When You Ness With the Best

March 18, 2020

I was fortunate enough to have gotten a copy of Earthbound when it came out on the Super Nintendo. While quirky RPGs are nothing new these days, at the time the game was an extremely different experience from Final Fantasy and similar high-fantasy video role-playing games. It took place in a modern setting, eschewed magic in favor of psychic powers, and played up humor over drama. It was quite the trip!

Earthbound’s intro screen, depicting an epic scene that never happens in the game.

Later, we’d find out that the game was known as Mother 2 in Japan, being the second of what would be a trilogy of “Mother” games. But while the first game would eventually be given a domestic release (under the name “Earthbound Beginnings”), the third one has yet to be formally released outside of its home country. Even the release of the original game took years, and then only as a pay-for-download option.

The end result was that Earthbound, while achieving a cult following, would likely have been forgotten. But then something unexpected happened that breathed new life into the series, at least in terms of its wider acknowledgment in the gaming community.

Ness, the main protagonist of Earthbound, was brought into the Super Smash Bros. series of games.

Appearing as an unlockable character in the first game, and selectable from the start in each subsequent one, his role in these hit games took Ness from being obscure to wildly popular. Nor was Earthbound’s influence in the game limited to Ness alone. The Mr. Saturns – the basketball-sized rotund little alien-creatures – would also make an appearance, as thrown items of all things. The Franklin Badge, which reflects projectiles, was likewise added as an item that characters could use. And eventually Lucas, the star of Mother 3, would also join the games’ ever-expanding roster of characters.

One thing that confused fans of Earthbound when they first discovered Ness in Super Smash Bros., however, was his roster of powers. While Ness was a powerful psychic in the original game, the powers he used in Smash Bros. were actually those of his friend Paula. This was answered in later games where it was explicitly stated that Paula (and Poo, another of Ness’s psychic friends) taught him to use their powers prior to his inclusion in Smash Bros.

Now that’s a war face!

So given that we’ve see Ness in a traditional turn-based RPG, and in a fighting game series, I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d look like with d20 stats. Using Eclipse: The Codex Persona and The Practical Enchanter, here’s what I think the answer would look like:

Ness, 13th-level psychic savant

Available Character Points: 336 (level thirteen base) + 42 (feats at levels 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13) + 6 (“starting traits”) + 13 (restriction: may not wear armor) = 397 CP.

While Earthbound differed from traditional RPGs in many ways, the lack of equipable armor wasn’t really one of them. Rather, the game simply provided different varieties of defense-improving items for its characters, such as hats, bracelets, amulets, etc. In the d20 System, however, we can treat those as being magic items (see below) and so say that Ness’s eschewing armor is worth some extra CPs as a restriction.

Ability Scores (25-point buy): Str 13 (+1 level = 14), Dex 12 (+6 enhancement = 18), Con 15 (+1 level = 16), Int 11 (+1 level = 12), Wis 16 (+2 racial +6 enhancement = 24), Cha 12.

As this point-buy allotment makes clear, Ness is using the Pathfinder Package Deal.

Human, Esper (25 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Like all humans, espers get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Package Deal bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).
  • 1 caster level, specialized in the psion progression (3 CP).
  • 1 augmentable psionic power (far hand) (3 CP).
  • 3d6 (10) power points (6 CP).

Ness was born with latent psychic abilities, as we find out during Earthbound that as a baby he would telekinetically grab his bottle when it was out of reach. As such, we’ll say that Ness is an esper, a type of human with inborn psionic powers.

For Ness’s bonus feat, he’s taken Immunity/the inability to jump while in mid-air (very common/minor/trivial) (4 CP), Reflex Training/may make an Acrobatics check to jump while jumping, falling, or otherwise in mid-air (6 CP), and Immunity/the normal limits of jumping via Acrobatics (uncommon/minor/minor) (2 CP). That’s 12 CP altogether, specialized for one-half cost/must be psionically focused, not wearing armor, and carrying no more than a light load. Note that the second Immunity grants him a +10 bonus to Jump checks, removes the penalty for not making a running start before jumping, and makes the result of a high jump a number of feet equal to the check result instead of the check result divided by 4.

Basic Abilities (167 CP)

  • Proficiencies: Limited set of weapons (3 CP).
  • Hit Dice: 13d8 (52 CP).
  • Base Attack Bonus: +9 (54 CP).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort +4 (12 CP).
    • Ref +4 (12 CP).
    • Will +8 (24 CP).
  • Skills: Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/skills only, and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only to be added to Adept skills (4 CP) and Adept (Knowledge (psionics), Perception, Psicraft, and Martial Arts (little slugger)) (6 CP).

Ness’s weapon proficiencies consist of the baseball bat and combat yo-yo, detailed below.

Psionic Prowess (211 CP)

  • 13 levels of psion progression (with thirteen specialized caster levels) (156 CP).
  • Two additional (id insinuation and power turning) powers known (6 CP).
  • Mighty Invocation (12 CP).
  • 13 levels of wilder progression (without any caster levels), corrupted for two-thirds cost/no powers known (26 CP).
  • One additional psion caster level (3 CP).
  • Two d0 Hit Dice (8 CP).

Ness’s psion progression uses a customized power list, giving him access to a few powers that a normal psion wouldn’t receive. We’ll also say that, since Eclipse doesn’t use class-based progressions, energy-based powers such as energy bolt and energy wave can be used to their most effective degree (i.e. as if Ness were a kineticist) rather than needing to expend and regain psionic focus to change their energy type.

Note that the last bullet point is not a typo; Ness has bought two zero-sided Hit Dice. While that might seem pointless, these not only grant his Constitution bonus in hit points, but also count when measuring abilities whose effects vary by Hit Dice (and, in most cases, by level; this includes his Defender ability, listed below).

Power Turning

The power turning ability is the psionic version of the spell turning spell. While it was present in 3.0, it was deleted when the psionic rules were updated to 3.5. Presumably this was done because 3.5 psionic psionics put a heavier emphasis on augmenting lower-level powers, which didn’t actually change their base level. That meant that power turning was more effective than its spell-based counterpart.

Since this power emulates one of the psychic abilities from Earthbound, we’ll go ahead and reintroduce it here. Originally the power noted that it was Constitution-based (3.0 psionics keyed different powers to different ability scores based on their psychic discipline), but this has been eliminated to bring it into line with how psionics works in 3.5 and Pathfinder (and add it to the tactician’s power list).

POWER TURNING

Discipline psychokinesis; Level psion/wilder 7, tactician 7

Display mental, visual

Manifesting Time 1 standard action

Range personal

Target you

Duration until completely expended or 10 minutes/level

Power Points 13

Powers (and spell-like effects) targeted against the manifester rebound on the original manifester. This power only turns psionic powers that have the manifester as a target. Effect and area powers are not affected. Power turning also fails to affect touch range powers.

From 7 to 10 (1d4+6) power levels are affected by the turning. The DM secretly rolls the exact number. Each power turned subtracts its level from the amount of power turning left.

A power might be only partially turned. Subtract these from the power level of the incoming psionic power. Divide the number of the remaining levels of the incoming power by the power level of the incoming power to see what fraction of the effect gets through. For damaging power, the power turning manifester and the original manifester each suffer a fraction of the damage. For nondamaging powers, each has a proportional chance to be affected.

If the manifester and an attacker are both warded by power turning effects in operation, a resonating field is created. Roll randomly to determine the result:

d% Effect
01-70 Power drains away without effect.
71-80 Power affects both characters equally at full effect.
81-97 Both turning effects are rendered nonfunctional for 1d4 minutes.
98-100 Both characters go through a rift into another plane.

Creative Combatant (13 CP)

  • Reflex Training/3 actions per day variant, specialized for one-half cost/only to use a psionic power (3 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized for double effect/only while not wearing armor, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only while not carrying a medium or heavy load (4 CP).
  • Enhanced Attacked/Crushing, variant/must be made as a charge, specialized for increased effect/on a missed attack, must continue moving the full distance, gains shocking burst on a successful attack, corrupted for increased effect/does not gain 1 free use per minute, charge works in any direction and ignores rough terrain, and all other non-barrier impediments (e.g. holes, caltrops, etc.) (6 CP).

The third bullet point is representative of Ness’s ability to hit himself with his PK Thunder power and launch himself as a projectile, to devastating effect. While this is technically an attack, there’s no reason why Ness can’t use it (as he often does in Smash Bros.) to move himself tactically around the battlefield. However, as written here, this ability costs him 3 power each time he uses it.

Well-Rounded (6 CP)

  • Change human Fast Learner from half-price to double effect (3 CP).
  • Privilege/allowance (3 CP).

In one of the more amusing twists in Earthbound, while defeating enemies nets you experience and (on occasion) item drops, you don’t actually receive any money from them. Rather, Ness’s father makes periodic deposits into his son’s bank account, though those deposits just so happen to correspond with enemies being defeated. Nevertheless, we’ll say that he has an allowance here. Since Privilege is undefined for what it grants, we’ll have this correspond to Ness being +1 levels higher for determining his wealth-by-level (which, since he’s a major heroic NPC, will be equal to that of a PC).

Gear

  • Combat Yo-yo: merciful battle yo-yo +2 (18,321 gp)
  • Legendary Bat: wooden baseball bat of collision +1 (18,304 gp)
  • Handy haversack (2,000 gp)
  • Goddess Band (35,000 gp)
  • Hard Hat (26,200 gp)
  • Rabbit’s Foot (42,000 gp)
  • Souvenir Coin (36,000 gp)
  • Star pendant (minor artifact)

While the above approximates the gear that Ness has by the end of Earthbound, the actual effects of these items are things that we need to approximate, since the mechanics of that game are different than the d20 System. Equipment in Earthbound offers stacking bonuses (e.g. multiple items contributing to your Defense score), which is something the d20 System shies away from unless the bonuses are all of different types. As such, the mechanics for the above go a little further than the rest of this article does in what they offer.

Before listing those, however, the following are the weapon stats for the baseball bat and battle yo-yo, presented using Pathfinder’s weapon design system.

BATTLE YO-YO Price 21 gp
Type light melee Proficiency exotic
DMG (M) 1d4 bludgeoning DMG (S) 1d3 bludgeoning Critical x2
Weapon Group close, monk Weight 1 lb.
Qualities additional design points (0), attached (1), concealed (1), improved damage (1), weapon feature (disarm) (1), weapon feature (trip) (3).

 

BASEBALL BAT Price 4 gp
Type two-handed melee Proficiency simple
DMG (M) 1d8 bludgeoning DMG (S) 1d6 bludgeoning Critical x3
Weapon Group hammers Weight 3 lbs.
Qualities improved damage (3), improved critical multiplier (3), weapon feature (blocking) (1).

While the battle yo-yo is always made out of metal in order to have sufficient mass to inflict damage, a baseball bat may be made out of wood or metal. This doesn’t alter any of the above statistics, but does change how it interacts with spells such as heat metal or warp wood, as well as for characters that have a restriction against using weapons of a certain type (such as druids forswearing metal weapons).

