d20 and Rapid Hiring

And this small request is, perhaps, a bit silly – but it struck me as amusing and didn’t demand much time, which has been in very short supply.

Voice Upon The Winds

  • Conjuration (Calling)
  • Level: Variable, normally a base of L2 Cleric, Wizard, Skill-Based Magic for Contracts, Management, and Playboy (among others). Probably suitable for various specialty classes and Hedge Wizardry as well.
  • Components: S, M (a written notice).
  • Casting Time: Ten Minutes.
  • Range: Special.
  • Effect: Calls forth a possible employee or employees.
  • Duration: Special (The message is instantaneous, arrival usually is not).
  • Saving Throw: None (Harmless).
  • Spell Resistance: Yes, but irrelevant; someone who doesn’t want to be employed will not be targeted anyway.

This unusual spell causes qualified potential employees to arrive (or merchants to pass by). The caster writes out a list of primary duties, any necessary special qualifications, and a list of what salary and benefits are being offered, and hangs it beside his or her door. Presuming that the job is suitable for a relatively normal person, that the benefits are reasonably good for whatever the job is, and that the location of your door is at all reasonable (whether or not anyone would really be likely to pass by under normal circumstances), a suitable potential employee will normally turn up to inquire about the job shortly. The spell may be cast at a higher level to enhance it’s effects. Possible enhancements include calling for a small group of applicants (+1 Level), calling for rare and/or exotic types (+1 Level), having very specific qualifications (+1 Level), and asking for basic magical capabilities (+1 Level). On the other hand, if you are simply looking for an apprentice, houseboy, dishwasher, lantern-bearer, or similar unskilled entry-level employee that is (-1 Level).

You can look for very specific and powerful groups – perhaps you want a group of adventurers who are capable of killing that miserable dragon that’s moved into the caves nearby – but while casting this at level six will ensure that an appropriate group hears about your offer, it in no way guarantees that they will bother to respond and – if some do – you will just have to put up with whatever you get. Adventurers are like that.

  • You want to pay a few coins for a reasonably reliable local kid to guide you around town for a day? Level one, and unlikely to take more than a few minutes. Pretty much every town has some bored kids. It may get odd if it’s a ghost town and you get a ghost kid, but what can you expect if you look for employees in a ghost town?
  • You want an apprentice/aide who has at least a slight acquaintance with and talent for magic but you will be providing more advanced training along with support and occasional pocket money? That’s a pretty standard apprenticeship deal. Level two, but it might take a week or two. Kids don’t travel very fast even if the requirements aren’t very exacting there..
  • You want a skillful nanny to look after the kids? Level two, usually in a few hours presuming that you’re in or near a reasonable settlement for raising kids in. They might want particular days off or something – and you probably won’t get Mary Poppins or Nanny Mcphee – but there are lots of older women who are good at handling children.
  • You want a group of pretty-and-compatible young women to be light duty house servants and concubines? Level three, and usually in a day or two if your terms are good. It’s not like housekeeper/mistress is a particularly unusual position – and cute young women are not all that rare either (unless you’re of some exotic species of course, in which case you may be out of luck).
  • You want an acolyte of a particular faith to look after your shrine and teach your kids some basics? Level three (if followers of the required faith are reasonably common in the area) or four if they are not. Could take a few days or weeks (and may well fail) if someone would have to come from hundreds of miles away and you’re not offering enough benefits to make it worth it.
  • You want to hire a group of competent Drow Spies? That’s a group (+1) of rare (unless you live in a Drow City or some such) types (+1) with some very specific qualifications (+1) for a total level of five – and if there aren’t any drow spies around who would be willing to work for you… it won’t work.
  • You want a pathfinder-style “Team” of Archers? That’s a group with some fairly specific qualifications, so level four if there are any such groups within a reasonable range. You want Elite Elven Archers who each know a little bit of Weapons Magic? Level six, and very likely to fail entirely if no such group is available for hire.

It is important to note that this is a Calling spell; what you want has to be out there and available. If you’re asking for people to work in an impossible environment, are looking for a qualified hyperdrive technician in a medieval setting, want to hire Drow in a setting that doesn’t include them, or some such, the spell will probably not be able to find a candidate. On the other hand… it IS a calling spell. If you fail to live up to your contract, or there’s some major difficulty, your employees have the option of simply going home. So if the Dark Lord teleports in and starts burning your castle to the ground at least you can pretty well count on your servants and clerks making their escape.

Valdemar D20 Part II – Gifts And Spells

For Part I, go HERE.

So what sort of powers do the books actually show Mages and Heralds using? Looking at the books, for Heraldic Gifts and Spells we have…

  • Animal Mindspeech: You can “speak” with animals. That’s pretty basic.
  • (The) Bardic Gift: Rather ill-defined, but it seems to be able to convey feelings, suppress pain, and convey impressions – so possibly subtle, internally-directed illusions. One of the few gifts that can directly affect a crowd though.
  • Bonding: You can bond with something. Like a Hawk. Or Warsteed. Or Companion. Or Firecat. Or Lover. Or Twin or other Sibling. Or you can settle for a lesser version and fall in Love with pretty much anyone. This seems to be pretty much universal. Bonding with a Companion seems to allow the use of Truthspell – but that also relies on Vanyels old web-spell which creates a link with the Vrondi.
    • Personally, I’d forget about the Truthspell in any game setting. Heralds in the books often refrain from using it out of political considerations, or respect, or being forgetful, or not wanting to give people the impression that they aren’t trusted. Gamers will FIND an excuse to use it ALL THE TIME – and there go all your intrigue and manipulation plots. Mistaken identity? Falsely accused? Hidden traitors? We’ll have none of THAT.
  • Channeling: The ability to act as a pipeline for raw magical energy that other people can direct or use. Rare and generally useless until the author decides that it’s needed as a plot device.
  • Earthsense: You can vaguely detect damage and disturbances that affect the land and the creatures that live there. If they are suffering, you will do so as well.
  • Empathy: Picking up emotions, truthsensing, and – for those with powerful gifts – the ability to compel weaker-willed individuals to speak the truth. Powerful empaths may be able to cause mental damage, which is best represented as some sort of curse.
  • Farsight: Clairvoyance. When controllable, it seems to be fairly short ranged. It also shows visions to suit the plot.
  • Final Strike. You can ramp up your power enormously by dying. Of course, EVERYONE with ANY kind of special power seems to be able to sacrifice themselves for a big boost when they want to save others, or take revenge at any cost, or whatever. Probably a world law or bit of divine assistance in recognition of your sacrifice or some such.
  • Gift Of Tongues: Companions have this, but it’s rare among humans. You understand all languages but can’t bypass speech impediments (such as having a horses voicebox). So… a L2 version of comprehend languages?
  • Mage-Gift: The ability to sense and manipulate the flow of life-energy about you. Doesn’t let you pick up the presence of living things nearby though. Why not? Because it would make mages hard to ambush. Comes in three stages – ability to handle ambient magic, ability to handle ambient magic and ley lines, and ability to handle ambient magic, ley lines, and ley line nodes. A good focus-stone seems to help somewhat in making things less tiring. Now here we have the good stuff! Generate Lightning! Make reasonably bright lights! Uhm… What other spells do we see?
    • Make a tent nice and warm! Or you could carry blankets with your adventuring supplies. Just Sayin.
    • Make a willing male gryphons body temperature stay low long enough for them to produce fertile sperm! Or sit in a cold bath for a while.
    • Summon Elementals! Abyssal, Air, and Fire elementals are mentioned – although they are quite small, none seem especially powerful, and most are timid.
    • Make new magical creatures or golem-things! Presuming that you are a master biologist as well as an uber-archmage or a blood mage villain, and even then it takes decades or centuries to make new creatures, they rarely reproduce well, and most of them have quite a lot of serious flaws and weaknesses. Golems and Frankenstein-constructs are easier, but are full of weaknesses and can never reproduce.
    • Open Gates / Teleportation Portals! Well, if you have some major power sources to draw on. Like being an adept using a node, killing a lot of people for blood magic, or having a big team of very well-trained mages. And you don’t mind being exhausted afterwards. And have time for it, since it often seems to call for a ritual. And there are no major magical disturbances in the area to disrupt your gate.
    • Summon Magical Creatures! If there are some about anyway. And you have enough raw power to gate them in (see Gates). And controlling them is quite another matter.
    • Make amplifiers for magic or other gifts! Which are expensive, unreliable, and take a lot of charging up – which is why they’re terribly rare.
    • Make a big magical greenhouse! If you have a node to tie it to, help in setting it up, and a lot of time. This may also provide some defense against divination, if only in the same way that a houses walls help against people spying on you from afar.
    • Summon or drive off magical entities! Given time, knowledge, and various rituals.
    • Make Videophone Calls! Well, if the people on both ends happen to be Adept or Masterclass mages of the White Winds school and they don’t mind throwing up a beacon of “here I am”, opening themselves to magical attack, and getting drained or exhausted in the process.
    • You can perform a ritual that will allow those betrayed unto death by an Oathbreaker to come back as spirits and take vengeance! If you’ve already captured and restrained the target, and have the help of a Priest, a Mage, and a Common Man of Goodwill who have all been betrayed by the Oathbreaker, and have lots of time, and the targets oathbreaking has resulted in other deaths. Or you could stab them a few times. Again,I’m just sayin…
    • Entrap other Mages in constraints that reflect their own magic back at them! If you have it all set up in advance for your targets and they don’t know how to get out. Given that the inventor made sure to spread knowledge of the spell around after using it, so that everyone WOULD know, this makes it a lot less useful.
    • You can Create Daggers Of Light! They last for a few moments after you let go of them, so you can throw them at people. Their effects are… exactly identical to those of any other decent dagger. You will always have a backup weapon though.
    • Throw various forms of Energy Blasts. Lightning. Fire. Er… maybe Force. I can’t recall much in the way of Cold, Sonic, or Acid blasts though. Usually targeting an individual or a small group. For a lot of “mages” this is about their only combat technique.
    • Spells Of Mass Compulsion! You can brainwash and compel entire armies! If you don’t mind being an irredeemably evil blood mage and performing lengthy rituals of human sacrifice. This also makes you a prime target for assassination of course.
    • Start Fires! Like with a match/tindertwig! Or, in advanced cases, like Alchemists Fire!
    • Hide Your Magic! So that the extremely rare people with Mage-Gift can’t automatically notice it if they look. Also, this only works if you’re an adept. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed but I think that it got mentioned later.
    • Create Illusions! Well, this one is a bread-and-butter effect in many places, mostly being used for disguises. Larger scale, combat, or beyond-the-visual illusions seem to be much rarer. About the biggest combat effect seems to be the “Blur” spell.
    • Slow or Reverse Aging! Well, mages can live a long time; it comes of tapping into extra life energy. Few of them seem to die of old age though and getting younger seems to involve stealing other peoples lives or bodies. How often do RPG characters die or old age anyway?
    • Reincarnate! Like normal, except that you get to keep more of your memories at the cost of stealing one of your descendants bodies, driving yourself madder and madder, being evil, and being judged by the gods or possibly having your soul annihilated at some point.
    • Put low-resistance people to sleep! Like… you know, a Sleep spell!
    • Create an Adept Manifestation! Basically a Psychic Construct. If you happen to be an adept and are willing to put so much power into it that you endanger yourself if it is destroyed. Yet another effect that is used once in an early book and never really comes up later except to show “I am an adept!”. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed.
    • Summon small Whirlwinds! Like… Dust Devil or Wall Of Wind. Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed, and so may be an air elemental effect.
    • Make Walls of Fire! Like… Wall Of Fire, but generally smaller and weaker. Probably a third level version.
    • Perform minor Divinations, drawing on notions of Sympathy and Contagion! Mostly only turns up in the Vows & Honor series before the magic system changed. Perhaps an air elemental effect?
    • Create a Dueling Circle, which contains your own attacks and prevents outside magical interference. Turns up in the Vows & Honor series (once I think) before the magic system changed and did not prevent multiple forms of cheating and external interference.
    • Empower your other Gifts with energy from Ley Lines and Nodes! If you’re Vanyel Askevron, and have had all those magic and gift “channels” blasted open in a horrible magical accident. Otherwise this doesn’t seem to happen much at all.
    • Project your spirit into the void between gates! Where there is… well, where there normally isn’t anything at all except a massive energy drain. Unless a mega-adept has hidden something there – which turns up ONCE – this is effectively “I can sink into a trance I might not awaken from and accomplish nothing!”.
    • Create a country-wide alert/spy system connected to all the other Heralds! Using the help of several other mages, a node focused through a Heartstone, and a small legion of divinely-empowered plot-device Companions… So no, this isn’t going to work for you.
      • Advanced Masters can set spells on triggers, to go off later. Almost like they know a bit of Metamagic.
  • Mind-Healing. Well, this is SUPPOSED to cover a boosted understanding psychology, calming emotions, treating traumas and mental control effects, and so on. In the actual books it’s more heard of then seen, because stories about mentally healthy, well-adjusted, sensible people tend to be BORING.
  • Precognition: This usually comes in a specialized variant; tactical precognition that gives you bonuses in a fight is very different from dreaming the distant future – and neither have much relationship to being able to predict the weather weeks in advance.
  • Psychometry: Ability to “read” information and impressions from objects. Like that minor psionic discipline.
  • Pyrokinesis: Mostly limited to the equivalent of “throw alchemists fire” if you can do anything beyond getting along without a cigarette lighter or match. A few people with this as a major gift show up, and can do things like start forest fires very quickly or perhaps throw fireballs.
  • Shields: Pretty much all Heralds are taught to stabilize their mind and resist being influenced by effects resembling their own gifts. In d20 terms, they invest a bit in Will Saves. A lot of the more subtle stuff apparently automatically fails against anyone with a decent will save bonus. Mages use the same technique to help them resist magical attacks. Like… you know, buying up your saving throws.
  • Summoning Rituals: What little is left of the old “call on entities from other planes” magic system. Mostly minor, easily turned back on the user, and dangerous. Mostly used by bad guys to summon “demons”. Since “Demons” never actually put in an on-stage appearance in most of the books beyond the Vows & Honor series – and that was before the magic system changed – we know little or nothing about them save that “they are bad”.
  • Telekinesis: Usually minor, but handy for guiding missiles, snagging cell keys, and similar tricks.
  • Telepathy: Usually fairly short range, but some few can check in on people they know at great distances. Often limited to either receiving or projecting, but it’s not too uncommon to do both. Stronger gifts can be used to cause insanity, charm people, make suggestion effects, and so on.
  • Teleportation: Usually short range and of small objects to and/or from the user. Under great stress, and with a powerful gift, you can move something as large as a small person a short distance. Like a one-shot blink or very short range, low-capacity, Dimension door.

In case it wasn’t sufficiently obvious… most Gifts basically cover first level stuff. The occasional Major Versions of those Gifts cover a rather limited selection of stuff of up to level three or four. We aren’t talking vast cosmic power here. Next time around I’ll look at actually building this stuff.

Eclipse – The Master of Stars

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

Master of Stars (+2 ECL Template):

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

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

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

Halo of Stars:

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

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

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

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

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

Further Advancement of a Master of Stars usually revolves around…

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

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

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

Cursed with Awesome; Dark Magic and You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

3) Nothing is 100% efficient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hope that answers the question sufficiently!

Eclipse and Spirits II – Spirit Summons

For today it’s the rest of an answer to an old question – how to adapt a first edition metaspell (a spell that can be cast at various levels to produce a variety of effects) to current d20 games. The “Eclipse and Spirits” article was part one, and now it’s time to cover the specific effects.

Spirit Summons calls a deceased spirit to the prime material plane. The spirit is anchored there through a link with the casters personal life force, and so must return to it’s own realm shortly after the caster dies or releases it from its bond. Occasional exceptions do occur – but usually involve a spirit bonding with some other person. Otherwise, spirits may remain as long as they please. The spirits which can be called vary with the level the spell is cast at, as given below. Unlike most spells, this one can be cast at any desired level with various effects – but only by necromantic specialists; the user must integrate the basic spell formula with the study of his specialty to use the advanced forms.

