Demographics in D&D – Another Look

July 16, 2016

Demographics in your role-playing games is one of those subjects that people either love or hate. Or rather, they tend to either find it to be either fairly useless (and probably rather boring) or a very engaging facet of world-building. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably one of the latter individuals.

In 3.X d20, demographics were baked right into the rules. Specifically, there were a series of tables in the 3.0 and 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide that allowed for settlements of various sizes to be created, with subsequent tables allowing for determining how many members of various classes were present, and what their levels were. Unfortunately, these rules weren’t added to either SRD, but we can still discuss them in general.

Personally, what I found frustrating about these rules was that you could only use them to generate populations – and, more importantly, the class-and-level breakdowns – for a single settlement, instead of a larger area such as a country. To my mind, what we got was a bottom-up level of world-building that stopped at the halfway point. But recently, I’ve hit upon an idea that’s made me reconsider the population tables in the DMG:

Specifically, look at Table 5-2: Random Town Generation on page 137 of the 3.5 DMG (Table 4-40 on page 137 of the 3.0 DMG). What if the percentage listing for each town on that table was the breakdown of how many settlements of each type were in a given country? For example, there’s a 10% chance of rolling a thorp on that table…so 10% of the country’s people live in thorps. The 1% chance of rolling a metropolis means that only 1% of the population live in metropolises, etc.

Now, that still doesn’t tell us how many people live in a given country. For that, we need to take a top-down approach, which means picking how many people we want there to be in total and then plugging that into the various percentages.

Once we do that, we just pick a suitable number of people per settlement size (using the ranges given on the table in the DMG), and divide that by the number of people who live in settlements that size, and voila! Now we know how many settlements of that type are found in a given country.

For example, we want to make a generic kingdom with a total population of 5,000,000 people. As such, 10% of them, or 500,000, will live in thorps. Since thorps are listed as having 20-80 people live in them, we’ll assign an average of 50 people to a thorp. Ergo, our generic kingdom has ten thousand thorps in it.

One thing to keep in mind is that these numbers are meant to provide a framework, rather than a mandate for how the population breakdown needs to be. If you’re using this method to make a campaign world, then once you’ve plugged in the various numbers at the various levels, go ahead and start making edits based around how you want various countries to look. What’s here is to help inspire, rather than present a straitjacket.

One question that often arises when looking at a game world’s population is who does it count among its people? Does it only look at the core races (e.g. humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-elves, and half-orcs)? Or are all Humanoids part of the count?

Insofar as the tables in the DMG are concerned, this is decidedly the former. Only the core races are listed on the Racial Mix of Communities (p. 139 in the 3.5 DMG; Table 4-46 on p. 140 in the 3.0 DMG). As noted above, you should feel free to disregard or alter that as necessary to suit your world-building.

Let’s go ahead and take the “Generic Kingdom” from the previous example and flesh it out using this method. With five million people, its settlement breakdown will look like so:

  • 10% of the population (500,000 people) live in thorps. Presuming about 50 people to a thorp, then the kingdom has 10,000 thorps within its borders.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in hamlets. Presuming about 250 people to a hamlet, then the kingdom has 4,000 hamlets.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in villages. Presuming about 800 people to a village, there are 1,250 villages in the kingdom.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in small towns. Presuming about 1,600 people to a small town, then the kingdom has 625 small towns.
  • 15% of the population (750,000 people) live in large towns. Presuming about 3,500 people to a large town, then there are 250 large towns within the kingdom.
  • 10% of the population (500,000 people) live in small cities. Presuming about 10,000 people to a small city, then the kingdom has 50 small cities.
  • 4% of the population (200,000 people) live in large cities. Presuming about 20,000 people to a large city, then there are 10 large cities within the kingdom.
  • 1% of the population (50,000 people) live in a metropolis. Since there’s no upper limit on the population of a metropolis (minimum 25,001 people), it’s easiest to say that this will give us a single metropolis of 50,000 people.

Profession (cartographer)

A DC 10 Profession (cartographer) check will produce a map of the kingdom that has the metropolis and large cities marked on it. For each additional +5 to the DC, the map correctly notes all of the settlements one size smaller. For example, with a DC 25 Profession (cartographer) check, a map will accurately place the kingdom’s metropolis, large cities, small cities, large towns, and small towns, but will not have the villages, hamlets, or thorps.

One thing to note about the above aid for world-building is that this will cause problems if you have a kingdom with a population of 2,500,000 or fewer. That’s because, if you take 1% of the population for a metropolis, you won’t hit the necessary minimum for a settlement that size according to the DMG table (e.g. a metropolis has 25,001+ people living in it).

In this case, simple create the country using the method outlined above, and when you hit a point where the population assigned to a particular settlement size doesn’t meet that settlement’s size prerequisite, simply redistribute them among the next-lowest settlement.

For example, if you’re making a country with only 2,000,000 people, the 1% of the people that would go into a metropolis (20,000) are instead added to the 4% of the population (80,000) that would live in large cities. At that point, we decide to make five large cities of 20,000 each.

Overall, this method of fleshing out the number of settlements in an area helps to provide a basic overview of a particular country – though it should be noted that this doesn’t need to be for a country per se. Rather, this can function for any region that has multiple settlements within it, whether political, geographic, or whatnot.

At that point, if you want further inspiration, you can start using the supplementary tables, specifically the ones for Community Modifiers and Highest-Level Locals. Obviously, I don’t mean that you should use these to generate every single NPC in every single settlement! Rather, a few random rolls can help to generate ideas about who the power-players are in a given settlement (or larger area, if you think they’re high-enough level to warrant it).

Unsurprisingly, the DMG tables only deal with the Core PC and NPC classes. In the same vein as the rest of this article, we can presume that tells us something about the state of the rest of the game world. Specifically, that these classes are far and away the most common, with classes from other supplements being exceptionally rare, as per your needs.

The Dark Young and the Restless

May 9, 2016

I mentioned several months ago how Overlord is one of my favorite light novel series out of Japan. This remains true, and with nine novels to date, I was quite excited to hear that the long-awaited tenth volume is releasing at the end of this month. To celebrate, I’m posting a conversion of one of the most powerful spells used in the series to date.

While I’ve tried to keep them minimal, please be aware that there are some spoilers here for later in the series.

My previous post on Overlord talked about how its magic system is heavily inspired by D&D Third Edition, having ten “tiers” of spells, metamagic, and even a skill-like “super tier” magic which is clearly epic-level spellcasting by another name. The story further clarifies that super-tier magic has certain rules and limitations for when it’s used. In effect, these are the world laws that are specific to using epic spells:

  1. Doing so is highly conspicuous, creating large rings of glowing sigils around the caster for several feet in every direction.
  2. The casting time for these spells is described as being lengthy (though there are cheap one-shot magic items that can make them near-instantaneous).
  3. After casting super-tier magic, there’s a “cool-down” period before another super-tier spell can be cast.
  4. This cool down period applies not only to the spellcaster, but to all allied characters as well.

This last point stretches suspension of disbelief, being rather “game-ist” in its lack of in-character reasoning for how it determines who an “allied” character is and why they can’t use super-tier magic because someone else in their party did. Amusingly enough, this is ignored due to the fact that, in the story, this magic is originally from an MMORPG anyway, making it something of a moot point.

In the Overlord anime, the only time we see super-tier magic being cast is when Ainz uses the spell fallen down (twice) during his battle with a brainwashed Shalltear. As far as spells go, it’s rather boring, simply being a massive-damage area-of-effect spell. While it’s strong enough to create a crater that’s several dozen feet in diameter, that’s about all that can be said about it.

A far more notable use of super-tier magic comes at the end of the ninth novel, when Ainz casts the spell Ia Shub-Niggurath – Sacrifice to the Black Harvest. With just that one spell, he kills an army of almost a quarter-million people.

More specifically, the spell causes 70,000 people to drop dead (actually more, if you count the horses), which serve as a “sacrifice” to summon five of the Dark Young of the Black Goat, which then begin rampaging unstoppably through the remaining soldiers. So what would such a spell look like in the d20 system? My guess is something like this:


Necromancy [death]

Spellcraft DC: 2,130

Components: V, S

Castint Time: 2 minutes

Range: 3,000 ft.

Area: 800-ft. radius burst

Duration: instantaneous and 20 minutes (see text)

Saving Throw: Fortitude partial

Spell Resistance: Yes

To Develop: 19,170,000 gp; 384 days; 766,800 XP. Seeds: slay (DC 25), summon (DC 14). Factors: change from target to area (20-ft. radius; +10), increase range by 900% (+18), increase duration by 900% (+18), increase area by 3,900% (+156), +39 CR creature (+78), aberration type (+10), four additional creatures (x8), increase casting time by 1 minute (-2), requires 10,000 Hit Dice of creatures to be slain for each creature summoned (ad hoc -500).

When this spell is cast, each creature of 80 Hit Dice or less within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+10 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 5 Dark Young.

A Dark Young is a mountain-sized conglomerate of mouths and tentacles that moves on five stubby legs. It cannot speak, but makes a bleating sound from its many mouths. It has the statistics of a devastation spider, with the following changes:

  • The creature type is aberration.
  • Instead of one bite attack it may make up to 6 slam attacks per round, all as primary natural attacks that deal 18d10+13 damage.
  • Reach 60 ft.
  • Intelligence 3.
  • Replace the poison and web special abilities with trample (18d10+19 damage, DC 87).

Figuring out the base statistics to use for the Dark Young took some eyeballing. In the novels, the level system for characters tops out at level 100. At this level, characters that use super-tier magic can cast four such spells per day. In the d20 system, where you can cast one epic level spell per day for every 10 ranks in the correct skill (and can have total ranks equal to your level +3), this means that level 100 characters, such as Ainz, are somewhere between levels 37 and 46. Normally I’d split the difference and go with 42, but given the vast power that Ainz and his servants possess, I’ll go high and put it as being level 45.

In the novel, the Dark Young are described as being creatures that are “above level 90,” and that have no powerful special abilities but are extremely tough. Given that, devastation vermin in general, and the CR 41 devastation spider in particular, seemed like a perfect fit (albeit after a few changes).

Of course, the casting DC for this spell is eye-poppingly high to the point where it’s essentially impossible to cast. Even positing that Ainz is a level 45 character, this spell is likely far beyond his reach. While we could tweak the spell’s parameters (likely dumping a lot of the extended range, as well as some of the extended duration, and piling up more mitigating factors), it’s probably far easier – and more effective – to convert the entire spell.

More specifically, we’re going to use Eclipse: The Codex Persona and The Practical Enchanter to rebuild this from the ground up as a high-level spell.

In order to do that, we’ll want to take a look at each of the spell’s components separately. Luckily, the epic-level writeup above nicely lays out (via the two spell seeds used in its “to develop” line) that there are two basic effects going on here: the sacrifice, and the summons.

The sacrifice is essentially a finger of death (level 7) spell whose area can affect an entire battlefield (+8), and its range extended from close to extreme (+3). That’s +11 levels of metamagic, but since they’ll be built into the spell we can subtract 20% of that cost, for a +9 modifier, making a level 16 spell.

The summoning is an instance of grandiose summoning (Eclipse p. 125). Since this spell is summoning specific creatures, rather than having a list of creatures that the caster can choose from – and since said creatures are CR 41 – that makes this a 22nd-level spell. We’ve already paid to extend the spell’s range (e.g. when we combine the sacrifice part of the spell with this one), so we don’t need to do that again. Finally, we can lower the spell level by 1 due to changing its 1 round casting time to 1 minute.

So that leaves us with a 16th- and a 21st-level spell. As per Lerandor’s Rule from page 116 of The Practical Enchanter – it takes 2 spells of level “N” to equal 1 spell of level “N + 1” – combining these gives us a 22nd-level spell. Finally, we’ll throw back in the limitation that you need to slay at least 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures for each Dark Young summoned, presuming that that’s worth another -1 spell level (that might seem far less generous than the -500 to the Spellcraft DC in the epic spell writeup above. However, the net effect is the same; both are an overall minor reduction to a stratospheric requirement to cast).

As such, we end up with a 21st-level spell which looks like the following:

Ia Shub-Niggurath – The Sacrifice to the Black Harvest; conjuration, necromancy, transmutation (summoning) [death]; level 21; components V, S; casting time 1 minute; range extreme (800 ft. + 80 ft./level); Target 1 battlefield and 1d4+1 Dark Young (see below); duration instantaneous and 1 min./level (D) (see below); Saving Throw Fort partial; Spell Resistance yes.

When this spell is cast, each creature within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+25 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 1d4+1 Dark Young.

One its face, this doesn’t seem like it’s done very much to make this spell more feasible for actual use. After all, what’s the practical difference between a Spellcraft DC in the low thousands and a spell level that’s in the low twenties? For an epic-level character, however, the latter is going to be far easier to reach than the former, particularly if using the Eclipse rules rather than a strict 3.0/3.5 build.

Henry’s Hardcore Heroics

April 23, 2016

Earlier in the week, some friends and I managed to catch Hardcore Henry on the last night of its theatrical run. No one else was in the theater with us, giving us free reign to whoop and holler while the movie was playing. This turned out to be fortunate, because this movie was so over-the-top, so absolutely insane in its first-person action scenes, that keeping quiet would have been an exercise in futility anyway.

Needless to say, we absolutely loved it.

Of course, being a nerd of considerable proportions, I can’t think of impressive or interesting characters from fiction without wanting to quantify what they can do. Since role-playing games in general – and Eclipse: The Codex Persona in particular – are the best ways of doing that, I naturally wrote up stats for the movie’s titular protagonist. (Some mild spoilers for the film are below.)

Hardcore Henry, ECL 5 Implacable Hero

Cyber-Soldier (63 CP/+1 ECL race)

  • +4 Str (24 CP).
  • +4 Dex (24 CP).
  • +4 Con (24 CP).
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for half-cost/skills only (3 CP).
  • Speak Language and Read/Write Language (2 CP).
  • Immunity/Endurance (common/minor/major) (2 CP).
  • +1 BAB (6 CP).
  • Proficient with all simple and martial weapons (9 CP) and small arms (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (3 CP).
  • +1 AC (dodge bonus) (6 CP).
  • 1d10 Hit Die (14 CP).

This entire race is specialized for one-halt cost/need to have a charged power cell without which they can only function for a half-hour before dying, can have their brain hacked to block or implant memories as well as upload malware into systems they connect to, have their cyborg nature revealed on mechanical scans or if they take sufficient damage (e.g. half their hit points or more).

The use of Speak Language and Read/Write Language here is to explain why, when the characters speak Russian, we see subtitles in a movie that’s entirely from Henry’s point of view – he’s actually seeing those subtitles! If not using the d20 Modern skills, go ahead and remove the Read/Write Language listing; it won’t actually change the net CP total for this race.