GODDESS BAND Price 35,000 GP
Aura moderate abjuration, enchantment, and transmutation CL 9th Slot wrists Weight 1 lb.
This elaborate bracelet provides the wearer with a +6 enhancement bonus to Wisdom, as well as a +4 resistance bonus to saving throws. It also provides immunity to all magical and non-magical effects that would cause them to fall asleep or otherwise render them unconscious, such as the sleep spell or blue whinnis poison. It does not prevent unconsciousness due to nonlethal damage, ability damage, or hit points going below 0.
Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, enhance wisdom III (TPE, p. 17), rouse (PHB2, p. 123), warding rune (TPE, p. 39) Cost 17,500 GP

 

HARD HAT Price 26,200 GP
Aura moderate illusion and transmutation CL 9th Slot head Weight 2 lbs.
This headpiece provides the wearer with a +4 natural armor bonus. Upon command, the hard hat can be made to change its shape and appearance to appear as another type of headgear, such as a cap, ribbon, headband, etc. It retains all of its properties (including weight) when it is so disguised. Only a true seeing spell or similar magic reveals the true nature of the hard hat when disguised. If removed, the hard hat immediately returns to its normal form.
Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, barkskin, disguise self Cost 13,100 GP

 

RABBIT’S FOOT Price 42,000 GP
Aura faint transmutation CL 5th Slot none Weight
This charm grants the wearer a +6 enhancement bonus to Dexterity. It also allows them to act as though under a perpetual haste spell.
Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, enhance dexterity III (TPE, p. 17), haste Cost 21,000 GP

 

SOUVENIR COIN Price 36,000 GP
Aura moderate evocation CL 9th Slot none Weight
So long as it remains in the wielder’s possession, this oversized gold coin grants them a +3 luck bonus on attack rolls, damage rolls, Armor Class, and saving throws. The bonus to damage rolls does not apply to damage from spells or spell-like abilities.
Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, karmic shield (TPE, p. 32) Cost 18,000 GP

 

STAR PENDANT (MINOR ARTIFACT) Slot neck
Aura strong abjuration, conjuration, and enchantment CL 12th Weight 1 lb.
This pendant grants the wearer resistance 30 to acid, cold, electricity, fire, and sonic damage, as well as a +4 deflection bonus to their Armor Class. Additionally, the wearer is immune to paralysis (but not being entangled, pinned, or other conditions that restrict movement) and confusion.
Destruction The star pendant is destroyed if worn by a being with the air, earth, fire, and water subtypes for an entire year.

Ness’s total gear value, as listed above, comes out to 177,825 gp out of 185,000. Of course, the star pendant should throw that off considerably (if made as a standard magic item, it would cost over 100,000 gp on its own). But that’s the nice thing about minor artifacts: they have no price, and so don’t count against a character’s total gear value.

The Star Pendant as a Magic Item

If you want to use the star pendant as a magic item instead of a minor artifact, use the following statistics:

STAR PENDANT Price 100,800 GP
Aura strong abjuration, conjuration, and enchantment CL 12th Slot neck Weight 1 lbs.
This pendant grants the wearer resistance 30 to acid, cold, electricity, fire, and sonic damage, as well as a +4 deflection bonus to their Armor Class. Additionally, the wearer is immune to paralysis (but not being entangled, pinned, or other conditions that restrict movement) and confusion.
Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, clarity of mind, remove paralysis, resist energy, shield of faith Cost 50,400 GP

The clarity of mind spell used in the construction of this version of the star pendant is a custom spell, as follows:

CLARITY OF MIND

Level bard 1, cleric/oracle 1, inquisitor 1, psychic 1, shaman 1

This spell functions like calm emotions, except that it only removes the confused condition from all targets.

Derived Stats

  • Hit Dice: 8 (d8; 1st level) + 54 (12d8) + 45 (Con bonus) +13 (“favored class” bonus) = 120 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft. (base) + 30 ft. (haste) = 60 ft.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +4 (base) +3 (Con) +4 (resistance) +3 (luck) = +14.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +4 (Dex) +4 (resistance) +3 (luck) +1 (dodge) = +16.
    • Will: +8 (base) +7 (Wis) +4 (resistance) +3 (luck) = 22.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +4 (Dex) +6 (dodge) +1 (dodge) +4 (natural armor) +3 (luck) +4 (deflection) = AC 32, touch 28, flat-footed 21.
  • Attacks:
    • Combat Yo-yo: +9 (BAB) +2 (Str) +2 (enhancement bonus) +3 (luck) +3 (martial art) +1 (haste) = +20/+20/+15 (1d8+7 plus 1d6 nonlethal)
    • Legendary Bat: +9 (BAB) +2 (Str) +1 (enhancement bonus) +3 (luck) +3 (martial art) +1 (haste) = +19/+19/+14 (1d12+12/x3)
  • Combat Maneuver Bonus: +9 (BAB) +2 (Str) +3 (luck) +3 (martial art) +1 (haste) = +18 (plus weapon enhancement bonus) CMB.
  • Combat Maneuver Defense: 10 (base) +9 (BAB) +2 (Str) +4 (Dex) +6 (dodge) +1 (dodge) +3 (luck) +4 (deflection) = 39 CMB.
  • Power: 147 (level 13 psion) +147 (level 13 wilder) +45 (Wis) +10 (racial) = 349 power.
  • Powers Known (ML 15th; concentration +22)
  • Skills: 26 (Fast Learner) +13 (Int bonus) + maximum ranks in Acrobatics, Perception, Psicraft, and Martial Arts (little slugger) = 39 (plus four maximum) skill ranks.
Skill Ranks Class Bonus Ability Modifier Misc. Total
Acrobatics 3 +3 +4 Dex +12 speed (jump), +10 Immunity (jump) +10 (+32 jump)
Diplomacy 3 +3 +1 Cha +7
Escape Artist 3 +3 +4 Dex +10
Handle Animal 3 +3 +1 Cha +7
Heal 3 +3 +7 Wis +13
Knowledge (geography) 3 +3 +1 Int +7
Knowledge (history) 3 +3 +1 Int +7
Knowledge (local) 3 +3 +1 Int +7
Knowledge (psionics) 13 +3 +1 Int +17
Martial Arts (little slugger) 13 +3 +2 Str +18
Perception 13 +3 +7 Wis +23
Psicraft 13 +3 +1 Int +17
Ride 3 +3 +4 Dex +10
Sense Motive 3 +3 +7 Wis +13
Survival 3 +3 +7 Wis +13
Swim 3 +3 +2 Str +8
Use Psionic Device 3 +3 +1 Cha +7

Ness’s class skills are, obviously enough, the ones listed on the above chart. Note that Knowledge (psionics), Psicraft, and Use Psionic Device all function as per their magical counterparts under the default assumptions of most campaign worlds. On a related note, Ness should have one additional language due to his Intelligence bonus; I’d recommend whatever language it is that the Mr. Saturns speak.

Little Slugger (Str)

While technically patterned off of baseball, this martial art is actually far older. In fact, it goes back to the very beginnings of tool use in humans: hit your enemies with a big stick, or failing that, throw something at them. In this case, it’s been adapted to the baseball bat and battle yo-yo (a mild variation on pitching), but its roots are obvious for all to see.

This martial art has no occult techniques, being developed by non-psionic practitioners. The entry requirements are correspondingly lower as a result.

  • Requires: proficiency with baseball bat.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 3, Power 2, Strike.
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Combat Reflexes, Mighty Blow, Vital Strike, Weapon Kata (battle yo-yo).
  • Known: all except Strike.

Further Development

The statistics given above represent Ness after the end of Earthbound, subsequent to Paula and Poo having taught him their psychic techniques for his joining the fight in Super Smash Bros. As he is now, Ness is a powerhouse, albeit one that could be optimized a little more. His hit points could be greater, his Armor Class could be higher, and he really should learn another martial art, ideally one focused on Wisdom that he can use to raise his defenses somewhat. But overall, he’s a fairly solid build, being able to hold his own in melee, having plenty of combat-focused psionic powers for up-close and ranged combat, and a decent selection of utility powers. And of course, his gear is top-notch for what it does.

Of course, given the caliber of characters that he’s up against these days, he’s going to need all of that and more in order to win.

From PSI to Psionics

The list of psionic powers that Ness knows represent the entirety of the PSI (or, as they’re called in Super Smash Bros., PK) abilities used by him and his friends in Earthbound. As noted previously, Ness’s most recent appearances have him using powers taught to him by his friends. For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming they’ve taught him all of their powers known, including the ones we haven’t seen him use yet.

The PSI powers used in Earthbound have different degrees to them, much like augmentable psionic powers. But the PSI powers are measured with Latin letters, and have effects that are specific to Earthbound’s mechanics. That makes matching them to d20 psionics a tricky proposition. If you’re inclined to do so, use the following list to match Ness’s psionic powers in this article to the ones we see used in Earthbound/Smash Bros. The combination of various powers (exempting only far hand, since we don’t see any PSI powers that telekinetically manipulate objects the way we were told Ness did as a baby) and their augmentations should allow for a satisfactory translation of abilities.

Eclipsing Dead Levels

March 3, 2020

It used to be, when your character gained a level, that you only received a modest boost in power.

More hit points were the biggest gain, since older editions had less safeguards against character death built into them. If you were a martial-type character, you probably had your to-hit chances go up as well; for other characters, your hit chances operated in brackets, so it was uncertain if they’d go up at any particular level or not. The same was true for saving throws as well, though the brackets varied depending on which category of saves was being looked at. Later on, you also gained a proficiency slot every so many levels. And of course, spellcasters gained new spell slots, though gaining new spells to actually fill them with was something else again.

However, as time went on, we began to see level inflation. What you gained at each level was expanded upon, increasing the relative power you received over time. Hit points were always rolled instead of becoming small, flat bonuses, and everyone (not just warrior-types) got to add their full Constitution bonus to them. Iterative attacks became baked into base attack bonus progression, allowing even non-martial characters to make multiple attacks per round. Saving throws were consolidated, and the target number you rolled against was now defined externally – and so could vary wildly – rather than being set according to your level.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Skills were now codified, using points and ranks that could be freely purchased, albeit with class-based restrictions and level-based caps. Spellcasters gained a new spell or two for free each and every time they gained a level. Feats were gained every few levels, replacing (non-weapon) proficiencies. The same was true for ability points. What classes you gained levels in could be mixed-and-matched much more freely than before.

And each level of each class now granted a special ability. Indeed, it got to the point where there was eventually a term for when you gained a level but didn’t gain a special power: “dead levels.”

It eventually got to the point, in D&D Third Edition, where the game designers went back and published a few late-stage additions to classes that had dead levels on their website.

These patches weren’t very powerful, since the designers didn’t want to upset the balance of the game (such as it was) too much. So they tended to be small benefits, little more than minor supplements to what the characters could already do. Of course, that raised the question of why grant these benefits at all, if they didn’t do very much, but this was mostly ignored. The point was that characters receive some sort of special power at each and every level; what they were was secondary.