Adapting Spirit Summons to current versions of d20 presents a dilemma. First Edition AD&D – with its completely arbitrary spell lists for various classes and specialists, and emphasis on the rarity of spells, and various other occult restrictions, had no problem with spells that offered permanent benefits – just as it had no problem with a fighter drinking from a magical pool and having their strength increase by two equally permanently. Current d20 games generally have far less room for this sort of thing; the stress has shifted from the party to individual characters – and thus “character balance” has become important. To maintain that balance any special character upgrade other than level advancement must come with a commensurate cost.

Since Spirit Summons is pretty obviously a Metaspell it has a known, fixed, cost – one feat or six character points. To figure out whether or not this works, lets look at what it does…

L1: Guardian. Guardian spirits are usually those of ancestors and friends. Already possessing a close tie with the caster and wanting to come, these spirits are easy to summon. Guardian spirits are quite immaterial, command minor psychic powers – and are only visible to their summoner. The character may have up to (Chr / 3) guardian spirits. On the other hand, they can be very annoying, since they WILL harass you, make small requests, and offer unwanted advice.

Guardian Spirits are simply Spirits with an existing interest in you and your well-being. That connection with you makes them easy to reach, to link with, and to anchor to the material world. They usually use the Spirit Template straight, although they (like any spirit) may have invested a few more points in Witchcraft. In other words… this gets you a small squad of (exotic) NPC Aides.

L2: Mentor. Mentors are spirits with similar interests and skills, who want to continue their studies and/or pass on their lore. On the other hand, they have been known to pose bizarre tests, and often have obscure goals of their own. Still, a “mentor” can be excellent teacher and trainer. You only get one mentor.

Mentor Spirits use the basic spirit template (although they very often know a little more witchcraft since they’re usually higher level), but happen to be extremely interested in same topics that you are and are already quite knowledgeable and willing to act as a teacher. That (very literal) sympathetic link lets you contact them – but you only get one because trying to follow that kind of again will just lead you back to the most suitable candidate; the mentor you already have.

In current edition terms, this kind of Mentor is simply an NPC aide.

L3: Lesser Spirit. These are minor spirits which can possess small animals, act as scouts, or animate a dead body. While they have very little power, they can make good servants. A necromancer can keep up to Chr/2 lesser spirits hanging around. Lesser spirits are just those who don’t want to lose touch with the world.

“Lesser” spirits are generally spirits of simple, brute, urges – fading remnants of more sophisticated spirits, or the residuum shed by spirits moving on. They can be drawn in by sympathy with the caster’s own base, material, urges since physicality is one of the things that they value most. Lesser spirits can control animals of up to “small” size, animate corpses of up to medium size, and bring back simple reports about the area nearby.

In current edition terms… “lesser spirits” are spirits with very simple urges and a couple of specialized witchcraft talents to indulge them with – Possession (small animals only, but cheaper to use) and Hand of Shadows (Only to “animate bodies”, but cheap).

L4: Mediumism: This allows the caster to hold a classic seance – calling up a specific spirit who hasn’t any interest in him. This usually requires expending some PSP, especially if the spirit actively doesn’t want to come or wants to refuse to talk or answer. A personal relic or possession helps, acting as a PSP focus.

Mediumism is pretty classic; you use an indirect link – a personal possession or an individual with a link to a spirit – to contact it. Of course the spirit you reach may or may not be cooperative.

So… in current edition terms you can get in touch with an NPC, and even demand their attention – although they’re quite free to resist, be rude, lie, or even ignore or attack you. If you happen to have the proper psychic powers you can try to force them to answer you. The only exotic element here is opening a link to them because they happen to be dead.

L5: General Spirits. While these are given a more “solid” form then lesser spirits, these are basically just people – servants, men-at-arms, and so forth. While they can’t really be slain, they can be disrupted, and will take several days to recover from that. A single necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/3) such “servants” in his employ. General spirits must be called as known individuals, using some relic of their physical lives.

At this point your arcane power is sufficient to embody spirits who don’t need bodies with much of any power-handling capacity, shaping shells for them out of raw ectoplasm. Thus if you liked cake, and had Bob the Baker’s old cap, you could summon up Bob the Baker to make cakes for you. Theoretically you could summon a powerful mage if you had a relic of them – but if they tried to use any of their powerful magic, they’d just blast themselves back to the outer planes – so there’s no point. If all you want to do is talk, and you have a link handy, you can just use Mediumism.

In current edition – or at least Eclipse – terms… you have some ordinary followers who happen to have Returning (they come back as long as you’re around to call them), and so can be hauled along on adventures readily. If your cook gets “killed”… well, he, she, or it will be back to make those tasty meals again in a couple of days.

L6: Spirit Sage. Spirit Sages are simply experts in a field chosen by the caster. Essentially, he is now powerful enough to call up someone with a specific set of skills and knowledge without any other link. This can be very useful in getting advice and such, but the lack of a link means that “sages” always leave in very short order after the consultation.

Spirit Sages take a lot of skill and power to contact because the caster is using a very tenuous link indeed – his or her interest in some problem or piece of information that the “spirit sage” happens to have a good knowledge of. Of course, once you get that information your interest fades – and so does the link, dismissing the Spirit Sage.

In current edition terms… this is more or less “I burn a sixth level spell slot to consult with a knowledgeable NPC”, which seems reasonable enough.

L7: Greater Spirits: “Greater” Spirits are specific individuals, and often powerful ones. They can be give physical bodies to act through, or can go forth on their own as potent wraiths. They will commonly want something in exchange for their services. The necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/6) greater spirits in his employ.

“Greater” Spirits are contacted using nothing more than their name for a link. They’re usually known as “Greater” spirits because no one bothers to use seventh level magic to contact the spirit of Bob the Generic Innkeeper. It’s always the spirit of a deceased emperor or something. Such spirits often have considerably greater powers of “witchcraft” than the spirits of ordinary folk, and so can be quite dangerous if displeased.

In current edition terms, these are higher-level spirits with a specialized version of the “Apparition” witchcraft power (likely among others) – allowing them to take physical form, and thus to use their skills and combat abilities as well as Witchcraft.

L8: Channeling: This application allows the caster to tap the power of a spirit and channel it through himself. It’s wise to contact and bargain with the spirit first.

Classically this is used for things like allowing the murdered king to strike back at his killer, to let a long-dead mage cast some powerful spell, or to temporarily use some power you don’t have by calling on a spirit that does have it.

In current edition terms… you’re basically getting in touch with a spirit and allowing it to partially possess you. And yes, that can be a very bad thing if it doesn’t like you much. Still the Possession ability (Advanced Witchcraft) is pretty common amongst more powerful spirits, and no one bothers with this with Bob the Generic (Whatever) unless (perhaps) it’s a role-playing bit where you use your mighty powers to let Bob make contact with his sad grandchild or some such – and for that you don’t need much power.

L9: Possession: The pinnacle of spirit summoning lets the caster summon up a spirit and place it in a truly living body. Note that damned spirits are extremely trustworthy. The necromancer’s link with them is all that’s keeping them out of hell.

In current edition terms… “hell” isn’t an especially onerous fate for dark spirits; it’s really just an obnoxious pyramid scheme. What you’re really doing here is getting some reasonably loyal spirit-minions with the “Possession” power specialized for long-term use.

Overall, in current edition terms, this metaspell includes getting a lot of spirit-minions and either two spells – “Contact Spirit” and “Channel Spirit” – or some ritualistic talents. As a metaspell it costs 6 CP or one Feat. Can we do something comparable another way?

As it turns out, we certainly can. Take Leadership, with the Exotic Modifier (Spirits), Specialized / relies on the user’s ability to cast higher-level spells, spirit followers only, followers can be temporarily banished in various ways and must thereafter be resummoned, followers are individualized NPC’s and are not always all that cooperative (3 CP) and either two spell formula (Contact Spirit and Channel Spirit, 2 CP for those who prepare spells, 4 CP for spontaneous casters) or Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (can be fast)/spiritualist rituals only, rituals require burning spell slots for power (3 CP). Now, Leadership would require you to be of a slightly higher level at first, but this version calls for a high level of magical power to get the really useful followers – which seems more than fair.

Depending on whether or not you’re a spontaneous caster, and just how you buy it, that package costs 5, 6, or 7 CP – which is certainly comparable to the 6 CP cost of a Metaspell. Ergo, the price is fair enough presuming that the game master is allowing characters to take Leadership. If not… then Spirit Summoning should probably be on the forbidden list as well, since it does almost exactly the same thing.

Forging the Runesmith

English: Original caption: "Hands off! To...

Raise Dead? A good thing I upgraded!

Today we have a question from Alzrius regarding Lerandor’s Rule and the Runesmith Build.

  • According to Lerandor’s Rule, anything that can be done with magic can be done with basic spells; it simply takes at least two specialized spells of level “N” to duplicate the effect of a spell of level “N+1”.
  • The Runesmith takes advantage of Lerandor’s Rule to build up high-level effects out of low-level component spells – thus gaining access to magical effects of higher level than he or she could normally attain.

Looking this over, I’m slightly confused as to where some of the rules regarding runesmithing are coming from. While the total number of cantrips that can be used per day is a function of specializing Heart of the Dragon, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the rule that they can only hold (Int mod) pre-set spells (I’m also curious if that means pre-cast cantrips, or full spells formed from multiple cantrips).

More dramatic is the limitation that Spellcraft checks must be made to successfully runecast spells. This and the above limit on pre-set spells seem to be limitations that were made up whole-cloth. In and of itself, that’s not surprising for Eclipse – as it’s part-and-parcel of specializing and corrupting abilities – but those two limits specifically don’t seem to be part of any sort of cost-reduction or ability-enhancing uses of specialization or corruption.


Since the answer is far too long and complex for a comment, here it is as an article…

In this case those two restrictions aren’t really a part of the build; they’re simply extrapolations of Lerandor’s Rule (under the far more general rule of “you’re only allowed so much cheese”).

Lets say you have an unlimited supply of make-up-your-own cantrips – and an equally unlimited supply of use-activated “add metamagic; give a cantrip up to a one hour delay with a simple trigger condition”.

That’s mildly expensive, but fairly readily doable.

OK: in an hour you could cast 600 cantrips – enough to build up to a level nine spell effect under the simplest interpretation of Lerandor’s rule.

Of course, this also implies that you’ve very very quickly – and CORRECTLY, or at least workably – broken down that ninth level effect into 512 precisely-ordered steps, spontaneously designed and built (“cast”) 512 little magical mechanisms designed to be chained together to produce the final effect in six seconds each, and cast all of them in sequence without making any error of any kind along the way.

That really does seem a bit much to assume – but two basic limits spring to mind;

  1. Considering that all your steps interact and feed into each other, there’s obviously some limit on how many steps / subspells you can keep in mind at a time. That’s pretty obviously a function of Intelligence in game terms – but (Int Mod) is too few; no one would bother with the technique if all it got you was access to spells one or two levels higher than usual at great expense and difficulty. There are plenty of other – and often better – ways to do that. Allowing (Intelligence) steps works considerably better; getting access to spells three (eight subspells) or four (sixteen subspells) levels early is a substantial boost – enough to be worth the character-point investment considering that this system allows access to any spell effect that the game master is willing to permit at a given spell level.
  2. It’s generally assumed in d20 that there aren’t any ordinary errors in spellcasting. No one ever makes the wrong gesture while casting a Fireball and has it go off right at his or her feet unless there’s some sort of external interference (armor penalties and interruptions requiring concentration checks come to mind) – and, even then, spells normally just fail. On the other hand, d20 spellcasters are normally only dealing with one spell at a time – not trying to juggle a dozen or more. Getting all the steps in order and right is going to be pretty tricky – probably calling for a rather difficult spellcraft check.

Neither of those problems really apply to characters who are actually researching specific spells to chain together; they have plenty of time to find and correct small problems and unforeseen interactions – but spontaneous spellcasters really should have some trouble.

As for the Runesmith’s specific problems…

  • The limitation on “hanging” spells is fairly straightforward; those aren’t prepared spells; they’re chains of small spells a lot like chains of dominos. Their initial key will probably be a gesture or word – each of which should be unique (to prevent accidentally triggering multiple chains at one time), associated with a particular spell, and something that you’re very sure will not be set off by accident. You also don’t want any identical segments in two different chains; that risks setting off the next spell in a differing sequence – guaranteed a spell misfire, since the preceding spells in that sequence will NOT have been properly triggered. They might even be set off by external activity which too closely resembles a trigger condition. Ergo the limitation to (Int Mod) preset chains. Of course, since a chain may well include sixteen lesser spells, the (Int + Con) cantrips per day limit usually takes precedence. Thus this will really only affect higher-level Runesmiths who have bought off large chunks of their limitations – in which case they can just buy Augmented Bonus or an Immunity to get around the limitation.
  • The Spellcraft check is there to represent problem #2. It’s actually fairly easy to get around; buy a specialty, augmented bonus, a specialized skill enhancement feat, or luck (for rerolls on the relevant check) and you’ll soon be able to succeed automatically on your checks.

Thus those limitations aren’t grounded in Specializing or Corrupting the abilities in question; they’re based on “how things work” – which is considerably harder to get around.

d20 – Blood and Intellect

Бородатая змея

What do you mean, "My bloodline petered out"?!?!

First up for today, it’s another question…

I have a question related to Legends of High Fantasy (The tide of blood and hand of the earth spellweaves) and the awaken spell:

What level would the effect have to be to be heritable? I find it odd that WoTC never had a version of awaken that  allows offspring to be intelligent when they did have a few variants (like awaken ooze).

– Derek

The answer to this one depends a lot on how you think “heredity” works in d20. It’s doubtful that it has much to do  with genetics when a human and an animated mass of fire can have a child. Given the existence of the half-ghost  template, presumably it’s something spiritual. After all, a spirit doesn’t have anything else to contribute.

There also seems to be a built-in tendency to revert to the “pure” racial templates. Wizards of the Coast never  addressed this issue – but otherwise, after a few thousand years, I’d expect everyone to be dragon-elf-human-demon-celestial-elementals. How that reversion-effect works is open to question – but maybe creatures with too  many weird ancestors are sterile, or perhaps when a bloodline gets too thin it vanishes, or some such.

As far as heridatory “Awaken” effects go, an increased attribute is pretty much ALWAYS an advantage. Ergo, if such a change was truly stable, and was passed on reliably, the talking intelligent animals should wind up as the default type of animals – and, in older settings, should have wound up that way a long time ago . Even without hands, extra skill points will help out – and welcome to the Land of Oz!

So, first up, we’d need a spell that can mess with a creatures spiritual nature – granting it sapience, the ability to make  moral choices, and advanced communicative abilities. That’s the basic “Awaken” spell – although it does cost a chunk  of XP (in its role as a transforming force that can bestow new abilities on something). Eliminating that would bump the  level a bit.

Now, if we want to make that change a hereditary part of a creatures spiritual nature we want something much subtler than an imposed transformation-spell, however “instantaneous”. I’d peg that one at around +2-3 levels, and with a  larger XP cost.

Eventually, however, the effects would fade – and later generations of your target creatures would revert to their  original spiritual template. How long will that take to happen? Well, for +2 levels, probably to 1-2 creatures per level  of the caster – allowing the creation of a large family or small group. For +3 levels perhaps 5-10 such creatures per  level of the caster – allowing the creation of a modest clan.

To make it truly permanent, and establish a new species we need to add the correct spiritual template to the universe’s current selection – which is definitely a job for Epic Magic (unless your GM is really kind and lets if happen naturally if  you just do your multi-generational awakening spell over and over again) or overcome whatever-it-is that keeps the various species relatively pure.

Given that I don’t know what that’s going to be in a given setting, that’s kind of hard to figure out. In this case, I’ll just go with a comparison to an existing level thirteen Eclipse spell – Evolution. Ergo, level twelve to fourteen, depending on just what the species purity-enforcing mechanism is and how hard it is to affect.

d20 – Summon Army

John Dee and Edward Kelley evoking a spirit

More! I want MORE!

First up for today it’s another question from Alzrius.

What sort of spell(s) would it look like to summon an army for a considerable amount of time?

I recognize that the problems with this request are the inherent relativity of the terms “army” and “considerable length of time.” As such, let’s presume that we’re talking about summoning no less than twenty (though certainly more) 2nd-level fighters (of a standard PC race, such as human) for 1 hour per caster level.