Available Character Points: 120 (level 4 base) + 12 (levels 1 and 3 feats) + 6 (bonus feat) + 10 (disadvantages) = 148 CP.

Henry’s disadvantages are Accursed (Henry cannot speak, never having received his voice modulator), History (presumably there’s a backstory for how Henry ended up where he was at the beginning of the movie), and Hunted (the course of events in the film pretty much define this disadvantage).

Ability Scores (32-point buy)

Ability Score Base Racial Bonus Level Bonus Total
Strength 14 (6 points) +4 18 (+4)
Dexterity 16 (10 points) +4 20 (+5)
Constitution 15 (8 points) +4 +1 (4th level) 20 (+5)
Intelligence 12 (4 points) 12 (+1)
Wisdom 10 (2 points) 10 (+0)
Charisma 10 (2 points) 10 (+0)

Unlike most d20 Modern characters, Henry receives a 32-point buy instead of the usual 25. This is because he’s just that hardcore, going through a very tough adventure solo (save for a recurring NPC helping out).

Basic Abilities (99 CP)

  • 4d10 Hit Dice (24 CP).
  • +4 BAB (24 CP).
  • Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +1 (27 CP).
  • 24 skill points (24 CP).

Superhuman Determination (15 CP)

  • Acrobatics (6 CP).
  • Action Hero/Stunts (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/when a ranged weapon runs out of ammunition, specialized for one-half cost/may only take a move action, only to reload (3 CP).

The use of Action Points over the course of the film is likely to be extremely high. Henry is doubtlessly buying multiple instances of Luck, Grant of Aid, Block, etc.

Hardcore to the Extreme (34 CP)

  • Stoic with Ferocity (9 CP).
  • Berserker with Enduring and +8 Bonus Uses and Controlled (21 CP). Odinpower and Odinmight, corrupted for two-thirds cost/requires adrenaline injections (4 CP).

Henry’s use of Berserker will normally grant +2 Str, +2 Dex, +4 Con. When using a surge of adrenaline, these will rise to +6 Str, +6 Dex, +6 Con.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 20 (2d10 at 1st level) + 16 (3d10) + 25 (Con bonus) = 61 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +5 (Dex bonus).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +4 (base) +5 (Con bonus) = +9.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +5 (Dex bonus) = +9.
    • Will: +1 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +1.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +1 (dodge) +5 (Dex bonus) = AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 10.
  • Attacks:
    • Melee: +5 (BAB) +4 (Str bonus) = +9.
    • Ranged: +5 (BAB) +5 (Dex) = +10.
  • Total skill points: 24 (24 CP) + 7 (Int bonus) + 7 (racial bonus) = 38 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Score Bonuses Total
Balance 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Climb 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Demolitions 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Disable Device 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Drive 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Escape Artist 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Hide 1 rank (2 points) +5 Dex +6
Intimidate 1 rank (2 points) +0 Cha +1
Jump 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Knowledge (tactics) 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Listen 1 rank (2 points) +0 Wis +1
Move Silently 1 rank (2 points) +5 Dex +6
Navigate 1 rank (2 points) +1 Int +2
Search 1 rank (2 points) +1 Int +2
Spot 1 rank (2 points) +0 Wis +1
Survival 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Swim 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Treat Injury 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Tumble 2 ranks +5 Dex +7

Henry’s class skills are the twelve skills on the above table which have their ranks bought at a 1:1 skill points. The others are cross-class skills.

Other than noting his racial ability to strike for 1d4 + Str bonus points of lethal damage, the above listing doesn’t go into what weapons Henry typically uses. That’s because he changes them quite rapidly over the course of the film, using pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns, a katana, a grenade launcher, and quite a bit more over the course of the movie!

Further Development

Henry’s stats match his depiction in the movie, being a character with incredible physical abilities but very little else. Given that he actually managed to survive the film, and utterly annihilate the bad guys who were gunning for him, Henry might be able to focus on some non-combat abilities going forward.

…unless, of course, there’s a sequel.

Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Addendum: Core Prestige Classes

April 16, 2016

Several years ago, I wrote a brief series of articles about removing alignment-based mechanics from Pathfinder, focusing specifically on the Core classes, spells and magic items, and monsters. Since then, these posts have become some of the most popular parts of Intelligence Check, getting regular hits even after all of this time.

It’s because of that that I’m a little chagrined to have only recently realized that there’s an area of the Pathfinder Core Rules that I overlooked in my original series: the prestige classes found in the Core Rulebook.

Of course, the fact that no one ever bothered to point this out to me says, I think, something about how prestige classes are viewed these days. Even back during the heyday of 3.X, most prestige classes tended to be regarded with suspicion – at least insofar as their balance went – and a vague sense of frustration for how they seemed to nod in the direction of in-game story potential even as they were typically used for purely mechanical purposes.

Throw in the issues that come along with multiclassing, and it’s easy to see why archetypes – as introduced in the Pathfinder’s first major splatbook, the Advanced Player’s Guide – quickly replaced prestige classes as the go-to for how to customize your character (besides feats, races, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone away entirely. Should someone want to make use of a prestige class, whether for the mechanics or the story potential or both, the basic PrCs are right there in the Core Rules.

Now let’s see what they look like shorn of alignment.

Core Prestige Classes

Below are the changes necessary to remove alignment-based mechanics from the prestige classes in the Core Rulebook. Those PrCs that aren’t listed here have no such mechanics, and so require no changes.

Arcane Archer: Delete the “enhance arrows” ability gained at 9th level, replacing it with the following:

“At 9th level, every nonmagical arrow fired by an arcane archer gains the keen and bane weapon qualities. The keen quality functions even if the arcane archer fires arrows that deal bludgeoning damage. The creature type to which the bane quality applies may be changed once per day as per the arcane archer’s elemental and elemental burst qualities.”

The goal here is to grant the arcane archer a total of +2 weapon qualities to replace the alignment qualities he’s losing. Bane is the obvious choice to replace alignment-based additional damage, and since this narrows the range of foes that will be subject to extra damage, we can ameliorate this (at least somewhat) by adding in keen as well (along with a note so that the arcane archer isn’t penalized if using blunt arrows).

Arcane Trickster: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

Honestly, this particular restriction is so flimsy I’m surprised that it’s there at all. If rogues can be lawful, and wizards and sorcerers can be lawful, then why exactly can’t a rogue-wizard mashup be lawful? As such, we can get rid of this requirement without a second thought.

Assassin: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

You have to admire this particular restriction, as it managed to tick off both the story-gamers (who wanted to roleplay being a professional contract killer) and the power-gamers (who wanted the death attack power this PrC offered) by requiring an alignment that most GMs disallowed as a matter of course.

Shadowdancer: Change the second sentence of the “summon shadow” description to read as follows:

“Unlike a normal shadow, this shadow cannot create spawn.”

This removes the clause about the shadow having the shadowdancer’s alignment, which while a minor change (particularly with the removal of all other alignment-based effects), might still be significant if you want to place more emphasis on the shadowdancer having an undead familiar like this.


There wasn’t much to change here, but hopefully these alterations will be worthwhile if you’re looking at taking a Core prestige class in an alignment-free game. After all, why can’t the good guys have assassins too?

Thaumaturgical Enchantment

April 2, 2016

Thaumaturgy (and dweomer, its statistically-identical discipline) is one of several new d20 magic systems introduced in Eclipse: The Codex Persona (pg. 100-106). More specifically, it’s one of the magic systems that’s based around skills, giving that particular d20 subsystem some much-needed teeth.

In thaumaturgy, a particular magical discipline is divided into eight sub-disciplines, each of which has its own associated skill. If a practitioner of that style of magic wants to create an effect, then he has a make a successful skill check with the relevant sub-discipline (and pay the associated cost), and on a success the spell is cast.

There’s actually a bit more to it than that, but that’s the basic outline of how the system works.

The best part of this style of magic (at least to me) is that coming up with the eight associated skills for each particular discipline is something the player does. That means that each player is likely to come up with a different set of particulars, so that even the same theme will have different particulars depending on who uses it. Between that and that the effects generated are free-form, this means that no two users of thaumaturgy will be alike.

To whit, below is a sample field of thaumaturgy, based around a particular type of enchantment.


Manipulating emotions is a particularly insidious way of controlling others. Rather than subverting someone’s will, enchantments change how they feel about things while leaving their responses intact. The results can often be profoundly confusing, if not disturbing, for the victim long after the actual effect has ended. Wielding such invasive magic can come with a high price, however; few people can bring themselves to fully trust someone who can tamper with the most intimate parts of them.

  • Anger: Creating not only surges of adrenaline-fueled rage, this magic can also induce lasting hatreds and deep enmities. This can also curse an individual or location to become an object of scorn for certain groups, or even – at high levels – for everyone.
  • Anticipation: The opposite of surprise, anticipation causes something to seem to be more noteworthy than it otherwise would be. Not only can this boost situational awareness, granting combat bonuses and tactical insights, but it can be used to grant insight into mysteries and dilemmas that have no obvious solutions.
  • Apathy: Not just boredom, apathy can be the complete lack of an emotional response. It can negate most emotion-based magic, as well as shield from pain or alignment-based effects. At the higher levels, this can be used to induce catatonia or hibernation.
  • Fear: Not just immediate panic, this type of magic can produce anything from low-grade anxiety to bouts of fear so strong as to be lethal. This magic is often placed on an area, causing it to be avoided by the locals.
  • Joy: Bringing forth happiness can not only counter fear and despair, but also creates powerful bravery and morale-boosting effects. This particular field of magic can become highly addictive to those that are regularly subjected to it.
  • Love: This creates any sort of positive fascination. It can range from basic charm effects to powerful obsessions. Ironically, actual love is very difficult to create, and tends to be short-term.
  • Sadness: Feelings of loss can be used to sap a person’s will to fight, saddling them with morale penalties or even forfeiting actions as they lose the will to carry on. Severe sadness effects can cause a target to become suicidal.
  • Surprise: Surprise deals with being unaware of something, resulting in penalties to reactions. This can also be used to make parts of the immediate area seem subconsciously “unimportant” to the point of being unnoticed, while stronger spells make it so that key connections and revelations are overlooked or ignored.

As with all free-form systems of magic, what’s above are merely suggestions. The ultimate arbitrators of what can be used with any particular system of magic are the player’s imagination and the GM’s administration.

Baby Got Backlash

March 27, 2016
Flurry Heart

Cutest engine of destruction EVAR!

The premiere of the sixth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic introduces baby Flurry Heart, the daughter of Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. It also reintroduces a particular quirk that infant unicorns – or, in this case, infant alicorns – have in the show: that they’ll manifest powerful magic at random.

This idea was first brought up with the introduction of the Cake twins, way back in the show’s second season. While it makes for some amusing antics, and creates the conflict in the current season’s premiere, this particular quirk of unicorn physiology is somewhat awkward to model in d20 terms. As Thoth put it:

Even counting Twilight Sparkle as an exception, Pumpkin Cake can break chains, dimension door or teleport, phase through matter, move and animate objects, and fly around – at one month old. In the comics, Sweetie Belle, who certainly doesn’t seem to be a magical genius or exceptionally powerful, accidentally transforms half the ponies of Ponyville into animate fruit, apparently irresistibly. Yes, that seems to be mostly cosmetic (and so could be considered an illusion or a rather minor transformation rather than a major one) – but it’s still pretty impressive for someone who can barely levitate a broom.

Characters that get weaker as they grow up don’t fit into d20 as easily as most. Sure, you can just handwave it in a lot of games – but even if child PC’s are uncommon, kids are very common indeed. It makes it kind of hard to raise tension with a monster attacking a village if the smaller local kids panic-response can be expected to include blasting it with horrific spells. Given that that doesn’t seem to happen, it seems likely that very young unicorns only have mighty magical powers when it’s cute and funny for the audience.

Now, at least part of this problem is solved in the latest episodes, since there’s a line that Sunburst rather off-handedly (off-hoofedly?) tosses out when discussing what spells to use to solve the problems that Flurry Heart’s random magic has created:

“…and a little Fledgling’s Forbearance for the parents… Heh. That should curb the little one’s power fluctuations.”

Those two sentences help to provide a great deal of needed context with regards to how pony society deals with this problem. A spell designed to safely curtail the random discharges of magic that baby unicorns experience is one of those things that not only makes sense in-and-of itself, but helps to explain why, for example, Pumpkin Cake doesn’t seem to be running amok anymore.

But while that provides for an in-universe explanation for how this particular problem is dealt with, it doesn’t answer the question of how we’d model it in the first place. The underlying issues that make this difficult to manage in a d20 game (what with baby unicorns being, at least temporarily, stronger than the adults, and their magic being more disastrous than dangerous) are still present.

To answer the first problem, I’m of the opinion that the best way to model this is via a template. Since templates are a discrete aspect of a stat block, and can be added on top of a character, they can also be removed from said character (even if that is much more rare). Hence, we can simply create a template that includes whatever mechanics we’ll use, with the condition that it’s removed as the baby unicorn grows older (or has the appropriate spell cast on them).

Insofar as the second issue – that these magic surges tend to be troublesome more than truly hazardous (though they can be that too) – we’ll just make that into an aspect of the magic itself. That’s not particularly hard because only NPCs are going to have this template anyway, and so if we introduce a random element into how their magic works, that just creates more latitude for the GM.

In d20 terms – using Eclipse: The Codex Persona, of course – the result would probably look something like this:

Wild Child template (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • 4d6 mana with Unskilled Magic (24 CP), specialized and corrupted for increased effect/caster level is equal to the user’s highest mental ability score (Int, Wis, or Cha) and maximum spell level is equal to the user’s lowest mental ability score, spells cast do not need to meet caster level minimums; subject to involuntary random spellcasting, when a spell is cast roll 1d6 – on a 1-2 the spell functions as intended, on a 3-4 the spell’s parameters (e.g. effects, targets, duration, etc.) are randomized, and on a 5-6 a different spell is cast instead.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/does not allow for additional uses of Rite of Chi at the cost of negative levels, requires at least a short nap to use (4 CP).

In addition to what’s above, the entire template is specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/this template can only be applied to a character at the “infant” life stage (level -2), and is automatically removed when they advance to “child” (level -1), or if a casting of fledgling’s forbearance spell is used on them.

Given that it’s a spell with no applications beyond removing this template, there’s not really any need to write up fledgling’s forbearance. At most, we’d only need to know its spell level, which I’d presume is 1st.

With a total cost of 9 CP, this template is one that’s fairly cheap to apply for what it offers. Of course, the cost is somewhat academic anyway, as there’s really no way to apply this to any character that’s remotely likely to be a PC. But if you want to make sure that your plot hook has stats, this should do the trick.