Now, if you’re playing with a point-buy character-generation system, such as Eclipse: The Codex Persona for d20 System games, then “dead levels” are a complete non-issue. You simply took what (available) powers you wanted for your character at each level. If you wanted to ignore your attack bonus and focus on buying a lot of skills and powers related to skills, you could do that. If you were a warrior who wanted to increase their focus with a specific weapon and buy up defenses against the spells that those cowardly wizards always used, you could do that. If you wanted to be a stay-at-home character who spent their time cultivating relationships with powerful people, opening merchant companies, and dabbling with politics, you could do that, even if it meant that you were likely playing a different game than the other players at the table. Point-buy systems can do a lot, but there’s no set of rules that can curb a disruptive player.

And of course, if you wanted to build characters very close to what you’d find with standard class-level builds, you could do that as well. In fact, that’s in Appendix 2 of Eclipse. But what if you also wanted to gain those dead-level additions given in the article linked to above? Well, let’s take a look at each of them and how we can build them in Eclipse. Since the monk and barbarian have no additions, due to having no dead levels in the first place, we’ll omit them, focusing on the other nine classes from the PHB:

Bard: The bard, as presented in WotC’s “Dead Levels” article, gains two abilities; one allows them to re-roll a Perform check once per day, but only with regards to using Perform to earn money, and the other gradually maximizes the subsequent rolls for exactly how much money they earn.

So overall, the effect here is to put some extra money in the bard’s pocket, but only if they spend a day putting on performances. That’s a downtime activity, and honestly not a very good one after the first few levels or so. Even presuming that they can always hit the maximum Perform result (DC 30) and get the maximum result on 3d6 gp per day, that’s only 126 additional gp per week. Given that a 20th-level character is supposed to have 760,000 gp in wealth, this means that even if they spent every day performing, they’d earn less than 1% of their total gp value over the course of a year.

That seems like a rather roundabout method of giving the bard some pocket-money.

If you want a character to earn a few extra gold pieces in Eclipse, there’s a simpler way to do it. Pick up Equipage (p. 31) for 10 gp per character level per week, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to earn actual gold pieces (rather than equipment of commensurate value), and the character must spend two days each week performing in populated areas (during which time they can’t do other activities, such as crafting). That will cost you 6 CP, and now gives your character a weekend gig, one that earns them slightly more money than they would gain even with maximized Perform checks.

Cleric: The cleric gains, a bonus to Knowledge (religion) checks to “identify undead creatures during an encounter from any distance” but “gains no insight about their special powers or vulnerabilities,” which starts at +2 at 2nd level before going up by +1 each level thereafter. Now, there’s a minor ambiguity here when they say “identify undead creatures.” Do they mean simply recognizing them as undead (even through disguises, cloaking spells, etc.)? Or does it mean identifying what kind of undead they are (i.e. “that’s not just a zombie, it’s a juju zombie!”) , even if they then don’t gain that bonus on knowing much of anything about them?

Of course, it doesn’t really matter either way, since if you can’t identify its powers or weaknesses, knowing what a particular type of undead is called doesn’t matter very much, unless you plan on going and doing some research later (though that brings up the awkward question of how you know about that type of undead but don’t know anything useful about it anyway). So it’s probably better to just make this into a generic undead-detecting power, one that has some better-defined parameters regarding how it works:

Pick up Innate Enchantment (p. 34), specialized for one-half cost/only for half the normal gp value (i.e. 2,500 gp). Now buy detect undead. The total cost is 3 CP and, technically, 80 XP. Or you could buy Occult Sense (p. 38) for detect undead as well; that will cost you 6 CP, but has no XP cost. Either way, this is less ambiguous than the WotC version.

Druid: The druid gains two new abilities, both of which are slightly stronger than normal for what that article introduces, owing to not receiving them until very high level. The first extends their immunity to non-magical undergrowth to magical undergrowth. The second gives them spell resistance, but only to the spell-like abilities of fey creatures. Neither are really that useful by the time they’re received (though the latter could conceivably be, against certain high-level fey monsters), but that’s kind of the point, since all of the new abilities in this article amount to little more than lagniappe.

To make these in Eclipse, first buy Immunity (p. 34) to magically-overgrown terrain (uncommon/minor/minor) for 2 CP. Given that most magical terrain-manipulation effects (at least as far as causing undergrowth to impede travel goes) seems to top out with entangle, you might be able to reduce this to a trivial Immunity, lowering the final cost to 1 CP, but this covers you against anything of 3rd-level or less, which should be enough to defeat anything else that falls into this category. As for the other new ability, buy Spell Resistance (p. 45) with the Improved modifier, both of which are specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only applies against fey creatures, only against their spell-like abilities, for 4 CP.

Fighter: The fighter gets eight instances of buying a +1 bonus to a particular ability check: Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution. Now, ability checks are already a comparative rarity compared to skills, but these are further limited: the Strength bonus only applies to breaking/burst an object, the Dexterity bonus only applies against falling when damaged while balancing or moving quickly across difficult surfaces, and the Constitution bonus only applies on checks to continue running or continue a forced march.

Now, this is a little awkward. While ability checks are similar to skill checks, they’re not something you usually receive bonuses on, other than the relevant attribute modifier. But that’s the beauty of using such a flexible point-buy system like Eclipse: if you want to allow ability checks to receive bonuses like skills, you can allow for that. In this case, what you’re buying is a +8 skill bonus (p. 8) and applying it to an ability check the same way you would a skill, specialized for one-half cost/only for a particular type of ability check, as listed above. That costs 4 CP, and you can distribute the bonuses between those three ability checks as you like. You might want to have ability checks for other things come up from time to time, at least for those attributes, in order to keep that specialization relevant, but honestly this is such a minor set of bonuses that it probably doesn’t really matter all that much.

Paladin: The paladin can, up to eight times, choose between gaining a +1 bonus to their Leadership score for the purposes of attracting 1st-level cohorts only, or gain a +1 bonus to Sense Motive checks only to gain a hunch.

Neither of these are very good options, and the article all but admits to that. The Leadership option only works if you’ve taken that feat (and in my experience, a lot of GMs disallow that feat for the complications it brings), and even then your Leadership score tops out at 25 anyway, unless you use the Epic Leadership table. Likewise, the “hunch” use of Sense motive has a static DC of 20, so bonuses become less and less relevant the closer you get to being able to make that automatically (plus, as the article admits, paladins have detect evil anyway). If you’ve already gotten to the point where you can hit DC 20 with Sense Motive no problem, and you don’t have Leadership, then both of these options are useless.

But let’s say you’re not concerned about that. How would you go about building these in Eclipse? Well, if you’ve already bought Leadership (p. 35), then you’re going to want the Strength in Numbers modifier for +3 CP to get a bunch of low-level servants who can fulfill the background tasks that most campaigns overlook anyway; if you actually want to gain 1st-level characters who will be moderately useful when dealing with minor problems, buy Horde (+3 CP) also. Similarly, buy Skill Emphasis (p. 44) in Sense Motive, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only for the “hunch” application of the skill; that will only buy a +6 bonus, but for 3 CP that’s really all you’re going to need. If you do want to hit +8 (the way you could if you chose that option each time that the “Dead Levels” article allows for it), buy +1 Skill Focus (p. 44), with the same corruption and specialization; that’s an additional 2 CP for a further +3 bonus, taking you to +9 altogether.

Ranger: The upgrades given for the ranger are perhaps the most minor in the entire article. Despite receiving five different abilities, all of them are based around using the Survival skill, and the sidebar flat-out admits that all of them are so extremely minor as to be practically irrelevant. To mimic these abilities in Eclipse:

  • Buy an Immunity (p. 34) to the time needed to find (but not follow) tracks (uncommon/minor/trivial) for 1 CP. By itself, this is more than enough to get the time down from “a full-round action or longer” to “a standard action,” replacing two of the listings points in that article (specifically, perceptive tracker and instinctive tracker). I’d venture that if you kicked this up to a minor immunity (paying 1 additional CP), that would be more than enough to make this a free action; the time requirement to locate tracks tends to be such a minor issue that it honestly shouldn’t cost any more than that to remove it entirely.
  • Buy an Immunity (p. 34) to the speed reduction for engaging in outdoorsmanship (uncommon/minor/trivial) for 1 CP. Just like the previous bullet point, this will cover two different listings in the original article (woodland hunter and seasoned explorer), allowing the character to “get along in the wilderness” and make a check to gain a bonus on Fortitude saves against inclement weather without suffering an overland speed reduction.
  • Buy Mastery (p. 37), specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to apply to Survival checks, for 2 CP.

Rogue: Similar to the ranger, the rogue entry is dedicated to overcoming some of the restrictions with a particular skill, in this case Disable Device. The first ability removes the penalty for not using thieves’ tools with a Disable Device check, which makes it seem a little awkward that this doesn’t also apply to Open Lock checks as well, since they’re normally subject to the same restriction. The second cuts the time required to use Disable Device in half, down to turning full-round actions into standard actions.

To overcome these in Eclipse, buy a +1 skill bonus in Eclipse (p. 9) for Disable Device, specialized for double effect/only to remove the penalty for not having thieves’ tools. This only costs 1 CP, making it affordable if you want to buy another a similar bonus on Open Lock as well. For the second, buy an Immunity (p. 34) to the time required to use Disable Device (uncommon/minor/major) for 3 CP. That’s relatively cheap, since most characters aren’t trying to disable complex mechanisms while a fight is going on, making the time spent fairly unimportant from a game-play standpoint.

Sorcerer: The sorcerer’s ability is essentially the same as the one the cleric received, except that instead of being specific to the undead, they can pick a different creature type of their choice. Technically, they have to choose a creature type that has at least one monster with arcane spell-like abilities, but that’s largely a pointless restriction; rule out the animal and vermin types, and across the myriad monster books (especially if third-party ones are allowed) you’re bound to find a creature with arcane spell-like abilities somewhere. There are ogre magi for the giant type, scorpionfolk for the monstrous humanoid type, and even gnomes for the humanoid type!

As such, you can build this ability in Eclipse identically to what we did for the cleric, except that the detect ability will work just like detect undead, but for a different creature type.

Wizard: The wizard ability is similar to the ranger abilities in that, while it deals specifically with their spellbooks, the abilities in question are all ones that interact with a particular skill check, in this case Spellcraft. Pleasantly, the article actually provides some flavor for the ability: the wizard can animate the ink in their spellbook, making it move across the page (in a way that sounds similar to a news ticker). This increases the DC of two different Spellcraft checks for others who try to use their spellbook: deciphering the writing to begin with (normally DC 20 + spell level, though a read magic apparently still bypasses this) and preparing a spell from the spellbook (normally DC 15 + spell level).

The problem with this ability is that it’s actually a rather severe money-sink. You see, as written, the wizard who uses this ability increases the aforementioned DCs by their Intelligence modifier, +1 for each dead level (so by level 20, that can be up to their Int. mod. +15). They can set the DC increase below the maximum possible, and there’s a reason for that: this costs 5 gp per +1 above their Intelligence modifier per page of the spell. (And, as written, they can’t go below Int. mod. +1.) But spells take up a number of pages equal to their spell level (and even 0-level spells take up one page). So a 20th-level wizard who wants the full Int. mod. +15 increase to the Spellcraft DC for a 9th-level spell will be paying 75 gp per page for nine pages, at a total cost of 675 gp. For one spell. Presuming that they want to encrypt the full one hundred pages that come in your standard spellbook, that’s 7,500 gp in costs. Multiply that by ten if they want to encrypt every page of a blessed book.