My instinct here was to use the rules for summon monster spells, wherein if you sink a higher-level spell into lower-level creatures, you can summon more of them, but between the number of creatures and the length of time you want them to remain, that rapidly becomes infeasible.

Hence, would a specialized spell that was less flexible than a standard summon monster spell (which allowed for a choice among several monsters, and could be scaled through lower-level summons) allow for such a spell to exist at sub-epic ranges? Certainly, not granting the standard celestial/fiendish template to “normal” creatures (which any standard humanoid race would surely be) would help too.

In short, what would the “summon army” spell look like?

Alzrius goes on to append the note that modern definitions of “army” tend to be awfully large – tens of thousands of men at a minimum – but spells like that are obviously going to be epic anyway.

Well, lets see now… The base point for comparison is indeed the “Summon Monster” spell template in The Practical Enchanter. To check the base for such a spell, a summoning spell for a specific CR2 creature can be cut down to level one. You just take the “one creature with a CR one above the listed limit” rule (I’d allow it; a second level warrior is hardly the most deadly CR2 creature out there) and the “only summons one type of creature” modifier and apply them to the level three base spell you need to summon CR2 creatures.

That’s potentially useful – but the one-round duration at level one means that your summoned warrior gets only one attack, which might well miss. A good old Magic Missile is more reliable, and Mage Armor is probably a much better defense. The duration of the summoning scales with level, but so does the damage of the Magic Missile and the duration of the Mage Armor.

To get twenty such creatures, we need +2 spell levels for 4d4, and another +2 spell levels for an additional 4d4 – for 8d4, averaging twenty.

That takes the spell up to level five. To get it to one hour per caster level is +3 spell levels – for a total level of level eight.

Either the fifth level version (Get’em Guys!) or eighth level version (Honor Guard) isn’t that bad a spell really. If you use the eighth level version your minions won’t be all that useful in any serious straight-up fight at the levels where you can cast the spell to summon them in the first place (unless you apply some special options to bring the spell level down), but sensible, loyal, and totally disposable minions have many non-combat uses. They can provide a suitable escort when riding into town, check for traps, pick up dangerous artifacts, dig ditches, go and hunt for food (and then vanish without eating any of it), act as servants, provide massed arrow support, create diversions, and so on. They aren’t too powerful, but they are fairly versatile and will be around all day.

Scaling up to a full-sized army using standard modifiers is trickier. The quickest way to do it is to summon squads instead of individuals. That’s a bit cheesy, but – once again – we’re talking second level warriors, so I’d be inclined to allow it.

Adding +2 levels jumps the CR of the summoned creatures to 5. Three level two creatures are CR5, so now we’re summoning 8d4 three-man teams. To keep this non-epic, drop the duration of the higher level version to one minute per level – keeping it at level nine and summoning sixty men for at least seventeen minutes. Call it “Charge of the Light Brigade“. Again, not the best ninth-level spell around, but there might be some uses for it – especially if you’ve got some way to power up the creatures that you summon.

Honestly, though, this is less than overwhelming. Meteor Swarm could wipe out this entire force in an instant. What we’ll want to apply next is the Compact metamagical theorem from Eclipse. Both the increase in numbers and the increase in duration can reasonably be taken as Metamagic – so we could use the theorem to take up to six levels off the spell; three for compaction and three to counter the metamagical boosts we’re building into the spell.

So: we’ll take a day to cast this (and probably store it when we’re done, -2 spell levels), use some expensive components (a selection of weapons perhaps, -1 spell level), owe a minor favor to the spiritual powers who are providing the spirits we’re summoning (-1 spell level), become exhausted when casting it (thanks to the strain of anchoring all those spirits, -1 spell level), and spend 100 XP casting it (-1 spell level).

OK. At CR7 we get six-man squads of second-level warriors – probably with a few siege weapons and such to go with their regular weapons. That’s a base of spell level six, reduced to five since we can only get those second-level warrior squads. We want one hour per level, so that’s +3 spell levels. We want a total of 8d4 squads, which is another +4 spell levels. Fortunately, we’re getting -6 spell levels from the Compaction theorem – which brings the total down to level six for “The Raising of the Lost Legion“. That’s pretty powerful – but we are requiring a day-long ritual and expensive components. If we drop those, leaving the favor, exhaustion, and 100 XP cost, we’re back up to level nine (“Iron Master of War“) which does seem suitable. A hundred and twenty men with siege weapons for a day isn’t really that big an army, and can still be dealt with fairly simply (Dispel Magic anyone?), but there are times I might prefer such a spell to Time Stop, Meteor Swarm, Summon Monster IX, or Gate.

Certainly not always, but I can think of some situations.

That’s about as far as we can go while still keeping our “summon army” spell non-epic.

Now, there are some “Army Creation” spells in the high-levels spells section of Eclipse:

  • Unseen Horde creates at least 500 invisible constructs roughly equivalent to a second-level fighter for one hour per level at level thirteen.
  • The Dark Hordes summons up to 36 CR worth of infernal beings with a maximum CR of 9 each for a years service (which could cover quite a few low-CR beings in groups) at level sixteen.
  • Army of the Dead raises 5000 HD worth of undead of up to CR 16 each and gives them some bonuses as an instantaneous effect (you’ve got to kill them to get rid of them) at level twenty.

Of course, level twenty is the level for spells such as Stars Like Dust, which makes the utility of armies somewhat questionable. Still, a variant on Army of the Dead which called forth a larger number of hit dice of creatures – limited to, say, CR 4 each and “normal” races only, plus giving up “complete control” in favor of “reasonably loyal” (in exchange, perhaps, for 20,000 hit dice in total) to colonize and work your land seems pretty reasonable.

A spell like Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth there would leave your upper-end dark lords without any real reason to go out and snatch populations – but if they’re casting 20’th level spells, they can probably handle getting some normal people to work for them anyway.

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.

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.

Basic Psionic Exercises

A 14-year-old domestic servant, Therese Selles...

Practice Makes Psionic!

Back in the old days of D&D, first edition psionics was an oddly tacked on subsystem that tended to blaze like a meteor; if you rolled well, there was a very small chance that you would abruptly gain mighty psychic powers and utterly dominate the game – up until the point where the game master looked at the rules, threw in a few psychic opponents, and (as the rules told him to do) stopped everything else until the “lightning-fast” psionic combat was over.

Which effectively meant that it was your character, and your unaided brain, against all those psychic opponents with no chance for anyone else to intervene. As they say, “Head `splodee!”.

That could actually be kind of fun, both for the player and the game master. The player got to have a big taste of power and the game master got to dramatically portray the price of wild power – but psionics were generally a brief diversion before you got back to the normal game. There were a few attempts to make actual psionic classes, but they rarely worked out well.

Second edition made psionics a very different system. A starting psionic character might well have access to one or two quite powerful effects – in fact, sometimes to effects that were about as powerful as his or her abilities would ever be. But he or she didn’t have many of them, they were pretty unreliable, and you couldn’t even try to use them very often. That was a very unusual kind of power curve; a psionic started out with the ability to occasionally pull off a game-changing stunt – and eventually turned into a solid support character. There’s an Eclipse build or two under the psychic examples for making characters who use second-edition styled psionics, but they are, as the second edition psionicist was, a fairly radical break from the way things usually go.

That did bring up a question though. What did psionicists do? Trying to start with self-teleportation or some such pretty obviously a good way to kill yourself.

The following selection of “Basic Exercises” answers that question. The psionic equvilent of “Cantrips” or “Orisons”, “Basic Exercises” are generally abandoned in favor of the heady potencies of genuine devotions and sciences as soon as a psionicist masters the use of any particular discipline, but a few psionicists put their practice techniques to use.

 If the GM is willing, psionicist characters may take one of the following “powers” (Or some similar ability) per discipline to which they have access. They get two in their primary discipline(s), and may develop more at a cost of 2 CP apiece. All “Basic Exercises” have MAC’s of 10, negligible costs (Possibly 1-2 PSP per trick, or hour, for special stunts or extreme situations), and no prerequisite save access to the appropriate discipline, or being within two levels of gaining such access.


  • Cardreading (Clairsentience) : This is the annoying ability to “read” straight through a moderate thickness of paper, parchment, or cardboard. While often used to cheat at cards (obviously enough), it can also be used to read people’s mail without opening it, and so on.
  • Handyman (Clairsentience) : Most of the people “out there” share a firm belief that quite a few devices can be gotten to work if you can simply find the right spot to bang on them. Characters with this talent know where it is – and may make a dexterity check to bang appropriately on any device the GM is willing to let him or her get away with operating this way.
  • Psychic Filing (Clairsentience) : This handy talent permits the user to unerringly locate familiar items in the immediate area. The user will never misplace his or her glasses, book, keys, or spell components. He or she can reach into a massive bag of junk an unerringly pull out whatever it is he or she wants – rather then having to sort through the entire pile.
  • Visions (Clairsentience) : This exotic talent grants – or curses it’s user with – sporadic and unpredictable “visions”; full-sensory glimpses across space and time. Such visions always seem to be both relevant, and somehow “linked” with the psionicist. Once a vision has been “seen”, the psionicist can “replay it” at will, and may be able to summon associated visions. Oddly, “visions” often seem to lead to interesting adventures.


  • Alter Hair (Psychometabolism) : This pointless power allows it’s user to modify his or her body hair, pretty much at will. Length, color, thickness, and style are all manipulable, ranging from “Bald” to “Bigfoot”.
  • Control Fertility (Psychometabolism) : This ability allows the user to either enhance his or her chances of becoming a parent, or to (temporarily) eliminate them.
  • Party Animal (Psychometabolism) : Any character with this talent has a fabulous capacity for self-indulgence without ill effects. They can drink enormously and never get hangovers, eat vast quantities of rich food without risk of indigestion (or fat), smoke like chimneys, take various recreational drugs – and engage in endless sexual activities – without physical problems. Social problems are another matter altogether.
  • Pleasure Sharing (Psychometabolism) : This pleasant talent allows two or more individuals within about five feet to share pleasurable feelings as the user wills. This has few “practical” uses, but is a lot of fun.


  • Dicethrowing (Psychokinesis) : This “classic” power permits the user to manipulate dice, roulette wheels, and similar implements. Of course, doing this too often is a good way to get your throat cut.
  • Polytonal Whistling (Psychokinesis) : This throughly entertaining talent allows the user to whistle (and, with practice, sing) several different notes at one time, an effect much like that produced by multiple pipes. This is definitely a novelty, if nothing else.
  • Touchfire (Psychokinesis) : This handy ability lets the user pyrokinetically generate a small flame – about equal to that of a match – with a range of around three inches. He or she can throw away his or her tinderbox, matches, and cigarette lighters.
  • Vaudeville (Psychokinesis) : This power enhances the user’s skill at “slight-of-hand” (And, for that matter, at picking pockets) with tiny telekinetic “nudges”. The net result is a +3/15% bonus on performing any relevant silly tricks, building houses of cards, running the old “peas-and-shells” game, ventriloquism acts, and similar sideshow techniques.


  • Cardsharping (Psychoportion) : This ability permits it’s user to “teleport” very small, very light, objects he or she happens to be in contact with an inch or so – provided that it has someplace to go. Objects cannot be embedded in other objects with this power. On the other hand, it’s an ideal way to slip poison through a goblet into the wine, to stack a deck while dealing it – or to get a ring off someone’s finger while holding hands.
  • Split Second (Psychoportion) : While this “ability” spans space and time, it does it only for that most intangible of objects – the mind. Most people master this to a limited extent; they experience intense flashes of memory, moments of deja vu – and occasional instants that somehow stretch into long, echoing, seconds. While no real use has been found for those momentary shifts into the future which produce deja vu (except for nihilists, who’ll always have a justification for bored yawning, and for situations so silly that most people lose the round to shock), flashbacks can be amusing – or even useful if the GM happens to like offering “Kung Fu”-style advice – and giving yourself an extra minute to study something, or to consider a rushed and critical decision, does not hurt a thing.
  • Trademark (Psychoportion) : This talent essentially creates a tiny pocket dimension closely associated with the user. This may either contain an indefinitely large supply of some small personal “necessity” (E.G.; a chain- smoker who ALWAYS seems to have another pack about), or a specific item that always shows up again (E.G., a “pet” dagger you always clean your nails with). Sadly, there has to be at least a brief period between “withdrawals” – thus any attempt to exploit this by throwing the same knife fifty times in a row, or going into the cigarette business, is doomed to failure. Many user’s never even realize that they HAVE such an ability.
  • Mediumism (Psychoportion) : This skill opens up the weakest possible kind of gateway; a portal allowing the passage of a certain amount of psychic power and no more. This can be used to cast thoughts “into the beyond” (E.G. – towards the outer planes) – or to allow anything that chooses to respond to this (Slightly amplified) form of “prayer” to respond (If only via an ectoplasmic vision, telekinetic rapping, or some such). Attempting to reach powerful beings is generally a waste of time (There are always LOTS of people trying to reach them), but trying to get a response from minor spirits (Such as most dead people) with an interest in something is usually a good deal more productive.


  • Cold Reader (Telepathy) : This sideshow talent lets it’s user combine reading “leaked” thoughts with shrewd deduction – and often a bit of showmanship – to provide remarkably accurate evaluations of passers-by. Details which are normally available include their apparent age (and whether or not it conforms to their manner), a rough idea of their social station, height, weight, a decent- to-excellent chance at guessing their exact profession, some odd bits about their families and current worries, and all the rest of the stuff that goes into convincing a mark that you’re marvelously clairvoyant. While this is considerably less effective when used against people skilled in disguise, or who are otherwise attempting to conceal their identities, that fact alone can be rather revealing to a clever fortune-teller.
  • Detect Infestation (Telepathy) : This (semi-)useful talent allows the user to detect the presence of swarms of things – Rats. Bees. Termites. Head lice. With a bit of concentration, the user can even trace such “swarms” back to their lair (If he or she is fool enough to want to do so). While this is occasionally a useful warning, it’s probably most handy when you’re buying property.
  • Gossipmonger (Telepathy) : This “marvelous” ability gives it’s “user” a direct line into the rumormill. The power to always have the juiciest bits of gossip on tap. In essence, it it allows him or her to pick up “leaked” thoughts – the things people tend to think about – want kept quiet – and know that the servants and such may find out at any time. Affairs. Illegitimate children. Lost/ stolen items. Heirs lechery and gambling debts.
  • Meaningful Glances (Telepathy) : This exotic talent permits the user to get a brief (A few phrases) message across to a nearby (Up to around 30 feet) target with a simple glance or gesture. While this is faster and more private then simply speaking, it does require that your target look at you.

While there are many, many, many, other “exercises” – any psionicist may have his or her own unique set – the list given above should suffice to establish a starting point.

The Necromantic Spells of Farvaras

Disney - Magic Music Mayhem 1 (Explored)

There's more than one way to wreck stuff

For today, it’s a bit of first-edition nostalgia – a collection of necromantic spells. Sadly, this one doesn’t include the Skeleton Dance (which animated its victims skeletons while they were still using them; causing serious penalties while they remained alive, and turning them into skeletons if they died while the spell was still active), but it does have a lot of others on it. I’ll have to see if I can find a few more of the lists of horribly-malevolent spells in the old files.

From the Tome of Farvaras, As compiled by Farvaras Nightweaver, the (pretentious) Sorcerer-Sage Of Malava.

“Why Call It A ‘School’ Unless They Teach Something?”

Cantrips: Blood Curse, Corpselight, Donate Vitality, Doomstroke, Enhance Disease, Final Intervention, Invoke Bargain, Numbing Touch, Sense Life, Spirit Sight, Summon Bound Spirit, and Wisdom of Groa.