The Dark Side of the Horse

March 11, 2016

A little while back, I wrote an original pony character named Lex Legis – and later posted a picture of him – as a potential low-level adversary. What follows is a higher-level version of that character, making use of some Ponyfinder concepts to help justify how a realm as idyllic as Equestria could produce a character this powerful.

Equestria’s conjunction with the wider multiverse was not a peaceful one.

While the cause was never determined (at least, not publicly), Equestria found itself suddenly brought into orientation with other planes of existence. This was a cataclysmic shift, as the Inner Planes – which were dimensionally “closest” to Equestria – temporarily overlapped with large sections of the pony world, causing massive devastation. This was the homecoming that Lex Legis, who had been sent to Everglow in an accident six months prior, received when he returned to his homeworld.

Horrified at what had happened to Equestria and furious that Celestia and Luna weren’t doing more to help the recovery – the two sisters preferred to encourage their subjects to help each other, rather than rely on them – Lex sprang into action. He headed for the distant city of Vanhoover in northwestern Equestria, which had experienced severe flooding with no subsequent relief efforts, and installed himself as the city’s sovereign.

The results were dramatic. For all his lack of social graces, Lex’s intelligence and magical abilities were able to turn the Vanhoover’s fortunes around virtually overnight. Within three months, the city went from being among the slowest places to recover to being one of the fastest. Nor did Lex stop there. Enacting new governmental and trade policies, he quickly spread his influence across Equestria’s western coast, bringing prosperity and security as he did.

These things came with many changes to the social structure of Equestria. Gone were the days of every pony letting harmony guide their communities. Instead, new laws, taxes, and regulations became the underlying principles of Lex’s rule. While some ponies complained that their most cherished values were being lost, Lex argued that such sentimentality had to be put aside in the face of so many new dangers (particularly since creatures from other worlds had begun to trickle into Equestria in the wake of the disasters).

Given his successes, it was inevitable that Lex took the next step. Declaring that the lands under his jurisdiction were an independent nation, Lex crowned himself king of his new country. While a few ponies could not abide by this and left, the vast majority welcomed his proclamation.

To date, Lex controls the western third of the Equestrian continent. While his current focus is on solidifying his rule, he still hungers to reign over all of Equestria, being more convinced now than ever that his leadership is what Equestria needs if it’s ever to regain its former glory. To that end, although his rule is more strict than that of the alicorn princesses, Lex ceaselessly endeavors to make sure that his government is proactive in promoting the general welfare. Very soon, he believes, the day will come when all ponies offer their gratitude to him for what he’s done…

Current Sketch

Lex has gained a great deal of power. While some of this is due to his adventuring on Everglow, it is also the result of his embrace of dark forces. Despite this, he remains Lawful Neutral in alignment. This is partially due to his stubbornly clinging to his personal code of conduct, but is largely because he’s finally found something that brings joy into his life: he met a girl.

While on Everglow, Lex had a chance encounter with Sonata Dusk – a former Siren who, due to adventures of her own had come to that world, abandoned her sisters, and subsequently become a true pony (changing her game stats completely) – and against all odds the two of them started a romance. Although they’re complete opposites (her being a CN ditz and him being a LN control freak), they’ve managed to make this into a strength rather than a weakness, as each of them covers for the other’s deficiencies (for example, when conducting most official business, Lex will transmit his words to Sonata via a message cantrip, and she’ll parse them into statements that lack his brusqueness).

In this way, Sonata is the central pillar of Lex’s government. The very fact that such a dour and fearsome-looking pony is so dearly loved by the country’s idol – who is herself massively popular with the citizenry – is a huge vote of confidence in Lex’s regime. Without her natural charisma, he would likely be unable to retain the public’s goodwill. While it seems unlikely that they’ll split up – currently the two of them are deeply in love – if something were to happen to Sonata, it would almost certainly send Lex spiraling into darkness.

Lex Legis, ECL 11 unicorn arcanomancer

It goes without saying that Lex’s stats are built using Eclipse: The Codex Persona, which allows for point-buy generation of d20-based characters.

Blessed by the Dark Goddess (64 CP/+2 ECL template)

Equestria’s conjunction with the rest of the multiverse was quickly noticed by the deities of Everglow, who were eager to insert themselves into a world full of potential new worshippers. Among these was the Night Mare, a Lawful Evil goddess of tyranny, particularly over the monsters that would threaten ponykind.

Although Lex resents the intrusion of foreign deities into his homeland, he recognizes that it’s better to contain and control this “outbreak,” rather than try and fight it…for now. To that end, he’s cut a deal with the Night Mare: in exchange for a great deal of personal power and influence, he’s made her the patron goddess of his new country, with her church being part of his government. This way he can not only take a direct hoof in how her religion spreads, but also use it as a bulwark against the influence of other gods.

All of the abilities below are corrupted for two-thirds cost/contingent on propagating the Night Mare’s worship and otherwise keeping her appeased.

Tailor Made (8 CP)

  • Finesse/may use Intelligence instead of Charisma for channeling (4 CP).
  • Finesse/may use Intelligence instead of Charisma for leadership (4 CP).

The Night Mare has granted Lex a considerable amount of power, which has been attuned to his particular use. He wields her might via conscious and deliberate effort, rather than by intuition or force of will.

King of the Monsters (44 CP)

  • Channeling/variant (only works to rebuke/command magical beasts) 3 + Int mod. times per day (6 CP) at +6 intensity (8 CP) with +2d6 magnitude (4 CP), plus the Great Channeling (4 CP) and Heightened (4 CP) modifiers.
  • Path of Infusions/Imbuement (4 CP).
  • Favored Foe, corrupted for increased effect/only for magical beasts (4 CP).
  • Leadership with the Beast Lord and Born Leader modifiers, specialized for double effect/may only be used with magical beasts that have been personally subdued via channeling (10 CP).

As the goddess of tyranny and monsters, it is unsurprising that the Night Mare’s greatest blessing allows for the direct control and subjugation of such creatures. For his part, Lex can command a grand total of 102 levels’ worth of magical beasts, with individual creatures being limited to level 8 or lower (for simplicity, treat levels as equal to CR), though he must overcome them with a channeling attempt to do so. He currently has this filled with 51 levels’ worth of creatures:

      • Four winter wolves named Solvei, Kaija, Rafal, and Kael (CR 5 each). Lex keeps this small pack out of gratitude to Solvei; an odd set of circumstances led to them saving each other’s lives on Everglow.
      • A mated pair of giant bulettes that Lex has named Grit and Gristle (CR 8 each). Lex regards these two as living siege weapons, having paid a small fortune to have them undergo combat training (as per Handle Animal).
      • A kirin named Cóng Shàngmiàn Tiānshàng de Guāng (“Heavenly Light from Above,” usually shortened to Tian; CR 7). An agent of the celestial planes, Tian acts as an advisor to Lex, hoping to “guide the young king down the proper path.”
      • A gynosphinx-manticore mix named Nenet (a gynosphinx with a manticore’s spiked tail and spike attack; CR 8). Nenet remains at Lex’s side largely because he is a font of intellectual stimulation for her.

Note that Lex may spend a channeling attempt to bolster magical beasts, granting them a number of positive levels equal to [Intensity – their level]/2 for 10 rounds (a positive level adds +1 to BAB, AC, and saves, as well as 6 CP of abilities, chosen by Lex). He usually only does this for those creatures he already controls via Leadership.

Lex’s Favored Foe only applies to magical beasts, but the bonus still increases as per the listed levels for that ability. With its corruption, this ability currently grants him a +6 bonus; this is applied to channeling magnitude, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana), Perception, and caster level checks to overcome spell resistance.

Prophet of the Night (4 CP)

  • Major privilege/Night Mare’s religion (4 CP).

Lex’s major privilege with the Night Mare’s religion allows him, in addition to being a high-level functionary in her church, to treat his body as an unholy symbol.

Dark Armor (8 CP)

    • Innate Enchantments (building on his preexisting ones) (4 CP).
      • Protection from chaos (1,400 gp).
      • Aura of darkness (+3 profane bonus to saves; from The Practical Enchanter, p. 40) (1,400 gp).
      • Ward of darkness (+3 profane bonus to AC; from The Practical Enchanter, p. 42) (1,400 gp).
      • Fortune’s Favor 0 (+1 luck bonus to channeling intensity checks; from The Practical Enchanter, p. 32) (700 gp).
      • Phylactery of faithfulness (1,000 gp).
    • Empowerment/Innate enchantments with defensive abilities (4 CP).

Lex’s protection from chaos has its deflection and resistance bonuses against chaotic creatures subsumed with his shield of faith Innate Enchantment and his cloak of resistance, respectively. However, it still grants him near-total immunity to possession and mental control, as well as physical contact, by chaotic summoned creatures.

Note that Lex’s Empowerment here increases the effectiveness of all of his Innate Enchantments, not just the ones from this template. As such, his shield of faith Innate Enchantment grants a +3 deflection bonus, rather than the base +2.

Everglow Unicorn Pony (31 CP/+0 ECL race)

  • Privilege/treated as fey versus type-based effects (3 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/-2 Dex, +2 Int (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/low-light vision (6 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis/concentration checks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for casting defensively (2 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (caster level 1 x spell level 1 or ½ x 2,000 gp; 0.7 personal-only multiplier where appropriate), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only grants two-thirds gp value (3,300 gp) (4 CP).
    • Unseen servant (2,000 gp)
    • Light (personal only) (700 gp)
  • Immunity/being unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time (common/minor/minor), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for spells, powers, and Innate Enchantments (allowing up to three spells or effects of up to level 3) (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat/Skill Focus (governance) (6 CP).
  • Speak Language/Sylvan (1 CP).
  • Being a quadruped grants +10 movement speed, +50% carrying capacity, and +4 on checks to avoid being tripped. This is balanced against minor penalties (much smaller than normal for quadrupedal creatures): their ring and hand magic item slots are combined (as anklets), and they are only considered to have a single hand for wielding/holding things – that being their mouth; this does not prevent comprehensible speech or interfere with verbal spell components (no cost).

The accident that originally sent Lex to Everglow did more than just expel him from his homeworld; it subtly stripped him of his nature as an Equestrian pony. Insofar as Lex knows, all that’s happened is that he’s overcome his racial reliance on using his horn to cast spells.

Available Character Points: 240 (level 9 base) + 10 (disadvantages) + 30 (levels 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 feats) + 9 (restrictions) + 6 (starting traits) = 295 CP.

Lexis’s disadvantages are Compulsive (he’s obsessive regarding the letter of laws, agreements, codes, etc.), Incompetent (all interpersonal skills), and Outcast (his arrogance and lack of tact quickly isolate him from others).

Lex’s restrictions are against his wearing armor.

Ability Scores (20-point buy):

Ability Scores Initial Scores (point cost) Racial Bonuses Level Bonuses Innate Enchantments Total
Strength 10 (0) 10 (+0)
Dexterity 12 (2) -2 +2 enhancement 12 (+1)
Constitution 12 (2) +2 +2 enhancement 16 (+3)
Intelligence 17 (13) +2 +2 (4th and 8th level) +2 enhancement 23 (+6)
Wisdom 15 (7) 15 (+2)
Charisma 7 (-4) 7 (-2)

As the point-buy values in the table above likely make clear, Lex is now using the Pathfinder package deal. For Everglow unicorns the +2 ability score bonus this adds goes to Constitution.

Basic Abilities (70 CP)

  • Proficient with all simple weapons (3 CP).
  • d10 Hit Die (1st level) + 8d4 Hit Dice (6 CP).
  • +4 BAB, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no iterative attacks (16 CP).
  • Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +6 (45 CP)
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

Flawed Arcanism (93 CP)

  • 11 sorcerer magic progression levels (Intelligence-based; arcane magic; components and restrained limitations), corrupted for two-thirds cost/must locate or invent new spells to be able to prepare them, specialized for one-half cost/can only replenish spell levels with Rite of Chi (44 CP).
  • 11 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/sorcerer progression only (33 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +12 Bonus Uses, corrupted for two-thirds cost/requires a one-hour ritual, specialized for one-half cost/only works with a large external source of arcane power, such as a major magical relic, nexus of mystical energy, or specific days of the year (8 CP).
  • Easy metamagic theorem with Streamline, both specialized for one-half cost/only for eliminating the need for material components costing 1 gp or less, both corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for his sorcerer spells (4 CP).
  • Shaping, specialized for increased effect/only works for level 0 sorcerer spells, corrupted for two-thirds cost/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP).

Lex prepares his spells in a manner akin to a cleric, but must learn them like a wizard. That is, he must locate and learn each spell the same way a wizard would. However, once learned he doesn’t need a spellbook or other focus to prepare his spells – he simply prepares his spells from among those he knows.

His restrained limitation is with regards to wide-area destructive spells. Besides those, he uses the sorcerer/wizard spell list.

Manipulate the Imperfect Power (42 CP)

  • Spell Storing/multiple embedment level I (gemstones, rather than scrolls) (9 CP).
  • Superior Improved Power Words (15 CP).
  • Compact metamagic theorem (6 CP).
  • Glory with the Amplify metamagic theorem (12 CP).

This suite of abilities allows Lex to get more out of his limited spellcasting abilities. He’ll typically use his circlet or Body Fuel (see below) in conjunction with his Foresight skill and Power Words; all of these allow him to cast several spells that are perfectly suited to the situation without using any that have actually been prepared. If pressed, he’ll use Action Hero/Crafting (see below) together with Spell Storing to be able to produce a gemstone (his focus of choice for storing spells) with up to 10 instances of a spell for each AP spent.

He usually saves his Compact metamagic theorem for his actual spell slots, often preparing spells that would otherwise be beyond his casting ability via a longer casting time and/or taking personal damage to cast. While he normally uses these very carefully and with great purpose, since acquiring a major artifact he’s become less reluctant to use his prepared spells.

Lex can spontaneously add up to three levels of metamagic from the Amplify theorem to spells that he casts, up to three times per day. Note that this can be applied to any of his spells, including clerical spells from Inner Fire or even to his witchcraft abilities.

Intuitive Aptitude for Magic (26 CP)

  • Buying off the corruption on Action Hero/Crafting from the Pathfinder Package Deal; this allows Lex to ignore the time requirement for crafting magic items (though not the GP cost), but retains the limitation that he can craft them only via action points (9 AP remaining; 2 CP).
  • Adept/Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (planes), Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/skills only, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for Adept skills (4 CP).
  • Finesse/use Intelligence bonus for Charisma-based skills, specialized for one-half cost/only for Use Magic Device (3 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Use Magic Device +1 with the Stunt modifier (8 CP).
  • Create Artifact, specialized for one-half cost/only for use with Action Hero (3 CP).

Having spent a thousand years in stasis, Lex has vowed to never again be caught helpless by temporal magic. To that end, he has used Action Hero/Crafting and Create Artifact to craft (at a cost of 15 action points) the following item.