Now, this is a fairly good security measure, but unless they want the party bard funding this via the pocket change they’re picking up with their new Perform abilities listed above, this isn’t a good use of the wizard’s money. After all, when’s the last time you had a wizard character worry about someone accessing their spellbooks without their knowledge? The most likely way you’ll see this ability use is when an NPC used this on some of the spells in their spellbook, frustrating PC attempts to copy it (though that might be useful if the GM wants them to use spells but doesn’t want the PCs to learn them, though be warned that a lot of PCs will take this as a challenge).

If you really want to do this in Eclipse, just buy the Encryption (+3 CP) modifier to the Spell Shorthand ability (p. 45). If you want that to function more like what’s here, giving modifiers rather than an absolute immunity to being deciphered by anyone else, corrupt it for two-thirds cost/only increases the Spellcraft DC to decipher and prepare spells from your spellbook by your spellcasting modifier, +1 per level. You can also specialize it if you want to remove the part about making the spell only take up a single page. Together, those get the cost down to a mere 1 CP, and don’t have any increases in gp cost for what they do.

Eclipse and the Piao Shih

February 26, 2020

I recently had the good fortune of finding several old issues of Dragon magazine being sold for cheap. While it’s not that hard to find Dragon on the Internet these days, I still enjoy acquiring physical copies, so I eagerly snatched them up.

One of the issues was #164, which featured the “Born to Defend” article that introduced a new Oriental Adventures class: the piao shih. (Amusingly, this issue was printed in December of 1990, when AD&D 2E was over eighteen months old despite Oriental Adventures being a 1E supplement; it just goes to show how little anyone cared about “edition wars” back then.) A martial class by design, the piao shih is a caravan master that’s responsible for a specific territory, guiding and protecting those who sign on to cross the dangerous stretch of wilderness, eventually working their way up to become the head of their organization.

Reading it over, I found myself intrigued by the class design, and decided to update it to Third Edition. Of course, the best way to do that (to my mind) is to use Eclipse: The Codex Persona to convert it over, since the modular nature of its point-buy system allows for a high degree of fidelity in maintaining its class abilities (though, as we’ll see, a few things require interpretation and guesswork):

Available Character Points: 504 CP (level 20 base) + 40 CP (duties) = 544 CP total.

The piao shih’s duties require them to never cheat or betray the passengers who sign on with their caravan, and always do their best to protect them from danger or harm during the journey (unless the passengers try to sabotage, mutiny, or otherwise undermine the piao shih). They must also never do anything that would besmirch the name of their caravan company, such as mistreat their underlings or break their word (including on agreements negotiated with bandits and monsters in order to avoid attacks on their caravan, though this is not an excuse to engage in dishonorable conduct).

Basic Abilities (385 CP or 379 CP Pathfinder)

  • Proficient with all armor (15 CP) and shields (3 CP) and simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • 20d8 Hit Dice (120 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +12 (36 CP).
    • Ref: +6 (18 CP).
    • Will: +6 (18 CP).
  • 46 skill points (46 CP) or 40 (40 CP; Pathfinder).

Giving the piao shih 2 skill points per level was a toss-up. In terms of the role the fulfill, there’s a case to be made for them being either fighters or rangers, who receive very different amounts of skill points. Trying to evaluate this in terms of the original class’s proficiency slots wasn’t helpful either, since AD&D 1E proficiencies don’t convert to skill points by any consistent method. Ultimately, this one was a judgment call; if you think they need more skill points, add them and adjust the cost accordingly (though the best method might be to simply take Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skill points, for 6 CP).

Class Abilities (107 CP)

  • +1 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only when throwing darts (2 CP).
  • Augmented Attack at triple cost for broad circumstances, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to add +1 damage when throwing darts (3 CP).
  • Track (3 CP).
  • Martial Arts/2d10, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only while wearing light armor or no armor (14 CP).
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Climb.
  • Skill Focus and Skill Emphasis for Spot, specialized for one-half cost (4 CP total)/only on opposed Disguise checks.
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Speak Language.
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Diplomacy.
  • Leadership (6 CP).
  • Privilege/caravan master (3 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), and Advanced/divination, specialized for one-half cost/only functions while within their caravan territory (3 CP).
  • Executive/caravan master (6 CP) with x3 CEO upgrades (18 CP) and the Tactical upgrade (6 CP), specialized for increased effect/must have a recognizable banner and not have suffered a humiliating defeat (GM’s discretion), allies may gain these bonuses even if the piao shih is not there so long as the banner is visible and undamaged.
  • Resistance/+2 against psychic duels. (3 CP)
  • Major Privilege/nobility (6 CP).

The fourteen bullet points listed, which comprise the bulk of what the piao shih can do, require some explanation and analysis. For one thing, the emphasis on unarmed damage (via their martial art) sits awkwardly with their expansive weapon and armor proficiencies, as well as their minor bonuses for attacking with darts, despite that being the meaning of their class name. Likewise, if they do wear armor heavier than light, their bonus to Climb checks will likely be negated by the armor check penalty.

Leadership, Privilege/caravan master, Executive are the backbone of the class’s thematic niche as running a caravan through (a specific) dangerous territory, with the Major Privilege/nobility being this taken to its end point (as per the original class description), where the piao shih is essentially a functionary who manages the territory in question. Being able to use divination within that area certainly helps. The bonus against “psychic duels” is an artifact of the 1E that doesn’t really apply under the d20 rules, save for psionic combat and the Occult Combat ability on page 54 of Eclipse. If you need to free up some CPs and don’t have these happening in your game, don’t hesitate to toss it.

Tactical Abilities (pick two)

  • Favored Foe/variant, favored terrain, specialized for one-half cost/only for specific localities (castles, hideouts, fortresses, etc.) (3 CP).
  • Rider (6 CP) and Resistance/+2 vs. magical fear, specialized for increased effect/only while mounted, may only be applied to your mount (3 CP).
  • Immunity to being prone (common/minor/minor), specialized for increased effect/also applied vs. overrun, trample, and creatures attacking from elevated positions, but will not work against creatures with more levels/Hit Dice than the piao shih (4 CP).
  • Adaptation/high-altitude environments (6 CP) and Blessing with the Share option, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for Climb checks (6 CP).
  • Adaptation/shipboard environments (6 CP), the Vehicle upgrade for Rider, specialized for one-half cost/only for small watercrafts from the character’s home region (3 CP), Immunity to Swim penalties (common/minor/minor) (2 CP), the Fast modifier to putting on armor, specialized for one-half cost/only to remove armor (3 CP), and Immunity to Stealth penalties for swimming or operating a watercraft (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • +1 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one particular weapon (2 CP), Improved Defender, specialized for one-half cost/only against the particular weapon group that weapon belongs to (3 CP), Trick/death attack (% chance of working equal to character level -5), specialized for one-half cost/must be using the chosen weapon, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not function against creatures with a size category larger than yours (2 CP).

Strategic Abilities (pick two)

  • Presence, specialized/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), with the Improved modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only for members of his caravan (3 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), and Advanced/divination, specialized for one-half cost/only functions with regard to environmental/weather-related dangers (3 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, specialized for one-half cost/only for 2,500 gp (pass without trace at caster level 1) (3 CP), Favored Enemy/pursuers, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to lay down a False Trail, as per the feat (2 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Perception, specialized for double effect/only to detect poison (6 CP), Skill Focus/Craft (alchemy), specialized for one-half cost/only to craft antitoxins, antivenins, and other anti-poison concoctions (3 CP).
  • The Horde modifier for Leadership (3 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Perception, specialized for double effect/only to detect spells and effects of the scrying sub-school (6 CP).
  • Major Privilege/wealth, specialized and corrupted for increased effect/only for mechanical traps (6 CP). Double Ability Focus with one particular type of trap (6 CP).

The original piao shih write-up was forward-thinking in that it had a pool of abilities (two, in fact) that characters could choose from at certain levels, something that would come into vogue in later editions of the game. Each piao shih could eventually earn up to two of each type of abilities, which are replicated above. The overall cost of the class therefore varies depending on which abilities you choose (since some are singular abilities and others are suites of them). At their most expensive are the fourth and fifth Tactical abilities (at 12 and 15 CP, respectively) and the fourth and seventh Strategic abilities (at 9 and 12 CP, respectively). Alternatively, the least expensive are the first and third Tactical abilities (3 and 4 CPs, respectively) and the third and fifth Strategic abilities (at 5 and 3 CP, respectively).

Conclusion

Presuming that the most expensive of the Tactical and Strategic options are chosen (and the 3.5, rather than Pathfinder, allotment of skill points are taken), the piao shih comes in at 540 CP out of 544 available. That’s a fairly good set of expenditures. Or at least, it looks that way in terms of the point cost.

However, even leaving aside that this can sink as low as 507 CP if the least expensive options are chosen (or 501 CP if using Pathfinder skill points), the paio shih’s usefulness as a PC character has some problems. For instance, a significant amount of its flavor is tied to remaining in a specific area. While that can still be defined as a fairly expansive amount of territory (since otherwise it wouldn’t require a caravan to cross), this still restricts their ability to participate in a lot of “exotic location” adventures, or clips a lot of their usefulness if they go on one anyway (and which will also likely lead to problems developing at home while they’re gone).

More notable is the low-magic nature of this class. While its nature as a real-world occupation isn’t necessarily restrictive in scope (at least any more than fighters, monks, rogues, and similar characters are), the listings above reflect the lower degree to which magic was present in AD&D 1E. The piao shih, as listed above, has virtually no magical abilities besides a use or two of divination, a mild pass without trace effect, and a small resistance to psychic duels. Beyond that, they’re ill-equipped to deal with supernatural threats (at least beyond whatever magical gear they possess or spellcasters they have in their employ). Because of that, piao shih work best in relatively stable “sandbox” campaigns where the amount of magic present is comparatively low, at least compared to most d20 worlds, and where the campaign focuses on a mixture of political intrigue and mild exploration (since they’ll be crossing the same territory over and over, growing more and more familiar with it).

Alchemy in Tails of Equestria

December 27, 2019

For those who missed it, River Horse, makers of the Tails of Equestria RPG, released a little freebie over the holiday.

A two-page PDF presents a new talent: Alchemy. It’s quite an expansive ability, since most talents take a paragraph (at most) to describe. With a table of thirty-six possible alchemical creations, each with their own description, and a sidebar discussing advanced uses of the skill, this is a fairly impressive ability! Of course it’s no surprise that you can find a picture of Zecora in there as well.

You can find a copy of this new talent below:

Alchemy Talent

Ponyfinder: Everglow Ephemera

October 26, 2019

2019 has been, so far, a year of endings.

