear to fuse them to the surface of the building. We gathered around the button for the subspace drive system and I held my breath as Ben pushed the button to activate the drive.

Special Investigator Nimh Tahl’s Field Report – Session 61b

I watched the shuttle with Keldav and Nere fly into the event horizon and then disappear. An indicator light on the subspace scanner showed their beacon signal was working fine and telemetry was coming in steadily. Soung insisted on watching the telemetry data several minutes before becoming seeming satisfied. She hides the concern well. For all the talk and bluster the woman puts out regarding being a coldly rational person, something possibly happening to Keldav bothers her.

Why is unclear though. As valuable as Keldav’s skills are, she has shown the capacity to mimic them herself to a lesser degree. Indeed, the skill sets of those two are so similar despite the years of separation. I suppose it is possible that Keldav is in fact a double agent working for the Varen against the Republic, and that he has been quietly feeding information back to the Varen on his activities this whole time. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense given Keldav’s basic personality profile.

There have been other oddities too. Like the fact that a Faded pushing Keldav out of the universe results in him appearing at Soung’s side moments later. Neither of them were especially surprised by that fact. They spend an inordinate amount of time together despite how much they argue and bicker with each other. They both seem to know where the other one is despite the fact that the other Force users onboard have difficulties tracking them. Then the converse fact that those two still need to consult the computer systems for specific locations on the others. So whatever it is, it is specific to the two of them.

Plus there is the fact that Keldav seems to trust Soung far more than seems reasonable given the circumstances. He doesn’t trust Telera that much even. Sadly, getting further information on the two of them is going to prove difficult now that both have moved into that Sith Canton. Virstris Soung has been systematically removing all the remote audio-visual feeds from the Canton, probably rerouting them to another command hub internal to the Canton.

I don’t like not understanding the galaxy and the people around me. I have had enough basic assumptions about how things work challenged recently to drive almost anyone mad. At the very least I should be able to understand these two oddball Sith and what makes them act the way they do. It has to be something very simple I am overlooking….

MY chain of thought was interrupted by the sound of blaster fire, lightsabers, and explosions. Looking up, I saw Valerie Soung, Virstris Soung, Dame Lisella, and the rest of the people on the bridge in the middle of a spontaneous firefight with the security droids. Within moments the battle ended as everyone quickly overpowered the droids.

(Virstris) What just happened?

(Xiang) The droids attacked us.

(Virstris) I know that, but why?

At that moment a droid’s voice came over the intercom system.

(Intercom) You will surrender. After surrender you will be confined to quarters as the Corellian Protectorate takes command of this vessel.

(Virstris) Wait, did we miss a Faded or something?

(Valerie) We were thorough in our checks. They were all accounted for.

(Nimh) I presume the one Lazlo encountered that was reprogramming droids managed to get a program commanding the droids to rebel uploaded before he died.

(Valerie) A droid rebellion? How incredibly tacky to resort to such tricks.

(Virstris) Alright, why is it that none of us even thought to consider the possibility?

The implications of that thought were chilling. On the other hand, if the Censor was actively preventing out of control droid uprisings, then it would explain an awful lot about why droid systems inevitably failed. But if the local Censor was impaired badly enough to not prevent such scenarios, then the amount of manufacturing capacity onboard this ship did not bode well for our long term survival.

The only option that presented any real chance of success was to get Smoche to the droid command center so he could reprogram the system. But attempting to force our way across the ship to the droid command center was sure to result in the droids literally clogging the path between us and there. Still, there had to be a way to get him there.

Smoche could reprogram droids in line of sight of himself and use them as a shield from the other droids. But the best chance of that working required something to draw away the vast majority of the droids for as long as possible to give him a chance to get to the droid command center. The only real way of accomplishing that would be to give the droids a point of heavy resistance to focus on….

A number of the others arrived at the same conclusion moments later. Smoche took off for the droid command center immediately. The idea of droids stealing his ship from him was apparently enough motivation to getting him moving in a hurry. I highly suspected that Smoche would either succeed or die trying. That man loves those hyperdrive coils.

Meanwhile the rest of us were scrambling for weapons, armor, and whatever supplies we could get our hands on and carry. Korda announced that she had found a good defensive position in one of the nearby habitats. Looking over the place myself via a datapad confirmed her assessment. It looked like a habitat modeled on Tantooine with a town at the top of a plateau and narrow approaches along the cliff faces all the way to the top. The place was even configured to mimic sandstorms when desired. Those would interfere with droid scanners nicely.

Orders went out for everyone available to make their way to the habitat to set up defensive positions. With that done, we all loaded into the elevators and made our way to the habitat. We were unloaded at the edge of the habitat and began making our way up the winding trail. The more combat talented among us took up the rear position while people like me who aren’t used to this much climbing made our way up the trail ahead of them. The sounds of battle quickly started behind us as the droids found our location and tried to overwhelm us. The defenders at the back of the line were able to hold them off long enough for us to reach the top though.

With Shipwreck jamming the droids sensors, Lazlo, Xiang, Khadim, Liassa, and a selection of others at first focused on tossing security droids off he cliffs. That was pretty successful for a bit – but the droids soon learned to space themselves out and to maintain constant covering fire. There were some slip-ups – such as when Xiang tried to leap down and knock a dozen over at the same time and nearly went over herself – but Lazlo managed to set off quite a chain reaction, knocking over better than a hundred once.

On another front, Khadim was using his missile-launcher to create avalanches, while the Sith sent telekinetically-guided grenades, force lightning, and remote-operated weapons (and sabotage) against groups that were getting too close.

They also discussed the possibility of turning this into a holo-epic, but eventually things got too busy for that discussion.

Elsewhere in the ship, the techs and crew were being hunted down (and carefully stunned and locked up), while the Jedi were holding out for the moment. Fortunately, the droids had been set to try and capture the ship and crew intact – so knock out and imprison was the order of the day.

Unfortunately, there were a LOT of droids.

At the top, I immediately took over one of the buildings and began preparations for treating the wounded. As I swapped droid modules and began unpacking the medical kit. Luckily, the droids were not built for heavy combat against talented opponents and our casualties were light. The situation only got better as we got a chance to get everyone organized and fortify our position better against assault. It certainly didn’t help the droids that they seemed to have absolutely no tactical programming whatsoever. Soung seemed as annoyed as always despite the current good luck.

(Valerie) As convenient as this is at the moment, remind me, if and when Ben gets back, to slap him as the original builder by proxy.

A number of hours passed as the droids ineffectually tried to climb the plateau. Repeatedly the assaults were turned back do to better coordination and tactics on our part. Eventually the droids did finally stumble on the obvious tactic given their position as they proceeded to cut a hole in the roof to drop in through, while simultaneously swarming all possible approaches. Despite Shipwrecks useless attempt to will a rapid fire anti-aircraft system into existence it was going to be only a matter of time before we were overwhelmed by that assault – and I calculated that Smoche was going to need a couple more hours to attempt to take over the droid command center. We needed to buy more time.

The only tactic I saw that might buy much more time was to give up the defensive position provided by the plateau and use the cover of the sandstorm to remain mobile. With Shipwreck making sure that the droids’ sensors were jammed, we should be able to move around ahead of the pursuit for some time before the droids finally just swarmed the entire area and trapped us through sheer numbers. The others quickly agreed to the plan and we made our escape.

What followed was a mess of sand, blaster fire, shouting, and not being able to see more than ten meters ahead of me. Sand seemed get everywhere in my clothing as the sandstorm continued blowing and that fool of an energy being kept insisting on using anti-capital ship torpedoes as a handweapon. These people are all insane to varying degrees. Plus I was getting tired of all this running too. Whether for good or ill though, the need to run heightened for a bit and then began to lessen as the droid encirclement began to close in around us. Soon enough we were trapped around a large rock formation as the stun blasts blanketed the place. The more belligerent among the defenders fell quickly, and the more cautious were beginning to lose consciousness as well. It was only a matter of minutes before we were completely overwhelmed.

(Intercom) Attention: emergency droid program update required. Please report for maintenance immediately.

And with that, the droids dispersed silently. I did my best to tend to the wounds of those injured. None of the injuries were fatal, but the number of burns, cuts, and other minor injuries were going to overwhelm our medkits we had with us quickly. I did what I could to patch up the worst injured and sent the rest to medical for treatment. I joined the others in returning to the bridge.

Luckily it didn’t look like the Faded had tried to take advantage of the droid rebellion to land boarding parties or anything else untoward. There wasn’t any word from Keldav’s shuttle though. We were getting the subspace beacon signal which was a good sign. Shipwreck was busily scanning the telemetry from the shuttle for clues as to what was going on when suddenly the black hole in front of us disappeared and was replaced with a familiar looking star field. Handell immediately threw himself into the pilot’s seat and began to lay in a course for Coruscant. Within far fewer moments than I would have thought possible, we made the jump to hyperspace.

On Coruscant, Jacob had found himself back in time – along with everyone else. Sadly, the place was still incredibly damaged; his ship had been slashed through by several filaments (and he could barely keep it from exploding while shutting things down),  he was injured, one of his prosthetic legs was almost severed and the other was damaged (although that was easily “healable”), the bedrock had a brand new selection of faults, the buildings were collapsing, and the Sith were still occupying the planet. He barely managed to set down without adding to the destruction…

Worse, some Sith troops wanted to interrogate him, and didn’t believe a thing he said. Fortunately, he managed to escape in the confusion (Vibrobaldes? Such ancient technology!) and went into hiding, since there were too many injured people around to risk pressing all the buttons.. Throwing the Sith off of Coruscant by himself would take some doing!

Well, at the very least, this suggested that Keldav’s mission was a success. He managed to kill or subspace freeze Huriel while in there and amazingly that was all it took to bring the stasis field down. This was another datapoint for later consideration then. Glancing over at Soung was also revealing: she was hiding it quite well but something was seriously bothering her. She was watching over Shipwreck’s shoulder as he peered intently into the sensor console trying to glean information from the static mess he was getting while we were in hyperspace to little effect.

Around Coruscant, the remnants of the Republic Fleet were arriving. Huriel actually had managed to destroy quite a few ships with his assault, and far more had remained outside the event horizon and had been lost to time – but the remnant republic fleet was still by far the greatest armada in the Codifier Galaxy.

Unfortunately, the Sith still had enough orbiting weaponry to do massive damage to Coruscant before the fleet could destroy them.

We arrived around Coruscant minutes later, only to find the Republic and Sith fleets in a classic game of chicken. The Sith were holding the planet hostage to use against the Republic fleet, while the Republic fleet vastly outclassed the remains of the Sith fleet. Both sides were shouting at the other to stand down and surrender and neither felt the need to comply. The most likely outcome of this mess was going to be large sections of Coruscant ending up craters.

And then we arrived in a massive superweapon. That did not help the stability of the situation at all.

Further throwing fuel on the fire, Lazlo decided now of all times was the best opportunity to tell the Sith that he didn’t care whether they lived or died, only if they surrendered to him. The Sith did not take well at all to this demand as they predictably started escalating their threats to the planet. Amazing Lazlo actually seemed to believe they were bluffing. Either he was incredibly naive or incredibly stupid. I wasn’t sure which, on the other hand, it didn’t matter which case it was as billions or even trillions were going to die because of this nonsense. We had to remove the planet from the equation if we were going to resolve this hostage situation. But how do you remove a planet?

Several of us all arrived at the same conclusion simultaneously as someone yelled at Smoche to move Coruscant out of the way of the Sith fleet. Smoche enthusiastically endorsed the idea and set to work instantly upon the process. Meanwhile I tried to shove Lazlo away from the communications console to prevent him from causing more damage to the situation only to be thrown to the floor as he knocked me aside. He looked really agitated by the move and I swore he was about to attack me when all the sudden he got this really tranquil, glazed look on his face and wandered off. It was at that point that I became aware of just how many Jedi had shown up on the bridge with us. Instantly I was very grateful that Keldav and the others insisted on rescuing the Jedi first.

There was a bright flash of light on the view screen as Smoche moved the planet. The Republic and Sith fleets immediately jumped to the conclusion that Lazlo must have ordered the planet’s destruction. The Republic fleet responded by shooting at us, while the Sith fleet tried to take advantage of the situation by fleeing in the chaos. Somewhere at the back of the bridge I heard Lazlo muttering some nonsense about everyone but him being incompetent.

We couldn’t let the Sith fleet escape, nor could we just let the Republic fleet continue to fire at us believing we had destroyed the capitol of the Republic. We really needed to put everyone on timeout for several minutes while people calmed down. It took a few moments to find the controls to the massive ion cannon. I had no real practice with the thing, but with a blast that size, there wasn’t much need to.

Fortunately, Smoche had only traded Coruscant with the nearest asteroid belt – two orbits out. The messages about that started coming in in minutes, well before everyone had recovered from the ion blasts. Equally fortunately, that was nowhere near enough for Silting to become a notable problem.

With the various ships incapacitated for the moment, the crew started using the tractor beams on the Sith ships to bring them against the hull of the Mrs Beasley. Virstris went off to coordinate getting stasis fields in place to trap the Sith ships while I busily tried to explain things to the Republic fleet as their communications came back online. I may not be the most eloquent person in the galaxy, but at least I was making more sense than the last guy we had speaking for us. Providing technical readouts, sensor scans, telemetry, Jedi testimony and actually moving Coruscant back into place finally seemed to get the Republic fleet to acknowledge we weren’t stereotypical Sith per se.

The Jedi took over the discussions with the Republic and Telera took on the role of intermediary for our group. With my role in the process over, I went off to find something else to occupy my time. I was quickly drawn to Soung and Shipwreck huddled around the sensor console trying to find something. The only answer I got regarding what they were searching for was that the beacon on Keldav’s shuttle wasn’t being picked up by sensors. That was cause for concern, but that was a matter for Shipwreck to study for the moment.

Why was Soung so concerned about the well-being of the shuttle? The only answer that made sense was Keldav. But that only reworded the same question: why was Soung so concerned about Keldav’s well-being? What about him could be so important to warrant this otherwise emotionless Sith to worry so much about him? The answer hit me like a star destroyer given how obvious it was in retrospect.

Those two were Bonded.

I had thought such things were legends or the fodder of holo dramas. That is why Keldav is willing to trust the Varen so much recently, and why he trusts Soung so especially. They know that if something happens to him, she is impacted as well. And on the converse, if good things happen to him, like learning new techniques or powers, she is likely to experience it too. That is why their skill sets are so similar and why they always seem to know what the other is doing and where. Hell, depending on how that Bond works it might well explain how Keldav managed to cross the galaxy from Gruenn to Varen space without a ship and reappear on the bridge of the Mrs Beasley after being faded. So it isn’t that the Varen are holding Keldav’s family hostage or have some sort of black mail against him. Keldav and Soung actually do seem to care about each other.

Things have just gotten very interesting indeed. This is valuable information to have, and valuable information is to be kept close to the chest for when it is of greatest value.

That’s one mystery solved at least.

The Educated Designer

Thoth, ancient Egyptian god often depicted as ...

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If You Don’t Know Something – Learn!

In Thoth’s recent article on Infravision, he stated:

Sure, you can say that the physics of your world works some other way – but then you’re going to have to build and explain that physics as soon as someone starts experimenting (if you want to go that route, here’s an article on Elemental Physics to give you a start, and a followup on Dimensional Traits). You may get lucky and not have to deal with that, but if you run enough games, sooner or later you’ll get some players who keep wanting to know “why” and “how”. Those are the ones who want to try another route to problem solving; figuring out how things work in the setting and how they can take advantage of whatever you come up with – in other words, engineering.

This is a major point.

At one time, many of the people making games were in fact, nerds. Well, they’re still nerds, but they used to be nerds who often studied computer science, engineering, and mathematics, or at least tinkered with radio kits. This had a profound impact on the games they made and how they built worlds.

You can look at earlier editions of Shadowrun, for instance, and see that it was designed by people knew technology. Most of the technology which went into the original three editions was pretty sensible. Sure – it was almost magic by the standards of the 1980’s. But in terms of what computers were capable of and what people could program in, it isn’t too far-fetched.  You can see they had insane notions about law and politics, but they knew technology in and out. They understated how much technology would change life – and got the basics of extreme connectivity right  We might never design cybernetic limbs which can run on body sugars, but it’s not outright impossible and the theoretical technology exists. We might never be able to jack in and control computers with our minds, but it’s not outright impossible and early experiments have already been done.

Likewise, the magic system was quite internally consistent – it was an inhuman “technology,” just like any other. Sure, there were a few oddities. Still, there was rarely an NPC who did something you couldn’t (though they did stretch NPC power to the ludicrous level at times). If it could be done by science, it could usually be replicated by magic, and vice versa. (at least in theory). The big difference was in the focus of each. Magic was personal but let you bend the rules of this universe. Science was universal but stable. But magic still had its own explicit rules. Despite characters sometimes claiming that they were “doing the impossible,” they weren’t. They simply pushed the limits by developing improved techniques and variants of old ones.

Spells were even consistently categorized, and this division wasn’t invisible to spirits and actual in-game characters. There was no neat dividing line between system and setting, because the world didn’t need one. The relationships which held true for one held true for the other.

More interestingly, magic and science had explicit interactions. In fact, science held the ultimate trump card: space. Outer space? No magic. Period. Trying to use magic in space was less safe than actively shooting yourself in the head. Nor was this the only interaction, but it was the most vivid one.

In essence*, Shadowrun used the principle that energy was energy. You (consistently) used a fireball spell just like you used an ice spell, or for that matter a transformation spell, because they were all Manipulation magic. The actual effect of that fireball was about the same as that of n incendiary grenade (but more variable depending on your skill and bonuses). Armor would indeed help, just as it helped against an incendiary weapon. Likewise, spells in the Combat spell category could hit you directly – but even then the same toughness which let you survive a bullet or avoid a concussion let you resist the spell. Magic in the physical universe used the same rules as everything else. Magic in nearby astral space bent those rules. Magic in a far dimension had totally different rules.

This kind of consistency was perfect for players. You didn’t have to be a genius or prophet to guess how your new spell would work, both mechanically and in the game world. You didn’t have to understand everything about science or peer into the minds of the designers to “get” how things worked. It was both consistent enough to encourage new development and familiar enough to make sense to players.

Now, Shadowrun wasn’t perfect. As mentioned, it was completely insane in several other respects. This game has the Supreme Court handing out Extra-Territoriality for Corporations as a result of a Criminal Case. It has AmerIndians mysteriously getting millions of new people, then engaging the American government in a guerrilla war with bows and arrows (I am not making this up) alongside the odd bit of major magic – and winning against a couple million troops and armored assault forces. And then they somehow took their population from nowhere and kicked out all the non-Indians living in the west, most of whom then vanished from the population figures.

Well, you get the idea. They built a coherent game with rules which made sense and allowed consistent interaction with the world. That’s a long and big-worded way of saying “It made sense and you didn’t have to house-rule everything.” They actually did make a coherent world in the present – it was the history which didn’t make sense, along with the odd nonsensical background note. (An author misunderstanding Diplomatic Immunity, for example, led to a hilarious scene in one early published adventure where sane or attentive parties would shortcut the entire session.)

So, after all this talk about what they did and didn’t do, who cares?

You should. You’re either a gamer, or you’re not. If you are, you’re either a GM or player or both, and if not, you should go start. But as a gamer, it’s in your interests to have a consistent setting. It means you can step outside the moment’s action. You can look ahead to the future, change your strategy based on the technology and rules, and come up with new solutions. It means you have a framework for what your magic, technology, and skills can accomplish. It means you have the option of being a co-creator along with your GM.

And for GM’s, this takes a load off your shoulders. You don’t have to explain everything, but you still have reasons for everything. You don’t have to houserule blind anytime someone tries something strange. You have a framework – one you can expand on if necessary – but which ties the players together. Ever wonder why so many D&D games fizzle? It’s because there’s not much to do unless the Dungeon Master goes to the trouble of making a coherent world on his lonesome. Apart from that, you’re just rampaging through corridors killing and looting, which gets tiresome if you play any one class too long.

As a consequence, knowing what you’re talking about is crucial for a designer. You don’t need a degree in political science to write about politics. That’s a good way to make sure you never understand politics whatsoever. Don’t read some textbook. Read the originals. Read von Clausewitz as he discusses war and politics. Read Machiavelli in translation, and listen as he talks about the hard choices that leaders face. Read the Bible and listen to the words of the Hebrews when they were in distress, and how their kings rose to and fell from greatness. Read Cicero’s Letters, and Caeser’s Gallic Wars (or de Bello Gallico) and you’ll understand what revolution means to people who lived it and fought for and against it on the battlefield and the Senate hall.