  • Blood Curse channels the users final, dying, energy into laying a curse – releasing all the power bound up in whatever spells remain in the users memory, as well as any available PSP (Con minimum). Be creative.
  • Corpselight sheds a wavering phosphorescent glow, and looks eerie. It will flare brilliantly if the caster allows it to drain a HP from him, but otherwise serves to illuminate about a 3 foot radius.
  • Donate Vitality transfers some of the users HP into whatever he touches. Inanimate objects can be charged or briefly animated, living recipients are healed.
  • Doomstrike channels the users HP into a bolt of raw magical power (2 HP per HP expended, save for 1/2).
  • Enhance Disease gives a boost to whatever germs are already in the targets body, possibly causing illness, or enhancing any illness already present.
  • Final Intervention allows the users spirit to “hang around’ for a few moments past death – possibly taking the opportunity to invoke another spell or something.
  • Invoke Bargain simply calls on a supernatural being to fulfill it’s end of some deal. This isn’t actually required – but it does make the call undeniable.
  • Numbing Touch acts a lot like a shot of Novocaine.
  • Sense Life simply answers the classic question “Is this thing alive?”. Note that the answer may be “It’s undead” if that’s appropriate.
  • Spirit Sight lets the user see (and speak with) any stray spirits and haunts that happen to be hanging about the area.
  • Summon Bound Spirit simply drags out any spirit the user happens to have bound to his service.
  • Wisdom Of Groa opens the caster up to the wisdom of the dead, allowing the spirits to speak through him. This can get really weird. The spirits may not answer, may spout obscure prophecies, or may spout insults and inane comments. Who knows?

Level One: Blood Link, Bloodshaping, Diagnosis, Repair Undead, Ritual Sacrifice, and Spirit Summons.

  • Blood Link transfers a bit of the casters essence and vitality (1 HP) to a drop of his blood. Thus the blood remains a part of the caster even when separated – and allows the user to act upon, and sense what is around, whatever the blood drop is placed on. The disadvantage is that many mental effects can hit the user over the link.
  • Bloodshaping shapes a creature from the users blood and vitality (IE, you contribute HP). Such creatures are obedient, but the caster must equal the normal HP roll made by the GM to succeed
  • Diagnosis tells you what is wrong with a creature – and gives substantial bonuses to treating it.
  • Repair Undead restores 3D8 HP to an undead creature
  • Ritual Sacrifice involves ceremonially killing some helpless victim and channeling its vital energies for your purposes. It isn’t a very nice thing to do – but it can be used on someone who’s dying anyway.  Unlike most spells, this one can be cast at any desired level with various effects – but only by necromantic specialists; the user must integrate the basic spell formula with the study of his specialty to use the advanced forms.
  • L1: Vitality Channeling allows the user to direct the victims vital energies to a target. Living beings are strengthened and healed, inanimate ones are charged with life force – and supernatural beings are ‘fed”.
  • L2: Spirit Enslavement permits the caster to bind the victims spirit to his own purposes, as a guard, as a servant, or to come to his aid when called upon.
  • L3: Necromantic Talismans focus the energy in one part of the users body, creating “charged” magic items of various sorts (Examples; Bone Wand (Life Disruption 1D6/victims HP, max 6D6/Bolt), Skull Talisman (made to store spells), and the classic Hand Of Glory)
  • L4: Black Forging traps the victims spirit in one or another item, suffering torment if it doesn’t obey. Depending on the victims abilities, this can make many kinds of magic items but is a nasty way to do it. This trick can also be used on any bound spirit available.
  • L5: Black Animation uses the victim to animate a golem body of some sort.
  • L6: A Black Pentagram allows the user to transfer any damage (Life level drains, disease, blows, etc) he takes to the spirit trapped within his pentagram. The user chooses when to transfer damage.
  • L7: Necromantic Flaying traps the victims soul in his own flayed skin. This can be done as torture, or in order to make a coat which will absorb damage equal to your victims HP before falling apart.
  • L8: Lifestealing drains a victims remaining lifespan to extend the users. The user does not become any younger, this merely blocks natural aging for the time the victim had remaining.
  • L9: Deathlink permits the user to attempt to kill someone else along with his victim. The second target need not be present but will certainly be aware of the attempt.
  • Spirit Summons calls a deceased spirit to the prime material plane. The spirit is anchored there through a link with the casters personal life force, and so must return to it’s own realm shortly after the caster dies or releases it from its bond. Occasional exceptions do occur – but usually involve a spirit bonding with some other person. Otherwise, spirits may remain as long as they please. The spirits which can be called vary with the level the spell is cast at, as given below. Unlike most spells, this one can be cast at any desired level with various effects – but only by necromantic specialists; the user must integrate the basic spell formula with the study of his specialty to use the advanced forms.
    • L1: Guardian. Guardian spirits are usually those of ancestors and friends. Already possessing a close tie with the caster and wanting to come, these spirits are easy to summon. Guardian spirits are quite immaterial, command minor psychic powers – and are only visible to their summoner. The character may have up to (Chr / 3) guardian spirits. On the other hand, they can be very annoying, since they WILL harass you, make small requests, and offer unwanted advice.
    • L2: Mentor. Mentors are spirits with similar interests and skills, who want to continue their studies and/or pass on their lore. On the other hand, they have been known to pose bizarre tests, and often have obscure goals of their own. Still, a “mentor” can be excellent teacher and trainer. You only get one mentor.
    • L3: Lesser Spirit. These are minor spirits which can possess small animals, act as scouts, or animate a dead body. While they have very little power, they can make good servants. A necromancer can keep up to Chr/2 lesser spirits hanging around. Lesser spirits are just those who don’t want to lose touch with the world.
    • L4: Mediumism allows the caster to hold a classic seance – calling up a specific spirit who hasn’t any interest in him. This usually requires expending some PSP, especially if the spirit actively doesn’t want to come or wants to refuse to talk or answer. A personal relic or possession helps, acting as a PSP focus.
    • L5: General Spirits. While these are given a more “solid” form then lesser spirits, these are basically just people – servants, men-at-arms, and so forth. While they can’t really be slain, they can be disrupted, and will take several days to recover from that. A single necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/3) such “servants” in his employ. General spirits must be called as known individuals, using some relic of their physical lives.
    • L6: Spirit Sage. Spirit Sages are simply experts in a field chosen by the caster. Essentially, he is now powerful enough to call up someone with a specific set of skills and knowledge without any other link. This can be very useful in getting advice and such, but the lack of a link means that “sages” always leave in very short order after the consultation.
    • L7: Greater Spirits are specific individuals, and often powerful ones. They can be give physical bodies to act through, or can go forth on their own as potent wraiths. They will commonly want something in exchange for their services. The necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/6) greater spirits in his employ.
    • L8: Channeling allows the caster to tap the power of a spirit and channel it through himself. It’s wise to contact and bargain with the spirit first.
    • L9: Possession lets the caster summon up a spirit and place it in a truly living body. Note that damned spirits are extremely trustworthy. The necromancer’s link with them is all that’s keeping them out of hell.

    Level Two: Blood Wreaking, Dominate Undead, Grave Rot, Mnemonic Consumption, Psychic Absorption, and Seeking Bone.

    • Blood Wreaking “burns off” one (or more) experience levels to power magic. This provides a “pool” of spell levels equal to the lost level(s) (EG – 13’th to 12’th provides 13, 13’th to 11’th provides 25), which can be used to produce any desired magical effect – if enough power is available.
    • Dominate Undead essentially operates like a clerics ability to “turn” or control undead.
    • Grave Rot lasts for 1R/Level and does 2D6/round as it spreads across the target. Each successful save delays the spread by one round.
    • Mnemonic Consumption allows you to acquire some of your victims memories by eating his brain.
    • Psychic Absorption absorbs PSP from those losing HP in a 20′ R, up to a stored limit of 4*Wis above base.
    • Seeking Bone attunes any bone to an individual life force, causing it to tug towards them. If it contacts it’s target the bone causes 3D6 damage by absorbing a part of the targets life energy.

    Level Three: Boneshatter, Dust of Death, Life Battery, Liquid Flesh, Power Absorption, and Surgery I.

    • Boneshatter forces the target to save or break some bones – 1-2 major ones or several smaller ones. This tends to be a problem.
    • Dust Of Death extracts the “essence of death” from a corpse. The resulting dust is a dangerous “contact poison” (6D6) while the body is readied for possession or easier animation/resurrection.
    • Life Battery allows a once-living object to “store” vital energy (HP). The limit is 10*Casters Level, the release limit is 10/round, and only one such battery may be maintained at a time as it’s tied to the users life.
    • Liquid Flesh allows the caster to reshape his flesh and bone with PSP as a free action. This can be used to ooze under doors and such, as well as to seal wounds and so on (Slashes 1 PSP/2 HP, Crushing 1/1, burns and so on are not treatable this way).
    • Power Absorption allows the caster to absorb and save the remaining magical powers of a dying foe (IE – this must be cast the round after the target “falls”). This generally means remaining memorized and innate spells. Maximum limit= (2*Con) spell levels. The user selects the spells stolen.
    • Surgery I lets the caster perform fast, simple (E.G., setting bones and such), surgery with his bare hands. It does hurt a bit if it ought to normally. This can be used to patch minor wounds (1D4+2). 1 turn per level, may be used on multiple patients, as most “operations” only take a few minutes when using this spell. It can heal a “corpse” until the point of brain death.

    Level Four: Accelerate Healing, Circle of Night, Death’s Guide, Demon-Raising, Slaying, and Undeath Assumption.

    • Accelerate Healing triples healing, including magically-applied healing, for 8 hours/level.
    • Circle Of Night generates a 2″ aura which disrupts a specified body process in it’s victims. Usually used to disrupt sight, this can also be used to disrupt the victims speech, hearing, neurology (treat as “slow”), or circulation (3D6/round). The caster is unaffected. Victims must save each round they remain in the aura to prevent the spell from taking effect.
    • Deaths Guide allows the caster to walk with a dying being on at least part of it’s journey. This can get very weird, and is sometimes dangerous, but can be worth quite a lot of experience to a necromancer. It’s also very comforting for the being and, oddly, often leaves the user refreshed and healed.
    • Demon-Raising actually channels life-force (HP) to extra-dimensional beings in a kind of bargain – “Come and bargain with me and I’ll feed you”. Protective circles and such are a good idea when doing this.
    • Slaying basically tightens a fist around a targets heart, causing incapacitating pain and death in 4 rounds unless dispelled somehow. Even if it is, the victim takes 3D6 points per round before it was.
    • Undeath Assumption temporarily ties the user to the realms of death, granting undead powers at the cost of gradually draining the users life force. Such losses can only be restored via rest and time, grow greater the more ambitious the user becomes, and can make it hard to break free when you want to end the spell.

    Level Five: Forge Avatar, Life Infusion, Necromantic Might, Repel Life, Spirit Weapon, and Surgery II

    • Forge Avatar this spell pours much of the power and strength of the user (and possibly a group) into calling forth an entity which embodies that power. “Avatars” are NPC’s, leave the group utterly exhausted, and can be very strange. One advantage is that an “Avatar” always starts fresh, regardless of how battered the group is. Avatars become quasi-permanent if the group gives up a bit of experience to them, and permanent if someone dies to give them a life of their own.
    • Life Infusion pours a massive infusion of vitality/ life force into it’s target, possibly “animating” non- living targets, and healing massive amounts of damage on living beings. Unfortunately, this also infuses energy into any germs you happen to be carrying and can cause things like cancer. The GM may require 1-3 saves to avoid coming down with something horrible and possibly contagious.
    • Necromantic Might invokes a controlled infusion of life energy, bestowing an extra 24 HP, 18/00 Str, and an extra attack per round on it’s target.
    • Repel Life drives back living things within a 2″ R. Creatures who save may remain if they desire, but take 3D6 points a round as their lives are stripped. Anyone forcing their way into the area takes 6D6 as they move into it. This also causes sever nausea (-3 on rolls).
    • Spirit Weapon conjures a quasi-material weapon (any type the user desires) which bypasses armor and inflicts “wounding” damage on those it strikes.
    • Surgery II covers “intermediate” surgery and repair work, but is otherwise similar to Surgery I.

    Level Six: Blood Chain, Enhance Undead, Merge Zombies, Storm of Bones, Subsumption, and Vampiric Mist.

    • Blood Chain is related to “Blood Link”, but is far, far, more effective. The victim must drink some of the casters blood, but is thereafter bound to obedience.
    • Enhance Undead enhances the body in ways that would kill a living being – toughening tissues, solidifying bones, and so on. Undead become stronger and gain 3D8 HP.
    • Merge Zombies lets the user merge skeletons/zombies like clay, to assemble a giant necromantic golem. This monstrosity is (very) slow and stupid, but can be nearly impossible to stop.
    • Storm Of Bones allows the user to telekinetically manipulate bones – inflicting up to 3D8 damage a round on up to (level) targets, and possibly tearing them free of bodies to create gruesome whirlwinds and structures of broken and shattered bones. This costs PSP to use.
    • Subsumption attempts to absorb another persons body and abilities into the casters own. This can be done a maximum of once for every six full levels and cannot be used on those of more then half the users level.
    • Vamphyric Mist drains blood and grows. This can get out of control quite readily. Luckily, sunlight blasts it quickly. Fire holds it off, priests can turn it, and light slows it’s attack. Still, it can do anything up to 3D4 points a round, and is a horrible thing to turn loose in a city.

    Level Seven: Exorcism, Legacy, Greater Undeath, Surgery III, Transference, and Vitality Pool.

    • Exorcism is fairly obvious. It only works on “dead” spirits, not on demons and such.
    • Legacy creates a link which allows the user to pass on his or her power when he dies.
    • Greater Undeath is actually a ritual used to create the more powerful undead; ghouls through mummies. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the caster will be able to control such beings – but he does get a +3 bonus to do so.
    • Surgery III covers advanced surgery – such as organ transplants and re-attaching limbs. Otherwise it’s very similar to Surgery I and II.
    • Transference creates a link that allows the caster to transfer his essence into a new body if his old one should somehow be destroyed. This can be cast on the behalf of other people and the body must be “vacant”.
    • Vitality Pool allows the caster and up to 3 others to “pool” their hit points. This has an interesting side- benefit in that if the group is hit by an area-effect, it only suffers damage once. On the other hand, some spells will affect everyone involved.

    Level Eight: Create Myrkridder, Detonate Life Force, Life Leech, Northern Gale, Soulspear, and Spirit Purging

    • Create Myrkridder turns a body (or skeleton) into a Myrkridder; a skeletal undead with limited ice powers, the ability to conjure a flying skeletal steed of ice, and a mystic link allowing the caster to command, sense, and cast spells through them. They’re great minions, but tend to attract do-gooders.
    • Detonate Lifeforce transforms the targets vitality into an expanding ball of pure energy. This is very nasty, as it not only kills the target but does damage equal to (4D6+2*The Targets Base HP) to all within 3″. Saves half the damage from the explosion.
    • Life Leech this spell resembles Vampiric Touch but all creatures within 3″ are affected and the transfer of HP to the caster is only half as effective. This does have the advantage that damage to “phantom” HP doesn’t interfere with spellcasting.
    • Northern Gale opens a portal to the realms of death and allows any spirit there who “wants another shot at the target” to come forth and try. This can get very nasty, especially for high-level warriors and such.
    • Soulspear is an especially nasty attack. It tends to bypass most defenses, damages constitution – rather then HP – and any victim that dies is left “pinned” on the astral level in constant torment.
    • Spirit Purging “purifies” a dying spirit, quietly and gently breaking any ties to the living world, soothing pain, purging negative emotions, and otherwise opening the way into rest. It repels any supernatural pests that may be hanging around as well. While this has no direct advantage for the caster, it is a great service to be able to offer a friend, and it isn’t unknown for the departing spirit to offer some benison in return.

    Level Nine: Death Doppleganger, Lichdom, Peace of the Grave, Severance, Spiritfire, and Surgery IV.

    • Death Doppleganger must be cast on the body of some recently-slain character of similar race. It transfers much of the targets memories, a part of his abilities, and his physical form to the user. Thereafter the user can shift between his two “natural” forms at will, and can adopt either identity with ease. The casters mind will be hidden beneath the one he has assumed. Using this spell more then once is probably a good way to go mad.
    • Lichdom allows the caster to transform himself into a lich after he or she dies. The process takes a week.
    • Peace Of The Grave lays the unquiet dead, up to 3HD per level of the caster may be laid via this spell. No save applies to the dead and undead.
    • Severance splits apart the victims body and spirit, leaving the caster with two slaves – a bodiless wraith and a living fleshy golem.
    • Spiritfire is an insanely dangerous spell, creating a near-inextinguishable “fire” that feeds on vitality. despite the limited duration, unleashing such a thing has the potential to cause a holocaust.
    • Surgery IV covers ludicrous surgery – transplanting brains, grafting on alien limbs, and building monsters. It’s otherwise similar to Surgery I, II, and III.