This steel ring is actually a Mobius strip. Looking closely, a short phrase is written over and over on its surface, the lack of punctuation making it impossible to tell if it’s saying “free time shall be” or “time shall be free.”

The wearer of Liberotempus gains the following abilities:

  • The wearer can perfectly calculate the passage of time, and automatically knows of any alterations to the passage of time in their locale (e.g. any time-based planar traits).
  • The wearer automatically knows the duration of a spell or effect, even if it would otherwise be random, presuming that they can identify it with a Spellcraft (or similar, e.g. Psicraft) check.
  • Once per day, the wearer may use stop the sands (The Practical Enchanter, p. 23).
  • If a creature within 200 feet with line of effect to the wearer uses time stop (or a similar effect), the wearer is also taken into the stopped time, as though they had also cast the spell. During this time, they can interact with the time stop’s caster normally.
  • The wearer is immune to spells and effects that manipulate time. This includes slow, sands of time, temporal stasis, aging attacks, etc. This includes beneficial effects such as haste (using Liberotempus to cast stop the sands is the sole exception). Further, the wearer’s personal timeline cannot be tampered with; changes to their past do not affect their present or future.

Fruits of Lesser Experiments (23 CP)

  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for saving throws, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only versus magical effects (4 CP).
  • Empowerment, specialized for increased effect/wands only, no use-per-day limit (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (11,800 gp; 13 CP)
    • Shield (2,000 gp)
    • Mage armor (1,400 gp)
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Dex (1,400 gp)
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Con (1,400 gp)
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Int (1,400 gp)
    • +3 competence bonus to Intelligence-based skills
    • Immortal vigor I (1,400 gp)
    • Shield of faith (1,400 gp)

Lex keeps several wands, most of which were purchased cheaply due to having less than full charges, on his person for various contingencies. Many of these are for spells not on his spell list (including destructive area-effect spells), a restriction he sidesteps via Use Magic Device. He is adept at using this skill to perform Stunts to use these wands for creative effects.

Potential for Greatness (6 CP)

Thanks to his +20 Governance skill, Lex has enacted the following in his country: a shrine or temple to the Night Mare in each town, providing their communities with clerical support (4); a militia in each town, able to respond to local disturbances and minor disasters (2); a school of magic in Vanhoover (4); a national bank with branches in most larger towns, raising the local economy (2); a series of public works programs (2); mystic warding around Vanhoover, preventing low-level scrying and summoning spells (2); struck a treaty with a nearby dragon, which can be asked for a major favor every few months (4).

Nascent King (3 CP)

  • Privilege/king (3 CP).

Normally, being a king would require major privilege for 6 CP. However, Lex’s reign is so young, his personal demeanor so unpleasant, and the concept of an active and engaged central government is so new to most ponies, that this is all the privilege he’s earned so far. This will likely change as he further cements his rule.

The Painful Price (3 CP)

  • Body Fuel, specialized for one-half cost/only for physical ability scores (3 CP).

Lex retains this ability for desperate situations, where he has to cast a prepared spell that he is certain he’ll need later.

The Lure of Corruption (14 CP)

  • Finesse, use Intelligence instead of Charisma for witchcraft (6 CP).
  • 4 levels of wilder progression (no caster levels), corrupted for two-thirds cost/no actual powers learned (8 CP).

Lex is thoroughly enamored of the power he’s gained from King Sombra’s Horn, to the point where he’s become an expert at utilizing it. While he’s stopped short of using any pacts to access more of its dark magic, he isn’t willing to rule out doing so in the future.

Use the Old Magic (6 CP)

  • Occult Ritual (6 CP).

To date, Lex has discovered only one occult ritual, that being Beneath the Dark Moon’s Light. This ritual allows for direct a direct audience with a particular power associated with darkness, the night, or the moon, and is how he was able to contact the Night Mare in order to bargain with her.

One with the Nightmares (9 CP)

  • Companion with one level of Template, specialized for one-half cost/Lex is unable to receive morale bonuses due to the deleterious effects of Emptiness (see below) (6 CP).
  • Immunity to sleep and dream spells and effects (uncommon/minor/major); this grants immunity against effects of up to 5th level, and a +6 bonus to saves against higher-level effects (3 CP).
  • Spell Conversion/Black Will path (Paths of Power Complete Collection, p. 36) (0 CP – normally 6 CP; gained for free as a Companion bonus).


Lex’s “companion” is a form of tulpa – a psychic construct – given to him by the Night Mare. It hides in Lex’s shadow, causing it to project in ways that don’t match the ambient lighting. It uses the base stats of a heavy horse that has been trained for combat, with the following template:

Incarnation of Self-Loathing (94 CP/+2 ECL template)

This entire template is specialized for one-half cost/Emptiness cannot communicate with anyone outside of its mystic link with Lex, does not obey Lex’s commands, voices his self-doubts to him via their psychic connection, and torments him with nightmares each night (though not enough to prevent Lex from resting normally).

Rebellious Fragment of the Mind (28 CP)

  • Extraordinary Returning, cannot be permanently killed while Lex is alive; killing Emptiness simply causes it to reform in one day (this does not spare Lex from its voice or nightmares) (6 CP).
  • Immunity to dimensional barriers (very common/severe/major), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only usable to visit the co-existent planes, to use its senses and maintain its link with Lex across those barriers, to cast spells across those barriers, and always leaves a tell-tale trace on the co-existent planes (6 CP).
  • No Constitution score. This grants immunity to ability damage (including all poisons), ability drain, energy drain, and effects requiring Fortitude saves unless they work on objects or are harmless. Does not breathe, eat, or sleep, cannot tire, and can move, work, or remain alert indefinitely. Instantly destroyed at 0 hit points (but see Extraordinary Returning, above) (0 CP).
  • No Strength score. Use Dexterity score to make attack rolls. Can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons or creatures that strike as magic weapons, and spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities. Immune to all non-magical attack forms. Even when hit by spells or magic weapons, it takes only half damage from a corporeal source (except for positive energy, negative energy, force effects such as magic missile, or attacks made with ghost touch weapons) (6 CP).
  • Mystic Link with Communications, specialized for one-half cost/Emptiness may sense Lex’s state of mind and “speak” to him telepathically, but not the other way around (1 CP).
  • Immunity to mind-affecting effects (common/major/legendary), specialized for one-half cost/has no intuition or greater understanding of others (e.g. cannot perform or receive aid another, make Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks, grant or receive flanking bonuses, etc.) (9 CP).

Strength Borne of Fear (28 CP)

  • Inherent Spell, levels 3, 4, 5, and 6, each with +2 Bonus Uses. These spells are, respectively, deep slumber, dream conjuration (as per shadow conjuration), nightmare, and dream walk (as per shadow walk, but through the realm of dreams; must enter and exit in proximity to a sleeping creature, which cannot be taken along) (18 CP).
  • Immunity to the distinction between its own and Lex’s effective caster level and spellcasting ability modifier (common/major/major), specialized for one-half cost/only for Inherent spells (2 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment. All Innate Enchantments are spell level 1, caster level one, and unlimited-use use-activated (x2,000 gp), with the 3/day modifier (x0.6) (3 CP).
    • True initiative 3/day (as per true strike, but for initiative) (1,200 gp).
    • True strike 3/day (1,200 gp).
    • True spell 3/day (as per true strike, but for caster level checks) (1,200 gp).
    • True armor 3/day (as per true strike, but for Armor Class) (1,200 gp).
  • Immunity to dispelling, antimagic, and countermagic (common/major/great), specialized for one-half cost/only for innate enchantments (4 CP).
  • Immunity to the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).

Just A Shadow (38 CP)

  • Cloaking/Emptiness’ aura registers as that of Lex (3 CP).
  • Reflex Training/Innate Enchantments (3 CP).
  • Reflex Training/Inherent Spells (3 CP).
  • Traceless/magic (3 CP).
  • Damage reduction 10/–; note that this is universal, applying to all physical, magical, and energy damage. It is applied after relevant damage types are halved due to Emptiness’ incorporeal nature (22 CP).
  • Fortitude/evasion (3 CP).
  • Grant of Aid, specialized for one-half cost/only to restore hit points (1 CP).

Emptiness was forced onto Lex by the Night Mare, both as punishment for his temerity in contacting her directly and as a tool to help him grow stronger. It whispers discouragement to him during periods of stress when he’s awake, and when Lex sleeps it makes him experience his worst fears and doubts. This is severe enough that even magical encouragement (e.g. morale bonuses) cannot reach him anymore. Until Lex makes a dedicated effort to conquer his fears – buying off the specialization on the companion ability and purchasing another two template enhancements to buy off Emptiness’ specialization – he will continue to be haunted.

Lex is aware that, if he’s in immediate danger of dying, Emptiness will react to his fear of death and use its deep slumber and dream walk powers to pull him (and anyone touching him) bodily onto the Plane of Dreams to escape. He also knows that Emptiness keeps his dreams isolated from magical intrusion; he’s unaware that it reflexively attacks would-be invaders with nightmare (or that it can use dream conjuration at all). He’s likewise unaware that, as a reaction to his fear of failure in high-stress fights, Emptiness will use its Innate Enchantments to briefly augment him. Should he ever master his fears, Lex could make Emptiness use these powers at his command.


  • Circlet of wizardry (headband). This circlet grants the wearer a +2 competence bonus to Concentration checks while worn, and allows the wearer to use detect magic at will. It possesses 3 charges that are automatically replenished each day. When casting a spell, the wearer may expend a number of charges equal to the spell level to cause the spell to remain prepared after casting. A circlet of wizardry functions only for characters able to cast arcane spells. 4,880 gp.
  • Ring of mind shielding (ring). 8,000 gp.
  • Amulet of natural armor +2 (neck). 8,000 gp.
  • Cloak of resistance +3 (shoulders). 9,000 gp.
  • Handy haversack (slotless). 2,000 gp.
  • Stone salve, 1 ounce (slotless). 4,000 gp
  • Pearl of the sirins (slotless). 15,300 gp.
  • Wand of dispel magic (25 charges; 5,625 gp) wand of lightning bolt (30 charges; 6,750 gp), wand of fireballs (20 charges; 4,500 gp), wand of cure critical wounds (12 charges; 2,040 gp) (slotless).
  • 10 waterproof bags (5 gp), portable alchemist’s lab (75 gp), traveler’s outfit (1 gp), small tent (10 gp), wizard’s kit (21 gp), 2 antiplagues (100 gp), 2 alchemist’s fire (40 gp), 2 thunderstones (60 gp), 2 onyx gems (1,000 gp), violet garnet (200 gp), star rose quartz (50 gp), 343 gp.

As a major NPC Lex uses PC-level wealth, which for an 11th-level character is 82,000 gp. He’s set aside 10,000 gp for use with Action Hero/Crafting; the rest is listed above.

Lex found his circlet of wizardry on one of his earlier travels, and thinks it might have belonged to Star-Swirl the Bearded. The circlet is one of Lex‘s most prized possessions, and he will not part with it willingly. Likewise, his pearl of the sirines isn’t for himself; he can simply use The Umbral Form if he needs to operate underwater. Instead, he’s planning to give it as a gift to Sonata when he works up the courage to ask her to marry him.

In addition to these, Lex possesses two other items of note:

The Horn of King Sombra (3-CP relic)

Torn from his brow when the monstrous unicorn tyrant that conquered the Crystal Empire was destroyed, this blood-red horn lacks the concentric spiral pattern of most unicorn horns. It seems to suggest malevolence in a way that defies articulation.

The entire relic is corrupted for two-thirds cost/blatantly utilizes dark magic, the wielder is vulnerable to spells and effects that affect evil-aligned creatures when using this relic. Further, the Essence pact causes this corruption effect to be applied to all magic the wielder uses, with no corresponding gain.

Lex has grafted this horn onto himself, replacing his original horn with it, and in doing so awakened this relic’s full power. Because of its influence, whenever he uses magic – any magic, from any source (other than magic items) – his eyes turn green and manifest purple flames. Moreover, during any instance of strong negative emotions, black crystals spontaneously manifest around him.

Severance (major artifact)

One of the Night Mare’s personal weapons, Severance is an everdancing keen merciful ghost touch defending adamantine scythe of speed +6. It deals 2d6 points of damage on a hit, and grants its wielder proficiency with itself and Improved Trip. Further, its wielder may treat their BAB as being equal to their Hit Dice when attacking with Severance.

More than just a weapon, Severance is alive. It is Lawful Evil in alignment, and can perceive its environment out to 120 ft. with blindsense. It is capable of communicating via telepathy, but usually restricts itself to empathic communication. It can speak and read Common, Draconic, Infernal, and Sylvan. It possesses Intelligence 17, Wisdom 15, and Charisma 21. It has an ego score of 30. Moreover, it can move and attack on its own (via its everdancing ability).

Severance has the power to cut the barriers between planes, acting as a gate spell (with no material components needed). It can also detect chaos/evil/good/law at will. It almost certainly has other powers, but so far these remain unknown.

Severance also carries a curse: anyone who wields it must make a Will save (DC 30) or shift one step closer to Lawful Evil in alignment. This happens for each week of use until the wielder has become Lawful Evil. Further, this change does not end if the wielder gives Severance up, persisting until a successful remove curse is received, followed by a dispel law and dispel evil, in that order. All of these effects must be received in the same round to be effective.

Completely devoted to the Night Mare and her interests, Severance tries its best to twist its wielder into a model of its goddess’s ideals. It continually pushes its wielder to assert themselves into positions of leadership, and to be suspicious and distrustful of anyone who tries to stand in their way. It has no compunctions about using force when it feels it necessary, whether by dominating its wielder or simply attacking on its own.