Likewise, know something about technology, science, and engineering – more than you can learn from a pop-science book. Here you do want a textbook. Learn how Newtonian physics work – and then learn why they don’t work (but mostly are close enough anyway). Get down into the structure of atoms. Look at how bio-chemicals, DNA, tissues, tissues, organs work and how insanely complex life really is.

In the end, this will make you a better designer. And it doesn’t take that much – a few weeks of reading.  You’ll probably have a lot of fun with it, because Machiavelli, Caesar, and Judges are gripping histories and stories. If you haven’t looked how matter and energy actually work (to the limited degree our puny minds can conceive), you may be very surprised and intrigued. And it may lead you to new ways of thinking and new idea about your world.

In this world, physical reality flows from natural law. Now, natural law may not be all that natural depending on your religious or meta-physical view, but the short version is that we have rules.  Likewise, human civilization has rules, if more flexible ones. And everything flows from these rules. Energy is mobile, always moving from an area of higher concentration to lower.

Now, for your game you don’t have to attempt to build an entire universe. For one, you won’t succeed: it’s vastly more complex than all the humans ever born working in concert to manage. But you should lay down some basic principles. Do you have “magic?” What IS magic anyway? Is it the will of the Gods, who define and reshape reality? Is it an energy which responds to your mind? Is it extra-dimensional spirits intruding their reality on our own? All these have impacts on the characters, the stories, and what magic should do in the setting. Thus, your rules and background can work together. Shadowrun sometimes took this too far in having in-universe characters talk about game concepts, but you can’t argue they didn’t mesh the rules and world.

This isn’t always so complex. Star Wars is a fantasy story with a sci-fi gloss. And George Lucas basically shrugged, said his ships had really huge guns, and left it at that. And because he had a reasonably clear idea of how it worked and he was the only writer, it was pretty consistent (then they opened up the universe for novel writers and things got messy). Star Trek ran into some trouble because there wasn’t much agreement on what the technology could do (not how it worked but its raw capabilities) from one episode writer to another. So the best Star Trek episodes were about human/alien society, science fiction in its rawest form, not technology per se.

*Ba-dum-ksssh! Shadowrun Players get it.

Cyberpunk Street Occupations and Backgrounds

Child beggers begging infront of a church on a...

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As a general rule, most street characters will have the “Streetwise” general skill, and many will also have area lore, begging, or something similar.

For their occupations, and their more important skills, roll 1d40:

.

.

Unskilled
Occupations:
Special Notes and Requirements
01) Acolyte Enough patience to hang around and be
respectful with a straight face.
02) Artist/Crafter Relevant general skill, such as “painting”.
03) Hobo / Bum Being willing to put up with anything.
04) Day Laborer Often idiots or thugs. Servants and such will
need a general skill such as “Butler”.
05) Dependent “Property” as far as the streets are concerned.
If you don’t like it, all you have to do is get
out on your own.
06) Driver A driver’s licence.
07) Entertainer Needs a relevant general skills or skills.
08) Guide Needs city knowledge and – preferably – an
extra language or two. Salespeople are a
minor variant.
09) Lab Rat “Volunteers” are always handy.
10) Plaything Mostly for runaways. This is awfully easy at
first, but rapidly becomes less pleasant.
11) Social Worker From babysitters and volunteers on up.
Higher-ups may have contacts, law, legal
protection, psychology, and linguistics.
12) Street Vendor Those who restrict themselves to legal items
are usually barely getting by.

.

Skilled 

Occupations:

Major Skill Minor Skill
13) Begger Con Artist Begging
-“Gypsy” Syndicate Backing Fortune Telling
14) Enforcer +3 Martial Art Intimidation
-Hitman Sniper Ambush
15) Gang Boss Information Gathering Gang Leadership
-Yakuza Syndicate Backing Intimidation
16) Go-Ganger Acrobatics Piloting
-Courier Evasion Smuggling
17) Hacker Computer Operation Forgery
-Executive Syndicate Backing Extortion
18) Lookout Stealth Tailing
19) Messenger Dodging Recognizer
20) Petty Thief Slight-Of-Hand Evasion (1)
21) Poseur Thespian Disguise
-Celebrity Professional Skills Reputation
22) Prostitute Information Gathering Seduction
-Geisha Professional Skills High Society
23) Rebel Saboteur Field (City) Lore
24) Shoplifter Stealth Casing
-Burglar Locksmith Search
25) Street Dealer Fencing Contacts
-Fixer Information Gathering Connections
26) Tinkerer Technician Scrounging
27) Warewolf Cyberware +2 Martial Art
28) Wiz Kid Minor Magic (Psionics) Sensitive
-Mage Add any one magical skill Mystic Tongue

.

Highly Skilled 

Occupations:

Major Skills Minor Skills
29) Bodyguard Alertness and Missile
Deflection
Ambush and
Cyberware (2)
30) Bookie Syndicate Backing and
Con Artist
Gaming and
Connections
31) Cyberdecker Computer Operation and
Technician
Cyberware (2)
and Contacts
32) Nomad Caravan Master and
Guild Member
Personal Vehicle
and Piloting
33) “Preacher” Guild (Church) Member
and Select
Oratory and
Religious Ritual
34) Quality Goon Combat Armor and MOS
(3) Training
Brawling and
Intimidation
35) Reporter Surveillance and Select Photography and
Connections
36) Rich “Kid” Cyberware and Legal
Protection
Contacts and
Money
37) Rigger Cyberware & Electronic
Warfare Sensor Operator
Combo for remotes only.
Special
Vehicle(s) and
Gunnery
38) Street Cop Legal Protection and
Law/Criminology
Brawling and
Contacts
39) Street Doc First Aid and
Drugs/Medicines
Advanced First
Aid and
Technician
40) Street Shaman Minor Magic/Pacts and
Special Devices
Contacts and
Bargaining
  1. Evasion is normally a major skill, but Petty Thieves get a small break for their lifestyle. They could certainly use one.
  2. As a minor skill, Cyberware is limited to appropriate items.
  3. Military Occupational Specialty.

Continuum II divided most character abilities into General Skills (common, ordinary, talents that everyone got some of), Minor Skills (specialized talents covering either some special ability or a narrow field of training), and Major Skills (the items that tended to define a character – major special talents or broad fields of expertise).

The Street Runner vocation includes;

  • Militance II: 4D8 Vitality, +3 Attack Rating and Resistance Rating, and Semicombatant vitality bonus.
  • Expertise II: Two major and two minor skills, usually determined on the occupations chart above. Unskilled Occupations simply provide background. If you get a Skilled Occupation just roll up a second one and take the skills for both, ignoring “Highly Skilled” rolls. If you roll a skilled occupation twice, upgrade to the advanced (unnumbered) version if there is one, otherwise roll again. If you get a Highly Skilled Occupation first, you’re done.
  • Martial Arts I: Normally basic skills with Pistols and blades.
    • Street Survival Martial Art; Exclusive Weapon Katas (Blade and Pistol 3), +1 Attack (2), +3 Attack Rating(2), +2 Defense Rating (1), Fast (-1 on initiative, 1), No formal training (-1).
  • Either Mastery II – or Mastery I and a Vocational Speciality covering basic gear, credentials or a reputation, some minor auxiliary skills/etiquettes – and the fine art of getting along without an official identity.

Street Runner is not the most efficient vocation around – but it does have the advantage of being something that you can simply pick up as you go along.

Playing with Extradimensional Spaces

Here we have another question from Alzrius…

The Practical Enchanter offers some great spells for creating extradimensional spaces, but what about ways to manipulate such spaces (though this borders on planar travel in some areas)? How do I break into someone else’s extradimensional space, or ward them from breaking into mine? How can I take something in the real world and shunt it into a personal extradimensional space or demiplane? How would I force something in an extradimensional space or demiplane back into the real world? Would size be a factor (e.g. a demiplane the size of a continent or world that I wanted to merge with my native world)?

This particular group of questions mostly calls for secondary effects.

Breaking into a plane physically requires an open gate of some sort; otherwise there simply isn’t anywhere to apply physical force to it. A long-term extra-dimensional space can simply be fitted with physical defenses around it’s gate (for an example, see Realmsong). If you want to put in – say – iron-reinforced doors and a selection of traps to hide behind, you want the “Trapped” modifier (and possibly “Furnished” in case you want to hide the traps and have nicer doors) from the modifier listing in The Practical Enchanter.

That, of course, suggests an interesting combination spell – an illusion-and-spacewarp which creates a spacewarp full of traps and barriers with an illusion that makes it look like you opened a door and fled into the space while covering up the fact that you actually opened the door in front of yourself.

The easy way around people breaking in physically is to simply close the portal. You can do that with the “Barriers” modifier, which allows you to open and close the gate at will. A closed gate is pretty much proof against physical force – save, perhaps, for some epic-level use of Open Lock or Escape Artist. (If you can use Escape Artist to get through a Wall of Force, I don’t see why you can’t use it to pass through other walls or sealed gates). Such a gate could be tricked into opening if the effect exists as an independent mechanism built into a continuing spell, employing the Use Magic Device skill or a specialized spell to impersonate the caster.

It could also be forced via a Gate Keying effect (those are usually level two for gates that are just shut or level three for gates that have special conditions on them – plus any gyrations you have to go through in the case of gates that have wards or seals on them). Spells like that are relatively uncommon in most d20 games, but probably shouldn’t be; getting into mystical locations that were sealed away centuries ago or where the local yokels cannot reach is a staple of fantasy fiction – and provides a wonderfully simple answer for “why those horrific monsters aren’t out ravishing the area”; they’re all sealed away because they can’t cast the right spells. They’re fun in gate-network games too.

Finally, gates which are actively linked to their creators can be opened by applying some method of taking control of the spell away from the caster.  That’s vanishingly rare in most games, and with good reason; it’s a great deal more complicated than simply forcing the gate open – usually even more complicated than a planar travel spell that doesn’t even need a gate – and how often do you want long-term control of someone else’s portal? The vast majority of the time, a far simpler and easier Gate Keying effect will do everything you need.

To get around the problem of people seizing control of your gate, you’ll either want internal defenses (as above) or to apply some reasonable level of the Mobile modifier: moving your entryway into a co-existent plane, or a hundred feet underground, or some such, will prevent anyone from using it who isn’t willing to invest a great deal of power in the project.

To prevent people from planeshifting into your extradimensional space without your permission requires a second level of the Barrier modifier; it blocks anything short of Wish, Miracle, Divine Intervention, or those specific “seize control of the portal” spells from accessing your dimension. It might be a reasonable extension to allow another +2 levels or so to block anything short of a specifically-developed epic spell, but that probably isn’t worth the bother unless you desperately want to seal something up for some approximation of “forever”.

Moving things in and out of an interdimensional space is another matter altogether.

If you want to drag something out of a pocket dimension back into reality, there are three basic approaches;

  • You can collapse the pocket dimension, so that the stuff in it drops back into some other plane.
  • You can (or perhaps a minion) go in and carry or plane shift it out.
  • You can send in something a spell or power to latch on to whatever-it-is and drag it back.

The first is straightforward, if magically expensive; you can power up a transdimensional dispelling effect, or send in a minion to do something catastrophic – probably the old “extradimensional space in an extradimensional space” routine – to destroy the place. This usually works, but doesn’t really guarantee that the things you actually wanted will wind up anywhere near you.

Going or sending in a minion is easiest to describe; it doesn’t even necessarily require any magic or special powers – although it can be a difficult and dangerous trip.

Latching on to something in an extradimensional space and dragging it back is harder; basically what you want there is a Plane Shift with transdimensional range on it and some method of targeting it. Size would be a factor; if the thing you want is very large, you’re going to want to bump up the area affected as well. The metamagics in Eclipse can do all that, but it’s going to be expensive on more than one level.

Alternatively, you may be able to get away with Conjuration. After all, if a mere first-level spell can reach across the dimensions, grab a creature, drag it to you, compel it’s obedience, and then send it back home regardless of intervening barriers, you might be able to conjure something out of a pocket dimension a lot more easily – but if you’re using my far more limited interpretation of how summoning spells work from The Practical Enchanter, than this won’t work.

Personally, unless a character has access to high-powered freeform magic, and is willing to use a lot of it, I’d go with Ceremonial or Ritual Magic; it’s a lot easier to work up once-off effects that way.

Finally, we have merging a demiplane or continent into another world.

That’s… awkward.

  • What set of natural laws or planar traits is it going to work under? World A? World B? Both at once? A merged or compromise set? Which will dominate? Are we revising two entire universes here?
  • Are the contents of a pocket realm simply going to be dumped on top of whatever’s there now? That could be a pretty major disaster, and will probably convert whatever is in the pocket realm into a huge pile of junk.
  • Is it going to merge with what’s there now? That’s going to be really complicated when it comes to the people and creatures.
  • If it displaces what’s there now, where is the stuff it displaces going to go? Will there be tidal waves, a fantastic impact, and other disasters? What will crossing over the border be like?
  • Will it distort the local geometry to make space, packing an area of – perhaps – immense size into an area that can easily be walked around in a few moments?
  • Is it going to manifest as a co-existent plane that’s really easy to see into and shift back and forth into? That’s a simple idea, and avoids a lot of other problems, but adding a new dimension of movement to the game will complicate other things tremendously.
  • Will there be limited access-ways? Perhaps few walls, or narrow mountain passes, that lead to the newly-added areas? That’s pretty much just adding some permanent gates to the world.

In theory, a sufficiently high-level spell could simply drop a pocket dimension into a larger world in the form of a new planet – either transforming it to work under the rules of it’s new dimension or altering those rules locally. A demon-lord who rolls up his hell-dimension into a new “planet” and brings his entire power-base along for an invasion would certainly make an epic villain.

The trouble with this is that there are simply too many undefined parameters to say much that’s meaningful about the magics involved – although we can be sure that they’re going to have to affect a massive area and will be extremely high level. For the most part, however, we’d simply be looking at a planetary-scale instantaneous gate or overlay; that would cover the overlay, limited-access, and spatial-distortion variants – and could even cover an exchange-variant of the “displacement” version. The merger effect however… that calls for a massive transdimensional transformation capable of affecting multiple worlds.

On the other hand, events on this scale will often fall into the “Plot Device” category. Ergo, once again, the best option is Ceremonial or Ritual Magic.

Legends of High Fantasy – with it’s drastically expanded ritual magic system – even included a ritual for this sort of stunt.

Budding the World Tree: Stabilizes areas of the dimensional fringe of Cemar, possibly even adding substantial amounts of territory to the world. In general, one can attempt to stabilize a route, to stabilize several routes – or to push back the fringes entirely. The rite always involves planting a twig which grows into a mighty tree during the rite; while it endures it’s roots and branches will hold reality steady, as will any offspring after it. Destroying such a tree, grove, or forest, will allow the lands they held to fade into the mists once more. In general, Area (Route +10, Routes +15, Domain +20), Eons (+20), Severe (+10) and Target Present (-) = DC 40 (Route), 45 (Routes), or 50 (Realm). There are several minor artifacts which can help with this sort of rite, but the components are difficult to come by. Still, creating a stable route to any other world offers enough possibilities for wealth for people to keep trying.

  • This ritual is commonly used by Sorcerers and Wizards.
  • Lesser rituals can stabilize a route long enough for an expedition but if you’re still away when the rite expires – or is disrupted – you’ll likely never return.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too. Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 41

   Session 41 was the thanksgiving weekend session – and thereby was short several players and turned out to be a bit short. This will happen…

   With the number of people stuffed into stasis having grown to rather large proportions what with the phony plagues, the resistance was asking for direction on what to do with them all. There was only two real options that I saw: underground or in a warehouse. There were plenty of caves to hide people in, and it would have provided excellent shielding against scanners picking up the stasis fields. Problem got to be that it was going to be really awkward trying to explain why so many shipments of crates were going to caves.

   Using warehouses made it easier to explain why crates were being shipped to them, but had the problem of being rather public and difficult to conceal. Those stasis systems show up rather distinctively on scanners – and I am told that a warehouse in and of itself wasn’t going to do much to shield that. Shipwreck pointed out that the fact that a warehouse was in the middle of an industrial district would hide the signature to some extent, and some low-level screens would help a bit without showing up as anything much more than commercial precautions – but it wouldn’t match a few hundred feet of rock.

   Sigh, there was no real good option here. Zandaras almost certainly knew of stasis technology and might well know what to look for. But moving lots of crates into the middle of nowhere was surely going to attract a lot of attention we definitely did not need. The best option I could see was use a warehouse, post some guards, and hope that the Sith have a hard time picking one warehouse out of an entire planet full of distractions. Fortunately people in stasis didn’t take up a lot of space – and perhaps Zandraas wouldn’t give whatever information he had about stasis to his minions.

   Next came yet another debate about what to do with the minefield and planetary shields. Using the large-scale stasis systems, we could capture the shield generators fairly readily. That wouldn’t allow us to activate the shields without a lot of work and time though. And the clock would immediately start running once we captured the shields. We couldn’t possibly get the shields operational before the mines could begin bombarding the planet.

   We couldn’t build new shield generators in the timeframe I believe we have to work with – and the Republic didn’t have spares laying around that we could borrow either. Ben’s suggestion of stealing them from a Sith occupied world using hypertunnels required more equipment than we had and would destroy the systems from silting. Stealing from an alternate dimension had massive targeting issues as well. My suggestion of moving the planet to the Codifier galaxy got a lot of horrified looks – starting with Alys – on the grounds that the rest of the galaxy would see it as a planet-destroying superweapon attack, and go berserk.

   Sigh

   Ben gets to make suggestions regarding building weapons of mass destruction or death, yet when I suggest moving a planet people get upset. Is it just because they think that I might actually get it done?

   Tests regarding how shield systems perform within a Second Stage Stasis field weren’t encouraging either. Looked like the field strength was reduced in proportion to the time rate of the generator. We also determined that using the stasis effect on crystals in an attempt to rig a smaller system to mimic the planetary system was a convoluted way to may crystals explode instantly.

   Hmm, didn’t Shipwreck have the coordinates for several derelict fleets? Turns out the answer was yes, and that two were relatively nearby to us. According to him (I don’t know where he got this level of detail), the first fleet was a massive fleet dating from the Infinite Empire. It was lost when the fleet ran some sort of arcane hyperspace experiment to move the fleet as a formation or some such and somehow instantly aged the entire fleet by a couple of centuries. It was now sorely needing maintenance after 15,000 years of none. The other fleet was significantly smaller but in better condition. Apparently they’d jumped into a battle situation and picked up a massive radiation pulse while the shields were down that killed the crew – and in the chaos of a Sith war the location wound up lost.

   Well those were worth salvaging, but we would need crews and parts to make that work. The Gruenn system could supply both crews and parts, but was currently occupied. The occupation could be broken with the fleets, but the fleets couldn’t be made operational without support from Gruenn. Damn it, we have all the parts we need to make this work and liberate the planet, but can’t seem to manage to get it all assembled together.

   I put a pin in that problem to think about it later. Currently the best plan we have is to fire a large number of concussion missiles at the mines in orbit, while simultaneously putting the rest of Zandaras’s agents and the shield systems into stasis. The asteroids would then enter the area and engage any orbital assets that were left. Then began the race against time to get the shields up before Zandaras’s response could arrive. Until we could get any better modifications to that plan going, we had to proceed with what we had.

   Ben was busily building Second Stage Stasis systems with the help of the technicians that could remember the task at hand. The Galactic Censor was getting incredibly annoying at times as we couldn’t give directions to use the stasis systems to anyone too easily affected by the Censor. That had drastically reduced the amount of manpower available for the task of faking the plague. Well at least that was winding down as we mimicked the signs of the government gaining control of the situation.

   I helped where I could in assembling pieces together according to instructions, but it was still slow work. Eventually my robe was getting torn enough from the work and the damage incurred from the ambush earlier to warrant finding a tailor. Speaking with members of the resistance got me pointed in the direction of a little blue alien by the name of Qwuam. It was a bit of a ride getting to his shop, but my speeder was needing some time out of the warehouse.