In August, the Pathfinder RPG was replaced with a new edition. While Pathfinder 2E is still based on the d20 System, its particulars are different enough that it’s not compatible with its predecessor. You can’t bring elements of D&D 3.0, 3.5, or Pathfinder 1E into a Pathfinder 2E game with just a little on-the-fly conversion the way you could in those games. Indeed, those three systems were essentially the same game, with only some minor differences. As there doesn’t seem to be anyone stepping up to continue the tradition, it looks like the baseline d20 System of RPGs, which were released back in 2000, has finally come to an end.

The other notable ending we’ve seen this year has been that of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Having premiered on October 10, 2010, the series finale aired on October 12th of this year. Even its spin-off series, Equestria Girls, which premiered after the third season of the main show, is airing its final production on November 2nd. While I only joined the show’s fandom near the end of its fourth season, it’s still sad to see a series that I enjoyed so much concluding.

To that end, this post is an homage to both Pathfinder 1E and Friendship is Magic. Since I prefer to post things that an be put to practical use, I’ve decided that the best way to do that is for the closest point of intersection between the two: the Ponyfinder campaign setting.

As such, enjoy these three write-ups that add new Ponyfinder options to the Pathfinder 1E game.

EVERGLOW HALF-DRAGONS

From the Everglow Bestiary, rift dragons (not to be confused with the creatures of the same name from Pathfinder Bestiary 6), while creatures drawn to ruptures between the Elemental Planes, are also described as not-unapproachable in disposition. As such, it makes sense that even they might sire offspring among Everglow’s myriad races. But the Bestiary has no entry for half-rift dragons, something the rules below correct.

Half-rift dragons use the half-dragon template with the following modifications:

Special Defenses: Half-rift dragons do not gain an energy immunity. Instead, they have the following energy resistances: acid 5, cold 5, electricity 5, fire 5.

Special Abilities: Half-rift dragons gain a breath weapon. This breath weapon is usable once per day, but only if the half-rift dragon has spent at least 1 minute (i.e. 10 consecutive rounds) inside an area charged with elemental energy in the last 24 hours. The breath weapon deals energy damage of the same type as the area of elemental energy that the half-dragon was in, inflicting 1d6 hit points of damage per racial Hit Die possessed by the half-rift dragon. The breath weapon takes the form of a 30-foot cone. It otherwise functions as the standard breath weapon in the half-dragon template.

An area charged with elemental energy is considered to be any area that deals lethal damage with an energy type as part of its natural environment (note that the half-rift dragon does not need to take damage to charge its breath weapon). These includes places of extreme cold (below –20° F) or extreme heat (air temperature over 140° F), planes with elemental traits (while planes with the fire-dominant trait are obvious for what energy type they allow to be used, treat those with the air-dominant trait as being electricity, those with the earth-dominant trait as being acid, and those with the water-dominant trait as being cold), and rifts with elemental qualities (as described in The Care and Handling of Rifts). Note that a half-rift dragon does not need to take damage from such an area in order to charge its breath weapon. If the half-rift dragon spends 1 minute or more in more than one such area in a 24-hour period, its breath weapon uses the energy type of the most recent one that they were in. If the area contained two or more elemental energies, the half-rift dragon may choose which energy type to use for their breath weapon.

In contrast to rift dragons, luminous dragons (from Princess Luminace’s Guide to the Pony Pantheon) lack the genetic primacy of other types of dragons (as indicated by their Subdued Ancestry racial trait). Children of luminous dragons do not use the half-dragon template. Instead, scions of luminous dragons use the Luminous Bodied and/or Luminous Blooded qualities from Hybrid Blood.

PANTHEISTIC/POLYTHEISTIC BLESSING

While each of the gods of Everglow have worshipers who revere them alone, strong traditions of collective worship pervade many of that world’s societies. More than a few clerics operate as pantheists, while others worship triadic groupings of gods. Even among those who don’t become divine spellcasters, this often holds true.

For those who formalize this by taking the Pantheistic Blessing or Polytheistic Blessing feats, the following present specific benefits for the pantheons of Everglow. As outlined in those feats’ descriptions, an asterisk (*) after a deity’s name indicates the head of the pantheon.

PONY PANTHEON (RACIAL)
Deities The Author, Blaze, Gentle Ripple, Kara/The Hive Queen, Lashtada, Moon Princess, Princess Luminace, Soft Whisper, Sun Queen*, Night Mare, The Unspoken
Common Believers ponies
Granted Spell-Like Ability sticky hoof (Ponyfinder Campaign Setting)

GRIFFON PANTHEON (RACIAL)
Deities Huntress, The Sun King*, White Talon
Common Believers griffons, purrsians, sun cats
Granted Spell-Like Ability heightened awareness (ACG)

ELVEN PANTHEON (RACIAL)
Deities Bristala, Gladoneral*
Common Believers elves
Granted Spell-Like Ability command

APOCRYPHAL SUBDOMAINS

For those who worship an individual god, the manner in which their deity is honored can often drift from their religion’s standard practices. In some cases this can lead to a divergence significant enough to warrant becoming a separatist cleric. But in other cases the doctrinal differences aren’t so great, focusing only on particular details without rejecting larger tenets. For such characters, the Acolyte of the Apocrypha trait allows for an atypical subdomain to be taken for their deity.

The following lists the apocryphal subdomains for the gods of Everglow (these also fit with the altered domains offered by the Moon Princess, Sun Queen, and Unspoken in the Ashen Age, as described in From the Ashes). As per that trait, an asterisk (*) indicates a domain which that deity normally doesn’t offer; such domains may be taken only as modified by the listed subdomain.

Blood (War domain)
Blaze, Huntress

Chivalry (Glory domain)
Lashtada, Gladoneral

Corruption (Evil domain)
Kara/The Hive Queen

Divine (Magic domain)
Princess Luminace

Flotsam (Water domain)
Gentle Ripple

Industry (Artifice domain)
The Maze

Judgment (Law domain)
Moon Princess, Night Mare

Loss (Darkness domain)
Soft Whisper

Martyr (Nobility domain)
Sun King, Sun Queen

Revelry (Chaos domain)
Bristala, The Unspoken

Riot (Chaos domain)
Apep, Blaze

Self-Realization (Strength domain)
Night Mare, White Talon

Solitude (Protection domain)
Emerald, Moon Princess

Truth (Madness domain)
The Author*, The Unspoken

 

D&D Did You Know’s: Friendly Fire in Third Edition

September 8, 2019

The give-and-take between the granularity of simulationism and the ease of playability is a familiar conundrum to any role-playing game fan. The temptation to have the game rules function at greater levels of precision is quite often directly opposed by the desire for the game to be easy to learn and quick to adjudicate. Every edition of Dungeons & Dragons has handled this balance differently; indeed, it’s not inaccurate to say that how they handle it is the major point of differentiation between each edition.

Third Edition is typically regarded as when the pendulum moved closer to playability, reducing the simulationism accordingly. Issues ranging from checking morale for monsters and NPCs during a fight to fireballs melting gold coins were no longer concerns. But contrary to popular belief, there were a number of simulationist concerns that were still addressed under the Third Edition rules. Case in point are the rules for friendly fire.

Consider the following, which was a standard part of the rules for cover in D&D 3.0 (and so found its way into the 3.0 SRD) as per page 133 of the PHB:

Striking the Cover Instead of a Missed Target: If it ever becomes important to know whether the cover was actually struck by an incoming attack that misses the intended target, the DM should determine if the attack roll would have hit the protected target without the cover. If the attack roll falls within a range low enough to miss the target with cover but high enough to strike the target if there had been no cover, the object used for cover was struck. This can be particularly important to know in cases where a character uses another creature as cover. In such a case, if the cover is struck and the attack roll exceeds the AC of the covering creature, the covering creature takes the damage intended for the target.

If the covering creature has a Dexterity bonus to AC or a dodge bonus, and this bonus keeps the covering creature from being hit, then the original target is hit instead. The covering creature has dodged out of the way and didn’t provide cover after all. A covering creature can choose not to apply his Dexterity bonus to AC and/or his dodge bonus, if his intent is to try to take the damage in order to keep the covered character from being hit.

Interestingly, this rule actually survived into 3.5. However, it was downgraded to being a “variant rule” (and so was never added to the 3.5 SRD) and moved over the DMG (p. 24).

What’s less well-known today is that there was a more general rule for hitting unintended targets as well. Rather than simply being for people between you and your target, this covered missed ranged attacks in general, and required quite a bit more adjudication to resolve, enough so that the text made a warning in that regard. Listed as a variant rule even back in 3.0 (and thus not part of the 3.0 SRD), it was absent entirely from the 3.5 rules. Nevertheless, if you want to find rules for missed ranged attacks potentially hitting someone else under the d20 System game engine, the following comes from pages 65-66 of the 3.0 DMG:

Variant: Firing into a Crowd

Normally, if you fire a ranged weapon at a foe engaged in combat with someone you don’t want to hit, you suffer a -4 attack penalty (see the Player’s Handbook, page 124). Sometimes, however, a player wants to know exactly where an arrow went if she missed her target. For groups that want to simulate reality in a very detailed way, the following guidelines answer that question. Be warned, however, this is an example of how D&D rules, in the interest of simulating reality, can become fairly complex—there’s a lot of work here for very little payoff.

The attacker makes the attack roll normally. If it’s a miss, check to see whether the thrown weapon or projectile at least connects. If the attack roll would have been good enough for a ranged touch attack, then the thrown weapon or projectile has flown true but failed to damage the target. If the roll isn’t good enough for a ranged touch hit, then the thrown weapon or projectile is errant.

Now determine the path of the errant thrown weapon or projectile. For direct fire shots, an errant thrown weapon or projectile is most likely to veer to the right or the left. For indirect fire, a projectile is most likely to go too far or fall short of its target. The range out to which a projectile weapon or a thrown weapon makes a direct fire attack is summarized on Table 3-3, below. If the weapon is fired at a target farther away than the listed distance, then the attack is indirect fire.

TABLE 3-3: DIRECT FIRE RANGE

Weapon Direct Fire Range
Shortbow Up to 60 ft.
Longbow Up to 100 ft.
Short composite bow Up to 80 ft.
Long composite bow Up to 120 ft.
Hand crossbow Up to 120 ft.
Light crossbow Up to 200 ft.
Heavy crossbow Up to 250 ft.
Sling Up to 50 ft.
Any thrown weapon Up to 20 ft.

TABLE 3-4: DIRECT FIRE PATH

1d20 Fire Path
1-8 Left
9-16 Right
17-19 Long
20 Short

TABLE 3-5: DIRECT FIRE DEVIATION

1d20 Deviation
1-12 One-tenth of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
13-17 One-fifth of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
18-19 One-third of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
20 Half of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)

Once the direction and the amount of deviation is determined, trace a path starting at the firer. If characters are in the path, starting with the character nearest the firer, determine if the thrown weapon or projectile has a chance to attack each character. A ranged touch attack roll is made for the thrown weapon or projectile with no modifications for the skill of the firer but using magical adjustments and modifications for cover. If the roll is a hit, then apply the same attack result against the target’s full AC (not as a touch attack). If that’s successful, roll damage. If it’s not, the thrown weapon or projectile stops.