    Eclipse – Spellcasting Modification Feats

    First up for today, it’s a quick answer to one of the more common Eclipse questions – how a spellcaster can modify how particular groups of spells work.

    Sometimes that’s merely special effects, and so doesn’t actually require a power; it simply requires the consent of your game master. You want all your spells to have a “green flame” aspect to them? That doesn’t really do anything? So be it. These are fantasy games. Looking cool, exotic, outright weird, or appallingly evil, is all free.

    A lot of characters, however, want something that actually makes a difference.

    • They may want their fire spells to operate underwater – call it Phosphorescent Mastery.
    • They may want their ice spells to briefly paralyze those they damage – call it Glacial Wind.
    • They may want to be able to cast spells that normally require plants to work and have them grow their own plants – call it Green Thumb.
    • They may want their fire spells to actually set things on fire and to leave clouds of smoke – call it Incendiary Mania.

    They may want hundreds of different things.

    Fortunately, in Eclipse, that’s really, really, easy to set up.

    Practically any modification you want on a spell can be produced by one of the Metamagical Theorems. Buying the ability to apply a couple of levels of free metamagic – enough to tweak the spells in a particular category to do something unusual – is straightforward.

    Purchase the appropriate Metamagical Theorem (6 CP) and two levels of Streamline (12 CP). Specialize and Corrupt both of those items to reduce the cost; only to apply a specific +2 spell level modifier to a particular – and relatively narrow – group of spells.

    That will suffice in the vast majority of cases – and at a net cost of only 6 CP, the same as any normal feat. So go right ahead. Give your spellcaster some interesting specialty or option. Make his or her favorite spells a bit more powerful – and make both him and them thoroughly distinctive. Don’t make playing pieces. Make CHARACTERS.

    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.

    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.

    Dramatic Spell Research and Radius Potions

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    Here we have a couple of questions from Derek regarding The Practical Enchanter.

    You have a lot of good stuff for spell design but one thing is missing- failure. I was thinking about failure for psionic power design (ie screwing up one’s own mind) and it hit me that it could be applied to magic (screwing up the unnatural order) as well. Have any ideas on this?

    That really comes in two different aspects – designing spells and powers that carry an inherent risk of failure and dangerous failures in the design process. After all, simply failing to produce a usable formula or producing one that doesn’t work properly is already covered in the design process – and if you want to create a spellcaster with risky or unstable magic, you want Eclipse: The Codex Persona rather than The Practical Enchanter.

    Spells and powers that carry an inherent risk of failure are easy. For that, you can simply build the Arcanum Minimus effect from The Practical Enchanter into the spell formula. This works just like building in any other metamagical effect but – of course – reduces the level of the resulting spell instead of adding to it. Since you don’t need to know a metamagical feat to design a spell formula with the equivalent effect built in, there’s no problem there.

    • The simplest form of failure is using the “Powers of Chaos” modifier. When such a spell fails it can produce wild magical effects at the game masters option.
    • The “Life Energy” modifier can represent mental damage by simply taking the option for attribute damage and applying it to mental attributes.
    • Finally, for really advanced mental damage, you can use the “Powers of Darkness” option, although you’d probably want to tweak the possible effects a bit.

    This means that inherently-flawed powers and spells normally won’t be more than a level or two below the unflawed versions. That’s intentional, simply because letting characters get a hold of spells that are too far beyond their normal abilities – even if they are badly flawed – tends to be overly disruptive.

    Now, as far as research failures go, the idea is indeed very classic. On the magical side “Occult experimenter carried off by demons!”, “Explosion in laboratory!”, and even “Accidentally created a monster!” are all standard themes. On the psionic side, fiction about psychics is full of crazed mentalists who probed too deeply into their own minds or tried to use some bizarre power with a heavy pricetag.

    There are a couple of problems with that sort of thing in the game though.

    The biggest is that our researchers usually aren’t dabblers, or experimenters on the fringes of their fields, or even the equivalent of classical alchemists tinkering with things they don’t really understand*. Most d20 characters doing spell or power research are well-trained professionals in their fields, with plenty of experience, long traditions, and reference works to draw on. Amateurs building bombs in their basements blow themselves up fairly often. Professionals, however, turn out explosive shells, special-purpose bombs, and other munitions by the millions, and accidents are very rare.

    *For the “amateurs dabbling in effects far beyond their level of competence” notion in The Practical Enchanter  we have Transmutation Circles or various forms of ritual and ceremonial magic – including “Artifact Creation”, which can reasonably be used to create one-shot unique magical effects (or which can just as easily go drastically wrong). After all, a one-shot magical effect can be looked at as a minor, unstable, artifact made up of it’s ritual components can’t it?

    Secondarily, spell and power research is usually a solitary activity. If the party wizard or psion is spending two weeks doing spell research, the rest of the party will generally be doing something else – practicing, being fitted for new armor, attending the local temple, or whatever.

    Thus, when something goes wrong, it usually falls into one of two categories.

    Most commonly, there are annoyances – burning your eyebrows off, various sorts of damage, minor curses, and so on – that the game master can announce at whim because the party cleric will fix them right up before anything more important happens. Those have no real game effect, and so can be thrown in at whim, with no real system needed.

    Less often, there are disasters – being dragged off to hell, life-threatening (or very expensive) fires, going insane for lengthy periods (as opposed to waking up with a hangover and a new tattoo), and so on.

    Now the player is going to want his or her researching character to fight disasters. If they’re too much for his or her character to deal with, we’re in “bad roll, you died” territory – which isn’t much fun and seems a bit harsh to be charging the character research costs and time for.

    If it’s easy to deal with, we’re back in “annoyances” territory.

    If it’s something the character can deal with, but only with serious effort, we have the makings of an exciting scene or mini-adventure – but it’s a personal side-quest which will leave the rest of the players sitting around grinding their teeth. That’s not so good.

    To make disasters work, you want the character to know in advance that “this might be trouble!” so that he or she can have his or her friends standing by to help. What’s more, you’ll want it to be a research step that can’t be broken down far enough for safety. Otherwise the researcher could just try out components that are individually too weak to cause serious problems.

    Ergo, we’re looking at a research component that is large, complex, unpredictable, and which cannot be broken down and still work.

    That sounds almost like you’re dealing with a living thing doesn’t it?

    Thus the high-end “Assistance” options on the research table. If you want to take risks in your research, just drop one of those modifiers in – say, you get some friends in to back you up and use a ritual to call up a dangerous (and perhaps more-or-less abstract) entity to consult – and deal with that entity. That way, if things go seriously wrong, all the players can be involved in dealing with it. You don’t want to take such risks? Your research will be safer, but considerably harder and more expensive.

    Now, that doesn’t necessarily represent inner confusion and the possible abstract perils of a miscast, partially-designed, supernatural effect as well as it might in all cases – but it is dramatic, playable, and potentially involves everyone at the table in a reasonably plausible fashion – which may be the best that can be done in that situation.

    What would should the modifier be for a potion in the form of smoke that affects everyone who inhales it (say a 25′ diameter cloud with a single round duration)?

    Sadly, this one isn’t really a job for enchantment as such. The problem here is twofold:

    First up, it’s simply that spell storing effects – whether they’re wands, potions, or whatever – don’t change the spell effects. You put in a fireball, you get a fireball. Put in a fireball with some weird modifier, you get a fireball with the same weird modifier back. It’s not really the job of spell storing to modify spell effects.

    Secondarily, as a flat cost, such a modifier would have some fairly unbalanced effects. If you applied it to Cure Light Wounds would the injuries return after one round? How much more would “True Strike” on a company of bowmen for one round be worth than “Longstrider”?

    True Strike would be invaluable; +20 isn’t a guarantee of hitting, but it’s not far from it either. A single such potion that would let thirty guardsmen with crossbows take down some pretty major menaces.

    Longstrider, one the other hand, would be a lot less useful.

    In this case you’ll probably want to either modify the spell formula (probably the best option), apply suitable metamagic to the spell before it’s stored, or find a way to modify the stored spell while it’s being released – such as with the “Add Metamagic” effect*.

    Optionally, you could build an intelligent device which could cast it’s own “add metamagic” effect when a stored spell went off. That would be a mere 12000 GP for a small unlimited-use “add metamagic” spell which added one level of a chosen metamagic to a spell of up to level three when it went off and another 1000 GP for a rank-0 spirit to activate the thing. Personally, I’d pick “Elemental Manipulation”. That way that Fireball wand could throw any kind of elemental blast you wanted – among many other options.

    Alternatively, you could use the “Alchemic Mist” spell from the Alchemy spell list. That works for some things, but – sadly – won’t work on magic potions. It does work nicely on poisons and drugs and such though.

    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.

    Alchemical Bonuses and Practical Enchantment

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    First up for today, it’s another question from Derek:

    In The Practical Enchanter you mentioned that alchemy isn’t cost effective (p 49). How so? How might you change it to make it cost effective?

    For those who aren’t reading that particular book, that’s the note under Alchemical Bonuses that – in general – spells that grant alchemical bonuses aren’t cost-effective simply because they’re far more complicated than spells that grant similar bonuses through other means.

    For a practical example, lets say you want to increase someone’s strength.

    • Direct Transmutation magic – and the resulting Enhancement Bonus – is simplest; you simply amplify the force that their muscles produce and toughen up their body a bit to withstand the strain. That’s straightforward and works with their body’s natural tendencies. Ergo, an easy spell, and one that’s relatively easy to scale up. Thus the Enhance Attribute spell template.
    • Spells that provide a Morale Bonus are actually pretty easy; all you’re doing there is mobilizing the bodies natural reserves – basically releasing adrenaline and overiding the safety limits of the parasympathetic system. The trouble with this is that there’s only so much there; once the reserves are all in use that’s all there is – and those reserves are not normally available because operating on that level for long will tear muscle fibers, destroy tendons and ligaments, damage joints, and break bones. Now, d20 human bodies heal far more easily, and are inhumanly tough to begin with, so they can withstand short bursts of this sort of thing without lasting damage – but this is why the Wrath series of spells only goes so far and the seventh level version (on page 37) is specifically listed as the upper limit for such spells. It’s no coincidence that it’s the same upper limit for barbarian rage.
    • A spell that grants a Circumstance Bonus might wrap the recipient in a force-field exoskeleton that amplifies the force he or she exerts and handles most of the support and back-pressure from it. Unfortunately, that calls for a complex feedback control loop to avoid exerting excessive forces and penalizing the user’s sense of touch. It won’t work right if it winds up exerting too much force against the ground and sending the user flying with every step. The user wants to swing that sword harder – not crush it’s hilt in his or her fingers. That’s a lot more complicated, and so such a spell is (per page 13) about three levels higher than an equivalent Transmutation spell.
    • Spells that grant Inherent Bonuses to Strength essentially rebuild the recipients body to make it stronger – the magical equivalent of genetic augmentation or cyberware in more “realistic” games. That’s a very complicated effect, and so such spells are of rather high levels. It’s also no coincidence that they cost “experience points” – a form of supernatural energy which accumulates in people until it reaches a critical threshold and discharges itself in permanently transforming and enhancing them – unless they drain some of it off into transforming normal items into magical ones, or use small amounts it to make major – but temporary – transformations in targets, or use that power in other ways first.
    • There have been attempts to design spells that grant a Sacred (positive energy) Bonus to strength by feeding extra energy to the muscles and adding in a minor, ongoing, healing effect to handle the resulting damage to the recipients body. Unfortunately, a shortage of energy isn’t what limits muscular strength – so what this results in is an endurance-increasing effect coupled with a bit of fast healing. Those are both very useful effects, but neither actually adds to the recipient’s strength.

    Now lets say we want to provide an Alchemy Bonus to strength via a spell. Alchemy bonuses come from compounds and drugs – things which get the body to perform in an unnatural way or function on their own. Fortunately we aren’t limited to real compounds and drugs.

    A powerful stimulant spell is simple enough – usually around level three – but why bother with a spell? It’s going to work exactly the same way (and have the same disadvantages) as a big dose of any other powerful stimulant, such as cocaine or methamphetamine. If you don’t mind the side effects, you might as well just use chemicals instead of wasting a good spell on a relatively modest effect. In settings where drug prices are not artificially inflated by laws against them (not that adventurers commonly pay much attention to the local laws), an emergency dose of some stimulant is cheap enough.

    An alchemical antitoxin spell would either create a general (magical) antitoxin or analyze the poison involved and produce a specific antitoxin. The first is pretty complex; it may be a fairly minor effect, but it’s going to require either giving up some experience points or a very high level spell to produce a magical compound that will last for awhile. The second has a selection of advantages – you could take a poison sample and produce antitoxins which could be taken in advance, or be carried along to spare spell power for more important things – but it is (once again) a very complex effect, and thus a high level spell. It’s generally a lot easier to simply get a “Neutralize Poison” spell.

    To produce a substantial direct alchemical bonus to strength you’ll want to create some chemicals – most likely enzymes – that (1) rebuild the muscle fibers to increase the force with which they contract, (2) make the tendons and ligaments tougher, and (3) increase the structural strength of the skeletal system and joints. If you want a long-term boost, you’ll want to increase either metabolic efficiency or the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and nutrients and digestive efficiency.

    We’re looking at pretty high complexity, and thus high-level, spell there – and all for a not-all-that-large temporary boost to strength (if you want it permanent, you’ll need to modify the recipients genes and metabolism to keep on producing those compounds).

    That’s why spells which grant alchemical bonuses aren’t generally cost-efficient; most of them are of far higher level than equivalent spells using other types of bonuses. There really isn’t any good way around that. On the other hand, if you just want a spell that produces acid, or transmutes material, or some such effect, you can certainly call it “alchemical magic” and it will work just fine. It won’t be providing an “Alchemical Bonus” though.

    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.

    The Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye

    Melting metal in a ladle for casting

    Image via Wikipedia

    A Practical Enchanter question: I have an idea for a wand of fire that can only harm orcs, nothing else. Would that be a decrease in cost as the target is extremely limited or an increase as the wand won’t cause collateral damage (eg forest fires)?


    That’s an upgrade. After all, an explosion isn’t very complicated, and it’s the nature of fire to burn whatever it hits – but now you not only need to produce fire, but you have to carefully control it so as to hit only specific targets.

    Since that is a fixed effect it’s not as bad as the full Targeting (+3 spell levels) option on the Sculpting Metamagic (from Eclipse), but it’s definitely pretty handy.

    • Surrounded by orcs? Ground-zero fireball.
    • Six orcs piled up on a friend? Fireball those too.
    • Orcs holding hostages? Fireball them all and let the wand sort it out.

    Not so useful if you can’t find any orcs of course – but if that’s the case, no one would come up with such a thing.

    Perhaps a Phantasm might work better. After all, that’s a very underused type of spell – the SRD only lists Dream, Illusory Script, Nightmare, Phantasmal Killer, and Weird in the basic spells category – and a phantasm spell that only affects creatures who already have a particular set of experiences or cultural beliefs (since it relies on those to work) could reasonably be less complex and require less power. Ergo “Recall the Dark Waters” – a version of Phantasmal Killer which only works on targets who have memories of nearly drowning – might well be a mere second level spell. It’s much less versatile and useful than the generic Phantasmal Killer spell of course.

    So… “Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye” – a phantasm spell which only affects worshipers of the local God of Orcs – might look something like this:

    Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye

    • Illusion (Phantasm) [Fear, Mind-Affecting]
    • Level: Sor/Wiz 3
    • Components: V, S
    • Casting Time: 1 standard action
    • Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
    • Target: All creatures in a 20′ radius who are vulnerable to Phantasms AND who worship the local Orc God or Pantheon.
    • Duration: Instantaneous
    • Saving Throw: Will disbelief if affected, then Fortitude partial; see text
    • Spell Resistance: Yes

    Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye draws on the victims own worship and fear of the terrible powers and anger of the local Orcish Gods, focusing the uncontrolled psychic energies present in every mind through that minds own belief. Only those who worship the Orcish Gods can percieve the terrible manifestation of “their” vengeance, and so only they can be affected. Those who make a successful Will save will resist the spell in the first place, and will see nothing but vague images. Those believers who fail will suffer 8d6 points of damage, although they may make a Fortitude save to halve that damage.