   The ride was pleasant save for all the people that turned to stare as I went by. I ended up tapping into the Codex a bit to keep from overhearing too many thoughts about what they were thinking of me. None of them were true in the slightest, but it still made me ill sensing them directing those thoughts towards me.

   Lazlo had also decided to go shopping; being knocked out by a mere soldier in a barroom brawl had made him aware of just how heavily he’d been relying on the force to resist major attacks – and that perhaps a bit of armor, and maybe even a weapon, would be a good idea.

   Sadly, he soon found out that weapons and armor were kind of hard to find in an occupied territory when the locals believed that you were with the invaders. He’d just have to have the base run some up for him if he couldn’t find anything locally.

   I arrived at the tailor’s some time later. Stepping into the shop, I saw it was devoid of people save a little blue-green alien with several arms. I think I recognized the species as Everadddiii or something similar. Qwuam took one look at me and immediately began lamblasting my clothing in intricate detail. I found myself stammering apologies despite myself and the role I was taking. Thankfully no other shoppers were in the shop to overhear this. I was especially unnerved when he pointed out the hidden weapons and the fact that the stasis belt and anti-stasis suit would not work together in the current configuration.

   Alright, how did he see those and immediately deduce that they wouldn’t work together?

   All attempts at questioning him on the matter were brushed aside as he began taking measurements and told me to hold still and be quiet. When asked if I had specifications for the base designs, I handed over a data chip I had been keeping in case I needed to rebuild the clothing again. Qwuam snatched the chip out of my hands and then asked what was the base color I wanted to the clothing.

   I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Black would work better since I was trying to impersonate a Sith, but white was becoming my symbolic color for displaying that I wasn’t a Sith. It didn’t help matters that I thought the Force placed some weight on symbolism. Oh well, splitting the difference and going with a gray should work well enough.

   I was then asked how many sets did I want to order. It was apparently going to be 12,000 credits for the first one and 4,000 credits each for the next three if I got them as a set. Well I had over a third of a million credits in my name and not much I’ve been spending it on, so this sounded like a worthwhile investment. I elected to order all four and was swiftly rushed out of the shop so that Qwuam could begin his work. He told me to be back in four days when he expected to be finished.

   Once I was back at the warehouse that Ben was using to build the stasis units, several members of the resistance approached me and asked if Lazlo’s stories about the other members of the party were true. Unfortunately, Lazlo’s stories were not as exaggerated as the resistance wanted to believe. Ben was an insane superweapons obsessed engineer, Xiang thought she was a Holo character, Jarik fell to the Dark Side of medicine, Shipwreck is way too trigger happy with torpedoes, Khadim was an energy being with little understanding of galactic civilization, 10CH is an assassin droid turned pacifist, Lazlo is a genetically engineered body guard, and Jacob…. is a suit of armor painted to look like a tree.

   Myself, I am a punk from Alderaan, that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nearly got killed by the Sith, developed powers, got captured by the Sith, escaped from the Sith, and now I’ve been running from the Sith and disrupting their plans almost nonstop ever since. My next door neighbor is continually on the news blaming me for all sorts of nonsense. The children in our group make cartoons of me going on a crusade of Dark Side fueled galactic conquest. And Telera stands there smugly giving me Jedi koans.

   All prospects of me having a normal life anymore are pretty much nonexistent.

   Meanwhile. Lazlo – having heard much of the rant before – headed out to go and drink with the Sith troopers. He was almost getting the hang of this independent socializing thing!

   Unfortunately, he accidently admitted that he had money – and so wound up stuck buying drinks for everyone. He also wound up having to find excuses not to enlist – and was drunk enough to claim that he’d already joined once, as a Sith trainee, and to try to demonstrate his powers.

   Perhaps fortunately, he was also drunk enough to simply knock himself out with a misdirected attempt to exert a little telekinesis – with the result that none of them took any of his claims seriously. Later on, when he was sober, this would begin to seem like a good thing. It still led to a discussion of what made most soldiers human, where most of the recruits for the Sith came from, and various other personal details – in which Lazlo revealed rather too much about himself.

   Even more fortunately, the Sith troops were too drunk to remember anything too.

   I saw looks of sympathy from the resistance members around me and was about to ask their stories when a loudspeaker announced it’s presence. It sounded like the police had arrived and wanted us to surrender immediately to be stunned. Oh bloody hell, I really didn’t want to have to deal with this right now. Making sure the robes were set to black I strode forth to met security surrounding the building and demanded to know what they wanted.

   Security were not happy to see me and weren’t buying the story that I was here to capture Kira Keldav. The security chief was damnably perceptive at determining that while I was telling the truth, I was being very misleading in how I said it. Trying to distract him didn’t go over well as I heard Jacob announce that no one was going to take him alive. The security then began to bombard the warehouse with missiles. Before the missiles could hit though, the warehouse twisted, shifted, and then vanished as it left a crater in the ground.

   I would have said that was the hypertunnel effect, but something seemed…. off about it. Lazlo started sliding down the crater to the center as a lot of firepower was aimed at me by the security forces. My odds of escaping this were pretty good, but making a run for it would blow whatever cover I had left at this point. I was then promptly blamed for bringing an Artificer to this world. While correct, I didn’t feel that the accusation was an adequate summary of the issue here. Demanding explanations of me for what just happened to the warehouse didn’t go over well as I don’t have a clue what insane experiment Ben just cooked up in there.

L   azlo – hearing about the emergency – arrived shortly after the incident, tried to investigate the crater – and found that the inside was incredibly smooth. Virtually frictionless..

Lazlo’s sliding around the apparently frictionless crater was something to watch, and I suspected it was a vital clue as to what happened, but I wasn’t a hyperspace expert able to reason through this. The security hauled us off to the local station for questioning on the incident as their people scanned the crater for clues. The security chief reminded me a lot of Officer Larson back on Alderaan as I simply could not distract him from the story that I was a Sith hunting Kira Keldav.

Eventually Security Chief Olson delivered an ultimatum: either I tell the truth about me being Kira Keldav, or he would make my life very difficult while I was on the planet. Well damn it, so much for this whole scheme. I can fool mighty Sith Lords, Bounty Hunters, the Republic, and the party, but I can’t seem to con my way past the humble security forces. Maybe at heart I am still that stupid punk from Alderaan after all.

Finally relenting, I proceeded to explain who we were, why we were here, what we’ve accomplished thus far, and what we hoped to achieve. Olson didn’t really seem happy with the whole idea of us being here, and he was adamant about seeing proof that we didn’t kill all those people. Lazlo was brought in to confirm what we told them and we demonstrated the stasis belts for Olson as a show that would could dispose of people temporarily without killing them.

It took a great deal of convincing from both myself and Lazlo in order to get Olson to “cooperate” with us. Even if said cooperation mostly entailed neglecting to notice our presence in the area or confirming it as needed. We were given a copy of the scans his people had performed on the crater, but neither Lazlo or I could make heads or tails of it. All the people that could have are now missing. Along with our warehouse we were manufacturing the stasis systems.

The information they’d gotten was basically that a hyperspace transition had been recorded, but that no exit transition had occurred – and that the signals from inside had redshifted out of existence when whatever had happened had happened.

The planetary security forces were not happy with Kira’s explanation – but they weren’t happy with the Sith either, it was their duty to resist the occupation – and the Sith would turn the place into a disaster eventually no matter what. There wasn’t all that much choice except to turn a blind eye to Kira’s activities.

Drat, well no way I can help the others get out of whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into. I am going to have to send a message to the asteroids telling them to build more stasis units to hypertunnel here in the worst case scenario, in the meantime I going to have to get the resistance to see if they can duplicate Ben’s design to make more. Hmm, I better include in that message to the asteroids a note to go hunting for mercenaries, techs, and volunteers to work on getting those fleets operational again. Maybe with the asteroids building parts and droids, some of those ships could be made operational in time to make a difference.

I also need to make preparations to track down those showing Codex abilities that Ben found so that they can properly evaluated and trained once the occupation ends. Sigh, yet another mess to clean up.

Thaumaturgic Variations – Amnesia Magic

   Like most of the magic systems in Eclipse, Thaumaturgy is open-ended. Characters are free to name and develop their own fields of magic and the eight occult skills within it – and most Thaumaturgists do so, making each one unique.

   This time around, it’s one of the more off-the-wall fields out there – Amnesia Magic. That isn’t a common field – or at least, if it is, no one seems to remember that.

   In any case, before I forget about it, here are the eight magical skills of Amnesia Magic:

  • Ability Removal. This straightforward skill allows the user to take away learned abilities and to make creatures forget how to use inherent ones. In general, the more deeply ingrained the ability, the harder it is to remove it. Making a wizard forget a few of his or her most powerful spells is fairly easy; that ability is complex and was acquired relatively recently. Making someone forget how to walk is a great deal harder.
  • Forget the Trauma. This subtle skill allows the user to counter mental disturbances and problems – at least for a time – at the lower levels, to accelerate the healing of wounds and injuries that would heal naturally given time at middle levels by “pushing them into the past” or to temporarily wipe away greater problems. At the highest levels it will allow even death to be forgotten temporarily and can instantly heal fairly severe injuries.
  • Forget The Prophecy. This skill covers breaking the chains of destiny. At lower levels it can remove lesser curses, minor blessings, and other low-grade “permanent” effects. At middle levels it can remove effects of greater power and cause mildly unlikely events to become likely At the highest levels it can allow individuals to break free from the confines of fate, break almost any destiny or curse, and repurpose dedicated items.
  • Forgetfulness. This straightforward skill covers spells that make creatures forget. At it’s simplest, this can wipe away a few recent moments, cover social gaffes, and make creatures hesitate in combat. Midrange spells can unbind weaker ghosts and make creatures forget about their abilities, or perhaps which side they’re on. High level effects can expunge major chunks of memory, allow easy retraining, or reduce an unfortunate victim to near-infancy – at least on the mental level.
  • Remembering What is Not. This skill covers creating memories of things which did not happen. At the lowest levels this can make people seem like casual acquaintances, suggest odd ideas, and make people think they’ve been paid. At middle levels it can create detailed memories and create “old” traumas and phobias. At the highest levels it allows the user to overwrite old memories with powerful, detailed, new memories of things which never happened, recall events from other dimensions and alternate realities, and to remember accurate information that he or she never had in the first place.
  • The Universe Has Forgotten. This skill allows the user to bury things in the past. At it’s simplest, it can be used to end spells other effects with durations, to wipe away trails, magical and psychic residues, and to make things seem old. At middle levels it covers dispelling effects, wiping away long-term records, and actually making objects older. At the highest levels it covers restoring objects and areas to their original conditions, banishing objects and creatures into pocket dimensions, and rendering things out of phase.
  • This Seems Familiar. This skill covers knowing how to do things without actually having to learn how to do them. At low levels this can be used to cast spells which enhance existing skills or to operate unfamiliar items and equipment. At middle levels the user can gain bonuses to skills that he or she does not actually have. At the highest levels this can be used to perform exotic magical rituals, cast minor spells from other fields, and to temporarily bestow formidable skills.
  • Willful Ignorance. This skill allows the user to ignore or misinterpret things. At it’s lowest level it covers resisting mind-influencing effects. At middle levels it can be used to baffle divinations, operate devices that are attuned to particular races, abilities, or alignments, to fail to understand things that annoy you, or to ignore other conditions, such as nausea. At it’s highest levels it allows the user to get things to work that shouldn’t, such as simply ignoring the physical environment, getting fire spells to work underwater, or gluing someone’s arm back on and having it take.

   Amnesia Magic is thus mostly relatively subtle. In general, it won’t blast your foes, teleport you from place to place, conjure monsters to defend you, or weave illusions.

   It can, however, make your enemies into friends and allies, persuade sea-captains to carry you where you want to go, confuse monsters into attacking each other, or make people remember a years-long past relationship that never happened – and, if you use it cleverly, that’s often more than good enough.

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Cleric

   Next up in the “how to build Pathfinder characters in Eclipse” series is the Cleric.

   Once again, that’s not too complicated; simply insert Fast Learner at level zero, and you’ll have the points to spend to update to later standards. All you have to do is to ignore all the options that you don’t want.

   We’ll simply take the standard “Cleric” build and tweak it a bit.

   Pathfinder Clerics…

  • Lose six skill points at level zero. That’s (-6 CP).
  • Lose the Heavy Armor proficiency (-6 CP).
  • Drop 19 levels worth of lower level spells on their Spellcasting Progression to add an additional eighth and ninth level spell – a total of seventeen spell levels. That’s both pretty trivial, and well within the range of a “minor variant” – for no cost.
  • Drop the “+4 Intensity” on their Channeling abilities (-6 CP). Replace that with Conversion/a set of four level three effects, Corrupted/only actually provides two effects (6 CP). That lets them blast out positive energy to heal normal creatures or to harm undead, or vice versa, depending on their choice. That replaces “Turn Undead” with “Channel Energy” as a balanced exchange.
  • The Pathfinder Cleric also gets unlimited use of his or her level zero spells. That’s Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (only works for the characters limited list of level zero Cleric spells), Corrupted/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP). As a side-benefit, level zero spells with cumulative effects – such as healing – lose effectiveness on any single target after 2d6 applications in any one day. That means that you don’t have to banish level zero healing spells from the game.
  • Buy Fast Learner, Specialized in buying Advanced Domain Abilities. That will provide an extra +40 CP over twenty levels to buy the additional abilities included in Pathfinder Domains.

   That gives us forty-two character points with which to buy advanced domain abilities. Hopefully I can keep it a bit under that for most of them. That provides a little extra room for customization – or for errors.

   Standard d20 Domains include a list of spells (6 CP) and a special ability worth another (6 CP).

   Pathfinder Domains are substantially more powerful, granting access to a variety of supernatural powers as well. In most cases, these are a pair of supernatural abilities, in somewhat fewer cases the second power is replaced by resistance to a particular form of energy. Other cases follow their own, idiosyncratic, rules.

   The spell list doesn’t matter; those can be varied to suit any given game, and – at least in Eclipse – players are perfectly welcome to propose new ones.

   The supernatural abilities can mostly be constructed as follows:

   1) A Minor Power, purchased as Channeling, at (3 + Wis Mod) uses per day, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for conversion to a specific effect (4 CP) plus Conversion/a specific level two effect (3 CP).

   2) A Major Power, purchased as Channeling, at (3 + Wis Mod) uses per day, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for conversion to a specific effect (4 CP), plus upgrading the Conversion from the Minor Power to a group of four themed spells of level five or less, Corrupted/the user only actually gets two spells (5 CP). You can get sixth level effects if you need them by reducing the number of uses (to five per day at level 20). That saves one character point on the uses cost but costs two on the conversion effect – for a net cost of (10 CP), an increase of one point.

   In either case, if you want to get the “can use this ability for one round per level, although these need not be consecutive” effect, you’ll want a drastically shortened overall spell duration (three to four rounds) with the provision that the effects few rounds of effect need not be used consecutively. Overall, that’s a disadvantage in most cases – and so it will not affect the level of the effect needed. This being Eclipse, I’ll leave the variant selection up to the character.

   Bringing the save DC (if a save is allowed) up to the (Level/2 +10 +Wis Mod) value that Pathfinder uses could be done in several ways – but this is channeling, and this is dropping the base level of the spell – so a simple Privilege will do. That’s (3 CP), and brings the cost up to either nineteen or twenty points out of the 21 available for buying each domain.

   3) Resistance to particular forms of energy – which eventually upgrades to an “Immunity” – is a bit harder to deal with in Eclipse, where most things have upper limits. On the other hand, simply taking Resist Energy with an extended duration +2 levels) covers the initial resistances – and an upgrade to Greater Resist Energy (from The Practical Enchanter) will eventually get that resistance up to 60 points – which should provide practical immunity for most purposes.

   In all three cases, the abilities can be bought up gradually, to match the per-level progression.

   So the various other minor and major powers should have similar costs. Lets see how that works out with the first few Pathfinder Domains.

   Air Domain:

  • Minor Power: Lightning Arc. Conjuration (real, and hence no save or spell resistance), 30′ Ranged Touch Attack, inflicts 1d6 + Cleric Level/2 Damage (+30 Max).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Wind Blast. Performs a Bull Rush (using caster level as BAB and his or her Wis as Str) along a 30′ line.
  • Major Power: Electricity Resistance.
    • Alternate Major Power: Thundercloud. As per Fog Cloud, except that creatures inside the cloud are deafened and take 2d6 points of electricity damage each round from the flashes of thunder and lightning. The user may concentrate on the cloud to move it up to 30 feet each round.

   Animal Domain:

  • Minor Power: Speak with Animals. Also, treat Knowledge (nature) as a class skill (this is free in Eclipse; the skill is obviously relevant to someone with this domain).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Eyes of the Hawk: Professional/Perception (6 CP) plus Improved Initiative +2, Specialized/only works during a surprise round (1 CP), Privilege/friendship with the spirits of the air/specialized/only upgrades the user’s aerial maneuverability by one step. “Fly” is added to the user’s list of class skills (again, free in Eclipse since the skill is obviously relevant to you).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Predator’s Grace. Gain +30′ movement and low-light vision for one round. If you already have low-light vision, the range of your sight becomes three times that of a human in dim light.
  • Major Power: Animal Companion. That’s Companion (6 CP). That’s a bit cheaper than the usual major power, but that’s not really a problem. Spend those 2 CP on skills or something.

   Artifice Domain:

  • Minor Power: Artificer’s Touch: Add Mending to your list of perpetually-usable level zero spells (1 CP) and Shattering Touch (melee touch attack, does 1d6+ Level/2 (+15 Max) damage to objects and constructs, bypassing an amount of damage reduction and hardness equal to the user’s level. (Total cost: 8 CP).
  • Major Power: Dancing Weapons: You can touch a weapon and give it the dancing special weapon quality for four rounds. Discard the (+2) uses and change the (+Wis Mod) uses to the basic four. This will reduce the cost to (8 CP) – compensating for the additional cost of the minor power.
    • Alternate Major Power: Animate Object. As a level six effect, this costs 10 CP instead of 9 CP.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Repetition: You can emit a 30- foot aura of repetition. Enemies within the aura must make a Will save each round or repeat their action from the previous round. Creatures that attacked on the previous round attack again on the following round, although they may change their target. Creatures that moved the previous round must take the same move action again, although they may change their route. Creatures that drank a potion must do so again, even they can only drink from an empty bottle. Actions that cannot be repeated are wasted.

   Chaos Domain:

  • Minor Power: Touch of Chaos.: You can imbue a target with chaos as a melee touch attack. For the next round, anytime the target rolls a d20, he must roll twice and take the less favorable result.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Elysium’s Call. The creatures touched can immediately reroll any failed saving throws against spells and spell-like abilities of the enchantment (charm) and enchantment (compulsion) subschools. In addition, targets receive a +2 sacred bonus on such saving throws and a +2 sacred bonus on CMB checks to escape a grapple. Finally, targets can ignore up to 5 feet of difficult terrain each round, as if they had the Nimble Moves feat. These bonuses last for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum 1), although the saving throw reroll only applies when the creature is touched.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Fury of the Abyss. As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement bonus equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum +1) on melee attacks, melee damage rolls, and combat maneuver checks for one round. During the round, you take a –2 penalty to AC.
  • Major Power: Chaos Blade. You can give a weapon touched the anarchic special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Chaos. You can radiate a 30-foot aura of chaos. All enemies within this aura must declare one type of action at the start of their turn (attack, cast a spell, move, use an item, or activate a special ability) and make a Will save. Creatures that fail the Will save must take an action other than their declared action. If they succeed, they must take the declared action. Creatures cannot select actions that they cannot perform.

   Charm Domain:

  • Minor Power: Dazing Touch. Your melee touch attack causes a living creature to become dazed for one round. Creatures with more Hit Dice than you have are unaffected.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Adoration. As an immediate action, you can attempt to thwart a melee or ranged attack that targets you. This ability functions as sanctuary, but only against one individual attack. You must use the ability after the attack is declared but before the roll is made. The creature attacking you receives a Will save to negate this effect. If a creature has more than one attack, this ability only affects one of the attacks. This is a mind-affecting effect.
  • Major Power: Charming Smile (Sp): Charm Person, with a save DC of 10 + 1/2 your cleric level + your Wisdom modifier, as a free action.
    • Alternate Major Power: Anything to Please. You can compel a creature within 30 feet to attempt to please you as a standard action. The creature receives a Will save to negate this affect. If the save fails, the creature attacks your enemies for one round, gives you its most valuable item, or drops prone at your feet and grovels for 1d4 rounds (GM’s choice). This is a mind-affecting effect.

