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.

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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.”

Alzrius

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.

-Alzrius

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.

Clairsentience

  • 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.

Psychometabolism

  • 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.

Psychokinesis

  • 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.

Psychoportion

  • 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.

Telepathy

  • 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.