    A first level version – “The Lesser Wrath of the Terrible Eye” – only targets a single creature and only does 6d6 (or 3d6 on a successful Fortitude save) damage, but is otherwise be pretty much identical.

    Now that will let you make an interesting wand of orc blasting – although you will fail if you’re up against an orc atheist, or one who’s been raised to worship some other set of gods, or something like that – and you may blast the occasional non-orc who’s been raised to worship the orc gods.

    Spells like that are never going to become too common – they’re too specialized for that – but they’ll certainly be unusual and interesting when they do pop up.

    For a bonus answer, we have Editorial0

    It’s an upgrade.

    The Practical Enchanter notes that spell levels are controlled by Power AND Complexity. Spells which hunt orcs are more complex, not less. Hitting only orcs is probably a +1 or +2. (I have to double-check some sources on that).

    Granted, sometimes you can get away with a cheaper effect based on the “natural” forces of a certain game universe. If fire elementals and similar creatures are actively harmed by water, then a spell which creates some water also functions as an effective combat spell against them and only them. And you can cut the magic which ties an outsider to the world. But generally, focused and discriminate magic is more complex, and more expensive, than otherwise.

    There might be some variations, too. You possibly could work on a sickness spell which only creates illnesses which hurt orcs. That’s be uncommon, but at least theoretically possible. And that might be eligible for a cost break. On the other hand, it’s a lot less practical than a Fireball, 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.

    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 d20 – Using Dweomer, Electrokinesis, Nucleokinesis, and (Molecular) Reconstruction

    Simulation of many identical atoms undergoing ...

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    Here we have some questions from Derek about the sample skills for Psychokinesis in Eclipse d20 – so, first up, it’s well worth noting that Dweomer operates on the worlds underlying mechanisms. Thus, for example, if a particular setting doesn’t have atomic structures – perhaps being made up of the “fundamental elements” of earth, fire, air, and water – Nucleokinesis won’t be very useful (or exist). You’ll either have to skip it or (preferably) substitute a skill that makes sense in the setting.

    What can electrokinesis and nucleokinesis do at high level? What makes them different from reconstruction?

    The basic differences between Nucleokinesis, Electroninesis, and Reconstruction are actually fairly fundamental to the levels at which they operate:

    Nucleokinesis can rebuild atoms and transmute elements via the manipulation of subatomic particles. It does not affect larger-scale structures, such as molecules, save through the side effects of changing some of the atoms that may be involved.

    • At low levels you could detect and shield against hard radiation, decontaminate food, water, people, and devices, accelerate or decelerate radioactive decay (a knack which isn’t often called on, but can come in very handy if you happen to be near a nuclear reactor which is going to melt down or which you need to power up, if you’re near a nuclear bomb you want to keep from going off, or if you just need some heat).
    • At medium levels you can generate, direct, or eliminate intense fields of radiation, perform small-scale transmutations (allowing, for example, poisoning people in very subtle fashions, creating computer chips with three-dimensional architecture via transmutation doping, or refueling nuclear batteries), treat cancers, and use nuclear imaging to sense the internal structure of anything nearby.
    • At higher levels you can perform nuclear transmutations on a larger scale (perhaps providing oxygen and hydrogen, from rock or strengthening or weakening metal objects), stabilize normally-radioactive elements, induce small-scale nuclear fusion or fission (suitable for a power source), destabilize protons to disintegrate matter (in a blast of intense radiation of course).
    • At the highest levels you can create and stabilize exotic nuclear structures such as high-order transuranics, create massive explosions (ranging from simply breaking atoms down into hydrogen on through destabilizing or fusing nuclei to produce nuclear blasts), generate monopolium, assemble masses of strange matter, and stabilize and manipulate neutronium.

    Electrokinesis manipulates electromagnetic fields – photons – and can manipulate electrons since they’re very light and are easily shifted around with electromagnetic fields.

    • At low levels you could create bursts of light, weak “laser” beams, simple holographic illusions, magnetize susceptible materials, illuminate or darken an area, reflect light, resist electricity, simulate telescopic or microscopic vision, encourage photosynthesis, or give someone a nasty shock.
    • At mid levels you could shift the frequency of incoming light to see heat or ultraviolet frequencies (or both), move magnetic materials around with magnetic fields, blind people for lengthy periods, overload sensors, transmit made-to-order radio or television signals, weld metals, play games with friction, guide lightning, sterilize areas with ultraviolet, power a machine, torture people with electrical shocks, or generate formidable laser beams and electrical discharges.
    • At high levels you could become physically invisible (while still “seeing” by magically sensing photons), take X-Rays and spectrograms (although you’d need some skill in interpreting them), generate massive attacks with line-of-sight range, move large amounts of magnetic material around (or smaller amounts of non-magnetic material), read computer media, or manipulate the electrical activity of a machine or the central nervous system.
    • At very high levels you could cause a laser beam to home in on someone at very long ranges, transform yourself into light, create monstrously powerful magnetic fields, selectively suppress electrical forces (the ones which hold matter together), liquefy photons, or support the electrical activity of a nervous system without the nervous system.

    Reconstruction revises molecular structures. It does not affect individual atoms except to move them,

    • At low levels you could break down poisons, corrode and weaken materials, temper steel to improve it, temporarily toughen materials, catalyze or inhibit chemical reactions, extract metals from ores, instantly bind surfaces together, fractionate mixtures, distill or extract components of them, refine oil and other substances, and disrupt opponents bodies and metabolisms.
    • At mid levels you could detoxify poisons that are in someone’s body, create moderately complex chemical compounds (simple plastics, explosives, and alloys) from base materials,  make flammable materials burn up in seconds, put someone into hibernation, and create crystals out of supplies of their base atoms and – essentially – play around fairly freely with inorganic chemistry.
    • At high levels you could change the state of matter (for example, making iron soft and easily worked with your fingers), make complex biochemicals and compounds, create crystals, prevent water from boiling or solids from melting despite high temperatures, play around freely with all of inorganic chemistry, create various polymers from air, reshape lumps of matter by adjusting the relationships between it’s molecules, and stabilize normally impossible inorganic chemicals.
    • At very high levels you could rewrite DNA, play around freely with the entire field of polymers and organic chemistry, create tailored drugs to produce particular effects, create impossibly active compounds (such as the infamous acid blood from the “Alien” movies), and so on.

    Now, if you want to restructure things on a larger scale – for example, turning polymer threads into clothing – now you’re looking at the Telekinesis skill.

    What dweomer skill can alter planar traits (if any listed)?

    The Warping discipline includes all the time-and-space manipulations. In this case, you’ll want the “Overlay” skill, which can be used to alter planar traits in a localized area – although what a “localized area” is when you’re talking about warping dimensions is up for negotiation with the game master. I’m afraid that “what does your game master think of that idea” always turns up in any freeform magic system somewhere.

    Which skill can turn energy to mass and mass to energy?

    Under Psychokinesis the Capacitance skill covers converting energy from one form to another – and matter is simply a tightly-bound form of energy. Given the amount of energy bound up in matter though, at least under normal physical conditions, it will take a very high level effect to change very much matter into energy or vice versa.  You can also get some effects involving matter-to-energy conversion or vice-versa with high very level Nucleokinesis.

    Theoretically you could use Temporal Warping under Warping to reverse the flow of time within a chunk of matter and convert it instantly to antimatter, but that takes a very high level spell indeed, as well as agreement from the game master about the underlying physics of his or her setting.

    Which skill(s) can be used to create permanent hot or cold springs (for arctic and desert conditions respectively)?

    This breaks down into two basic elements – (1) providing a steady supply of water (since recirculating old water really doesn’t fit the description of a “spring”) and (2) providing a long-term way to heat or cool it. Making a spell last longer, or even making it permanent, simply requires casting it at a high level – so that’s easy enough.

    For a quick list, ways to get water include:

    • Re-arranging the local geography to provide it. That’s a job for some MASSIVE Telekinesis.
    • Hauling it in from elsewhere. A job for Telekinesis (to haul water in physically or make it flow uphill or whatever) or for Transference (to bring in water from another dimension), Spatial Warping (to teleport in water from elsewhere in your own dimension), Temporal Warping (at ludicrously high levels to bring in water from the future or the past)
    • Getting something else to haul it in for you. Options here include Healing Transformation (to create a creature that brings in water for you), Telepathic Projection (to persuade a creature – probably an elemental – do devote itself to bringing in water for you, or Mysticism (Imbuement and Permanency) to create a permanent device that brings in the water.
    • You can also use the Analytic Probe ESP ability to simply figure out where to dig to open up a suitable spring. There’s likely to be a suitable spot somewhere.

    Actually, a lot of those would also do for ways to obtain, or dispose of, thermal energy. For some alternatives, you could use a Pyrotic effect (to heat or cool the water directly), Capacitance (to change another energy source into thermal energy or remove it – a good application for a very SMALL mass-energy conversion effect). You can get heat out of almost any form of energy fairly easily, so any technique that can produce energy can be applied to a hot spring.

    Under telepathy, would links or projection allow the transfer of skill ranks? What would be the maximum number of people allowed to receive those skills?

    • Links can be used to share skills with people – and increasing the level of the spell can increase both the level of the skills that can be shared and the number of targets. For guidelines as to both, it will be simplest to consult the spell template for “Competence Bonuses” in The Practical Enchanter and apply a two level reduction in the spell level for having to have available to provide the skill.
    • Projection can explicitly provide other characters with the user’s own skills (or, for that matter, with those of other donors) – and they’ll last for a time regardless of range or of the current status of the “donors”. You can find some guidelines for similar effects in The Practical Enchanter under the “Enhance Effective Level” and “Grant Feats” sections. Again, actually having to have someone around who actually has the skill or feat already to provide the template is worth a reduction in the spell level of one or two levels.

    You may find some more useful material in the other articles related to Thaumaturgy and Dweomer linked below.

    Eclipse and High-Order Biomancy

    Here we have a question from Derek about some of the high-level spells in Eclipse…

    I have some questions about the spell lifemaker (Eclipse p. 145). What can and can not be made with it? Could a human make a dragon or treant? What are the limitations of the spell? Could a hydra with immunity to all magic be created? Can unique creatures be replicated via this spell? Other than the number of creatures, what is the difference between genetic reconstruction (p. 141) and lifemaker?

    This is fairly straightforward:

    Genetic Reconstruction (at level seventeen) alters the genes of an existing life form. It doesn’t rush them into expression. Thus, you can change the genes. Genes code for proteins. Now, some genes are inactive; you can change those around and little effect. Others – such as those influencing the basic setup of the body – are only called on while a creature is in the womb. Others affect the carrier as he, she, or it, matures. Still others – regulating a variety of basic metabolic functions – are active throughout a creatures life. Other genes are involved at many stages.

    Now, for a gene to be expressed, it must first be transcribed – copied into the code for a protein on a strip of RNA (there are a few RNA sequences which are active in themselves, but this is going to be complicated enough already). That RNA must then be transported to the main body of the cell, and proteins must be assembled. Once those proteins are assembled, they will begin to play their roles in the cells metabolism and its relationships with other cells.

    Overall, this is immensely complicated and takes a good deal of time – which is why supplementing your knowledge biology/nature/whatever skill check with some divination is a good idea before you try anything.

    So the changes you make are only going to show their effects slowly – and major structural changes will generally only express themselves fully in the next generation. If you decide to change your enemies genes to those of a very stupid canine-style pet, and fix it so that those genes will dominantly express themselves when he or she has children with another member of his or her original species, that probably won’t have too many blatant effects – until he or she has children, all of whom will be born as stupid canine-style pets. Your enemies body and nervous system are already pretty well formed, and those genes are inactive – although you will probably see some subtle biochemical shifts if you check closely.

    Now, if you want to turn your enemy into a stupid dog directly, you’re better off with a polymorph effect; those are faster and FAR less complicated than working out a genetic program which will gradually rebuild said enemy into a dog. On the other hand, polymorph effects draw their patterns from existing species – which is why they tend to turn their targets into “average” members of those species – and do not offer fine control over biochemical details.

    That doesn’t mean that you can’t use it that way, or that there aren’t an enormous number of things that you can do to existing organisms, it’s just that – in an adult organism – Genetic Reconstruction is most readily used for things like repairing genetic defects or damage.

    Fortunately, a lot of life forms reproduce pretty quickly. Genetic Reconstruction will let you create tailored bacteria and virus strains with a wave of your hand, alter a fungus to produce specialized biochemicals (and have it spore within days), provide inherited immunity to some dreadful plague, create retroviruses to make small, contagious, changes in creatures, grant plants the ability to fix nitrogen, and much much more – all with precise control over every aspect of the target’s genome. It basically puts the entire imaginable field of “biotechnology” into a single spell with no particular costs or backlash – which is why it’s level seventeen.

    Bets change a bit if your d20 universe doesn’t have genes, or handwaves how (say) a human could have a child with a mass of animated fire (I, personally, require the use of some magic for that sort of thing). In that case, this is probably simply good for adding templates and such without a fuss.


    Lifemaker, at level nineteen, takes a different approach; it lets you split off a fragment of your own life force to shape into a brand new spirit and forms a body around it. In essence, you can become an instantaneous parent to whatever kind of life form that (a) you can imagine and describe, (b) the game master is willing to say is possible (at the very least, most game masters will insist that powerful abilities be associated with high hit dice), and (c) you can afford the hit points to create. Moreover, as noted, the creature or creatures created are generally friendly to the caster but are – like any other child – not always obedient. That also means that they’ll get quite upset if you mistreat them.

    It’s arguably superior to Genetic Reconstruction in a variety of ways, which is why it’s of a somewhat higher level – but can’t directly affect existing lifeforms and the creatures you create may (if you lack sufficient skill) prove unable to reproduce or to have unexpected defects since it’s based on “what you envision” as run past the laws of nature / game master as opposed to “what you rigorously design”.

    When it comes to duplicating existing species – such as dragons and treants – it works just fine. There are a couple of problems with making a creature that’s “Immune to Magic” though – mostly that (1) it will probably take a few moments to kick in (to avoid interfering with the creation spell itself), (2) “Immunity to Magic” has upper limits – whether you buy it as per the Immunity ability in Eclipse or whether you follow the golem-style protections available in The Practical Enchanter, and (3) your game master will probably want your creation to have a fairly high hit die total before he or she will let it have that ability.

    As far as “duplicating” a unique creature goes, if it has a genuine, flesh-and-blood (or at least protoplasmic tissue), living body, creating a creature of the same type is straightforward. It is, however, an independent creature; it won’t have the memories, or levels, or other learned or acquired abilities of the original (after all, quite a few of the creatures in the Monster Manual were originally unique mythological creatures).

    Now, if this conflicts with some sort of epic curse (“you shall be alone forever, with your race gone beyond recall!”) or local natural law, you’ll have to consult your game master to see what happens; judging that will require some knowledge of the details. Perhaps fortunately, you usually can’t “duplicate” incarnations of cosmic forces and such; even if they’re currently working through a genuinely living flesh-and-blood body rather than a manifested construct (rare) the important, unique, part of them has nothing to do with the body they’re currently using.

    The hit point cost really isn’t that bad of course. By the time you can cast a nineteenth level spell, you can probably afford to take a couple of days off to regain thirty or forty hit points through rest and time. Hopefully you can also afford to take some time out to properly raise and discipline your newly-created high-powered magical offspring who have no life experience at all – or will be wise enough to stick to creating creatures that won’t cause disasters when they run amok.

    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.

    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.

    Living Magic – The Harvest

    Seeds of Clausena lansium, photo taken in Hong...

    Image via Wikipedia

    And here we have a question for The Practical Enchanter, from Derek

    You mentioned living magical items in The Practical Enchanter, yet there is nothing on the tables for creating those that reproduce. How would you price a tree that casts Create Food and Water as a 10th level cleric daily and produces one viable seed per year?