   Community Domain:

  • Minor Power: Calming Touch. Your touch heals the target of 1d6 points of nonlethal damage + 1 point per cleric level (20 maximum). This touch also removes the fatigued, shaken, and sickened conditions, but has no effect on others.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Binding Ties. As a standard action, you can touch an ally and transfer one condition affecting that ally to yourself. This transfer lasts a number of rounds equal to your level, but you can end it as a free action on your turn. At the end of this effect, the condition reverts to the original creature, unless it has ended or is removed by another effect. While this power is in use, the target is immune to the transferred condition.
  • Major Power: Unity. Whenever a spell or effect targets you and one or more allies within 30 feet, you can use this ability to allow your allies to use your saving throw against the effect in place of their own. Each ally must decide individually before the rolls are made. Using this ability is an immediate action.
    • Alternate Major Power: Guarded Hearth. You can create a ward that protects a specified area. It has a maximum radius of five feet per two levels you possess. When the ward is completed, you designate any number of creatures inside its area. Should any other creature enter the warded area, all of the selected creatures are immediately alerted (and awoken if they were asleep). The designated creatures also receive a sacred bonus equal to your Wisdom modifier on all saving throws and attack rolls while inside the warded area. This ward immediately ends if you leave the area. The ward lasts for 1 hour per cleric level. You can use this ability once per day. (This is a fairly powerful effect, but reducing the uses to one per day allows the spell level to be drastically upgraded).

   Darkness Domain:

  • Special: Gain the Blind-Fight Feat (6 CP).
  • Minor Power: Touch of Darkness. As a melee touch attack, you can cause a creature’s vision to be fraught with shadows and darkness. The creature touched treats all other creatures as if they had concealment, suffering a 20% miss chance on all attack rolls. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to half your level (minimum 1).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Night Hunter. As long as you are in an area of dim light or darkness, you can become invisible (as per invisibility) to creatures without darkvision. This ability lasts for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum 1).
  • Major Power: Eyes of Darkness. Your vision is not impaired by lighting conditions, even in absolute darkness and magic darkness.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Forgetfulness. You may emit a 30- foot aura of forgetfulness. Creatures you target in this area must make a Will save or have no memory of any time spent inside the area. In addition, spellcasters in the area lose one prepared spell or available spell slot per round spent in the area, starting with 1st-level spells and going up through higher-level spells. Spellcasters are allowed a save each round to negate this loss (this save is separate from the memory loss save). These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

   The Darkness Domain is a bit problematic there: it’s spending more points than I wanted to! On the other hand, those Major Powers don’t look like anything above level three to me – which reduces the cost of those “Major” powers to (7 CP) instead of (9 CP). That’s not enough to make up for the (6 CP) cost of that extra feat – but it helps, and it does bring the domain back into the +/- 2 CP spread I wanted.

   Death Domain:

  • Minor Power: Bleeding Touch. As a melee touch attack, you can cause a living creature to take 1d6 points of damage per round. This effect persists for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum one, maximum ten) or until stopped with a DC 15 Heal check or any spell or effect that heals damage.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Death’s Kiss. You can cause a creature to take on some of the traits of the undead with a melee touch attack. Touched creatures are treated as undead for the purposes of effects that heal or cause damage based on positive and negative energy. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). It does not apply to the Turn Undead or Command Undead feats.
  • Major Power: Death’s Embrace. Negative energy heals you instead of harming you. If channeled negative energy targets undead, you heal hit points just like the undead in the area. (This is most easily handled as a long-term personal spell, probably of about level six and with an extended duration and resistance to being dispelled. Fortunately, simply reducing the number of uses will keep the cost correct.
    • Alternate Major Power: Killing Blow. Your weapons you use become infused with the power of death. Whenever you confirm a critical hit with a melee or ranged weapon, your attack deals an additional amount of bleed damage equal to half your cleric level. You can use this ability up to five times per day.

   Well, I may finish up the rest of the domains a little later on – but I suspect that the point is made; the various Pathfinder Domain Powers are generally about twenty points per domain, with a few running a point or two over – and so fall neatly within the forty-two points which are available to buy them with.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

   Oh yes, here’s the OGL on the Pathfinder SRD site I referenced

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Barbarian

   There have been a number of requests for a “Pathfinder Upgrade” to Eclipse.

   Well, while Pathfinder did make a fair number of changes to spell lists, skill lists, and various other items, most of that has nothing to do with Eclipse. Eclipse already allows the use of custom spell lists, variant skills, and so on. Eclipse is primarily concerned with building characters and races however – and Pathfinder did throw in some upgrades to the Core Classes there.

   Of course, the upcoming power creep was inherent in the prestige class system – and in the need to sell ever more expansion books – from the very start of d20. That’s one of the major reasons why I put the Fast Learner ability into Eclipse, and why it was not used in the sample builds which match the base classes. That left it available for upgrading those base class builds to match the later class and prestige class builds – which generally do use it.

   So, first up we’ll consider the Barbarian. How would you build a Pathfinder barbarian in Eclipse?

  1. Don’t buy those extra six skill points at level zero. That saves six character points with respect to a 3.5-style Barbarian build.
    1. Pathfinder settings do provide a +3 bonus on all trained skills – which also neatly cancels out the three skill points it takes to upgrade an otherwise-irrelevant skill (such as “Aerospace Piloting” for a medieval-setting monk) to a “class skill”.
  2. Buy Fast Learner, Specialized for double effect/only to buy abilities that can only be used while berserk – and buy it at level zero. That costs six character points and provides two bonus character points per additional level to buy “Rage” abilities with.
  3. Spend those points. Abilities which are only usable while Berserk will generally be Corrupted, since you can’t spend all that much time being berserk – which means that most of them will cost four character points or less. Funny, that’s just what Fast Learner will be providing every second level…
  4. Don’t take Illiteracy if you don’t feel like it. It’s only two character points either way – and Eclipse characters will usually have some spare points from disadvantages anyway. If you do feel like it, you can still have it though.
  5. Buy skills to suit the setting. Since Eclipse was designed to be compatible with any setting, it doesn’t specify a skill list anyway. If your game master wants to use the Pathfinder list, use that one. Same goes for using the classic 3.5 list, the d20 Modern list, or any other list.

   So, no; there’s no “Pathfinder Upgrade” required here. A barbarian-themed Eclipse character can precisely match a Pathfinder barbarian – or they can create their own “rage powers” or spend their points on an unlimited array of other abilities to suit their character conception. They’ll also be able to spend more time raging – but rage is, after all, their signature ability. Reducing the amount of time a Barbarian can spend raging, as Pathfinder did, does seem sort of counter-intuitive. Still, if you really must have an exact match, you could corrupt the Berserker ability to limit it to the Pathfinder allotment – but you’d only be saving a few points, and I’d recommend against it.

   Next up is to convert the various “Rage Powers in detail. That will take a little time, but it’s easy enough. Ideally, of course, all of them would come out to exactly four character points, but a few are a point or two over, and a few others are a point or two less. That’s fine, since it won’t make any real overall difference; nobody minds having a spare point or two left over – and if you need an extra point or two, then – as noted earlier – Eclipse characters normally have a few spare points to spend anyway.

   So here we have the basic Rage Powers list.

  • Animal Fury: You gain a bonus bite attack that inflicts (1d4+Str Mod/2) damage. Ok… This is a bit distasteful (do you really want most of the things a typical barbarian fights in your mouth?), but it’s easy enough to buy: that’s Opportunist (may make a bite attack as part of a full attack or when attempting to maintain or break free of a grapple), Specialized and Corrupted/attack involves biting things and getting them into your mouth, requires having your mouth uncovered, only works at very close range, is normally made at -5 as a secondary natural attack if part of a full attack option, and only gets half the user’s strength modifier to damage, only usable while raging (2 CP) plus Martial Arts/1d4 Natural Weapons with all the same modifiers (1 CP). At a total cost of 3 CP, this saves 1 CP to be spent on another Rage power. If you’re going to be going around biting things, I’d advise scrolling down to Swift Foot, below.
  • Clear Mind: Reroll a failed will save once per rage. Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable while raging, only to reroll failed will saves, only once per rage (4 CP).
  • Fearless Rage: Immunity to the Shaken and Frightened conditions (Uncommon, Minor, Major, Corrupted/only while raging) (2 CP). That has a net cost of only 2 CP, so there will be two points left over to put towards another rage power.
  • Guarded Stance: Defender/dodge bonus option, Corrupted/only while raging (4 CP).
  • Increased Damage Reduction: Damage Reduction. This is a bit harder, since Eclipse Damage Reduction has a sliding cost, depending on how much you buy – but getting from DR 5/- to DR 8/- has a base cost of 12 CP, 6 CP after specializing it for physical damage only, and only 4 CP after Corrupted/only while raging. In other words, unlike in Pathfinder, as an Eclipse ability you need only take this once – at a total cost of 4 CP – to get that total of +3/- Damage Reduction.
  • Internal Fortitude: Immune to the Sickened and Nauseated conditions. (Uncommon, Major, Major, Corrupted/only while raging) (4 CP).
  • Intimidating Glare: Reflex Training/the character may reduce the time required to use a skill by one standard action once per round, Specialized/only for use with Intimidate, Corrupted/only while raging (2 CP), with a +3 Skill Speciality in Combat Intimidation, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (+9)/only to increase the duration of the effect rather than also boosting it’s chance to succeed, only while raging, increased duration is rolled as (1d4-1) rounds (with an average of +1.5) rather than simply taking the usual +2) (1 CP). That has a net cost of only 3 CP, so there will be a point left over to put towards another rage power.
  • Knockback: Once per round the user may make a Bull Rush attempt in place of melee attack. That’s Opportunist, Corrupted/only usable while raging (4 CP).
  • Low-Light Vision: Occult Sense/Low-Light Vision, Corrupted/only while raging (4 CP).
  • Mighty Swing: Automatically confirms a critical hit once per rage. Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable while raging, only to confirm critical hits, only once per rage (4 CP).
  • Moment of Clarity: Ignore the action restrictions of being Berserk for one round. That’s the Controlled modifier on the Berserk, Specialized and Corrupted /only usable once per rage, only lasts for one round, 2 CP) plus Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable while raging, only to invoke the Controlled modifier, only once per rage (3 CP). Oops. That one comes out to 5 CP rather than 4 CP. A character taking this one will either have to spend an extra CP or take one of the powers that came out to less than 4 CP.
  • Night Vision: Gain Darkvision. Occult Sense/Darkvision, Corrupted/only while raging (4 CP).
  • No Escape: Move at double speed as an Immediate Action to pursue a retreating foe. Reflex Training/three extra actions per day variant,
  • Powerful Blow: Adds (1+Level/4) damage to a blow – if it hits. Difficult, simply because it’s so feeble an ability that it’s hard to restrict something that far… so lets improve it a bit; Augment Attack/+6 Damage when Raging, Specialized/may only be invoked, in advance of the roll to hit, and only once per rage (3 CP). That will leave a point left over to put towards another rage power – or it could be upgraded to +9 damage, and a total cost of 4 CP.
  • Quick Reflexes: You gain +1 Attack of Opportunity per Round. Reflex Training for Attacks of Opportunity, Specialized/only grants one extra AoO per round, Corrupted/only while raging (2 CP). That will leave two points left over to put towards another rage power.
  • Raging (Physical Skill): Adds a +(Level) enhancement bonus to a particular physical skill while raging. Now, there are a LOT of ways to get check bonuses in Eclipse, so lets look at a couple of them:
    • First. try Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only usable for physical skill checks, user may only take [1d20+Level] instead of [40], only usable while raging (6 CP). Now, that IS 2 CP more expensive than the usual rage power – but it covers all three physical skills. It won’t cover bounding around throughout a rage though, at least without more bonus uses.
    • A few points of Innate Enchantment will also do it nicely; a +10 bonus (increasing to +20 at caster level six and +30 at caster level nine and up) to a simple physical skill is a first level effect. Ergo, Innate Enchantment/5000 GP Effective Value, all effects spell level one, caster level one, unlimited-use use-activated, personal only. That’s 1400 GP equivalent for those first level effects – so +10 to any three simple physical skills (climb, swim, etc) would be 4200 GP effective value. Corrupted/only works while Raging and Specialized/only provides bonuses of +(level) would be 2 CP. Unfortunately, we’ll also need an Immunity to the XP cost of Innate Enchantments. That’s Immunity (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover physical enhancement effects (1 CP). Now, to make sure that those bonuses get above +10 when the time comes, we’ll want to boost the effective caster level – and for that we can use Empowerment, limited to physical skill enhancing innate enchantments for unlimited use, Specialized in these three effects and Corrupted/only while raging (+2 CP). That’s a net cost of 5 CP, but covers three physical skills instead of only one. That’s more effective than the Luck-based approach, but could also be briefly disrupted by Dispel Magic.
    • There are lots of other ways to go about it; those are just the first that came to mind.
  • Renewed Vigor: Heals up to 5d8+Con Mod hit points once per day as a standard action. Take Grant of Aid, Specialized in Hit Points Only, Corrupted/requires a standard action instead of just happening, only available when raging (2 CP). Go ahead and spend the remaining 2 CP on another rage power.
  • Rolling Dodge: Gain a dodge bonus to AC. Defender/dodge bonus option, Corrupted/only while raging (4 CP).
  • Roused Anger: You may ignore Fatigue for a time. Immunity/Fatigue (Common, Minor, Minor, Corrupted/only while about to fly into a rage or while raging (3 CP).
  • Scent: Gain the Scent ability while raging. Occult Sense/Scent, Corrupted/usable only while raging (4 CP).
  • Strength Surge: Adds the user’s level to one strength check, combat maneuver check, or to his or her combat maneuver defense once per rage. Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost/only usable for attacks and combat maneuvers, user may only take [1d20+Level] instead of [40], only usable while raging. Double specialization requires special permission from the game master – but in this case it seems appropriate to allow it; “only usable once per rage” is a definite limitation on this, and reduces the cost to a total of (4 CP).
  • Superstition: Gain up to a +7 morale bonus on saving throws made to resist spells, supernatural abilities, and spell-like abilities. Immunity/magical powers (Very Common, Severe, Specialized for Double Effect AND for half cost and Corrupted/while raging, the barbarian cannot be a willing target of any spell and must make saving throws to resist all spells, even those cast by allies, the bonus counts as a morale bonus instead of being typeless, only becomes gradually available (the total is +2 + Level/4 at any given time), only while raging (6 CP). This is another slightly over-expensive power, and another one that calls for special game master permission to double-specialize – but it is offering a great deal of protection from an incredible range of special abilities. That’s fair enough.
  • Surprise Accuracy: gain a +1 +Level/4 bonus to one attack roll once per rage. Another rather minor effect. In this case I’ll upgrade it a bit – to an automatic hit, Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/only for “taking 20” on attack rolls, only once per rage, Corrupted/only available while raging (4 CP).
  • Swift Foot: +5′ Speed, may be taken up to three times. Improved Celerity, Specialized for Half Benefit (+5′ rather than +10′), Corrupted/only usable while raging (1 CP per level). Take this as much as you want. At 1 CP/level, it’s cheap enough to let you move really really fast while you’re in a rage if you like.
  • Terrifying Howl: The user may attempt to Panic (for 1d4+1 rounds) all Shaken enemies within 30 Feet. This allows a Will Save (DC equal to 10 + 1/2 the barbarian’s level + the barbarian’s Strength modifier) and only gets a chance to work on any given enemy once per day. That’s Presence (Fear) with an Immunity to the usual range restriction (Common, Minor, Minor, to get +20 feet), both Specialized/requires a standard action to use and Corrupted/only works while raging (4 CP).
  • Unexpected Strike: The barbarian can make an attack of opportunity against a foe that moves into any square threatened by the barbarian, regardless of whether or not that movement would normally provoke an attack of opportunity. That’s Opportunist, Specialized/only usable once per rage (2 CP).

   Now, a variety of additional rage powers from later books have been released into the Pathfinder SRD; I may convert those next – but none of them really look to be any harder to do.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

   On a personal note, I find it rather gratifying to see that Eclipse can still handle, and even expand on, material that wasn’t published for years after it came out.

   Oh yes, since the rage power conversions are from Pathfinders rage powers, as presented in their SRD, here’s the OGL on the Pathfinder SRD site I referenced.

RPG Design – Overkill Penalties

   Despite the “min-maxers”, the “munchkins”, the “optimizers”, and the “power-gamers” (all good in moderation actually, but some players just don’t know when to stop), bigger is not always better – and even if it is, there are always things bigger than you. It’s a very large universe. Overkill is not always a good thing, In fact, it can be just as far from optimum as an insufficient effort.

   One of the classic examples was the priceless enchanted crystal goblet hidden in a locked chest. If you ignored the chest or failed to open it, you missed the prize. If you smashed the chest open, your prize would be reduced to valueless fragments. The proper application of force – a lockpick in the hands of a skilled thief – was the way to go.

   In Shadowrun, I usually ran the corporations under a doctrine of limited response. After all, most of the fights occurred in corporate facilities – places stuffed full of expensive data and equipment, and where the defenses had to allow for the constant presence of valuable personnel. The defenders didn’t want to wreck the place. If some intruders showed up carrying knockout dart pistols and flash grenades and dressed in short-sleeve shirts, security was likely to respond with guys in light protective uniforms with pistols and stun grenades. It kept the damage and risks to a minimum, cut down on paying out death benefits, and let them try to interrogate prisoners. The intruders had rifles? Security responded with standard kevlar body armor and light automatic weapons.

   If a bunch of intruders were wearing heavy combat armor and carrying assault cannons, it was pretty obvious that the facility was going to be severely damaged anyway – so it was time to call in some heavy military vehicles.

   That doctrine tended to minimize damages, casualties, and expenses all around. You could always escalate, but de-escalation was a lot harder.

   Once the players realized that they could limit the firepower coming their way, they began making an effort to look harmless, to use the minimum possible force – and to be as subtle as possible. The ideal mission went from one with no surviving witnesses to one where no one outside the group and their patron was ever aware that a run had taken place.

   In most current game systems, bigger is almost always better, at least by default. Immensely powerful weapons are unleashed with no regard for the consequences or side effects – and no one worries about where the misses hit. Vastly powerful psionic disciplines are employed and horrendous spells are cast – and the mechanics suggest that there are no side effects and no waste energies.

   One simple world law is needed – “Not only do actions have consequences, but overkill actions will often have extremely undesirable  consequences“.

   For example, take d20 and Diplomacy. Some characters will stack their diplomacy skill to absurd heights, and then try to hammer every NPC they come across into doing whatever they want with their incredible diplomacy checks.

   Under that world law, stacking on the bonuses to achieve a diplomacy check of 55 when attempting to get a guy at a bar to buy you a free drink is going to backlash. Maybe the guy will become an obsessive stalker (and immune to further attempts at diplomacy). Maybe your astounding skill will be noted, and the king will have you sent on a very boring three-month negotiation, with heavy penalties for failure or being disruptive, while the rest of your friends are off on another exciting adventure. Maybe Delgaroth the Demon Negotiator decides that you are a threat – or someone it wishes to bind to its service.

   Hitting someone in combat so hard that they explode into a fine mist may get you a reputation as a demonic madman or attract some horror that considers you a rival or a threat. Traveling by Gate for a short trip where horses would do just fine may turn loose some terrible annoyance. Using vast powers without dire need is not a good idea when that particular world law is in play.

   But characters who exercise moderation in their builds and activities should have no trouble at all.

RPG Design – The Common Humanity

   This question was directed towards the Village Heroes series – but it deserves a more general answer.

“Why are all of these characters human?”

   Well…

   The vast majority of RPG’s focus on humans – and most of the ones that don’t actually focus on humans focus on almost-humans with a few quirks or on humans with some common bit of fantasy layered on. There are very, very, few that focus on creatures that actually behave in inhuman ways and have genuinely alien cultures or technologies.

   Why is that?

   For the most part, it’s simple pragmatism. At least so far, the game designers and players are all human, and the vast majority come from industrialized, westernized, cultures. Humans are easy to relate to, their cultures don’t require a lot of explanation, and you can describe their reactions without tripping yourself up too often. If you need to check on their reaction time, average family size or some other detail, pick out some deities or cultural features, produce an old myth of theirs, or need some other odd factoid, there are entire libraries of information available.

