Archive for September, 2015

Dark Sunstroke

September 27, 2015

AD&D Second Edition remains my favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Well, sort of. I find the concept of “favorites” for an RPG to be a term that’s too broad to be used easily, since it encompasses multiple aspects which should be judged independently.

It’s more accurate to say that I think that, of all of the editions of D&D released to date, Second Edition had the best flavor attached to it. Specifically, its myriad campaign settings. I have virtually all of them, and each of them is enjoyable for what they offer.

Of course, there are still some I like more than others. While it’s not my most favorite, I do like the Dark Sun campaign setting quite a bit. I’ll often catch myself pulling an old book for it off the shelf and perusing it for a minute or two, just for kicks.

Unlike most Dark Sun fans (or at least, most fans that I’ve talked to online) I didn’t get into the setting by way of its initial boxed set. Rather, I was introduced to Athas (the Dark Sun campaign world) via the first set of novels for it, Troy Denning’s five-book Prism Pentad series. Those novels are highly controversial among the fans nowadays, because they introduced sweeping changes to the world. Moreover, they were changes done by a group of NPCs, as part of the setting’s meta-plot. To many gamers, that’s a cardinal sin.

I personally didn’t mind it, but that’s because I wasn’t able to get a regular group together until college, and even then we didn’t play in that campaign world. Between that, and that those novels were my first exposure to the world, I simply took the stories for what they were, and found them fairly enjoyable.

While the initial novel is the story of the heroes liberating their city from its dreaded sorcerer-king, the remaining four books can be said (in a massive simplification) to be the story of them preparing to face the Dragon of Athas, the most powerful foe in the world (or so they think). The second, third, and fourth books are basically the story of them collecting the weapons, magic, and psionics, respectively, that they’ll need to fight it on even terms. The fifth book is the actual battle.

It’s the third book I want to look more closely at, here. In it, a half-elf sorceress named Sadira goes on a quest to have her magical powers enhanced to the point where she can match the Dragon’s magic. By the end of the book (*spoiler alert*) she’s become able to draw energy directly from the sun, enhancing her magic drastically…but only during the day.

Whereas the physical and psionic methods of fighting the Dragon are based around obtaining powerful artifacts, Sadira’s magical enhancement is unique to her, at least as it’s presented. Thus, while any character could theoretically find and use those artifacts (as presented in Psionic Artifacts of Athas), that’s not the case for Sadira’s powers.

Instead, the closest we get to seeing game rules for her powers are found in Beyond the Prism Pentad, a short game supplement meant to help bridge the gap between the novels and the original campaign setting (in preparation for the revised campaign setting that came shortly thereafter).

In that book, we get two stat blocks for Sadira; one for her unenhanced powers (e.g. her “normal” stats, used during nighttime), and one for her enhanced form, which is called a “sun mage.”

The differences are quite dramatic; as a sun mage, Sadira’s level as a preserver (a type of wizard) skyrockets from 10th to 18th level. She also receives some enhancements to her strength, physical toughness, and even a slight boost to her mental defenses. It’s a fairly unique build, if a straightforward one in what boosts it grants her. That’s not unusual for AD&D Second Edition, of course, which inherited the attitude of previous editions with regard to unique powers, abilities, items, etc. popping up when it served the game to have them.

Of course, Third Edition had a very different take on that particular stance, and its preference of standardizing the game mechanics had an elegance all its own…though to me, that particular aspect of game design didn’t reach its zenith until the publication of Eclipse: The Codex Persona, which allowed for the freedom of character creation that best utilized that unified game system.

It’s in that spirit that I’ve decided to write up Eclipse stats for what it means to be a “sun mage.”

Sun Mage Template (133 CP/+4 ECL)

A sun mage is a spellcaster that draws the power for their spells, not from ambient or diffuse sources, but from the sun itself. Because this grants great power during the daytime, but leaves them vulnerable at night, only accomplished spellcasters are allowed to undergo this transformation. That way, they at least have some power to fall back on (via their traditional spellcasting) if attacked after nightfall.

Solaric Enhancement (246 CP)

  • Eight wizard spellcasting levels (112 CP).
  • 8d4 Hit Dice (64 CP).
  • +4 BAB (24 CP).
  • Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +4 (30 CP).
  • 16 skill points (16 CP).

Power Bleed-Over (26 CP)

  • Innate Enchantment; spell level x caster level x 2,000 gp x0.7 personal-only modifier (23 CP).
    • Mage armor (1,400 gp).
    • +6 enhancement bonus to Strength (21,000 gp).
  • +2 Will save vs. psionic attacks (3 CP).

The strength that a sun mage draws upon is so vast, so incredibly potent, that it doesn’t stop at simply enhancing their spellcasting. Though the majority of the energy drawn forth is used to strengthen their magic, parts of it leak out, enhancing their body and their mind as well.