    Usually enchanting a living creature is just like enchanting anything else; you take the feat for the type of enchantment you want to embed in it, then throw in the Living Enchantment modifier – so that you can use it on a living creature instead of an object – and get to work.

    If you wanted to give your familiar the ability to throw a Magic Missile spell at Caster Level Five three times per day, you’d want Enchantment with the Living Magic modifier to allow it, and the base purchase cost would be (Spell Level 1 x Caster Level 5 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.6 for three uses per day) = 6000 GP or 3000 GP and 240 XP. That could be handy…

    That power, however, wouldn’t be passed on to your familiar’s offspring. That’s a good thing, at least from the viewpoint of all other species considering how fast rats – for example – reproduce. A rat infestation in the warehouse is one thing, a rat infestation where each rat can unerringly inflict an average of 10.5 points of damage at a range of a hundred and fifty feet three times per day is likely to wipe out the human race.

    Creating a self-reproducing magic item is trickier.

    • First up, the item needs to meet the prerequisites for enchanting another living thing.

    That requires Enchantment (or one of the other item-enchanting feats) with the Living Magic and Artificer (you’re best off with the Half GP Cost) modifier here) modifiers – two very complex mental feats. Bestowing those requires using the Surprising Mastery spell template and a fifth level effect. Technically that’s only needed for eight hours a day – so once per day at caster level ten will work.

    That’s (Spell Level 5 x Caster Level 10 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .2 for 1/Day, x.7 for only affects the item x.5 for only to reproduce the item, not for general use x.8 only once the item is placed in a fixed place = 5600 GP

    • Next up, creating another magical item is going to cost XP – so our self-reproducing item will need a source for that. The easiest is Harvest of Artifice with the Gleaning and Transmutation modifiers – another pair of very complex mental feats. Getting those, once again, requires an fifth level effect built using the Surprising Mastery spell template. This time, however, we need a constant effect – so that’s three times per day, for a net cost of 16,800 GP. That combination will yield up to 1800 XP per year for enchanting purposes.

    Technically enchanting objects calls for “a fairly quiet, comfortable, and well-lit place in which to work”, valuable magical components, and – possibly – special tools, as well as having the required spell available once per day.

    Fortunately, trees normally get planted in fairly quiet, well-lit, places – and the “Transmutation” ability can provide materials and “special tools.” (in this case, likely special fertilizers) as needed. Ergo, that package is really all we need for the job. Unfortunately, spells which provide very complex mental feats are “GM permission only” – but I’ll presume it’s been given for this bit of magical artificing.

    The requested effect is Create Food and Water, at Spell Level Three (x Caster Level 10 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .4 for 2/Day x .9 since one use per day is only to expend on enchanting the next seed x.8 as the tree must grow to a reasonable age and size before it will begin to bear and is immobile thereafter = 17,280 GP.

    That gives us a total base cost of 39,680 GP. I’ll round that up to 40,000 and note that – while the fruit is considerably longer-lasting and much tastier than the food that’s normally produced by the Create Food and Water spell but is always the same, and so the fruits do get boring after a bit. They also don’t travel well, aren’t replaced unless they’re actually picked, and the juice will spoil in a few days, unlike the water normally created by the spell.

    So creating the first such tree requires a tenth level spellcaster with Create Food and Water and two especially-researched custom fifth level spells – and has a net cost of 20,000 GP and 1600 XP. The self-reproduction ability, however, halves the GP cost since we got the trees the Artificer modifier. Our tree can produce one seed a year – and start another – if its fertilized with 10,000 GP worth of special fertilizers. Left on it’s own, it will provide those materials (and any conventional fertilizers or watering it needs) through transmutation and it’s own creation effect – but that process will require another 5000 XP. Without it’s special fertilizers, it will require (6600/1800) 3.7 years to produce a seed.

    Ergo we have…

    Bountiful Tree:

    This modest tree is a living magical item which always bears a scattering of blossoms and a crop of fruit, regardless of the season. The large red-and-purple fruits are highly nourishing and are juicy enough so that those who eat them will need no other source of water – and each such tree yields enough fruit each day to feed up to thirty medium-sized creatures. Unfortunately, once harvested, the fruit bruises (and then spoils) very easily; it only lasts a week or two so if stored carefully and only for a few days if carried about. Even the juice will only remain fresh for a few days.

    While a Bountiful Tree would be prized for those qualities alone, they have a far more wonderful ability; unlike common magical devices, Bountiful Trees can reproduce themselves. Untended, a Bountiful Tree will produce a single seed every three or four years – which, if planted, will eventually (in a number of years) grow into a new Bountiful Tree, to produce more such seeds in it’s turn. If tended and fertilized (at a cost of some 10,000 GP) they can produce a seed in a single year. Perhaps sadly, this isn’t especially common; given that they ARE self-reproducing anyway, relatively few people see the need to spend so much just to accelerate the process

    Bountiful Trees can thrive in almost any non-arctic climate, weather extreme droughts with little or no difficulty (although they may slightly reduce their fruit output), and do not drop their seeds until the end of the trees roughly eighty-year lifecycle – although they can easily be manually harvested before then. Many fortresses include a few Bountiful Trees scattered through their inner courts, greatly reducing the difficulties involved in keeping the inhabitants fed.

    Strong Transmutation, Caster Level Ten, the trees themselves are immobile, seeds can cost from nothing (if there are a few around already) to 20,000 GP or even somewhat more if they’re just being introduced into an area or into a desert or some such.

    Naturally enough, this general setup will allow you to make other sorts of item-growing plants as well.

    For an example, use Imbuement with the Artisan (half GP cost) and Bonded (the item uses it’s wielder’s caster level and attribute modifiers if those are superior to it’s own) modifiers in place of Enchantment. That gives us a tree or bush that can enchant spell-storing items.

    Now, give it Cure Light Wounds once per day in place of Create Food and Water and have it make wands of Cure Light Wounds at caster level one. Those will cost 188 GP and 30 XP each to grow – allowing our wand-bush to grow slightly more than one such wand per week of proper tending (at a cost of 188 GP per week) or slightly more than one per month if left on it’s own.

    Now, this bush won’t be self-reproducing – but it’s certainly a wonderful centerpiece for a temple of healing or some such.

    I think that, in this case, I’d enforce the rule against spells bestowing very complex mental feats without special permission by assuming that only very, VERY, powerful entities – such as gods – can normally do it. While this variation still costs about 30,000 GP (as much as quite a few basic wands) I’d still expect to see them turning up enough to drastically alter the price of basic wands if mere mortal spellcasters can make them.

    Besides, that sacred tree in the fire-gods fane which grows Fireball wands (with a base caster level of five, growing four per year if tended at a cost of 5625 GP per season or one every two years if left untended), or the boulder which produces stones which summon minor elementals when broken, or the berries which act like a particular potion, and so on, make good features for magical areas and interesting sources of rather specific treasure; if the lost temple of the healing god has gone untended for twenty years, what will the party do with 240 wands of Cure Light Wounds? Set up a trust fund? Trade most of them to the priests for higher-level spells when they need them? Hand them around during the siege of a town? That’s enough to break the market pretty throughly, and far more than they’re likely to need anytime soon. Besides… will grabbing them all for themselves upset the god? Or – more likely – is it a question of how MUCH it will upset the patron god?

    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.

    Alignment – Mechanics and Magic

    Servant girl kneeling by the Nile

    Image by vintagedept via Flickr

    Here we have the last of Alzrius’s current questions…

    Given that alignment is determined by planar forces (as laid out in The Practical Enchanter for the rational discussion and change alignment spells, could there be a spell to stop you from changing alignments when you normally would?

    I like to call such a spell morality shield, since it would presumably not only protect you from having your alignment changed by using spells/magic items with an alignment descriptor different from your alignment (e.g. you can be a good spellcaster using spells and magic items with the [Evil] descriptor and not become evil over time), but also from actions that would change your alignment, whether immediately or gradually (e.g. betraying your friends, burning down an orphanage, etc.). Is such a spell possible? What effect would it have on spells that relied on alignment to determine their effects (e.g. blasphemy)?

    Alignment is one of those areas where d20 universes – in fact, most game universes – often bear very little relationship to the real world. It’s also perhaps the single most contentious feature of many games. Ergo, before I can cover spells like that, I’ll have to take a look at how “alignment” actually works first.

    In the real world people make all kinds of decisions without the benefit of planar forces – and with very little consistency. Normal people can be loving to one child and cruel to another for quite trivial – and often unapparent – reasons. They may be boundlessly loyal to their tribe or nation and utterly treacherous with outsiders. They may commit horrific atrocities in the pursuit of high ideals – and be tenaciously opposed by proponents of those same ideals. Real people tend to behave in ways that are, at least at a glance, wildly self-contradictory.

    A lot of that inconsistency is rooted in the conflicts between four elements.

    • Basic survival behaviors (“my genes first!”).
    • Kinship behaviors that promote the survival and well-being of offspring and close relations (“some of my genes are in them too!”).
    • Social behaviors that support the well-being of a large, and possibly unrelated group (“cooperation promotes the survival of the ENTIRE group!”).
    • And – at least in humans, who are our only currently known example of a species in which memes demonstrably govern behavior almost (or possibly more) than instincts – learned behaviors that tend to promote their own survival, rather than those of the genes of the host.

    What people will do in a given situation, and why, is a topic that’s provoked thousands of years of study and few (if any) reliable answers. A lot of the high-end social behaviors get labeled “good” in the real world, simply because they’re generally useful to the people around the individual in question.

    For a simplified example from an old campaign…

    Swollen with refugees from warring neighboring countries, the city of Cisnaud was stretched to it’s limits. Food was in short supply, and could barely be brought in quickly enough. Crime was running rampant, orphaned children filled the streets, and one or another crisis came up daily.

    • The guard commander knew that later historians would consider him a monster, and the decisions he made tore at his conscience – but he maintained order with an iron hand, brutally executed the occasional inconvenient innocent, and turned a blind eye to a great deal of suffering. His resources were limited. If the city collapsed, many more would die, the society which held his loyalty would fall in fire and upheaval, and it would be his fault for not doing what was required to maintain it. He saw no other way.
    • An idealistic young guard recruit did his best to assist in any situation which came before him, and would NOT allow the punishment of someone innocent of wrongdoing – which often brought him into conflict with his good friend the Guard Commander. He knew that the mere physical survival of Cisnaud and it’s people meant nothing if they sacrificed their principles and the soul of their society with them.
    • A middle-aged guard sergeant knew that his loyalty to his family and children came first – yet for them to prosper, the city had to continue to function. Thus he followed his commander, did his duty, and protected the innocent when he could. He also extorted valuables from the refugees when he could. After all, it was their fault that food was scarce – and how could he deny his children when they cried for a morsel of bread?
    • The guard-lieutenant, loyal to the people of his city, and knowing the suffering being imposed upon them by the masses of foolish foreigners who could not manage their own affairs, took every opportunity to get rid of the refugees who were not pulling their own weight. That was his clear duty – and allowing them all in would only prolong their suffering until his city inevitably collapsed under the strain, dooming everyone. Getting rid of some of them, and inspiring more to leave for other places where they might have a chance, was the greatest aid he could offer them – and his commander was foolish not to see it!

    Will that sort of “alignment” work in your campaigns?

    Maybe. Most campaigns simply don’t run long enough to explore NPC motivations in depth, or focus too much on combat for them to matter (who cares about the motivations of that corpse?). Others have players who don’t care about detailed NPC motives and don’t want to spend time that they could be spending on exciting adventures on character drama.

    Still other players feel that games that do not  include complex NPC motivations are superficial and unsatisfying, and will want to take the time.

    Most games need some sort of shorthand for describing complex social relationships and character motivations. Sure, any individual kid in that crowd trying to sell you a probably-phony treasure map is probably a unique and complex individual – but for the most part the player characters will never deal with them again (or know it if they do). All they’ll ever know about them is that “a dozen poorly-dressed youngsters tried to sell them a treasure map”.

    On the other hand, they may take an interest in any random one of them – which will require the game master to come up with a bunch of stuff on the fly. No one can pre-detail everyone in a world.

    An individual game system may call its shorthand labels loyalties, natures, motivations, traits, intimacies, alignments, or any of a hundred other things, but they’re all ways of sparing everyone from coming up with a detailed personality profile for every character – and of tagging opponents for easy recognition.

    The basic d20 alignment system is one of the really simple ones. It fits the entire universe into only nine slots – a relic of “old school gaming”.

    • In an old-school system it worked pretty well. After all, in the basic book and first edition characters died a lot. Most of them quite permanently. New characters were constantly being introduced to the party to replace them – and nobody wanted to spend a lot of game time on the characters getting to know each other and coming to trust each other. Simple alignments covered that? You were good? Your motivations were compatible and you were reasonably trustworthy. You were in. You were neutral? You were tolerably trustworthy as long as prospects looked good, and – after a bit – you could be presumed to develop personal loyalties. You were evil? You couldn’t be trusted and would be – at most – an ally of convenience. With a few “know alignment” spells you could have a party assembled, mostly trusting each other, and ready to go in minutes.
    • You could sort out which NPC’s were reasonably trustworthy fairly quickly. Was that a bit unrealistic? Why yes! Yes it was! On the other hand, most game masters are not great actors, and can’t supply the hours worth of social interactions, behavioral cues, rumors and reputation, and other information you’d use to make a judgment about whether to trust someone in the real world. Is a spell that tells you “This guy is generally trustworthy”, “this guy could be up to something”, or “You can’t trust this guy” any better or worse as a form of shorthand than saying “I have Sense Motive at +18, does this guy seem to be on the up-and-up?”.
    • Your targets were clearly labeled. There wasn’t any “Well, I don’t like his social policies, and his campaign against the frontier tribes is more ruthless than it needs to be, but he is maintaining the stability of the realm; is trying to overthrow him really justified?”. If the king was evil, you knew that it would be a good thing to overthrow him and replace him with a good – or at least neutral – ruler. Let the rebellion begin!

    It worked for The Lord of the Rings and for Star Wars: A New Hope didn’t it?

    Now, the nine-slot system works quite well for a quick fantasy shorthand, but – of course – it breaks down as soon as people start trying to import real-world morality or complexities into it. Otherwise it wouldn’t provoke all those endless debates.

    • Coral Polyps live in armed, hostile, racially-exclusive colonies that reject all outsiders, attempt to kill anything that comes too close, and devour anything small enough to eat.
    • Wolves are loyal to their packmates, care tenderly for their children, live in a highly organized society, and usually kill only to survive.

    I could go on indefinitely, yet – in basic d20 – all animals are true neutral. In d20, pragmatism, social survival mechanisms, group loyalty, and most of the usual motives, are all unaligned behavior – and those animals are simply behaving sensibly. The rules try to get around this by noting that animals are true neutral because they “lack moral sense” – but then provide us with true neutral sapient beings and nonsapient inanimate objects with alignments.

    In basic d20, alignment – like “principles” in politics – usually only comes into play to explain bad decisions.

    • Why did the evil overlord fix the irrigation system, defend the cities against a vicious monster, or help stop the plague? Because ruling a prosperous, tax-paying, empire is in his or her best interests. Those decisions were neither good nor evil; they’re just sensible.
    • Why did the evil overlord provoke a rebellion by publicly roasting the babies from a dozen villages or kill off his or her hostages while they’re still needed? Because he or she is Evil – often to the point of being quite psychotic.
    • On the good side, why doesn’t the paladin shrug and say “well, I saved most of the kids, and going back in for that last one is almost certainly going to get me killed – and he’ll die anyway. If let myself die, I’ll be abandoning everyone I could save in the future” when it seems hopeless? In reality, there does come a point when the firemen won’t go back into the burning building even if they think that there might be someone left inside. They balance the risks against the benefits – and there comes a time to give up. The more extreme fantasy heroes NEVER give up.

    Why is that?

    It’s because their alignment is causing them to make bad decisions. If they get extreme enough in their alignments, they may – and SHOULD – lose all pretense of sanity, just as they might with any lesser obsession or delusion. Sane decisions are generally pragmatic, sensible, and essentially neutral – but basic d20 alignments cause characters to behave in a consistent fashion even when it’s dumb. Why do you see articles and debates on “Lawful Stupid”, “Chaotic Stupid”, and every other possible combination? It’s because, when you come right down to it, that’s what the rules are telling us.