   Ergo, even if a game features other races, they almost always wind being portrayed as funny-looking humans with a few game-mechanical modifiers. They may be labeled elves, dwarves, or vulcans, or they may look like anthropomorphic deer – but as soon as you note that the locals are honorable, get thus-and-such a package of modifiers, and describe a vaguely samurai-styled culture, the players will all be on familiar ground, and the katanas will be flashing soon enough. For game purposes, that’s a good thing. Spending three sessions explaining your world simply doesn’t go over well.

   Trying to create a genuinely non-human race and culture is a tremendous amount of work – and it’s awfully easy to trip yourself up. Even if you manage to get it all right on the fly when you’re called on for details on the spur of the moment, the player’s will never be able to remember all the details and keep it consistent. Even if they all start out as brilliant logicians with photographic memories, eventually the caffeine, sugar, and energy run down, people get fuzzy, and mistakes happen.

   It’s easy to gloss it over when someone forgets their manners, or there’s an anachronism, or some such. It is, after all, a fictional universe and player characters are almost always eccentric – and usually enough to drive anyone a little crazy. The players are used to being human, and will rarely really foul up a human or near-human role.

   Forgetting that your alien species dissolves in water and having a fight scene in a raging storm by the sea is going to be harder to cover up – especially when no one remembers that detail until after twenty minutes of action in that setting and they’ve used the water to short out the enemies electrical equipment. Suspension of disbelief goes right out the window when you abruptly find that the centaur archer has spent the last half an hour of the battle sniping at the pirates from the crows nest. All that takes is a few moments of distraction and a player who isn’t too familiar with the details of ships.

“What’s the highest place I can reach?”

“The Crow’s Nest.”

“All right, I’ll start sniping from there.”

   Creating non-human races and exotic cultures can be great fun. For a deep-immersion game it can be immensely rewarding. For most other games, even if it isn’t at all what you intended, most of the exotic races are going to wind up being played as humans in funny hats.

   But wait! There are entire, popular, games that revolve around non-human character types! Just look at most of the White Wolf lines!

   Well… no, they don’t. Those characters are all pretty throughly human. That werewolf is tough, strong, and regenerative. He or she can shapeshift, probably commands a few magical tricks, and may even have a few exotic motivations – if, and only if, the players are paying any attention to such notions.

   A mid-level 3.5 “human” Druid does all that and more, has experienced many different sets of animal instincts, and will often act a lot LESS like a normal human. When Werewolves get set on fire they try to put it out; they don’t calmly decide whether or not they have something better to do this round, or go for a casual stroll through a burning house because it’s “only normal fire” and only does 1d6 damage per round. Ignore six threatening opponents? Your druid very well may. Werewolves hardly ever do. Fly into an insane berserker rage? Pretty common with some players – while others will stay cool and calculating while a demon lord of hell is tossing their children into the depths of the abyss child by screaming and pleading child. Exotic motivations? Have you ever listened to players explaining why they had their characters do various things? Now THERE we have exotic motivations.

   If you want a solid basis for your fantasy world, don’t go for your idea for a centipede-octopus race with bizarre lifestyle. Don’t even go with turtles and elephants. When it comes to a solid base for fantasy, it’s humans all the way down.

Hedge Magic Heroes Part VI

   Here we have another sixteen sample Hedge Magic spells, including the six remaining sample second level spells for the hedge magic spell list and ten spells from levels zero to two designed for more technological realms. Notably, this section includes the Laborer’s Word, which is perhaps the pinnacle of hedge wizardry.

   Like all hedge magic, these spells have few direct combat applications – but can be quite useful in the hands of a clever caster.

   Unless Otherwise Noted:

  • Level: Two
  • Components: V, S
  • Casting Time: One Standard Action
  • Saving Throw: Will Negates
  • Spell Resistance: Yes (Harmless)

   Necromancy

   Render

  • Range: Touch, Target: Up to one large corpse or the equivalent, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Render instantly breaks down deceased animal tissue into neat little piles and puddles of fat and glycerin, clean bone and bone meal, cuts of meat, sinew, hide, and other meat by-products. If the caster possesses enough biochemical knowledge, he or she may also extract various hormones, toxins, and enzymes – although he or she will need a selection of suitable bottles and containers for all of the meat by-products to go in. While this saves no end of time and noisome labor for common folk, for adventurers, Render principally comes into play when they’re trying to collect pieces from some fantastic creature – or are trying to make something poisonous edible.

   Weedkill

  • Range: Medium, Area: Up to one acre, Duration: Special, Save: Reflex for no effect (yes, only mobile plants get to make saves).
  • Weedkill is pretty straightforward: it instantaneously does 1d4 points of damage to each weed in the affected area and prevents new weeds from sprouting, and any surviving weeds from growing or healing appreciably for the next month. The spell is effective on an assortment of blights, rusts, and fungi, as well as on more conventional weeds, but mobile plants often evade the effects. It works nicely on aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation as well; making it easy to clear overgrown shorelines and choked waterways. Indiscriminate use of this spell is likely to upset the local druids and nature spirits however.
  • Adventurer’s rarely find much use for weedkill – unless they need to get past a field of toxic plants, or clear an overgrown fortification for action in a hurry, or open a path through a field of tall grass full of raptors or some such.

   Transmutation

   Sow

  • Range: Medium, Area: One acre maximum, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Sow scatters – and tamps in if necessary – up to five hundred pounds of unresisting material over an area of up to one acre either evenly or in some simple pattern (such as even rows). Such material arrives with no particular force behind it, and in no particular orientation. It’s commonly used for sowing seed, spreading fertilizer or lime, and scattering straw or compost. Pranksters often use it to scatter mud or other minor debris over their targets. More militaristic applications are possible, but depend on having something appropriate ready to hand. If you just happen to have a huge stock of caltrops, or heated, flaming, oil, or green slime, or some such, you may be able to cause a great deal of havoc with a bit of simple hedge wizardry. Of course, that kind of thing rarely comes up without a good deal of careful planning and preparation.

   Thresh

  • Range: Close, Effect: Special, Duration: Time of Concentration.
  • Thresh converts a steady stream of rice, grain, corn on the cob, or similar foodstuffs into separate streams of prepared seed and husks. Similarly, fruit can be peeled, pitted, and cored, roots can be cleaned and pulped, and fish can be filleted. While the material to be so processed must be unresisting, and must all be processed in the same, simple, way, the spell allows such processing to be performed as quickly as (Wis) men could normally do it. Sadly, while Thresh is another enormously useful spell for the general population, adventurer’s rarely have too much use for it.

   Universal

   The Laborers’s Word

  • Range: Close, Effect: Special, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • The Laborer’s Word simply does work – equivalent to that performed by a healthy, well-equipped, laborer working with the caster’s skills for one hour plus one additional hour (to a maximum of eight) per three levels or part thereof. Sadly, the spell cannot work against resistance; living targets must willingly accept being brushed/cleaned/whatever. Similarly, it cannot overcome conditions which would balk a normal laborer, such as magical defenses, people holding doors shut or defending the barricade you want to tear down, and so on. Tools are unnecessary, but materials suitable for the task in question must be available if any are required; the spell can comb hair and straighten clothing on it’s own, but if you want it to darn socks, it will need a bit of yarn to work with. Outside of those limitations, the nature of the task does not matter; the spell will cook, clean, hammer out metalwork, dig out coal, or dig ditches just as well as the caster could – or better, if, say, the caster happens to be bedridden at the moment. Such work cannot be “dispelled”; it’s actually done. It can be undone through normal means however.
    • In many ways, The Laborer’s Word is the pinnacle of hedge wizardry; few other bits of hedge magic are so versatile. As such, it’s no surprise that it’s also one of the most useful hedge magic spells for adventurers. If you need the loose rubble piled up into a breastwork, a hole in the side of a ship patched before it sinks, boards nailed across the doors and windows of a besieged tower, or a meal cooked right now. The Laborer’s Word will handle it for you. Unfortunately, it can’t be put into most items very effectively; it uses the caster’s skills – and wands, rings, and other objects generally don’t have any at all. It can, however, be put into staves, since they use the wielders modifiers rather than their own.

   Turn Soil

  • Range: Medium, Area: up to two acres, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Turn Soil loosens, aerates, and turns the soil in an area as if it had been ploughed – readying the area for planting and cultivation in mere moments. The effect, while unspectacular, is pretty fundamental to civilization.
  • To adventurers it’s most notable that a freshly turned field is pretty well guaranteed to slow up anyone trying to move across it quickly – an effect which may buy a couple of rounds lead on some pursuer or a few extra rounds of missile fire before an enemy can close.

 

   For some technological hedge magic samples, we have…

   Level Zero:

   Implement (Conjuration)

  • Range: Touch, Effect: One simple tool, Duration: Ten minutes per level.
  • Implement produces a simple tool or item, such as a hammer, drill, crowbar, rope, or staff/lever. In general, it can handle any simple, mundane, inedible, implement worth 5 GP or less. Such items are fully functional, but are never masterwork and always appear a bit cartoonish.

   Jumpstart (Transmutation)

  • Range: Close, Target: One Machine, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Jumpstart bypasses up to three minute’s worth of the usual startup sequence for a device or vehicle – bringing most such instantly into operation.

   Powercell (Evocation)

  • Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Special.
  • Powercell can either instantaneously recharge up to one small chemical energy cell per level of the caster (it doesn’t matter if said power cell is supposed to be rechargeable or not) or it can directly power a device designed to operate on such power sources for one hour per level of the caster. While such power cells are insufficient to power effective energy weapons other than tasers, radios, lights, and laptop computers are all excellent targets for this spell.

   Level One:

   Generator (Evocation)

  • Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Special.
  • Generator can instantaneously recharge a set of powerful chemical batteries, storage systems, or fuel cells (car batteries, capacitance systems, and so on) or effectively replace a small generator for up to one hour per level of the caster. While this is generally still too limited a source to power effective energy weapons other than tasers and sensory-assault systems, most personal machines will operate quite well on such a power supply.

   Goldberg (Illusion)

  • Range: Touch, Target: One device, Duration: Special.
  • Goldberg allows the user to tinker up an improvised repair or component replacement on a device – whether that’s a spacecraft air recycler, a power generator, or a vehicle engine. Such improvisations are generally bulky, clumsy, and unreliable – but they will work to some extent if the user manages to make a successful skill roll. Such repairs normally last some 1D6 days, but rush jobs (such as getting the engine working before the plane crashes) reduces the duration to 2D6 minutes. Each time the duration on a “Goldberged” repair runs out, there is a 1 in 6 chance that further attempts will be ineffective. Eventually, you simply have to do it right.

   Power Tool (Enchantment)

  • Range: Touch, Target: One device, Duration: Ten minutes per level.
  • Power Tool allows any simple hand tool to operate as a power tool for the duration. A saw would be as effective (and quick and easy to use) as a chainsaw, a hand drill as a heavy power drill, and a sledgehammer as a jackhammer or mining machine.

   Level Two

   Fuel (Conjuration)

  • Range: Touch, Target: One appropriate container, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Fuel provides up to ten gallons of diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, oil, or some equivalent, per level of the caster. For good or ill, unlike “Create Water” and similar spells, Fuel requires an appropriate container. If you want the stuff spread around, or dumped into an existing fire, the caster will simply have to do it physically.

   Macgyver (Universal)

  • Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Special.
  • Macgyver is a blatantly silly spell that allows a tinkerer to ignore the practical details of some bit of gadgeteering. Applying it to devices that ought to work in theory allows them to work in practice – at least once. Sadly, this requires the player to provide a description of how the device is supposed to work and what the user is using for components. In general, the simpler and more reasonable the device (and the higher level the caster), the less detail will be required by the GM.

   Produce Kit (Conjuration)

  • Range: Touch, Effect: Produces one kit, Duration: One hour per level (D).
  • Produce Kit produces one ordinary toolkit with a value of 80 GP or less – such as an Artisans, Thieves, Climbers, Mechanics, Electronic Technicians, Disguise, Cooks, or Healers kit. While such kits will disappear again in a few hours, any minor supplies used from them – bandages, solder, makeup, and so on – is real and permanent.

   Technical Mastery (Transmutation)

  • Range: Touch, Target: One device, Duration: Instantaneous.
  • Technical Mastery repairs complex devices with a mere touch (despite rumors, having a technician enter the room is not quite sufficient). While it can’t perform truly major feats – replacing automobile engines or rebuilding a computer from a pile of scraps – it can fix minor component damage and losses, restore broken wiring, fix power supplies, and lubricate jammed parts. If a technician could normally take the item to his or her shop and expect to fix it without too much in the way of special-order parts, Technical Mastery will fix it instantly.

Latest Material Index

. It’s once again time to get the latest material index updated and to transfer the material from the old one to the main index tabs at the top of the page. If you want the very latest material, it may be necessary to either scroll down or consult the “Recent Posts” listing-widget on the lower right. The previous Latest Materials Index can be found HERE and – for those who like to rummage at random – the full post-by-post index can be found occupying a great deal of space in the lower right column.

. Eclipse Classless d20 Character Construction Cribsheet / Sample Character ListCharacter Creation PrimerCompiled Martial Arts.

. Subindexes: RPG Design – Twilight Isles – BattletechChampionsd20Legend of the Five RingsShadowrunWhite WolfOther GamesBattling Business World

Cumulative General Index.

. d20 Material:

. Star Wars d6 Material:

. Shadowrun / Earthdawn Material:

Godlike / Wild Talents Material:

 

. Player Blog Crosslinks:

Here we have a selection of links to some of the player blogs – and the materials they’ve come up with.

. Star Wars d6:

. Eclipse d20:

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part XI, Aftermath

   For the final entry in this series, we have the backstory and aftermath – both things which adventures are never really complete without. Here, also, are some Shadowrun statistics for the T’skrang and a few other details.

   Sirdis – now better known as Osiris, the keeper of the spirits of the dead – recalled the events six millennia past in the mage-academies of Thera. Even those events had built upon events that were older still…

   For several centuries when before and after magic was at it’s peak, the Horrors of the outer metaplanes could freely walk the earth. During that time, the peoples of the world had retreated into Kaers – magically warded shelters, most often hidden deep within the living earth – to evade the Scourge.

   Shortly before the end of the Scourge, the people of Thera, working upon their warded island and under the leadership of the elder Elves, had completed the construction of the Kaldon – a magical amplifier designed stabilize the cycles of magic – maintaining a level sufficient to support a glorious magical civilization, yet insufficient to allow the manifestation of any major Horrors.

   It had succeeded. When it was activated, the level of magic stabilized. A few of the lesser horrors yet remained upon the Earth – but they could be dealt with. That was what heroes were FOR. While many of Thera’s other plans were foiled, across the ensuing centuries, civilization grew and spread.

   Sidris, first an apprentice and later a senior mage of Thera, had grown up in that new world. As he grew older, he had studied the deeper mysteries – among them, the design and operation of the Kaldon. After all, it represented one of the greatest feats of magical engineering in history – and over some decades of study, he grew concerned. Now that the base level of magic should be in steep decline, his investigations at the borders of the metaplanes revealed subtle anomalies – observations that did not quite agree with the calculations and theories of the elders who had created the Kaldon centuries ago.

   He concluded that, when the base magic level grew too low, the Kaldon would start to draw life energy from the earth instead of drawing magic from the astral plane – a process that would kill everyone nearby and trigger a geological catastrophe that might well destroy Thera entirely. With that disaster, magic would abruptly cease to function across the world – a catastrophic loss, rather than a slow fading. Instead of a slow collapse, mitigated by adaption, the practice of lesser magics, and the construction of the metaplanar taps which could keep minor local magic functioning through the depths of the magic cycle, civilization would fall in fire and destruction.

   None would listen. Branded a senile madman, Sidris was banished from Thera.

   He sought another path. There had to be some way to preserve the lore of civilization and the magical species that – robbed of the chance to gradually breed back into their mundane baselines as the magic levels slowly fell – would become extinct when magic ceased to be. Some way to make sure that the next age of magic would be better prepared for the Horrors than even his own age had been. Some way to preserve the essence and spirit of the age.

   To preserve the spirit? To anchor a spirit to a talisman was forbidden; it polluted the astral plane almost as badly as the Horrors themselves and affected even the physical world – but a temporary refuge on the edge of the metaplanes, with a provision for return, might be possible. Resurrection normally required a ritual of the tenth circle – but if the power could be built up over millennia… That was not normally a goal – few wished to spend ages awaiting the possible remembrance of some future age – but it might be possible.

   Sidris sought out a small tribe dwelling along a river – one that would be glad to gain the assistance of an elder elven mage – and traded his magics for their services.

   He constructed a metaplanar tap (despite the popular belief that – since the magic would not fail – such a project was valueless, pointless, expensive, and dangerous) and erected a massive marker over it – a statue that would later come to be known as the Great Sphinx. Such artificial nexi could persist through a low-magic era – but couldn’t be made close enough together to sustain a magical civilization. There would not be enough power. Even now, compared to the ambient magic supplied by the Kaldon, the power of such a nexus was a weak and feeble thing.

   He channeled most of its power into supporting his creation of a pocket-realm on the borders of the metaplanes and a massive spirit-binding – together creating a sort of artificial afterlife from which spirits could be returned once magic rose again if what had gone wrong with their original physical bodies (such as a lack of sufficient magic) could be compensated for.

   The remaining magic he made available in very small amounts in the area around the physical anchor of his pocket-realm. If the Kaldon failed as he predicted, that trickle of power would serve to keep up the memory of magic, to power some small rituals, and to allow additional spirits to be transferred to his pocket realm. When magic rose again, the spirits of the dead who’d been ritually sent to his artificial realm could be recalled, and civilization could pick up again where it had left off.

   Of course, if the magic did not fail, it was quite unlikely that anyone would ever notice his efforts or the pocket realm…

   As the time of his predicted catastrophe approached, he gathered a number of sages, powerful magicians, and magical creatures, to the area. Most were willing enough to pay him a visit. After all, if Sidris was right, they would be saved – and if he was wrong, it cost them very little to drop by for a few weeks.

   Sidris was right. In an instant magic failed across the world. Skyships fell, magically-supported structures twisted and collapsed, transformed into ruins in mere moments. The creatures of magic died, the spells which underlay the fabric of society failed, and the lights of civilization went out in a wave of darkness that would not recede for five thousand years.

   And the spirits of a thousands of magical creatures whom he had gathered near the Sphinx, including a dozen small tribes of namegivers and many humans and elders (including himself) who’s lives had relied on magic, passed into his pocket-realm – and were there preserved.

   Of course, as usual, things happened that he had not predicted or intended.

   While he had originally been preserving the endangered races and the wisest sages, he had entrusted the rites that allowed the people remaining on Earth to consult the spirits in his pocket-realm – and which bound spirits into it – to the early priest-kings or “pharaohs” – and they soon started stuffing his pocket-realm with friends and relatives.

   Each such extraneous spirit had required a bit more of the power-capacity of Sidris’s metaplanar tap – the Eye of Rahn – to maintain. Thus, once his pocket-realm was stuffed to capacity, there was no more spare magic to send to earth, and the magic faded from Egypt. The rituals quit working – and, like anything else that quit working, were soon warped and forgotten. No one consulted the elder sages any more because – even if you could find enough power to reach them – none of the magic they could talk about worked. The ancient secrets were forgotten.

   Sidris might have failed – leaving his pocket-realm of souls as no more than a snack to be devoured along the way when the magic levels rose and the Horrors once more began to move towards Earth – but a young woman followed a trail of clues more than three thousand years old to find the Eye of Rahn and the Secrets of the Sphinx.

   Should she open the doors, and bring a mage to perform the true Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth of the Underworld, the power stored in Sidris’s ancient pocket realm will mostly be expended on restoring it’s occupants, and the pocket dimension will collapse. The sages and races of the prior age will rise, the remaining energies of the pocket realm will spread out across Egypt (fueling a new wave of goblinization into types currently unheard-of), the power of the Eye of Rahn will create a local high-magic zone around Gaza (at least until the general magic level exceeds it’s levels everywhere, which will happen in another few centuries), and the ancient pharonic enchantments will awaken once again.

   Many of the sages, of course, were later regarded as godlings, so – in a way – the Egyptian Gods will once more walk the earth, bearing all their ancient magical knowledge.

   And an old man’s plan to preserve his world for the future would come to fruition.