As a major artifact, Lex is able to use Severance as a power source for preparing his spells. Since he’s currently acting in the Night Mare’s interests, along with his lawful nature and evil aura (thanks to King Sombra’s Horn), Lex is able to wield Severance without undue difficulty. This may change if the scythe perceives Lex’s actions to be deviating from the Night Mare’s goals.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 10 (d10; 1st level) + 12 (immortal vigor; 1st level) + 20 (8d4) + 33 (Con bonus) = 75 hp.
  • Speed: 40 ft.
  • Alignment: Lawful Neutral.
  • Power: 12 (basic witchcraft) +17 (wilder levels) +11 (wilder levels (relic)) = 40 PSPs.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +3 (base) +3 (Con bonus) +3 resistance (cloak) +3 profane (aura of darkness) = +12.
    • Ref: +6 (base) +1 (Dex bonus) +3 resistance (cloak) +3 profane (aura of darkness) = +13.
    • Will: +6 (base) +2 (Wis bonus) +3 resistance (cloak) +3 profane (aura of darkness) = +14.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +1 (Dex bonus) +4 armor (mage armor) +4 shield (shield) +2 natural (amulet) +3 deflection (shield of faith) +3 profane (ward of darkness) +4 martial art = 31, touch 23, flat-footed 30.
  • Damage Reduction: 1/– DR (martial art).
  • Attacks: +9 (BAB) +6 (weapon bonus) +0 (Str bonus) = +15/+15 Severance (2d6+6 plus 2d6 nonlethal/19-20/x4).
  • Ranged attacks: +4 (BAB) +1 (Dex bonus) = +5 ranged.
  • Combat Maneuver Bonus: +4 (BAB) +0 (Str) = +4 CMB (+12 to trip with Severance).
  • Combat Maneuver Defense: 10 (base) +9 (Hit Dice; Defensive Combat Training) +0 (Str) +1 (Dex) +2 (amulet) +3 (shield of faith) +3 (ward of darkness) +4 (martial art) = 32 CMD (38 vs. trip with Severance).
  • Skills: 54 skill points (Int bonus), plus 9 skill points (“favored class” bonus), plus 18 skill points (Fast Learner; only for Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (planes), Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device at half cost each).
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Class Bonus Misc. Modifier Total
Acrobatics 3 +1 Dex +4
Bluff 0 -2 Cha -3 disadvantage -5
Craft (alchemy) 3 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +15
Craft (precepts) 6 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +18
Diplomacy 0 -2 Cha -3 disadvantage -5
Foresight 5 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +17
Governance 5 +6 Int +3 +3 competence, +3 Skill Focus +20
Intimidate 8 -2 Cha +3 +9
Knowledge (arcana) 9 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +21
Knowledge (geography) 3 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +15
Knowledge (history) 3 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +15
Knowledge (local) 3 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +15
Knowledge (nobility) 3 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +15
Knowledge (planes) 9 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +21
Linguistics 4 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +16
Martial Arts (umbral glyph) 6 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +18 (corrupted for +27)
Perception 4 +2 Wis +6
Profession (jeweler) 3 +2 Wis +3 +8
Sense Motive 0 +2 Wis -3 disadvantage -1
Spellcraft 9 +6 Int +3 +3 competence +21
Swim 4 +0 Str +4
Use Magic Device 9 +6 Int +3 +3 competence, +1 Skill Focus +22

Lex’s class skills are Craft, Foresight, Governance, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana, geography, history, local, nobility, planes), Linguistics, Profession, Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device.

With his +18 in Craft (precepts), Lex has modified his magic items as follows: his handy haversack can be used in conjunction with other extradimensional spaces without complications (1); extended his amulet of natural armor’s bonus to his CMD (2) and to touch attacks (3); upgraded his circlet of wizardry so that it can use detect magic for 5 rounds without concentration (2) and detect as though it’s received concentration for 3 rounds (2), as well as grant it a fourth charge (3); makes his ring of mind shielding also grant a +5 bonus on Bluff checks against Sense Motive (3); his cloak of resistance can reroll a single save once per day, before the result is declared (2).

Despite his dealings with the Night Mare, Lex has no ranks in Knowledge (religion); he does not worship her, nor is interested in her religion except as a tool to solidify his own power. This might change as he grows more comfortable with their relationship. Likewise, in addition to being able to speak Common and Sylvan, Lex has an additional ten languages from his Intelligence bonus and ranks in Linguistics; these may be assigned as needed.

Having taken 6 ranks in his martial art, it is also a treated as a class skill (Eclipse, p. 9).

Umbral Glyph (Int)

Practiced primarily among those warlocks that have become creatures known as shades, this tenebrous martial art entwines the practitioner’s magic through both their shadow and the shadows of others. The user avoids blows by momentarily turning portions of their body to shadows to let them slide past, while at the same time striking at their enemies’ shadows to land their spells. This martial art is corrupted for increased effect/does not function in areas of bright light (e.g. outside in direct sunlight, or within the area of a daylight spell).

  • Requires: spellcasting ability, the ability to turn into shadow (or equivalent ability).
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 2 (adds to spell attack rolls OR save DCs), Defenses 4, Strike (allows spells to deal nonlethal damage), Synergy (Stealth), Toughness 2
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Blind-Fight, Defensive Combat Training, Mind Like Moon, Mobility
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength (x2), Serpent Strike, Vanishing.
  • Known: Attack 2, Defenses 4, Strike, Toughness 1, Defensive Combat Training, Mind Like Moon, Mobility, Inner Strength (x2), Vanishing.

Further Development

At this point, Lex has gained sufficient power that he could challenge Celestia or Luna – perhaps even both of them together – and conceivably win. He considers such a battle something to be avoided if at all possible, however. Not only is he uncertain just how strong the alicorn princesses really are, but he knows that such a conflict would in all likelihood indelibly paint him as a villain to the rest of Equestria. For now he would much rather try to conquer via a socioeconomic cold war.

In the meantime, Lex will continue trying to increase his personal power. Other than a few more hit points and some expanded healing options, Lex has sufficient defenses that he’ll instead look at expanding his versatility and offensive power, likely via further metamagic theorems. He’ll also want to shore up his base of power, probably with Sanctum, a Reputation, and of course turning buying the Major modifier for his Privilege.

Of course, that presumes that everything follows his plans. Should something unexpected happen to push Lex towards the darker aspects of his nature, he could wind up becoming a monster far worse than King Sombra ever was.

CharOp-ing an AD&D 2E Character

February 14, 2016

Character optimization, colloquially known as “CharOp,” is usually attributed to the Third (and Fourth) editions of Dungeons & Dragons. In particular, the monstrosity known as Pun-Pun stands as an example of twisting the game rules to create the most brokenly unplayable character imaginable.

But what about for earlier editions of the game? I’ve mentioned before that, while I started with Basic D&D, AD&D 2E is the form of the game that I’m most nostalgic for (though Third Edition, with its unified mechanics, remains a close second). So I can’t help but wonder just what a truly tricked-out AD&D 2E character would look like.

So I decided to give it a shot.

The Breakdown (Basics)

For this build, I’ll be outlining each aspect of the character separately; that helps to clarify how various mechanics are being used, and is much more clear than simply putting a stat block together.

As a restriction, I’m sticking purely to first-party AD&D 2E materials. Moreover, I’m tacitly setting this within the AD&D 2E “Great Wheel” setting. That makes for some rather odd explanations, since we’re cherry-picking rules from across myriad campaign-specific supplements, but since they’re all technically in the same continuity we’ll go with it (and not worry too much about explaining these in-character). We’ll also say that all “optional” rules are in play.

So without further ado, here’s each step in the process:

Ability Scores: The Player’s Handbook lists six different methods of generating ability scores. These are reproduced in Player’s Option: Skills & Powers, along with four new methods of generation.

Of these, method VII is probably the best for an overpowered character. This allows a player to divide 75 points among his six ability scores (points are spent on a 1:1 basis). No score can be below 3 or above 18.

The actual scores we’re going to place with this method don’t really matter very much. Besides putting an 18 in Intelligence, this character is going to be more than capable of using wish spells (whether on his own, bargaining for them from powerful planar creatures, etc.) to pump up all of his ability scores. Also, his gear (see below) will help in that regard.

We’re going to ignore the “subability” scores that were debuted in Skills & Powers. While those might have added some versatility – and some complexity – to a character build, they didn’t add any overall power.

What About Dark Sun?

Given that characters from the Dark Sun campaign setting use much more generous methods of determining ability scores, why not use one of those methods instead? Well, leaving aside that Dark Sun characters don’t get the spell immunity benefits of high Intelligence and Wisdom scores, The Age of Heroes: Rules for Conquering the Savage Land booklet in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised boxed set says “if an Athasian character ever finds a way to travel to another campaign world […] the rules of that world apply. Thus, ability scores are reduced to the highest number allowed for PC races in that world.” As such, there’s no real advantage to using the Dark Sun methods of generating ability scores.

Race: The character’s race needs to be human. Demihuman, humanoid, and monstrous characters all have level limits and class restrictions that we don’t want to have to deal with. While there are a few non-human races that can advance without limits (at least in certain classes), these rare exceptions still won’t have the same freedom that humans do with regards to classes and levels.

Classes: This is where we start to get crazy.

First, since we’re trying to make the most powerful character we can, we’re going to give them 30 levels; the most that a character can have as per Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns.

As for what classes will be taken with those levels, our human is going to be a dual-class wizard 20/psionicist 20 (using the revised psionics rules from Skills & Powers), with his last ten levels being in avangion (from Dragon Kings and later reprinted in Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas). This is a fairly obvious move, since Dark Sun tended towards the top of the power curve for AD&D 2E.

On top of this, we’re also going to add the spellfire wielder “phantom class” from Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical. That class only has 16 levels’ worth of powers defined – just over half of the total levels that our character has – but it still grants a ridiculously-gratuitous level of abilities.

There are quite a few characters in Second Edition who break the 30-level cap, but these exceptions are taken to be either unique or the product of special circumstances. Likewise, there are some books that do outline progressions above level 30 – such as Chapter Seven of The Complete Wizard’s Handbook – but I’m presuming that these are superseded by the prohibition on levels above 30 in the High-Level Campaigns book.

The sole exception to this is in Arcane Age: Netheril: Empire of Magic, which outlines several 45-level class progressions. However, given that this is set in the distant past and has extremely stringent restrictions on time travel to and from there, that’s not really something that we can put to good use in this article.

Proficiencies: Although they’re oft-overlooked, it’s worth paying attention to this character’s proficiencies.

As a 20th-level wizard has four weapon proficiencies and ten nonweapon proficiencies (the latter of which can be spent on the Wizard and General groups without penalty). Likewise, a 20th-level psionicist has (according to Skills & Powers) six weapon proficiencies and nine nonweapon proficiencies (the latter of which can be spent on the Psionicist and General groups without penalty). Note that, under the Skills & Powers rules, the character receives the Contact proficiency, and all of the psionic attack and defense proficiencies, for free.

Neither Dragon Kings nor Defilers and Preservers mentions anything about proficiencies with regards to advanced beings, and I couldn’t find any errata to suggest that this is an oversight. Likewise, the listing for the spellfire wielder in Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical says that the class is treated as a wizard only for the purposes of calculating its experience; the implication is that they don’t gain proficiency slots (or anything else) either. (Shandrill Shessair, from the Heroes’ Lorebook, is an exception, but she seems to be dual-classing as a spellfire wielder, rather than treating it as a “phantom class”).

Finally, if we presume that our character starts with an 18 Intelligence, that’s an additional seven proficiency slots. But if they can raise their Intelligence all the way to 25 (the maximum score possible), that will increase to an astonishing twenty bonus proficiency slots! According to Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics, these extra slots may only be spent on nonweapon proficiencies (unless a character is a fighter, paladin, or ranger, which this character isn’t).

So having determined all of that, what proficiencies should this uber-character take?

Being focused on spellcasting and psionic powers, the weapon proficiencies don’t matter very much. For the nonweapon proficiencies, however, consider several of the following (thanks to their maximum ability scores, all of this character’s proficiency checks will be successful on anything short of a natural 20):

  • Aleph I (4 slots) – From College of Wizardry, this proficiency is a must, as it allows the character to improve his spells on a successful proficiency check.
  • Power Manipulation (2 slots) – From The Will and the Way, this proficiency allows the character to spend 5 PSPs and make a proficiency check, and on a success treat a manifested psionic power as though it had made a “power score.” Now, the revised psionics rules in Skills & Powers did away with power scores, but as an optional rule they allowed them to be kept if an MTHAC0 roll equals the MAC it’s trying to beat (and if the MTHAC0 roll is a natural 1, then you use the old psionic system’s “natural 20” listing for how a power can backfire). Overall, this is a net gain for this character, especially in conjunction with the next proficiency.
  • Harness Subconscious (2 slots) – From Skills and Powers, a successful proficiency check and two days of meditation allow for a 20% increase in the character’s PSP total. It only lasts for three days, after which he loses an amount of PSPs equal to the number that he gained (though not below 0), but it’s still a huge boost in the meantime.
  • Spellweaving (1 slot) – From Defilers and Preservers, this allows a wizard’s spellbook to be written as something else, disguising it. I’d recommend full-body tattoos for this, written on this avangion’s myriad wings.
  • Portal Feel (2 slots) – From The Planewalker’s Handbook, is taken solely as a requirement for the kit we’re taking (see below). It’s still somewhat useful, in that it allows you to determine the general destination of magic portals, but not so much so that it’d otherwise be considered here.

There are several other nonweapon proficiencies that are worth considering, including Somatic Concealment (1 slot) from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised and Psionic Mimicry (1 slot) from Defilers and Preservers, both of which make it difficult to tell when a spell is being cast; Necrology (1 slot) and Netherworld Knowledge (1 slot), both from The Complete Book of Necromancers, which respectively allow for the identification (particularly of their powers and weaknesses) of undead and planar beings; Concentration (2 slots), from Player’s Option: Spells & Magic, allows for a spell to be cast under some conditions that would normally disrupt it, while Tactics of Magic (1 slot), from the same book, allows for strategic use of spells in combat.

Spells and Psionic Powers: Exactly what spells this character should take warrants considerable attention. The single best resource for this is the four-volume Wizard’s Spell Compendium, though there were still some spells published in AD&D 2E products produced after this series but before Third Edition.

Putting aside what spells should be chosen, it’s worth underlining exactly how many spells this character gets. According to the Player’s Handbook, a wizard with an Intelligence of 19 or above has no limit to the number of spells per spell level that can be learned. Unfortunately, the Wizard’s Spell Compendium revises this rule, stating that a non-divine character with an Intelligence of 20 (or above) can know thirty spells per spell level, and that this number is the absolute maximum (though it does mention a process whereby a learned spell can be “unlearned” and replaced with another spell).

In terms of the number of spells that can be memorized, both Dragon Kings and Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns are in agreement – a 30th-level wizard (including an avangion) can memorize seven spells of 1st through 7th level each, six spells of 8th and 9th level each, and four 10th-level spells.

On the psionic side of things, this character will have access to all five psionic disciplines, allowing them to choose up to ten sciences and twenty-five devotions. Unfortunately, the Deck of Psionic Powers is the closest thing AD&D 2E has to a single source for psionic abilities, combining the powers from the Complete Psionics Handbook, Dragon Kings, and The Will and the Way. The Deck came about before Skills & Powers revised psionics, so these cards will (helpfully, in this case) still have listings for power scores.

In terms of psionic strength points, taking into account that this character will get a 25 in all ability scores, and presuming average results (3.5 on a d6) when making die rolls for PSPs, then this character will have a grand total of 580 psionic strength points (rising to 696 PSPs if they use the Harness Subconscious proficiency, above). They’ll also have an MTHAC0 of 2 and a MAC of -10.