    Why – in the setting – do alignments make people make poor decisions? There really isn’t a good explanation in the rules other than “this is a quick shorthand method of pigeonholing everyone so we can get on with the combat!”.

    For a reason we’ll have to turn to deduction.

    • We know that spells, inanimate objects, and other mindless things can be “good” or “evil”.
    • Using them will make YOU “good” or “evil” – and make you do stupid things.
    • Why would a bunch of apparently-clever spell designers use forces in their spells that can make their user’s act like idiots? Why do Paladins, Blackguards, and other “holy champions” get extra powers from belonging to extreme alignments?

    (“Belonging to” is quite literal by the way.)

    The simplest explanation is because the energies of the outer planes offer their user’s special benefits via one of the oldest of all supernatural bargains – you get the goodies now, they get your soul later. You get access to easy power, a clear-and-simple lens to interpret the world through (permitting people to exist with a blissful lack of thought), and promises of a tailored afterlife – all because those planes want you as a new recruit to the legions of celestial/infernal/whatever spirits. Why should those forces care if using their power inclines you to do stupid things? If you die sooner, they get paid sooner!

    Now, I could cook up other explanations, but they’re all far more complicated, have a harder time explaining the existing rules, and lead into the endless morass of arguments you can find all over the internet. How can inanimate objects be evil? How can a Helm of Opposite Alignment work if alignments are based on voluntary decisions? How do the powers of good justify slaughtering creatures who are commonly – but not always – evil? Why not teach them to be good and strengthen themselves? How do we justify infant damnation, even if we add the word “orc” to it? (Theologians have spent CENTURIES debating that one; I doubt that I’ll find a good argument that they’ve all missed in a lousy set of game rules).

    Even worse, once people start arguing and justifying things, thousands of years of human history have pretty throughly established that – with enough words – any principle can be used to justify anything you want to do. You want to murder ten thousand delightfully good little kids in cold blood? Well, that ensures their eternal bliss in heaven – whereas if you allow them to grow up, some souls will inevitably be lost to the fires of hell, sentencing them to eternal torment because you refused to do your clear duty. That’s “Paragon of Virtue” to “Mass Murderer of Children” in forty words – and saying “that’s ridiculous!” won’t refute the logic, or the fact that history is full of actions carried out with even thinner rationales. Trying to tie your game rules to actual moral values or principles is asking for endless argument.

    This explanation avoids all that – and tells us why it’s not worth trying to convert some species; the amount of power it takes to overcome their natural tendencies is more than they’re worth, and morality has nothing to do with it.

    It also explains the “militant true neutral” – the character who feels that the balance of the outer planes must be actively maintained. In that case, they’re not – like animals – inherently insensitive to the energies of the outer planes; they’re actively seeking to maintain complete independence from them by precisely balancing their energies, both in themselves and in the wider world.

    Nine pigeonholes (or ten if you count “true neutral by choice” separately from “true neutral by being outside the system) is pretty limited though. That’s why Eclipse includes three expanded “alignment” systems

    • One simply supplements the existing system by providing some rules on motivations and rewards for following up on them.
    • One based on a characters position on a series of ethical questions. That’s far more flexible and somewhat more complicated – but offers a set of firm guidelines on what your character thinks is acceptable and how that fits into society.
    • One based on personality traits. That one’s extremely flexible, but requiring tracking character behavior with some numbers to see if they qualify for using “aligned” effects or gaining special powers.

    Now that we have some idea of how those “planar energies” might work, we can talk about spells that change their effects.

    • The Change Alignment spell in The Practical Enchanter simply infuses the victim with an enormous amount of planar energy, forcibly changing their planar attunements. The result is just as permanent – and no more permanent – than any other way of adopting an extreme alignment position and, incidentally, comes with the same revelatory feeling, lift in mood, and realization of just how foolish you’ve been all your life up to now as any other extreme conversion does.
      • A much weaker version of this spell can simply keep reinforcing an existing alignment, shielding it against effects which would change it – such as using inappropriately-aligned spells. The user would have to save against the spell to act against their alignment – but if they succeed in doing so, their actions (whatever they are) will not impact their reinforced alignment; the energy shift will just be shifted back.
      • A slightly weaker version can change an alignment temporarily, flooding the victim with enough outer-planar energies to override their normal tendencies. While the victims are forced to behave in accordance with the temporary alignment, actions carried out while under the influence of such a spell are not truly voluntary – and will have no effect on the victims alignment after the effects wear off.
    • The Rational Discussion spell in The Practical Enchanter blocks the flow of alignment energies into the affected area – making everyone there effectively true neutral for the duration. That doesn’t prevent them from doing anything they feel necessary, including casting aligned spells – they’re focused enough to penetrate such a weak block – but the energies will find no purchase on the mind of the caster, and so will not affect his or her alignment when it does come back.

    In any case, spells that target alignments have effects based on the current balance of energies within their targets; it doesn’t matter if they’re currently of a particular alignment

    Some spells – those with alignment descriptors – draw on alignment energies. There are a couple of ways to make those work without affecting the user’s alignment.

    • You can use the Elemental Manipulation Metamagic, or a secondary spell effect, to add enough of an opposing force to the spell to keep the power you’re drawing on from affecting you. That’s pretty simple, and hence is only +1 spell level – but doing things that way will eventually attract the attention of representatives of the alignment forces, who will want the user to make a choice.
    • You can design a spell to accomplish the same thing as an aligned spell without drawing on alignment forces – or to bypass the effects of tapping into the outer planes by externalizing the effects – at +2 levels.

    A spell that stabilizes a character’s outer-plane attunement is possible, and rather low-level (ten minutes per level at level two). Unfortunately, taking away the option to shift the balance of energies that you’re drawing on – however briefly – makes it impossible for the user to act out of alignment for the duration of the spell. That will also prevent the user from casting spells with an inappropriate alignment descriptor.

    This, of course, opens up an alternative way of playing a Paladin or similar character; they’re so closely attuned to a particular force – the one that grants them their powers – that they’re unable to act against it’s dictates. It’s not that they will lose their powers if they act against their alignment, it’s that the only way they can violate the strictures of their alignment is to have already lost their powers – and the game master should simply overrule any attempt by the player to have their character act otherwise. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be tricked, but nothing short of total mental domination – in which case they’re no longer in control – can force them to violate their alignment – and it has to be knowingly to count.

    An effect which shields the recipients mind against unwanted alignment energy-influxes, and thus would allow the user to cast aligned spells and use aligned items without some of the consequences is about level three – or possibly higher in worlds where the alignment forces are especially powerful or fundamental. If you want it to protect you against alignment-based attacks, such as Blasphemy, add three levels.

    Finally, an epic spell which feeds alignment energies into someone, and allows them to channel them into active alignment-based powers even if they’re not properly attuned to them is possible – but it will only work on characters who already know how to channel such energies. This does offer the interesting possibility of giving your favorite paladin or blackguard both sets of powers for awhile.

    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.

    Artifact versus Alzrius – Fight!

    mr.skullhead got an upgrade

    Image by danielle_blue via Flickr

    Major Artifacts tend to be difficult to fight with spells. The only thing that really affects them seems to be Mage’s Disjunction, and that has only a small chance of working, and carries major penalties if it does. What’s a good way to try and combat an artifact with magic? And, for that matter, how does an arcane spellcaster guard against being hit with mage’s disjunction?

    There are three major problems with fighting major artifacts:

    • They’re almost indestructible. As a rule, given that this is pretty much the defining property of a Major Artifact, we don’t want to tamper with that. “We must carry it into the depths of Hell, and there throw it under the wheels of the Soul-Crushing Juggernaut which powers it with a constant stream of anguish pressed from the shattered souls of the damned!” is a lot more interesting than “Another evil artifact of ultimate power? Keep an eye on it until tomorrow and I’ll prepare my artifact-destroying spell combo in the morning”.
    • A lot of them are rather poorly written, leaving out saving throw DC’s, notes on what the effects of abilities are, and other important information. I can’t do anything about that either; whoever is running the game will just have to fill that in.
    • Many of them are simply used as plot devices, and are never given much thought beyond that. I can’t do anything about that either.

    Ergo, we need to bypass all those.

    Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do about artifacts.

    • Most artifacts have to be in contact with their users to operate – and invulnerability doesn’t mean that you can’t swipe them, contain them, send them away, or prevent people from using them. A spell that makes someone drop an item (L1, save applies), grabs an item (L2, they roll Str, caster rolls casting attribute), covers it with a thick layer of iron (L3 mostly for the creation effect, could be a ray [attack at -4, but no save] or a reflex save to dodge), moves it temporarily to a coexistent plane (L4, Fort save applies for living targets), dimension doors an item to the caster (L5, only affects items, medium range ray attack – either requiring an attack roll or allowing a reflex save), or teleports or plane shifts it away (L6 in either case, again a range ray attack). A good illusion of such an effect can also be effective. There are lots of variants here, but those spells should be useful in various other situations as well.
    • Many items have to be voluntarily operated. A Hold, Baleful Polymorph, or similar spell will put an end to that very nicely. Curses, or Amnesia spells can make a creature to forget about items, abilities, or allies, or how to use them, for at least one minute per level of the caster. In general, making a creature forget about an item is only L1, making it forget about a natural ability is L2, making it forget about specific categories of learned abilities (say, “fire spells” or “swords”) is L3, and making it forget about broad categories of learned abilities (“spellcasting” for a wizard) is L4. A new save would apply each round during which someone reminds the victim of whatever he or she has forgotten.

    Long term disposal of a major artifact is tricky – but you can make it almost arbitrarily difficult; if you trek to the end of the world and hurl it into the endless depths of the sea of chaos, it will probably be quite some time before it turns up again, no matter how indestructible it is. High level magic can place something beyond the reach of all lesser magics and – at about level twelve – you could try throwing an artifact into a random nonmagical universe, where it will be just another ordinary chunk of matter. A good banishing ritual would be a lot easier to manage though.

    For really specialized effects – probably only worth trying if you’re using freeform magic – you can try illusions that make the artifact unable to detect its trigger or transmuting the effect it’s trying to produce into something else.

    If someone has a cursed artifact, or you have one that you want to destroy, it’s usually time for research; the entire point of such things is to set up the characters for some sort of mighty quest – or at least a scavenger hunt for a dozen apparently-impossible ingredients. You might as well oblige the game master and go along with it; he or she probably spent a lot of time setting it up.

    Far more simply, a lot of artifacts simply produce normal spell effects: counteract those and let your friends beat the wielder over the head. If your game master will let you take it, Eye of the Dragon from the Path of the Dragon should let you absorb a lot of artifact effects; they are, after all, simply magical energy. Incidentally, that will also let you absorb a Disjunction spell. (If you can’t manage that, and think that you’re likely to be facing a Disjunction spell, a contingent, or self-triggered item, with an Antimagic Sphere – that you then dismiss on your next action – provides good protection from it).

    If you’ve got a sapient, self-guided major artifact, or something that cannot be deactivated once started, you have a bigger problem – and it’s probably with the game master, since he or she is almost certainly going for the old “here’s an opponent that there’s only one way to beat – and no one else yet has managed to figure it out!” routine. That’s always a pain. After all, if the solution was even remotely reasonable it would have been figured out long ago. Worse, it usually means that you have to try to figure out what the game master wants you to do, rather than what your characters would do in the situation. Worst of all, the game master will probably be quite unhappy if you try other solutions – especially if they’re reasonable and simple.

    This does suggest a look at building artifacts however. After all, I’ve always found the notion that magical secrets were lost, never to be rediscovered – as opposed to the secrets of architecture, plumbing, mathematics, and every other field of knowledge – a bit idiotic. Ergo, breaking down and pricing a few artifacts seems like a reasonable step.

    I think I’ll save that for another article though.

    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.

    Spell Research – Changing Spell Types

    Hermes Trismegistus

    Image via Wikipedia

    Here we have another question from Alzrius…

    In regards to spell research, what modifiers are there for trying to invent an arcane version of a divine spell or psionic power? Notwithstanding GM fiat, is such a thing possible (e.g. an arcane cure light wounds, or an arcane hypercognition)?

    Well, it is a perpetual (and much-argued) point, but Bards are specifically noted as casting arcane spells, and they get Cure Light Wounds. Ergo either it’s possible or Bards are using some unique form of magic or it’s a mistake that was never fixed.

    My usual first and second-edition theory was that divine magic offered an advantage in fine control, since the god – from whom the cleric was presumably drawing the power for his or her spells – filtered, regulated, and partially shaped the power of raw, wild, magic (whatever its source might have been in a given game) before passing it on to his/her/its clerics. Ergo, divine spellcasters had far better fine control than arcane spellcasters, but less raw power and a spell selection that was strictly limited by the nature of their god. Therefore spells calling for very fine control – such as healing – were a lot easier for divine spellcasters, while spells calling for raw power (fireball and meteor swarm) were a lot easier for arcane spellcasters.

    Very high level divine spells – like Earthquake – presumably called for the direct attention of the deity or the greater powers of nature (or whatever), but that was reasonable enough; they were supposed to be major miracles. Dragon Kings, and the original Tome of Magic, complicated things with Psionic Enchantments and Quest Spells – but not very much. Those had explanations for how they surpassed the normal limits.

    Then, of course, third edition replaced the Spheres, and the notion that each god would probably only offer a sublist of the general clerical spell list, with a fully generic spell list restricted only by a few aligned spells and the Domains – most of which contained quite a few arcane spells. It would be easy enough to add the notion that each god provided more power – enough to match arcane spellcasting – in his/her/its specialities, but it’s a good deal harder to account for the fact that such a large percentage of the spells are now quite identical without assuming that the power sources involved, and the ways that they’re manipulated, are almost identical.

    There really isn’t much distinction when it comes to Arcane and Psionic effects either. There may not be an “Arcane Hypercognition” – but “Moment of Omniscience”, with pretty much identical effects, certainly seems reasonable.

    About the only real distinction now is theme. Clerics get healing and a better selection of buffs and defenses. Druids get more nature-related spells, Bards lean towards sound, illusions, and mental effects, and Wizards and Sorcerers get the big energy attacks, the odd stuff, and a dose of almost everything else EXCEPT healing – unless they want to invest in, say, Limited Wish to duplicate such spells.

    Given that, at the moment, I’d recommend a very simple modifier: if you want to research a spell that the game master feels is “out of theme” for your character type, about +4 spell levels seems appropriate – a modifier high enough to explain why no one bothers. Otherwise – given how popular the idea of researching some effects is – I’d expect the existence of such spells, and why no one uses them, to be fairly well known.

    As alternatives…

    In Eclipse, the simplest option is to simply take the basic Theurgy ability (not the Theurgy magic system; I just ran out of names for magic systems). It allows the user to convert spells from one list to another, albeit with an increase of +1 to +2 spell levels. That’s a pain, but it does put the spells on your list of potentially-available spells – and so will let you use wands and other spell-trigger items containing them without further fuss. That can be pretty handy.

    Alternatively, you can use one of the freeform magic systems – but if you’re asking the question, your game master probably isn’t letting you use those.

    My personal suggestion would be to stay within theme and come up with some spells that do what you want some other way. If what you want is “Cure Light Wounds”…

    • A simple first or second level arcane spell – perhaps named “Mystic Surgeon” – might expand on what you can do with the Heal skill, allowing the use of the expanded table that this character uses.
    • Polymorph heals injuries as if the character transformed had rested for a night. Ergo, “Plasmic Flow” (at level two) might render the recipients flesh momentarily malleable, and then let it revert to normal without bothering with the full Polymorph effect, healing the target similarly. At level three a similar spell (lets call it “Wounds like Mist”) could “pulse” several times, thus providing several days worth of healing – potentially more effective than a Cure Serious Wounds spell at higher levels.
    • Now, if you can Plane Shift at spell level seven, and – relevantly – create an Antimagic Field at level six, then Invoke Dimensional Overlay should be about level seven. That would have a short range and affect a 15′ radius for up to five minutes per level of the caster (unless dismissed). This spell would give the affected area the planar traits of any co-existent or inner plane or any other plane which the caster has personally visited. You could use that to heal by tapping the Positive Energy Plane – or to enhance a variety of other abilities by tapping into various other planes.