   Yseult spent some months getting her cyberform adjusted to suit her new species – T’skrang:

  • Basic T’skrang: Str +0, Qui +1, Bod +1, Int +0, Wil +0, Chr +1, gains Tail Attack.
  • Winged T’skrang: Str +0, Qui +1, Bod -1, Int +1, Wil +0, Chr +1, gains Tail Attack and Limited Levitation (enough to cushion falls and allow limited flight with wings). Earthdawn purists should note that the fully-winged T’skrang appeared roughly a thousand years down the timeline from the original Earthdawn setting.

   She had it rebuilt to match what the biologists and magicians said she SHOULD look like now. It felt a lot more comfortable somehow – and it wasn’t any more outre than a lot of the other people out on the streets these days.

   It did pretty much put an end to easy disguises – but being involved in the discovery of the Eye of Ra had made her famous enough to pretty well put an end to that anyway.

   She did finish tracing Hitoshi though… The Kaer had been far too old, and somewhat too far away, to have any involvement in Sidris’s project – but it would have had information on the creation of a metaplanar tap, and that was missing from it’s library.

   To avoid unwanted attention, he’d want somewhere EXTREMELY isolated – and where any newly-awakened creatures could not escape to the outside world.

  • Out in the pacific, an island would keep any affected animals from wandering off.
  • Knowing Hitoshi, he’d want at least a few people around to cook and clean and such – but he’d want little contact with the outside world.
  • He’d want easy access to a source of magical materials – probably an uninhabited, or uninhabited until recently, island near his base.

   That didn’t really leave many possibilities. Only the very smallest islands didn’t have many people, and most of the archipelagos were actually crowded enough to allow a lot of visiting.

   In fact, a little datamining narrowed it down to five major possibilities.

   It took some long-range flying – but working down the list eventually led her to Pitcairn’s Island, where Hitoshi was currently having problems with some of the things his tinkering had turned loose.

   She had to import a fair amount of firepower to deal with THAT – but it really wasn’t a very complicated problem.

   It took quite some time before everything was ready in Egypt – but once so many people were aware that the powers of the ancient world might be restored, the enactment of the ritual was inevitable.

   The power of the collapsing pocket-realm funneled through the Great Sphinx – incidently restoring it to it’s ancient glory – and radiated out across Egypt, a rippling rainbow wave of astral energy. Ancient monuments that had incorporated binding spells into their construction rose again. A tidal wave of greenery spread across barren deserts and hills in the wake of the wave of magic. With that wave of magic, the Obsidimen, T’skrang, Windlings, and many other magic-dependent species returned – as did a great many ancient pharaohs and pharaonic relatives.

   For good or ill, most of the pharaohs and their relatives could be saved – at least for a time – by modern technology and magics; many of the problems that had been a death sentence in 2000 BC without magic were fairly readily handleable in the twenty-first century with it.

   It wasn’t all that long before Sidris – now greatly honored – passed on in peace at last; modern medicine could do little more than magic against extreme old age – and he had been a very old elf five thousand years before.

   With her final case complete, Yseult settled down to her new (and well-paid) job – interface with the modern world for a series of ancient tribes who were wholly unfamiliar with non-magical technology, custodian of ancient magical secrets, celebrity, and researcher into methods of defending the world against the Horrors. This time around, civilization would not fall if she could help it – even if there were many centuries in which to prepare.

   Although she did maintain her hobby of information brokering.

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part X

   Confronted by an elder mage of the previous Age of Magic, Yseult hesitated, thoughts tumbling. So MANY secrets here… A story that might take weeks to tell.

   Still, they only had an hour or so if the deadline they’d been given – sunset – was at all accurate. It would be best to leave a safety margin in any case.

   She’d settle for the vital details first.

(Yseult) “What is it that you need to be done exactly?”

(Sidris) “Now that magic has once more risen, we need a mage who still lives – and, preferably, a powerful one – to come here and perform the Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth. The gates of this realm will open, the pent-up magic accumulated in it will be unleased across the two lands, and those who have been gathered here, into this realm, across the centuries will be restored to life – bringing with them the lore of the prior age. This time there will be all the knowledge we gathered in the last attacks and thousands of years of warning to prepare for the Onslaught of the Scourge.”

   Yseult spent a few minutes considering who might work…

   Nassor was pretty torn… That would be a legendary act of magic, and would reveal secrets that have been lost for five thousand years – and he didn’t like the implications of “the Onslaught of the Scourge” – but it would be taking enormous responsibility upon themselves, and the implications for the entire world were completely unknown.

(Yseult) “There are dragons that have reawakened. Would one of them be ideal if possible? Or should it be a more mortal person?”

(Sidris) “A dragon could certainly do it. The youngster holding the portal at the moment is too inexperienced – although his magical education appears to be surprisingly good, especially for so early in the rise of magic. I do not yet have a direct evaluation of your companion’s (he indicated Nassor) skill”.

   Yseult had few doubts. The secrets there… Leaving them buried in the past would be unbearable. She had devoted her life to uncovering secrets!

(Yseult) “I will attempt to find someone suitable. In the mean time is there any information that I might be able to use to entice them – or to give them some reassurance that such a project will not end in disaster?”

   Sidris (perhaps the “Osiris” of later myth?) seemed surprised at that. While he could easily teach the ceremony – although his lack of a physical body prevented him from performing it effectively – the entire point of his project had been to preserve civilization (at least in his mind, synonymous with “magic”) through the ages of darkness. He found it hard to imagine how the return of the lost races and knowledge could possibly be considered a bad thing.

   Yseult looked at the others. At least they were natives of Egypt…

(Yseult) “What do you all think?”

   Nassor was fascinated, but also nervous. The Tour Guide wanted to see it. The Digger was wanting to know what time it was – and maybe consult some experts and authorities and come back later. Hadn’t there been something about only staying so long?

   Yseult had to agree with that. They needed to get going.

(Yseult) “We need to get going – but I shall attempt to find someone appropriate for the task. I would like to be able to talk with you or someone else for a while later, it should be quite fascinating. Perhaps, after the ceremony.”

(Sidris) “There is enough magic abroad now that I can be contacted with the basic opening ritual anywhere within a considerable radius of the zone of correspondence – essentially anywhere near the Sphinx.”

   Yseult thanked him – and they headed for the doors. After all, they had no idea what getting trapped inside would mean – but myths about being trapped in the underworld rarely had entirely happy endings.

   As they emerged, Nassor’s Apprentice (or whoever was working through him) glanced their way and asked “Shall I again open the outer doors?”

   Presumably that meant the steps. That would be convenient, but rather obvious. Still, it would get them to someone with authority a good deal more quickly.

(Yseult) “If you think you can handle it.”

   The young man simply pointed – and the stone shifted and reformed into broad, even steps up before he collapsed.

   Probably magical exhaustion. It was hard to blame him for that. Yseult picked him up and walked on out…

   There was an audience of course. Gaza was a major tourist area, and the cloud of dust as the sand opened up and the stair case rebuilt itself had drawn a fair amount of notice – and the police were already on their way. After all, there were a lot of official guides and such around, and part of the job was antiquities protection.

   Yseult nodded to the guides.

(Yseult) “This is now officially a new discovery and the credit belongs to the gentlemen that are with me. I suggest going about your buisness until the appropriate parties can be contacted.”

   There was much checking of identities, and permits, and other information. On a less formal level, there was a certain amount of panic amongst the locals and tourists over “mummies”, given that most archeological digs started from the top down, instead of erupting out of ancient crypts.

   Yseult had to grin and chuckle at the “mummy” comments, thinking about Sidris and his bandages…

   She quietly got in touch with Dunkelzahn – or at least with a good simulation or a fraction of his attention – once she had a few minutes alone.

   He was actually quite surprised; he’d heard of Sidris towards the end of the last age – but he’d been an old elf then, and subject to several medical problems. Given that that had been better than five and a half thousand years ago, the fact that he was not only still around somehow but had apparently remained awake throughout the entire low-magic period was quite impressive – and what he’d been up to was even more so.

   He probably would have known about it, but most of it had apparently occurred after he’d settled in to sleep; he’d suspected that the Kaldon wouldn’t work in the no-magic period, and so he’d made his usual preparations – which had rather precluded monitoring the rest of the world as well as he usually would.

   Dunkelzahn was even willing to fill in a few bits, since she could probably get the information anyway – and that allowed her to put together a pretty good outline.

   Roughly eight thousand years ago, a realm called “Thera” had constructed a magical amplifier – a massive system designed to keep the magic level stable. About six thousand years ago, Sidris had concluded that the magic amplifier system would, when magic levels got too low, start to feed on life energy from the earth instead drawing on the astral plane. That would kill everyone nearby and trigger a geological catastrophe.

   Unable to convince the other Therans of this, he’d left to try and find another way to preserve magical civilization.

   While artificial metaplanar nexi could be made to persist through a low-magic period, they were unstable if they were too close together – and so they couldn’t be spaced closely enough to sustain a magical civilization. There wouldn’t be enough power. Ergo, Sidris must have created one, made magic – in very small amounts – available in the area around it just to keep up the memory and some small rituals, and channeled most of it into a giant spirit-binding – a sort of artificial afterlife from which spirits could be returned later, when the magic level rose again.

   Presumably he’d wanted to preserve the endangered races and wisest magician-sages, From what little he’d told Yseult, however, he’d entrusted the rituals to the early pharaohs – and they’d soon started stuffing the place with friends and relatives.

   So; if the Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth of the underworld was performed at the Eye, the elder sages would rise, the pocket dimension would collapse, and the stored-up power of the Eye of Ra would be unleashed to transform Egypt and power all the ancient pharonic enchantments. Many of the sages, of course, would have been seen as godlings later, so – in a way – the ancient egyptian gods would once more walk the earth, with all their ancient magical knowledge.

   That was fascinating, and Dunkelzahn was all for it – but he was not quite sure what humanity would think of it or if a period of preparation was in order. After all, the dead had waited for nearly six thousand years, they could presumably wait a little longer.

   Sadly, however, Yseult was losing her train of thought; she was no longer in contact with her chair – or at least there wasn’t any pressure on the relevant sensors.

   She was… floating? An inch or so up? Some draconic prank? But she was feeling some very odd pains as well – and it would be quite a prank to come over her satellite hookup.

   She ran a systems check.

   Hmm… Neural transfer speed up, some neural changes, two new internal organs, substantial changes in her kidney and stomach function, somewhat more fragile internal arrangements, and the internal pain was due to the need to readjust her cyberframe.

   She contemplated that for a few moments and then mentioned it to Dunkelzahn.

(Dunkelzahn) “Well you have been exposed to a lot of magic recently! It would probably be a lot more dramatic if you weren’t all encased in cyberware!”

(Yseult, a latent Metahuman) “Hmm… I wonder what has awakened then. I hope it wont take too long this pain is getting worse.”

(Dunkelzahn) “Well, you might want to get that adjusted. There weren’t many natural flying species. Probably the T’skrang. I thought they’d gone extinct though… There must have been a few near power nexi available after all. I wouldn’t have thought any T’skrang manifestations would occur yet; it must have been the Eye of Ra.”

   Yseult sighed, stretched, and quietly pulled up the contact information for her cyberframe manufacturer so that it would be ready when she’d finished her conversation with Dunkelzahn. (Yseult) “Well, I think a period of adjustment should be arranged and to try to let most of the sentient beings on the planet know what changes may be coming here.”

   They’d have to go public before letting the enclave occupants out anyway. Too much panic would ensue otherwise. Of course, if they did go public, their eventual release would become near-inevitable. Sooner or later, even if most of the world voted against letting them out, SOMEONE would find a way to do it.

(Yseult, to Dunkelzahn) “Who all in this world do you think would actually be qualified to have a say on if this should happen? I think it would be prudent to ask them and then organize a press release to inform the world about what is about to happen – or even to make a big deal out of the ceremony. I am normally in favor of secrecy but how would we hide THAT many dead people coming back to life?”

(Dunkelzahn) “And all dead for millennia – and some of great magical power. As for a say… Perhaps the people of Egypt. Those are their ancestors and gods, and it is their heritage.”

(Yseult) “What of the magical aspect? Who would be qualified to speak on that end? Though I am assuming that would be a “yes” on most accounts.”

(Dunkelzahn) “If necessary, I would do it. I will not deny a heritage and a hope that has survived for six millennia, and neither would I abandon several races to extinction due to ancient follies in which they had no say. I recall the ancient duties, even if many of my kind do not.”

(Yseult) “Should we first contact the Egyptian government then?”

(Dunkelzahn) “I believe so. Besides; you will need to discuss your finder’s fee with them, will you not?”

(Yseult) “I suppose that is true though the finders fee on something like this would probably be well above their pockets given the wealth of knowledge that they are likely to gain.”

(Dunkelzahn) “I suspect that you will share in it; after all, you still have the ritual to contact Sidris do you not? And an enchantment that allows your recall from death – at least if death occurs within a certain range of your anchor – would seem well worthwhile.”

(Yseult) “I don’t know if I wish to be able to come back from the dead. It seems a little ostentatious to me. But I will likely share in the knowledge.”

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part IX

   Communications with the Set-figure simply didn’t seem practical; there was just too much difference in the time rates – and there really wasn’t any way for them to slow down to match (despite her momentary fantasy of downclocking her cyberware and headware memory, there really wasn’t any safe way to slow down her brain and metabolism).

   Still, “Apep” shouldn’t be able to remanifest for another three days (at a minimum), and it wasn’t like anything was likely to disturb them down here.

   Perhaps the statues? They were movable. It would be a lot of work for a normal human, but it was well within her strength – well, OK, what with the cyberlimb damage, barely within her strength, but still possible.

(Yseult) “What do you think might happen if we were to move the statues to the other room that matches this one and arrange them in the same way or as similarly as possible? The two locations have to be linked magically somehow. Do you think it might change anything?”

   Oddly enough, it was the tour guide who came up with an answer first.

(Guide) “They’d be hell to get out through the snake tunnels – and I don’t think that those were there when this place was in active use. The original architects would have had to drag them up the stairs, a mile to the other temple, and then lower them down a pit wouldn’t they? That seems pretty awkward.”

   Well, that was a fair enough point. The man had probably been fielding questions about ancient techniques for moving stones around for a decade.

(Guide) “Any idea what the niches and posts might be for? They’re fairly unique I think. At least I’ve never seen anything like them before.”

(Yseult) “Not off-hand. I did notice some paint, but that isn’t too unusual for a place like this. Though, if we could tell what the paintings were supposed to be of… Wait; if I presume the two circles were painted with the same symbols, I can overlay the remaining bits and see if that will get us enough to make out a few symbols.”

   That took some time, and running every kind of scan in every frequency range that the drones were capable of, but it gave them additional speckles – and two symbols that could actually be reconstructed out of the forty-eight.

   Old Kingdom hieroglyphics. One of them a symbol for “the path of shadows”, the other for something about the underworld.

   Yseult started running database searches again. What did they mean? What were they associated with? Were they found together anywhere else?

   The “Path of Shadows” was the western gate of Ra, where he descended into the underworld to arise reborn the next day. Horus too traveled that way, and emerged renewed, which – since the Pharaoh assumes the identity of Horus – could be taken for a metaphor for the Pharaonic succession.

   The underworld was, of course, the domain of Osiris, who accepted and sheltered the spirits of the dead, that they might be reborn with Ra after the defeat of Apep. In the old kingdoms, that privilege had usually been thought to be limited to the Pharaoh and his immediate family – the lesser dead simply passed on to eternity in the fields and realms of the gods – but the theological privilege had gradually been extended to the lower classes over the centuries, until it was believed that EVERYONE would rise again with Ra – but that was well after their period.

   Both symbols were mostly found in old prayers and rituals.

   Hm. The circumference of the pillars were all about the same, the heights of the flat spots varied – in a rough sine wave – with their angles, and the pattern matched between the two rooms, which pretty well ruled out it being an accident. There was no apparently physical reason for it though – which left ceremonial or ritual. Forty-eight pillars or niches, forty-eight flat spots.

   The floor was pretty well clean – and was basically just simple stone. The roof over the circle showed a stylized sun disk.

   No matches on the sigils on the doors. They might just be energy-traces, which were always fairly arbitrary and depended on the mage who’d created them. The relative position of the two Osiris statues hadn’t matched…

   Wait. There was something about those statues.

   Forty-eight symbols on each statue. Forty-eight flat spots. A “prayer” requesting direct divine intervention. Perhaps a summoning? Genuine ritual magic?

   Yseult started comparing symbols.

   The eighteenth symbol on the statue was the one for the “Path of Shadows” – and the thirty-fifth was the one for the underworld. And the interval between them was right too, counting clockwise around the circle. The time period, the style, and the remaining paint flecks fit as well.

   The orientation of the statues didn’t seem to correspond to anything though. Oh well. The first one was small, and the water might well have moved it anyway.

   They corrected the worn paint – albeit with easily-removable modern paint over a layer of spray-on preservative resin to keep the ancient flecks uncontaminated. Filling in with a bit of paint wouldn’t destroy any history, especially since they’d already recorded everything there was in detail anyway.

   Sadly, nothing dramatic happened as they filled in the final symbol – but they really hadn’t been expecting anything out of the trids. They didn’t get too far trying to get more information out of “Set” either – the contact was still far too slow – but he, she, or it definitely seemed to be paying attention, vaguely approving, and somewhat expectant.

   They took it as an indication that they were on the right track.

   So; they had a magic circle.

   Yseult pulled up her magic theory knowsoft program… A good thing she’d loaded so many of the things into backup storage. How people had ever gotten along before skillsofts she didn’t know. Maybe one of these days someone would put out a knowsoft on the question.

   So… Magic circles were basically made by laying out some symbols (which varied with the tradition of the mage) that represented the concepts of the spell or ritual to be performed in them, and were active when that spell or ritual was being performed within them. They resonated with the magic of the effect somehow, and helped it build up power.

   Ergo, they were most important when magic was weak.

   If the symbol-layout was a magic circle – and it certainly looked that way – then “casting” the prayer within it should activate it and power it up. Of course, modern magic circles were flat, and this one had some slanted symbols at varying heights – but it could just be a difference in style. It might even be some bit of ancient lore, after all, the last age of magic had been using the stuff for five thousand years and presumably knew a lot of tricks.

   Of course, she’d need a magician who knew the spell to cast it – but they had the spell, and she had two magicians, and it wasn’t all that long.

   They started working on a translation and analysis.

   That was a bit nerve-wracking. After all, it was an invocation asking for the direct intervention of Osiris, lord of the Underworld. Of course, the place had obviously been built to be used repeatedly, which kind of implied that there weren’t any suicidal consequences. If you wanted to kill yourself, there were surely easier ways.

   Besides, at this point, the unsatisfied curiosity would probably kill them.

   It was late afternoon – of the next day – before Nassor’s apprentice felt that he had mastered the basics of the ancient spell.

   The circle blazed into life – strangely. The spiraling arrangement of the symbols somehow caused the magic to flow in and out of the normal, three-dimensional universe – creating a bridge between astral space and a pocket dimension held at the edges of the metaplanes.

   There were many spectacular astral effects, to which – sadly – Yseult was mostly blind. Nassor’s apprentice abruptly seemed a bit older – and somehow more dignified.

(Apprentice, channeling a spirit) “I HEAR AND THE WAY IS OPENED. YOU MAY STEP BETWEEN THE WORLDS. DO NOT OVERSTAY YOUR TIME; THIS YOUNGSTER WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN THE GATE PAST THE SETTING OF THE SUN”

   Yseult wasn’t quite sure how it had happened – but the doors were open. A closer look revealed an odd double vision; a simple wall AND a grand staircase that descend into a large room – surely too large for an unsupported ceiling using nothing but simple stone – centered on a blazing sphere of energy. Which one existed seemed to depend on how you focused… Some sort of overlay? The room might not entirely exist in reality – which would neatly explain why instruments wouldn’t pick it up.

   She headed towards the gates, motioning to the others.

(Yseult) “You are welcome to come if you like – but it is not part of your obligations.”

   Nassor, the Guide, and the Digger wouldn’t miss this for all the world. Sulahafa preferred to send in a few drones… He never had trusted magic all that much. He volunteered to play rear guard – and to keep an eye on the apprentice and the door. That sort of thing was a job for a rigger anyway.

   Yseult couldn’t argue there. She smiled approvingly and stepped through the doors.