If the touch attack was unsuccessful, the thrown weapon or projectile keeps traveling along its path, with each new target in that path using the same procedure. No modification is made for range, but direct fire thrown weapons or projectiles effectively travel no farther than the distances given above, at which time the thrown weapon or projectile drops to the ground.

TABLE 3-6: INDIRECT FIRE TARGET AREA

1d20 Target Area
1-4 Left
5-8 Right
9-14 Long
15-20 Short

TABLE 3-7: INDIRECT FIRE DEVIATION

1d20 Deviation
1-12 One-tenth of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
13-17 One-fifth of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
18-19 One-third of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)
20 Half of the distance between attacker and target (round to nearest square)

Once the direction and the amount of deviation is determined, determine if there is a character in the given square. If so, make an attack roll for the ranged weapon with no modifications from the skill of the firer but using magical adjustments and modifications for cover. If this is successful, roll damage. If it’s not, the projectile goes no farther.

While it’s not hard to see why this particular rule was always an outlier, and was dropped as the game went to 3.5, it’s still interesting to consider how this would change combat. Certainly, wizards and sorcerers would (hopefully!) be a tad more careful about firing their disintegrate spells when they know there’s a chance they could hit their allies! That’s slightly hyperbolic, of course (the table regarding range for direct fire weapons doesn’t have a listing for spells…though it wouldn’t be hard to figure that out), but it underscores how rules like these can make an otherwise-familiar game feel very different.

Invasion of the Humans

August 18, 2019

I recently had the opportunity to pick up a number of older RPG products for a song. Among them was a copy of Goodman Games’ JG2 Citadel of Fire, a D&D 3.5 update of the original module from Judges Guild. Not so much a direct update as a revision and expansion, the book added quite a bit of new material to the original adventure.

One of the most striking parts of the new material was the appendix regarding the people of the setting. Counting variants and half-breeds, the book introduced no less than sixteen new races! But the kicker was that all of them were some sort of variations on a theme for humans, ranging from different ethnicities to entirely new sub-species.

I found this notable because it occupies a design space that I’ve been very aware of recently, which is that humans – compared to other humanoids such as elves, dwarves, etc. – are underpowered. While the traditional bonus feat and extra skill point at each level are nice, the overall curve is slanted decidedly against them. Moreover, there are no longer any class restrictions or level limits to provide disincentives to playing any of those other races.

This is fairly easy to see within the context of Eclipse: The Codex Persona. Humans are only a 9-point race, which is rather low when compared to their counterparts. Hence why we quite often see revised humans popping up every so often. Given that, it seemed like it might be worthwhile to translate the new races in JG2 into Eclipse terms and see how they compare.

Since the original names are the Product Identity of Judges Guild, I’m going to make some minor alterations to them just to be on the safe side. Note also that I’m also listing their favored classes. That doesn’t really mean much if you’re using Eclipse, which doesn’t have classes, but if you’re using character classes then corrupt the CP cost for each race down to two-thirds of the listed total.

High Avilionan (31 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/+2 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom (6 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/+2 Charisma, -2 Constitution (6 CP).
  • Profession (sailor), Rope Use, Sail, Spellcraft, and Swim are class skills (0 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Rope Use and Spellcraft (4 CP).
  • +4 bonus to Swim (4 CP).
  • Damage reduction 2, specialized for one-half cost/only versus energy attacks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only versus cold (1 CP).
  • Bonus language: Avilionan (1 CP).
  • Favored Class: Expert (sailor), Bard, or Wizard.

This listing also makes clear that we’re keeping the class skills for each race. That doesn’t incur a CP cost because every character has a dozen or more skills that are “relevant” (as Eclipse terms it) for them anyway. “Sail” isn’t a typical skill, of course, and its functionality can probably be represented by Profession (sailor) just fine, but I’ve left the listing here just in case.

This write-up also gives them cold resistance 2, compared to the original’s cold resistance 1, but I doubt anyone will object to that.

High Avilionan, Aquatic (52 CP/+1 ECL)

  • As per standard high avilionans (31 CP).
  • -2 Constitution (-6 CP).
  • Celerity with one instance of Improved and Additional: 30-foot swim speed (21 CP).
  • Adaptation/underwater (6 CP).

This actually changes the original write-up by a considerable amount. To be closer to the standard listing, dump the Celerity listing and instead add another +6 to the Swim bonus for 6 CP. That will reduce the total cost of the race to 37 CP.

Common Avilionan (10 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Rope Use, Profession (sailor), Spellcraft, and Swim are class skills (0 CP).
  • Bonus language: Avilionan (1 CP).
  • Favored Class: Expert (sailor or shipwright), Aristocrat, or Sorcerer.

Notwithstanding the class skills and favored classes, this is essentially your bog-standard human with a bonus language thrown in. If you want this to be more than just a different ethnicity that retains some vague remembrance of their ancestral tongue, consider giving them Adept for the four class skills listed above. That will increase the cost only to 16 CP, still well within +0 ECL territory.

Amazon (34 CP/+1 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • +2 Wisdom, +2 Charisma (24 CP).
  • Handle Animal and Survival are class skills (0 CP).
  • Unarmored (-3 CP).
  • Shield Proficiency (3 CP).
  • Defender/+1 dodge bonus to AC, specialized for one-half cost/only while wearing no armor or light armor (3 CP).
  • Poor Reputation/non-Amazons (-3 CP).
  • Bonus language: Amazon (1 CP).
  • Favored Class: Warrior, Druid, or Psychic Warrior.

The original listing had amazons inability to use armor work a little differently: if they took levels in a class that granted Heavy Armor Proficiency, then they gained only Light Armor Proficiency. Otherwise, they didn’t gain any armor proficiency when taking levels in a class. That’s a bit awkward to model in Eclipse, since the penalty changes depending on what class you take, so we’re simply going with the Unarmored disadvantage to apply it across the board.

That said, the race is really crying out for a third disadvantage to bring them down to +0 ECL territory. Consider adding Hunted (amazons are subject to persecution from a powerful neighboring state), Obligations (to the amazons’ patron deity, without whom they wouldn’t have evolved into their own sub-race), or Vows (regarding conduct toward non-amazons).

Psionic Amazon (46 CP/+1 ECL)

  • As per standard amazons (34 CP).
  • Mindspeech, corrupted for increased effect/extends out to 100 feet, only works with creatures that have a language (6 CP).
  • One level of wilder psionic progression (6 CP).

Technically, the corruption on Mindspeech should only extend its range to 90 feet, but the difference is small enough to overlook.

Altirian (24 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/+2 Strength, -2 Intelligence (6 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/+2 Constitution, -2 Charisma (6 CP).
  • Track (3 CP).
  • Knowledge (nature), Handle Animal, and Survival are class skills (0 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Survival (2 CP).
  • Timeless Body, specialized for reduced cost/aging penalties are reduced by one age category (1 CP).
  • Favored Class: Barbarian, Druid, or Psion.

Note that the lack of additional skill points for altirians is a deliberate omission. Altirian characters can choose which environment their Track ability applies to at character creation, but most go with wilderness. Note that while their aging penalties are reduced by one category as they grow older (e.g. not taking the middle age penalties until they reach old age), they accrue the bonuses at the normal rate.

Protohuman, Male (116 CP/+3 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Attribute Shift x2, variant/-2 Strength, +1 Constitution, +3 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom (12 CP).
  • Device Use/treated as being a dragon with regards to using magic items (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/low-light vision (6 CP).
  • Accursed, variant/light sensitivity; stunned for 1 round when entering into an area of bright sunlight or a daylight spell, and dazzled until they leave the area (-3 CP).
  • Knowledge (arcana) and Spellcraft are class skills (0 CP).
  • +4 bonus to Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, Appraise, Spot, and Search (20 CP).
  • Specialist with the Improved and Superior modifiers, with no restriction on magical specialty (24 CP).
  • Immunity/aging (uncommon/minor/minor) (2 CP).
  • Timeless Body (3 CP).
  • Spell Mastery (6 CP).
  • Spell Shorthand, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite, with the Hieratics modifier, variant/you may make a Spellcraft check (DC 25 + spell level) when you see a spell on your spell list cast within 30 feet of you to automatically be able to write it into your spellbook (6 CP).
  • Immunity/needing a spellbook to prepare spells (very common/severe/trivial), specialized for one-half cost/only for 0-level spells (3 CP).
  • Defender/+1 natural armor (6 CP).
  • Self-Development/+2 to a single ability score for the purposes of raising spell DCs (6 CP).
  • Occult Talent with the Improved modifier, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only gains detect magic, read magic, flare, mage hand, identify, and magic missile (8 CP).
  • Bonus languages: Protohuman and Draconic (2 CP).
  • Favored Class: Wizard or Cleric.

The original write-up called for this race to receive double the usual number of spell slots for a high ability score. Since that was another ability whose usefulness varied wildly (and could be changed thanks to stat-boosting effects), it was replaced with Specialist. Likewise, when using the variant of Hieratics, I’d recommend corrupting the ability for two-thirds cost/must scribe the spell within 1 hour per point of spellcasting ability bonus or lose the opportunity to do so (4 CP).

Protohumans, of course, aren’t really “proto” at all. Rather, they’re a clan obsessed with magic to the point of experimenting on themselves to try and gain the same affinity for magic that dragons have. They call themselves protohumans because they believe that all other branches of humanity are dead ends, a fate they intend to avoid via artificially inducing their own evolutionary growth, making them the beginning of humanity’s glorious destiny to conquer the cosmos. Needless to say, everyone else views them (correctly) as both mad and very dangerous.

Protohuman, Female (211 CP/+6 ECL)

  • As per male protohumans (116 CP).
  • +8 bonus to Intimidate, Listen, Spot, Sense Motive, Disguise, Forgery, Hide, Intimidate, Move Silently, and Sleight of Hand (80 CP).
  • +4 bonus to Spellcraft, specialized for double effect and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only to detect and identify Illusion and Conjuration spells (3 CP).
  • +8 bonus on saves against “illusions, concealment, deception, lies, false identity, and false alignment” (12 CP).
  • Favored Class: Witch or Illusionist.

To be clear, where female protohumans have skill bonuses to the same skills as their male counterparts, the bonuses are intended to stack. Both male and female protohumans reach middle age at 100, old age at 150, venerable age at 200, and have a maximum age of 200 + 2d100 years.

Protohuman, Half- (66 CP/+2 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Device Use/treated as being a dragon with regards to using magic items (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/low-light vision (6 CP).
  • Knowledge (arcana) and Spellcraft as class skills (0 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, Appraise, Spot, and Search (10 CP).
  • Immunity/aging (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Spell Mastery (6 CP).
  • Spell Shorthand, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite, with the Hieratics modifier, variant/you may make a Spellcraft check (DC 25 + spell level) when you see a spell on your spell list cast within 30 feet of you to automatically be able to write it into your spell book (6 CP).
  • Immunity/needing a spellbook to prepare spells (very common/severe/trivial), specialized for one-half cost/only for 0-level spells (3 CP).
  • Defender/+1 natural armor (6 CP).
  • Self-Development/+2 to a single ability score for the purposes of raising spellcasting DCs (6 CP).
  • Occult Talent, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only gains detect magic, read magic, and identify (4 CP).
  • Favored Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard, or Ranger.