Kit: Of course, this character needs a kit. But which one? Or more aptly, which kit grants the best benefits while having comparatively minor hindrances? (It’s also worth noting that virtually every book that talks about how kits are used reiterates that a character can’t have more than one.)

There are a lot of be said about several different kits, but one of the top contenders – at least for this character – is probably going to be “planewalker wizard,” from The Planewalker’s Handbook. That’s because this kit grants the ability to treat a foe’s magic resistance as being lowered by an amount equal to 5% + the character’s level, so that’s a 35% reduction for this character’s enemies! Given that the only drawback is that there’s one plane where this character can’t get spell keys to work correctly (just pick someplace like the Seven Heavens or Elysium), that’s a fairly major benefit.

Patron Deity: Normally, a character’s patron deity is just flavor text unless you’re playing a character with some sort of special connection to their god (e.g. a divine spellcaster), which this character is not. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no mechanical benefit to having a patron deity; it just depends on which patron deity is chosen.

Specifically, let’s look at the deities from Lankhmar: City of Adventure (Second Edition). In an alternate presentation from how they’re presented in Legends & Lore, Lankhmar: City of Adventure says that “priests” of the gods don’t require levels in special character classes per se. Instead, presuming that a character meets the class and alignment restrictions – and follows the outlined “duties of the priesthood” – in a particular god’s entry, they can gain the listed powers outlined for the faithful.

Given this character’s rather outre class combinations, and their alignment restrictions (see below), there are only two deities that this character can gain power by worshipping: Aarth and Issek of the Jug. Aarth only grants the power to use know alignment once per day, which is superfluous for this character since avangions have that power permanently active anyway. So we’ll go with Issek of the Jug, which not only allows this character to break free from any torture device in 1d4 rounds, but may also produce a gallon of any liquid once per day (this is more beneficial than it sounds, considering how many magic potions – and other magical liquids – are outlined in the Encyclopedia Magica).

Alignment: This character’s alignment is notably constrained due to the classes chosen. Psionicist characters must be non-chaotic. Avangions must be good, which is also true for Issek of the Jug’s faithful. Finally, members of the Fated (see below) cannot be Lawful Good. As such, this character is Neutral Good in alignment.

Gear: For the final consideration of the “basic” aspects of building our character, let’s consider what gear they’ll have. There’s really no guidelines here, as AD&D 2E didn’t have Wealth By Level tables or similar guidelines for how much treasure or magical gear a particular character should have. Given that this character is a paragon even among 30th-level characters, it should probably be pretty sick though.

For one thing, this character will absolutely need a fortified charm of the Zodiac. This is made from the magic item tables in Diablo II: The Awakening. Specifically, because it’s fortified this item makes it so that when a spell is cast there’s a 1-in-4 chance that it remains in the caster’s memory. Because it’s a charm the character simply needs to have it on their person to gain its effects. And because it’s of the Zodiac it increases all of the wielder’s ability scores by +5.

The other item that we can take as a given is a Johydee’s Mask. To be clear, this is not the major artifact presented in the Book of Artifacts, but rather the ordinary magic item found in the AD&D 1E Dungeon Master’s Guide. That might seem like a meaningless distinction, as the First Edition DMG does list the Mask under the “Artifacts & Relics” section of the magic items in the book. However, the Encyclopedia Magic (specifically volume II), lists the two types of Johydee’s Mask as being separate, and denotes that the latter is not an artifact but a regular magic item; it even has an XP value of 8,000 and a GP value of 40,000. To top it off, the index in the final volume of Encyclopedia Magica lists the latter Mask as being under Table K: Girdles and Helmets, whereas the former is under Table T: Artifacts.

So why such a fuss over this character having a Johydee’s Mask? Well, a 30th-level avangion is basically just a giant cluster of flapping wings. But the Mask lets them “assume the likeness of any human or humanlike creature,” apparently without any time limit. So that’ll be useful for getting along, as well as being able to engage in tactile manipulation (if there’s a question of how the avangion is able to don the mask to begin with, have them use a spell such as shapechange to take on a human form first). That the mask also prevents “mind contact detection, or attack” is a bonus. And it’s “rumored” to protect against all forms of gaze attacks (presumably it’s up to the DM if the rumor is true or not).

These are just the bare necessities, however. You should definitely trick out this character with a great deal more gear as you like.

The Breakdown (Extras)

Everything up to now dealt with the basic parts of building a character. Every character has a class, proficiencies, gear, etc. Here’s where we throw on a few perks that most characters wouldn’t otherwise get.

Character Gift: The Celts Campaign Sourcebook allows for new characters to check for an ancestral gift. In this case, we’ll say that our character was born to Celtic heritage and so has “mixed blood,” specifically “Part Sidhe, infravision 60 ft.” While other results can add a point or two to an ability score, and infravision is an overall minor boost for this character, it’s still patching a minor hole in their list of abilities.

Were this character one that was going to be played from 1st-level, then it’d be far and away more worthwhile to have this character’s gift be one of the two (“magic affinity” or a different “Part Sidhe” result) that would let them multiclass – as a human! – as a wizard with one other class, except druid. Being able to multiclass as a human is a huge benefit, and this would make becoming a 20th-level wizard-psionicist much easier.

Faction: Since this character is quite clearly a planeswalker (hence the kit, if nothing else) we’ll say that they belong to a faction, with powers outlined as per The Factol’s Manifesto. Now, we’re going to throw some restrictions on this; as mentioned at the start of this article, this character is living in the AD&D 2E multiverse, which means that – due to the events of the Faction War – which ends with (among other things) all members of the Believers of the Source, the Mercykillers, and the Sign of One losing their faction abilities. So we won’t choose those. We also won’t choose the Athar, as we’ve established that this character has a patron deity.

Instead, we’ll make this character one of the Fated. This doubles his nonweapon proficiencies (albeit his starting NWPs only), and eliminates any increase in choosing proficiencies outside of his normal group. That’s a major benefit! Moreover, this character gains 5% off when haggling for cheaper goods, and 10% off when haggling for more expensive ones; they also can pick pockets as a thief with a 10% chance of success. Finally, they gain access to the Plane Knowledge nonweapon proficiency as described in The Factol’s Manifesto. However, they cannot give nor receive any kind of charity whatsoever.

Template: Finally, for the cherry on this min-maxed sundae, we’ll say that this character has the Chosen of Mystra template, as outlined in the Heroes’ Lorebook. Perhaps he received it from the pre-Time of Troubles Mystra, and left Realmspace before her new incarnation ascended and thereby escaping her notice? Either way, this gives him a slew of powers, more than can be easily listed here (much like with spellfire).

What about Birthright?

Given how focused we’ve been on giving this character as many powers as possible, why haven’t they also been given blood abilities, the signature powers of the Birthright Campaign Setting (with some expansion in The Book of Regency)?

The major reason is because of a parenthetical note on p. 147 of The Planewalker’s Handbook that says “DMs are warned, however, that the bloodline ties to Cerilia are severed should a blooded Cerilian prime stay on the planes, and that any blood abilities should wane accordingly.” This would seem to clash with the entry for “The Abomination’s Lair” in the Liber Malevolentiae booklet in the Planes of Conflict boxed set, which has an awnsheghlien devouring proxies to increase its powers…but then again, maybe that’s how it’s maintaining its blood abilities.

In Summary

While not at Pun-Pun’s level, this character is still quite the overpowered abomination of a character. It’s entirely possible to outline a stat block for them, though giving it as much detail as possible would mean allocating all of their proficiencies, spells, psionic powers, and gear, not to mention all of their other powers and abilities, which is going quite a bit further than what was outlined here (though if there’s enough enthusiasm, I may go ahead and give it a shot).

One major omission in terms of the products referenced was the myriad new rules and options given over the AD&D 2E run of Dragon magazine. That wasn’t purposeful, but was done largely because I couldn’t recall anything particularly germane that would be a major contributor to an overpowered character build. If there’s something that I’ve overlooked in that regard, please let me know in the comments!

Otherwise, here’s hoping that – if you’re running an AD&D 2E game – you never have a character like this brought to your table!

Oh My Darling

December 12, 2015

It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed an anime as much as Overlord.

A web novel that was rewritten as a light novel series before being adapted to an anime and a manga, Overlord is the story of a young man who ends up drawn into his favorite MMORPG, becoming the character he always played. While this may sound like another take on the same concept as Sword Art Online or Log Horizon, the premise of Overlord is sufficiently different that it offers a refreshing twist on the idea of “living the game.”

What sets Overlord apart can be summarized as follows:

  1. The protagonist, who goes by his guild’s name of Ainz Ooal Gown, is the only one drawn into the game. Insofar as he knows, no one else who played the MMORPG has been similarly brought into it. The search to see if he’s the only one is the reason behind much of what he does.
  2. The world Ainz is drawn into is different from the one in the original game. The new world that he finds himself in is a low-fantasy world, in stark contrast to the epic-fantasy world that he had previously played in. Because of this, his considerable power seems magnified in comparison.
  3. As the master of his guild, its locale, subordinate NPCs, and considerable treasury have all been retained in the new world. All this on top of Ainz being an undead spellcaster who has hit the level 100 cap.

The series, in other words, is a power-fantasy. Normally I’d be somewhat dubious about a show where the main character was so much stronger than any potential opposition. After all, it’s boring when there’s no challenge to be had. However, the show cleverly ameliorates this problem by the fact that Ainz approaches the unknown situation he’s found himself in from a position of extreme caution. Since he treats most every situation as though it could potentially be a threat to him, his subsequent victories feel earned, even when they’re a foregone conclusion. Just look at him layering these defensive spells:

Of course, there show finds a way to introduce a legitimate threat or two over the course of its run. But for the most part the fun comes from watching Ainz acclimate to his new position and begin to flex his authority. With as much power and resources as he has, it’s inevitable that he’ll make a huge impact on the world he’s found himself in.

What was also a bit of unexpected fun was realizing just how much the magic in the show is based off of D&D Third Edition! While the specific spells are mostly different, the way that magic works is quite obviously based on the d20 System. For example, spells are classified among ten “tiers” (e.g. spell levels 0-9), metamagic feats are openly used (e.g. spells can be invoked as “Maximized” or “Widened”), and there’s even said to be a super-tier level of magic which is “more like a skill than a spell” (e.g. epic-level spellcasting).

It’s this last point that let me put a rough figure on Ainz’s level in D&D terms. Given that he can use an epic-level spell four times per day, that’d require at least 40 ranks in Knowledge (arcana). That means that he’d need to be anywhere from ECL 37 to level 46. Since his level from his original MMORPG is said to be 100, it’s simplest to place his level at 40.

While I thought of writing up a stat block for Ainz, making a character with that much power is a bit unwieldy. Moreover, the novels have been coy with showing us his full range of powers. While we’ve seen some of his skills and special abilities, the novel series (which far eclipses the anime and manga) is still ongoing. As such, it seems easier to focus on another character that’s shown what they can do, and doesn’t break the bank in terms of character levels.

For that, we turn to…

Clementine, 10th-level Slaughterer


I’m guessing her last name is “Yandere.”

A former member of the Black Scripture, the covert ops branch of the human-supremacist Slane Theocracy, when we meet Clementine she has already betrayed her country, murdering a highly-placed official and stealing a powerful magic item. Her motivation for doing so appears to be entirely for her own amusement, as Clementine is sadistic and cruel. One of the most powerful warriors in the world, she enjoys little more than tormenting those who are weaker than her.

Although Clementine was eventually killed by Ainz Ooal Gown, he allowed local officials to dispose of her body. He later realized that this might have been a tactical error on his part, as resurrection magic does exist in this new world. As such, it’s possible that Clementine might turn up again; although she’s unlikely to challenge Ainz again, she could still be the doom of most anyone else.

The world that Overlord takes place in is one that has a level cap for native characters. Ordinary people can’t rise above 4th to 6th level or so, and even the greatest of heroes have a hard limit of 10th to 12th level. Thus, Clementine is very close to the peak of her ability, if not already there.

Available Character Points: 264 (level 10 base) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 24 (levels 1, 3, 6 and 9 feats) + 10 (disadvantages) = 304 CP.

Clementine’s disadvantages are Broke (Clementine cares little for money, and being on the run has made it hard to accumulate funds anyway), Hunted (the Theocracy is determined to eliminate her for betraying them), and Irreverent (she cares nothing for religious faith or institutions, as demonstrated by her perfidy towards her old unit).

Ability Scores (28-point buy): Str 12 (4 points), Dex 16 (8 points; +1 4th level), Con 14 (6 points), Int 12 (4 points), Wis 10 (0 points), Cha 15 (6 points; +1 8th level).

Human (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for one-half cost (3 CP).
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP).

Basic Abilities (186 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency with the Smooth modifier (6 CP), all simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • 10d8 Hit Dice (60 CP).
  • +10 BAB (60 CP).
  • +7 Fort, +7 Ref, +3 Will (51 CP)
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

Exactly why some people in this world are able to ascend to such great heights and others are not is nebulous. It’s noted that many of the individuals who do can claim exceptional parentage – some tracing their lineage back to the gods themselves – but there are still considerable numbers who’ve attained their prowess through sheer effort alone.

Bloodthirsty Fighter (20 CP)

  • Finesse/may use Dex bonus to calculate attack rolls, specialized for one-half cost/only when using light weapons or unarmed strikes (3 CP).
  • Bonus Attack when fighting with two weapons, corrupted for two-thirds cost/may not be used with a shield (4 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for attack rolls, corrupted for two-thirds cost/may not reroll failed attacks (4 CP).
  • Augment Attack, +1 to attacks with punching daggers (6 CP).
  • Improved Initiative +2 (3 CP).

Clementine is an extremely aggressive combatant. She enjoys toying with her foes, wearing them down a piece at a time while delighting in their growing fear and desperation. In game terms, she’s likely to use whatever called shot rules are allowed to perform disabling attacks.

No One’s Fool (18 CP)

  • Defender/dodge bonus, corrupted for increased effect/only when wearing light armor or no armor (6 CP).
  • Block/melee (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for double effect (6 CP).

For all her sadism, and disinterest in anything besides that, Clementine is not stupid. In addition to her ability to weave her way through a battle without difficulty, she will also pay attention to the local power-players in whatever region she’s in.

Beyond Mortal Limits (80 CP)

  • 10 wilder progression levels (Cha-based, restrained and studies limitations), corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not provide any powers known (20 CP).
  • 10 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/only for wilder progression (30 CP).
  • 6 powers, each one augmentable (18 CP).
  • Easy metamagic feat (6 CP).
  • Streamline, specialized for double effect/only for the Easy metamagic feat (6 CP).

While powerful warriors lack the magical abilities of wizards, clerics, or other spellcasters, they have their own form of power: martial arts. These abilities are distinct from magic, allowing physical combatants to push themselves beyond what they could ordinarily accomplish.