Altogether, the entire template costs 272 CP, or +8 ECL, which makes sense, since this is basically encapsulating eight levels of wizard (with a couple special abilities added in). However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost/only functions during the daytime. That brings things down to 136 CP. To better match with the novels, we’ll add the Accursed disadvantage. When using the sun’s power, a sun mage’s skin turns as black as obsidian (the better to absorb solar energies with), and as a side-effect of this, their eyes turn solid blue, and their breath is visible as black fog. That brings the final cost down to 133 CP, for a +4 ECL modifier.

Solar Analysis

The above template is, in all honesty, a fairly artless one. It updates the 2E stat block that has Sadira gaining eight levels – including better hit points, THAC0, and while not explicitly written, likely better saves and proficiencies as well – to model her increased spellcasting ability, along with a very small number of other enhancements.

The end result is highly straightforward in what it presents: literally eight wizard levels, that only work half of the time each day, and so only have half the cost. It’s very workmanlike in terms of its presentation.

…but then again, that fits on a harsh world like Athas, where form follows function as a necessary rule of survival.

Get Your Ship Together

September 14, 2015

Having been on quite the anime binge recently thanks to my new Crunchyroll subscription, I’ve recently come to realize that “mystic military girls” is one of what’s probably several new (sub-)genres that anime has pioneered. While the actual name for these type of shows is doubtlessly something else, “mystic military girls” is what I’ve come to call them.

In these shows, there’s a group of (usually young) girls that have special/magical/super-science powers. Unlike superhero-style shows, these powers aren’t highly individualistic, instead possessing only minor variations between the characters. Said characters will also be organized into a military or paramilitary unit(s) to face an enemy that presents a significant – if not existential – threat to humanity.

Success is Fleet-ing

Destroyer Fubuki

Meet the new face of naval warfare.

One such series in this genre is Kantai Collection (or just “KanColle” for short). In this case, the special abilities that the main cast members share are based around them all being “reincarnations of (historical) battleships.” Literally, these¬†kanmusu (“fleet girls”) are battleships that have been reborn into human bodies. Working together in naval units, they fight against the “Abyssals”; monstrous humanoid-battleships of unknown origin and motivation that are intent on keeping humans out of the seas.

…Don’t worry that none of that makes any sense. It’s magic.

Having said that, the idea of a human with the power of a battleship is such an odd combination that I couldn’t help but wonder what that would look like under the d20 rules. Given that the characters’ abilities are inherent, rather than something that can be actively gained and developed, that and their uniformity would suggest that being a fleet girl is a template, rather than a collection of personal abilities.

As such, let’s chart what powers the kanmusu have and see if we can come up with d20 statistics for them. Of course, making something this outre will require a great deal of flexibility, and as such we’ll be using the class-less character-generation rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Kanmusu Destroyer Template (192 CP/+6 ECL)

Superior Firepower (93 CP)

  • Heavy Artillery: Inherent Spell with two uses of the Advanced modifier, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (9 CP), plus the Advanced modifier (artillery barrage) (6 CP) and twelve instances of Bonus Uses (18 CP).
  • 20 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/only for Inherent Spells (60 CP).

Inherent Spells don’t require caster levels to be purchased, instead typically requiring that the character’s level be [(spell level x 2) -1]. Since this template is being applied to teenage girls who are unlikely to be higher than level 1, the use of caster levels in this template is to “pay” for that particular requirement (as well as the fact that this Inherent Spell is operating at a very high caster level anyway).

As for what this Inherent Spell actually is…that was tricky. There were extremely few d20 resources that dealt with the damage inflicted by battleships, and among the ones that did, most changed the sub-system used, since normal d20 combat is meant to deal with tactical skirmishes between small groups of individuals.

Ironically, the best resource I found in this regard was over on Thoth’s blog, which utilizes a sub-system alongside typical d20 combat mechanics, the latter including damage, to outline naval combat. Insofar as we’re concerned, the relevant mechanics are that WWII-era naval destroyers are “level three” ships (e.g. 10d6 base damage from their weapons) of “massive” size (e.g. a x4 multiplier to damage, representing the entire barrage of guns/torpedoes/other weapons fired).

So that means we need an inherent spell that can (at caster level 20) deal 40d6 damage. Such a spell would probably look something like so:

Artillery Barrage; School evocation; Level sorcerer/wizard 6; Components V, S; Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level); Target 1 creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell conjures multiple instances of military ordinance, launching them at the target creature in a flurry of destructive power. You must make a ranged attack (not a ranged touch attack) to hit. A creature struck takes 2d6 points of damage per caster level (maximum 40d6).

Damage reduction and hardness apply against this damage. Because this damage is inflicted by multiple hits landing simultaneously, DR and hardness are applied at four times their normal value. This ordinance is treated as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

This is essentially a disintegrate spell that has had its saving throw removed in exchange for changing it from a touch attack to a normal attack. Likewise, the application of four-fold DR/hardness, and the removal of the various special functions that disintegrate has (such as automatically disposing of the body of a creature it kills, defeating objects made of force, etc.) are exchanged for a longer range.