The result of a protohuman coupling with any other breed of human (with one exception, listed below), consider adding the Secret disadvantage to this race, as most half-protohumans don’t want others to know about their lineage. Doing so also gets their ECL down to +1. If they’re found out, then they gain two disadvantages: Outcast (no one wants to associate with a scion of a race of dangerous lunatics) and Hunted (the protohumans will seek to eradicate the “stain” on their racial purity). Half-protohuman live half as long as full-blooded protohumans, reaching venerable age at 100 and having a maximum lifespan of 100 + 1d100 years.

Protohuman, High Avilionan, Half- (85 CP/+2 ECL)

  • As per half-protohumans (66 CP).
  • Attribute Shift, variant/+2 Intelligence, -1 Strength, -1 Constitution (6 CP).
  • Attribute Shift, specialized for one-half cost/+1 Charisma, -1 Wisdom (3 CP).
  • Profession (sailor), Rope Use, Sail, and Swim are class skills (0 CP).
  • +1 bonus to Use Rope (1 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Spellcraft and Swim (4 CP).
  • Damage reduction 2, specialized for one-half cost/only versus energy attacks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only versus cold (1 CP).
  • Bonus languages: Avilionan and Aquan (2 CP).
  • Buy off corruption for Occult Talent and upgrade to Improved Occult Talent, specialized for one-half cost/only to add create water and ray of frost (2 CP).
  • Favored Class: Sorcerer, Wizard, or Ranger.

The extremely rare crossbreed of protohumans and high avilionans. This is also the case if one of the parents is an aquatic high avilionan; the ability to survive underwater is unfortunately not passed on in the case of such couplings.

Alrian (7 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Sense Motive and Diplomacy are class skills (0 CP).
  • +1 bonus to Spot (1 CP).
  • Poor Reputation/Altirians (-3 CP).
  • Favored Class: Any except Barbarian.

If you don’t have altirians in your campaign – and don’t want to simply switch out which group the Poor Reputation disadvantage applies to – there’s no problem with simply dumping it, as it only raises their racial CP total to 10, just barely better than normal humans. Also, having such a broad choice of favored classes means that they can’t corrupt their total CP cost.

Antilan (13 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Bluff is a class skill (0 CP).
  • Simple Weapon Proficiency/dagger (1 CP).
  • Martial Weapon Proficiency/rapier (3 CP).
  • Favored Class: Rogue.

If you want to make this race more attractive to rogue-types, consider throwing in Finesse/use Dexterity instead of Strength for melee attack rolls (6 CP). Note that you might want to corrupt that to “light and one-handed weapons only” for two-thirds cost, or even “light weapons only” with one or two exceptions (such as the rapier) for one-half cost. If that’s not enough, take Finesse again to add Dexterity instead of Strength to melee damage rolls (6 CP unless you give it a matching limitation); you’ll still be under the +0 ECL limit.

Ghiran (10 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Bonus language: Ghiran (1 CP).

The first of several “races” that are really just different human ethnicities, something supported by how they also know their own local language, much like how languages developed in the real world (rather than the racial languages most d20 games use).

Gimesh (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Profession (merchant) and Appraise are class skills (0 CP).
  • Favored Class: Rogue, Fighter, or Cleric.

Another ethnicity, at least this one provides some guidance in the form of automatic class skills and favored classes. As these suggest a certain character progression without trying to force the issue, this is actually a rather good way to indicate a “typical” career path without hamstringing players that want to go in another direction.

Skandi (11 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Swim and Sail are class skills (0 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Swim checks (2 CP).
  • Favored Class: Barbarian, Fighter, Cleric, Bard, or Expert (sailor).

Despite their shared affinity for the water, skandi have no particular connection with avilionans. Rather, both are simply people from seagoing heritages.

Thardrian (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills (3 CP).
  • Ride and Survival are class skills (0 CP).
  • Favored Class: Any except psionic classes.

As with alrians, this favored class listing is too broad to warrant corrupting the racial CP for two-thirds cost. Not that it really needs it anyway.

The Coin King

July 13, 2019

When he was recruited, Kin Kanemaru was no different than any other orphan taken in by the Kurorenge, the local assassin’s guild. He initially seemed like a poor fit, having only a slight aptitude for magic, and no real skill at social manipulation. But he was able to distinguish himself with his quick reflexes and extraordinarily fine motor control, proving to be skilled at juggling, mundane prestidigitation, and most important of all, thrown weapons.

Placed under the tutelage of several senior assassins who skilled at killing from a distance, Kin was indoctrinated into their ranks. Their profession, he was told, was a noble one, for they purged society of the wicked and corrupt. But after accompanying his mentors on several missions, Kin began to see the truth. While evil men were often their targets, they weren’t the only ones that the Kurorenge killed. Guards who were merely doing their duty in protecting targeted individuals were also ruthlessly dispatched, as were innocent bystanders who had the misfortune to witness an assassination.

Worst of all, however, was that the Kurorenge never targeted anyone without being paid for it. When he found out that not only were corrupt individuals allowed to go free due to nobody paying for their deaths, but that some of the worst actually kept the Kurorenge on retainer to make rivals and troublemakers disappear, Kin at last realized the truth. The Kurorenge themselves were complicit in society’s corruption, being more interested in money than justice.

Offended by the Kurorenge’s hypocrisy, Kin has now broken from the guild. Although he knows that they’ll send his old mentors after him, his commitment to justice is greater than his fear of them. Putting his small skill with magic to use, he plans on using the money that his old masters loved so much as an instrument of righteousness, performed under the guise of his new name: Kin Koukao, the King of Coins!

Kin Kanemaru aka Kin Koukao the Coin King, level 1 coin sniper

Available Character Points: 48 (level 1 base) + 6 (level 1 feat) +6 (“starting traits”) + 6 (human bonus feat) +10 (disadvantages) +1 (restriction) = 77 CP.

Disadvantages are Hunted (the Kurorenge’s assassins), Poor Reputation (politicians, nobles, merchants, and others with ties to the Kurorenge all know that Kin has been marked for death, and will not risk being seen as aiding him) and Recorder (the player running Kin has to make sure to keep a VERY accurate accounting of his coinage). His restriction is against using weapons other than thrown coins.

Ability Scores (20-point buy): Str 10, Dex 16 (+2 racial, +2 enhancement = 20), Con 12, Int 14, Wis 11, Cha 12.

As this point-buy allotment makes clear, Kin uses the Pathfinder Package Deal.

Human Traits

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Package Deal bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

Kin’s favored class bonus for 1st level went into buying an extra skill point. As noted above, he elected to put his racial bonus into Dexterity.

Basic Abilities (21 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency and proficiency with all simple weapons (6 CP).
  • 1d10 Hit Dice (6 CP).
  • +1 BAB, specialized for one-half cost/only for ranged attacks (3 CP).
  • Fort +0, Ref +2, Will +0 (6 CP).
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

Kin has slightly overbought on his weapon proficiencies, a legacy of his assassin training emphasizing adaptability in the face of unexpected circumstances. His Hit Dice are commensurate for a dedicated ranged attacker, however, as is his BAB. His saves are based on the Rogue progression, and he’s eschewed directly purchasing skill points in favor of more efficient methods (see below).

Coin Combatant (17 CP)

  • Innate Enchantment (all caster level 1; x2,000 gp unlimited use/use-activated unless otherwise noted) (6 CP).
    • Coin shot (2,000 gp)
    • True strike 3/day (1,200 gp)
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Dexterity (x0.7 personal-only; 1,400 gp)
  • Block/missile with the Master and Multiple upgrades, specialized for one-half cost/only with thrown coins (9 CP).
  • Equipage, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for copper coins (2 CP).

Kin’s ability to use coin shot at will is the core of his character. Thanks to his Equipage ability, he’ll be able to acquire two hundred copper coins per character level per week, enough to ensure that even at 1st level he’ll probably never run out of ammunition. Additionally, he can (potentially) shoot down incoming ranged attacks, and thrice per day can make virtually whatever shot he needs to.

Superior Coin Combatant (17 CP)

  • Skill Focus +1/Martial Arts (zenigata ryu) (2 CP).
  • 1d6 Mana (4 total), Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, all specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/no natural magic, only to pay for skill stunts (6 CP).
  • Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills, corrupted for two-thirds cost/may not be used to re-roll a failed check (3 CP).

Kin is able to Take 20 up to three times per day on any skill check, something he makes liberal use of in conjunction with his ability to perform skill stunts with his Zenigata Ryu martial art, since his bonus is high enough to automatically achieve a result of 30. While he can make a skill stunt without using Luck, he typically only does so for lower-level stunts (DCs 10 and 15). Likewise, he can use Luck on skills other than this, and isn’t adverse to doing so if the situation calls for it (e.g. an important Stealth check).

Ranged Combat Expert (8 CP)

  • Far Shot, specialized for one-half cost/only for thrown coins (3 CP).
  • Immunity to penalties for firing into melee (common/minor/minor), specialized for one-half cost/only with thrown coins (2 CP).
  • Evasive/throwing weapons, specialized for one-half cost/only with thrown coins (3 CP).

Kin’s Far Shot means that his coin attacks are treated at touch attacks against enemies up to 40 feet away. Similarly, he has no trouble firing into melee, or even getting into it himself (something he’s not afraid of doing at this level, thanks to his high AC and his ability to make sneak attacks via his martial art skill).

Autodidactic (14 CP)

  • Change human Fast Learner from half-cost to double effect/specialized in skills, corrupted for two-thirds total cost/only for Adept skills (1 CP).
  • Adept/Martial Arts (zenigata ryu), Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (6 CP).
  • Immunity to needing a mentor to learn a martial art skill (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for saving throws (6 CP).

Despite being self-taught, Kin is able to use his Dexterity bonus to its fullest with his martial art. His use of Luck, here, helps to deal with Fortitude and Will saves that his low bonuses would otherwise leave him dangerously vulnerable to.

Gear

  • Leather armor.
  • Thieves’ tools.
  • 5 pp, 15 gp, 30 sp, and 200 cp.

The above gear has a total value of 110 gp. On average, that’s less than what a fighter or rogue would get, but not so much that it presents any sort of significant difficulties. More importantly, he’s starting out with a rather decent selection of ammunition.