   The air was oddly thick and resistant – as if the stone was partially there and partially elsewhere – but they could walk down into the chamber slowly – even if the drones could not for some reason. The place was… spectacular. Covered with gold and orichalcum inlays, the central sphere of energy was surrounded by orbiting rings of symbols, intricate wall-murals, hieroglyphs, and painted pillars, carved stone and marble, elaborate candelabra, glittering masses of crystal (apparently more of that magic-channeling stuff) and more – enough to rival any cathedral or palace, and all illuminated by the radiance of he energy sphere.

(Guide, loudly) “The Eye of Ra!”

   He might be wrong, but he wasn’t going to pass up such a chance at a dramatic moment just for that.

   Yseult felt some odd pains… Something to do with her cyberware perhaps? This seemed to be a very magical area indeed – and the drones hadn’t been able to get in. Well, they weren’t too bad, and her systems didn’t seem to be malfunctioning any worse than before.

   She ignored it to look for further doors – and for anything else which might allow changes to be made, or the energy flow to be adjusted. It probably had something to do with those crystals – but Nassor would have to look at those. It wasn’t like the blasted things had any settings that a non-magician could even see.

   At the far end of the room – a surprisingly long walk – was an immense face carved into the wall – and there was someone else waiting to greet them. A rather old elf, with a lot of bandages wrapped around him… Injuries, or just the old “light pressure bandages on the varicose veins” trick? An elderly elf… five or six hundred years at least. Time enough for a LOT of wear and tear on a body.

   Yseult tried many different languages – starting with old Egyptian

(Yseult) “Greetings revered one”.

   It took some adapting of some of the oldest known dialects – Babylonian, Egyptian, and more than a bit of Sperethiel (huh; evidently it really WAS ancient) – but they cobbled something together in short order.

(Sirdis) “Greetings young woman – and welcome to the Sphere of Rahn. It has been a long time since any have called upon us, much less actually visited. I take it that magic has once again risen in the outside world?”

(Yseult, nodding) “I suppose I should also inform you that the dynasties of the Pharaohs have not survived to the current day. It has simply been too long – and their magical reserves apparently failed them entirely at some point centuries or millennia ago.”

(Sirdis) “A natural consequence I fear; the capacity of this pocket dimension was limited – and the later Pharaoh’s sent far too many spirits here. Each such spirit increased the demand for magic to sustain them – and the power of the Eye is limited. Thus each extraneous spirit meant less magic being returned to the physical world. Eventually, there was so little power available outside that the remaining magics faded and our advice became useless. We were consulted less and less, and we were eventually forgotten. A depressing flaw in an otherwise excellent plan.”

(Yseult, smiling) “Well, since magic has made a return is there anyone you would have visit? Or anything that might be done for you? Of course my interests lie in that of knowledge and secrets. That means that just finding this place is a blessing to me; there is so much that might be learned here…”

(Sirdis) “I am Sirdis – and there is indeed something that might be done. Magic has returned, and so it is time for this refuge to be opened once again, and for it’s inhabitants to return to the wider world.”

   Now THIS explanation she had to hear.

Yseult Shadowrun – The Great Doors

The Chamber of the Sphinx

      For a little more detail on Yseult’s current puzzle, here we have the layout of the Chamber of the Sphinx, from the great, mystical symbol-inscribed, doors on the left to the collapsed stairs to the right.

   Perhaps sadly, Yseult gained entry to this set of chambers through the tunnel left where “Apep” had passed through the lower annex (and left quite a trail burned into the floor). That’s really too bad, since once there was quite a collection of scrolls and tomes there, but the entire room was lightly spattered with Apep’s incredibly-corrosive acid, and even the stone door is half gone. A few scraps might eventually be salvaged, but it’s likely to take years if it’s even possible.

   The statues of Set (The Night Sky) and Ra (The Day) guard the mystical doors, while the circle of posts and niches contains the statues of Thoth (God of Wisdom and Records), Osiris (God of Ressurrection), Ptah (The Opener of the Ways), and Nepthys (The Guardian-Nurse of the Pharaoh), and the statues of Isis (Goddess of Magic) and Hathor (Goddess of Birth, she who welcomes the dead into the next life). Horus is – oddly enough – missing, but Horus was often identified with the Pharaoh in any case.

   The forty-eight niches and posts may not be quite accurately depicted; the dots are a bit oversized. There is plenty of room for a man to pass between them in the actual room, regardless of whether or not it looks that way on the diagram.

   The top (at least on the map) annex contains jars and boxes of food, drink, clothing, ornaments, and other minor necessities of life – apparently an offering to the powers of this place. For a pile of material that is presumably better than three thousand years old, it looks to be in pretty good shape. Of course, it’s always possible that the place was in use considerably more recently than that.

   At least according to the mapping drones, another of Apep’s tunnels approaches the chamber, but reaching it would still require digging through ten or twenty feet of solid rock. Hopefully no huge sliding blocks of stone will cut off Yseult’s current retreat.

 

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VIII

   Getting a rush job on cyberware repairs in Cairo wasn’t easy. Even the half-assed repairs Yseult eventually wound up with – most of which would have to be redone later to get her systems up to specifications – cost a bundle.

   But she wasn’t giving up now – and her improvised little team wasn’t going to give up after they’d defeated the guardian and were apparently closing in on some epic secret.

   By the time the groups various injuries had been treated, repairs had been made on her systems and everyone’s equipment, and a swarm of replacement drones had been ordered, Sulahafa had gotten the remaining mapping drones well into the zone the serpent-thing had been blocking access to.

   A good thing he still had a fair number of surveillance-crawlers and plenty of computer power left. Working their way in that far would have taken weeks without them; the tunnels there were a maze that kept twisting away from where they wanted to go. Evidently the snake had mostly avoided the center of the circle.

   Well, that made sense; if that was where something important was hidden, she wouldn’t have wanted a giant super-corrosive snake getting near it either.

   It took a lot of mapping and crawling – but eventually they found themselves beneath the Sphinx – and in front of a massive set of double doors at one end of a long chamber that was choked with sand at the other end – although there was something odd about the walls just before the sand took over; they were oddly carved and started to curve out, while a series of short pillars was sticking up out of the sand just before them, spaced out regularly in an arc across the hall. The doors were sealed with a classical pharonic curse-seal – and all the drones instruments said that they did not exist. Despite the glowing magical symbols on them, they didn’t radiate any magic either. The whole area seemed dead and empty to everything except their physical eyes.

(Yseult, quizzically) “Any idea what those symbols might be? Or – for that matter – what’s up with this ‘invisible to instruments’ routine?

(Nassor) “Well, it’s very, VERY, old anyway – and I think it’s some sort of channeling effect. It seems to be directing energy somewhere, which may be why it doesn’t show up as a magical hot-spot against the local background. Whatever makes it appear as simple rock to divination and instruments is another matter. It’s hard to believe that whoever made this predicted modern instruments and made an illusion to fool them. Perhaps it’s the doors that are an illusion? Or perhaps they’re real, but exist mostly or entirely somewhere else?”

   Yseult sighed. Asking had been a long shot, but she’d had hopes. She wasn’t about to try calling on an elder dragon or elf or someone who might actually know something about this ancient magic stuff; anyone like that would probably edge her out.

   Some obscure impulse – along with growing impatience and a momentary lapse of caution – led her to lay her hand against the door (albeit carefully NOT touching one of the glowing symbols). If she could feel it, but the drones had reported nothing but a smooth wall, something was REALLY up.

   It was. The ornate carvings of the door could be felt. But if the sensors in her cyberhand could pick it up… wait. She’d incorporated the limbs into her astral form, which was why they cost her “essence”. If it was an astral illusion, they’d pick it up – but no non-living system would. That fit.

   Then she got an overpowering feeling of being watched, and an image leaped into her head – a massive figure, made of dark stone yet somehow alive, wearing something rather like ancient egyptian dress, bearing a variety of symbols, and carrying a massive spear with a burning head. It seemed to be regarding her with… mild surprise?

   She shared that information – and her tour guide was prompt with an identification; Set, god of darkness and concealment, lord of the lands beyond egypt, master of the trackless desert, god of war and guardians.

   A literal god? Or some spirit that chose to represent itself as one? Or perhaps – given the age and power of this place – a primaeval entity that a myth had gathered around, like the grain of sand at the center of a pearl?

   She hesitated – for a moment it seemed almost a sacrilege to disturb a mystery that had lain hidden for three millennia – but then laid her palm against the wall. If whatever-it-was was alert enough to notice her small disturbance after so many centuries, there had to be a reason. Perhaps some sort of communication was possible if the entity wasn’t merely watching.

   Whatever it was, it was slow… Immensely patient, but stirring into action – she brushed away Nassor, who said she had been communing with the stone for several minutes just to get that far – and attempted to “listen” to the essence of the stone. She got the impression that some sort of summons was being sent, of long ages, of drifting sand and forgetfulness – and of the Osiris statue? Should she fetch it or have it moved somewhere? There was no apparent way to be sure.

   With Yseult still lost in the contemplation of the wall, Nassor had shrugged – and started poking about and removing loose sand (which presumably meant that there was a passage to the surface around somewhere) and examining the other contents of the room. Who knew? There might be a clue to the mystery of the doors…

   By the time Yseult had garnered the impressions that the figure seemed to be both pleased and mildly surprised at their presence, and was a touch impatient, the rest of the group had cleared away a few hundred tons of sand… A few earth-spirits to make sure they didn’t miss anything, magical sight, an earthmoving spell, and the scanning-assistance of a thirty mapping-drones should be sufficient for the archeological record.

   All that clearing left them with a sizeable section of a great hall, with the doors at one end and a set of broad stone stairs that ended in a mass of rubble – still with occasional grains of sand sifting through – at the other end. According to their maps, the area beyond the collapse should correspond to the dead-end stairs that had been reported previously. But those had been reported to end in solid rock…

   Ah; they had ended in solid rock before the awakening – or perhaps because the area had been intentionally sealed after the collapse.

   The center section was a bit more interesting; the walls went back in two irregularly-carved semicircles, with a series of notches in them, and the circle was completed by two lines of irregularly-shaped pillars – about three feet high – which stretched across the main hall. There were a variety of statues, apparently of a selection of the ancient egyptian gods, and the walls were covered with hieroglyphs. It reminded Nassor a bit of the room under the temple; it had the same sort of wall-niches.

   The jars and boxes in the annex seemed to have once contained offerings of foods, clothing, and similar stuff. It was all in surprisingly good shape actually – and would grace the collection of any museum – but none of it seemed especially relevant. Every Egyptian crypt had been stocked with grave-goods.

   Nassor shook her out of it to have a look.

   Well, that explained why the set-figure seemed to be vaguely pleased about something being cleaned up. She’d tried to “tell” it about the temporary defeat of the snake-thing, but it was hard to tell if she’d made any impression. The entity simply reacted so SLOWLY…

   There weren’t any more glowing symbols, but there were plenty of hieroglyphs – most of them talking about the crowning of the pharaoh and his responsibilities as the keeper of the afterlife and the gateway to it. When the Pharaoh rose from the underworld in the ship of Ra, his people were supposed to rise with him.

   The hieroglyphs on the statues were mostly prayers to the gods, asking for their aid in the affairs of the kingdom. The forty-eight symbols on the Osiris statue were a little different; they matched the symbols on the statue they’d found beneath the temple – and were some sort of prayer for direct intervention.

   Was this hall once known as the Eye of Ra? Or was this the foyer with the Eye proper still behind the doors? Was “Set” the guardian? Why was he, she, or it, so slow? Was the entity not fully awake, or simply very distant? Perhaps it simply wasn’t experiencing time in the same way? Well, if it was made of stone or something, being slow might be natural enough.

   They fetched the first Osiris statue, and found that it – although considerably smaller – was a pretty good match for the one that was already present.

   They parked it in a corner while they thought.

   Yseult spent some more time communing with the wall, and eventually got the impression that “Set” was waiting for some sort of religious figure.

   Well, there were plenty of would-be worshipers and priests of the old gods running about. Of course, better than 99% of them seemed to be crazy, and had simply pulled their information off the matrix. Maybe the other 1% were real, or maybe they simply hid their insanity a trifle better. Who knew?

   She asked the tour guide if he thought he could stand in for a priest. After all, he seemed to take it all at least semi-seriously and seemed reasonably knowledgeable on the topic.

(Guide) “Well… I could probably do as well as anyone. There really haven’t been any trained priests of the old gods for hundreds of years now, it’s been word-of-mouth traditions and ancient fragments.”

  She had him try to communicate with “Set”. Who knew? He might catch some reference that she was missing or be more acceptable or something. She could analyze the data a bit more while he was trying it…

   Well, they had some statues, some pillars, some carved niches in the walls, a widened area in the hall, and sand to tinker with. There were flat spots in the niches and atop the pillars, but they were mostly tilted to near-vertical positions; you couldn’t set anything there and have it stay. There were some flecks of old pigment on them though.

   Maybe something to do with the crowning of the pharaoh? A matrix search on that turned up quite a lot; the old priests had kept fairly good records on ceremonies that important. It had involved a lot of being handed various sacred objects, being blessed, being given the twin crowns and hailed by the priests, being pronounced one with Horus and Set, some ceremonial mixing of the earth from around Egypt, and being presented with bushels of grain – at least supposedly containing one seed from each village in Egypt.

   The room wasn’t even remotely large enough for THAT. The ceremony was supposed to have taken place in front of most of the major nobles of the realm, and there wasn’t room for that here. Perhaps it was the entryway?

   Bah. There was something she was missing.

   She went to try and clear the stairs while she thought. Maybe with a distraction it would come to her.

   A few hours of work on that brought down a lot more sand and rock. It really did look like the bottom end of those stairs near the sphinx that hadn’t led anywhere – albeit under another ten feet of rock and maybe forty feet of sand. Actually getting out that way would be a really major project, but it was nice to confirm where they were. Presumably the old-time excavators had run into a wall of rock with rubble behind it – unless they’d also run across “Apep” and had decided to cover things up with a report of a dead end. Before the awakening, Apep would have been an utter terror…

   That didn’t leave too much in the area that she didn’t understand.

   Her tour-guide felt that the Set-figure was probably only partly awake, and got the impression that it felt that it was “not yet time” for something or other. He also got the impression that Osiris, the pillars, the number forty eight, and paint all entered into it somewhere too.

   Well… There was paint on the walls and some of the pillars, although it had flaked off in a few places and the sand had been hard on it. Forty-eight had last turned up with the number of symbols in the prayer on the Osiris statue. No special ceremonial references came to mind though. There were no reported matches in the symbol database for the glowing symbols on the wall, although Osiris – as one of the major deities – was referenced in an awful lot of places. Even the layout was fairly unique; the only partial match she’d seen recently was from their first entryway – the area under the temple with the first statue of Osiris and all the flattened areas carved out of the wall. Those had run in a roughly-circular band about three feet above the floor.

   She had Sulahafa start using the drones to try and get direct access to the stairs and the surface opened up while she considered that – and took another look at the room under the temple. Maybe there were clues to more ornate rooms like this one…

   The room was still as they’d left it, although they’d removed the Osiris statue – which mostly left the walls and that band of odd flattened places. The heights seemed to match the heights of the pillars pretty well…

   She ran a geometric comparison – and got an almost-perfect match. The flat spots were in the same relative locations and at the same angles, and were even oriented the same way with respect to the compass. There were forty-eight flat spots in all, and they all matched, right down to the angles at which they sloped. About the only differences were the location of the ancient paint flecks. There were traces of ancient magic, but they were wall too many centuries old to tell much about. The flat spots were a circle though, which might relate to some magical operation. A lot of them used circles.

   Sadly, the area that would correspond to the mysterious doors and their symbols was about forty feet back in apparently-solid rock.;The widened area and the pillars were towards the middle of the last hall, and this carved-out area was mostly round. That was why the pillars had had to cross the hall to keep the flat areas in the right positions.

   There had to be a reason for the match, for the two Osiris statues, and for forty-eight flat spots with flecks of old paint.

   Something purely magical? It was really starting to nag at her! What was she missing?

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VII

   Everyone was in agreement: if they were going to work in the catacombs, they had to take out the serpent-thing. You never knew when an animal would turn at bay instead of being driven off, they had no idea of how it could be contained (or even IF it could be contained), and nobody wanted to work in the catacombs knowing that – at any moment – the damned thing might pop out of the rock and dissolve you.

   Of course, the idea of some fabulous treasure was in the back of everyone’s minds. If somebody had managed to put the damned thing here as a guardian, and had arranged to sustain it across five thousand years of low magic, then it had to be protecting something pretty damned important.

   Well, it seemed to breathe air, so it wouldn’t want to go below the water table. It didn’t seem to want to leave the high-magic zone or to go too close to the surface. It was willing to chase drones and magical watcher-spirit lures. Ergo, they should be able to steer it into an ambush.

   A weapon of the prior age against a beast of the prior age. A chemsuit, an elemental-booster spell, an anti-corrosive coating, and poison on her already-enchanted blade, her own inhuman cybernetic strength, the best protection-spells her mages could maintain, a selection of high-powered modern weaponry set up for a crossfire and to drive it forward with explosions, some drones for fire-support – and instructions for her allies (who would be well back down the tunnels): if she went down, they should abandon their positions and pull out as quickly as possible.

   If she could get it coming out of a tunnel quickly enough, and she was waiting to ambush it, she might be able to slice it in two for a fair part of it’s length. Surely that – along with modern explosives – would be enough to kill the damn thing.

   They had to lay down a lot of irritating chemicals, and expend several more of the cheaper drones – and there were one or two close calls during a day of careful maneuvering – but Yseult eventually wound up lurking next to the tunnel the serpent-thing was currently sulking in.

   Sending in all those low-powered spirits to pester it had made it pretty cross.

   It took several nerve-wracking attempts with minor spirits – evidently they had made it tired – before the thing came bursting out like a small freight train.

   She wasn’t that hot with a sword, but this called for brute strength, not finesse.

   Fortunately, Karma was with her. [And the player was quite willing to spend some of it].

   Unfortunately, the damned thing turned out to be tough as hell.

   That wasn’t too surprising for a creature that tunneled through rock and was coated with acid that readily burned through stone. Her blade opened a massive gash – slashing open one side of it’s mouth and leaving a gaping wound along it’s side. It twisted and flailed, spattering blood that ate great gaping holes in the stone. Fortunately, it was now semi-blind on the side she was on – so it’s first reflexive burst of acid-spitting had merely annihilated three more drones while a stray drop had burned a hole through her amateur caver’s shoulder – easily fixable later, but enough to make him fall back now.

   Of course, the blood-spatters were rapidly burning through her chemsuit and armor. Fortunately, she’d twisted to the side quickly enough to avoid most of it [with very good dodge and body checks] and the last traces hissed against the outer plating of her heavily-cyborged body as the acid – mostly expended against er chemsuit and armor – did little more than superficial damage.

   Well CRAP. It was only wounded – and perhaps more dangerous than ever!

   Rush in, duck under it’s flailing head, and drive her blade deep into the creature, bracing herself against the floor to ensure that she impaled it? Yeah, maybe if she’d been a video-game character with five extra lives; she could see how that would end. It might die, but she’d wind up being covered in acid that dissolved stone as quickly as a man could walk.

   Another slash from the side was (somewhat) safer, but was less likely to kill.

   Sulahafa sent the combat drones in to cover her retreat – although she did manage to throw a pouch full of poison into the gaping wound as she frantically dodged splattering acidic blood and the holes it had burned into the floor.

   She barely evaded another splattering of blood as the poison hit the wound and the creature convulsed. A good thing she’d fallen back…

   She added her own explosive pistol bullets – targeting the existing wound – to the hail of fire from the combat drones. Her allies triggered the explosives back behind the creature to keep it from retreating; it might have been wounded enough to stay quietly out of the way while they worked – but there was no knowing how fast a currently-unique awakened beastie could heal.

   She never knew how she managed to avoid the stream of acid it spat at her. Time seemed to slow [as the player burned three karma rerolls on Yseult’s dodge] but she’d evaded it somehow, as it burned through the stone behind her like a combat laser through mist. Faint memories of her otherwise long-forgotten chemistry class screamed “supernatural!” at her – like she didn’t know. At least – judging by how much blood it was losing – it wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long.

   Still, the bullets were mostly bouncing off the thing’s scales… Invulnerability too? The only magical weapon they had was her sword!