Will to Stay Afloat (263 CP)

  • Innate Enchantment (236 CP).
    • Immortal vigor IX; [(caster level 17 x spell level 9 x 2,000 gp) x 0.7 personal-only modifier] 214,200 gp.
    • Waterskate; [(caster level 5 x spell level 3 x 2,000 gp) x 0.7 personal-only modifier] 21,000 gp.
  • Damage Reduction 6 (15 CP).
  • Improved Defender x2 (12 CP).

Almost as tricky as figuring out the damage potential of battleships-turned-humans was figuring out how well they resist taking damage. The show depicts them agilely avoiding incoming shots, but we do see them taking damage and shrugging it off (though on at least one occasion a single hit is enough to sink – that is, kill – them).

Given that we do see the kanmusu taking so much damage on more than one instance, and since battleships are massive, heavily-armored floating fortresses, giving them a gratuitous amount of extra hit points, and a large degree of hardness, seemed to be the best way to go about it. They do have a boost to their AC as well – particularly since a shot that inflicts a large amount of damage (or even a critical hit) – can still kill them in one shot.

Of course, these extra hit points are woefully deficient in terms of placing these girls on par with actual battleships, but that can’t be helped. The magic that’s imbuing their bodies can only go so far, and trying to grant them the degree of resilience and physicality that actual battleships have is beyond what it can do. At the end of the day, kanmusu¬†are still humans, albeit extremely tough ones.

The waterskate spell is a variant of water walk, save that it only functions on water (rather than any liquid) and does not cause a submerged character to be borne up towards the surface. In exchange for this, it adds a +30 feet enhancement bonus to the character’s movement when on water.

Battleship Senses (20 CP)

  • Improved Occult Sense/radar (12 CP).
  • Immunity to the distance barriers when communicating (very common/minor/major), specialized for one-half cost/utilizes radio frequencies, which are vulnerable to detection, disruption, etc. (6 CP).
  • Profession (fleet girl) 2 ranks (2 CP).

The fleet girls have the ability to communicate with each other, and sense their enemies, over long distances, at least when they’re using their equipment. Likewise, they seem to have an instinctive understanding of how other ships function, and can recognize similar types of kanmusu on sight, which seemed best represented by some inherent bonuses to Profession skill checks.

Altogether, this template costs 376 CP, which is a +11 ECL modifier. Ouch! However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost (except for the Damage Reduction, which is specialized for double effect)/these abilities only function when a fleet girl is wearing her “rigging” (a set of mechanical accouterments which, when worn, do not allow her to wear armor), cannot have this template’s hit points restored except via expensive and time-consuming repairs (essentially bathing in a special restorative solution), and may not directly improve on this template’s abilities except via further template levels.

That brings the cost down to 195 CP. Finally, we’ll add in the Obligations disadvantage – fleet girls are part of their country’s navy (presumably via compulsory service) and must function as per military officers – which brings the cost down to 192 CP, or +6 ECL exactly.

Kanmusu Carrier Template (192 CP/+6 ECL)

Not all fleet girls are equipped with artillery weapons. Some are aircraft carriers, firing arrows that – after being shot – become a half-dozen or so miniature fighter planes (piloted by cutesy-looking dolls).

For a kanmusu girl that’s a carrier ship, rather than a destroyer, modify the Destroyer template as follows:

  • Heavy Artillery is replaced with Aero Arrows: Inherent Spell with five instances of Advanced, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (24 CP), and one further instance of Advanced (aerial squadron) (18 CP) with plus eight Bonus Uses (12 CP).
  • The Carrier template only uses 17 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/only for Inherent Spells (51 CP).
  • The Carrier template does not use grant Improved Defender (-12 CP). Aircraft carriers are meant to stay back from the front lines, launching their fighters into battle from a safe distance, counting on the destroyers to defend them if things get bad.

The aerial squadron spell is developed via the summoning spell template in The Practical Enchanter (p. 104). It summons 4d4 miniature planes – treat as CR 5 creatures – which sets the spell level as being 7. Increasing the duration to one hour per caster level raises the spell level by +3. Finally, the spell level is lowered by 1 due to it being unable to summon anything besides fighter planes.

Using a 9th-level spell to summon a small horde of CR 5 creatures might seem wasteful, but the kanmusu are 1st-level (or so) characters using a +6 ECL template. Keeping that in mind, a squadron of CR 5 creatures can prove to be a legitimate threat, even if they’re individually weaker.

Assigning Admiralty

The kanmusu templates grant a great deal of firepower and durability – and even a few utilitarian abilities – but pay for this with a huge ECL modifier. This is a feature rather than a bug, however, as it makes it unlikely that too many PCs would be interested in taking such a template (especially if the attendant disadvantage is played up properly).

This calls into question what practical uses these templates could be put towards. In fact, the answer is right there in the source material: fleet girls work best as part of an existing military hierarchy, which is to say, fleet girls function great as NPCs that answer the question of “how does local law enforcement/the military keep the peace in a world full of dangerous monsters and high-level characters?”

In this way, the kanmusu function as background characters that help to make the game world feel a little more internally consistent, much as antimages do. Even a small group of fleet girls can fend off quite a few overt threats through sheer firepower, without being so powerful that they can defend against less obvious threats or higher-level antagonists…which is where the PCs come in!