Derived Stats

  • Hit Dice: 10 (1st level) + 1 (Con bonus) = 11 hp.
  • Speed: 30 feet.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fortitude: +0 (base) +1 (Con bonus) = +1.
    • Reflex: +2 (base) +5 (Dex bonus) = +7.
    • Will: +0 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +0.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +2 (leather armor) +5 (Dex bonus) +1 (zenigata ryu) = AC 18, touch 11, flat-footed 13.
  • Attacks: +1 (BAB) +5 (Dex Bonus) +1 (zenigata ryu) = +7 thrown coins.
  • Skills: 2 (Fast Learner; applied to four Adept skills) +2 (Int bonus) +1 (“favored class” bonus) = 5 skill points.
Skill Ranks Class Bonus Ability Modifier Miscellaneous Total
Disable Device 1 +3 +5 Dex +9
Knowledge (local) 1 +3 +2 Int +6
Martial Arts (zenigata ryu) 1 +3 +5 Dex +1 Skill Focus +10
Perception 1 +3 +0 Wis +4
Perform (juggling) 1 +3 +1 Cha +5
Sleight of Hand 1 +3 +5 Dex +9
Stealth 1 +3 +5 Dex +9

Kin’s Perform skill allows him to, when in a prosperous city, Take 10 and earn 1d10 silver pieces, supplementing his Equipage’s supply of copper pieces nicely. He also typically uses Sleight of Hand to keep several coins secreted on his person (which are so small that he gains a +4 bonus on his check to do so) instead of in his money-pouch, just as a precaution.

In addition to what’s listed above, Kin should have another half-dozen or so class skills. He also knows two additional languages besides Common thanks to his Intelligence.

Zenigata Ryu (Dex)

This esoteric martial art focuses on throwing coins with deadly precision. Patterned off of various “gun fu” styles of fighting, its practitioners tend to be self-taught more often than not. The result is that this school has been independently developed numerous times over the ages, typically with minor variations each time.

  • Requires: ability to use coin shot or similar power.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 3, Defenses 2, Strike, Synergy (Sleight of Hand).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Combat Reflexes, Sneak Attack 2.
  • Occult Techniques: Focused Blow, Inner Strength, Overburden, Touch Strike.
  • Known: Attack 1, Defenses 1, Strike, Combat Reflexes, Sneak Attack 1.

Thanks to his ranks in Zenigata Ryu, Kin’s coin attacks may deal lethal or nonlethal damage at will, can be used to make a grand total of up to six attacks of opportunity a round (even if only two of them can be used to block ranged attacks), and adds +1d6 damage as appropriate for sneak attacks.

Further Development

Currently, Kin is a fairly good ranged attacker, particularly at short ranges where he can hit for touch attacks and bring his sneak attack damage to bear. Between his Armor Class, ability to potentially block up to two ranged attacks against him each round, and Luck on his saving throws, Kin has fairly potent defenses as well. Even his hit points are decent for this level.

As he gains more experience, Kin will need to expand on what his coin attacks can bring to bear. Taking Empowerment, specialized in his Innate Enchantments, will be vital so that the coin shot spell will keep its damage output up. Likewise, he’ll want to take Imbuement so that his coin attacks can overcome damage reduction as per magic weapons, and add some magic properties to them. He should probably find a way to bump up his hit points, AC, and Fort and Will save values too, just to be safe.

Beyond that, some additional magic would be useful, probably along the lines of something relatively cheap that offers decent versatility. Witchcraft or Mystic Artist (for his Perform skill) would be good avenues to explore. At some point he’ll definitely want to bump up equipage so that he can start receiving more valuable coins as well.

Of course, he’ll still want to keep some copper coins around, placing them over his dead enemies’ eyes so that they can pay for their journey to the underworld.

D&D Did You Know’s: Curses and Ravenloft’s Dark Lords

June 15, 2019

Ravenloft has always been my favorite of the official settings for D&D. Nor am I alone in this particular regard, since Ravenloft’s popularity is self-evident from a look at its product history. After the original module (and its sequel) made a landmark impact on AD&D First Edition, Second Edition saw Ravenloft receive an unprecedented three campaign setting books.

First among these was the original Realm of Terror boxed set, though it needed the Forbidden Lore expansion set to really reach its full potential. Later, they’d be effectively combined as the Ravenloft Campaign Setting boxed set (aka the red boxed set), before finally having the Domains of Dread hardback published. And of course, Ravenloft made a very fast return as a licensed setting during the days of Third Edition, first with a hardback Ravenloft Campaign Setting book for 3.0, and then the Ravenloft Player’s Handbook and Ravenloft Dungeon Master’s Guide for 3.5. Clearly, demand for Ravenloft was considerable!

But among all those campaign settings, there seems to have been a curious little rule that was only found in one of them. Specifically, a rule that it was impossible for anyone to lay curses on the domain lords of Ravenloft. But (unless I missed something) you wouldn’t find this rule if you looked in the Realm of Terror boxed set or the Domains of Dread book, or any of the Third Edition books.

Rather, it seems to be exclusive to the red Ravenloft Campaign Setting boxed set. Specifically, from page 65 of the set’s “Realm of Terror” book, which says:

Exclusivity of Curses

As a general rule, any individual–player character or nonplayer character–can suffer the effects of only one curse at a time. Otherwise, a truly evil brute–the type of person who makes for an excellent antagonist in any adventure–could quickly become so burdened with curses that he or she would be crippled. What a waste of a perfectly good villain that would be! Therefore, no curse can affect a character if he or she already suffers from one.

An important note to make at this point concerns domain lords. By definition, all of them are laboring under the most horrible curse of all: that of ruling a domain in Ravenloft. Thus, any curse that the players might wish to lay upon them is doomed to fail.

And there you have it. Trying to lay a curse on a domain lord, whether via a spell or as your PC’s last act of retribution when slain by them, is an act that simply can’t work. It’s a small, but possibly not-insignificant, advantage that domain lords have, and yet seems to have been overlooked everywhere outside of the red boxed set.

Now if only there were a way to lift the curse that seems to be keeping Ravenloft from being revived as its own campaign setting once again…

Official New Monsters for the Tails of Equestria RPG

June 1, 2019

I’ve spoken before about the Tails of Equestria role-playing game, which at the time of this writing has just over a dozen products released for it, along with some helpful downloads. But recently, the company making the game, River Horse, has been releasing several new monsters for it as well. But these are only available via the company’s social media presence, specifically their Twitter, Instagram, and mailing list.

Given that those won’t reach some people, and because social media of all stripes has always struck me as being impermanent by nature (more so than a blog, at lease), I’m going to repost those monsters here. Or at least, the ones that don’t already appear in a book, since the ones that do don’t need additional archiving. So without further ado, let’s see what new monsters there are in Equestria!

The kindling is an original monster, rather than being from the show itself (but don’t ask me if they’ve ever appeared in the comics or any of the other secondary media). Technically, they appear in the adventure “A Dragon’s Bounty” in the Tails of Equestria Starter Set. However, the stat block shown above doesn’t actually appear in the book, though the kindlings play a part in the adventure.

Do the bite-acuda! These little guys come straight from the show, being introduced in Non-Compete Clause, the ninth episode of the eighth season. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve ever seen them in Tails of Equestria format. Hopefully we’ll get more show conversions in the future; I’d love to see what a bufogren or an ophiotaur’s stats are like!

There were also stats posted for another creature (an original one, not from the show): the lava bug. However, that appears in Filly Sized Follies, the most recent Tails of Equestria book to date. Hopefully River Horse won’t keep recycling monster entries going forward!

But I suspect we’ll find out soon enough. So far, these creature entries have been released on a weekly schedule. With any luck, they’ll keep putting them out for a while to come.

EDIT (06/11): And the bufogren, from The End in Friend (season eight, episode seventeen) has been released!

EDIT (07/12): Another creature from the show, heretofore unseen in a Tails of Equestria product, has been released! And this time it’s a double-feature, being stats for the winterchilla and its alternate form, the winterzilla, from the Best Gift Ever special episode that aired between seasons eight and nine! (Notice that the winterzilla’s stats need some slight errata: it should have a Stamina score of 24 rather than 20, since Stamina is your total die values for your Body and Mind traits.)

Winterchilla

Winterzilla

EDIT (07/19): And now we have the ophiotaurus, the Greek-inspired creature from Frenemies (season nine, episode eight)!

EDIT (09/02): I’ve been slightly remiss in updating this post to account for new creatures coming out. Here then are all of the new Tails of Equestria monsters that have come out in the last few weeks:

The octoselene is a reader-submitted creature, not appearing in the show, the RPG, or any other pony-related media that I’m aware of.

Magic books are from the “Judge Not By the Cover” adventure, where they play a central role in the plot. However, much like the kindlings (q.v.), they aren’t actually given stats in the book. As such, we have them here for the first time. The original posting even noted that it was possible for them to be used as PCs!

The kirin, and their fiery nirik forms, are from Sounds of Silence (season eight, episode twenty-three). Given that the introduction of an entirely new and eminently-playable race, it’s not surprising that they received official game stats! Moreover, they were also given a special “how to play” section as well! It largely repeats what’s in the official descriptions; note, however, that it says that kirin PCs (must?) take an additional quirk besides their nirik form.

The most recent release (as of this update) is for none other than Daybreaker herself! While Daybreaker is never shown to be a “real” character, only appearing in Starlight Glimmer’s nightmare in A Royal Problem (season seven, episode ten) and Twilight Sparkle’s worst fear in The Beginning of the End – Part 1 (season nine, episode one), she remains a fan-favorite for what could happen if Princess Celestia ever goes bad the way her sister did. While her stat block contains a few typos, this is still a great addition to any (high-level) Tails of Equestria game!

EDIT (09/08): Normally I don’t bother reprinting monsters that have already been featured in a Tails of Equestria product. But I’m bending that rule here. While the giant spiders are found in “The Festival of Lights” adventure (p. 31), this re-release also includes rules for playing one as a PC. An unusual choice, perhaps, but not that much more so than playing something like a changeling!

With that said, be aware that the actual explanations for the spider climb, web sling, and tremor sense talents are found in “The Festival of Lights,” so if you don’t have that book you might have to make some quick decisions about what those can do. Notice also that the stats for a giant spider here are slightly different than those in the book. Not only are the quirks different, but in the book giant spiders have the spider climb talent at a D8 rather than D6.

EDIT (09/13): This time around we have something a little different. Thrilly Filly is one of the original characters created for the Tails of Equestria RPG, serving as one of the three iconic ponies on the cover of the main rulebook! While we’ve received stats for her before (such as in the Starter Set, for one), I don’t recall seeing this particular version of her stat block before. Notice that, according to her Trait dice sizes, she’s 4th level here.

EDIT (09/20): And here’s the second of the three Tails of Equestria iconic characters, Firebrand!

EDIT (09/27): And last but not least, the third iconic character for Tails of Equestria, Strong Oak!

EDIT (10/11): This update adds two new monsters. Sky bunnies are an original, user-submitted entry:

The Great Prism Whale, however, is from the forthcoming Melody of the Waves adventure. While I don’t normally repost Creature Feature entries that are reprinted from another product, since that adventure isn’t out yet this monster gets in on a technicality!

EDIT (10/18): The latest update is the gloombrine hydra! Also from Melody of the Waves, this creature gets in under the same technicality as the previous one!

EDIT (11/01): Another monster from the forthcoming Melody of the Waves adventure!

EDIT (11/08): One more new monster from the soon-to-be-released adventure, Melody of the Waves!

EDIT (11/15): This time it’s another reader-submitted original creature! Notice that this one has no Body score, which I think indicates that it has no physical form?

EDIT (12/05): Here’s one more creature from the upcoming Melody of the Waves adventure!