   The thing took out three of the remaining drones at one shot with a spray of acid. Evidently a thin stream wasn’t it’s only weapon.

   If she didn’t kill it, it was beginning to look like none of them would get out of the catacombs – especially if it had more unrevealed abilities! She should have taken that “no one had caught more than a glimpse and lived” thing a bit more seriously!

   It was a vertebrate though… A clear head, jaws, fangs, and eyes, skull – now notched where she’d slashed across it – protecting the brain.

   She hoped that Nassor and his apprentice heard her call for them to reinforce the protective spells around her as much as they possibly could [which called for a Leadership check; she caught a glimpse of one peeking around the corner, hopefully to establish line-of-sight for spellcasting] – and went in to try and sever the spine at the base of the skull. Her sword was easily long enough for that – and its power was definitely wide awake.

   She tried to stay on it’s blind side – and blessed the engineers who’d provided her boosts. It took far more than human agility to get close to the thing while it was thrashing and splattering acid like that. She put everything she had [her last several rerolls and her full enhanced strength] into the one attack…

   Her full strength, karma, and a two-handed swing backed by the spirit of the blade was just barely enough to drive the sword home between two vertebrae, severing both the spine and some major blood vessels.

   The convulsion hurled her across the room – the last remnants of her chemsuit and armor peeling away from the acid covering the things body – and the impact against the wall didn’t help a bit. Her systems were reporting a LOT of failures, acid damage, right hand and forearm dissolved, cyberarmor mostly gone, synthskin covers gone, cyberleg internal damage, internal injuries…

   It was a good thing that Nassor had a healing spell – and that she’d taken out that very expensive cyber-insurance policy.

   Still, the bloody snake was in worse shape than she was. In fact it seemed to be dissolving.

   She really hoped that there weren’t any more of them about.

   Nassor was pretty sure that the thing was down and out – but there was something very weird about it. The fact that the body was dissolving fast was no surprise given the amount of acid in it, and the fact that it’s magic was dissipating was only to be expected – but he and his apprentice were still getting an impression of anger. Their tour guide looked rather upset about that, and had added something about “immortal wrath” and the “twelve hours of the night” to his muttering about Apep and Set and Osiris and Thoth and such.

   Yseult asked him if he knew of a prayer or something of that sort that might help keep the thing down.

   The man agreed to try praying to Osiris and Set to hold back the wrath of Apep as they defended Ra in the Hours of the Night.

   The sword however… It seemed a bit larger (if no heavier), was warm to the touch, and had little veins of light moving in it. Wait, the thing was supposed to get more powerful as you fulfilled it’s requirements. Had “slay a major monster” been one of them? That seemed fairly likely somehow. Too bad the spirit of the sword couldn’t just tell her what to do to activate all its powers – and that the “being aided by the bear spirit” thing didn’t seem to work well with all the cyberware.

   Too bad there wouldn’t be anything left of the body to show off, but the way it was eating it’s way down into the stone, it wouldn’t be safe to touch it anyway.

   She stuck the little statue of Osiris with the funny inscription they’d found under the temple by the hole in a memorial/sealing effort. It couldn’t hurt. The mages said that the thing’s spirit still seemed to be hanging around – but they weren’t ancestor shamans, and had no really good way to communicate with it anyway.

   The bear spirit of her blade could tell him that the serpent-spirit was entangled in some really BIG binding – but that it would probably take a week or two to form a new body.

   Evidently the thing had been guarding the area for a very long time indeed.

   That was kind of sad somehow. Perhaps they could set it free so that it could actually rest in peace? Presumably it was bound to something somewhere… The tunnel system it had bored out was roughly circular; if it spent it’s time within range of a binding it might explain that – although the circle also roughly matched the edge of the elevated magic zone, at least now that they were underground. It didn’t always reach the surface for some reason.

   There were tunnels that headed for the center – but all of the detections and the geological surveys had said that there was nothing there except rock. It had even seemed to be something of a magical dead zone: there were magic centers under several of they pyramids, and under a couple of the temples – but under the sphinx, which was roughly at the center, there was nothing.

   Wait; at this point that was unusual – and so it was well worth investigating.

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VI

   So; equipment for exploring a set of ancient, partially-submerged catacombs filled with sinkholes and possibly with deadly, highly-magical, awakened predators from a prior age. A lost world of ancient perils!

   Oh good LORD. NOW she knew why all this seemed so familiar! Ancient Egyptian magic, giant snakes, hidden catacombs, haunts, curses, and lost temples full of undead… You saw the computer updates of all those ancient pre-trideo “b-movies” on late night trid! They were full of this stuff!

   And… those productions had all been – however loosely – based on old stories and myths. Exaggerated to allow for the presence of actual, working, magic. Meant to seem almost plausible to an audience – and successful enough at it that they were still being preserved and watched a century later.

   Just how old were the underlying stories? Was there something to all the stories of racial memories or prior incarnations? Did certain stories or magic seem “plausible” because metahuman minds knew the practical rules for magic on the same instinctive level as they knew the physics of walking and throwing?

   Well, at least that could give her ideas about things to prepare for anyway.

   Lets see; guns, explosives, blades, rope, climbing and spelunking gear, flares, breathing apparatus, food and water, light sources, first aid kit, extra medication for her damned nut allergy. She usually carried some of the survival gear anyway… Inertial mapper and tracker (ah, good, those functions could readily be chipped into her internal electronics; that might be very handy even after this trip)… Satellite Phone! With spare batteries and some relay units for calling out from underground areas. Worthwhile if she was going to keep heading into the mountains and wilderness even if it was bulky – almost too big to cup in her palm. A lot of the rest would be easier to pick up locally, back in Egypt.

   A rigger would probably have to be a local hire. He or she would need quite a few, or perhaps a lot of signal-relays, if they were going to penetrate very far underground. Perhaps The Ninja? One of the group was a drone expert…

   Nah. The Ninja was also notorious for reckless magical experimentation, and THAT was something that she did NOT need on this trip!

   Time to hit up the fixers.

   Fortunately she got back to Egypt with nearly two days left to do some shopping and recruiting in.

   The hard part turned out to be cutting down the gear to what she and her recruits could reasonably carry along. Thank god for enhanced strength. Besides, there was nothing better than providing good supplies for people to make them think highly of you – and anything in the way of survival gear that didn’t get used promptly would keep.

   As far as the rigger went, she offered 50K, with a 25K allowance for any damage incurred to his or her drones, although she was requiring a secrecy clause and a non-looting clause and notification that the job required an acceptance of basic underground hazards, a contract period of up to three weeks, and a few other details to be discussed at the meet… After all, she didn’t want to give away too much information to anyone who wasn’t seriously interested in the offer.

   Those other details, of course, included the location, the possibility of there being a big magical snake to be avoided, and the prospects of possible unknown dangers – even if all the likely traps would probably be several millennia old. Presumably it wouldn’t be like being up against a modern security system.

   She would have preferred getting someone she knew, but runners disappeared and changed aliases all the time. It was pretty hard to say who was who, but her fixers could presumably get her in touch with some reasonably reliable riggers. That sort of thing was, after all, their job.

   She wound up hiring “Sulahafa”, a rigger who mostly used cheap crawler drones – but had a lot of them and a lot of cheap relay units already.

   A trio of other locals – two who’d worked on digs before (one a digger and amateur caver, the other a decent archeologist’s aide and Gaza tour guide), and one magical dabbler Nassor had brought in (a light-duty combatant/lookout with some enhanced senses) – filled out the group.

   Hmm. She had a few minor bids on the auction – but no big bites yet. Still, there were two weeks left – and a lot of people liked to wait until there were only minutes left for some reason.

   So; maps and surveys in hand, well stocked with equipment, and having hired a set of local guides, it was time to start considering access routes for getting into those caves.

   There were some flooded passages near the Nile, several funerary temples near the great pyramid, caves on the edge of the plateau the pyramids were on, and several possible access shafts – albeit mostly sand-choked.

   Well, they had plenty of drones. They simply send some probes down the dozen most likely-looking entrances.

   The underwater passages were pretty mud-choked, but got into the main system the fastest

   The caves were nearest to the higher-magic areas that had been plotted on the maps, but were convoluted and awkward.

   The access shafts weren’t really open, and would take a good deal of digging to pass through; too much sand had sifted in across the centuries.

   The Funerary temples weren’t very magical, but might be a compromise. They might also be a complete red herring; most of them were apparently special-purpose only.

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   She had the drones focus on the underwater passages – even if that did limit them to submersible models – and had them look for better entrances once they were in the main system. Nassor could help them get in underwater if nothing better was found.

   The initial explorations went reasonably easily; some areas had been mapped already, and it wasn’t too hard to link up some of the mapped segments. A fair portion of the caves appeared to be natural; the plateau was limestone after all – and evidently the paleoclimatological people were right and it had used to be a good deal wetter in Egypt.

   It was still eight days before they had a decent general layout: there were rocks to move, passages to unblock, and sand to clear. At least a few areas were almost sealed off by rockfalls – and some cautious personal exploration and mapping had established that high magic sites included the area beneath the Great Pyramid, the Temple of Menakaure, and the Tomb of Hemon. Fortunately, so far, it had only been drones that had been lost in collapses.

   Hm… the Temple of Menakaure was the most easily accessible. The Tomb of Hemon seemed to be built on fairly solid rock, although there might, of course, be passages below it.

   They took in a couple of drones to run point and tried the Temple of Menakaure. Fortunately, the place was open to tourists – although the inner section was usually blocked off. Of course, they had permission to investigate from the Department of Antiquities.

   Oddly, while there seemed to be access to the lower levels of the temple via an old well, there was almost nothing living down there; even the traces of bats were scarce.

   It looked like the cavern had been full of water on and off for quite some time, even if it was currently dry. There were some carvings left, but there were only traces of old paint on them and on the walls except for the parts that were above the usual high water level.

   Most of the inscriptions seemed to be calling on various gods and goddesses for fertility and rain, a strong secondary theme was invoking the protection of the dead and their intervention in daily life for those who worshiped here. That was a little odd – usually it was the gods who intervened, not the dead – but the invocations were even older than the usual run of temple inscriptions and fragmentary to boot. A faith that old could be expected to have a lot of local quirks.

   As for the magic… The entire area seemed to have a slightly elevated magic level, but most of it seemed to come from the floor – at least according to Nassor and his aide.

   She had the drones spread out and look for any nearby routes down – although it was pretty obvious that simply heading downslope into the caverns would get them started. The route was rough and irregular for the most part – although there were some spots that looked odd; most of the route was through limestone bedrock – but parts of it looked worn away naturally and smoothly, while other parts seemed quite rough. The worn parts looked like normal water-wear, but the irregular spots, however, seemed to have been artificially worked. Apparently by primitive chisels and hammers.

   Oddly enough, the chiseled areas ran all around the edges of the room, all in a band about three feet off the floor. They seemed to be spaced fairly regularly, and there were traces of old paint on them where they were above the water. There were a few other items; some bits and pieces of worked stone, a broken lamp, a short rod made of hammered copper, a small statue of Osiris with a brief inscription, and a selection of offering-bowls for food offerings. Evidently some sort of religious ritual was once conducted down here – and probably forgotten when the water rose and partially flooded the chamber.

   Osiris… God of the underworld and of resurrection, the keeper of souls, guide and guardian of the dead, one of the major patron gods of Egypt. Unlike most of the animal-headed gods, Osiris was normally portrayed as a human mummy who rose again from the underworld.

   Blast it; something seemed important about that, but she couldn’t say what. The nebulous thought was going to bother her until it coalesced!

   They kept the drones out ahead. The caverns became much more irregular as they headed down, but seemed to open up into a network of smaller tunnels. Those tunnels were a bit strange though; they looked water-carved, but they were rather too regular for that. All of them were about three feet across, although they went up and down quite irregularly.

   They were trying to locate a path that went underneath the floor of the first cavern – on the theory that they might be able to locate a magical gradient or source of some sort – when they abruptly lost a drone; no signal. It might just have turned the wrong corner though; it wouldn’t be the first time in this confounded maze of twisting little passages, all alike… Not to mention that they were small enough to be a terrible pain to get through.

   They reviewed the last sensor feed while they waited to see if it would pull back after losing contact and come back into range.

   The signal quality was poor – all that stone again – but Sulahafa ran some image-enhancement on it… It looked like there might have been something moving towards the drone – small and fast, but not bulletlike – just before the signal went out.

   The drone didn’t come back into contact. It was either down for the count or it’s return route had been blocked by a collapse.

   Trouble was, it wouldn’t be the first time for that either. A good thing the blasted crawlers were so cheap. ON the other hand, there might really be something alive and dangerous in the tunnels.

   Well, they had some spam and some jerky; perhaps they could put out some bait? It was meat of a sort – and they had lots more drones.

   They set up a relay chain, with each one further back keeping the one ahead under constant observation and with the recall signal ready to go.

   It took a good deal of careful probing around before they caught a momentary glimpse of something large and grayish shifting around in one of the tunnels. The view from the next drone showed the one that had gotten line-of-sight on the gray thing pretty much disintegrating – the central core of the unit seemed to simply vanish and the rest rapidly collapsed into liquid.

(Yseult) “Does anyone know what might cause that?”

   The amateur archeologist/tour guide was muttering something about “Apep” – but hopefully the thing wasn’t the incarnate deity-principle of destruction, even if the reports DID indicate some sort of giant snake!

   They pulled back a bit to review their information.

   They were roughly beneath the causeway to the pyramid of Khafre, just above the Mastabas and the Rock-Cut Tombs.

   They had one glimpse of a gray serpent-like thing, which didn’t show much detail even under magnification. Of course, light-amplification tended to wash things out a bit, and thermal imaging wouldn’t show much on a presumably cold-blooded creature. They got to work on image-enhancement and continued looking at their data in the meantime.

   Hm… the few higher-magic areas they’d mapped seemed to form a (very) rough circle – well, OK, you could draw a circle around the irregular blobs, which was universally true, but it still gave her that impression. Could the magic be radiating from a central point? The Eye of Ra?

   No; if it was doing that, there would be a gradient with a highest point nearest the center. There had to be additional factors.

   The high magic areas continued beneath the Pyramid of Khufu, Queen Hetephere’s Tombs, and the Village of Nazlet. Still one hell of an area to search.

   They sent the second drone back up after the first one, keeping it very quiet and slow so as not to attract the serpent-things attention.

   There are a few bits of the first drone left – mostly special-alloy components. There was also a hole drilled deeply into the rock; if that was a trace of whatever-it-was that the gray thing had used, it had gone straight through the drone and into solid stone like a bullet through cheese. The remaining bits of the drone appeared to be slowly continuing to dissolve, but didn’t show much in the way of thermal traces. Some sort of supernatural acid? Nothing natural would dissolve metal and rock so fast that it would bore through them instead of splashing.

   Image enhancement showed that the serpent-thing had almost filled the tunnel. It might or might not have eyes, but it definitely seemed to have fangs. It moved reasonably fast, but a hoverdrone or rotordrone (if there had been room for one) could easily keep up with it unless it was capable of a lot more speed than it had shown. Whatever had struck the first drone would have been much faster.

   The tour guide was still muttering about Apep.

(Yseult) “Nassor? Can you set up a barrier together at the entrance of this tunnel that would trap anything physical that tried to get out of it?”

(Nassor) “Yes – although any barrier can be broken, and my assistant here is a fairly minor mage. We can certainly slow most things up though.”

   She had them work together on that, and got ready to try and chop the bloody things head off with her sword if it did pop out – but, for the moment, that was pure precaution. They needed more data, and the easiest way to get that was to expend a few of the cheaper drones – even if her rigger did want an extra fee to cover that.

   Well, she couldn’t blame him for that. Incidental damage was one thing, this was likely to use up a lot of drones.

   It cost them a dozen drones – and apparently irritated the creature – but they got some good shots eventually. It was some sort of giant serpent, about three feet across, probably a good hundred feet long – and apparently somehow capable of boring through rock almost as quickly as it moved through an existing tunnel.

   They found that out when it emerged from the rock next to one of the drones and apparently destroyed it on contact. Well, at least that explained why it fitted the tunnels so neatly. It wasn’t good though; the damned thing could take out armored drones in a fraction of a second, both at range and by merely brushing against them, and it could pop up anywhere at all.

   Oh joy.

   Yseult asked for ideas.

   Sulahafa suggested that – given the things evident destructiveness – they move back a bit and send in more drone-chains to see if there was more than one. After that, rigging some self-destruct charges on the drones might be in order; it did seem to be a living, physical, creature – so enough large explosions should do it in quite nicely.

   The tour guide was still muttering about Apep – and he suggested calling on Osiris, god of reborn life, Set, god of darkness and warriors, and Thoth, god of knowledge. since they escorted Ra safely past the great serpent in his journey through the underworld.

(Yseult) “Great idea I suppose, but just how would we go about doing that? And please keep in mind that we need it simple, short, practical, and with some way of telling in advance if it worked or not”.

(Guide) “Urm.. Call the museum or get a priest? I mean, the thing does seem a lot like Apep.”

(Yseult) “Ok, what’s ‘Apep’ anyway?”

(Guide) “Apep is one of the main menaces of the underworld: a giant snake that inhabits the darkness, passing where it will. Each night it challenges the passage of Ra to resurrection, and each night it is defeated by Thoth, Set, and Osiris. It’s gaze is annihilation. Set, of course, is a mighty warrior, who cannot die. Thoth brings magic and strength through wisdom. Osiris simply provides his blessing as lord of the underworld.”

(Yseult, after considering) “Well, hmm. It seems to me that we have magic. The information from the drones might be considered a blessing, along with possibly trying to blind the thing before it gets to us.. I am probably capable of fighting blindly if it is its gaze that kills.”

   OK, even to her that didn’t sound convincing.

   Nassor was just as doubtful.

(Nassor) “I wouldn’t bet on the “gaze of death” being too literal; the dissolving drones and the small and high-but-not-bulletlike speed approaching object suggests a spitter. It’s probably supernatural, but that might also be how it burrows through rock; limestone does dissolve easily in acid. Perhaps chemical-protection suits? They might help some.”

(Yseult) “Hmm, it would take a long time to go and get some though… How well could you replicate the effect of chemical protection suits with magic?”

(Nassor) “I’m afraid that doing that would take a rather specialized spell, and it’s one that I don’t have. Perhaps we could fall back a bit and try to go around the thing? Personally, I’d rather not get dissolved by some giant awakened snake.”

   Well, there was some justice to that position.

   (Yseult) “Could you draw it to this (indicating the tunnel opening) opening with your magic? If you could entice it or infuriate to the point where it was moving too fast to dodge I might be able to stand to the side and split the thing in two with it’s own force of movement. If that worked it would never even see us. Would you like to try it? Perhaps with a bit of basic telekinesis to float some food down the tunnel? Do you feel safe with that plan?”

   It rapidly became apparent that no one felt safe with that plan. They might be willing to give it a try with some persuasion, but in the dark, in cramped tunnels, and up against an unknown paracritter that might have inspired stories about a malevolent god for thousands of years, it was kind of hard to feel “safe”.

   They opted to try for more information instead. Nassor had that short-range clairvoyant spell and they could send back to Cairo for some snooper-drones. It would take a few hours to get them, but they were cheap and reasonably effective.

   They had a better report the next day.

   It looked like the creature somewhat resembled a worm; it both spit some sort of super-acid and secreted it from it’s skin – which was what allowed it to move through rock. It’s digestion seemed to be external; it moved over the puddles it’s acid left to absorb nutrients. It seemed to be an effort for it to secrete enough acid to move through the rock though, and so it seemed to prefer sticking to the existing tunnels. It was probably elementally linked, most likely with water.

   Well, if it absorbed nutrients though the skin, it should be vulnerable to external toxins. Could they hurt it by simply strewing salt or some such junk in it’s path? Divert it with a pile of food? Simply map around it and see where it hung out and if there was more than one? Perhaps put an opposing elemental effect on her blade?

   Another day worth of careful mapping gave them a number of good places – where it spent the most time – to try and poison it. At the moment, it looked like it mostly hung out in or near the flooded sections, where the river water washed food into the caves. It had to need magic though, since it never left the general high-magic area.

   OK, they should at least have a way to make it uncomfortable and make it move – it had to have some equivalent to a sense of taste – and with any luck they could push it into a place of their choosing, where it would at least be uncomfortable or tired.

   They began to set up their hunt.