We see Clementine use a grand total of six martial arts abilities: Impenetrable fortress, flow acceleration, stride of wind, greater evasion, ability boost, and greater ability boost. The first two have effects that are self-evident, allowing her to block strikes that should have enough force to overbear her and let her dodge incoming attacks with supernatural speed, respectively. The remaining four aren’t specified with regard to what they do, though we can make guesses based on the names.

  • Impenetrable fortress functions as per empty mind, but only for Reflex saves made for Block checks. It grants an initial bonus of +4, rather than +2.
  • Flow acceleration functions as per defensive precognition.
  • Stride of wind functions as per psionic lion’s charge.
  • Greater evasion functions as per mental barrier, but grants a dodge bonus.
  • Ability boost functions as per animal affinity, but makes no cosmetic changes.
  • Greater ability boost also functions as per animal affinity, but in addition to having no cosmetic changes, is treated as a 3rd-level power that costs 5 power points to manifest, and grants a +6 enhancement bonus rather than +4.

Combat Gear

  • Chain shirt.
  • 2 +1 spell-storing punching daggers (typically loaded with fireball and lightning bolt).
  • 2 masterwork short swords.
  • Morningstar.
  • 200 gp.

As a major character, Clementine should have PC-level wealth. Because of her Broke disadvantage, however, she has much less gear than she would normally. She typically keeps only what she can carry on her person, as she’s used to moving from place to place at a moment’s notice. This usually includes a set of diverse weapons, just in case she runs across enemies resistant to piercing damage.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 8 (d8 1st level) + 40 (9d8) + 20 (Con bonus) = 68 hp.
  • Alignment: Chaotic Evil.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +3 (Dex bonus) +2 (improved initiative) = +5 initiative.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +7 (base) +2 (Con bonus) = +9.
    • Ref: +7 (base) +3 (Dex bonus) = +10.
    • Will +3 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +3.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +4 (chain shirt) +3 (Dex bonus) +3 (Defender) +2 (martial art) = AC 22, touch 18, flat-footed 14.
  • Attacks: +10 (BAB) +3 (Dex) +1 (Augment Attack) +2 (martial art) +1 (weapon enhancement bonus) -2 (two-weapon fighting) = +15/+15/+10 punching dagger (1d6+2/19-20/x3).
  • Power points: 88 (level 10 wilder base) +10 (ability bonus) = 98 pp.
  • Skills: 0 skill points (0 CP) + 13 (human bonus) + 13 (Int bonus) +26 (Fast Learner) = 52 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Bonus Total
Balance 3 +3 Dex +6
Climb 2 +1 Str +3
Escape Artist 3 +3 Dex +6
Hide 3 +3 Dex +6
Jump 3 +1 Str +4
Knowledge (local) 3 +1 Int +4
Listen 5 +0 Wis +5
Martial Arts (cut the strings) 13 +3 Dex +16
Move Silently 3 +3 Dex +6
Search 3 +1 Int +4
Sleight of Hand 3 +3 Dex +6
Spot 5 +0 Wis +5
Tumble 3 +3 Dex +6

Normally I assign characters twelve class skills, plus Craft and Profession. In Clementine’s case, I’m relaxing that rule a bit, since she’s a character with very limited magical abilities and is operating under a level cap.

Cut the Strings (Dex)

A vicious martial art, Cut the Strings teaches that living bodies are little different from puppets. Rather than whacking away at an enemy indiscriminately, far better to strike at their vital areas and cause them to collapse helplessly, oftentimes while still alive. This fighting style thus focuses on speed and dodging, while allowing a practitioner to get close enough to land precise, crippling blows.

  • Requires: Weapon Focus (punching dagger) or similar point buy.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 2, Defenses 4, Power 2, Synergy (initiative).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Combat Reflexes, Crippling, Improved Critical (punching dagger).
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength, Light Foot, Serpent Strike, Vanishing.
  • Known: Attack 2, Defenses 2, Power 1, Combat Reflexes, Crippling (Dexterity), Improved Critical (punching dagger).


Clementine is a “striker” sort of character, similar to Bell Cranel; she focuses on quickly getting into melee range and making multiple attacks. If she is facing opposition capable of fighting back, she uses her “martial arts” powers to enhance her abilities until she’s reliably outclassing them. After that, she takes her time wearing them down.

For all her prowess, however, Clementine has little defense against magical attacks. If she fought a powerful spellcaster, she’d likely boost her offensive abilities to cut them down as quickly as she could. While she prefers to play with her enemies, she will kill them without delay if she feels legitimately threatened.

Of course, that isn’t something that happens very often. While Clementine is fine with facing weaker foes in groups, she makes sure to fight enemies who are near or at her level one-on-one if at all possible. To date, it’s a strategy that’s served her well; it was only when faced with the overwhelming might of Ainz Ooal Gown that Clementine’s luck – and her life – ran out.

…should she be brought back back, she’ll not likely make that mistake a second time.

Pathfinder, Eclipse, and the Caster-Martial Disparity

October 4, 2015

I’ve spoken before of how I became burned out on the never-ending treadmill of supplements that Pathfinder (like 3.X before it) turns out. Despite that, I still tend to haunt the Paizo forums from time to time. While I’ve lost interest in the speculating that goes on over new products and the discussions over how to interpret various rules, the threads on more general topics still have some interest for me.

One such thread was a recent discussion about the “imbalance” between martial characters and (full-progression) spellcasters. While this particular issue has come up so many times that the regular forum-goers are sick to death of it – and given that this particular topic long predates the creation of Pathfinder, they’re assuredly not the only ones – this particular discussion struck me as being different. That was because, for all of the usual arguing and theatrics that go into these discussions, by the end of this thread there seemed to be a surprisingly large degree of consensus over what the problem actually was, to say nothing about what needed to be changed in terms of practical aspects of martial and spellcasting classes. People even seemed to admit that this wasn’t likely to ever be done in official Pathfinder materials.

Perhaps my single favorite part of the thread was a truly epic rant that one poster went on about one of the reasons why this problem became such an issue in the first place; namely, the idea that martial characters should be limited to abilities that are not magical/supernatural/mystical in nature, instead being confined to the realm of what real people could potentially do. To quote selected excerpts:

“For some people, Conan is the height of what a martial should be. He never does anything particularly outside of what might be accomplished in the real world outside of a few feats of strength and agility, and he’s probably the most badass “mundane” in trad fantasy. However, it’s stupid to try and have Conan as your epitome for a D&D/PF martial, because the most wicked and powerful spellcaster in his world lacks the ability to throw around the kind of power even a moderately potent wizard has in Pathfinder. Making a character like Conan or Gimli the definition of what a martial should be is positively stupid, because neither of those characters displayed any kind of prowess or ability beyond what a 6th level Fighter or Barbarian might have.


The kind of adventures that are had in the Lord of the Rings or that are had by Conan of Cimmeria are low level adventures, and most people who feel that martials are broken aren’t even talking about those levels. But high level spellcasters in PF are above and beyond, and you either have to go to really old school Celtic or Norse mythology to find examples of “martial” characters that match that kind of power, or you have to turn to anime (much of which is actually inspired in its own turn by western mythology and Dungeons and Dragons).

You can bring martials up to the level of Cu Chulainn or you can bring casters down to the level of characters like Thoth-Amon or Gandalf, but trying to maintain a world where Gimli and Naruto are best buddies who go from level 1 to level 20 together is a huge part of why martial/caster disparity exists in the first place. Gimli manifestly does not belong in the world of Naruto Shippuden, and Naruto obviously would have annihilated the enemy forces of the Lord of the Rings.”

All of this is entirely true, and is another way of saying that the d20 System has such a huge spread of power between level 1 and level 20 that going across it essentially (indeed, necessarily) spans genres. Hence why, if you want to have a campaign that covers the full range of levels, you should calibrate your expectations accordingly.

The Solution (At Least, To Me)

While the conversation reached its unexpected point of general agreement regarding what the root of the problem was and what should be done about it, the practical methods of making those changes were largely summarized by another poster:

“So the only realistic solutions are homebrew, 3pp and other games.”

That struck me as a fair statement, particularly in light of the fact that I’ve gotten past these particular problems by using Distant Horizons Games’ book Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a free sourcebook for d20 System games.

For those who don’t know (which likely won’t include longtime readers of this blog, since I’ve come to use this book for nearly all of the characters I post on here), Eclipse is a supplement that allows for characters to be built via point-buy, rather than with character classes.

I suspect that a lot of Pathfinder fans are put off by the words “point-buy,” largely due to the perception that being able to pick and choose what abilities your character has, at least for d20 games such as Pathfinder, is unbalanced. I can understand that way of thinking, but to me that tends to overlook a few fundamental factors:

1) Characters are NOT built in isolation, nor should they be. Tabletop role-playing is fundamentally a cooperative activity. You’re playing the game with other people, not only in the sense that there are multiple participants, but also in that the players are working together; their player-characters are all teammates.

This holds true for character-building just as much as any other part of the game. While a lot of people seem to think that making your character is something that should be done free from interference from other players, or the GM, I think that looking at this as “interference” in the first place is wrong. Considering the other players, the kinds of characters they’re making, and the GM and their campaign world are not undue burdens.

Taking into account that you’re trying to have fun with other people means finding a happy medium between doing what’s good for your fun (e.g. making a character that you want to play) while also taking into consideration what will abet (or at least, not conflict with) everyone else’s fun (e.g. making a character that won’t outshine everyone else’s characters most of the time, won’t be the only evil character in a good party, etc.).

In other words, just sitting down at the same table as everyone else means acknowledging that there’s a “gentleman’s agreement” in effect. Just because you think you can make a character that’s far stronger than everyone else’s doesn’t mean that you should. This nicely dovetails into the second point…

2) The rules are NOT limits to be pushed. “System mastery” is something that a lot of people seem to lionize when it comes to building a d20 character. This point of view is based off of the idea that players will try to create the most powerful characters they possibly can, and that limitations on the choices you can make when designing your character are there to impede this kind of optimization.

This view always struck me as being an excuse for the abdication of personal responsibility. “The rules exist to restrain my excesses, so with that safety net in place there’s no reason for me not to go hog-wild!” is the thought. The problem with this line of thinking is that it isn’t true.

Even if we accept the premise that the restrictions on building a traditional Pathfinder character are there to stop players from over-optimizing, it’s fairly obvious that this goal is not being achieved under the current game rules. That’s hardly surprising, since limiting “munchkin” outcomes requires restricting choices, whereas Pathfinder keeps gaining more and more choices with every new book that comes out. One does not need to look too far to find examples of Pathfinder characters that abuse the RAW (“rules as written”) to egregious degrees.

But the real problem isn’t with the (rather self-evident) fact that a huge and continuously-growing body of rules can be exploited. Rather, it’s about the line of thinking that this encourages. Seeing the rules as limits encourages pushing against those limits, which means that when these limits are dialed back in order to allow for greater freedom in building your character – such as when using Eclipse – the credo of “optimization in excess” will drive a player to actively try and be disruptive with the character they make.

Saying “I think point-buy is unbalanced” is another way of saying “I think that this much freedom invites abuse.” But when we’re talking about yourself and your game group, that actually means “I don’t trust these guys, or even myself, to not try and break the game.”

Having said all of that, there’s one further point to consider…

3) NOT everything is on the table. One thing that should be made clear right from the get-go when using Eclipse, or any point-buy system, is that not everything in the book is going to be available. Page 197 has a checklist of what options will be modified or disallowed in a particular campaign, and a wise GM will avail themselves of it. Likewise, page 163 discusses mechanisms for what a GM can do if a player-character insists on going out of control.

Overall, if the players are focused on building characters that they find fun and interesting, fit reasonably well with the other PCs and with the game world, and work within the rules instead of trying to break them, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

So with all of that said, let’s look at how at how to build a character in Eclipse that helps to bridge Pathfinder’s caster-martial disparity.

The Basics

Here’s a quick primer for how Eclipse functions. At each level, characters a d4 Hit Die and skill points equal to their Intelligence bonus for free. Everything else, from larger Hit Dice to Base Attack Bonus to spellcasting, costs Character Points. A character receives 24 Character Points per level, including for level 0 (so a 1st level character starts with 48 CP).

What makes Eclipse truly flexible is that anything bought with CP can have a weakness introduced to it in exchange for either a discount on its cost or an increase in its power. A modest weakness (“corruption”) is worth a one-third CP discount, or a x1.5 multiplier in power. A severe weakness (“specialization”) is worth a one-half CP discount, or a x2 multiplier in power.

What degree of compensation a weakness is worth – e.g. if it’s enough to count as corruption or as specialization – is something that should be worked out ahead of time between the player and the GM. In many cases, it will be fairly self-evident (or even mentioned outright in Eclipse), but in others there will need to be an agreement reached as to how much a particular weakness is worth.

It’s important to remember that in the course of reaching such an agreement, both the player and the GM will need to consider the impact on both the player, and the overall campaign. The player will naturally try to downplay their weakness as much as possible, but at the same time should expect that the GM will bring it into play. Likewise, the GM will try to make sure that that weakness does come up over the course of the game – it wouldn’t be worth the discount otherwise! – but will not do so to the point that the player feels unfairly punished.

To put it another way, both the player and the GM should make a good faith effort to keep the PC’s weaknesses interesting and relevant, without being punitive.

A Bigger, Better Martial

The following is a martial character, built using the Eclipse rules, designed around the following ideas that were kicked around on the Paizo message boards:

  1. The character should be flat-out better at martial combat than other character classes. They should be devastating on the battlefield.
  2. Resistance to magic. Martial characters should shrug off magical powers and attacks without undue difficulty.
  3. Leadership. Martial characters should be able to field more, and/or better, minions than a caster can achieve with summon or charm spells.
  4. Command in combat. Martial characters should be able to effectively direct others in a fight.
  5. Movement options. Martial characters should not be effectively left behind when casters gain the ability to fly, teleport, etc.
  6. Out of combat influence. Martial characters should not lose effectiveness outside of a fight. Instead, they should be able to rally the people, without needing magic to do it.
  7. They need to stand up to punishment. Martial characters should not be able to be taken out of a fight easily. Killing them in combat should be damned difficult.

With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at the Combatant.

The Combatant

What follows is a 20-level “class” build using the Eclipse rules. There’s no breakdown of what powers are gained at what level, since using a point-buy system means that you can purchase various abilities when you want them (though some do have prerequisites and guidelines as to when they can be used). Instead, this presents several suites of powers, bought with 20 levels’ worth of Character Points.

As this is a “class” rather than a fully-developed character, what follows doesn’t take into account any other sources of Character Points. The feat that a character gains every other level (which is worth 6 CP in Eclipse), for instances, is not taken into account here. Neither is character races, wealth-by-level, or any other “non-class” factors. Only character levels are taken into account…with two exceptions.

Available Character Points: 504 (level 20 base) + 20 (restriction) = 524 CP.

The first exception is that this class utilizes a restriction (p. 17). A restriction is exactly what it sounds like, a prohibition on taking/engaging in something. In return for this, the character gets 1 additional CP per level. The Combatant’s restriction is against taking any magic progressions (pg. 11-15).

This may seem slightly underhanded, since that’s something we were going to do anyway, but offering a reward for sticking to a particular character concept is part of the game. Hence why Pathfinder characters receive favored class bonuses.

Speaking of which, the second exception is that this character will take a package deal (p. 18). In this case, he’ll be taking the Pathfinder package deal that I’ve mentioned before. This doesn’t really change any aspect of building this particular “class,” but rather guarantees under the game rules that any character built this way will use the Pathfinder differences over the default 3.5 assumptions (e.g. their race will have a net +2 modifier to ability scores, will gain a favored class bonus each level, etc.). This also presumes that you’ll use the Pathfinder feat progression (e.g. +6 CP at every odd-numbered level, rather than every third level) and get an additional 6 CP at 1st level (for starting traits, which we’re also not factoring in here).

Basic Abilities (330 CP)

  • Light, medium, and heavy armor proficiency, plus proficiency with shields (18 CP), all with the smooth modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only to remove the armor check penalties (9 CP).
  • Proficient with all simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • Self-Development/+6 Con for calculating hit points only (36 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Fort +12, Ref +12, Will +12 (108 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skills (6 CP).
  • Self-Development/+4 Int for calculating skill points only (24 CP).

For many, if not most characters, their basic abilities – proficiencies, Hit Dice, BAB, base saves, and skill points – will be where they spend the bulk of their Character Points. That’s true for the Combatant as well, but we’re utilizing some different methods of buying these things up more cheaply than normal as cost-saving measures.

Their weapon proficiencies, Base Attack Bonus, and base save bonuses are all purchased normally. Note that the Combatant has all good saves; the better to overcome magic with!

For their armor proficiencies, we’ve taken the Smooth modifier. This allows a character to ignore armor check penalties and arcane spell failure chances. However, since we don’t care about arcane spell failure (since this character won’t be casting spells), we’ve specialized that to cut the cost in half. This way, the Combatant’s skills won’t suffer for his wearing armor.

Insofar as his skills go, we’re giving him 4 skill points per level here, using two options. The first is to buy a sort of “virtual” +4 to his Intelligence score, but only for the purpose of gaining skill points each level. This +4 bonus is not counted for any other effect, such as when making skill checks on Int-based skills, calculating how much Int damage he can take before falling unconscious, etc. That’s 2 skill points per level right there.

The second method is via Fast Learner. This ability normally grants 1 additional CP per level when taken, but in this case we’ve specialized it to grant 2 CP…but only for skill points. Since 1 CP can directly buy 1 skill point, this essentially means that the Combatant gains 2 skill points for free each level, which with the +4 “virtual” Int bonus given above, the Combatant is gaining 4 skill points per level, as mentioned before.

It’s worth mentioning that no classes means no set list of class skills. Eclipse has some suggestions for this, with the one I go for being to allow twelve skills of the player’s choice as class skills (plus Craft and Profession, since everyone should have those), with Perform being one skill while each Knowledge skill is separate. For the Combatant, his class skills will be Acrobatics, Climb, Craft, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (local), Perception, Perform, Profession, Ride, Sense Motive, Survival, and Swim.

Finally, the Combatant’s Hit Dice aren’t being bought up, meaning that he’s only gaining a d4 Hit Die per level. However, much as we did for his Intelligence-based skill points, we’re adding a “virtual” +6 to his Constitution bonus, giving him a “free” +3 hit points per die. Or, in other words, the Combatant’s Hit Dice are 1d4+3+Con bonus per level.

This grants, on average, 5.5 hit points per level, exactly as if the Combatant had a d10 Hit Die. Moreover, this is before adding in his (real) Constitution bonus, any Con-boosting items, etc. We’re essentially trading in never getting any high rolls on a d10 for never getting any low rolls either. Since buying up Hit Dice at each and every level is expensive, this saves quite a few Character Points overall for the same general outcome.

Magic Breaker (59 CP)

  • Improved Spell Resistance, corrupted for increased effect/must not be helpless, does not need to take an action to allow friendly spells in (12 CP).
  • Finesse/use Strength bonus to calculate how many attacks of opportunity the character receives (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes variant (6 CP).
  • Block (arcane) with Multiple (12 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for saves, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only against magical effects (4 CP).
  • Returning, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only to overcome petrification and polymorph after 2d4 rounds (4 CP).
  • 2d6 mana with Resilience (12 CP).
  • Rite of Chi, specialized for one-half cost/requires eight hours of sleep (3 CP).

This suite of powers, together with their base save bonuses, comprise the Combatant’s incredible resistance to magical attacks.

The first bullet point notes that the Combatant has Spell Resistance equal to his character level +10. However, it only functions when the Combatant isn’t helpless; in exchange for this, they do not need to take an action to lower their SR to allow spells that they want to affect them to bypass SR. The narrative function of this effect is that the Combatant is literally batting away, dodging, or otherwise physically defeating/avoiding spells he doesn’t want to affect him.

The second and third bullet points allow for the Combatant to use a number of AoO’s in a round equal to 1 + his Strength bonus. These are largely to set up the Block ability listed in the fourth bullet point. Twice per round, at the cost of an AoO each time, the Combatant may try to actively block a single-target spell directed at him with a DC 20 Reflex save. On a successful save, the spell deals 60 less points of damage than it otherwise would. If successfully blocking a spell that isn’t a damage-dealing effect, then he gets a +8 bonus on his saving throw against the spell’s effect instead.

Note that the DC of the Reflex save made to block an attack can be increased by the attacker. The spellcaster can decrease their BAB on the spell’s attack roll to add to the block DC on a 1:1 basis. If the spell doesn’t use an attack roll, then they can do this for the spell’s save DC instead (e.g. if casting a spell that would have a DC 24 save, then can lower that by 2 points to increase the block DC by 2 points).

The Luck power allows the Combatant to, up to five times per day, either preemptively treat a saving throw as if he’d rolled a 20, or re-roll a failed save. This can only be done against a magical effect.

Returning is normally an “overcome death” power. In this case, it’s been corrupted to only allow the Combatant to defeat petrification and polymorph, two effects that normally take characters completely out of a fight (and indeed, last perpetually unless something actively undoes them). In this case, they’ll bounce back fairly quickly, but determined enemies will still be able to kill them in the meantime if they really try.

Finally, the seventh and eighth bullet points grant the Combatant 2d6 mana points. These points can be spent to defeat ability damage/drain on a 1:1 basis, defeat negative levels on a 2:1 basis (e.g. 2 points of mana defeats 1 negative level), or may defeat mind-affecting effects at a cost of 2/3/4/6 points to overcome a level 0-3/4-6/7-8/9 effect. Mana normally recovers at a rate of 1 point per day, but Rite of Chi allows for an additional 1d6 to be recovered after eight hours’ rest (for 1d6+1 altogether).

Mobile Warrior (39 CP)

  • Reflex Training/may move up to their speed before making a full attack action (6 CP).
  • Celerity/flight plus 40 ft. of flight movement, all specialized for one-half cost/only for 1 minute per point of Con bonus (minimum 1 min.) per day (18 CP).
  • Inherent Spell with one instance of Advanced, both specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP). One further instance of Advanced (teleport track) with +2 Bonus Uses (9 CP).

This package of abilities is designed to overcome the major limitations on the Combatant’s movement. Reflex Training allows for a specific action to be taken in conjunction with another specific action. In this case, when taking a full attack action, the Combatant may move up to their speed immediately beforehand. Note that this cannot be interspersed with attacks during a full attack action; it must be a move, which is then followed by a full attack.

Celerity allows the combatant to fly at a speed of 60 ft. with perfect maneuverability for a number of minutes per day equal to their total Constitution bonus. This is not inherently magical, but otherwise leaves the explanation for what this power is up to the player (personally, I prefer the idea that the Combatant is literally kicking the air to move themselves around).

Finally, three times per day the Combatant may use teleport track as a spell-like ability. This is a custom spell designed for this particular power, meaning that we don’t need to be concerned with the full specifics of the spell. Essentially, it’s a 5th-level effect (like the spell teleport) that can only be used to follow another teleportation effect used within 20 ft. of the combatant in the last 3 rounds. The Combatant can also bring along one additional willing creature per three levels. Unlike most of these powers, this one has an inherent limit on when it can be taken; the combatant must be at least 9th level to take this power.

Famous Hero (18 CP)

  • Major Privilege/hero of the realm (6 CP).
  • Improved Superior Reputation (12 CP).

These powers cover the Combatant’s social influence. Like most social-focused abilities, they’re necessarily imprecise in terms of what they connote. For the first one, having a major privilege (which, in this case, is that the Combatant is widely recognized as a hero of the land) essentially means that the character is regarded as being a cross between a rock star and a war hero. For the second, it means that the character’s fame and deeds are widely known; when it becomes relevant, they gain a (level x 2)/3 modifier to checks on social rolls (e.g. a bonus to Diplomacy checks for people who like him, and a bonus to Intimidate checks for those who dislike him, and vice versa).

Leader of Men (36 CP)

  • Leadership with Born Leader and Emperor’s Star (18 CP).
  • Mystic Artist/Perform (oratory) (6 CP) with Rapid (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/activating Mystic Artist abilities (6 CP).

These powers reflect the Combatant’s ability to take command in battle (though they can do the same in other situations).

Their Leadership power means that they have (level + Cha modifier)x3 levels’ worth of followers, none of which can be higher than the Combatant’s level -3. Moreover, each of these followers has a permanent +1 typeless bonus to their attacks, saves, and AC. They also gain a 6 CP ability (which must be the same for every follower). I’d recommend granting them the Legionary power (everyone with that gains a +1/+2/+3 bonus to attacks, AC, and Reflex saves when fighting with 1-2/3-4/5+ others who also have this power, specialized for double effect/must be adjacent to each other).

The second and third bullet points allow the Combatant to essentially usurp some of a bard’s role, and use Perform (oratory) to direct and guide those they fight with. Thanks to Reflex Training, this may be activated as a free action, and the effects happen immediately. The actual effects they might choose (it’s not a static set of abilities, meaning that there are too many possible choices to list here) are found on pg. 85-87. I recommend that they take their abilities primarily from the Inspiration powers; using Mass Greatness or Mass Excellence to empower your allies will quickly change the tide of battle to your favor (and if you can take Harmonize, from the Synergy list of powers, and use both at the same time, your party will be very nearly unstoppable!).

Unstoppable Juggernaut (42 CP)

  • Stoic with Ferocity (9 CP).
  • Grant of Aid with Mighty and Spark of Life (15 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for attack rolls (6 CP).
  • Enhanced Strike/crushing and whirlwind (12 CP).

Here we come to the Combatant’s ability to deal out and withstand staggering degrees of damage. Stoic makes the Combatant immune to death from massive damage as well as lets them be treated as “recovering with help” on a successful DC 15 Constitution check to stabilize. The Ferocity modifier means that the character may continue to act normally while at negative hit points, so long as their negative hit points do not exceed their Constitution score.

Having Grant of Aid with the Mighty modifier allows the combatant to heal themselves of damage (which does not require an action). Once per day per three levels (or part thereof), the Combatant may heal 1d8+5+Con bonus hit points OR 1d3+1 ability score damage OR 2 negative levels. Moreover, Spark of Life makes it so that the Combatant can cling to life for (Con score x 5) rounds when their hit points drop low enough to kill them (e.g. their negative hit points equal or exceed their Con score), during which time they can be healed normally. This doesn’t apply if they’re brought down to negative hit points that equal or exceed their positive hit points (or an instant death effect is used, such as a successful coup de grace).

Exactly what the healing from Grant of Aid represents is up to the player. It could be the blessing of a deity, hyper-regeneration, unparalleled physical fortitude, or something else altogether.

The Luck power, similar to its use in the Magic Breaker suite, allows the Combatant to either gain an automatic “natural” 20 on an attack roll (meaning a possibility for a critical hit, if confirmed) or may re-roll a failed attack roll, up to five times per day.

Their Enhanced Strike abilities grant them two combat powers. Crushing allows the Combatant, as a full-round action, to combine all of their attacks into a single attack roll. If successful, he inflicts all of the damage from his multiple attacks at once. Whirlwind allows the Combatant, as a full-round action, to make a single attack at his full BAB against every target within reach.

Both of these attacks may be used once per minute each. However, additional uses within that period may be undertaken, at the cost of 1 point of mana (q.v.) each time. Essentially, these are the “super attacks” that a Combatant has, allowing him to push beyond what an ordinary fighter would be able to do.

Taking Stock

Overall, the Combatant is a class that builds a solid base for a martial character, while paying special attention to various situational and out-of-combat circumstances. While he has several abilities that directly enhance his ability to fight (e.g. Luck for attack rolls, Enhanced Strike, Grant of Aid), he can also maintain his usefulness in unorthodox battles via his special movement abilities and (indirectly) his followers and ability to direct others.

His major suite of powers, however, all deal with his ability to shrug off magic. These are so many and so varied that it’s very hard to affect the Combatant with magic at all, as he can resist it, block it, save against it, heal it, or otherwise defeat it. This is a character that has very little to fear from spellcasters.

Finally, he has several abilities that boost his ability to play a role outside of a fight. His social abilities ensure that he essentially always is exceptionally popular among the populace (though this is not a magical effect, and the player and the GM should work together to determine why this is and how it manifests) and has a powerful reputation to help him with any face-to-face encounters.

And of course, this isn’t the whole of what the Combatant can do. As mentioned previously, he still has 60 Character Points’ worth of feats to spend, plus 6 CP on top of that from his starting traits. Throw in things like a human racial bonus feat or some Eclipse-specific things like taking a few disadvantages (pg. 18-20) or having some duties (p. 17) to fulfill, and there’s still a lot of room for customization (and that’s not even getting into what gear he has).

Of course, that’s overlooking the fact that, as a point-buy character, this entire build can be customized anyway. If you don’t care about spell resistance, for example, but want more of an AC bonus. You can just not buy Improved Spell Resistance and spend the 12 CP on Defender (p. 51), gaining a level-based bonus to your Armor Class.

Since using this book, I’ve found it much easier to build the character I’d like to have, instead of having to check myriad sourcebooks to kludge together a combination of classes, feats, archetypes, prestige classes, and other rules in hopes of approximating my original idea for a character…especially for a martial character that can be as effective, and as useful, as a spellcaster.

With Eclipse, the caster-martial disparity matters exactly as much as you want it to.


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